Acid Heroes

September 14, 2009

2002_11_07 Backwords on Success, Failure, Attitude

Filed under: Random Archives — Ace Backwords @ 3:31 am
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I’ve had this sense of failure that has dogged me all of my days. There was a line from an obscure Pete Townsend/Ronnie Layne song from 1978 that has always haunted me:

“His whole life was just another try.”

For that’s what it’s seemed to me. No matter what I’ve done, no matter what I’ve accomplished, theres always been this half-assed feeling like it hasn’t really added up to anything.

One of Johnny Carson’s ex-wives had a line about him, about the barren spiritual/emotional world he lived in, in spite of his great so-called success: “Its absurd to have accomplished so much and yet to have ended up with so little.” Johnny Carson himself used to have a recurring nightmare: “I’d be driving my car down this endless freeway in the desert, all alone, just me and the white line rushing under my car, but I never reach any destination. I just drive and drive to nowhere…”

And sometimes life certainly seems like that.

The other saying that haunts me is: “It’s all in how you look at it.” Which is certainly true. And yet, who amongst us really knows where that little switch is in our brain that controls the pictures we see, or the way our minds react to them? Certainly, if theres anything one can do to have a good, successful life, it involves learning how to control one’s mind: the runaway mind; the monkey mind; that jumps from here to there, seemingly out of control, jerking us every which way.

For example, I recently had a book published: “SURVIVING ON THE STREETS: How To Go Down Without Going Out.” (available from, or So I could look at that as a great success. Ace Backwords: Published Author. Radio stations and newspapers call me up to interview me so that I can spread my ever-so-important words to countless thousands.

And yet, on the other head, the book ironically chronicles the failure that my life has turned into. Ace Backwords: Homeless Bum; sleeping in the dirt and eating out of garbage cans.

So it’s all in how you look at it. And I’ve looked at it from both points of view — success and failure — and every other point of view in between. Is either point of view equally true? For the disquieting flip side to “It’s-all-in-how-you-look-at-it” is that it implies that there is no ultimate reality, at least from the level of the human mind. While theres certainly SOME indisputable truths — I’m 6 foot tall, 46 years old, not 3-foot-6, 12-years-old — when it comes to our ATTITUDE about life (which certainly shapes our very reality in a profoundly fundamental way) it seems that “reality” is totally a creation of the whims of our minds, and our emotions, and our delusions, and our opinions, and our chemical make-up, and (perhaps) our destined karma.

For example, sometimes I think I’m quite popular, that I have a lot of good friends and that I have a decent life. Other times I think I’m really all alone and I’m close to nobody and that I’m a total failure at relating to people. Which outlook is true? Both? Or neither?

Sometimes I think: “Well, if it’s just a matter of how you look at it, then I’m going to look at myself as a total Genius. If it’s all just a matter of opinion, and theres no concrete, definable “reality”, than I might as well err on the side of thinking TOO highly of myself, since I can’t really tell what I am one way or another anyways!”

I had this one friend, he took the pen-name “Hank Deadwood” — which should have told me something about how he saw himself. For we all reveal ourselves in a thousand different ways. Hank Deadwood was about my age, from an affluent suburban New Jersey background. He was good-looking, athletic, talented, an excellent musician, he could play guitar and saxophone, and he self-published a sort of Kerouac-esque novel about his adventures as a jazz-blowing, drug-taking street cat in San Francisco. We put his photo on the cover of our TELEGRAPH STREET CALENDAR 2000.

Telegraph Street Calendars

Anyway, he too, flew back and forth between the poles of seeing himself as The Great Genius of All-Time, or thinking he was a Worthless Piece of Zhit. In truth, his genius act was an attempt to over-compensate for this deep-seeded self-loathing that he could never shake. He never seemed to like himself. He carried himself around town like a man with a great burden on his shoulders. Who could explain that? For he certainly had more on the ball than most people. He certainly COULD have looked at himself with pride and approval. Instead he spent his days pizzing and moaning and whining in this state of perpetual disgruntlement. “You make your own breaks” is another one, and yet theres guys like Hank Deadwood who seemed to turn everything they touched into zhit.

Last year, Hank’s grandmother died and left him an inheritance of a half-a-million dollars. You know what they say (yes this is my column of old saws): “Money doesn’t really change you; it just makes you MORE of what you were before the money.” Anyways, Hank took a chunk of the money and bought himself a whole bunch of dope; rented out a room at the infamous Will Rogers Hotel in Oakland, a notorious crackhouse. I’m sure in Hank’s fantasy it would have been the even more fabled Chelsea Hotel in New York, for he was sort of trying to live out the whole bohemian Dylan/Kerouac/Burroughs fantasy that he idolized. Anyways, ole Hank got a little too high. You could imagine that last hit, as the bells started going off in his brain and the blood started rushing to his head and the airplanes started roaring off to the heavens. The custodian didn’t find him until 2 days later; he’d been lying on the floor in a coma for two days.

A friend of mine visited Hank Deadwood in the hospital later that week. He came back exclaiming; “Hank as we know him no longer exists!” They shipped what was left of him, and his half-million dollars, back to his parents in suburban New Jersey. And that was the end of The Hank Deadwood Story, at least what we would experience of it on the streets of Berkeley.

I even said in my STREET book: “A bad attitude has ruined more street people than all the other perils of the streets combined.” (And maybe that’ll be an old saw someday.) But the strangest truth of all is: Our own minds create our reality. And whatever you think will eventually manifest (so maybe we should be more careful what we think, huh?)

But the sad truth is: you see a LOT of these kind of stories on the streets. People flaming out in every way a human being can flame out. And after a while you begin to sense who the flamers are before they even flame. Because it all starts with how they look at it.


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