A Love Song to Harlan Ellison and Righteous A**holes everywhere.
I think I was Twelve, and I think it was “Approaching Oblivion”.
At least that’s the best memory of where and when I first encountered Harlan’s work. Maybe I was Nine and it was “Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World”. I remember having the trade paperback with the Barclay Shaw painting of Cupid reeling back from an arrow shot into his own heart. So maybe…
No, it was “Approaching Oblivion” and I was…Okay, I was probably nine. I know I was too young to understand every word.
But I dug the music of it.
I’ve been digging the music of Harlan’s work for close to forty years. There are plenty of other writers who work has influenced me. Larry Gelbart, Tom Stoppard, Woody Allen (I know. I know.) P.G. Wodehouse, Milan Kundera.
But Harlan did more than influence me stylistically.
The greatest gift Harlan gave me is the message that it’s all right to be an Asshole.
Harlan never suffered fools gladly. When a publisher inserted a Cigarette ad into a paperback edition of one of his books, he responded, after exhausting every other avenue, by mailing to his office a dead gopher.
Harlan has gotten into public fights with James Cameron, Gene Roddenberry, Irwin Allen. He has screamed at politicians, dead eyed college kids and Network Suits who thought an MBA in business made them more qualified to judge the quality of a piece of dramatic writing than the writer themselves.
Because Harlan believed that it was more important to be honest than nice. And that if someone wanted to take a knife to your work, you grab that knife and stick it in their eye.
Harlan could be an Asshole but usually (Not always because like all of us, he was human and therefore flawed.) towards people who deserved it.
He was a defensive asshole, as opposed to being an offensive one.
Harlan marched with Martin Luther King before it was the fashionable thing to do. He mentored younger writers at various workshops though the years. He championed for Artistic Freedom and battled censorship.
And he did most of these things, all while being a cranky asshole.
We are in a time of crisis.
We have an actual Honest-to-God fascist in the White House. We’re looking at a right-wing take over of our courts. We’ve got Nazis running around in the streets.
Our country is turning into a version of America depicted in Harlan’s short story, “Knox” (From the aforementioned “Approaching Oblivion” collection.) in which a working class man is slowly indoctrinated into becoming a tool of violence for the state.
The time for polite debate has ended.
The time to be cranky assholes has just begun.
If you see a Nazi doing Nazi shit, tell him in no uncertain terms to knock it off. You have no obligation to be polite to people who are trying to destroy you.And if he calls you uncivil, stick your finger down your throat and puke on his shoes.
Or to paraphrase Harlan, you can be Zorro.
Harlan didn’t believe in God but he believed the spark of Godhood lies in all of us.
We just have to be brave.
Now, go read some Harlan Ellison and kick some ass!!