Mailer

New today that one of the best known novelist of the last half century, Norman Mailer, has died. In truth I’ve never been quite sure what to think of Norman – the Naked and the Dead is a powerful read worthy of space on any reader’s shelves, but a lot of his other work I find uncomfortable. He belongs to the mid-20th century class where writers were almost the rock stars of their day – long before spoiled musicians would get drunk, stoned and into fights Mailer and his ilk were there, living it all. He even head-butted Gore Vidal once (I’m sure there are others who have wanted to). Thinking about it, it is surprising he lived so long, you’d half expect him to self destruct like Brendan Behan. Most modern writers aren’t quite the same – sure many of them enjoy a decent drink (and I’ve been lucky enough to share a few drinks with a handful of them) – but the excesses of the Mailer type writers is something more confined to musicians these days.

I suppose in a way his behaviour wouldn’t have been out of place at one of Byron’s parties a century and a half earlier. As I said, I’ve never been quite sure what to make of Mailer the man – I’m not sure I’d like to have been around him personally and yet at the same time we need colourful characters in literature as elsewhere, acting out what we can’t or won’t do, almost like a catharsis, and we like reading about it, whether it was Byron and Shelley’s antic, Mailer, Werner Herzog or Pete Doherty. Part of us looks on disgusted at their selfish indlulgence and bad behaviour and another envies that they seem to be able to get away with it.

It reminds me a bit of a story I once read of a hotel manager making up the bill for – I could be wrong, my memory is hazy – I think it was the Who or a similar 60s/70s rock band after they did their usual and trashed their rooms. Their tour manager asks why the hotel manager looks so pissed off – after all they will more than pay for the damage. It isn’t that, he answers, do you think when I was at school this is what I dreamt I’d be doing for my life, running a hotel? You guys are living the lifestyle the teenage me wanted to do and will never get, I just get to pick up and tidy after you. Tour manager smiles understandingly, tells the hotel manager, go pick a room and smash the living crap out of it to your heart’s content and stick it on our bill, mate. Rock’n’roll. Mad, bad and dangerous to know. It has a certain allure and you’re often left wondering if they act that way because they are spoiled or if that reckless self-indulgence and belief normal rules don’t apply to them is what made them write great poetry, novels or songs? The medium and artists change with the decades but the song remains the same…