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Gary Benchley, Rock Star

The Last Waltz

Some birds, like penguins, can’t fly. Others, like the majestic bald eagle, can. It’s a sentence we never expected to write, but here it is: This is the last column in the chronicles of our favorite wannabe rock star.

It has been a great year and some change, hasn’t it? I moved to New York, was assaulted by a dachshund, was forced into temporary homosexuality by a rent situation, started a band, and recorded an album. Along the way I was able to share my life and times with you, the readers of The Morning News, and in return for my sharing I received many emails telling me that I just wasn’t indie enough, that I deserved all the suffering the world heaped upon me, that my album was sure to suck, and that Schizopolis didn’t really earn its record deal. I treasured every message.


But even the best of times must come to an end, however, and I am sad to report that this will be my last column for The Morning News. But do not despair, because my story isn’t coming to an end. I’m just going to make you pay for it.

This is how it happened. The other day I received an email from a guy named Otto who works for a publishing company. “I’m an editor,” he wrote. “I’d like to take you out to dinner to see if ‘Gary Benchley, Rock Star’ can become a book.”

I wasn’t too sure about that. Schizopolis has an album coming out soon, and the people at Original Syn are hinting that they might send us out on tour when that happens. It would be bad to get distracted right now. Besides, there are too many novels as it is. Books are not like rock, where there is still room to make a difference, to do something new. Pretty much all of the novels have already been written. Still, a free meal is a free meal. I accepted Otto’s invitation to meet up in Williamsburg.

Otto had told me he would be sitting at the bar wearing a blue striped shirt and carrying a black briefcase. We shook hands and a waiter brought us to a table.

“So, Gary,” said Otto, “as you know, I work for Plume, which is part of Penguin—”

That bird don’t fly, I thought.

“—and basically,” he said, “I think you have a novel in you.” For a moment that grossed me out. If I have a novel in me, I want it out of there. It’s probably blocking my colon.

“You know, Otto,” I said, “I don’t know if I want to write a book. I mean, those things I write for The Morning News take like 20 minutes every couple of weeks. And they’re for the web, so it’s not like anyone cares if they suck. But a novel is a lot of work.” I took a sip of beer. “And I’ve got a lot going on. I don’t want to get all tortured-artist and hang out in coffee shops with my laptop trying to finish a draft when I should be working on music.”

“Have you ever thought,” Otto asked me, “that a novel could help you promote your album?”

“Well, I was thinking about that on the L train, actually. But…well, the basic truth, Otto, the sine qua non of the problem is, words are not rock.”

“Hmm,” said Otto.

“When you read a book,” I asked, “do you put it down and cheer for 20 minutes in the hope that the author will come back for an encore? No. You skim the acknowledgments and go to bed.”

“You’re saying,” said Otto, laughing a little, “that no one has ever held up a lighter in the middle of a really beautiful passage of prose.”

“You nutshelled it, bro,” I said. I was glad that Otto understood. Rock has a fundamental truth that prose can never have. A novel might have an unreliable narrator, but music is something you can trust. You can count on the bassline.

Otto thought for a moment and took a sip of his scotch and soda. “What if I gave you a few thousand dollars?” he asked.

“OK,” I said.

 

* * *


I made Otto promise is that I wouldn’t have to do any readings. I’ve seen authors read. I’ve heard more exciting Robert Fripp albums.

“How does the story end?” he asked.

“End?” I asked. I’d never thought of my story ending before. I get married? I blow up the Death Star? Who knows?

“There needs to be some conclusion,” said Otto.

“Well,” I said, “Schizopolis is probably going to get some major label interest, once the album drops. That could be a good way to end it.”

“OK,” he said. “But I’d like to see this in print before 2006.”

“Well,” I said, “We’re going on tour. Probably soon.” (I hoped.) “I mean, I could keep notes on that.”

“A tour is a good way to end the story,” said Otto. “That’ll break things out of New York. Perfect.”

“Right,” I said. “At the end of the book, there’s a successful tour, and we sign to a major label.”

“Sure,” said Otto. “However it works out.”

 

* * *


Then we came to an important question: Should I still keep telling my story online? Otto thought that I should stop, but I didn’t want to leave the Morning News editors out in the cold. What were they going to publish every other Wednesday? Was Robert Birnbaum going to have to start interviewing even more authors, or Kevin Guilfoile going to start writing even more about his book tour? It didn’t seem fair to the audience to let those things happen.

I told Otto I’d have to think about it. He gave me his card and we said goodbye. That night I called Rosecrans and Andrew, the Morning News editors. Rosecrans picked up his cell phone on the fifth ring. He sounded pretty drunk. “I’m at this Dale Peck thing,” he said, whatever that meant. “And Gopnik is crying.” I told him I’d call back later.

Luckily, Andrew was home and sober. “Andrew,” I said, “if I can get a book deal, should I stop telling my story on your website?”

“Oh, Gary,” he said. “You caught me right in the middle of some Dance Dance Revolution. Are you still writing for us?”

“Yes,” I said. “Regularly. For months.”

“Huh,” he said. I heard a woman’s voice yelling Andrew’s name. “I have to go,” he said. “Just do whatever you think is right.”

Soon after, I wrote Otto an email. “All systems go,” it read. “Gary Benchley, Rock Star is now a novel and will no longer be published online.”

“GOOD DEAL,” he wrote back a minute later. “CALL YOU TOMORROW. SENT FROM MY BLACKBERRY WIRELESS HANDHELD.”

It all seemed too easy. Every writer I’ve ever met has complained to me about how it’s impossible to get a novel published, but this had been as easy as getting into community college. I was suddenly worried that it was all some sort of scam, so I looked up Plume Books on the web. But they seem legitimate, if you call publishing books with titles like Bitten: Women of the Otherworld Book 1 or The Fountainhead legitimate. I called Para to tell her the news. She was enthusiastic but out at a movie with some friends, and she promised to call me later.

So that’s it for now. I’m going to cut my story short in order that Plume can charge people for it come October or so.

 

* * *


I know this isn’t much of a conclusion, and I know some people might think I’m being stingy, snapping things off all of a sudden. But it’s not like The Morning News ever paid me anything. And you know why they can’t pay me? Because you didn’t donate enough money to them. So who should go look in the mirror right now and ask themselves why they’re so stingy? Hint: not me. If someone is going to give me a $3,000 advance to write a novel then I’ve got to go for it, and damn the haters. That’s almost two months’ salary at BrandSolve.

So that’s all for now. I guess with a band, a record deal, and a novel deal I have finally entered the Age of Benchley. The young flyer has been remade, as Robert Pollard would put it. It feels kind of scary, to be honest, because I can really, really fail now, publicly, as both a musician and writer.

But, then, I’m not 22 any more. I’m 23, and New York has taught me a lot about life. I feel confident that I can handle the success. I remain firm in my belief that there is much more rock to come. And if it doesn’t come on its own, I will go out and create it. Fame will not spoil me. That’s the Gary Benchley promise, and you can count on me to keep it.