So I said yesterday that part of this free idea business was a trick, and that today I’d show you how the trick was done.
Some time ago my genius writer friend Meghan McCarron, who’ll be guest-blogging here next month (Nov. 17 â€“ 21), and whose Tumblr feed Marmalade Chronofile is a seemingly bottomless well of amazingness, found this transcript of Tom Waits, talking between songs during a set at Burbank Airport.
Songs, I think, have to be anatomically correct … I always believe you gotta put a change of clothes in there … and … you know that type of thing … you have to put ahh … you know, the names of towns and … itâ€™s good to put something to eat in there as well … and some weather … you just never know, â€™cause folks, you know, you send them out there and the people take those songs, and they do things with them, and they need … you know itâ€™s like a Swiss Army knife … I donâ€™t know, thatâ€™s the way I see it … thatâ€™s the way they are to me …
… only now that I go digging for the link, it seems like maybe she got it from Matt Cheney — whose name ought to be familiar to Jeff’s regular readers — but anyhow …
Some time after that William Gibson quoted a bit of Luc Sante, talking about H.P. Lovecraft in the New York Review of Books, and after some rummaging around in cyberspace I found the rest of it, or anyway the part that interested me:
Although he was married briefly, and many years later his former wife was moved to state, peculiarly, that he was an â€œadequately excellent lover,â€ it is clear from all available evidence that sexuality, procreation, and the human body itself were among the things that scared him the most.
He was also frightened of invertebrates, marine life in general, temperatures below freezing, fat people, people of other races, race-mixing, slums, percussion instruments, caves, cellars, old age, great expanses of time, monumental architecture, non-Euclidean geometry, deserts, oceans, rats, dogs, the New England countryside, New York City, fungi and molds, viscous substances, medical experiments, dreams, brittle textures, gelatinous textures, the color gray, plant life of diverse sorts, memory lapses, old books, heredity, mists, gases, whistling, whispering — the things that did not frighten him would probably make a shorter list.
I came to Lovecraft and Tom Waits in college, and almost at the same time. Oh, I’d been exposed to Lovecraft earlier, probably back in the golden days of role-playing games when there was so little money in the business that Gary Gygax could violate trademarks and copyrights with near-impunity, but it was in the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college that I finally got around to checking out At the Mountains of Madness from the Cupertino public library; and it was in my junior year of college that somebody at the Stevenson College (UCSC, not Edinburgh) coffee shop decided that Rain Dogs was the right thing to play every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning before Japanese 101.
Now some of you probably know Tom Waits better than I do, and I know, this being Jeff’s blog, that some of you know Lovecraft way better than I do. Don’t let me stop you from correcting me. But, before we go any farther, do let me just point out that for the purposes of this idea-concocting exercise, I can be wrong as wrong can be about both these guys, and the trick still works.
The early 90s, that was a weird time to come to Waits and Lovecraft both. Historians have been talking about the long nineteenth century for a while, about a century and a quarter long, from the French Revolution to the First World War. In the early 90s they were starting to talk about the short twentieth, from the First World War to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Maybe it’ll stick, maybe it won’t. Maybe they’ll date the “long twenty-first century” from 9/11 — or from the Gulf War — or from 1989, when the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan. But at the time, that divide sure felt like the real thing.
And I was on one side of it, the 21st-century side, and Waits and Lovecraft, they were on the other.
Understand, not only was I a video-game-playing, giant-robot-anime-watching, styrofoam-space-colony-building 21st-century kid, by the time I started college — coming back to California after three and a half years in Tokyo — I’d lived almost half my life outside the US. It wasn’t just the past that was another country, it was America, too. Twentieth-century America had — still has — a certain mythical quality for me, idealized, something made out of chrome and Bakelite and painted metal, running on diesel and cheap leaded gas, played in smokey cafés, recorded on vinyl and celluloid. That was where these guys came from, what they were about.
Of course, it was obvious to me even then they didn’t see it the same way.
(To be continued…)