American underground poet / writer Joe Pachinko talks about Lenore Kandel, the Beats, and his books

"Art, any kind of art, if it's any good, is a key out of whatever prison you have, of the mind, the body, the culture. Art is one of the few places you can be free."

Joe Pachinko: A lost alien being

Joe Pachinko was born 1960 in Oakland, California, is not only the capo-di-tutti-capo of the independent press SUPERSTITION STREET publisher of Beat icon Lenore Kandel's groundbreaking work "The Love Book", he is also the author of a novel "SWAMP!"(1997), two poetry collections "The Urinals of Hell"(2003), and "Stumpfucker Cavalcade"(2005), a comic book "The Incredibly Stoopit Adventures of Granpa Stuped" (2006), and his latest novel "Geek City Apocalypso"(2012, now available from Last Gasp San Francisco). His short stories and non-fiction appear regularly on Sergio Mauri's blog F.L.A.C.O.N.S.

 


Poetic, blunt, and hallucinatory, "Geek City Apocalypso" is a tragi-comic elegy to lost love set in the grungy underbelly of turn of the millennium San Francisco. A roller coaster meditation on life, love, and existence that takes you from Tenderloin residence hotels to corporate cubicle farms and back. "Geek City Apocalypso" is Joe Pachinko's second novel, after the strangely prescient novel, "SWAMP!", which described the lives of contract archaeologists in southern Louisiana (and eerily predicted the environmental catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina) from the inside out.
Poet Todd Moore called him "The urban guerrilla of outlaw poetry." Jarret Keene, in the Tucson Weekly referred to him as a "Literary Pariah." Ron Turner of LAST GASP BOOKS wrote this about Joe's novel: "Rarely do I see Chinese, Japanese, Sinhalese, & Tamil in an English language book. You are an interesting writer."


Interview by Michael Limnios


What characterize Joe Pachinko’s philosophy?  
I think the concept of "Western Civilization" is a really fucking bad joke. People east and west got along fine without it for much longer than they have had to live with it. Maybe the whole concept of "civilization" is a joke. I'd like to laugh about it more. I try to avoid all hierarchical organizations which are impossible, but they're all the same. Political parties, governments, religions, academia, all the same. They want control, they want power, and anything else they claim to be is total bullshit. You don't need laws and religion to understand that cruelty is wrong. Likewise, I don't think it's necessary to have an explanation of what the Universe is or how it works to appreciate life, or living.

 

                                                                                           Photo by Debbie Kirk
How do you describe Joe Pachinko's progress?
Hard to say. I think my writing is better now than say, 20 years ago. At the same time I find myself more isolated. Most Americans, most people I know here don't want to talk about what's happening to the country, or the world. I feel like a wild animal, like I can smell the fear coming off of people here.

 

Poetry, music and comic’s art…can these three arts confront the “prison” of the spirit and mind?
Art, any kind of art, if it's any good, is a key out of whatever prison you have, of the mind, the body, the culture. Art is one of the few places you can be free. Most artists don't even know that. Forget about most people. It's a secret. The truth will set you free. It can also get you killed.

 

What was the relation between comic, music, and poetry and activism?
I think that comedy is THE highest art form. It's the most difficult. You have to tell a truth of some kind. To make people laugh you have to make them THINK. That's why it's so damn hard. But, if you can make them think, you might be able to get them to change something. Everything in life is better with comedy in it, everything. It's very easy to be serious. Someone once said about the comedian W.C. Fields, "He never allowed anything to take precedence over humor." He was right.

 

Do you believe that nowadays there’re things to change in any level?
In nature, change nothing. In people, change almost everything.  Our societies, governments, religious institutions, laws, AREN'T WORKING. We're fed outrageous lies in the news, and an endless amount of idiotic toxic garbage is shoveled into our eyes and ears and mouths and brains in the disguise of shitty Pop music, shitty movies, shitty fashion, shitty junk food, and shitty cultural ideas, shitty writing, fucked up technology, etc. Mountains of commercial thought turds are burying us. We're under constant electronic media dildo attack!  

 

What do you believe that it is the turning point of our civilization?
Civilization has had many turning points. We're at one now. I think it's pretty obvious our own technology is killing us. One of the most interesting turning points was when people shifted from being small tribes, like pack animals, towards being like insects. Big cities, big armies, conquering other big cities. The only animals that do this other than humans are insects, ants, termites, etc. I'd like to see a turn towards sanity and kindness....I'm not sure that people can do it. I'm not sure I can do it.

 

What experiences in your life make you a good poet, and novel writer?
That depends on what you think is a good poet, or a good writer. Any experiences are useless without some talent, and no one knows where that comes from. I would say that being an outcast in some way can give you a perspective that other people don't have. In other words, if you are unable to "fit in" to society for some reason, physical, mental, etc. your experiences will be quite different from the norm and this can give you other things to say about it.

 

What do you learn about yourself from the music and poetry?
Good music or good poetry can give you everything. Style, spirit, whatever you need you can get out of it...when it's good. It can give you a reason to live, a reason to love. Likewise, bad music and bad poetry can kill your spirit, or kill you. For myself I learn what is important, what is real, what is fake. There is so much bad music and bad poetry in the world. The world of art is totally polluted. You really have to look to find something good.

 

Why did you think that The Love Book of Kandel, continues to generate such a devoted following?
It's a true, strong woman's voice and she is not afraid. She's unashamed and proud of her love and her sex. It's a celebration of love and sex and it's honest.

 

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from the reading of the Book of Love?
A friend of mine copied the LOVE BOOK poems by hand in the rare book room at UC Berkeley. The book was out of print then and I had never seen it. He mailed me the poems and I couldn't believe how good they were. There were sparks shooting out of my ears, the Earth moved. I guess you could say I fell in love with THE LOVE BOOK.

 

Are there any memories from Lenore Kandel, which you’d like to share with us?
I was very lucky to know her. We would spend hours and hours talking about anything. She had marvelous stories and a fantastic sense of humor. We laughed a lot. She had a very hard life at the end. I miss her.

 

Which memory from Lenore Kandel makes you smile?
I was cleaning out her apartment. The landlord was going to evict her because there was too much garbage in there, it hadn't been cleaned out in 30 years and in the middle of a pile of blankets and old clothes there was a box with a coffee cake in it that had been there many, many years and I picked it up and asked her "Do you want to keep this?" and she laughed and said "No."

 

Do you know why the BEATS are connected to the avant-garde culture & what characterize the philosophy of underground?
The Beats are important because they more or less invented a new perspective, not only on writing, but on living. They rejected the mainstream culture and values of the time as hollow and soulless, even suicidal, and were looking for ideas to replace what they had inherited. Their ideas came from outside the mainstream. Other people saw them as weirdos, freaks. They were outsiders, they had an outsiders perspective.

 

From the “feeling” point of view is there any difference and similarities between the original Beat era & todays?
There are NO similarities whatsoever. The people who emulate the "Beats" today are not outsiders and in fact, do not represent any kind of rejection of mainstream values. Hollywood makes a movie of "On the Road" and everyone runs out to buy the clothes. They start writing really bad poetry. They'll work in a bank so they can afford to live in North Beach or New York. The core groups of «Beats» were gay drug addicts who rejected materialism, hipsterism, and snobbism. They were looking for truth. These modern "neo-beat" hipster people are materialistic fashionistas who are stuck in 1955. They're not searching for anything.

                                                                                  Photo by William Taylor Jr.

If Bukowski, Lenore Kandel and Jack Kerouac were between us nowadays, what do you think they would tell us?
Lenore and Jack Kerouac were friends. Bukowski didn't like Kerouac. There would probably be a fight in this room. I think the main thing they would tell us is how much modern writing sucks. The second thing is Kerouac and Bukowski would probably ask for some booze. Lenore wasn't a big drinker.

 

What is the “thing” you miss nowadays from the Beat era?
The search for truth, the rejection of the mainstream, the humor, the honesty, the courage.

 

How important was the role of the Beats played in the case of Jazz and Blues music?
I think Jazz and blues played more of a role in the Beats' writing than their writing played in the music. They identified with the Jazz/blues musicians as fellow outcasts expressing truth. Also the improvisation, the rhythm, the soulfulness, the wildness, the freedom, were influences.

 

If you go back to the past what things you would do better and what things you would a void to do again?
I would do everything differently, EVERYTHING! You know, sometimes, when they interview somebody FAMOUS and they ask them "If you could do it all over again, what would you change?" and the person says "Nothing! I wouldn't change a thing!" Bullshit! There are so many different ways to do anything. You could live your life over a thousand times and never do the same thing the same way twice.

 

                                                                                           Photo by Debbie Kirk

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
Now. Because I can still make changes to it. Past periods were interesting in a horrible way, but I can't do anything about them now.

 

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
The best was the last time I was in jail, a guard asked me what my job was and I said "I'm a writer." The guard said "That's cool." I think she meant it. The worst was a reading in Las Vegas where I was so drunk I couldn't read and they had to pull me off the stage.

 

What MOTTO of yours you would like to stay forever?
If you want to say something, say it. You might not get another chance.

 

What your favorite Zen Koan?
It is impossible to wake someone who is pretending to be asleep.

 

What is your DREAM…and what is your nightmare?
My dream? I'm working on that. I'm going to move to Italy. My nightmare? We are living in it man. The modern world. It doesn't get any more nightmarish than that.

 

How you would spend a day in Geek City?
I'd leave.

 

What would you say to Frank Grafitto?
Leave Geek City.

 

What would you like to ask Henry Chinaski?
Oh man. I'd like to ask him why it is that his creator, Bukowski, was such a brilliant humorist and surrealist but all anybody ever says about him is "Drunk misogynist."

 

Happiness is……a dead banker.      
Love is…..I'd like to find out.      
Peace on Mind is…..impossible.    
Life is…..the opposite of death. Other than that it's a mystery. Anybody who tries to tell you they know what it is is lying.     
Joe Pachinko is…..Pure as the driven slush....A lost alien being....I'm a doomfucker.

 

Which of historical personalities would you like to meet?
Many…many… MANY! Stephen Crane. I want to get drunk with Carson McCullers & Tennessee Williams. Raymond Chandler used to get drunk with Dr. Suess, I wish I could just LISTEN to that. Catullus, Dalton Trumbo, there's too many. I'm told I'll get to meet them all in Hell. When you meet someone whose work you like, they tend to be a disappointment. It's important to remember that the best part of them is usually in their work.

 

 

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