Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Death Car

The Ford Fordor that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were shot to death in on a windy, rural Louisiana back road became known as The Death Car. It toured the country afterward, dented like a tin can and riddled with holes from 167 bullets that had given their bodies the same treatment. We came to refer to my father’s blue, beat- up station wagon with its wood paneling and sloping hood like an ant eater’s snout by the same name: The Death Car. It sat in our driveway for a full year after his death, the newspaper he had bought on that day still waiting for him on the back seat. I had planned on grabbing the paper and saving it, adding it to the growing collection under my bed that commemorated important worldly events, but never did. When the car was finally towed away for use by some desperate charity, I wasn’t around to collect the memento mori.

When my mother kicked me out of the house for using heroin my senior year of high school*, I assumed she’d let me come back home. I assumed I’d have plenty of places to go and not being able to handle her guilt and worry, she’d not only let me come back, she’d beg me to come back. I was intensely wrong. My bad reputation and her itchy phone finger were formidable enemies, prefacing me like a disclaimer wherever I went. My arrival at any friend’s house always seemed to come after her phone call to their parents. Soon enough I had no place to stay that didn’t involve sneaking in through a window or an unlocked door in the middle of the night. So when I wore out my welcome or found the window locked, I’d go to my father’s car in the driveway, utilizing its broken door locks, and sleep inside, reading the newspaper on the back seat over and over again till I fell asleep.

One morning I awoke to my grandmother staring me down through the back passenger side window. The look of disgust on her face reached through the glass and shook me awake violently. She never liked our neighbors, but suddenly they were the most important people in the world. While her weighted glare had melted the window's glass, her greatest wish was to build it back up again tinted black.

My grandmother had always disliked my father, with his six children by two different women, his lack of papered education and uninspired employment history, but death had given him the ability to live up to a very basic parental responsibility, one worthy of recognition if only she could have seen past her grudges and embarrassment to acknowledge it.

When I had nowhere else to go, my father had taken me in.

© Fiona Helmsley

* her hope was to force me into going to rehab.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Artists I Love- David Rat

Since my fingertips seem to dance feverishly across the keyboard when it comes to championing the artists that move me, I’ve decided to start blogging here semi-regularly, stumping for the artists I love.

You move me, I’ll keystroke you.

The way I see it, the posts should basically write themselves.


Most people have a dream epoch, a bygone era that they venerate and romanticize, thinking if only I’d been around for that. My pedestalled period on the space/time continuum is New York City in the mid 1970’s and early 80’s, my favorite city’s last gasp for vibrant, inspired living on the cheap. One could still move to New York just to be an artist, not to just look like an artist while spending all of ones time working a shitty job just to make the rent.

Engendered by the cheap rents and lowered cost of living,* New York City experienced a gritty, creative renaissance led by an underclass of young throwaways cut from the same angelic/ demonic mold as Jean Genet and Arthur Rimbaud. Archetype artists like Richard Hell and Lydia Lunch sought reprieve from their damages onstage at clubs like CBGB’s, Max’s Kansas City and the Pyramid. Both were runaways to the city from screwed up homes.

Oscar Wilde famously said, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” In 1970’s/80’s New York, a generation of impassioned street kids used artistic expression to lift their heads from the gutter and towards heaven.

Enter David Rat, a small town boy with the face of an Adonis and big city rock n’ roll dreams. Happy Ending David’s new book of poetry to be released soon on Paroxysm Press, recounts David’s early adulthood in late 1970’s/ 80’s New York. The drummer for seminal art noise band Rat At Rat R, David works the door at the infamous downtown Pyramid Club, juggles clingy girlfriends and looks forward to finally garnering his father’s approval as mainstream success with his band beckons. The story-telling quality of David’s poetry recounts the lyrical elegies of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” and Iggy Pop’s “Look Away.” Doomed, tragic luminaries of the period like Greer Lankton and Ethyl Eichelberger provide the inspiration for some of David’s best work. Once David becomes addicted to heroin, the names and wide-eyed descriptions of the era drop off, with testimonies to painful longing and the ritual redundancies of addiction taking their place.

I’ve always liked Angela Bowie, but I found her note to David that opens Happy Ending to be completely off the mark. In it, Angela flatters David but then asks when his “fixation” with writing about drugs will end. Writing about addiction when one has spent time counting lifelines from the inside of its clenched fist is not “fixation,” its transcription. Reducing the all-encompassing impact of addiction to some kind of fetish subject matter is not only smug, it completely nullifies the power of Happy Ending. It’s the optimism despite the ugliness that makes Happy Ending so potent. Heroin robs David of his family and his rock n’roll dreams, but he still eagerly reaches out for love, sees the beauty in the graying faces all around him and fights passionately for a better world for his beloved son. Happy Ending is about the resistance of the spirit to cynicism. It’s also about the hopeful exorcism of ones demons with the pen.

David Rat came to New York City in the late 1970’s to be an artist and as Happy Ending attests, David still believes that art can set him free.

David Rat's Happy Ending will be available soon at:

He can be contacted through his facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/davidrat

© Fiona Helmsley

* which was in turn engendered by the popularly held belief that new york city was a dangerous criminal cesspool, a city “under the gun,” not the primo piece of mickey mouse safe big bucks real estate that it is today.