Most striking about the 1963 film “Bye Bye Birdie” is that it treats Elvis Presley, through the satirical character Conrad Birdie, as a living American folk hero, which Elvis certainly was. Elvis remains as mythic a cultural icon as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. Key to the rise of popular music as the essential American art form was that so many early rock n’ roll characters were larger than life, presenting unprecedented energy and personality.
Literature will never regain a central position in American life until it likewise presents writers who are not only readable and exciting—whose writing gives the sense of a new creation—but who back up the art with compelling, even striking, personalities. The presentation of the artist is inseparable from the presentation of the art.
I attempted to find such writers when I was running the Underground Literary Alliance (ULA) last decade. I rejected the notion that writers have to be withdrawn nerds with negative personality, on the order of overhyped stooges of the mainstream like Jonathan Safran Foer or Jonathan Franzen. My thinking is that the writer spends a period of time in the silent wilderness creating the artwork, but by the time he or she finishes, is ready to explode, to release pent-up energy and make noise. After all, I’ve been not only a dynamic promoter and performer, making commotions and causing controversy, but I also write. I know both sides of the coin.
The most charismatic individuals I’ve known have been introverts part time—their charisma is a reflection of their innate hostility to human society, their vulnerability with people; a reflection of their internal pain. (An idea I pursue through the main character of The Tower, my latest ebook.)
The striking writer is able to present striking personality and voice to the outside world as well as putting it onto the page.