Trying to write my goddamn ACID HEROES book

 

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Writing my ACID HEROES book was a fairly painful experience. It took me 7 years to write the damn thing. 2002 to 2009. And I wrote like 7 different drafts. But the weird thing was, every draft improved it in some ways, but made it worse in other ways. Which was maddening.

I had never gone through anything like this before. With all my other projects, the more I worked on them, the better they got. It was like carving out a sculpture. I’d slowly but surely cut out the parts I didn’t want. And the image I was trying to create would get clearer and clearer. Until I was finally done.

But with the ACID HEROES book, the more I worked on it, the worse it got. It was like I was going around in circles. Flailing away blindly.

Part of the problem was that the subject matter didn’t play to my strengths as a writer. Generally I like to take a small thing, and extrapolate that into a bigger thing. Like with my previous book — SURVIVING ON THE STREETS. I’d write about a little thing, like the best kind of boots to wear when you’re on the streets. And extrapolate that into a larger meaning about life on the streets.

But with the ACID HEROES book I was coming from the opposite direction. I was taking this big thing — 50 years of my life, and 50 years of the cultural history of America — and trying to boil it down to this little thing, this concise little book. It was like making a documentary where you got 50 years worth of footage, and you got to edit it down to a 2 hour movie. So it required some pretty precise editing. Which didn’t play to my strengths as a writer, which tends to prefer a more meandering approach.

Adding to the problems, when I finally got down to working on the final draft I was homeless and living on the streets. Try writing, editing, and self-publishing a 300 page book while living out of a sleeping bag in the middle of the rainy season. No easy task.

And by that point I had already written and re-written every sentence 7 times. And I had gotten lost within it. I could no longer tell which was the best take.

On top of that I was going through an extremely stressful period in my personal life. I was in the middle of on-going wars with 4 different street people — lunatics all — and the kind of feuds that involved physical violence and dealing with the police. So that distracted my attention. On top of that I was dealing with my best friend who was in the process of dying a hideously painful death. On top of that I was working full time at my job as a street vendor, which was another source of stress. On top of that I was diagnosed with glaucoma and the docs were telling me I could blind at any moment. So it was like, what the fuck?? A complete over-load on my senses. Meanwhile I’m still striving to create immortal literature.

So it was hard to distinguish the forest from the trees. I was so immersed in the details of trying to get every sentence exactly right that I lost sight of the bigger picture. The actual concept of the book. And the pacing and the structure of the things. And I made several crucial mistakes on the final draft that irk me to this day.

Oh and one more problem. I was trying to write about the psychedelic experience and hallucinations. Which any writer will tell you is difficult to capture in words.

When I finally managed to get the damn thing published — almost exactly 10 years ago from this day — I was so stressed out that I contracted this disease, Shingles. Which is largely caused by stress. Half of my face was covered with these incredibly painful festering sores and scabs. I still have the scars from it to this day.

In a way I never really recovered from the experience of writing that book. I had spent the previous 35 years doing one artistic project after another after another. But after ACID HEROES there would be no more projects. I was fried.

People often say to me: Ace you should publish another book. Or put out another CD. Or do another calendar. Or publish another zine. And I’m like: “No. I don’t think so.”

Cary Grant

 
 
 

Dyan Cannon’s book — “DEAR CARY: My Life With Cary Grant” — is one of the more perceptive looks at Cary Grant. He was 58 and she was 25 when they first started dating, and she was practically a virgin (Cannon: “I’d had sex only once in my life, though it was so inept I’m not sure it even qualified.”).

There’s a weird scene where Cary casually introduces her to Timothy Leary and they kind of double-team her, give her the big sales pitch to “turn on” to LSD. Something she wasn’t particularly eager to try. And didn’t particularly enjoy.

He does come off as a bit of an ass playing Pygmalian with Cannon. Playing at being the big know-it-all who’s gonna solve all of her psychological problems with this magic pill LSD. While not copping to how screwed up he is.

Overall, Cary comes off kind of bizarre in the book. Half the time he comes off like “Cary Grant,” like he’s playing his movie role in real life — charming, witty, gracious, graceful. And then the other half he suddenly becomes stunted, cold, inarticulate. confused, nuerotic. Like he lost the script and couldn’t sustain his act…. But he seemed like a sincere guy with some kind of deep-rooted psychological quirk he couldnt fix. As he famously put it: “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.”

PALIMPSEST: A Memoir” by Gore Vidal

Published in 1995.

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This is one of the most wide ranging — and most oddest titled — memoirs I’ve ever read.  Palimpsest??  It’s written in the vein of “the private lives of public people.”  And Gore Vidal — with his sharp eye and relentless, and often caustic, but always amusing, wit — skewers the foibles of the rich, the famous, and the powerful.

This memoir covers a hell of a lot of ground. His work in the early days of television (Vidal was baffled why one of his fellow TV screenwriters seemed to resent him, until the director Sidney Lumet explained why: “You weren’t Jewish, and this was our game.”).  His adventures in the Hollywood of Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and Charlton “Chuck” Heston (who he got to know more than he would have liked). His forays into politics (he ran for Congress). His close friendship with the playwrite Tennessee Williams, a zany and fun-loving guy who Vidal nicknamed The Fabulous Bird, and who died one of the more peculiar deaths (zonked on alcohol and pills, he woke up in the middle of the night and swallowed what he thought was a sleeping pill but was actually the plastic cap to the bottle, which he choked on). His ground-breaking gay novel The City and the Pillar (“We all read that,” said Allen Ginsburg. “Because of the sex. Nobody had gone that far then.”)  His association with The Beats, who he was interested in, but didn’t particularly admire (succinctly as ever, Vidal summed up the relationship between the three principal Beats: “Bill is infatuated with Allen, who is in love with Jack, who is in love with Cassidy.”)

But the most fascinating parts to me are his up close and personal accounts of the Kennedy family.  Gore Vidal, after all, was raised in Washington DC, amidst the rich and powerful.  His grandfather was Senator Thomas Pryor Gore, of the Al Gore lineage (hence, the odd first name of Gore). And Jackie Kennedy Onassis was his cousin who he grew up with (“Selfish and self-aggrandizing beyond the usual, Jackie was still a slyly humorous presence.”).  And he knew John F. Kennedy when they were both 20. So Vidal got a very close look at all these characters behind the screen of their famous public images.

Vidal, the Fabulous Bird, and JFK.

Vidal liked and admired Jack Kennedy, who he found charming and witty and basically a decent guy. But disliked the rest of the Kennedys (“I thought even then that, excepting Jack, the family was pretty deplorable, while the father belonged in jail, along with his close friend Frank Costello. In fact once a week, until Joe’s stroke, the boss of the Mob and the president’s father had dinner together in the Central Park Kennedy apartment. Of course Joe made no secret of his underworld connections, unavoidable for a man who had cornered the Scotch whiskey market.”).

Though Vidal liked Jack Kennedy, he had no illusions about Kennedy’s fitness as the leader of the free world. He knew that, left to his druthers, Jack would have preferred the life of a playboy lay-about, and only ended up forced into politics because of his hyper-ambitious father.  Their conversations together mostly consisted of Kennedy plying Vidal for the latest “Hollywood gossip” (basically Kennedy wanted to know which young Hollywood starlets were presently available for him to have sex with). During one particularly intense period when the Kennedys were considering declaring war on Russia, Vidal wrote: “I have a vivid memory of the two furry heads together (Jack and Bobby, who he particularly loathed), a  lamp back of them, as they murmured to each other in silhouette. It is chilling to think that all our lives were in their callow hands.”

Though Kennedy’s public image was that of youthful vitality, Vidal said that up close and in person, Kennedy mostly looked sickly, with “yellow-tinted skin,” and was virtually a cripple due to his back injury — which, contrary to popular opinion, wasn’t the result of a war injury but a touch football injury.  As ever, there was the huge disparity between the Kennedys public image, and the actual reality.  Fitting of a clan who’s father, Papa Joe, considered the family motto to be: “It’s not who you are, but who the public thinks you are, that counts.”

Gore Vidal and friend.

Papa Joe was no doubt helplessly horrified from his stroke-ridden bedside, when Bobby Kennedy — in his self-appointed role as vain/glorious do-gooder — started arresting and imprisoning  numerous mobsters.  Many of whom were life-long friends and/or associates of Papa Joe.  And some of whom Joe had called on to help swing the presidential election of 1960. While others were hired by John Kennedy to try and assassinate Fidel Castro.  So it wasn’t surprising when Mob boss Sam Giancanna was caught on an FBI wire-tap discussing with another mafioso the possibility of whacking Bobby Kennedy.  Though they ultimately concluded: “If you chop off the snake’s tail, the snake still lives.  But if you chop off the snakes head, the snake dies.”  Which is why they decided to whack John Kennedy instead.  Which effectively ended Bobby’s career.

At any rate, after awhile you start getting slightly dizzy reading Gore Vidal’s memoir.  As one famous person after another rushes by the pages.  “And then Eleanor Roosevelt said this . .  .” “And then Hillary Clinton said that . . .” “And then that weasel Truman Capote showed up. . .” “And I’ll never forget the look on Kerouac’s face on the pillow as I  . . .” “And speaking of Anais Nin and Greta Garbo . . .”

But one thing’s for sure.  Gore Vidal certainly lived out a good deal of the political and cultural history of America over the last century.  Recommended.

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RECKLESS by Chrissie Hynde; a goddamn book review

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I’m a huge Chrissie Hynde fan. So this is a treat. And just what you’d expect from a Chrissie Hynde memoir. Blunt. Honest. Witty. Perceptive. No bullshit. Straight forward. And pretty entertaining.

It starts out with Chrissie describing her childhood in Ohio, growing up as a rock’n’roll-obsessed kid. She was perfectly poised to experience the full brunt of the Rock’n’roll Revolution (high school Class of ’69, the poor dear).

Every now and then she would question her rock’n’roll obsession, thinking: “Maybe it’s time to grow up. I had two or three of those over the years. The first one was when I dumped my Beatles drawer. All the posters and magazines and paraphernalia, including my Beatles tennis shoes, went in the trash. By the age of sixteen I thought maybe it was a bit childish to keep poring over such mementos.  Thus the purge followed by intense remorse.”

And, of course, she never would grow up.

Then in 1973 she moved to London, England to pursue her Rock’n’roll Fantasy. There are a lot of great accounts of the burgeoning punk scene. She became friends with Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer and many other punk luminaries well before they were famous. Sid invited her to share a squat with some others in a vacant building (squatting is legal in England — you can even turn on the electricity). And took part in other odd moments in Punk History. Sid Vicious took one of her little padlocks and locked it on a chain around his neck. “And I don’t think it ever came off again; not for sentimental reasons — he just didn’t take the key.”

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Sid Vicious in the hospital with hepatitis. (photo by Chrissie Hynde)

She described Johnny Rotten as “shy but funny — troubled, though. A troubled youth” who was “wrestling with his impending fame.” And: “Johnny Rotten was a strange brew. He looked like Steptoe crossed with Joni Mitchell.” Ha ha. Chrissie worked part-time at a cleaning agency cleaning houses. “That agency would hire anybody: I even got Rotten a few jobs with them. Imagine seeing him come through the door to clean your house.” And: “Rotten eventually went on to marry Nora Forster (the only lasting love story to come out of punk that I can think of).” Who would have guessed that?

Then the book goes on to describe her struggles to get her own band together. It never occurred to her that she might become a star. She wasn’t even sure she had any talent. “I just wanted to be in a band and make a lot of noise.”

So it was more than a little overwhelming when her first album become a number one hit. And her second album was a hit, too. She goes on to describe the grueling affects of touring. The drugs, the alcohol, the egos, the pressure. Shortly after the tour ended two of her band members ODed on drugs. Chrissie Hynde had achieved success beyond her wildest dreams. But she would ruefully write: “I knew then that victories were always just the other side of tragedy.”

The book ends there. And we’ll just have to wait and see if she writes a Part 2 about the second half of her life.

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Chrissie Hynde, London, 1979, 27-years-old.

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