Wherefore M. Zapatero?

As you may have noticed, my last few blog posts have included music attributed to M. Zapatero. It’s a name I’ve been thinking about using for a dozen years or so, ever since I found out that Zapatero is (more or less) Spanish for Schuster. I like the name for several reasons, one of which is that it begins with a Z and therefore reminds me of Zorro. I also like that the word “zap” is in it (as are the key ingredients of “zero“), and that it calls to mind the name of one of my musical heroes, Frank Zappa.

One of the reasons I decided to record (and write and perform) under another name is that a lot of my favorite performers have done the same thing: Elvis Costello (born Declan MacManus), Bob Dylan (born Robert Zimmerman), David Bowie (born David Jones), Gene Simmons (born Chaim Witz), Paul Stanley (born Stanley Eisen), and the Ramones (born Jeff Hyman, John Cummings, Doug Colvin,  and Tommy Erdelyi, aka Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy Ramone (not to mention Richard Reinhardt, Marc Bell, and Christopher John Ward, aka Richie, Marky, and CJ Ramone).

A bigger reason, though, is that I wanted to put some distance between myself and my artistic output. One thing I learned from writing a few books several years ago is that I hated the marketing end of things — “getting my name out there,” constantly trying to convince people to read what I’d written, and essentially turning myself into a product. But I kept at it anyway since, to some degree or another, I associated my success as a writer with my worth as a person.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t content to tell myself that I’d written books and stories that I considered good. Instead, I linked the quality of my writing to what people said about it. In this respect, risking a quick glance at Goodreads could be completely demoralizing, and so could visiting with certain book groups who had apparently invited me into their parlors for the sole purpose of raking me over some carefully arranged coals.

Yet while I certainly want to put some distance between myself and the slings and arrows of outrageous critics, the greater distance I want is between myself and the artificial persona that represents me online. The trouble with social media, as I see it, is that sites like Facebook and Twitter have a tendency to make us present ourselves in somewhat flat, two-dimensional ways.

Or maybe a better way to say this is that being on Facebook (and, to a lesser extent, Twitter) always made me feel like an advertisement for myself. Everything I posted always had to be awesome: pithy observations, links to interesting articles, exaggerated news of my literary accomplishments — all in the service of creating an oversimplified version of myself that was increasingly at odds with the real me.

Granted, a lot of people are good at being themselves online. I just don’t happen to be one of them. What I need for my own peace of mind is a construct that is explicitly not me — a character who shares many of my interests and concerns, but whom I can also hold at a critical distance.

Ultimately, then, Martin Zapatero is a fiction, kind of like the Demon, the Star Child, the Space Ace, or the Cat Man that the members of KISS became onstage, or like the character David Jones became when he became David Bowie and, in turn, Ziggy Stardust. I can send him (along with his music and writing) out into virtual world and go about my real life in peace.

Follow Martin Zapatero on Twitter: @ZapateroMusic

Read his blog: http://zapateromusic.blogspot.com/


If You Have Ten Minutes To Kill…

If you have ten minutes to kill, here’s a podcast I recorded with my friends Monica and Tim. The series is currently titled And/Or, but I’m using the word “series” loosely. So far, it’s taken us about six months to record two episodes. In this one, we discuss various social networking platforms as they pertain to the internet in general. Or something like that. In case you’re trying to keep track, Monica is the one who asks all the questions, Tim is the one who sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, and I’m the one who says things like “Wow!” and “Really?” throughout the proceedings.

An Odd Coincidence

A few days ago, I went to the library. My purpose in going to the library was not to see if my book was on the shelf, but since I was there, I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to see if my book was on the shelf. As it turned out, my book was not on the shelf, but another book caught my eye, a book whose author’s name was sufficiently close to my own that it was on the very same shelf that my book would have been on had it been on the shelf: John Scalzi’s The Android’s Dream.

As an on-again-off-again Philip K. Dick fan, I couldn’t help noticing the sheep on the cover and making the implicit connection between Scalzi’s novel and Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? So I had to pick it up. And I did. Then I went back and forth for a bit about whether to bring it home. I can be very lazy when I want to be, and home is about a half-mile from the library, which meant that I would have to carry the book a whole half-mile home, and then I’d have to read it, which means I’d have to squeeze it in between marathon sessions of grading Freshman Composition papers and occasional attempts at procrastination like writing this blog post. In the end, though, I decided to go for it. I checked the book out of the library, walked it home, and, in a further attempt to avoid grading papers, went straight to Facebook to see what my friends were up to.

And here’s where the coincidence comes in: My friend Carla had posted a link to an article on writing that one of her students had forwarded to her. And the author of the link was none other than John Scalzi, the author of the book that had just caught my eye less than half-an-hour earlier.

So what can we learn from all of this (aside from the fact that my laziness and vanity know no bounds)? What does it all mean? What is the universe trying to tell me? Is a coincidence just a coincidence as Lily Tomlin’s character insists in I Heart Huckabees? Or is something bigger afoot? Perhaps the answer lies between the covers of Scalzi’s book. I will soon find out. As Dale Cooper once said in Twin Peaks, “Fellas, coincidence and fate figure largely in our lives.”