acid logicpresents...

Interview with Jerry Stahl

Rikki Rockett, Poison Drummer

By Wil Forbis
Jan 1 2002

Aside from being the author of the popular drug confessional, "Permanent Midnight," Jerry Stahl has the questionable honor of being the man who penned this sentence: His mother's ankles felt like hot salamis as Tony Zank held her out the rest home window. It's in his new book, "Plainclothes Naked," a novel filled to the brim with seedy crack addicts, husband murdering trollops, Keystone Kops and sharp crime noir dialogue that lies somewhere between Jack Thompson and Charles Bukowski. Jerry stopped by the virtual acid logic offices to discuss his books, the drug film genre and the ever popular scrotum of President Bush.


Wil: Memoirs of personal anguish such as "The Kiss," "Drinking: A Love Story" and your "Permanent Midnight" have gotten much acclaim over the past few years. Is there any fear that authors are starting to simply cash in on their misfortune? Does a great writer with a wonderful childhood have a harder time getting published than a mediocre writer who was abused by the family priest?

Jerry: Well, if a writer had a happy childhood, in today's Oprah-esque environment, that in itself could be considered tragic - denying he or she the dramatic onrush of feeling, prose and sympathy - not to mention possible Lifetime Network tie-in - a more 'dysfunctional' childhood might help facilitate. As for mediocre writers cashing in, what can I say? There were mediocre writers on the bestseller list before the so called memoir craze, and they will remain there long afterward....

Wil: I know you're a fan of Hubert Selby, Junior. I'm interested in what you thought of the film version of "Requiem for a Dream?"

Jerry: Anything that enables Hubert Selby Junior, at the ripe age of seventy, to be vindicated by the cosmos and receive a standing ovation at Cannes is okay with me. This is a man who, ten years after writing one of the greatest novels in American literature, had to pump gas and hustle change to survive. So fuck it, the movie was wonderful. The man's paid more dues than twenty men should have to, and I'm really thrilled for him.

Wil: I really enjoyed the film version of the short story collection, "Jesus' Son." Like "Permanent Midnight," it followed through to the character's recovery and came to the conclusion that even without drugs, life can be pretty trippy.

Jerry: I absolutely loved Denis Johnnson's book, and the movie, too. Whereas the movie of "Permanent Midnight" - much as I dig it, I didn't write it - made me, how can I put this... a different kind of asshole (among other things) than I was in the book (and real life), the film of "Jesus' Son" actually took off from the amazing book and become even more amazing in its own way. I can't praise Denis Johnson or (director) Alison Maclean enough. A rare instance where book and movie were both masterpieces. My other favorite drug movie - because, of course, it's about so much more than drugs - was Cronenberg's "Dead Ringers," with Jeremy Irons as twin gynocologist-dilaudid fiends.

Wil: Did you ever have any concern after the success of the film version of "Permanent Midnight" that you might end up actually encouraging a few people to take drugs? After all, Ben Stiller with his leather-jacketed nihilism really did a great job of embodying the male heroin chic.

Jerry: If puking on your shoes and making an asshole out of yourself serves as some kind of lure to drug abuse, then what can I say? Long before Ben slimed across the screen in sweaty leather, Keith and Miles and Lenny and Bird were around shooting dope and looking cool. So please. You flatter me, but, in the grand pantheon of junkie cool, the character of "Jerry Stahl" is a footnote to narco-history.

Wil: In your new book, "Plainclothes Naked," the lead character, Manny Rubert, turns out to be well equipped with a large penis while the main villain, Tony Zank, carries around a barely noticeable piece he can hardly get stiff. Aren't you reinforcing the 'big dick', alpha-male politics that have given us four thousand years of war and aggression? To paraphrase Martin Luthor King Jr., will we ever reach the point where we can judge a man not by the size of his penis, but by the content of his character?

Jerry: If you read the book closely, you'd see it's just the opposite. The man's got a big dick and it's the bane of his existence. He can't stand the kind of woman who find it appealing, and does everything he can to drive such ladies away. The idea actually came to me because of the non-stop daily barrage of "ENLARGE YOUR PENIS!" spam that splatters across my computer screen - and that of every human with a computer I know - indiscriminately assuming that a legion of dick-shamed American are skulking around out there looking for a solution. It's a joke. I guess you didn't get it.

Wil: I know you've answered this question before but I wanted to take a different slant with it - One of the key elements of "Plainclothes Naked" is a picture of George Bush's scrotum. Any fears that the recent turn of events in Afghanistan will take the wind out of your sales? After all, those testicles are riding an 80% approval rating.

Jerry: Yeah, I'm sure it could take a bite out of sales. Then again, the kind of people who buy my books probably aren't members of that eighty percent anyway. Look, I've always been outré, always been a cult figure, outside the realms of confines of Quality Lit-ville. The New York and LA Times won't even review my books (the latter despite the fact that this novel has shown up on their bestseller list) so George W's popularity is the least of it...

Wil: It seemed to me that you were attacking the President without really criticizing him. Certainly there are some very legitimate reasons to lambaste the President (e.g. his questionable ascension to the Office or his inability to form a coherent sentence) but while reading your book and having this comical image of him thrust into my head, I kind of felt sorry for the guy.

Jerry: You may be right. He's a hapless little guy. Daddy bought him a race car. Now he thinks he's A.J. Foyt. As do, oddly enough, much of the mainstream media-spoonfed public.

Wil: Your first published book was turned into a film and I know there's been interest in some of your other work. When you're writing now, do you mentally weed out any thought of a film version of what you're working on, or do you embrace that possibility? Do you speculate on certain actors playing your characters?

Jerry: Fuck no. I never think about that. And there is in fact none of my other work being considered for the screen, big or little. Showtime sat on "Perv" for a year, then came to their senses and changed their mind. "Plainclothes" isn't even the ballpark. Like you say, I'm bucking a national trend here. What studio would want to go anywhere near that? If I were a movie-savvy guy, I wouldn't be writing what I'm writing. Unless I was a complete idiot. (Always a possibility... )

Wil: If President Bush called you up and asked, as one reformed drug user to another, for your opinion on the scourge of drug abuse in America, what would you pass on? (Granted, after "Plainclothes Naked," this is a pretty unlikely scenario.)

Jerry: Well, Junior's no stranger to a straw up his nose, perhaps he'll give me a jingle some day. In any event, I don't preach. I can only tell you my experience, and those of people I know. Which is, simply put, drugs are the symptom, not the problem. But there's so much money to be made off of the quote unquote "war on drugs," that only a moron would think it's about trying to eradicate drugs anyway. Drugs are big business. And big business always wins.

Check out more Jerry Stahl stuff at:
Plainclothes Naked at Powells books
Jerry's piece featuring a talking vagina

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