The Evil Glee: An Interview With Tom Bradley
Interview by Mikael Covey.
3:AM: You’re a notorious figure in literary circles. Is that cultivated, or does it just go with the turf?
TB: Like anything else worth the effort, developing an evil reputation is motivated by that old work horse, the pleasure principle. You can gratify yourself by claiming that all these people want to kill you just because you’re telling the painful truths they would tell, if they only had the courage. But, of course, those painful truths can be fucked. You’re just in it for the wicked cackle, the infernal grin that distends and reddens the entire head when you think of the trauma and outrage your stuff causes sundry bastards.
For example, few moments of mental glee are more intense than those to be had picturing your Chi-com handler as he quakes before “the leaders” in Manchuria and tries to account for your counterrevolutionary scribbles. And you have to snarl out loud and slap your thighs till they hurt when imagining the outraged Nippo-babble that will squeak from between the gnashed teeth of extreme rightist fanatics in Tokyo, when they hear your latest bit of Hirohito blasphemy. And when you get a piece of sheer mendacity featured on a 3.75 million hit-per-month blog, insinuating that all Mormons are inbred polygamists, it’s a delightful whole-body rush to hang a flippant moon off the brim of the gigantic ocean that buffers you and the so-called “bishopric” in Salt Lake City, who would love to help Our Heavenly Father wreak vengeance on you. But, as you moon, you’d better keep an eye peeled over one shoulder, or buttock, for hit-missionaries.
That could be called paranoia if it were even slightly delusory, this delightful fear of repercussions, deportations, sackings, character assassination, physical assassination, etc. You can’t be blamed for hankering after these calamities, as they are among the few indications, in this illiterate age, that you’ve written well. Paranoia is nonetheless consistent with the pleasure principle for its masochism.
The self-righteousness and the persecution mania are well and good. But what sticks with you is the evil glee. That physical sensation keeps you pestering your naughty muse for more, no matter how many countries, careers and kaffeeklatsches you get kicked out of. I call it evil glee, others call it the writerly vocation.
The end result, of course, is isolation, exile, friendlessness, penury. An ursine existence. But that’s all right, because I’m genetically suited for it. Most extremely large creatures don’t run in packs or herds. Unlike jackals, rats and goats, we grizzlies don’t require the safety of numbers.
Most folks’ first mission in life is to get their noses up the neighbors’ asses. Primates and other wimpy mammals lacking fangs and claws naturally effect alliances, establish confederacies, build social bridges, for mutual protection. East Asia is founded on this mutual lice-picking principle, which they call Confucianism. Americans, especially us Far-Westerners, like to believe we’re beyond that crowded nonsense. But even compared to most Extreme Occidentals, I lack that ingratiating quality Dr. Johnson called “clubbability.”
3:AM: It sounds as though your physical size plays a big role in your world view.
TB: There’s never been anyone brave enough to try to reach up and kick the shit out of me. I have no idea if they could, because I’ve never had to land a preemptive punch on anybody. Simply to hulk about in such a frame is enough to warn pugnacity off. And apparently fisticuffs are the only way a fellow with gumption can become socialized in this socially Darwinistic vale of tears we call a fucked-up world. It has something to do with learning the rules of playground honor. In other words, if I were shrimpier and had a few scars and missing teeth I wouldn’t write such mean stuff. Or so they tell me.
But the obnoxiousness of my oeuvre can’t be laid a hundred percent at my size 16-EEEE feet. Extreme gigantism does not necessarily guarantee a fightless life. In fact, a certain wiry class of runt specializes in challenging big guys. They kick us in the knee, and the conquest is complete. No, augmenting and exacerbating my dimensions, there seems to be a certain sociopathic cast to my face, a series of pure accidents in bone structure, brow ridge, cheek hollows, jaw line, a gape of eye socket, which, even on top of a squat body, I am told, would scare off ninety percent of the world’s Napoleons. So, apparently, even sitting down, I am, at least superficially, a scary motherfucker, and that has allowed me to swagger through life unchary of repercussions in general.
Put it this way: Thomas Wolfe was so famously enormous that he spent his time standing in front of a fridge, on top of which he laid his famously enormous elbows and scrawled his famously enormous manuscripts. I’ve got more than half a foot on that wussy. I pull a chair up in front of that fridge, and slouch.
Cops everywhere, even China, even Oaxaca, even Los Angeles, have always treated me like funny-looking royalty, no matter how big an asshole I’ve chosen to impersonate. For a while I entertained the dangerously megalomaniacal assumption that my person exudes some kind of protective auric egg which renders me invulnerable, like Our Lady of Guadalupe. But then I saw a full length video shot of me walking among the children of the Mikado, and it was a revelation. I internalized my externality for the first time.
In spite of how heroically they are depicted in shit-fiction and the corporate entertainment media, policing is just a job for most pigs, not some selfless vocation. Sure, they’ll shake down runts for the pure pleasure of it, and would do it free of charge, because they’re animalistic bullies by temperament. Otherwise the powers that be would never have given them a stick and a gun and told them to drive around looking for trouble. But, even in the heat of the permanent War on Terror, cops don’t just randomly shake down us really big guys for the sadistic fuck of it, whether we’re sporting jelabs or not. They wait for a little dark runt to toddle by, because they know from experience the hard facts of mass and momentum, and are aware of the adrenalin spike that attends arrest, and how it increases the big fucker’s Newtonian advantage. Cops know even better than schoolyard bullies that it’s rarely worth the trouble to mess with a grizzly in trousers. They’re not getting paid enough for dislocated shoulders and loosened teeth. (Now you know how Osama has evaded apprehension — it’s the Marfan Syndrome.)
In this country foreign devils are required to carry what amounts to a dog license on their persons at all times: a plastic card with your mug and, until recently, your fingerprint. Hairy barbarian outlanders are stopped by cops at any time, shaken down and dragged off to the Nippo-pokey if the doggy tag’s lacking. My lesser acquaintances tremble nakedly if they don’t have their plastic identity on them when just going out on the back stoop to piss. Meanwhile, I don’t even know where mine is. I have never carried identification in any country in the world, and have never been hassled.
3:AM: I presume height runs in your family. In your autobiographical writing, you’re pretty hard on your aunts, uncles, cousins, et al. Do they deserve it? Does obnoxiousness — excuse me, “unclubbability” — run in your family, too?
TB: My clan would warrant evisceration even if they were all under five feet, one hundred pounds. Rumors are that Brigham Young kicked us out of the territory for building a moonshine still and competing with the Mormons’ flourishing booze business. But I suspect it was just because we were big unclubbable oafs who walked down the street ridiculing the Latter Day Saints and being obnoxious and making weird fart noises with our armpits and mouths.
I read Mark Twain explaining polygamy by the ugliness of the women, and somehow I just transtemporally know he lifted that quip from a couple of my great-to-the-xth power uncles, who took him aside between appointments to be ignored like a puppy by the Prophet-Seer-Revelator Brigham “Big ‘n’ Hung” Young. America’s most beloved humorist was buttonholed by my forbears, drawn aside, and lit up with a couple jars of our distilled potato-eyes.
So I come by my exiled condition honestly. There is some indication that my paternal forbears didn’t fuck off from the tin mines of Cornwall voluntarily, but took it rather on the lam, and hooked up with Mormon missionaries not for spiritual purposes, but just for the free passage to another land mass far away, deep in the desert hinterland where Her Majesty’s hangman couldn’t readily find them. I have just continued their push into the setting sun.
3:AM: What sort of articles do you write for Salon, McSweeney’s, and Arts and Letters Daily?
TB: They tend to deal with the various cultures I have been kicked out of. For example, my depiction of geriatric cannibal orgies in the basement of the Mormon Tabernacle. Or my presentation of the sundry Mormon gods as a daisy chain of jumbo jet-sized onanists who use planets like wads of kleenex. Or the witness I bore to Chinese executions where, if the point-blank rifle bullet in the back of your head doesn’t immediately finish you off, the soldier flops you over and excavates your cardiopulmonary tract with his bayonet. Or my enumeration of which Japanese meat items should be stuffed in an aborted baby’s mouth before he’s set on fire, so the kid won’t become a Buddha, and maybe will reincarnate again at your house at a later, more convenient date. Articles like that get more play than, say, my reviews of poetry chapbooks. Don’t ask me why.
What is it, period, would be the first question to answer. Andrew Gallix has called Fission Among the Fanatics a künstlerroman. John-Ivan Palmer has called it a collection of “searing personal essays.” And Harold Lime has said this:
So what is it? It’s a memoir that might as well be a great novel (or maybe it’s a great novel in the guise of a confessional memoir: I assume it’s a memoir because the ring of truth was evident throughout)… expressed with great insight and charm.
Spuyten Duyvil Books put it on their nonfiction list, and heard no sounds from me, either way. I tell the same proportion of lies in what is called my nonfiction as I do in my fiction. The only difference is the balance between exposition and narrative elements such as dialogue. When the main guy is called Tom Bradley instead of Sam Edwine, that’s a hint. But not necessarily a reliable one.
TB: It’s easier to say what Bizarro is not. It isn’t domesticated realism in the intimate and soft-pedaled mode, bathed in muted tones, democratic and “pure,” manageable by all and sundry. It is not “real-time fictions” in the plain style, offering reassurance and comfort to moral valetudinarians, with ordinary characters whom just about anybody can gently condescend to, doing ordinary things, just as you’d do in your daily life if you, too, were a member of the nebbishim.
3:AM: Well, thank god for that, because I’m no nebbish. What’s going to happen next in your life?
TB: The great Crossing Chaos Enigmatic Ink will publish my next novel, Vital Fluid, next year. It’s about a couple of rival hypnotists who stage an increasingly bizarre series of shows across America. Things get so far out of hand that mercenaries from the Department of Homeland Security must be called in.
Vital Fluid is inspired by the uncanny performances and astonishing life of John-Ivan Palmer, the top stage hypnotist in America today. John-Ivan will make you bark like a dog. He will suspend you between two chairs and sledge-hammer a cinder brick on your tummy. Simultaneously he memorizes a complete issue of TIME Magazine at a glance, and is quizzed on specific pages by awestruck folks in the audience.
A brilliant writer in his own right, John-Ivan Palmer has toured Mexico with a low-budget troupe of female impersonators, and huffed rubber cement while dodging death squads with Guatemalan street children. He has sojourned in the world’s largest Yugoslavian nudist camp, and tracked down the decapitator of Yukio Mishima. He has interviewed and written with unparalleled penetration about such figures as Annie Sprinkle and Richard Kern. And his novel about male strippers, Motels of Burning Madness is absolutely fucking amazing.
In fact, John-Ivan Palmer is my favorite living writer. He is unique: a fearless professional spelunker of the human psyche who possesses the talent to climb back out of that fathomless cave and give us a brilliant account of his findings. So it’s an enormous boost that he considers Vital Fluid to be “a masterpiece,” and writes, “There are no words to describe the eerie dream this book is to me.”
3:AM: Tell us about your publisher, Crossing Chaos Enigmatic Ink.
TB: A highly auspicious outfit. They have put together the most exciting inaugural line-up of any press in decades. Their art-fiction fusions include graphic novels by younger talents, such as Jase Daniels, and what promises to be an epoch-defining compendium, Brain Spackle: Underground Artists Exposed. I am particularly looking forward to Troglodyte Rose, written by Adam Lowe of Dog Horn Press. It’s a wild and elaborate science fantasy, fused with the virtuosic artwork of Kurt Huggins and Zelda Devon. They’ve got an interactive website for the book, which gives more than a hint, in rich, deep colors, of the brooding, gorgeous, hilarious, labyrinthine, dystopian delight that is Troglodyte Rose’s world.
Crossing Chaos Enigmatic Ink’s poetry list features a 400-page magnum opus of modern Zen meanderings by Duane Locke, the prolific professor of metaphysical poetry. This is his first book in fifteen years. Before Crossing Chaos Enigmatic Ink’s Wayne Groen tapped him on the shoulder, he didn’t feel right putting this work in the hands of any publisher.
The catalogue includes such seminal figures as J. J. Steinfeld, whom The Globe and Mail has called the Canadian Kafka, and GX Jupitter-Larsen, prophet of the Xylowave, philosopher of the Totimorphous, proclaimer of the Transexpansion Numeral Unit. Joining the line-up with a Talmud-inspired novel is Hugh Fox. He’s Bukowski’s first critical biographer, and a legendary figure in the small press movement. And, most exciting of all, there will be an illustrated novel, Snail, by the beautiful V Ulea (Vera Zubarev), who invented/discovered the Quantum School of fiction writing, and is a co-founder of Predispositioning Theory as applied to art and literature.
It’s a serious kick for me to have signed up Vital Fluid with this hot new press.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE
Tom Bradley‘s latest books are Vital Fluid (Crossing Chaos Enigmatic Ink), Even the Dog Won’t Touch Me (Ahadada Press), Put It Down in a Book (The Drill Press), and Hemorrhaging Slave of an Obese Eunuch (Dog Horn Publishing). Further curiosity can be indulged at tombradley.org and Wikipedia.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, January 29th, 2009.