This morning, on his generally excellent Every Goddamn Day blog, Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg succinctly describes why he won’t be reading Harper Lee’s recently announced second book, Go Set a Watchman. Of course, Ms. Lee’s far more famous novel happens to be To Kill a Mockingbird.
Even though I will most certainly be following in Neil’s non-reading footsteps, and his theory that some artists are noble for stopping after one effort has merit, I have some slightly different thoughts on the matter. I’m not reading Ms. Lee’s pre-sequel because I’m so bleepin’ tired of one-off artists of any kind that I could spit.
I”m sure there are cases where, after a massive success, some of ’em wake up and say, “That’s all I got!” And we should be grateful for that rare kind of insight. Boston, Meatloaf, and Alanis Morrissette all shoulda availed themselves of that very notion.
As one of my favorite former managing editors used to say, everyone has at least one good column in them, but very few have two.
So while some may well be noble for bowing out, for the most part – especially when it comes to authors – we’re talking about utterly self-absorbed people who wouldn’t know gratitude if it bit them in the ass. And the fact these generally warped individuals can so casually dismiss the success that eludes so many great writers is not something to be lauded – it’s something to be pitied.
Every time I read anything about Ms. Lee’s post Mockingbird life, I just wanna smack her – and somebody shoulda smacked her a long, long time ago. It’s not too late at 88 either! She had to have her sister protect her? From what? Growing up?
I particularly love watching musicians evolve. Yes! Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but at least they gave it their best shot. I also love superdeluxe box sets because they almost always provide some very unique insights into a band’s process. Yes! Some are money grabs, but that’s why we have critics.
So while some artists should have stopped at one LP, imagine if the Beatles, U2, the Stones, Pink Floyd, Green Day etc… had called it quits after their freshman effort!
Sure! Some of their albums aren’t classics, but that’s the very nature of the beast. It’s like all those silly 5 star Amazon music reviews. If everything’s a 5, then nothing is. It becomes a completely meaningless measure.
As Neil basically said, the fact that some artists occasionally stumble does not diminish their masterpieces – it makes them that much more worthwhile. The great Babe Ruth used to say that every strikeout brought him that much closer to the next home run. And ya gotta love him for that.
But as far as folks like Mr. Salinger, Ms. Lee, D’Angelo (who’s current album is mediocre at best despite a 17 year hiatus) go, my fondest wish is that we let them slip onto the vast obscurity they say they crave and so richly deserve!