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Radio got soul

Monday 7/15/19

A friend relayed today that they have been offered nice money to host a sports radio program. This is good for them. I think they should take it. I suspect they won't, because they'd find sports alone too limiting. I feel like--I'm hedging, and I shouldn't; what I mean is, I know--I could talk on anything, all day, if need be, and never feel limited by it, because I'd always find a new way--not a manufactured way, but an organic way--to see it and discuss it, bringing more to bear, from elsewhere, perhaps, on that subject. I always have more to say about something. I am never done. That does not mean I repeat myself, or I'd be taking a verbal shovel and beating the horse's corpse through the ground. ("I send thee down through the crust and to the mantle!") I'm just not done looking at the horse, I've found more to see. I've discovered that the horse wasn't merely just a horse, but a unicorn, and that unicorn morphed into a dragon, and that morphed into something we need to come up with a name for. Ideas beget ideas in my world. Observation begets truths, truths beget more truths. Then you're rolling. That is how I roll.



I think that's pretty obvious from anyone who hears me on the radio, which makes it more frustrating that nothing ever happens. I am watching a station called WEEI completely destroy itself. It's an all sports radio station and one of the two here in Boston. Been around a long time, carries the Sox games. Soon it will be a country music station, or a Christian rock station. I go on a discussion forum called the Sons of Sam Horn (the name is an insider baseball reference, Horn being a touted power-hitting prospect in the 1980s who never amounted to much, but Sox fans were practically choking on their bated breath for his eventual Jim Rice-like greatness). It's a Red Sox site primarily, but with other topics pertaining to Boston and New England sports. The commenters are pretty well-informed. It's not jock/bro culture. They weigh in on radio and the dying WEEI, pointing out, correctly, that WEEI should be bringing in new talent, rather than recycling these fossils as their hosts who have nothing compelling to offer as radio entertainment and who have been on autopilot for a quarter of a century, or just run-of-the-mill "what on earth are they on the radio for" types who know no more about sports than your drunken cousin prattles on about some asinine opinion at the family cookout (this cousin may pivot to talking about Star Wars films when a new one has come out, and it is a given that they'll wrap this up by solemnly intoning that The Empire Strikes Back is "the greatest movie ever and if you don't think that you're a moron"; fun). He's just some dude. He could be any other dude. There are so many people in sports radio like that.


And the other commenters respond to these remarks by saying, "I am sure they have looked everywhere for new talent, but it's just not out there," or "All real talent goes national."


It's funny how people think things work.


That they think ability actually gets you anything right now. No one cares about your ability. Very few people have any when it comes to these things. It's obsolete. It's not the going concern. I'm not even sure how many people can recognize ability on their own in these professions. I think, after the fact, when everyone says, "Oh, yeah, Ronald McDonald is great," then these people in the profession can see how he's great if he's actually great.


But on their own? Before then?


I don't think they give a toss or could recognize talent if talent walked over and took a bite out of half of their ass. I think they live up their asses. I write WEEI's program director, Joe Zambrano, offering to do anything. I am the solution to his problems. He's not going to have a job soon, and his station may not even retain its format much longer. I'm the start of the solution, anyway. Or a part of it. I offer to do weekends, to do nights, let's get it rolling with something. People are awful on the radio. People who make their living talking are awful at talking. They are boring, inarticulate, rarely funny, not smart enough to fill up all of that air time with words that come out of their mouths, from their brains. They can also be pretty offensive. By this I mean actually offensive, not "sob sob you have violated my safe space" faux-offensive. Talking like they can't help sucking on their own feet. Not what we might call provocative, which isn't actually offensive, but rather can exist when one is correct in one's statements, with those statements impeccably made and definitively argued/advanced, but the remarks being unlike those others might have the courage to make or the intelligence--the clarity of vision--to formulate.


The commenters, though, on a place like Sons of Sam Horn, really believe that stations like WEEI are searching for talent. "I am sure they are looking everywhere." Ha. Right. "It's not like they have a Triple A team and can call someone up like the Sox." No. They just have a future Hall of Famer ready to go, that you can just plug in. Start me off on Sunday mornings if you want to make me work my way up. Saturday nights. The middle of the day on Sunday when the only people listening are driving around in their cars to get to their parents' house to pick up their kids.


You don't want me to talk about sports from the past? That's cool. I'll talk about sports and what is going on right now better than anyone else, and I'll do it in a way that the bros/jocks will love it and steal my material and sayings, and also people like those on the Sons of Sam Horn site, who have undergrad and graduate degrees. I'll hit both demos and the demos in-between. And I'll never run out of freshness, because I never run out of material. It's not possible for me, whether that's as a writer, an artist, or someone talking on the radio, on a stage, you name it.


Or, hey, you want a person for your arts show? Your political show on the issues of the day? Look at the cred. Music show? Maybe the Beatles? Jazz? Film? Books and literature of the day. Look at the cred in all of these areas. My track record and my bona fides is not beatable in each area. Bring me in, give me a tryout, make me earn my supper, test me.


Tomorrow on Downtown, incidentally, I'll be talking a lot about baseball. This will include everything from how Chris Sale is the most valueless "star" Boston athlete in modern memory, how Mookie Betts is a front runner whose entire season is dictated by how he fares in the first two weeks, why WAR is absurd, why insisting that wins do not matter for pitchers is contrary to human nature and human psychology and the nature and psychology of what a game is, how not all innings for starting pitchers are anywhere close to equal, which is what the people who think wins are meaningless believe without realizing they are believing it; and things back into the past, too, including what will always be the finest postseason a pitcher ever had, the most hilarious numbers on all of baseball-reference, why Yaz might be one of the most revolutionary players of the second half of the twentieth century--he was Mike Trout long before Trout--in addition to a piece I wrote that will be out any time now about how the home run is killing baseball and the troubling egotistical possessiveness people often flaunt now when it comes to the Hall of Fame (induction ceremonies being this weekend). What did I talk about last time? I don't even remember. The Beatles? Orson Welles? Sherlock Holmes? Buried on the Beaches? Wait, my bad--Fourth of July-related literature and Musings with Franklin. All I know is when I do these Downtown segments, I don't like to do the same subject area two times in a row. I think it's happened with some film stuff. But they were very different film things. Why do I do this? I'm trying to create a record of everything and I'm doing it in equal measure. It's not a "have to" kind of deal, but just the plan I have gone with. I should do something on painting soon. I pitched an idea this afternoon to The New Criterion on Winslow Homer's beach-related work. They don't write me back anymore. No idea why. I don't think they hate me. Bit of trivia: I would say that out of all of the places I've ever written for, the prevailing quality of the writing--I mean on the whole--has been the highest at JazzTimes, The New Criterion, The American Interest, Sports Illustrated.


The one demo I admit that I would not hit for radio--or podcasts--is that demo that wants mindless teenage gossip from a radio program where one host bitches about how the producer talked behind his back to the station manager, and the other host has to pick a side, and it's just high school hallway gossip nonsense for remedial adults who are the kind of people who point with their fork. You know the kind.


Is that what a program has to be to be successful? I don't believe that. Right now a lot of people will say "such and such is dead" and I think, "it doesn't have to be. The people in charge of those things did the killing. Or there wasn't enough talent. Let's see what happens with true talent, let's see who listens then, let's see who reads then." That's the biggest problem to me. Not short attention spans for reading, or Netflix. Who wants to read any of this crap? Let's see what happens with good stuff. Oh, yippie, another contrived piece of MFA wankery, or, hot dog, another pandering book about race and gender. It's like bad, awful, bitter medicine you have to swallow, dumped down your gullet. You hate it, it doesn't help you, the people who put it out don't think it helps you or that you really want it, but publishing thinks IT MUST BE THIS WAY BECAUSE THAT'S HOW IT IS NOW SO LET IT BE SO. That's all you get. What if you got something good? As for radio, I believe if you bring great insight in a fun, fresh way, with lots of energy--nothing is more important to performing well on the radio than energy; that doesn't mean yelling and "hot takes"--and humor to go along with your "I'll look you in the eye and tell you it really is but not in an overweening way" intelligence, and you say things in arresting and new ways, you are edgy but not a dick--edgy these days means you say the truth in a balanced way, not that you say crap for provocation's sake--I think you can make a lot of money, get big ratings, provided you are not cursed and doomed, which, admittedly, I do worry that I am. For instance, I'm going to have an op-ed in a newspaper this week with a circulation of 20 million, the highest circulation newspaper in this country, and I'm not going to pick up a single Twitter follower and I don't know how that is earthly possible unless you are cursed and doomed, because nobody else could have the op-ed run in such a venue and not pick up a few thousands followers. That's just a reality of life. But. I am getting off subject.


The work I did on "Fitty" today was more draining than I can afford--literally--to allow it to be, because I need to be grinding at these other commitments, so hard to come by, for what money they do bring in, and I need to finally cross the film and music books--the Scrooge and Sam Cooke ones--off of my to-do list, though given my present situation, they can bring no money into my life, however wonderful they might be. You are creating works for later, to sell later, after you have the platform. No one has ever done it this way, and it so backwards a way of doing things. It's like if the Beatles came to the end of their career in 1969, and you'd never heard of them, and an industry had blackballed them, and they somehow got known, they somehow broke through the blackballing, they somehow created a flashpoint in the news cycle that made everyone turn to them, and everyone discovered and loved their new one, Abbey Road, and then everyone learned that there was Revolver, and "Strawberry Fields Forever," and Pepper, and A Hard Day's Night...that's me, only instead of two dozen things, there are hundreds, if not thousands of things.


I also worry if you can have too much art and entertainment. Aren't these insane things to have as your fears? Your problems are supposed to be not being good enough, not making art and entertainment for all-time. Not having enough of it. Being a one-hit-wonder. Of course, you'd have to explain how this situation came to be, where you had all of this stuff and no one had ever heard of it. While you were hidden in plain view. Because I will tell you: It is not about what you do. It is about who and how many people talk about you. What you do might as well not exist, no matter where you are doing it, no matter its quality, no matter its enjoyability, if people in big numbers are not talking about it, hyping it. This is true more than ever. No one is going to like anything on their own. They are only going to pay any attention to things that huge packs of people are paying attention to. You're not going to get a bunch of individuals who say, "that's amazing," and they spread the word, and it grows. You get the pack, or you have nothing. Right now, I have the best work, the most entertaining, the funniest work, the most moving work, the most emotional work, the most human work, plus the persona, the story, the voice, the balls, the strength, but I am entirely pack-less, so I have absolutely nothing. As though I had not ever made a single work at all. As though I had never existed. That's how it stands on July 15, 2019.


I walked three miles, I climbed the Monument five times. It was supposed to be ten. I don't know what is wrong with me. I could have done the ten but I stopped. It would have been a slog. July and August climbing is tough. I was surprised, actually, that the Monument was even open today. There is some heat index threshold at which it gets shut down and we must have been close but still under it.


It's 3:30. I haven't showered. I'm in my workout clothes. I need to clean up and get to the Starbucks and read. I have to write on Melville's poetry for The Washington Post. Can't dilly-dally.


***

People who do not know the difference between "then" and "than" lose me forever. I can't. I cannot even begin to. I have noticed that it is these people who--most of whom do not know that the word "than" exists--argue the most demonstrably on the internet as if they represent the oracle of truth. Many things each day stab my soul. This is one of them.


***



It was around this time twenty years ago that The Blair Witch Project came out. I thought it was a great concept, skillfully executed. The film was not a gimmick--it holds up well and has aged well. I was going to pitch something on it, but no one would have assigned it, as the magazine world is presently in its pre-death coma when it it technically alive, but the phone could ring any moment telling you otherwise. The angle would have been that it elevated fake news to the level of art and horror; it is fake news as horror codified; and also the nature of subjectivity, choosing to see and believe what we choose to see and believe, which is often not the truth. Subjectivity is the locus of our terror (terror being both more penetrating and mordant than horror; horror coats, then drips off; terror stains, remains; horror is atop skin, terror shades/stains the inside of bone) these days with regularity; Blair Witch is pure subjectivity, right down to its cinematic techniques; it's shot, we are made to believe, by subjectivists. It's also a potent reminder of the power of imagination. Remember that? You can move the world with a video camera and some sunlight, or a work of literature that is "no more" than two people talking.


Read, for instance, Chekhov's "A Father." That is big boy, genius writing. It's riveting. Ever had a parent? Again, read "A Father." He wrote it for you. And it's just some dude and his dad, for the most part, until the very end, when it's some dude, his dad, and his dad's girlfriend. Most "literary writers"--I don't consider them writers--right now throw characters at you, because that's all they can do to fill up the page (it's also why you see so much stock description, which is literary fiction's version of stock footage; you're reading--well, you're about to stop, because what you've been told is great and won such and such an award is in fact horrible--and you hit another patch of description, and you know it will drool on for three paragraphs, and you can just skip it, doesn't need to be there at all). They have no stories to tell, they have no life in their work. I am always suspicious of someone who throws lots of characters at me, unless I know they have real talent, which I will know in less than a sentence. Show me the first sentence of anything ever written and I can tell you if the person is any good at writing. Line up "top tier" lit biz short stories by the darlings of the system. Look at the first sentences. Bad, bad, bad, bad, ineffectual, rote, boring, sloppy, gappy, blah, middling, token, Writing 101, stock description. And on and on. A great writer needs one word. One sound. One note. They have the life force. It's like a beam, and any amount of the beam they let out is so obviously the beam that you're like, right, master, true talent, you have the stuff. It is impossible for me to miss the beam. And it is impossible for someone to fake it. Sure, they all try to fake it, but that's like some light on the cell phone. Not the same thing.