Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fame, Fortune, and All That. Again.

Commenting on a two-month-old thread ("The Old Synth Guy Speaks," 5/808), Marc Vanderloo writes:
Devo are so overrated it's unbelieveable. Their Wikipedia entry is evidently written by a non-critical fan. The 'story' reads well, but the music doesn't back it up. 'Whip It' is simply rubbish and god knows where all that tech savvy genius was going because it wasn't being channelled into anything musical, nothing sounds experimental or 'zany', just drab. Even for its time. I've seen Devo topping Kraftwerk on lists of great electronic musicians, this only leads me to to the conclusion that such a list is a personal (probably nostalgic) sort of list.
Looking at this as a fan: sure, okay, whatever. Arguing that X is better than Y is one of the great joys of fandom. Who's more important: The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? Go to it. Have fun. Let me know what you decide.

This morning I'm more concerned about this as a creative person, because this is one of those sorts of arguments that can cause a writer to develop acid reflux disease or waste his life in useless envy. Tom Disch went to his grave angry that Algis Budrys had had a more successful career than he did (and also nursing a grudge over a bad review of one of Disch's novels that Budrys wrote in 1965), and one of the last and not terribly attractive thoughts expressed on Disch's blog was that at least he'd outlived that "mean, envious, fat old diabetic." (Budrys died in early June.)

This sort of thing will drive you nuts, if you let it. Is it fair that Devo are better known than Kraftwerk? Is it fair that Paris Hilton is better known than, well, pretty much anybody? Is it fair that accomplished rockabilly guitar player Carl Perkins wrote and recorded a modest regional hit single, "Blue Suede Shoes," and then six months later some greasy-haired kid from Memphis recorded a note-for-note cover of the tune with just slightly less country twang in the mix, and Elvis went on to become a legend while Perkins remained a footnote in musical history?

Is it fair that J.K. Rowling became richer than Croessus writing painfully derivative fantasy books that became money-magnet movies and spawned a seemingly infinite line of spinoff merchandise, while Lloyd Alexander went to his grave as the answer to the trivia question, "Which writer's Newbery Award-winning children's novel series, The Chronicles of Prydain, was maladapted into which Disney movie, which was both the only full-length Disney animated feature ever to lose money in its original theatrical release and the most expensive flop to that date in Disney's history?" (Points to you if you knew that the second half of the answer was, The Black Cauldron.)

Is it fair? Whatever gave you the idea that life was fair? People can be fair, from time to time, in individual cases, and you should always strive to be, but the creative life is a crap-shoot, and Fame is not merely a fickle bitch-goddess, she is an idiot bitch-goddess. (And here I am talking about Paris Hilton again.) The process by which She picks winners and losers in the Great Lottery only makes sense in retrospect, and then only with a certain amount of tap-dancing and hand-waving, and time spent courting Her favor is time wasted that you could have spent creating something. Worrying about whether you will receive the blessings of Fame is the sort of thing that causes writers to seize up with writer's block, which should more accurately described as literary constipation, or worse, to one day throw down your pen and declare, "Screw this! I'm gonna write books about an overweight Southern lesbian vampire detective who solves crimes with the aid of her psychic cat!"

Is it fair? Let the fanboys argue over that. You are a creative talent, and the most important thing you can do is create.

So get creating. Now.