Next Tuesday the store is gonna get blitzed by Mike Edison and his dangerous mercenary band. I highly recommend you throw yourself into the fray. He’s presenting his brand new memoir You Are a Complete Disappointment plus music (including a ding-dang punk theremin, y’all) and who knows what’s gonna happen? He’s just not one to sit up there and drone thru a “short excerpt” and a few lame jokes. The guy has done it all, seen it all, and he’s got the energy to power a small solar system.
Anyway, here’s your short intro…
Your new book You Are a Complete Disappointment is unlike your other books. You’ve written about music, porn, politics, free speech, wrestling – and a lot else besides – and now you have this brutal, but very funny, personal memoir about your relationship with your dad. Why write this now?
The title comes from my father’s last words to me – literally, from his death bed, in this crazy scene in a hospital room, on Father’s Day, no less… he called me to his bedside and said, “There is something I want to tell you… you are a complete disappointment.” And I think it was about five seconds after he said that I knew I had to write the book.
It’s funny now – YOU ARE A COMPLETE DISAPPOINTMENT!!!!! But tragedy plus time is the formula for comedy, right? I mean, I got stabbed in a White Castle restaurant in the 1980s and it sucked then, but now I tell the story and it kills.
Anyway, he was so rough on me. It really got into my head. This is the story of how I came to be the person I wanted to be, not the person he thought I should be. And I realized that not only did I have a positive message, but it was so fucking fraught with suburban dysfunction it would make a great book, this tragic-comic snapshot of fucked up families – and I could color it with what was so great about growing up in the 1970s and 80s – how I found punk rock and David Bowie and comic books and horror movies and splatter paintings and all these things I loved, in stark contrast to my dad, who was kind of a prick and couldn’t even find pleasure in the simplest things – a nice day, a cold beer, whatever. And I knew I wasn’t alone – a lot of people I know had parents who told them that they’d never make it, or weren’t as smart as their brothers or sisters, especially anyone who was creative. I knew this story was going to resonate. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s really about being happy.
I watched a great interview you recently did with Bob Andelman on Mr Media You were talking about this huge, ridiculous fight your parents had in a pizza joint – how it ruined what could have been a perfect family outing. “These simple pleasures rule. No matter how successful you are, no matter how much money you make, you cannot improve on meatball pizza, root beer and Elton John on the jukebox.” What do you think keeps folks from getting that, from enjoying those moments?
Because they don’t choose happiness as the preferred default position. Sometimes it is that fucking simple. My parents were miserable because they lived in fear of having fun, fear of letting go, of losing control. They worried all the time about calories and too much salt, or if their kids weren’t going to be perfect. Everything had to be perfect. You know, some people order out Chinese food and it comes cold, and it is a complete fucking catastrophe. That’s no way to live. Me, I heat it up, and next time I call someone else.
I don’t want to get too Zen about this, but you have got to bend in the wind. My parents didn’t bend, they snapped. The irony I guess is that they were always trying to teach me some kind of lesson, but they could have learned a lot from me. I don’t freak, I don’t fret, I don’t sweat the small stuff. Life is hard enough without having a fucking coronary because you got a run in your stocking.
Anyway, the point is, you have to choose happiness, and you have to know that no matter how much money you have, you cannot make the sun shine brighter, and it doesn’t make you any better, and seriously, how can you improve on pizza and root beer and Elton John on the juke box? Maybe your version is oysters and beer and Miles Davis, but when it’s in front of you, enjoy it. It’s a fucking blessing. My father never got that, he was always looking over his shoulder because he cared more about what other people thought than being in the moment and having fun.
You talk about having to find forgiveness and compassion in dealing with folks like your dad and the kid who beat you up and stole your jacket. You even quote Jesus from the cross “they know not what they do”. Sounds beautiful, but that’s a tall order. How do you do that?
I’m laughing because I forgot I quoted Jesus – I grew up in a suburban Jewish family that was terrified of gentile culture – but sometimes He is a great source. Forgiveness is tough, I mean, if you hit me on one cheek, I will fucking clock you on the other. I punch back. But my father was a tragic figure and deserves my compassion – he had all of this anger, and the kid who beat me up in grade school, too, they came from these loveless places. In some respect I did as well… I dunno, I don’t want to sound too much like a hippie, but love always seemed like the better solution.
And I was playing in bands at an early age, and that is great because if you are a dick or a bully, no one is going to want to play with you. At any rate, if you grew up getting beaten up, you know how much it sucked and you would run towards the alternative. Kindness. Not being a dick. Forgiving those who are awful to us takes work, but you have to remember that forgiveness isn’t for them – it is for YOU – it means you get to untie yourself from the anger. Being angry with someone puts them in control. That’s the lesson I had to learn.
I’m guessing that, in a sense, you wrote You Are A Complete Disappointment for yourself, but do you have a specific audience in mind? Who should read this book?
Everyone in the world. Everyone who has a family. I’m aiming wide with this one.
For your book events, you don’t usually just show up, read, sign and leave, right? You actually like to *do* things with your readings. What’s the thinking behind that? I mean, why not just mail it in, like a lot of authors do?
Mail it in?? Holy shit, that is not the way I do things. My heroes are James Brown and Iggy Pop – Duke Ellington, the classiest man who ever lived. And I came up as a fan first, and then working in the professional wrestling business, I learned that we live at the whim of our fans – and the GOLDEN RULE IS NEVER BE BORING, TREAT YOUR AUDIENCE WITH RESPECT, TAKE NOTHING FOR GRANTED.
I am lucky, because I know most writers probably aren’t great readers, and I am used to being in front of audiences, because I have been a musician for so long. Let’s be honest – author events can really suck. I mean, people see “READING” and they run for the hills. If someone wrote a great book, that doesn’t mean you have to come hear them bore you from a podium, just because that is how the book business is supposed to be. If I weren’t confident in my ability to tell stories, and make people laugh and sometimes cry, I would hire an actor to do these gigs. It’s pretentious to bore people with your art. I won’t do it.
[ –> Literary Mayhem <–]
I got the idea to bring my book to life – what I call LITERARY MAYHEM – from the records Jack Kerouac made with Steve Allen – cool beatnik readings with this great music… I started with some bongos and ended up with a band, and I had all these great people I knew jumping on board. Jon Spencer, from the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, has been amazing, creating terrific soundtracks for me. My pianist Mickey Finn played with the Miracles – as in SMOKEY ROBINSON AND THE MIRACLES! He is amazing and really loyal to what I am trying to do. Gary Lucas who played with Capt Beefheart is on board – I cant believe how lucky I am to have him. Last time I was at The Last Bookstore we had Howie Pyro, who was fresh from Danzig’s band, and is now back doing D-Generation, one of the best rocknroll bands to come out of New York in the last 20 years.
Everyone knew that I was determined to turn the concept of a “reading” on its head, and they got behind it. These are very intelligent guys, and they want to do something unpredictable, although in one sense, what I am doing is the oldest art form of them all. I am a troubadour. I come to your town, and I tell stories. I am so proud of my books – and you can read those at home by yourself, and I promise never to disappoint you, I work really hard to make every sentence count, but when you come see me, I have to throw it extra hard. I don’t do boring.
By the way, this time at The Last Bookstore I have some great local cats playing with me… people are going to be very surprised. I’m very lucky, there is a lot of enthusiasm for what I’m doing. The biggest challenge is explaining it – but when people see it, they leave very happy.
What’s your history with the theremin? Where does the theremin fit in the pantheon of punk instrumentation?
Come out and you can tell me yourself. I promise it is set for STUN, never for KILL, haha…
See what I mean? This dude is awesome. Tuesday, 5/17 @ 7pm – free, of course – buy your book here and get it signed, or just come soak up the radioactivity.