Quick sketch during lunch after the movie.
“The fiction I’m most interested in has lines of reference to the real world. None of my stories really happened, of course. But there’s always something, some element, something said to me or that I witnessed, that may be the starting place. Here’s an example: ‘That’s the last Christmas you’ll ever ruin for us!’ I was drunk when I heard that, but I remembered it. And later, much later, when I was sober, using only that one line and other things I imagined, imagined so accurately that they could have happened, I made a story—‘A Serious Talk.’ But the fiction I’m most interested in, whether it’s Tolstoy’s fiction, Chekhov, Barry Hannah, Richard Ford, Hemingway, Isaac Babel, Ann Beattie, or Anne Tyler, strikes me as autobiographical to some extent. At the very least it’s referential. Stories long or short don’t just come out of thin air. I’m reminded of a conversation involving John Cheever. We were sitting around a table in Iowa City with some people and he happened to remark that after a family fracas at his home one night, he got up the next morning and went into the bathroom to find something his daughter had written in lipstick on the bathroom mirror: ‘D-e-r-e daddy, don’t leave us.’ Someone at the table spoke up and said, ‘I recognize that from one of your stories.’ Cheever said, ‘Probably so. Everything I write is autobiographical.’ Now of course that’s not literally true. But everything we write is, in some way, autobiographical. I’m not in the least bothered by ‘autobiographical’ fiction. To the contrary. On the Road. Céline. Roth. Lawrence Durrell in The Alexandria Quartet. So much of Hemingway in the Nick Adams stories. Updike, too, you bet. Jim McConkey. Clark Blaise is a contemporary writer whose fiction is out-and-out autobiography. Of course, you have to know what you’re doing when you turn your life’s stories into fiction. You have to be immensely daring, very skilled and imaginative and willing to tell everything on yourself. You’re told time and again when you’re young to write about what you know, and what do you know better than your own secrets? But unless you’re a special kind of writer, and a very talented one, it’s dangerous to try and write volume after volume on The Story of My Life. A great danger, or at least a great temptation, for many writers is to become too autobiographical in their approach to their fiction. A little autobiography and a lot of imagination are best.”
Here’s the thing: The show and its creator, Aaron Sorkin, are making completely valid points about how and why the media, specifically broadcast news, has let down the electorate. But the problem with the show is that it can’t help making those statements explicit. The Wire is a great show because it reveals, season by season, the futility of the “War On Drugs” and its corrosive, wide-ranging impact on a city’s social institutions and its people. It would not be a great show if Bubbles came out and said, “Man, the ‘War On Drugs’ has really had a corrosive, wide-ranging impact on the city’s social institutions and people like me.” Granted, Bubbles doesn’t have a camera in front of him so he can voice such an opinion, but Sorkin’s habit of stating his thesis over and over—rather than demonstrating it in the day-to-day reality of putting on a quality news broadcast—is The Newsroom’s biggest problem. And it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.
Harold Hayes and I would have lunch once a month at the Four Seasons. He would run down what was in the issue. In this case, he started off with a title: “The final decline and total collapse of the American avant-garde.” Almost immediately I said I got it: I’ll have Andy Warhol drowning in a can of tomato soup. He said, “You think he’ll do it? And I said, “Yeah, sure he’ll do it.” Andy was a big fan of the covers. I knew him pretty well. I met him when I was 19 years old—that was in 1950. At that time his name was Andy Warhola. He was a quiet kid. Did great drawings. Saturdays, after I played basketball, I used to go up to Madison Avenue to look at the art galleries. Andy used to be a scavenger walking up and down Madison Avenue looking for art. He had terrible taste. He used to buy things made yesterday morning being passed off as African art.
I called Andy and said, “I’m going to put you on the cover of Esquire magazine.” And he said, “Wait a minute, George, I know you. What’s the idea?” I said, “Andy, I’m going to have you drowning in a giant can of Campbell’s soup.” And he laughed and went, “Oh, I love it.” Then he said, “George, won’t you have to build a gigantic can?” And I said, “Andy, what are you, a schmuck?”
See how the sketch compares to the final cover. [Images: George Lois]
David Downton Goes MAD (Men)
gloriously alliterative fashion illustrator David Downton is responsible for 2 of my favorite Criterion covers (Belle du Jour and Lola Montes), and he recently applied his signature touch to a trio of the show’s main characters. methinks that further explanation is unnecessary for anyone who might think this is neat, in the first place.