Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ellison, Johnson and History

Picked up Harlan Ellison's Watching, a collection of his movie reviews from 1965 to 1989. Now I know Ellison, The City on the Edge of Forever, Dangerous Visions, Vic Blood (excellent comic book drawn by Richard Corben in the late 1980s), suing The Comic Journal again in recent years and The Glass Teat, his essays of opinion on television.

Ellison is opinionated, abrasive, someone you might not to meet in real life. But the old guy got balls. Here's what it said at the back of Watching:

Everyone's entitled to his own opinion, right?


He or she is entitled to an informed opinion - so if you don't like being aruged with,if you don't like a total stranger telling you that your opinion is stupid, and you're fulla crap


Like I said, gutsy.

Now I don't need to be sold about history, but what I really like about Ellison's essays is his encyclopedic knowledge about the talking pictures. Referencing a contemporary movie with another that was made 40 years earlier. That's impressive, the kind of commitment to bring derision to rubbish. We are not in polite company here.

Which reminds me of an incident in my early years of reviewing music. I was given a CD of Robert Johnson covers done by others. I gave a hum-ho review, the covers were not bad, pleasant, listenable, some of the songs did rock out, got that old time bluesy feel, good intro to the mojo of Robert Johnson, blah, blah.

The review got killed. Essentially, the editor's response was WTF!!!! Have I even listened to Johnson's originals in the first place? (i have but i was basically too young then to dig the blues and to have an informed opinion about it...) He said, "These covers murdered Robert Johnson!"

Point taken. Sense of history has never been higher in my book since. I can't quite remember if the ed man himself rewrote the review and ran it under his byline. Or just threw the CD of rubbish in the can, but it was a lesson learned.

Reading Ellison these few nights brought back the reminder that we should bring all our passion and fury to speak out against crap because they deserve our scorn. After all, "the greatest enemy of clear language is insincerity." (George Orwell) And let's call a spade a spade. "If 50 million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing." (Anatole France)

[these are quotations taken from the book.]

Life is short and in this age of info overload and hyperkinks embedded within hyperlinks, you want to spend your precious waking moments on talking about the good stuff. But sometimes, you just got to give it to them, you just got to tell it as it is.

You have been judged and found wanting.

"If we live in a state where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us saintly. But since we see that avarice, anger, pride and stupdity commonly profit far beyond charity, modesty, justice and thought, perhaps we must stand fast a little, even at risk of being heroes." -- Thomas More in The Man for All Seasons (1966)

1 comment:

psychmetalfreak said...

"...we should bring all our passion and fury to speak out against crap because they deserve our scorn." Well said! The problem with today's increasing PC, middle brow-feel good climate is that people do not realise that at the end of the day, crap is still crap regardless of everything else. Music critics like Lester Bangs back in the 1970s and David Keenan in the noughties are only a handful of those who dare to thrust their opinions out in the world, to share with us their two-cents worth of what they think is good and bad. With the ubiquitous presence of music in the current I-Pod/3G handphone/internet download infested world, music and film and even literature are becoming more and more like fashion accessories than anything else. We need people like Ellison to show us that it is fine to discuss passionately and argue even over the stuff which we believe in (problem is people dont believe anything much today).