A True Buckaroo's 60th Birthday

The Momentous Moorcock

January 14, 2000:

Michael Moorcock (r) with childhood friend Brian Alford

In Bastrop ... or Lost Pines, as Michael Moorcock prefers to call it -- we hardly ever get invitations giving airport information. But then, most of us aren't superstars, either. Moorcock, the author of more than 100 books, is that. His 60th birthday was an event of enormous moment. It was held December 18 at The Common Ground, a natural foods restaurant housed in a funky frame building on Old Highway 71. The restaurant is divided into hutch-like little rooms, including a screened porch now sealed with plastic panels. It was wall-to-wall people inside, with more continually arriving. A chimenea burned outside in the parking lot, and that's where the overflow crowd was positioned.

Moorcock's wife, Linda, did most of the arranging. She contacted John Davey in London, England, the present head of the Michael Moorcock World-Wide Fan Club, and began the planning. Among others, she brought in Brian Alford, a man with whom Moorcock played as a child, a man to whom one of Moorcock's best-loved books, Mother London, is dedicated (To Brian Alford, Wherever He May Be).

Well, Linda used the Internet not just to find Alford, but also to persuade him to fly from London to Bastrop for the party. It was worth her effort. Alford's presence brought tears to Michael Moorcock's eyes.

But there was more that might have made the great man cry. He'd returned, the day before the party, from burying his mother. He presented the famed British stiff upper lip when he spoke of her death and even attempted to make light of it. "It was very thoughtful of her to go so quickly," he said. "She might have lingered. It was one of the nicest things my mother ever did for me." It was clear from his facial expression, however, that the quips belied the pain he was feeling. As if to testify to that, the day after the party Moorcock took to his bed with what was said to be flu.

But the night of the festivities Moorcock was in fine fettle. He hunkered down beside his birthday cake (a misshapen map of Texas with pine trees) whenever anyone wanted to snap a picture, put his cane aside to whirl his wife around the dance floor to a few of the Scapegoats' country tunes.

There were local stars -- William Browning Spencer, Neal Barrett Jr., Bruce Sterling -- and those from distant galaxies -- renowned feminist Andrea Dworkin, for one. But Moorcock's pronounced egalitarian instincts were evident in the guest list too. There was Geno Rubalcaba, who built the garage that houses the big Moorcock Chrysler. And there was Geno's wife, Erma, who tends to the Moorcock lawn.

People sat at little tables eating vegetarian lasagne telling -- what else? Michael Moorcock stories.

Paul Cashman, who was president of the fan club from 1987-1994, says he's still awed by Moorcock. "I started reading him when I was 17, 18, 19 and his work really struck a chord with me. His writing style was not overly complex and he was very direct, which I liked a lot, but also, I really empathized with his characters." Trouble is, Cashman said, "Moorcock wrote so damned much that I could never keep up." He's pretty much caught up now, he says.

Cashman also recalled Moorcock's kindness. "I sent him a story," Cashman said, "and the next thing I knew, he was on the phone saying that he wanted to talk to me about it. I was totally blown away. And then there I was, sitting across a table from him in a Howard Johnson's."

Moorcock's tireless creativity and his enormous capacity for friendship -- these were two dominant themes of the evening, themes borne out in speeches as well as in a festschrift, Moorcock@60.com, which Linda put together for her husband. Partygoers were given copies, but extras are for sale at Adventures in Crime and Space.

In the festschrift, as at the party itself, Moorcock's friends talked about what meeting up with Moorcock's work meant to them. Author Neil Gaiman put it nicely, saying that it was "a little like having the top of my head ripped off and magnificent multicouloured ideas poured in."

It's hard to believe that a man whose words on a page can effect this sort of response is just an everyday citizen in the Texas town he now calls home. Indeed, although the Moorcocks go to England often, they no longer hold a flat there.

Moorcock doesn't drive. His wife ferries him about. In Bastrop proper, he can often be seen in his signature clothing: overalls and a wide-brimmed hat, walking down Main Street to the local bookstore. He and Linda have become fast friends with the shop's owners, Jan Pierce and her husband Jon. If they socialize locally at all, it is likely to be with the Pierces.

But in truth, Moorcock is something of a recluse. Perhaps by temperament, but more likely because he is always at work. His studio is a large square room attached like an afterthought to the back of the house (a historical home once belonging to Texas governor Joe Sayers). There's a tiny porch on the back where Moorcock partakes in squirrel-watching, luring the animals by nailing cob corn to the trunks of the trees. The office itself is dark and chock-full of artifacts: toy soldiers, odd posters, the sort of room a little boy would die for.

And there's the Moorcock secret: He is indeed a little boy in an adult body, a little boy who earns enough to spend each day indulging -- no, courting, his fantasies.

Paul Cashman laughed as he recounted an episode that took place in a car that Linda was driving. "Michael was in the back," Cashman said, "and he'd indicated that he was hungry and would like to stop for something to eat." Linda kept on driving until finally Michael made it impossible for his hunger to be ignored. "He started making cow sounds, big deep moos coming from the backseat. And every now and then he'd say 'Meat! Meat!' I remember thinking, 'My God, I'm with one of the most famous writers in the world and he's in the back seat making cow noises.' It was charming. Michael is out-and-out charming."

It was a form of Michael's little-boy charm that first attracted Linda. She was assistant to Harlan Ellison, another titan in the science fiction world, when Moorcock came from England to visit. She and Ellison were downstairs, she once recalled, and Moorcock was sitting on the landing above. He was wearing a bathrobe, she remembered, but so loosely tied that he was pretty much "letting it all hang out," as it were. The way Moorcock was so at home with his body, she told me, his utter lack of prudishness, appealed to Linda. That was some 20 years ago.

The Moorcock charm evidently holds up very well, and the Texas part of it seems to be accepted now as a commitment more than a passing phase. One of Moorcock's last few books -- Tales of the Texas Woods -- was published right here by Austin's Mojo Press. That gives Mojo publisher Ben Ostrander the right to the final word. Here's what Ostrander has to say: "I know a true buckaroo when I see one" and Michael Moorcock is "one of the finest buckaroos I have ever had the privilege to meet and work with."

Carolyn Banks' most recently published novel is Mr. Right. She's working on a comic novel about weight loss titled Binge!

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