Sunday, September 25, 2005

GERARD JONES REDUX

Not content with finally getting his Ginny Good published by Monkfish Book Publishers after 50,000 rejections (sic) Gerard is now putting his GINNY GOOD out in audio at his own expense. Some writers never give up.



At first the narrator seems to be a sad little character with a huge grudge:

I'm gonna fight em all
A seven nation army couldn't hold me back
They're going to rip it off
Taking their time behind my back


Gerard Jones and I are in a golf cart just outside Ashland Oregon and listening to the local rock station.

White Stripes/Seven Nations Army is talking about the recording industry, its hype and money-oriented manipulation, but as far as Gerard Jones in concerned, it might as well be the American book publishing industry.

"They're money grubbers all. Tin ears when it comes to judging good literature. When it comes to real writin' those dumb kids just out of college wouldn't know a good manuscript from a Dr. Phil show."

For forty years and more, Gerard Jones was that sad little character with a big grudge. He had been rejected 5,000 times by agents and publishers in the U.S., U.K and Canada.

He strongly identifies with the White Stripes song that has once again broken into our conversation.

And I'm talking to myself at night
Because I can't forget
Back and forth through my mind
Behind a cigarette
And a message from behind my eyes
Says leave it alone...

"Yeah, it was a tough time, years and years of it. I just had to have my beautiful novel published. GINNY GOOD. It's the greatest book not only of the last, but of this century." He says this in all sincerity. "I kick everybody's ass he says. "I kick Kurt Vonnegut's ass. I kick Bob Dylan's ass. I'm the greatest writer since Nabokov."

That was his attitude through the last 40 years of his publishing go-round. He simply had to find a home for his GINNY GOOD. Five thousand rejections. Six thousand.

I am about to turn the radio down, but something of the near-apocalyptic tone of the song and it's inner sanctum bassline holds me back. The song is exactly what we're talking about.

Don't want to hear about it
Every single one's got a story to tell
Everybody knows about it
From the Queen of England to the hounds of hell
And if I catch you coming back my way
I'm going to serve it to you
And that ain't what your wanna hear
But that'swhat I'll do
And the feeling coming from my bones
Says find a home.

It took Gerard Jones at least twenty years to find a home for his GINNY GOOD but find it he did after he invented a website, EVERYONE WHO'S ANYONE IN ADULT TRADE PUBLISHING. On the website he lists every last agent and publishing house who had rejected him and added comments about those folks, some of them verging on the obscene and scatological. But list them he did, all six thousand of them. The result was not only an overground publishing for Gerard Jones, but a treasure trove of addresses and references for budding authors. In the space of just a few weeks, EVERYONE WHO'S ANYONE IN ADULT TRADE PUBLISHING--AND TINSELTOWN TOO received six thousand hits and five years later the hits keep on coming, especially after Monkfish Book Publishing Company finally issued Ginny Good to good reviews. Sample:

"Months after reading GINNY GOOD I still see the vivid images author Gerard Jones shared with his readers...Jones brings about a careless insouciance to GINNY GOOD. An early hippie devil-may-care effem-if-they-can't-take-a-joke attitude that pretends to mask deeper feelings. Pretends, of course, because it's clear that Jones cares deeply about everything that befalls him and Ginny and the others we meet in GINNY GOOD. And he wants us to know he cares, but he wants us to find our own way to that conclusion. It is this intelligent respect for the intelligence of of his readers that makes GINNY GOOD work at several levels...GINNY GOOD is an excruciating coming of age at a time when the world was falling apart."

"Like it is now," says sharp-faced tufted-haired Gerard Jones as he turns up the radio. (I had been about to remark on a book by Margaret MacMillan in this self- same issue of January magazine and Linda L. Richards' comments on "Rideau Hall, History and Current Occupants," but it seemed tamer fare than the Ginny Good review). Jones is a little tired of America and wants a way out. He does insist that he may be too talented and too hip for America. He claims he was Haight-Ashbury's original hippie. He's still extremely hip. Neo Haight-Ashbury. Like The White Stripes.

I'm going the Wichita
Far from this opera for evermore
I'm going to work the straw
Make the sweat drip out of every pore
And I'm bleeding and i'm bleeding
Right before the Lord
All the words are gonna bleed from me
And I will think no more
And the stains coming from my blood
Tell me go back home.

Too talented for America, Gerard Jones insists. "Too hip for America, like those musicians.

"The critics haven't missed my books, but sales are down. At least I got it published the way I wanted it published. I can just pick it up and stare at it." A little wind whips up and plants a dry read oakleaf just under his chin. He wipes the red wire-consistent mesh away from his Adidas hoodie. "I love Ashland. But there's something wrong with America. We knew that right through the sixties and it hasn't ended. He points his putter toward a distant mountain, whose other side is California. Yeah, Haight Ashbury. Now full of the new Bohemians, all money, all bling-bling, all credit cards and no talent. The Bohos are all gone. But I'm still here. Where we gonna go to?

"Maybe like White Stripes, I might end up going to Wichita."

He stops the cart and turns off the radio.

"Right now, I'm playing golf. A hole for every stroke. Bring 'em all on. Bring on Mike Weir. Bring on Tiger Woods. I can whip his ass too."

There is something of Willie Nelson about Gerard Jones. Brash on the outside. Deep on the inside.

Something is happening here.

--Ivan Prokopchuk

Friday, September 16, 2005

A teacher can't be crazy

Some twenty years ago, on the coldest January on record, I decided to stop teaching. I decided that I had to be a writer, because a teacher can't be crazy.

The decision was not hard to make. I had worked an entire trimester with no vacation. I was drinking too much and the Canadian history majors for whom I was conducting a writing workshop felt it was beneath them to actually write stuff for me, to be read out loud and criticized by the other students.

"We will not do your assignments. They are too revealing, and it would be an affront to our dignity."

What do you do with a bunch of people who already have their B.A.s but somehow found themselves on welfare, going back to take my course to satisfy requirements for the dole?

Too much assertiveness training, I suppose. Control, control, you gotta have control.

Dostoevsky:

The illusion of possessing and controlling everything is a powerful one, and its charms are not readily surrendered even in adulthood (The Department Head here?) So we encounter in theoreticians of self-referential art both the puzzling contempt for "real" worlds and the sentimental hope for a forcible remaking of the universe as if there were not already a universe to be acknowledged. The Impulse for such creation--Faustian in its aspirations--must spring from a sense of insignificance; for even the infant's delusion of omnipotence is compensatory for its actual helplessness.

BA's on welfare, going back to a kind of Kindergarten so they could collect their welfare cheques, going back to me for specialized writing skills, to write with a purpose. But they weren't doing any writing. And it was all my fault, they said, much as the killer instinct of their department head was also my fault, as it were. He wanted my job. Or he wanted a promotion to be over me at my job.

There was no small amount of paranoia here, as any marginal employee knows. I was untenured and rather low on the food chain.

My students were starting to drive me crazy.

There were two ways to go. One was Plan A, which was all testosterone, confronting the under-producing students and their department head who wanted my job in the first place, or Plan B.
Plan B wasn't too good. I could be found most afternoons absorbing the amber haze of a local pub, constructing great sprawling novels in the smoky air, impressing, I thought, my l920's-style flapper girlfriend, blonde hair abob, who was affecting artist's berets and silk stocking, the date of a published writer, the local Nicholas Gogol who somehow happened to be her teacher of English.

Married, thirty-something, bored and not yet decided between an academic nunnery down there at York or the house of the rising sun.

Scott and Zelda, Ivan and Celia.

Yet the untrammeled killer instinct of my enemy at the College was showing some of its force. What thugs academics are. Build an empire. Screw the students. Manipulate the students to your purpose. Become department head and course director, then Dean.

Someone was looking for a deanship and he had set his homeroom on a children's crusade to get old Ivan.

Enough that I'd quit, quit even though they offered me some plum. I surrendered the vows and took off with my glamorous girlfriend for Mexico. I would be Gaugin in Tahiti. I would come back with my marvelous sprawling novels, meet some Don Juan up on some mesa and know at last the meaning of life.

The hell of it was that it worked.

I came back from Mexico with the novel. The girlfriend I'd somehow lost in transit.

Back in Newmarket, manuscript tucked under one arm, I came across the department head. He seemed shaken and not altogether sure of himself. He had just gone through his second divorce and had had a negative experience with his psychiatrist.

"So how have you been?" he had asked.

"I did well," I answered. "Came back with a manuscript and a new degree."

And that's where the department head revealed himself.

"You know, I haven't seen you for some time, but now I already feel I have seen too much of you."

Why you little prick.

Academics are slime.

I fussed and fumed over this for some time, then I had a coffee with Chief Armand LaBarge, local cop and a personal friend. Armand has a sense of humour: "But you're an academic too."

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Difficult Kind

My first impulse on seeing Sheryl Crow in a gold lamé minidress was to, uh, eat crow.

There she was at the Grammys a couple of years ago, when I still played the guitar and imagined myself a Grammy recipient (twenty years on the road and I still can't write a song), Sheryl Crow, Lance Armstrong's partner (how I hate him for taking my chick!), Sheryl Crow all Ho'd up like everybody else with no sign of the little genius that hides within.

This was no AM station fodder from back in the old days when most AM stations played rock instead of talk, vintage songs all a-bubbly with Budweiser beer buzzes, of following the sun, stuff out of Sheryl's Planet album of love and loss, especially The Difficult Kind, a heart-wrencher to this day.

Sheryl Crow seeming diminutive in her Dolce&Gabbana pants and way over- the- top heels, accompanied by Shelby Lynn, herself beautiful as an Appalachian stream. Two women with two guitars, unplugged, but electric all the same in a sound like two angels coming on a melodically tight line. This is what the best of American talent sounded like before the horror of Sept. 11. And this was what American talent would sound like too, just after the tragedy, all the best musicians, pop and country, standing up to support the country to show beauty and grace under incredible pressure.

Do not give up on America. The best songs come ouf of the Mississippi Delta, now so awash, bodies floating in the streets, people begging and dying while officials lie like sidewalks. And yet all that debris and detritus, those tin shacks stuck against the trees were the spawning grounds of the best music out of modern times.

Have you seen today's Mississippi? It is not a river, it is nearly an ocean, a Lake Erie down there in Louisianna, Lake Ponchatrain joined with the river , the city a lake too, all of it forming Atlantis as in Plato's vision, years before Christ.

Yes, the beautiful "Ho's" with their stunning talents will be back, back to rouse the nation and offer hope, all the Gwen Stefanis and Shelby Lynns and Sheryl Crows and Faith Hills. I will wager that even Avril Lavigne, who sounds French, will be there.

Mark my words. The beautiful ladies of song will yet reverse this tragedy. You'll hear angels singing.