Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I Fuck for Good Art: On Book Reviews

Because I have a new book out, I’ve been thinking a sadistically unhealthy amount about book reviews, because I want them. I’ve spent way too much time on sites like Goodreads and Amazon, and ended up reacquainting myself with book reviews that I myself wrote in the past. With time gone by, I thought I’d revisit some of those old reviews and examine what I think about them now, and what, in hindsight, I might change about them, if anything.

I’ve spent way too much time writing about jailbird provocateur Gene Gregorits. There is an essay in my new book that attempts to examine all the reasons why. (The spell is still not broken when it comes to my weakness for shit-fit creative types. Look what I’m reading now. Trust if I’d been more aware of Kinski when I was writing so much about Gene I probably would have made the comparison. Kinski’s book is hilarious. He admitted that a lot of it was made up. (I know what Pola has said about her father, so no one needs to drop down and gleefully/smugly attempt to school me.)

From the review I did of Gene Gregorits’  Dog Days in 2012:
“I fuck for good art—at least I have in the past. A staid “thank you for your work” has never  been enough for me. If it touched me, I wanted a piece of it, and if it was made by living, breathing hands, if possible, I wanted those living, breathing hands on me…I haven’t engaged in this kind of behavior in many years. I don’t live in New York anymore, and I’m no longer surrounded by great, accessible artists. I’m also much more secure in my own work. But if I wasn’t, and a few logistic variables were different—I’d want to be assfucked by Gregorits at the bottom of an embankment, just like Izabela, the lead female character in Dog Days. “

At the time that I wrote that last line, I thought the review was just going to remain a post on Gregorits’ webpage, but then I got the email where he mass forwarded it to all of his contacts, including quite a few writers I love and admire, and was mortified. I also got like fifty friend requests from dudes on Gene’s Facebook page in quick secession, some with messages that said things like, “You know, I write too..”

Nicole Brown Simpson, The Private Diary of a Life Interrupted review written in 2012, on Amazon.

 I mostly still like this book review, though I have zero memory of writing it. 1994, the year the Simpson murders happened,  was really my lost year, and I had very little access to media, so I was kind of excited when I stumbled across this book in the true crime section of the library.  I rather cynically subtitled the review “Twenty Years Tardy to the Party.” (I had also just seen Resnick on that infamous episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, where she gets into a heated exchange with Kelsey Grammer’s wife, while a creepy psychic puffs on an E cigarette.)
“While Resnick does spend considerable time on the brume of abuse and terror Nicole lived under as the wife of OJ Simpson, she spends just as much time sharing with us her insider's knowledge of the minutia of Nicole's sex life. She does this under the guise of her first mission, correcting the media's portrayal of her friend. In this way, the definition of what constituted sex to Nicole becomes very important, and Resnick goes on to differentiate between which relationships of Nicole's were just "play" (Nicole's word, Resnick's tells us, for any non-penetrative sexual act) and which relationships qualified as actual intercourse in glorious detail. How Resnick is able to recall with such accuracy her friend's sex (or "play") life one is left to wonder. She claims to have kept a diary (of her friend's sex life?) but that it was stolen after the murders. She frames this sexual straw- splitting and the gratutious revelations it allows for as protection of her friend's dignity. ("See, she wasn't really a slut! Most of her relationships were just b.j's!")

 What I still like about the review: my colorful language. “Sexual straw-splitting.” “Brume of abuse and terror.”
What I don’t like: this last paragraph, about the Kardashian clan, which reads like a judgment call:

 “Their mother was one of Nicole Brown Simpson's closest friends and their father, Robert, returned to law after years of working in the recording industry just so he could help in the defense of their mother's close friend's murderer. What a world to grow up in. I'd love to know what it was like, but I imagine those girls may not know a world free of spin. If I'm right, it may not be their faults if they don't know how to tell the truth.”
What the fuck did I know about what the Kardashians' knew about truth? My own truth be told, when I wrote this review in early 2012, I had never even watched a full episode of their show. I was defaulting to the popular opinion that they were just a family of attention whores. Which may or may not be true, but still. I should have done my own investigation and decided for myself first. I hate situations like that, be it in pop culture or otherwise, where I have to confront that I've done this. I want my opinions to be my own.

 Elf Girl/ Rev. Jen Miller
I’ve written about Rev. Jen Miller many times. Rev. Jen and Gene Gregorits are the prom king and queen of my reviewing scene. This was Jen’s first book by a big publisher, and though I liked the self-published version of the book that it was based on better, this book is still very good. I like this review but wish I would have sent it somewhere instead of just leaving it to languish at Amazon. It reads more like an essay, and I wish I would have tightened it up and submitted somewhere as one.

“My whole life I've made a practice of hitting interpersonal relationship benchmarks out of order. Many a time intimate activity has preceded introduction formalities. In keeping with this behavior, I was photographed au naturel with Rev. Jen Miller before I had ever laid eyes on her work. Now that I have, I can say without a doubt there is a world of brains, wit, and brawny vision behind her rockin' bod. Since then she has become one of my favorite writers and artists

When I was kid growing up in small town CT, I loved watching Geraldo in the morning when I could somehow finagle staying home from school. As much as I enjoyed the episodes that showcased brawling skinheads and bald headed Satanists, my favorites were always the panel discussions with Club Kids like Michael Alig and James St. James. What I enjoyed so much about the Club Kids was that they spoke to me of a world outside my window where people really were free to be you and me and individuality was celebrated as a fabulous, blessed trait. It made me want to move New York and be a part of what I was seeing on the television screen. More importantly, it made feel that I could be a part of it. I believe Rev. Jen and the stories in her book will inspire the same feelings in others.."
LESSON LEARNED: Though Amazon and GoodReads reviews are a huge help to authors, there are a world of literary sites out there looking for more detailed (well-written) book reviews.

 Happy Ending, David Rat

Last but not least: my most popular book review, ever, well, according to my blog analytics-- with over 2,000 views, David Rat’s Happy Ending, which ended up being the intro to the book. So why don’t we just reprint the whole thing here:

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 wrote, “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, recounts his 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,” it's transcription. Reducing the impact David's addiction to some kind of fetish subject matter is not only smug, it completely nullifies the power of the book. 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.

 LESSON LEARNED: I love Happy Ending, and still really like this review, but I might take out the Oscar Wilde quote. As much as I love Wilde and his work and think the quote fits, at this point, unfortunately, I think the quote's become a little bit played. And I might change that line about "counting lifelines." While I stand by the sentiment, the imagery is a little over the top.

Oh, and here's my new book. Do you fuck for good art? If you think you might be interested in reviewing My Body Would be the Kindest of Strangers, "something" can probably be arranged.

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