Earlier this week I met a fellow writer and blogger for lunch. We talked about our various projects and then I asked him the same questions I posed on the blog earlier this week. Could I combine photographs of all these musicians with my personal stories? Would it tie together?
Much to my delight, he answered, "Yes." But before I had even a moment to enjoy the validation, he said something else. Something I hadn't thought about in relation to this book. Something I don't like to address in any of my writing - at least not on a conscious level. As a matter of fact, I think of it as a dirty word.
Of course, he wasn't aware of my disdain for the word. He's very polite. I'm sure he wouldn't have said it, had he known. The worst part was, not only did he say it but the evil word rolled off his tongue like water off a duck's back. As if it was no big deal. He said that sweet little word, "Yes," but then he followed it with, "as long as you write to your theme."
THEME. How could he say it so easily? The word that sends chills up my spine. I'm not kidding. If we're playing word association and you say THEME, I'll say INSTANT PARALYSIS.
I know everything I write has a theme. It's just not something I'm good at defining. Which means I don't generally address it in concrete terms, especially prior to writing a story. I deal with it in the abstract. Subconsciously. And that's where I like to keep it. If I don't, it makes me crazy because, like I said, I'm not good at defining it.
As long as I write to my THEME. Fuck. I'm just putting together a nice little picture book of some dead rock stars I shot and telling a few personal stories. Why do I have to think about something I can't even grok? But, there it was, on the table. Right next to my California Burger. My nemesis. THEME. Staring me in the face. Laughing at me.
I had no choice. I had to deal with it. So, I did what any THEME-hater would do. I asked my fellow writer what he thought my THEME was. I'm sure he knew, but he wouldn't tell me. The only thing he offered was that my title was really good, but it was my hook, not my THEME. Fine. I'll figure it out on my own. Maybe later. Surely it will come to me in the writing process. I'll be going now. Thanks for having lunch with me. The California Burger was yummy - really deserved its #6 ranking on GQ's list of the twenty burgers you have to eat before you die.
I thought I left THEME on the table with my empty plate but, no. It followed me out of the restaurtant. It shadowed me into the bookstore. It infiltrated my brain as I got in my car. It made me rubberneck the accident that just happened on the 405 at Sunset Blvd. It made me stare at the woman with the glazed look on her face and the blood trickling down her cheek.
Then, it made me put the pieces of the puzzle together. All the things I'd already been thinking. Okay, THEME, I'll play. The title of my book is, Everybody I Shot Is Dead. And I know the title is true to the subject(s) of my book, but it's not what the book is about. I always mention that my pictures have never been seen before. I was a professional photographer and I got paid to shoot the bands but I didn't sell or market the live shots. I kept them in boxes all these years. I haven't seen most of them since the day I developed them. And I always mention what an amazing experience it is to see them again. The memories flood back. It's sad but it's also joyful. The pictures make me smile. Wow. I talk about my pictures as if they were entombed.
As I crested the top of the 405 and began my descent into the San Fernando Valley, it hit me. I had my 'ah ha' moment. I'm bringing these wonderful musicians back to life again. My book isn't about dead people. It's about life. It's one more encore for all of us who miss them, and an introduction for those who never knew them.
In a word, my THEME is RESURRECTION. Happy Easter.