“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.” – Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
Air ŕ boire  – Benjamin John Smith
After reading the poetry of Ben John Smith, I was reminded of Charles Bukowski’s “Shoelace” poem where he states that “it’s not the large things that send a man to the madhouse . . . it’s the continuing series of small tragedies that send a man to the madhouse.” Like Bukowski, Smith delves into the existential aspects of everyday life with much humor and pathos—whether he’s writing about getting drunk in the bathtub, love making, watching television, selling used cars or taking pot shots at some fat slob on the beach. With great titles such as “Sleep like a vagina,” “Cavity” and “Clean like a fox,” it’s easy to see we’re not talking about Wordsworth or Coleridge here. This is the kind of day-to-day shit that people can actually relate to. And some of the descriptions are just priceless such as “snotty bubbles,” “blushing crotch” and “hurls of stomach gravy.” Great shit, real uncharted territory here. Offbeat, totally original and always entertaining, the outstanding poetry in this collection goes down well like a good bottle of cheap wine at 3 AM. In his first book of poetry, Smith has crafted an authentic voice in a cultural wasteland.
The Blood Oranges  – John Hawkes
“[H]as it ever occurred to you that your life is a coma? That you live your entire life in a coma? Sometimes I cannot help but think that you never entirely emerge from your flickering cave. You must know things the rest of us can never know, except by inference. But I do not envy you the darkness and suffering of your coma, my friend.” It’s impossible for me to think of fiction without a moral center. My work is an effort to expose the worst in us all, to cause us to face up to the enormities of our terrible potential for betrayal, disgrace and criminal behavior.” – John Hawkes … The death of American author John Hawkes in May 1998 barely caused a ripple throughout the literary world (it didn’t help any that Hawkes died the day after the “Chairman of the Board” Frank Sinatra took his final voyage to the great beyond). It’s true that Hawkes wasn’t the most accessible author in the world. His works have been variously regarded as “avant-garde,” “experimental,” “meticulously crafted,” “postmodern” and “demanding.” He never manged to join John Grisham, Jimmy Buffett and Jesse Ventura on the bestseller list with his novels such as The Cannibal, The Blood Oranges, Travesty and Adventures in the Alaskan Skin Trade. Hawkes once revealed in an interview that he began to write fiction “on the assumption that the true enemies of the novel were plot, character, setting and theme . . .”
Broken Bulbs  – Eddie Wright
Frank Fisher is nothing. He wants to be something. When a mysterious young woman named Bonnie offers assistance by injecting seeds of inspiration directly into his brain, Frank finds himself involved in a twisting mystery full of addiction, desperation and self-discovery. Broken Bulbs, a novella by Eddie Wright, tells the story of the lengths one young man will go in the pursuit of “something.” Broken Bulbs is a brilliant and stunningly original work, by far the best novel I read in 2008. Technically, I suppose, Broken Bulbs would be classified as a novella since it runs just 132 pages and I read it in about an hour or so. Fast-paced, energetic and totally eclectic, Broken Bulbs reminded me of a quote from William S. Burroughs in Naked Lunch: “I am a ghost wanting what every ghost wants—a body—after the Long Time moving through odorless alleys of space where no life is only the colorless smell of death . . .” In Broken Bulbs, the horrors of drug addiction and total despair collide with blunted creative aspirations, destroyed hopes and fear of failure on a twisted road leading to self-discovery. If you truly enjoy reading the latest, force-fed pabulum that can be found on The New York Times best seller list, stay the hell away from Broken Bulbs. However, if you welcome the challenge of tackling something totally authentic, surreal, disturbing and existential (and yes at times downright weird!), I strongly recommend Broken Bulbs. Where else can you find a stream-of-consciousness narrative full of references to such diverse subjects as A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, Peter Brady, Norman Bates, Albert Einstein, Iggy Pop, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Woody Allen, as well as a demented mailman and six-foot-tall hamster wearing a suit (not kidding!). I particularly enjoyed many of the great creative passages such as “The seeds grow beautiful trees with endless fruits of creativity dangling from the branches just waiting to be plucked but instead I let them fall to the ground and die. Sometimes I take them. Sometimes I take them and bite them and they taste wrong. They taste bad. They taste like poison. They taste like pain.” Ironically, the last three months have been a creative black hole for me. Day after day, I would sit around and write down ideas on scraps of paper and file them away as I soon got distracted by mindless pursuits. Wasted hours, unfocused, staring at a blank computer screen and then reaching for a bottle of cheap wine or glued to the TV watching a bunch of worthless crap. And so in the end I felt just like Frank Fisher, I am Frank Fisher . . . Aren’t we all?
The Catcher In The Rye  – J.D. Salinger
“Boy, when you’re dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.” The story of Holden Caulfield has historically been one of the most frequently challenged books of the 20th century due to its liberal use of profanity and some very tame sexual situations (which would probably garner it a “PG13” if it were ever made into a film). The Catcher in the Rye is a classic anthem of teenage rebellion (although most of the rebellion occurs only in the mind of the protagonist!).
Deliverance  James Dickey
Four city slickers (translation: Atlanta yuppies) – Ed, Lewis, Bobby and Drew – take a weekend canoe trip down the Cahulawassee River in the mountains of Georgia that devolves into a total nightmare involving a couple of redneck yahoos (translation: “Squeal like a pig!”).
Desert Solitaire: A Season In The Wilderness  – Edward Abbey
“I quite agree that much of the book will seem coarse, rude, bad-tempered, violently prejudiced, unconstructive – even frankly antisocial in its point of view. Serious critics, serious librarians, serious associate professors of English will if they read this work dislike it intensely; at least I hope so.” Abbey claimed Desert Solitaire was “not a travel guide but an elegy. A memorial. You’re holding a tombstone in your hands. A bloody rock. Don’t drop it on your foot – throw it at something big and glassy. What do you have to lose?” Often compared to Thoreau’s Walden, this fascinating book focuses on Abbey’s tenure as a park ranger at Arches National Park near Moab, Utah.
Factotum  – Charles Bukowski
“I always started a job with the feeling that I’d soon quit or be fired, and this gave me a relaxed manner that was mistaken for intelligence or some secret power.” Factotum is a humorous and strongly autobiographical narrative from “the poet laureate of skid row” that follows an alcoholic drifter through a series of menial jobs as he travels aimlessly across the country. Before devoting himself entirely to writing, Bukowski worked various dead-end jobs, including as a laborer in a dog biscuit factory, a parking lot attendant, stock boy, warehouseman, red cross orderly, elevator operator, poster hanger in New York City subways, shipping clerk, postal clerk and postal carrier. At the age of 23, Bukowski finally lost his virginity to an overweight whore in Philadelphia. In straightforward and unsentimental prose, Bukowski depicts his alter-ego, Henry Chinaski, a loner and outcast who lives for booze and despises work with a passion. The character of Jan is based on Jane Cooney Baker, the great love of Bukowski’s life, a widowed alcoholic 11 years his senior with an immense beer belly. Baker spent the last days of her life working as a maid in a cheap hotel before dying of a massive hemorrhage in 1962. As for Bukowski, the self-proclaimed “barfly” lived out his later years in a ranch-style house in San Pedro, California, with an attractive young wife 24 years his junior, expensive German wines on the rack and a BMW in the driveway.
A Fan’s Notes  – Frederick Exley
“I fought because I understood, and could not bear to understand, that it was my destiny – unlike that of my father, whose fate it was to hear the roar of the crowd – to sit in the stands with most men and acclaim others. It was my fate, my destiny, my end, to be a fan.” A “fictional memoir,” A Fan’s Notes delves into the booze-soaked world of Frederick Exley – a mentally ill alcoholic and obsessive New York Giants fan (his hero? Frank Gifford). Simply a brilliant, totally original novel that has earned quite a cult following but definitely deserves a wider audience.
Fiddler’s Curse  – Randy Noles
“At a godforsaken tavern made of plywood and pecky cypress, a wizened, toothless old man clutching a battered fiddle stands before a boisterous, beer-guzzling throng that includes day laborers, dope smugglers and gator poachers.”Subtitled “The Untold Story of Ervin T. Rouse, Chubby Wise, Johnny Cash and the Orange Blossom Special,” Fiddler’s Curse traces the origins of one of the most beloved fiddle tunes of all time. Tragically, the talented fiddler credited with the song – Ervin T. Rouse – “endured tragedies, alcoholism and mental illness.” He ended up playing for tips in rundown taverns at the edge of the Florida Everglades and died virtually unknown. Well researched and fascinating!
Fight Club  Chuck Palahniuk
A self-destructive, nihilistic insomniac (who also happens to be obsessed with death) becomes addicted to bizarre support groups. Then his life takes a new direction after he meets the manic-depressive Marla Singer and the anarchistic Tyler Durden, his alter-ego. Soon these guys are setting up underground fight clubs all over the country – a movement that soon degenerates into Project Mayhem, an all-out attack on EVERYTHING held sacred by society: “Like fight club does with clerks and box boys, Project Mayhem will break up civilization so we can make something better out of the world.”
The First Third  Neal Cassady
Neal Cassady’s influence on the Beat Generation ultimately came down to his frantic lifestyle and the “spontaneous prose” of his letter to Jack Kerouac and others in the circle. In addition to the “Joan Anderson Letter,” Cassady attempted to write an autobiography, fragments of which were published by his widow, Carolyn, as The First Third.
The Ghost of Neil Diamond  – David Milnes
The Ghost of Neil Diamond is a rare find, a totally original and fascinating novel that held my interest from beginning to end. The novel is a dark comedy that follows the exploits of Neil Atherton, a Neil Diamond impersonator struggling to make a name for himself in Hong Kong. I was originally attracted to The Ghost of Neil Diamond by the interesting title. Wasn’t Neil Diamond still alive? What the hell was Neil Diamond’s ghost? I remember the first time I watched The Last Waltz, the brilliant 1978 documentary about The Band, which featured such musical legends as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Muddy Waters, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell . . . and Neil Diamond?!? How the hell did he get an invite! When I think Neil Diamond, I also remember his cameo in the 2001 comedy, Saving Silverman, which concerns a Neil Diamond cover band called “Diamonds in the Rough.” So essentially I’ve always thought of this dude as a total joke. And here was this novel about a Neil Diamond impersonator of all things! How freakin’ original was that? It was cool as shit! And I thought Elvis impersonators were kind of a joke, here was a guy trying to impersonate a third-tier entertainer and failing miserably at it! The novel was just full of this great mixture of humor and pathos, I really dug it. Indeed, this well-crafted novel captured my attention from the first paragraph: “With a few splashes of cold water Neil washed away his sins. He watched them slip down the plugholes, one by wretched one. The wrongdoings and wrong turns, the bad debts and bad memories sank beyond the U-bend, and his soul lay empty and prepared.” Well I could go on and on but the bottom line is that I highly recommend The Ghost of Neil Diamond if you’re tired of reading the same old shit all the time and want to check out something truly unique.
Ham On Rye  – Charles Bukowski
“I wasn’t a misanthrope and I wasn’t a misogynist but I liked being alone. It felt good to sit alone in a small space and smoke and drink. I had always been good company for myself.” According to Bukowski’s third novel, Ham on Rye, he had a miserable childhood courtesy of his father, a sadistic tyrant who regularly beat young Henry and his mother over the slightest infractions. To make matters worse, Bukowski suffered from a rare skin disorder, diagnosed as acne vulgaris, once he reached his teens. His only refuge was the local public library, where he voraciously devoured the writings of “The Lost Generation” school of American novelists such as Hemingway (whose later works he despised), Sherwood Anderson and John Dos Passos, as well as the works of European writers, including Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground, Knut Hamsun’s Hunger and Louis-Ferdinand Celine’s Journey to the End of Night.
Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Tiems of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole and Oliver Reed  – Robert Sellers
The four legendary actors listed above somehow managed to turn self destruction into an art form. In fact, Burton once remarked, “God put me on this earth to raise sheer hell.” Billed as “The Boozy Biography of the Four Greatest Actors to Ever Walk – or Stagger – into a Pub, Hellraisers is full of great and oftentimes disturbing anecdotes about these outrageous movie boozers. Great stuff and highly recommended!
Jim Morrison and The Doors: An Unauthorized Book  – Mike Jahn
“Four musicians, poets, dramatists and superstars bring Theatre, Rock, Sex and Death together as the most explosive influence on today’s Rock scene. Here, for the first time, is the story of that mystique: their music, drama, philosophy, songs, biographies.” Mike Jahn was a rock critic for The New York Times turned mystery novelist who penned the first Doors biography back in 1969. The book sold for $1 back then but you will be lucky to find a copy for less than $25 on Amazon today (most copies are priced as high as $75!). It’s quite a slim volume too, less than 100 pages and loaded with black-and-white photos and plenty of late ’60s revolutionary rock hyperbole as well. However, if you are a Doors fanatic like me, you will definitely want a copy on your bookshelf. Like most “Doors” biographies, the focus here is primarily on Jim Morrison (just check out the title, as well as the front and back covers!), who is described by Jahn as “the Sex-Death, Acid-Evangelist of Rock, a sort of Hell’s Angel of the groin.” Although the book contains some background information on the Doors, it primarily focuses on the band’s performance at the Fillmore East in New York City on March 22, 1968. Bottom line: It’s a true artifact of its time and worth a look, especially if you give a shit about ’60s rock music. On Jim Morrison: “Morrison is a living symbol of anti-authority, so it is no great surprise that he doesn’t like to talk about his early history. In his official biography and in repeated statements to reporters he claims that his parents are dead.” On John Densmore: “Densmore is the happy-eyed, joking optimist who stands in sharp contrast to the usually intense emotion of the other three Doors. There is even some question as to whether the singer who stands in front of his drums is a man he would choose as a friend.” On Attending a Doors Concert: “A Doors concert has a special majesty about it. This is a majesty made of sound, actions, and vaguely choreographed feelings. It comes from every part of the stage. From Ray Manzarek hunched over the keyboard like a monk working on some elaborate inscription. From Robbie Krieger’s stance of casual irony. And from John Densmore’s elaborately exaggerated arm motions, which come into their own whenever Morrison walks from center stage.”
Junky  – William S. Burroughs
“I have learned the junk equation. Junk is not, like alcohol or weed, a means to increased enjoyment of life. Junk is not a kick. It is a way of life.” Follow William Lee as he dabbles with petty crime and makes a gradual descent into the hell of drug addiction. One of the most memorable characters he befriends is Herman (Herbert Huncke), hustler, thief and strong early influence on the Beat Generation. Huncke would later depict the same period in his autobiography, Guilty of Everything. Burroughs once said his work was “directed against those who are bent, through stupidity or design, on blowing up the planet or rendering it uninhabitable.” However, in Junky, which was originally published by Ace Books as Junkie under the pen name of William Lee, Burroughs sticks to a classic, straightforward narrative that details his early life BEFORE the Beat Generation, BEFORE he accidentally shot and killed his wife and BEFORE he moved to Tangier where he penned his masterpiece, Naked Lunch. However, the deadpan style does reveal flashes of the genius to come in his later writing. For instance, check out this passage: “There was something boneless about her, like a deep-sea creature…I could see those eyes in a shapeless, protoplasmic mass undulating over the dark sea floor.”
Kanook Kibbutznick  Mike Hoover
Kanook Kibbutznick is a fascinating story, highly recommended, the most original novel I’ve read all year. It’s one of the few books ever that I was compelled to read in one sitting, a thoroughly engrossing story that is based on true events in the author’s life. The first-person, picaresque narrative follows the protagonist from a strict childhood in Vancouver that leads to a rebellious adolescence to his enlistment and basic training in the United States Marine Corp at the age of 17 to combat in Vietnam. After being wounded in action, he returns home and attends college in West Virginia until he hears a televised speech by Golda Meier that so inspires him that he flies to Israel, where he winds up working on a kibbutz and is subsequently recruited by the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service. He soon joins a mission to help track down and assassinate two of the Munich terrorists who are residing in Montreal. Through it all, he overcomes enormous obstacles with a fierce independence, single-minded determination and, at all times, an eclectic sense of humor about his circumstances. Kanook Kibbutznick reads like an action-paced thriller and pulls no punches in detailing the brutality of war—whether slogging through the jungles of Vietnam or going out on combat patrols with the Israeli Defense Forces. Along the way there are numerous cultural references from Shakespeare to Pink Floyd. The novel is also very cinematic in a way that reminded me of scenes from some of my favorite movies such as basic training in Full Metal Jacket, the patrols in Platoon and all the rigorous preparation that led to the secret retaliation in Munich. Well done!
The Last Stage  – Jim Cherry
The Last Stage is a brilliant novel that belongs on the bookshelf of any true fan of The Doors. My copy sits prominently beside some of my favorite Doors resources such as a tattered copy of No One Here Gets Out Alive published in 1980, Ray Manzarek’s highly entertaining autobiography Light My Fire, Break on Through (the most comprehensive biography of Jim Morrison to date), Greg Shaw’s The Doors on the Road (an exhaustive chronicle of all the band’s live performances that is sadly out of print) and others. However, The Last Stage is different from all the other Doors books in my arsenal. It’s a true hybrid—a highly entertaining novel about the trials and tribulations of a Doors tribute band called “The Unknown Soldiers” that also provides fascinating insights and history about the band itself. For instance, The Last Stage offers readers a vivid depiction of legendary Doors landmarks such as Venice Beach (the so-called “Birthplace of The Doors”), where Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek decided to form a band in July 1965; the Alta Cienega Motel (where Morrison lived off and on in room 32, now a shrine to the “Lizard King”); Laurel Canyon and the Canyon Country Store (“the store where the creatures meet” in “Love Street”); Barney’s Beanery, one of Morrison’s favorite drinking holes; the Chateau Marmont, where Morrison used to hang off balconies; The Body Shop, a rundown strip club Morrison frequented; and, of course, the Whisky A Go Go, “where it all started for Morrison.” One of the most enjoyable aspects of The Last Stage is the pertinent analysis of the band’s impact and place in rock history. For example, one of my favorite passages from the novel is as follows: “The Doors were a truly revolutionary group. The music was primal, and Morrison’s lyrics and his confrontation of his audience was a message of revolution, not storm the palace walls, but a subtle revolution, an exhortation to change from within, the revolution within yourself, and that’s what scared people, because real change is always from within.” In The Last Stage, Michael Gray is a totally obsessed Doors fan living a dead-end existence who looks like Morrison and aspires to experience the adulation of rock stardom (“I was tired of being a spectator”). So he enlists an up-and-coming band to join him on his quest and they hit the road in search of fame and glory. Conflicts soon arise as the rest of the band attempts to break away and develop a sound of their own. After a taste of fame (and swelling egos to match!), the tribute band (which sounds “like what The Doors had on a night Morrison wasn’t too drunk”) peaks out and the only question left for them is what to do after they’ve achieved their 15 minutes of fame. Or as Gray comments, “I saw the top of the mountain through the mists.” Gray’s delusions of grandeur eventually become unbearable to the other band members (“This is about changing the world, it’s lead to gold, alchemy!”, he even states at one point to the incredulous band members). We also meet Jimmy Stark, former child star, who reveals another layer to the dark side of celebrity. (Curiously, “Jim Stark” was the character played by James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, providing us with another symbol of the self-destructive nature of fame.) I have attended two concerts from Doors tribute bands in the past: The Back Doors (one of the first if not the very first Doors tribute band) performing at one of the college dives along the Fort Lauderdale strip in the early 1980s (I was so drunk that night and the event was so long ago that it’s just a blur to me now) and Peace Frog last year at a concert in Largo, Florida (near Clearwater, where Morrison briefly lived with his grandparents in the early 1960s). The Peace Frog concert started out as pure nostalgia but after a couple of classic Doors songs (and many drinks!), the vibe totally changed, lead singer Tony Fernandez started channeling Morrison and the crowd began rushing the stage. For a very brief moment, we had a glimpse into the brilliance and madness of a Doors live performance. The Last Stage expertly captures the lifestyle of these tribute bands living on the edge—enjoying a fleeting taste of stardom followed by an almost certain descent into total oblivion. However, Doors tribute bands also tend to bring out the timeless nature of The Doors. For instance, unlike most 1960’s bands who have become nostalgia acts, The Doors remain relevant and are continually rediscovered by new generations of young fans. And Morrison himself—stuck in time as the “Lizard King”—continues to extend his invitation to rebellion for those who seek enlightenment. Last Stage author Jim Cherry is not only a diehard Doors fan (he even traveled to Paris to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Morrison’s death on July 3, 2011), he is also a Doors scholar who writes The Doors Examiner, an amazing resource for Doors fans.
Leaving Las Vegas  John O’Brien
“He sits at the filthy bar, amidst the leather vested fat guys, the worn and weary pool tables, the smelly sluts who are much harder and drunker than he’ll ever be, the puke-piss-spit-blood encrusted carpeting, the brain-damaged human carcasses who have held their heads below their shoulders for longer than he’s been alive, the slimy sidewalk penny-loafers who wanna be his pal, and the rest of the supporting cast with heads vacuous and pant seats full . . . He sits as the last remnants of today and all that came before it slip into the void of blackout.”
Look Homeward, Angel  – Thomas Wolfe
“. . . a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces . . . O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.” Subtitled “A Story of the Buried Life,” Look Homeward, Angel served as Thomas Wolfe’s thinly disguised autobiographical look at his hometown of Asheville, North Carolina – and residents were NOT amused! The title was taken from John Milton’s “Lycidas”: “Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth: And, O ye Dolphins, waft the hapless youth.” Tragically, Wolfe died of tuberculosis at the age of 38 in 1938.
Naked Lunch  – William S. Burroughs
“Ever see a hot shot hit, kid? I saw the Gimp catch one in Philly. We rigged his room with a one-way whorehouse mirror and charged a sawski to watch it. He never got the needle out of his arm. They don’t if the shot is right. That’s the way they find them, dropper full of clotted blood hanging out of a blue arm. The look in his eyes when it hit – Kid, it was tasty . . .” Naked Lunch documents an unrepentant drug addict’s descent into total hell with an intense, Boschian detail that alternates between extremely horrific and truly comedic imagery. Simply one of the greatest and most influential American novels of the 20th century, Naked Lunch has been variously described as “brutal,” “obscene,” “disgusting” and “immoral” by its plethora of critics. Burroughs (AKA William Lee, El Hombre Invisible, Cosmonaut of Inner Space, Elvis of American Letters and Godfather of Punk) claimed that the title was suggested by Jack Kerouac: “a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.” Of all the great characters in Naked Lunch – the Paregoric Kid, Pantopon Rose, Bradley the Buyer, Placenta Juan the After Birth Tycoon, Doctor “Fingers” Schafer (the Lobotomy Kid), Clem and Jody, Doctor “Doodles” Rindfest, Clem Snide the Private Asshole, Captain Everhard, Salvador Hassan O’Leary (the After Birth Tycoon) – it is Dr. Benway who inevitably steals the show: “I deplore brutality…It’s not efficient. On the other hand, prolonged mistreatment, short of physical violence, gives rise, when skillfully applied, to anxiety and a feeling of special guilt.”
On The Road  – Jack Kerouac
“. . . I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes Awww!” Quiet, introspective writer Sal Paradise (Kerouac) meets wild-eyed, maniacal Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady), “a young jailkid all hung-up on the wonderful possibilities of becoming a real intellectual.” The two embark on an odyssey of discovery – fueled by drugs, booze and whores – across post-World War II America. On the Road is a seminal novel-the best work to come out of the Beat Generation (next to Naked Lunch, of course!). Kerouac disciples include Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Tom Waits, The Grateful Dead, 10,000 Maniacs, King Crimson, David Bowie, Johnny Depp, Ken Kesey, LeRoi Jones (Imamu Amiri Baraka), Hunter S. Thompson, Janis Joplin, David Carradine, Jack Nicholson, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Kim Novak and Nick Nolte. Thinly veiled characters in On the Road include Old Bull Lee (William S. Burroughs) and Carlo Marx (Allen Ginsberg). In creating his masterpiece, Kerouac relied on the inspiration of Thomas Wolfe (Look Homeward, Angel), Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass), Mark Twain (Huckleberry Finn), Jack London (Call of the Wild) and Herman Melville (Moby Dick) as major literary influences. Kerouac himself summed up the Beat Generation very well: “I want to make this very clear. I mean, here I am, a guy who was a railroad brakeman, and a cowboy, and a football player-just a lot of things ordinary guys do. And I wasn’t trying to create any kind of consciousness or anything like that. We didn’t have a whole lot of heavy abstract thoughts. We were just a bunch of guys who were out trying to get laid.”
Outlaw Blues: A Book of Rock Music  – Paul Williams
Written by the founder of Crawdaddy! magazine, Outlaw Blues is a true classic of rock literature. I believe I came across my copy (second printing, July 1970) at Mojo Books & Music in Tampa. It’s kind of beat up but a very entertaining read, almost like a time capsule of a great period in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. In the Preface, Williams states, “Reading the book will not ‘explain’ the music to you; but it might bring you closer to the music, and closer to me. And perhaps the experience of reading it will better enable you to ‘explain’ rock to yourself.” That pretty much nails it. Williams also adds a “Rock for Beginners” coda and includes the following albums: Sunshine Superman – Donovan / Rubber Soul – Beatles / Live in Europe – Otis Redding / Electric Music for the Mind & Body – Country Joe & The Fish / Procol Harum – Procol Harum / Greatest Hits Volume II – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles / Forever Changes – Love / Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys/ Mr. Tambourine Man – The Byrds/ Song Cycle – Van Dyke Parks/ Between the Buttons – The Rolling Stones/ Something Else – The Kinks/ Happy Jack – The Who / Blonde on Blonde – Bob Dylan/ Jefferson Airplane Takes Off – Jefferson Airplane/ Strange Days – The Doors / Four Tops Greatest Hits – Four Tops / Earth Opera – Earth Opera / Got Live If You Want It – The Rolling Stones and Buffalo Springfield Again – Buffalo Springfield. I recommend Outlaw Blues highly, especially if you like scouring used bookstores, flea markets or antique malls and are lucky enough to find an old, tattered copy like I did (as I’m looking through the book at my computer, it’s literally falling apart in my hands!). On the Rolling Stones: “If you take the Rolling Stones and maroon them in the swirling vacuum of space, stranded with nothing but ether, that imponderable stuff of the universe, to play with, they’ll take that ether and mold it into a space ship and come chasing back after you, and they’re the only rock group that can do that.” On Jefferson Airplane: “Two words are really significant to Jefferson Airplane’s sound and appeal: complexity and kinetics. Familiar words, and fairly simple ones. Complexity: there’s a lot going on, all the time. Kinetics: the listener is caught up in the motion of the songs.” On the Doors: “The Doors are good Muzak. Like the Byrds, they are perfect on a highly complex, imperceptible level. Nothing is obvious, nothing protrudes. Everywhere is here, now, current, with no sense of actual immediacy (which would imply consciousness of time) and no knowledge of the definite.” On Brian Wilson: “Brian [Wilson] has written some of the worst lyrics in history. Although you shouldn’t say ‘worst’ lyrics, but some of the simplest lyrics. His lyrics have never been on the par that his music has been on, ever. He really has a musical head.”
Post Office  – Charles Bukowski
“She was a good one all right, she was a good lay but like all lays after the third or fourth night I began to lose interest and didn’t go back. But I couldn’t help thinking, god, all these mailmen do is drop in their letters and get laid. This is the job for me, oh yes yes yes.” Opening line: “It began as a mistake.” Down-and-out barfly Henry Chinaski becomes substitute mail carrier, quits for awhile and lives on his winnings at the track and then becomes a mail clerk. The work is menial, boring and degrading. Our hero survives through booze combined with an extremely cynical view of the world. Bukowski’s first novel, Post Office, is “dedicated to nobody.” The great love of Bukowski’s life, Jane Cooney Baker (“Betty” in Post Office), was a widowed alcoholic 11 years his senior with an immense beer belly. She also served as the model for “Wanda” in the 1987 Bukowski-scripted film Barfly. Bukowski’s first wife, Barbara Frye (“Joyce”), suffered a physical deformity – two vertebrae were missing from her neck, giving the impression that “she was permanently hunching her shoulders.” After a little over two years of marriage in the late 1950s, she filed for divorce, accusing him of “mental cruelty.” In the novel, Joyce is portrayed as a wealthy nymphomaniac.
The Riddle of the Wooden Gun  – Todd Moore
Of all the legends surrounding Depression-era outlaw John Dillinger, perhaps none has captured the public’s imagination quite like his daring escape from the county jail in Crown Point, Indiana, on March 3, 1934, allegedly with the aid of a fake gun carved out of wood. Public Enemies author Bryan Burrough states, “As for the gun, many still refuse to believe Dillinger was able to escape using only a wooden replica. Ernest Blunk and others would later insist Dillinger had used a real pistol. Some writers, including John Toland, agree; Toland posited that Dillinger had used a wooden gun and a real gun. But FBI files make clear Dillinger, at least initially, had only the wooden gun.” According to The Crown Point Network, “While incarcerated in the Lake County Jail, Dillinger carved a gun from a wooden washboard or a bar of soap (local legend varies), and stained the fake gun with black shoe polish.” Finally, www.fbi.gov claims, “Dillinger cowed the guards with what he claimed later was a wooden gun he had whittled. He forced them to open the door to his cell, then grabbed two machine guns, locked up the guards and several trustees, and fled.” And so on . . . Each description of the wooden gun changes slightly, adding yet another piece to an endless puzzle. Known for his highly unconventional, rapid-fire poetic style, legendary outlaw poet Todd Moore (1937-2010) worked on his epic Dillinger poem for more than 30 years and his installment, “The Riddle of the Wooden Gun,” rips apart this single aspect of the Dillinger legend and brilliantly transcends it into a commentary on the nature of myths throughout American history, as well as our seemingly inherent fascination with violence. The subject matter is perfectly suited to a maverick poet such as Moore, whose critically acclaimed poetry appeared in more than a thousand literary journals over the past 40 years. Throughout his epic 144-page poem, Moore focuses not only on Dillinger’s contemporaries such as Baby Face Nelson, J. Edgar Hoover and Billie Frechette but also jumps back and forth throughout American history with references to such historical outlaws as Tom Horn, Dalton Gang, John Wesley Hardin, Billy the Kid and others. My images of Depression-era gangsters have always been shaped by cinematic portrayals such as Rico Bandello in Little Caesar, Tony Camonte in Scarface, Tom Powers in The Public Enemy, Eddie Bartlett in The Roaring Twenties and “Mad Dog” Earle in High Sierra. Dillinger himself has been portrayed by everyone from Nick Adams (Young Dillinger) and Warren Oates (Dillinger) to Robert Conrad (The Lady in Red) and now Johnny Depp (Public Enemies). As evidenced by “The Riddle of the Wooden Gun,” which is also cinematic in style, the real John Dillinger remains forever elusive. As Moore himself has stated, “None of these riddles will be solved to anyone’s particular satisfaction, but it isn’t really a solution that anyone is after. It’s the rich cluster of possibilities that these kinds of riddles offer.” This is one-of-a-kind, epic poetry—haunting, violent, humorous and stunningly original! “The Riddle of the Wooden Gun” is highly recommended and I look forward to delving into the other installments of Moore’s Dillinger series.
Stop-Time  – Frank Conroy
“My faith in the firmness of time slips away gradually. I begin to believe that chronological time is an illusion and that some other principle organizes existence. My memories flash like clips of film from unrelated movies. I wonder, suddenly, if I am alive. I know I’m not dead, but am I alive? I look into the memories for reassurance, searching for signs of life.” Nominated for the National Book Award, Stop-Time is a uniquely original memoir that follows Conroy’s depraved childhood in New York and South Florida. Chapter titles include “Savages,” “Space and a Dead Mule,” “Shit,” “Death by Itself” and “Losing My Cherry.” Essential reading!
Tropic Of Cancer  – Henry Miller
“I believe that today more than ever a book should be sought after even if it has only one great page in it. We must search for fragments, splinters, toenails, anything that has ore in it, anything that is capable of resuscitating the body and the soul.” A stunningly original (for its time), autobiographical novel from the “Dirty Old Man of American Letters,” Tropic of Cancer was banned from publication in the United States for almost 30 years. The plotless masterpiece details Miller’s life as an expatriate in Paris – scrounging for food, writing and, of course, getting laid. Anais Nin on Tropic of Cancer: “This book brings with it a wind that blows down the dead and hollow trees whose roots are withered and lost in the barren soil of our times. This book goes to the roots and digs under, digs for subterranean springs.”
You Can’t Win  – Jack Black
“How I loathed the traitor, Bob Ford, one of the James boys gang, who shot Jesse when is back was turned, for a reward! How I rejoiced to read that Ford was almost lynched by friends and admirers of Jesse, and had to be locked in the strongest jail in the state to protect him from a mobbing. I finished the story entirely and wholly in sympathy with the James boys, and all other hunted, outlawed, and outraged men.” The author dedicated You Can’t Win to “that dirty, drunken, disreputable, crippled beggar, ‘Sticks’ Sullivan, who picked the buckshot out of my back—under the bridge—at Baraboo, Wisconsin.” In his foreword to the 1988 edition of You Can’t Win, William S. Burroughs laments: “Where are the hobo jungles, the hop joints, the old rod-riding yeggs, where is Salt Chunk Mary? Where is the Johnson Family? As another thief, Francois Villon, said, ‘Where are the snows of yesteryear?'”
Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance  – Robert M. Pirsig
“We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone.” A well-worn copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance sits prominently on my bookshelf. I can open it on any page and start reading — it’s truly original, thought-provoking and extraordinary.