Look at that 80's hair! Do I mean Harlan's - or mine? I actually wasted 5 minutes of my time searching on the internet for a picture of Harlan from the 80's. Then I realized . . . I . . . had one! Like real - like my picture. One of my Clarion friends took this photo to send back home to Gorgo.
What does this picture prove? Well, that I am taller than Harlan - this was under very mild dispute at the time (if only from Harlan).
Which matters naught, as Harlan inside is the tallest man there ever was.
I am so, so glad that I went to the screening of Erik Nelson's documentary film about Harlan Ellison: Dreams With Sharp Teeth. The film is available for pre-order on Amazon and it will be released on DVD May 26. It's truly a great film; Harlan fan or not, it gives a picture of an uncompromising artist, and also of his times. And part of those times, in a small way, was me.
I really am getting old, and I was awfully tired this evening, but as the Nebula Awards are this weekend, I wanted to get this down, for better or worse. Harlan said in the film that the better a writer got, the harder the writing got. I would have disputed that at one point, but what did I know? He could not be more right: Harlan is very often right.
The film's PR blurb calls Harlan the "Dark Prince of American Letters." At the screening, Harlan in his charming way told a tale about contracting crabs from Lawrence Ferlinghetti (a completely made-up story which tangentially mentioned the formerly famous poet Ferlinghetti) and I was confused, because I recalled him telling a joke at Clarion about catching crabs from a girl that he threw out of his house. He asked the audience not if they knew who Ferlinghetti was but - which people in the audience did NOT know who Ferlinghetti was. Many raised their hands. The answer is quite obvious: Lawrence Ferlinghetti is the man who gave Harlan Ellison crabs. This is one of the books of poems by the great poet and crab-meister Ferlinghetti (and I have this one).
Harlan pointed up a truth, which is that Ferlinghetti, a great poet, is already forgotten. You could go ask any 25 people on the street who Ferlinghetti was and they would not know. In the words of Harlan's joke from the film -- everybody's Naomi Campbell. Everybody!
All that remains is the work. And the honesty. And one's life laid bare, an open book. Nobody asks to have this thing stuck on their shoulders -- and there is no reason to write if one does not love it, or -- if one simply has no other choice. In the film, Dan Simmons (who seems a favorite of Harlan's, and I had not known that before), said that he thought Harlan's work would last. As I know from reading Dan Simmons' work, he does have some ability to make those comments, because his literary knowledge makes me look like the most ignorant of pikers. But I guess I am not that bad, all the same. I agree with him. A hundred years from now - two hundred years - young people are still going to pick up those books. They'll pick up Shatterday, they'll pick up Dangerous Visions, and all the rest. They'll open the pages and this voice will come out, louder and clearer than even the loudest Harlan rant. Eyes will be opened. Lives will be changed. And it truly will live on.
Schoolboy, prankster, nose-thumbing Harlequin, relentless entertainer (it is too perfect that Robin Williams plays a large role in the film) - it's all smoke and dust compared to what he's done his whole life with that Alexandrian shelf-after-shelf of typewriters.
When Harlan was young, Dorothy Parker wrote a marvelous, admiring note in a collection of her stories which she presented to Harlan. This meant a lot to him, and the scene and book are pictured in Erik Nelson's film. I once read that Ben Jonson called Shakespeare the most human of the great writers. I think that America is still finding its voice and there is something so . . . greatly American . . . about Harlan. And I mean that in all the best senses there can be.