Banned for Life: An ExcerptBy D. R. Haney
February 20, 2010
It all began with a fuck. What doesn’t? I fucked the wrong person; I fucked up the right one; somebody played me a song. It changed my whole life, that song. That’s why I later went to so much trouble to find the guy who wrote and sang it. His name was Jim Cassady, or at least that’s what he called himself. His real name was Eddie Brown, but he’d changed it in tribute to Jim Morrison and Neal Cassady. I’d never heard of either one before I discovered punk rock. I grew up in a small city in North Carolina where I’d never known a single soul who listened to the Doors or read Jack Kerouac. I was a jock—a varsity pitcher and All-District linebacker who dressed like a preppie and hung out at frat parties. Even in high school I was hanging out at frat parties. My girlfriend was a cheerleader. My parents were diehard Republicans. Life was good. I hated my life. Nothing ever happened in North Carolina in those days, the early eighties. I used to pray for something to happen, and I’d stopped believing in God at fourteen.
Then one night I heard a song by Jim’s band, Rule of Thumb, and thought, “My God, somebody out there gets it. Somebody out there feels just like I do.” I started listening to other songs by Rule of Thumb, as well as songs by other punk bands, and shaved off my hair and dyed the stubble blue. I slashed up my clothes and put them back together with safety pins. I bought a used Fender Mustang and taught myself to play it. I was the second punk rocker that town had ever seen, so it goes without saying I got a lot of shit, but I used to fantasize that Jim Cassady could somehow see me and was looking on with approval. I knew he’d been through similar things. I’d read a zine interview he gave in 1979 in which he talked about his love of the Stooges and the Velvet Underground back when most of the world was ignoring them. He was a strange kid who was constantly getting slapped around at school, and one of his worst tormenters was his longtime classmate Buddy Lavrakis, with whom he later founded Rule of Thumb. They bumped into each other on the Sunset Strip in the summer of ’75, when Jim was home from college, and, realizing they like some of the same music, started jamming with Buddy’s younger brother Gary on drums. They were almost certainly the first punk band on the West Coast, and, as such, no one knew what to make of them. It wasn’t till punk took off two years later that they started playing regularly around Los Angeles, and even then they were never that popular. Jim’s literacy may have been part of the problem. He also wrote poetry (he’d majored in English at UC Berkeley), and his lyrics were filled with grim forebodings of a mechanized world gone mad.
But I liked that about him. He made me want to learn things. He opened my mind. In that interview, for instance, he talked about the Romantic poets and their relevance to rock & roll; popular music as protest art; the Beat and hippie influence on punk. The last he cited as the inspiration behind his adopted name: he was demonstrating the line of continuity. Then, toward the end of the interview, he was asked where he saw himself in the years ahead, and here I’ll quote directly, since it’s interesting in light of what became of him. “Oh,” he said,
I don’t know. I always thought when the band broke up I’d get more into writing, but now I’m not so sure. Nobody reads anymore. You’d have to go back twenty years to find the last truly relevant writer. And right now there’s no danger of the band breaking up, even though I’m starting to wonder if we’re ever going to get played on the radio. But that’s OK. I figure all we have to do is reach a few kids that aren’t robots and, if they keep spreading the message and multiplying, my work is done.
In fact, by the time I read those words, his work pretty much was done. But he did manage to reach a few kids who weren’t robots, and one of them was a fifteen-year-old squirt named Bernard Mash, or, as I called him, Peewee.
Peewee was originally from Brooklyn, but he’d been sent to live with his sister in North Carolina after accidentally-on-purpose burning down part of his last school. That was only the latest incident in a tragicomic history of academic disaster, yet he was easily the most brilliant person I ever knew. It was unbelievable, the shit that kid could say. At fifteen he’d soaked up more knowledge than most people twice and three times his age, and he’d ramble through it in breathless monologues, veering from subject to subject like a house-trapped sparrow trying to find an open window: it’s here, it’s there, it’s in the kitchen, it’s in the attic now. I met him shortly before I disgraced myself by beating up a former friend who’d spread gossip about me fucking around on my girlfriend. She was a sensitive girl who was so upset she tried to kill herself, and I almost killed the guy I held responsible, and, two months shy of graduation, I was kicked out of school as well as my house. It’s a long, painful story, and I’ll tell it eventually, but for now this is all that matters: in the aftermath I started hanging around with Peewee, who was the first punk rocker that town had ever seen. He was the one who turned me on to Rule of Thumb. He made me tapes and showed me zines; he loaned me half of what I needed to buy my first guitar. He’d recently bought a guitar of his own, and he was always saying we should start a band, but to me that was almost beside the point. I was trying to emulate Johnny Ramone and Steve Jones and ROT’s Buddy Lavrakis, and didn’t care if it was in public or private. I just wanted my hands to produce those same brazen sounds.
One Thursday night in November ’81, I was about to hit the sack when Peewee came pounding on my door. It seemed he’d just gotten off the phone with his friend Terrence in New York, and guess who was playing at CBGB’s the following night? Go on and guess. I said, “No!”
“Yes! This time tomorrow night Rule of Thumb is going to be onstage at CBGB’s, and we’re going to be there!”
But I couldn’t go. I had to wake up in a few hours to work my house-painting job, and my boss was always reluctant to let me have a day off. I said as much to Peewee, who said, “Jason, are you out of your fucking mind? This is Rule of Thumb we’re talking about! You can always find another job, but this may be the only chance you ever get to see this band! Now go call your boss and tell him you have to have the day off, and if he still says you’ve got to come in, then tell him you fucking quit!”
So I did. I called my boss and said I was sick—I was practically dying, I was so sick—and he said, “Well, Jason, you know I can’t spare you.” I said, “Okay, I quit, bye,” and hung up, and Peewee said, “Yes! Jason, I am so fucking proud of you! Now let’s smoke some hash and get some sleep. We’ve got a long drive ahead of us.” We left in the morning while it was still dark, and I tore up that highway; I drove like a felon trying to beat a roadblock at the Virginia border. That was as far north as I’d ever been. I’d been as far south as Myrtle Beach. And we raced through Washington, and we mowed through Maryland, and we passed through Delaware in all the time it would take a parched drunk to polish off a six-pack; and for much of the way we blasted tapes of ROT while Peewee bounced in his seat going, “They’d better play some old stuff! If they don’t play ‘Banished,’ I’m going to tear that place to pieces!” The sun was almost gone by the time we reached the city. We parked in the Village, where Peewee’s friend Terrence Haggerty was waiting to meet us. He’d come equipped. He led us straight to a Greek coffee shop and back to the bathroom to snort some coke—the first time I’d ever done that. He’d also brought a bottle of Jameson’s, and we walked around the Village, getting good and fucked up, till we came to the Bleecker Street Cinema and Peewee looked up to see that his all-time favorite movie, Taxi Driver, was playing on a double bill with his second all-time favorite, Mean Streets. He went berserk when he saw that marquee. We had to go in; we just had to.
But Terrence wasn’t interested. He’d seen both movies many times. Peewee said, “Well, Jason never has! I’ve been telling him about these movies since the day we met, and the one time we come to the city they’re playing together! It’s synchro-fucking-nicity!”
“Yeah, but I haven’t seen you in months. Let’s hang out, man! I don’t want to see some goddamn movie!”
Terrence had grown up with Peewee, so he should have known that resistance was futile. They bickered till Peewee finally exploded and said, “Just leave, you shanty-Irish bitch! We’ll see you later at the show!”
So Terrence took off, never to be seen again that night, and Peewee and I watched half of each movie and grabbed a cab to CBGB’s, where the doorman took one look at Peewee’s fake ID and refused to admit him. That was strange, as I later learned. There wasn’t much carding in New York in those days. Still, for whatever reason, the guy wouldn’t bend, refusing even to accept a bribe. As for me, I was eighteen—the legal drinking age till the Reagan Administration bumped it up a few years later—so I could easily have gone in by myself. Yet I couldn’t. How could I see Rule of Thumb without Peewee? He’d never let me hear the end of it. Besides, I couldn’t enjoy the show—not like this.
And so we both remained outside, trying to catch the music over midnight traffic cannonballing down the Bowery. We couldn’t hear much, yet, somehow, I wasn’t that disappointed. I was in New York City and standing by the door of CBGB’s! Who knew how many famous people had stood in this very spot? And all the people who passed us seemed like such characters—bikers and bums and bag ladies and hipsters (who were clearly identifiable as such, with their Beatle boots and bandanna headbands and black leather jackets)—and, for this moment, I was here among them. Even the pavement beneath my feet struck me as special. It was New York pavement, and I’d taken to the city the second I’d seen its horizon rising through my bug-splattered windshield. And now at night, a part of the city, I loved it that much more.
The show ended, or so we gathered from the little we could overhear. We’d been looking around for ROT’s van, thinking it must be parked nearby, but we saw no vans, or at least no vans with California license plates. Still, Peewee said we’d probably get a chance to meet Jim if he we kept hanging around, and, sure enough, covered in sweat, he walked outside and lit a cigarette. He looked nothing like I thought he would. In all the photos I’d seen he came across like James Dean’s slightly older brother; but in person he had a moon-shaped face, longish hair streaked with premature gray, and teeth that looked like they hadn’t been on friendly terms with a toothbrush in a good two years. Peewee, bold as ever, ran right up to him and said, “Hey, Jim! We drove all the way from North Carolina to see your ass, and that pig-fucking doorman wouldn’t let us in!” And Jim said, “Wow, I’m…really…flattered…” That was how he spoke. He had a whispery, spaced-out, spooky voice, and all his sentences were…broken up…like…this… I’d certainly imagined him sounding very different. Nor, as I’d expected, was he especially eloquent.
On the other hand, Peewee did most of the talking. He wanted to discuss the implications of some of Jim’s lyrics. Was sex really going to be supplanted by technology, like he’d sung in “Artificial Pussy”? And did he really think, as the lyrics of “Lockstep” suggested, that the human race was headed for a day when cultural differences would no longer exist, replaced with a bland monolith along the lines of the American middle class? You have to understand that nobody was talking that way in 1981, or at least nobody I’d ever met, and this kid was barely sixteen and drunk and drugged to boot. Even Jim looked like a lightweight next to Peewee. He could hardly find answers to half his questions, and when he did it came out like: “Well, that song…it’s sort of a…warning…like you find in…science fiction…” To which I remember Peewee responding: “Jesus Christ, Jim, what the fuck are you talking about? Science fiction? That shit’s for geeks!” He kept referring to him as “Jim,” like he’d known his whole life, and me—I barely said a single word, I was so beside myself. I was standing three feet away from Jim Cassady! And, no, he wasn’t exactly impressive with his spaced-out voice and fucked-up teeth—in fact, the whole time we spoke, he kept playing with one, like he was either trying to work it out or work it back into place—but he was still Jim Cassady, and to me that was better than being God. At one point he asked if we had our own band, and Peewee said, “No, but I want to start one. Would you please tell my friend Jason we should start a band? He’ll listen to you, Jim.”
And by God, that motherfucker—my hero, God Himself—he stopped fucking with his tooth long enough to look directly at me and say, “I really…think you should…start a…band…Jason…” He said my name and everything. That was right around the time Buddy Lavrakis walked out. He was big and blond and dressed like Jim in a plaid flannel shirt, and to meet him was almost as mind-blowing as to meet Jim, though he barely said two words to us. He took Jim aside with an air of emergency, and, after they’d whispered for a couple of minutes, they walked inside and didn’t come back.
Still, not for the first time and not for the last, Jim Cassady had changed my life: for the next few hours I walked the streets with Peewee, all the way from CBGB’s to 59th Street and back down Broadway, plotting out the future. We decided we’d pack up our stuff as soon as we returned to North Carolina and move to New York, where we’d live with Peewee’s parents—or at least he would—till we got a place of our own. (Of course we had yet to ask, and when I met his parents the next day, I could tell they were both afraid of him.) We bandied about band names and settled on the Widowmakers, which is what we called ourselves for the next year and a half; and we also talked about how big we wanted to be, as if we had full say in the matter, and decided rock stardom wasn’t for us. No, that was for dumbfucks. We just wanted to be an East Coast version of Rule of Thumb, a cult band with fans as cool we were. And I guess, in the smallest of ways, we finally got our wish.
Terrific first line.
I’m so proud I know you.
Really? Even though my gravatar hasn’t gone on a diet?
I’ve been holding off on replying, Zara, because I was sure my remark would nest weirdly, but here’s my belated gratitude for “really” and “truly.”
No gratitude needed, D. You know I adore you. Really and truly once again.
I take nothing for granted. Or maybe I do without realizing it, which is why I’ve been in such a foul mood of late.
Well, I wish I could help lessen your foul mood. I hope my adoration of you and gratitude for the gifts you give me help do that, even if just a little.
I’m sorry, I just don’t see what gifts you mean. But this is undoubtedly not the time or place.
Oh. I think I must have mentioned that on your other post. I was just saying that your writing makes me want to do better with my own, and I see that as a gift. Anyway, no matter.
Well, I suppose I see that as something that can be found just as easily with others. But, as you say, no matter. I have the sense that I’m being insulting, when that isn’t my intention at all.
No, not at all, D.
This chapter has inspired me to go pull BFL out of my bookcase and re-read.. I should be writing, I guess, but another reading of your book is a much more enjoyable idea.
Oh, very well. You have been attempting to lift my spirits, and you have succeeded. I hope you’re pleased with yourself.
Damn right I am!!! That’s the best news I’ve had all day. Yay for me! Yay for you! Yay for us!
You’re the best Kiwi cheerleader ever. Though, of course, it’s rather a small pool.
You’re right, we are not well known for our cheerleading talent here down under. But I am going to give it my best shot. I’ll be the finest Kiwi cheerleader you’ve ever met.
Give us a D…! (is that what cheerleader’s do??!!)
Well, they also do a lot of gymnastic-type stuff that lately results in a lot of spinal injuries. Apparently, there’s been quite an explosion in the rate of hospitalized cheerleaders.
However, I’ll settle for a “D,” while promising that you’re already the finest Kiwi cheerleader ever.
Sorry for the tardiness in replying, I was practicing a particularly challenging triple axel back bend flip and I think I ruptured a ligament. Time to settle in on the couch with BFL for comfort, methinks.
Ah, you do know how to comfort with your comfort — and you’ve got to be in a lot of pain, after rupturing your ligament! Gosh, you cheerleaders, you’re just so…enthusiastic.
If only enthusiasm could double for talent -I’d be made.
Now, where is my ice pack….?
Enthusiasm is usually the foundation. And you’ve got talent aplenty.
You know, this excerpt is from the MS, and there were a number of corrections made to the text in the galleys. I hadn’t realized how many changes there were until a minute ago, and I’ve now, belatedly, corrected this post, since the galleys were, after all, corrected for a reason. I’m so embarrassed!
Thanks D, but my ligament does not agree on the talent front..
As the corrections – I’m sure nobody would have noticed except you. I certainly didn’t spot any….
Thanks. I’m a freak about such things.
Your ligament is holding you back. Is there any way you can amputate? No, I guess not. Never mind.
Now, now. That kind of talk is only going to make the ligament more stubborn. You have to talk to it gently. Either that or eat all its food so it starves to death.
Yes, well. There’s a lot of that going on in this house these days…
Let Jude eat, Z!
Oh, wait. I think you had a whole other situation in mind.
HA! Yes, I was meaning the naughty dog and her attempts to rid the house of the cat.
I remembered, I remembered. Just trying to stir up some friction in Auckland.
The cat lives!
Indestructible, no doubt.
You’re a devil child. It’s all very well to stir up the friction, but who’s going to pull an all nighter and help resolve the 2nd act tension? Anyway, it’s Jude’s birthday tomorrow, so no doubt she’ll get me back for telling her to be quiet when she kindly sang me happy birthday..
Oh, I’m sure she’s over that by now. And I promise to pull an all-nighter to help relieve the second-act tension.
Happy birthday, Jude!
Can she hear me? Well, I’m sure she will.
Haha…that was a sight. Seeing you carry your own birthday cake into the house, forlornly singing ‘happy birthday’ to yourself!
Oh? Your own version ended on the spot, did it?
Yup. It ended on the spot. She left the cake, candles melting in the dark, on my sideboard. I had to carry it over to her house, sheltering the flames from the rain and wind, and singing happy birthday to myself while she shouted ‘You Little Shit’ at me through the closed door. Good to see she’s laughing at me now.
Oh and thanks for the offer of the all nighter – I’m taking you up on that.
God, that’s sad — and poetic, I might add.
I’m pulling an all-nighter myself, working on transcripts, although I’m stealing time here on this board. Ducky’s in town to meet John Doe, and she’s mentioned having a coffee tomorrow. She’s brought her legendary dog with her.
Isn’t it sad? Very ‘Little Match Girl’ I think….
I’m not going to steal anymore of your time… Please say hi from me to Ducky if you get to have coffee with her, and give the legendary doggy a bit as well… Now BFL and I are going to bed.
I meant a PAT, not a bit. Definitely time for sleep I think…
Ah. BFL is, I’m sure, pleased with this arrangement.
And don’t think about me, whiling away at transcribing. Sniff.
Oh no!! BFL and I will think of you, of course we will. We will send you good transcribing vibes across the Pacific Ocean…
Vibes received. I would expect them from you, being so sweet, but BFL is a difficult child, so I’m relieved that it wishes me well.
Then you will be pleased to hear that BFL is behaving beautifully. Good manners, excellent company, good sense of humour, not to mention very attractive. BFL is a credit to you, you raised a good ‘un there…
Very pleased, yes. You know the way to a father’s heart. But better manners than Simon’s? I doubt that very much.
My pleasant disposition is all I’ve got!
Even they sometimes count against me…
A friend’s parents once referred to me (in primary school) as ‘slimy and manipulative’ due to the fact that I called them Mr. and Mrs. Surname (HA! I’m now amusing myself with the thought of using that as a real moniker rather than a placeholder).
I started calling them by their first names (which, by the way, I had never been invited to do) and I was upgraded to ‘insincere.’
Some parents are never pleased. I think, when they’re our own parents, they almost never are.
You realize, of course, that I’m going to steal “Mr. and Mrs. Surname.”
It would be the sincerest form of flattery.
Ha ha ha… sorry, it’s one of those images that has captivated me with its sheer stupidity.
‘Hello, Mr. Surname!’
Seriously though. I never liked those people. I’m glad their house got flaming bagged, even if they weren’t home (the identity of the perpetrators remained a secret for all of about two minutes. I was, amazingly, not among them).
I doubt the last statement would hold up under polygraph conditions.
I’m still giggling over “Mr. Surname.” Which perhaps doesn’t speak well of my sense of humor, but there you have it.
No, for honest! I was actually on break at work when the call came from the friend who was inside at the time. The conversation went like this:
Scene: 2am in the morning. Metro Nightclub staff break/first aid room. Our hero is sitting on the vomit-stained couch. The phone rings. He looks at it. The number coming up is a friend of his.
Me: Hey man. What’s up?
Friend: WAS IT FUCKING YOU? WAS IT FUCKING YOU? WERE YOU FUCKING THERE?
Me: Whoa, whoa – what the hell is going on? I’m at work, man. What are you talking about?
Friend: Oh. Sorry. Nothing. I gotta go.
Did I tell this story at Chateau Marmont? About how while three of my friends were giggling quietly and watching a flaming bag of poop burn happily on another friend’s doorstep, the noise and light made the friend inside believe he and his girlfriend were currently undergoing a home invasion-type situation?
Yes, you did, it now returns to me.
That fucking settles it, “our hero”: You were wearing a wire that day, weren’t you? Weren’t you?!
You wound me, sir! I hear the call of empty bytes now….
I meant you no harm, sir. Now, off to the gym with you, or to the cocktail party at Zoe’s place. Why, I can hear the bon mots and rattling ice in the glasses even here, in my squalid hermitage.
Alas, I am overcome with lame-assedness (an affliction wrought by my siring two beautiful, brilliant and completely insomniac children). I am off to nowhere but the company of my jaded dreams (except that one with the polar bear, the clown and the garlic – that one is just friggin’ trippy) but I raise the remains of my glass to you. Salud!
Insomnia among children appears to be epidemic these days, or maybe it was always epidemic. Anyway, if you don’t drain the glass completely, kindly leave it on your table, and I will relieve you of the last few drops. I thank you in advance, and may your children sleep, so that you may sleep as well.
Thank you kindly, sir. I had this brief idea of leaving a full glass out as if for some sort of alcoholic Elijah but 1. if done in fact, it would be a waste of good scotch and a temptation to stay up further to kill it off and 2. if merely written, it would take far too much effort to craft into something amusing… which would keep me up longer… and make me want another drink. Vicious loop, there.
How about this? I’ll add you to my virtual patronage list. Give me a mailing address and I’ll forward a bottle of something decent.
I know that vicious loop well, believe me, but with far cheaper Scotch, I’m sure.
But are you serious about a mailing address? You’re not related to the Unabomber, are you? I mean, if your gravatar were wearing sunglasses and a hoodie…
You know, it’s my own damned fault for having set up email alerts. I’m going to sleep, dammit! But I rarely say things I don’t mean (this isn’t all that impressive since “rarely” is relative and I never shut the hell up). If your thirst outweighs your concern, send me an address. If not, send me the address of someone you detest and warn them they’d better not drink your goddamned scotch or a thin, bald, white dude with indistinguishable features and a shady background will be paying them a visit with an expectation of repayment. And accrued interest.
Oh, gosh, Anon, do I have to choose? Because your second offer really is extremely tempting. And yet I love Scotch so.
Wow. This is hard.
While I have been accused of being the devil – twice this year, so far – I didn’t mean to tempt to such a degree. Lord knows I post here enough and I’m certain you must have my email address from comment notifications. Feel free to drop me a line if you wish to take me up on my offer. From what I’ve read, you could use a freebie (or thirty) from the Universe. Consider me its agent this time.
Btw, don’t get me wrong – I’m my family’s sole income so we’re talking more like Oban, Balvenie or Dalwhinnie rather than, say, Macallan 18 year.
You shall be hearing from me, sir. For certain.
Did someone refer to this man as the devil? Let him come forth so that I may smite thee!
Nobody has stepped forward, Anon. I think I’ve scared off all those fuckers, at least round these parts. That “smite” threat, which I learned from God, works every time.
Safe your smite gun, friend. The first time was an idle question but my egomania demanded I take it as flattery. And, well, the second time I was pretty much earning it, so, um, yeah. That’s why I try to do random nice things – to compensate for my occasional needless torturing of other humans. Regardless, neither incident involved any person I’ve seen named on this board although I’m sure you’re totally scary and would leave them more shitless than a quadruple brew of Smooth Move.
I’ve certainly been told I’m scary. And I’ve occasionally, and needlessly, tortured fellow humans, almost always relatives. But, let’s face it, relatives are usually the ones most deserving. Tit, meet tat.
I’m totally blowing my cover on the “needless” front.
I never get enough of that opening line.
Well, fuck, I can’t see fucking why.
Well if you can’t fucking see why I’m sure as fucking hell not going to explain it to ya!
give ’em hell duke
I suppose I will, thanks. I live in hell, so there’s always plenty to go around.
It says so much about BFL that I can’t even see the name without thinking ‘Jim Cassady, you fuck!’
Edith Wharton, on once being asked about Ethan Frome, sighed and said, “Poor Ethan.” So here’s my chance to sigh and say, “Poor Jim.” Thank you for providing the opportunity, Simon.
I have my sympathies for Jim. Just as I do for Irina.
They are, however, outweighed totally by my sympathies for Jason.
Sigh. Poor Jason.
I imagine you looking at skulls in the boneyard while saying that. Alas, poor Yorick.
Egad. I hope the guy isn’t dead yet. I know just where I left him, and I hope he continues to flourish. But, metaphorically, yeah, I know just what you mean.
Isn’t Todd, in a sense, holding aloft the skull of Taylor? “She gave me blowjobs, Horatio! And splendid they were!”
Ever time I go to a bookstore, I look for BFL. This is wonderful. You are wonderful. That is all.
It’s you who are wonderful, Marni, and I was just about to post a comment on your latest piece to say as much — and will, in a moment.
However, I should warn you that the distribution on BFL is the worst, so Amazon is best. But, you know, seeing that you’re unemployed — as am I! — I’ll send you a copy, gratis, when I next get a few. That’s a promise.
Fantastic stuff… I genuinely can’t wait to read this book.
You know, I’ve never thought much about the Beats relating to punk… I might need to pick your brains about that sometime, because I think that would sit nicely in Beatdom. We’re always talking about the influence of older writers/artists on the Beats. But I really am very ignorant about punk music.
There’s a direct relationship, I think. Ginsberg, after all, sang for a punk band (that’s mentioned in BFL by Jim Cassady, who can’t remember the name of the band, as I can’t either), and I think Burroughs even talked-sang for another — but I could wrong about the latter. And Burroughs was friends with Patti Smith, as was his assistant, James, who was in a punk band himself. Plus, the SF punk scene got its start in North Beach at a location that had formerly, I’m almost certain, been a site for Beat readings and such.
I see punk as a critique of the hippie/youth movements of the sixties, which in turn, of course, were an outgrowth of the Beats.
There’s a book called Beat Punk by Victor Bockris, which is a collection of interviews with various literary and music figures (all conducted by Bockris), and the premise of the book is–well, everything I just stated. I didn’t use the book as research for BFL, however; I read it around the time I was correcting the galleys. It’s not particularly good, but it does have its moments, such as a transcript of a dinner arranged by Bockris so that Richard Hell could meet Susan Sontag (who, of course, was in no way a Beat, though the Rimbaud-obsessed Hell was vitally important to punk).
Beatdom? Oh, yes, David. Thanks for raising the thought.
Ginsberg certainly sang with the Clash… And he did a lot of stuff with musicians in the 70s and 80s, for some really fucking terrible albums. The guy was a genius, but couldn’t sing for shit.
As for Burroughs, I don’t recall him singing with any punk bands, but he did work with a lot of musicians, so maybe. He certainly recorded with Kurt Cobain. Jame Grauerholz (sp?) was in a punk band…? I never knew that.
Well, that’s a lot of food for thought. Maybe in Issue Seven we could think a little more about the Beats and punk.
Different sources have different takes on Ginsberg’s relationship with music, particularly in the 80s, when he stopped writing and recording songs.
He seems to have befriended the Clash, and did some work with them. They wrote a song together 10 mins before a concert and played it live. It was called “Capitol Air.” He later helped them edit some song lyrics, and appeared as “the voice of God” on “Ghetto Defendant.”
He wrote a song called “Birdbrain” in Yugoslavia, in 1980, and recorded it with a Denver band called The Gluons.
Er… Ok. That’s enough rambling for tonight. He also worked with Bob Dylan (who’s coming to Korea next month…) and lots of other important musicians. I just didn’t know much about his punk connections.
There was a band in SF that he fronted. I found the name of it at one point online. It was probably a loose thing that was less a band than a kind of public jam that took place whenever Ginsberg was in town. That, at least, was my understanding.
I think he was always quick to befriend emerging youth movements — because, I think, he wanted to befriend youths. He was a mentor to Harley Flanagan, the founder of the Cro Mags (at the age of thirteen!), whose mother was dating Peter Orlovsky. I asked David Breithaupt if he remembered anything about Harley, but he didn’t. I think Ginsberg knew Harley before David started working for him.
About James G. (I can’t spell the last name either) — I’m not positive that he was in a band, but I’m about eighty percent certain that he was, and he was absolutely active in the CBGB scene during the late seventies. I think Burroughs was kind of a guest singer for one or more bands.
I wish I could state all of this with greater accuracy. I hate half-knowing anything, almost as much as I hate to be viewed as posturing, as I may at the moment.
However, my friend Joe, who does the Cup of TNB podcasts, knew both Burroughs and Ginsberg fairly well — I forget how — and I’ll ask him. Joe has a background in punk, and we’ve covered all this before, but it kind of slipped in one ear and out the other. I was more interested in his take on Norman Mailer, whose son is a business partner in one of Joe’s various enterprises. I was never that big on Ginsberg and Burroughs. I’m fascinated by Cassady, as well as some of the other, lesser Beat figures — Lucien Carr and Hal Chase, for instance — but Kerouac remains for me the paramount Beat figure, and I’m also very taken by Mailer, his journalism especially. Of course, he wasn’t a Beat, but he did work the same side of the street to some extent.
I’ve always been transfixed by Burroughs… I think its his voice. It’s captivating. Ginsberg is the same, but I grow tired of him after a little while. I find it a lot easier to study Burroughs than Ginsberg. Gregory Corso was a favourite of mine, and Bob Kaufman. Cassady was never that interesting to me… I think it’s because I’ve known so many Cassady-types in my life. That’s probably why I’ve had so many adventures – I keep finding myself following these insane bastards from story to story. Kerouac’s great, but I see far too much of myself in him, and it scares me. Reading anything of his for long enough reminds me that I share too many of his flaws.
Corso is very underrated, I think, as was Cassady’s intellect. I think that’s one aspect that’s generally missing with Cassady types, or those of them with whom I’ve been acquainted. They do the wild-man bit well in terms of action, but they lag in thought.
Meanwhile, your thoughts about Kerouac bring to mind a desire on my part to be Kerouac in my late teens. I didn’t realize at the time that there was nothing to be envied, not in the long run. I don’t know that I share his flaws, but mine are certainly comparable, and they’re far from pretty.
I agree with you that Burroughs had a transfixing voice — or has, seeing that there’s so many extant recordings of it.
Yes, thanks to the internet, Burroughs can even be heard in Korea…
Ah. Did our exchange encourage you to have another listen?
You know, Duke,
I have absolutely no interest in this kind of music, and yet you make your characters so interesting that I still want to read it. That, right there, is a gift.
I’m honored that you say so. I tried, as best as I could, to make the novel work for people of every conceivable background — but note that I say “conceivable.” I’m sure there are many that would never occur to me. And, actually, a lot of underground-music types wouldn’t like it anyway, since they tend to be very opinionated in these matters, and my ideas would strike them as heresy.
I agree, it IS hard.
But you were able to do it.
HUZZAH! I say!
(We don’t care about people with preconceived opinions anyhow.)
I believe I’d like a podcast of you saying HUZZAH! Megan DiLullo, are you listening?
You’re such a good prose stylist. And, I’m sorry to say, but I completely missed punk. I suppose if I want to understand it, your novel would be a good place to start? Off to Amazon.
Oh yes, Richrob. Heh, heh. It would be an excellent place to start. Heh, heh. None better.
Seriously, though, I hope that we’re fated to read one another’s novels. I’m down to ten dollars at the moment, which will have to stretch somehow till the middle of the week at least, but rest assured that I’ve got my eye on Rift. I mean, if Will Entrekin criticizes Shakespeare and the Beatles, and he loves Rift — well, that’s a mighty endorsement, innit?
Send me your address and I’ll send you a copy of Rift. I’ll let you be the judge of it. It’s my first novel and I love it, but I’ve also grown a bit since then. I don’t have any more promo copies of The God Particle, alas.
I always feel stupid and out of touch when my friends who are familiar with punk talk about it. Like how can I know so little about this whole world of music? But after being a Top 40 kid, I gave up on music in college because I didn’t like popular music and didn’t know how to find anything different. Fast Internet changed all that, because I found a band or two I liked, and I could use gnod music and last.fm and iTunes and all the various “related search” algorithms to find more. I ended up going down the post rock route, though, a la Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai, etc. Long form instrumental rock without much in the way of lyrics. It’s so great to write to. I can hardly listen to songs shorter than eight minutes any more. Haha.
I’m a huge fan of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mogwai both. I had the perfect meltdown experience once when I saw the latter. It was mystical; like doing drugs. Hard to describe.
Anyway, this gives me some idea as to the kind of stuff you like, and if you tell me a bit more, I might be able to put together, Kip Tobin-style, a CD of music in a related vein that’s hopefully obscure enough that you don’t already know about it.
As for the rest, you can count on receiving my address later. Thank you. I only wish I had a copy of BFL that I could send along to make it an even trade, but I’m out, alas.
Long form instrumental rock without much in the way of lyrics. It’s so great to write to.
I am exactly the same. I’m only noting that here now, because it happens (or something similar anyway) to be the answer to one of my “21 Questions” interview that (I think) goes up in a week or two. I don’t remember the specific answer, but I only write to music with no lyrics or lyrics in a foreign language.
At the moment, I don’t write to music much at all, not since my next-door neighbor complained about me running water (!) in my apartment, and I got reprimanded by my heartless landlords. But I personally write to a variety of things, when I’m able. It depends on the piece and my mood — all the usual variables.
I am really looking forward to your 21 Questions thing, Slade. I know you’re going to rock that shit.
I would love that, Duke. Consider the CD an even trade. According to last.fm, leaving out my Def Leppard obsession, my recent top artists are: GY!BE, Boards of Canada, Juno Reactor, Radiohead, QOTSA, Delerium, Death in Vegas, Infected Mushroom, HRSTA, The Moscow Coup Attempt, Valley of the Giants, M83. But I’m always looking for new artists, and suggestions would be fantastic.
I’m also looking forward to your 21 Questions, Slade. I’d be interested to hear which artists you like. And to see how intentionally funny you’ll be. Ha.
This gives me a good idea. I think I spot a definite trend here.
I once stopped at a kiosk in Belgrade after hearing a song wafting out of it that caught my attention, and as I stood talking to the kiosk owner, he kept playing one record after another, asking what I thought. After a few minutes he said, “Okay, I have you figured out now,” and he rattled off my musical profile. And he was dead right.
“Intentionally”? I’m missing the inside joke, apparently.
From Brad Listi’s recent piece on when to be funny or not funny. We had a short discussion about how hard it is to write humor.
Ah, of course. I should’ve guessed.
I’m afraid you two are going to be terribly disappointed, haha. As I indicated in Brad’s piece, I am horribly funny offstage (I suppose there’s still some debate as to my claim that I am onstage as well, but that’s a different argument entirely). I have a feeling it will come across as forced and somewhat shallow. To be determined I suppose.
Musically, I’ll have to make a list as well. M83 and Delerium are certainly on my list. And Sigur Ros. And also Do Make Say Think. They’re definitely in that vein and probably something you’d dig.
I’ve been on a world music kick lately that started with my refinding Deep Forest and has since moved into my obsessively combing the internet for foreign melody and catchy rhythm. I’m such a sucker for melody. I’m sure the subject matter of what I end up listening is questionable, but since I can’t understand it, I don’t think about it. For all I know, my favorite song might be about a lost cow.
Oh, and on the post-rock front… This Will Destroy You. They’re out of Austin I think? I may have to burn some stuff for you as well.
Sigur Ros, yes. Although I might be the only fan who prefers their first album to the newer stuff. And I do have a couple of This Will Destroy You albums. I like them and obviously EITS. I haven’t listed to DMST yet, though. I just checked out Deep Forest on last.fm. I’m familiar with some of the related artists, so I’d be interested to hear some of them.
I suppose we can all trade CDs. I might have a few obscure tracks to throw in there.
This Will Destroy You — I don’t know them, but if they’re from Austin, I wonder if their name is a parody of …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, who are also from Austin.
I’m starting to realize that my musical knowledge cuts off around 2007 or so, which is when I began to disengage from the music scene, so I hope I can put together something that doesn’t embarrass me, Richard. (Vanity is, alas, far too prevalent in my thinking.)
Oh, and Slade, I’m a sucker for melody also, which may or may not be a surprise. And I doubt seriously that I’m going to be disappointed by your 21Q thing. I like that you’re not permanently “on.” That can be tough to take.
Soooo happy and excited to see this up here at long last, Duke!
I’m with Irene that this transcends fans of any particular type of music, and can appeal to anyone. But that said, the vibrancy of the music scene and the characters’ love of music does just jump off the page (screen) in a visceral way. Well done!
It does seem like it’s been a long time in coming, doesn’t it? Which is funny, because it hasn’t been long at all. Meanwhile, I’m of course pleased that you don’t feel it’s ghettoized. Also, it blows me away that you actually read the board.
Thanks for your help in making this all possible, Gina.
Duke, I cannot wait to get my hands on your book. I’m echoing the other comments in this thread about how bloody FANTASTIC that opening line is.
A song that is emotionally powerfull will have a different meanining for everyone. Everyone has a song that indirectly represents how they feel or think or even live their lives. It’s just a matter of finding one, or a few, that influence you significantly.
Well done. Seriously, cannot wait to read it.
Ooh, BTW I’m listening to Death for Cutie at the moment and I’m loving it!
Kinda reminds me of Snow Patrol, in a way.
I’m going to give Jeannie credit for Death Cab, since, as I said, it probably wouldn’t have come to mind if she hadn’t just send me a DCFC song.
Of course I love that you say you can’t wait to get your hands on the book, and I know I speak for the book when I say that it can’t wait to be held. It’s a very affectionate book. It hugs me quite a bit — but not in a needy sort of way. I want to be very clear about that. You won’t have to worry about it hugging you too much or anything. Most of the time it will just sit quietly on a shelf, where it’s happy to quietly commune with its own kind.
You’re right about influential songs. I did an interview a few months back in which I was asked to name one, and it was hard to limit myself that way. But the interview, which was of a very specific kind, required just one. Here, for the hell of it, is a link:
[…] The Nervous Breakdown […]
duke, every time i click on one of your posts i have to cross my fingers and pray that my browser won’t freeze from the combined weight of all the millions of comments.
and we’re in!!!
unfortunately i don’t have much to say. i already read and loved this book! can’t you write another one, please?
and don’t tell me you’re too busy, cuz here you are answering my comment. I KNOW YOU, MAN!!!
Must answer Ben’s comment. Cannot resist. Must return again and again to TNB. Comment, there is? Comment, I will answer. Cannot stop self. Screen irresistible. Comment irresistible.
The problem is money. I can buy time with money. I figure this moment, as I’m answering your comment, would run me in theoretical terms maybe, oh, fifty cents. I need to buy maybe six months. That should give me the time to write a first draft of my next book and maybe even a revision, seeing that I’m aiming for something in the 200-page range (around 100,000 words). What’s the price tag on that? If I lived somewhere with a low maybe as eight or nine grand. I mean, six months in Belgrade ran me around six grand, but that was eight years ago.
Obviously, no publisher is going to give me a book deal worth eight or nine grand, so I’ll have to write in my spare time, as is the case for most novelists, and all the time I have now is being spent, for the most part, in other ways. Which drives me a bit mad, but hey, what can you do?
Of course, I’m very flattered that you request another book. Have you ever thought of starting your own imprint? I wish you would, and I wish you would get a lot of funding from, like, a multi-millionaire, and you then offered me a book deal. I would be your best friend forever! But the last part I’m sure you wouldn’t want.
I know Duke! I am cool by association!
Um, Lenore, you were way cool before we ever met. What the hell took so long?
I know I tweeted this post but for the life of me, I don’t know why I haven’t commented on it.
On goodreads—I think it was—someone had stated that it wasn’t the type of book they would normally read. I hate to say it but I thought it wouldn’t be my cup of tea either. However I totally fell in love with it. There were too many coincidences between the novel and my family’s musical past that pulled me in. Beyond that, between the writing style and flow it just keeps you engrossed. I’ll admit it. I was addicted to it the two days it took me to read it, neglecting family, friends, and household chores. But that’s the sign of a good book right?
Question, the use of a fermata in lieu of a chapter number was that your decision?
Ah! You, Jeannie, are one of only a handful of people to remark on the fermata!
Actually, it was the suggestion of a friend. I never wanted the book to have traditional chapter breaks. I wanted the narrative to flow in the four sections as much as possible, so I’d suggested that the chapters within the sections to be broken up with asterisks. My friend thought it might to be fun to introduce a musical symbol — one that wouldn’t seem too cliched — instead of asterisks. I thought it was a terrific idea; hence the fermata.
I’ve once again gone a spell without checking in with Twitter, so thanks belatedly for tweeting this post. And I completely understand that you were concerned that the book wouldn’t be to your taste, and I’m of course delighted that you report deciding otherwise on reading the book. It’s like I said in the self-interview: Many are no doubt put off by the punk angle. But maybe, over time, the book can override that prejudice, yes? I can but hope.
This book was a beautiful love story.
If true, you’d never know it from the excerpt, huh?
Shedding every mask of modesty, I agree with you, but so many readers have despised Irina. I understand her completely, and never altogether get why others lack any compassion for her. She was right about everything, in the end. Besides, nobody’s perfect, right?
Ah, well. Jude, I so appreciate your comment. I honestly expected maybe twenty comments at most on this post, but I was stupidly overlooking the Potts factor.
Generosity, thy name is Potts.
HA HA. The Potts Factor.
Sounds like an awesome game show to me…
Steph?! Another addition to our TV line-up?!
We had a show here once called ‘The Kypton Factor’ and there were a lot of contestants in horrible tracksuits and comfortable footwear navigating obstacle courses and solving strange puzzles. I see ‘The Potts Factor’ as similar to that, but with better shoes.
And style and substance…
And beauty! And hands strangely attached to faces!
And Huntsman Spiders!
Invading America care of packages sent to the Olears!
(I know I’m going to regret saying that.)
Just you wait, Duke haney. Just you wait….
I think the fermata was a brilliant idea. One it’s musical, but two you are secretly asking your readers to pause. Fermata’s are always used to add dramatic silence to a piece, so using them–as you did–you are encouraging readers to pause, only for a moment, and continue. Chapters seem like such definite endings, places where you can put down a book and walk away. This way, the transitions through the flow of thought are merely, a pause.
I don’t think it was the ‘punk’ angle that put me off, it was the POV. I usually don’t read contemporary fiction from a man’s POV. Usually it’s just to jarring for me to like. But I had forgotten how to look from the opposite side of things. I was Irina when I lived in LA so it was interesting to see a man’s viewpoint on her situation. You’ll be happy to know that it did and can override prejudice. In fact I just picked up Beat the Reaper–a book I would normally not read–and have yet to put it back down. Which, you should pick up Beat the Reaper. I think you’d enjoy it.
You know, I dropped in a few hours ago to say hello here and there, and somehow I’m still here. But I just had to address this comment now.
What you say about the fermata is exactly how my friend suggested that it those in the know would view it. Again, I love that you caught the “hidden” meaning. This is the first mention of the fermata that I’ve had in good while.
Like I said, the fermata was a brilliant touch. But more soon? is there more to this Fermata than meets even my eye? Devious, making me come back to see what more is said about the Fermata.
I meant I would write again soon. And I have. See? I’m not sure I have much more to say about the fermata, except that it’s also the symbol for The Fold, a real-life club that’s in BFL. That was a happy coincidence.
I hope this comment isn’t a disappointment.
That is a happy coincidence. To be honest I think I was half asleep when I read your comment. See, at least I’m halfway coherent when I sleep type.
Your comments don’t disappoint.
I’m often half asleep, not only when I write but generally. At least it feel as if I am. I think my brain needs to go to the gym, along with the rest of me.
I didn’t like Irina very much either but in the end she redeemed herself. I think you wrote her character with such depth and ‘realness’ – how could you not love her? Perhaps people despised her because of the way she treated Jason, failing to see why she treated him that way. It seemed to me that she was out of her depth in a ‘foreign’ country but when she went back to her own country, she felt safe to let her true self come through. Beautiful writing Duke, being able to create such a complex character whom people either have a love/hate reaction, says to me you are a real genius!
The Potts factor – ha ha! Formidable team we can be sometimes!
Almost always, is more likely the case.
You know, in the self-interview thing, I said I don’t tend to use real-life models, but I made ample use of one in the case of Irina. Of all the main characters in BFL, she owed the most to a breathing counterpart, so I can’t claim anything in her case but (hopefully) careful observation.
Also, of course, the book is told from Jason’s point of view. If those parts of the book in which Irina figured had been told from her point of view, Jason might have come off as a right jerk. She prevaricated, sure, but I’d like to think that her account would have made that all seem as reasonable as she herself no doubt saw it. I’d also like to think that she would have allowed that she was out of her depth, as you say, while in America.
At any rate, her part of the book has proven, in its limited way, the most controversial, just as it was my biggest obstacle in terms of publishing with an established imprint. But I stood beside her, and I’m not sorry that I did. She’s just as important to the overall design of the book as Peewee or Jim, and I can’t bring myself to agree, after considerable self-debate, with those who say otherwise. And I couldn’t be happier that you’re not among them.
Perspective is so queer. Five people, one event shared by all, will almost always draw five different perspectives. Unless two of the five are happily fucking. My observation could be skewed and out dated though.
I thought your book was a fabulous read from cover to cover. Tell zara her scarves are ready and yours will be in the mail this week. Cheers. Have you ever read anything by Paul Leppin? Just wondering. And Scotch is my all time fav, neat of course.
I don’t think your observation is either skewed or outdated in the least. I was going to say something about the differing perspectives of two people fucking, until I read your comment a second time and noticed the word “happily,” which renders what I was going to say moot.
Thanks a million for your kind remarks about the book, Sheree. I’m sure Zara will be thrilled that her scarves are almost ready. Hopefully she’ll see your remark before I alert her.
I have not read anything by Paul Leppin, and must confess that I had to consult Wikipedia in order to prod my memory that I had, in fact, heard of him.
Your remark about Scotch reminds me that I have to hit up Anon for his kind offer to send me a bottle.
[…] D.R. Haney, one of the site’s most popular contributors. Haney, author of the underground classic Banned for Life, a novel about punk rock, will be publishing a collection titled Subversia on the TNB imprint. The […]
[…] Our first title will be Subversia, a nonfiction collection by D.R. Haney, author of the novel Banned for Life. Subversia is a collection of Haney’s work as seen here on TNB, plus three new pieces, never […]
[…] Haney, one of the site’s most popular contributors. Haney, author of the underground classic Banned for Life, a novel about punk rock, will be publishing a collection titled Subversia on the TNB imprint. The […]
[…] Haney, one of the site’s most popular contributors. Haney, author of the underground classic Banned for Life, a novel about punk rock, will be publishing a collection titled Subversia on the TNB imprint. The […]
[…] Haney, one of the site’s most popular contributors. Haney, author of the underground classic Banned for Life, a novel about punk rock, will be publishing a collection titled Subversia on the TNB imprint. The […]
[…] protagonist of Banned for Life is not the only character he’s written named […]