Saturday, July 24, 2010

MULLET-OUS: Part I: "It Sucks To Be 15"

For many years, I've labored over this: Would I ever disclose pictures of my mullet in a public forum? Once worn with pride, my mullet has shamed me throughout my adult life. However, after doing an internet radio show last week with Karl Koweski, I figured it was time to exorcise these demons.

Let's start at the end and flashback because I like to do funky shit like that.

As a first-year college student in 1993, a year or so into the Grunge era, roughly two years after the mullet was even remotely fashionable in anyplace other than The South and certain pockets of Mid-America, I showed up on campus at a small college in New Hampshire, to quote another former mullet-man David Crosby, with "my freak flag flying." My mullet was lush and lively, an inexorable force on the back of my neck. I figured the babes would be lining up to run their hands through those luscious black locks, so when I moved into the dorm, I was truly confounded by the fact that I wasn't making any friends.

Shucking the obvious, I blamed it on my Rhode Island-accent.

Then two weeks into my college life, after realizing two guys on my floor were also from Rhode Island, I marched to the barber downtown and had my mullet severed. Never again, other than in these pictures I now share with you, would my mullet show its now ignominious locks.

But at one time, it killed.

When I started growing it (see picture above), I was 15-years-old, filled with the universal teenage angst, and ready to start PAHH-TEYY-INNN'. Bring on the babes. Bring on the booze. Bring on the drugs.

But there was one small problem: I was a complete fucking loser.

While I played on the football team, I was basically a tackling dummy for the varsity squad. Each week on the practice team, I was a slower and dumber version of our opponent's halfback, and the varsity defense would hammer me until I was so concussed I couldn't stand steady. These days, parents would freak out given, you know, science and evidence and shit. But at the time, we called it "taking your lumps."

Meanwhile, in an attempt to seem somewhat cool, my mullet grew and grew and became something I could use as a personal tag. Like so many kids on the skids, I found solace in hard rock and heavy metal. I was listening to G'N R's Appetite, Metallica, the obligatory Zeppelin and Van Halen (Sammy was a pussy) and Sabbath, Iron Maiden and The Cult, so what the hell gives? Why weren't the metal chicks digging me?

Again, I refer you to the picture above.

Things didn't get much better that year. My grades tanked, and shortly before turning 16, I discovered pot. Actually, it was about to get slightly better.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Internet radio tonight

For anyone interested, I'm going to be doing an internet radio show with my friend Karl Koweski tonight. This is sure to be as bawdy, irreverent, and crude as you might expect a conversation between Karl and me to be.

If you'd like to join in the fun, call into the show and chat, the number is at the top of this link.

Check it out here.

For those of you looking for a wholesome Garrison Keiller-type poetry hour show, stay away. Stay far, far away. This WILL likely offend you.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

On reading Jackie Collins

A couple of weeks ago, my wife came home from the used bookstore around the corner from our house with a present for me. The present was a worn copy of Jackie Collins' Lovers and Gamblers. "Read it," she said. "Jackie Collins is pretty much porn for middle-aged women."

With summer vacation beginning and a list of "literary" books I wanted to plough before school starts again in August, I agreed to read the first 50 pages, figuring I can pick up a few tricks from a best-selling author. The next thing I knew I was on Page 490 and there was no way anyone was going to stop me from finishing the fucker.

Listen, I'm not going to try to make a case for Jackie Collins to be immortalized in the literary canon, but at the same time, I can't stand half of the books in the so-called literary canon. I hold the canon and every obdurate high school Engliish teacher cramming Ethan Frome down the throats of their students partially responsible for this country's epidemic apathy when it comes to reading. And for anyone who is looking to become a writer, I would agree that the classics must be part of your essential diet, however, that diet should also include a healthy dose of genre writers and commercial fiction. The most frustrating thing about reading literary fiction, in my opinion, is the pacing. Too many times, the authors---who are clearly skilled and talented in their craft---fall in love with their own sentences, which results in a 25-page single-paragraph description of a pubic hair on a toilet seat.

But back to Jackie Collins and Lovers and Gamblers. First of all, sadly, this is the type of prose that would be lambasted in a graduate workshop. The characters in Jackie Collins' world exist according to a hierarchy of physical attributes. Men with big cocks rank supreme, as do women with big tits. And it took about 5 pages until I figured that the character with the big cock would end up with the female character with the big tits by the end of the novel. But I was all right with it, mostly because they'd have to screw approximately 500 partners each until they arrived at this realization. Basically, the book's narrative tension is a long build up to one climatic titty-fuck.

And the characters all have names thieved from a list of porn star monikers: Al King (guy with big cock), Dallas (girl with big tits whose last name was mentioned once then mysteriously disappeared), Bernie Suntan, Linda Cosmos, Cody Hills, Manny Shorto, Karmen get the picture. For the first 400 pages or so, these characters lived to get laid. It's the equivalent of having a world populated by people who all possess a 16-year-old boy's libido.

Then, in the final 100 pages or so, a plane carrying most of the main characters is hijacked and crashes in the Amazon, and the rest of the book becomes a pornographic version of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, where the characters look straight into the barrel of their own existential hollowness and doom and decide to fuck to forget about it. If they don't fuck, they're eaten by alligators. There's a moral there.

That's 600 pages of Lovers and Gamblers in a nutshell. And I couldn't get enough of it.

Collins delivers exactly the product her readers are looking to buy, and when you consider that writing and publishing IS an industry, you can't go wrong with that formula. There are also aspects of her writing that anyone looking to write a novel can learn from. For example, she does an excellent job with narrative hooks and chapter breaks. Like most successful commercial novelists, she knows how to keep the plot moving. She does seamless work with the third-person omniscient voice as well. In fact, I think it would behoove graduate programs to spend more time developing these skills, especially seeing that most of the MFA students are aspiring to be successful in the commercial market. Instead of spending all of their time stroking Cormac McCarthy and David Foster Wallace, why not concentrate on making the writing commercially viable?

So am I going to run out and buy another Jackie Collins novel? No. I think I've had enough for now. But I believe there's something to be said for reading for only the entertainment value. Teachers spend way too much time talking about symbolism and theme (whatever that is), and in the process, we're sucking the fun out of reading. And while a lot of writers whine about the fact that no one reads anymore, it's occurred to me that, maybe, we're also somehow complicit in this.

Thanks for the read, Ms. Collins, and thanks for reminding me that reading can be largely self-indulgent.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Who reads this shit?

This morning, while I was shampooing my hair and belting out Carley Simon songs in the shower (as I've been known to do from time to time), a question popped into my head: Who really reads print literary journals anymore, other than writers?

I imagine some people are already rolling their eyes, poo-pooing me. I suppose literary agents read them in search of the next big thing, and I guess the family and friends of the editors and contributors browse them and rightfully laud the hard work that goes into publishing a journal, but it seems to me if you really want to get your work out to larger and broader pool of readers then it makes sense to have it on-line and use resources like Facebook and blogs to direct traffic toward it.

Yet still, writers love to hang their hats on "pub-creds" that they can use in a CV or a query letter. Like braggart parents, they love talking about the places they've published. Therefore, it's not necessarily the fact that they're being read, it's that they got one past the editors, and THAT seems bogus to me.

Don't get me wrong, I'm guilty of it, too. Most writers need to feed the ego. Like anyone else in any profession, they need the validation that the work they're doing is good and appreciated by others. I get that. But publication in the slick prestigious literary journals seems more like winning a contest than it does sharing with others our thoughts and questions about the human condition. And maybe there are some purists out there who don't write for an audience and simply create for the sake of creation. This, however, is not me. I'm so vain (I bet I think this blog about me).

I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with this, or what it is about Carley Simon songs that made me think of it. But I'd love to hear your thoughts, assuming, that is, you're actually reading this shit.