Sunday, October 26, 2008
  Real-life horror tale #2

At this time last year I told the real-life horror story of how I became trapped in an unusual freak accident when one of my college instructors thought it would be fun to start pushing me out a second-story window.

Now Halloween is almost here, so time for another real-life horror story…

When I lived in Cambridge during the 1970s, I learned that comic art dealer Jerry Weist and his girlfriend Cathy were not happy with their living situation near Harvard Square. It was a small room in an apartment they had to share with a group of rowdy students. I told them that there might be a place in the building where I was living just off Massachusetts Avenue.

I explained that my landlady was on the first floor, I was on the second floor, and that perhaps the landlady could clear out her storeroom on the third floor. If so, then they could rent that space from her and pay me monthly for the use of my kitchen and bathroom. Jerry and Cathy came over, met the landlady, and surprisingly, everyone involved came to an immediate agreement with no problems.

I then realized the kitchen oven would have to be repaired. I never used it because the oven flame would somehow extinguish itself after a few minutes, yet gas would continue to spew forth. I called a repair service, and someone came over to fix it. When he left, I gave the repair bill to the landlady. A few days later, Jerry and Cathy moved in, and the living arrangement seemed to work to everyone’s mutual satisfaction.

One day, Cathy experienced a close call; she had been drinking beer and eating potato chips when she discovered a portion of a razor-sharp cutting blade in the bag of potato chips. I told her about a lawyer I knew, and even though she had never put the metal in her mouth, the lawyer succeeded in getting the Borden company to send a check.

Cathy was not happy with her job and missed her friends in the Midwest. She announced she was leaving, and a week later, she moved back to Kansas. Jerry continued to live in the upstairs room and suggested that with Cathy gone, he should now pay me less rent for the kitchen and bathroom. I was surprised by this, said no to the idea, and he continued to pay the same amount.

The headphones for my stereo had an extremely long wire. I came back to the apartment one afternoon and noticed that Jerry was obviously listening to my stereo, since the wire ran all the way into the hallway and up the staircase to the third floor. Instead of complaining about this, I went to lie down because I suddenly felt quite sleepy.

The next thing I knew, I was being awakened by Jerry, who was shaking me and saying loudly, “Gas… gas!” Obviously, the repairman had done nothing to fix the oven; it was still a lethal instrument. Jerry had been cooking something and then had gone upstairs, unaware that the entire second floor was filling with gas from the defective oven. By the time he came down the stairs to check on his food, I had already passed out, and my bedroom had become a death chamber.

While he went around opening windows, I managed to stagger down the stairs and out the front door, nearly collapsing on the sidewalk where I stood inhaling fresh air until my head cleared. Whenever I recall this incident, I ponder the alternative endings. One, of course, being the possibility that Jerry never saw me in the bedroom and thus I was never awakened. The other is like the final scene of Fassbinder’s The Marriage of Maria Braun when Maria (Hanna Schygulla) returns home, lights a match and her entire house explodes.

What are the odds of getting gassed twice? Some years later, I was in New York working at DC Comics and living in Queens. I had been told that the previous tenant had a job with the Brooklyn gas company. Perhaps that explained why the apartment had no stove when I moved in; he had simply disconnected the gas and taken the stove when he left. One day the elderly landlord's son came by to notify me of a rent increase. I countered with the suggestion that he supply a stove. He agreed, and soon a brand new stove was installed. It worked perfectly. Then I noticed an oddity: no matter how much gas I used, no bills arrived. It was somewhat reminiscent of that 1941 William Saroyan play, The Beautiful People, about an entire family living on monthly pension checks mistakenly addressed to a dead man.

Months passed with no gas bills. One day, after noticing a gas truck parked in front, I opened my door and heard the gas man talking to the family on the floor above as he turned on their gas. He finished the job, walked past my door on the way down and in less than a minute I became aware that gas was pouring into my room, obviously triggered by whatever pipes he had opened for the floor above. Was it so much gas that it could be ignited by the pilot light on the stove? I had to get it fixed before he drove away. I ran down the stairs, out the front door, across the sidewalk, slammed into the side of his truck and explained in a rush what was happening. He stared at me in disbelief and then wordlessly studied his paperwork as I kept babbling. Then he slowly got out of the truck and went upstairs. When he made some adjustments, the flow of gas ceased. After calling into his headquarters, he turned and scowled at me, a look suggesting that I was somehow responsible, and said, "Okay, buddy, that's it. This won't be retroactive, but from now on, you're going to be billed. Got that, pal?"

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Friday, October 17, 2008
  Sax by Sala

Control click heading above to hear "The Secret Universe" by Diatonis.

Our pre-Halloween warm-up continues with more Richard Sala illustrations from Doctor Sax and the Great World Snake. See previous post.

Sala was born in Oakland and grew up in Chicago where his father was an antiques dealer. Charles Addams, Lee Brown Coye and Chester Gould were all influences on Sala. In a 2006 interview with Logan Kaufman, one reads between the lines to find that twisted aspects of Sala's art can be traced back to his childhood with an abusive father:

My father was not a happy man. He was angry and irrational and would often terrorize me and my brother and sister with violence or threats of violence. This was the mid-1960s, and he was an "old school" first generation Sicilian with what they used to call "a temper," so disciplining kids by hitting them was not as foreign a concept as it is now, perhaps. I got hit with all kinds of things -- belts, hairbrushes, pieces of wood, books... but even in my high school a few years later kids would get spanked with a paddle in front of the class if they offended the teacher in some way.... It was a different era.

Anyway, I guess you
can say that my relationship with my father did mess me up a bit, because, although there was cruelty and irrational behavior, nevertheless, my father is where I get almost all of my creative side from. He knew how to draw, which always amazed me as a kid, and he had a love and knowledge of old movies and monsters and weird popular culture stuff that has come to define who I am, too. It's very complicated -- or rather it's one for the shrinks, I guess... I remember watching cartoons with him and he was able to draw the characters that were on TV as they appeared on the screen. That impressed me, I remember. I also remember my cousins watching in awe as he drew pictures of pirates or cowboys during one summer vacation. I think maybe that's when I realized that it was considered "cool". But he wasn't schooled in art, unless it was maybe some classes due to the GI Bill after WWII. He only had an 8th grade education and had done all this macho stuff like being in a post-war motorcycle gang, ala The Wild One, and being a lumberjack in the Pacific Northwest. I saw photos of all these adventures, or I may not have believed them myself.

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Monday, October 06, 2008
  Jack Kerouac reads from Doctor Sax
Control click heading above to hear Anna Domino's haunting interpretation of "Pome on Doctor Sax".

©2008 Jack Kerouac Estate
Doctor Sax the master knower of Easter was now reduced to penury and looking at stained glass windows in old churches - His only two last friends in life, this impossibly hard life no matter under what conditions it appears, were Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, who visited him annually in his room on Third Street and cut through the fogs of evening with their heads bent ...

In 1957, Kerouac was asked what he considered his best book, and he answered, "A book called Doctor Sax,  a kind of Gothic fairy tale, a myth of puberty, about some kids in New England playing around in this empty place when a shadow suddenly comes out at them, a real shadow. A real shadow." Our pre-Halloween celebration continues with two videos which combine Kerouac's voice with photos of Lowell, the setting of Doctor Sax. The first is by Gottfried Geist, who has many other videos about writers which you can see here. (To reread Potrzebie's 2007 Halloween Celebration with the real-life horror tale "University of Horrorda," click on "horrorda" in the labels at bottom.)

Excerpt from Chapter 10 of Doctor Sax: It was in Centralville I was born, in Pawtucketville saw Doctor Sax. Across the wide basin to the hill--on Lupine Road, March 1922, at five o’clock in the afternoon of a red-all-over suppertime, as drowsily beers were tapped on Moody and Lakeview saloons and the river rushed with her cargoes of ice over reddened slick rocks, and on the shore the reeds swayed among mattresses and cast-off boots of Time, and lazily pieces of snow dropped plunk from bagging branches of black thorny oily pine in their thaw, and beneath the wet snows of the hillside receiving the sun’s lost rays the melts of winter mixed with roars of Merrimac was born. Bloody rooftop. Strange deed. All eyes I came hearing the river’s red; I remember that afternoon, I perceived it through beads hanging in a door and through lace curtains and glass of a universal sad lost redness of mortal damnation ... the snow was melting. The snake coiled in the hill not my heart.

Young Doctor Simpson who later became tragic tall and grayhaired and unloved, snapping his--"I think everything she is going to be alright, Angy," he said to my mother who’d given birth to her first two, Gerard and Catherine, in a hospital.

"Tank you Doctor Simpson, he’s fat like a tub of butter--mon ti n’ange..." Golden birds hovered over her and me as she hugged me to her breast; angels and cherubs made a dance, and floated from the ceiling with upsidedown assholes and thick folds of fat, and there was a mist of butterflies, birds, moths and brownesses hanging dull and stupid over pouting births.

More Lowell images set to this 1961 audiotape of Kerouac reading.

Another production of Doctor Sax is a CD audio drama created by Kerouac 's nephew, Jim Sampas, in 2003. Sampas based his script on Kerouac's unproduced screenplay, Doctor Sax and the Great World Snake. The release on Sampas'  independent record label, Gallery Six (named for the Six Gallery reading), consisted of two CDs and a book with the screenplay illustrated by Richard Sala. Music score by John Medeski. Cast: Robert Creeley (narration), Jim Carroll (Jackie Duluoz, Count Condu), Robert Hunter (Doctor Sax), Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Wizard), Kate Pierson (Vamp Contessa), Graham Parker (Baroque), Ellis Paul (Lousy), Bill Janovitz.

NPR: Bob Edwards interviews Jim Sampas, plus excerpts from Doctor Sax and the Great World Snake (RealPlayer).

©2008 Jack Kerouac Estate

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Sunday, October 05, 2008
  Wood Chips 5

Here are panels and sketches of Wood's Weegie and Dimentius, odd fantasy characters he created in the mid-1940s. He later drew them into a six-page story titled "Weegie". (See full story in Against the Grain.) The two panels at bottom were redrawn into the last page of that story. Click to enlarge the similar panels extracted from the end of the story. 

Exactly why Wood drew and inked these panels twice remains a mystery. Judging by his newfound lettering skills and professional polish, the "Weegie" story could have been done for a class assignment at Burne Hogarth's Cartoonists & Illustrators School or possibly created as a sample shortly after he left Hogarth's School. A classroom situation might explain why the panels were redrawn.

Should the wild "Weegie" be considered a precursor to underground comics? The freeform, free associative dialogue and captions raise a question: If Wood had not been forced to work within the conventions and restraints of the commercial comic book industry, where would his imagination have taken him during the 1950s?

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Thursday, October 02, 2008
  One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur
Control click heading above to hear Jack Kerouac at Brandeis on November 8, 1958,

Below is the trailer for Curt Worden's 98-minute documentary feature, One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur (2008).

Onscreen participants in One Fast Move or I'm Gone:
Kerouac's Big Sur include:

David Amram
Erik Bauersfeld
Carolyn Cassady
Jami Cassady
John Allen Cassady
Jay Farrar
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Sage Francis
Benjamin Gibbard
Dana Godbe
Herbert Gold
S.E. Hinton
Jack Hirschman
Robert Hunter
Joyce Johnson
Lenny Kaye
Brenda Knight
Donal Logue
Sterling Lord
Michael McClure
Bill Morgan
Aram Saroyan
Sam Shepard
Patti Smith
Amber Tamblyn
John Tytell
John Ventimiglia
Tom Waits
Diamond Dave Whitaker
Dar Williams

Jack Kerouac Canadian TV Interview

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008
  Bob Dylan Tell Tale Signs
"Only one thing I did wrong,
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long."

NPR announced it was streaming all of Bob Dylan's latest album, Tell Tale Signs, until October 7. (But it was still streaming by 10/13.) Click here.

"Mississippi" by Bob Dylan

Every step of the way, we walk the line
Your days are numbered, so are mine
Time is piling up, we struggle and we stray
We're all boxed in, nowhere to escape

City's just a jungle, more games to play
Trapped in the heart of it, tryin' to get away
I was raised in the country, I been working in the town
I been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down

Got nothing for you, I had nothing before
Don't even have anything for myself anymore
Sky full of fire, Pain pouring down
Nothing you can sell me, I'll see you around

All my powers of expression and thoughts so sublime
Could never do you justice in reason or rhyme
Only one thing I did wrong
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long

Well, the devil's in the alley, mule's in the stall
Say anything you wanna, I have heard it all
I was thinking about the things that Rosie said
I was dreaming I was sleeping in Rosie's bed

Walking through the leaves, falling from the trees
Feeling like a stranger nobody sees
So many things that we never will undo
I know you're sorry, I'm sorry too

Some people will offer you their hand and some won't
Last night I knew you, tonight I don't
I need something strong to distract my mind
I'm gonna look at you 'til my eyes go blind

Well I got here following the southern star
I crossed that river just to be where you are
Only one thing I did wrong
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long

Well my ship's been split to splinters and it's sinking fast
I'm drowning in the poison, got no future, got no past
But my heart is not weary, it's light and it's free
I've got nothing but affection for all those who sailed with me

Everybody's moving, if they ain't already there
Everybody's got to move somewhere
Stick with me baby, stick with me anyhow
Things should start to get interesting right about now

My clothes are wet, tight on my skin
Not as tight as the corner that I painted myself in
I know that fortune is waiting to be kind
So give me your hand and say you'll be mine

Well, the emptiness is endless, cold as the clay
You can always come back, but you can't come back all the way
Only one thing I did wrong
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long

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Masquerade of the albino axolotls

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is the editor of Against the Grain: Mad Artist Wallace Wood (2003), reviewed by Paul Gravett.

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