Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Other Glass Teat by Harlan Ellison

There's no one else in the world who loves anything as much as Harlan Ellison loves the sound of his own voice. And there's no one as sure of anything as Harlan is of his every last opinion. There's a point, late in this book, where Ellison excoriates a television writing team -- declares that nothing they do can ever be good, and that they are necessarily evil, twisted human beings -- purely on the basis of watching a failed pilot based on their script.

Mind you, this is mere pages after Ellison also ranted at great length about what a different set of pigheaded morons did to one of his scripts, turning it into something lumpen and disgusting. (One never goes to Ellison for consistency; Ellison is for raw energy and pure emotional force, aimed in whatever direction he feels like aiming it at the time. He is hugely Whitmanian in his contradictions.)

The Other Glass Teat is one of the few Ellison books I haven't read before; I made my way through most of his work when it's supposed to be read -- when the reader is young and passionate, and, perhaps, easily led by a strong-voiced writer who knows precisely what is right and wrong, and will expound on it at great length. But this book was out of print, and hard to find; I only just read it through the generosity of a friend.

Ellison wrote about television for about three years at the turn of the '70s for the Los Angeles Free Press; this book reprints the back half of that run, plus two columns from a year later in Rolling Stone (with very little explanation as to the hole in between, and less as to why Ellison had been counting down in his last Free Press columns, but didn't quite reach his intended ending). According to Ellison's introduction, The Other Glass Teat was published much later than its predecessor volume, The Glass Teat, because the then-Vice President of the US, Spiro Agnew, personally asked magazine distributors to scuttle the first book.

Oddly, this scuttling does not seem to have affected any of Ellison's other books from that era, nor did the supposedly evil and Machiavellian Agnew take any other actions to rid himself of Ellison. Curious.

The matter of The Other Glass Teat is the very ephemeral TV scene of the time; there's very little that would be of interest to anyone nearly forty years later. Or rather, there wouldn't be anything of interest, if it hadn't been written by Ellison. The shows may be long-dead and best forgotten, but Ellison's impassioned, hectoring, hair-trigger voice is always a pleasure. (And never more so than when the reader can forget his own prejudices and preferences -- because very few of us will even remember that there was such a show as Nanny and the Professor -- and let the waves of Ellisonian bombast and invective wash over him.)

I was going to complain about how massively over-the-top that Ellisonian voice is -- it really is too much, too much of the time -- but then I looked back at my own recent review of Goats: Infinite Typewriters. And I realized how much of my own writing style has been influenced by Ellison. It's not just me -- the default tone of the entire Internet is High Outraged Dudgeon, and no one has ever done that better than Harlan Ellison, circa 1970. So I could no more complain about Ellison's writing style in a review on the Internet than I could swallow my own head.

This is a mostly forgotten book, and one that will be little read in future years -- it's little read now, and has been so its entire existence. But Ellison's voice will be read, I hope, and -- though his fiction will always be the core of his appeal and reputation -- even his vituperative, ridiculously angry, bizarrely demanding and inhumanly opinionated columns and reviews will be dug up, now and then, to the surprise and dismay of generations to come.

Listening to: Jacob Golden - Love You
via FoxyTunes

1 comment:

Florilegium said...

There's no one else in the world who loves anything as much as Harlan Ellison loves the sound of his own voice. And there's no one as sure of anything as Harlan is of his every last opinion.

That's the best description of Harlan I've ever read.

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