While watching Joan Jett at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga three weeks ago, she announced that she will play songs from her new album, “Unvarnished,” and, with some hesitation, the classic songs we all know and love. I saw the bittersweet moment on her face that she knew that her fans will always remember her for the songs she wrote years ago. A dilemma many creative people will face sooner or later.
Jett could have joined many other classic bands in touring around the nation to play the hit songs from her early career without ever writing a new song or recording another album. That’s not her style. After 37 record labels rejected her first solo album in 1980, she created her own record label and pushed the boundaries for what a female musician can do. She writes new songs and makes new albums that may never ever earn the same level of fan appreciation as her earlier hits.
So many fans regarded Stephen King’s “The Stand” as his magnun opus that he could have died after its publication in 1978 and be content with that, ignoring his many other novels and “The Dark Tower” series and that came afterward. J.K. Rowlings may never write anything that surpasses the Harry Potter novels, but she keeps writing new novels under her name and a pen name. The easy way out would be to pull a JD Salinger by not publishing anything more and cashing in the royalty checks.
If my ebook sales are any indication, I’ve written my best work years ago.
Okay, maybe not. I haven’t written a magnun opus for my fans to declare their undying devotion. My earliest short story ebooks sell better than my recent short story ebooks, leaving my “mid-list” ebooks to sag in the middle. I’ve had nagging doubts about the quality of my writing over the last few years, a constant tug of war between double checking the old stuff and writing the new stuff. The only way to side-step the doubts is to plunge myself into writing something new, get into the creative moment and go with the flow. The mobile office has been a great help in writing a handful of new flash stories for the summer. With renewed confidence, my best work is yet to come.
On a related musical note, Victor Willis, the original police officer in the 1970’s Village People disco band (which played at the Mountain Winery the following week after Joan Jett), regains the copyrights to his classic songs like “YMCA” and “In The Navy” after signing them away years ago by invoking an obscure provision of the 1978 copyright law. That’s heartening. Since I’m signing away my copyrights into an intellectual properties holding company (IPHC) to keep them separate from my publishing business and myself as an individual, I might run into this situation if I ever lose control of the IPHC.