Hello, Textured World
I’m Podcasting Now
Written while listening to Scorched Earth Policy by Brother Dege
Remote mentor. That has a nice ring to it. By it I mean some far away writer — or artist or whomever — lending aid to the sparkling in my brain space. Craftsmen in any creative arena will tell you that it’s nice to have mentors like that. Mentors like that can be infallible, unreachable, impossible, but we can also look at their entire bodies of work and we can be objective and they’ll never disappoint us.
I’m setting out to start a podcast, and doing it brings two of my remote mentors to mind.
I don’t know what everyone else thinks of when they think of David Bowie. (Tell me, tell me, tell me! I bet that would be a fun set of data points.)
When I think of David Bowie, I think of Nicola Tesla.
If you haven’t seen The Prestige, I suggest it. It’s an entertaining movie full of emotion and performance and plot and everything you want from a movie. It’s also got a lot of lessons in writing and plotting and how and why you’d make changes from book to movie, which I might talk about later.
In this zigzagging roller coaster of thought, The Prestige matters because Nicola Tesla makes an appearance in the middle of it. The Prestige is a movie about magicians, and in this story about the deceptions and misdirections of magicians, Nicola Tesla is billed as a genuine, honest-before-the-sky, magic-wielding wizard.
In the framing of the movie, you totally buy it. In the way they introduce and use Tesla as a character, you start to wonder if maybe all that stuff you heard about Tesla is due to sorcery and wizardry.
This impression comes not least from the ethereal-yet-elemental performance of the actor they got to play him. When I first saw The Prestige, the otherworldly performance of that actor had me just about convinced that they’d gotten some real wizard/inventor to make a cameo, some impossible man out of his own time that I ought to recognize as a reclusive genius whose inventions change my world in ways subtle and strange.
In a sense, that surmise was right, because the actor they had for Tesla was David Bowie.
At which discovery I did what some of youse guys probably just did: What? Ziggy Stardust as Tesla? That’s a weird thought…
Then I thought some more.
Disclaimer: At that time in my life, I hadn’t got as much culturin’ as I have now. So when I say that this were the firs’ time the concept of the multi-media artist occurred to me, I hope my readers will be somewhat forgiving in their berating.
Discovering David Bowie played Tesla was, though, the first time it occurred to me that it might be possible to be a multi-media artist. I’m glad it was David Bowie exposing me to the idea, in retrospect, and I’m glad that I cottoned to the idea via The Prestige rather than, say, Labyrinth.
Here’s why: Bowie’s Tesla was muted, grand, eloquent, and — I think — expertly played. As a performance, it’s an absolute gem, and it in no way comes across as the filmmakers trying to catch audience members jus’ because they used that face that’s familiar from that other thing. Judging from the other performances in the movie the filmmakers of The Prestige had a certain standard they wanted to maintain, and judging from Bowie’s performance as Tesla, they hired him because he fit the role, and any extra hype they got from casting him was gravy.
Not in any way to say that Bowie didn’t audition and earn the Goblin King role in Labyrinth. But if you think about the Goblin King and Bowie then you think, “Bowie as the Goblin King? Dead ringer. No one else could do it. Not even Tilda Swinton.”
(That image scares me, actually.)
On the other hand, trying saying, “Bowie as Tesla.”
It ain’t as much of a dead ringer, is it? Bowie’s a large-aura-wielding king of star power, which is also the Goblin King. It just makes sense.
The first image to come to mind when you think of Bowie is not a muted, thoughtful, receding-violet genius of an inventor whose inventions have been mistaken for magic.
Because he played that reclusive genius, however, I went and looked deeper into Bowie’s career.
I discovered that Tesla is as perfect a role for him as the Goblin King. Or Ziggy, or the Thin White Duke, or the Elephant Man, or The Man Who Fell to Earth; or as perfect as any of his his more private roles as album producer, artistic mentor to other artists you’ve heard of, or early revolutionary in areas pertaining to audience interaction and the music industry. Every “role” he assumed was ideal to him, because every role he assumed with a combination of honest expression and utter technical artistry. David Bowie’s entire career entered the public eye as a single, artistic event, carefully conducted and crafted to be one, sweeping expression. I understand that he didn’t think of himself as a “musician,” but hoped people would see the whole picture as one, huge piece of art.
I do. It’s an odd thing.
And before I get too carried off…
Neil’s whole career sparks my mind up, because he accomplishes another something that I didn’t think you could do. It’s somewhat similar to Bowie, but it’s also a bit more personal to me.
In my mind, there’s different zones of writing. Non-fiction essays. Poetry. Screenwriting, and its close neighbors TV and stage plays. Their disowned near cousin, comic book writing. Narrative fiction, which is divided fairly well into long and short form. Children’s picture books. All different, separate, untouching camps.
All these different camps of literature and writing always feel like inviolate zones; all writers live in one, and if they ever cross the lines into another it’s only as a little adventure. They’re not supposed to lounge, spider-like, across all the lines. That just ain’t doin’ the thing right.
(Except if your name is Asimov, whose name apparently, at one point, appeared in every section of the book store except cook books.)
Without anyone making any big fuss about it, Neil somehow does precisely that. Neil writes for every form. That’s the admirable thing. He started in journalism, he wrote a TV show, he then adapted that TV show into a novel. He’s written screenplays, stage plays, more comics, picture books, more TV. He’s done it all. He crosses all the lines, like some multi-national espionage agent that everyone knows about but never accosts.
All those different kinds of writing are still in the same creative universe, as it were, and there’s still a couple of “zones of literature,” camps that some might consider only barely literature, whose borders ought to have remained inviolate: concept albums, and video games.
Thing is, now Neil’s written a video game. It’s called Wayward Manor, it’s on Steam for $6.99, and it has mostly negative reviews. But I’m going to play it, because of something that Neil said about storytelling in response to an interview question about the video game.
The interviewer asked him why he would write a video game. I’ll paraphrase his reply.
He said that he had a story that he’d been wanting to tell for a while, but that he hadn’t been able to write it. He tried writing a short story and a comic book script and various things, and nothing seemed to fit the story. It baffled him. He says he put the story aside for a while, till one day somebody approached him about writing a video game. For whatever reason, he thought to try writing Wayward Manor as the video game, and he says that suddenly he found the correct vessel for this story he’d been trying to tell.
So I’ll go play it. I don’t expect to enjoy it, exactly. I’m not that into video games. But I am into storytelling lessons.
Neil’s spoken about this idea that you’ve got to have the right vessel for the message before. Not exactly in those terms, but he has said things, for instance, about how Sandman could not have worked as a story without the medium where it appeared — comic books. He talks about this concept fairly often.
Maybe the vessel you’re trying to tell that story with is the wrong vessel for the story. Maybe that novel isn’t working because it ought to be a concept album.
(Side note: If Colin Meloy and Neil Gaiman ever collaborate on a concept album…it could happen.)
Maybe, I tell myself, I’ve been trying to think of ways to say words that I need to leave written.
The More Boring Third Member of This Party
There are them that might say it’s generous to even call me the Larry to Neil’s and Bowie’s Shemp and Curly. I’ll claim that place for a couple minutes, but I’ll keep it brief.
I am starting a podcast. Partly as an advertising decision, but mostly because I’ve always felt in my bones that what I want to say does not sit comfy in one mode of expression. It would be calming to imagine that everything I’d like to say might jus’ get writ down, damn to the publicity of it. That jus’ ain’t so, not for the words I’ve got. I don’t know what success I’ll have podcasting — or searching toward other vessels and media that I’ll also be exploring in the not-too-distant future. I do know that sometimes I’ll be outlining or poking along at my keyboard or losing my train of thought in some other way and realize that what I want to say isn’t quite fitting into the particular restrictions of writing things down. Starting a podcast feels the right thing to do, even if it’s nerve-wracking as fuck to imagine doing it.
In so concluding, I figured that the easiest way to start podcasting would be to simply make recordings of myself reading my writing, then stream that with all the stories. The stories are already there. They’re some of my thoughts and opinions. I already agree with them and know what I think about them.
I have run into a difficulty with that.
I’ve done a couple recordings, and I don’t like them. I am not a good judge of my own reading voice, I don’t think, and I think I probably did some okay readings. They are, however, disingenuous. They’re disingenuous because the emotions in the words as written were not the emotions in the clear, slow, careful reading voice that my mum so painfully asked me to develop.
I am a riff-writer. I write faster than I talk. I allow myself random zippings and zoomings — sometimes edited out, often left in, much to all of our confusion. I’m scatter-brained and ditzy and the only reason these words have any semblance of reason in them is because I occasionally do edit and because you’re the audience to the victory of my will to be clear over my joy in verbal frippery. Whether that’s any joy to you is not something I know.
Why I’m trying to say is that my fingers often move faster than my tongue. (Ooh, aah, missus.)
As a result, the tone of my personal essay writing is poorly effected by the slow care of my reading voice. (Hopefully that will be a boon when I read fiction. We shall see.)
So what do I do? These are my thoughts and my opinions in these scratchings. I’m honest to myself here. What, then, do I do?
I tell you what: I ad lib. Because that’s the right thing to do.
I am starting my podcast. The first few episodes will be on the same subjects as the best of the personal essays I’ve lately written. I will not, however, be reading my personal essays out loud.
Instead, I’ll be riffing on them. I’ll be ad-libbing on the same subject, probably for a similar amount of words, and hopefully with a similar amount of wittiness.
I won’t always take my scratchings and make ad-libbed squawkings of them. I know that sometimes I’ll do the opposite.
I know that because I already have. I outlined this story out loud first. I have a recording of it. Now I’m writing it.
In light of how I’ve written it, I’ll probably do a different recording. This scratching ended up way wittier than the recording. Spoken voice part of my mind wants to one-up written word part.
Probably never will. Written word part has a dozen years’ more intensive conditioning.
The heat, as they might say, is on, Spoken Voice Part of My Mind. What you going to do now, dude?
If anyone wondered…
I usually take a medium in shirts.
I am just the right “medium” for the job.
Yes that’s a crap joke.
Yes, I am proud of myself.
I have a voice.
It makes noise.
Ever thought of yourself as a Zeppo? Ever been in complete conflict between feeling right about something and feeling nervous fit-to-burn about something? Ever thought to yourself, “It’ll be cool to be ninety and look back on this moment nostalgically”?