Complications Ensue: The Crafty TV and Screenwriting Blog
Complications Ensue:
The Crafty TV and Screenwriting Blog



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Friday, April 30, 2004

EVEN BETTER THAN SETI@HOME

Google now has a simple utility that will download small bits of research projects (things like folding proteins so see what they'll do) that require vast computer time, and, while you're getting your coffee, or thinking about the next word you're going to type, it will have your computer crunch away. Easy way to do good, costs you nothing.

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NOT MENTIONED

One question apparently unasked in the Padilla case before the Supreme Court today: what's the difference between a POW (who must be allowed access to the Red Cross, etc.) and a captured "enemy combatant," who has no rights at all?

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I MUST BE GETTING OLD OR SOMETHING BUT...

Very funny O.C. last night, which I only just watched. The Vegas episode.

First of all, how much money do shows get paid to glorify Vegas? Or do people actually think it's a glamorous exciting place? Aside from being an abomination before the Lord, it's pretty seedy, and there's a stink of old alcohol and lost money. But I don't know how many times I've seen the wow-we're-in-Vegas montage. Ugh.

Second, why does it bother me so much that the otherwise quite clever O.C. characters fall for the old routine (from movies and tv, anyway) where the character picks up an attractive woman, and then her pimp comes around and extorts money because the lady is a hooker? (A) if you didn't know she was a hooker, how are you on the hook for the dough; and if you're not, aren't you essentially being mugged? (B) more importantly, no way the Hard Rock Hotel would let thugs come and mug their guests. The Hard Rock Hotel is looking to take its guests' money legitimately. Why couldn't the kids just call room service for some house detectives? I'm sure the pimps would have been relocated to an unmarked hole in the Las Vegas desert in no time at all.

But maybe I'm just too old to go along for the ride...

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A LITTLE BIT O'FAIRNESS

Here's an idea: allow college sportsmen to use their scholarship after they play for the university. Everyone knows that kids on, say, basketball scholarships don't get anything out of their college years. They play for the university, which makes massive amounts of money off televising their games, and they come out without an education because they were too busy playing ball. Why not allow them to play the sport and then go to school? That way if they make it into the pros, they can go back to school when they're too old to play, and if they don't, they can get the education they were promised.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

ONE LIFE

... furnished in Early Moorcock. I must get hold of a copy of the comic...

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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

NAME THAT WAR

My favorite winner of Nick Kristof's "Name That War" contest: "Blood, Baath and Beyond."

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WHITHER WEST WING

Aaron Sorkin's West Wing was always Star Trek: The Next Generation in the White House: a tight-knit crew of talented and devoted people work together to do Good Things, under a tough, but-surprisingly wise and compassionate leader whom they practically worship. The attractive fantasy was identifying with that crew. For everyone who works in a normal office or shop floor, where bosses are often tyrants or stupid or both, and co-workers are vengeful and spiteful, and people are expected to bleed so their company can sell more widgets, or sell them cheaper, here was a place you could imagine yourself where the crew's success or failure meant the world to millions of people.

The new season of West Wing -- I guess we can call it the John Wells West Wing seems quite different. It's more about office politics. People are at odds with each other. Leo uses Josh's talents to get a bill passed, even though Leo knows that if Josh knew the whole story, he'd try to kill the bill instead. That's more like real life. I can't say it's a better or worse show, but I don't enjoy it as much. It doesn't make me cry the way Sorkin's show did. Ah well. "I am Ozymandius, King of Kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair."

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PITCHING IT

I still think the best way to write a good story is to keep pitching it to friends, as I say in my book. However, just like other writers, I'm bad at doing it. But I finally finished off the long version of Unseen, almost 15 pages. Now I'm retelling it in 5, hopefully, off the top of my head. And, I think, it's getting better. Faster. More streamlined.

It's tough to tell a story off the top of your head, but if you can, it's a better story than if you can't, I think, and you find yourself rearranging scenes in much better order as you do it. Sometimes you realize you have as you do it, sometimes you don't realize it until later, but the order that comes to mind off the top of your head almost certainly makes a better story.

The exception here is things you need to set up in advance. But you can mention them in your short form where they come up ("... a guy we've, I forgot to mention, seen snooping around in earlier scenes") and stick them in their proper place when you start writing pages.

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BEGGING THE QUESTION

Bad Journalism award goes to: whoever wrote this article about a teacher ordering two kids to throw a disruptive 14 year old girl student out the window. They did.

As she suffered "cuts and bruises," I'm supposing this was a first story window, but you'd think what story the window was would be probably the single most important datum to put in a story like this, wouldn't you?

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RUDE WORDS IN MANY LANGUAGES

Here's a wikipedia of rude words in many languages!

Labels:

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UNDERSTATEMENT

I'm very fond of understatement. That must be why I'm dying to see Van Helsing as soon as it comes out. Any movie in which the hero says "I think we've overstayed our welcome," while people are trying to kill him, is getting off to a good start in my book. Possibly why I like Stephen Brust's latest pageturner, The Lord of Castle Black so much. I read the whole thing in two nights, couldn't put it down. It is the sort of book where the hero, a warrior, explains that he intends to take an army into the East because he "had to leave home there rather suddenly, before I could punish certain persons who had caused me an annoyance."

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WILL SOMEONE PLEASE HIRE A PUBLICIST OVER THERE?

The Iraqi puppet government (I'm sorry, but it is a puppet government, kids, can't you see the string?) just decided to announce a new Iraqi flag. For some reason they didn't like Hussein's flag, which was the old Iraqi flag plus the Arabic phrase "God is great." So rather than taking off "God is great," which would have been too obvious anyway, they made up a new flag. Surprise! No one likes it. It's UN blue on white. Or possibly (no doubt the Arabs think this way) Israeli blue on white. It has two blue lines for the two rivers, plus another yellow line in the middle, for the Kurds. Imagine if Betsy Ross had made different stars signify different ethnicities? That's how ya hold a nation together, put its divisions on the flag.

(Come to think of it, that is exactly what the Montreal flag does, with a rose for the English, a thistle for the Scots, a lily for the French Canadians, and a clover for the Irish. Can't blame it on the flag, but the divides are still there, except the English, Scots and Irish all huddle together under assault from the French majority.)

Obviously a lot of Iraqis are wondering whether the Iraqi government has nothing better to do with its time than stitch flags together, and they're wondering why no one asked them what sort of a flag they'd like. Lisa thinks they should have run a contest for the best flag, the way people got to participate in the decision on the 9/11 memorial in New York. I think that would have helped. Sure, no one would have liked the new flag, either, but they'd all have felt they participated in the decision.

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COMEDY TOOLKIT

I'm wondering if I dare try to sketch out the comic toolkit for Crafty TV Writing. I am even less of a crafty comedy writer than a crafty TV writer (thass why the book will have interviews), but I am noticing certain standard bits in the comedy I watch, e.g.:

The Two Edged Conversation

Ross is talking to Joey about A; Joey thinks Ross is talking about B. The dialog is crafted so it makes perfect sense to Ross, but makes embarrassing/wacky sense to Joey, who responds accordingly. A variant of this is --

Changed Context

Phoebe is pretending she's Estelle, but she doesn't know Joey knows Estelle is dead. So when Phoebe (as Estelle) says "I don't think I should visit you," Joey is far more relieved than he'd have been if Estelle had said it while she was alive.

Familiar Dialog in a New Situation

Chandler and Joey act like jealous ex-lovers, but they're just ex-roommates. The dialog is written so it sounds just like a lover's spat, but because we know they're straight, it's funny. The same thing happens when Monica has gone shopping at Bloomingdales with Julie, whom Rachel hates. When Rachel finds out, Monica says all the things cheating girlfriends/boyfriends say ("It didn't mean anything to me!") but because they were just shopping, it's funny.

Boy, explaining jokes sounds stupid.

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Saturday, April 24, 2004

NECESSITY, THE MOTHER OF ...

Remarkable how many really excellent dishes come from trying either to preserve food, or use scraps. Sausages, corned beef, Montreal smoked meat, ham, prosciutto, beef jerky, all ways of keeping meat from spoiling. Bouillabaisse, paella, both started as ways of using fish the rich folks wouldn't eat. Coq au vin is a way to make an old rooster edible. Hops in beer, which gives it its bitter taste, is a preservative; India Pale Ales and Russian Imperial Stouts are extra hoppy so the beer could survive the long trip from England to India or Russia.

And now I read in the Times:

...it is worth noting that sushi began not as an elegant way to eat raw fish but as a way to preserve it. Packed between layers of cooked rice, whole raw fish fermented slowly instead of rotting, becoming lightly pickled. That pickled flavor is still a faint but essential element in sushi. It is why sushi rice is sprinkled with vinegar. [...]

Wasabi was originally added to sushi for its ostensible antibacterial properties: according to tradition, a dab of grated wasabi between the fish and the rice helped street vendors keep their sushi fresh and could mask any developing off-odors at the end of a long hot day.

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GOD BLESS RUSS KICK

The aptly named Mr. Kick filed repeated Freedom of Information Act requests and finally got the Air Force Air Mobility Command to release 361 photographs of soldier's coffins coming home from Iraq. The Pentagon has up till now suppressed these entirely, claiming they are protecting the "sensitivities" of soldiers' families, but of course really to avoid Vietnam-style coverage that would remind people that our boys and girls are dying over there. (I guess they think that if they don't show any coffins, the deaths aren't really real.) The Pentagon is now once again quashing photos, but the 361 photos are out of the bag, and probably on your newspaper's front page. Russ's site, The Memory Hole is swamped now, so I couldn't get to it, but he deserves a pat on the back for being a better American than the guys in the Pentagon's Ministry of Disinformation.

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Thursday, April 22, 2004

WORD OF THE DAY

My 9 year old stepson has a listening disability -- he lacks the slightest interest what we're saying. To encourage him to listen a little better, we've instituted "word of the day." He gets a buck if he notices when we say the word of the day to him. The first word of the day was "enjoy." We said it at least half a dozen times, and he never noticed. Today's word is "friendly." So far I've said it once and he hasn't noticed ... let's see how many times I can get it past the Ears of Indifference.

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GILMORE GIRLS: WTF???

I really want to buy Amy Sherman-Palladino a Red Cup at Mory's and ask her what the hell "Gilmore Girls" is all about. It's all over the place narratively. Concurrent story lines about a teenage girl going to college, and her thirtysomething Mom running an inn in a small town, both looking for romance -- that makes sense, though the demographics must be weird. But then there are all these corporate machinations with Mom's boyfriend and her family. Who's watching this show? And why? I mean aside from the extremely clever dialog, the charming characters, and the story lines that alternate between cartoonishly funny and convincingly dramatic. What's the attractive fantasy?

I think I may have to write Crafty TV Writing just so I have an excuse to interview people like Ms. S-P.

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CHASIDIC SAYING

"It was hard for Satan alone to mislead the whole world, so he appointed prominent rabbis in various localities."

From the very excellent New Joys of Yiddish, by Leo Rosten.



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TO AVOID CONFUSION

A reader thought the saying below is a Catholic saying. No no no. It's a Jewish joke on ourselves. Jeez.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

BD'S LEG

I'm in shock a little this morning because Garry Trudeau decided to take BD's helmet off. BD's the guy who used to wear his football helmet all the time, then went to 'Nam to avoid a term paper, then went back into the football helmet, then went to Iraq, and this time into a Kevlar helmet.

This morning I'm reading the Doonesbury online and he's being medevac'ed after his Humvee got blown up, and off comes his helmet, and I'm in shock a little because I've never seen his hair, and then I notice that his left leg stops above the knee. His leg has been blown off.

What makes the strip so shocking, I think, is that the leg is the second thing you notice in the frame.

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Monday, April 19, 2004

HAVIN SOME KIM CHEE TONIGHT, BABY!

Just got an offer for the Korean Language rights to Crafty Screenwriting. Boy, am I jazzed!

I didn't even know they had a serious film industry in Korean. I mean, it stands to reason they do, there are what, 80 million Koreans in South Korea? But I've never seen a Korean film. I thought they mostly watched Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Jackie Chan movies.

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UNSEEN BUT NOT UNREAD

Just finished my pitch for Unseen as a movie. Still a few obvious improvements it wants, like setting a clock on the action, and a good reason why the bad guys who kidnapped Rebecca's mom don't just kill her, but now at least I have a coherent screen story.

It's long, though. Like 15 pages. "If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter," as I think Cicero wrote to a friend.

I'm always daunted by the idea of reading it. I don't read my things until I've finished them because it's easy to get depressed about how good something isn't, and puttering with polishing the first half of something is an excellent way of never having a second half. And then I procrastinate reading the thing once it's done, 'cause what if it sucks? I'll give it a day or two.

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Saturday, April 17, 2004

ANGELS AND DEBBILS

The top two movies in North America are ... Passion of the Christ, and Hellboy. I find that amusing.

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FINE COOKIN



I just finished Jacques Pépin's The Apprentice, a charming autobiography about his charmed life as a French and then American chef. It, and he, couldn't be more different than Anthony Bourdain and his brilliant Kitchen Confidential. Pépin did all the right apprenticeships, cooked for De Gaulle, knew all the right foodies and chefs (Craig Claiborne, Barbara Kafka, James Beard), and became famous before writing his book. Bourdain went where the money was, shot heroin, hit bottom, and clawed his way back into being top chef at his own restaurant. One is "Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly" as he puts it; the other one is more "My charmed life in front of the professional stove."

They're both worth reading!



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OKAY, STOPPARD

My Croation correspondent points out that Tom Stoppard plays don't suck. I agree. I acted in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in high school, and I have fond memories of it. But every character in that play is trying to get something from someone. They all have goals and problems. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, for example, are doomed, and they're starting to realize it, and desperate to figure out something to do about it.

I also liked Balm in Gilead by Lanford Wilson. I admired the Cabaret Voltaire put on at Columbia when I was hanging out there in 1983.

It's just that bad movies are so much more rewarding than bad theater...

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Friday, April 16, 2004

SEEING A MAN ABOUT A DOG

Actually, I hope not going to see a dog. I'm off to see a new play produced by a friend.

Confession: I almost never go to see plays, and when I do, I am almost always disappointed; while when I see movies, I usually enjoy myself. For me a dramatic work, whether on film or in person, should be about someone trying to get or avoid something. So many plays seem to be about nothing more than people at each other without seeming to be driven by goals. They're not talking to each other to get something, they're talking at each other, so the playwright can communicate something to the audience.

("Shall we destroy the Earth?" asks one of the alien invaders in my stepson's latest Captain Underpants novel. "No, not until it is narratively convenient," replies another. If Captain Underpants gets it, why can't playwrights?)

They're also often Acting. The playwright has given them Big Lines Full Of Sound and Fury, for the benefit of the audience. The effect is more poetic or lyrical than dramatic, in the sense of the genre they're in. While the lines are meant to sound dramatic, nothing dramatic is actually occurring. There is noise, but no drama.

And if you're going to do that, pop music is really a far better medium than plays. If you want drama, there are some fine moments on good tv shows and in movies. There were even some nice dramatic scenes in Hellboy for that matter (or as I have to call it around the house, Heckboy).

So I pretty much only go to the theatre if I know and love the play, or at least, the playwright. Generally that means Shakespeare or someone else from before 1913, after which, I think, the movies usurped the purpose of telling people stories, and plays started to go to hell. I've enjoyed Arthur Miller's stuff, and Balm in Gilead, and a few more.

It seems to me that plays have by and large gone the way of painting after photography came in, or classical music after movie music came in. They are no longer a representation of life, they're striving to find another artistic objective (such as possibly creating a ritual space?), and so they've become excessively difficult and crunchy.

I hope that's not the case here!

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Thursday, April 15, 2004

INTELLIGENCE FAILURES

How appropriate that the systematic flaws the 9/11 commission is unveiling are called "intelligence failures." I think the failure of intelligence lies mostly in the lack of intelligence in certain individuals.

I wonder how the voters in the middle are interpreting all this? It seems clear to me that Bush either read but did not understand, or was not interested in reading, reports that should have had him issuing urgent orders to prevent exactly the kind of attacks that occurred. But I'm a Democrat with a longstanding poor opinion of the President. And I'm sure diehard Republicans are shrugging off the reports because they don't want to absorb anything that makes their guy look bad. But is this all making an impact on the "man in the street"?

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FOR THE TECHNOPAGAN IN ALL OF US

If you need to learn more about a god, there is now a handy site called GodChecker. Isn't technology wonderful?

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WHAT A DIFFERENCE A VOWEL MAKES

I see that the reason I googled nothing for Wisekedjak is that he is Wisakedjak.

Still there's a bit of confusion. Some sources say the Cree have a "wis-kat-jan," and "Whisky Jack" is a corruption of "Whisky John." Others have Wisakedjak, "flatterer" as his name.

Either way, he seems to have rabbit ears. That makes him a bit of a pooka, doesn't it?

I wonder if Coyote and Whisky Jack are at odds (as predator and prey)?

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Wednesday, April 14, 2004

ON THE DELETORIOUS INFLUENCE OF FANTASY RPs...

I am trying to do some research for Unseen, though the cynical among you might claim that I am trying to avoid doing any writing on Unseen.

I am trying to find out more about rakshasas (Hindu demons) and Whisky Jack, the Cree trickster. One problem I'm having is that while anthropologists and folklorists are mildly wired, fantasy role playing people are highly wired. For every mention of legitimate Hindu rakshasas, there are ten characters called "Rakshasa" in an online RP game. Argh. RP people are prone to pontificate about what rakshasas are like, but who knows how accurate they are? And actual Hindus probably try to stay clear of rakshasas, so there's only the odd mention of rakshasas in things like the Bhagavad-Gita. But the B-G is written for people who already know what a rakshasa is, so fat lotta help that is.

Actually the least helpful thing was that I found out about rakshasas in Zelazny's very cool sf novel Lord of Light, where he calls them "rakashas." What a difference a vowel makes.

Neil Gaiman calls Whisky Jack "Wisakedjak" in his magnificent book American Gods, but I can find no references to him by that name. The Cree call their trickster spirit Wis-kat-jan, which was corrupted to "Whisky John," hence "Whisky Jack." [But see later note.]

I know, I know, noodling around on the Internet is not really "research." Research is going to the library and looking up things in books.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2004

LIVING IN THE PAST

My Titanium went into the shop today, and Lisa was working on her book proposal, so rather than writing by hand, I hauled out my beloved old portable manual typewriter, which I used when I was in Paris in '85. I figured I can not-write as well on a typewriter as I can on a computer. Wouldn't you know it, I wrote several pretty good pages of plot for Unseen on the ole manual. Maybe the utter lack of Internet access was the trick. That, and the difficulty of rewriting, meant I just got rough stuff down on the page rather than stress about it.

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VERY GOOD IDEAS

A young reader asks if I can confirm screenwriter Terry Rossio's address, which she got off http://www.whitepages.com, because she has a good idea for a script he's writing (according to the trades). (He used to have these large parties every month, which is how I know where he lives.)

It's sorta scary that someone can find your address like that, isn't it?

I had to tell her that no, writers don't really like hearing other people's very good ideas. 'Cause first of all, the ideas aren't always so good. Second, if they are good, it makes us jealous we didn't think of the idea ourselves. Third, we're scared the person is going to come back later wanting a share of the money and credit.

Write your own stuff, I told her!

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COMEDY ISN'T PRETTY

Comedy deflates pretensions and aspirations. (I had a dream about saying this to someone at a party, so forgive the pretension!) Your basic comic plot lands the protagonist right back where he or she started. (Your romantic comedy doesn't, but it's the romantic part that puts the two lovers together, just as in an action comedy, the hero does catch the crook / find the MacGuffin / trick the bad guy into giving away his dough, but that's the action plot at work.) The classic example of this is the brilliant Dumb and Dumber.

Anyway, the point is that comedy is an essentially sadistic genre. You ahve to be willing to inflict pain and suffering on your hero, poor thing.

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Thursday, April 08, 2004

WHAT KIND OF REVIEWS WERE YOU EXPECTING

Neil Gaiman blogs about the Scooby Doo Movie:

... Before we went I checked out the reviews at rottentomatoes.com, which were fairly uniformly awful... then saw the film, and was pleasantly surprised to discover it was, as these things go, a perfectly acceptable Scooby Doo movie... And I just found myself puzzled, given the sorry reviews, by what the various critics had been expecting, and what kind of reviews they would have hoped to be able to write... ("For the first Scooby Doo movie, they did the cartoon with live actors. This time they have thrown off the shackles of neo-realism, and Cassavetes-like, use the riders of the Mystery Machine to explore the inner monster within each one of us, making the statement 'And I would have got away with it too, if it wasn't for those meddling kids...' one that applies, unerringly, to us all -- from the children we were to the monsters we have become...." Or possibly, "In the latest film, Monsters Unleashed, Scooby Doo has become an idea, an abstract aspiration for Samantha and Eric (Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent ) as they walk the deserted beaches of an abandoned holiday resort, both "haunted" by the daughter who, we come to realise, may be dead, or may merely have gone to live in Poughkeepsie, leaving behind only an empty and frayed dog-leash from her childhood...")


And if someone will tell me how to link directly to a blog entry, next time I'll do that.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2004

ADJUSTING TO KIDS

I'm struggling with turning my series pitch Unseen into a movie pitch, and while the first act or so took some doing, the rest of it is just not coming. So I'm puttering even more than usual to avoid sitting down to it. Instead I'm reading the Times on the Internet, looking up Playstation info for my stepson, and generally being a family man. I have to find a writing habit that gets the writing done now that (as of Januar) I have a baby, a stepson and a wife to distract me. By the time I'm done paying bills and fixing things around the house, Hunter's home from school and then there's no getting work done -- unless I want to just keep my head down and ignore my family. Which, what's the point of having a family if you're going to do that?

I think I have to ban reading the newspaper and paying bills until, say, one pm. Let's see if I can keep to that.

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Monday, April 05, 2004

NOT ONE BAND BUT THREE. OR MAYBE FOUR.

I've been listening to the Beatles again, 'cause my tapes came back from California in the last of the boxes to be unpacked.
'
What amazes me is how different the voices of the Beatles are. It's as if there are three bands, not one. John writes angry depressive love songs:

You know that I'm a wicked guy and I was born with a jealous mind
and I can spend my whole life trying just to make you toe the line
You better run for your life if you can little girl
hide your head in the sand little girl
catch you with another man, that's the end, little girl.


Paul writes things like:



I need to laugh, and when the sun is out
I've got something I can laugh about...
She feels good
She know she's looking fine
I'm so proud to know that she is mine.



And George almost never writes a love song:


We were talking
about the space between us all...
and the people who hide themselves behind a wall
of illusion,
never glimpse the truth,
till it's far too late,
and they pass away...


It's not surprising the Beatles broke up, it's amazing they stayed together for so long. They're really into different headspaces, you should pardon the expression.

The other odd thing is how Paul comes across as a sloppy sentimentalist who writes goopy catchy songs. But he's the only one who came out with a really decent solo album, Band on the Run. John had one, maybe two great songs after the Beatles ("Imagine" and, arguably, "Starting Over"). I can't think of a memorable George song after the band broke up.

Well, that's artistic collaborating for ya. You can't tell who's doing what. The genesis of the John songs may have been John, and you can't really see the Paul in them for the most part, but without Paul most of them probably wouldn't have been much to listen to.

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This blog is mostly a sounding board for me to muse about the writing I'm doing for features and TV, and also occasionally to rant about the state of the world. This blog will not contain any information about the TV show I was writing last year, its producers, director, writers, or anything else about it. But if you're interested in the work and days of a TV and feature writer, and his inner processes, you might find this interesting.

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