Babel Magazine Interview Pt. 4
(This is the 4th and final interview conducted by Victor Thorn and I a few years back. Since Bable Magazine has folded, I figured I'd post the various parts on this blog.)
*Victor Thorn's questions appear in red font.
*RC Edrington's responses appear in white font
Most people never write; others do it as a hobby; while for the last remaining few it is as vital as breath itself. What function does writing serve for you in terms of artistic expression, catharsis, and a form of therapy?
Writing has always been a grounding wire for me. There were times in my past when days ran into weeks, and I was so caught up in the moment that I lost track of who I was or who the people around me were. My writing began as just notes to myself. When you are young and running the streets you focus on the moment. Where am I going to crash tonight? Where's the next party? Where can I get some good dope? Yesterday slides away, along with the relationships and events that defined it. Writing forced me to remember these faces and places that defined who I am. A lot of my writing now is an attempt to figure out where the hell the last 20 years of my life went. There is nothing artistic about it. To me it is like sifting through a dumpster trying to find something I can use to get me through the day. If anyone can find value or meaning in the trash I pile up ... cool.
Was there a single defining moment that you recall from your past where you said, "This is it - I have to write!"
I have kept a journal for as long as I can remember due to the fact I had a fairly shitty childhood and therefore sought solace in my head where no one could reach in and fuck anything up. I never really sat down and thought: "Yeah man, I�m gonna be a writer". I guess I realized that in the late 70's and early 80's there was somewhat of a cultural revolution going on with the punk thing, and it was being ignored and scoffed at by the mainstream media. One day I woke up and realized I had more friends dead to suicide and dope than I had alive. I felt I needed to make some sense out of what was going on around me for my own sake and sanity. The punk generation left a lot of dead teenage bodies in dark alleys with syringes hanging out of their arms. I thought I could somehow bring meaning to all of it through being there to document it. I learned later that the only thing we can really document is our own bruises and scars. After reading Trocchi, I also realized the value of first person dissection of the self, and that this honesty in itself went far beyond "literature". I would have to say that while I always wrote, it was Trocchi that made me believe what I wrote may have some value outside of my own mind.
In a recent bio you wrote that you've "only recently mustered the stamina required to send your stuff out for publication." Please elaborate.
I never really get much of a hard-on seeing my stuff in print. I realize that the people that need to read my stuff and could relate to it don't pick up small press poetry journals. Therefore the effort to type up little packets of my stuff and send it out in the mail to little poetry journals (no one but lame poets read anyway) was kind of like jacking off into the wind. I like to fuck ... jacking off is boring. The more time I spent trying to get published was less time I had to actually write. Besides, there isn't much new poetry I am impressed by, and there are even fewer editors I could give a fuck about. Now with Internet journals everywhere, it is easy to find a few journals I like and e-mail my stuff off with little effort on my part. I am a firm believer that writers should spend more time writing and less time trying to get published. Recently I have decided to make some effort in sending more of my stuff out, but it still remains a small priority.
Describe the differences that you see between academic poetry and that which originates from the streets.
I would like to get something clear: I don't write poetry and I am not an artist/author. I am into reality and honest self-exploration. The stuff I spit out on paper is just little snapshots of my world and the people in it. People call my stuff poetry because of the line breaks. I think each piece I write is like a tiny pulp fiction novel, except it is non-fiction. If someone can find something worthwhile in it ... cool. If not, who cares? I write for myself. My writing forces me to be truthful with myself and gives me an outlet to examine how fucked I am or how fucked up the world around me is. I�ve spent too many years bullshitting people, and in the end only bullshitted myself. I have no use for being "hip" or "cool" anymore. Writing makes me strip away everything. I write from the streets because that's where I have been. The style I use is simple and as real as a heartbeat. My lines are short and broken because any audience that would have interest in my stuff was raised on 2 minute rock songs. Academic stuff is just that ... academic. It is nothing more than mental masturbation whose sole purpose is to show someone how big your literary dick is. My literary dick is small, but I can certainly fuck a page breathless.
I'd like to ask you a few questions about Lou Reed, who I still think is the coolest, most fucked-up/decadent rock star of all-time. First of all, explain how Lou was among the first songwriters - along with Dylan and John Lennon - to bring literature and poetry to popular music.
I was never a big John Lennon or Beatle fan. I much preferred the Stones. I think "Gimme Shelter" is the best damn rock song ever written. That flowery peace and love Beatle stuff never struck a chord with me, so I can't comment too much on it. Dylan's lyrics are cool. It's like he paints a canvas, but instead of putting everything where it is supposed to go, he just scatters it around like a surreal jigsaw puzzle forcing the listener to figure out what the hell he is singing about. To me the best line from any song I ever heard is, "the ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face" from Visions of Johanna off the "Blonde on Blonde" album. That line is sheer genius.
Lou Reed defines cool. He lived what he wrote. His lyrics yanked you by shirt and shoved your face into the scene he was singing about as though you were a part of it. And he always somehow managed to toss some kind of small truth into the picture ... not some universal bullshit truth, but a fragment that could make the moment make sense. His stuff was literary in that it was much more than words or chords. It was a moment in time and you were there first hand ... and he demanded you respond to it. What more can you ask of an artist?
Even more than the two artists listed above, Lou took us to the down n' dirty streets with transvestites, drug abusers, deviants, and crazies. What kind of 'trigger' or an opening of Pandora's Box did this have for later performers and bands like David Bowie, the New York Dolls, Iggy Pop, and the early punk rockers?
Without Lou Reed and the Velvets none of those bands would have known how to cop a street hip posture. That includes Bowie. But to Reed it wasn't a posture, it was the real deal. When he sang about Heroin he played and sang like a syringe was tied off in his vein. The old saying is, "write what you know,� and Reed wrote what he knew. He refused to cover up everything with pretty little images and fluffy lines and gave you street reality straight-up on a razor blade. I guess his biggest influence on the bands to follow was his insistence that music didn't have to be flowery love crap, but could be about real life and real people. Reed was the master of "the flaw". Airbrushed reality is boring. Reed gave you the blemishes.
This may be a curve-ball question, but talk about Lou's ultra-cool mid-1970's phase where he was speeding his brain-pan shiny and making albums like "Rock n' Roll Animal," "Sally Can't Dance," "Metal Machine Music," "Coney Island Baby," and "Street Hassle."
I was a kid in the mid 70's. But the way I see it the "cult artist" status was wearing thin and almost became a self-parody for Reed. So what is Reed's response? Instead of going off to some rundown dump and OD'ing he decides to do his own fucking parody of rock stars and cock rock bands and shove it back in their face. The funny thing is; Reed was good at it. "Rock n' Roll Animal" was an awesome album. People that bitch and moan about the "rock star" styling miss the point. He proved he could play rock star and do as much speed as anyone else and didn't have to hide behind the artistic bullshit. In doing so, I think he proved the artistic stuff wasn't bullshit or a pose.
On a different note, I'm going to throw a mish-mash of potpourri your way and let you wade through it. First, is the pen really mightier than the sword?
The pen is only mightier than the sword if the people the pen influences also have access to the swords. A line from a Clash song asks:
"When they kick in your front door
how you gonna come?
With your hands on your head,
or on the trigger of your gun?"
That's a good question, but it is kind of a moot point if you as a society have already gotten to the point where gun control has taken your guns away.
What would be your favorite literary quote or phrase of all-time?
Wow. I already mentioned the Dylan line. Let me think ... I guess my favorite quote is by Trocchi, and I use it on my website to assist in defining what I am all about:
"No doubt I shall go on writing, stumbling across tundras of unmeaning, planting words like bloody flags in my wake. Loose ends, things unrelated, shifts, nightmare journeys, cities arrived at and left, meetings, desertions, betrayals, all manner of unions, adulteries, triumphs, defeats ... these are the facts." - Alexander Trocchi
Please give us your thoughts on the following literary icons (I could give you a hundred of them, so I'm trying to temper myself):
- Ernest Hemingway: Papa Hem was like Jesus to the money changers in the temple. He overturned and tossed out all the flowery crap and imagery of the Victorian era and replaced it with a lean, mean, stripped-down style that placed more emphasis on action rather than academic reflection.
- Sylvia Plath: I think her first person violent imagery of suffering and madness is what has left the biggest impression on me. She demands you view the world outside of your male ego, and it isn't a pretty picture. I mean, how would I react if society insisted all I do was cook, raise kids, cater to my spouse, and that I could have no life outside of that domestic prison? I would start shooting people or myself. I think her stuff is a good picture of a person battling against societal expectations and constraints and the search for identity in the mess.
- Franz Kafka: Funny, I never read Kafka until some old man in a library I worked at saw me reading a Phillip K. Dick book and told me to check Kafka out. I dig Kafka mainly because of the stark narrative and lack of imagery. Kafka's stories take place in your head, not in a pretty scene. I think anyone that reads Kafka should read Dick and vice versa.
- William Burroughs: You would assume he would be one of my favorites. To be honest, I never "got" him. He reminds me of James Joyce. I mean, there is something really cool going on, but I have never been able to put my finger on exactly what it is. Do I lose points in the "hip" category?
- George Orwell: Just about everything the guy wrote about has come to pass. We have video cameras on street corners, PC thought police, and the media redefining our language.
- Vladimir Nabakov: I refuse to read Nabakov based solely on the fact Sting mentioned him in a song. Sting is a pretentious wanker I would like to kick the shit out of. Sting is a pussified rock star. Actually, I just haven't got around to reading Nabakov. He is on the short list though.
- Alexander Trocchi: The master of first person narrative - probably the main literary influence on me. Nothing I say can add to the force of his writing.
- Hunter S. Thompson: Irreverence is bliss. He reminds me of a Court Jester. He was funny enough not to be taken seriously and therefore deemed not to be much of a threat, but he was smart enough to use that as a tool to write some seriously biting commentary.
- Ann Sexton: I haven't honestly read much of her stuff. When I started to get serious about reading poetry, Lyn Lifshin was the female perspective I could most relate to.
- Charles Baudelaire: I figure any writer English majors sit around in Coffee Houses babbling about should be avoided at all costs.
- J.D. Salinger: Should be required reading - period.
- Tennessee Williams: I never had much interest in his stuff. To be honest I couldn't name one thing he has written.
Who do you think was the most under-appreciated author that, for whatever reason, never quite received their proper due?
Besides me? I have always thought Trocchi was overshadowed by Henry Miller. I think Trocchi was the best author to come out of the "Beat Generation". Ginsberg and Kerouac get all the publicity, but I think �Cain's Book� is the best book that generation produced by far.
You said that your writing was compared to Charles Bukowski before you ever even read Bukowski. What are your feelings on this turn-of-events?
Bukowski wrote much more in a narrative form than I do. Reading his stuff is like sitting in a bar and bullshitting over a scotch. He was the master of what he did, but the truth is I get pissed when people credit him with being a major influence on me. I know who my influences are. Comparing me too Bukowski nullifies who I am and is a total disregard for my personal experiences. My life has nothing to do with Bukowski, and my writing has even less. My style wasn't concocted in a classroom, nor was it discovered at some "hip" poetry reading over a stack of Black Sparrow books. My style came about while sitting on a piss-stained mattress in an abandoned warehouse with Black Flag blasting from a boom box. When I began writing I had no use for literature or poetry because it never hit me on a personal level. Bands like the Velvet Underground and X did. Friends tell me I should use the Bukowski comparisons to my advantage. But that would run counter to who I am. My writing is about truth and knifing through my own bullshit. I would be a fucking liar if I pretended that I was some expert on Bukowski and he was a major influence. I mean, take or leave me for who I am ... some asshole scribbling shit that would be better off in a rock song than a poetry journal.
Tell us about your dream of going on a Greyhound/hitch-hike cross-country poetry tour.
I always thought it would be cool to hook up with a bunch of writers and editors scattered across the states and then do a massive road trip to party with them and give readings. In fact, my first stop if I ever do it will be Happy Valley. Just make sure Lisa doesn't call the cops on me for wandering around outside.
Compare these two scenarios: 1) discussing writing with a bunch of artsy-fartsy intellectuals; versus 2) sitting out in the desert with a jug of wine writing poetry with a few people who are jamming to Joe Strummer's "Love Kills."
I don't associate with artsy fartsy types, and when I go to give a reading, the fact that I am 6"3" 225 lbs and look more like a biker than a pussified poet, I tend to intimidate these literary people. Besides, communication is only capable among equals. I have no respect for these people, and I make damn sure they know it. I hate pretension in any form, and I can smell it a mile away.
Wine? Now you're talking brother Victor. Let's get drunk all night, crank up the tunes and bullshit about poetry, literature, and music. I am into real people talking about real stuff.
Explain why your poetry publications are so far and few between.
People don't understand: I am not a poet and I don't write poetry. I am a note taker scribbling notes 24 hours a day. Once I have a notebook filled I read through and pick out stuff I like ... or maybe a line I wrote will remind me of something that will lead me into writing something else. At some point the idea for a cohesive piece comes to my mind and I pull stuff out of my journal to use. Like I said, it's like sorting through a dumpster. I also spend a lot of time editing and trying to trim the fat. I can't just sit down and write a poem on command. I may write 50 poems one day ... toss out 49 of them as crap ... and the next day I might write nothing. Who knows? A friend of mine told me my writing was like the baseball player Dave Kingman in that I either hit a home run or strike out. I am my toughest critic. If I don't like something I won't just send it out for publication for the sake of publication.
You talk time and again about how we have to get our writing out BEYOND the typical small-press literary scene where everything revolves around the same circles. Please give us your thoughts one last time on this subject.
My writing will never appeal to the academic poetry circle or clique. If I had a target audience (which I don't), the people that would most like my stuff hang out in used record stores buying Lou Reed stuff. I somehow need to figure out a way to cross the boundary without having to pick up a guitar. I have no doubt it can be done. I just need to rearrange my priorities. I think this new BHP project may be the vehicle that works. Poetry has to be pushed as a legitimate aspect of popular culture. I don't want some pretentious artsy fartsy type reading my stuff. I want the kid doing flips on a skateboard to have a copy of my stuff in his back pocket.
What was contained in the journals that you kept during the height of west coast American punk rock during the early 1980's?
face=verdana size=1>Mainly obituaries. Depressing odes to friends the world would never get a chance to know because as kids they decided to check out much too soon.
Even though libraries aren't used as much nowadays because everyone just logs onto Google or other search engines, what are your recollections of working in a library and how cool they are?
The best fucking job I have ever had was working in a library. Where else can you meet chicks that share a common interest like reading? I also met a lot of old men that were always great for a story or two, and I met people from all walks of life (including Tony who slept in the bushes behind the library and had a penchant for Doc Savage books). He also claimed he could change into a wolf at the tap of his walking stick, and thus earned the title "wolf" from then on. No day at work was ever the same or boring.
Working there I also had first access to new releases and donations. One day the boss sent me back to the donation room where people dropped off used books and stuff to be sold so the library could buy new books. I hated the donation room because it was like a big closet with no windows and therefore severely cut down my chance to interact with the public that made the job cool. Anyway, I was sorting through albums (I thought I was gonna puke looking at so many album covers of Doris Day (man I would like to have tied her up ... but that's another story) and I came across Bowie's Ziggy Stardust. I had never heard of it. The album cover looked cool, so I put it on and wham bam thank you ma�am my life was changed. Man, I could talk for days on my library adventures and the weird people that populated them.
You also worked once as a psycho/social rehabilitation counselor, but left because "the people you worked with ["the mentally ill"] were less ill than the general population who claimed a grip on 'normalcy'." Please give us more on this scenario.
Shrinks like to sell people on the concept that if you as an individual cannot fit into the accepted constraints of society, then you as the individual are fucked up. The more I talked and worked with these "patients" the more I began to ask myself whether or not these people were the ones who were fucked, or maybe society itself was fucked. I have talked in previous parts of this interview about my views on society. I think psychology has become a new religion to ensure individuality is medicated out of the person.
One of the most satisfying aspects of art is that ability to create entire worlds right at our fingertips. In an ideal world, what would you create?
In my ideal world I would be the only person on the planet and therefore wouldn't have to deal with the petty bullshit of interacting with people who are of no interest to me. I would pick a few people I could tolerate and let them live on opposite ends of the planet, and they couldn't visit me unless they were invited. I would live in a massive library with an intense music system where I could read all day and listen to tunes. It would be cool to have a female companion there that could not only fuck like a beast, but was much smarter than me and could serve as editor for my stuff. I have always placed more value and trust in a woman�s sensibilities and instincts than I have a man�s. I would also have on hand a few of the CIA's best agents to cultivate my poppy fields.
Likewise, what percentage of your art do you think arises out of dissatisfaction with the world?
I think 100% of my stuff is a result of dissatisfaction with the world or myself. I think any art that isn't a result of some type of turmoil is fairly lame and uninspiring.
An article recently appeared in Newsweek magazine which proclaimed that "poetry is dead." How would you respond to this author?
Poetry is dead. I think when any art form or medium falls out of tune with, or is no longer able to impact a culture, it becomes useless. Basically there are two types of poetry being written today. The first is the academics that solely exist to receive government grants so they can form elitist clubs and sit around sipping designer tea. The second is the small press that is broken up into numerous fragments and only exists for other poets to read and to feed the egos of people that should be denied paper and ink. Only a small percentage of stuff being written today has any value, but since there is no audience to read it, that value in and of itself is meaningless. Why write it if no one reads it? Therefore, unless you are writing for yourself, don't bother writing. I write for myself. The fact that poetry is dead or not is not relevant to me. To me writing is like breathing. It is just something I have to do to get through the day. If more authors wrote for that reason, maybe some life could be breathed back into the corpse of poetry. But what the fuck do I know?
What is the most powerful theme or concept that you've ever read in a novel (example: Ahab tracking the whale in Melville's "Moby Dick")?
It comes from Kesey's "One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest". Throughout the novel everyone thinks the main character RPM is this great heroic figure because he rebels against the institution he is in. The truth of the matter is the guy felt he wasn't risking anything because his stay in the institution was limited. It�s easy to be a rebel when you don't have anything to lose. When he found out the institution could keep him there as long as they wanted, regardless of his original prison sentence, everything changed. RPM no longer was concerned with playing rebel or helping to break the other patients out of their self-imposed imprisonment. He became interested in saving his ass and escaping. He was no longer the hero. The true hero of the book was the "Chief" who took everything in stride and waited for his moment to rise above the bullshit and escape.
I guess the theme is that heroes are useless in and of themselves unless they can inspire action that causes others to become heroes and not merely followers. You apply that to the story of Christ. His heroic death in the New Testament is meaningless and non-heroic because he knew he was going to arise any way (he had nothing to lose), and secondly he was unable to inspire people to action to live the life he called for. Both books are about failed heroes. RPM bread the heroic Chief. Christ bread the Catholic Church.
Lastly, if you met someone for the first time and they wanted you to describe your writing and what you wanted to "do" with it, what would you tell them?
Usually the fact I am a writer is the last thing a person learns about me. If someone asked, I guess I would tell them my main goal was to write so that people could relate to the world I live in, and that maybe by looking through my reality with my eyes they can learn something or become inspired to take a piece of it into their own reality. Mainly I just write to say ... this is me ... this is who I am ... who the fuck are you?