Archive for the ‘Influences’ Category
The latest edition of The Columnest recounts my experience as part of the Little Brown Mushroom Summer Camp for Socially Awkward Storytellers. My interview with The Missouri Review recounts my gradual decline from prodigious literary up-and-comer to over-the-hill stage performer/hack needy for laughs.
I’ve spent a lot of quality time among a lot of trees, but hiking with the gf and our new dog Sam is the best. Here they are at William O’Brien State Park. I’ve been hard at work on several writing projects, including a character monologue, some poems and a play. I’ve been recording some music, too. More about all that later, when it’s ready to be known about.
I have a new poem in the latest edition of the online lit mag elimae. I’ve had a fair number of poems in elimae over the years. [Scroll through archives dating back to 1996 for daring writing by an incredible array of poets and flash fictioneers you've never heard of. I'm in there, too.]
Readers of Gordon Lish‘s legendary Quarterly might remember Cooper better as Cooper Esteban, the mad poet whose work was often the highlight of that mag’s back pages. Like the best of us without Knopf deals, he’s gone the ebook route with his fiction.
Founding and editing elimae’s first couple of years [and publishing a handful of beautiful handmade books that now go for big $$$ on Amazon and eBay] weren’t enough for Deron. [His video and still camera work are also worth searching out.] Deron also created Clusterflock, possibly the last authentic community blog doing what blogs did before the Web began to feel like a mall.
The ‘flockers don’t bother with cute recaps of SNL or pre-election debates. They’re too busy explicating spam email messages.
Smart, talented folks — good folks by any measure — are wherever you look. But you’re still responsible for opening your eyes. That’s what this new poem, called “Truckness,” is all about.
[Truck drawing by Cooper Renner]
I’m a simple, small-town Indiana boy born and bred. But I still lit out for brighter horizons as soon as humanly possible, which meant after college, because the state paid for that shit. I moved over to Ohio for grad school. Then back to Indiana for a couple of months, while I looked for a job after school. Then I spent a few years in Chicago, which I later learned was in Illinois. From there I headed down to Missouri. And now I live in Minnesota, which feels like home half the time. That’s not bad after a dozen years, right? It doesn’t matter. Sometimes nothing looks familiar for miles in any direction and I remember that when I was a kid, Indiana’s state motto was “Wander Indiana.” Which I thought meant that Hoosiers were free to travel wherever they wished within state lines, but we weren’t allowed to leave.
That’s the only excuse I have for neglecting my reader.
Acting is hard. Dialogue does not stick to my brain, it turns out. I’ve never been the kind of guy to memorize sets or stories word-for-word. When not working directly from a script or set list, I’ve always outlined what I planned to perform, then talked loosely around that vaguely memorized outline.
This has turned me into a rambling, inconsistent stage performer. Or a shambolic, authentic charmer, if you happen to enjoy what I do.
My difficulties with the acting craft made me appreciate all the more Will Eno’s “Oh the Humanity and Other Good Intentions” when I saw The Peanut Butter Factory’s current production of it at Intermedia Arts. Christopher Kehoe, Mo Perry and Matt Sciple made Eno’s abstract, existential jokes sing with equal measures of dark comedy and genuine vulnerability.
That’s why I pitched the production for an MPR Art Hounds segment. Besides the fact that I love radio.
I could now promise to update this site more often once I’m done with the Fringe, but that would go against my commitment phobias. Let’s just take this as it goes and see what happens. We’re both grown-ups.
“The answer is never the answer. What’s really interesting is the mystery.” — Ken Kesey
“If you can’t write clearly, you probably don’t think nearly as well as you think you do.” — Kurt Vonnegut
”When you write from your gut and let the stuff stay flawed and don’t let anybody tell you to make it better, it can end up looking like nothing else.” — Louis CK
“Making people laugh is the lowest form of humor.” — Michael O’Donoghue
“I’m not a comedian. I’m Lenny Bruce.” — Lenny Bruce
“The important thing in writing is the capacity to astonish.” — Terry Southern
”It’s not that the Irish are cynical. It’s rather that they have a wonderful lack of respect for everything and everybody.” — Brendan Behan
“If you’re really a truth-teller, you better be funny. Because, otherwise, they will kill you.” — Fran Lebowitz
After I breeze through this, I’ll be attacking A Singular Man. Reading (and in some cases re-reading) an ex-pat Irish-American novelist who’s not published a book in more than a decade is how I plan to prepare for my August trip to Scotland.
Geography has never really been my strong suit. Probably because I grew up just four hours south of Chicago and nobody in my family ever told me, let alone took me there.
Was that child abuse? Sometimes I think so.
Back in 2007, not long after Kurt Vonnegut died, Playboy and Vanity Fair entertainment journo extraordinaire Eric Spitznagel wrangled a bunch of writers known (and not) on the web to pay tribute. Vonnegut’s Asterisk was titled after one of Vonnegut’s most famous drawings: his asshole, in Breakfast of Champions.
I’m currently rereading Breakfast for the seventh or eighth time, so I’ve been thinking about my meager contribution, which was also something of a tribute to Bill Gates. “I’ve always suspected that my asshole represents the best that civilized society can aspire to,” I wrote four years ago. “But drawing even a simple dove proved too difficult for my sad abilities, which is why I ended up tossing my crayons and importing a dingbat symbol via Microsoft Word instead.”
I included a caption with my asshole to ensure that it wouldn’t be mistaken for religious iconography or a pigeon. And I did it all in blue because I believed then,
as I believe now, that my asshole should match my eyes. Metaphorically, at least.
It might not be cool to confess the obsessions that have influenced my own creative endeavors, but I feel I owe my own microscopic successes as a writer and comedy performer to those true artists whose accomplishments demonstrated what was possible in the first place.
Possibilities have always interested me more than fame and fortune. If I’m ever rich and recognized from TV appearances, maybe then I’ll prance around pretending all my brilliant ideas were mine and mine alone.
If I’m even physically capable of prancing. I’m guessing I’m not.
My first short stories were so overwhelmed by my fanboy enthusiasm for Barry Hannah that I’ve salvaged a storytelling performance and two magazine articles out of the humiliation I felt when I was finally called on it the summer after finishing my MFA. My other literary faves comprise a motley hodgepodge indeed: Donald Barthelme, Flannery O’Connor, Lydia Davis, Terry Southern, Richard Brautigan, Ted Berrigan, Ishmael Reed, Kurt Vonnegut, Sam Shepard and J.P. Donleavy.
Long before I became serious about writing and performing comedy, I was a much-too-serious saxophone student (and a self-taught guitar and banjo player), so many musicians keep me listening to and looking at my approach to creative challenges: John Fahey, Captain Beefheart, Pere Ubu, Ornette Coleman, Skip James, Dink Roberts, Michael Hurley, Thelonious Monk and Sonic Youth.
In college I befriended more than my share of art majors, so I know just enough about art to realize what I appreciate: mostly primitive outsider junk, plus the paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jasper Johns, the early video work of William Wegman and the performance pieces of Laurie Anderson and Chris Burden.
Comedy was my earliest artistic crush. When I was only six or seven, I started laughing at my grandparents’ Bill Cosby records. And I started watching Richard Pryor and George Carlin on HBO when I was still too young to really “get” their funniest jokes. (Thank you, Uncle Bob.) My tastes in contemporary American comics run toward the predictably and deservedly respected: Louis CK, Zach Galifianakis, Mike Birbiglia and Bobcat Goldthwait lately. The majority of my comedic influences these days are all from over in the UK: Peter Cook, Billy Connolly, Stewart Lee, Johnny Vegas, Dylan Moran and Daniel Kitson.
What I believe these disparate artists all have in common, across generations and genres, is their honesty. Their incredibly personal points of view, too.
And that’s what I like to believe I’m learning from them: To recognize and trust the sound of my own voice when I hear it.
They’re certainly not teaching me to prance.