Infomercials For Myself
"So Marcus missed it and Morthland nailed it. Good! It takes an amiable gruntworker to finish the job that the superstars up top - it may be a small heap, but it's a heap nonetheless - started then abandoned. Do you think Greil would have allowed Black Sabbath to soil the pages of his precious volume? Or Morrison? Or the Stones (less'n, of course, somebody gets pig-stuck in front of them - then, it's fascinating. But mere aesthetic crimes, forget it)? And he surely wouldn't have let that Dylan piece past the velveteen rope - somebody calmly, carefully laying out why Zimmy's brand of noble-savage mythmongering is a shuck? There goes his next three books! But it's not even the choice of subjects that makes the difference here - it's how Johnny quietly defuses all the unexploded bombshells that would've killed every starry-eyed, notebook-clutching kid looking to speed their brains out for three nights straight dissecting some Fun House-sized skronk masterpiece but having to settle for a handful of cold medicine and Zombie Birdhouse. First off: I'm not saying that speed kills, but damn, it makes you look silly in the cold light of day sometimes. I loved how John included those chick-rock reviews in there - if you needed any evidence that speed cranks up the libido at the expense of your common sense, well, check out how even Anne Murray and Helen Reddy could get my crotch-motor revving in that state. And it's so bad that, confronted with someone halfway to genuinely sexual, i.e. Cherie Currie, I completely blow a fucking gasket and write an eight-page long sentence that reads like the scuzziest, wartiest Bukowski fuck-fantasia filtered through a jacked-up James Joyce or a bennied-up Beckett! And if you take that as read, then it doesn't take long to realize that speed gets you just as spuzzed over pieces of music that the merely naturally fucked-up woulda dismissed as dull clots of noise, because that's what they were! Listened to those Godz records I inspired you to track down and pay ludicrous amounts of import coin for lately, huh? Exactly.
"Secondly: my novel would've sucked. Dostoevesky woulda had nothing to worry about. Neither would Jackie Suzann.
"Thirdly, and this is key: by including some of my more awkward pieces, a few of the more dashed-off and semi-coherent and even (gasp) professional bits of scrawl 'n' screed I churned out over the years, Morthland's helping scrape off some of that gold-hued patina that Marcus and others have slathered on there. I wasn't some grandiloquent, lantern-jawed, straight-spined seeker, some Lawrence of Aphasia; I was just a big, sweaty, goofy lummox with a beer gut and a bad mustache. I was a fucking clown. Worse, a sad clown. No, no, worse still, a sad, occasionally self-righteous clown with a mile-wide infantile streak running down my slouchy back. A moralist and a clod, depending on how much cognac I had in me at the time.
"I'm just hoping to dissuade you from following my example, that's all. Can't claim it always works - I've pulled Chuck Eddy up here three times already and all I get out of him is 'Whattaya think, is Kix my Troggs and Boney M my Question Mark and the Mysterians or is it the other way around?'"
Neither of those things are intrinsically bad, in moderation - and you know how I felt about moderation - but perform for the self-appointed kings and queens and Deans on their Naugahyde swivel thrones by day, then for the keg-drunk hoi polloi by night, in order to give both sides their unfair share of vicarious kicks, and it'll either destroy you or render you an asshole. I guess I'm lucky that the former got accomplished before the latter job got finished. And I'm glad there are still enough people around to testify that I was, for all my idiotic idiosyncracies, at heart a basically decent guy. A decent guy who could write pretty well most of the time. And that's that. This new book will never be mistaken for scripture like the first one was, by poor little lambs like you - it's just the last shoulda and testament of a guy feeling his way semi-blindly through the pop culture undergrowth, sticking himself on the brambles and sometimes turning up some pretty tasty berries. It's brought me back down to earth. Which, in a wholly convenient segue, is what we're about to do to you."
"Wh-what? What do you mean? Aren't I dead?"
"Hardly. This is just an - um - what's that called again, Pete?"
"That's right," Lester said, and they all burst into slightly nasty laughter.
"Those always work quite well, don't they?" chortled Brian.
"I'm just hoping to dissuade you from following my example, that's all. Can't claim it always works - I've pulled Chuck Eddy up here three times already and all I get out of him is 'Whattaya think, is Kix my Troggs and Boney M my Question Mark and the Mysterians or is it the other way around?' - but I feel compelled to try. Look, don't think I'm not flattered by all this attention - I was a writer, after all, and I know how lucky I am that anyone pays heed to anything I had to say - but too many people make the amateur's mistake of thinking that whatever combination of drugs, alcohol, made-up compound words and obnoxious public behavior their heroes favored is gonna get you a bus pass to the Promised Land. When in truth, it'll just destroy you. Kill you or turn you into a gibbering burnout clinging to the last vestiges of your youthful insouciance. Either way, you won't smell all that good. Peter and I are no-longer-living proof of that. And we're the lucky ones. We're not hanging around and embarrassing ourselves like Lou or Hunter Thompson, are we?" He handed back his book. "Take this, read it, enjoy it. It's good work and I'm proud of it, and once they get the posthumous royalty system set up, I'll be rolling in dead clover. But if you're smart, you'll spread the word that all of your so-called heroes have feet of week-old Play-Doh. That all these people who speak so eloquently about interpersonal relations and sing the praises of humanity spend the majority of their time locked away in offices or practice rooms or fetid East Village apartments all by themselves busily keeping all of it out. And if you're really smart, you'll do me and future generations a favor and not write a single word about me, ever again. Because..."
Just then, Timothy White buzzed by on a souped-up
compact cloud, aviator glasses in place, propelled by his spinning bowtie.
"Hey, Les, Barry White's been looking for you. And he doesn't sound
"Wait, wait, Les," Peter piped up.
"Brian - go ahead, say it. Please."
"God, I love that," Peter grinned. "See you in thirty-sev... uh, never mind. See you around."
The scene began to dim, waver and fade. But I needed to know one more thing. "Lester! Last question! Why is it that hardcore abusers like Lou and Iggy never slipped into oblivion like you? Doesn't that set a bad example, too?"
"Aw, sure it does. But I keep petitioning to keep 'em out for purely selfish reasons. If they kick it, then Bowie'll be compelled to follow, and I just can't handle that." And he was gone.
I awoke face-down on my kitchen floor, aroused by the sound of the news bulletin issuing from my clock radio. "...fifteen people found dead under mysterious circumstances in college towns and quasi-bohemian urban neighborhoods across the country. Authorities say that the only connection among the deceased is that each of them had recently written reviews of the latest compact disc by musician Liz Phair. And turning from the lighter side of the news to our Action Humidity center..."
I turned over, groaned, switched the radio off. I had a slight headache but, overall, felt pretty decent for a guy so recently dead. But then again - not weighted down, no paint-filled balloons, no receipt for my death bags... Reflexively, I grabbed my tape recorder and reshaped my groans into a rough approximation of words. "Note to self - contact operatives at 826 Valencia ASAP. Find out if hackneyed 'it was all a dream' ending can be rendered ironic merely through its usage at this late date or if I need to make a winking reference to it in the body of the story for it to work. Alternately, find out if a further twist can be utilized to better..."
I trailed off. There was something leaning against the sink that I know wasn't there before. Something familiar. I crawled over and gazed at it for a few moments, its square, black figure a Kubrickian monolith in miniature. Then I realized what it was. Why, it was Lester Bangs' own personal copy of White Light/White Heat! His gift to me! He had inscribed something on it, too, but as it was written in black on the black-on-black sleeve, I couldn't quite make it out. No matter, though - I knew what it meant. That the great works remain eternal. To return to the classics, but this time, without the distracting prism of personality, hipness, collectability, or even admiring the skills of those responsible. Go through everything and strip it clean of all distractions and just bathe in the art, the cleansing clatter of it all. But start here.
Best advice I'd never heard, I thought, jumping
up, plucking the vintage Verve sleeve from the floor and sprinting to
my stereo. I took a deep breath, savoring the impending beginning to a
whole new phase of my life, and gingerly went to pull the platter from
its home. Then was caught up short.