Monday, February 28, 2011

Reasons for storytelling 1, 2, 3...

I've been 'writing' stories since before I could actually write. As a kid I'd invent stories and then act them out, playing all the characters myself. If I do that now I get strange looks, so I try not to do it.

Eventually I began writing my stories down in long-hand (I still do first drafts that way, though that could change.) As a teen I bought my first portable typewriter for just $40. Haven't seen a typewriter for a long time now. I kinda miss them but I don't miss the white liquid paper (for corrections), used to get that all over me (my Mum thought it was toothpaste)and I don't miss changing the ribbons and getting the ink all over me.

In the 3rd series of s/f tv series, 'Fringe,' contact is made by people with those in an alternate universe by means of typing messages on an old typewriter. Glad to see they still have their uses.

I've heard Tom Hanks collects old typewriters and has hundreds of them. That sounds like a fine hobby to me, better than stamps, but it would take a lot of space to store those things and I don't have one of those multi-room Hollywood mansions, so no, not for me. I'm still trying to figure out what to do with my piles and piles of vinyl records.

Of course eventually along came the PC, the laptop, iphone, ipad, ereader, whatever.

But the process is the same and I'm still "acting" out those characters in my head. I've had some very strange conversations with those characters over the years.

When Kylie Minogue sang, 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head," she didn't know the half of it.

There's a self-editing process that goes on, as well, at that imaginary conversation point. Is this a story I really want to tell? Is this a story I would want to read if someone else had written it?

It's all subjective, of course.

Recently I read reports on a schlocky horror-type movie with a theme so revolting that the idea doesn't deserve any mention here (trust me on this.) Suffice to say, I'm not the only one who feels that way. Everyone I know finds it too disgusting to give any further comment. Fortunately, it's a film with limited distribution and limited promotion, so most don't know about it.

Nevertheless, someone wrote a script for this movie, someone raised financial backing, someone cast actors, someone directed, someone produced and distributed this knowing it could only offend and disturb.

This got me to thinking: what is the role of the storyteller in our society. In any society.

My view: stories are to entertain and amuse (both good balm for the soul) but also to cast an illuminating light on the good and bad choices we can make in this world. They are about our strengths and our weaknesses; our history; the importance of our relationships; the triumphs of our spirit against adversity; the endless possibilities for our future; for enriching each other with love and care; and for ringing the warning bell on the darker side of our nature and presenting the consequences.

Or stuff like that, anyway. Otherwise what's the point?

Never should it be gratuitous, or dwell on the base and vile as though they are normal, or ignore the balance that is a natural part of the universe.

There's all sorts of reasons for all kinds of stories, but wallowing in filth and darkness and depravity just for the hell of it, can't (as Jerry Seinfeld might have said) be any good for anybody.

Reasons for storytelling? I've been a collector, for a while, not of typewriters or stamps but of quotes, comments and observations on the craft of the storyteller. From time to time, I'd like to share a few of them. Some you'll know. Some you won't. Regardless, collections are fun, we all love quotes, and it's good to re-engage with these when you haven't heard them for a while.

"Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today." - Robert Mcafee Brown

"There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no great societies that did not tell stories." - Ursula K. LeGuin

"Surely the job of fiction is to actually tell the truth. It's a paradox that's at the heart of my kind of storytelling." - Jeremy Northam

"I grew up in a place where everybody was a storyteller, but nobody wrote. It was that kind of Celtic, storytelling tradition: everybody would have a story at the pub or at parties, even at the clubs and raves." - Irvine Welsh

"I think that instinct, that storytelling instinct, rescued me most of my life." - Armistead Maupin

"Storytelling is an ancient and honourable act. An essential role role to play in the community or tribe. It's one that I embrace wholeheartedly and have been fortunate enough to be rewarded for." - Russell Banks

"You can't stop stories from being told." - Dr. Parnassus (ok, not a real person, but a great quote from a fictional character) - in 'The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus.'

"Story is the vehicle we use to make sense of our lives in a world that often defies logic." - Jim Trelease

"Stories tell us what we already knew and forgot, and remind us of what we haven't yet imagined." - Anne Watson

"Our stories matter...your stories matter. For you never know how much of a difference they make and to whom." - Caroline Joy Adams

"I'm writing a book. I've got the page numbers down..." - Steven Wright (I know how he feels...)

"I think every beautiful tale in the world hides the truth and reveals it little by little." - Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

"Australian Aborigines say the big stories - the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life - are forever stalking the right teller, sniffing and tracking like predators hunting their prey in the bush." - Robert Moss, 'Dreamgates.'

And that's one very powerful, inspirational image on which to reflect, and on which to leave it, for now.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Where are the great rock'n'roll novels?

Kevin Johnson is an Aussie pop balladeer who had an international hit, many years ago, with his song, "Rock and Roll (I Gave You All The Best Years Of My Life.)" Yes, lengthy, but it works, boy does it work. It's been recorded by over 50 artists around the world including Tom Jones and Mac Davis and you can watch an early performance of it here

It's the plaintive tune of a rock muso who is always just one step behind the music trends, who never makes "the big time", whose dreams fade while others soar, but who plods on, ever faithful to the music and the industry he loves.

There's thousands of creative artists who could relate to this, who've toiled away at their craft over the years, never "making it" in the way they might have envisaged. In point of fact, there's many people from all walks of life who can relate on some level or other, at some point in their lives.

And what's more, it's a great story idea with hidden depths to explore. Which brings me to a great puzzle:

Rock music was the single, greatest, dominant, explosive, much-loved, much-hated, electrifying art form of the late 20th Century - damn, probably in all history.

It gave us extraordinary true life tales of rags-to-riches and back again, of dreams realized, of hopes dashed, of cursed romances, of lavish living, of impossible triumphs, of deep despairs and tragic ends. (And all for real, remember, all for real.) And it's not over yet.

And characters. Talk about characters - mad, lovable, eccentric, romantic, dangerous, self-destructive, both doomed and redemptive men and women and (yes, even) children - and they were just the support bands.

There's no end to the fascinating fictions that could be inspired by the whole incredible era.

So where are they?

It seems the fictional world has largely skipped by this rich tapestry of material, and that's a mystery worthy of Mr. Holmes himself.

There are, of course, some rock'n'rollish novels out there, just two of them being Don DeLillo's 1973 novel "Great Jones Street," which was well received and more recently "You Don't Love Me Yet," by Jonathan Lethem, but for the most part they are not widely known and have not had the mainstream impact of the big books by the bestselling authors.

Where are the literary world's answers to the "Almost Famous" and "A Star Is Born" movies?

Rock musos do turn up as characters in all sorts of novels, but even then they're few and far between, and these books are not rock'n'roll novels as such.

Joe Hill's supernatural thriller, "Heart-Shaped Box," is about an ageing heavy metal star who "buys" a ghost over the Internet and finds himself stalked and haunted by the deadly entity. It has parts with great humour, and parts that are genuinely chilling. Great read, great character.

And in Clare Francis' suspense novel, "The Killing Winds," (a.k.a "Requiem) a semi-retired rock star and an environmental activist investigate an eco conspiracy after the rocker's wife dies in mysterious circumstances. (A favourite of mine.)

But fiction about the world of rock, its origins, its influences, its creativity, its rises and falls - these novels, either mainstream or genre, are hard to find.

Any thoughts on this?

I've always believed that truth is far stranger than anything authors can create...Maybe, just maybe the real world of rock'n'roll is so eccentric, so bizarre, so over-the-top and infinitely outrageous, that 'fiction' can't compete and has, like the rest of us, taken a seat in the audience and is watching the spectacle from the front row...