Monday, October 25, 2010

Conversations at People's Parties

I attended a reading festival this weekend- on the USF campus in St. Petersburg, Fl- arriving to acclimate with the local literary scene, and to seek advice from fellow authors who had come to market their ware like scholarly carnival barkers on the college square midway. My escort was the young girl responsible for coining the word dumbifying. She was the one responsible for convincing me to attend the fair.

I often find her Virginia spun charm persuasive. She possesses a natural talent of allowing her conservative appearance to contrast with her Progressive political views, as she expresses her statements with an indigenous allegiance to an Allegheny diction.

"I declare!"

She once twanged upon hearing a comment made by a popular Republican daily radio celebrity.

"Why that man is a menace. He's just catering to the dumbiFYing of Americans!"

Her punch on the third syllable of the fabricated participle seemed effectively satirical. I've often use the term to appropriately acknowledge the current condition of our great society.

We strolled around the Book Fair and examined writers as they sat inside tents, behind folding tables lined with the stacks of their self published aspirations, and piles of their deskjet produced marketing pamphlets. They'd pitch the qualities of their works to the wandering patrons of the literary midway; most of whom had no intentions of buying. They were only there to browse the tables and to fill their complementary cloth bags with giveaway items. It was a scene that seemed to replicate the desperation that has fallen upon our industry.

A few buyers had been sold by the persuasions of the authors, and placed their purchased books among the items of their tote bags. However, most of the writers did not attempt to promote. They sat pensively behind their tables, reading newspapers or magazines, or even copies of their own marketing material: unfulfilled by the public acceptance of their creative ambitions.

An enthusiastic teenager approached me and asked if I was interested in her series of self published works about a mythical world of enchantment. Her face contorted with a look of disappointment when I told her I was not. She seemed disingenuous to the response I gave to her inquiry on the subject my own project.

I later saw her with a man I assumed was her father. He stood with his hands upon her shoulders, speaking to her as she nodded and frowned, gazing towards the ground as if searching for a dropped amulet. Her rather ambitious table top display was not enticing much response and I assumed she was receiving the fatherly, "stick to your convictions," talk.

The scene encouraged me to do the same.

The events of the day were later pondered with deliberation at an evening gathering near the campus. I stood at the side of a rooftop railing on a downtown condominium, drinking wine beneath the glow of a full harvest moon, reflecting with a mostly younger crowd of intellectual relievers. As the night evolved- and the consumption progressed- the opinions began to unleash with forceful conviction. I kept my composure intact, until the discourse turned to the future of the novel and the apathy of enlightenment by the dumbifyed citizens of America. Both topics heightened my subjective dander.

Since the Virginian introduced me to the group as her writer friend, a young chemistry student approached me to say she was currently taking a required course in composition, and was having a hard time understanding allegory. She said her instructor recently had her read a passage of sort and then write a short essay on the revealed symbolism. She was unable to complete the assignment because she had not discovered an implied meaning. She was only able to understand the surface description of the events.
I found her explanation to be allegorical of the state of America. It seems a majority of people are not seeing the implications of our national narrative; they only hear the surface banter.

"Dumbifying; truly dumbifying," was my escorts remark to the young girls statement.

I responded, cordially, by noting my surprise with how a college student was unable to conceive symbolism. The remark irritated her boyfriend, who emphatically insisted creative writing was an ancient art form. He further advised that if I wanted to become a commercially successful author in today's market, I needed to accept the fact that conventional reading material is to be composed to reach an eighth grade reading level. I nearly toppled over the edge of the railing upon hearing this comment, but the catastrophe was prevented by a surprised acceptance of this statement by the Virginian. I stood steadfast to hear her explanation.

Although she would later agree the logic contributes to the Dumbifying of America, she insisted most people cannot isolate to reading for pleasure. They want immediate gratification because time is valuable, and they find their time pondering a novel's implied meaning wasteful.It also becomes disruptive to their routine when the meaning of certain words are unknown. The reader then looses interest and abandons the book. A book is not received to enlighten, she told me, it is read to inform.

I, of course, adamantly disagreed, and began to rage my convictions in defense of the literary novel. Was she suggesting people read to occupy the time between daily activities and episodes of Dancing With the Stars? Was she honestly suggesting self proclaimed authorities who write "know it all books" are replacing the ranks of writers who inspire? Is composing on a eighth grade reading level an accepted standard in the industry?

While catching a second wind I noticed her smile and realized that I had been deliberately provoked. Her southern dialect had successfully veiled the satirical implications of her words.I was gratified by the moment of realization, like a person discovering the meaning of a riddle. It was like the sensation one derives from allegory.

I composed my panicked desperation and felt a unison with those that still crave the sensations from narrative. Although it was too late, I wanted to return to the college square and find the discouraged authors sitting behind the table stacks of their works. I wanted to stand them up, place my hands on their shoulders, and tell them to stick to their convictions!

Friday, October 15, 2010

No Rules, Just Write

Being a new comer to the world of social networking is somewhat like transferring to a new school midyear. One must acclimate to the customs and offer tributary to the ranking social orders. The student must initially guard against self expression and allow the fraternal order to exert the criterion of his advancement. It is certain any deviation to the rules will result in confrontation.

If, however, the transferred student decides to suddenly exercise a subjective voice and speak out against the accepted views of nomenclature, the student must be certain the contrasting opinion is convincingly received. It must be accepted by a portion of the masses- at the moment of the announcement-or a miscalculation will certainly lead to alienation. The unaccepted student will then face further matriculation as an outcast.

There have been occasions, however, when the opinions of a renegade student have reconstructed assigned thinking and abolished uniform disciplines. These deviations often lead to the creation of new social orders. It is rarely seen, but when it happens the results are incredible.

Benson's House depicts many of the pertinent moments- in modern American history- when the rebel attitude effectively challenged protocol and changed the social order. The existence of our pop culture would not be what it is today had it not been for the contributions of inventors like Tom Edison, promoters like John Hammond, and talents like The Beatles. My research leads me to believe these pioneering students held a common dominating thought: there are no rules!

When The Beatles first recorded a demo- for EMI records- they were rejected and told their style did not subscribe to the standards necessary to becoming a successful act. Any first time author surely recognizes this sentiment as the war cry of many literary agents. It gives one pause to think a person- whose job it is to develop potentially worthy talent- told John Lennon he didn't have what it takes to be a successful artist.

I'm certain Paul McCartney would agree: conventional thinking must be challenged to allow for the growth of new ideas and the determent of complacency. If all authors, for instance, subscribed to a specific writing style, in a particular genre- because the ranking social order has established this criterion as one that is necessary to meet the demands of a presumed market- eventually all projects would become trite and mediocrity would prevail. The complexion of the nonconformist's thought would not allow for this to happen, because these students deliberately circumvent the rules by acknowledging their insignificance.

I think if any of the rebel students were to council me on my progression as an author they would uniformly declare-
"there are no rules, just write."

There is, of course, a necessity to an abide by the elements of style, unless one's objective is convicted to changing syntax. I'm sure the rebel's would also encourage this attempt as long as the pursuer remembers that a portion of the masses must accept the diviation or the student faces certain alienation.

Just write; find the muse!

I live to be typing in the early morning hours, when the glow- reflecting from my laptop- provides the only light in the room. One falls into the perpetual now. No other dimensions exist; no thoughts emerge except those expressed in text. Then, when the meditation is disturbed by morning light, or a phone call alerting me to return to reality, I realize I'm still captive in time and space, and the perpetual now is abandoned until another session. No rules apply when encapsulated in the now. The formulas would restrict the flow of creativity and alter the natural flow of ideas.

By universally accepting this "no rules logic" we can stop the numbing complacency that currently exists in many aspects of our society. To many know-it-all's are stifling the power of originality by the emphatic insistence that their stale ideas provide the solutions to success. I'm not advocating chaotic rational, I'm encouraging challenges to the conventional standards that have gone awry: THINK outside of the box.

Here's a thought defying conventions!

Over the last fifty years, the highest return on investment did not come from the S&P 500, or precious metals, or currencies, or debentures, or real estate, or any other commodity. It came from investments in art. With an average 13.5% annualized return, investments in art outpaced all other compatible returns.

A purchase of a Warhol in the 1960's could be made for a few hundred dollars. That investment today is worth millions. A 1977 signed first edition of Stephen King's The Shining- with a date code of R49- could have been purchased for $9.00. 33 years later that signed book is worth $2000.00.Think of it! Had an investor been able to have Stephen King sign 1000 copies of his purchased The Shining first edition, that $9000.00 investment would be worth $2,000,000.00 today.

So why is Barnes and Noble selling when the owners are sitting on a potential investment chain whose advisement could provide better returns than the advice given at a Merrill Lynch office across the street? Why is the publishing industry claiming their markets are abating, when they should be expanding their catalogs with unique long term projects and not catering to quick placed schemes? Why aren't they attempting to convince a market that the long term investment in their product- academically or otherwise- will yield high returns?

It is because we as a society are being manipulated into accepting the ideologies of certain ranking orders. We are being convinced their efforts will benefit our existence, when in reality we are only contributing tributary to their ranking social order.

Be a rebel; change the world: we need it now!

I'd like to close reflecting on the controversy of last week. My post dated 9/30/10: Lower West Side Story , stirred criticism for being insensitive to those offended by the development of a Muslim Mosque being built 2 blocks from the site of the World Trade Center attack. My intentions where not to offend, but to denounce those that are using this media exploited incident as a bully pulpit for the advancements of their political agendas.

I stand by that conviction.

I understand the intention of this blog is to endorse the publication of my novel Benson's House, and that any deviation could be perceived as negative and affect the intended outcome of my endeavors. However, my novel- as well as the content of my blog- is an attempt to inspire the enlightenment of the common man.

There are many Muslim Americans, living in the lower west side of Manhattan, who adamantly opposed the tactics of the radicals of their own religion who attacked our country. They were also exposed to the violent violation on that day, and had lost loved ones in the outcome of those fanatical attacks. Their loses should also be agonized and their patriotism to America should be understood.

I'm reminded of a Jon Stewart commentary. He said that from his apartment in Manhattan, he had a view of the twin towers until 9/11. When the buildings collapsed, and the dust settled, instead, from his window, he had a clear view of The Statue of Liberty standing in New York Harbor.

I've often used that comment as a metaphor of what transpired from that- agreed upon- horrific day. On the outcome of that national disaster, a symbol was left standing in the distance. Her torch directs everyman to "the shining city on the hill...teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace."

I leave you all with the words of the sonnet inscribed on a bronze plague placed inside the base of that incredible monument.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Emma Lazarus

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Intellectual One

Excerpts from Benson's House:

There are no endings, only new beginnings.
In September of 1971, Richard decided to sell the radio station to a large holding company. He was to stay on as an advisor to the station, for two more years, and assist the network principals in converting the format to “talk radio.” His uncle’s determination to sell prompted Christopher’s decision not to renew his agreement to broadcast Live at Benson’s for the new ownership group.
Bill Graham had recently closed the doors on The Fillmore Auditorium in the St Mark’s section of the east village. Promoters were circumventing the smaller venues for the more profitable arenas; the Fillmore closing was a testimony to the times. The final performances were broadcast live on a competitor New York station, and were well received among the listening audience. Although Christopher had no intentions of closing The Benson Inn, he was inspired by the captured events, and wanted the last live broadcast from the tavern to be as memorable.
He succeeded in his quest; on September 26, 1971, John Lennon was broadcast playing the parole guitar on the platform stage of The Benson Inn. Yoko Ono sat quietly on a stool beside him during the hour long show.
Lennon had always been an admirer of Christopher since their first encounter, in 1965. It was during a press conference with The Beatles that the nineteen year old attended as a young correspondent for WIIN. His questioned reflected his studies of The Beatles music and he offered pertinent inquiries about their songs. His stood apart from those posed by other press reporters who prompted trivial responses on topics about The Beatles hair styles or favorite soft drinks.
When he had asked Paul McCartney what inspired him to adopt the F minor note changes in the refrain of the song, All My Loving, McCartney enthusiastically defended the chord changes as adding to the emotional impact of the lyrics.
“Ya catch the purpose mate?” An inquisitive John Lennon asked Christopher after McCartney’s reply.
Christopher stood before the pop stars press table like a defendant before the magistrates. He formulated a response he had once heard Johnny Walken use to describe a similar variation of chord changes once associated with a song of TJ Hardy's.
“Sure; you’re using soul notes to get to the heart of things.” He retorted.
The lads from Liverpool all laughed and nodded their heads in agreement.
Lennon felt the young man had respected the band and felt he'd one day repay the favor.
He did on an autumn evening in September of 1971.
With his long hair dangling beneath a black beret, and his wire rim glasses suspended on the bridge of his nose, Lennon looked like an amalgamation between Oscar Wilde and Pasternak's Strelnikov. He took the stage during an overwhelming ovation from the shocked crowd.
“Thank you- thank you- it’s wonderful to be here, it’s certainly a thrill.” Lennon stated to the audience, as he turned to those few surprised patrons who happened to be in the tavern that night. He ask if they knew whose guitar was standing on the stage, and they replied with the correct enthusiastic reply.
He played mostly solo works written after his departure from The Beatles, but as a final request Christopher had made for Sarah, John Lennon played her favorite Beatles song.
He sang Norwegian Wood.
By the end of the performance, fans- hearing it broadcasting live on the radio- were storming into the tavern, attempting to get a chance to see the famous Rock ‘n’ Roller in person. After the show, while the surroundings mounted with elated patrons, Yoko and John sat at the bar with Sarah and Christopher. John drank a White Russian; Yoko had a cup of tea.
“Your great, great granddad was apart of the movement that started Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Lennon said to Christopher.
“Well, he was there, but really it was the promotional efforts of Edward Sullivan that started the music phenomenon.” A modest Christopher Benson replied.
Lennon looked stunned.
“No, man, Ed Sullivan turned America onto The Beatles, your great, great, granddaddy turned America onto Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Christopher was not about to question the legendary member of the fab four.
Two months later, during the Christmas holidays, John Lennon and Yoko Ono placed a large white billboard in Times Square that simply read: War is over- if you want to. The democratic voice was again being activated by one of the pioneers of the modern songs of freedom, and a devoted supporter of the working class hero.

He was a messiah like icon of a generation; a rebel who effectively used civil disobedience and celebrity to enlighten the people against social injustice. His life was theater that transcended throughout a decade. His music and philosophies still provide significance to a world fifty years older.

The Ed Sullivan show; Shea Stadium; The Hollywood Bowl; Rubber Soul; Sgt. Peppers; Yellow Submarine; The White Album; Let it Be; The Bed-in for Peace: The Plastic Ono Band; Mind Games; the lost weekend; the deportation battles; Double Fantasy; December 8th.

I was in Manhattan the Monday of December 8, 1980. After work I met a Saks executive friend and sat in her Fifth Avenue office to watched from her window as the ceremony took place lighting the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. We had a few drinks afterwards, before I took a cab home to my apartment in Chelsea. I immediately turned the television on to watch Monday Night Football and heard the report for commentator Howard Corsell: Lennon had be shot outside his home in The Dakotas.

I was drawn like many to the site and found myself a member of the tribal congregation. Mourners wept; guitarists mused. A shrine was erected with memorabilia and candles and many stood around it, staring into its depths, which glowed with a presence as lustrous as that of the tree that stood in midtown Manhattan.

For many- including myself- the spirit of Rock 'n' Roll died along with the legend on that warm December night.We will never know what contributions a Beatles reunion would have made, or what projects were in store from a revitalized John Lennon.We will never know what direction the music would have taken, or what influence he would have had on further social developments-

We can only Imagine.

Happy birthday John!

There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all

John Lennon