Writer’s World Episode #125: The Sacred Stage

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Devoted King Crimson fans may appreciate the details of the above photograph from Tony Levin’s long-running “Website and Road Diary” https://tonylevin.com/. I was at this show in 2019, part of Crim’s 50th anniversary tour, way back when folks were permitted to commingle like human beings and worship at their choice of rock music temples. Identify the city (it’s easy) and win a Time Crime audiobook giveaway code!

Robert Fripp himself refers to the stage as a sacred place. And I came up with the term Sacred Stage which seems either like a catchy name for a band or perhaps the title of a book on comparative mythology or mythography. Instead of The World as Personal and Cultural Mythology, for instance. My magnum opus. Perhaps I could combine the two titles: The Sacred Stage: The World as Personal & Cultural Mythology.

I like it. I don’t know why, exactly (always a good thing) except that it’s suitably evocative and mysterious. It’s compelling in all things mythological. Because myth if nothing else has to do with the sacred and the expression of it.

Sacred? I could declare my coffee cup to be sacred and mean it. I could encounter a profound silence in the woods and regard it as sacred. I could observe religious praxis or ritual of any particular type and be moved or stirred to respect its sacredness, regardless of the nature of my faith.

I’ll begin with my definition of sacred and then I’ll look it up (it’s not uncommon for me to come across a word and have my intuitive definition actually be its antonym. Which is a weird thing in itself, to be 180 degrees, as it were, turned around from the thing.

Sacred. 1. Implying or demonstrating spiritual significance. 2. Symbolic and evocative of the quality of transcendence. 3. Unassailably, unimpeachably resonant in personal or cultural terms; guiltless, faultless. 4. Divine.

Now, the dictionary version: Holy. Blessed. Consecrated. Hallowed. Revered. Sanctified. Sacrosanct. Secular (Antonym).

Hmm, I like all words in the professional version. Then again, I like mine, too. In terms of an antonym I’d mimic Eliade: “profane.” Also, I could have included perhaps the idea of mythic or mythological import; of an Earthbound thing’s intangibly yet forcibly amplified super natural or otherworldly aspect. Fripp:

A supportive, generous audience with one significant exception: a character who approached the stage, during The LCG’s first block of pieces, and put his stuff on the stage. I was standing offstage right, and it looked as if he might be an official photographer/critic of the arrogant kind. The act of music is always sacred, and the performance space (specifically, the stage) is also sacred. So, for a character to walk up & dump his stuff on it, as if it were a table, is sacrilegious. Even for a pillock of exceptional dopiness, this is rude.[1]

It turns out the man in fact had recording equipment amongst his paraphernalia and when his  stuff was removed from the stage and handed back to him he was indignant. “If you can record so can I!”

I’m not a musician, I’ve never been on a stage outside of an elementary school play or chorus (I can’t sing), yet I understand the implication. I’ve never even considered attempting to surreptitiously bootleg a concert. That is to say, I’ve always intuitively considered the concert stage in the context of being a member of the audience as categorically off limits. Though I admit to being entertained by the handful of intrepid or intoxicated folks who haul themselves up onto to it only to be summarily tossed back or led away by security. Hey, what’s rock n’ roll without a regular dose of subversion even against itself? But until now I’d never considered a stage as sacred. Part of the ritual of a rock concert, yes. Sacred, no.

Fripp’s antagonisms towards the antagonists in his audience is legendary and mostly humorous but sometimes it reveals, I think, the truth of the man’s creative authenticity and something of his personal mythology. That is, when he refers to something like a concert stage as sacred, he means it.

I follow Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files https://www.theredhandfiles.com/, a blog of sorts where he answers questions posted to him and I was inspired to submit another one:

I’m again referencing mythology, the sheltering sky of all things contemplative and spiritual, and picking at yours because, again, I think you are advancing it via your work, like it or not. Meanwhile, some folks – Robert Fripp, for example (whom I realize contributed a guitar solo to a Grinderman flip side), have referred to the stage as sacred and anything affronting it, like an audience member once setting his stuff on the edge of it during a performance – as indeed sacrilegious. How do you interpret or otherwise experience the stage?

News flash! – an audiobook sale on Chirp yesterday, yay! Thank you, dear new listener. I’ve been struggling against the lag in sales despite less than two weeks having passed since the last couple. Somehow it’s simply impossible to endure the possibility of never selling another book and for whatever reason I remain cursed with the sense that I’ve yet to get over the hump of credibility and legitimacy as an authorpreneur and that it’ll all come to ignominious end and… what? Of course at this point it has nothing to do with money, either the spending or the making of it. It’s simply that I’m all in and I’m at the mercy of fate. Inasmuch that my marketing efforts can only do so much. The rest is up to good reviews, word of mouth and somehow, someday getting the novel into the hands of an influencer. My Chirp promotion sale translates to a whopping royalty of $0.90. But a sale, any sale at any price, empowers the dream and fuels the TC2 editing engines. We require so very little.

This after being nagged by a recruiter with a job with PPG (the automotive paint supplier) in Flat Rock, Michigan. It sounds like a lab job and I’ve worked in a lab. Ugh. Labs require all kinds of technical acumen, they seek education and experience and they don’t fucking pay. This job? I don’t even care what it pays I’m not driving to Flat Rock every fucking day and dumping my dreams for a slog at an automobile plant. Or wherever, who knows? – I don’t pay attention any longer to that career I left behind. Well, to be honest I experienced a twinge of interest. Maybe I could still do that kind of thing, I thought. Maybe I ought to just chuck all this miserable writing shit, go for this job and work at working my life out again, collecting a decent full time paycheck at some plant, lab, facility, yadda f*cking blah. And then I deleted the email.

Didn’t I just reiterate in my previous blog that after decades of struggle, decades of wandering the wasteland and failing over and over again at the conventional life I’d finally surrendered to my life’s work, come what may? Yes. And there I was pondering, yet again, the possibility of me somehow getting on the main deck of life and… what? – working another ten years for the man if they’d let me? As if I’d last ten months. I’m insane in this way, of course – crazy is doing the same thing and expecting a different result – always with the door unlocked to my inauthentic workaday life even though I’m committed to having closed it.

I suppose it’s what I’m seeking, then, when I’m seeking book sales. Thirty-nine or seventy or eighty sales a day means I’ve forded the river, crossed the unknown sea, achieved the yonder shore. But who sells that many books in a year? And who keeps it up year after year? Statistically, nobody. So be it. I’ve chosen the writing life or it has chosen me – it chose me when I was just a kid, the tale is in previous volumes of the DOP for anyone to read someday when I manage to publish it all or post it or what have you. Perhaps it will be nonfiction that carries the day in terms of my oeuvre and legacy. What oeuvre? What legacy? Hey, the vision will come to pass but only if I managed to hold to it. And let it go at the same time, of course. I have learned that whatever I do or don’t do, whatever happens or doesn’t, it’s too late to stop now: I need to run this thing out to the end, to the vanishing point if there is one and meanwhile try to enjoy something about the roller coaster ride. Right. And then my twenty-four hours of sales bliss will play out and I’ll be back to chewing glass and pacing the cage. So be it.

Now a key aspect of being indie is that TC1 cannot be remaindered and my unsold copies pulped as would already have been the case with a trad publisher had I ever been cursed with having that misguided wish come true. No. Time Crime will be available on the market as long as I’m willing to keep it there. And market it. Hence keep it in the public eye, hence viable. It’s true that at the end of January next year it will be a year old in publication terms and then perhaps be old news to some but frankly I don’t see the publication date of novels being anywhere near as important to readers as it is to the old guard publishers and of course the old guard publications that review only the latest books. In other words, since TC1 has never catered to trends (I wouldn’t know how to) nor benefitted at all from any new release buzz it won’t suffer from the passing of time any more than the novel is suffering from semi-obscurity now. I hereby declare its immunity to that. I can sell at least a copy a month forever and when I manage to get it all out as a tetralogy then, well, I can die having done it and the film franchise can further immortalize it and so on. Legacy established, mission complete.

Such is the stretch goal. Meanwhile, keeping track of sales outside of Amazon is only tricky, I suppose, if I don’t bother to keep a spreadsheet or something. Which I’ll have to do if I manage any real quantity. As it stands, with the exception of the seven or eight freebie “sales” on Bookfunnel (I’m not inclined to track freebies and giveaways because I only do them in the off-chance a reader will review the novel) I’ve so far sold exactly two copies outside of Amazon: the Barnes & Noble hard cover my editor bought and now this Chirp audiobook sale. Which is crazy, especially since the audiobook if nothing else is deeply discounted on my Authors Direct storefront. But nobody cares, clearly.

I’d have to go through my Amazon royalty statements to verify print, eBook and audiobook combined sales but I think it’s past the fifty copies milestone. It’s weird, then, to be committed to going wide, as they say (not exclusive to Amazon) when the facts reveal that, at least statistically, nobody buys books outside of Amazon. The idea, of course, is to eventually build an author platform that generates significant sales across the numerous alternative retail outlets, so that publishing wide pays off. That, and there’s always the possibility that my Amazon KDP presence somehow becomes jeopardized – stranger things have happened than giant corporations going out of business or getting sold or divvied up and having entire databases rendered obsolete. For now, Amazon is king. But hat’s off to Chirp for getting in the game!

[1] Robert Fripp, Robert Fripp’s Diary, June 24, 2006, https://www.dgmlive.com/diaries/Robert%20Fripp/rf-diary-june24-2006.