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The Artist Within the Murderer: The Strange Case of Jack Unterweger
04:31 pm

Pop Culture


Young Jack Unterweger
Art and death are so perfect together that the union at times is wholly symbiotic. Art is all about creation. Some artists even use birth-related terminology when creating new works, such as referring to their various creations as “my children.” Where you have birth, you must have death. Ah yes here they are folks, the bookends of our lives. Death fascinates and frightens us, which is why it can be such a huge thread in so many works of art.

Now there are common ways for death to co-mingle with art. People in their lives die and that naturally will have an effect on their art. The fear of death or even the embracing of it can also be a big ingredient too. But the artist as a man and woman being the literal bringer of death has been a pretty rare thing. You have the obvious examples, like Varg Vikernes from Mayhem and Burzum, Phil Spector and of course Charles Manson.

But to have an actual serial killer get legally released from prison because of the strength of his creative talent is practically unheard of. However that very thing happened in the early 1990’s in Austria with Johann “Jack” Unterweger aka the Poet of Death.

If ever there was one with a classic prone to serial killing childhood, Unterweger was it. His mother had been a prostitute and his father an American soldier that was long out of the picture before his son was officially in it. At some point early on, young Johann was abandoned and sent to live with his grandparents. His grandfather was an alleged severe alcoholic with violent tendencies, though Jack’s Aunt came out later on to say that he had a poor but loving upbringing. Whatever the case, he certainly had a troubled childhood that begat a very troubled young man, whose first crime was roughing up a sex worker at age 16.  It was only a matter of time that a serious transgression was bound to happen.

And happen it did, as a young woman was found dead in the woods. According to Unterweger himself, that before his first killing he had already committed numerous rapes and burglaries. It was the murder of 18 year old Margaret Schafer, whom he strangled to death with her own bra, that got him ultimately convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Where this story starts to get really weird is that going into prison, Unterweger was reportedly illiterate. While there, he began to devour book after book, educating himself, as both a reader and a writer. The even more amazing thing is that he unearthed a talent strong enough that he started to get notice from the outside world. Poems, plays and short prose began to emerge, but much like Jack Abbot before him, it was his autobiography Purgatory (Fegefeur) that got him the biggest notice and ended up being a bestseller. How many serial killers can claim to be award winning and best selling?

By the time he was up for parole, he had a bevy of prison reformists, writers and critics championing for his release with the reasoning that this sexual sadist and murderer had been reformed by art. This man’s intellect and creativity along with some well meaning but extremely naïve people got him out of prison and back into society.

Jack Unterweger went into prison an illiterate, poor, ex-pimp psychopathic murderer and came out a media darling and was immediately welcomed into high moving social circles. Book launches and society parties all welcomed the now stylish and handsome ex-criminal. Fegefeur even became a movie, making Unterweger one of the few serial murderers to have a writing credit on the IMDB. To anyone with any real logic about crime, it will come as absolutely no shock that prostitutes started showing up dead yet again in Vienna, a city with a usually very low crime rate towards sex workers in general.

The police suspected him immediately, but despite the surveillance, they couldn’t nail him on any suspicious behavior. Of course, Unterweger, like a lot of serial murderers was far from stupid and knew better than to do anything blatantly shady. (Well, aside from the whole murdering bit.) Also, like a lot of his fellow bloodthirsty spiritual kin, he quickly got cocky. He even challenged the police about what they were going to do about the string of fresh murders, with his bravura being displayed under the guise of a probing journalist. An act such as that either signifies brass balls or brass ignorance. In Unterweger’s case, it was a little bit of both.

Nevertheless, the police had nothing solid on him until Unterweger flew to Los Angeles for research on an article about crime for a local Austrian magazine. During this five week period, the killings in Vienna stopped and suddenly three prostitutes were found strangled with their own garments in the City of Lost Angels. What followed after this was a fascinating case of hubris and fear, with the collaborative efforts of the Austrian police and the LAPD ultimately sealing Unterweger’s fate. He was convicted of murdering 9 women and was sent to prison, where he hung himself with some string he pulled out of his jumpsuit. The ultimate irony was that he utilized the very knot that he had used to murder so many women on himself.

Jeanny Single
There is something else tied to this figure that makes the story even stranger, all thanks to the very unlikely form of Austrian pop star Falco. In 1985, he released his massively successful Falco 3 album, which included his biggest known song Rock Me Amadeus. Also on that album was a creepy and completely overlooked in the US pop song called Jeanny. This song, inspired by the Unterweger murders, went all the way to number one in Austria, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and the Netherlands. All that despite being banned by some radio stations and being protested by various groups, including some misinformed “feminists.”

Falco is an underrated artist, especially in this country where he pretty much is regarded as a “one-hit wonder,” despite having some moderate success with both Der Kommisaar and Vienna Calling. He did some really strange things under the pop music umbrella that still makes him stand out and Jeanny is further proof of this. The chorus is in English while the spoken word parts are in German, giving the listener a weird dysphoria especially given how near desperate sounding the speaker sounds. Just one look at the lyrics should tell you that this is not your momma’s pop tune:

NOTE: Lines in italics were in English in the original German version.
Jeanny, Jeanny…

[spoken] Newsflash, newsflash…

“Official government reports…”

Jeanny, Jeanny…

Jeanny, come, come on
Stand up please
You’re getting all wet
It’s getting late, come
We must leave here
Out of the woods
Don’t you understand?

Where is your shoe?
You lost it
When I had to show you the way
Which of us lost?
You, yourself?
I, myself?
Or… we ourselves?

Jeanny, quit livin’ on dreams
Jeanny, life is not what it seems
Such a lonely little girl in a cold, cold world
There’s someone who needs you
Jeanny quit livin’ on dreams
Jeanny, life is not what it seems
You’re lost in the night
Don’t wanna struggle and fight
There’s someone who needs you

It’s cold
We must leave here
Your lipstick is smeared
You bought it and
And I saw it
Too much red on your lips
And you said, “Leave me alone”
But I saw right through you
Eyes say more than words
You need me, don’t you, hmmmh?
Everyone knows, that we’re together
From today,
Now I can hear them, they are coming!

They’re coming!
They are coming to get you.
They won’t find you.
Nobody will find you!
You’re with me.

Jeanny quit livin’ on dreams…

[spoken] Newsflash:
In the last months the number of missing persons has dramatically increased. The latest account from the local police reports another tragic case. It is a matter of a nineteen year old girl who was last seen two weeks ago. The police have not excluded the possibility that a crime has been committed.


Jeanny, quit livin’ on dreams…

Pleasant dreams, right? The best part is that the video is equally unsettling with Falco playing the part of the predator. For anyone used to seeing the man all suave and dapper will be very surprised as he lets go of the pop ego and immerses himself into character. It’s quite reminiscent of Golden Earring’s brilliant and disturbing clip for When the Lady Smiles sans the black humor. There’s no humor here to cushion just subtle queasiness, especially when thinking about the true crime connection to boot.

Sadly, Falco left this plane on February 6th, 1998 after having a fatal auto collision in the Dominican Republic. But he got to leave behind a truly special thumbprint in the pop landscape of the 80’s. It’s sad to think of some of the crap that hit it big in the US while Jeanny was darkening up the European airwaves and dancefloors.

As for Jack Unterweger, perhaps one of the best lessons that one can learn from this is the importance of separating the art from the artists. Phil Spector is a genius that forever changed the soundscape of music but he is also an egomaniacal, abusive individual who murdered Lana Clarkson. Roman Polanski has made some of the best films in the past fifty years but he also drugged and raped a 13 year old girl. And despite what the Modern Lovers claim, a lot of people called Pablo Picasso an asshole. Every human being on this planet is capable of great acts of kindness and beauty as well as total horror. There are no born monsters, just man-made ones.

Posted by Heather Drain | Leave a comment
Shit, Harry Crews has died
12:26 am



A blood poet of the highest order, Harry Crews has died of neuropathy at the age of 76.

Crews wrote in a style that was at once brutal and beautiful, baroque and as ordinary as dirt. Within a single sentence he could be both tender and terrifying. His novels were populated by freaks, outlaws, burn-outs and lost souls who wandered through trailer parks, bayous, dive bars, sideshows and the long lonely highways of the deep south. Possessed of a gothic sensibility, dark humor and hard-edged grittiness that put him in the company of Cormac McCarthy, Charles Bukowski and Flannery O’Connor as well as hardboiled writers like Jim Thompson, Crews was capable of transforming the rot of reality into something so rich with life that even death had to laugh.

Punk rockers gravitated to Crews because he was a badass who managed to find a medium through which to articulate his anger, despair and lust. Lydia Lunch and Kim Gordon created a band called Harry Crews as an homage to the writer. They harnessed the energy of his books and transformed it into the only kind of music that could handle it - blistering hard rock.

Crews was one of the major influences on my writing, right up there with Bukowski and Raymond Chandler. I f you haven’t read him, I recommend starting with The Knockout Artist, All We Need Of Hell or Scar Lover. Once you’ve started up with Harry you won’t stop until you’ve read him all.

More Crews after the jump…

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
‘Jubilee Hitchhiker’: A new biography of Richard Brautigan
01:23 am

Pop Culture


On the occasion of the publication of William Hjortsberg’s extraordinary 900 page biography of Richard Brautigan, Jubilee Hitchhiker,  I am sharing something I posted awhile ago on Dangerous Minds:

“I was 15 when I first read a book by Richard Brautigan. It was called A Confederate General From Big Sur . I borrowed the book from my friend Joseph, a free spirited guy two years older than me who had a beard and rolled his own cigarettes. Though he looked like one, Joseph wasn’t a hippie. Hippies were part of a movement and Joseph wasn’t a joiner. In the small town in Virgina where we grew up, Joseph was completely his own man, a suburban teenage Zen monk who seemed ancient at the age of 17. It made perfect sense that he would be the guy to turn me on to Brautigan. They shared common traits: a clarity of mind, a sharp sense of humor and a deep love for language. Joseph kept a notebook with him at all times in which he wrote short stories, poems and haiku.

In this moment of recalling Joseph, I am convinced he was as close to being enlightened as any teenager could be in America in 1966. I wonder where he is today and what he’s reading.

Joseph, Brautigan, Jack Kerouac and The Doors were my saviors in the year of the Summer Of Love. I was stuck in the suburbs, surrounded by jocks and greasers, completely alone in my world of beatnik books and a meerschaum pipe full of banana peel. It was the year I read Brautigan’s second book Trout Fishing In America and the year that I left home for San Francisco. Joseph was there and I needed to make the connection with the Bodhisattva of the ‘burbs.

Those were the days when a book or a record album could change your life. If literature had a Beatles, its name was Richard Brautigan. It comes as no surprise that John Lennon was a Brautigan fan. They both had a whimsical point of view that started in the square inch field and expanded into the cosmos.

In 1968, I lived inside of a parachute inside of a dance hall in a ghost town near Los Gatos, California. It was my summer of In Watermelon Sugar. I read that magical book repeatedly (my psychedelic New Testament) and lived a simple life of bathing in waterfalls, eating brown rice and scarfing down countless tabs of Benzedrine (in honor of my hero Jack Kerouac) while trying to write with the ease and purity of Brautigan. I discovered that ease ain’t easy (particularly when you’re wired to the gills) and purity is near impossible. Really good writers make writing seem so natural that we all think we can do it. And then we try and soon discover just how hard it is to take energy from where you get it through the word to the reader without losing any immediacy in the process of transference. Brautigan’s poems and prose had this uncanny ability to gently slap you upside the head while maintaining a Basho-like quality of disappearing into what is being described - you saw the words become transparent as they melted into watermelon sugar. Watermelon sugar was Brautigan’s river Tao, a sweet subtle liquid that flowed through the pink flesh of our being.

William Carlos Williams famously wrote “no ideas but in things” and embodied that thought in poems like “The Red Wheelbarrow.” Brautigan wrote from a similar point of view - a kind of American Zen that was ordinary and transcendental, modern and prophetic…

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammels and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

One of the things that was most compelling and inspiring for a young would-be writer like myself about Brautigan’s books were their covers. With every new book that Richard published there was always an attractive bohemian woman on the cover. It was as though Richard was sending a message to all the reclusive teenybopper poets in the world that said “write poetry and you will get laid.” And it was true. I would sit in the Mediterranean Cafe on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley with my journal unfolded before me and invariably a young flower child would approach and ask if I were a poet. A response of “yes” would often lead to a fuck fest in my attic apartment on Channing Way. In the sixties being an artist/intellectual had the same aphrodisiac qualities associated with cocaine and Rolex watches in the 80s. Being smart was sexy.

For many of us, Brautigan was a door into a consciousness that was liberating in its playfulness and here and nowness. Reading Brautigan is like taking a pure hit of oxygen. Things sparkle. There is a sense of boundless delight and eroticism in his prose and poetry - a promise of the unspeakable, where language transcends itself.

Brautigan, now more than ever.”  February 2, 2011.

You can purchase Jubilee Hitchhiker here. If you’re a Brautigan fan, you’ll find it an immersive and deeply satisfying trip. It took Hjortsberg, who knew Brautigan well,  20 years to write the book and during his research he discovered unpublished Brautigan writings that had been locked in a safe-deposit box in Eugene, Oregon for 30 years. This is a gift from the poetry gods.

The following recordings of Brautigan reading were intended to be released on Zapple records, a spinoff of The Beatles Apple label. But the project was never fully realized. Harvest Records released them as Listening To Brautigan in 1973.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
‘Whatever Happened to Kerouac?’: Essential documentary from 1985
08:23 pm

Pop Culture


Strange to think, had he lived, Jack Kerouac would have been 90 this week. It begs the question, what would he have been like? Rabid raving Republican? Drunk demented Democrat? A pairing of the both? A religious nut? Would he have continued writing? Become an éminence grise? Would he still have mattered? Would we have cared?

Ninety. And to think he’s been dead for almost half that time, during which he has gone in-and-out of fashion. And yet, his appeal has somehow always stayed, though arguably that appeal has sometimes been more for what he represented than for his books or writing.

Even so, Kerouac at his best captured a hope, a joyous sense of what life could be - the potential of a moment, of the living of a life, rather than the having of a life-style.

I saw Whatever Happened to Kerouac? on the day it was released, in olde fleapit cinema, southside of Edinburgh. There were around a dozen people in the audience, gathered together in the flickering dark like a secret religious group come to give devotion, as we reverentially watched what is still the best documentary made on the “King of the Beats”. But this film is no hagiography, it captures what was both good and bad about Kerouac, and most of what you need to know, answering some of the questions other bio-pics and documentaries have avoided. The essence of the film is best summed up by William Burroughs when asked, “Whatever happened to Kerouac?” responds, Jack incited:

‘’....a worldwide unprecedented cultural revolution….”

The list of contributors is a who’s who of the Beat Generation: William Burroughs, Carolyn Cassady, Neal Cassady, Ann Charters, Gregory Corso, Robert Creeley, Diane DiPrima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, John Clellon Holmes, Herbert Huncke, Joyce Johnson, Michael McClure, Edie Kerouac Parker, and Gary Snyder. Directed by Richard Lerner and Lewis MacAdam, this is a must for fans of Kerouac and the Beats.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Ben Gazzara as Charles Bukowski explains Style
12:53 pm



Ben Gazzara performs Charles Bukowski’s poem “Style,” from Marco Ferreri’s film Tales of Ordinary Madness.

Style is the answer to everything
A fresh way to approach a dull or dangerous
To do a dull thing with style is preferable
to doing a dangerous thing without it
To do a dangerous thing with style, is what
I call art
Bullfighting can be an art
Boxing can be an art
Loving can be an art
Opening a can of sardines can be an art
Not many have style
Not many can keep style
I have seen dogs with more style than men
Although not many dogs have style
Cats have it with abundance
When Hemingway put his brains
to the wall with a shotgun, that was style
For sometimes people give you style
Joan of Arc had style
John the Baptist
García Lorca
I have met men in jail with style
I have met more men in jail with style
than men out of jail
Style is a difference, a way of doing,
a way of being done
Six herons standing quietly in a pool of water,
or you, walking out of the bathroom naked without seeing me

A memorable definition, and a fine delivery from Gazzara, which you can compare against Bukowski’s reading below.

Bonus - Bukowski reads “Style”

Thanks Tara McGinley!

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Kurt Vonnegut: The bombing of Dresden and the creation of ‘Slaughterhouse 5’
08:56 pm



It took Kurt Vonnegut more than twenty years to turn his experience of surviving the allied bombing of Dresden during World War II, into his novel Slaughterhouse Five. In this short interview with James Naughtie, Vonnegut recalls the horror of Dresden and how it shaped his vision of the world and led to the creation of his most famous work.

“A writer is lucky to be able to treat his or her neuroses everyday. We’re here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is. And teh Arts are one way to help people get through this thing. the function of any work of Art, successful work of Art is to say to a certain segment of the population, ‘You are not alone. Others feel as you do.’ We must have kids now, you know, saying the world is crazy - and indeed, it is.”

Recorded for the BBC’s This Week series in 2005, to mark the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden.

Previously on Dangerous Minds

Creative Writing 101 with Kurt Vonnegut


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Ed Sanders performing ‘Henri Matisse’ while playing his necktie and fingersynths
08:17 pm



Sanders wearing his ‘Talking Tie’
Ed Sanders read/sings his poem “Henri Matisse” while playing his inventions the ‘talking tie’ and fingersynths. Lovely.

From founding the band The Fugs to opening the Peace Eye Bookstore and publishing Fuck You and The Woodstock Journal, Sanders has been a high caliber wordsmith and shit stirring provocateur. A big inspiration to me and many of my generation.

In this interview from 1975, interviewer Harold Channer gives a crash course in how not to conduct an interview. Lord, I wish he’d shut up. But it’s worth watching for those moments when Sanders gets to speak.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
‘Born Into This’: Charles Bukowski documentary
03:29 pm



Charles Bukowksi (August 16, 1920 – March 9, 1994) made me want to write and he made it look it look easy. But there is an art and skill to “easy” that is everything but easy. Finding your own true voice in writing is something multitudes of young novelists and poets have attempted only to watch their words lay there on the page like orderly dead flies. Shake em off and start over again.

Bukoswki made me want to write because he made writing seem essential to life, a sign of life, as important as breath or food or drink. As profane as Bukowski could be, he could also draw forth the spiritual in the most mundane of acts and make tying your shoe seem as profound as death.

Rich with footage shot by Taylor Hackford and Barbet Schroeder and plenty of talking heads who knew Bukowski well, Born Into This is probably the definitive documentary on the man.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Documentary on punk bard John Cooper Clarke
03:32 am



Ten Years in an Open-Necked Shirt is a thoroughly entertaining 1982 documentary about poet, songwriter, punk comedian and recording artist John Cooper Clarke. Among Clark’s many accomplishments: he was the only poet to open for The Sex Pistols and The Buzzcocks.

This is the first part of my life story.
Take a look at me now.
Genius or a madman.
All the answers are forth… the answers are forthcoming in the following chapters.

Ten years in an open neck shirt.
The real story.
From slums to stardom.
Well, not even slums.
Not even… I used to dream of living in…
The Gyp… Gypsies used to come ‘round and complain about me.
No, wait a minute, that’s their version.
See, I’ve written a censored version for the “News of the World”.
Don’t want to offend anybody, do I?

Right then.
John C. Clarke, that’s me.

Long out of print, Ten Years in an Open-Necked Shirt is a ramshackle affair, filled with exuberant energy, very much like the brilliant raconteur himself.

The film features Clarke’s good friend Linton Kwesi Johnson.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Patrick Magee: Stunning performance in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape
08:37 pm



After Samuel Beckett heard Patrick Magee read extracts form his novel Molloy and From Abandoned Work on the radio, he wrote a one act play specifically for the Northern Irish actor. Beckett said Magee’s voice “was the one which he heard inside his mind,” and best suited his intentions for this dark and disturbing monologue on creativity, memory and mortality. Originally titled “Magee Monologue”, it soon became Krapp’s Last Tape.

Krapp’s Last Tape focuses on a man reviewing his life through a series of recordings, each made on the eve of his birthday. Krapp is a sixty-nine year-old, would-be writer who still believes he has the potential to create a great work of art, which will change the world. On listening to his past recordings, Krapp becomes aware of the different aspects of his life that have shaped him. Memory defines who he is, while wearing him down, limiting and inhibiting, until finally, impotent and in despair, Krapp recognizes the futility of his ambitions to create something, anything meaningful.

I suppose you could call this “playwright has mid-life crisis”, but still its themes are universal, and hit at the core of personal creativity and ambition.

Magee originally performed the play at the Royal Court Theater in 1958, under the direction of Donald McWhinnie, and this is the BBC 1972 version of that famous production.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
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