Michael Blackburn's ART ZERO


This was in the late 1950s. The first school I went to I hated. I hated the place, the smell of it, the teachers who sat high above us. I had no friends there, or if I did I cannot recall their names or faces. I cannot remember anything that I was officially taught there.

One day when the teacher read out the register I refused to answer to my name. Michael Blackburn, she said, looking directly at me. No answer. Three times she called out my name and three times I refused. Then she came down to me and said, If you're not Michael Blackburn then who are you? To which I replied My name is Wyatt Earp. For the rest of the day I answered to nothing but Wyatt Earp.

Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp, hero of the gunfight at the OK Corral. Born in the Year of Revolutions, he would live through momentous times: the American Civil War, the Great War in Europe, the Bolshevik Revolution, the first stirrings of fascism, the invention of the machine gun, the aeroplane, the telephone, the radio and the automobile. When he died he had already outlived one of my own grandfathers by three years, by which time my father himself was already entering on his early youth. When I was born he had been dead no more than 25 years. By then, of course, he was a Wild West hero and a favourite of mine on TV.

Earp understood how the hypocrisy of the law was in constant conflict with the need for order. He knew that the compassion of the left hand was counterpointed by the brutality of the right and that everything lives by the death of something else. So it is that each day in secret I repeat his name and invoke his spirit. Each day that wounded child learns how to protect himself and not take shit from anybody. That's television for you.

Extracted from The Life by Michael Blackburn