(expanded from an online conversation today with John Altman)
Ya know, if I’d stop writing my self-indulgent stuff and went back to writing about jazz I’d start getting invited to the pricey jazz things and fancy digs. Something to think about…..
But the last couple years I was at the LA Weekly writing Brick’s PIcks I was really hating the way I was writing. It was stuck, in a rut, doing the same thing over and over. It was so easy and I’d gotten cynical. I was feeling very dishonest as a writer and that is death. I had to re-learn how to write so it was time to woodshed. Like breaking a badly set arm and letting it heal all over again. So I up and walked.
That gig was killing me. I absolutely hated it by the end. Hated it like you hate the worst job you ever had. It was turning me into a fake. I’d invented this ridiculous Brick’s Picks character, him with his royal we and oh so ridiculously hip, turning the emotional faucet on and off…I hated that guy. He was a joke. That’s what happens when you wind up a jazz journalist without ever wanting to be a jazz journalist. Finally I got my zillionth idiot editor and said fuck it, I’m gone. And I was.
So that’s where I went. People still ask, which amazes me. They still bitch, which irritates me. Sometimes I say nothing, sometimes (if they’re older) I mumble an apology, and sometimes (if they’re a friend and ought to know better) I tell them to just shut the fuck up. And I’m feeling better about my writing now. To quote Eric Dolphy’s post card to Oliver Lake (I wish I’d saved the picture), I’m trying to do the new thing but with feeling.
Ya know, I don’t think people realize that writing is like music and you have to practice every goddamned day. Practice till your brain hurts. Practice till everything around you is language, everything, and you need to stop and just look at things and try not to think.
(Just found this, it’s from an email circa 2007 to somebofy or other, no idea who…. Pardon the pomposity. I was still a little new and naive. Jadedness is a luxury you can hide behind, wallow in even. Pomposity is just the sign of a writer having no idea what the fuck he’s doing. I’d just experienced a stint under the worst editor in the world at this point. Some people have no language skills at all. So they write abour music…He’s done very well, too. They all do, those worst editors in the histroy of tyhe world.)
I don’t hate editors, ya know. They rarely understand my writing style, but usually leave it be. My prose is kinda way over their head or under their feet or in a different dimension(s) but they notice if they tinker too much it all caves in. I didn’t know this till I saw how they tinkered. They usually do a lot when they first start working on my stuff but after a while they seem to get more of it and leave it be for the most part. My stuff is so multi-layered and full of puns and references and linguistics and multi-layered writing things and rhthyms—jazz rhythms mostly, but anything drummy too…that I assume only I get them anyway and I have my originals so what goes in print means not much to me. I write for myself, I guess. If people like it, fine…if they don’t that’s cool too. To this day I hate talking about my writing, and kinda can’t stand it when people come up to talk to me about it specifically. [I still can’t…drives me crazy.] I even prefer being completely anonymous except to the players. The only people I talk to about it—besides poor Fyl—are a couple other writers who I consider good, deep prosesmiths, or literate musicians who might dig what I am getting at. But I make sooooooooooo many mistakes that an editor is essential. And when I have a good one, oh man, that is beautiful. I do NOT like being unedited. Never have. Not even when I was doing rock stuff.
(My perfect editor ever was the Editrix, she was a writer’s dream. Alas it was such a fleeting thing, just a couple months. She was maybe my tenth editor at the Weekly. They went through editors like I go through elipses…..)