in conversation with
and Mark McCawley
John Wisniewski: When did you begin writing, bart? When did you publish your first writings?
bart plantenga: On any conscious level? It was probably in high school. A kind of prosaic awakening. First in 9th grade, for an assignment where we had to “travel” through South America and keep a diary I did one – times 10. Mine was over 100 pages long, about 3x longer than anyone else’s – I didn’t know I liked writing about places I had [never] been to. I wouldn’t know for another 2 years that that could be a talent – and what I’ve come to realize many years later an extremely underpaid talent at that.
For instance: Did you ever get into a discussion with friends or coworkers about being underpaid, earning a shit wage and such. Well, I have only done this once or twice: tried to estimate how much per hour I earned for an article or book I was paid for. You don’t want to know. THEY don’t want to know. It is like 10 American cents per hour. You point that out and nobody wants to hear it or believe.
Other writers say: But you can’t measure it like that. Yea, that’s because if you do, you realize how stupid [or addicted] you are; how undervalued you and your talent truly are – unless, of course, you are a brand name writer, which is pretty much how most people look at you when you say you are a writer. Like those cartoons where one character sees another as just this mirage, this pile of money, like you are part of an elite conspiracy tapping into the mega-contracts that the Stephen Kings can command … Had I known all of these demythifying downsides back then I might have shifted back to urban planning or civil engineering. But then again maybe not. That’s all 20-20 hindsight.
When a year later I wrote a story for an English class taught by the wonderful Mr. Ralph Sampson. He was gentle, not into sports, wore cool ties and shirts with modern collars. Not a “Samson” at all. He handed me back my writing exercise; maybe it was write a short piece from the point of view of an animal. I don’t remember. He said simply: “Are there any writers in your family?”
“Well then you may be the first.” Needless to say, I took his creative writing elective the next school year. This was disconcerting to one and all in the beginning, especially my guidance counselor, who had pegged me, coached me toward engineering and had already come up with a handful of good universities with notable engineering departments.
Then somewhere in there I took the Kudor Interest Test where you got to find out what your interests were by poking out holes [chads – in a time before computers] next to your responses to questions about whether you preferred hugging animals or building sand castles.
What it showed was what I suspected: my change of heart away from the exact sciences, hard, logical, and military-industrial true. I was against the war in Vietnam and how radical hippies associated science with war was similar to earlier movements suspicious of the exact sciences as the logical fast lane toward mass annihilation. The 19th-c. Romantic Movement, the Dadaists, the Wobblies, and then the Beats & hippies & suddenly I was going Thoreau-ian. shifting from hard to soft, protractor to thesaurus, and went head on with emotional, inventive, egotistical [you could write about yourself], and political verve into writing – poetry became the antithesis of war, a primary weapon that could be wielded against all war.
As one of the voiceless and faceless, I would give voice to the voiceless, give shape to the shapeless, attention to the ignored – that was what creative writing could do. It could also be like a rubbing, you know, like what you do with paper and charcoal in a cemetery – a rubbing to get an impression… Magic.
John Wisniewski: Whom are some writers and poets who have influenced your writing?
bart plantenga: In the beginning there were the Grimm Brothers [re-tellers], Edgar Allan Poe [the stories but also the Roger Corman film versions], Leonard Cohen [not the songs but his novels [The Favourite Game and Beautiful Losers] & poetry [The Spice-Box of Earth], Mark Twain [serious humor], Kurt Vonnegut [most of his work]… of course, like so many, one of my main WRITING influences was Jack Kerouac [especially the famous novels but even more so Doctor Sax and Lonesome Traveler just as I was beginning my own hitchhiking adventures]; of course Kerouac wrote 2 of the worst books ever: [Pic and Satori in Paris].
In my formative years: yes, Abbie Hoffman and Bertrand Russell but also Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath as well as John Berryman – these 3 for there practice of ruthless, illuminated solipsism. There was Hemingway [the poetry of the unencumbered sentence], Thomas Pynchon [liberated me from the prosaic school of too-damn realistic], Heinrich Böll, Gunther Grass [can’t be beat for total immersiveness], Tennesee Williams, Margaret Atwood, Gerard Reve, Yasunari Kawabata, Franz Kafka, Ken Kesey [especially Sometimes a Great Notion], Joseph Heller [Catch-22], Alan Sillitoe [The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner], Susan Sontag, Margaret Atwood, Hunter S. Thompson, B. Traven, Nathaniel West, Alexander Trocchi, Boris Vian [music and novels], Serge Gainsbourg [entire oeuvre], Gaston Bachelard, Emile Zola, Gore Vidal, Gary Snyder. One of the most overpowering influences was no doubt Céline [his novels were a powerful elixir during trepidatious times] but as well, Dostoyeski.
Of course, Charles Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Verlaine all had a kinetic, almost punk influence on me. And, of course, what deluded young male writer wasn’t influenced by Henry Miller. I read just about everything by him. But rereading him years later, I found myself disappointed – it seemed dated except for the 2 Tropics] or betrayed or hoodwinked or maybe I had just moved on. André Breton’s Nadja had a huge influence on me and how I perceive the magical mechanics of the novel. Dorothy Parker’s brilliant and insouciant humor is still very much admired. Richard Brautigan for early bright-eyed enchantment; Homer, even if he was more than one writer. Herman Hesse’s novels [especially Demian, Peter Kamenzind and Siddhartha] had a profound influence on me when I was 19 and 20. Bertolt Brecht has a certain knife-sharp diction and a critically acerbic mind that I can only admire and never quite imitate.
I imitated both Burroughs and Anthony Burgess’ Clockwork Orange. J.D. Salinger also had a huge influence on me to the point of turning me onto Zen Buddhist writing, especially the magic of zen koans. And, on some level I continue to relate to the hermetic solitude of writers like Pynchon, Salinger and Traven. Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem and other Situationists gave elegant form & purpose to the original radicalness awakened in me by Woody Guthrie, John Steinbeck and the like. And more recently, the radical critical and equally poetic terror of Hakim Bey’s T.A.Z. [THE essential prot-OWS document] should not be ignored. But, I will say that J.G. Ballard [especially Concrete Island, Highrise, and Crash] has been a lasting influence on me that outstrips all of the others. His calm brilliant sentences gave a kind of meditative quality to his insurgent and critical radicalness. Although I sense it has been a cumulative gathering and I could not have ended up where I am now without all of the others… I could probably easily name many others and will no doubt kick myself for being so ungrateful as to forge key influences.
John Wisniewski: Did you meet Allen Ginsberg, bart? Was he an influence on your writing?
bart plantenga: Yes, I did meet him – several times but it never led to any interesting conversations. But that’s because I have big problems with top-down hero-worship-type meetings and have always avoided meeting famous people who have inspired me. I remember meeting Patti Smith in Amsterdam and saying: “I really like your stuff. [Smile].” She responded saying: “You look like a rock guitarist.” And she handed me a “Rock n Roll Nigger” guitar pick and with that managed to escape our awkward moment.
I wrote quite a bit about Ginsberg for About.com at the request of Bob Holman, in a piece called “Encounters with Ginz”. I didn’t pretend to know him but did try to analyze the public persona as a gateway to personal empowerment – to get what’s coming to him after years of being denied that as a nerd or bookworm or gay man or poet or weirdo…. I can’t say I don’t relate to that feeling.
Sure, Allen inspired me, at least the early work. VERY much. The hypnotic incantatory aspects of Howl & Kaddish – even part of The Fall of America. More recently I was inspired by another aspect of Ginsberg, his ability to bring out the best qualities in poets who are not always so adept at social situations or presenting their talents. This became clear while writing my 2 yodel books in which I learned that Ginsberg brought out Peter Orlovsky to highlight his wonderful yodeling on Blake’s “Nurse’s Song,” which is rendered beautiful by Ginsberg’s incantations but even more so by Orlovsky’s yodeling, which, come to think of it, seems very appropriate-organic for these early Blake poems, which almost seem to have been written in the thrall of mountains and wind and yodeling.
In 1984, Ginsberg’s ability to agent the interests of others no doubt helped bring Orlovsky to a wild event: Nam June Paik’s video “Good Morning, Mr. Orwell” [ a charmingly dated, live simulcast between NY, Paris & San Francisco. It starred many greats: Merce Cunningham, Laurie Anderson, John Cage, Peter Gabriel, Astor Piazolla, Thompson Twins, and Joseph Beuys, among others. But it was the indomitable yodeling of Peter Orlovsky with Ginsberg accompanying him on Orlovsky’s yodeling and banjo-playing on his “Feeding Them Raspberries to Grow” that steals the show and saves the broadcast – courtesy, no doubt, of Ginsberg’s brokering his friend’s appearance.
Further, Ginsberg’s notion that words written on a page and then delivered incantatory style as a counter-measure to state terror was a strong influence on me becoming a writer. That he overcame the marginalization that poetry endures and became a voice far beyond the parameters of ordinary talented poets was fascinating. That he used his energy and fame to push a positive agenda along is admirable.
Later, 1980s work, however, was pretty much pale self-plagiarism. But, yes, I admired the bald-bold publicness of his sex-Buddha-as-political-activist stance. I envied his bardic qualities of those incantatory Whitman-as-grandfatherly-influence poems, the I-am-free-of-inhibition and I will speak of inspiration as the counterweight to official and unofficial cultural repression of self, of joy, of possibility…
John Wisniewski: Could you tell us about writing “Beer Mystic”, bart? What inspired these writings?
bart plantenga: The writing of BEER MYSTIC was an incredibly impulsive and propulsive event into which I was pulled. You know like when you are a kid and your mother suddenly grabs you by the hand to drag you without explanation through town to escape something or someone. I wrote the first really rough draft of it in a couple of insane days of delirious sleeplessness brought on by the effects of my disciplined attempts to eliminate sleep from my daily routine. No, this was serious – or delirious. It sat me down and forced me to write it.
I had just broken up with my artist-stripper wife – or rather she with me – after an astonishingly intense cross-country trip where, in the shadow of the Cadillac Ranch, a 1974 sculpture by Ant Farm consisting of Cadillacs half-buried, nose first in a corn field outside of Amarillo, Texas she had had a fit of Biblical stature and then mere hours later, we made up under the disappointingly silent and non-twirling fiddle at the Bob Wills Monument in Turkey, Texas with a bottle of Jim Beam and some kind of fries in a waxy paper sack.
After we broke up I went on a long jag of self-revulsion cum self-rediscovery and somewhere discovered a secret Bardo, entry into an intermediate state, something weird in a kind of Don Juan alternative universe where the whole world was alight with the quirky-askew vision one gets from a diet of too many beers and too little sleep and ultimately too much – or just the right amount – of aimlessness. Although aimful in the sense of walking as meditation or as a way to shed and dodge the noise and clutter NYC would like to dump on you 24 hours of every day. I found myself wandering beyond where my poetry dared to tread at weird hours, all hours, sometimes with paper sacks holding/hiding medium-priced beers and at some odd moment I was standing under a beaming streetlight when suddenly this light just went out, maybe with a bit of a brittle pop sound effect. So you make some kind of mental note of that in some not always accessible part of your brain. And then it happens again and again until you realize you are starting to imagine [which crystallizes into realization] that YOU yourself are perhaps the cause of these outages. Explaining this to anyone was hazardous to what little self-esteem you may be able to stir up so, instead, it became remixed as fiction.
What kind of crazy symmetry has brain to beer to light created. Some devil’s triangle I managed to draw. In any case, I began to write some of the events down in situ like while I was standing there or while one or other of the womanly characters had retreated from their saggy couch bed to the bathroom.
But as the “I” became a kind of ulterior ambassador the writer offered the self up to the insatiable needs of the story. I was in perpetual motion to avoid the encumbrances of reality to stick and burden… and finally wrote an early detailed draft in the south of France in an idyllic place with none of the harassing and hyped urban dissonance that some describe as excitement. In the middle of a beautiful and bucolic nowhere, ultimately writing a novel that skirts the rough edges of where real and surreal are folded over into one another. But the more I wrote, the more details begged and demanded to be brought to the fore – and the more I needed to include it all.
But as JG Ballard was then already noting: fiction that takes places in a not-quite real reality where the natural veers into the supernatural and where the other is disguised inside the familiar is seldom taken seriously in a literary world obsessed with finding oneself in everyone else’s fictions as if the author must vow to stay in reality’s backyard… and just to make sure, the overseers of culture have installed an electronic dog fencing system on the periphery.
Many of the book’s characters live in a state of post-accommodation: their home base consists of a PO Box, an answering machine, a forwarding address in a time before the Internet. Hobos in their own neighborhoods, where permanence has become nothing more than something previous generations talk about.
The rewriting of BEER MYSTIC has a long history of versions, adjustments, echoes, overlappings, parallel publication of different versions of the same chapters…. To put an end to this sampling of itself, its onanistic self-cannibalization would be for some bold publisher to actually take it out of its hypnagogic transitory state, unstable, missing an electron, displaying a loose screw state and giving it some printerly, ISBN, and officially reviewed and catalogued state.
But until its imminent adoption [before my passing hopefully] BEER MYSTIC continues to exist as a mosaic of scattered pieces, as a shaky underlit movie, as a rumor, as the Beer Mystic Global Pub Crawl, as a kind of sacred cow from which you once in awhile carve off a flank, round or shank – and as the editors of Rant and Pink Pages once separately declared: The most Famous Novel Never Published.
John Wisniewski: What inspired your book Wiggling Wishbone – was it written as a kind of modern “noir” fiction?
bart plantenga: I am trying to remember where the title came from. It probably had to do with women, sex – somewhere in that pubis constellation – you know the general suggestive shape of a wishbone. The stories emerged from an inarticulated discomfort with standard bourgeois stories that must have all of the elements to be considered a “real” story, stories about stuff that happens in a way that simply mirrors rather than illuminates.
I noticed that the standard way of reading, which is best illustrated by the person running his finger under each successive line, eyes following finger, absorbing words in a logical linear pattern. This is not how I read, I looked here, hovered, floated, retreated to footnotes, allowed distraction to lead me and in this way my mind created a remix of the original text. My mind predated how computers were to scramble standard manners of reading later on. That I only became aware that I may be dyslexic [which in my time went undetected] came after my daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia. I noticed in reading with her or teaching her to read and watching how she attacked a text that it was very similar to how I “read”.
This became reflected in how I wrote and told stories. [Not that I was conscious of ANY of this while it was going on – it is only now that you have asked me that it has become clear, so thanks.] The segues between lines and ideas are not always soothing or logical but somehow it works. Extraordinary times called for a language and approach that transcended Raymond Carver and the schools of c normalcy. It was a call to arms [via DNA determined predilections] as an ally of people like Pynchon but even more so JG Ballard and the like to write our ways out of memoir, not to forget the personal but make it do something beyond recomposting/recomposing nostalgia and naval/navel-gazing. The standard sentence structure leading up to paragraphs that led to the inevitable denouement were all so prescribed [predestiny with the manufacturers disingenuous promise of free will] and so I [or my internal hard drive] decided to take the already written departures from standard plot and write more of them to create not so much a manifesto but a new map to old problems and disasters.
The “stories” were an accumulation of various struggles with thought crunched through my – and now I was noticing it – distinctly “other” way of seeing things. In Wiggling Wishbone:
“Womanizer” was a pre-internet call for people to buy into a novel. So a story as an investment op.
“Forensic Science Verifies Auto-Erotica” was my attempt to write a Ballard story. You gotta imitate before you can move on.
“The GG-1 Series of Model Poses” was originally a pamphlet that crunched the political with the insidious underside of sexuality via a catalog.
“Woman with One Too Many faces” is about an unusual bordello which features women who have lost parts of their anatomies in accidents. The chief character here is a woman who lost her face and is able to as a clean slate recreate the faces of famous women so that men can sleep with famous actresses and the like.
“Beer Mystic’s Drinks” fanciful cocktails for a new age.
“Erection Set” is a crude DIY attempt to create a penile Frankenstein…
“Psycho-Geo-Cato Travels” Consumer critique via a travel magazine article documenting the “I” character’s journey through a mail order catalog.
“International Sections 1-9” Political intrigue as a result of misreadings of vague and confusing signals.
“Hitler’s Dog” Hitler examined from a canine’s point of view.
“Beat the Dutch Now” Taking pejorative and offensive remarks about the Dutch made [mostly] by the Brits over time and taking them a step further.
“I Had Sex With Andy Warhol” tries to satirize the entire genre of celebrity and the celebrity [product] industry.
“The Suppression of Mirth” is a somewhat serious essay about the revolutionary side of laughter.
“Wet Dreams of the Pope” returns to the explosive mix of politics and sex with as backdrop the Vatican, the assassination of John Paul 1 and papal dreams of a sexy mermaid.
That Autonomedia was interested in my approach bode well. I helped design the entire thing which I insisted have many illustrations, many by artist friends, some of whom are renowned by now. The book got great reviews everywhere and yet every positive review was just another shovel full of dirt tossed upon the belly of my cheap casket already lying in its grave.
Mark McCawley: Almost any reader of your writing, particularly Beer Mystic, cannot help but notice your long association with small press magazines (Rant, Pink Pages, Red Tape, Black Cat 115, etc.) and the seminal Semiotext[e] anthologies from Autonomedia since the late 1980s. What is your view of small press generally, bart?
bart plantenga: If it wasn’t for small indie mags and the alternative press I would have been on a planet with no source of oxygen. It is our oxygen. They, of course, arose because the straight mags continue to ignore many of us and them. Until, of course, you are a brand name and then most of the brand names usually abandon the smaller presses [however, not Burroughs or Bukowski, among others] because they have now been anointed by straight media as this year’s model. What I saw in those early mags was an entirely different world from that of the sanctioned magazines. This is all a generalization, of course, because there are plenty of established magazines that try really hard to remain relevant or open. There are also many small presses and zines that are arrogant way beyond their performance or reputations. I can get back to those.
First the good news: making friends and meeting comrades via these circles including not only Red Tape, Sensitive Skin, Beet, Smegma, No Zone, LCD, Smoke Signals, Public Illumination, but also many lesser known, ephemeral, temporary zines that blossomed like the early spring daffodils and crocuses and then disappear into the soil again. I have appeared in I am afraid to say about 400 publications, of course, many of them repeatedly so that is not exactly accurate. Like in Public Illumination some 25 times [I am guessing]. What true alt.lit creates is an alternative plane on which issues are addressed, on a level that the establishment is oblivious to or has no time to address because they have reached a plateau of acceptance and largesse that allows them to ignore issues popularly perceived as landmines for sponsors, advertisers, the anointed.
This scenario reminds me of a few incidents in the history of another alt.consumer universe called indie rock which established itself in opposition to corporate-lapdog rock music, which was deaf to new sounds. In the beginning it was more creative, out of the box, bolder, insouciant, open etc. Much of contemporary mainstream rock today is made up of bands that got their early fanbase and popularity as indie rock brandnames including Green Day and REM. Both owe a good part of their early success to indie and college radio [for better or worse] and yet, after they became too-big-to-fail award-winning bands with brand recognition, they are known to ramble on in their acceptance speeches in specious music awards ceremonies, thanking commercial/corporate radio stations and DJs for their success, stations that pretty much played these bands after they had already proven themselves in the market. In these same speeches they ignore the indie stations and that is just the survival of the twatist. And that can probably be applied to the writerly arts as well.
There are, however, times when the mind doesn’t click, is on this twitchy-corner-of-the-eye, spinning beachball state; you’ve forgotten your mantra, your out of calvados, and you don’t feel like taking a walk. It is at times like this that making a list best serves as a surrogate for meditation. In 2011, I made a list of mags I had appeared in:
Actuel, Alles Moet Kapot, Alley Tracts, Ambit, American Heritage, American Lawyer, American Music Center Journal, Angbase, Beet, Big Dick Review, Bil Bo K, Black Flag, Brooklyn Rail, Carolina Quarterly, Chanticleer, Cross, Cups, The Curse, Detroit Metro Times, Downtown, Earshot Journal, East Village Eye, Exquisite Corpse, Fiction International: Terrorism[s], The Frank, Frank Paris, Fringecore, The Guardian, Highlife, Journal of Irreproducible Results, Instant Classics, Issues, Jack , Lowest Common Denominator, Lusty Mover, Massacre, Mennonite Historical Review, Michigan Today, Mississippi Review, Murtaugh, National Poetry Magazine of the LES, Nice Review of the Popular Arts, 1-4, Nomad, No Zone, Notable Notes, Nova Magazine, Paramour, Paris Free Voice, Paris Passion, Paris Purple Prose, Parisiana, Passages, Perfect Sound Forever, Pink Pages, Public Illumination, Real Poetik, Red Tape, Rundbrief, Sandbox, Sarasota Arts Review, Selah, Semiotext(e) SF, Semiotext(e) USA, Sensitive Skin, The Singer, Slipstream, Sloth Arts, Snake, 38 Under Par & 11 Holes-in-One, 3 AM, The Times of London, Tout Reste A Faire, Urban Graffiti, Vokno, West Coast Magazine, Yang, Zing…
It reminded me of how we cross the river using these mags as stepping stones. Supportive, engaged, sloppy, enthusiastic, enterprising….
Some of these mags are earnest or ugly as shit. Sometimes this is a punk and anti-establishment gesture, sometimes they are clueless. Some are as marginal and talentless as — anyway, but at least they breathe life and are out there in a DIY no-budget, pilfered printing, saddle stitch, hands-on, face-to-face and consignment manner but until the blossoming of online e-zines and literary blogs and such, these were the lifeblood of hope, dreams, and ambitions.
What has happened since: every editor is now online either doing a dual-zine or a POD or a sole-online lit type zine. This is great. It is easier on writers – no forking over SASE money and waiting months to hear back, although I am afraid that the passage of time is probably an interesting component or dimension of publishing. Getting an acceptance letter with a return address and handwriting from another part of the world had its own aesthetic value. Today’s instant upload and instant gratification leads to a diminishment of value and focus. It’s tree-friendliness comes at the expense of a work of art that needs its tangibility to gain its full fragrance – e.g., when you buy clothes you still want to feel the fabric to check how it feel against your skin.
All that said – and my gratitude is IMMENSE for all these zines and the editors who performed labors of love – really, being the editor of a number of legendarily obscure and uninfluential zines such as Car Sick, Cab Art [not as ed], Darkroom Techniques, the somewhat self-delusionally legendary Nice magazine in NYC, among others – I know all too well that the payback in any currency is limited to posterity and only then after you are way beyond any kind of cool do you get to rehash this stuff. I could start another gripe on how indie bookstores treat indie mag publishers with their years of deferred payments of issues sold – I could name a few legendary NYC bookstores.
There is a new line of hyper-hybrid zines and publishing houses that seem to combine grit with slick, earnest with MBA + internet marketing smarts and some of them feel, look and sound great – like true extensions of the original zines. Some of the [especially current] zines are pretentious as fuck, however. Unironic, unself-effacing, walking, talking social-networking satires. Some are tasteful like a sloppy genuflect to the impulse buying section in the New Museum or Boss Megastore.
Others behave like self-promo platforms. No problem there; the problems start with the impersonal, new handy and totally author-unfriendly and impersonal automated submission software such as Storytracker. You can even track your submissions. Problem is many of them don’t ever get back to you on any level to even put the final period at the end of the final sentence of your hope. There is no resolution: you are not rejected, not accepted, not sure if anyone ever really got your submission, read it or reacted. And to attempt a personal interaction via email works sometimes but mostly not.
So although I never received any vibe other than total haughty indifference from some of the bigger names: Paris Review, Granta, Evergreen Review [until THE VERY LAST issue!], Glitter Train, New Yorker, among others, some of these new upstart and other-thinking literary mags often do NOT do much better on the author-as-human-respect scale. I have encountered countless occasions where earnest submissions have disappeared into a void of editorial too-busyness with of course some wonderful exceptions like Unlikely Stories, Merida: In Other Words, Urban Graffiti, Sensitive Skin, Smoke Signals, Blues.GR, Work Literary Magazine.
Mark McCawley: Exactly when did your work as a pirate DJ begin, bart, and why? How much does being a pirate DJ work into your persona as a writer?
bart plantenga: Well, I began at indie radio in 1986 at WFMU, after grunting there, doing gofer work and helping edit the groundbreaking zine Lowest Common Denominator I began doing beloved/dreaded overnights: six-hour marathons in creative DJing and managing to somehow stay awake – like the audio equivalent of running 2 marathons … I truly took to the DIY, freeform ethos and when I moved to Paris fit in well at Radio Libertaire, radio station of The Anarchist Federation, and back to WFMU and then onto two legendary squat-pirate-free radio stations in Amsterdam; Radio Patapoe and Radio 100.
Radio is now about sound and maximized mixing in new quarters, new digs, new configurations and strategies. I did the low-fi squat thing for 15 years, building, fixing, maintaining dank basement studios, working with 1960s amputated analog equipment, hand-me-down computers, turntables with loose or MISSING tone arms, cassette decks that eat tapes, missing cables, cables gnawed thru by rats, vinyl rescued from dumpsters, mixing boards with more than half the channels shorted out by spilled beers, etc. I don’t know if the anxiety and quick-fix mentality during radio shows keeps you sharp and young OR exhausted, stressed and aging.
So now I do Wreck this Mess DIY style using VERY simple software but doing the mixes I have always wanted to do: the segue, mash-up, bleeding, commingling of sounds, inputs, and sources to create elaborate nonlinear sound narratives. I was interviewed a few years ago by Ryan Cooper at About.com An Interview with Pirate Radio DJ Bart Plantenga, which goes into the basic adventure story.
Mark McCawley: The Beer Mystic, essentially a novel in the tradition of the New York City novel, based in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the late 80s and early 90s before the great clean up, or Disneyification of New York, what do you think will come of the tradition of the great New York City novel?
bart plantenga: Beer Mystic takes cues from Ed Sanders’ Tales of Beatnik Glory, William Kotzwinkle’s The Fan Man, but also a lot of the poetry set in NYC and André Breton’s Nadja, Hendrik de Leeuw’s Sinful Cities of the Western World, Debord, Kingsley Amis’s Ginger Man, but also the Fugs and New York jazz.
I have mixed feelings about the many websites, the ambulance chasers of history lamenting the closing of each one the legendary sites that are haled as important mainly because we got brained there, drunk there, illuminated there. People and hipsters are now lamenting the closing of places they once ate breakfast in on Sunday mornings as a sign of … decadence and a leap into the inauthentic veneer of hyper-gleaming-marketing. It has always been this way: NYC has no respect for any history unless money can be made with it and preferably after it has been torn down so that some crooked developer can make a million and at the same time the relics of say CBGB’s can be carted off a redisplayed in haut cathedrals of sanctioned art forever – the legendary bathrooms of CBGB’s. We lament the closing of countless “institutions” but care little that those holes that lasted say 25 years that we turned into temples via our nostalgia-tinged glasses had replaced something else that had also been there for 30 years and had to close as a victim of a previous generation of gentrifiers [US]. To embrace the squalor and misery that defined the late 1970s to mid-1980s is a process of self-heroicization as if we were avant pioneers of the proliferation of extreme activities television.
Some places, bars, toilets, clubs were so bereft of basic human respect, so devoid of any attempt at basic human dignity that we converted them into jungle mythologies: we need all this detritus to bounce off of and shine and survive and live and sell to retell it. A bit of suffering is not bad, essential actually, do some time, experience poverty firsthand and daily on the streets as well. Learn some economics on an empty stomach, learn to DIY-improvise on that level but most of that pioneering has become a kind of mediated, self-glorifying [and sometimes ironic] simulacrum in which people act as if they are undergoing the beatnik, jazz and ghetto poverty but it is all a selfie-dominated reality show where the hipsters make as if they are engaging in essential communication, strike all of the right poses but are not really learning how to stand up on 2 feet. They know how to pitch their artistic product but not how to actually manufacture it. Today’s hipsteristic tendencies are like assembling Ikea products using the handy enclosed instructions and then re-editing the footage to make it look like authentic DIY handmade craftsmanship using a downloadable app.
I saw a spot-on Simpsons episode with daughter Paloma just the other day which takes on the whole hipster hipper-than-thou obsessive awareness for appearances confused for genuine substance and confusing principled political-envirnomental stances for entries on your CV. Principle becomes attitude and substance becomes style becomes consumable fashion and the humorless aping of Society of the Spectacle, unironically acting out the very warning signals spelled out in Debord’s book.
But people don’t want to bother with any past unless they can parasitically suck something of it dry. The past and the fact that most of the NEW art activities, conceits, street art styles have all already been done twice before. By ignoring all of that or appropriating it without homage is a way to erase the annoying tendency of the past to point out that there is nothing new under the sun and for the market to be able to sell the image to the young that will sufficiently enamor themselves to the heroes they need to portray themselves as requires a clean slate as if this generation is inventing spraypaint on walls, inventing down & out poetry. And yet the authentic, the resistant, the local Banksys, the local Kupferbergs are still able to somehow survive the inundation of obliterating over-documentation and hyper-awareness and it is our purpose to reward their unique, untrendy outsider visions of illumination.
The story of the trend-friendly, seeming warm-cool, family-run publisher sensitive to style, taste, bold works of literary merit, etc. and how after 36 months of having me wait to hear the decision of this boutique publisher who functions on a no-wasted bullets policy on possibly publishing Beer Mystic without the slightest sense of shame, a need to offer a quick apology, a personal response to my biannual email explaining the situation, or ever responding to my letter in which I enclosed a recycled crushed beer can found in the street will have to wait until it has a happy or hilarious ending.
Wigs off to the following in appreciation of the spirit, resistance, collaboration, enthusiasm, perseverance and fictional nourishment they have offered in various measures over time or during a certain corner of time: Black Sifichi, Mike Golden, Eddie Woods, Jose Padua, Ron Kolm, Michael Carter, Jill Rapaport, Zuade Kaufman, Karen Lillis, Bradlay Wise, Mark Boswell, De Player, Sharon Mesmer, Bonny Finberg, Paulette Powell, Dave Mandl, Deborah Pintonelli, Marc Sloan, Mark McCawley, Lydia Tomkiw [RIP], Su Byron, Grrrt, the Vanilla Bean [RIP], Matty Jankowski, Bob Holman, Torridzone Igloo, Lori Ellison, Karen Garthe, Jim Feast, Jim Fleming, Laurent Diouf, Chris Potash, Rene van Peer, Francesca Palazzola, Roma Napoli, Martin Josefski, Buddy Kold, Christine Bullard [RIP], Maguy B., Valerie H., Rob Weisberg, Rich Dana @ Obsolete and most of all Nina Ascoly and Paloma Jet, and some others lost to semi-permanent or self-preservational amnesia.UG
• Contemplating Charles Bukowski’s First Kiss appeared in In Other Words: Merida and Bukowski Anthology [Silver Birch Press].
• BEER MYSTIC is currently featured in an online experiment called the BEER MYSTIC Global Pub Crawl, where one can read the entire novel online by hopping across literary sources from URL to URL, city to city until the globe is circumnavigated.
The movie BEER MYSTIC: LAST DAY ON THE PLANET Read Beer Drink Novel.
• Wiggling Wishbone [Autonomedia, 1995]: short stories illustrated by top artists and international illustrators
• Spermatagonia: The Isle of Man [Autonomedia, 2004]: a novella about a man who plots his own total disappearance.
• Paris Scratch [Barncott Press, 2012] 365 views of Paris
• NY Sin Phoney in Face Flat Minor [Barncott Press, 2012] 365 views of NYC
• Yodel in Hi-Fi, From Kitsch Folk to Contemporary Electronica [UWP, 2013]
• YODEL-AY-EE-OOOO: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World [Routledge, 2004]
•YODEL IN HIFI TOP 50+ Youtube channel.
bart plantenga is an author, DJ @ Wreck This Mess, & moving & stationary image manipulator. He lives & dreams in Amsterdam with partner Nina and daughter Paloma Jet.
John Wisniewski lives in Long Island, New York. He is a freelance writer and has written for Paraphilia Magazine, Grey Lodge Review/Aliterati, Horror Garage and other publications.
Mark McCawley is the editor and publisher of Urban Graffiti.