Writing Lessons from Johnny Ramone

You can take a lot of the late Johnny Ramone’s comments about effective songwriting and performing, as expounded upon in what is supposedly the last interview he ever did, and apply it to the craft of fiction writing. (He looks a little puffy in the video, probably from the treatment for the prostate cancer that was soon to kill him. Remarkably good-humored, though, given that he was undoubtedly aware of the bleak prognosis facing him; no whiner, he.) The relevant material starts at around the ten-minute mark:

My transcript:

I always thought, I don’t know why bands — especially opening bands — why they wanted to play longer than they had to. They always wanted to fight for more time. And you’re always better off playing shorter. You get all your best material, you leave ‘em wanting more — if you’re any good — and you don’t overdo it with mediocre material. Most bands only have a song or two that’s worthy, anyway.

To my mind, this is reminiscent of Elmore Leonard’s well-known dictum, that in writing his novels, he always tried to eliminate all the boring stuff that readers skipped over. And that’s why his books are so fast and tight and enjoyable — just like a Ramones song!

The Insect Museum of West China

I didn’t even know there was an institution known as the Insect Museum of West China, at least until it made the news for being the repository of this fearsome-looking bug:

Giant Insect

Frankly, I’m glad that the Insect Museum of West China does exist, though, and surprisingly beautiful it is, too. (Though it’s described as having 400,000 million specimens in its collection; surely a misprint? That’s a lot of bugs.) It does raise the question, though, of whether there is an Insect Museum of East China. And this is apparently the largest insect museum in Asia — where in the world is there a bigger one?

The New Punk Rock, Probably Not What You Expect

Not quite sure I agree with everything this Schlichter fellow has to say, but I admire his anything-to-stir-up-trouble rhetorical style, reminiscent of Fear’s Lee Ving baiting the audience at L.A.’s long-gone Anti-Club:

Conservatism is the New Punk Rock

Of course, the late Johnny Ramone, that notorious leather-jacketed conservative, would likely agree. Another boo-ya endorsement would come from Camille Paglia, whose taunting, incendiary essay “No Law in the Arena: A Pagan Theory of Sexuality” — which really should be required reading before any more discussions of so-called “safe spaces” continue — might well have been cribbed from by Mr. Schlichter. Per Paglia:

White middle-class girls at the elite colleges and universities seem to want the world handed to them on a platter. They have been sheltered, coddled and flattered. Having taught at a wide variety of institutions over my ill-starred career, I have observed that working-class or lower-middle-class girls, who are from financially struggling families and must take a patchwork of menial jobs to stay in school, are usually the least hospitable to feminist rhetoric. They see life as it is and have fewer illusions about sex. It is affluent, upper-middle class students who most spout the party line — as if the grisly hyperemotionalism of feminist jargon satisfies their hunger for meaningful experiences outside their eventless upbringing. In the absence of war, invent one.

Maybe Paglia’s thoughts in this regard could be re-booted as No Law in the Mosh Pit. Except then, of course, you’d lose the politically incorrect Charlton Heston reference (the original line is from the movie Ben-Hur, in regard to the necessity to put on one’s big boy — or big girl — pants, if you’re going to dive in where the action is.) Surely the Riot Grrls, if there are any still around, would agree.

In the meantime, one of the best videos for catching glimpses of Johnny Ramone’s still-astonishing right-hand technique, starting around the 1:30 mark:

Pandora for Books?

Apple just bought something called BookLamp, which is described as being like ‘Pandora for books.’ These algorithmic recommendation thingies always strike me as weird and creepy, but they apparently work, or at least enough that a significant number of people use them. The big problem, as we’ve seen with musicians discussing Pandora and Spotify, is in getting paid more than a nickel or so through them:

Pandora for Books?

Get Up to Speed with Kim Oh

Now that KIM OH 5: REAL DANGEROUS FUN is available, I want to make sure that everyone can enjoy the whole Kim Oh Thrillers series. So here’s the deal:


The first book in the series, KIM OH 1: REAL DANGEROUS GIRL is now free for the Amazon.com Kindle. Grab it, read it and enjoy it. Or…

Get the KIM OH: REAL DANGEROUS GIRL – THE FIRST THREE collection for the special price of $5.99. That’s KIM OH 1: REAL DANGEROUS GIRL, KIM OH 2: REAL DANGEROUS JOB, and KIM OH 3: REAL DANGEROUS PEOPLE, for less than you’d pay for KIM OH 2 and KIM OH 3 separately. That’s how much I love these books — I think they’re some of the best that I’ve ever done — and how much I want as many readers as possible to enjoy them.


My Inner Kim

From my recent interview in Locus magazine:

“Even though Kim is Korean-American, she grows up as an orphan, so she has no connection to that culture. She’s like all other Americans now — she refers to herself as a feral American. She’s had to do everything herself and educate herself. People are constantly asking her things about Asian culture and she says, ‘How the hell should I know? I grew up in Poughkeepsie.’ To a large part, she represents my own interior life…

“I usually do a lot of note taking and fiddling around, concerning my characters. Kim was unusual in that she walked into my head the way she was. I thought maybe I should change her and make her different, to avoid all the issues that come with writing outside your personal background. Okay, she’s no longer Korean-American. Nope, she came right back in that way. Or maybe I should change this or that about her. Everything would revert right back to the way she wanted to be. I think that’s because she’s really me, sort of an auto-psychological self-portrait. Not because of the details of who she is, but because of what she’s had to do, that whole feral thing, trying to figure out the world on her own…”


Real Dangerous Fun Cover 01

Sorry, Pirates — Your Business Model Has Been “Disrupted”

This video is about a half-hour long, but it’s worth watching all the way through, as there’s a lot of interesting stuff in it. Marc Geiger is the head of the music division of the huge William Morris agency, and he’s obviously a smart guy — but he only has to turn out to have been half-right about the predictions he’s making now, and the consequences will be enormous. One of those consequences is that the business model of on-line piracy is broken (and yes, it is a business; its advocates, enablers and proprietors like to pretend that they’re all ideologically driven, on a now old-fashioned “information wants to be free” basis, but really it’s all about advertising revenue). The pirates are about to sink beneath the waves of the changes that are coming.

Okay, here’s my partial takeaway from Geiger’s speech. He’s predicting a massive revenue surge for the music content industry, based on the streaming business model replacing the file download model, which has already pretty much kicked the ass of the old physical media model such as CDs, DVDs, etc. He’s certainly right about that much, and he’s probably right that this revenue surge will go through the big players, the Apples and Googles and Amazons, dominating the field; outfits such as Pandora and Spotify, etc., will be absorbed or wiped out.

Why is this the death knell for the pirates? Because the pirates’ business model, what made their operations attractive to the consumer of recorded media — music, movies, etc. — was the enormous cost savings to that consumer. Get in bed with the pirates and you had access, through a not very attractive user experience, to thousands and perhaps even millions of music recordings and movies that you would otherwise have had to spend thousands of dollars (tens of thousands of dollars for the real enthusiast) for your selection out of that pile. Whatever was wrong with the piracy experience was offset by the enormous amount of money you saved, to get what you wanted from them. That all changes when the streaming model finally takes over. Get in bed with the pirates then, and what do you save? Ten, fifteen bucks a month? Sure, some people will make that choice, but the vast majority of consumers won’t. Which of course hammers the pirates’ revenue stream — what companies will choose to spend their advertising dollars with pirate outfits, when they only get a minuscule fraction of the audience that the streamers get? That swamp in which the pirates sail is already drying up; they’re not able to charge for ad spots on their websites what they were able to even just a couple of years ago. Eventually their already thin profit margin will fall below zero, and then they’re out of business.

There are a lot of things I don’t like about the future on-line landscape that Geiger predicts, and I’ll probably do another post about that. And of course, nobody has a perfectly clear crystal ball, including him. But whatever the exact nature of that future, one thing is pretty certain — Piracy is so 2008. It’s done. We just have to wait for the wreckage to wash ashore.

Kawaii & the Darkness

Cecile Tiger Again, a new to me Japanese primitivist-pop girl group; can’t get this damn song out of my head:

I’ve never been quite sure why the US never developed a similar kawaii popular-music element (though strictly speaking, these Cecile Tiger Again girls are more kawaii-influenced than true kawaii), given the ongoing sexualization-masked-as-innocence tendency in American culture. (My significant other watches what she calls her “favorite train wreck” television show, something called DANCE MOMS, which makes my skin crawl with its perfect sleaziness. Surely it’s the preferred mainstream TV programming for paedophiles all over the world.) Then again, there’s a certain sly, subversive element to some kawaii, with a lot of the girls being their own autonomous agents more than any number of sullen, snarling “riot grrls” ever were.

My latest theory, which I’m still mulling, is that kawaii (at least as a musical performing style) came to exist there rather than here because of the relative unimportance (or perhaps even absence) in post-World War II Asian pop of the dark Celtic strain that still informs so much of American pop music. The sunniness in American music is always just a brief interval before the murderous clouds roll in again, whereas these Cecile Tiger Again girls and their sisters inhabit — or at least have the ability to pretend that they do — some sort of timeless pubertal paradise. This seems to be the case especially when you start talking about the primitivist mode. Musically, the Handsome Family (currently out of Texas, though originally from Chicago, I believe) aren’t any more sophisticated than Cecile Tiger Again, but lyrically everything ends up badly in Handsome Family songs, or starts out that way and you get some redemptive light with the final chord, whereas kawaii girls don’t have that problem; they’re just happy, without the gloomy Celtic super-ego dampening their spirits. More power to them, I say.

Here’s another, live version of the same song. Are the girls actually playing their instrumental parts on their phones? Finally!