July 10, 2015

On the Road to literary fame and fortune?

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:28 pm

crop of tent man best


What would happen if a group of homeless political activists in Berkeley offered an opportunity for a young journalist to score a scoop and a chance for a career making project? Since a good many energetic authors have endured the rigors of life on the road to write about their experiences, and since Berkeley is considering a list of proposed ordinances that will make being homeless more challenging, Mike Zint, the political activist leading the effort to prevent the historic Berkeley Post Office building from being sold, has issued a challenge to journalists covering the resurgent political scene in the famed University town. He calls it the George Orwell do-it-yourself scholarship program.

Writers ranging from the eager staff of the Daily Californian to contributing writers for various publications, and perhaps even a staff writer for the New York Times are being urged to vie for the privilege of spending a week (or month?) with the 24/7 protest at the city’s main Post Office branch and experience what life without money, regularly scheduled meals or time clocks means.

If a young writer shows up with no money, no ID, and no credit cards and is willing to spend a week (month?) living on the streets gathering material for a writing project, there is no guarantee that the work will sell, but the rookie scribe will be granted membership in a rather exclusive group. The Berkeley chapter of the fraternity of the open road school of journalism has an impressive roster.

Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote “Travels with a donkey,” and “An Inland Voyage” had a home that is now a California State Park just north of Calistoga.

Dorothea Lange was a photographer who roamed the country taking photos that provided classic images showing the desperate plight of the poor during the Great Depression. She lived in Berkeley CA.

Jack Kerouac made being a bi-coast schizophrenic the basis for the beatnik literary movement by repeatedly bouncing from the Big Apple to Frisco and back again and again and writing about it in various books. He was briefly a Berkeley resident.

Hunter Stockton Thompson rode with the Oakland chapter of the Hell’s Angeles Motorcycle Club and the subsequent book mad him a journalism super-star. He lived, for a while, in San Francisco.

Blogger, former war correspondent, and (more recently) occasional baby sitter, Jane Stillwater, who has circled the glob gathering interesting information and facts, has interrupted her peripatetic fact checking activities and is currently ensconced in Berkeley and is putting the finishing touches on her first novel tentatively titled “Pictures of a Future World.”

Sure, married people can write charming books about domestic bliss but even the lady from Scranton Pa., who wrote “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies,” didn’t stay there.

George Orwell’s first book “Down and Out in Paris and London” never lived in Berkeley but his first book helped establish him as a celebrity writer. The fact that his book about hard times sold well during the depression should provide some incentive for today’s white belt (i.e. beginner) writer to “walk a mile in Orwell’s moccasins.”

If writers can’t get an assignment from the mainstream media to cover the tumultuous atmosphere on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley it might indicate that the publishers (who are usually conservatives) are more into denial than willing to subsidizing a sojourn into the fascinating world of life on the edge.

If a bold and audacious writer decides to take the challenge, and doesn’t get any response to his work done on speculation, that might be proof that capitalists are practicing de facto censorship in a country that has been conditioned to be oblivious to any limits on freedom of speech imposed by financial considerations. Would capitalistic publishers institute de facto censorship based on misguided fanatical beliefs if it deprived them of a traditional source for sure sales? In the capitalists’ world, doesn’t greed trumps political principles every time?

If such hypothetical self imposed limitations were in effect, wouldn’t the discipline required to resist the urge to break the embargo ultimately fail due to greed fostered by the potential of impressive sales numbers? Hasn’t the life of a vagabond wordsmith been the basis for many literary careers? Publishers may be able to control what is available to buy in America’s bookstores, but they can’t stop people from follow sales trends that have been effective for many generations.

The danger for the capitalistic conservative moguls would be that some desperate graduate of a journalism school, who is being overwhelmed by student debt, cites the WTF factor and puts his world on the line and risks everything on a bold gamble. That makes very interesting reading for those who want to live an exciting life vicariously.

What beleaguered dad doesn’t retreat to his “man cave” and yearn for a proxy who will deliver the life of a happy go lucky, eloquent rolling stone in the pages of a new best seller?

With all the time spent on talk radio decrying the existence of panhandlers in the land of opportunity, there is one glaring factor: when is the last time a conservative talk show host interviewed a homeless person on the air? If the unemployed are not given an opportunity to express their point of view, how then does a one-sided point of view program exemplify a dedication to “fair and balanced” content?

Dirty diapers, puking babies, and Sunday morning sermons may add a comforting predictability to life and adds a shared experience bond to community living but the uncertainty of hitchhiking in the rain on a desolate highway intersection at night does not need to be concerned about being too mundane to hold the audience’s interest. The song “Phantom 309” describes the dismal experience of hitchhiking at night on a remote stretch of highway as a rain storm approaches. For families in fly-over country that song is a “Twilight Zone” episode told in lyrics and is very entertaining, but for someone who has experienced the vagabond lifestyle it provides a “been there done that” moment that rings true for many a wandering wordsmith.

(If the writer’s reaction to the plight is to utter a blasphemy and if it is immediately followed by a dramatic lightening bolt striking the peak of a mountain top about five miles yonder, that will probably be an “ace of trump” incident at a hostel story telling competition.)

The World’s Laziest Journalist has lived the hitchhiking to Frisco chapter of “On the Road” almost five decades ago and has concluded that it is better to interview the regulars at ‘Fort Zint” (the Berkeley Post Office Defense Protest) and get a vicarious look at the challenges they face rather than adopting the young writer’s sense of adventure and putting a major commitment of time and energy into a project that would be done on speculation.

At this stage of the game what would be the use of putting a great deal of time and effort into laying the foundation for a writing career that will stretch thirty years into the future?

We either do something for the S&G factor or we give it an immediate “pass.” That isn’t to say that we would turn down a spur of the moment offer of a ride to NYC – the travel bag is always packed – but road adventures are a young man’s game and, according to Mike Zint’s ground rules wouldn’t getting a monthly social security check take away the risk factor of being broke and on the move?

In “the Road,” former University of California at Berkeley student Jack London wrote: “I located and empty box-car, slid open the slide-door, and climbed in.”

Now the disk jockey will play Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s 1956 hit “Ain’t got no home,” the Eagles’ “Take it easy,” and the Highwaymen’s “The Road goes on forever, the party never ends.” We have to check Craig’s list and see about the possibility of getting a ride to the Big Apple. Have a “never saw a sight that didn’t look better looking back” type week.

March 20, 2015

American Geniuses

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:29 pm

crop of Mik Zint

“Magician, the Astonishing Life & Work of Orson Welles” is a new documentary film that tells the story of the fellow who made radio history and classic films, and was very much underappreciated while doing those things. Welles was a very innovative movie maker and is credited with inspiring the creation of the wide angle lens for “Citizen Kane.”

By pure coincidence, the additional material on a DVD of Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator,” had alerted us to the fact that Howard Hughes had many things in common with Orson Welles. Hughes was born fabulously wealthy and he never developed a reverence for money and the need to budget wisely. Welles never seemed to have had a conservative approach to fiscal matters. He claimed that on his first night in Dublin Ireland, he spent all his travel money on a lavish meal. Embellishing a story for dramatic effect seems to be a likely modus operandi for a fellow who was noted for a great sense of theatricality.

Hughes was (perhaps) the only Hollywood film director to be honored with a tickertape parade down Broadway in New York City. He received that honor for setting a record for an around the world flight.

Welles was given a lifetime achievement Oscar.

Both men were notorious for their love lives.

Hughes was an aviation pioneer and a celebrated film maker but he also was responsible for some very practical achievements such as introducing retractable landing gear on airplanes. It was an innovation which dramatically increased their speed. His companies made technical innovations which had a beneficial effect on weapons and thus he improved the quality of America’s ability to wage war. His contributions to technology and aviation, which made modern drone strikes possible, was not fully communicated to the American public which dwelled on his flamboyant public image and his impact on that facet of society that thrives on gossip column items.

Welles burst on the New York theater scene already a legend. He had barely passed voting age when he feuded with Hemingway over the narration of a documentary film about the Spanish Civil War.

Part of the Welles legend is that his radio broadcast based on H. G. Wells’ (no relation/different spelling) novel about an invasion from Mars caused mass panic and traffic gridlock. Newspaper articles stating that fact are plentiful but skeptics who wonder if that was just an example of Hollywood ballyhoo are hard pressed to find some citizen who can provide eyewitness descriptions of the alleged example of mass hysteria. Skeptical reporters are advised to always avoid fact checking the legend.

Back then, people were encouraged to get diverse points of view. People who tuned into the Welles broadcast and switched stations to get a different set of facts quickly learned that the other radio networks were presenting the usual Sunday evening smorgasbord of comedy.

A column about American geniuses must note that this week, in San Francisco, it was reported by KCBS news radio that St. Mary’s Cathedral would have to pay to remove the sprinkler system it had installed to soak the homeless sleeping in their doorways, because they had made the “improvement” without getting a building permit. Wouldn’t it have been quicker and more efficient if the bishop had just gone out and urinated on them?

To cynics, it seems that America’s “War on Poverty” has become a war on the poor.

When we asked the Berkeley homeless activist Ninja Kitty if a (formerly) homeless person had ever been elected to Congress, didn’t he respond by saying: “There’s a first time for everything!”?

It used to be that exit polls were credited with pin-point accuracy, but lately they don’t seem to be very reliable at all. Time after time results contradict the exit polls. With that in mind, we predict that Karl Rove’s greatest behind the scenes achievement in American Politics is yet to be achieved. Wouldn’t the reestablishment of the Bush Dynasty be Rove’s greatest triumph?

“Magician” is a Cliff’s Notes style documentary film that will inform the people who are not aware of Welles’ story about the life of a genius and it will also give established Welles fans a new chance to hear his voice and see film sequences which give tantalizing hints about his magnetism and charm.

Clifford Irving wrote a book about a fellow who was very successful painting and selling counterfeit works of art. Irving also wrote a bogus Howard Hughes autobiography.

One of Welles’ many film projects was “F is for Fake,” which included a segment about Clifford Irving.

Now the disk jockey will play Orson Welles’ rendition (it’s on Youtube) of “I know what it is to be young (You don’t know what it is to be old),” Rita Hayworth’s “Put the Blame on Mame, Boys” (conspiracy theory folks assert it was dubbed) and the theme music from “The Third Man.” We have to go fact check the rumor that the Pacific Film Archive will open its new Berkeley home with a tribute to the films of Orson Wells. Have a “Rosebud” type week.



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