Thursday, June 20, 2002

Awright Meshuggenas, so it's Thursday and enough with the moping and the history lessons.

It's Superhero Thursday once again. This week my heroes are....

John Fante and Brendan Benson!

Why, you ask?

Gold, I say.

John Fante should really be called Johnny Fantastic, not only because that's a cool name, but also because that's what he is.

He's this guy who I can't hardly talk about in the past tense because he's alive to me.

John Fante writes funny, clean sentences that draw you in, and envelope you in the sordid limitations and cosmic infinity of his own mind. You wanna know how it feels to be a writer? Read John Fante.

John Fante is not afraid of being considered a "small" writer. He writes about small things in a big way. He does not write sweeping war epics. He mostly writes about love and self-loathing and trying to get through the day in L.A. ("I wasn't starving. I still had some old oranges under the bed...")

Read "Ask the Dust."

I am reading "West of Rome" now, two novellas published after his death (he died in 1983). I'm almost done with the first novella, called "My Dog Stupid." It's about him adopting a big gay dog, whom he names Stupid. (Which makes me wonder if he saw Steve Martin's "The Jerk" when they showed it on TV ages ago--they changed the dog's name from Shithead to Stupid.) The dog is literally gay. This happens sometimes, as my friends Rick Royale and Paige can tell you. (Their dog throws a party every year just to watch the Tonys.)

Without making a great show of it, John Fante tells you exactly how it feels to be poor and alone in L.A. in the 1930s. Or to be semi-poor and raising ridiculous hippies in Santa Monica the 1960s. Wherever he is, he takes your hand and walks with you into the heart of it.

Skylight books has a pretty complete Fante section.

John Fante had a finanically rewarding commercial life as a screenwriter. But his real art did not get the love and money it deserved from the world. Much of it was never published during his lifetime, including two novels, 4 million short stories, and at least two novellas.

Still, he kept writing. And he kept writing his way.

This is the crucial thing.

I wish I could tell him how much he has given me. I can't even tell you about it, because those things are now quietly taking root in the dark way bottom of my soul. If I talk about them they will become annoyed and their growth will be disturbed.

Thank you, John Fante, for walking ahead of us.

The same courage is to be found in

Brendan Benson, the wonderful rock 'n' roll singer-songwriter.

Here's one of his lyrics:

Try to understand

that an oyster can only make a pearl

from a grain of sand

but from what I don't know makes a girl.

Brendan Benson is from Detroit. He has lived in L.A. and Oakland/Berkeley. I don't know where he lives now. On the road a lot, probably. I think he must be single these days, because he has the malnourished hips of a guy who doesn't have dinner every night. Maybe this is just wishful thinking, because I want to be his girlfriend.

Brendan had a lot of label trouble with Virgin, who told him he couldn't have his friend and songwriting partner Jason Falkner produce his first record, "One Mississippi."

These days Brendan is on a Brooklyn indie label. His album "Lapalco" is plain beautiful. Buy it and don't be scared of the listening-snippets on Amazon--they don't do justice to the big crazy sound of it all. Charlie Hornberger says you really have to hear it on headphones.

Though Brendan Benson is probably poor, at least he has creative control. And I believe he will soon have his day in the sunshine.

Brendan Benson will always stick to his guns, and he will always be gold.

"I've always been this way

Never known any other way to feel

Got the right of way

And all of the others must yield!"




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