I have been told that people today don’t want to be challenged. They don’t want to be shocked. They don’t want to be pushed out of their comfort zone and bask in that familiar electric tingle of outrage or horror, sadness or tales from the gutter. “Bukowski could never have made it today. Too much talk of suffering and shit, depressing alcoholism and diseased pricks,” I am told with a sad shake of the head, amid exhortations to not water down, but perhaps tinker with my style and format.
I wonder what these devotees of ‘nice’ would make of Jim Carroll’s Basketball Diaries, or Hubert Selby Jr’s Requiem for a Dream. Admittedly even I find H. Selby Jr a little on the challenging side: the claustrophobia of addiction and speed psychosis makes me nervous. I am nervous because I know that it is not some dark fairy tale for lost boys, but instead replaying itself right now in a parade of stolen TVs and shattered families out there in middle America. Urg. It is all too much, right? Too dark, too unsavory, too full of the juice and shit and spunk and horrendous suffering of life.
The thing is, for me at least, there is little to be gained from happy, fluffy, sweet and unchallenging, or stolid expositions of fact and carefully curated – but not too provoking – opinion. Much like I have no desire to listen to Abba, I could not think of anything more soul sucking than chowing down on some sweetly transformative romance, or light-peril-filled vacation beachside mind-snack blockbuster. I also have no desire to write it. No, instead I want to read the equivalent of Iggy Pop’s The Passenger, filled with dark brutal beauty. I want to experience that tidal wave of outrage, or the lost and listless life of petty crime and jazz suffused with poetry in Kerouac’s prose-as-art pieces. I would rather listen to Tom Waits gargle gravel and whiskey-bile, than be serenaded by the perfect cut-glass shattering tones of Celine Dion. No offence, to the Divine Ms D. but I don’t want no sugar in my coffee. There is no need to ice the cake. I don’t want to hear about the glory of love, I want to hear about the guts and longing of it. I want Blue with Joni’s never quite getting her man or her fairytale, instead of Carole King’s Tapestry of happiness. It is a matter of taste, and I have no need of saccharine distractions.
Any attempt not to write as ‘me’ is doomed to failure. I am out of fashion, just like Jean Shrimpton was labelled as old fashioned by The Rolling Stones in their hit Out of Time. I am out that ‘out of touch… lady’, I am that ‘baby baby baby, I am out of time’ punk lost grrrrl…and the joke is on me. Too right, I am out of time, I am both too early and too late.
People do not want Lenny Bruce with his outrage jokes, they don’t want a Jim Carroll with his bleakly statuesque, but ultimately life-affirming story of survival and redemption. True, The Basketball Diaries is a depressing and bleak tale of life as a young teenage junkie and rent boy in late 60s/ early 70s New York City. It is also full of camaraderie, perseverance and the strength of the human spirit, despite all the indignities life and the Catholic church can throw at a young man. It is also written quite beautifully. Niceness is boring.
I thought I was a clever girl, despite my current lack of ‘social whirl’, instead I am stuck with the literary equivalent of pancake and huge fake eyelashes, beehive and gogo boots as 1966 melts into 1967 and the early 60s dies a death and is reborn as a much darker beast of burden. Except the 2022 beast is all glitter and sparkles and turns it’s cut cat eared head while everything burns to the ground. I have no desire to be nice, nice wont defeat all that shitty glitter. Oh honey, I will never be anyone’s Beast of Burden, as Mick Jagger sings. I won’t ever carry the load of a style or story that it is not mine. Nor will I be anything other than insulted by people who want to tell my story for me. It is mine to tell and I am more than capable of telling it myself. In fact, someone else trying to write my story is doomed to failure, to misrepresenting me as either an appalling human being, an utter disgrace, or else white washing everything I went through. Neither is acceptable. I write my own word, I tell my own life story. It might be more palatable if someone else does, but it won’t be ‘me’ and it won’t be right. It might be a little less out of time, but really, in the end, I don’t give a damn about being old fashioned. I want to be a good writer, i want to write something that people wiil remember, not dated as 2022 niceness with a sheen of sparkle. The world is not sparkle. The world is no cheap bauble. It is all falling into the gutter, and the only stories worth telling are the painful dirty ones. Andy Warhol once told Lou Reed to keep ‘all the dirty words’ in his songs. Now we are censoring them all out again. I preferred it when we didn’t. It was more powerful, more honest and more interesting.
Which brings me to a dilemma. Sure I can write, but I don’t write the soft serve word-ice-cream that people want. I am a mouthful of angry killer bees and a side order of nihilistic nothingness. I write much the same way. I like to think I can be tender, entertaining, funny even, but what I am more than anything else, is confrontational, and that is not the modern way.
You see people never write or create what they actually want to anymore. They never say what they mean nowadays, let alone mean what they say, and I am sometimes guilty of that tongue biting fear of cancellation that drives me to say less, to be restrained and to toe the 2022 line. Punk could not exist now, because people don’t want to be challenged or woken up, they have no desire to be offended and fill that warm thrill as chairs, gob and pure noise flies across the room in appreciation of the fact that everything sucks, everything is broken, and there is no future for any of us little people. What was grand for a little while, in those post ’70s days of boom and excess, yuppies and ‘executives’ has now burst and gone away, seen for the illusion of plenty that it was. Yet, we are all holding on desperately to the illusion that everything is just peachy. Covid started to turn up the heat and remove our comfort zone, but the bottle is really shaken up now that we have a Supreme Court taking away women’s rights to control our own reproductive lives, and is now bearing down, ready to annihilate gay rights.
People don’t want empathy, they don’t want to revel in our failures, they don’t want to find energy in fury. We have raised generations of softies that have no need for punk or anger or outrage, instead they just want to be nice, and look where nice has got us! Except now people are angry and scared and nice just won’t cut the mustard.
Nice gets us nowhere good. Nice got us losing rights which had been enshrined for decades. Nice fails to define minority and subjugated groups out of kindness and instead includes oppressors in the subset which is meant to be protected. Nice gets us a whole civilization people who would rather draw the curtains and look away while the entire world burns outside, only being forced to confront the terror and fear, the loss and the horror when it really is too late. We need uncivilized. We need angry. We need insistent. “When they spat at me, I spat back” read a famous punk saying scrawled across a girl’s white tee shirt in 1976 England. It is time to spit back. Niceness failed. We need some righteous writing, some bad medicine. We need punk.
Feminists like me have been yelling for years about the dismantling of women’s sex-based rights, and in a whirlwind of niceness gave away far too much ground, and women have suffered for it. After all feminism is meant to be female-only, centered around protecting women from the Patriarchy. It failed because of too much niceness, and now the ones who were always fighting have such a huge fight on their hands, and that includes me.
I don’t write nice. I don’t do reassuring and non confrontational. I am standing on the watchtower telling you that society is burning, and that we are severely lacking empathy, words, solutions and the ability to name things as they are. We are so kowtowed by niceness that nothing else matters. Anyone ‘not nice’ is cancelled, forced out of the social arena and away from any position to raise the alarm. Be nice is the new ‘be quiet’. Niceness is insidious. Niceness is dangerous.
I was never nice. Life isn’t nice. The world isn’t nice. I write about homelessness, I write about the problems and suffering that I see in my beautiful city in the hills. I write about addiction, violence and court sponsored abuse. I write real life. I write loss and longing. I don’t write pretty things, though I do try and write the ugly in a beautiful way.
Didion writes as if she has a whole herd of wild ponies pulling her chariot of word-fire, but her horses were fully reined in, held back under control, firmly under bit and rein, whip and restraint. Didion wrote like a tsunami of emotion and words hurtling towards the reader, only to be stopped by a glass wall which allowed her waves to impact with no sting and thus not overwhelm the reader. I wish I was a Didion, but I am not and never will be.
Didion wrote like Phil Spector produced music – his wall of sound was achieved by meticulous placing of barriers and amps and speakers, artists would have to record the same phrase over and over again, until they were utterly tired of the exercise with no energy left in them, just the homeopathic memory of energy. Didion has that restraint, perhaps borne out of craft and redrafting, but restraint none the less.
I don’t want to not be me. I don’t want to tame and temper my writing to make other people comfortable. I don’t want to get my horses under control, nor surf the tsunami. I have no desire to be someone or something that I am not. I can be me…or else a pale imitation of someone else. In short, I have no idea how to sell out. I have never cajoled and pleased other people. People either took me as I was, or else sayonara, baby. I did not exist to pat men on the head or get what I want by subtle means. I am as subtle as a brick in the hands of Johnny Rotten circa 1976, being hurled at the British establishment in protest of the whole ‘no future’ con act perpetrated upon them by the stiff stuffed shirts in control. I am punk. Like it or not (and to be frank, I think I am much more comfortable with those that dislike me), it is who and what I am.
Unfortunately in these days of prizes for participation, pussyfooting around until we lose abortion rights, contraceptive rights, and even gay sex being legal (lock me up for eating pussy and I swear I will be forever furious and possibly vindictive, which is the closest to dick that I ever wish to get again in my sad sorry life). I am an in-yer-face rotter who does not exist to console is out of time, out of fashion and not going to make much in the way of that most practical of necessities – money.
To that end, if you want to help support a rotter, a scoundrel, a lesbian cad, and a ne’er-do-well like me my patreon is at: