I watched the documentary, Harlan Ellison: Dreams With Sharp Teeth last night. I did not know what to expect. Ellison is an acquired taste. I found myself sitting at a banquet sampling different vintages of Ellison’s long and storied life. Some stories we often told rehashes of essays or interviews I’ve read over the years.I could almost speak the words for Ellison I’ve heard them so often. Others stories were brand new layers of sound and imagery which further complicated the chaotic cacophony of Harlan Ellison’s life. To put it simply, I hung on every word.
Ellison gets around to discussing Atheism near the end. With Nine minutes to go I realize I am hearing my words come from his mouth. Or I should say, I found the source of my early thinking on Atheism in his words. Ellison is my forgotten muse. I’m not surprised. I started reading him in the 70s. I think his words reached into my mind and turned on the “Think” switch. You know the one. It helps lift the fog of faith from you mind.
“The Universe does not know we are here.” I love that line. Chapter 19 covers Religion. At one point Ellison says,
“Well who created the machine? I don’t give a fuck who created the machine. I’ll never know, you I‘ll never know. If saint Tomas Aquinas couldn't figure it out, I sure as hell not going to.”
He is as atheist as an Atheist can be. A true believer in nothing. This is what I like about him. He understands the void. As the Chapter progresses, he goes on to talk about morality and the need to judge people by what they do rather than what they say. I hear some of my key themes discussed again and again. Personal responsibility, accountability, its great stuff. He goes on to point out that our pastors and mullahs have created a different kind of God, one that is hateful and evil. I hear the words that helped shape my thinking and smile. It is good to be home. The documentary bring me home in a way I’ve only experienced a few time before. I’ve connected. It gave me shivers.
I’ve seen Harlan Ellison in person several times. My collection of his books are all signed. I’ve stood in line and listened to him weave stores and banter with the crowd. His energy is hard to describe unless you’ve experienced it yourself. Yet it comes across well. He is an old man now, nearing the end of his productive life. Yet you can still see the flame burning behind his eyes. He is a writer of unparallel talent, and the talent is still there. It is this quality that I like the most. He is still the master, still in charge, still creating the words that fill me with anger, pity, love, hate, and longing. He is still the writer who makes me throw books at the wall while screaming, “You bastard.”
From a technical standpoint you don’t notice the documentary unless Ellison point it out. The camera loves Ellison, and occasionally it loves Robin Williams too, but it drinks in Ellison in long cold droughts of bittersweet energy. In the end, the documentary fades away much like Ellison. I don’t want more, I want seconds.