Saturday, April 15, 2006

Leave Dan Brown Alone.

I have been bitterly angry at the way the popular press has beat up on Dan and Blythe Brown. As everyone and their dog knows by now, Dan wrote the mega-selling "Da Vinci Code," which is a historical thriller. During the recent trial, where some writers accused Dan of plagiarism (despite the fact that Dan copied nothing from their book but rather, in the tradition of all novelists writing historical fiction, referred to their scholarship, even going to the generous end of naming their book in his novel and naming a character after the authors), I grew increasingly disturbed by the misogyny displayed by the press.

During the trial, it was discovered that Dan actually has (horrors!) a research assistant! And even more, that this research assistant is his wife, Blythe!! (Additional horrors!!) This piece of "news," apparently, was enough to send the spinmeisters out of the minds, accusing Dan of, among other things, relying on his wife for information about church and art history. (gasp!) Suddenly, Blythe became this dragon lady leading poor, sad Dan around by the neck -- the power behind the throne.

The reason this struck me as ironic is that this is precisely the ACTUAL point of Da Vinci Code. While the press got all hot and bothered over the "Was Jesus Married?" subplot, they totally missed on what the book was really about -- i.e. the foul and disrespectful way the Church has treated women. In a way, it only makes Dan's novel that much more relevant. This misogynistic patriarchalism, so ingrained in our culture, continues blindly striking down any woman who dares have a brain or an opinion.

As many of my readers know, I met and worked with Blythe years ago. More, I was the person who hired her at National Academy of Songwriters. I was there when Dan and Blythe met. In fact, her position as "Artist Development Director" was a position I created out of whole cloth just so I could keep her around. The misinformed biographers who have labeled her as "power broker" who could "have any young writer she wanted" is such a stupidly ridiculous description of our work there, that it's beyond laughability. We were not power brokers. We were beggars at the gate of the music industry.

National Academy of Songwriters was a non-profit organization. Blythe's position was a volunteer position, although I think she might have eventually been paid for her astounding work. What we did there, and why I created that position, was that we wanted to help young aspiring songwriters get a stage and voice in the empty hair band scene in Los Angeles of the late 80s/early 90s. Before we put on our showcase, which was called "The Acoustic Underground," the acoustic songwriting scene in L.A. was totally and completely dead. There were no acoustic clubs, the last one having just closed, and there were no coffeeshops or bookstores featuring singer/songwriters.

What we did was create a scene out of whole cloth. It was created out of necessity. Most singer/songwriter showcases were ridiculously long events because these guys would drag out their drums, their amps, and everything else, creating a half hour break between sets. It was boring. So we decided to make a rule: No drums. No set-up. No amps. Walk on. Sing two songs. Get off.

It was brilliant. By the time Acoustic Underground peaked, we were playing to packed houses at the Troubadour on Santa Monica Blvd. and were holding contests and showcases. When we began our shows, the idea of songwriters with acoustic guitars was so far off the radar screens of industry reps, that we seemed to them to be insane. But what actually happened was suddenly all these songwriters threw off the chains of all that equipment and started writing SONGS again. In just a few years, coffeehouses were springing up all over the city.

Everything changed because we created something out of nothing. And it was Blythe who sat there, day after day, listening to tape after tape, flagging the good ones and bringing them to my attention so that we could put on a show. The most notable songwriter to come out of our offices, by the way, was a Sony artist named Dan Bern, who has made many critically acclaimed records and who plays folk arenas all over the country.

My point is that the Blythe I knew is the same woman now. She's an industrious, hard-working, totally serious, incredibly beautiful woman who fell in love with a writer and who, like any great partner in any great marriage, supported and believed in her husband. It's no different than how I believe in Jim and he believes in me.

The real story is that Dan and Blythe have a perfect partnership and a brilliant marriage. Theirs is a love story. They worked hard. They struggled long. They earned their way to the top of the book publishing world and I hope they keep and spend every last dime they make on themselves. They are kind, modest, generous, compassionate people. What is their sin? Why are they being attacked and abused and treated like thieves? Because they finally found commercial and financial success. That's their sin. So, now they get to be everyone's favorite punching bags.

In fact, they lead a quiet life in their home, away from the world. They are not fame whores. They don't throw themselves in public. They didn't hire press agents to get themselves in the tabloids. They have earned their way and they deserve to be left alone. They do not deserve to be treated like criminals. The writers who sued them, whose book was long forgotten, have made millions in new book sales because Dan credited them in his work. And how did they repay this? A lawsuit. A dangerous lawsuit that, if they had won, would have changed publishing forever. Read here for more information on that.

Before The Da Vinci Code, Dan wrote a book called "Digital Fortress." He was so excited by having had it published, and he told us he was so inspired by Jim's and my musical, The Last Session, that he sent me one of the first copies. On the leaf, just inside the cover, Dan wrote, "To Steve, my hero."

No, Dan. You are my hero. For standing with dignity in the face of greedy people who want to tear you down. For standing by and defending Blythe when every little busybody wanted to tear the two of you apart. And Blythe is my hero, too, for being exactly the kind of partner every man would ever dream of.

(For the record, I have turned down all reporters wanting me to talk about Dan and Blythe. This is the first time I've told our whole story. I have been keeping silent through this whole ordeal out of respect for Dan and Blythe, but with all the lies and hypocrisy and crap being said about them, I finally decided to speak out. I couldn't hold it in any longer.)


Anonymous said...

Thank you for that incredible post. I have read all of Dan Brown's books and I agree with what you said there. Kudos to the Browns, and to you for sharing your insights.

Christine Bakke said...

You are certainly a good friend, as it seems they've been to you as well. Interesting...although of course I had no idea all this was going on. But I totally hear you on sometimes you just need to get it off your chest!

Anonymous said...

What a GREAT post Steve! Thanks for sharing it with us. I've been a Dan Brown fan since he fist published and this just makes me admire him even more! I had no idea all this was happening...

DuWayne Brayton said...

I found the "Da Vinci Code" a terribly amusing novel. I have been seeing a crop-up of "Anti-Code" literature in a couple of "christian" book cataologs. One of them was compelling enough to actually look for when I was next in the christian book store. It was brilliant, they had a companion book to read next to the "Da Vinci Code" debunking it and discussion workbook so one could lead discussions about what is in the Da Vinci Code. I found it amusing because the people who published it seemed to have the impression or at least treat the "Da Vinci Code" as though it was a work of non-fiction. They also seemed keen on people reading the Da Vinci Code so that they could debunk it - I'm all for any way for an author to sell more books. . .

I hadn't realized he had gone to court over these idiots accusing him of plagerism. I would imagine that those so "plagerised" probably had at leaast soem increase in sales and reading of their own works after being listed as source for a blockbuster novel. And I would be curious if any of them has a research assistant. Bloody stupid people.

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