A Veritable Holy Triumvirate of Literary B-Days

(How to begin? With the most influential?)

On this day in 1947,
Stephen King was born. Some years after his birth, on a summer day during between my 5th and 6th grade years, my parents were at work and I saw on our coffee table my father’s library copy of Stephen King’s IT. I read the first scene – where the little boy follows his newspaper boat coated in paraffin as it coasts along a rainwashed gutter into the sewer and the hands of Pennywise – I read that scene and was hooked. I could only read about 20 pages to my dad’s 100 because for whatever reason I didn’t want him or my mom to know I was reading the book (shame at reading a book with so much cursing? Or one so violent?). He finished the novel and returned it to the library before I even got 1/8 of the way in – but that didn’t matter. A few years later I found his paperback copy of Skeleton Crew, snagged it, and read at night. My 8th grade year, King kept me up late to tales of tigers in elementary school bathrooms, oil-slick water monsters, self-cannibals, and the horrors of time travel. I read those short stories over and over again, until I got comfortable enough to let my parents see me reading such graphic stuff. (And, simply happy to see me reading, they could’ve cared less. I’m well adept at imagining way off-base reactions.) After my love for King was out in the open, every trip to the library was chance to grab an unread King novel. So comes my 9th grade year in a new high school in a new town. I didn’t really have many friends early on tha year so I spent my nights (and most of my school days) reading King’s novels. From August of ’89 until the end of ’90, I read every King novel available at the time. I even played sick so I could stay in bed and read The Stand. My friends and I would trade between us whichever King novels we hadn’t yet read. We peppered our speech with certain snippets of King’s dialogue that had made us laugh until we cried. I recall Christine having a vast majority of these great one-liners but the one I remember the most we lifted from The Stand – The Kid screaming, “YOU DIG THAT HAPPY CRAPPY?” and something else about Coors being the only beer ever made – we made King’s words our own. We pondered the ultimate outcome of Roland’s quest for The Dark Tower. We debated our favorite works – mine then was The Stand but now is The Shining. King’s books, Castle Rock, Derry, and Mid-World were our refuge from Small Town, USA boredom. King made us all want to be writers. When we ran out of King novels, we reread them or switched to John Saul (yuck), Dean Koontz (slightly better), and Clive Barker (wow!). Up until my senior year, when I again moved, talking about King’s books was a big part of our bond. Even after my move, I’d write back to my boys asking if they’d read King’s latest – Dolores Claiborne, Gerald’s Game, Nightmares and Dreamscapes, Insomnia. A few years later, after I had a year and half of college under my belt and was much more widely read, The Regulators and Desperation came out. I read The Regulators and said to myself, “That’s it. I’m done with King.” (At this time I was reading a lot of Beat literature and King just didn’t seem to measure up, especially that terrible novel.) I didn’t even read the companion Desperation because I was so offended that King would waste my time. I did read Wizards and Glass upon its release and was happy that King didn’t fuck up The Dark Tower but I could never, and haven’t yet been able to bring myself to read anything but new The Dark Tower books (which don’t even do anything for me, insofar as the writing is concerned). So now my project is to go back and reread some of those books I loved as an early teen. I want to think that the writing is as good as I remember. King is, if nothing else, an amazing storyteller. He spins yarns and characters like no one else. I’m just not yet certain if he’s a talented writer to boot. Even if those old books aren’t as good as I remember them, the affection I felt for them at the time will always be as good as I remember it. Stephen King, thanks, man, for writing books that my friends and I actually cared about and wanted to discuss. Thanks for making characters that entertained, frightened, and reflected us. John D. and Jesse W., we’re 10 years past our last conversation about books. I hope you’re both still writing. I hope that you still call your friends in the middle of the night just to tell them what a fucking good book you’ve got in your hands.

On this day in 1934,
Leonard Cohen was born.

Everybody KnowsEverybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that you’ve been faithful
Ah give or take a night or two
Everybody knows you’ve been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

And everybody knows that it’s now or never
Everybody knows that it’s me or you
And everybody knows that you live forever
Ah when you’ve done a line or two
Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old black joe’s still pickin’ cotton
For your ribbons and bows
And everybody knows

And everybody knows that the plague is coming
Everybody knows that it’s moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there’s gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows

And everybody knows that you’re in trouble
Everybody knows what you’ve been through
From the bloody cross on top of calvary
To the beach of malibu
Everybody knows it’s coming apart
Take one last look at this sacred heart
Before it blows
And everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Oh everybody knows, everybody knows
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows.

As synchronicity would have it, I saw the movie Pump Up the Volume and then shortly thereafter got to hear the above song (which had been haunting me) when it appeared on a mix tape. Living in Small Town, USA, with the nearest real record store an hour and a half’s drive, we didn’t hear much new music outside of what was on the radio and when the occasional person would circulate some new tunes around town. My friend Nurse and I saw Pump Up the Volume not out of any great desire, or even because we knew what the movie was about, but because it was a new release on the video store shelves. We watched it, loved it, bought the soundtrack when we made it up to the record store, and played that soundtrack only to hear Concrete Blonde covering “Everybody Knows”. Now that wasn’t the version Happy Harry Hard On played before he went on air. Almost the exact same week, Nurse’s friend Kim busts out with this mix tape of tunes. I wish I had a copy of that tape today but it was loaded with great music: Peter Murphy, The Misfits, old RHCP, but, more importantly to me, Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows”. I listened to this song over and over and over again – letting Leonard’s deep voice rumble in my body while I studied over those haunting lyrics. I moved my senior year of high school, leaving Nurse in Small Town, USA. That same year, I picked up Leonard’s I’m Your Man, the album on which “Everybody Knows” appears. LOOOOOOOOVED IT – memorized it. Nurse visited once and saw the CD and said, “You didn’t just buy this for that one song did you? Cause this is a good fuckin’ album.” Funny enough, I didn’t pick up another Leonard Cohen album until a few years later when my friend Packer, who had every Cohen and Tom Waits album, loaned me a few of Leonard’s earlier records. I was blown away. Cohen was/is brilliant. A singer/songwriter/wordsmith that few can match. Songs of L. Cohen, Songs of Love and Hate, New Skin for an Old Ceremony – buy them, study them, and let those songs seep into your pores.

Famous Blue RaincoatIt’s four in the morning, the end of December
I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better
New York is cold, but I like where I’m living
There’s music on Clinton Street all through the evening.

I hear that you’re building your little house deep in the desert
You’re living for nothing now, I hope you’re keeping some kind of record.

Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear
Did you ever go clear?

Ah, the last time we saw you you looked so much older
Your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder
You’d been to the station to meet every train
And you came home without Lili Marlene

And you treated my woman to a flake of your life
And when she came back she was nobody’s wife.

Well I see you there with the rose in your teeth
One more thin gypsy thief
Well I see Jane’s awake —

She sends her regards.
And what can I tell you my brother, my killer
What can I possibly say?
I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you
I’m glad you stood in my way.

If you ever come by here, for Jane or for me
Your enemy is sleeping, and his woman is free.

Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes
I thought it was there for good so I never tried.

And Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear

— Sincerely, L. Cohen

Nurse, I did buy I’m Your Man only because “Everybody Knows” was on it. Sa Rah and I do that kind of thing all the time, actually. We heard a Franz Ferdinand song and liked it so Sa Rah picked up the record and you know what? The whole thing rocks. Same thing with Electric Six. It’s kinda like when you bought that Michel’le record just because “No More Lies” was on it.

On this day in 1866,
H.G. Wells was born. I knew about War of the Worlds growing up. I’m not sure how because I never read it or heard the radio version until later in life. Probably my dad told me about H.G. Wells when we watched a movie version of the novel or something. In high school, on a whim, I picked up The Invisible Man and read it, and was blown away. The book was was nothing like I thought it would be. You know that book was published in 1897? I don’t know why, but that fact really amazes me considering the subject. Wells was an insanely prolific author. And the only books I’ve read of his are the ones published before 1910. Don’t know why I never picked up the books published after that. Someday I might. But I can tell you that films and pop culture renditions of Wells’ novels don’t come close to doing the novels justice. I suggest The Invisible Man because I’m awfully partial to the experience I had of having my preconceptions destroyed. I appreciate that very much.

In other news,

PKD fans, learn!

Vonnegut fans, rejoice!

Comments

i think i prefer ellison’s invisible man. but i enjoyed this entry none the less. i remember staying home from school reading the stand as well. what a time in life. no guilt over spending a day in bed with a book. nothing other to do really.

Posted by: rubigimlet at September 21, 2004 11:00 AM

Man… Vonnegut is a bad mother… While you’re on the subject of Cohen… Are you a fan of Nick Cave? Some of his lyrics and style remind me a lot of ol’ Lenny.

Posted by: Brandon. at September 21, 2004 11:50 AM

what makes you prefer one over the other, rubilicious?

i definitely agree with the nick cave/l. cohen comparison, brandon, although i haven’t given nick the attention he deserves.

Posted by: jdoublep at September 21, 2004 03:09 PM

Oh boy… Definitely need to pick up the Murder Ballads album, and Let Love in… I could make you a copy and trade it for a loan of comics, if our schedules ever coooperate.

Posted by: Brandon. at September 21, 2004 03:43 PM

thanks for reminding me of my first love affair! (yes it was SK) the first man i ever spent days in bed with.(did everybody stay home from school to read The Stand? he still makes me want to be a writer. I wasn’t crazy about Desperation either, but if you read The Regulators, it does give you a real sense of his mastery of the craft! he tells the same story, with the same characters, in a different setting and with different roles in the story. And…I’m STILL waiting to see how The Dark Towers comes out! I’ve been anticipating it since I read the Gunslinger in the 9th grade. Not his best writing, maybe, but a great story!! what are you reading now?

Posted by: m at September 21, 2004 07:52 PM

I’m very much anxious to see how The Dark Tower turns out but, I didn’t at all like the writing in books V and VI. I enjoyed seeing how the story progressed and am ready to see how the entire series winds up (although King’s foray into Po-Mo narrative techniques arrive to the party almost unfashionably late).
Now, I’m reading Daniel Dennett’s Freedom Evolves (philosophy of free will) and Douglas Rushkoff’s Ecstasy Club (about 40 pages into this one – about a gang of SF ravers – sort of a Beat lit for dance/cyber culture).

How about all of you? What books are on your nightstands?

Posted by: jdoublep at September 21, 2004 08:15 PM

i’m not a sci-fi fan baddabulbous

Posted by: rubigimlet at September 22, 2004 09:19 AM

you’re a closet sci-fi baddabadass, rubicon! (that would be the name of a sci-fi convention about you)

Posted by: jdoublep at September 22, 2004 03:58 PM

“I even played sick so I could stay in bed and read The Stand.”

Weird. I did the exact same thing at the exact same time, give or take a few weeks.

Posted by: toby at September 23, 2004 11:33 AM

toby, did you tell your mom you had captain’s trips?
i didn’t – but in hindsight i think that would’ve been funny.

Posted by: jdoublep at September 23, 2004 12:53 PM

A Veritable Holy Triumvirate of Literary B-Days