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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Please welcome to the world … Punk Rock Is Cool for the End of the World: Poems and Notebooks of Ed Smith, edited by David Trinidad (Turtle Point Press)

 

‘I’d like to use this opportunity … to introduce you to a poet you’ve never heard of before. Ed Smith. A common enough name. There are a zillion Ed Smiths on Facebook—I gave up counting them once I reached one hundred. But this Ed Smith was no ordinary Ed Smith, let me assure you. He was born in Queens, New York, in 1957; his family moved to Southern California in 1959. He grew up in Downey (the hometown of Richard and Karen Carpenter) and attended Pomona College in Claremont for one academic year (1975-76). He then made his way to Los Angeles, Hollywood specifically, where he worked as a paralegal and for an independent record and video company, became involved in the punk rock lifestyle, then finally found his niche as a poet in the scene that centered around Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts Center in Venice, California, when Dennis Cooper ran the reading series there in the early eighties. The Beyond Baroque scene has sometimes been called “hip,” sometimes “infamous.” It was lively, that’s for sure. Other young poets who gravitated to the literary liveliness were Amy Gerstler, Bob Flanagan, Jack Skelley, and myself.

‘Ed published two books of poetry in his lifetime, both with Cold Calm Press: Fantasyworld in 1983 and Tim’s Bunnies in 1988. You’ll probably have trouble finding either of these titles—Cold Calm Press was a very small operation. Ed also published his work in Poetry Loves Poetry: An Anthology of Los Angeles Poets (Momentum Press, 1985) and in what Bruce Hainley calls “the most rambunctious publications of the day: Barney, Mirage, Santa Monica Review, and Shiny International [later just Shiny], a magazine for which he conducted interviews with artists Jim Isermann, Mike Kelley, and Chris Burden and eventually served as West Coast editor.” Publishing poems in rambunctious magazines does not pay the rent, so Ed worked as a typesetter, a movie ad copywriter, and a math tutor at a private school. He moved to New York City in the late nineties, married artist Mio Shirai, and founded Creative Systems Architecture, Inc. (CSAI), a consulting firm meant to help companies apply W. Edwards Deming’s principles of emergent intelligence to their organizations. (Sounds crackpot, but there’s something to it.) Sadly, Ed took his own life in 2005.

‘At first I didn’t care for Ed. I mistook his irreverence for disrespect. And maybe there was some jealousy. He was slightly younger than the rest of us in the Beyond Baroque group, cute (almost everyone was infatuated with him at some point), and punkish (he had, after all, come of age in the punk rock scene). I thought he could be obnoxious, a brat. But after I got sober (in 1984) and calmed down a bit (I’d been an uptight alcoholic, which kind of defeats the purpose), I became quite fond of him. Underneath the brash exterior was a very sweet, guileless young man. …

‘And what of his poems? Ed’s poetry was exactly like he was: playful, free of inhibition and decorum, troubling in just the right way. And wrought with intelligence, brilliance even, though on the surface they may seem apathetic to loftier poetic aims. He wrote “Return to Lesbos” (most likely his longest poem) in a black-and-white composition book, scrawling the whole poem throughout it, often with only two, three, four words per page. Ed apparently never typed or tried to publish it. He read the poem at least once to my knowledge, at Beyond Baroque in 1982. Lucky for us this performance (which Amy remembers as a sublime consummation of Ed’s talent as a poet and performer) was filmed and included in Gail Kaszynski’s 1983 documentary about the Beyond Baroque scene, Fear of Poetry. It’s breathtaking to watch Ed stand at the mike, wearing a short-sleeved nerdish shirt he undoubtedly bought at a thrift shop, and read the poem from the composition book, swiftly turning its pages. He simply gallops through the poem, as if he’s uncomfortable with what it’s saying. Fitting, since “Return to Lesbos” is an emotionally charged onrush in which he repeatedly questions his responsibility as a poet: is he going to just hold that “fucking pencil” or use it to “cry for civilization.”

‘Ed is at his best in his short lyrics. They have the sense that they were jotted down on scraps of paper while waiting at a bus stop or standing in a club nursing a beer he’d bought with his last bits of loose change. They probably were. I’ve always thought of Ed as a punk Dorothy Parker. Bruce Hainley refers to Ed’s poems as “toy time bombs.” I think that’s perfect. Something does tend to “go off” as you read them. They delight and cause unease at the same time—they’re authentic, that’s why. There’s real pain and real experience in them, despite their apparent toy-ness.

‘Last year, Bruce Hainley edited a generous selection of Ed’s poems for Court Green (issue 10), a journal I co-edit at Columbia College Chicago. The feature was called, appropriately enough, “Memoirs of a Thrill-Seeker.” This year, in Court Green 11, we published a transcription of “Return to Lesbos.” At the publication party in March, we showed a clip of Ed reading the poem. The audience went wild. “Where can I find his work?” many in attendance eagerly asked. Students, in particular, showed irrepressible excitement. Young people love Ed; his work speaks to them, it’s pertinent. Amy Gerstler and I have been talking about co-editing a book of Ed’s work. I think this would please him—his poems gathered up by two poet friends he hung out with. I’m glad we can continue to hang out with him, and that you’ll be able to, too, since he let himself get caught “being words on paper.”’ — David Trinidad

 

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Trailer

 

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Preorder the book

https://www.amazon.com/Punk-Rock-Cool-End-World/dp/1885983670

 

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Homages

‘In the very early ‘80s Ed was intimidatingly skinny and gorgeous and as reckless and charismatic as that guy in The Libertines who got caught doing coke with Kate Moss, but very, very talented and massively intelligent, and even when he was a little too wild, he was always so kind and heartbreakingly sweet and smart. Saying he was our Rimbaud is way too lazy, but there was that. I thought of him as LA’s John Wieners. Ed’s poetry has Wieners’s deep melancholy and low-key, note-perfect lyricism, mixed with Ed’s strange, bright ideas and his dead-pan, startling sense of humor. I‘m one of the many people who misses his poetry a lot.’ ― Dennis Cooper

‘Years ago my wife slept with Ed Smith and wrote him into her novel; we goggled, bemused by his ubiquity. It was a time when Ed was everywhere, or so it seemed, and his energy and taste for the zany and the outrageous fit right in with what we in San Francisco appreciated most about the heroic LA artists―Bob Flanagan, Mike Kelley, Amy Gerstler, Dennis Cooper, so many more. The present anthology is not only the best of Ed’s writing but contains in his notebooks the single greatest account of the genius brewing in the Southland at that moment. Hats off to David Trinidad for bringing it all back home―his exquisite care in selecting and contextualizing is the greatest gift he could have given his late friend. — Kevin Killian

‘Sappho invented civilization, and Ed Smith made it punk.’ — Tony Trigilio

‘Reflecting the heroic editorial efforts of David Trinidad, this collection of Ed Smith’s poems and journals makes me nostalgic for a lost era; sad that this talented if troubled poet took his own life; glad that we included his work in The Best American Erotic Poems, and in total agreement with David Trinidad that Smith’s poetry would have a salutary effect on a group of young writers, such as those attending a graduate writing program.’ — David Lehman

‘Ed Smith was this brilliant, handsome, charismatic, disarming, hedonistic, wounded math and science nerd who discovered punk music and art and poetry and was swept away, besotted with all three, and never looked back. He loved drugs and bands and science fiction and science and Sappho and poets and poetry. He liked to give people a little treatise by Alfred North Whitehead on mathematics for a gift. He loved being part of a cool scene. He introduced me to Prince’s music when his first album came out. I think he would have described himself as bi-sexual. He was intense and sensitive and wild. He burned hotly.’ — Amy Gerstler

 

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Gallery


Ed Smith and Mary Emerzian, December 3, 1981. Photo by Sheree Rose.


First row (left to right): Amy Gerstler, Ed Smith, Bob Flanagan. Second row (left to right): unknown, Michael Silverblatt, Mark McLaughlin, David Trinidad, Sheree Rose. (1985)


(L.to R.) Michael Silverblatt, Bob Flanagan, Tim Dlugos, Donald Britton, Dennis Cooper, Jeff Wright, Amy Gerstler, Ed Smith. (1981)


Ed Smith, Venice, California, 1980. Photo by Skip Arnold.

 

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Page

 

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Extras


Dennis Cooper, Bob Flanagan, Jack Skelley, Amy Gerstler, David Trinidad, Ed Smith,, Sherree Rose.and Steven Hall. (very poor quality)


A poet and a comedian: Taylor Negron, Ed Smith (very poor quality)

 

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Book

David Trinidad, editor Punk Rock Is Cool for the End of the World: Poems and Notebooks of Ed Smith
Turtle Point Press

‘In Punk Rock Is Cool for the End of the World, David Trinidad brings together a comprehensive selection of Ed Smith’s work: his published books; unpublished poems; excerpts from his extensive notebooks; photos and ephemera; and his timely “cry for civilization,” “Return to Lesbos”: put down that gun / stop electing Presidents.

‘Ed Smith blazed onto the Los Angeles poetry scene in the early 1980s from out of the hardcore punk scene. The charismatic, nerdy young man hit home with his funny/scary off- the- cuff- sounding poems, like “Fishing”: This is a good line. / This is a bad line. This is a fishing line.

‘Ed’s vibrant “gang” of writer and artist friends― among them Amy Gerstler, Dennis Cooper, Bob Flanagan, Mike Kelley, and David Trinidad― congregated at Beyond Baroque in Venice, on LA’s west side. They read and partied and per-formed together, and shared and published each others’ work.

‘Ed was more than bright and versatile: he worked as a math tutor, an animator, and a typesetter. In the mid- 1990s, he fell in love with Japanese artist Mio Shirai; they married and moved to New York City. Despite productive years and joyful times, Ed was plagued by mood disorders and drug problems, and at the age of forty- eight, he took his own life.

‘Ed Smith’s poems speak to living in an increasingly dehumanizing consumer society and corrupt political system. This “punk Dorothy Parker” is more relevant than ever for our ADD, technology- distracted times.’ — Turtle Point Press

 

Excerpts

UNTITLED

This is a good line.
This is a bad line.
This is a good line.
This is a bad line.
Here is a country,
an idea we share.
There is an idea for paying
all debts public and private.
This poetry is now in its own future,
and let me say as an eyewitness
that we are quite primitive back here,
sophisticated only in things we do not do.
My people roll their autos
over goddam asphalt.
This line is doing its best to remain indifferent,
but here it is in this poem.

1982

 

BENEDICTION

Fuck you.
Fuck your mom.
Fuck your cat.
Fuck your mom’s cat.
Fuck your cat’s mom.
Fuck your mom’s cat’s second cousin
from Schenectady.

1982

 

LETTER FROM THE GRAVE

This situation is so embarrassing
that i’m considering approaching it
sheepishly,
but i can’t cause i’m too numb.
Well, numb isn’t exactly the right word,
but it’ll do for now.
Anyway, this is called “Letter from the Grave”
cause i was supposed to have killed myself
last Tuesday,
but i didn’t:
i’m still here,
and next year i’ll be eleven.

1982

 

A LIST OF 3 LETTER WORDS

fun
sex
art
gin
you

1983

 

ODE TO A STREETLIGHT

O ye moon
who shines so bright
it hurts my eyes

1984

 

THE POEM THAT CANNOT BE

I want my whole life to be a poem.

1984

 

CHEATING THE STORK

We fuck
for pleasure alone.

1984

 

DEAR FUCKFACE ASSHOLE JERK,

I am writing you because of the bad review you wrote of my book in Magazine. Not that you thought the book was all that bad just that your review sucked. As an example of how inattentive and lame your supposed criticism was and without going into too much detail you didn’t even manage to get the goddam line breaks right in the quote you took. I won’t even bother demanding a formal apology from a jerk like you, but instead I’ll leave you with this curse: may you wake up with a ringing in your ears, hair in your teeth and Clayton Eshleman lying in bed next to you.

Most Sincerely,

Ed Smith

1984

 

YOU CAN’T LEGISLATE MATURITY

In 1986 I was arrested and charged with armed robbery, possession of a controlled substance, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, statutory rape, indecent exposure and lewd conduct (but not resisting arrest!). Fortunately, that year I was awarded a Literature Fellowship in Poetry by the National Endowment of the Arts and was able to use the Fellowship money to retain some state-of-the-art legal counsel. What with plea-bargaining and all I only ended up serving two years forty-seven days. Since my release I have attained the eighth Operating Thetan level in the Church of Scientology. My short-term goal is to have my civil rights restored so I can pursue my long-term goal of being elected President of the United States.

1985

 

You have to use a washcloth
on the hot water knob in
order to turn it hard
enough to get it all the
way off. I never told
you that. I just went
in every time after you took
a bath and did it myself.

1990

 

MY LAST BEER

It was a long time ago and
I don’t remember it. I was
sitting in a stuffy, dark bar
on a hot sunny afternoon and it
came in a mug. It was one
of those things I thought
I would enjoy more than I
actually did. And not the
first time either. One of
those many things. One of
those many things that just
gradually got replaced by
what’s become everything
else, everything else that’s
just always never enough.

1991

 

When I wrote
this poem rays
of sagacious
afternoon sun-
shine were
streaming in
through the
south-facing
windows, billowy
white clouds
billowed across
the azure dome
of the sky,
birds sang and
chirped to each
other gaily,
the kittens were
asleep in the
living room, one
on the couch,
one on the easy
chair and one
on the futon,
and the tv was on.

1991

 

15 LINE SONNET

You lie on your side back curved
legs bent your knees drawn
up in front of you. I nestle
behind you the two of us
like heavy silver spoons
wrapped in velvet my arms
reach around your tiny
shoulders my hands grip
my forearms securely.
You hold my erect penis
inside you. We rock together
lazily and twist our bodies
slowly. Your head bends
forward and I lick the
back of your neck.

1994

 

ART AND POETRY

Don’t kid yourself it’s
all about power and control

1995

 

SEAT 47K

The last time I was on an
airplane was when I was
leaving you.

1995

 

 

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p.s. Hey. This book isn’t quite out in the world yet, but I wanted to give it a head start, and it can be pre-ordered now. Some of this is explained in David Trinidad’s intro text below, but Ed Smith was a close friend of mine and a member of the young LA writer gang that circled around Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts Center in the late 70s and early 80s and included, among others, Amy Gerstler, Bob Flanagan, Sheree Rose, David Trinidad, Benjamin Weissman, Jack Skelley, Michael Silverblatt, Kim Rosenfield, Ed, and me. Ed was the youngest, a very charismatic, attractive, brilliant, and complicated guy who wrote knock-out poetry and lived a wild life. He killed himself when he was still quite young, and his two poetry books, published with tiny presses, were long out of print by then. David Trinidad undertook the herculean and so very needed task of assembling Ed’s collected poems and journals, and the spotlit book today is the result. Ed’s poetry is really fantastic, influenced by the particular forcefulness of the punk rock scene that was absorbing LA at the time, and funny and reckless/perfect and deeply emotional. His work was often called Rimbaudian, but it reminded me more of the great John Wieners, although I don’t know if Ed ever read Wieners. Anyway, it’s a great, great thing that Ed’s work is now available to everyone, and in a book that’s beautifully designed and illustrated with photos of Ed and the world around him. I can’t recommend highly enough that you go ahead and pre-order this book. I hope you will. ** David Ehrenstein, Exactly, well said about Perloff/Ashbery. How great that you got to see Jeff Keen and his screenings. ** Kai, Hi, man. Yeah, lots going on over here, and lucky me. Next week, okay. Good luck with the prep. Wow, your kiddo is a year old! That’s crazy, great crazy. Nice, Kai, I’m really happy for you. Oh, we’re working on a screening of Zac’s and my newest film ‘Permanent Green Light’ in Berlin. i’m not sure when exactly when yet, but it would great if it’s while you there and that you could see it and we could finally meet up, flesh to flesh. Have a swell weekend. ** OfKeatonsFromAfar, Elegant. Two or more dates seems like a maxed out birthday to me. Sweet. Yeah, new Sunn0))) out in a week or something. Hope the writing demon swallows you. Most of you, at least. I guess your low half is free to cavort. ** Dominik, Hi, D! Oh, god, I spend a lot of time putting together the posts. I don’t keep track, but definitely every day. Basically, whenever I don’t have something else to do or have a break, I make blog posts. It’s nice in the sense that I never get bored. There’s always something to occupy my time. You might like Sunn0))). They’re an intense live experience. If they come through your area, go see them, and definitely take ear plugs even if you’re a hardcore listener. They redefine loud. No, hm, I didn’t get news about the rating. Huh. Sometimes our producer forgets to tell us stuff. I’ll email and ask. My week was good. Lots of work, though. Writer/d.l. Jeff Jackson is in Paris doing a residency, and we hung out. Saw some art, and … other stuff, but mostly work on the TV script. Wow, late happy birthday to you, pal! 27 is a good portal. It seems good that you saw a lot of people around your birthday. That feels right. Enjoy your solo weekend. My weekend? Work. Episode 1 of the TV series is finished and waiting for Gisele’s input. Episode 2 might be finished today. And then Episode 3 work will take over. Otherwise, see friends, do something. There’s the big annual Queer zine/press fair Paris Ass Book Fair this weekend at Palais de Tokyo. I’ll definitely go to that today or tomorrow. Take care, make the weekend your slave, and I’ll see you soon! ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi. Yeah, he was a multi-talent — film, visual art, sound, … and all of it is pretty exciting. How very curious about EyeMobile. I’d never heard of that existing. Yeah, interested to hear how that works for you, obviously. When do you think you’ll get to experiment with it? ** Steve Erickson, Hi. It certainly seems like the Klonopin decreasing is the very likely culprit behind your mood crash. Logically, at least. I hope your biology evens right out. And that your weekend comes out on the way up side. ** Okay. Yes, I hope you’ll investigate Ed Smith’s book and work today. That would be lovely. See you on Monday.

11 Comments

  1. Ed Smith makes me think of Stevie Smith (and maybe Jack Smith too.)

    I hope to write something substantial (and extravagant) about PGL when it appears stateside in the Fall. There’s a new “Mainstream” media interest in Teenage Suicide that PGL cn play into — though it’s anti-hero’s deside to “Vanish” isn’t exactly suicide. But f curse suicide has figured in so much of your work as well as that of Bresson. Maybe I could mail you a series of questions.

  2. I remember Ed very fondly. He would call me out of the blue a lot when he was in NYC and living with his wife. I never met her. I think he hooked up with me because I’m married to a Japanese artist, and perhaps he wanted to share that part of the world with me. I’m thrilled that David edited a book of his writings/poetry – Excellent news, and excellent blog today.

  3. Thanks for the heads-up on this, Dennis. Great seeing all the old photos of the LA crew as well.

    Hope you have a good weekend, with excellent stories about Paris Ass Book Fair. I’m so envious.

    The gig went smoothly, though my collaborators decided to play in a rather different way than I expected, and I was scrambling for a bit at the beginning. That happens, haha. I know I still need to make a demo, yikes.

    Bill

  4. Oh wow I want that book. Thanks a lot for today’s post, David! Those poems are very good. I am entertaining a, well let’s say romantic friendship with someone who might become the new Ed Smith (hopefully without the suicide, I am working on that). Dennis, yes, please come to Berlin! I have been eyeing your FB updates on PGL screenings hoping to see Berlin or Tokyo. Great that it is happening, and it will be so nice if we finally get to meet. Jürgen Brüning produced the film, right? We only ever met once I think and he probably doesn’t remember me at all, but being an old friend of my first roommate in Berlin he moved into my rooms when I left for another apartment. They even used the apartment for a porn film shooting, which was funny to discover (a friend called me and said, ‘Hey, I am just watching two guys fucking on the sofa where we used to watch Six Feet Under’). Jürgen’s courage and curiosity have done a lot of good, and it’s nice that he supported your project.

  5. Dennis, I really like Ed Smith’s work. Of course, he’s totally new to me, but I really like his poems, especially taken as a whole.

    Yeah, hahaha, I have all these really weird tiny phobias that I’ve spent most of my life finding ways to avoid. Up-close pics of animals and flowers, loose strings on clothes, amphibians, black holes close together, etc. With the pics and all that, it’s all about patterns, not the actual things themselves. Kind of weird, I know, and of course, no one else can be responsible for shielding me from those things.

    However, I have had friends who’ve thought it was funny to post/send me pics of things they know I don’t like. I find that cruel and not funny. I usually just don’t look at emails/posts/pics they send me, and I’ve let them know I never will again. But we’re still friends and all.

    Yay! Jeff!

    The doc appointment went well. Blood pressure is 116/78, pulse rate is 64, both great. So yeah…I’m going to switch to this doctor as my primary. I’ll have to see her every 3 months instead of the every 6 months I was seeing the other doctor(s), but I’m okay with that. She’s better, I think, and much more personable. She’s scaled back her practice so that she can actually spend time with her patients and talk to them and, most importantly, LISTEN to them.

    Finished my first bookcase yesterday. I have a lot of books to give away. I’ve decided just to keep those books of authors I love, as well as friends’ books. I’ll be giving away well over a hundred. Probably to a library or Goodwill or something.

  6. dear dennis, hello! i hope you’re well. ed smith looks stunning, thanks for the post — also amazing to read that he was an animator on Blue’s Clues for a while, that’s v cool.

    sorry i did my disappearing thing again. not sure what my life was the last time i came round but cliffsnotes: lost one of my jobs (i was caught reading in an empty shop, o the humanity, and suddenly wasn’t rota’d for any shifts… so i quit before they had a chance to officially boot me), have only just gained a replacement (two days a week behind a till at the Tate Modern, which will be hectic but incredible, i think). still still still trying to come up with phd ideas, my latest one was just published by Routledge in january, back to the drawing board. it looks like i’m getting depressed again, so i’m on another therapy waiting list — the down/upside is i’ve been having some fucking terrifying nightmares recently. like every night, it’s melting in a nuclear blast or finding victims of a classroom massacre held together with duct tape. but i’m sure that i’ll be fine soon, esp when the job kicks in. i’m not anxious, just depressed, ha ha.

    writing is going relatively well, in comparison. i’ve written two more scripts since november — one was about a rotting VHS tape and deemed “intimidating and incomprehensible,” the other an attempt at cosmic-y horror which has been pretty popular among the five people who’ve read it (tho remains impossible to stage, requiring a JCB and an emaciated fox [puppet? real animal? idk that’s the director’s job]). the latter script is in the impossible machinery of a competition, the former is with a director friend who has disappeared, as everyone in London does, cept she isn’t even in London anymore so god knows.

    i’ve also _somehow_ been commissioned to write an accompanying text for a sound art exhibition in May, which is exciting. the instagram advert got 66 likes which i think might be the largest audience i’ve ever had. no idea what i’m doing. except that it’s not to be a standard art-blurb thing, something more creative/tangential, so i’m researching, blah blah deleuze, blah blah marconi, blah blah john cage, i’ll spew something onto a page with funky indents eventually. — just remembered! bumped into the main Cabinet gallery guy (can’t remember his name, google isn’t helping) at the opening of their Artaud notebooks exhibition, and he says he was super influenced by your art writing, and i had no idea you’d done any art writing?? what was that, is it available anywhere, can i crib notes?

    that’s enough word vomit for now. i’ll write in full sentences one day i swear. i hope you had a good weekend and see you soon!

  7. Ed Smith’s work is new to me, but this book looks great and has been added to my wish list. We have a release date set for June here in the UK, which is kind of a way off but I promise that I won’t forget.

    Had a Skype meeting with Alex today to begin the setting up of website for The Call zine. The schedule is that the stapled-together paper Risograph copies will be ready on Thursday next week, and the website should be complete the week after. I plan to have a button on there where interested parties can order a paper copy for themselves, and I just set up a Twitter page for news, submissions etcetera.

  8. Hi Dennis,

    I’ve never heard of Ed Smith. He sounds(ed) like an interesting guy. The worlds you move in!

    I sent you an email this evening 🙂

    Love,
    James

  9. Jeffrey Coleman

    April 8, 2019 at 4:33 am

    Hey, Dennis.

    Mostly just came on to say that. Hope you’re well.

    Ed Smith looks cool. Might have to check this book out.

    Best,
    ]
    Jeff

  10. I’ve gone back to the slightly higher dose of Klonopin I was taking a month ago, and I feel better. I don’t like what that means for my prospect of eventually quitting it entirely, but we shall see.

    Tomorrow, I’m interviewing Penny Lane. Most of it will be about her Satanic Temple documentary HAIL SATAN?, but I’ve watched 5 of her shorts over the weekend and want to discuss those as well, especially her use of found footage both in them and 2 of her 4 feature-length documentaries.

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