Thursday, April 18, 2013
That Old Blaster Magic by Ian Nagoski
That Old Blaster Magic: I Remember Nothing, Unfortunately.
The first thing that those of us who knew Blaster will usually tell folks about him is how deeply he was committed to a unique vision of humanity. There’s a line in the intro to his Omnibus about his stories and images being populated with “ghoulish fools.” And there’s always something said by us acolytes about how incredibly funny he is, accompanied by descriptions of the tears, or, among his drinkier friends, pee lost in the process of enjoying his ohmygod harharlarious stuff . And then, at some point, there’s the earnest admission that after going down the rabbithole of his output, that the world looks different and that, although you can never really hope to be as good as him, that there’s been a successful seduction, and now you find yourself seeing with Blaster-colored glasses at times and feel proud when you feel that you’ve said or done anything vaguely Blasterish, usually in prosaic terms like, “he was such a huge influence on me.”
Since he’s been gone, I’ve been thinking about this little speech, the structure of it as I’ve heard it given and given it myself, and the ways in which I’m bound to hear it again in the inevitable celebrations of him in the months to come. There’s a lot I don’t know about how he transmitted to us because he operated as an anti-guru, teaching without teaching and studiously reckless about any sense of lineage. But because I was lucky enough to see him in his off-hours on a regular basis during a few years in the mid-00s when we were roommates in a one bed-room apartment (he had the back room and the alley entrance; I had the living room with the tiny kitchen and bathroom and his always-closed panel door between us), a few things do seem worth sharing out loud for the sake of celebration of the man he was and for comfort in the face of the grief that we feel for a friend and hero now gone. He was such a good pal and a great help to those of us who knew him.
Exhibit A: Dogs, Children, and the Creeps who Care for Them
I don’t know if it was ever published, but I recall Blaster reading at a Shattered Wig night a story in which he described himself as a one-man cheering section for the dogs he saw defecating on lawns around the neighborhood. The idea was that each time he saw some pooch taking care of business on a walk, Our Man would root him on with the encouraging proclamation that, “that boy’s moving his bowels pretty good!” And the thing was, he was just that kind of a booster for anyone he saw as innocent. Dogs and kids were alright with him, and he gave a lot of credit and warmth to people, although he was keenly discerning in the behaviors of the cast of characters that surrounded him. He stayed friends for ages with people whose behavior was unjustifiably chaotic or even dishonest, summing long-time friends up in moments of sad forgiveness simply by saying, “everyone knows he’s goofy,” or something equally diffusive of hostility or conflict. I mean that he was kind and compassionate, but I’m not saying he wasn’t clear about who was who. His shuddering revulsion at the simple presence of certain humans, characterized, for instance, with a summation that, “when that guy walks into the room, it feels like all the oxygen has just been sucked out,” made it clear that he’d been working all his life on a study of character. So, although he was never someone who shouted about anyone’s greatness much, if there was some laconic remark of approval or the opposite, you could believe it. I remember how he disliked seeing friends fall out, and while he and I had our ups and downs due to my chaotic behavior (while Blaster, meanwhile, was steady as a rock) the meanest thing he ever said to me, as I was on the precipice of some genuinely terrible decision was the sharp derision, “you FOOL!” Maybe he was capable of meaner words when he was younger or older, but during the time we were close, it was the worst insult I can imagine coming from him, and it saved me then from really fucking up.
Exhibit B: Endless Details of Tertiary Characters
If you ever talked with Blaster about books or movies, you’d notice that he rarely recommended anything unless he felt you were asking for it. He’d pass favorite recent reading and viewing along happily, but as a literary conversation progressed, that vastness of his knowledge became clear, startling, and intimidating. I once described a mutual aquaintance to him as being “like a character from a Russian novel,” to which he replied, genuinely annoyed by my indistinctness, “which novel?” And the truth is that if I’d named a book to him at that moment, he would have known just what I meant. He retained characters, in minute detail, in his memory banks from things he’d read once decades ago. I never heard him say, and can’t now imagine him saying, “I don’t remember.”
Exhibit C: A letter for a Letter
Because he self-promoted to the tune of deathlike silence, whenever I met someone who might benefit from his work, I asked him if it was alright if I passed his mailing address along. “Sure, baby,” came the inevitable reply. And as far as I know, he sent a postcard for a postcard and a letter for a letter to everyone who wrote to him. When I moved away, I got from him just as good as I gave and slightly - just slightly - more. (And goddammit, my greatest regret in our relationship was that I didn’t give more, partially because he deserved more from me and partially because of the chuckles and bafflement and fun I could have gotten in return.) I know it was that way with lots and lots of people.
Exhibit D: It’s a Loose Shoe
Often repeated, the advice to “Always Try to be Lucky Enough to Work in a Despised Medium,” was credited by Blaster to Frederic Brown from correspondence from Blaster’s youth. Blaster, of course, left little in terms of a paper trail that anyone could nail down and fucked around with who-did-what-when so much that Emily Fussleman’s Rabbit only knows whether Brown ever wrote any such thing, but it was a deeply sincere motto for Blaster. Freedom meant everything, and that meant sacrifice and self-attunement. Of the latter, I remember particularly a moment when arriving home one evening to find Blaster standing over the open, blue flame-peaks of the gas range with his hands held steadily a few inches from their tops. Peering into the otherwise dark kitchen, I quietly asked after his well-being, “Blaster? Are you cold, man?” Without moving his downturned palms, his gaze came dreamily toward me as he greeted with his traditional, “hey, baby.” As he moved his eyes back down to his spidery, white mitts and the quiet surrounding them, I tried again: “Y’alright?” “Yeah,” he said, “old Indian trick. If you feel like you’re getting sick, you hold your hands over a flame and focus on the warmth entering into them. I’m fine.” Meanwhile, evidence of years of deprivation overflowed in our kitchen around him. Anything he didn’t eat from any meal was retained assiduously for some unknown eventuality. Dozens of empty peanut butter jars eventually filled the cabinets, each with only bare scrapings inside. A few swallows of Coke stayed for months at the bottoms of plastic bottles, lined up like clay Chinese funerary sculptures in the fridge. The last two bites of any sandwich were carefully wrapped in tinfoil and stowed in the freezer until it was overflowing in graying, shiny packets of inedible crusts, and the top of the fridge was stacked in a tower of cardboard tubes from the insides of the tinfoil rolls. Eventually, I got the nerve to ask, “Blaster, how would you feel if I threw away those cardboard tubes or the peanut butter jars?” “Sure thing,” he replied, “you can do it. But I can’t. It’s no problem. I’m crazy, but I’m not THAT crazy.” Which is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard anyone say.
(Once after I’d cleaned the kitchen and bathroom, Blaster was so alarmed that I got a full-on Redd Foxx about-to-have-a-heart-attack panic attack as he genuinely feared we’d been robbed of our grit and mold by bandits before I explained to him what I’d done. “What a homecoming! I’ve got to lie down!” He was fine an hour later.)
Exhibit E: What a Great Liar!
We were talking about possessions and moving once, and Blaster told me that once he’d helped a woman move and that among her effusion of stuff, he had carried a box labeled “Junior High School Sweaters.” I got a good laugh out of it. Years later, I met the woman in question, and told her smirkingly of Blaster’s divulsion of that intimate detail of her personal inventory. In no uncertain terms, she replied that she had never had any such box. It was clear that he’d made it up on the spot just to make a point and to make me laugh. Her name had simply worked in the moment as the character in the story he was creating.
On another occasion, I staggered into the apartment mid-afternoon after a catastrophically grim weekend-long date with a woman at my parents’ beach condo. Standing in the doorway of my room Blaster listened fixedly to me as I unwound the tale from my slumped position of a chair. My pathetic estrangement from this girlfriend came about gradually as I had repeatedly noticed gazing at me from behind a cloud of weed smoke with a terrified and puzzled expression. He retreated to his room, energized and poked his head back into my space a couple times to ask again about her facial expression. “Would you say that she had a look of suspicion and vague hysteria?” Yeah, I said. That’s about right. Later, “Would you say that she looked like a were-cat-badger-hawk?” I laughed. You know, she kind of did. The next day he, presented me with my own story, filtered through his own set of images and incongruities, titled “Hussrl” (who I was reading at the time) and, a blessing on his head, dedicated to me. (It wouldn’t surprise me if in a hundred years that dedication weren’t what I was best known for.) Blaster’s voluminous, voracious reading habit included bits of what he referred to as members of the “Poetry-Death Crowd,” in other words, the poetry establishment, the kinds of people who recognized in their own time as being Serious Poets for poignant images and downy styles. But he knew – KNEW – and showed by example that poetry is a behavior, a coping mechanism, and a way of being. It’s all of the playfulness and decent, kind fucking-around that you do because if you don’t, it all starts to feel like “nah.”
What’s happening, man?
How’s [that thing] going with [that person]?
Blaster’s voice in my head saying stuff like that are the core questions in every piece of work and every relationship I have undertaken since knowing him, just as much as:
Titans Be Pondering
Are You My Daddy?
Here Have a Peanut
You Are the Entity.
The Search for Puffy Treats
Why Did You Steal My Watch?
I Taught my Dog to Shoot a Gun
All Different All the Same
Or any of the other lugubrious gibberish that changed the world for me and my friends, feabs, floaters, and lurkers.
Sir Ian Nagoski is the record magnate behind Canary Records, a musician and a musicologist whose brain contains and retains a frightening amount of information. At times during his scholarly talks he may even perform an old Greek dance step or two.