By Mark Stevens
No doubt soon you’ll be walking around your house knee-deep in royalty checks.
At some point, you’ll probably stop reading the reviews.
Even the good ones.
Yawn. Another rave.
Until then, why are you on this ride? Are you driven? Just because? Is it art to you?
I watched two documentaries recently.
One was “Finding Vivian Maier” about a unique street photographer whose work has exploded after her death. Vivian Maier was completely overlooked during her lifetime. She never promoted her work. Her possessions and an enormous stash of her photographs (the negatives) were bought—cheaply—at an auction of stuff in Chicago. The stash included uncashed social security checks. She wasn’t in it for the money. Clearly. Now, the world is studying her work. And marveling.
I highly recommend the film (which itself is very well put together).
The other documentary was about famous back-up singers. Is that an oxymoron? Probably. That’s the point. They are back-up singers. If you like music, “20 Feet from Stardom” is must-see. The portraits are fascinating—Darlene Love, Judith Hill, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer. And others. They probably sang on hundreds of songs you know by heart. They sing the key licks, the little juicy bits you hum along with.
Talent? By the truckload.
Artists? In every way, shape and form.
Some try to step up to the limelight, become the lead. Others hang back on purpose. They are fine with the shadows, but every bit as integral to the lead singer (and the act) but fine with the supporting role. They are, in fact, highly sought-after artists in their supporting roles.
Is there a heartbreak? Yes. Dashed hopes? Yes. But the overall message is they are in it for the moment—the expression. Every one of them had (has) pride in their accomplishments.
Moral of the story?
With Vivian Maier, she followed nobody’s script and nobody’s expectations for what constituted a “good” photograph. She took pictures of small moments, odd people, strange situations and left her view of the world for the rest of us to enjoy.
With the back-up singers, they were told what words to sing, what notes to hit. They brought their skills to the studio or the live stage and accepted (in varying degrees) their roles.
What’s your reason for writing? Are you okay with doing it—just because?
Are you doing your own thing? Listening to your own voice? Or are you a back-up, following someone else’s vision and script?
(I think there is good in both approaches.)
Me? I hope I do a little of both.
Final note: A bit of blatant self-promotion for my pal Gary Reilly, whom I’ve written about before. Gary wrote 25 novels with no encouragement from “the industry.” He died in 2011 and left those 25 novels behind, just because. His sixth posthumous book launches at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 14 at the Tattered Cover in Denver. The Enlisted Men’s Club is the first of his Vietnam-era novels following the publication of five comic novels about a Denver taxi driver (including two Colorado Book Award nominees). The tone of the war-era novel, of course, is very different. But the mark of the artist is the same. An artist at work. Just because.
Mark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.
Book three in the series, Trapline, will be published by Midnight Ink in November 2014