A Hellishly Annoying Evening With Harlan Ellison
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
Wednesday April 9, 2003
Author Harlan Ellison is not a fan of rock and roll, even though one of his earliest novels, Spider Kiss, about a doomed rocker named Stag Preston, is on display in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. But Ellison's attitude, his determination to shock his audience out of complacency and into action, squarely places him in the same arena as rock and roll's best practitioners.
In a recent appearance at the rock hall in his native Cleveland, the legendary fantasist, who bristles when called a "science fiction" writer, nonetheless brought back memories of Kevin McCarthy in the climax of the 1956 science fiction classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Just as McCarthy warned the world that the human race was being overtaken by pods, Ellison continues to hold firm to the belief he shared in an interview with The Onion several years ago: "The world is turning into a cesspool of imbeciles."
Billed as A Hellishly Annoying Evening With Harlan Ellison, the evening was neither hellish nor annoying, though a handful of those present may have found it one or the other. The author's liberal use of profanity unnerved a few people, as did his refusal to pay heed to political correctness (at one point referring to a woman with impaired vision as "blind" rather than the PC sanctioned "sightless"). Then there was the man whose question was wrapped in such pretentiously academic language that he sank with embarrassment into the safety of his seat when Ellison admitted he didn't know what the hell he was being asked. Otherwise, it was an entertaining two hours of razor sharp observations from the man Cleveland author Les Roberts introduced as "arguably America's greatest living writer."
With the war in Iraq winding down, the outspoken Ellison could have been excused for ranting endlessly on the subject, but since he had "no opinion on the war," it didn't dominate the discussion. But he's no fan of George W., and jokingly described a phone call he received asking him if he would vote for the Texan "again."
"That presupposes I voted for him in the first place," Ellison said, adding he would vote for Felix the Cat and Betty Boop before he would vote for a man who can't pronounce "nuclear."
Ellison spoke only fleetingly of literature, choosing to focus on the madness of daily living. All of us, regardless of race, creed, color, gender, or sexual orientation, are now minorities losing ground to the new majority: "ASSHOLES!" They include the mean-spirited short order cook who refused to serve Ellison breakfast after 10 a.m, even though he was the only customer in the restaurant. Then there are the people who use public restrooms but with a cavalier disregard for hygiene, such as the man Ellison followed out of an airport men's room shouting "Don't let this man touch you! He touched himself and didn't wash his hands!"
Of course, Hollywood, where Ellison long toiled as a writer in the movie and TV industry, came in for its share of zingers. He maintains the people running the show in L.A. are in the entertainment industry to "get laid." Illiterates raised on TV, they think in terms of "concepts," one of which was proposed to Ellison by Jerry Bruckheimer, the producer of Armageddon and other movies lined wall-to-wall with so many explosions, Ellison said they threaten to make the audience deaf.
The concept: Kenny Rogers and martians, a theme inspired by the country singer's album, Planet Texas. Ellison declined an offer of $100,000 to turn that idea into a screenplay, all the while remembering what his friend and fellow writer, the late Charles Beumount, told him about the writer's life in the movie capital: "It's like climbing a mountain of manure to reach one flower at the peak, only to discover that you've lost your sense of smell when you've made it to the top."
The winner of just about every award his profession can bestow, including a record four Writer's Guild Awards for outstanding teleplay and a Silver P.E.N. for his journalistic efforts in defense of the First Amendment, the 69 year-old author hasn't lost his sense of smell, especially his ability to detect BS. His latest collection of short stories, Troublemakers, is available from ibooks.
Brian W. Fairbanks
Originally published at Paris Woman Journal
© 2003 Paris Woman Journal
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