With the new Simpsons' movie coming out I decided to Google John Swartzwelder, a guy I used to know. He's the Simpsons' writer who has written the most episodes. A lot of them are described as "classics." And I'm sure there are any number of thirty-something guys who can recite the dialog from the episodes he has written word for word. I, on the other hand, haven't been able to finish watching a single episode of that program. Ever. Although I can usually tell if John has written something in the episode by the jokes.
I discovered on Google that John is considered "reclusive" and some people thought he was even a made up person -- a composite of several writers -- because he has refused to make appearances. For a guy who used to practice being on Johnny Carson, I find that amusing.
Apparently he used to do most of his Simpsons' writing in restaurant booths. When California banned smoking everywhere, I read that he bought a booth and set it up in his house. He was smoking two or three packs of Chesterfields a day when I knew him. He tried, but couldn't quit and then he wouldn't quit because he felt the nicotine in his system was a key part of his writing. Actually I don't think he ever gave his body a chance to get clean. He got stuck at the point when you still feel horrible. I figured he'd be dead when he was sixty. Only a few more years to go.
Considering his enormous output over the past twenty years, I think he also knows that sixty may be his finish line.
At one website there was a single, grainy, dark picture of John with a caption that says "One of the few known photographs of Swartzwelder." Or something like that.
Haaa. You want pictures? I've got pictures. Back before he wrote for SNL and the Simpsons, John Swartzwelder wrote ads. At the same place where I wrote ads. He was a legendary writer then, too, for all the awards he got for writing commercials for a canned salmon cat food he named KITTY CAT FOOD. Eventually the product had to be taken off the market when it started to kill cats -- a small detail that never interfered with the advertising.
He also wrote a couple of songs you should ask him about, if you ever meet him at the grocery store. Although if he sees you coming toward him I'm sure he will do everything to ignore you. One song was THROW YOUR CAT AWAY, which is pretty self explanatory. The other was THE RACCOON SONG, which requires participation for best results, so read it with a friend while pretending to be a raccoon. See both in the next entry. I wonder if they're anywhere on the internet. [They are.] I have a 45 single with both of them here somewhere.
His main rule when he sat down to compose a song at the piano was that nothing should rhyme. Do you have any idea how hard it is to write a song that doesn't rhyme? It's even harder to sing. People usually memorize songs by remembering the rhymes. Without rhymes you're toast.
John Swartzwelder was someone I spent up close and personal time with for a year. Here's an interesting notion -- he thought I was funny. In those days he would have been called my boyfriend. These days he would probably be called as a witness.
No doubt his greatest contribution to the ad agency where we worked was office baseball. He had the excessive height and ball skills to be good enough to try out for the Cubs as a pitcher once upon a time. He even let me catch some of his pitches until I missed one that hit the brick wall backstop behind me and almost knocked me out. After that he was afraid of killing me so we used a mush ball. Even that was like trying to catch the wind.
Back at work a bunch of us -- all guys and me -- would meet in somebody's office in the afternoon to play nine innings. Someone would roll up and tape a newspaper for a bat. I don't remember what we used for a ball -- wadded up aluminum foil? A Wiffle ball? You got me. Anyway, hitting the shelf was a double. The wastebasket was a single. A homer was off the wall by the door. That kind of thing. We spent hours playing.
Your advertising dollars at work.
Another bit of amusing trivia is that Dan Castellaneta, who is the voice of Homer, married a woman named Deb LaCusta. Deb worked at the same ad agency at the same time as John and I. In fact, she was in the same group with me. As Oprah would say, "That's a full circle moment." In retrospect.
John was also the person who started calling me "Mrs. Linklater." It probably started out as a Mrs. Robinson thing, since I was older. But, let's face it, Linklater just sounds funny.
Meanwhile, if you're going to see the Simpsons movie, and, unless you're one of my brothers, my readers are not -- remember that if I hadn't ended my relationship with John Swartzwelder, there would be no Simpsons movie. Maybe no Simpsons at all.
That's right. He wouldn't have left Chicago and gone to New York. He wouldn't have written for SNL. He wouldn't have met George Meyer. He wouldn't have written a single episode for Ned Flanders. He wouldn't have become, like meatloaf, an American icon.
I think he owes me.