A rare night out for me. As regular readers of this blog know, it’s next to impossible to pull me away from my desk. A workaholic agoraphobic, that’s me. But when Laird called back in March and asked me if I was on for the Queens, I immediately said, “grab us some tickets, old son, but queek”.
Jesse accompanied us and so my usual qualms about being surrounded by a mass of sweaty strangers were much diminished—these lads make me feel comfortable and safe. The weather was beautiful and we stopped off at O’Shea’s Pub, across the street from the Odeon, fueled up on Guinness and invective and hurried over once we heard the music pounding out through the open doors.
Glad we caught the opening act, Mugison, because they were amazing. Unbelievably good. They’re making big waves in their native Iceland and I can see why. These boys weren’t just putting in time (a la Trans Am, the trio who opened for Tool), they fucking worked for their dime. And completely won over the crowd by giving it their all. Afterwards the lead singer and creative centre of the band came out and signed copies of the CD “Mugiboogie” (playing on my stereo as I type these words). Check out some of their music on YouTube because, I’m telling you, the three of us were in full agreement that we’d love to see them play a full set as headliners and would pay dearly for the privilege.
But, clearly, the evening belonged to the Queens. Josh and the boys were on and from the distinctive opening bars of “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” to the final encore number “Song for the Dead”, they absolutely owned the joint. The fact that they were playing a relatively small venue in Saskatoon, Sask-at-chew-wan never seemed to occur to them—they rocked as hard and long as if they were playing to a crowd the size of a city at a Lollapalooza gig.
Over the past couple of years I’ve conquered some of my fear of big gatherings, constricted spaces and, as a result, have been present for some fucking amazing concerts. Tool, the Pixies, Pearl Jam, Arcade Fire, the oneandonly Buddy Guy. There’s something about the live experience that you just can’t capture in a recording, ripples of electricity surging through the crowd, the band feeding on the energy and then sending it back, a circuit of power and intensity and, yup, love that is as intoxicating as anything I’ve ever experienced.
I had been a fan and admirer of the Queens before the show last night, own at least five of their albums but now I have a renewed and enhanced appreciation for their technical skill, their passion for music, the extraordinary chemistry that unites the band, creating a perfect fusion of minds and talents. They took their repertoire to a whole other level last night and afterwards I was at a loss, trying to put into words what I had just seen and heard. Superlatives, as they are, are insufficient.
One quibble, and this has nothing to do with the band. People would not stop fucking moving. And I don’t mean dancing or pogo-ing to the beat, I’m talking about restlessly roaming about like dumb animals, fucking morons jostling me, coming and going. The sight lines at the Odeon aren’t good and the air circulation practically nonexistent and these idiot fucks couldn’t make up their minds where they wanted to be. Very few people excused themselves and in some cases just plowed right through, figuring the forty bucks they paid for their ticket entitled them to behave like a horny bull moose. One was sorely tempted to hook the feet out of the shithead who was making his third trip past, holding two sloshing glasses of beer and determined to get…somewhere. Eventually I pulled far enough back so that I could hear the music without being disturbed by an eighteen year old with the manners, personal hygiene and I.Q. of a pot-bellied pig.
But, really, it would’ve taken a lot more than meandering teenagers to spoil an incredible evening of music. Everything wrapped up before eleven and afterward we stood outside awhile, ears still humming, grinning stupidly at each other. Two great pals o’ mine and I, sharing a a magic moment before going our separate ways. A quick, rough embrace for Jess, soon to be heading off to Edmonton for a summer job and then on our way home.
“I’m in control,
It’s worth it,
I’m in control,
It’s worth it…”
One of those “holy shit” moments, too uncanny to be a coincidence. I’ll take it at face value.
More than a message, closer to an imperative.
I hear…and obey.
Pliny the Elder
It’s an ugly word, one not found in my vocabulary. Honestly, I utter it so rarely I actually had to look it up just now to find out if there was an “i” after the r or an “o”.
Got it. Commit to memory. Or…maybe not. After all, how often will I end up using it?
Some writers see bending to the will of agents or editors or the grand-all-powerful marketplace as a necessity if one wants to be a published, successful author. They see no problem letting outside parties tamper with story lines, suggest the addition or removal of characters, chapters, subplots. I read one account in Poets & Writers magazine where an author sat down to lunch with his agent, outlined a couple of different ideas for a novel and let his rep pick the one he would work on next.
My immediate and visceral reaction: what an asshole. Imagine giving someone that much influence over your writing. Now, I don’t really have a lot of hard and fast rules when it comes to my work but there are certain tenets that I live by and here are a few, strictly FYI:
1) Editors should remain unseen and unheard. They are non-entities. Spell-checkers and proof-readers and if they try to raise themselves above that lowly status, slap them down. Hard. Writing is not, repeat not a collaborative exercise. Anyone who credits an editor for saving a manuscript didn’t work hard enough on it, chickened out when the going got tough.
2) Agents have one job and one job only: protect their clients from greedhead publishers. Pitbulls when it comes to negotiating rights and contracts, pussycats when it comes to dealing with their clientele. No creative input, no vetting of manuscripts. No career advice. Here’s my completed manuscript–now it’s your job to sell it and get the best deal you can. Oh, and by the way, I expect to have final clearance over cover art and jacket copy. Make sure I get it…or you’re fired.
3) The writer is always right. There might be rare exceptions but, for the most part, the writer should know his/her work, its strengths and weaknesses, better than anyone else. Any wordsmith willing to abdicate responsibility, autonomy over a book or story, should take up flipping fucking burgers for a living. You don’t belong in our sacred guild of artisans. You ain’t good enough, strong enough…so do us all a favour and fuck off.
Now, admittedly, some authors aren’t comfortable with such a stance. Timid, insecure creatures, they need to be reassured, stroked. They’re willing to cede control of their self-esteem, their vision and integrity, as long as they have a pretty book they can show their friends and impress the proles. Their greatest dream is getting published and if that means opening themselves up to every indignity and humiliation, well, that’s part of the price they’re willing to pay.
I’ve been on-line for a couple of years now, poked about hundreds and hundreds of blogs and websites devoted to authors, established or otherwise. With very few exceptions (my friend Peter Watts being one), few scribblers take issue with the treatment accorded to writers and fewer still express the slightest antipathy toward a system designed to belittle their importance.
It’s fear, I suppose, but it’s something more than that too–an innate cowardice, a reluctance to make waves that is nothing less than craven. This fawning, milquetoast attitude I find in our little community makes me nauseous.
Other disciplines feature far more mavericks than the literary world.
How about a band like Tool, who refused to release any new albums for four years until they finally secured complete artistic freedom from their record label? I’ve already alluded to Trent Reznor, Ani DiFranco and Radiohead, musicians who tired of executives and A & R people fucking with their musical direction.
Kubrick demanded and received “final cut” throughout his career. MGM treated him with something akin to awe, enduring the lengthy hiatuses between pictures, editing suites booked for months of expensive post-production, mediocre or insignificant box office receipts…as long as he kept making films for them.
Welles wasn’t so lucky. After “Citizen Kane”, Hollywood never again granted him creative control. “Magnificent Ambersons” was butchered and rather than accept his reduced status, Welles broke away and spent the rest of his life in the wilderness, scraping together financing for films that were never made, left half-finished or suffered badly due to poor production values. There were occasional signs that his genius was undiminished–portions of “Chimes at Midnight”, “The Stranger”, even “F For Fake”.
I read an interview with Welles reprinted on the website for Senses of Cinema and, despite his frustrations, the soul-sucking necessity of expending 95% of his energies on searching for financing, he remains as defiant as ever, God bless him.
Orson was one tough sonofabitch.
But I don’t see the equivalent of these strong-willed personalities in the writing world. A willingness to break with convention, defy authority, maintain one’s independence and vision even if it costs you any chance of achieving fame and fortune.
And that says something.
After my Mediabistro rant was published, where I “burned bridges” and “committed artistic suicide”, I received a few cranky notes but I also got quite a show of support from other writers…most of whom were unwilling to go on the record with their remarks.
“Good for you”…”Glad someone’s finally taking these fuckers to task”…etc.
The point I was trying to make was that you can tell editors, agents and publishers to take a flying fuck at a rolling hand grenade and it doesn’t mean the end of the world. Thanks to the burgeoning indie movement that the new technologies are facilitating, authors can achieve a decent readership, gain fans and followers around the world and not have to jump through hoops to do it. The balance of power is shifting, the old edifice is crumbling. POD means “print on demand” but also “piss on dickheads”.
Dickhead editors. Dickhead agents. Dickhead publishers.
Poets and writers: your readers are out there, waiting for you. Take my word for it. Seize control of your career, refuse to cater and kowtow to people who move their lips when they read and have the social skills of a badger with mange.
Friends, colleagues, fellow wordsmiths: the revolution starts NOW.
Coming soon: So Dark the Night (the podcast).
That’s right, Sherron and I have been spending long hours up in my office, figuring out the software, doing sample recordings, trying out theme music. We’re laying down the tracks, baby, getting ready to release a full-length, unabridged audio version of the best occult thriller around.
Keep watching this space…