Artist Wardrobe

Photography and Image

Lewis Mason in Greenwich Village

Lewis Mason in Greenwich Village

Jack Kerouac sat down and wrote The Subterraneans in three days, hopped up on coffee and Dexedrine, not stopping to lift his fingers off the typewriter, pounding the keys at sixty words a minute, and telling the world all about his crazy relationship with a black girl named Mardou Fox . . . and his friends Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Neal Cassady and omitting commas like crazy so that he could get the words down and not pause to create any typographical effects instead creating all the effects he needed with the words themselves and the way he had the people talking and interacting and living their lives. You know if you know anything about him that Kerouac created and lived in a world that was fresh and vibrant and in high definition like a sharp image that burns through time and comes down to us fresh and pristine and the beauty of it is that although his time has come and gone the way he lived is still available to us and can be recaptured and is being recaptured by a new group of young people in Greenwich Village even today . . . and for what it’s worth I’m going to give you some photos of them so that you can catch up on what’s happening and get inspired to maybe get behind the lens of a camera and create your own 1960s images in black and white, which is what Kerouac and friends did with their lives, creating an image of the Beat generation that has captivated the interest of people the world over.

Here for example is a photo of one of these young people who can be found in the Village at all hours of the day and night in coffeehouses and cafes and pizza places and open mic clubs like The Bitter End and Cafe Wha? and others in the West Village. This is Lewis Mason, an up-and-coming actor and singer/songwriter who is currently enrolled in the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York City and who associates with the habitués of theaters and clubs, creating work on the run and honing his writing skills and reading books and poems and plays in a way that most of his generation do not do today. The unfortunate state of affairs in the year 2015 is that there has been such a sharp decline in the reading of literature. The NEA recently issued a dire report on the sad state of American reading, Reading at Risk (2004), which explains that not only is book reading on the decline but the drop in reading is accelerating.

Lewis Mason at the Bitter End

Lew outside the Bitter End

Why get worked up over the decline in the reading of literature? Because if you’re a young person in America today they’re writing books about you (!) and speaking in unflattering terms about the dumbing down of the current crop of college and high school students, recent grads, working people, and almost everyone else. There’s a book that you have to read entitled The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30) by Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University, and the reason the subtitle says “don’t trust anyone under thirty” is obviously because they don’t read and they don’t know the history of the culture they find themselves in, they have close to zero cultural literacy, and they lack a common understanding of their own culture. It’s a crying shame and it’s enough to make you want to tell your friends and family to click off the TV and the computer and the tablets and the cell phones and open a book, for heaven’s sake, read something and don’t just text your life away or fritter away your time with so-called social media, all of which, Bauerlein persuasively argues, is sapping the culture out of you like a vampire draining a corpse. E.D. Hirsch had a similar criticism of the vacuity of his students and actually wrote a book, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know (1988) listing, like a dictionary, all the things they did not know.

Lewis Mason at The Bitter End looking up

Lewis Mason

Anyway, the key point is that if you want to preserve your intelligence and integrity as a member of contemporary culture—with a link to it’s deep core and roots—then you owe it to yourself to develop an understanding of that culture’s literature, specifically, novels, poems and plays, and start reading books. People who do that, according the the NEA study, are also more likely to attend arts events, go to the theater, visit museums, and become engaged with their community on a political level. Good photography is another way for you to participate. You could take photos or have them taken of you. Whichever you do, you’re likely to experience a boost in your self-image and become part of the artistic culture that is flourishing again in the Village. I encourage you to let people photograph you and to contact a professional photographer to help get your image on the move again. While you’re at it, stop in at a few of the bookstores in the Village. Lewis Mason even works at one, called bookbook, on Bleecker Street. Go in and buy a book and support the few bookstores that are left in this city.

Lewis Mason door NYC

Lew on 5th Ave.

By the way, The Subterraneans is a superlative novel, short and full of interesting observations, despite how fast it was written. Yes, Truman Capote famously said of Kerouac’s method of not editing his first drafts, “That’s not writing, that’s typing,” but the book still comes close to D.H. Lawrence in my opinion. And another thing, you might as well know it, John Giorno is still working and writing great poems in the Village. He was an associate of the Beats and was one of them, and has the most amazing delivery of poetry. I love his poem “Just Say No to Family Values.” You can catch him sometimes at the Bowery Poetry Club, which has devolved into a burlesque joint but which apparently metamorphoses into the old poetry club two nights a week.

Here is a list of books that, in my opinion, you should be reading:

  • Dynamic Speed Reading a nonfiction work by Norman C. Maberly (1966). You can get this book used for one cent on Amazon (plus $3.99 shipping), so you really have no excuse not to read it. It will enable you to absorb useful information like a sponge and you’ll be able to read very fast when you want to. If you’re already read this book, I suggest you reread it. It is one of the most important books you will ever read precisely because it will make you less afraid of reading.
  • The Subterraneans a novel by Jack Kerouac. Written in 1958, it is more modern than your iPhone and very short. Why not read it! Then you can boast to your friends that you’ve read Kerouac. The book dips into the love lives of Kerouac (called Leo Percepied in the novel), Allen Ginsberg (called Adam Moorad in the novel), William S. Burroughs (Frank Carmody in the novel), and more.
  • The Birthday Party, a play by Harold Pinter. The link is to the BBC production, starring the playwright, Harold Pinter. You’re lucky because today many great plays can be seen in their entirety on YouTube, including this one.
  • A Clockwork Orange, a novel by Anthony Burgess (1962). The novel uses a lot of Russian words and is about a violent boy who loves Beethoven.
  • Any book by Wilhelm Reich. Not to have read this man is to miss a liberating intellectual and emotional experience.
  • Any book by Friedrich Nietzsche. The writing is breathtaking, the ideas as well. You might start with Ecce Homo, his hilariously funny autobiography, which contains chapters entitled, “Why I Am So Wise,” “Why I Write Such Excellent Books,” and the like. The link is to the book online. Even if you don’t want to read it, why not at least click on the link and look at his writing style. This man, who has a reputation as one of the greatest philosophers of all time, is not difficult to read. On the contrary, he writes more clearly and with more excitement line by line than anything being published today.
  • The Armies of the Night a nonfiction novel by Norman Mailer (1968). A beautiful account of his antiwar efforts, the first part of the book is the best.
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972) by Hunter S. Thompson, which is a comic novel about a journalist who covers a police narcotics convention while high on every imaginable drug. This is an example of gonzo journalism, in which the author stretches the truth for comic effect.

There are more books that I’ll add to the list at a later time, but this is a good start.

(Photos by William Cane)

E.E. “Doc” Smith – Artist Wardrobe

E.E. "Doc" Smith in a plaid shirt

Fig. 1. E.E. “Doc” Smith in a plaid shirt

E. E. “Doc” Smith is one of my favorite science fiction writers. I began indulging in the thought-provoking pleasures of reading his books in high school when I noticed one of my classmates hiding Children of the Lens inside a history textbook. He was reading it in class. This author must be good, I thought! O how right I was! Once I dipped into Triplanetary — the first in the Lensman series — I was hooked.

Smith was a terribly intellectual guy, with a Ph.D. in chemistry. He also happened to be an expert in—of all things—donuts and wheat-based foods. Whether he consumed a lot of wheat (which can influence the mind like a narcotic, according to William Davis, M.D.) is unknown. But what I’d like to talk about today is a topic that has been neglected in the review of the man and his work, namely, the wardrobe he affected.

It is my contention, which I intend to prove in the next few paragraphs, that Smith was hampered in his career by the way he dressed, and that if he had chosen his attire and hairstyle with more care he might have made a bigger splash in the literary world.

The first book series he tackled was the Skylark quartet. One of the most exciting incidents in the initial book, The Skylark of Space, occurs when Marc DuQuesne kidnaps the beautiful Dorothy Vaneman and accidentally blasts off at faster-than-light speed in a rocket whose propulsion system was designed by his rival, Dick Seaton.

E. E.

Fig. 2. Smith in plaid shirt

Smith was good at writing about space travel and machines. Less sure of himself when it came to human interactions, especially love scenes, he didn’t even include any in the book. In fact, after the manuscript was rejected by numerous publishers, he turned to his neighbor, Mrs. Lee Hawkins Garby. “Can you help me by writing some boy-girl scenes for the book?” he asked. Before long she had done so, and he inserted the material where necessary and sent the book out again. The manuscript was still rejected.

For some time it languished on the shelf in Smith’s office. Then one day he went for a walk to pick up a newspaper. On the newsstand was a new pulp magazine with a fantastic looking cover featuring UFOs and aliens. Emblazoned across the cover was the title Amazing Stories. Not one to pass up an opportunity, Smith promptly sent out the manuscript to the magazine’s editor and it was accepted at once. It appeared in the magazine in 1928. The rest, as they say, is history.

The readers ate up Smith’s words and demanded more. Who was this scientific prodigy with the imagination of a Dumas? Where had he come from? What was he writing next? They clamored for more, and Smith was urged by his editor to produce more of the same.

Happy to comply, Smith got to work on a sequel, Skylark Three, followed shortly thereafter by Skylark of Valeron and Skylark DuQuesne. The author of the first book was listed as Smith and Garby. But in the sequels, Smith wrote the love scenes himself. Most people say he did a pretty good job at it, too. I guess he learned a few things about romance writing from Mrs. Garby. In fact, there is actually quite a bit of romance in Smith’s later books, especially in the Lensman series and in the standalone novel Spacehounds of IPC.

SMITH’S PLAID SHIRTS

In these early days, Smith was not particulary concerned about his wardrobe. He can be seen in various photos from this time wearing plaid shirts (Fig. 1 and 2). In these shirts Smith looks more like a plumber than a Ph.D. In one photograph (Fig. 1.) his wife is sitting in the background, while Smith talks with some friends. Even his wife was unable to get her husband to change his ways. Either she didn’t see the risk of dressing like a failure, or she didn’t know better. Evidently she had no effect on the man, for he continued with this ineffective garb for many years.

Not long after this, Smith can be seen wearing his favorite style, a plaid shirt, underneath the conservative pinstripe jacket of a suit (Fig. 2). His shirt is open at the neck and the collar is spread in a gauche manner over the lapels of the jacket. Instead of a scientist and successful author, he looks like a homeless loafer. The saddest part of this story is that the look on Smith’s face is one of wry humor, as if he is proud of himself and the look he is sporting. But how could a man be proud of such a wardrobe mistake? There is only one way this is possible, and that is if the man has no idea he is making himself look ridiculous.

As he got older, Smith would sometimes wear a white shirt and a tie with dark suits in an attempt to look more businesslike and professional. But even in doing this he made serious wardrobe errors. His ties were never conservative and appropriate, instead they displayed bizarre patterns, not unlike huge slices of macaroni and cheese on toast. The look is totally appalling.

E. E.

Fig. 3. Smith in traditional suit.

Eventually the world started to begrudgingly take notice of Smith. Not for his sartorial splendor, but for his novels. He slowly developed a reputation in the science fiction community and he found himself being invited to book conventions and speaking engagements. At these affairs he often reverted to his plaid shirt, or worse. In one of the conventions he can be seen wearing a plasticine jacket and a bomber helmet with goggles. His eyeglasses are nowhere to be seen and the seriously myopic Smith looks blind. In his hand is a ray gun, connected by a wire to a power pack on his belt.

Yes, it’s true that Smith was only playing by wearing this costume. But by comparison other people at the convention look totally normal. A man in a plaid shirt behind Smith looks like he’s from the planet Earth, whereas Smith, by comparison, looks like he’s a visitor from another world. Another man behind Smith is dressed in a dark, conservative suit. It’s no exaggeration to say that Smith probably made a fool of himself at this convention.

Was there any need for him to dress up like a clown and make people laugh at him? None whatsoever. Not only were people laughing at him at the time, they’re still scratching their heads and wondering why he did such silly things that actually hurt more than helped his reputation.

SMITH’S WARDROBE

Smith’s poor wardrobe choices certainly hurt him as an artist. It is clear that he never developed a look at was all his own. Even the plaid shirts were not worn with consistency, and mixing them with suits on occasion only served to make him look like a man from the wrong side of the tracks.

In later years he calmed down a bit and started to try to look serious with his dark suits, but even that did not work. Not only did he wear the wrong kinds of ties, he also discarded this conservative look and appeared garbed as a space man at conventions, complete with fighter cap, goggles, and ray gun. You can see him as C.L. Moore’s interplanetary ace, Northwest Smith, at Worldcon 1962 (Fig. 4).

Even if a reporter happened to like Smith and his work, there was no consistent message that one could see being delivered to the media the way, for instance, Tom Wolfe or Truman Capote delivered a consistent image of themselves to the press by wearing an outfit that was distinctly theirs. Smith’s lumberjack shirts did not say “Smith” the way Wolfe’s white suits said “Tom Wolfe” because Smith did not wear the shirts consistently. And, of course, mixing them with conservative suit jackets did nothing to help his cause.

HOW AN IMAGE CONSULTANT COULD HAVE HELPED SMITH

Doc Smith as C.I. Moore's interplanetary hotshot, Northwest Smith, at Worldcon 1962.

Fig. 4. Smith as C.L. Moore’s interplanetary hotshot, Northwest Smith, at Worldcon 1962.

There is no question that Smith could have been well served by the help an image consultant could have provided. If only to tell him to straighten out his act with those shirts, it would have been a good thing for his career. Someone had to tell him, but his wife wasn’t up to the job. Nor did his friends or editors have the savvy — or the nerve —  to speak to the madcap author about his careless attire. As a result, the man went around, as if in a daze, trying first one bizarre look, then another. By the time he had reached his late 60s and early 70s his mind was so focused on the task of being casual and silly that he seemed to give up thinking rationally about his appearance. He traipsed around town in the plasticine spaceman outfit, and things went steadily downhill from there.

An image consultant would have started with his wardrobe. This would naturally be the obvious place to begin to make improvements for the man. As a writer, you want to define yourself in two ways. First, you need to remove any hint of the ludicrous or ridiculous from your image. This means the plaid shirt would have had to go. Then you want to make sure your client never appears dressed as a spaceman, unless he is being paid a huge sum of money to do so. It’s tantamount to showing up in a Mickey Mouse costume, for heaven’s sake! Smith wasn’t compensated for wearing the funny outfit, and his image consultant should have warned him to stay away from such childish games.

Smith wearing loose necktie

Fig. 5. Smith wearing loose necktie

It is easy to see how an image consultant could also have helped him with his hairstyle. The man slicked his hair back with pomade and made it look like he had just emerged from a wind tunnel (Fig. 3). This is the look of a businessman, such as George Steinbrenner, not the look of a creative genius. One suggestion, among many possibilities, that Smith could have tried would have been to brush his hair straight back — and up, in the style of Wilhelm Reich. As it is, Smith had more the appearance of the banker rather than the creative artist (Fig. 4).

Another problem that Smith suffered from, and one that plagues many creative people who can’t afford to hire an image consultant, was the issue of the improperly tied necktie. You can see that he often wore a tie, but he rarely tied it correctly. It was either too loose at the neck (Fig. 5) or too gaudy (Fig. 3). A man’s number one status symbol is his tie, and to let it become loose at the neck is a sign of haste and thoughtlessness. We’re not talking about the loosened tie, the tie that is purposefully loosened to give the air of nonchalance so popular with the younger crowd. Instead, we’re talking about a tie that the wearer attempted to tie but failed to get tight up to the neck. This should always be checked in a mirror before leaving the house in the morning, and then once again when you arrive at the office. You might even want to carry around a small mirror so you can check this detail just before meeting someone for an interview.

You may wonder whether Smith even knew what he was missing. Yes, he achieved a measure of success in the science-fiction community, but like H.G. Wells he could have gone on to be considered a mainstream writer — if only he had made more connections with influential critics and with the newspaper reviewers who could have helped propel his books to the forefront instead of the the backlist.