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3am Interview





ASK THE LUST



"We're fat, we're greedy, and we don't give a shit. Our religion is TV. Our saviour is Bill Gates. We've learned our lessons well. We know how to put number one first."

Ben Myers interviews Dan Fante

COPYRIGHT © 2003, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Dan Fante knows a thing or two about surviving America. If you like your prose vodka-soaked, soulful and bleeding on the page, then Fante is your man. Born and raised in California, his father John was one of the finest writers of the twentieth century, yet poor sales begrudgingly forced him into working as a screenwriter during Hollywood's cinematic boom-time. By the time of his death in the early 1980's, Fante Sr's literary career was unknown to everyone but the die-hards, including one Charles Bukowski who, in his novel Women declared Fante his God and set about resurrecting his career. Dan Fante is, in my opinion, an even finer writer than his father. He has lived a life that would kill most people -- acute alcoholism and drug use, poverty, divorce, suicide attempts, therapy -- yet has survived to pick up the pen and tell the tale. Dan Fante isn't some two-bit, woe-is-me tortured writer, this is the real deal. Having read his first novel Chump Change , originally published in France, I couldn't work out why he wasn't one of the most famous writers in America -- but then America has always had a way of shying away from the kind of home truths that Fante's work meets head-on. His words cut through the whole sorry façade, make you feel alive, make you want to smash up the room. His word tears each page a new arsehole. Here is a writer whose work is immediate, outlandish and as downright sick and self-obsessed as any musician, and all the better for it; a writer whose works stands alongside Celine, Hubert Selby Jr and Knut Hamsun as modern confessionals from the gutter. A sequel and prequel, Mooch and Spitting Off Tall Buildings (both Canongate) have followed and Fante recently published his first collection of poetry, A Gin Pissing Raw Meat Dual Carburettor V8 Son Of A Bitch From Los Angeles (Wrecking Ball Press).

3AM: OK, some minor details first. Where and when were you born?

DF: I am a native Californian, a fourth generation Californian. Very rare they tell me.

3AM: Your biography states that you hit the road at twenty years old -- were there any romantic literary aspirations a la Jack London or Jack Kerouac behind this move? Where did you go?

DF: I hitchhiked to New York. Please -- do not put me in any category with fucking Kerouac.

3AM: So what attracted you to New York in the first place and why did you move back to LA, a place you seem disgusted with?

DF: I wanted to be free of restrictions and I wanted to be anonymous. New York is the best place in the world to be lost and stay lost. Also, some guy offered me a pocket-full of money and a haemorrhoid to return to California. He neglected to tell me about the haemorrhoid until it was too late.

3AM: You seemed to have worked dozens of jobs, including - intriguingly - a private investigator, a carnival barker and a dating service counsellor. Which of all the jobs was the worst?

DF: The worst was staple-puller. I still remember the blisters but I had to keep going in because I needed the money. God-awful shit. Nine hours a day. But I loved being a private detective. I think I'll write about it in my new book. The guy I worked for was a terrible drunk and had this huge office in midtown New York. But because he had once been an FBI guy, no one could evict him or get him to pay his back rent. It was a great job - when he paid me. The rest of the time we drank together and argued about politics...and once in a while I followed a husband or two. I loved writing up horrendous phoney shit on my boss' report forms. He'd ask me: 'Jesus Fante, is that true? Did the asshole really do that...' And I'd laugh and say 'No man, I was just shitting you.' He fell for the stuff every time. But he never fired me because, for some reason, he needed me in the office answering his phone. He needed a live voice. That's how I kept my job. I was able to get to work every day and answer his fucking phone.

3AM: What does a carnival barker's job entail exactly?

DF: Oh, a Carnival Barker stands in a mid-way game waving hoops or baseballs at people, calling to mooches passing by to come over and play his game. But it's when you get them to your game that the real salesmanship begins. A good flat-store man learns how to bleed his mooch for every quarter he can get. I loved that shit. It's a part of Americana that's dead now. Long gone. But Christ, it was fun. I was taught by some of the best. Crazy bastards. Midgets. Perverts. Obsessed gamblers. Wild people. Lotsa fun.

3AM: You write with great clarity about salesmen and the world of white --collar sweatshops -- how much is written from experience? Were you generally a good salesman?

DF: I was an alkie-cokehead telemarketer. Whatever mooch was between me and making my $500 a day on the phone was charcoal. I take no prisoners when I'm selling. None!

3AM: How the hell did you wind up being a dating service counsellor?

DF: When I stopped drinking I was unable to lie convincingly on the phone any more so I gave up sales and tried that. Basically, it was like changing seats on the Titanic.

3AM: Do you think you could have become such a powerful writer without these experiences?

DF: I don't know. I think my strength comes from being an insane drunk. Near death. Wanting death like a lover every day for years. My talent comes from madness - having survived madness.

3AM: Who have been the biggest influences on your work so far - literary or otherwise?

DF: Hubert Selby Jr's Last Exit To Brooklyn changed my life. Selby is God -- like a punch in the face. I fucking love Selby... then there was Eugene O'Neil. The day I saw Long Days Journey Into Night. I was twelve years old and I knew, leaving the theater that day, that I would become a writer. I knew it like I know Jesus wore straw shoes. A good book sticks with you. You drag it around in your head, chew on it, and somehow morph the fucker into your own consciousness, to remain there as a sort-of 'new' piece of you, of your experience. Hubert Selby did that for me. So did Edward Lewis Wallant.

3AM: Your father John Fante's work seems to be full of a lot of anguish and frustration with the world, but also full of hope -- are these things you were aware of being within him when you were an adolescent?

DF: I hated the son of a bitch when I was a kid. My old man was an insane madman. He had a tongue like a rapier. People did not fuck with my old man. I've seen him 'talk' to a man -- his agent or a TV producer or some asshole -- and leave that person nearly in tears. It was only years later that we learned how to love each other.

3AM: What do you think he would say about the renewed interest and recent relative success of his fiction?

DF: He'd be delighted. He knew he was the best writer in America. When he's at his best no one can come close. Ask The Dust is simply a seminal novel. A work of utter fucking genius.

3AM: Was your alcoholism on a par is your literary altar-ego Bruno Dante?

DF: I drank. I drank a lot. I am a pig. I drank as often and as much as I could for as long as I could.

3AM: So how much of you is there in Bruno?

DF: Nothing. I'm a nun.

3AM: What was your drink of choice?

DF: Whatever I could get you to pay for.

3AM: So what made you quit drinking?

DF: The voices. The voices in my head were trying to kill me. One in particular. I called it Jimmy. Jimmy was truly a dangerous motherfucker. I had three suicide attempts behind fucking Jimmy. Near the end, every day I had to choose the possibility of death if I drank -- yet I continued to drink every day. Hey, a guy's got to have his fun.

3AM: Suicide? Fun?

DF: Sure, for years it was one of my favourite past-times.

3AM: When were you first aware of Jimmy The Voice?

DF: I'm a drunk. Most serious professional drunks have voices. The thing is, my voice Jimmy just kept getting louder and louder.

3AM: You also write extremely convincingly about the power and influence of crack on the LA streets -- is this something you've indulged in?

DF: Well, I'm basically a juicehead. I did all the other stuff to look good. In L.A. you gotta look good.

3AM: Have, like Bruno, you ever received psychiatric treatment or been institutionalised?

DF: Sure. I've been Rolfed, Re-birthed, even done Reichian Therapy...and that's just the 'R's….

3AM: How long were you in therapy for? Did you have any big revelations about yourself as a result?

DF: Yeah, my biggest revelation is that therapy is total bullshit -- all the 'ah-ahs' a person gets have to be followed by the willingness to change. So, 99% of people on the therapist's couch are just jerking themselves off.

3AM: LA features is at the heart of both yours and father work. How would you describe the City Of Angels in one phrase?

DF: Like discovering Walt Disney's child pornography collection."

3AM: Have you seen many changes in LA during your lifetime?

DF: L.A. is a completely different city to the one I was born and raised in. Lets just say the bloom is off the fucking rose.

3AM: I recently spent a week in Vegas and was amazed by the sheer obesity of so many Americans -- is this representative of a consumer-led culture?

DF: Yup, Americans are getting fatter and fatter. We're eating our way to the promised land -- and Disney Land -- and Stupid Land."

3AM: Do the old notions of the American Dream still apply/exist today? Do you think there is more or less of a class division in American than, say, when you were growing up?

DF: Right now America has a huge middle class, many million very rich people, but a shitload of poverty too. Over 70% of Americans have bad credit. We're fat, we're greedy, and we don't give a shit. Our religion is TV. Our savior is Bill Gates. We've learned our lessons well. We know how to put number one first.

3AM: Who are the favourite musicians/bands?

DF: I like blues mostly. I like Tom Waits too. Some old Joe Cocker, but mostly Jimmy Reed, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, Wilson Pickett, Dinah Washington and Etta James.

3AM: What were your impressions of the UK when you were here on your recent promo trip?

DF: The British are civilized. People still read and some conversations can be interesting. By contrast American are fat and stupid and so thoroughly brain-blurred and over-sold by our culture that there's a numbing, unapologetic, arrogance and desperation about us. In fact, I've just defined the perfect consumer.

3AM: When do you find that you write your best stuff? Does your mood dictate your creative output?

DF: My secret weapon is my anger. That's what stimulates me as an artist. I want change. I want it yesterday. I'm pissed off at America. Society. American movies. American TV. American culture. American politicians. Capitalism. I'm a little like my old man in that way only I'm a recovered drunk. He wasn't. I should have been dead years ago like my brother but somehow I dodged the bullet and it gave me something to say. Impatience and rage are always just beneath the surface for me.

3AM: Is the Catholicism that you were reared on still a big part of your life?

DF: Organized religion is horseshit. Spirituality -- the spirituality that I've come to know and experience -- has nothing to do with religion. Were it not for my relationship with a God of my experience I would be dead. Actually I did die. Now I'm this other guy with a pencil in one hand and a bullhorn in the other.

3AM: What do you think of George W. Bush and what affect do you think his tenure will have on America?

DF: George means well. He's okay but, you know what? Fuck him. All American politicians are bought and paid for by American lobbyists. We no longer have representative government here. We breed monsters like Kissinger and Nixon and Ronnie Reagan. Our senate and congress are run by pay-offs and special interest money. And the fun part is that most Americans are asleep about it. Give 'em a new SUV and a good J-Lo or Tom Cruise kung-fu flick and a few jolly abortion clinic bombing news clips on the six o'clock news and everybody seems to stay content. Wasn't it Churchill that said any society gets exactly the government it deserves?

3AM: Why are guns so important to the American male? Should gun control be tighter?

DF: C'mon man, guns are fun! We wouldn't have any news stories in this country or video-taped highlights if it wasn't for our guns.

3AM: The death penalty seems to be at the heart of American society and there are few signs that it will ever be abolished -- do you think it's barbaric or a necessary evil?

DF: It's a farce. A useless, ineffective, racist, witch burning farce. It's corporate-managed murder. 25% percent of all Americans in prison are there because of drug-related offences. 60-80% of inmates in our penal system are HIV positive and non-white. Then after we let our prisoners butt-fuck each other for two or three years we giddily return them into society. Ah, ain't life in America grand?"

3AM: Were you were aware that a band called Pitchshifter recorded a song entitled 'Chump Change' in celebration of your first novel.

DF: God bless Pitchshifter. Never heard of the fuckers.

3AM: How would you describe a Dan Fante reader?

DF: Someone who will never be bored .

3AM: Is there one clear aim or message you want to send through your work?

DF: That man can survive. That he can kill and be twisted and broken and desperate and insane and fuck barnyard pets in the dark and wear a dress if he chooses, and hate and destroy everything that's beautiful, and wish for death for himself and others with every breath, and still be a perfect child of God.

3AM: What can you tell me about your recent play, The Boiler Room?

DF: I changed the title to The Closer. It has been running on a limited-engagement basis for 3 weeks. I'm trying to get financing for a Broadway run. The show ran in L.A. for two years to great reviews. As yet we have no backers - but we just might as two 'heavy-hitters' are on their way down to see the play this weekend then I'll be back to the warm weather in L.A. to the in a few days. What I can tell you is that it's the best play written in the last 25 years. The 'M' word -- money -- is a rough one for me too... I return to L.A. next week after a month in NYC on borrowed cash for the run of my play. I have no knowledge of how I will pay next month's expenses. Guys like us just must keep the faith... or scarf broken glass.

3AM: Theatre, poetry or prose -- which comes most naturally?

DF: I don't know. When I can't do one -- when I feel burned out -- I switch to the other. I believe I will continue to write though. It seems to amuse me.

3AM: What's the word on Chump Change being made into a film? Are there details you can tell me about?

DF: The movie will be called Corksucker. We finished the screenplay last year. With any luck it will be a film in sometime soon."

3AM: How do you feel about working with Hollywood, given your father's history as a screen writer?

DF: How do I feel about it? I feel like I deserve to make money and I feel that writing movies is for moron cocksuckers who can't do anything else.

3AM: Will there be more novels and are you going to do a book of your poetry?

DF: The manuscript of poems is with a publishers now. The problem there is that I submitted the book with colour photographs of the paintings of my friend Michael Napper -- one poem, one photograph, two hundred pages in length. The artwork is brilliant shit but very expensive to reproduce. I think they would be delighted to do the poems alone but the ad-on of the color makes the thing very costly. So, they're hedging his bets at taking the project. On my end, I'm keeping the American rights open waiting for the publisher to make up his mind. Of course there's no money in it either way for moi -- just some decent poetry I wanted to get pressed between cardboard. It's a great book of poems called A Gin Pissing Raw Meat Dual Carburettor V8 Son Of A Bitch From Los Angeles. I've also got another novel gurgling up inside me - it's almost time to make my lazy fingers go back to work….




ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE

Dan Fante was born and raised in Los Angeles. He is the son of writer John Fante. Dan Fante has worked dozens of crummy jobs. He hopes eventually to meet a fat waitress and learn to play the harmonica.



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