Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life, Rob Roberge’s first story collection (he’s authored two novels) explores variations on the idea of families crumbling around the fractured life of one member. Roberge’s stories are very conscious of the defeated souls they highlight, and excavate these weak links to reveal the context that created them.

First things first: you say “honey,” “sugar,” and “sweetie” a lot.  And I notice you’re not from the South. Do you want to explain that?

You’re right. I grew up in Northfield, Illinois and Spring Green, Wisconsin, which both fit squarely into what I think of as a nice mid-western belt of people who’ll lend you a hand if you need one. I think I called you darling when we first met. I may have even helped you shovel your front walkway. I hope you didn’t mind, though it sounds like you did. The truth is I like to make people happy and “sugar” seems to accomplish that more than “jerk-off” does.

I thought you OD’d.

Is that a question?

 

I mean, I keep hearing rumors that you OD’d –- what’s up with that?

I‘ve heard those rumors, as well – apparently, fans and others can’t understand why I would choose to lay low in New Orleans as opposed to whoring out my celebrity status after White Zombie broke up, so therefore I must be dead. I must say I appreciate the rock’n’roll ending they’ve given me, up there in the company with Hendrix and Joplin with the whole OD thing. It’s especially amusing since I never did any hard drugs, ever. In the past fifteen years I’ve had to respond to the question “Are you dead?” at three different points. It’s always an interesting phonecall to receive, and perhaps next time I will say “yes” just to see what happens.

 

It’s been fifteen years since White Zombie broke up –- why a book on your days in the band now?

It was in reaction to going through my storage room two years ago – I found about ten boxes labeled White Zombie, and began to open them up for the first time since I packed them and shipped them to New Orleans in 1996. This was because our management had contacted me for tidbits for our upcoming boxset at the time. With dread I went to dig through my boxes. What had ended as a bad memory suddenly exposed itself to me for what it was –- an amazing, triumphant adventure in an era that not many people know about, unless they were there. The whole story of us coming out of the ratty, arty Lower East Side and becoming a huge 90’s metal band is ridiculous in itself, but those bands, the intensity and extreme testosterone-driven music – it just brought back a whole world that is so distant now. I felt the need to share it.

 

Do you consider this a coffee table book, or something else?

The book did start off as a coffee table book, filled with my photos from backstage, passes and tickets, flyers and other ephemera. As I began collaging pages, certain flyers or photos would remind me of what happened that night, and I started adding written stories. As I did, people started saying “More of that!” So I wrote more and more, enjoying it a bit more as the details came out of the woodwork. It felt as though I was making a director’s commentary on a movie made in the distant past. I think the book is a hybrid – part autobiography, part documentation of the 90’s in rock and metal, part coffee table book.

 

Do you feel that using the word “chick” in your subtitle is self-deprecating and/or sexist?

No. I’ve never had any problem with that word. Who ever says “chick” in a bad way? It’s a funny and silly word. It’s the female equivalent of “dude”, and nobody has a problem with that being sexist! Those were the tags in the metal scene, and that is what the fans called me, in a very sweet way. I was officially dubbed “the chick in White Zombie” by Beavis and Butthead. They also loved the Butthole Surfers and Iggy Pop, so I am more than happy to claim the title from such arbiters of good taste!

 

When did you join the band?

I hate that question! I never joined the band; I helped form the band. Nor did I ever leave the band; we broke up. Ever since my ex decided to take the band’s name as his last name, the world has been led to believe that Rob Zombie is White Zombie and vice versa. This could not be farther from the truth. Rob and I started White Zombie, and while I was doing the graphic layouts and typography, he was doing the illustrations. While I was writing riffs, he was writing lyrics. In the first five years I did all of the booking and handled all of the expenses and business, due to Rob being extremely quiet and anti-social. It was a true band and family, and although Rob and I did most of the work, everyone worked hard and contributed.

 

You’re familiar with the worlds of music, art and design — did you find starting something new like writing to be difficult?

The realm is familiar to me, although I’ve never tried my hand at it before. My father was a writer and my mother helped him with all of his research and editing. (He wrote five definitive Hemingway biographies and became president of the Hemingway Society before he passed away.) Growing up with two English professors for parents definitely got me used to the whole process, and combining so many of my photographs with short stories definitely took away the intimidation of completing an entire book. My publishers, Soft Skull, were also extremely helpful by letting me structure and design the book however I wanted, and making it as long or short as I wanted.

 

Between your photography, design, music and now writing is there one area you would like to focus on?

I would love nothing more than to do one thing, and do it really well. Unfortunately, as soon as I start working on new music, I get an idea for a photography show. As soon as I start that, I get an idea for my designs. Classic Gemini behavior, I suppose. Since I can’t I manage to pick one, I can only hope that as I put more and more years into all of these fields perhaps each will become more refined.

 

What are you working on now?

Besides book tours? Writing with my New Orleans band, Rock City Morgue, preparing to record with my new band Star&Dagger, developing new items for my home décor line, and prepping for a new photography show. Now that Mardi Gras is over I might actually get some of this done. It’s not easy living in the Big Easy; lots of party demands.

 

Last words?

Have a good time, all the time.

 

 

Please explain what just happened.

Everything? Nothing? It’s hard to say—I’m a planner, probably due to my compulsive nature, so I’m always looking more to the future than the past. But, I did just send out a pitch packet for my (hopefully) forthcoming graphic novel Terminus. I’ve also been playing a lot of Mass Effect 2. A lot.

 

What is your earliest memory?

Running around outside my house on the South Side of Chicago, wearing Superman sandals.

 

If you weren’t a writer, what other profession would you choose?

I’m fascinated with how cities work, especially the manner in which space is allocated and utilized. If I had the chance to go back and do it all over again, I’d probably work in city planning.

Let me start off by saying I’m a big fan of your work.

Thank you. I usually hate everything I write.


Seriously, though, not only as a fan, but as one of your earliest critics, sometimes I have to ask: where do you come up with this crap?

Just unlucky, I guess.


I mean, what’s your writing process like?  Are you the kind of guy who just swoops in and completes a poem in a half an hour like Billy Collins says he does?

First of all, I never believe anyone who says this. In fact, I think it can be a discouraging thing for a big writer to say when there are young people out there struggling to write and already feeling like they can’t get it down, without quite realizing how hard it actually is. Of course, it’s a good writer’s nature to make things look easier, as Nathaniel Hawthorne said, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” It’s true, I wake up every morning about 5a.m.and write a couple pages in a notebook for about twenty minutes before I have to attend to all those other responsibilities in life, teaching, my wife, paying bills, brushing my teeth, taking out the trash. But much of the stuff I write during this time is uninspired crap and it often takes a lot of excruciating work to get it right, which is not to say those magic moments haven’t happened, but they’re rare indeed — at least, if you write everyday like I do. I just read a great quote by Philip Roth that says, “Amateurs wait for inspiration; the rest of us get to work.”


Nathaniel Hawthorne? Philip Roth? Aren’t they fiction writers? But you’re a poet.

I’m not sure what you mean by that.


Some people are writers and they don’t read anything at all. What do you think about that?

I think it’s a tragedy. I find it the strangest phenomenon so many people think they have a book in them or would even want to when they don’t even read or even like books. What is this, but complete narcissism? I don’t remember who it was, but somebody commented or wrote how in no other craft do people go around thinking they can do something without knowing a thing about it. You don’t see guys walking around thinking they can be engineers or biologists without taking any interest in the subject first.


What specific writers have influenced you?

As to who influenced me specifically, I don’t know, or can’t tell, but here is a list of writers I love, which probably includes more novelists than “poets” technically. Then again, that term “poet” can be so limiting – especially, when I think of someone like Herman Melville who wrote, perhaps, the greatest novel in English, Moby Dick, which, to me, reads like a 600-page poem. Anyway, some of my favorites include, but are not limited to: Ernest Hemingway, Philip Roth, Charles Bukowski, John Fante, Carson McCullers, Albert Camus, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Michel Houellebecq, James Baldwin, Fernando Pessoa, and Charles Baudelaire.


Your poem is about Darth Vader.  How the hell did you get that from these influences? I mean seriously…I don’t remember seeing George Lucas on that list.

Yes, and you never would. But, what can I say? I’m a child of the seventies. It was also one of my first attempts to write specifically about pop culture in a humorous way after a friend of mine told me how depressing my stuff was.  I thought I’d challenge myself to write something funny and light which brought me to, well, the Lord of darkness himself, so I guess it didn’t really work out that well. But who can deny the effect Star Wars had on kids who grew up in the late seventies? I had an older professor tell me once that he walked out on the film…which makes sense. If I were an adult at the time, I probably would’ve done the same thing. It’s really not very good.


Where can we find some of your other poems?

There are two brand new anthologies that have just been released. One is called At the Gate: Arrivals and Departures, put out by Kings Estate Press, and the other is a great collection of Long Beach writers called Beside the City of Angels: An Anthology of Long Beach Poetry from World Parade Books. There are also numerous magazines that have recent or forthcoming poems such as The New York Quarterly, Re)verb, Chiron Review, 3AM. I’m also – and this is very exciting – going to be the featured poet this year in the classic, internationally-recognized Long Beach magazine, Pearl, which I feel truly honored to be part of.


Tell me about Long Beach.

Long Beach is just this hub of great writing and has been for the last 30 years –- especially on the poetry circuit, having been associated with esteemed writers such as Gerald Locklin, Fred Voss, and Charles Harper Webb. Currently, there’s been a renaissance as well – a whole new generation of writers is emerging and the community is really thriving. There are even plans in the works for a Long Beach poetry festival at the end of this year.


What are you working on now?

I’m writing a ton of poems.  Have just complete two poetry manuscripts, one called Negligence, and another called The Early Death of Men, as well as having put the finishing touches on a novella called The Strangled Heart. None of which have publishers yet.


Sounds like you’re pretty serious. Why do you think writers take themselves so seriously?

Someone has to…



You’re So Hot I Want to Eat Your Underwear

Right when we got into the store I realized I forgot my phone in the car. On my way back to the car I noticed a good looking woman getting out of her car which was parked next to mine. She opened her trunk and started shuffling things around, her perfume moving through the parking lot. By the time you’ve reach my advanced age there’s no reason to gawk when you see something pleasant. You’ve seen thousands of good looking women in your day.

It’s not a big deal.

Not anymore.

I was walking behind her when I noticed this old feller sitting in his truck that had a faded NRA sticker on his back window. He saw the woman and his eyes bugged out of his head. He wasn’t discrete and ran his ancient eyes up and down her body. When she got to the side of his truck he used his side mirror to get some more. When she got to the other side of his truck he used the passenger side mirror to get even more. He still wasn’t satisfied and got out of his truck, lifted the hood, and acted like he was fiddle-faddling with the engine so he could watch her enter the store. The fucker shook his head in amazement and licked his lips.

No lie.

He licked his lips.

It was both sick and terribly sad.

I wanted to blow his dick off with a shotgun. I wanted to light an M-80 and tape it to his jerk-off hand. I found my friend who was looking at a painting with a pig jumping into a lake. I told her what I saw.

“Really?” she said, looking at me like if I lost my mind. “Poor old man. He probably has some bitchy wrinkled wife at home. If that’s the case you can’t blame him, right? Don’t get too disgusted, babe. That’s gonna be your ass in a few years.”

Nino’s Shit Pie

I like watching food shows. After spending too many years in the restaurant business I came to appreciate the art of cooking. At one point I even contemplated going to culinary school, but the thought of being around packs of bitchy whiny “chefs” for even ten minutes depressed me. So, I ditched the idea and got an English degree. Can’t say it was a better decision. I was still surrounded by bitchy whiny people. The only difference was I didn’t reek of poached eggs and sea bass when the day was done. I reeked of Kafka and Goblin Markets.

The last year I’ve watched a lot of TV. NATGEO. A&E. ESPN. The History Channel. The Food Network. The Travel Channel. I’m hooked on the Travel Channel. I’ve seen everything it dishes out at least twice.

I’ve watched hours of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. Zimmern spans the globe eating things most people won’t. Frog hearts. Lamb eyeballs. Balls. Brains. Bugs. Porcupine. Lizards. Tuna sperm. Spiders and snake dick just to name a few. If you can stomach watching Andrew pop disgusting or “exotic” food in his gaping mouth (he actually does “pop” the food in his mouth and smacks when he chews), and the sight of a fat bald American wearing pastel-colored shirts then this show’s for you.

I’m a big fan of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. He’s a lush, a jackass, and a pretty good writer. It seems to me that people either love or hate him. He doesn’t wear pastel-colored shirts, but sports equally ugly button shirts, wiry gray hair, scuffed boots, and a lone earring in his left ear. Really, Bourdain? One earring in your left ear? Are we still doing the left-ear-I’m-straight thing? Jesus Christ. Throw that shit away. Or give it to your niece.

I don’t care much for Rachel Ray. Too cheesy. When she hits the tube I tune into ESPN and watch the always bitter Skip Bayless defend white athletes and stir it up on First and Ten.

I like Samantha Brown, but I don’t watch her show much. I think it’s because she looks like a girl I once dated. The apparent differences are that Samantha has a pleasant disposition, smiles, travels the world, and doesn’t have a thing for wearing fuck me boots.

I’ve seen every episode of Man v. Food. Yeah, I know, the show is stupid. But I like stupid entertainment. The reasons why I like Mike Myers films are the same reasons why I can sit through hours watching Adam Richman eating giant burritos and burgers. I’ve seen him go from a husky dude from New York to a bloated dude from New York. According to Wikipedia he exercises twice a day while on the road. I doubt it. If you like cheap surface entertainment then check out Man v. Food. It’s awesome.

There are other shows.

Food Wars (hosted by a pretty girl named Camille Ford).

Carnivore Chronicles.

Hot Dog Paradise.

Bacon Paradise.

So on and so forth.

One day I saw a special on pizza. It was called Pizza Paradise. The show went across the country showcasing the best pizza in the land. Now, I don’t come from N.Y or Chicago so pizza is just pizza to me. Meat, cheese, and sauce slapped on some cardboard. Chuck on some veggies for some color and there you go: pizza.

So I was floored when some tacky jerk-off named Nino Selimaj of Nino’s Bellissima sold a 12-inch pizza that costs $1,000. Yes, you heard right: $1,000! But you won’t get greasy Italian meats and diced veggies on this pizza. Lord no. This silly asshole plops down caviar and thinly sliced lobster on his pizza. But wait! Not only do you have the luxury of shelling out $1,000 and sinking your choppers into what appears to be a really shitty-tasting pizza, but Nino himself (decked out in a suit, oily slicked back hair, and tanned wrists wrapped in mafia gold) will deliver his pizza to you in person!

Oh, joy.

Really, Nino? Will you do that for me?

Fuck.

Anyone following the political debate in the United Kingdom will have realised that yesterday London was filled with demonstrators protesting against the British Government’s public spending cuts. Predictably enough, within a few hours, gangs of hooded and very confused young men wearing black were attacking the symbols of their oppression: the Ritz Hotel, assorted bank offices and Fortnum & Masons (purveyors of fine teas, veal pies and ginger shortbread biscuits). I had to admire their persistence in managing to pulverise large plate glass windows with nothing more than well-aimed kicks and the odd claw-hammer.

While this was happening, the head of the Labour party, a certain mild-mannered and very well educated fellow named Ed Miliband, was standing on a Trade Union Congress rostrum invoking the fight of suffragettes (campaigning for women’s voting right) and the civil rights movement in the United States. The connection between such well-known human rights movements and a demonstration against government policy remained unclear to me, until I reflected on the fact that Miliband is a standard politician accustomed to intellectually patronising his voters, few of whom could possibly have his level of education. But judging by his performance, they may well be better off without it. I can almost see Mr. Miliband sitting in his swivel-chair with a frown on his polished face, telling his scriptwriters to “keep it real, keep it visceral, make it understandable…” Maybe those struggling scriptwriters should have invoked Churchill, the Blitz, the march on Rommel? That would certainly have stirred the buds of British patriotism. One commentator who did fall back on the workhorse of World War Two rhetoric was Liam Halligan – chief economist at Prosperity Capital Management – in an article in Britain’s mainstream broadsheet The Daily Telegraph. Halligan clarified the fact that while George Osborne, Britain’s amazingly schoolboyish Chancellor of the Exchequer, was aiming to balance the budget by 2015, this would only be the “end of the beginning” of the fiscal battle. For if Osborne’s plans go smoothly, that will be the year when his Government stop borrowing money every month in order to balance incoming and outgoing revenues. If the current rounds of savage cuts are applied and maintained for another four years, the country will then find itself in the lovely position of not having to borrow money every month to pay for its functionaries, hospitals and schools. Interest payments on its borrowing are swallowing 6% of tax receipts, and this will rise. Almost a trillion pounds of debt remain to be repaid once the day-to-day financial disorder has been settled.

How amazing it is to realise the scale of the problem not only in the United Kingdom, but also America and throughout Europe and the world. Whenever I sit at the breakfast table opening my bills and frowning at my incompetently managed affairs, I remind myself that I am an indebted individual living in an indebted world. My incompetence is a necessary product, even a requirement, in the world we live in, where people are obliged to buy useless things with the help of credit cards, overdrafts and payment plans.

Ever since the West began its assault on Islamic fundamentalism and our media spouted highly debatable conclusions about Islamic extremists I have been asking myself whether, in fact, the extremists are not the very people who claim to be our leaders? Churchill (let’s not forget him) once said “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject”. Here I think we are getting closer to the point. For in spite of the crowing of Capitalists about the superiority of their system over Marxism, increasing numbers of people are now suggesting that Capitalism has also failed and is only being propped up by banks (themselves propped up by Capitalists). Is it not, in fact, economists who are fundamentalists? – persisting with their flawed ideology even when the evidence is more than enough to put them in the dock. If so, then I think we can safely assert that economics, as a science, has failed.

I repeat, I am no economist, but it seems to me that given that we invented money and the whole system of economics, could we not now simply de-invent it? We are free, after all. Surely money is nothing but an idea, an outmoded idea? Why not simply abolish it altogether and cancel the debts? Milton Friedman (a Nobel Prize winner in the field of Economic “science”) may have established in the 1980s that too much money eroded wealth (an unlikely proposition, right?) but now it seems incontrovertible that “wealth” also takes a bit of a knock when it is nothing but a polite word for borrowed money.

The Royal Mint in the United Kingdom was established towards the end of the 1700s, headed by the stringent figure of Sir Isaac Newton, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist if there ever was one (though he was unlucky enough to be born before Alfred Nobel). Before the existence of the Mint, people used to make their own money out of bits of scrap metal (silver, gold, tin, etc) and the system seemed to work reasonably well. Once the Mint came along, the Government made sure that anyone counterfeiting their production of coinage was swiftly strung up from the nearest tree. The Royal Mint has had 200 years to prove itself, and surely that is long enough?

If it were not for China desecrating its environment and its people’s health in a race for economic development, if we did not have the expansive Indian, Brazilian and Asian systems similarly “developing”, the West’s decline would be even steeper.

Let’s say this very clearly: we are bankrupt. We cannot pay back the debts, because debt-repayment is itself dependent on running up more debts. The consumption model is thoroughly discredited. Banks make profits out of corporate and personal debt. And profits in manufacturing are generated by people running up personal debts to pay for their new acquisitions – this toxic mechanism applies to almost everything.

If, for instance, I went out this morning to set fire to a car, the Gross National Product of my country would increase. Why? Because the subsequent insurance payment would finance the purchase of a new car. Every time an airliner crashes and passengers are killed, we have positive financial results: a new plane is ordered, while the grieving next-of-kin go out and buy new houses and cars with the damages they are paid.

The problem of credit and debt has been debated for a thousand years or more. Economists should be made to read Rabelais, who once (sarcastically) said that debt, rather than the human spirit, was the true measure of man. Saul Bellow, in “Herzog”, once wrote: “Dear Mr. President, Internal Revenue regulations will turn us into a nation of book-keepers. The life of every citizen is becoming a business. This, it seems to me, is one of the worst interpretations of the meaning of human life history has ever seen. Man’s life is not a business.”

I believe the time is now ripe for universities all over the world to heed Mao Tse Tung and send their Economics undergraduates back to the countryside to learn the intricacies of chicken rearing and potato cultivation. Maybe in the bosom of Mother Nature they can learn something about the real creation of wealth and prosperity?



TNB TV
Les Stroud tells his Best Story Ever, the one about being stalked by a 1,500-lb. bull moose. Stroud, the star of the Discovery Channel’s Survivorman, has earned fame for willingly agreeing to be dropped in deserted wilderness locations, left to fend for himself with no food, fresh water, shelter, or matches. His film career began in the 1980s as a music video producer for MuchMusic, a Canadian channel. He later left the job and, after time spent as a river guide, wound up living in the remote boreal forest of northern Ontario with his life partner, Sue Jamison. (They lived as if it were 500 years ago — no matches, no metal and no tent — just a stone axe and their knowledge of traditional bush survival.) With custom camera rigs and plenty of black humor, Survivorman features Stroud battling to beat the elements in nine separate locations. Whether marooned on a tropical shoreline or deposited onto searing desert sands, he takes living off the land to the extreme.

My love affair with America was inflamed today as I sat at the bar of Margie’s Diner on the verge of the 101.

Lit up by determined, crimson letters flashing *Real Food* *Real Food* *Real Food* a man in a stained and faded hunting jacket stirred his coffee for the seventh minute and a waitress licked her lips and winked at me… and my heart skipped a beat.