I listened to the "The Forbes Matter" episode of Johnny Dollar again. It was the five-part end-of-the-year episode from 1955, the one immediately after that sublime Christmas episode, which I'm discussing on Downtown later. The story is about an accountant who embezzles $4000 from his company, and doesn't make a huge attempt to hide it. Dollar recognizes who did the crime pretty quickly, and then he wants to find out why, and even help this man. The man has spent all of the money on gifts for a chorus girl who is kind, but has no interest in him. They have one drink together, and later she tells Dollar that he could barely speak he was so nervous. The man has to repay the money, or he goes to prison He's a normal guy, a nice guy, somewhere in his thirties. He is bailed out of jail before his sentencing--because he waived his trial--and he goes home, turns on the gas, and tries to end his life.
I've said repeatedly that there is so much art in mid-century radio. I mean real, legitimate art. (Perhaps when I have broken through these linked, barricading arms, and my mere name alone means massive sales, I will write a book positing some of these shows as the great lost art of our country.) Like Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives and Hot Sevens are art, and Thoreau's Journals are art, and Frank Norris's McTeague is art, and Rio Bravo is art.. And this journal is art. Dollar has been tailing the man, because he's trying to understand what has been happening. He gives him fifteen minutes inside of his dismal apartment. There is brilliance in that detail--he's letting the guy get settled back in in his home which, unpleasant as it may be, is still his home. Dollar knocks on the door. There's no answer, and he starts to smell the gas, so he breaks down the door, pulls Forbes out of his tiny kitchen, not knowing whether he's alive or dead. He calls the medical service, and a doctor and his assistant show up. What transpires is one of the most remarkable scenes I have ever heard. The doctor and the assistant work on Forbes, as Dollar watches on. The scene takes as long as it takes. Plays out--with the all of the bits of conversation--right in front of you. This is exciting art-making. This is the stuff. It's real and human. The sounds, the dialogue, the acting, the discernible feeling, the implied feelings, the connection between people who are not going to see each other again and their connection in turn with a stranger. There is daring in this art. It pushes the envelope. And yet, it was for everyone. It's for me, it's for a proverbial ditch-digger. The very best art simultaneously pushes the envelope and is still for everyone. It's advanced and accessible.
That's all I ever do, because that is ultimately what I care about more than anything. I should mention that my third book, The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe: Stories from the Abyss, is available at 20% off with the code 2020SNAG through Dzanc until the end of the month. I know that's only a couple days. I'm always writing so much, focused on creating more art, moving forward, that I don't spend a ton of time hawking my wares, but also in part because I feel like it doesn't matter right now, with the blockade in place. I'll have my time and I'll know when it has arrived, and in the meanwhile I create. But I will never write anything better than Anglerfish, which to me is a form of post-literature. It's a book that is not a book. It is an experience, a journey, a descent and ascent. In Anglerfish and its sister book, Dark March, I attempted to codify, reveal, represent, human pain at its very essence, its very source, its very heart, its very mouth. To give voice to everyone who has ever known a loss they didn't think they could handle or move on from, so that they could say, "Yes, those are the words for what I have felt." To be an ally in imagination to those who have been broken. Felt the sundering of soul. But to do so in highly imaginative ways, with humor, with entertainment, and wonder. It's a work like a "Fitty," a "Jute," a "Girls of the Nimbus" that was a crucial game-changer for me as artist and human. It's really good. Special. It will rock you to the very bottom of your being. I wouldn't steer you wrong.