Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Not Permanent; Just 'Til My Novel Sells

Words that have to be frightening to parents: "It's only temporary--just until my novel is taken." Thus after graduation, with a war chest of five hundred one-dollar bills, "earned" from a summer working the Foley & Burke Carnival circuit, did you inflict yourself back on your parents to begin work on the novel that was going to get you off and running on a career path. They lived at the time on Corning Street, which runs north and south, a block from La Cienega Boulevard, which it parallels, its closest intersection at Olympic Boulevard, thus walking-distance close to the large grass sward opposite La Cienega Park, the venue of the Sunday Morning hangover football game. Not all, but many of the players were roisterers and carousers, particularly if Mort Jacobs, a pianist who was role model to many of us, was working at one of the clubs on the Sunset Strip or in some semblance of striking distance.

The framework of the novel was fairly well embedded in your psyche, meaning there were no abrupt oh-oh moments of What do I do now? Simple, straightforward narrative lines brought into play such angst as recent college graduates of the time would experience. The title of the novel came from a popular song you apparently used to sing at the heyday of its popularity; at least, you were told you sang it frequently, insisting you were the singer who;d brought it to popularity. Friends of your parents were willing to buy the work on the basis of the name alone, so popular was it back in the day. "How's From White to Rosy Red going?" your parents' friends would ask upon seeing you. "Don't forget my autographed copy."

It isn't that success as a writer was any less fraught then than it is now; prospects merely seemed better. A serious night person at the time, your work day began around four or five. With the exception of Saturday nights, you wrote until three or four, then toured the neighborhood neighborhoods, walking it off, as it were, until dawn began to make its way into west Los Angeles along with the army of maids, gardeners, and early shift workers at the coffee houses and breakfast spots. Often you'd stop for yet another coffee or more lavish breakfast at the coffee shop at La Cienega and San Vicente, where you would frequently see the same cops who stopped you on your perambulations to ask how From White to Rosy Red was going.

Your father was, at the time, an auctioneer, selling at auction the remains of organizations that had filed for protection under bankruptcy laws, meaning that you had at your disposal at least one enormous standard typewriter and, for copy paper, reams of stationery from defunct companies. Early drafts of this novel were written with a desk-set fountain pen on legal-sized onion skin paper, then transferred to the eight and a half by eleven sheets then transferred to what was at the time the writer's worst nightmare, Eaton's Corrasible Bond, an impressive sheet made from rag that was on the one hand friendly to erasure (this was before White-out) but on the other a disaster if you happened to lean on a page of manuscript, particularly with your hand. Your hand, and the hands of countless other victims, was warm, perhaps even moist, which means that if you rested your hand on a manuscript typed on rage bond, you were in effect replicating the offset printing process by removing some of the ink, transferring it to your hand, then depositing the words onto another part of the page.

Although you were able to find in a used record store an old 78 r.p.m. recording of Pinky Tomlin singing From White to Rosy Red, the music you so often associated with that time of being what you imagined was forever cut loose from the university and on your own, was a symphony by an American composer who was still alive at the time. Howard Hanson's Symphony Number 2 in D Flat Major, The Romantic Sympony, surely played along to the image you had of yourself at that time, emerging, romantic, energetic, unabashedly out there with your feelings and, just for a lagniappe, nursing a broken heart over the way things had gone--or perhaps not gone--with a young lady named Janet.

Filled with lyric flourish, The Romantic Symphony was in no sense modern, had not the tonalities of Stravinsky or Schoenberg nor even, for that matter, the lush force of Ravel's Daphnus and Chloe. No matter; it touched you and buoyed you along through your work of that time, and as you heard it played on the radio last week while driving Sally home from her evening outing, you were reminded as only music can remind you of what it was like to have been the you of those days, the you with a broken heart, endless yearnings and a sense of setting forth on as boundless a journey as possible, so boundless in fact that it was frightening. Looking back now, you see the fear as a guiding force which you have on occasion run from, tried to argue with, but for the most part embraced with open arms as your guardian, your mentor spirit. You were seriously into collecting an entire set of Mark Twain at the time, but before you could gravitate more fully, you had to go to Mexico, get some of the more absurd jobs in television, find a real life mentor, and head for Virginia City, Nevada.

It should come as a surprise to you to discover that in the garage, along with an highly eclectic shelf of CDs ranging from Bach and Beethoven and Mozart and Ravel and Charlie Parker and Miles Davis and Bill Evans, yes, there is indeed Howard Hanson's Romantic Symphony # 2. But on second thought, why surprise, why not instead a nod to the you who, like many of your favorite explorers, failed to discover the original goal but found instead a dazzle of a treasure.

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