Last month I promised several things, and – unlike the pizza guy in a mild dusting of Carolina snow – I am here to deliver, goddammit.
First, Short Work. ‘Mystery’ went live earlier this month at the Eckleburg Review (and, if you dig that, the Eckleburg folks had me back to talk about the writing of the piece, here). Also, I’ve added links to two stories you aren’t likely to find in your local bookstore: the novelette ‘Dear Penthouse’ – about a model struggling with mental illness, from the Conium Review – and ‘The House of the Dogs’ – about fine dining and war crimes, from Confingo, across the pond. Yes, I said ‘novelette,’ and yes, that is a thing. A good thing.
Stay tuned for two more shorts, coming in early March: ‘A Prayer for War’ delayed but most certainly coming, from Bloodstone, and ‘Horizon’ from PIF Magazine. (‘Horizon,’ is by far the most NSFW thing I’ve had published, so if you’re never been to HR for the ‘uses and practices’ lecture, make sure to read that one at work).
Next, Rock’n’Roll. Exploding Math Lab has an EP, and you can listen to it. Like Radiohead, we’ll let you pay whatever you want for it (including nothing). Unlike Radiohead, we won’t be mopey, pretentious pricks about it. Check it out: https://explodingmathlab.bandcamp.com/releases – I don’t write our lyrics, but I did write our track notes. Thought I’d put the English degree to good use.
And, of course, we’re playing all over this tiny Carolina town, so if you’re passing through, show up, and we’ll buy you a beer and break your eardrums. Lovingly, of course.
New Project(s). It’s happening, but it’s top fucking secret (that’s one step above top secret).
Finally: Twelve Ways to Massacre Your Enemies of Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day is the Normandy Invasion for an Italian restaurant in a town without too many fine dining options. Unfortunately for me, in this metaphor, the cooks are the hapless Wehrmacht regulars, given the impossible task of holding off the relentless Americans and their corn-fed optimism, while our cowardly Nazi superiors scamper off at the crucial moment to avoid death or capture. Our latest chef, Oberstarzt Brian, quit a week before Valentine’s Day, after thinning our ranks with his incompetence and inexperience. Our management seemed almost disinterested in the massive horde of hungry Americans gathering on the horizon. And, despite having no leadership, we were told we were in no position to make decisions for ourselves. Outnumbered and underappreciated, we were hung out to dry.
Still, when the onslaught came, we gave it hell.
I can tell you this: it was not for the customers. We’re happy they had a good time, ate some good food, had a nice evening. But that has very little to do with it. We did it because no one was going to do a better job than us. Good food deserves to be made, regardless of who eats it. Once it leaves the window, we’re on to the next thing.
Now, cooking is not like playing music which is not like writing. But they share a few things. You don’t do it for the money, or the fame, or the glory. And you don’t do it for the audience. That sounds crude, and pretentious, and solipsistic, but it’s true. Ninety percent of the people who come into the restaurant want fettuccini alfredo or lasagna, not because it’s authentic or made with care, but because it’s a relatively inexpensive, because it’s two pounds of rich, fatty, carby, comfort. Ninety percent of people who like what’s on the radio, they like Nickleback’s new single, and Two and a Half Men, and 50 Shades of Grey because they think these things are edgy. It’s just helping after helping of alfredo, unlimited breadsticks, ranch dressing poured over everything.*
But this isn’t a rant about American unexceptionalism. This isn’t what Kanye, in his stunningly inarticulate way, tried to say about Beck, or what Jonathan Franzen, in his dickishly eloquent way, tried to say about Jennifer Weiner.
Because the writers whose work I’m reading, the bands whose music I’m listening to, the chefs whose food I’m eating, they don’t give a shit what you call them. And they don’t care what other artists are doing wrong and whether the people are eating it up. They care about writing, and music, and food. They’re working their asses off, they’ve got blinders on, because they need that focus. But they aren’t doing it for me, for anyone else. We aren’t entitled to it. In all likelihood, we do not deserve it.
What I’m saying is, if I sit in traffic, listening to an awful song, that is on me. If I go to a crappy taco place – when there’s a legit Mexican joint across the street – that’s on me too. If I only pick up a book because it’s become a movie, and it bores me to tears, if I go to the movies and see some half-thought-out piece of Bruckheimer garbage, if I keep paying for cable ‘reality’ TV, all of that, that great big plate of alfredo and the slow, boring death that comes with it, that is all on me.
As an audience member, someone who loves good food, rock’n’roll, books and movies, it’s easy to blame the artists, to see them as the enemy, to see their greed and indifference as the driving force behind your own boredom. Why do we have this plastic culture? Because that’s the only one offered to us. It’s easy to wish a plague on the houses of Hollywood and Manhattan.
And, as an artist – as a cook, or a writer, or a musician – it’s easy to see the audience as the enemy, to wish them up against the wall. It’s tempting to see their laziness and complacency, their entitlement and ignorance, as the scapegoat for your shortcomings. Why have we not struck it rich? Because the audience is too stupid to understand what we’re doing.
But there are no enemies to massacre, except the ones in our heads. Laziness and greed, boredom and fear, and – the worst of the bunch – entitlement.
No one is owed anything. Not artists, not audiences.
We can go out and find the good shit, or we can make it ourselves, or we can take what they give us. We can go to our local bars and listen to live music, go to a new restaurant, go online and read something weird. Or we can go to fucking Olive Garden.
It’s on us.
Next time: ‘From the Vault’ – a true story I can’t stop telling even though I don’t remember it at all anymore.
*Yes, I know I more or less stole this from Gaffigan’s “Mr Universe” special, but – in my defense – Jim Gaffigan is unlikely to read this blog, and if you the reader recognized the theft, then at least I know you’ve got good taste in comedy.