- I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org). As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia! Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton. I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times. I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me? My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored. Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.
Thursday, June 28, 2018
"Depart, Harlan!" Said The Ticktockworld
"Hitler Painted Roses." "Jeffty Is Five." "Daniel White For The Greater Good." "The Whimper Of Whipped Dogs." "Lonelyache." "All The Lies That Are My Life." "The City On The Edge Of Forever." "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said The Ticktockman."
I cannot eulogize Harlan Ellison. I can't.
It's not that I've been reading up on his work lately, nor that I've forgotten what I've already read. Ellison's importance to me is beyond measure, beyond my meager ability to detail, to chronicle...to just fucking write. His work was everything to me. I can't believe he's gone.
As much as The Beatles have meant to me, the fact that I was never a musician placed a limit on how directly they could influence what I was capable of creating. As a writer, Harlan Ellison was my Beatles.
In 1975, when I was a fifteen year old suburban misfit, lonely and out of place, I read my first Harlan Ellison book, a short story collection called Paingod And Other Delusions. I already knew I wanted to become a writer. But everything--everydamnedthing--I wrote from that point forward has been affected by Ellison. I can say that without exaggeration, because that's the nonpareil impact his stuff had on me immediately. Fiction, nonfiction, all of it. It was a model for whatever I might be able to do, in any imagined, fantastical circumstance. It wasn't even just the writing (though that would have been plenty, believe thee me); it was his attitude, his self-confidence, his sneering faith in the uncompromising power of standing ground, fighting back, remaining true to a dangerous vision that the blind fools cannot see, because they're chuckleheads. In high school, I wrote an Ellison-inspired poem to a girl I wanted to ask out; she turned me down, sure, but I couldn't even have taken that step before Ellison lit a goddamned spark deep in my soul. Soon, there were girls who didn't turn me down anymore, as I heeded Ellison's advice to think pretty, as action followed belief, as I wrote myself into a better storyline than the tired script I'd been handed.
I tried to be Harlan Ellison. I failed at it, but I failed with distinction, with style! I took apart Ellison's short story "Lonelyache," reconfigured it as a suicide note disguised as a short story of my own, and found the experience cathartic (and not quite plagiaristic). My failures built all the lies that are my life...but in a good way. I couldn't be Harlan Ellison. I couldn't write as well--no one could--and I couldn't write as quickly nor as off-the-cuff. But the act of trying made me a better writer, a faster thinker, a more adventurous craftsmen, a more precise dreamer.
I wrote. I wanted to be a writer, and Ellison said you ain't no writer if you don't write, ya shiftless crazy fuckhead. So I wrote. And I read. And I wrote more. I immersed myself in Ellison's work, especially the Pyramid Books paperbacks I purchased brand-new and whatever older tomes I could pry out of the dusty recesses of the dingy basement at Economy Bookstore. I saw him speak at Syracuse University while I was still in high school, and he autographed my copy of No Doors, No Windows.
I copied Ellison, and tried to make his inspiration into my own. Of all my favorite writers, from Steinbeck to Spillane, Dashiell Hammett to John Irving, the combination of all of them could not match the sheer enormity of Ellison's effect on whatever I hoped to become. As a writer. As a person. As a harlequin, bedeviling a Ticktockman.
Harlan Ellison often quoted Irwin Shaw's description of the writer's job: to report "where I think I am, and what this place looks like today." This place looks like hell, people, and the smell is some unholy mix of sulphur and month-old lox. But we're still here, so we're still going to tell you about it. It's what Harlan Ellison did. Repent? Get stuffed. Stick that in your ticktock, man. Approaching oblivion, alone against tomorrow, but to hell with all of that. Harlan Ellison says we have work to do. Are you a writer? Then write, God damn you. Write.