Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it. (Colette)

When I was a pre-bar mitzvah sprout in Hebrew school, I was at the mercy of a teacher who came from the Old World with some old skool Old World characteristics, including teeth and fingernails yellow from chain-smoking and a tendency in any academic situation to fall back on his main teaching tool: violence.

I’m not going to tell you this man’s name, or the nickname we children gave him, or the songs we sang about him, because I don’t want his descendants to track me down and torture me the way he did. And anyway, maybe he behaved so badly because he had survived the Holocaust and journeyed to America and in his declining years ended up marooned in our declining, uninteresting city, teaching Hebrew to a bunch of youthful dumbshits. Whatever his motivations, when he called one of us up to the front of the class to recite and we couldn’t deliver, he always screamed, “Go back to your seat and study!!!”

This evening at the end of my Write-a-thon hour I wanted to send myself back to my seat to study. What I wrote was definitely not worth reciting at the front of a classroom or anywhere else. There’s a character I have yet to understand, and my subconscious writer brain refuses to let him walk through these pages as valiant, virtuous, and virtually flawless. Unlike my former Hebrew school teacher, who is long gone, I can figure out what makes this guy tick and why anyone should care.

Maybe that was my old teacher’s real problem. He cared too much.

The 10-year-old inside me just ducked and covered.

Random Pick of the Day
Three Dog Night, Cyan (1973)
Loyal Reader Accused of Lurking has pointed out my math error. Before I so blithely skipped to the Dave Clark Five, I should’ve stopped at Three Dog Night! I also skipped 4 Non Blondes. I’m rectifying the first error tonight.

I find Three Dog Night interesting because almost everything they sang was written by someone else. The original was practically unrecognizable after 3DN finished rearranging it. Look at their first record, Three Dog Night (1969). The composers on this disc include Tim Hardin, Stevie Winwood, Harry Nilsson, Lennon & McCartney, Randy Newman, Neil Young, and Johnnie “Guitar” Watson. Their second album, Suitable for Framing (also 1969), adds Laura Nyro, Dave Mason, Sam Cooke, and Elton John. I wish 3DN had lasted as far as 1980 because I would’ve loved to have heard what they did with songs by, for example, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Joan Armatrading, and Michael Jackson.

Other than the fact that I flee from any room where “Black & White” or “Joy to the World” is playing (the latter being the “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” song, which Hoyt Axton wrote to showcase the melody – the lyrics were a nonsensical placeholder), I’m OK with this band. They fit well on a road trip in-between the harder stuff. My favorite 3DN songs are “One” (Nilsson), “Eli’s Coming” (Nyro), “Easy to Be Hard” (the team that wrote Hair), and “Liar” (Russ Ballard). Except for “Easy to Be Hard,” these treatments are tougher than usual for them. They’re all from the first two albums.

Cyan (which includes the hit “Shambala”) is not 3DN’s best album (that would be their debut), but it’s their closest to the blue-eyed soul of Rare Earth. There’s also a gospel flavor to some of these tracks. (“Celebrate,” from Suitable for Framing, could easily have appeared on a Rare Earth album exactly as it is.)

For a few years back there in our rearview mirror, Three Dog Night was more powerful than the Van Allen radiation belt. According to Google, they ran up a string of 21 hit singles from 1969 through 1975. I’d rather revisit their music than that of their contemporaries Grand Funk Railroad, a band that rocks very hard for very little reason.

  1. Verlierer says:

    Leverage, was recommended to us by Astrid Bear. It is one of the Mrs.’s favorite shows (wacky characters and biting repartee). The show always makes me think of Mr. DMSteve, for it was filmed in Portland (were he currently resides) and is set in Boston (were he was formally raised). And as a third Clarion West attendee tie-in to Leverage, Greg Cox was hired to write a novelization tie-in set in the Leverage universe.

    As for Three Dog Night, my guilty pleasure was Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come.”

  2. Accused of Lurking says:

    As is my custom whenever my name is invoked, I appear primed for rebuttal. Unfortunately, your Three Dog Night analysis is spot on, leaving no room for my snide disagreement. And your mention of Grand Funk Railroad made me chortle into my Cheerios, despite being quite fond of their song “Bad Time”.

    What I really wanted to say, though, is that reading these daily blog posts has made me hyperaware of writers discussing the process of writing. Last night, I watched an episode of Tabletop (streamed from the Geek and Sundry channel on YouTube). One of the players was John Rogers, writer and executive producer of Leverage which, as you know, is a television show filmed and set in your current home city. I liked his view of writing, which is to always be aware of three questions:

    Who wants what? Why can’t they have it? Why do I give a s#@t?

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      Since you got me thinking about Three Dog Night, it occurred to me that they may be one of the best cover bands we’ve ever seen. Joan Jett based her reputation largely on covers, and she’s good but 3DN is better. In the ’90s, The Cure launched a second career as a cover band (they appear on a million tribute CDs), and they’re good at it but 3DN is better at it.

      If the painful evolution of what passes for my process has been enlightening to anyone, I’m surprised but also happy. John Rogers articulates what’s been said before, but not so neatly as he does it! I’m going to write that down. I like this one, by Donald Maas, who never had a best-seller but who teaches other writes how to do it. He comes at the topic from the angle of technique:
       – Who matters most to protagonist? Lose them.
       – What’s their greatest physical asset? Impair it.
       – What do they hold sacred? Undermine it.
       – What’s the time-frame to solve their problems? Shorten it.
      Maas also said, “Making people relatives always ups the ante.”

      Leverage filmed at Reed College, where we used to walk Teddy, several times, but I was never able to get the dog on the show.

      Mazal tov, Lurk. You are the 500th comment on this blog!

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