In what may be my favourite scene in any motion picture ever, the Scottish distance runner in Chariots of Fire responds to his sister’s urging him to abandon running to devote himself full time to the seminary by saying, “But, sister, when I run I can feel God’s pleasure.” I feel God’s pleasure when I write songs, and when I design graphics, and when I write prose. I used to be paid handsomely to do the latter, but in recent centuries haven’t been paid a dime, but: God’s pleasure. So in around 2006, I began writing a blog, originally called For All in Tents and Porpoises, and later A Yank On the Edge of England. I imagined that lightning might strike a second time — that my zesty wit and way with words might make me rich and famous again, as they had when I was two and twenty, and writing snide things about rock bands I hated for Rolling Stone.
No such luck. For the first several years, my little essays typically attracted maybe 25 readers on a good day. “Be grateful for those 25,” my psychotherapist in Dutchess County, New York, advised, “rather than feeling bad there aren’t many more.” That resonated, and I kept writing until my old buddy and formidable adversary depression, relentlessly whispering, “Why are you bothering with this when no one cares?” finally snatched the pen from my hands. I compiled the knee-slappingly hilarious little fictions I’d composed about working for the Palin for President campaign in a book I entitled When Times Are Tough, the Tough Try Human Trafficking, and self-published it on Amazon. Not a single person bought it. “You see?” my depression gloated. “You see?”
I thought maybe I could win the world’s love with videos. This was watched by 217 persons, as many as were watching Hannah Minx pretend to teach Japanese every 30 seconds.
My depression nonetheless went on vacation or something, and I revived my blog, renaming it Mendel Illness after the eminent future Sandersnista Elle Smith talked me out of Self-Loathing: An Owner’s Manual. Reader interest remained almost too low to be detected. I finally broke the 100-reads barrier with I Don’t Love My Country, in part because I promoted it relentlessly on Facebook. A piece I wrote excoriating Bruce Springsteen for participating in a veterans benefit concert (a pox on anything that honours the War Machine) also did well. When Straight Outta Compton generated a lot of interest in NWA, the (never-published, but paid-for) piece I’d written about them for Playboy did very well. I tirelessly flogged What to Say to Someone With a Trump for President Bumper Sticker, and induced over 500 people to read it.
I went into why-even-bother? mode again, and several months elapsed. I wrote a satirical piece about Trump that I pitched to several newspapers and magazines, none of whom so much as acknowledged that I’d done so. I gnashed my teeth, and published it in Mendel Illness. Sixty-two people read it. But then, this last week, the strangest thing happened. I wrote about how sometimes the participants in a marriage have to choose between infuriating their spouses by urging them to shed a few pounds and going gentle into that good night of sexual indifference. Sixty-one. But when I wrote about the slow death of my friendship with the bass player in my late-‘70s band, 230 people read it in a single day. None of its 676 predecessors had elicited anywhere near that much interest.I was flabbergasted.
The best was yet to come. Last Friday, I published a piece about my lapsed friendship with ELO’s drummer, and the Internet nearly crashed, as over 700 people read it. At first, I was pleased senseless — I felt so…loved! — but then, being me (or, grammatically, I), I began looking for the cloud to which the silver lining must be attached. Ah, there it was: when I write about music, the world is very, very much more interested than when I write, however insightfully, about The Human Condition. Though, in the past 30 years, I have been no more a rock journalist/critic than a trapeze artist, arms dealer, or female impersonator, it appears as that for which I will be remembered is some liner notes and a couple of snide record reviews I wrote at 22, when I barely knew on which side of the typewriter to seat myself. That earlier essays, a wee click of a mouse away, didn't ride the ELO's pieces coatttails to much higher numbers suggests that it wasn't my writing folks liked, but the subject matter. Grr.
Honestly, though, what could be more intellectually fulfilling than debating the merits of a particular brazenly commercial pop group? It’s as though people halve their IQs when they go on Facebook. My piece was about the fragility of friendship, but that hardly got mentioned, as the I-Really-Loved-ELO and I-Really-Detested-ELO types delightedly squared off against each other, asserting that such-and-such album was pure genius, while another sucked.
Grr, said I, who am so hard to please. Grr.