For my last dispatch from the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, I’m going to focus on Sunday’s much-anticipated panel discussion with James Ellroy, which was entitled “James Ellroy with an Introduction by Patt Morrison” (italics mine).
Patt Morrison is with the L.A. Times and the session was appropriately advertised, because there was no give and take, no highbrow exchange of nuanced ideas about literature, no questions about whether Mr. Ellroy outlined his books or where he got his ideas. There was only the raging storm that is Ellroy himself. Ms. Morrison did little more than stand up, utter “Look out--incoming,” and then clear the deck for the “Demon Dog of American crime fiction.”
It was wild. So wild, in fact, that it may not be possible to convey the essence in a simple blog post. But I will do my best ...
Ellroy took the stage bedecked in seersucker suit, bow tie, and a straw hat, looking not unlike a country preacher--if country preachers are now in the habit of starting their sermons by simulating masturbation: not the small wrist-wiggling gesture some people use to signal that you are wasting their time, but a salacious pantomime with wagging hip thrusts and majestic, arcing strokes.
What followed next, in its warped way, did have all the elements of a tent revival meeting. Ellroy started by putting the sinners in their place, addressing us as “peepers, prowlers, pederasts, panty-sniffers, punks, and pimps.” He introduced his divinity system: a trinity made up of himself, Johannes Gutenberg, and the “mother-f**king sacred colophon of the Borzoi,” a reference to the emblem used by Ellroy’s publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, for its Borzoi imprint.
We were told a nativity story, specifically how a star shown over a Los Angeles hospital on March 4, 1948, and the Borzoi “bopped” over to the infant James’ bed to witness the birth of the savior of publishing. (Prior to that time, Ellroy explained, the Borzoi had amused himself “banging beaucoup bitches.”)
We learned how the savior grew up (doing drugs and peeping in the windows of rooms occupied by teenage girls) and how he wandered in the wilderness--publishing novels and short stories with other houses--until finally he signed a contract with Knopf and was reunited with the Borzoi.
We learned about the latest sacred text--planned for release on September 22: Blood’s a Rover, “the greatest novel since the Holy Bible,” chronicling the years 1968 to 1972 and featuring real-life characters such as “Howard ‘Dracula’ Hughes, Gay Edgar Hoover, and Tricky Dick Nixon,” as well as troubling events in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
We were then told it was our duty to purchase this sacred text, because God has informed Ellroy that only he and Blood’s a Rover can save publishing from the evil influences of the World Wide Web and the world’s currently soured economy.
And finally, we were offered the path to salvation. If we bought 1,000 copies of Ellroy’s forthcoming book, we would be able to have sex every night with whomever we wanted. If we bought 2,000 copies, we could have sex every night with whomever we wanted and go to heaven. There was also an offer for 3,000 copies. I can’t remember what the additional inducements were, but I’m sure they were good.
After the sermon was over, Ellroy offered to field questions. It was clear that most audience members were too shell-shocked to volunteer anything, but a few brave souls did venture forth to the microphones set up in the aisles. From his responses to queries, we learned that Ellroy doesn’t have a TV, a cell phone, or a computer; that he doesn’t read anyone else’s work except when he “rolls over” and does a blurb at the request of Knopf; and that he spends most of his time “sitting in the dark talking to women who aren’t there.”
What does he think about movies? They are a “desiccated, mongrel art form propagated by people who can’t read,” Ellroy insisted. And don’t even get him started on the Internet. I don’t remember everything he said about users of the Internet, but I do remember that they are “under-hung, fatuous, and obese.”
What does he like? One word: Beethoven.
In response to a question from an audience member about a debating contest with other artists, he said that no one could touch him--not even Frank Sinatra. Then he closed by singing a parody of “Summer Wind” that involved strategic injection of words such as “schlong” and “gland” into Johnny Mercer’s lyrics.
Ellroy then enjoined the audience to come with him to the signing booth and buy books, and exited the stage.
Here endeth the lesson--and my posts from this year’s Festival of Books. Thanks for reading.
The “Demon Dog” has his say
READ MORE: “L.A. Times Festival of Books 2009, Day Two,” by Jeri Westerson (Getting Medieval); “City of Angels, City of Books,” by Kelli Stanley (Writing in the Dark); “Book Fest, the Sequel,” by Lee Goldberg (A Writer’s Life).