"The wandering muse, the irrepressible spirit of the human to resist oppression, suppression, & repression on so many levels of our spiritual existence."
Bart Plantenga: Literary Booze 'n' Roll
Bart Plantenga is the author of Beer Mystic, a novel that circumnavigates the globe in a unique pub crawl. He is also the author of Wiggling Wishbone, Spermatagonia: The Isle of Man, Paris Scratch, and NY Sin Phoney in Face Flat Minor. His books Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World and Yodel in HiFi: From Kitsch Folk to Contemporary Electronica, the CD Rough Guide to Yodel & his Youtube channel Yodel in HiFi have created the misunderstanding that he is a yodel expert.
He has been the DJ of Wreck This Mess in NYC, Paris and now Amsterdam since 1986. He was 1 of the 4 founding members of the NYC-based literary alliance, the Unbearables. He lives & hopes in Amsterdam with his partner Nina & daughter Paloma Jet.
Poet, writer Eddie Woods, says “Bart Plantenga, author of the fantabulously wild-cum-surrealistically inebriated novel Beer Mystic, is progressively penning a profile of each and every one of the 40-odd people/websites/magazines/blogs that are hosting chapters of his book.” Bart talks about The Unbearables, Blues, Booze, Beats and his books.
How would you spend a day with Johnny Cash, Arthur Guinness, and Furman Pivo?
I would sit & listen. Sip a tasty but unpretentious triple [unpretentious meaning a preference for beer that is really good without calling too much attention to itself. In other words, a beer should be distinctive, briefly call attention to itself and then fall to the background to enhance conversation]. I would make sure that Furman Pivo behaved, but also that he could be made to feel that he can contribute to the conversation. Because actually Furman could probably fit in and relate to the darkness that both Guinness and Cash project. The man in black and the ultra-dark beer of Guinness and Furman’s enthusiasm for night and dark as the playground of the imagination could somehow all lead to a very interesting night of conversation about how doused or blackened streetlights return us to the realm of dreams beyond self-consciousness, beyond surveillance … [Beer Mystic: Read Beer, Drink Novel – online]
What would you say to Son House, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Robert Johnson?
I would say sorry, apologize for the behavior of the men who took advantage of their genius leaving them pretty much outside the loop when it came to $$ compensation for their efforts and genius. This is true in many aspects of culture. I remember Rod Stewart receiving a lifetime achievement award from James Brown at the American Video Awards & Stewart seeing the absurdity in that. In my research of yodeling it is obvious that whites have created the illusion that they invented yodeling in Switzerland but in my new book YODEL IN HIFI: From Kitsch Folk to Contemporary Electronica in the chapter “The Black voice Heard Blue Around the World” I reiterate my case that the yodel was “invented” by Africans many thousands of years before the Swiss. Slaves brought the yodel to the New World in the form of hollers. That 25% of all cowboys were black is something totally ignored by most of history & ALL of Hollywood. & that some black cowboys probably yodeled better than their white counterparts has yet to be fully recognized. I would also apologize for the young abandoning them and their dark music, too squeamish to investigate the depths of soul & discover the joy therein. And then I would simply listen to the 3 of them. I would respectfully ask them how the blues, the enhanced field hollers so soulfully, effectively, and deeply express the sorrows we are all left with in our lives. Does the blue note strike a chord in the heart and make it understand melancholy. Do their experiences & those of their ancestors embody the human experience of loss & despair & rejuvenation in the reworking of sorrow better than even Greek or Shakespearian tragedy? I would also ask them if singing the blues actually serves as a kind of antidote to sorrow and melancholy; that by outing or expressing sadness we can be resurrected out of the hole it seems to dig for us. That is also a strange physics: That by singing and hearing the blues we are transported beyond it, triumphing in our ability to convert it into life lesson. Do they agree? Am I just full of bloated shit? & we won’t even get into how they were key to the migration of field holler – with a periodic, clandestine yodel – toward blues & all other current forms of rockin’ music… [listen to black yodeling]
What would you like to ask Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac and Gregory Corso?
I would tell them how big their influence was on my life – for better or worse – and I would be prepared for their inability to comprehend that thought – that they never thought of themselves as role models or worth emulating. I would sometimes wonder silently if this was indeed a good move on my part. I would then ask them how their choices in life that may have added up to a somewhat messy, ill-planned lifestyle; how did their living outside of conventional society, how did their refusal to participate in certain aspects of the morality that society imposes add up to a kind of [lonesome] revolutionary resistance. I would also say that the choices they made as to how & where to engage society were significant & profound even. That somehow ecstasy of mind can be reached through the appropriate arrangement of words, the use of liquor or weed or LSD or Buddhism or chant or asceticism or the full soulful embrace of the beauty of nature is not without its value in today’s social media addicted world. That this fails even the poet, writer & artist does not mean they do not attain higher states of consciousness than those who choose the “easy” way. Although going through life minus peak moments of ecstasy is not an easy life either. Or is all this Beatnik resignation just the appropriation of spectacle and style in the name of identity politics? It is as if I knew all three of them but luckily only briefly met one of them – Corso. I say luckily because it is usually a deflating & rough experience to meet your heroes in the flesh. [Read “Contemplating Bukowski’s First Kiss”]
What advice would you give to Sly Stone (Sylvester Stewart), George Best, and Leadbelly?
I don’t know if I am in any position to give anyone any advice except my daughter & a few friends. But I think, taking the above example as a necessary function of the soul to take chances in order to arrive beyond the self – to become, in effect, immortal – I think that the three here could have done better had they learned to put indulgence and impulse to better use: to harnass its magical powers. That is ironic, of course, because when you are out of your mind with indulgence, the last thing you are thinking about is being responsible or useful or logical with it. But it is as if through these kinds of people, successful in one aspect of life, that we can live vicariously as they destroy themselves, fuck themselves up as a way to kill the pain or something. The mechanism probably has something to do with the mortal flesh but also masochism and sadism. On some level they suffered so that we could float along on that suffering, feeling at once both envious of their notoriety & wealthy but also feel superior to them because at their deepest point of decline they fucked over their lives, the opportunities handed to them – the genius somewhat squandered. What happens when you reach beyond the borders of the self through whatever means you have to transport yourself is that you are suddenly free of the constrictions imposed by society & it is here that you have to assume extra responsibility to convert the indulgence & the blown fuses into a moment of satori & insight & then impart that to the rest of us. & I think they probably did.
What has been the most interesting period in your life thus far and why?
Since my daughter was born in 2000, I have been saying this each year: each period of Paloma’s development is the most interesting – at that moment, different & equal to the rest. & this remains true: each year is fascinating, thrilling & very different – new situations, insights, issues … The same can be said for just about every period of one’s life. As far as writing, I seldom can write about the moment at hand. I need to let experience sit in a place & have the milk turn to cheese, the grapes turn to wine before I can harvest them. My early life, my early years after emigrating from outside Amsterdam to New Jersey as a 6-year-old squirt [just watch the opening credit scenes of The Sopranos & you will get a sense of where I spent my formative years – in the armpit of the world, where America shows us how to truly fuck up the land in every way possible] just outside NYC were an early source for inspiration since everything in that period is interesting because it is being experienced for the first time.
I am currently writing about my years in the Midwest – I’m not sure why – when I worked in a foundry in Flint, Michigan [a mini-Detroit] – a truly depressed and devastated post-GM town. It was already a hellhole by the mid-70s. I also drove a cab in Ann Arbor & hitchhiked all over America & had many amorous adventures. But probably the most packed & full & rich & stimulating & exhausting & exhilirating period was the period 1982–95, where I learned that – despite a lifetime of nerdiness [or maybe precisely because of that fact] I had a knack for winning the affections of a broad spectrum of women & if life needs to be measured it would be in terms of – in my case – affectionate contacts with women. Women guard the gates of heaven or may even be the very gates of heaven themselves. It was during this period that I experimented with how my consciousness interacts with its surroundings & this meant having many relationships with women & the realization that one can love more than one woman at a time. It was also during this time that I as a cancer as someone who loves stability & home & a steady relationship, stepped out of that comofort zone, listening to the writing muse, which in its greedy need to write through me at all times sought to direct me to pursue avenues, adventures I would not have had writing had I not greedily needed to consume experience to stay alive. So seeking adventure against my nature was of the essence here.
It was also a period of travel, of intense writing & how that writing began to turn around & influence who I was in concert with me & who I was in influencing the writing – it became a stride between my soul & the writing. It was also during this period I began to take long walks around the urban landscape & began to devise how to eliminate sleep & learn precisely how wandering & writing feed one another. It was during this period that the Beer Mystic was born, born out of a series of mind-altering experiences. It was during this period that the attraction of the night, night life, strippers, caught hold of me & I am not sure whether this was because of what I had read or because I needed experience to go on breathing. Like Serge Gainsbourg said: “provocation is my oxygen.” It was in the mid-1980s that a young woman became obsessed with me & began stalking in a very serious manner with her declaring her desire to be my slave [so that I could write]. She ended up in a car accident with a guy she was dating [perhaps] to spite me. She ended up in a coma from which she never emerged. I wrote a novel about it called OCEAN GROOVE OCEAN GRAVE. I also moved from NYC to Paris & this period of 3.5 years living there was eye-opening to say the least a fascinating merging of wandering, writing, musing. I returned to NYC where I eventually met my current partner Nina. We have been together since 1993. That alone makes her an extraordinary being bordering on sainthood.
But it was the NY-Paris period which I have most often returned to in my writing & this led to the two recently published books of zen-snapshots by London’s Barncott Press of NY SIN PHONEY IN FACE FLAT MINOR & PARIS SCRATCH.
Who has taught you the most secrets about booze, art, and music?
I would have to think long & hard about the long list of who precisely. It would be many writers, musicians & artists who came along at the right time in my life & it would not be any of them in a vacuum. It was their work in the context of the time & my/our place in that particular moment. This is why even today I cannot read a book just because it has been recommended or is currently being hyped or is known as a great must-read. So I still remember being inspired by certain musicians who spoke to me at a particular time that I would not & do not listen to now say most punk. Artists like Charles Birchfield [introduced to me by first wife-artist Valerie Haller] or Edward Hopper who to some I seemed to resemble in my writing. My poetry felt like his paintings. Writers like Joseph Heller, Sillitoe, Salinger, McGuane, even Brautigan, Breton, Rimbaud, Ceine, Baudelaire, Zola, Dostoyevsky [& probably many more] all spoke to me at certain moments in my life. There was also a long post-adolescent Dylan period [I wrote my own Tarantula] & the 1950s-60s European film directors of a new reality. Also Serge Gainsbourg who I have been fascinated with since being introduced to him in 1986 by my French girlfriend – his ability to use indulgence & excess for artistic & stylistic purposes is almost unmatched in our modern world – certainly cooler than Kurt Cobain or Sid Vicious or … It would also have to do with sorrow, loneliness & the desire to step outside the grinding reality that can be everyday life.
Not directly but somehow unconsciously I learned to construct an alternate reality – I’m no architect – based on a rearrangement of the senses that creates a satisfactory buffer between you & the harsh reality that seeps into your life no matter what you do. You can live to some extent & periodically like you’re on an extended vacation in the environment you create via booze, music, inspiration, women, writing – that excess can serve to strip bare the fat & doubt leading to intense exposed-nerve creativity & simultaneously serve as buffer to insulate & swaddle you is the magic of the alternative realities found in excess. This is, of course, not foolproof & prone to foolhardy activities but it does work to some extent in adding luster & fascination to a life that would otherwise be something barely endurable, nearly insufferable… Curiosity & creativity make something out of a dull, tasteless piece of meat where the only adventures involve death, dying, creative strategies to avoid taxes & betrayal.
What experiences in your life make you a GOOD writer and DJ?
Shyness! I thought that by becoming a writer I could avoid public appearances. You know, just write my novel, put it in an envelope, send it to a publisher & then secretly enjoy the evolving criticism & scandal. That is why I was in part so attracted to writers like Salinger, Pynchon & B. Traven – they were omnipresent in their very absence like a shadow burned into the pavement.
Meanwhile, at parties I was always painfully shy & disappointed by the host’s choice & arrangement of music, which eventually led me to take over the turntable at parties in part to not have to dance but also to somehow entertain & so hide at the same time I was shining & inevitably the compliments or at least some recognition would come & – yes – just the right woman would be intrigued by the DJ & fetch me a drink as I searched for that long, long track so that we could get to know each other. So, expression despite – & through – shyness.
There was also a period of a few years when I was at the perfect age – 21 through 26? – when you may be dating the daughter but may be mutually attracted to her [divorced] mother as well. Weird, scary, exhilirating, or transgressive – & possibly dangerous?
Other elements: illumination through inebriation [by the scent of woman, the rhythm of your wandering, the beer – but not always, of course], doing my time as a nerd who was mercilessly teased as a too-sensitive kid, women, Paris, NYC, Amsterdam, hitchhiking, driving a taxi, humility & resistance learned from 100 blue collar jobs including factory work & time as a foot messenger, possible dyslexia [discovered when Paloma was diagnosed with dyslexia] & how that offers other manners of thinking & problem-solving, but also the JFK assassination, hormones, women, the Vietnam war & becoming forever radicalized during that period & vowing to avoid all military duty, misinterpreting dreams, climbing mountains, women, long-distance running in high school [& having that literarily validated by Sillitoe’s “Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner,” proof that long-distance running was as close to writing a novel as a sport can ever get, & college, women, friends …
What Unbearables memory makes you smile?
There are many & they all involve our interactions with bars, liquor, literature, ego & a collective feeling of under-valuation by the reigning tastemakers & shakers [although this was seldom discussed because although our agenda was borne out of a certain loneliness, avoidance of hype [where suddenly everyone seemed to be a writer by the early 90s]. Like the Beatniks, our styles of writing, of being, of political engagement ranged from Hakim Bey’s almost mystical autonome anarchism to out and out obeisance to plainly apolitical literariness & the reigning spectacle [chasing any praise however that may be coerced from another living critical body] & any splash we could make on any level… What typified us to a great extent was that we were almost all working class edging on lower middle class in a world where those who had kept it & those who could flaunt it, did. What I mean is: Manhattan is filled with what has been tagged as “The Trustafarians” – those young ones who can use the Lower East Side as their playground & proving ground, where they have a mental map of where every ATM in their world is located. In other words, NYC was agag with these yuppie-weekend-punks who spent many hours bending your ear, telling you how poor they were & then suddenly hop in a cab uptown to their overpriced abodes [which you never got to see]. Carpet bagging hipsters who had had the time to study the mannerisms of the Beats to a tee & had learned to rechannel their status & entitlement into bohemian gestures – the old style oxymoron of the guy of means in holey jeans. We, with the aid of beer & a rollicking spirit informed by a philosophy of nothing left to lose, & that was expressed by our ability to confront petty power with our own bemused [& futile] deconstructions of power structures. We took the piss out of cafés or bars or clubs that took the piss out of us, which led to humor-based boycotts, trashings, send-ups whereby we made a shambles of the whole poetry scene, the reading format, the slam – we probably cared less than we should have or were careless to just the right degree & that was our magical period. When we did stuff without aforethought; pure by virtue of our lack of premeditation. At some point this switched over to self-consciousness – we got a load of meaningless media attention – whereby we suddenly thought we had a purpose, agenda, a raison d’etre or something & our events gained a pseudo-communist-surrealist seriousness where we thought we could have an effect.
We did numerous good readings, entire series but in the realm of the total this was no higher than say ¼ of the total number of Unbearable readings or events. Although our Brooklyn Bridge reading was a great conceptual success and our reading series at the Time Café was a break-through as far as low meets high culture, our best events were the unscripted, unconscious evenings at one of a number of hang outs [chiefly the Shandon Star, a déclassé Irish pub with bad food, terrible juke box & poor choice of haut beers – perfect for keeping the yuppies away… But it was at these non-events of pure hanging out that much happened without us knowing it – manuscripts were exchanged, readings were plotted & beers were purchased – 1 good free round deserved another… Our reading series at a Soho gallery included the visual & DJ efforts of Matty Jankowski who managed this huge vintage clothing warehouse at Houston & Broadway where he would gather & borrow wild collections of vintage clothes costumes for our various reading series.
Somehow – don’t ask me how – we managed to survive a highly competitive literary world where the stakes were low [a winner-take-all pot of very little money, a bit of applause, a free drink, publication in a magazine that looked invincible but disappeared after issue #3 without a trace] but they were the only stakes we knew how to play for. & the egos were almost unmeasurable, insurmountable, insufferable & we managed via our delicate dynamic to keep all of this ego & ambition plus frustration in line with beer, humor, compassion – & basically having nowhere else to be. An uneasy balance to be sure but somehow like a cocktail that needs to be shaken just right but not too much, we were able to even thrive & appreciate or at least bemusedly tolerate one another for an incredibly long period of time. Another part of it had to do with a fragile interwoven relationship between denial of membership in the Unbearables & yet holding on to some aspect of its dynamic & identity despite its inability to deliver any status or any other perk. A take on the Groucho Marx maxim: I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member. Both open & exclusive, priceless & useless, funny & ridiculous…
What is the “feeling” you miss the most nowadays when it comes to The Unbearables?
That tender, fragile, curious, uneasy, bemused, not-drunk-not-sober, unself-conscious, unmediated, unrecorded [a few blurry photos maybe] warmth whereby you are being listened to & you are listening & for a fleeting moment feel like you are part of something without being absorbed by that something, where there is a rumbling insinuation of something more going on but no one dare speak the name of that ephemeral ambience. A bond that for a silly fleeting moment knows no utility, no suspicion, no worries, no regrets, few inhibitions, no publication deadlines … It was in those moments where a compliment got you a beer & an insight would earn her a kiss & any interest would find you going home with a pile of DIY lit zines or her. The thereness in all its nowness & undocumented reverie, which led to the undoing of each & one of us from our selves.
Are there any memories from the Beats & Co. in New York that you’d like to share with us?
Meeting Ginsberg in college was probably enough to signal the fallible human inside the self-enamored myth. This did not make me hate him; it did lead to a total boycott of hero worship; that & the stupid demythifiying demise of Kerouac. I remember some writers inviting me to read with them & Herbert Huncke at some fleeting what was the name of that anarcho bookstore on the LES & so for days I stupidly prepared stuff in honor of Huncke & just making sure I was reading my best stuff, which I carried in my shoulder bag to the bookstore that night. I arrived fashionably 5 minutes after the reading was supposed to begin because all such events begin an hour after the set time & you only look desperate when you show up on time – how unhip. Well, the writers arrived even more fashionably late than I had & Huncke was the most fashionable of all – he was a no show.
The most heart-warming Beatnik experience was at the late-spring 1995 protests of the academically tinged Beatnik Conference at NYU & Town Hall where people paid $140 to hear scholars gush over the very Kerouac they would have sneered at had culture not so surpassed them that they, in an effort to recoup their credibilities, embraced this most anti-academic of writers. Daughter Jan Kerouac had not invited to speak [because she is not an academic!] & she joined our protests of the commodification of Kerouac & the Beats. We were later also joined by Gregory Corso on the picket line who had had enough & declared the conference shit & he chanted slogans like “DON’T BUY THE BEATS” as loud as any of the Unbearables. This was fully covered by the New York Times in its snarky neutral tone of distantiation. These protests came hot on the heels of our protests at that fortress of officious culture the New Yorker. Where in 2 separate protests we in a not totally serious manner demanded that the magazine update its “swimming pool” poetry to include more young [non-academic] poets, poets that spoke the language of the day. We even invaded the magazine’s offices & had a tense meeting with the poetry editor. It all ended in diffusion & confusion as our purpose remained suitably unclear & our goals never fully agreed upon. One of our frontline protesters secretly cut a deal with the poetry editor & in his retreat from the protest rhetoric was offered a poem in the New Yorker.
Of all the people you’ve ever met, who do you admire the most?
There have been many. In these situations, you’re supposed to say your parents I guess but although they struggled nobly & my mother at 87 is still tenaciously alive, I don’t think mere survival is noble enough. Just like heroes cannot be coerced by conscription or other means into heroism. In other words, heroes must choose their heroism. So the people who chose to resist during WWII are heroes & soldiers are not. Anyway, my parents found ways to survive at the low end & that was good for me & we ended up living not-so-low-end with many middle class comforts & I got to go to college. Heroism for me would first manifest itself in the person of Cathy Stamp, a rare bird, in an Upstate NY rural-set suburb. She was all about Swingin’ London down to the op-patterened miniskirts, the heavy make-up, the bob – like she just walked off the set of Blow-Up. I was being teased, shoved, ridiculed, dissed – wedges, buttons pulled off my shirt – to the point of crying almost every day by guys 3 or 4 years older than me at the bus stop and all the way to school on the bus. Until one day this bird, this gal from another planet, approached the bullies in the back & gave them a stylish harangue that put them so in their places that they were suddenly so quiet it was like there had been a shift in the planets or something. I sat near her on the bus from then on & they never bothered me again although they called her slut from a safe out-of earshot distance. That is heroic & heroic is admirable because it encompasses making a choice whereby you could bring harm to yourself.
I consider distant people: the Yippies, the Black Panthers, the Situationists & many more like them, the forerunners of today’s Anonymous and such, as heroes. People who choose dangerous confrontations with the powers of doom [governments & corporations] at the expense of a life of comfortable consumption. Admiring always involves going against the grain, for the underdog, the squashed and suppressed on whatever level. I have taken that with me since the days of my radicalization in the later 1960s. I will list a few people who are close to me who I continue to admire. First the dead who so embraced life: Yosarrian, Lydia Tomkiw, and Christine Bullard. Now the living: first my partner Nina for her steady, unegotistical activism & clear sense of vision; Black Sifichi for his uncompromising, tenacious art-making [24 hours of every day]; Brad-Lay for being 1.35 times funnier than the funniest known comedians on the face of this earth in part because he is not so sure he is; Eddie Woods who owns & shares an incomprehensible, unbridled enthusiasm for the power of the word to affect the world; but also people like friend & Bangladeshi activist Shipra Bose who is spectacularly pragmatic in her righteous radicalism to the point I would nominate her for Secretary-General of the UN & also way too many women & some men who have through depth of kindness & vision changed me for the better. & this does not even touch upon the many activists & idealists engaged in struggle against the current of the everyday atmosphere of business as usual, a level of hopeless cynicis where the only saving grace is making of shopping a hobby that brings distinction to the buyer, status that pretty much disappears the moment you tear the tags off the latest purchase. I salute those who work in the field & for organizations like Human rights Watch, PEN, Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth & Clean Clothes Campaign & many more underpaid idealists in the field bringing water & food & empowerment to the unempowered. Admired artists & such: Duchamp, Gainsbourg, Woody Guthrie, JG Ballard, Joe Strummer, Mark Stewart, Godard, Antonioni, Jean Seberg, but way too many to go on naming here…
Why do you think that the Beat culture continues to generate such a devoted following?
Commodification. The way that clothing manufacturers were able to transform Beatness into a lifestyle that requires the purchase of certain orchestrated ensembles of approximated dissipation. This was first done head-on in the late 1980s – although I think some Beatniks were actually in TV ads in the 1960s – I seem to remember when original Unbearable UK-poet Max Blagg with his chiseled good looks did a TV-ad poem for the Gap, a love poem for the eternal hipness/Beatness of blue jeans. He caught shit for that from the NY lit scene because he got paid mightily & gained attention from this ad. Sure, it was a sell-out; purity gets sullied by reality but, man, this guy took some heavy shit for doing this & we defended him at least any time any less-gifted poet would start with the self-righteous grousing. What escaped most people was that he needed cash to survive & he is an imminently better poet than 95% of those who were denouncing him – &, let’s be honest, they hadn’t been called upon themselves to appear in the ad. That Kerouac & Ginsberg & Larkin & Mailer & Susan Sontag & many others certainly were regulars on TV in their heyday seemed to escape many of Blagg’s critics & you never know when the hype faucet is going to shut down with not a drip to be found & you left there in the shadow with your dignity that can’t even get you on the guest list of a rock club featuring cover bands 7 days a week.
What mistakes of the Beat generation would you like to correct?
The idea that [self] indulgence can somehow remain edgy or lead to discovery for very long. Self-consciousness that leads to replication of the successes, which ultimately leads to an iconography that can eventually be mass consumed so that everyone can be alike in their gallant self-made movies of stylish resistance. Kerouac’s best books makes you forget the later crap like Satori in Paris, which is not recommended on any level except if you are interested in exploding the myth, a myth that might prevent people from truly appreciating the real Kerouac. The same can be said for Ginsberg, who probably didn’t write more than a sweaty handful of worthwhile poems after 1980 but the value of Ginsberg was as a symbol of refusal, of alternative lifestyle, of uninhibited embraces of life & so, even as a caricature & consumable icon of any former self he may have been in control of, he still served as a counter-friction to some extent to the spectacle even though he was deeply involved in creating that very trap known as the spectacle. It all gets complicated…
Do you know why the Beats are connected to booze, travels, and blues/jazz music?
The unruly heart. “Ecstasy of mind” as Kerouac put it. The wandering muse, the irrepressible spirit of the human to resist oppression, suppression, & repression on so many levels of our spiritual existence. The language of hip as a direct critical opposition to straight culture that, despite wacked behavior as fomented by reality shows & Youtube projecting anti-social behavior [public nudity, crudity, skateboarding & such] is still very much predicated on certain demented controls that have been absorbed by our DNAs, was developed by jazz musicians to codify a secret society apart as buffer from the deadening aspects of society & later gloriously lifted to poetic status by Slim Gaillard & thereafter by Kerouac & Lord Buckley & their kind. Jazz, bop, hard bop, but also other emerging subcultures with distinctive styles like rockabilly were able to for a small period exist as islands in the bloody stream before they too were totally absorbed into the mainstream. Booze & incoventional travel [hitchhiking, heroin, LSD, peyote, asceticism] & jazz & writing under their influence offered a portal into the curious & deep & clandestine & not readily available realities. It fails but continues to succeed dependent on approach, time, endurance, awareness.
Do you know why New York is associated with the underground and avant-garde culture?
It once served, before it sold itself to the rest of the world as the center of this world, as the best hideout from one’s past demons, the best getaway from tradition, convention, oppression where one could be in the middle of things & be totally ignored, which passed as acceptance & in this hiding in the middle of it all, the artist could thrive on a shoestring but those times have long since passed & have made it almost impossible to be a not-yet-successful writer without an alternative source of funding otherwise you end up working an 80-hour week with no time or energy left for creation. & so that idyll described in Ed Sanders’ brilliant Tales of Beatnik Glory or in the works of that time that in the period before it learned to brashly market itself, NYC was the Paris of another age but hasn’t really been that for a quarter century now – despite what so many [with their various vested interests] will take great pains to try to convince you of otherwise …
If you could return to the past what would you do differently and what would you avoid given a second chance?
I would probably have been a little more pragmatic & determined & not so scared of the bold & annoying expressions of ambition. I would try to be more wide awake & make sure more of life touched me. An example that might explain this: In 1993, I lived in a closet that I was paying over $300 per month for in an upcoming neighborhood in Brooklyn. Then I met Nina who lived on the edge of Park Slope in the last ridiculously affordable apartment in the area. Several years later, we moved to Amsterdam & a short story of mine appeared in “De Americas” issue of the Belgian magazine Yang. In that same issue was a sort of post-modern autobiographical sketch written by Luc Sante, whose book Low Life I admired greatly. In that sketch, he detailed a life that so much mirrored mine – at the same age that he emigrated from Belgium to New Jersey I emigrated from the Netherlands. We both grew up in Jersey before eventually moving to NYC at about the same – that I thought I had to get in touch with him. We hit it off & met in Rotterdam at the Hotel New York, symbol of immigration to the New World. There it became clear we shared many more biographical details including where he lived – two blocks from where Nina lived in Brooklyn – to having overlapping circles of friends & even counting among our friends some of the same people! Despite all this we never really met although we may have passed each other like clubbies in the smokey interior of Tier 3 or the Mudd Club. At some point during our conversation I heard myself for the first time in many, many years utter regret. I said to Luc that I wished I had chosen a more rigorous writer’s path in the sense of formal education, of doing research, of going more for head than heart – that the heart stuff now seemed pretty flimsy – & told him how much I admired his choices that led to the writing of Low Life. & he, to my total astonishment, turned to me & admitted that he wished he had chosen more of my [seeming] carefree lifestyle. This was to me a total revelation & I probably figured he said what he said about me only to be gracious … But what it really showed was how, despite all of those links & levers & cross-related friends & connections & writing worlds & having lived in NYC for almost the same period that we never met & some consider this a positive thing while others consider it a definite downside that in all the phenomena, the sensory overload, all the experience that is thrown at you to the point of sleeplessness where you are at the total mercy of one’s surroundings, so wired to the surrounding buzz that you can never get the proper distance to gain accurate perspective & you end up not meeting fellow NYers until after you move out of NYC & you rediscover who you are …
Which of historical personalities would you like to meet? To whom would you like to send some of your book?
Perhaps naiveté can be excused if it can be packaged as a proposal on the level of some of Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit art provocations. I would get together with like minded beer evangelists like the Beer Party of Prague, which, like me, believes that beer can be used to alleviate some of the world’s major problems. I used to have these dreams about solving world conflicts – wars – believing that if the ugly soldiers were replaced by the world’s most beautiful representatives of that country, sexy women dressed provocatively to the point where womanly beauty distracts one from the idiocy of the conflict so much by its radiant, immersive, entrancing beauty, soldiers worldwide would put their weapons down & refuse to shoot at beings of such beauty thus attesting to the power of beauty & art – & woman. Yes, I had those plans. I think the same could be done with beer & perhaps also with one of my other major topics, yodeling, each – female beauty, beer & yodeling – have the ability to cross all cultures despite the fundamentalist-nationalist control-freak outbursts of some & come to a happy place of shared conviviality over beer, which may lead to duets involving yodeling to small talk about who cares, say cars, football, movies, literature, new apps, the taste of beer, the beauty of women – whatever it takes to distract men & take the men out of “mendacity” & come to the revelation that we are all more alike than we care to admit.
What is your “secret” DREAM and NIGHTMARE? What turns you on?
Well, see the above scenario. I think peace can be brokered like Yoko Ono believes by speaking the language of love of beauty & art. I do, to some extent have a similar dream: the idea that art may lead us away from the selves that have been created by those whose interests are best served by division & conflict: corporations & governments.
What MOTTO of yours you would like to stay forever? What is the best advice ever gave you?
Too much is not enough & not enough is sufficient. [I seek a balance between pursuing the limits of the body & senses with a humility amidst our plenty & so, ironically, arrive at a kind of moderation in the face of the mass consumerism of indulgence.]
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