I have some screenwriter friends (no, really; I do!) who think that what I do is absolutely astonishing. They believe that writing a novel is an undertaking of such high art and seriousness that it dwarfs what they do by a factor of about twelve.
Utter nonsense, to be sure.
Writing is a job, it's a calling, it's an entertainment, it's a source of education and sometimes, yes, it achieves the level of art. But so does screenwriting. And playwriting. And glueing Cocoa Puffs onto a piece of oaktag, if you do it well enough.
But just because a person writes, that person is not an artist. Some writers are lucky to be writers. Some novelists should be screenwriters. To be honest, some novelists should be carpet layers.
The point is that the medium, in this case, is not the message. The level of skill, thought, and talent will determine whether something is art. So when one of my screenwriting friends or my friends who are teachers or mechanics or salesmen or newspaper reporters is impressed because I wrote a book, I beg them to read the damn thing, and then tell me whether they're impressed.
It's amazing how many don't.
Friends of mine--good friends--come to every book launch party. They buy every book, and thank goodness for that. They smile broadly and genuinely about knowing a "real live author." And then they take the book home, put it on a shelf (or in a closet, or for all I know, under the short leg of the dining room table) and forget about it until the next book launch party.
That astonishes me. It doesn't offend me, because I feel that no one, not even my wife, is under any obligation to read my work, but it does surprise me. If a good friend of mine wrote a novel or a non-fiction book (and here I'm excluding the friends of mine who were authors before they were my friends--I read some of their books and don't read others, based on time constraints and, frankly, general interest level based on subject matter), I'd at least give it a chance.
Like I say, I'm not offended, but I am puzzled.
One note of note: It was exactly 23 years ago today that a very beautiful and astounding woman took my hand, walked across a field on the campus of the university from which I graduated, and told a rabbi she would love me for the rest of our lives. And there has not been a day in those 23 years that I have been anything but thrilled to pieces that she did. She is a brilliant, warm, dear person and the fact that she chose to marry me never fails to amaze me. Happy anniversary, honey. I sincerely hope you never come to your senses.
And one last note: That university will, come this September, start being home for my daughter, who is also a brilliant, warm, dear person. My alma mater was smart enough to see a gem when one was dangled, and leapt at her. I hope she's at least as happy there as I was.
LP-to-Digital Project Update: This week began with a two-record Charlie Parker compilation that merely bore out my lifelong impressions of the work: I think Parker was a breathtaking saxophonist, and jazz isn't ever going to be my thing. I just don't connect with it. I realize this means that I'm a pedestrian, small-minded, proletariat idiot, but I can't help it.
For a strange segue, next up came a number of albums by the Alan Parsons Project, a very odd "band" that was comprised, essentially, of a record producer and a songwriter. Guest artists (although there were some regulars on every album) would show up to play through song cycles that dealt with everything from Edgar Allan Poe to the architect Antonio Gaudi.
Of the albums I converted from Parsons (who worked on the albums Abbey Road and Dark Side of the Moon as an engineer), probably the least known was my favorite. The Turn of a Friendly Card dealt with games, gambling and competition, and had a sort of Abbey Road-lite medley on its second side that is worth the price of admission. While the band's three most popular albums (including Eye in the Sky and Vulture Culture) were not converted (I already had them on CD), later efforts like Stereotomy and Gaudi offered fun pop songs in spots, but didn't hold together that well.
The next record converted was among the strangest in the whole collection: At the height of the popularity of Peanuts, the Charles Schultz comic strip, some genius got the idea to get Kaye Ballard (of TV's The Mothers-In-Law, among other things) and a stage actor named Arthur Siegel and have them act out some Charlie Brown and Lucy comic strips. It wasn't as excruciating as I'd feared, but it was still damn odd.
Next were two of my beloved wife's Peter, Paul & Mary albums, and it was surprising, after all these years, to hear how those darlings of the folk set come across as depressed kvetches on so many songs. And the song "I Dig Rock and Roll Music" is just a mean swipe at the Mamas and the Papas, almost as toxic as Randy Newman's flat-out takedown of the Electric Light Orchestra 10 years later.
And last this week, for you whacked-out Broadway cast album fans, came the Original Cast Recording of the Bob Fosse (and Stephen Schwartz, who later struck platinum with "Wicked") musical Pippin, famous for being panned by critics and selling lots of tickets by advertising on television, which just wasn't done in those days. So as you can see, this was a very bizarre week. Next up, The Pointer Sisters, Richard Pryor and a favorite band of mine, The Punsters. (The Beat Goes on, Cuz!)