Wednesday, May 21, 2008
You can't get here from there
In a parallel universe just a few quantum fractals away from our own, Carolyne Mas owns a good sized island a few miles off the coast of Brazil. The local mariners all know to avoid it because a very expensive private security force patrols the surrounding waters in a fleet of extremely fast, heavily armed speedboats. The island has a sheltered lagoon like a blue-green jewel that porpoises cavort in, and the tropical flowers are lush and lovely. Ms. Mas goes there maybe 30 days out of the year. The rest of her time is spent touring, playing a seemingly endless parade of sold out shows in the world's largest arenas, the proceeds for which go entirely to charity, because God knows she doesn't need any more money. (Occasionally she'll sneak into a little town or city with no fanfare to play some tiny, smoky club or bar, just for the fun of it. People dream of stumbling into one of those shows. They are legendary among music fans.)
She's just been inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame, and you have a copy of all 16 of her CDs, although more often than not you can't find the one you want to listen to right now, because one of your kids has it in their stereo or Discman.
Her music is on Ipods all over the world. She's had parts in four different movies and has appeared on each of the different CSI franchises and two of the LAW & ORDERS. Martin Scorcese is filming her next big concert in Bolivia. Her celebrity fans include Paul McCartney, Elton John, Carole King and Carlos Santana. Fox keeps trying to get her to be a mentor on AMERICAN IDOL, but she doesn't have time, plus, she worries she might stick a pair of scissors in Simon Cowell.
At the age of 53, she's one of the most successful and highly respected singer/songwriter celebrities in the history of pop music.
That's in a different world... what Walter Hill might describe as 'another time, another place'. A sub-continuum just a few vibrational chords out of pitch with this one.
In that same parallel universe, Daniel Keyes Moran is checking his bank account on his custom made I phone. There's a pending deposit from Paramount Studios for $3.2 million; the results of his profit participation on the smash hit movie adaptation of his best selling SF novel EMERALD EYES. The money's nice although he has no pressing need for it; with THE LONG RUN, THE LAST DANCER, THE AI WARS, and THE HOUSE OF NOVEMBER all optioned for film production at a cool 3 million each, he's already got more than enough to build that hilltop mansion in the Canyon he's been idly daydreaming about since his early 20s, and by that Lambourghini he's always lusted after. If he weren't a very happily married man he might be getting more enjoyment from the casting sessions for the TRENT THE UNCATCHABLE TV series he insists on sitting in on. There's an old Hollywood adage about the wannabe starlet who was so stupid she slept with the writer, but Moran is an exception to that cliche; as a writer/producer, he's made PREMIERE magazine's Hundred Most Powerful Movie Magnates list for the last four years in a row... this year he's number 7.
(Tangentially, this is also the world where Gerry Conway was never Editor In Chief at Marvel Comics, and Steve Englehart stayed on AVENGERS and CAPTAIN AMERICA, and Steve Gerber kept writing DEFENDERS and HOWARD THE DUCK, until the late 1980s. Also, Jack Kirby is still alive there, and Season Six of BUFFY was actually really good, and Al Gore won by eight points with Chris Dodd as his running mate, and Ralph Nader runs the Consumer Protection Agency.)
This is the world that we should all be living in, if talent meant much of anything. Apparently, in the world we all have to live in, it doesn't. (Or perhaps there is a God, and He/She hates us.)
Early September of 1979; I can't remember the exact date. I'd been at Syracuse University for a total of two days. I didn't know a soul besides my computer assigned roommate, a guy named Jim Commentucci, whom it was already obvious I wasn't ever going to be anything remotely like best buddies with. (Our loathing was immediate, mutual and fairly comprehensive but nonetheless for the most part amiable; we were fortunate in sharing a split double, so we could and did largely ignore each other for the two semesters we cohabited the same dorm room together.) Around seven in the evening I wandered up the hill to the SU quad, drawn by strains of unfamiliar but excellent rock n roll music that got steadily louder the closer I approached.
I didn't know any of the songs, nor was I familiar with any of the musicians, but the woman singing had an amazing voice and the songs themselves were fast moving, hard rocking, and deeply engaging. I plopped down on an empty stretch of grass amidst a sea of teenage strangers about forty feet from the stage and listened, enjoying myself enormously.
I was listening to a woman named Carolyne Mas, although I did not know it at the time. Later on, when I found out who she was, I bought her debut album, and a few years after that, what turned out to be her third album. (It will, perhaps, bring home to you just how long ago this all was when I advise you that I bought these albums on vinyl.)
That first, self titled debut album became a constant, haunting refrain playing in the background throughout much of my college experience; that music will, to me, always be associated with various Syracuse University locations -- the quad, various dorm rooms and off campus houses and apartments I lived in briefly or otherwise -- and various people I associate strongly with Syracuse University -- Jim Commentucci, another guy named Steve Shapiro whom I met at that outdoor concert and was briefly very good friends with, and my first girlfriend Laurie, who Steve introduced me to a few days (weeks?) after he and I became acquainted. (You've all met Laurie in passing; she hangs out here occasionally under her nom de plume Opus P. Penguin.)
It was sometime in the mid 1980s when I first came across a copy of EMERALD EYES by Daniel Keys Moran. I was living off campus in a house I shared with roomates Mike Schechter and Dilip Wad, a house that the Late Great Jeff Webb had dubbed The House Which Must Not Be Named because it had a few very bizarre interior architectural features. (All the places I lived in in college had weird names. My first off campus house, shared with Andy Gillespie, Rob Morrison, Jeff Webb, and Kurt Busiek, was eventually called Stately Wayne Manor, although there were several other suggestions made first and Jeff and I had a tough time holding off Andy, who desperately wanted to call the place 'Valhalla' instead. The apartment Jeff Webb shared for a time with Janice Westlake and Brent Burford was called The Arcade. I got out of the habit of naming my living space sometime in the late 80s, when I moved away from campus, but now I seem to have come back to it again, as the apartment I currently share with my beautiful wife and lovely stepdaughters rejoices in the nickname 'Castle Anthrax'. And you're probably hoping that this is the last pointless digression you'll encounter during this entry, and what can I say? It's good to want things. It is.)
Anyway, EMERALD EYES blew me away. It's a tremendous, astonishing book, full of diehard American rebels against the evil French dominated United Nations and genetically engineered telepathic supermen and nasty cyborg soldiers and dueling time travelers from the distant future and flying cars hurtling through the sky at high velocity and lots of stuff blowing up real good and if you're any kind of science fiction fan, or you simply enjoy a fabulous story beautifully told, I recommend it wholeheartedly. Its two sequels, or, rather, further installments in the series to which EMERALD EYES is merely the opening, are excellent, as well, but in all honesty, neither of them really has the same impact for me as EMERALD EYES does.
I really thought, when I read EMERALD EYES, that its author was on an express train to inevitable literary greatness. Here was an enormously talented guy who could tell one hell of an exciting story. His prose was solid all the way through; terrific plotting, great characters, witty, funny, resonant dialogue, and a tremendous ability to build exciting, intriguing, internally believable futurescapes. I had no doubt that this guy was goin' to all the pretty places, and when he got there he was going to settle in and build himself a bunker, too.
And yet, if you go here, you can read all about the many occasions on which fame and fortune passed within millimeters of enormously talented singer/songwriter Carolyne Mas over the course of a very checkered career. She got close enough to wave to it; hell, she got close enough to run her fingers through its hair. But she doesn't own any private islands. She has given up playing music and is currently running an animal sanctuary. Which does not seem merited, fair, or just by any sane standards I am aware of or can imagine, but, hopefully, she's happy doing it.
And if you go here, you will find one of my favorite authors, blogging along in relative obscurity like any of the rest of us. He apparently sells and installs software for a living now, is happily married, and is self publishing the newest Continuing Time installment one chapter at a time, on his blog.
It amazes me, and it saddens me, and to some extent, it grounds me. These two had every imaginable break. Mas put out a dozen albums over the course of her career, had the esteem of professionals throughout the music industry, was frequently touted by reviewers and others of influence as one of the finest singer/songwriters the field of music had to offer. She should have been one of the biggest stars of the 80s, the 90s, the 00s. She should have been Sarah McLachlan and Faith Hill and Fergie and Kelly Clarkson all rolled up in one. She should have platinum albums and Grammies and an entire underground garage to house her collection of vintage limousines and expensive sports cars.
And Moran should have Hugos and Nebulas and movie deals and hit TV shows based on his work. He should have millions of avid fans and three or four different houses and there should be Trent the Uncatchable and Daniel Castanaveras action figures and an EMERALD EYES video game for the XBox, Playstation, and the Wii. (And I'll bet it would kick ass, too.)
Me, I always figured that if I could ever sell even one of my novels, merely one, if I could just get one out there into the bookstores where people would have a chance to buy it, that would be it... I would walk through that big doorway to success and I'd never look back again. All my other novels would sell well, I'd get movie offers, there'd be a UNIVERSAL MAINTENANCE TV series on FX or SHOWTIME and kids all over America would want to be just like Dean Nydecker when they grew up. I'd have a nice big house with five or six bedrooms and a beautiful downstairs den with a fireplace and a big screen TV and a leather couch and a huge old oak desk and built in walnut bookshelves. And my wife would have a huge kitchen and there would be a big playroom upstairs for the kids and we'd have a hot tub and a heated in-ground pool and a nice big outdoor grill and a gorgeous game room down in the basement.
But it doesn't necessarily work that way. Apparently you can beat the odds, get your work published, get a record deal, sell some product,gain the respect and admiration of your peers and build a following of thousands of devoted fans... and still end up right back on the treadmill with the rest of the run of the mill. You hit the big number, sign the contracts, cash the checks, see your work out there on the rack at the big chain bookstore or the big chain music store in the mall, you do the signings and play the concerts and still, you, wake up one day and you're broke and you have to schlep back out and find a 9 to 5 grindstone to press your nose to again.
It's depressing. But I guess that's just the way it is.
Although, you know, George R.R. Martin seems to have it pretty good these days, especially for a guy who can't finish anything.