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January 25, 2004

  • Columns I Won’t Write
  • imageEvery reputable music store has a list of ‘banned licks’—pieces that, for the sanity of the people working there, you aren’t allowed to play. “Stairway To Heaven” is, I am sure, still on that list in most stores. As is the Evanescence song that keeps attempting to colonize my brain every time I hear it.  Or it should be, if there is any justice in the world.

    I believe that writers, especially writers who produce that artful and sustained rant better known as a ‘column’ should have a banned lick list. There should be a list of topics which we are prevented, by threat of death—or at the very least being made to listen to that song by Evanescence one more time—from ever going near.

    This is done as a public service, to be sure, but it’s mostly a selfish thing as well. We of the column-writing brethren all are aware of a very dark truth: we’re just one smarmy phrase away from sounding just like Linwood Barclay, Andy Rooney, Dave Barry, or whatever columnist you used to read for kicks that now is just a banal cardigan-wearer who can type.

    Actually, who I’m really afraid of is becoming is Colin Baker. The former Doctor Who (the one without a scarf) writes a column for his suburban paper and wheezes on in a little-Englander, grumpy-old-dad way about such vital concerns as gridlock, and such cutting-edge contemporary ideas as political correctness. Every so often I read his work just to remind myself what I’m fighting for.

    To affect a cliche, though, the cost of security is eternal vigilance. We need boundaries to prevent ourselves from becoming just like the cardigan-wearing brigade. A banned lick list for writers is just good sense.

    Over the past week I’ve compiled my own list of banned licks: topics that under absolutely no circumstances will I ever write about it in a column. While I will explain my choices I am not, repeat not, writing a column about these things. My cardigan is safely tucked away in my closet. This is purely for educational purposes. Like taping the films off Saturday Night at the Movies on TVO.

    My banned lick list of columns shall henceforth include the following:

    Telemarketers: Dave Barry managed to be edgy for the first time since the eighties by including the phone number of the national association of telemarketers in a column last fall. There’s no way I can compete with that.

    Internet Spam: It’s not that I don’t hate it. In fact I loathe it all the more these days, particularly as spammers have taken to creating spam that looks like delivery failure reports. This becomes ludicrously bizarre when it’s sent from a place where spammers are legally required to include a tag indicating that it’s spam, as I get deluged with e-mails with a subject header informing me I have spam disguised as a delivery failure report. But here is my question: has anyone said anything new on the subject of spam (beyond its inherent badness and increasing proliferation) in, oh, the past six years? I thought not.

    Michael Jackson: Leaving his guilt or innocence as a matter for a jury to decide, doesn’t anyone get that there’s something hideously tragic here? This is a guy who has engaged in self-mutilation-via-plastic-surgery so bad his face has literally collapsed on his skeleton, and a guy who—regardless of any wrongdoing—wants to live in an infantilized dreamworld where kids are like toys. If Michael Jackson was making $20,000 a year working at Wal Mart, his family and friends might have staged an intervention or even had him committed, as the words ‘danger to self and to others’ should have crossed someone’s mind. The guy is mentally ill. He’s a sick man and he needs serious psychiatric care. What’s really sick is that no one has stepped in to do that a long time ago, and what’s even sicker is that the media is so obsessed with the spectacle they’re not stating the obvious. There’s nothing particularly new about the public’s grim fascination with the mentally ill—Nietzsche’s sister charged members of the public for viewings of Nietzsche after he went insane. And as this is nothing new, I probably shouldn’t write about it.

    Spelling and Grammar: I am an absolute fascist (or is that a fetishist?) when it comes to language, in particular the correct usage of spelling and grammar. Most ordinary folk do not share this passion. I can understand why—being lectured on the improper use of the reflexive tense, or the anarchy of spelling “night” “nite” is boreing. Very.

    The Weather: What more can anyone possibly say about the weather? The weather is fickle and totally random and it’s usually not doing what you want it to be doing. And when it is doing what you want, you don’t enjoy it nearly as much as you should. Why bother elaborating on these simple axioms? Unless, of course, it’s to talk about how one watches The Weather Network to ogle the weathercasters.

    George W. Bush: It’s depressing that I was more interested in the State of the Union delivered by President Bartlet on The West Wing than the actual one delivered by the real President Bush—even more so because Bartlet’s wasn’t even written by Aaron Sorkin. And yet complaining about Bush has become so incredibly boring I actually audibly yawned the last time I watched Michael Moore. It’s not that I disagree with rants that remind us the Leader of the Free World is a corrupt frat boy. It’s just that I think supporting a decent Democratic candidate that can be elected next November is a far better strategy.

    Gridlock: I swear to God, if I ever write about Gridlock, I want my friends to take up a collection for a hired assassin. And I’ll contribute a fiver to the cause if political correctness comes up.

    Air Farce: Because everyone knows they’re unorig…ah, shit.

    Columns that create lists of things: It’s the least original thing one can possibly do…never mind.

    I should probably add more, but I hear the siren-call of my cardigan. If anyone is looking for me, I’ll be having a drink with Dave Barry and Colin Baker.


    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

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