Guns ‘n’ Roses, Radiohead, and Respect

[Note: Most of the video links in this post contain significant amounts of profanity. You have been warned.]

Today I’m taking a quick detour from literature and going to music, because the invaluable AV Club put up two news items that interested me. The first one was about Guns ‘n’ Roses–it seems that while giving a concert in Dublin, the habitually late-to-the-stage band was, well, late to the stage. An hour late. Many of the most-likely-already-well-lubricated fans were not happy about the delay and began throwing water bottles and who knows what else at the stage when the band finally began playing. After a brief bit of “Welcome to the Jungle,” Axl Rose stops the song and puts on his best grown-up voice and explains to the crowd that if they cannot control their stuff-throwing impulses, he is going to have to take away their Guns-‘n’-Roses-listening privileges.

If there’s one lesson we should learn in life, it’s that it is unwise to provoke people who are already angry (see also the case of the Chicago man whose dog urinated on his neighbor’s lawn. Neighbor was mad and brought out a gun to threaten the dog-walker. Dog-walker thought it would be a good idea to taunt angry neighbor, essentially daring him to fire the gun. Dog-walker is now, unfortunately, dead). Axl told the angry, epithet-spewing fans not to throw another bottle, so the fans threw another bottle. So Axl stopped the show for a while. It seems he finally came back on and played–to a theater that had lost a lot of people.

Now, I cannot in any way endorse throwing things at a live band. It’s cheap and dangerous. Neko Case brought a New Pornographers show to a halt when someone threw a CD (a New Pornographers CD, of all things) at her bandmate Carl Newman, and she laid down the law, and has been justly celebrated for it. So what the fans did was wrong. But what G’n’R did was wrong, too. Yes, I realize that being prompt is very un-rock-n-roll, but taking the stage an hour late is pretty much waving your middle finger at the fans for a good long time. And in this life, you cannot expect to show the middle finger to drunken G’n’R fans for an extended time and avoid retribution.

Meanwhile, the AV Club also reports that there is a new Radiohead concert DVD out. One you can download for free. A concert by the band was recorded by 50 or so fans using Flip cameras, and the footage was then edited into a cohesive whole. Did Radiohead attempt to interfere with the project, worried about bootleg video? No. Did Radiohead donate their master soundboard recording of the show to the project so that the sound to accompany the video is really good? Yes. Yes they did.

The message is simple–it never hurts to respect your fans, or readers, or listeners, or whatever. I wish I could say there’s a good-triumphs-over-all moral here, but the facts are a bit of an obstacle to that conclusion. Guns ‘n’ Roses has sold more than 100 million albums; Radiohead seems to be at around 40 million. Now, we could argue that once you’ve sold in the tens of millions of albums, you’ve done well, and splitting hairs beyond that is, well, splitting hairs, but the point is that Guns ‘n’ Roses has never demonstrated a ton of respect for their fans, and yet they’ve done just fine for themselves.

But if we forget money for a second and just focus on cool, then we have an easier time looking at consequences. Guns ‘n’ Roses were not cool; as a result, a lot of people had a bad evening, and bad press about them continues to spread. Radiohead was cool; as a result, there is a movie we can all enjoy and bask in the glory that is Radiohead. And I refuse to entertain any argument that More Cool Stuff is not a Good Thing.

So: Be cool to your fans, your readers, and your whoevers-you-interact-with.

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Mary Roach and being yourself

Reading Mary Roach is always good for various writing lessons, generally of a positive nature. She and Neal Stephenson are my two leading examples of how you can talk about potentially any subject, regardless of how complicated and potentially dry, and have a lot of fun with it. Roach’s Stiff was a blast, so I launched into Spook with high expectations.

And, for a brief moment, I was disappointed. The first chapter, in which Roach goes to India to meet a reincarnation investigator, had tons of potential (and, to be sure, wonderful moments), but a bit too often it fell into the Daffy American Abroad trap, where Roach is too self-conscious about her own quirkiness, and comments on how people are reacting to her, or how she assumes they are reacting to her. I worried that she had internalized too much of the praise from Stiff, that she had started believing her own press and was determined to tell us that she was wacky, instead of just letting it flow.

Fortunately, I needn’t have worried. Once she got off the reincarnation trip, she started focusing more on the thoughts and activities of others. She still left herself space to present her own personal reactions, but after the first chapter the primary focus moved away from those reactions; instead of them being the point of the text, they were the flavor that made the text zingy.

When she’s on (and she usually is), Roach is a master at the telling detail. By capturing the way a scientist named Gary Nahum talks, or by looking at how other people’s desks are arranged, she pulls out crucial specifics that tell us a lot about the person she is with. They also, of course, tell us about her, because we learn what kinds of things she notices and what kind of things she cares about. She doesn’t have to foreground her wackiness and her interesting perspectives; she just has to let them happen, because they are simply a natural part of who she is.

This is one of the fun things about first-person stories–you don’t have to (and, IMHO, shouldn’t) spend time having the narrator describe himself or herself. You have to pay attention to what it is they notice, and how they notice it. You then avoid the Ferris Bueller problem of a character having to describe their life philosophy, and instead let that philosophy be suffused through everything they do. Which is the best way to do it anyway, since the philosophies we articulate and the philosophies we live by are not always the same thing.

New project updates to be here and on Twitter

I’ve just started a new project with Jennifer Brozek and Tony Steele, and it should be a lot of fun. I’m keeping the exact nature of it a little quiet for now, but the blog and my Twitter account (@JasonMHardy) will be used for updates as things move along. This falls right into two areas I’m very interested in–science fiction and humor–so I’m really looking forward to it!

GenCon delays–and opportunities

This GenCon thing, it’s demanding! Takes a lot of time! I meant to have the follow up to Ghosts of Love up by now, but GenCon prep keeps rearing its ugly head.

On the plus side, there’s a very interesting new possibility out there, and GenCon will hopefully help it take a couple steps forward. As always, GenCon taketh away, and GenCon giveth.

Alvin Maker and the hazards of the long series

In recent years fantasy series, possibly spurred on by The Wheel of Time, seem to be getting longer, and I have no problem with that. I love the depth these series offer, I love the twists and turns they can take, and I love having a next book and a next book and a next book to look forward to. But it’s pretty clear there are hazards involved, and I’m not just talking about dying before the series is done.

Any book a writer writes reflects where there mind is at the time they write it, and of course minds change over time. Plus, sometimes in writing you come up with an idea that seems really good in your head, but when you try to put it into story form, it just doesn’t work they way you thought it would. (I had an idea for a story about a dedicated Cubs fan who becomes convinced that the team loses every time he tunes into or goes to a game, so he deliberately avoids all broadcasts, and the team starts winning and is World Series bound, so his lifelong dream is coming true, but if he engages it in any way, he’ll ruin it. Felt great when I thought about it–even sounds good to me as a write it out–but I’ve never been able to get it to work on paper).

Which brings us to Orson Scott Card’s Tales of Alvin Maker. Continue reading

Craziness and Inception

This will be short to keep it spoiler free, but to follow up on the recent Craziness and Holding the Center post, Inception certainly gets crazier as it goes along, but it has a very definite center, which helps it work. It was a fine movie!

Craziness and holding the center

My general policy is, I like crazy books. Give me a bizarre plot description that has me going “Wha?” in shock, and there’s a good chance I’ll be giving you my money.

I’ve been heard to say “The weirder, the better,” which explains my undying affection for Perdido Street Station and House on the Rock, but I’ve been rethinking that phrase lately, mainly due to John Burdett’s The Godfather of Kathmandu. The first few chapters were great–dizzy pace, weird goings-on (a grisly murder, a police official who thinks The Godfather is a blueprint for life, a lama who’s pushing smack and using telepathy), everything I treasure. But then I got about halfway through and realized I wasn’t picking up the book with the excitement I had at first. It wasn’t that the book had gotten more normal, but that its weirdness hadn’t cohered in any direction or gained any momentum. If I wanted piles of weirdness without any real drive, I’d read Tom Robbins.

I don’t think I’m overly demanding. I love both Winter’s Tale and One Hundred Years of Solitude, and heaven knows these are books not known for their strong narrative drive. But what they have is a center–in Winter’s Tale, it’s the relationship between Peter Lake and Beverly Penn; in One Hundred Years of Solitude it’s the village of Macondo and the dancing around and through his theme that Garciá Márquez does (for a similar but shorter and even more plotless weaving dance, check out Robert Coover’s Briar Rose and take time to wonder how any relationships last). You have to be grounded in something, and to me, The Godfather of Kathmandu didn’t have that. And in the end, that’s the greatest weakness of House on the Rock–it’s a spectacle and a wonder, but you’ll break your brain trying to figure what it’s all about, which leaves you with the vague suspicion that it’s not about anything. I like weirdness, but I suppose I don’t believe it’s an end in and of itself.

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