I first came to Kay Kyser and his Kollege of Musical Knowledge through a song on a 1940s Christmas compilation, a strange little tune with little relevance to modern ears. It’s called “Hello, Mr. Kringle,” and was intended for fans of the band. Each member of the ensemble takes the mike to place a request: sweet-voiced Ginny Simms, velvety crooner Sonny Mason, and bowl-haircutted idiot Ish Kabbible. It explained why my dad occasionally referenced “Ish Kabbible,” if nothing else. The pop culture of previous eras is a jigsaw puzzle dumped on a table, and the picture on the box is blurry. You have to put the pieces together to see what it looked like.
Then came “Three Little Fishies,” another Kyser tune; it popped up on a children’s compilation I played over and over again for Natalie while we drove around in the car. It ended with someone saying “for seafoooood, mama” which seemed to be emphasized with particular glee. That made no sense until I heard “Rum and Coca-Cola” by the Andrews Sisters, which contained that line. Another piece of the puzzle.
Mind you, there’s no real puzzle here, no straight edges you can use to frame the picture. It goes off in every direction.
Well, because of these two things - and a strange inability to pay attention every time a Kyser song came on the old 40s channel, listening for the tell-tale riff in the saxaphones that always preceded a modulation - I watched “Playmates,” an early-40s musical.
No, hold on; I have to explain that riff. You don't have to listen to the whole song. It’s at :28 - :30:
And again in this song, at :42 - :45 -
All their songs have the format. Start out with one sung or spoken line, then the band, then the riff, then the singers. You also get a sense from the clip that Kyser played the clown, something I didn’t note until I watched “Playmates.” The concept of the movie: great thespian John Barrymore has to lower himself to performing with that idiot, Kyser. The idea also plagues Kay, because he’s nervous about being in the same ring, so to speak, with a famous actor. Which leads to the reason I mention this: two of the most disturbing dream images from any movie, any country, any era. Kay dreams he is fighting a bull. With Barrymore's face.
And now a week’s hiatus, at least. Time off for bad behavior. I need to recharge and rethink. Has nothing to do with the election; I don’t live or die by these things, and I’ve lived through a few areas in which Everything Has Changed Forever. This is the apogee of Pelphase.
No, it’s something else, which will probably pass, but for now, it just sucks. Someone whose opinion matters a great deal gave a rather brutal review of “Graveyard Special.” I admit it has its deficiencies, and had hoped that the $4.00 price and general spirit of fun would carry it along, but man. Aside from a note that it had occasional patches of “brilliant” writing, there wasn’t a single positive thing said. Not much said at all, really, beyond just “I’ve been dreading this” and “do you really want to know?”
To tell you the truth, I didn’t. See, here’s the thing about writers. You can tear a work right down to the ground and set fire to the pieces if you preface it all by saying “loved it,” singling out a scene or a character, and letting the fragile soap bubble of the author’s ego exist intact for one happy moment. Don’t say “but.” That’s the needle. Pop. Just slide nicely into everything that’s wrong, and it’ll all be well. The illusion of competency is intact.
I have no such illusion at the moment, which is when the ice weasels come out: ah HA. All of your carefully-maintained interior fictions have fallen, have they? Let us feast on your marrow! It all made me feel rather foolish, to be honest; I trusted my instincts, and apparently they failed me. I really don’t know what I’m doing. And now I have two more books to revise, one of which is half-done, and they look like shrieking, ridiculous lumps in vaguely human form, crapping on the rug. My pride in the project is utterly demolished for the moment. By one review.
Pathetic, isn’t it? That one voice should have such an impact. But.
These things have a cascading effect, too: when you kick away a supporting strut the rest look rather spindly, and you think: well, what do I do at the Bleat but natter on about utterly inconsequential things, with the occasional bag of pious blowhardery that justifies the site’s title? I scan postcards: golf clap. In photography and music I am utterly undistinguished: call it all The Journeyman Project, after that old video game I played until I tired of swapping out CDs and lurching around one keystroke at a time.
You get the horrible dread of the day your child finally discovers your work and finds it utterly ordinary. All that respect was misplaced. Ouch. I mean, think of that. Ouch.
That’s what this all is, of course. The Big Ouch. With all the attendant wound-licking, which somehow turns into gnawing the skin in other spots as long as you’re in the neighborhood. I went through this once before, about three years ago, and almost hung it up.
So I’m going to hang it up for a week, because I just don't want to write for a while. Because I feel stupid. So: Recharge, decide if I shouldn't just bang out the revisions to the rest of the series and sell them for a dollar, then return to a nice, low-profile life in the B leagues. See you back here a week from Monday, with tales of other places, and I hope renewed <jfkvoice> vigah. </jfkvoice>
Or, as I used to say on the Diner before someone slagged it with sufficient vigor to make me say "well, to hell with that, then" - see you down the road. I'll be the guy bleeding because there was a mild breeze, and I'm that fargin' thin-skinned.
Actually, no. It's the criticism from trusted sources that confirms your worst fears. There's no defense. There shouldn't be. It's the only way you learn valuable lessons.