Romanticism, Punk Rock, and the Importance of Rim Jobs
“I decided instead to follow the Cooper fixation and wrote a large thesis project on the George Miles cycle that focused on notions of romanticism, punk rock, and the importance of rim jobs.”
Andrew Stevens interviews Brandon Stosuy…
3:AM: You curated ‘Discipline and Anarchy’, a Kathy Acker retrospective, at NYU in 2002. What attracted you to her writing and life to instigate a venture of this nature?
BS: In grad school, I was initially writing my thesis on Acker… Samuel Delany was my advisor. I basically went to Buffalo to study with him. After two or so semesters, Delany left to teach at Temple University; in his absence, I found myself growing more and more obsessed with Dennis Cooper‘s novels. So, after writing a bunch about Acker (basically, mapping her output), I ditched the project. This was… 1999? 2000?
I decided instead to follow the Cooper fixation and wrote a large thesis project on the George Miles cycle that focused on notions of romanticism, punk rock, and the importance of rim jobs. Tony Conrad, the minimalist composer/structuralist filmmaker, was my adviser. I’d been working for him, helping him archive his films and reel-to-reels, including collaborations with La Monte Young, John Cale, etc… a bit of the Dream Syndicate’s output. We were also making music, cooking meals, just hanging out. I asked him to be my adviser for the Cooper project because he was the one person who seemed to get it. We were friends, so I sorta assumed he’d go easy on me, but turned out Tony was a total stickler, who gave the paper a number of close readings. After a few revisions, I collected my Masters. Student loans were piling up, though, so I decided not to pursue the Ph.D and moved to New York instead.
By this time, Dennis and I had become close friends. He knew I needed a job, so he hooked me up with Fales Library, where I was employed as his archivist (and then David Trinidad’s, etc). Dennis and Kathy obviously overlapped in a million ways — as friends and sometimes combatants and writers who admired each other’s work, etc. I started reading their correspondence housed in the archives, and thinking of her work again. I also started digging through the Between C&D and Serpent’s Tail/High Risk archives… She shows up everywhere in there. Tons of correspondence with Ira Silverberg, for instance. The David Wojnarowicz collection, too. They passed along some amazing postcards.
I kept talking to Marvin Taylor, the director of Fales, about Acker. He knew I’d been writing about her before I came to Dennis…
Eventually, that Acker reader co-edited by Dennis and Amy Scholder came out on Grove. Marvin and Amy and some folks decided to have a big celebration at Fales and wanted there to be some sort of exhibition to coincide with it. He asked me to do it. I felt like this was a second chance to complete something I’d disregarded, so I got pretty into it (for instance, I talked them into flying me to Duke so I could dig through their stuff… they house the main Acker archive.) I decided not to rely on what was housed in Fales, so I contacted Matias Viegener (Kathy’s executor) and borrowed material from friends of mine like Robert Glück and Kevin Killian, which helped bring in some of the SF New Narrative side of things.
None of this really answers the question. Well, maybe it does — Acker’s work was just always there for me. As a grad student, I put on this conference in Buffalo with Dennis, Eileen Myles, Glück, Killian, Dodie Bellamy, etc… A bunch of folks associated with, as I mentioned above, New Narrative… Again, Acker. And — Tony Conrad had given me a copy of the Blue Tape, a really rare video Acker made with the poet Alan Sondheim. I’d been using that in my thesis way back when, received permission from Sondheim, and showed it at Fales. So, more overlaps. It was something few people had seen, so it was cool to be able to include it.
But to be more specific: I was always drawn to Acker’s work because of its obsessive consistency, the way she decided to frame it. Plus, she seemed like a punk to me when I was younger. We both had tattoos! I wrote some over-the-top statement about the exhibit and talked about how her oeuvre is this sort of collagist time-lapse — the movement from the Black Tarantula through the late period… Proust was dished as well. Or, I did this project for a Portland journal, Gobshite Quarterly, where I went through all of Acker’s books and removed single sentences to create a new narrative. A sort of dorky Burroughsian exercise — but I loved how consistent this extremity remained. A couple weeks ago (early 2007), Dodie Bellamy did this installation, “Kathy’s Clothes,” or something, that included a room of Kathy’s garments hanging from the ceiling, etc. I was drawn to her work because she’s an author who’d inspire people to dig through her closet. Plus, like I said, she’s just always there. Everywhere I look.
3:AM: What brought about the Cooper fascination? Any musical influences in your work here at all?
BS: Definitely. The way Dennis wrote about punk and youth cultures really moved me. Those sections in Closer, Guide… and later Period. It’s everywhere, but those were most important to me. Early on, Closer. I’m supposed to be on a panel about Dennis’ work at NYU next week… I haven’t figured out what to do… but maybe just talking about the Omen (from Period) would be fun. In grad school I presented a paper on rim jobs in Cooper’s work at some weird body art panel…. The romantic aspects of the novels obsessed me, too. The honesty of them. Dennis is also just a super stylist — every sentence seemed important to me. I’ve read and re-read each book dozens of times and they always get me. But when I was working on my graduate thesis, Dennis and I spent a lot of time corresponding about Fugazi, Guided By Voices, Weezer, Slayer, and how they each effected his writing… the prose itself as well as the content.
3:AM: How did Up Is Up… come about? As an extension of this?
BS: Definitely. A little after the Acker event, and once I’d completed
sorting David Trinidad’s archives, I left Fales to work a couple days a week for an art dealer, archiving the output of the San Francisco artist, Jess. He was still alive at the time, but reclusive — we never spoke. A lot of people only know him as Robert Duncan’s partner, but he was a totally brilliant artist and person. Different story…
Fales was great, though Marvin had been twisting a few rules to keep me on as a non-student. Or that’s how I remember it. He’d totally totally hooked me up, but that job was running its course in various ways — I was starting to feel like a mooch. Another lamely economic thing is that the gallery could pay more. I was the only employee; the owner’s a millionaire. I wanted to concentrate more on my writing and for the first time in my life I could get by on a less than full-time job. I lived out in Bushwick with two housemates, off the J M Z Train, and paid $400 a month in rent. (My one housemate, Sara, used our living room for band practice — an old plaster house with amazing soundproofing.) So, the money the dealer paid me covered the rent and student loans and all that crap and I went full speed ahead with freelance: I started writing about music and books for the Village Voice and Time Out; Pitchfork took me on as a staff writer, etc.
Marvin and I stayed in contact. At one point we were talking about the sheer amount of materials in the archive, how books could be drawn from it. He told me he’d always wished someone would do an anthology covering New York in its heyday period, but hadn’t found anyone he’d trust to do it. I jokingly volunteered. A few days later he said he thought I really should do some kind of book, and suggested I write a proposal and pass it along to NYU Press. The Press really respects Marvin and he told me he’d give me a big recommendation and all that… I came up with a proposal and tweaked it a few times. A bunch of months (maybe a year?) later they told me they wanted to do the book.
My initial proposals were crazy — I wanted to include a CD with sound recordings, an all encompassing timeline, etc. Things they nixed. Wisely, I think. At the time, though, I couldn’t figure out how to include everything that needed to be included. The book became a major project for me — I spent three years working on it between the gallery and my other writing. Because it took up most of the time I would’ve spend on my own fiction, I decided to turn it into a giant collagist novel. So placing each story or image took a while…
Earlier, when NYU Press gave me the green light, I went back to Fales and just started digging. I spent close to a year, I think, re-reading all the East Village Eyes and checking out as many piles of flyers and other things I could find. I also contacted dozens of writers and met them in bars, their apartments, coffee shops, etc., where they brought me all kinda of out-of-print books, zines, broadsides. Ron Kolm was especially helpful. He and I started getting together as often as once a week — I’d burn him CD’s by Wolf Eyes and Whitehouse and Excepter and he’d bring me old issues of Public Illumination Magazine, Redtape, etc. Turns out his teenage son loved noise (and he still does). But Ron wasn’t he only one major resource — Bruce Benderson scanned photos and flyers, as did Richard Hell. Lydia Lunch sent me a bunch of stuff. Folks would invite me to their homes and just let me go for it. Between that and Fales, I was buried in the stuff.
Bringing it full circle, I asked Dennis Cooper and Eileen Myles to write the afterword. This goes back to Buffalo, where I was writing about Dennis’s work and where Eileen and I worked on that previously-mentioned conference together, etc. I’d been in (and remain in) steady contact with both. I still owe Dennis my job at Fales, really. Like I said, he was the one who told Marvin about me.
3:AM: What was your background before those two projects? Given what you covered in Up Is Up, are you connected with what’s going on in a wider sense with the literary scene in NYC at the moment?
BS: I got into punk and hardcore in 7th grade, or maybe a bit earlier,
and was always part of some sort of scene around that — whether bands, zines, or whatever. I did a zine for years. I spent tons of time on that — each issue was close to 100 pages of 10 point font. Those took up a large part of my teenage years… through my early 20s. I ran a noise label, too — all cassettes and 7″s. We did one 12″, though we split the costs with a bunch of other noise labels like Chocolate Monk, Ecstatic Peace, etc. For a long time I had a weekly radio show — first in NJ and then in Western Canada. I focused on noise, underground metal, drone, and dark psych. I put on a bunch of shows in various basements.
I was working on a novel for a long while… it’s currently a discombobulated 600-page mess about, among other things, charting Ian Curtis’ epileptic seizures and this kid, the one obsessed with Curtis, trying to write these huge compositions based on cloud movements. Plus, lots of teenagers sitting around and fucking. I’ve abandoned it. I was writing that full-time when I first met my girlfriend… so that was four years ago, I guess. I remember giving her huge chunks of it when we were dating; handing her notebooks and asking her what she thought. Have simplified things now, though — working on short stories and the like. My family still lives in rural farm-country NJ. That town’s given me endless amounts of material…
My friend Casey McKinney and I were always charting similar paths. Our work would appear in the same places before we met; it took a long while for us to finally take that next step and start hanging out. We both wrote essays for Sue De Beer’s monograph. We were both friends with her and yet somehow we never met… And I’d done a piece on noise guitar (mostly about Elisa Ambrogio of Magik Markers) in this issue of NYFA Quarterly in which he’d written something about skateboarding or tattoos or something. Dennis Cooper told me a few times that we should get in contact, but we never did. Casey did zines for years, too. Anyhow… he currently lives a six-minute walk from me and we hang out all the time. A couple years ago he emailed me and said he was moving to New York and wanted me to write for his new publication, The Fanzine. We got along really well and started getting together a few times a week– going to show, bars, his apartment, etc. I suck at taking photos, so if I had to interview a band or review a show, he’d go w/ me and be the photographer. He’s great at that stuff.
So I’ve done things for him. Mostly, though, we sit around and project football on the walls and drink beer. That’s a joke… well, actually we do that stuff, but we also have a bunch of projects going on… all half-baked but continuing. I’ve been doing a porn column for him, which has been slow going, but has led to some interesting things. For the first installment, I interviewed this young porn actress, Sasha Grey. She’s 18. Started doing porn on her 18th birthday. She likens what she does to Vienna Actionism, goes on at length about Burroughs and French cinema. Basically, she’s really smart and into a lot of great art, books, literature… I mean, she’s 18 and knows all this shit. We kept corresponding after the piece ran and are currently collaborating on a book together. A monograph. She’s taking photos of herself and her friends having sex and hanging out and I’m writing a fictional text to go with it. She was just nominated for a Best New Starlet award at AVN, but lost… rip off. She was also recently on some Entertainment Tonight show where they tried to present her as damaged or a victim, but she won out in the end — Tyra Banks show, too. She’s on the up and up. I’m working on a new instalment of the column– an interview with Charlotte Stokely. She and I are going back and forth about black metal. This New York based porn director, Joe Gallant, wants me to help him write some stuff for a film. That could be fun, if it ever pans out.
A good, old friend of Casey, Jesse Bransford, recently asked me to co-teach a class at NYU on East Village Art & Literature; that starts in the Fall. It’ll be co-taught with Jason Murison, a director of PPOW gallery. We need to get on that soon.
As far as the wider literary scene — I’ve always been suspicious of networking and things of that sort. When Up Is Up was published, I had to do a bunch of readings. I think, all said, there were about twelve in NYC alone. So that got me out of my apartment a bit. Otherwise, I don’t really go to readings or writers’ groups or things like that. I meet with friends for drinks, go to shows. I seem to hang out with more artists and musicians and porn folks than writers, for some reason. Maybe that’s not true — I guess I’m friends with writers who are also really involved with art/music. I do hang out with writers… but it’s hard to explain. Most NYC writers my age bug the fuck out of me.
3:AM: If that’s now then why do you think the scene you wrote about came to an abrupt halt?
BS: When folks point out or try to pinpoint what happened to Downtown writing — that moment when so much was happening in Manhattan — they
talk about AIDS, gentrification (and the resultant high rents), the general cleaning up of the city. Those were all huge huge factors that worked like dominoes, closing down bars, clubs and other public meeting spaces; robbing the scene of folks in their prime. The amount of people lost to AIDS is completely… staggering. In addition, there should also be a discussion of the academy– people took academic jobs and sorta lost touch. Folks got older and stopped hanging out. This sounds trite, but if you go back and look at the East Village Eye or other papers from that period, you can seriously see this shift. Weirdly, around the time David Wojnarowicz died, Nirvana broke, becoming this huge phenomenon without turning down their guitars. At that point, people stopped looking at NYC as the center of punk-inflected, or whatever, culture for a while. Things come in waves… these days CBGB’s is gone (though, as folks forget to say, they hadn’t really been booking good shows for years), the Contintental’s on the ropes, etc. Further uptown, Coliseum Books shut down. I mean, there are a few Starbucks’ on and around Astor Place… that kind of thing. Subway sandwiches all over the fucking place. Brownies, a bar where I spent so much of my teenage/college years, is now a lame bar, Hi-Fi. So, okay, multiply that by the dozens, and it’s why 90% of my friends are currently in Brooklyn. Though the building across from me was just knocked down to make space for condos, so I’ll likely have to move soon. I love the area of Manhattan below 14th Street, wander it all the time, but the energy’s shifted. Thankfully Tonic survived… places like the Bowery Poetry Club, Tribes and ABC NO Rio, etc. So there’s definitely something going on, but to say it’s as concentrated and powerful as it was is just nostalgia.
3:AM: Finally, what are you working on next?
BS: I’m currently doing a piece on Norwegian black metal for the Believer. I travelled over there a couple weeks ago and met with Snorre Ruch, who was implicated in the murder of Euronymous in the early ’90s, and served eight years in prison. He makes incredibly dense, gorgeous music as Thorns. So we talked. Great guy. And I’ve been corresponding with dozens of Norwegian black metal musicians. There’s that. Am also writing an introduction for a reprint of a Michelle Tea book (for Semiotexte). Two career studies in the works, both for the Believer — One on Wayne Koestenbaum and one on Lynne Tillman. One of my editors at the Believer recently asked me to do a lengthy — 10,000 or so words — piece on the cult of Gordon Lish. So I guess I’m saying: Lot of journalism. I want to turn the metal thing into a book. And then there’s the monograph with Sasha. I’ll be in L.A. on Tuesday to interview this bigger Norwegian metal band, Dimmu Borgir. I’ve also been curating the Believer‘s next Music Issue CD. Just received an amazing Matmos track and Xiu Xiu remix for that! Started a weekly column at this site, Stereogum, focusing on bands and their day jobs. Work’s important to me. I grew up really white trash; started picking blueberries when I was 12. So work’s something I think about a lot.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE
Brandon Stosuy, a staff writer and columnist at Pitchfork, associate editor at Paper Thin Walls, and columnist at Sterogum, is a regular contributor to The Believer, Spin, and other publications. He’s written for Arthur (R.I.P.), Bomb, Bookforum, LA Weekly, Seattle Weekly, Slate, the Village Voice, etc. Up Is Up, But So Is Down, his anthology of Downtown New York literature, was selected by the Village Voice as one of its 25 favorite books of 2006. He’s currently working on his first novel. This fall he’s co-teaching a course at NYU on East Village art and writing.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, March 4th, 2007.