Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Problems of a literary lion (Lioness?)
Every so often in this fraudulent literary life, we get a break.
After years in the exurban wilderness, I was finally hired by a large circulaion magazine to write more or less what ever came into my head--which wan't much, but the publisher liked my clippings from the past and said I had some credentials. I had been hired and pretty well fired by the best newspapers and magazines in the country, so now I would finally get my "reward"and write pretty well what I pleased.
"But keep it edgy," said the publisher. Run us just short of libel, but make those suburbanites choke on their breakfast, wondering who the hell this Ivan guy is and how can we sue him.
Well. My first column was on rock'n'roll, my celebration of the fact that a really crappy musician's union ASCAP, had made sure that the American pupblic would be bored for years wirth really shitty jazz, while it was Sam Phillips over at SUN Records that was revolutionizing the music industry with his Presleys, Carl Perkinses and
And their union was BMI and not ASCAP, and I felt that nobody would lament the decline of that old Broadway banner.
Well, in came mail from all the music teachers and all the weekend jazz players, and all the supporters of that boring medium which I swear was designed to make us all feel inadequate, the little bits of play between the bassist and the drummer, the harkening back to airy Broadway, the Cole Porter. Bleat, bleat, thunk.
I felt jazz was great when played by black folk, but once the sharp whiteys got in there, the Blues of New Orleans went straight to hell. The Irving Berlin ripoffs from the Gula people of North Carolina had had their day, I felt.
And then came rock, and then came politics, Woodstock, the horror of Altamount and the final tribute to the Rolling Stones.
Well. The notoriety I got soon landed me a job a rock critic. I had to change my name.
Now it was The SUN rocks, with John Pope.
For a while, I really felt that I was not only John Pope,but Pope John.
A year of this relative fame. Then another.
And then nothing.
Like many another ordinarily dull sot who cranked up his optimism and small talent with nicotine, coffee, booze, drugs, I had somehow burned out my brains and liver and white paper syndrome hit me. Hard.
I could no longet write.
Sure there had been the shinplaster colums, cutting my grass, things the wife said, things the neigbour said, secret thoughts of resentment about my wife, family, my dog.
But now I could no longer write.
"Can't get it up any more, eh 'John Pope?'"
The other columnists were starting to rag me.
One was a food columnist, whose standing logo was "Eating out with Neal Campbell."
I got our cartoonist to draw the setting of a wild office party, where Neal Campbell was dining upon a pert young secretary,who was perched on an old fashioned computer monitor, legs astride. "Fix the bastard. Eating out with Neal Campbell indeed."
The cartoon somehow got past the editor and I was fired.
No problem. By this time I'd gotten a reputarion and I was soon a staff writer for The Canadian.
But here, the same problem.
I was seriously blocked.
I had arrived at university a couple of credits short, substituting Russian for French to get that credit, and Physics for math, in which I was weak. A statistical thing, yes, but I really did not have French and I did not have math.
I had sneaked in on Air Force education paper. Thanks god for the vanishing traces of the GI bill.
So where I could write, I could not really add, but lord, how I could plagiarize, especilly old music reviews. I had given myself my own Rolling Stone education by reading every last word in Rolling Stone and Downbeat and then remembering and condensing what I had read. Being a weekend guitarist did not hurt either.
Well, blocked or not, I was still moving in some pretty fast company. A contributor to Billboard, vintage stars
Lyle Talbot and Yvonne de Carlo as dinner guests. Hanging out with Bruno Gerussi, of Beachcombers.
How brash one was in thos days. "Any one ever call you a Wop,Bruno? I have some ethnic issues."
"You cut through that stuff," said Bruno, though I'd seen him wincing at the question.
Hanging out with Peggy Lee, Gino Empry, grand Toronto impresario, Honest Ed Mirvish, who initiated world-class theatre in Toronto, my reviews all over the outside walls of the Royal Alexandra and the "Poor Alec" too.
And yet I was still a blocked writer.
I began to feel like an Italian in the early Sixties and the economic slump there. "No future, but what a past."
Pride, of course, comes before a a fall.
I had to make a grand comeback. I would write a novel and bring the house down.
I quit the Canadian.
"Take a leave of absence," said the kindly editor.
No, I was going to be a artist, a novelist.
"Pick up the mop, 'artist", I know you, really know you. They don't."
Ah out of work and doing the mop thing.
Bu there was hope. Mommy-in-law was getting feeble and she needed a "sitter" while living in Florida.
Does a cat have a tail?
I would be an excellent sitter and Ladies' Home Companion.
Wifey, kids and I off to Florida.
Blocked writer gets a salary living at Lauderdale-by-the-sea. Dinners of clams and lobsters, graceful trencherman,
sniffer of Grand Marnier.
Not bad for a Polack who used to relax with a Colbassier out of a brown bag.
Three years of this, and wifey wonders whether I had turned it over in my drunken little mind that I should get a job, a real job. "You've got the paperwork. You could be a teacher."
But here too the problems.
At the community college level, you have professors who often have no paperwork at all, just work experience.
Many are thugs; some even have records. These thugs were teaching our kids. In the fierce competition for headships, I began to fear for my sanity, if not for my life. Some of the teacher were people with criminal mentalities, if not backgrounds. Bunchafuckinassholes, I decided.
Off to write the Great Novel again.
"You do it without me," says wifey.
Ah, the old pride-before-a-fall thing.
I would do the masculine thing, would work in isolation for years, write the book and bring the house down.
Well I didn't quite.
I had learned something of life, the divorce, the splitting of the house,the loss of all my assets, the new therapist for my pitching brain--who the hell wanted to know that?
I wrote it all down in a book and the book sort of sold.
And now one is Rumpelstilstkin, a kicked-out Rumpelstiltskin for whom the woman is no longer spinning gold.
Who won this one?
For the life of me, I don't know.
For the only writing I do these days is here.
And that is not quite being John Pope, John Pope the Pro.