Monday, July 12, 2010

thegrowlingwolf Considers His Brother, the Journalist

Foto by tgw, New York City, 2010
[From thewomantrumpetplayer: Hey, Steinbrenner just croaked.

From thestaff:
Headed straight to Hell we assume. Oh how well Steinbrenner fucked up baseball but oh how well the loyal Yankees fans made him richer and richer even though he often threatened to move the team to New Jersey or Tampa. He had no loyalty at all to Yankee tradition. Like changing the outfield fences, bringing them in so he could compete with Saint Louis, Chicago, and San Francisco where guys were breaking Babe Ruth's and Roger Maris's home run records as easy as pie--because those fields had short fences. Yankee Stadium in the days of the Babe--not only was the ball softer (though they were hard balls, don't worry--hard enough to kill a man)--it was 420 to dead center--plus Steinbrenner blackened in the deep centerfield seats so his precious highly paid players could see the ball better. And then Steinbrenner screwed the citizens of New York City by building his billion-dollar new stadium--not on the sacred ground but off center field in what was once sandlot baseball lots--for years kids came to the sandlots around Yankee Stadium. Steinbrenner did away with that. He did away with knothole gangs, too. Plus the new Yankee Stadium is 10,000-seats less than the old stadium. The original stadium held 75,000. So George leaves we New York Citians and especially we Yankees fans with we have to admit the best team in baseball right now, though he fucked many a baseball player's career up and how many managers's lives did he make miserable. He drove Billy Martin to drink. Billy was later killed when he drove his pick up into a tree--and, yes, Billy, the baseball innovator, the inventer of "Billy Ball," which now a lot of National League teams still play, which American League teams abandoned for the long balls. Bobby Cox at Atlanta is a Billy Ball-type manager; certainly Joe Torre was; and Tony La Russa learned it directly from the Master at Oakland. So Goodbye George...and, we hope, good riddance.
And Another One Bites the Dust: Tuli Kupferberg, 86, American poet, cartoonist and musician (The Fugs) Tuli is gone. Damn. One of the great Greenwich Village characters who remained loyal to his antiWar anticommercialism lifestyle, continuing to write his hippy verses, big friend of old WBAI late-night hippy guru Bob Fass, big friend of Abby Hoffman, and of course Ed Sanders and the true 60s and 70s American heroes, true heroes, who struggled hard to push it back in the assholes's faces--those who eventually won out anyway. The Fugs. Whooo, what a life! The Fugs, the drugs, stompin' baby chicks with Frank Zappa; Yippies and hippies and the Pigs and the Construction Workers and those were the days, my friends, when NYC was still wide-eyed with brilliant thinkers, poets, artists, musicians--oh what a wonderful time. Goodbye, Tuli.
My big brother was a journalist. Could he write good fiction? Not as well as I can write good fiction. And I am not a journalist. My brother tried to write novels. He finished two novels in his lifetime. I am a novelist who has never finished a novel.

His first novel attempt had to do with a character named Les Brownly Dunn. You see, my brother was a clever punster, a master of the limerick, and a whiz at alliteration--as a result he loved inventing names like Les Brownly Dunn, which he said he came up with one morning when he was making toast under the broiler and he asked his wife how she wanted her toast and she replied, "Less brownly done."

As a character, Les Brownly Dunn was an organist living and working in a small West Texas as a good Christian man--when in actuality, as he finds out one fine day to his total surprise..., Les Brownly Dunn the Christian organist IS...hold onto your toast...Jewish!

And that's where my brother made his mistake. My brother knew nothing about being Jewish except what he had gleaned from a pack of Jewish millionaires he frequently hung out with socially. That and the fact he was a natural-born inveterate reader and as such he had learned to speed read, so he sped read all he could about being Jewish from all the Jewish yaddah-yaddah books at his disposal. He even went to Israel and camped out by the Sea of Galilee, afterwards wandering the back streets of Old Jerusalem with an Israeli archaeologist he had developed a friendship with while in Galilee. But the novel still didn't work in the sense of its turning Les Brownly Dunn from a Gentile into a Jew. And, besides, as a novel, the story wasn't very well written in terms of confluence. [My brother should be coming out of his grave about now aiming to come and put a haunted Bally's half-boot up my ass--how dare I write that his Les Brownly Dunn novel not only was amateurish in the Jewish aspects of its main character but also not well written...and I add in my defense I meant it was "not well written" in a novelistic sense. Developmentally, you know, realistic dialog, transition, that sort of stuff.]

I'm not saying my brother wasn't a good writer. He was a great writer. He was a prolific writer. But not as a novelist.

Just like my brother, in college I took one semester of Journalism. And, too, like my brother, I had no interest in Journalism after that one semester. I found it boring as a college subject. By accident, and I've already written about that, my brother became a journalist on our hometown newspaper. He went from our hometown to his big move that landed him a job on a big Dallas newspaper--and soon on that paper he was promoted to Editorial Page Editor--and soon my brother was Dallas-and-Texas-wide famous and was writing powerful editorials in that big Dallas newspaper--and those editorials stirred up in a big way what became a Young People for Kennedy movement, an anti-rightwing youth rebellion in Dallas--and my brother was an Independent, very liberal, believing that Dallas's future lay on the "Great Frontier" and not in the old traditional politics that were ultra-rightwing, openly racist, and autocratically run by rich oilmen and mercantilists. My brother stressed the need for Dallas to move into a New Age in his editorials. My brother, the journalist, then became nationally famous for his editorials and later his commentaries on a national network news broadcast. These big moments coming after the notoriety he gained for his editorials in this big Dallas paper right after the Kennedy Assassination.

But when it came to writing novels?

My brother's second completed novel was actually published back in the late 70s. This one was set in Majorca and is a story that opens with a father and mother coming from the US to Majorca to visit their son who lives there. Coincidentally, this novel was written after my brother and his wife had visited Majorca, where coincidentally, one of their sons lived.

The way my brother wrote this novel, when I read it, I recognized right off that this father and mother were actually him and his wife.

The novel opens with the father and mother flying from Barcelona to Majorca. On the plane it is obvious they are expecting their son to be meeting them at the airport. However, when they arrive in Majorca, they can find no sign of him anywhere. The son it turns out got the date of their arrival wrong and wasn't expecting them until the next day.

And so the story unfolds. It's a tragic story of this father and mother rambling all over Majorca asking if anybody knows their son--yes, several people know him--and if they know him do they know where he is--or how to get to his house? Nobody knows where the son is living now since they all agree he'd just moved. One guy said he knew for sure the son had moved during the past week, but where, he had no idea. This frantic father and mother eventually book into a hotel and the father goes out into the evening looking for his son. The book climaxes in a tragic collapse when the father accidentally finds the a gay bar...dancing with a man. OH MY GOD! And I knew my brother, the journalist, thought he'd written a masterpiece; however, it turned out not to sell at all and, of course, it infuriated his real son, though my brother argued over and over in a sincere way--his sincerity--that it wasn't his real son in the novel--he had just used the "gay factor" as a potential sales gimmick.

In his last attempt at a novel, my brother, the journalist, fictionalized the life of our father. When he was really into this novel, he would send me certain sections he thought I'd enjoy. One day I got a big package in the mail. He'd sent me three whole chapters and in a brief note he asked me to let him know what I thought of the tale. I sat cringing after I'd finished those chapters. My brother, the journalist, had made our dad into a Faulkner-Popeye-type character (from Faulkner's potboiler, Sanctuary). A sex-hungry beast of a flim-flammer dude going about seducing young girls, younger and younger girls, until near the end of these chapters it is revealed our dad as this West Texas Popeye has his constantly roving eye on his best friend's young high-school-age daughter.

"Jesus, Bro, you've turned daddy into a rue! You've got our dad on every Amber alert from Maine to California. Is that your evil self coming out in the character of Dad?"

And he explained to me that as a writer, sure his characters were based on real persons out of his life but that once they were fictionalized, they weren't real persons anymore. I'm sure our dad would have read the novel from that point of view. Yeah sure. Ironically, I never saw our dad reading any book except the Christian Bible. He loved collecting Christian bibles. He had an old King James version, an American Revised Version, a Roman Catholic (Vulgate) bible, and a controversial Christian Bible one of my brother's book salesman friends from New York City had given our dad for X-mas one year, a bible edited by a theology professor at the University of Chicago, Edgar Goodspeed, thereafter known as the Goodspeed Bible, an Americanization of the holiest of Christian books. I remember the first time my dad whipped that Goodspeed Bible out in church and started reading the scripture of the day from it. The whole congregation, following along in their King James versions, sat wide-eyed and in awe as what my dad was reading from his Goodspeed Bible sounded more like he was reading from Studs Lonigan than it did any kind of Christian bible. [Studs Lonigan is a long-forgotten (?) trilogy of American novels about growing up on the Irish South Side of Chicago by the, I thought at one time, brilliant wordsmith, James T. Farrell (The late Studs Turkel took his name "Studs" from Farrell's Studs Lonigan character).]

My brother, the journalist, submitted his Les Brownly Dunn manuscript to an NYC agent, a big-time one, but eventually this guy returned it saying no way he could sell it--nobody was interested. I sort of laughed to myself when I thought about a Jewish acquisitions editor reading about Les Brownly Dunn discovering he was Jewish.

My brother, the journalist, stuck to his guns with his novels. Still pandering them across the USA and still stoically accepting their continuously being rejected right up until his death in 2002.

But as a brother was one of the best and brightest in his time. My brother could whip out editorials two or three at a sitting. My brother could write wonderful essays and had tons of his articles published in all kinds of magazines from The Atlantic to the New York Review of Books. But novels?

I always had a different approach to writing than my brother. I felt what I called an instinctual urge to write. And I started right off trying to write stories. Poems on the side--published poems--making my way as a poet though against my writing will. And then I read Gertrude Stein--Three Lives first, then Making of Americans...even Tender Buttons and after reading it realizing what it was about one night when I got a little too rough pulling at and sucking on my woman's nipples and she said, "Please, not so hard, my nipples are tender...." Later I would realize the teton innuendo in that title. Then I bought a Caedmon LP of Gertrude Stein reading from her works and I read The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and in it "Alice" talks about how Gertrude Stein writes--the statement that hit home to me was when Gertrude Stein wrote that she got into writing the way she started writing by observing her poodle Basket lapping up water from his water bowl. That rhythm became her rhythm--her continual rhythm as she wrote in what she said was a "continual present tense."

There was nothing journalistic about the way Gertrude Stein wrote. Yet, in July of 1961, on reading of Hemingway's death, I ran out and bought as many of his books as I could afford and on finishing The Sun Also Rises, I became fascinated with the way Hemingway wrote. How excited it made me feel reading that book--reading a real writer as a young man trying to become a real writer. But Hemingway started off as a journalist. As a reporter on the Kansas City Star (he once said he learned a lot about writing from the famous KC Star Style Sheet that advised all its journalists to write economically short and at the same time concise sentences) and later as a foreign correspondent to the Toronto Star. Then in A Moveable Feast, Hemingway's last book--the last book he had in him--the book that drained him of his writing powers and sent him to put the barrel of a very expensive Belgium hunting shotgun up far into the roof of his mouth, then pull the trigger with his big toe--and BLOOOEY--SPLAT--and Heminway the Writer was no more--I read Hemingway writing about needing money and the only way he found he could easily get money was writing pieces for newspapers; the Toronto paper the paper that paid his way to Paris and a meeting with Gertrude Stein, who, it turned out, he had admired since he'd met Sherwood Anderson in Chicago and heard Sherwood talking about what a great writer Gertrude Stein was. That was it, Hemingway had learned how to write through Gertrude Stein. And, I think, Hemingway fell in love with Gertrude Stein, tried to seduce her, and she rejected him very blatantly as he describes it in A Moveable Feast the time he came to Gertrude's uninvited and heard Gertrude upstairs in her sleeping quarters calling out, "Oh, yes, Pussy...." Alice B. Toklas was between Gertrude's legs and not Hemingway!

The one thing I learned from my brother's journalistic work: as a journalist, he had to write at least 2,000 words a day every day except Saturday--for his editorials and columns--and I watched him faithfully for years get up every morning at 6 and head out to his office and soon you'd hear him typing away until he had to "go down to the paper" around 9. He typed with two fingers. Yes, my brother typed with two fingers--and that's the way deadline-beating journalists typed, with two fingers--fast as hell--like Lionel Hampton used to show off playing the piano that way--with just two fingers--Lionel was a vibes player and drummer--and vibes players and drummers play with two mallets and two sticks so naturally Lionel played the piano with two fingers. [So did vibraphonist Terry Gibbs--to me, one of the most exciting jazz wailers of his day.] One of the greatest-ever two-finger piano-playing sides Lionel ever made was for RCA Victor in the 1940s with the Nat "King" Cole Trio entitled "Central Avenue Breakdown" ("Jack the Bellboy" on which Lionel plays drums is on the other side). On "Central Avenue," Lionel mallets away with his forefingers on the studio Steinway, with Nat comping the left hand riffs punctuating Lionel's two-finger keyboard gymnastics.

And that's the way my brother typed all his life. I learned to type when I was 11, taught by our maternal grandmother. I learned to type with all ten fingers, my grandmother showing me the home keys and where my fingers went. I've tried typing with two fingers, a la the journalists, but I couldn't do it. Just like I can't play my piano with two fingers, not being a drummer or a vibes player.

Journalists write for journals. Yes, they are elevated diarists. As long as they are writing their columns they are in their journalistic element--they conceive as they write according to newspaper style sheets--they write in a hurry--they have to write in a hurry as a journal is as up-to-the-minute in terms of what they were writing about as printed matter can get. They have to write concisely, sometimes about matter far above the heads of their newspaper readers. They can't deviate from "the journalistic style." If they become successful columnists, then they can graduate somewhat into writing a book, a book based on their column writing, a book in which they can two-finger-type out a book-length newspaper column. And the way they write is so very journalistic. Ironically, The Daily Growler is also nothing more than a journal. More Gonzo than daily newspaper, yes, but anyway, wow, that makes me a journalist, too, doesn't it. The Daily Growler style sheet! If we have one, it's all in our heads...and heads are very important in Journalism.
Leave some open spaces for continuance in your continuing is continuing no matter what is being be continued is to be keeping living.

for The Daily Growler

From Wikipedia:

Edgar Johnson Goodspeed (1871 – 1962) was an American liberal theologian and scholar of Greek and the New Testament. He taught for many years at the University of Chicago, whose collection of New Testament manuscripts he enriched by his searches. The University's collection is now named in his honor.

He is widely remembered for his translations of the Bible: The New Testament: an American Translation (1923), and (with J. M. Powis-Smith) "The Bible, An American Translation" (1935), the "Goodspeed Bible". He is also remembered for his translation of the Apocrypha, and that translation was included in the The Complete Bible, An American Translation (1939).

Edgar J. Goodspeed was born in Quincy, Illinois. He graduated from Denison University (where he also received a doctorate in Divinity, 1928) and the University of Chicago (Ph.D. 1898).

1 comment:

Marybeth said...

Hey, Steinbrenner just croaked.