He’d seen Ornette play Philly in ’59. Was delighted. Liked his way of improvising, creating melodically, chord changes be damned.
Would you like to know me better? Do you wanna know me better? ’Tain’t likely, like why the hell should you, and I’m not sure I want ya to anyway. More writeboy confession shit — I know—I wouldn’t wanna read it either. Nothing could make me read past this sentence, or even last sentence, and I sure as heck don’t “want” to write it. No way. But want — wish — choice—has got so little to do with it, even writing good-stuff — master-works — is hardly something I desire.
You write Crime and Punishment, okay? But I owe a piece, I owe many pieces. I’m two years behind and it’s just kind of spilling out of me — can’t keep it in. I can never keep it in, can’t keep my mouth shut, my fingers still — what a beginning. Here ’tis. I’m about, I think, to shed another layer. Skin. Shed it in life, that is, or anyway in writelife, without taking the Big Shed like my pal — same first name — Richard Grossman.
Let’s see if I can piece together, recapitulate the sequence. There’s a sequence to this. Yes, there ; is a this to this. One, Richard dies. My friend. Cancer. Lung cancer — he never even smoked. Not much. Not enough to. Fifty-four years old. Not old. A close friend — and here I am exploiting him. Am I exploiting him? Probably, as much as I’m exploiting you, and since I am, here’s a poem. Well, before the poem, boy am I shame-less, let me explain the poem.
Cancer. So bad, so advanced he needed oxygen. All these tanks around the house. Tube would go around his ears and into his nose. Something like a hatband holding on a hat. Not a hatband: the band that goes under your chin. The strap. Only his went around the ears, holding the breathing end tight to his nose. So it never lost contact. For leaving the house there was a porta-pack. Three hours’ worth or some such, with a meter.
His wife didn’t drive so the three of us went and I drove and carried the porta-pack to various doctors, both conventional and un. Then he wasn’t strong enough to leave but we still talked about when he did feel strong I would drive him to some nice outdoor spot, him and the oxygen, a park somewhere, sunshine, somewhere pleasant. No more doctors but a park. Trees and the horizon.
Then the weather got bad. Smog and 100-degree days, 98,102. Uncomfortable for anybody, ruinous for Richard. Day after day after. Lousy time to have to get set to leave the world. All times lousy but this time worse. Even with pure O2, gimme a break. They ordered air conditioning. Never had it, couldn’t afford one, got it. Delivered, installed, didn’t make much diff. He could no longer really eat and barely drank. I came over and sat with him during, while his wife went out shopping for some soup he used to like. And might maybe find the current wherewithal to eat. Or possibly sip.
He watched a baseball game, tail end of the season, Pittsburgh and somebody on cable. Sort of watched. Mostly slept. In a chair. Had to sleep vertically in order to breathe. Breathing was hard and comfort was hard, leg comfort especially. His body could no longer handle the fluid, and both legs swole up like tree trunks. His face meantime was gaunt and this fatty thing, an old lipoma, harmless but jeez, stood out on his neck like a lemon-size tumor. While he slept his head kept bobbing forward, losing him his pillow. I put it back.
At one point he woke, we looked in TV Guide, he sees a movie. Good movie. Only it’s 3 a.m., the listing, and here we are: p.m. Hits the remote, can’t find it — hurts me deep to have to tell him. Look again. Finally we spot Rockford Files—his favorite. One of his favorites. Right time and everything. “A treat,” he says, weak smile, then puts back on the walkman headset. A very private guy, never liked inflicting sound on adjacent apartment people. Wouldn’t even wait until they banged the wall to tell him lower it. Music sound, TV sound, any sound — even at 3 in the afternoon, Monday. I put on a pair too, his wife’s pair — Dottie, that’s her name, wife of 34 years — plug in, the theme comes on, Richard sez, more emphatically: “Blast off.” Which oughta be enough. more than, too much, to prime you and ’splain you my goddam poem:
DEATH MINUS FIVE AND COUNTING
for Richard Grossman
O2 tube in nostrils earphones in ears air conditioner: on (the weather is a bitch)
fluid-bloated hippo legs up 1 ...2 on a towel-covered
chairtheme song from Rockford
and in 5 minutes
(and in 5 days you’ll be dead) neck bent
like a twig about to snap
face not at
pillow falling things falling bottles falling bottles breaking thick green or blue glass but no glass
not a sound
Which is really telling, I think — the no sound, and also the headset, no inflict it on apartments — considering the guy was first and foremost a musician. A master of, by his own admission, Weird Music — but who am I to tell you how to “take” my poesy?
He played piano and he died and I wrote not only the poem but an obituary. In which I wrote: “In an even semi-ideal universe, Richard Grossman, who died last week of cancer, would at some point in his 54 years have received at least a down payment on the recognition he deserved as a true monster of the jazz keyboard, a player and innovator on a par with Cecil Taylor, Borah Bergman and nobody— really— contemporary else. As with ’50s piano giant Herbie Nichols, with whom he shared both the refusal to compromise his artistry and a Buddha-like professional forbearance” — hey (I didn’t write, but’s true), he got maybe half a gig every blue moon, worked fulltime in a shitty record store, owned no actual piano the last 15 years — “it would be easy to say he died unsung, but in his last decade Grossman accomplished much, even most, of what he set out musically to do.”
And later, “In its final form, his music was totally spontaneous, totally unpremeditated — ‘free’ — free from chord changes, from explicit, even implicit; time signatures, from easy reliance on riffs, licks and all such habitual etcetera — free as relatively few improvisors, even in Free Jazz per se, have actually played it.” And: “Such stuff may not be ‘for everyone’ — player, listener — it doesn’t have to be. But in an era when shameless parrots (the Marsalises), appealing if fastidious reshufflers (Geri Allen, Marcus Roberts) and former firebreathers playing it safe on the dotted line (Charlie Haden, David Murray) are the basic face of jazz to the world, jazz NEEDS men/women willing to revisit the fount, to unwaveringly man the frontier — to be way the heck Out There — and Richard Grossman was out there. May his legacy enrich and nurture us all.” Wrote that too.
Then the poem. Which I folded and sealed in an envelope and gave it to Dottie ’cause I wasn’t sure if the time was, that it was still, yet, too soon for, you know. You know. Poem was kind of graphic. She unsealed it however and said okay, read it. That’s a lie, no, not a lie. Misremembered. Now I remember: only closed. Not sealed. Opened and read. I could read it. Did. At the memorial. Originally set as a benefit, y’know, medical costs, y’know, enormous — but he didn’t make it. Died first. More than two weeks ahead of. So I read it, and read Tristan Tzara’s “The Death of Guillaume Apollinaire,” and tried to read the liner notes to Richard’s second album, which didn’t go over — prose is a tougher read — longer lines, less white space — and introduced all the people playing: Vinny Golia, Alex Cline, Nels Cline, Ken Filiano, Cruel Frederick, Wayne Peet, Bonnie Barnett, Rob Blakeslee from Portland, Steve Adams, G.E. Stinson, etc., etc.
And cried, and other people cried, and talked, and everybody hugged and all the usual. Bobby Bradford had the flu or a cold so he couldn’t make it.
One afternoon three weeks later I for no especial reason put on a record I hadn’t listened to in years, Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz, recorded 1960. When I was in college a couple years after that I used it sometimes to chase people out of my dorm room. “Cacophony.” “Noise.” The obvious buzzwords. D. Gerber from across the hall put Merthiolate on the sleeve — “This record is sick.” Everybody’s idea of jazz then was like Kind of Blue, Someday My Prince Will Come or Stan Getz,
“Desafinado.” Gerry Mulligan. Brubeck. Stuff that gets you laid or you can study by; the hits. Even the earlier Ornette albums, as “atonal” and “anarchic” as they must’ve sounded to most people, at least had tunes. Little opening song-things to ritually depart from. This was eight guys just blowing—or it’s how they sounded then. In retrospect I always thought of it as a high water mark of collaborative blow-your-brains-out. That and New York Eye and Ear Control, with Ayler and Sonny Murray— those guys. But that wasn’t out yet. Neither was the overrated one of the bunch, slightly overrated. Ascension. Free Jazz I regarded, and cherished, as barely ordered chaos: jazz’s first fearless take on the groundless ground from which it (like everything) sprung, or on what it would sound like to yank every carpet of convention from under itself. Then I played it again and thought of Richard.
He’d seen Ornette play Philly in ’59. Was delighted. Liked his way of improvising, creating melodically, chord changes be damned. Minor reservations later but not then. (Three years before I’d even heard of him.) Well here, anyway, this listen, every time I cocked an ear it seemed Ornette and Don Cherry were playing “Ramblin’” (which they cut the year before for Change of the Century) and Dolphy and Freddie Hubbard were playing “Green Dolphin Street” (which they cut 6 to 8 months before for Outward Bound). Not following chords, no, nothing that crass, but, well, when in doubt they stuck to familiar turf. Both drummers, likewise, both bass-players are playing 4/4 half the time. More than half. The music’s fine (more or less), it’s jake, but nobody’s exactly “spontaneously inventing.” Proceeding from nothing. Not totally. Not often. Which is not to say they couldn’t have — if anybody then could’ve, they could’ve — easily— except Freddie Hubbard — they just didn’t. The ensemble textures are wild and nuts, they are making beautiful noise, but the whole thing falls far short of being as capital-f Free as it purports to be. Or maybe it’s not really purporting. Dunno. Anyhow, my thoughts upon hearing: something to talk to Richard about — a real stickler for such biz — talk to him but I can’t. Ashes. (Cremation.)
Which I’m not saying caught me by surprise: bang. That I hadn’t been thinking it, then I had. That I’d been thinking generally, universally, “music-historically,” then somehow he came into it. Like some dumb poem by Shelley. No. Or a great poem (if there are any) by Shelley. No. Focused somewhere, then bingo...somewhere else. Keats? Jackson Browne? It was just, well...sudden realization of the finality of...not sudden but...verbal side of...who’m I supposed to talk to ’bout this stuff now? Who knows it from the other side, the creation side, of its being. Which maybe is a dumb poem by Shelley. Beyond the loss of a friend, the loss of. What Richard would say, what Richard would say: I will never now know what he would have said about • Not that we always agreed, shit, he thought Paul Bley was a great free player. Good dialogue tho. And he made me get The Max Roach Trio Featuring the Legendary Hassan and he made me get Sideshow by 8 Bold Souls, and if I had the power I would make you go get his best: Trio in Real Time (Nine Winds 0134). YOU, yes, hi — welcome back to the piece. Get it (P.O. Box 10082, Beverly Hills, CA 90213) — one of the great piano trio albs of All Time. I’ll never ask you for anything ever again.
And the other thing I was thinking was raga rock. While listening to Ornette. Charlie Haden and Scott LaFaro — the bass guys — they get to solo. Towards the end, which reminded me, actually, no kidding, of “The End.” Musically. The Doors. Not dissimilar. The Robby Krieger stuff. Stringed instruments. Which in turn suggested “Eight Miles High.” Byrds. Which I put on. And other Byrds: “I See You,” “Lay Down Your Weary Tune,” “Draft Morning,” “Wasn’t Born to Follow.” And sooner or later, not even sooner — immediately — I was time traveling.
To realms, regions, pockets, corners covered (or alluded to) in my other piece which appeared in these pages on, lemme see...3/14/91. “A Tale of Two CDs.” I’m sure you saved it. No reason for me to repeat myself. Hate to repeat myself— the influence of R. Grossman. See — two years pass and I could get away with it. Lots of people do it but not me. (You should thank me.) In that piece I hadn’t yet heard the Byrds CD box, which doesn’t have “If You’re Gone,” doesn’t have “Get to You,” doesn’t have “Why” (LP version), doesn’t have “Gunga Din” (from Ballad of Easy Rider) — why’dn’t CBS just release the complete Byrds on CD? — but now I have. Heard. Aren’t you glad to hear that? Soon you’ll know everything about me. Next piece I’m writing — this is true: condoms I have known. (Prepare yourself accordingly.)
Warm sliding sun through the cave of your hair (“I See You”): full-color memories of College Sweetheart (see Reader, 3/14/91). Came out after she was g-g-gone. It’s a bright sunny day when I see you run my way/But it took me 20 years to get to you (“Get to You”): scenarios of her eternal return, released when I was already with the next one. Half of what made it so hard to be with her — next one — was having to hear all these sides come out with lyrics I could only relate to the old one. Sappy songs and un- that would functionally rekindle all the 1-1-love, all the pain of loss I thought I’d gotten over, and at the same time be great terrific songs that just happened to have all this crap as their primary circumstance. For me in the privacy of my own. Or not so private. ’Cause I had to keep it all bottled, even the simple enjoyment of experiencing ’em simply as tunes-I-liked — and these were good days for tunes — keep it from the dope I was living with. For fear she could read right through it.
There were prior constraints on how I’d hear anything. Nothing I heard, nothing new that was coming out, had a snowball’s chance in hell of meaningfully impacting on my relationship with the dope — cut it out, she wasn’t a dope — or serving as a soundtrack, or just playing some minor role of music-as-dealt that we could appreciate (together) in a current events, current culture type of way. No that ain’t true, there were some things at the dawn of our whatsis (the first Moby Grape LP, parts of the second Doors) that did manage to penetrate our collective etc. and which we did later replay, revisit occasionally — though eventually they just seemed so ancient it only underscored how joyless the whole thing had been from point A to —
Who cares? Do you? Music triggers such hokum so easy. Too easy. Can’t even say I care much anymore — now, later, writing it — which just goes to show ya the immense gap — fissure — chasm between experience time and write time — just giving you, filling in the sequence. From swimming in this shit to standing ashore, toweled dry, trying to recall every mushy merry molecule. You can trigger remembering — sure — but try remembering remembering. Even enjoyable remembering. And try (present tense) enjoying it. Like how long you think it’s taken me to compose all of this? Three days? Four days? Three weeks so far: believe it. And notice the steady increase in italics — a palpable sign of duration. I’m slow, I admit it. Fast forward to the shirts.
Which I went and got from Dottie. Richard’s shirts. And a couple ties. When I call her on the phone I’m never just “Richard,” never have been — and ’specially not now. “Richard Meltzer” — the whole package. I say it fast: “Richardmeltzer.” Unpleasant if not flat-out unsettling having to willfully avoid those triggers. Triggering widow grief. And my discomfort with widow grief. And my own grief, which is already triggered in avoiding all the triggering. Or maybe I’m just skittish. It was tough enough going for the shirts, being given that day to some place for the blind; with misgivings I asked her to save me some. The “louder” ones. Patterns and stripes. “Bold” colors. Maybe I’d always coveted them. Probably. Well yeah, but I didn’t wanna steal ’em from a dead man or from Dottie or the blind. Wanted to but — tough. And tougher than taking: talking — you think I find it easy? Talking about, sure, and talking to dead people, gone people — but talking to live people isn’t my forte. Having shed some insulation, however, having been energized by all this memory lane bullcrap, I figured I could manage, in fact I was eager.
To talk and get shirts — shirts were just a cover — I went to talk firstlove with Dottie. Married at 20 — my age at the time of College Sweety— I knew they met at Temple, a true great True Love tale — so I axed her: “First?” “You mean literally?” “Yeah.” “Not literally.” But close. More questions: more answers. Lunch. Very teary-eyed and cathartic. And I left with seven shirts. Like the black longsleeve with faces — a beaut! — he used to perform in it. I will be proud to wear it, as right now I’m wearing (proudly) the pink denim. Maybe it’ll help me write faster. Better I can always manage, but for faster I need outside assistance. Supernatural welcome. And maybe Dylan.
Who I played right after the Byrds. After playing them out. Can’t see needing them again for a while. Same guy who sent me the Byrds sent me the Dylan box — I can still pretend to be a rock-writer. Whorish for free musical objects. Bob Dylan: The Bootleg Collection — or whatever it’s called. Picking up dust. I hadn’t opened it. Hadn’t played Dylan since, oh, I don’t know, ’76, ’77. Since he ran out of et cet. Would be too consuming — ain’t a rockwriter — to grocery-list the et cet. So anyway I check the tunes, the bill of fare — is there anything I wanna hear? No; no; no; no; let’s see, last cut, disc 2: “Idiot Wind.” You know it: You’re an idiot, babe/It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe. Nasty, nasty. Check the booklet, whatsit, the original studio version. Fairly acoustic. Intended for release on Blood on the Tracks, then he changed his mind. Added drums and organ, changed some lyrics, made it nastier. Okay, play it.
Well it fucking blew me away. They say I shot a man named Grey!And took his wife to Italy/She inherited a million bucks/And when she died it came to me/I can’t help it if I’m lucky— call me Ishmael! Had I noticed these lines in ’74? ’75? When’d it come out? What acoustic versions will do for you — above and beyond — is make things clearer. Clear this and clear that and for 8:51 I’m just sitting there stunned thinking things I hadn’t thought in, well, since I was a rockwriter. When I saw Blue Velvet, the scene where Dennis Hopper goes all weepy over whatsername singing the tide tune, and then Dean Stockwell and that simpy Roy Orbsion thing, I was reminded, vividly, of what it once meant to be a rockwriter. One of the cornerstones of it. Its most attractive calling card. To me at least. UNIT SONGS AS UNIVERSE. Crummy little nothings — every crummy little nothing — manifesting EVERYTHING. Have I written this already? I must’ve written it. Well “Idiot Wind” — acoustic — isn’t even crummy.
Thoughts while listening. Prose (on paper) is much more naked than songs with lyrics. Songs with lyrics are really lyrics accompanied by song. Only thing more dressed than rock songs is manipulative movies with manipulative soundtracks: dressed double — dressed triple — dressed fake at all times dressed. Dylan, arch deconstructor before the fact, was the true prophet of MTV: music as expedient abettor of images, as advert track for self, as self-contained advert for itself, as minimum (and only) excuse for being thereat all. And likewise the last of the Beat poets, and on bluster alone their second or third best (better, you bet, than Lou Reed) — which is not however to say he’s the second or third best Beat writer. What he did, all he had to do, was take Woody by way of Whitman by way of Ginsberg and put it to music, then take the music and put it to music — he musicalized music — rock was once good for that — as masterful a stroke in the technology of poetry-as-dealt as the use of great stupid expedient rhyme to score early points for his was-it-even-poetry? Was! “Idiot Wind” = “Later: One of Us Knows” — or is it “Just Like an Older Woman”? “Like Another Rolling Stone”? “Positively 4th, 5th and 6th Streets”?
And thinking this biz I also remembered, although that’s prob’ly too strong a word, some present-tense buzz of past possibility — I sort of remember — might be wrong — that Dylan is where I first became a writer. Got the notion, the urge to be one. That listening to him — mid to late ’60s — is where and when I chose it. Didn’t read books then, y’know. Didn’t ’til I was almost 40. For school, for review purposes, okay — but never “for pleasure.” For nurture. Well maybe I read one Burroughs — Nova Express was out then. Rockroll, tho, is where I got my heaviest dose of wordspew. Uses of language. Rock once was literature, and I don’t mean “good” as opposed to, y’know, “bad.” And not that Dylan was even arguably the best at it — he was just one of many—but from the writer side, imagining myself on the writer side, Dylan must’ve seemed easier to pull off than the Beatles, say, the Kinks, the Stones.
The “automatic writing”...grocery-listed imagery...tossed-off rhyme...no difference, no distance, between artworld art and pop...but mostly the arrogance, the brattishness: top of the world, Ma! All pursued with such high, and high-booty, ambition. Where the object at the very least was to change the world. Well, recollecting all this, or believing I do, and aiming somewhat low, I refuse now to die unsung, just as at 22 (seeing myself as Dylan) I refused to be unsung. Recognition Now! I’m talking then. Self-willed I-write. Am-a-writer. Like I’d already been writing, at 22 this is, filling drawers and cartons with the stuff, but never thought it was as worth doing as, say, painting. And certainly not music. And never believed it was something I’d always do. In fact hoped otherwise. And then I changed my mind. I think ’cause of Dylan. Or maybe not.
Then I put on the other version, the later one. On scratchy vinyl. Could I really have played it that much? Unplayed in 15 years. And the revisions — amazing. Spring goes from turning quickly into autumn to slowly; gravity, from pulling them in to pulling them down; a lone soldier on the hill is moved to the cross; hoofbeats in his head become her chestnut mare; first he throws the I Ching, then he sees a fortune teller; a priest runs around while the building burns, then sits stone-faced while ditto; blowing from the Grand Coulee Dam to the Mardi Gras, idiot wind reroutes to the Capitol; blah blah blah. Not to mention a turn-up of the nasty knob. Two very dissimilar versions: I like the way this bastard works...worked then. As wholly other as the first and second takes of Matisse’s The Dance. It’s nice sometimes to witness your peers’ dirtywork. In the final analysis, in this final analysis, the bootleg box “Idiot Wind” is a good solid novel that stayed too long, while the Blood on the Tracks retake is great rock and roll — and you know where my current preference lies. ’S what I do now: novels. A novel. How trite and bourgeois. Why am I writing a novel?
Well it started as something else. I had a book out, L.A. Is the Capital of Kansas— remember? Maybe you don’t, they wouldn’t review it in this sheet — thought it would smack of “nepotism.” A collection of pieces, 10-12 years’ worth, good’uns one and all, though only about my second or third best plausible collection of pre-writtens. ’Cause it had to all be about L.A. — that was the selling point — books’re s’posed to have selling points — which is how I got to do one in the first place. Idea was, since it was anti-L.A., since I had enough pieces that were, that New York and other L.A.-hating places would buy it, and it wouldn’t matter (since nobody reads in L.A., they read more in Miami, f'rinstance — publishers know this) if nobody bought it in the very burg and ’burbs it was about. Funny, ’cause that’s where they bought it — maybe it was the cover (pink/green with a cow and palms): so much for letting demographics generate hardbacks. So well anyway: two explanations how the next one ended up a novel.
First — the obvious — my editor says, “Hey—how’d you like to do a novel?” Hmm...I dunno. There’s so many other things I’d rather. But it hadn’t been so easy getting the other book—when one is offered, you jump at it. Plus the challenge: pull it off, you’re a tough guy. I’m a tough guy, I know I’m tough a guy, why not be a tough guy? “Okay, sure.”
But that wasn’t it. No. What I’d wanted in the first place, before the L.A. book, and still wanted, first and foremost, was a means of collecting my best best material — 20 years’ worth — no limits on subject — a stack o’ pulp that would not so much say L.A. is some kind of dump (or anything topical at all) as This sonofabitch can write. The author. We’d discussed other possibilities, even a rock anthology — 1000s of my scribblings to choose from (and a groovy title: A Whore Just like the Rest: The Rock Journalism of Richard Meltzer) — but all were topical. Sports, TV, sex, whatever. My writerly ass was j ust too invisible — the argument went — to a trans-top-ical, trans-regional, y’know, national audience to merit publication of an across-the-board stack For then and the foreseeable. What to do? How was I to “document” (for this wider readership) my literary muscle and mettle — all the moves, all my tricks, my optimum show and tell—how to do it then, no waiting, and not have to start from blank-page scratch? How...how—okay— got it. A way to get some of it reprinted. Recycled. If Raymond Chandler could “cannibalize” his stories and regurge them as chapters of novels, so could I. Chew and spit mine. Originally done as “nonfiction”? No prob. A distinction which never meant dick to me.
So I looked through, pared down, made a selection from my hottest and most serviceable short pieces — memoirs of the ’60s, old girlfriend stories, thoughts on baldies and dentists, an account of the rude things I did on acid at my sister’s wedding, smut poems written for Night of the Macho Poets, summer ’86 at the Roxy—and undertook the chore, if you could even call it that, of making them “fiction.” Most of this stuff was full of lies in the first place. Flights of fancy. Rantings to no journalistic, no concrete nonfictional end. All I’d have to do would be to change names, fuss with dates, do some minimal modifications to bring everything into passable stylistic sync, and — voil — simply call it fiction. First-person fiction (natch). What fun, what mischief.
So who ya think the joke ends up on? The page count from all my recycles, from those that seem compatible following a reasonably conscientious mix and match, turns out to be less than 75, closer to 50. And that’s before rewrite. Beyond any mandated adjustments, I can’t leave a page, a word, a syllable alone — perfection time, daddy. ’Cuz this was like my baby, right? So after six months of revision I’ve barely got a toe in the door—I’m at 35 pages, 40—what I thought would take me no months. And to make these scattered chapters even work, to enable them as seeds to germinate and generate a viable honey of a book — a so-called finished Novel (or even Anti-novel: whuddo I care?) — I’m then stuck building all kinds of ridiculous bridges, filling gaps between ’em which after FOUR YEARS ALREADY I haven’t put a dent in. Or maybe I have. A dent. 200 pages to go? 150? Where if I’d started from scratch, who knows, maybe I’d be done by now. The 250 or so I’ve got might be it.
Needless to say, I overestimated the prospect of mischief. How could anything this protracted, this malignant, be an act of mischief? With every new chapter my deadpan gains momentum. And chapters take so long I forget by the time they’re done where they even belong. What began as a projected masterwork has turned into an itchy, crawly Life’s Work — “My” Mess and Welcome to It — parallel though by no means identical to, and rarely ever nourished by, the mess that is the life from which and within which it continues to be writ. A life shackled with the cheesiest of obsessions: trying to fit the ocean in a pickle jar.
There are mornings and nights where I v. much feel I have NOTHING to say. Nothing left to say. Nothing ever to say — never had it. Papers on the floor, covering my bed, table, chairs, every inch of horizontal space taken up by notes and sundry for chapters-in-progress. Haven’t vacuumed or dusted since ’91. Great for the lungs. I ask my gal Irene: “Is this the home, the cell, of a defeated man?” No, she says; I’m not sure I believe her. That she actually means it. Of course she isn’t right — merely that she means it. Meantime there’s sating the wolf — keeping him at arm’s length — hand’s length — from my door. For every second I’m busy earning the rent — finishing this — I’m not finishing that. Novel. (Fiction advances, unless you’re Stephen King, won’t keep you housed — fed — materially alive for half a year.) Slipping ever further in the mire. Only respite without guilt is when people die. Or dying. Laundry, food shopping, tooth brushing — you think I have the time? Stamina? The day-to-day of all this — no lapse in effort or you fall off the Edge — seems as hopeless as fighting cancer. As fighting it hopelessly. Is this what they mean by “denial”? Every metaphor cuts both ways. Do I have the stamina any longer to even pretend?
But obviously I don’t have cancer. Don’t have AIDS. Don’t know if I do but writing isn’t it. My hardships are v. likely less than yours. I work at home — fuck me. I can drink on the job. Fart. Take naps. Not asking for compassion — I said I wouldn’t ask you — just think it is your right to know. That it’s all done with mirrors, it’s all a rope of sand. The life behind the write: behold what’s behind it. Below it. All the ersatz glamor “deconstructed.” Thought for once I wouldn’t pretty for you, pretty the surface. Or bolster the gimpy, splintery scaffold that underpins. That trucks on intimate hourly terms with the Void. The Pit. The mighty showoff of non-surrender, surrendered. A writeperson: naked and shivering. Or maybe I’m just bluffing. Impersonating a naked writer. Say it. I can take it.
Meanwhile, back to. Travel back within this idiot piece. Richard Grossman as role model?? Yes, for chrissakes, 1 will make every day count...I won’t throw in the towel...will do what mus’ be done to stay live, whole and functional...not be terrified by my own stink of life lived-not-died...be creative if it kills me (and it won’t)...onward to th’ fuck knows where...inch by inch. (Yay.)
Shed? If on page one 1 sounded hopeful — “about to shed my skin” — “a layer” — now I ain’t so sure. Hope has become want has become need. Need to shed it. Shed what? After 25 years at this racket — in two days I’ll be as old as Kerouac the day he died — maybe I’m on the verge of getting less cranky. Maybe that’s it.
Waiting for a sign. I’m not waiting for a sign. No time for signs. How ’bout a dream? Two dreams. It’s the first day of college. Sophomore or junior year. A get-acquainted dance, my hep-cat buddy Dave puts on his best shirt, slicks back his hair, says, “Let’s go — maybe meet some chicks.” We’ll have a drink first — Seagram’s Royal Crown from his glove-compartment stash. I decide to go “as I am,” and when I’ve finished finish my shot I think Chicks, okay, but if no chicks it is, that would be just as good. I say it aloud: “Just as good.” Dave thinks I’m nuts but I’m the one smiling as we enter the gym. I am overjoyed with my “discovery” — that it doesn’t really matter if you cop or you don’t. No diff ’tween a win and a loss far as consequences go!
Then this other one I’m in high school. Last day. Last class. Teacher — I’m surprised to see her — Miss Juniper — was my homeroom teacher in the 7th grade. A commie-hating papist, stern is not the word, and one hot-looking broad. Gave me 80 in English and a D in conduct. June Juniper. After all these years here I am — and now she’ll love me: a professional writer. I’ll strut her what I know now and c’n do now — I will dazzle her down to her feet. Las’ day and how typical — she’s making everybody work. Our grades are in, graduation’s in a couple hours, yet she’s got us reading papers on “narrative theory.” Narrative theory! I know narrative theory — know it from the inside looking out. I will read her — have got it on an index card — an actual “narration.” Wrote it myself — this oughta wow her — the one about midnight in Tustin. No second-hand for me. Plenty of time, maybe I can memorize it. Now where the fuq is it? Look in my pockets, it’s not in my pockets. Not in my hat. Try the desk, just some coins and medallions and flyers for punk rock. Shit. And they’re all reading and they’re all reading — try my jacket. Just some money and some papers and some money — twenties and a five and a fifty — damn. This is maddening. Rare stamps...theater tickets.-.checks. Where’s my card?!?!
Yeah, those two. I will base the remainder of my days upon one or both, shedding layers accordingly. If I know shoot from shinola I will. Many layers left, so many layers left: peel away. Every layer doomed: a relentless finality. End without end. (Amen.)
First I’ll go listen to “Dear Prudence.”