Recently I’ve been reading two things: Kerouac and a book called Obedience to Authority, and both have me thinking about fear. Fear of what others think. A fear we put in ourselves, constant, a worm bore into the brain, put in the ear with our own hands.
Obedience to Authority is about a study that was done in the fifties or sixties that tested the extent to which ordinary people will follow the orders of a superior, even in the presence of a moral dilemma, of inflicting pain on a fellow man. They used an actor and the guise of a fake study on learning in which the teacher (the mark) shocked the learner (the actor) with electric shocks at each wrong answer. But the trick was, the shocks, ever increasing in power, were fake. The learner only pretended to be in pain. The plan was to see how many people continued on with worse and worse and worse shocks, go against their own feelings and the begs of the victim (fake). It was scary and depressing to see the ratios. How many people went through with it, hurt another person, a screaming in pain person sometimes complaining of heart condition always pleading to be let out. Only because a man in a lab coat with imagined power said so. This man had no real authority. He only represented a higher order, a system, a man above. For this they threw themselves out, their humanity, their compassion. Sweating, protesting, still they went on, barely prodded by monotone phrases like "there is no permanent tissue damage." But the ones, the few that stood up, stopped and refused to go on, I was so proud of them. A swelling in the lungs.
Jack Kerouac is a man, a poet, a writer. I read his Book of Sketches, a kind of journal of writings, a transcription of the pads he kept in his pocket over the course of several years describing scenes and moments, and it felt like writing class. I sat with it close to my face unblinking, shocked at the constant command, the honesty, thinking I wanted to soak it in, physically into my pores, the talent, the honesty, the vocabulary, the rhythm, I wanted to have that for myself. I’ve never felt more in my life after putting down a book that I knew the man who wrote it. I know his loves, his lusts, his paranoias, his surroundings, his nineteen-fifties, his cities, his equal compassions and hatreds for the Common Man. Just a journal but it held exactly the reason to write- to talk about the world, document, list what you see, try to find an order to it, say what you think of it, leave a message for after you’re dead, to say I was here, I was angry, I loved, I was here.
From his writing I feel a fearlessness. I don’t know if he displayed that in his real life- I know he traveled, he drugged, he drank, he divorced but also that he hated his life at times, became a slave to his image, his movement, became bitter with the times and fames, died of the drink. But while that means so much to me, it also means nothing. His writing life was not that. It was fearlessness. Never did I feel he held back. He talked about everything. He talked about his brother who died. His sister he disliked. He talked about wanting to be the greatest writer in the world. He talked about his disagreements. About when he thought a friend was wrong. They would all read it at some point, but still he talked. No censor. No fear. Everything he saw and felt. And I need that. I need that. I like style but I love honesty. His writing gave me, more than once, that feeling I search for. The ultimate jaw drop. The shocked eye-open. The Yes, Yes, Exactly, the something that so perfectly speaks to your heart, to your exact sensibilities, to what art can be and how it can shake you and affirm you and connect you to the person who made it in ways that are godly, soulful, impossible to replicate. I’ve gotten that from my favorite bands- Heresy by Nine Inch Nails, human screams used as an instrument while combining acoustic guitar with broken keyboards. The Great Destroyer, a song becomes an electronic cluster-crumble instrumental. Forty-Six and Two by Tool, the sound of that voice and that filter-up guitar sound as it comes back in. Bjork, buying the greatest hits after so many years of thinking about it, sitting on my bed pressing play and just being shocked and sad it had taken me so long but happy to have the short-lived honor of experiencing it for the first time, the reason I always wish I could erase my memory of an album I know too well, heard too many hundreds of times, wishing I could listen to it virgin-like. The very first and perfectly pitched still melodic effortless scream from Karen O the first time we saw the Yeah Yeah Yeahs live. Deftones, Elite, "When you’re ripe you’ll bleed out of control", so heavy and filtered and wrenching. Portugal. The Man, a track name I can’t remember, possibly AKA M-80 Wolf, a song that sounds like Castlevania and 8-bit and southern and electronic and dark and smart and right. Muse, singing of the Apocalypse, being so falsetto calm and then suddenly Stockholm Syndrome hits. Creep by Stone Temple Pilots, the most perfect acoustic. Various moments of Radiohead and their paranoid androids, Pink Floyd and their walls and childhood fevers and numbness. Marilyn Manson when he couldn’t be stopped. Saul Williams singing U2 through Trent Reznor’s sound.
And movies. The long shots of Children of Men. Forrest Gump driven to punch by jealousy and protection. Edward Scissorhands driven to kill by the same. And books. Laughing at Fear and Loathing, smiling while reading but not a popcorn smile, not a sugar smile, a real one, a dark one. Opening House of Leaves by Danielewski and seeing what a book can be. Same for Atrocity Exhibition by Ballard. Perfect sentences of Denis Johnson in Jesus’ Son and his journalistic Seek. Simple sadness from Amy Hempel. Surreal degradation and depravity from Craig Clevenger. Jack Kerouac, of course, everything is poetry. A quote from On the Road before I even read it- the burn, burn, burn, and before that Scattered Poems and after that Sketches and just eyes open.
This is what I want. I want to leave behind fear, shake it from my fingers. I want to earn a living doing this but it would mean nothing without the other. I know I’ll probably never be one of the greats but I’ll be happy to be one of the goods trying to be one of the greats, not selling out, not giving in to the crush of the Franchise, the Pander. No hovering over keys, just saying it. No holding back for marketing. Never putting sales before anything, never becoming a cartoon, a joke, an embarrassment. I try not to be Elitist but I get honestly truly disgusted by what I see on the outside, when I read around other people outside my circle, my type, and I hear things like "Reading? Good for you!" like it’s impressive. The worst was a woman saying "I can’t stand reading," such contempt in her voice, like "Books. Fuh." and what I want to say is, "I appreciate your opinion but you’re the one who shit out two babies for a man you don’t even entertain the idea of marrying and actually laugh at when I bring it up. That is your life and you will die dumb." Like Bill Hicks when he said a truck stop waitress asked him through gum, "Why you readin’? and he said "Wow, why? I never thought about why. I guess first and foremost so I don’t become a waitress in a truck stop." And the few that read, excitedly bragging about reading another from The Five People You Meet in Heaven Guy, pointing to it like "see?" and this is the best of them on a scale of readers. The rest don’t have time. Don’t have time, yet "Did you catch the nine hour season finale of Dancing with Surgery Victims?" but this is also the reason to write, the signal, to find other people like me, share something with them, give them another shield for The Fight. And maybe this never works, maybe in person it will never be an honest, human connection. But if I can have one on paper at least that’s something, and it can only be had by fearlessness, an avalanche, the ability to say it all and mean it all, honesty, fearlessness, pride, and that’s what the poets and doctors are saying.