Cover art by Leo & Diane Dillon, 1975.
Art is not supposed to be easier! There are a lot of things in life that are supposed to be easier. Ridding the world of heart attacks, making the roads smoother, making old people more comfortable in the winter, but not Art. Art should always be tough. Art should demand something of you. Art should involve foot-pounds of energy being expended. It’s not supposed to be easier, and those who want it easier should not be artists. They should be out selling public relations copy.
Typical of the late Harlan Ellison to describe his vocation in terms of difficulty and struggle even when his prolific output made writing seem effortless. When my colleagues at Savoy Books published a Savoy issue of New Worlds magazine in 1979 one of the features they ran was an introduction by Michael Moorcock to an Ellison story collection. (They also published two books of Ellison’s around this time.) A copy of the magazine was duly sent to the subject of the essay since Ellison always liked to keep track of his print appearances. The back page of that particular issue is blank but for a few words in bold type from singer PJ Proby: “I am an artist; and should be exempt from shit.” Ellison cut this slogan from the magazine then glued it to his typewriter, no doubt transferring it to later models since it was still visible in the 2008 Ellison documentary, Dreams With Sharp Teeth.
My first encounter with Ellison’s work was also my first encounter with what became labelled the new wave of science fiction, via a reprint of I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream in a book in the school library. I was only about 12 or 13 at the time, and found Ellison’s story so shocking and disturbing that it overpowered everything else in the collection. The only other story that made an equivalent impression at the time was The Colour Out of Space by HP Lovecraft, so it’s perhaps fitting that Ellison gave my work a favourable mention in his introduction to the huge Centipede Press collection of Lovecraft artwork, A Lovecraft Retrospective: Artists Inspired by HP Lovecraft. I still haven’t got over that one. After the initial encounter, the Ellison-edited Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions were just as important for me as the paperback reprints of stories from the Moorcock-edited New Worlds: a handful of books that showed science fiction to be a literary form of limitless possibilities, as opposed to the stereotype of space adventure and future technology. The Ellison and Moorcock anthologies led me to William Burroughs, James Joyce and all points beyond; they also soured for me the preoccupation with space adventure and future technology which persists today.
My final connection with Ellison replayed his compliment in a small way, when editor Jill Roberts and I took extra care with the typesetting of Jeffty is Five for The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2. Ellison was the only author I’ve encountered in the digital age whose corrections were still handwritten comments on printed sheets; these had to be faxed to San Francisco then scanned and emailed to me (to this day I still don’t know why the oft-reprinted story required so many adjustments). It was awkward but amusingly so, a benign taste of a legendary bloody-mindedness and insistence on precision.
• “Laughing about an acid trip with members of Can and opening up about some of the ‘scars’ left from his association with Brian Eno and David Byrne’s My Life In the Bush of Ghosts, [Jon] Hassell is candid in a way that comes naturally to those who’ve lived life on their own terms.”
• Drone Metal Mysticism: Erik Davis talks with music scholar and ethnographer Owen Coggins about amplifier worship, sonic pilgrimage, “as if” listening, metal humour, and his new book Mysticism, Ritual and Religion in Drone Metal.
• Psychedelic Prophets: The Letters of Aldous Huxley and Humphry Osmond; “Letters between the men who coined the term ‘psychedelic’ and opened doors to a different way of thinking about human consciousness.”
• Artaud 1937 Apocalypse: Letters from Ireland by Antonin Artaud; translated and edited by Stephen Barber.
• “I thought female sexuality was an OK thing?” says writer and porn performer, Stoya.
• “How did a major label manage to lose a John Coltrane record?” asks Ted Gioia.
• Welcome to the dollhouse: Alex Denney on a century of cinematic cutaways.
• The trailer for Mandy, a new (and much-awaited) film by Panos Cosmatos.
• Rest in Anger, Harlan Ellison (1934–2018) by Nick Mamatas.
• Mix of the week: FACT Mix 659 by BD1982.
• Emily Gosling on library music design.
• The Deathbird Song (1997) by The Forbidden Dimension | Eidolons (2017) by Deathbird Stories | Deathbird (2017) by Tempos De Morte
6 thoughts on “Weekend links 419”
I’ll ask for those of us lacking the Centipede volume: What did Ellison actually say about you there? =]
The comment was about the variable quality of the artwork in the collection, pointing out that some bad covers were included among the good stuff. My Lovecraft portrait from the Alan Moore collaboration was mentioned in passing as one of the good pieces, “Lovecraft under the bell jar” as he put it.
The odd thing was that he happened to be looking over page proofs at the time I posted some equally favourable words here about his work in a piece about the Ellison documentary; word of this got passed to him on the HE web forum so we had a bit of an exchange there.
Actually John I discovered this site after following you over here from comments you made on Ellison’s blog, the Art Deco Dining Pavilion.
I had already read the Starry Wisdom and been blown away by The Call of Cthulhu but being slow on the uptake hadn’t made the connection. I was delighted to discover your work and find out you were that guy!
I discovered HE’s work in my teens. HE has been part of the architecture of my conceptual universe ever since. If there is somebody reading this who wonders what the fuss is all about, after you read the personal anecdotes and remembrances, good and bad, go find copies of THE DEATHBIRD STORIES and STRANGE WINE and have at it.
I’m very excited about MANDY! It looks like a cross between the EVIL DEAD and TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN.
R.I.P. Cordwainer Bird – along with the death of Peter Firmin and all the other notables in the past year or so, it feels like the touchstones of my youth are dropping like flies.
Stephen: Thanks. I was also surprised that Harlan said I should pay him a visit if I was ever in LA, something I would have done if I’d had the chance. The money I was making at the time (or lack of it) put a stop to that, unfortunately. It was still good to have some fleeting contact with him, however.
Tristan: Also a bit of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 with the duelling chainsaws. Cosmatos’s Beyond the Black Rainbow is worth seeking out, only let down by a weak ending.
Modzilla: I ought to have mentioned Peter Firmin as well since I devoted an earlier post to Oliver Postgate.
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