I don't think you get anywhere trying to play it safe. I think you sling it. You don't base what you do on what you've seen from other people, because when you do that, you're ruling out what could be, which simply maybe hasn't been yet. And that's my zone. That's where I come in.
Woke up this morning feeling somewhat sore. Ankles. Also, back, but I suspect the latter is because of the warped, trapezoidal mattress I sleep on. Needs to be replaced. There is nowhere to sit in here but the bed and the desk. The goal is to get the house back in Rockport, a place on the Cape, and turn this space into an office, which will look something vastly different from how it looks now. My greatest source of shame. I ripped through another sock the other day on my walk, which tore up the back of my heel. The cut is still raw. Stings. One thing I like about Montaigne's essays is he'll just tell you whatever about his body and why he finds it interesting. You'll be reading along, and Montaigne will be like, "I ejaculated on a red strip of linen today so as to study the patterns made by my seed." It's not shamelessness so much as ease with his own body and, of course, his mind.
I'm listening to Billie Holiday's Decca sides this morning. I'd like to make that book on her official in this early portion of 2021. I'll send another letter which I worked out in my head once the latest Billie Holiday piece of mine comes out in JazzTimes. I shouldn't have to go to the mat this many times to do this book with this press, but I want to do it, and I'll do whatever I need to do to make that happen. It will be called Always Tasted: A Listener's Guide to Living in the Art of Billie Holiday. She's at her most horn-like on the Decca sides. No one had sung like this previously. She's this popular singer, but also a Modernist. The fusion of the populist and the radical. Ultimately, that's the art that matters most to me. As for the title, there is, once again, the multiple levels of the meaning; the idea of living in the art of Billie Holiday, as if it's a world to inhabit. Which it is. And also a guide to living back in your world, your external world, the world you bring along with you.
Kimball sent me a nice note saying that he thinks this is the year I make a giant step towards getting where I am going. Of course, a variety of people say this kind of thing to me and have for some time. I suppose what matters is they believe it, which then makes said arrival less about the exact nature of the when, and more pointedly centered on the idea that the time will come. Kimball is a good man. People often talk to me about the chemistry we have on the radio. Frankly--and I don't mean this harshly--I think it'd sound like I have chemistry with anyone, because that's the nature of how I talk, relate, communicate. The added element here is the warmth of honest respect and affection. I know that that show sounds completely different when I'm on it, and Kimball, at the same time, has truly meant something to my life. Which is not how things are supposed to go, or how they normally go, when you're a guest on a program. As I've said before, good people like me a lot. People who are secure in themselves, who don't try and measure themselves against me. My problem--a problem to be solved--is with the people who aren't this way. Those people flock to the mediocre, the meaningless, the talentless; that's a safe haven for them. They feel on equal footing. Because they're measuring, contrasting. Like all of the meatheads who listen to Colin Cowherd or the white guilt rich suburban housewives who pretend to care about a Roxane Gay book. You never actually think they're any good. You don't think they're smart. You certainly don't think they're smarter than you. Even if you're stupid. Or insecure about how smart you might be. Mental comfort food for the weak and frightened and insecure. But shit comfort food. And nothing about the partaking has anything to do with entertainment, art, humor, insight. It's about saying, "Oh, they're not better than me." And it's about being enabled. Opiating. Another holding pattern exercise for the life that never moves forward because there is too much fear and self-doubt. Such people don't want to see the line above--the want to see the baseline below. Or the line directly to the side. At least then and there. I need to open that up. That's one of the big problems to be solved right now.
Listened to James Brown's virtually unknown live 1964 album Pure Dynamite! Live at the Royal this morning. Pitchfork has that Sunday Review they do, which is someone writing about an album they've never covered in this hybrid music-personal essay style. They'll have people who have published next to nothing do it. Some talentless trust funder living in a Brooklyn apartment thanks to daddy. Because they have a friend or connection. They ignore every single pitch from me, of all people, with my track record over twenty-five years of writing on music of every kind for everyone. It's never merit in publishing. I sent some other idea back in December. This Brown album would be a good back-up, but I send alternative idea after alternative idea. It's childish, it's petty, it's unprofessional, it's nonsensical, it's ass backwards, but that's how everything is in publishing. As for the hybrid music/personal essay thing--it's almost funny. I mean, hello. Hi. Here I am. The Brown album sounds like a bootleg. He actually references Sam Cooke and "You Send Me"--though he gets the year wrong--on one track. It was his live follow-up to the famous first Apollo record. I could see someone preferring it, as someone might like The Greatest Live Show on Earth over Jerry Lee Lewis's Star Club album. The sound is really packed in.
I read a striking piece of fiction that is all of 280 characters long called "Desuetude: A Ghost Story" from 1914. It's so odd, and so compelling. Ballsy work. I like it a lot. "Lastly, Raymond Wunker, in the fall of 1765, ascertained that an empty bottle that has been placed by the bedside of a dying man will emit a hollow sound if tapped at certain angles with a piece of ordinary kindling wood." That's good. You'd never see someone write a story like this in the vanilla, creatively lobotomized MFA age.
Letters written to The New Yorker, Granta, Cincinnati Review, Harper's, The American Scholar.
Listened to the five-part Johnny Dollar episode "The Alvin Summers Matter" which aired from October 24-28, 1955. Going through all of these Bailey episodes in chronological order. Time to stick a bandage on my heel and get in some exercise.
Typical dating profile. This is all most people will have to say--something like this. And this is how they will say it. I mean, seriously, what am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to do when this is most of everyone?
"I am a very simple person. who truly appreciate and love life and simple things. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. My kids are my everything."
How do you get out of second grade with grammar like that? That's someone with a grad school degree. All of these people, going on about how simple they are. Someone the other day said to me that everyone is just trying their best. Really? This is a person's best? This the best people can do? Now, I get that the person who said that to me was insecure and passive aggressive and trying to bait me into something--I get that a lot, but this mouse takes no cheese, I simply give you a "Great, good luck" and move on--but while they're trying to do their "Kumbaya" Care Bear BS, what they're really saying is that they think people are capable of next to nothing. That's some view of humanity. I'm not going to adopt that view. I think just about anyone can do better than the above, and do better with just about everything in their life, if they decide to, and try to. That's partially why I'm so offended by this seemingly bottomless bog. People are so complacent in their own lives. Existences. Because it's not living. Living is trying, striving, fighting, growing, not sitting on your ass wallowing. It's a little effort, a little faith, some vulnerability, some chances taken. Your words. Your own words. Not cliches and acronyms and smiley faces on their side. It's going for things, big and small. It's having some balls and being an individual.
I think my sister is correct. The person I meet will be through some different avenue, probably related to someone experiencing my work. She's confident I will recognize this brilliant person straight away when I meet her, and know her for what she is, who she is; I'm not confident about that. The more intelligent people I've been with have been the worst people and the most unstable. It's hard for me to envision someone who is both dynamic and all-together right now in the romantic arena for me. But I also think my sister has a good read on certain things, so I'm trying to adopt what she has said as a legitimate eventuality. On an unrelated note, just something I've noticed over the past half year--my sister has rare tact. She handles certain situations well. She has discipline and aplomb. I admire that about her.
Still morning. Walked six miles. More importantly, came up with a new thing--hill sprints. Ran fifteen of them at the Bunker Hill Monument. Was sweating profusely. So that's a nice option--when I'm not walking out to BC to run stairs, I can do this for cardiovascular. Peek on Facebook, and all you see are publishing people whining about how long it's been since they wrote. It's COVID's fault! And how they've put on thirty pounds. That dang COVID! (What was the excuse two years ago? What will it be next year?) But they put up their little filters saying how they're saving lives by sitting on their couch in their nice homes eating Doritos. (Mind you, I'm not saying that Doritos aren't tasty.) I wrote more than ever last year. Which is to say, I wrote more in a year than anyone ever has. Like I do every year. And when I couldn't run up and down the Bunker Hill Monument because it was closed, I started walking across an entire city to find stairs I could run. While writing and writing and writing. Being like that will make these people hate you more than anything. Especially as you publish constantly, innovate, and power forward as the expert on so many different things. Everyone is allowed to write, there are no rules on what you're allowed to create, and anyone can get their ass up early and have at it. There must be someone out there with some sense and some vision who can get behind what I am, and let's unleash all of it, let's reap. Let's reach millions of people and impact the world and make a lot of money. But for now, I should shower and get back to work. This cut on my heel opened up again, and there's blood everywhere. Today marks 1659 days, or 237 weeks, without a drop of alcohol. I have a plan and self-imposed deadlines for these next five weekdays. I know exactly what I must do.
When people say that the live life to the fullest, do they ever actually think this is true? How could you if you do the same three basic things all the time, one of which is watching the same two things on Netflix that everyone watches? Could you delude yourself that much? Or do you just say words not caring at all what they actually mean? You just sort of subconsciously drool them out, and then repeat the drooling?
Listening to these Johnny Dollar shows, I actually admire the guy. I don't mean in this "here's a role model for your kids" way. This man lives well and smartly. Richly and pointedly. A highly developed character. He could fit into a work by Tolstoy. Also listened to the five-part "The Valentine Matter," which aired November 7-11, 1955. It cracks me up when he's always buying stuff for people on his expense account. Meals, drinks. I recall being nervous when I expensed a couple beers to ESPN.
In a year in which the best player on the Patriots was the punter, it feels unsettlingly congruous that the team seemingly decided to punt on the season from the start with the man they signed to be the quarterback. And thus the Cam Newton era in New England comes to an end.
The American Interest has owed me money going back to August, so I wrote them about getting my pittance. I'm owed money at some places dating back years. I have to make a point of reaching back out and making sure I get everything in these early days of the new year. Bring all the accounts up to date. But this man lives so fully, and he says what he thinks and feels, doesn't fret over what others will think. If he thinks someone is really nice, he'll say it to them. In one episode he recognizes this guy at a bar who was a towering figure during Prohibition. Not an ex-gangster, per se, but someone who was athwart the law, though large-hearted and largely decent and generous. Dollar walks over to this dude, asks if he can buy him a drink. The guy isn't used to being recognized, because he's living in a different place now and it's decades later. Dollar is young, but he can tell who the guy is based on his memory of old pictures. He's respectful, and he merely wants to share a drink with the fellow. To be friendly. Partake of life. Have an experience that is also about a human interaction. i just think that's so cool. It reminds me a bit of when my dad saw Marvin Hagler sitting by himself at a bar. And my dad goes over to him, asks if he can buy him a drink, and they sit there and have a beer together. That's something my dad would do. So I think he'd get this.
Drinking peppermint tea now for various aches. I drink it to keep my blood pressure down as well, but it's also good for physical recovery.
Gerry Marsden of Gerry and the Pacemakers died. I think of the Pacemakers a lot. Now, someone might say, why? They were a good rock and roll band, nothing amazing. Their BBC sides hold interest, and "It's Gonna Be Alright" is one of the best ravers of the British Invasion. But I think about them because when the Beatles came along, they had people ready to roll with them. To be part of their revolution. All of those English bands. I don't have anyone to roll with me. It's just me. I don't think there are other writers out there right now who can be part of a revolution. Not immediately. Publishing has killed off the development of talent, in the rare instances when the talent exists. You're born with ability. But then you must work every second of your life to develop it. Master it. That originality, your insight, your range. The publishing system grinds that out of anyone. Because to do what I just said, you have to go against everything the system now espouses. And who has that kind of internal strength? That self-belief? That knowledge of the exact nature and degree of their talent? Their genius, if it comes to that? Their more-than-genius. You have to go against everyone. Every instructor, every would-be peer, every university, every grad school program, every workshop. And who has that in them? So the people who might have had talent capitulated. Long ago. The ability was never developed, and when that happens, the ability is gone. You need all of those hours. All of those minutes. All of the seconds you will now never get back. And it's not about how much time you have in front of you, either. There are crucial periods. Ages. Pockets when your development must happen. The Beatles had all of these people doing something parallel to what were doing what they were doing. Doing it concurrently. There was a wave. The Beatles were the highest point of the wave, but there were a lot components to that wave behind the floodgate. Some were awful, some were pretty good like the Pacemakers, some were great like the Stones, the Kinks, the Animals to a degree (without the compositional skills). These guitar bands were ready to go. It wasn't just the Beatles like it's just me. And I wonder, worry, if just me can be enough. Though I know that "just" is hugely misleading, because there has never been anything remotely like me. Others can follow, others can try, new approaches to writing can be employed immediately, but I'd have to be the entirety of the wave when the floodgates are finally destroyed.
Read some more works. Robert W. Chambers' "Out of the Depths." He was the guy who wrote "The King in Yellow." Anyway, "Depths" was rubbish. Also read Anna Alice Chapin's "The Christmas Ghost," from 1915. Winsome story. She co-wrote "Babes in Toyland," which of course became that fine Laurel and Hardy vehicle. They factor in my upcoming book proposal for the British version of The Office. There's a lot of Hardy in what Ricky Gervais's David Brent does.
Saw that JazzTimes was sharing "The Day Louis Armstrong Lost His Color" again on their social media. They do that a bunch with that one. So it must have gone over fairly well, the first work of fiction the magazine ever published in its fifty year history. That story won't be in There Is No Doubt: Storied Humanness. Wouldn't fit. But what a perfect work of fiction for our time. This racial climate.
Billie Holiday wasn't with Decca for long, but her voice changes in the period. The hint of the rasp is there after the early sessions. That scratch of the thorn in the back of the throat. The thorn later becomes a knife. But during the Decca period, it almost has that light scratch of the stylus. Listened to Holiday's entire output for Decca today. Complete shebang. Helpful for the book. I love how with the Louis Armstrong-Billie Holiday duet on "My Sweet Hunk O'Trash" he sings, "Fuck 'em, baby," by way of encouragement. It's like I started by saying: you have to sling it.