Saturday, February 18, 2012


Luck, it is said, is when opportunity meets preparedness. The definition has a nice, orotund feel to it; it is a pronouncement Dr. Phil might utter as a live TV audience nods its aggregate head.

I’ve been thinking of luck recently, while listening to a CD recently released by Adele, the British singer who is all the rage for sounding like Janis Joplin if the latter had never discovered Southern Comfort and Wild Turkey. Adele swept the Grammy Awards, I’m told, winning Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year and a couple of other categories. Her album, ‘21,’ has been number one for more than 20 weeks. She is golden.

The thing is, in three decades of on-and-off playing in bands, I’ve heard a dozen voices as good as hers, and at least another dozen that were a whole lot better. Her songwriting skills are adequate as well, but no more than that, and once again I’ve known a plethora of other artists whose ways with lyrics were astounding and wholly unrecognized. This is not intended as a put down of the 23-year-old singer. I’m sure she’s worked very hard to get where she is, and practices diligently to stay there. But lets face it, she’s been lucky.

On the other side of the coin is someone like Amy Winehouse, whom I considered a truly amazing talent when she first appeared some three years ago. Could her ascent and even faster decline be considered frighteningly unlucky?

Luck and faith share an uncomfortable stage. Those who believe will tell you luck does not exist at all but is a product of faith and prayer, an outcropping of spirituality; the faithless and luckless are one and the same. The hard-liners, born-again and extremists believe not only that luck is a reward of conviction, but that ill-luck is a just comeuppance for those whose faith is uncertain. Luck, then, is not good fortune or destiny, but rather the just dues of worship.

Me, I wonder. I’ve known wonderful talented luckless people. A friend of mine, an amazing singer and lyricist who pays the rent by walking the dogs of her better-off neighbors, got a record contract a year or so ago. Days before she was scheduled to begin recording, the company declared bankruptcy and left town, owing its signed artists tens of thousands of dollars. 

I think of The Shack, and of William P. Young, who I interviews has said he never meant to write a book but did so anyway to teach Christianity to his son. His novel became an international bestseller, was optioned to be made into a movie, and earned hundreds of thousands of dollars. The rewards of faith, some might say, or just plain old luck?

Then I think of The Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.  Toole submitted his manuscript to Simon & Schuster, where noted editor Robert Gottlieb thought Toole talented but felt his comic novel was essentially pointless. Despite several revisions, Gottlieb remained unsatisfied, and after the book was rejected by another literary figure, Hodding Carter Jr., he shelved the novel. Depressed and feeling of persecuted, Toole ended his life by running a garden hose in from the exhaust of his car to the cabin. Some years later, his mother brought the manuscript of Dunces to the attention of novelist Walker Percy, who ushered the book into print. In 1981, Toole was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

How’s that for luck…

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