Today’s podcast is. With Bill Morrison, whose “voice” has been “heard” on this blog and previous ones many times over the years.
I have known Bill since around 1999, when Phil Snyder, whom I met online the year before, introduced us, I think by sending Bill an account I wrote of being “rescued” by an Immigrations officer called Agent Johnson, who managed to get me to Mexico for my birthday when the US government wanted to bounce me back to England. (I was on my way to San Francisco to become a movie shaman, so I had thought.)
I still have not met Phil in the flesh, but I did meet Bill in 2000, the one time I successfully got over the US border (& didn’t get snatched immediately after), and took a trip to Hollywood to try and kick start my career as a movie shaman. I have an account somewhere of my meeting Bill, but I couldn’t find it among my Word docs, so I am writing this post now, to give a little background for this week’s podcast.
A little background.
That appears to be all I’ve got, so here are a few quotes from a review I wrote of and for Bill’s cable TV act back in around 2008. Since I don’t much care for my style of writing back then (it had a pomposity to it that I like to think I’ve mostly shirked or shed), I will rewrite it rather than quote it. And then I will post this piece and be done with it.
Put bluntly, Mr. Morrison is the David Letterman for a brave new world that will never (we pray) come into being. (Since I wrote that, Letterman has retired and the brave new world appears to have arrived, though it is not the one I pretended to fear, but secretly hoped for.) In that world which Bill’s demented armchair ravings obscurely and indirectly herald—a world perfect in its total embracing of all imperfections—there would be no talk show hosts, no TV dinners, no TV at all, and, I guess, no Bill Morrison persona (on TV at least). Life would be far too interesting and bizarre to need TV personae like Bill to help us fill & kill our time, on our merry slouching way to being killed right back.
To be fair to him, Mr. Morrison’s solipsism is at times wearisome, to the viewer as much as it is (evidently) to Mr. Morrison himself. (I left that line intact because I liked it so much.)
It’s too bad that Bill’s gift is inseparable—even maybe contingent on—his obscurity. (Hmm, sound familiar?) Neither Letterman nor Leno, nor any self-respecting high priest of TV, was ever going to have Bill on their show. For obvious reasons. You can’t let nobodies into the realm of somebodies. To do so is like allowing homemade money onto the market: everything gets devalued. What, you mean anyone can make their own money? So why am I watching this guy?
Now we are in a culture of homemade TV shows (called YouTube celebrities), which is maybe why Letterman had to retire.
The moment Dave let Bill on his show, it would have been painfully obvious to everyone watching that he, Dave, had been superseded, and that a new and unstoppable mutant strain had arrived.
So in a way, I was predicting the rise of the self-made celebrity, using Bill as an example, except that Bill was never going to be a celebrity, not even within the homemade YouTube culture of Internet. Why? Because he’s original, and what the subculture on the Net does is imitate the dominant culture in such a way that it seems to be different, but isn’t really actually new.
The key to popular culture is that it never mixes “art” (commerce) up with self-expression, in other words, that a performer’s performance must always be for someone else, never for the performer him or herself. The moment it becomes the latter, it becomes something radical, subversive, and inherently unsellable. As F. Murray Abraham says to Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davies: “I don’t see any money here.”
Translation: You are singing from your soul. We can’t work with soul. Soul cannot be controlled and so it cannot be commodified. Please step away from the microphone and make room for Bob. Or Leonard.
Bill Morrison may never have become the talk show host he deserved to be, but if so that’s because, at heart, he was never a host but a virus. The moment mainstream TV allowed him through its doors of perception, and into the sleeping mind of the masses, it would have spelled the end of mainstream TV. And that is never going to happen. The whole purpose of the agency of control is to keep itself IN control, spinning the same reruns, forever.
Meanwhile, we can at least be grateful that Bill Morrison got to remain, if he did, what he most aspired to be: a marvelously, gloriously great ghost of a guy.
Or, to put it in terms of today’s talk, that he never quite managed to fool anyone enough to believe he knew who he was, and because of that, was not afraid to be the fool he secretly knew he might be.