Snoopy letter What is it with you

“Let’s face it, some boys and girls become writers because the only workplace they’re willing to visit is the one inside their heads. And even then it’s a tough commute.” (Arthur Krystal)

“A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” (Thomas Mann)

I don’t find writing difficult. I write all the time. Stories, blog posts, music reviews, love letters, flame mail, and whatever they throw at me at work. When I have work.

The difficulty for me is concentrating on something as large and as made-up as a novel. Heather Sellers, in her excellent how-to book Chapter After Chapter, reminds us that, in general, we humans lack experience in long-range projects. At our core we’re hunter/gatherers who are still concerned with today and how we’re going to get through it. Which is also how we often live our harried modern lives.

Ms. Sellers writes:

Writing a book is going to annoy the hell out of your brain. What you are asking it to do – to always move toward the unknown – goes against thousands of years of successful survival. But that’s how we evolve. We move toward the unknown.

Today in the Write-a-thon I spent 90 minutes moving toward the unknown in the window of my favorite coffee shop. Flannery O’Connor  said, “I write to discover what I know,” and I discovered a little more tonight. I’d rather discover a lot rather than a little but I guess my brain is too annoyed to cooperate.

I’ll let former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have the final word on the known and the unknown:

There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.
There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.

Random Pick of the Day
Various Artists, You Heard It Here First! (2008)
What makes a hit record a hit? Talent, timing, personality? You Heard It Here First!, a collection of “26 classics from the 50s and 60s, heard here in their original, pre-hit versions,” leans toward talent, but it’s a close and interesting race.

For example, Elvis Presley had a hit with “Suspicious Minds,” but the musical arrangement is almost exactly the same as Mark James’ original. The only difference is Elvis Presley. Soft Cell had a hit with “Tainted Love,” but the original, by Gloria Jones, has all the menace Soft Cell was too soft to deliver. And The Troggs had a hit with “Wild Thing,” besting the original by The Wild Ones. If you’re going to call yourselves wild and make a song about being wild, you should at least try to sound like you’re wild.

Johnny Darrell’s “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” almost had me in tears. Kenny Rogers & The First Edition raked in the cash after applying their Purell hand sanitizer to it. And The Leaves, with the first “Hey Joe,” turn in a surprisingly strong and genuinely wild performance, even though it’s obvious after the first minute that the only thing they know how to do is play wicked fast.

Some songs I thought were ties – “Louie, Louie” is “Louie, Louie” no matter who plays it – and then there are the hit songs that I will always hate no matter who sings them: “My Boy Lollipop” and “Something Stupid” head that list.

The main things I learned from this disc are 1) The Raindrops (“Hanky Panky”) may have been the worst singers in the history of singing; and 2) Bill Haley took a nothing of a song called “Rock Around the Clock” (“Put some glad rags on and join me hon/we’re gonna have some fun when the clock strikes one” is the only halfway decent line), added some catchy musicianship and a delivery that made sex seem goofy, and got the first rock song to break the Top 40. And if you think an 87-word sentence like the one I just wrote is lengthy, the record, held by Victor Hugo, is 400+. Gonna write, gonna write, gonna write around the clock tonight.

Random Pan of the Day
3 Doors Down, The Better Life (2000)
They had a hit with “Kryptonite,” which is still a nice song, but they’re basically interchangeable with Candlebox, Nickelback, Creed, and most other hard rock/fake grunge acts of the 1990s. None of them are as good as Cream or even Stone Temple Pilots. The boys in 3DD try harder than most, but their limitations are cruelly exposed when they attempt a ballad and immediately enter Kansas and Styx country.

  1. Verlierer says:

    The Pussycat Dolls do the purr-fect cover of “Tainted Love.” Just kitty-ing? Or, maybe it was the cuddly video?

    Have at it, sir…

  2. If you define a sentence as (1) beginning with a capital letter and (2) ending with a full stop/period (or question mark or exclamation mark), then the last section/chapter of Ulysses is one sentence over 30+ pages; actually divided in 7 or 8 paragraphs! And if remember correctly, the Tralala section of Last Exit to Brooklyn may of been on long sentence, but its years since I read it and could well be mistaken.

    A friend of mine had a mono pressing of the White Album and always insisted that John’s rant about his blistered fingers can’t be heard at the of “Helter Skelter”; however it maybe that he was actually playing a stereo record on mono equipment – another friend was astounded when he realised he’d never heard some of the verses of “Rhinocratic Oaths” (The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse) for years for the same reason.

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      Gabriel Garcia Marquez pulled the same stunt in The Autumn of the Patriarch, but this is not how I identify a sentence! I probably should’ve qualified my claim for Messr. Hugo. I’ve been saving Ulysses for a rainy day, or rather a rainy year. Do you recommend Last Exit to Brooklyn?

      Interesting about stereo vs. mono equipment. When I first started listening to music regularly with good headphones, I caught many things that had never gotten through my tinnitus. As for John’s rant, it’s actually Ringo’s. I found that out last night when I looked up the exact quote. You can learn everything about The Beatles in a month and after a century they can still surprise you.

      • Can’t really recommend Last Exit to Brooklyn, really. It was the subject of an obscenity trial in the UK in the late 60’s and a friend who worked in a local library allowed the book to do the rounds because it had been withdrawn pending the judges decision. I did read at the time but can’t remember too much about it beyond the fact the author was trying to be experimental but much of it was pretty torrid – the Tralala section described a very unpleasant gang rape of the eponymous ‘working girl’.

        No I’d try Ulysses instead. I started reading it in about 1967 but there are still some parts I’ve haven’t yet read. With Finnegans Wake there’s only one chapter I’ve managed so far!

      • Run-DMSteve says:

        I only know Last Exit’s Hugh Selby because Henry Rollins referred to him so much. My reading tastes occasionally verge toward Selby territory (an early flirtation with Bukowski). I’m not sure I’d ever get to Last Exit. Thanks for the consumer warning!

        I love it that after 46 years you still haven’t finished Ulysses. Isn’t that pretty much everyone’s experience? I’d better get going on it.

        I’m listening to the Bela Bartok you sent. Not really my thing, though he was an interesting guy. Do you like one of my other namesakes, Bela Fleck?

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