Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul summons up show tunes and sitcoms to battle the blues over mediocre reviews.
You’d think by now I would handle mediocre reviews better than I do. As a child actor, I was nearly done in by a particularly unflattering Dallas Times Herald critique of my performance as Eldridge Van Zandt III in the sickeningly sweet all-child musical review Calling All Kids. As I relate in Episode 2 of Alphabet City, I thought the show was my chance at tripping the lights fantastic on the Great White Way with Tommy Tune, but the local liberal paper of record panned the show and called me “chubby.” It wasn’t enough to dash my hopes of living in NYC, but enough to launch my life-long battle with body image problems.
So I knew that releasing Alphabet City would open me up to even more criticism. And as an artist and writer I tell myself that not everyone will connect with my work. But that doesn’t mean you don’t secretly hope everyone in fact will adore it. Which is probably why it’s taken several talk-me-down-from-the-ledge talks with Chef to get over a posting on Rainbow Review.
Here’s the good part—the excerpts I will promote like a movie ad taken out of context:
The premise of this book is very clever… a very amusing (especially if you have any interest in the celebrity or publishing scene) glimpse into the chaos that keeps our rumor mills going.
Here’s the bad part—the excerpts I won’t be promoting other than to react on this blog:
Several incidents are related with a laugh track mentality that seemed to cry out as moments that were truly severely painful for the writer… All of these are surface stories. No emotional substance to any of them until we get to the last few episodes when we are wrapping up the series…I hope the spin off is more heartfelt and revealing dramedy than plain sitcom.
Ouch. So here’s the thing: in this book, I view and tell my life through the lens of a sitcom. And writing in that form requires certain conventions—like not being bitter about any of the guest stars, be it celebrities or family members. Each episode presents a challenge and a lesson learned—and overall, the kid from Texas who moved to NYC with a personal life a mess, finds a new life (and love) in Manhattan.
The reviewer seems to want a different type of show altogether—something darker, more suitable on HBO or Showtime, than the network of Mary Tyler Moore. To me, that’s asking for a different book entirely. It’s like wanting to see MTM ten years later—bitter, depressed and in therapy. More Augusten Burroughs than Gary Tyler Moore, I’d say. My readers and fans want and enjoy something a little lighter—more optimistic. They know I’ve suffered through painful moments, but at the end of the day, I’ve learned and keep moving and keep smiling.
It’s funny—I’m running into people on book tour who are desperate for me to reveal more snarky details of celebrities and my family, and aren’t happy when I tell them that Gary Tyler Moore tries to remain above that. I think it’s sad when people root for others—even famous faces—to be unhappy.
As I complained to Chef this morning, he just looked at me, “All press is good press, right?” That made me smile. I don’t necessarily believe that. But I do know that mediocre reviews are a Fact of Life. Like that sitcom’s opening, “You can take the good/take the bad/you take them both/and there you have/the Facts of Life.” And I also know that it’s a fact of life that not everyone will love you or your work. So the rest of the day, I’ve been singing from one of my most inspirational Broadway productions [title of show]:
I’d rather be 9 people’s favorite thing, than a hundred people’s 9th favorite thing.
When I head back out on book tour in a week, I can’t wait to keep meeting those 9 people.