Friday, 12 April 2013

I'd rather requip than recant--by Reb MacRath


          Just after my first AE post I received an email protesting the first quip: ‘The trouble with most academics is that they’re all subtext in bed. They’d rather read between the lines than ride between the sheets.’ The reader pointed out that academics have written magnificent books, providing a list of examples. Agreed. But it didn’t concern what I actually said. As a matter of fact, I read widely: from the groves of academe to the grooves of damned hard living. Still, I’d riled someone I admired. And I took time to sort my thoughts about humor. My conclusions:

          One: Amos & Andy, Mr. Magoo and the Absent-Minded Professor are all rightly gone. Some things don’t seem all that funny today—racial stereotypes, eye disease and incipient Alzheimer’s. Good humor still pushes the envelope, true, sometimes so well we can’t resist: We howled when Alec Baldwin licked Canteen Boy’s ear on Saturday Night Live…though the thought of a Scoutmaster perv-ing his Scouts in real life turns our stomachs. Nor are we ever likely to get a sitcom about a degenerate priest. The best humor takes us to the edge, yet still respects some boundaries. Even so, inevitably, some viewers or readers are bound to get pissed…for reasons of their own. One agent who read the original version of my Southern Scotch, years back, sent a vehement rejection. I could almost hear him screaming. Why? Pete McGregor, the bum who’d gone on to become the rail-thin Boss MacTavin, weighed about 300 pounds for the book’s first fifty pages—and this would disgust everyone. Eventually, I learned that this agent also weighed 300 pounds. I did reduce Pete’s weight somewhat in the final version but I refused to cave entirely. And this taught me a valuable lesson: Think about readers, but stick to your guns. I’d rather requip than recant.
          Two: The jokes themselves may turn to dust and yet be cherished for boldness and flair. I’m not sure anyone can laugh today at Oscar Wilde’s quip: ‘A cigarette’s the perfect pleasure. It’s exquisite while it lasts and always leaves us wanting more.’ Nonsmokers could fume at that one with good cause. So could anybody who’s lost a spouse to cancer. Yet in its perfect symmetry—1, 2, 3—it delights us. And it contains a kernel of truth about dark perfect pleasures. Thanks for the lesson, Oscar. We can’t control the times or ever-changing public taste. Our job’s to call things as we see ’em. And to do that we must keep repeating: I’d rather requip than recant.
          Three: No matter how clever we happen to be, sometimes we must seem to be less so. Almost everybody knows that poor Oscar went to jail and died a broken man. But the fact is he could have stayed free of that cell…if he’d kept his mouth shut. The court wanted only a sign of remorse. Unfortunately, Oscar regarded his trials as theater. If you’re looking for heartbreaking reading, study the three transcripts and watch Oscar stage his own ruin. He had the court in his hand, then the crowd at his throat. And, speaking of crowds at one’s throat…I had to make a sacrifice in rewriting April Yule. The original version had had a strong scene with some terrific redhead jokes. I’d first written this scene over fifteen years ago. But recently I’ve made some valued friends who have…red hair. No choice that I could see. The redhead jokes became blonde jokes, which are certain to tick off some blondes. We do our best, however, to keep the friends we have. And sometimes even I would rather recast than repent.
          Here’s to blondes, redheads and brunettes with my love to the best of them all.
         You’ll find my dark take on the challenge of wit in the nifty little thriller entitled April Yule.

6 comments:

Reb MacRath said...

This post ends with an April Fool joke on me: the link I've added to April Yule pulls up a breakfast menu. Tried a half-dozen times to fix it--no go. Possibly because the title itself, added by Debbie, pulls up the book correctly. I'm letting the glitch stand because I got Hot Mail error messages when I tried to delete the link altogether. Sorry, y'all,

Bill Kirton said...

What a pity you explained the link glitch, Reb. Like others probably will, I clicked on it after I'd read your comment. If you'd said nothing and I'd seen the menu I'd have assumed you were a comic genius in a branch of humour I didn't understand. But, as you know, I've read April Yule and I did understand and enjoy it.

I also share your approach to requipping rather than recanting. When I call to mind the subject of some of the revue songs and sketches I wrote back in the 70s, I cringe. But that was me then. No doubt the me now is writing things that I (not he) may well disown in the future.

Debbie said...

Eh? What menu? I get the book on both links. I want to see a menu too!

Reb MacRath said...

Thanks, Bill. And, Debbie, this just keeps gettin' stranger!

Lydia Bennet said...

Reb, I just finished April Yule. What a ride, I must say you have a most individual voice and style, and what a non-stop rush of a story! You use language as densely as poets do, with breakneck pace and wit, I enjoyed it immensely. I recommend the book, it's something very different from most 'crime' or 'thrillers',in structure as well as style. In some ways it's kind of fable. Good luck with it Reb, and keep on quipping!

Reb MacRath said...

Good evening, Lydia. And thank you so much for your tribute to story, style and structure. I'm so glad you liked it. Cheers!