George May Be Prez But Stephen's Da KingBy John Saleeby
November 16, 2004
To a lot of Americans 2004 may be remembered as the year that John Kerry almost became President, but to me it will always be the year I finally caught on to what a great writer Stephen King is. Excuse me for being a little distracted, but - Once you've experienced a teenage girl who destroys an entire city with psychic powers after a bucket of pig blood gets dumped on her head, ninety nine percent of the human race dying in an epidemic so then the Anti-Christ can make his play for control of the planet or a burial ground for pets which restores dead dogs and cats (And maybe people) to life, and a lovable boy prankster who goes on a raft trip down the Mississippi with a runaway slave named Jim - well, once you've been through all that a social climbing slimeball from Massachusetts nearly becoming the most powerful man in the world just isn't that big a deal. Sorry about that mix up with the Mark Twain book just now but I think Stephen King is so great it's a miracle I didn't throw "Valley Of The Dolls" or "Helter Skelter" into the middle of all that - We are talkin' 'bout high class lit that just don't quit!
I may be a Led Zeppelin-Jerry Lewis kinda guy when it comes to music and movies, but when it comes to books I'm as big a snob as any of youse Sonic Youth-Jim Jarmusch characters. Kerouac, Celine, Burroughs, Miller, Bukowski - I read all that stuff. But, don't worry, I'm not going to write about it - I SCULPT about it! That's right, go to Paris where I'm a famous artist and you'll find entire museums full of my sculptures of junkies, drunks, and perverts inspired by characters from books like "Tropic Of Cancer", On The Road", and "Junkie" carved entirely out of copies of "Tropic Of Cancer", "On The Road", and "Junkie".
I'd always been under the impression that Stephen King was one of those doofus hacks like Tom Clancy and John Grisham. You know why when you buy a book by Clancy or Grisham at the bookstore they put 'em in a plastic bag? Because those guys can't write their way out of a paper bag! Ha ha ha! Eh, I'm just jealous cause I can't write my way into a plastic bag. But after years of looking down my nose at Stephen King (The day he got hit by a van and nearly died I wasn't there to yell "Look out!!" because I had a runny nose and he was tired of me dripping on his head) I was so surprised at how really good he is that I am considering giving Dean Koontz a try. Not really, I only mention Koontz so all you guys who've never heard of him can have fun making dirty jokes out of his name.
I was turned on to King by my teenage nephews Gus and Sam. All we hear about teenagers these days is how they don't do nothing but watch TV, play video games, listen to CDs, piddle around on the internet - Not only are Gus and Sam always doing that stuff but they're READING BOOKS, too! Damn! TV, videogames, CDs, the internet, AND BOOKS! How do they have time for all that? Oh, they don't have to work - I forgot. Goddamn punks. So, anyway, every time I drive over to visit those palookas I leave with more books in the back of my car than in the entire Asbury Park, New Jersey Public Library. All I ever heard from those guys was "Uncle John, you ever read 'Pet Semetary'? Or 'Carrie'? You ever read 'The Shining'?". So I borrowed those books and enjoyed reading them so much that all I ever hear from those guys now is "Uncle John, you still got my copy of 'Pet Semetary'? Or 'Carrie'? You ever gonna return 'The Shining'?" And, as a forty three year old adult, it is my responsibility to reciprocate by introducing them to the intellectual pleasures a gentleman of my advanced status in society enjoys, such as "Big Ass Comics", The Darkness, and "Bubba Ho Tep". Man, these guys are such connoisseurs of sophisticated entertainment that after I showed 'em a DVD of "House Of One Thousand Corpses" they were careful to go on a church camping trip the next weekend I came to visit. Stupid punks.
I'd read some King stuff before - I AM The Professor, after all (That's what the little black kids in New Orleans used to call me when I'd go into their neighborhood for pot - "The Professuh! The Professuh go' buy some WEED!"). When the ABC mini series of "The Stand" aired about ten years ago I was so freaked out from quitting booze and drugs, giving up on stand up comedy, and breaking up with my girlfriend that a show where practically everybody in the world died had such an irresistible allure that I got into "The Stand" almost as much as I got into "The Chevy Chase Show" on Fox. Read the book and was totally into it while everybody was dying, but once people stopped dying and started having dreams about a little old black lady singing "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" . . . Man, I was already having dreams like that when I was the only person in the world that was dying - Me and Chevy Chase, I mean. "The Stand" is a very good book, but The End Of The World should be THE END OF THE WORLD - All that stuff about all the "Good" people starting a new nation in Colorado and all the "Bad" people starting one in Las Vegas is just too Red State-Blue State for me. Let's just be grateful that King didn't have all the "Good" people move to Branson, Missouri.
The first book that had me thinking this Stephen King character might be spared the guillotine once I finally become Absolute Ruler Of This Once Proud Nation was "Carrie". Not only does our gal Carrie unleash ONE HELL of a lot more destruction on this cruel world than in the movie, but the book also features bits and pieces of government documentation giving an unsettling glimpse of the impact Carrie's rampage had on the world at large. Once Carrie White uses her powers to make the world pay for being so mean to her hi jacked airliners crashing into the World Trade Center ain't enough to freak out nobody! Hhhhmmm . . . Did all those people who were so blase about the 9-11 attack read "Carrie" when it first came out years and years ago? No wonder it's so hard to find in all the stores!
So then I read "Salem's Lot", "The Shining", "Pet Semetary", "Misery" - All the books that everybody says are so great and, after I got over the shock of finding for the very first time in my life everybody knew what the hell they were talking about, I came across a copy of "Firestarter" and thought "Now, this is gonna be a piece of shit, for sure!" I mean, crap - Remember how lousy that movie was? Those idiots were so dumb they just up and shot that movie all at once without waiting eight or nine years to make putting Drew Barrymore in a movie worthwhile. Remember how fine she was in "Poison Ivy"? That scene where she was wearing a black leather jacket and the other girl's skirt and, when the other girl got on her case over the skirt, Drew just TOOK IT OFF and threw it at her and walked off? Oh, God - I need to lay down. Just think how fucking hot that would have been if she had taken the skirt off and threw it at her and GREAT BALLS OF FIRE shot out of her head and that that other dumb girl got all burned up? Not THAT woulda been a movie! But Drew Barrymore in "Firestarter"? Hey, I'm no pervert! Uh . . . Did Salma Hayek make any movies when she was as young as Drew Barrymore in "Firestarter"? I'd pay to see that.
But then I read "Firestarter" and encountered the kind of stomach churning unspeakable horror that can only be equaled by turning on your TV and seeing that M'onique bitch on the screen! Mon Dieu!! I couldn't believe it! So then I read "Cujo" - You ever see that movie? Sheesh! That book just had to stink, right? Right? I loved it so much I went to the pet shop and got a rabid two hundred pound St. Bernard as a birthday present for my three year old niece. Let it into her bedroom window at three o'clock in the morning as a surprise. Then - "Christine", a book about a haunted car! A BOOK ABOUT A HAUNTED CAR!! Garbage, right? What do you mean "Right"? You calling "Christine" garbage? I'll kick your ass! She is so great. Yeah, I call "Christine" "she". Cause I love her. All my friends are worried about me. They say that ever since I found "Christine" in the used book place I've changed. She's changed, too. At first she was a torn up stained old paperback with yellow pages and the cover ripped off but after all the time I've spent reading her "Christine" is a leather bound hand printed personally autographed collector's edition. My best buddy Dennis says I have to stop reading her all the time. Well, I'll show him! (Later that night John's hardcover edition of "Christine" fell off of the shelf and hit Dennis on the head, killing him instantly).
A recurring element of King's writing is someone getting stuck in a horrible situation over which they have no control and must escape before they overwhelmed. Or, as the cucumbers would say "In a pickle". In "Misery" a famous writer is crippled and held captive by a deranged fan, in "Gerald's Game" a woman is handcuffed naked to a bedpost by her husband who drops dead so a wild dog can come in and eat him right in front of her, in "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon" a little girl is lost in the woods and it's a whole lot better than it has any business being just because Stephen King wrote it. Here King demonstrates the influence of one of his favorite writers Richard Matheson, who wrote "The Shrinking Man" (About a man who shrinks) and "I Am Legend" (About a man who am legend) - Stories in which a character is left alone and powerless but triumphs by overcoming his fears and concentrating on survival. Like THAT could ever happen in real life! This is the inspiring message for all of us in Stephen King's work - No matter how awful things may seem, as long as you keep your cool and never give up, everything will work out in the end. Yeah, try telling the black guy in "Night Of The Living Dead" that, Little Mister Sunshine Homo!
After all these years, to wake up and find myself a Stephen King fan! What's going to happen to me next? Some guy's gonna give me a Fleetwood Mac Greatest Hits CD, tell me "Check this out, man! Fleetwood Mac is the BEST!!", and I'm going to spend 2005 going around singing "Don't stop thinkin' about tomorrow! Don't stop whatever the words to this stupid song are! It'll be better than before! What a dumb song! What a dumb song! Ooooh!" Not just a Stephen King admirer, but a FAN! If I was walking down the street twenty years ago and I saw Stephen King I woulda went over and said "Hey, goober!" Actually I was so drunk all the time twenty years ago if I saw Stephen King I would have just gone over and thrown up on him just like I threw up on everybody I tried to talk to in those days. No wonder none of those job interviews went anywhere. But now? I'm so dorked out over Stephen King these days that if I saw him I'd run all up to him like "Oh, gee! Gosh! Golly! I'm your biggest fan! Will you autograph this new bag of tube socks I just bought at Wal Mart? I got a copy of 'Salem's Lot' in my car! Will you still be here if I go get it and come back? Hey, where you going! Hey! Oh! Oh, I get the picture! Mister Hollywood Big Shot is too busy hanging out with Stanley Kubrick and Emilio Estevez to talk to a regular guy! Well, just for that . . . Hey! Look out for that van! Wow! Just like in 'Maximum Overdrive'!"
Or maybe he'll turn out to be such a nice guy that we'll become really good buddies and one day we will be so close I can ask him exactly what the hell that stupid "Langoliers" thing on ABC was supposed to be?
"You know what I'm talking about, Stephen. It was on ABC with Bronson Pinchot."
"Bronson Pinchot!? I never did nothing with Bronson Pinchot!"
"You did! You did! You did did did!"
"You must be thinking of Clive Barker."
"Don't you trying to blame your bullshit on Clive Barker! Clive Barker never had no movies on ABC! Maybe on Bravo, but not ABC."
"Heh heh heh, Bravo!"
"Yeah, that was pretty good."
"You wise ass!"
John Saleeby wrote for The National Lampoon while he was in high school, was a stand up comic in New York, and has contributed to the net humor zines Schmuck.com, Campaign Central, and the legendary American Jerk. He's on medication now so he's probably a little nicer than he was when you met him earlier.
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