Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Not-So-Fine Whine: On the (Much-Desired) Passing of the Wah-Wah Peddle

Quick: who was the all-time master of the Wah-Wah? Gotta be George Harrison, right? The quiet Beatle, a gifted musician and song-writer disinclined toward self-promotion or hyperbole, one who tended to let his work speak for itself. After the strum und drang of the Beatles' breakup, it was George who first and most emphatically declared himself a free man, capable of carrying on quite nicely on his own, starting with ALL THINGS MUST PASS, a triple (!) album of mostly terrific songs and gorgeous guitarsmanship. His use of the wah-wah pedal (which bellows the sound of an electric guitar in somewhat the same fashion as when a trumpeter wields a mute, resulting in the eponymous "wah") became a signature in the early '70s, but it was never more than a gloss on the genuine chops that made him who he was.

I suspect there were some musicians of the day—now aging acid-heads, retired software-developers, Arizona real-estate brokers (you know who you are)—who resented George’s early post-Beatle burst of success. Who claimed it wasn't about talent so much as a certain cuteness factor, accented ever-so-slightly by being in the right place at the right time. [And who would've had a legitimate gripe if it were Ringo, rather than George, they were targeting.]

You made me such a big star
Being there at the right time
Cheaper than a dime...

"Wah-Wah" (from ATMP) showcases everything we like about George Harrison: his wit and self-awareness and humility, his sense of melodic drama and his keen knack for the catchy riff. [There's that other thing, too--some like it, some not so much--the sense that, in every song, he might actually be addressing God directly...] As "Wah-Wah" sashays through its seasons, George contemplates the possibility of life without his signature side-kick:

I don't need no wah-wah
And I know how sweet life can be
If I keep myself free
From the wah-wah
I don't need no wah-wah
Wah wah!

It didn’t hurt to have been a Beatle. But George was (obviously) more than just the wah-wah--he had enough chops that even if they took away his wah-wah (and/or his bandmates), he'd never have to resort to a day job.

Fine, Max, very interesting--but where are you going with this?


OK, it's true: this post isn't about George Harrison or wah-wah pedals; rather it's a cautionary riff (if you will) meant to scare (some) writers clear of
The Path of the Wah-Wah Peddler

Peddle [sic], which counts among its synonyms words like "flog” and “sell” and which connotes a relative disposability of the items being, umm, flogged. Recently I received a number of "Rants"--replies to the Mad Max “Rant this Space” Invitational--and virtually every one of them, to one degree or another, was both self-promotional and self-pitying. Neither is surprising--first of all, the nature of a "Rant" more or less requires that one has a wrong to Rant against; secondly, what has BookAngst 101 itself flogged if not self-promotion?

And yet. As an editor, as a member of the industry about which both examples [below, to follow] are ranting, I found myself reacting unfavorably--even (I confess) unsympathetically--to the Rants and their authors. My first impulse was to walk on by--to neither respond nor to post them.

Then it occurred to me: Many writers lament never getting any real feedback from editors, about how the "not right for our list" kiss-off isn't even remotely instructive. So I've decided to take that lament at face value, and give some real feedback--

or, to put it another way, I've decided to be a consummate shit-heel, by using two of these Rants to purposes perhaps other than what their creators intended.

It's not that I disagree with them wholly, or that I can't see merit in their respective perspectives. Yes, there are obstacles (lots) to access; yes, the publishing industry, like the culture generally, is disposed toward youth, hipness, currency, platform, etc., sometimes to the detriment of those with more experience and perspective but less likely, say, to win a guest-host's squat on OPRAH.

On the other hand, if these represent the ways in which (some) writers reach out to the publishing industry, and if said industry (represented by Max) is put off by the strategies these writers employ, then these strategies aren't working....And maybe (I'm not certain, but maybe) this justifies my turning the bright lamp of the Rant back upon their creators. Even if they hate me for it, maybe it'll prove useful for others.

The first came to me with a subject line that read, "An unpublished writer’s rant"--and I confess it was two days before I even opened it. Which was exactly his point...



A VOCATION OF UNHAPPINESS [Courtesy Georges Simenon (1903-1985)]

"Writing is considered a profession, and I don't think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don't think an artist can ever be happy."

PRACTICAL MARKETING [Courtesy Zornhau, 2005]

"They should put the 1st couple of pages up in subway adverts. Having read them several times, you'd feel compelled to try the book - if it was any good."

PLATE OF SHRIMP [Courtesy Alex Cox’s REPO MAN, circa 1984]

"A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidences and things. They don't realize that there's this like lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. I'll give you an example, show you what I mean. Suppose you're thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly somebody will say like "plate" or "shrimp" or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in looking for one either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."