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When Stephen King Was King

Stephen King 1980 (c) SeacoastNH.comLITERARY LIONS

According to the New York Times, Stephen King’s son lives in New Hampshire. That was no news here in the Seacoast, where people know how to keep a secret. At 34, with his first novel in print, Joe Hill is the same age his father was at the height of his game. But his dad is tough ax to follow.

 

 

 

Didn’t that Maine guy used to be Joe Hill’s dad?

One of my favorite places in the world used to be locked inside a Stephen King horror story, unable to escape until the final page. You’ve been there, I’m sure. When I took this photo of King on Ogunquit Beach in the summer of 1980, for my money, his best work was behind him. At the rate of one blockbuster book per year he had completed Carrie, Salem’s Lot, The Shining, the Night Shift stories, The Stand, The Dead zone and Firestarter. There was one good book left, a collection of novellas called Different Seasons from which came King’s best movie, Stand by Me, plus film adaptations The Shawshank Redemption and Apt Pupil.

From that moment on, although I struggled through at least a dozen more of Stephen King’s next five dozen books, I never had another satisfying experience. Hardcore readers will argue themselves blue over the merits of King’s later works. That’s what groupies are for. But from the arrival of Pet Cemetery, this reader was jilted.

To this day I can’t say which of us failed the other. I blame King for taking the easy way out with killer dogs, killer cars, killer clowns. By 1980 King was already in bed with zombie-cannibal filmmaker George Romeros. (Their film Creepshow arrived two years later.) But it’s hard to blame a writer for copping out, when he defines his own work as "the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries". It had been for me, a brilliant steak dinner, like the best of HG Wells, Isaac Asimov or Jules Verne.

Perhaps it was my fault for loving too hard. In the photograph King is holding a record album in one hand. I don’t recall what it was, but it was a present from me. I heard on the radio that King was going to show up in Maine and that he loved a certain rock band, so I pulled into a mall, bought him a record and drove there in my battered Volkswagen bug. Or maybe it was my battered Chevy Nova, memory fails. I managed to ask King a couple of questions and squeeze out a story for the local newspaper. It was pretty pitiful stuff. "What are you doing next?" I asked. Duh. I wrote King a letter and he wrote back. Then suddenly, like a lopped off human head flushed down the toilet, the magic was gone.

CONTINUE WITH STEPEHN KING IN 1980 

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