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Typewriter Heros
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Last week, Dave Davies of Kinks fame, had up for auction on eBay one of his old guitars, a vintage 1977 Les Paul Artisan, used on various tours and songs. I imagine that for a connoisseur it would be exciting to get hold of an instrument from which a genuine rock n' roll legend had wrung some notes.

A lot of rock fans associate guitars with musicians, and even with individual tracks. I suppose different makes of guitars have different characteristics. I can just about distinguish an acoustic from electric so why, exactly, Dave might have played a Les Paul Artisan three pickup custom walnut on "Come Dancing" instead of, say, a banjo is beyond me.

Since writing, unlike music, is something I know a little about, I was intrigued when I ran across Richard Polt's list of typewriters used by famous authors. Pounding the keys and slapping the return lever is a physical process, like working guitar strings. Every typewriter has a different feel. Making the same words on a portable, or a manual, or an electric is a different sensation. The words sound different coming out too. The clatter of the keys, the noise made by the carriage, differ from machine to machine.

Might the make of typewriter used influence the words? Looking down the list I noticed a few authors had the same machines. For example, both Philip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison used an Olympia SG 3. A good machine for sf perhaps? On the other hand, E.B. White and Jack Kerouac wrote on Underwood portables. Now there's a mismatched pair for you!

At least all the typewriters represented had proved capable of producing publishable work. The Smith-Corona manual portable I labored at for years was a machine shunned by the successful authors listed. Maybe that was my problem. You need the right tool for the job.

Would it have helped if I'd used the same writing instrument as a typewriter hero, like Mark Twain? Where would I have found a Sholes & Glidden?

James Thurber employed an Underwood. I used to bring $4 Underwoods home from the thrift store all the time. Inevitably they proved more suitable for reducing a sheet of paper to shreds than writing, that is when the carriage didn't immediately jam, or fall off. None of those old typewriters had "The Night the Bed Fell Down" in them.

Neither have any of the word processors I've tried. But I keep looking.

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