My name was invoked by Scott P. Richert in the October issue (What the Editors Are Reading), in reference to my comments on the avant-garde at a John Randolph Club years ago, during which I asked the rhetorical question, “What is creativity without editing?” Had someone actually replied, “Stephen King,” I would not have been hard-pressed to deny that to be true. Rather, I would have assumed my best petulant eighth-grader voice and said, “Prove it!”
I spend a lot of time studying serious music and trying to impart to my students that music is so much more than simply notes and forms and all, that reading something like King’s Dark Tower series is relaxing in a way similar to stretching after a run. I do agree that some of King’s later works—The Dome, Joyland—could use some editing, if not simply a lit match, but I have found some pretty profound things in his work from time to time. In a philosophy class I took some 40 years ago, I remember reading Buber and Tillich and others describing sin as something that could be measured in terms of how it hurts others, all done in very long-winded, abstruse fashion. So I was rather delighted when I read The Stand to see King cut to the chase by having Mother Abigail say that breaking any of the Ten Commandments was a theft of some sort—of a life, of a heart. Yes, Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining is dreadful. Jack Torrance is supposed to be going crazy slowly, and Nicholson portrays him as not having both oars in the water from the get-go. But the remake for TV for which King wrote the screenplay is quite good. Just don’t watch it at home alone when it is snowing.
I also enjoyed reading James O. Tate’s “All That Jazz” (The Music Column), especially his reference to Coleman Hawkins’s directive to young players: that they must listen to Bach. I was in a form and analysis class four decades ago, and our professor advised those of us who wanted to learn to improvise jazz that we should play through the 250 chorales of Bach on a regular basis, as they contain pretty much every possible chord progression in music—the efforts of Ives, Schoenberg, and the rest of the space-monkey entourage notwithstanding.
It is such a delight when Chronicles shows up in the mailbox, though often I am forced to put it down so I don’t finish it in one sitting.