Monday, June 24, 2013

Guest Blog: The Long Con and the Short Grift

(or:Two Cents from Happy Jack)

Part 1 – Down Where the Drunkards Roll

You can be a gambler
Who never drew a hand
You can be a sailor
Who never left dry land
You can be Lord Jesus
All the world will understand
Down where the drunkards roll
Down where the drunkards roll
-     Richard and Linda Thompson

 “Fandom is not a normal hobbyist group. It has been suggested that, if sf ceased to exist, fandom would continue to function quite happily without it.”
-     John Clute and Peter Nicholls, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1995)

“Look carefully at the differences between a reader and a fan, terms that are used almost interchangeably in much of the available work on sf reading.  A sci-fi reader is someone who likes to read sci-fi.  An sf fan is someone for whom sf is a facet of his/her social life or of his/her identity.  Not all readers are fans.”
-     SCI FI 101, Kim G. Kofmel, Library Journal, September 1, 2004

“I would never join a club that would have me as a member.”
-     Groucho Marx

William Fuller has been writing very eloquently about our adventures in science fiction fandom and the conventions of the 1970s.  I’m not sure what I can add to the tale but, then again, why should he have all the fun?

Yes, I am a reader, an addict of science fiction, fantasy and horror. Although my literary diet is not exclusive to speculative fiction, it contains a distinct preference toward it.  It’s been that way for a very long time.  But I am not a fan, I am areader.  I thought I wanted to be a fan when I discovered fandom existed but found out fairly soon that I wasn’t cut out for it.  And fandom, I think, soon felt the same about me.  Fandom, like religion, is another example of what happens to people when they believe in something and get together to celebrate it. All too soon, it is no longer about the object of admiration, adoration or worship but more about recognition and status within the community, bureaucracy, politics, turf wars and schisms. 

During the 1970’s I and my friends had a great time approaching fandom in much the same way the Visigoths approached the Roman Empire; as rude and raucous barbarians at the gates.  From my current perspective, “Outlaw Fandom,” which WF has mentioned previously, was a foreshadowing of the punk movement just then lurking over the horizon.  Influenced by Hunter Thompson, Charles Bukowski, The Merry Pranksters, The Yippies, Frank Zappa, Carlos Castaneda, Captain Beefheart and whatever drugs and alcohol could be had, we were seized with an absolute determination to rock and mock the complacency of the established order.  Fandom had rules and rituals that clearly separated those on the inside from those on the outside.  And we never liked to be merely “outside.”

And so we wandered the halls of anonymous looking hotels, passing ourselves off as rogue journalists and often making a nuisance of one kind or another.  One thing we found absolutely remarkable about science fiction conventions was the accessibility of the authors to the fans and the readers.  I am in awe of writers.  And I am always grateful for the worlds and people they have painted my imagination with.  Going to Baycon in 68 was like going to a convention of rock stars without needing a backstage pass. 

"... don't drink too much, and if you drink too much go to your room ..."
- Mary Kay Kare, the "Miss Manners" of fandom,
Science Fiction Culture by Camile Bacon-Smith

But, of course, it wasn’t too long before we abused the privilege of that accessibility.  We, SASSAFRASS, had arranged for a drinking contest with LASFS to be held at the Westercon in Oakland in 1975.  Was it a scam to get free beer?  I can neither confirm nor deny that allegation.  Despite our best efforts, which included one of our team pouring beer into his boots, we were soundly trounced by the Southern Californians, championed, in the end, by a woman with truly prodigious capacity.  There’s a bit of a blur following the conclusion of the contest but I do recall finding myself in a hotel room, ranting and raging at Poul Anderson and Larry Niven.
I asserted that they couldn’t write about war because they hadn’t served; they hadn’t experienced the blood and the mud and the jungle like I had in Viet Nam.  Of course, I had never been in the military, never been farther West than Catalina Island nor further East than Washington, D.C.  I’m not sure if I was ejected or staggered out but it’s a miracle I wasn’t tossed out of the con altogether. I would like to believe that maybe I was entirely incoherent and that the exchange was more hallucination then sodden performance.  But I’m pretty sure it happened exactly that way.

And of course there were other incidents, like pissing off Ray Bradbury by going on and on about Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 which Bradbury absolutely loathed and praising Rod Steiger’s performance in The Illustrated Man (equally despised).  I saw the literal truth of the old saw, “hot under the collar,” as Bradbury’s fury slowly rose and reddened his face starting from the neck and moving up, just like in the cartoons.

Then there was the time that I was excoriated by Harlan Ellison for snidely inferring that his attention to the business side of things somehow lessened his worth as an artist.  “You’ve got to bare your fangs, motherfucker,” Harlan shouted at me, followed by a full serving from his extensive buffet of insults. 

Valuable lessons learned at the feet of the masters.  That’s what it was all about.
[to be continued] 

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