The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Math T presents … Captain Caption: A Day for Donny Miller *

* (restored)

In March 2006, I meet Patrick O’Dell and his then-girlfriend in line for a Morrissey concert in Oklahoma City. Like me, they both live in New York City, Patrick in the Lower East Side.

Patrick: ‘I want to take your picture. Also, everyone else’s.’

Math: ‘I am out of my head with want for your bikechain-thin, Scandinavian, Grove-Press-interning girlfriend.’

I return to Brooklyn with a mystic list that has mostly little to do with Patrick and whatever her name was

but when I get back, I start taking the F to 2 Ave, Patrick’s stop. I wander the LES for hours at a time. For a living, I write term papers and college admissions essays. I have little sense of purpose, but an incredible amount of free time.

Lower East:

Around Halloween, renovations begin on a café on the southeast corner of Houston and Allen. It sits under a billboard on which American Apparel has some really long-ass lease.

In October I start to draw. I’m not yet obsessed with titles, but will be soon.


In November a sign reading ‘Live Animal’ appears in the dusty café window. I don’t take a picture of it.


On December 12 I get hired on-the-spot at this American Apparel location, about 4 doors down from the café, which gets christened ‘Sugar’ and opens on my second day of work. It has cute employees and bland, expensive food. I work nonstop, the Christmas retail thing, til I fly to the west coast around December 22 for a long-planned trip.


In the song ‘The Killing Moon’ by Echo + the Bunnymen, the chorus begins, ‘Fate up against your will, through the thick and thin.’ While Echo+tB are not really one of my favorite bands [sorry D], that lyric is the best metaphor I have for describing how, ideally, I want a title to function. The fate is the title, and the will is the work it names. Ontologically the work and title are equal, and they are balanced against each other.

A work’s ideal title is, of course, not its fate, but it is like its fate. The title is ‘up against’ the work because it illuminates something not fully present in the work alone. The work resists this illumination- coyly, forcefully, winkingly, whatever- but it resists it, by nature, because it cannot fully include it.

The title is also ‘up against’ the work the way I’m up against my apartment door when I decide I want to hear my boyfriend fuck others; when I lean on the plywood, cupping my hand around my ear. The title is propped up against the work like I am propped up against the door. The title tries always to hear what is on the other side of the work. The title knows only the future, but trying to make itself relevant in the present, it gets a major hard-on.


In San Francisco around New Year’s, I hit my alltime fave museum, SFMOMA, and find a book in the gift shop called Beautiful People with Beautiful Feelings. It’s by an L.A. artist named Donny Miller, whose work I’ve never seen [it wasn’t/isn’t in SFMOMA outside the gift shop].

I’d call Donny basically a sloganist in the vein of Barbara Kruger. He also reminds me, to a degree, of Raymond Pettibon, Jenny Holzer, and Patrick O’Dell. His work is not as good as that of any of the artists I just named or am about to name, but I think it could be one day. Anyway, Donny’s work is not precisely ‘titled’, but the majority of his pieces consist of an image and a set of words. Art like this is important to me because I spend so much emotional, intellectual and sexual energy on thinking up titles. [Half the time when I am jerking off, I am trying to think up titles.] Donny’s works are really deliberately and literally worded. This is super meaningful for me because so many of my favorite visual artists were really lazy titlists. Mapplethorpe used mostly basic names of subjects, Warhol the same. Lichtenstein and Oldenberg [from whom Donny draws visually], same shit. Haring, almost all untitled, which I get frustrated trying to reconcile.

Donny Miller:

My closest referent for Donny’s style is magazine advertising from the 1950s forward. I guess that’s kind of a big duh. As I mentioned before, gallery-pop-art is another obvious part of its context, as is clip art.


So, I finish my holiday vacation in California; I come back to work. Surprise! Not only do we now sell Beautiful People with Beautiful Feelings at my American Apparel location, but while I’ve been away, Donny has come to the store for a reading and signing. Jeez, what are the chances? I talk to one of our many managers about it. ‘He’s an asshole,’ she tells me. ‘He was an asshole?’ I ask. ‘He IS an asshole. Just look at his book. It basically says women are really superficial and vapid.’ To my eye, the men in Donny’s book have approximately the same shortcomings, but she might have a point in the sorts of 50s-60s ad/clip-art images upon which Donny draws. The women do look kinda frivolous, I guess. Anyway, me and the manager never get to have a real conversation about the potential merits or problems of the book, but she tells me one detail which makes me blink forty-five times: ‘You know he built all the tables over at Sugar, right? He was there for months. He put up this sign that said LIVE ANIMAL.’


Here are some of my more Donny-ish titles. I made some of them before I encountered his work, and some after.

It Was Beautiful I’m Done with It

We Had a Deal

Paper Is My Favorite Invention

What Else Would You Do

I Offend You Just By Being Myself

I Like All Kinds of Music

Fuck Me Like We’re from that Other City


Donny Miller’s website is He has a blog there. You can buy Beautiful People with Beautiful Feelings for $5-15 from from It’s got 126 discrete works and 144 pages. Donny’s bio from the bookflap is, ‘Donny Miller is an artist who has been exhibited internationally and an art director who has designed many well-known logos and advertising campaigns. In addition to directing commercials and music videos, he also has a pet rabbit. He lives in Los Angeles, California.’

If you look around the internet you can also find a skateboard and a calendar with graphics from Beautiful People with Beautiful Feelings.


Download The Killing Moon.



p.s. Hey. ** David, Hi. Thank you. There’s an audio book of ‘I Wished’ but after hearing a sample of the guy reading it the last thing in the world I want to do is listen to it. First class, nice. I’ll go check your youtube. I used to quite like Orbital. Welcome home to the big L. ** Dominik, Hi!!!! The VMAs weren’t really depressing. It varied between being interesting and tedious. MTV has always pushed the shiniest, most vapid musical version of whatever’s trending, it’s just that what’s trending these days seems inordinately bland. Colorless, well-meaning pop/rap and the occasional gussied-up retro rock. If I had to pick the worst, I’d say Doja Cat and Twenty One Pilots, but there were a bunch of dreary acts/songs. I did manage to get new frames, but they don’t make the frames I had anymore, and my new ones are kind of ugly, urgh. But yeah. Yum = your anti-stomach ache love. This is kind of terrible but … Love hiring some thugs to corner Machine Gun Kelly somewhere and humiliate him until he cries like a baby, G. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, B. Yes, may your library be your surroundings again post-haste. ** David Ehrenstein, Yes, she is! And yes, and yes again. ** T, Drama club kids, right, that makes total sense. When I was growing up the Drama club kids always ended up getting summer jobs at Disneyland, which is not entirely an oppositional thing. I’ll offer my encouragement to you to redraft that piece if you can, seeing how the subject matter is my thang. Yes, Zac’s and my new film is about a family who turns their house into a home haunt, and my more immediate project is a video-game-like, 3D modelled walkthrough haunted house that my collaborators and I are premiering here in the big P in October. A subject close to my heart, let’s say. Ah, hope you like ‘IW’. I have working glasses, and they’re kind of ugly, but they work. I hope your today proves to be a key component in your future memories. xo. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. I assume its current audience is the latest generation of its eternally mainstream with a slight edge loving audiences. Well, I’ll go find out what you’re listening to, won’t I? Everyone, Steve has made a Spotify playlist of recent music he’s into. ‘While it runs across genres, all the music has a floating, dreamlike quality,’ he says. And here it is. Oops, sorry to hear about the insurance mislead. Thank you very much for reading and keying so well into ‘I Wished’. I really appreciate it. ** Lynne Tillman, Lynne! I lured you into my humble abode! Wow, has it been that long since I saw you? This Covid thing has really messed up time. I miss you! I await your next Paris trip with the veritable bated breath, and hopefully there’ll be a reason for me to get to New York where I can hopefully see you before too long. Tons of love and respect, maestro! ** Bill, Hi. Oh, that’s very sad news about Lew Ellingham. I hadn’t heard that. I met him a few times through Kevin K, and he was a real sweetheart. Ugh, ugh. I hope your day is an extra-fine one. ** Okay. I’ve retrieved this very old and charming post made by the long lost d.l. Math T from the dead zone. I hope it works its charms on you. See you tomorrow.


  1. michael karo

    speaking of long-lost d.l’s…BOO! it’s me! hi dennis! i pop in here quite often though you’d never know it! i come by and soak up the goodness. i’m just not that into commenting. getting your new book any day now. oh golly, math t! the most mysterious of them all. he posts like once or twice a year on FB. i have such fond memories of meeting math at your reading in SF and dinner after and giving math, d.l. alvarez and and janey smith (HA!) all rides home. i hope math is doing OK.

    despite a one-month reprieve in july we are back to wearing masks at work and it sucks. i’ve seen so many videos of grown-ass adults acting like infants over this. what a world.
    anyhoo, much love to you! MKxo

  2. David

    Dennis you don’t want to go to the beach.. you don’t want to see the wrapped Noah’s Ark instalation in Paris… and you don’t want to listen to your audio book? Damn You are unruly and perhaps need to be forced!! The first class meal yesterday was shit! !! So i ate my sandwich that I bought from the station with some chilli crisps… I was the only one in the carriage for most of the journey… spotted some funny jokes in this post… and in ref to the mention of E+T.B men.. I’ve seen Echo and the bunnymen live in the past… a different Donnie… (Darko) is one of my fave films… seen most of the pop soundtrack live… ‘The killing moon’ performed by Echo and the Bunnymen 9th June 2014.. ‘love will tear us apart’ performed by New order 16th November 2015 ‘Head over heels and Mad world’ performed by Tears for fears…. multiple times…’Under the milky way’ performed by The church 16th June 2018… and ‘Notorious’ performed by Duran Duran recently twice… anyway… better get off the ‘SETI’… had my morning toss off… and once again have to do a long run…. enjoy this weekend!… and thanks xx

  3. Dominik


    Honestly, I know so few contemporary names that I never watch these shows because the performers don’t really mean anything to me. Of course, that could be a fairly painless way to get to know them, I guess. I saw Twenty One Pilots live once, at a festival, and it was shockingly bad, haha.

    Oh. I’m sorry about the new frames. Your love only completed half of his job!

    Should I be brave enough to ask where this love came from, haha? Love suddenly realizing that he’s wearing that silly little hat just to please you, Od.

  4. Bill

    Multiple blasts from the past today, Dennis. Hope Math is doing ok these days.

    Been checking out some Ronald Chase. Odd, interesting films, and some lovely photos.


  5. Steve Erickson

    Are you still in touch with former d.l.s like Math and Laura Beth Noble? I’ve wondered how they’re doing now.

    I have two reviews published today: 1)the new Moor Mother album: and 2)THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BOY IN THE WORLD:

    I finally saw IT IS NOT THE HOMOSEXUAL IS PERVERSE… for the first time yesterday. I found the first 10 minutes so obnoxious that I almost shut it off – it was like listening to a bitter old man harangue you about what’s wrong with young gay men, burying some insights inside a wall of self-righteousness and hyper-judgmental generalizations. 1971’s version of leftism has not aged well in some respects – von Praunheim quickly got over this film’s transphobia, but it doesn’t see the contradictions of calling for gay men to embrace the Black Panthers and feminism without introducing a single lesbian or gay man of color as a character, or condemning both marriage and casual sex. But alternating between a narrative and the ironic-not-ironic voice-over, neither using sync sound, proved powerful in the end. I was arguing with the movie in my head most of the time, and I’m sure that’s the reaction von Praunheim wanted.

  6. Misanthrope

    Dennis, Math T! Yay! Was just telling somebody the other day about the night you, me, Math, and Zac G. hung out. That was such a laid back but fun time. One of my best memories of NYC.

    Oh, shit, just saw where Steve mentioned LBN. Think we just talked about her the other day. Another fun time in NYC: me, Nicholas, Alan, and LBN went to a gallery to Kier’s work. Tosh’s dad’s stuff was there (which I actually love; I wasn’t familiar with Wallace Berman’s stuff before that, but I really dig it). Anyway, LBN goes to take a pic…steps back a couple steps…and falls on one of the installations. A piece of it broke off. Alan thought we were all going to jail. Nicholas tried to fix it and then we high-tailed it out of there.

    Hahaha about the Nobel “tie.” But I’ll take it.

    Speaking of which, I’m rewriting my query letter. Gonna go by the book but not. Gotta put myself in there. Sink or swim on my own back. Fuck it. I don’t want to be a robot.

    Have a great weekend. Me, I’m a try and just chill with myself as much as possible and get some shit done. I just jinxed myself, right? 😉

  7. Andrew

    Hey Dennis! Whoops, missed a day there. Things have been super crazy lately.

    Yes! I don’t think I’ve interacted at all on here (with the exception of reaching out to share Jinnwoo’s Little Hollywood a couple of years ago), but I have been keeping tabs on your blog since 2012. I’m either shy or, what’s the word, taciturn? I sometimes think I was a monk in my previous incarnation — this life is so unfamiliar, both exciting and terrifying. I’d much rather be sitting alone, doing nothing, which I haven’t been able to do much of lately :-/

    11:11 is putting on an event in three weeks called The Others Were Kinder but We Never Loved Them, hosted by Wake Island, so a lot of my free time has been coordinating that. This will be our first event since February 2020. Despite my loner instincts, I’m very excited to see Paul & David again, as well as the readers & audience.

    Hope all is well! How are you?

  8. Jeff J

    Hey Dennis – What a lovely post about Donny and Math T. It charmed me totally and I’m glad it’s back from the dead.

    I enjoyed the Lynne Tillman post as well. I was just reading her essay collection ‘What Would LT Do” recently and was dazzled by it.

    Have you gotten the new Joy Williams yet? I just picked it up (along with my copy of the lovely ‘IW’) and excited to read it. There’s a really good review of it in Bookforum by Justin Taylor. And really awful one in the NYTimes.

    Next week for Zoom would be great. I’ll email you shortly about it.

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