30 May, 2011

2012: Whatever it is, we're against it!

Another Memorial Day is upon us. This blog definitely isn't high on my list of priorities. Facebook compensates for most of the desires to immediately write something, an insight or one-liner. A blog works for more extended pieces though. I have often been tempted to take some of my multi-part Facebook posts and flesh them out here. But that seems like work.

I finished the 3rd draft of the book this weekend. Went to Kinko's printed it out and started the 4th draft the next day. 65 corrections on each of the first two pages, and subsequent pages average just as many. When I finished the first chapter, I compared the 1st draft with the 4th. The differences were striking and showed a vast improvement, but when am I going to get finished with this?

The weird thing is I'm not as horribly depressed as I thought I'd be. It's probably just trauma from an IED (Infinite Editing Disorder) or something. Maybe it's the long weekend giving me time to work. I've burned through the first three chapters and already typed up the corrections for the first two. Probably by next week I'll be horrified at how much left there is to be done. I honestly thought the 2nd draft would be where the main effort would go. Boy was I so young and naive three months ago!

The 2nd draft turned out to be filling in the missing holes, looking for coherence and otherwise wrapping my mind around the story between the first and last pages. I think I've said this before, but when I started I didn't know what I would be writing and when I finished I didn't know what I had written. I averaged at least fifty corrections a page, and checked the continuity as well as I could mainly with the advantage of knowing the ending. The 2nd draft was for filling in that gap and correcting the most egregious or obvious errors, but at the time I was hoping that the 3rd draft would be quick and easy, just correcting a few typos and things that slipped through.

[By the way, that's not fun either. If there's more than a dozen corrections in a paragraph, unless it's a big paragraph, it's usually easier to retype the whole thing rather than fix each correction one by one, but that has a high rate of creating new typos. I don't have any evidence, just a suspicion that you're more likely to make mistakes when retyping the old ones, and psychologically you'll be more resistant to checking for errors. "I already fixed that paragraph, it's good, moving on."]

Once I realized that the 3rd draft would be long and difficult to complete - somewhere around Chapter 1 page 1 paragraph 2 - it was a serious downer. And deservedly so, I'm pushing a month of editing for every week of writing. I took notes on the characters and continuity and referred to them often, flipping ahead to make more comments. Surely, I told myself, this draft would be it, with all the intensive thinking on every word or phrase, weighting them to make sure they fit with everything that came before and would come after, as well has had the proper cadence, rhythm and spelling. Yes, the 3rd draft is where the book is brought to a pristine shine and after that it's just a few minor corrections.

Nope. Not a bit of it.

The strange thing is that, with as many corrections as I'm making on the 4th draft, they're much more slash-and-burn. 'That word/phrase/sentence doesn't work, throw it out and replace it with...' The first two chapters are half a page shorter now with all that's been cut out. Maybe it's just the long weekend, but this seems to be going much faster. There isn't much thinking going on, it's just seeing where something is wrong and fixing it, even if the result is a complete re-write. Maybe (hopefully) I've internalized what is in the story at any given point, so I can instantly discern how near or far the words are from that given point and fix the problem on the spot. There's a lot of problems, but the work is more like putting shingles and wall paper on the new house than doing drywall.

Oddly enough I had a premonition about this as I was finishing the 3rd draft, where literally on the last few pages, the language suddenly felt like it had achieved the tone I was striving for. This worried me, because it so clearly hadn't done so on all the previous pages. The intuition turned out to be correct - that's why the concept of intuition exists, because it's correct even given false, misleading or absent information and it isn't merely a good guess - so here I am, going through the pages yet again.

I'd like to say this draft will go much faster. That obviously depends on how hard I'm willing to work, but there's room for cautious optimism at present. Unfortunately I can't say this will be the last draft. I am totally not someone who insists that everything be absolutely perfect in a work of art, but to prove that I have to stop fixing things at some point.

Unemployment still high (but GWB ruined the economy) gas prices still high (but GWB was in the oil company's pocket) Obama's wiped his ass with the War Powers Act (but GWB's wars are the evil ones, even if Obama continues them), the Patriot Act was renewed (but GWB is evil for inflicting it on the country) and there's word that the administration has begun considering "regime change" in Libya (but GWB was wrong for "regime change" and anyway, America doesn't get to decide who's in other countries). About the only thing they've got going for them is their complete hostility towards Israel which the whole world can agree on (except extremist warmongers).

I've honestly been trying to think of something else to write, but it doesn't seem to be happening. Not even for Memorial Day.

I'm still edging around some insight about rock stars of [a generation or two before] my era, how they've had to work over a lifetime, but nothing's cohering yet. Different bands work different ways and since most of their business is private, one can only speculate on the processes at work.

Take the Eagles, whom I've never been a big fan of, but are definitely one of the biggest rock bands ever. Their group dynamics devolved into a two-man leadership, Glen Frey and Don Henley, who unilaterally and retroactively demanded most of the money and control over the group, firing Don Felder and deciding who was or wasn't involved in other projects. They can do it because they wrote virtually all the songs, and Henley was the front man (as well as having a much more successful solo career than all the others put together). Personality undoubtedly has much to do with it, but since I'll never meet any of them (and neither will you) it's complete speculation. As rock stars, they live quite detached from reality most of the time - Joe Walsh's solo hit "Life's Been Good" is possibly the best description ever of this experience ("I bought a mansion, forget the price/ain't never been there, they tell me it's nice") - and there's very little one can relate to outside the music itself.

The Eagles have been touring consistently since their last album, the only one they've recorded since 1980 that wasn't live or remakes of their old hits. Their ticket prices have been stratospheric, and one assumes there's a reason for that (beyond being aging wealthy leftists). This lines up with my suspicions about Axl Rose, Roger Waters and others that their constant performing isn't because of a love of playing live. It's quite possible that it's because they need the money.

This isn't remotely unheard of. Michael Jackson was deeply in debt when he died, the only thing that got him to agree to ten concerts at the O2, which was then upgraded to fifty. Elvis before him had an increasing desperate need for cash which was why he toured so much, and everybody could explain away his spending by pointing out that he earned millions of dollars every time he went on stage, so how could he ever go bust?

This work rate probably increased Elvis' drug dependency and other issues. The threat of having to work was probably the final straw for Jackson. In his autobiography, Sammy Hagar says the Van Halen brothers desperately needed money which was why they jumped for the 2004 reunion and were so quick to tour with David Lee Roth soon after that ended.

The business side of things does play a large part. Elvis had to sell most of his music publishing (where the *real* money is in the music business) at the end of his life, so he would have a lot less coming in no matter what. Michael Jackson made tons of money in publishing (like owning the Beatles catalogue) but had heavily leveraged that to Sony. According to Sammy, when he was joining VH and discussing the publishing, Eddie asked what a publishing company was, and said maybe he should get one of them. Given everything else in Sammy's book, that becomes very believable, and reinforces the idea of most rock stars as arrested adolescents who've never had to deal with the consequences of their actions until it's too late.

[For those who don't know, music publishing is the literal ownership of a song, dividing up who created it and what percentage of the royalties they get from all forms of reproduction, from use in movies to cover versions, live performances and printing the sheet music (the literal origin of the term "publishing"; before technology, the only way you could hear a song by Beethoven was if the sheet music was sitting on the piano). These royalties are collected and distributed by companies like ASCAP and BMI. Most rock stars own their own publishing companies, unless shenanigans or incompetence leads them to sell. Paul McCartney wrote [insert Beatles tune here] as a contracted writer for Northern Songs, which managerial failures led to being purchsed by ATV, the company Michael Jackson bought, so when he sings [Beatles tune], he has to pay that company. If Paul doesn't die a billionaire, his family will, but there's no amount of money he or they could offer that would compensate Sony for what the Beatles catalogue can be expected to bring in. Poorer rock stars have even fewer options.]

The Eagles became a two-man dictatorship, common in many bands. Most of these are song-writing partnerships [Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards, Tyler/Perry, Page/Plant, even Brian Wilson and Mike Love] with a few exceptions [Pete Townshend wrote the Who's songs, but Roger Daltrey was the face of the band.] Roger Waters wrote most of Pink Floyd's songs but Dave Gilmour's sound seems to be what really kept the fans. Gilmour has done almost nothing for decades, while Waters is getting ready for his second year touring "The Wall" (released in 1979), after spending three years touring "Dark Side of the Moon" (released in 1973), after spending three years touring "In the Flesh" (named for the first song on "The Wall", where he played 7 of "Dark Side"s 10 songs and every other Pink Floyd song you hear on radio, but virtually nothing from his post-Floyd career. Queen became a two-man dictatorship by default, since their front man died and the bass player retired, and they'd never had any but the original four members.

This is where the speculation becomes difficult, as detached from reality as the rock stars themselves. There's no way to know how the two dominant forces in a band interact amidst the other members, or why they do what they do. Wives and girlfriends are easy to blame, as are drugs or other self-destructive acts. But how much of Eddie Van Halen or Brian May's actions in the last thirty years reflected their relationship with their fathers? It doesn't mean anything to the fans, all we hear is the music and their publicity stunts, but it means something to them. Relationship with a grandparent, or a high school bully, these could be driving forces decades later as the rock star writes and records songs that make the kids dance, in collaboration with someone else who has their own issues.

I do think that the unconventional nature (to put it mildly) of rock stardom makes them good subjects for speculation about the human condition. They're at least as good for the topic as superheroes, looking for universal concepts of law, contract, collaboration, consequence. This is how we notice things running parrallel to each other, or perpendicular or anything else.

Ages ago, I was at someone's house and the tv was turned to a VH1 rockumentary about Styx already in progress, after "Lady" and their early hits. Except for the specific details of the break-up and aftermath, they were indistinguishable from Pink Floyd: art-rockers who spent years honing their craft and it paid off when they hit megastardom. Several monstrously successful albums followed until the lead singer-songwriter became so egotistical and dominant that he squeezed out everybody else's contributions, up to and including the concept-double album involving themes of tyranny, dehumanization, rock and roll which led to the band taking a bath making a tour and movie out of it ["The Wall" and "Kilroy Was Here"]. An album or so later, dominating leader left, expecting the band to collapse without him.

So there's reason to think that Roger Waters, Eddie Van Halen, Axl Rose and more fall into similar parallel lines. But again, it's all speculative. Bob Dylan's been doing a "Never-Ending Tour" for decades now. Does he need the money? Does he just like to play? He seems to have avoided self-destruction much better than almost everybody else, but he's a solo artist and doesn't have to answer to anybody. Maybe he's cultivated an audience that will pay for his simple stage show repeatedly like the Grateful Dead had. The Rolling Stones don't have a simple show, but they don't need the money. Roger Waters doesn't have a simple show, but he's out doing it night after night and he's pushing 70 years old.

"Hope I die before I get old" has long been a rock credo. Jim and Jimi and Janis attained it and have been much less problematic than the stars who didn't die. The era of the stadium concert is probably over for the older rock stars and the audience is too diversified for most of the newer ones to ever fill up that many seats. Package deals can probably do it, but I'm hardly in touch with what's popular these days so I don't know. The Stones may do a concert or tv special, but I doubt they'll ever tour again. Neither will Aerosmith. Whether or not they record any more music is anyone's guess.

It's fun to wonder what Freddie Mercury would be doing if he was still alive. One would hope he'd remain productive, but he himself admitted he couldn't continue the touring because he'd look ridiculous going on stage as a middle-aged man in tights. ["It looked ridiculous then, but it worked. (to the interviewer) What were you wearing ten years ago?"] He'd long said he didn't want to get old, and it seemed he meant it more than the more nihilistic rock stars. He didn't get old and he didn't die young. His productivity and influence were higher, and life was much better than it's turned out for most of his peers.

[although a Zoroastrian who was mostly non-practicing between his childhood and funeral, he turned the Muslim call to prayer into a kick-ass rock song, "Mustafa" which opens up the Jazz album, the track before Brian May's "Fat-Bottomed Girls". Tell all your friends.]

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