Thursday, July 22, 2010

Celebrity Death Match: Simon verses Elvis

Glancing at my marathon playlist (See The Playlist I Literally Sweated Over), most people can't help but notice that tracks from Paul Simon and Elvis Presley dominatesongs from Elvis, Paul Simon, and Simon & Garfunkel account for 17 of the 98 songs on the playlist, and that total creeps to 20 if you include the three tracks from Harper Simon as Paul Simon tracks which I do. I'm all for letting kids of superstars make their own way in this world, but Harper's voice sounds like such a Paul Simon clone I had to check the liner notes to make sure it wasn't Paul Simon singing.

That means that a little more than 20 percent of the music that will carry me along on race day belongs to one of these two men. Who, then, is the King of the playlist? Who is my Mr. Marathon? Paul Simon gets the advantage in number of tracks, but Elvis is the King of Rock. This was a question that would need further investigation. This was a question that would need a death match!

Round # 1—Volume
Elvis' nine songs pale next to the 11 songs I'm attributing to Paul. Unfair because Paul Simon didn't write any of Harper Simon's songs you say? Elvis didn't write any of the music that made him rich, either (not even the few early hits that were credited to him).

Point goes to Paul Simon.

Round # 2—Longevity of My Obsession
I've been a Paul Simon freak since 1992, and though I liked Elvis fine when he came on the radio, I didn't start obsessing until 2001.

Point goes to Paul Simon.

Round # 3—Muse-like Qualities of the Music
I'll fight anyone who tells me that there's a more poetic songwriter than Paul Simon alive today (and I question the existence of your musical soul if you can listen to the live version of "The Cool, Cool River" without getting goosebumps at the end when he repeats the line: "sometimes even music cannot substitute for tears"), but it was an Elvis song that planted the seeds of the novel I'm revising. Sorry, Paul.

Point goes to Elvis.

Round # 4—Gateway
Whose music is a bigger gateway: Paul Simon introducing the world to African tribal music and the rhythms of South African drumming or Elvis blowing through what until that point had been largely segregated musical styles and introducing the world to rock 'n roll so definitively that even though historians will quibble about what was truly the first rock record, few will mount a real contest to Elvis's King of Rock title? Man. Those VH1 pundits make spinning definitive statements from subjective sociology look sooo easy. I don't want to take the clear point-awarded-to-both cop out, but I will defer to the Boss on this. Bruce Springsteen never got escorted from Paul Simon's door, but he did hop the fence at Graceland and get intercepted as he made a break for Elvis's front door.

Because the Boss is, well, the boss, point goes to Elvis.

Round # 5—First-name fame
Paul Simon tried so hard to get the world to call him Al, and while most people know who Paul Simon is (though a depressingly large percentage of my students do NOT know this name), if my husband said he listened to Paul yesterday, I'd tell him it's always good to listen to his boss. If my husband told me he was listening to Elvis, however, I'd ask him who he was and what has he done with the man I married (not such a fan, that one).

Point goes to Elvis.

Round # 6—Sex Appeal
OK, I guess technically Elvis is the shoe in here. The problem is I was born in 1975 which means I basically only know Elvis in retrospective photos. Yes, teenage Elvis exuded sex on stage, and sure Elvis could wear him some black leather pants, but I've also seen him in photos from the seventies where he was sporting a floppy terrycloth fisherman's cap, about 50 extra pounds, and a goofy George-W-esque expression on his face. And Paul Simon? Um.

A grudging point to Elvis, I guess. Because he was sexy at least once in his life.

Round #7—Songwriting
No surprise here. Paul Simon wrote the vast majority of the music he recorded and Elvis, though a master of the arrangement, did not. Given that I'm a writer running to help writers, it should come as no shock that Paul Simon will get the nod here.

3 points to Paul Simon. Just because.

So there you have it:
Paul Simon: 5 points
Elvis Presley: 4 points.
I think it's fair to say that we've proven in a totally non-biased evaluation that Paul Simon has earned the title of Mr. Marathon.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Grub Tales: Ron MacLean

Ron MacLean is author of the story collection Why the Long Face? (2008) and the novel Blue Winnetka Skies (2004). His fiction has appeared in GQ, Greensboro Review, Fiction International, Night Train, Other Voices and other quarterlies. He is a recipient of the Frederick Exley Award for Short Fiction and a multiple Pushcart Prize nominee. He holds a Doctor of Arts from the University at Albany, SUNY, and has been a proud part of team Grub since 2004.

RUN FOR GRUB: What has Grub Street meant to you?
RON MacLEAN: A writing home; a place to teach at a high level with students who are serious about the craft and colleagues (and students) who challenge and inspire me; a community of friends; an organization I care deeply about giving back to.

RUN FOR GRUB: Can you define your Grub community?
RON MacLEAN: I’ve always looked at Grub Street as – and tried to help make it – a home for writers in the Boston area. So I define my Grub community in light of that. Whoever defines themselves as a writer in the Boston area. Whoever comes to visit is a guest in that home. It’s one of the things I love about Grub as a destination: if you’re there, whether as a student, an instructor, a party-goer, a guest at the Muse, whatever – you’re part of the community. It’s a big, open free-floating network, in the best sense of that word.

RUN FOR GRUB: Grub Street almost closed in 2001, but--thank goodness--it reinvented itself as a nonprofit instead. What would you have lost if Grub had withered away eight years ago?
RON MacLEAN: Half my friends. Most of my moral support. My favorite place to teach. My clubhouse. And one of the few institutions that helps me believe anything is possible.

RUN FOR GRUB: Have you ever complained at a bookstore because the manager wasn’t stocking enough books by Grub Street writers on the shelves?
RON MacLEAN: YES! How did you know?

RUN FOR GRUB: So a little bird tells me you hate running but stand behind marathon crazy. Any shot you’ll consider running with me if I do this again next year?
RON MacLEAN: No, no, and absolutely no. If, however, you want to do a century bike ride, we can talk.

RUN FOR GRUB: I'm sensing some, um, resistance on your part around the whole running thing, though I have to say the idea of a century bike ride has me cocking my head like an intrigued puppy. Especially given that I haven't had so much as a nibble in response to my request for company should I decide to repeat the marathon next year. Alas, Peddle for Prose doesn't have quite the same ring to it as Run for Grub does...

Catherine Elcik is running her first marathon to raise money for a scholarship fund for Grub Street, Inc, an independent writing center in Boston, MA.