Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I've suffered from insomnia off and on throughout my life. I wrote this a few years ago for my fellow members of the 4:30 Club.

Insomnia in Reverse

7am always feels like a camel on its last leg
He rolls like a wheelchair across the desert
My lucid dream sits on the edge of the bed
Negotiating terms of surrender to a deaf ear
And reaching across to the alarm clock from hell
I see I've lost a fight with insomnia...again

5am is a renegade chemist with a bad haircut
He treats my brain with caffeine and deadlines
There's an unlicensed shrink in the corner
Stirring up childhood trauma till dawn
Like a friend who only wants to hang out
When I have to work in the morning

3am sounds like a tractor running on moonshine
It plows through my psyche with relish
The money on those thirty white horses
Could pay a quarter of my night's rent
And with hope losing thirteen to twenty
The pigeons on my rooftop place their bets

Friday, May 25, 2012

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good scotch, must be in want of a rocks glass."

Earlier this year, while putting together a list of my all-time favorite books and authors, I noticed something rather disappointing on my part: all the authors were dudes, and all the books were written by dudes.  This isn't to say that I haven't read women in the past.  It's just that the novels, stories, and poems that have really struck home with me, that I've read over and over again throughout my life, have all been the work of guys.  And that's not a good thing. 

You might remember reading about VC Naipaul (who I've never read, and now have no interest in reading) telling the Royal Geographic Society last year that women are incapable of great writing because of their "narrow view of the world."  He then went back to beating his wife. 

It's total bullshit, of course.  Women are perfectly capable of writing just as well as men, if not better. If they're outnumbered in the literary pantheon, it's because they haven't always had the opportunity to write the way men have (not to mention the fact that when they do, they're rarely taken seriously.)  At any rate, you can't expect to give a fair assessment of the human condition if you're sustaining yourself on a literary diet that excludes half the human race.  We shouldn't be giving the time of day to any writer who doesn't have the balls (shit, there I go again...) to venture outside the comfort zone of his gender.

Anyway, since I've made this discovery, I've resolved to make a concerted effort to read more female authors.  Since she was already lying around the house, I decided to start with Ms. Jane Austen.  I read Pride and Prejudice last week, and I just finished Sense and Sensibility this afternoon.

The most significant thing these books have done for me is make me unspeakably grateful that I don't live in nineteenth century England.  If I had to be around conversations like these every day of my life I would have gone Columbine by the time I was twelve.  While reading her, I get the  sense that Austen harbored similar feelings, as it often seems like she's parodying the exaggerated games of manners that made up life in her time.  On top of that, the books paint a clear picture of the bind in which women of her generation lived.  If you happened to be born with a uterus, the best you could possibly hope for would be to land a husband with a decent salary.  Therefore they spent all their time cultivating their abilities in dancing, sewing, singing, playing the piano, playing cards, and whathaveyou, not for the sake of culture, but because it would be one more thing to stick on their domestic resume.  In short, your every waking moment was spent refining yourself to make you as attractive to men as humanly possible, and ladies, aren't you glad those days are over?

Austen might not be your thing, but is she worth knowing?  Absolutely.  At the very least you'll be able to catch the points of reference when your girlfriend makes you watch Bridget Jones's Diary.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Ian Curtis: 1956 - 1980

Thirty-two years ago yesterday, Ian Curtis hung himself in the kitchen of his Macclesfield house. Today he'd be 55.

It's getting increasingly hard to talk about Joy Division.  There was a time when they were a footnote in the annals of rock history, a band remembered only by punks, music journalists, and people in bands.  But about ten years ago, the world remembered them.  Now, after three feature films (24 Hour Party PeopleControl, and the documentary Joy Division), the remastered and expanded editions of their records, and a dozen or so books, we're rapidly approaching a point where we've said everything about the band that needs to be said.  However, given the anniversary, and the fact that they're one of my favorite bands, I'll do what I can.

I bought my first Joy Division record, Closer, when I was sixteen.  At the time I was just starting to develop an appreciation for post-punk and new wave, and I was really just looking for something darker and moodier than what was going on in the charts.  Today I'm seven years older than Ian was when he died, and with each year that I put between myself and his last, I grow more amazed at and baffled by the fact that at such a tender age he was able to write those songs.  In fact, Joy Division's whole short-lived career could be summed up with one question: What the fuck just happened?  How did a boy with modest origins and an O-level education write lyrics of such poetic calibre?  How did a band with such meagre credentials from a poor industrial town give birth to one of the most distinct sounds in pop history in just four years?  Where did it come from?  Most importantly, why did he throw it all away when they were on the brink of international success?

Typically in the event of a suicide, the initial reaction is to wonder how it possibly could have happened.  However, as hindsight grows with time, you begin to wonder how you didn't see it coming. There's a beautiful moment in Anton Corbijn's video for 'Atmosphere' where one of the short hooded figures runs into frame carrying an enormous cone.  He loses his balance, and collapses under the weight of his burden.  That scene sums up Ian's life pretty neatly.  He'd rushed into marriage, home-ownership, and fatherhood, and was trying to juggle his domestic responsibilities while dealing with the pressure of minor rock stardom.  On top of that he was living with epilepsy, never knowing how much time he had left, and taking medication that further distorted his already mangled temperament.

On top of it all (and I really think we overlook this too often), he was a kid.  The years between fifteen and twenty-five are the most difficult times of a man's life.  You're in the world, and expected to play a part in it, but you don't know anything about the world.  You don't understand how things work.  You never know what to expect on a moment to moment basis, and when a crisis rears its head, it feels like holy armageddon.  When you couple that with a foundation of raging hormones, it's a wonder any of us make it out alive.  Ian was carrying more baggage than he ever should have been asked to handle, but I can't help but think that if he'd stuck it out a few more years, he could have pulled it together.

And on that note I'll leave you with my five favorite tracks (in no particular order):

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Letter to Anita Thompson, Written on the Anniversary of Hunter's Death

Dear Anita,

I have a question concerning the t-shirts you have for sale at the Gonzo Store: do you think you might consider knocking down the price a little, or at least holding a sale any time soon?

I hate to sound like a cheapskate, but for the last three years I've been living as an expat in Italy, sustaining myself on a diet of cheap wine and pasta, and attempting in my own way to follow in your late husband's footsteps.  $28 for a t-shirt plus the cost of international shipping would break my spine.  However, I'd still like to help you pay the bills at Owl Farm, and the shirts look undeniably cool.  What do you think?

Being the anniversary of Hunter's death, I've spent most of this morning thinking about the influence his work has had on my life.  I first read the Vegas book in the summer of 2003.  I was working twelve hours a day at a fireworks stand in Maryland just off exit 100 on I-95.  The stand was situated next to a liquor store, and right across the street from a gas station.  I couldn't have asked for a better time or place to be introduced to Gonzo: sitting at one point of a triangle of disaster in the middle of a sweltering hot summer, Dylan on the stereo, with the 227th anniversary of our nation's birth rapidly approaching.  It was the middle of the Bush era, and I was scraping out a living selling dangerous explosives to hillbillies.  It was the perfect moment to hop in a fire-apple red convertible with a renegade journalist and a fat Samoan lawyer for a drug-addled road trip to Vegas in search of the American Dream.

It would be hard to overstate the influence Hunter's work has had on both my writing and my life.  He instilled in me an urge to take life by the balls that was at least partially behind my decision to move abroad and start traveling the world.  My copies of The Proud Highway, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72, Better than Sex, Generation of Swine,and Fear and Loathing in America have been carried by me on a countless number of buses and trains throughout Rome.  His simultaneous pride and disgust regarding America mirrors my own as I watch the pro-wrestling match of American politics from a distance.  While I understand and respect his decision to end his life, I can't help but wish he'd at least lived to see the end of the Bush Regime, and wonder what he'd have to say about the lukewarm anticlimax of the Obama administration.  But I suppose the true magic of the artist is that though they can't be with us forever, their work that touched our lives at least has a shot at immortality.  I think you hit the nail on the head in Gonzo when you said, "Imagine a twisted universe where he died and took all his words with him."  Indeed.

Well, I've probably taken up enough of your time.  Let me know about the t-shirts.  Even if you can't knock down the price, know that I'm wishing you a brave new year.  Thanks for carrying the torch.


                                                                                                           Jonathan Balog

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

they're creeping up on you

Me: You know they say cockroaches will probably survive the nuclear war?

My Brother: Yep.  After that they'll probably evolve to be the dominant species on the planet (because really, how could they not?)  Of course there will probably be a few thousand human survivors living in underground colonies, sustaining themselves on Campbell's soup (because Campbell's soup never goes bad).  After a thousand years, when it's finally safe to come out again, they'll have to battle the giant cockroaches for control of the planet.

Me: You think so?

My Brother: I hope so.

Monday, May 14, 2012

something from '07


At 30,000 feet, a star falls with no brakes
Look up, and watch a single spark
Descend toward a billion identical points
See, distance is an equalizer
From far enough away, everything looks the same

At 25,000 feet, epiphany kicks in,
Bringing neurons to a boil
Lateral thought hides under a wing
And coping mechanisms fire into the dark
From here, hindsight is something we've outgrown

At 9,000 feet, the city is fit with brass shoes
Movements are weighed by a dreamlike slowness
As distance becomes anathema
Becomes the worst enemy we've ever had
As if someone had thrown time itself into the quicksand

At 2,000 feet, equations collapse
Consciousness is dragged kicking and screaming
Toward whatever passes for a center these days
And the future clears its schedule to make way
For a calm that rushes over everything

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

An Open Letter to David Kajganich

Dear Mr. Kajganich,

For the last three years, fragmentary bits of news about an upcoming theatrical adaptation of Stephen King's novel IT have been floating around the Net.  Since it's still in development hell, digging up info on it has been damn near impossible.  All we know for certain is that the project is being overseen by Warner Bros., and that they've hired you as a screenwriter.

First of all, let me say congratulations!  It's great to hear that the story will be given a fresh treatment without the content and financial restrictions that handicapped the 1990 mini-series.  Furthermore it's reassuring to know that the project is in the hands of someone who loves the story, who plans on treating the source material with the respect it deserves.

However, something you've mentioned about your screenplay gives me pause.  The novel takes place in (at the time) present-day 1985, with flashbacks to the characters' childhoods in 1958. You've stated in interviews that in your script, the story will be set in the twenty-first century, with the flashbacks occurring in the mid-'80s.

On behalf of everyone who loves the book and wants to see this film done well, I'm begging you, PLEASE DON'T DO THIS!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

the agony and the ecstasy

My throat is killing me.  I woke up this morning feeling like I'd spent last night gargling with gravel and broken glass.  I don't know if it's allergies or the flu, but my vocal chords are rabidly devolving into Tom Waits territory.

On a happier note, I'm glad to see that so many of you have taken advantage of the opportunity to snatch up a free digital copy of my book.  On the first day alone it was picked up by over half a thousand people, including a few of my old professors (whom I haven't seen in almost a decade), and Bret Helm, the singer and bassist of Audra.  If you haven't got your copy yet, click here and check it out!  Do it now, because it'll only be free until Saturday.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

overheard at wilmington station earlier this year

Guy 1: My brother's in Australia right now.  Man, they've got everything there.  They've got, like, beaches on the coast, and deserts in other places.  It's a whole continent!

Guy 2: Yeah, it ain't like America.

Guy 1: Well...we've got deserts.  In, like, Nevada.

Guy 2: Yeah, but we don't have poisonous snakes that can fucking kill you.