The 1979 collection ‘Ah Pook Is Here and Other Texts’
William S. Burroughs envisaged Ah Pook Is Here, an extension of the comix serial The Unspeakable Mr. Hart, as “a picture book modelled on the surviving Mayan codices.” However, after nearly a decade collaborating with artist Malcolm McNeill on an illustrated version of the tale, Burroughs was unable to find a publisher for his graphic novel avant la lettre. Instead, it appeared without images in Ah Pook Is Here and Other Texts, a 1979 collection of Burroughs’ researches into Mayan, Egyptian, and space age magical techniques. (McNeill has since published his artwork for Ah Pook Is Here in a separate volume.)
Burroughs’ novella concerns an American plutocrat named John Stanley Hart, whose fear of his own mortality leads him to disturb the gods of the Mayan pantheon. Hart is a junkie with a jones for the suffering of others, especially poor people and ethnic minorities. Narcotized by the “blue note” of their pain, congenitally selfish and incurious, he can’t imagine that calling down awful deities from another dimension might have unwanted consequences: “Mr. Hart has a burning down habit and he will burn down the planet.” Before you know it, blood is spurting from delegates’ every orifice at the “American First” rally, and the Acid Leprosy has eaten a hole in time.
Philip Hunt made this stop-motion film of Ah Pook Is Here as a student at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg in 1994, taking the sound from Burroughs’ collaborations with John Cale on the Dead City Radio album. At six minutes, it is a distillation of the story, but a good one: death gods disturbed by a grotesque people-thing.
Given the vintage of Ah Pook Is Here, I can only interpret the suicide-by-shotgun at the end as a reference to the death of Burroughs’ former collaborator, Kurt Cobain—an unlikely candidate for Mr. Hart.
An enchanting movie poster for the Czechoslovakia film ‘The Fabulous Baron Munchausen’ (aka ‘The Outrageous Baron Munchausen’/‘Baron Prášil’) directed by Karel Zeman (1962).
I suspect the vast majority of Dangerous Minds readers have seen Terry Gilliam’s’ multi-multi-million dollar film, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)—though I also believe that many of our devoted followers are probably also acquainted with the rich, cinematic history (at least eight shorts and more than a handful of films exist) based on the tall-tale-telling Baron who was actually a real person. It should also be noted that any George Harrison superfan likely knows a bit more about the Baron’s 200-year-old history as Harrison was an avid collector of the work of Gustave Doré, the great illustrator and engraver who conceived the quintessential image of the Baron.
As he notes in the extras of the Second Run Blu-ray of The Fabulous Baron Munchausen Terry Gilliam gives much credit for his vision of the story to director and special effects artist Karel Zeman saying Zeman’s influence on his own work is “continual,” and he’s “pretty sure” he has stolen many of Zeman’s artistic methods for his own films. Other fans of Zeman’s work include Tim Burton and special effects legend Ray Harryhausen who has said he “deeply appreciated” Zeman’s talent. As it relates directly to this post, one of the films the former Monty Python member perhaps pilfered from was The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (aka The Outrageous Baron Munchausen/Baron Prášil).
The Fabulous Baron Munchausen was directed by Zeman who also created the multi-layered, dreamlike special effects in the film. Here is Zeman (as seen in an interview with the director in the Second Run release), on his vision for the movie:
“I wanted to capture the surreal world of Baron Munchausen. I wanted this romantic fantasy to be unleashed from the mundane reality. So I used imagery resembling prints from the period. At the same time, I decided to treat color like a painter on a canvas. I put in only when it was necessary.”
Zeman on the set of ‘The Fabulous Baron Munchausen’ giving direction to actors Milos Kopecký (Baron Munchausen) and Rudolf Jelínek (Tonik). This image is part of a large collection of Zeman’s work displayed at the Karel Zeman Museum in Prague.
Every shot in The Fabulous Baron Munchausen contains some variety of extravagant special effects, and Zeman’s vivid imagery—much of which is based on Doré‘s original illustrations, fill every inch of every frame. According to Zeman’s daughter Ludmila, her father was an avid reader and collector of comic books and would often incorporate jokes or gags he found amusing into actions performed by his actors. Zeman even recruited Ludmila for The Fabulous Baron Munchausen and the then fifteen-year-old got to ride a horse as the stunt double for Jana Brejchova, the stunning Czech actress (and former wife of director Miloš Forman) who played Princess Bianca in the film. The Fabulous Baron Munchausen is widely considered a masterpiece thanks to Zeman’s determination to make a very different film than German director Josef von Báky’s beloved Nazi-funded version of Munchausen’s story, 1943’s Münchhausen or The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.
The budget for Báky’s movie was estimated at $6.5 million dollars (or approximately $95 million dollars if it had been made in 2019) and was commissioned by Nazi propaganda pusher Joseph Goebbels. Interesting, the screenplay for Báky’s adaptation was written by Emil Erich Kästner whose novels were regulars at Nazi book burnings. Kästner was in fact banned from publishing his literature in Germany between the years 1933 and 1945. The wildly opulent film was intended to rival The Wizard of Oz, but with an adult-oriented twist including a scene full of topless harem girls and other fantasy-based, “grown-up” scenarios. Despite the fact the film intended to serve as a mechanism for war propaganda, it ended up a luxurious, over-the-top take on the amorous, adventurous, cannonball-riding Baron.
George Harrison and Eric Idle on the set of Terry Gilliam’s ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.’
As previously mentioned, Python super-fan George Harrison would be the main conduit for the last of the final big-three Baron Munchausen films, Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. In 1979 he showed off his large assortment of Munchausen stories and shared his love of artist Gustave Doré with Gilliam. Then, Gilliam’s pal musician Ray Cooper gifted Gilliam with a copy of a book full of the stories of Baron Munchausen written (though published anonymously) by Hieronymus Karl Friedrich Freiherr von Münchhausen (1720-1797), encouraging the director (if not daring him) to make a film out of them. Allegedly $46 million (though Gilliam says it was “nowhere near $40 million), flowed into the lengthy, arduous production that was already over budget by two million dollars before filming began. Though it was a financial box-office bomb, it received high praise and would collect three British Academy of Film & Television Awards, and was nominated for four Oscars. The stories from the set have become legendary, such as Oliver Reed being perpetually drunk and hitting on a seventeen-year-old Uma Thurman, who plays Venus/Rose in the film. Gilliam’s finished product will forever be considered a triumph in the realm of fantasy filmmaking and “fantastical exaggeration” which the real Münchhausen perfected and unwittingly passed along over hundreds of years through other storytellers fond of hyperbole.
If you’d like to learn even more about the history of Baron Munchausen in cinema, film historian Michael Brooke provides a fascinating, in-depth exploration of the Baron’s many appearances on the big screen on the Second Run Blu-ray for The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (Baron Prášil). Far-out images and trailers from all three films follow.
A still of actor Hans Albert as Baron Münchhausen riding a cannonball in 1943’s ‘Münchhausen’ or ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.’
A curious scene from ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.’
Somewhere Tom Hanks is weeping. For when the Boston Typewriter Orchestra performs, the primary musical technique consists of beating holy hell out of a bunch of vintage typewriters. The filmic embodiment of Chesley Sullenberger is known to be such a fan of old typewriters that he recently published a moderately typewriter-themed collection of stories called Uncommon Type, which (of course) was written on a vintage typewriter.
The Boston Typewriter Orchestra doesn’t collect typewriters—it punishes them. In their promotional materials they claim (boast?) that typewriters do not last longer than two years once they have been recruited as instruments for the waggish collective.
The combo, which occasionally calls itself “BTO,” has been in existence since 2004 and has a 2008 album and a 2017 10-inch to its name. It has never been idle, performing multiple times in every calendar year since then; despite logging dozens of performances in the New England area, they have never ventured further south or further west than Washington, DC. That changes next month when they play Phyllis’ Musical Inn in Chicago.
As will readily be imagined, the BTO’s primary mode of music is percussive, although they do get a lot of mileage out of the damned bell that chimes whenever the typist reaches the end of a line. (Then again, bells are percussion instruments too—Wikipedia’s description of a bell runs “a directly struck idiophone percussion instrument,” ahem.) Suffice to say that with a gizmo as complicated as an old typewriter, there are a lot of solid moving parts to fiddle with—you can bash the keys, bang on the housing, crank the platen around, slam the carriage back, and (as mentioned) twiddle on the bells.
Who are the relevant comps for a band like this? The BTO strikes me as a hipster’s cheeky version of a jug band, although I can see an argument for Einstürzende Neubauten. Visually the gang tends to adopt the garb of a midcentury office drone, meaning lots of jackets and ties.
It’ll be a while before the Boston Typewriter Orchestra passes the “other” BTO in terms of sales. I refer of course to Winnipeg’s greatest contribution to boogie rock, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, who released five gold albums during the 1970s. When are the typists going to release their version of “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”?
In 2017 the group released a 10-inch (the title is adapted from George Michael) called Termination Without Prejudice, Volume 1. Etched in the runout of side 1 is the phrase “HOW MANY WORDS PER MINUTE?” You can buy it on Bandcamp.
Here’s Termination Without Prejudice, Volume 1, available on Bandcamp:
In Los Angeles, where it is many people’s full-time profession to be cheerful and healthy, John Tottenham’s scowl hits you in the eye like a stream of exudate from a suppurating lesion. Actually, jets of pus are far more common features of LA nightlife than scowls; one minute you’re dancing to the Maytals without a care in the world, the next—splosh!—you’ve got tertiary syphilis. Anyway, when our mutual friend Jessica Espeleta introduced us more than a decade ago on an Echo Park dance floor, it was love, or tertiary syphilis, at first sight.
Ever since, when I ran into John, we would spend a few minutes being clammy and unhappy together, talking country blues and gloomy thinkers. John is the only person I know who could have introduced me to the profoundly dejected philosophy of E.M. Cioran. And to give you some idea of the measure of the man, not only could John have told me about Cioran’s life and thought, but in fact, he did. That’s the kind of person John is. (As you see, I like to refer to him as “John,” in the way people who knew Bob Dylan in the Village never stop calling him “Bobby,” to make a big show of our personal acquaintance.)
But those, as the song says, were different times, before Apollo crowned John with the laurel wreath and anointed his tongue with the Muses’ sweet dew, and accolades fell by the dozen from his praise-occluded ying-yang. Today, he is our city’s poet of failure and regret, though his meditations on these universal themes belong to the world and all its children. He is the poet demanded by the age: the one who takes up the lyre to sing, not of arms and the man, but of “Liquid Consolation and Knob Relief.”
Writing of “icy Retz or La Rochefoucauld aphorisms, shining with hate-filled economy,” the art historian T.J. Clark might have been describing the style of “A Richer Victory”:
Broke, bitter and alone.
What more could I ask for?
I have failed, at last,
beyond my wildest expectations.
I don’t understand
why I’m still not satisfied.
There are three slender volumes of John Tottenham’s poetry, all highly recommended. His first, The Inertia Variations, now in its second edition, has been set to music and otherwise interpreted by The The. His second collection, Antiepithalamia & Other Poems of Regret and Resentment, permanently befouled the conjugal bed. His latest—his last?—excursion in verse is The Hate Poems, published last September. Exclusive footage of John reading from The Hate Poems at the Cha Cha Lounge on December 21 follows our email interview, below.
Is hate really the motivating force behind these poems? Often, disgust seems to get the upper hand.
The title is a cheap ruse designed purely to get attention. ‘Poems of Regret and Resentment’ would have been a more appropriate title but it was used for the previous volume. Nobody is going to pick up a book called The Inertia Variations or Antiepithalamia based on the title. We needed something catchy and declarative with a photograph of a kitten on the cover to get some traction in today’s marketplace.
Regret, resentment, revulsion and resignation are my stock-in-trade. I excel, if anything, at the negative; it just happens to be my lot in life.
I have carved out a little niche for myself, one that nobody else would want.
There’s a thin line between exploring a subject to the point of exhausting it and repeating oneself, and that’s the space this book exists in.
It’s a desperate last bid before retiring from the futile, thankless and masochistic pursuit of poetry. I stopped poeticizing entirely three years ago, on doctor’s orders.
After many years of struggling with form, I finally acknowledged that I had no grasp of plot, character or dialogue, and decided to write a novel, which is how I’ve been squandering the last three years.
When did the relationship monumentalized in these poems end? Has your former partner responded to The Hate Poems?
The poems are not directed at or inspired by anybody in particular. They are based entirely on my observations of other people’s relationships.
The process is more sculptural or surgical, a gradual chipping away at slabs of text and grafting together of fragments. It’s not a natural process. There’s nothing organic about it.
I always employ the Universal ‘I’. Everybody feels some degree of ambivalence towards romantic involvement, so people do relate to this stuff.
Love and hate are not antithetical forces, the opposite of love is indifference.
In 1580, Sir Philip Sidney bemoaned poetry’s fall “from almost the highest estimation of learning. . . to be the laughing-stock of children.” Now it sounds like a pretty good gig, to be the laughing-stock of children. Will poetry ever hit bottom?
Sidney wrote a couple of sonnets that are among the only direct precursors to the mean-spirited love poems in Antiepithalamia and Hate Poems that I was conscious of: “Desire, desire, I have too dearly bought, with price of mangled mind, thy worthless ware,” etc.
As Louis Pipe points out in the introduction: “Ironically, to call an artist or a filmmaker a poet—i.e. ‘Lou Reed is a poet,’ ‘Tarkovsky is a poet of the cinema,’ etc — is to bestow the highest honor upon them, but if one actually is a poet, one is a nobody.”
In his study of Nietzsche, Walter Kaufmann writes: “Riches, honors, and even scholarship are merely futile multiplications of a value that is zero to start with.” But there is no limit to the number of possible multiplications, and each one is different, even if the result is the same. How can the poem honor the haecceity of each individual’s worthless achievement?
To write as impersonally as possible, while bringing as much personal experience to it as possible; to provoke, console or inspire. If a poet is accessible to people who don’t normally read poetry, i.e. everybody, then he disposes of the middle-man, the critic, and is ignored by the literary establishment, which is an ideal predicament. To be accessible to the reader is to be inaccessible to critics.
How was the show with the Flesh Eaters and Mudhoney?
I’ve covered the waterfront, performed at every toilet in this town—at literary gatherings, comedy clubs, and rock shows—offering tragically comic relief, amplified self-deprecation, stand-up poitry.
It’s too poetic for the stand-up crowd and too comedic for the poitry set, so I often end up performing at rock clubs.
Please tell us about the video of the reading embedded below. The audience is either having fun or doing a very good impression.
It channels the audience’s feelings of failure, bitterness, regret, etc, into something entertaining and cathartic. People seem to relate; they laugh when they recognize felicitously-phrased truths. That’s the triumph of failure.
There was a lot of positive energy—love, if you will—in the room that night. Love for Hate.
Poster for the ‘Voodoo’ Macbeth on tour in Indianapolis (WPA Federal Theatre Photos, via Library of Congress)
A theater company in St. Petersburg, Florida recently mounted a revival of Orson Welles’ “Voodoo” Macbeth, which transposed the medieval violence and witchcraft of Shakespeare’s “Scottish play” into 19th century Haiti. The show and the stir it caused had much to do with the Welles legend. When it opened at Harlem’s Lafayette Theatre on April 14, 1936, some 10,000 people surrounded the venue, blocking traffic on Seventh Avenue; when the show toured the country after a three-month run in Harlem, the playbill boasted that the original engagement played to 150,000 people.
The original production was financed by the New Deal. During the second half of the thirties, the Federal Theatre Project funded performances to feed starving actors and keep stages open. One of these was the Negro Theatre Unit’s Macbeth, directed by a 20-year-old Orson Welles. Despite his youth, Welles was not timid around the Bard, having published a three-volume set of Shakespeare plays “edited for reading and arranged for staging” during his teens. Among other revisions and inventions (such as the unmistakably Wellesian costumes and sets), Welles’ audacious staging of Macbeth replaced the three witches with a troupe of Voodoo drummers and dancers.
There is a wonderful story about the theater critic Percy Hammond, who panned the show in the New York Herald Tribune and died shortly thereafter. The tale exists in many versions; here’s how John Houseman, Welles’ friend and mentor, who was in charge of the Negro Theatre Unit and brought Welles on board, tells it in Voices from the Federal Theatre:
When we did the Voodoo Macbeth, it was very successful, and we got very nice reviews except from a few die-hard Republican papers. Percy Hammond wrote a perfectly awful review saying this was a disgrace that money was being spent on these people who couldn’t even speak English and didn’t know how to do anything. It was a dreadful review but purely a political review.
We had in the cast of Macbeth about twelve voodoo drummers and one magic man, a medicine man who used to have convulsions on the stage every night. They decided that this was a very evil act by Mr. Hammond, and they came to Orson and me and showed the review. They say, “This is bad man.” And we said, “Yeah, a helluva bad man. Sure, he’s a bad man.”
The next day when Orson and I came to the theatre, the theatre manager said, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but there were some very strange goings-on last night. After the show they stayed in the theatre, and there was drumming and chanting and stuff.” We said, “Oh, really?” What made it interesting was the fact that we’d just read the afternoon papers. Percy Hammond had just been taken to the hospital with an acute attack of something from which he died a few days later. We always were convinced that we had unwittingly killed him.
Jean Cocteau, who was then reenacting Phileas Fogg’s circumnavigation of the planet, caught the “Voodoo” Macbeth in Harlem. Welles’ biographer Simon Callow reports that Cocteau, though put off at first by the startling changes in lighting, came to appreciate its “Wagnerian” effect, which heightened the play’s violence. In Cocteau’s account of his travels, Mon Premier Voyage, after recording a few criticisms of Welles’ choices, he expresses his admiration for the show:
But these are details. At the La Fayette theatre that sublime drama is played as nowhere else, and in its black fires the final scene is transmuted into a gorgeous ballet of catastrophe and death.
Thanks to another New Deal program, the Works Progress Administration, some film of the original “Voodoo” Macbeth survives. We Work Again, the WPA’s documentary on African American unemployment, culminates in this footage of the production, touted by the narrator in the old-fashioned American rhetorical style:
The Negro Theatre Unit of the Federal Theatre Project produced a highly successful version of Shakespeare’s immortal tragedy Macbeth, which far exceeded its scheduled run in New York and was later sent on a tour of the country. The scene was changed from Scotland to Haiti, but the spirit of Macbeth and every line in the play has remained intact. In this contribution to the American theatre, and in other projects under the Works program, we have set our feet on the road to a brighter future.
The fanzine Ben Is Dead was, and still is, a fucking LEGEND as far as ‘zines go so, interviewing founder Darby Romeo about her life and times was other-level-cool for me. Growing up in Los Angeles, certain things remain indelibly printed in my memory: driving by the enticing Anti-Club sign just before my mom got onto the 101 South, the sexy smell of leather jackets from rock shops on Hollywood Blvd, and this principle: comic book stores and coffee shops could be judged on quality based on whether you could find a copy of Ben Is Dead in their publications area. So therefore the mighty Bourgeois Pig, on Franklin Ave., rocked.
Ben Is Dead had collaborators from all walks of life, featured punk bands, performance artists and gender activists and didn’t believe that there was anything that couldn’t be talked about. It was an honest read and they had fun. Mostly run by women—and men who respected women—that, in itself, was something that my friends and I noticed. Ben Is Dead was a glowing engine that couldn’t be stopped—celebratory and wise-beyond-its-years, that ‘zine was a reflection of people, places and movements that were forces in and of themselves and could (and would) never be repeated again. It served as an unintentional documentary of life, art, culture and human existence in El Lay. And it was fucking cool, man.
Lorraine Mahru, left, one of Darby Romeo’s many Girl Fridays from Ben Is Dead, and Darby Romeo, right.
Ben is Dead’s founder, Darby Romeo briefly went to Pierce College, studying to be a graphic designer but quit school to get a job. She was temping and developing computer skills with the MacSE40 that she got from her father when she ended up temping as a secretary at Grey Advertising. She told the art director at Grey that she had graphic design training, and they ended up hiring her as an art director. I asked her about the beginnings of Ben Is Dead.
Darby Romeo: In the late 80s, I was already making $25/hr at Grey Advertising, and my only good friend there was this comic and the guy in the mailroom who sent out all the Ben Is Deads for free. But that’s basically what paid for Ben Is Dead. So I got the computer from my dad, I got this job at Grey, and that was it because you didn’t really make money on it [Ben Is Dead and ‘zines in general] you just spent money on it. So Grey Advertising kinda started Ben Is Dead. And the LA Times doesn’t really know this but they kinda helped us do our first issue for us! My dad would’ve hated that we did this but I kinda considered it to be like pro-bono and that they should be supporting zines, y’know? But I remember that this was right before the first issue came out and I was talking to someone at Flipside [another well-known and beloved LA punk-rock fanzine] and I was like, “We’re gonna make 1000 issues!” or something like that and they [seemed unimpressed]. Cuz I didn’t know what I was doing! So someone from the LA Times snuck us in there at two in the morning and we printed another 1000 on the LA Times’ huge copy machines. So, thank you, LA Times! I don’t know what the statute of limitations on that is but, there’s a little known story!
Darby Romeo: I’m really thankful that this nerdy librarian lady came—what year did she come?—I think her name was Julie Graham, I can’t remember, but she would come over to the Ben Is Dead offices, I can’t remember the hook-up, but we would go through all the issues and I was looking at the archive and there were 78 boxes of ‘zines. We went through each one so that she could archive it. Like who would be that patient? We even archived the [letters to the editor] and included those, just knowing that there are people who are willing to do stuff like that—especially for ‘zines since they’re not online mostly, like 95% of the ‘zines are not online, and these libraries and people like her are vital! Having UCLA treasure these and keep them safe is amazing. So many of them are fading or falling apart or getting thrown away and in a few more decades those are going to be the only places besides your grandpa’s collection in the attic where you’re going to find them.
And we’re working on putting ours online but you can’t trust online as much as you can trust an archive that isn’t going to get tossed. Libraries are so important. And it’s so funny because in creating Ben Is Dead, we created it before there was an Internet. There was no Internet to find a photo, there would be a whole long process to print a photo! So it was a whole different thing creating ‘zines back then and having them in a place where we don’t have to worry if the Internet goes down, they’ll always be there, y’know?
A “Retro Hell Party” complete with Hostess HoHos. Party people include: Darby (blue dress), Reverend Al Cacophony (in black), Noel Tolentino of Bunnyhop (wearing a McDonald’s Grimace party hat)
What’s the difference between analog and digital research and how important were libraries to the creation of Ben Is Dead?
Darby Romeo:: We used the libraries much more back then than people do now… I just remember how much time I would spend in the microfiche section. I loved microfiche! I loved just sitting there and looking for old stuff and just going into the basement of the downtown LA Library and that smell and the old bookstores. But the libraries were important and the photos from Ben Is Dead—a lot of them were because my friend ran the photo department of AP. He was the archivist, basically of AP, so he’d slip us a bunch—so thank you AP for supporting Ben Is Dead!
While BID had many striking qualities, one unique aspect was the way it platformed the symbiotic connection that LA punk rock has with local queer icons and performance artists like Ron Athey and Vaginal Davis. Tell me about the Sean deLear video tribute that will be playing at the 30th anniversary Ben Is Dead Festival.
Darby Romeo: Stuart [Swezey, from Amok Books] was going to show Desolation Center [but then it was unable to be shown] and he came up with this bright idea and it’s so awesome and so touching because everyone loved Seande [Sean deLear] and Seande was such an influence in the scene and was such a big part of Ben Is Dead and played one of my favorite shows at Al’s Bar during our “Gross” issue. I love chickens now so I feel awful but everything was gross—we had chicken feet in bowls at the bar, and I remember people were throwing them at Seande and he was throwing them back during his set with Glue. Yeah, he was really vital. And we were all really shocked when he passed last year and we are really honored that Stuart is going to put together a documentary about his life because he did some interviews with him just before he passed for Desolation Center and stuff, so that will be playing early on in the day at the Zine Fest on Saturday.
Tell me some of your wildest Ben Is Dead stories…
Darby Romeo: A crazy story? Probably when Kerin wanted to interview Anton LaVey. I mean, you grow up goth dancing at Phases and Odyssey [local LA dance clubs] and all but I’m not into the REAL darkside or whatever. So [Kerin] was planning with Anton and his wife at the time a Ben Is Dead interview and he really liked the magazine. It was supposed to be me and her going [up to San Francisco] for the interview but at the last minute I’m like: Um, I don’t wanna meet Satan, nope, uh uh, I’m not going up there, nope nope nope! So I call up [Germs drummer] Don Bolles and I tell him that he has to go up there and do the interview instead and I’m just like freaking the fuck out. I just tell him “Go with Kerin and do this interview. She wants to do this interview.” And he said, “Okay, cool.” And then Anton said, “Nope.” It was like he knew I was petrified! He could just sense it! He was like we’re not doing the interview without Darby. And I was like “Nooooo!”
So we get to his house and they sleep by day and are up all night so we get there at night and he has this old house and it just smelled like Europe. We go in and we’re in the waiting area and his wife—Blanche was her name—she has her new baby with her and she leaves the baby alone in the room with us! So we go and check the baby to see if there’s a 666 on top of its head. We really did! They were so sweet and nice but Anton would not allow me to record the interview and that was like the worst nightmare because now you have to take notes and remember everything! The Anton LaVey interview was the only interview we ever did that we gave someone permission to approve. And the thing was, he didn’t ask for any changes, he just approved it!
So we go to his favorite restaurant—Olive Garden—and I’m still distraught, I remember begging them to let me use my tape recorder, I remember hiding it for a little bit at one point, I remember having it in the bathroom at one point talking into it, saying some of the stuff he’d already said, documenting it out of my mouth. Then we go back to the house and his other favorite thing was animal cookies—the frosted ones [Mother’s brand, pink and white with little sprinkles]. So we’re sitting there, he’s playing the organ, we’re eating animal cookies, and I’m trying to write notes and it’s going on all night because that’s their daytime because they sleep all day and I’m wishing that we still did drugs! But the piece came out great and he was happy and he was a really nice guy but I never ended up joining the Church of Satan or whatever.
You’ll probably never think of Olive Garden in the same way again.
There were a lot of stories around the “Sex” issue too [Most issues of Ben Is Dead had themes: the “Gross” issue, the “Broke” issue, the “Black” aka “Death” issue.] That’s when we actually started selling it and when we realized that we had a lot of fans. Like Jon Spencer was like, “Your “Sex” issue really inspired the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion,” um, what? Okay. Then we interviewed Malcolm McLaren and gave him the “Sex” issue and the same technological issues that just devastated us every single day—our voicemail system would sometimes just eat our voicemails—our voicemail being our Ben Is Dead Hotline which was how you found out about shows every week. So he calls and in his British accent he says, “Darby, this is Malcolm McLaren, y’know that ‘Sex’ issue I just want to tell you…” and it gets cut off! Fuck! What about the “Sex” issue? I go into the voicemail place and tell them that I need this voicemail back, where is this voicemail, and I think I got three months free and that was it!
Is it true that you promised Simon Le Bon from Duran Duran that you would find him a massage therapist?
Darby Romeo: I told him I would get him a masseuse and the one lady that I thought I hooked up cancelled! I had a couple Girl Fridays over the years, and Jessy, Jessica Jones, was one of them—so I was like “Jessy! I have to go over to Simon LeBon’s! Help me get dressed!” And I put that red velvet dress on and the Elvis Penis [a wig Darby nicknamed the Elvis Penis—it was huge and bouffant-style], she stuck flowers from the vase that we had that we had gotten from Mrs. Gooch’s [a local LA health food store] in my hair and I go and I get in the car and the wig is hitting the top of the car and I go and I drive over to the Beverly something—they always stayed there.
So I get there and I’m valeting the car and I didn’t even know at the time that you’re supposed to have a massage table, right? That would make sense? So I have sunglasses on, and the car guys are like what the fuck is this? And I think I had my Fluevogs on—yeah, my Fluevogs, it was tragic—with (of course) this bright red lipstick, and I go to Simon’s door, and I knock and he opens the door and he looks and I’m like [in fake European accent] “Hello, I’m your massage therapist,” and he looks at me and he’s like what the fuck is this? And he didn’t know what to do so he opened the door and he’s like, what the fuck? And he sees that I don’t have a massage table but I don’t know that that’s a thing.
I later go on to become a massage therapist—I’m now a licensed massage therapist, by the way—so I’m sitting there on the couch and he knows me but I’m all dressed up with the glasses and everything and we’re having this full on conversation and he’s just trying to figure out what to do with me. Like “Who sent you? Darby knows you? What are you…?” And after about ten minutes I just busted out laughing and told him, “I couldn’t get you a massage therapist, I’m sorry!” and the fucker made me massage him anyway! I’m in this velvet dress with this Elvis Penis wig, he takes off all of his clothes, puts a towel on the floor, lays there, and I’m like: I have no idea what to do so I’m just kinda mushing him and stuff? And I don’t even think I had massage oil? Anyway, he had a cute little butt and he was a very sweet guy but…he didn’t even tip me!
And of course I have to ask about I Hate Brenda…
Darby Romeo: The thing about I Hate Brenda—and people never got it right then and the only reason we did it—was that we were on the side of the victims. The victims were like security guards at clubs who were like, “God, we’re getting abused because she [actress Shannen Doherty who played “Brenda” on TV’s Beverly Hills 90210] was at the door, yelling at us because she’s not on the list and she’d be like, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’” and we just kept getting these stories and different stories [of Doherty terrorizing people] from labels and people in the scene and they just kept coming to us and we had no plans on doing a newsletter… at the time the fax machine was like social media so we made our version of a flyer or our version of a meme and it had Brenda on it and it said “I wash my hair in Evian” which was her thing and we pretended it was the “I Hate Brenda Newsletter” and we sent it out to everyone and they were like, “Oh my God! When is the I Hate Brenda Newsletter coming out? Oh you gotta include this and you have to interview Eddie Vedder! Oh you have to do this and dadadada and this story and this happened to me and all this stuff!” and that’s how that ended up happening. It’s not like we were really going to do anything but yeah. And what’s kind of weird in the scheme of things is that we would all go to bars or knock on the neighbor’s fucking door just to watch 90210. We’d be working in the offices and there was some model next door and we’d bang on her door and say, “No, you have to let us in! 90210 is on!”
A lot of people have written sonnets, but nobody in the English language is more associated with the form than William Shakespeare.
In 1609 Thomas Thorpe issued a quarto edition containing Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. The first 126 sonnets are addressed to a young man, but the final subset of sonnets are mostly addressed to a “dark lady.” A fun fact that is not very well known is that not all of the sonnets are actually sonnets in the technical sense. The sonnet forms Shakespeare was using have 14 lines, but Sonnet 99 has 15 lines and Sonnet 126 has only 12 lines.
When Jeffrey Lewis noticed that the words “sonic” and “sonnet” have a certain acoustical similarity and went so far as to imagine a series of mini-zines called Sonnet Youth based on classic Sonic Youth albums, it followed naturally that he might write a Shakespearean sonnet for each track of the albums he chose to highlight. Lewis has been active as a comic book artist and musician since the late ‘90s and likes nothing more than to poke fun at his musical heroes in songs like “The History of The Fall” (which appeared on the comp Perverted by Mark E) and “Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror.” Since 2004 he has put out a self-published comic book called under the title Fuff.
Each line is in iambic pentameter (the rhythm of “To BE or NOT to BE, that IS the QUEStion…”) and each poem is structured into the sonnet structure of three quatrains and a closing couplet. Naturally there’s also accompanying illustrations by Jeffrey.
Here’s Lewis’ sonnetic version of the song “Kill Yr Idols”:
It fills me up with anger and depression
There’s more to art than being on a list now
So why still try to make a good impression
On any music critic, even Christgau?
Leave behind all former tags and titles
Slay them with your brutal sonic force
As Nietzsche said, you have to kill your idols.
All uncertainty is intercourse
Keep skepticism strong and un-suspending
Perhaps that’s what the message of this tune is
The world you knew is coming to an ending
So kill it and embrace the crazy newness.
And kill me also, if I get too preachy.
Treat no one sacred—me, Christgau or Nietzsche.
It may not be great poetry but it is a damn sonnet and it does engage intelligently with Sonic Youth’s work.
All of the zines obviously come with a great many doodles drawn by Lewis—Shakespeare is prominent in the reworked album covers.
Images from Lewis’ Sonnet Youth zines after the jump…...
Bill Rich also edited a magazine called Talk Talk, some of whose numbers came with Fresh Sounds flexi discs. One such issue was Vol. 3, No. 6, published in September ‘81, with cover art by WSB and, inside, a square, six-inch disc of the author reading from the first chapter of The Place of Dead Roads (page 10 in the Picador paperback)—or, more precisely, three Burroughses reading the same text at three different points in space and time. Abandoned Artifacts superimposes recordings from performances in Toronto, Chicago, and San Francisco, and it is downright spooky when they match in cadence and tone. Percussion by one Martin Olson juices the passage’s weird, incantatory power.
The interview with Burroughs from Talk Talk Vol. 3, No. 6 helps make sense of the title Abandoned Artifacts, especially if you don’t have The Place of Dead Roads handy:
Mr. B.: We are squandering time and time is running out. We must conceive of time as a resource. That is one of the concepts central to this book. Another is that people are living organisms as artifacts made for a purpose, not cosmic accidents, artifacts created for a purpose.
TT: What are some of the purposes?
Mr. B.: Space. Leaving the planet. We are here to go. This first chapter shows you the concept of living beings as artifacts which is developed much more in the rest of the book. Artifacts created for a purpose, just like arrowheads.
TT: Have you decided on a title?
Mr. B.: Oh, yes, Place of Dead Roads… The planet earth, place of dead roads, dead purposes.
‘The cross took the form of a crossbow, with Christ as the arrow…’
The interview with Philip K. Dick embedded below, recorded in Santa Ana on May 17, 1979, touches on many of the author’s experiences and obsessions—the combat his father saw in World War I, how he came to join the Episcopal Church (“My wife said if I didn’t, she’d bust my nose”), the dying rat who shook his faith, the coming of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s Omega Point, contemporary attitudes towards homosexuality, compulsory ROTC at the University of California, the time he got pancreatitis from using “bad street dope” cut with film developer, the constant threat posed by authoritarian movements—but I’ve cued it up to this vivid description of a bad, bad trip he had in 1964:
I only know of one time where I really took acid. That was Sandoz acid, a giant horse capsule that I got from the University of California, and a friend and I split it. And I don’t know, there must’ve been a whole milligram of it there. It was a gigantic thing, you know, we bought it for five dollars and took it home and we looked at it for a while—looked at it, we were all gonna split it up—and took that, and it was the greatest thing, I’ll tell you.
I went straight to Hell, is what happened. I found myself, you know, the landscape froze over, and there were huge boulders, and there was a deep thrumming, and it was the Day of Wrath, and God was judging me as a sinner, and this lasted for thousands of years and didn’t get any better. It just got worse and worse, and I was in terrible pain, I felt terrible physical pain, and all I could talk was in Latin. Most embarrassing, ‘cause the girl I was with thought I was doing it to annoy her, and I kept saying Libera me domine in die illa. You know, and Agnus dei qui tollis peccata mundi [...] and especially, Tremens factus sum ego et timeo—timeo meaning “I’m afraid”—and I said Libera me, domine! Whining like some poor dog that’s been left out in the rain all night. Finally, the girl with me said “Oh, barf” and walked out of the room in disgust.
It was a little bit like when I rolled my VW. I mean, it was all very messy and strange. The only good part of it was when I looked in the refrigerator, and I hadn’t defrosted the refrigerator for a long time, and there was nothing in the freezer compartment. I looked in, and I saw this giant cavern with stalactites and stalagmites, and I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Ashtray, with cigarette butts in it? Most horrible smell I’d ever smelled! But music sounded very beautiful.
About a month later, I got the galleys for Three Stigmata to read over, and I started reading the galleys, and I thought, “Oh dear, I can’t read these galleys. They’re too scary.” Because all the horrible things that I had written about in Three Stigmata seemed to have come true under acid. So I used to warn people then, that was ‘64, and I used to warn people against taking it. I begged people not to take it.
Dick put one of the characters in A Maze of Death through the same religious bummer, and he wrote about the ways the psychedelic experience resembled mental illness in two mid-sixties essays, “Drugs, Hallucinations, and the Quest for Reality” and “Schizophrenia & The Book of Changes.” The latter includes a passing reference to the eternity he spent in Hell one night:
Yes, friends, you, too, can suffer forever; simply take 150 mg [sic] of LSD—and enjoy! If not satisfied, simply mail in—but enough. Because after two thousand years under LSD, participating in the Day of Judgment, one probably will be rather apathetic to asking for one’s five dollars back.
Biographer Lawrence Sutin reports the eyewitness account of Dick’s friend Ray Nelson, who remembers the author “sweating, feeling isolated, reliving the life of a Roman gladiator, speaking in Latin and experiencing a spear thrust through his body.” Sutin also quotes this portion of a 1967 letter Dick wrote to Rich Brown, which discloses a few more details of the acid vision of God:
I perceived Him as a pulsing, furious, throbbing mass of vengeance-seeking authority, demanding an audit (like a sort of metaphysical IRS agent). Fortunately I was able to utter the right words [the “Libera me, Domine” quoted above], and hence got through it. I also saw Christ rise to heaven from the cross, and that was very interesting, too (the cross took the form of a crossbow, with Christ as the arrow; the crossbow launched him at terrific velocity—it happened very fast, once he had been placed in position).
The expert in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases first encountered Burroughs on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. During the 1970s, after reading Naked Lunch, Lees began experimenting with apomorphine, the substance Burroughs advocated to cure junk addiction, as a treatment for symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
In 2013, again following Burroughs’ example, Lees traveled to the Amazon rainforest to take yagé, or ayahuasca. He told the Guardian that taking the drug “broke down certain rigid structures that were blocking innovations in Parkinson’s disease research.”
Lees has also used apomorphine and Brion Gysin and Burroughs’ Dreamachine to investigate visual hallucinations in Parkinson’s patients.