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Inside Llewyn Davis and other thoughts

May 8, 2014

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Funk

I’m not sure how to write articles any more…I’m in a bit of a funk, I think I’ve used up all my life experience and now my life is just the same thing over and over, safe and repetitive, so writing-wise I could be in trouble.

Or maybe the trip to Germany will help?

I don’t know. I started a story a few weeks ago called ‘Psycho Holosuite’ – you can probably guess what it’s about from the title – then the next day I pictured the future book cover for the story and thought, man, I should turn this into something a little longer, maybe 30,000 words or something close.

I managed 6 pages before I got stuck.

The idea was there, and I knew where it was going and what the scenes would be, but I just couldn’t actually write it. 6 pages was the limit. This is the funk. A few years ago, I would’ve had it done in a week.

What’s going on?

Maybe it’s this: the story was based on a concept, a bunch of thoughts I’d had while daydreaming, but there was no life experience available to fill it out. There was no main character because it was only based on a bunch of thoughts, and I hadn’t lived out anything interesting or different in the last few years to give him any truth or depth. I didn’t really know this guy, and I didn’t know how to make it up.

In short: he’s a reforming psychopath, I’m not.

Lifeline

Luckily I’ve still got a lot of old stuff that’s never seen the light of day. I can still edit things. I edited Ljubljana Witch, wrote 40,000 new words for it, made it a hell of a lot better and then sold it to permuted press. I can do the same thing again with about 4-5 other books I have.

But I’m really struggling to write anything new. Or, more specifically, I’m struggling to find anything in my life to put into a novel now.

It could be time to forget writing and turn to that Planet Rasputin TV series I always wanted to do. But that involves writing too…TV script writing…is that a hard thing to do, Marc Horne?

Or maybe I should just write a load of Sam Fuller-esque pulp novels, like Shock Hallway or Pain Machine?

Love

Joanna asked me last night why I never wrote about her.

I struggled to answer at the time, but I always knew why. Because I love her. The characters I write are flawed and I can’t do that to her, even if I gave her a fake name and made her an alien, I just can’t.

Maybe there’s a love story in there, instead? A younger companion to that Mike Leigh film where the central relationship never comes under threat…they’re happy at the start, they’re happy at the end.

I’m not sure…it’s a hard trick to pull off.

Hardworking writers

Since I’m being published by Permuted Press, I’ve looked at some blogs by other permuted authors. I don’t really know them at all, but from what I’ve read, those guys write a lot. Especially Kirk Allmond, who writes 30-40 hours a week. There’s no funk for that guy. Some of them can even make a decent living from writing alone.

That’s good. It makes me think there’s more room for writers in the world now, each one having their 1,000 fans.

It probably makes them more humble too [humbler?].

You listening, Robert Orci?

Inside Llewyn Davis

I saw Inside Llewyn Davis last week and it made me feel strange…inspired while I was watching it, especially the road trip to Chicago…and then low when it was over and Bob Dylan started playing over the credits.

I didn’t know it was Bob Dylan, Joanna told me, but I knew that Llewyn Davis wasn’t ever gonna make it anywhere in the music world. He said it best: ‘Yeah, I can play the Gaslight for the 400th time…that’ll help.’

It’s weird that such a sad, failing character can provoke anything positive…

But is it that weird?

Most critics live a comfortable life, so they call the Coens geniuses [they also have a comfortable lives], but the protagonist of their film a fuck-up. The critics don’t know this character, do they? Unless they’re trying to make films on the side…which is probably what Llewyn should’ve done to be honest, do something on the side, teach guitar or write music criticism to pay the bills…but then, it was harder in the 60’s, there was no internet and it was difficult to find students or get into magazines as there were only so many positions to slag off music available and there was no way to get your own songs to people without spending money you clearly didn’t have…

Rambling…

Anyway, Llewyn’s situation was even worse than that, at its very core: folk music wasn’t popular, it was an under construction graveyard…he was chasing a dream with no structure to house it, or a dream within a hotel that didn’t rent rooms to folk music…there’s probably a better metaphor for it, but I can’t think of one…

Main point: Inside Llewyn Davis, the album, was never gonna sell, but the film itself makes his life seem beautiful, endearing…probably sacrificial too, though it’s only Carey Mulligan’s character who believes Llewyn is purposefully trying to sabotage himself.

There’s nobility in the guy who refuses to compromise, even if it dooms him to sleep on Adam Driver’s couch.

What was the meaning of those narrow hallways?

Narrow choice for musicians?

You can’t all fit into the hallway and there’s only two apartments = you can’t all be successful and only two folk musicians are gonna make it big

I don’t know.

Optimism/pessimism

I felt inspired watching this film the same way I always feel inspired to write when I see art or go to a museum or see a film like ‘2046’ or ‘Baghead’…I want to do what they did, in writing, in novel form.

But then, I felt low because I recognised myself in Llewyn Davis…and worse, I defended him in my head for all the things people said he was an asshole for.

Example: he looks down on Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake, calling them ‘careerists’ for writing commercial songs.

In my mind, he’s right. If you become famous for writing or singing shit, or doing something you don’t really like, good luck getting out of that hole. You’ll have money and people will listen to you, but they won’t hear the words you want to say, they’ll just be saying, ‘play the Kennedy space song again, play it, play it, play it again, play it.’

Llewyn Davis has no luck at all

He does all the things other musicians are doing. He had a partner, but he died. He sings at the gaslight café. He writes his own songs, or I think he does. He goes on a depressing road trip to Chicago and takes a chance at that bar I can’t remember the name of. The producer listens to Llewyn play a beautiful song and then says, ‘I don’t see any money in this. You should get a partner, you’re not strong enough to be a lead.’

Llewyn doesn’t pull a hissy fit, he accepts it with a wry smile because he knows his partner jumped off an unfashionable bridge and there’s nothing he can do about it.

This whole film is about luck, really.

The Coens know this, that’s why they put the Bob Dylan song over the credits. The guy who made folk music popular, playing the same kind of songs Llewyn Davis was playing. I guess the only difference was: Dylan’s songs were catchier.

There is nothing Llewyn really could’ve done to improve his position. When you’re sleeping on couches and surrounded by people beginning to sell out just to move up, it’s only gonna make you feel depressed. And when you’re depressed, it’s hard to keep fighting.

In another film, a record producer would’ve come to the gaslight at the end, heard Llewyn’s performance, a guy at his lowest ebb giving it one last shot, and said, hey, that’s incredible, I’m gonna make you a star.

Instead, Llewyn is beaten up in the alley outside, again, and it’s pretty clear he’s going in one, huge, unforgiving circle.

Trading Places

I’ve never been so bad that I don’t know where I’m gonna sleep the next night…I’ve never sunk that low without making sure I had a lifebelt…but I have been surrounded by negative people before.

It’s insidious when I think back on it…they’re not bad people, they’re just not the right people…they envelop you with their perspective, which is monolithic…I mean, they all think the same way…it’s either monolithic or hegemonic…

They’re all telling you, good luck with whatever you’re doing, but when are you gonna get a real career? You can’t keep making zines, it’s pointless. Write something about superheroes for fuck’s sake.

What you need is to find people struggling in the same shit you are. It helps if they’re around the same age as you, or older, as that can give you a big lift.

33 years old is not the age to give up.

If I met Llewyn Davis, I’d tell him the same thing. I’d give him my own time and try to come up with ways to stabilise his life a little, so he can focus on his songs and get them into the hands of someone who gives a shit. I wouldn’t tell Oscar Isaac this as he’s just been cast in Star Wars 7 and he’s doing just fine the way he is…I’m guessing he played Llewyn so perfectly because of his early career when he was reduced to bit parts…he knows what it is to sleep on a couch and step into surprisingly deep snow…most actors could probably say the same thing. But, yeah, I would tell Llewyn Davis to keep going, and not just words, I would try to think of ideas to help him too.

This will be my dream for the next month or so. Saving Llewyn Davis. As well as the one where I kill all those fuckers in Craster’s Keep…one can be my heroic action dream when I’m running, the other can be my day dream at work.

Movie stirs

Thinking about all those actors who never make it…I bet there are so many great ones that we’ll never get to see because fuckers like Tom Cruise are taking that Jack Reacher role…is this still a justifiable thing?

Surely as many people avoid a movie because Tom Cruise is in it as the ones who will go just for him…therefore, what’s the point of movie stars?

How about casting unknowns in every blockbuster from now on…take a few risks for once, make the characters visible as characters instead of Tom Hanks with funny hair. It won’t hurt the box office much if it’s based on a comic book…people go to see Batman, not Christian Bale.

Actually, fuck Jack Reacher and blockbusters, independent films are a better bet for unknowns…as long as the knowns don’t steal those parts too…the parts are more interesting, the film-makers hungrier, the scripts looser [maybe]…if I were an unknown actor that’s what I’d be doing, and when I’d done it, I’d say no to Hyena Man and do it again.

Go see this film

If you haven’t seen Inside Llewyn Davis yet, you should. The Coens are probably the only film-makers in the world who still find something unique to say with each movie.

Theory: they choose such a specific time and place that it feels brand new. Who knows about folk music in 1961? Not many. They probably write scenes that actually happened too, it’s just they’re not famous enough to be known about.

If you were a folk musician in the early 60’s and you saw this film, you might say, nah, that’s bullshit, it was nothing like that.

But that’s around four people, so they can be easily drowned out. Or just drowned by the Coens. And then made into a film.

Game of Thrones

I think at the end of it all, Tommen will be killed in his sleep, Stannis will die in the snow, Dany will be killed by slavers, Littlefinger will be stabbed in the neck by Stanza and Theon will be the only one left to sit on the Iron Throne.

Because he has no penis.

I don’t say this in a glib way…sex and rape are a big part of the show and a guy without a dick can make decisions men with dicks never can.

But then…it’s hard to predict a show that’s mostly based on real history…as strange as that sounds.

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