DC's

The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Harry Crews A Childhood: The Biography of a Place (1978)

 

‘Born in Bacon County, Georgia in 1935, this poor country boy lived through more shit by the age of seven than most of us experience in a lifetime. He was only twenty one months old when his father died of a heart attack, leaving his mother to raise the children and work the family farm. It was a burden she couldn’t handle by herself, so she married her brother in-law out of necessity. In his essay, “Mama Pulled The Load Alone,” Crews describes his stepfather as “…a man who might have been a good husband had he not been a brutal drunk.”

‘But that was the least of his worries. He had a hard enough time doing a little something called “staying alive.” In the 2007 documentary, Survival Is Triumph Enough, Crews tells the story of how baby Harry popped lye like candy and had to be rushed to the doctor. On a horse-drawn cart. If he had swallowed the stuff, it would have killed him from the inside.

‘At the age of five he contracted polio, which caused the muscles in his legs to tighten, drawing his heels all the way back against his buttocks. He was bedridden for six weeks, and it took almost a year of dragging himself across the ground before he could walk again.* Shortly after regaining the use of his legs, Crews fell into a pot of scalding water used for hog butchering. From his autobiography, A Childhood (which is a MUST read): “I reached over and touched my right hand with my left, and the whole thing came off like a wet glove. I mean the skin on the top of the wrist and the back of my hand, along with the fingernails, all just turned loose and slid down to the ground. I could see my fingernails lying in the little puddle my flesh made on the ground in front of me.”

‘He was once again confined to his bed. The pain was so great, he couldn’t even cover himself with a sheet. The doctor said if his head had gone under, he would have been killed.

‘You’d think a person with his luck wouldn’t be long for this world, but somehow Crews has managed to live an additional seventy years, all of them hard. He survived the Marines, the Korean War, a broken neck, two divorces (from the same woman), the drowning death of his four year old son, a lifetime of drug and alcohol addiction, a suicide attempt, and a knife fight that put him in the hospital for sixteen days and left him with a scar from stomach to sternum. (He was in his seventies at the time. I refer you to my opening sentence.)

‘And if you thought Crews was tough as nails in life, you’ll find him harder than a railroad spike on the page. His unique brand of white-trash southern gothic focuses on the violent and grotesque, mining his own life for inspiration. He writes unflinchingly about religion and race, love and obsession, fucking and fighting. Many of his novels end in a grand guignol of blood and insanity. He was writing about “deviant” practices like ATM and amputee sex long before the internet made them available to every thirteen year old with a computer. He has written over twenty books, as well as countless essays and magazine articles, each one a cocktail of piss and vinegar and machismo that I like to call Vinepisschismo.’ — Joshua Chaplinsky, Lit Reactor

 

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Further

Harry Crews Website
Harry Crews @ goodreads
Harry Crews Obituary @ The Guardian
‘Reconstructing Harry Crews’
‘Harry Crews On Writing And Feeling Like A ‘Freak”
‘God Is Dead – What Next? A Harry Crews Retrospective’
‘HARRY CREWS – THIS LONG CENTURY’
‘Harry Crews and the Death of Southern Literature’
‘R.I.P. Harry Crews, rough-and-tumble man of letters’
‘HARRY CREWS ON WRITING: FOUR QUOTES AND AN INTERVIEW’
‘Remembering Harry Crews’
Harry Crews Quiz
‘HARRY CREWS’ MOTHER IS HIS BEST CRITIC’
Audio: Audio Interview with Harry Crews
‘EATING RATTLESNAKE, HARRY CREWS-STYLE’
‘Place and Imagination in Harry Crews’s A Childhood: The Biography of a Place’
‘Phone Call to Harry Crews’
‘“C” is for Harry Crews’
‘Harry Crews and the Myths of the American South’

 

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Media


Just Harry


The Rough South


Harry Crews: Guilty As Charged


Harry Crews Reading and Q&A


harry crews on the dennis miller show

 

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Things


manuscript

 


Harry Crews teaching @ University of Florida

 


article

 


young

 


younger

 

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Interview
from VICE

 

Vice: Hey Harry. Is this still a good time to talk?

Harry Crews: We’re supposed to do this now?

I think we said that I would just give you a try on the phone today and see what happened.

Morphine will fuck up whatever memory you may have left. I take it every four hours around the goddamned clock. So I know we said Friday afternoon but I thought we said one or two and, hell, it’s after three now. It doesn’t matter except, I don’t know if I told you or not, but I’m trying to finish one last novel. If God will give me this one, I’ll quit. But I didn’t leave it alone. I started working very early today and—listen, are you sure this is worth your fucking time?

Definitely. I just don’t want to climb up your ass.

You aren’t climbing up my ass, man. If you were bothering me I’d tell you. Last time we talked you said something like, “If I were where you are, last thing in the world I’d be worrying about was whether or not to give a fucking interview.”

Right.

Well, I am worried about it and the reason I am is because I told you I would. You’ll find this out—when you get as old as I am, about the only goddamned thing you’ll have left is your word. If I tell somebody I’m gonna do something, by God I do it if I possibly can. And I don’t mind doing it. Truth is, I’ve probably given more fuckin’ interviews than I should have. Do you know a book called Getting Naked With Harry Crews?

I’ve looked at it. That’s the compilation of interviews with you, right?

What some dipshit college professor did was call me and ask me if it would be all right for him to find all the interviews I’d given and publish them. I said, “I don’t give a shit, man. Do it if you want to.” It’s a hardback book and it’s about four inches thick or something.

And it’s every interview you’d ever given up to that point.

Yeah, and some of them aren’t too shabby. I didn’t read the book but I looked in it. And then some of them I was drunk as a skunk or fucked up on dope or otherwise non-copacetic. And they aren’t worth a damn and they certainly shouldn’t be in a book—but they are.

But I don’t know, I like to talk about writing and I like to talk about books and I like to talk about all that stuff. I mean, such as it’s been, it’s been my life.

Your enthusiasm for all that hasn’t diminished as you’ve gotten older?

No. Hell no. I’m so fucking in love with it. I thank God I got this book to work on. That, and a girl named Melissa who not long ago was a gymnast at Auburn University in Alabama. She is an Alabama girl. And, well, you know what a gymnast looks like. Goddamn, she is just extravagantly beautiful with a body that will stop your fucking heart.

And she’s hanging out with you down there?

Oh, she’ll be here in about an hour and a half and spend the weekend with me.

That’s good news.

You’re telling me? It’s wonderful. And she’s gonna cook lobster tonight and it’s gonna be a good thing. She’s a great lady, man. Like I say, she’s real nice to look at. And she’s enthusiastic about all things good. I dig her a lot.

Did she know your books before she met you?

Yeah, she knew, but it was kind of strange how we got hooked up. After I’d been around her for like four or five hours, she looked at me and said, “You’re not the guy that writes the books, are you?” I said, “Well, yes, I’ve written some shit.” As soon as she put it together, she read some of my stuff. But thank God that ain’t why she likes me.

You probably have some scary fans.

My phone number is in the book but my address is not in there because strange assholes show up at your door. A lot of them are young people who don’t quite know what they’re looking for, but they want to talk. Most of them want to talk to me or see me for all the wrong reasons. They think if they rub against me or something they’ll be able to write.

And you taught writing for some time, right?

Well, thank God the University of Florida gave me this deal that every writer needs. I worked with 10 or 12 graduate students a year. They were just young people who thought they wanted to be fiction writers. By and large, they fell in love with the idea of being a fiction writer and then they were introduced to the slave labor of it and they pretty soon decided, “No, I don’t want to do this.”

It takes a lot of time, doesn’t it?

If you’re going to write a book, you don’t know what you’re looking at. You have to disabuse them of all these ideas they have that they are sure are right but which are almost exclusively, always, all of them, wrong. It’s all very boring. But I love my students—the few that turned out to be writers. There’s a boy named Jay Atkinson in Massachusetts. He’s now written four books. My students are all around the country. All that shit that’s on the, whatever you call it, the internet or something? Google or something? I don’t have it on my computer.

That’s probably a blessing.

Well, I do have it, but I just don’t pull it up. But there’s a ton of shit about me on there. There’s a boy named Damon Sauve in San Francisco. He’s a fine writer. He put all that shit on, I guess it’s called a website? I know very little about computers. I just do the best I can and leave all that shit alone. I write in longhand, I write on a typewriter, I write on a computer, I’d write with charcoal if it would make me write better. I don’t care what it is as long as it gets the words down. I only want about 500 words a day. Five hundred words a day is just wonderful if you can get that many, but you usually can’t—not that you can keep anyway.

Do you write for a certain amount of hours every day?

I don’t do the hour thing. I’ve got a time when I start and I try to get 500 words. That’s only two manuscript pages, double spaced. If I can get two pages that’ll do it. You’d be surprised what that will turn out if you do it every day of your life.

What can you tell me about the book that you’re working on now?

It’s called The Wrong Affair. I’m fairly confident that I’ll be able to finish this before I die. And that’ll be just wonderful. It will cap off the work I’ve done nicely. I like the book an awful lot. But it’s out of my life of course.

You mean it’s based on real experiences.

Everything I’ve ever written is. I got a book called Karate Is a Thing of the Spirit. I studied karate for 27 years or so. A long, long time. I got a book called The Hawk Is Dying. I trapped, trained, and flew hawks. If I haven’t done it, I can’t write about it. If I haven’t been involved in it, smelled it, tasted it, floundered around in it—the subject, that is—I can’t write about it. I know there are some guys that can, and do it well. But I’m not one of them.

The memoir you wrote of your childhood was amazing.

I come from a tenant farm in southern Georgia. If the crop failed—tobacco was the money crop—you just about couldn’t farm the next year either.

Tenant farming is a sickening system.

Yeah, it means you farm on someone else’s land—you’re a sharecropper. Then we had to move down to Jacksonville, Florida. My daddy died when I was 21 months old. He died of a heart attack—I never knew him. Ma raised us. She worked at the King Edward Cigar factory. Largest cigar factory under one roof in the world. Huge fuckin’ thing. Before I went in the marine corps I worked there for one summer. What a brutal fuckin’ job. How my dear old ma stood that all those years I’ll never know. She did it because she had to do it. That’s why she did it.

Anyway, man, look here. Can you stand the notion of us trying to start this at another time?

Sure, I’ve got a little time. But we’re kind of already doing the interview now.

Hey, I’ve got a little time too. I’m always here. We’ve got to work it out so that I haven’t just taken the fuckin’ dope or I haven’t been working all day or some fuckin’ thing.

Is there a time of day that’s better than another?

I hate to act like it’s something special. It’s not. It’s just a matter of the way my life runs and the things I have to do. I went to the damn doctor yesterday. He’s a good guy and I like him but when we got through I said, “This has been a waste of my time and a waste of your time and I’ll not be back again, but I love you and wish you well, so take care of yourself.” Then I left because, you know, I don’t know what he wanted. I guess he wanted to make sure I don’t do myself in. He wanted to talk about suicide and shit. I said, “Well, we can talk about suicide if you want to.”

Last time we talked on the phone, you told me that you’re very ill.

Yeah, I’m really ill. But I don’t want to talk about it much. I’m all right.

I guess a lot of great writers have worked while seriously ill.

Flannery O’Connor was dying the whole time she was writing, and I can name a number of other writers who were dying the whole time they were writing. Look, Flannery got to this place where she could only write three hours a day. The doctors told her: You can write three hours a day. You can’t write any more. What a shit thing to tell somebody. Goddamn. Anyway, the worst thing for me now is the pain. Pain will humiliate you and humble you and I’m not used to being humiliated and humbled. I don’t like it. It offends my notion of who the fuck I am and what I am and everything else. I’d rather do just about anything, up to and including cutting my fuckin’ throat.

Speaking of which, you told me about a recent fight you got in. You got sliced up the belly and it left a massive scar.

It’s really a beautiful scar. It starts right in my pubes and it goes up through my navel to my sternum, where it is equidistant between my nipples. I was gutted, man. I had my guts in my hands.

And it happened at a fish camp, you said?

It did indeed.

Kind of ironic, getting gutted at a fish camp.

Well, yes and no. This is a fish camp that’s more a sort of drinking and fighting bar that just happens to be on a nice lake where a lot of fish swim. You can get a boat there and you can go out and fish or you can drink beer and shoot pool and fight and fuck and whatever else you can find to do. But it is a great fishing place. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s old house, Cross Creek, is not far from where I live. On one side of the road is Orange Lake—10,000 acres of water—and on the other side is Lake Lochloosa, which is 18,000 acres of water. And then there’s the creek which runs from Orange to Lochloosa, right across the road near where her house is.

What’s in there, catfish?

There’s catfish in there, but there’s catfish in every body of water around here. These lakes have got great bass, great brim, speck… You got a bunch of good panfish in there. Good bass lake, if you like to fish bass. But the bass get too big. The ones that are good to catch are not very good to eat. A bass that gets very big, it’s too gamey. Too fishy. Not very tasty. Little bass are the ones you want to eat, but they aren’t very fun to catch because they don’t put up a fight. Anyway, whatever.

Yeah, but can you tell me how you ended up getting split open?

I’ve known this guy for a very long time and there’s been bad blood between us. This was not the first fight we’ve been in with each other. There have been times when he went to the hospital and times when I went to the hospital and this time both of us went to the hospital. And I told about a million lies to keep him out of jail. I don’t want the son of a bitch in jail.

What is it with this guy and you?

We’re like a couple of fuckin’ dogs. I drove up to the fish camp and I thought I could smell the son of a bitch. I said, “Goddamn, I oughta turn right around and go home. That son of a bitch is out here just as sure as I’m alive.” And he was. When we lay eyes on each other it’s like two goddamn pit-bull dogs looking at each other from their corners, you know? They scratch and go. And there it is.

How long ago was this?

Oh, I haven’t been out of the hospital very long. I was in there over a month. I was in ICU. I couldn’t talk. I had a trach tube in and I had to get food and water through a tube too. My son teaches at a university for a bunch of Yankee kids up north, and he came home and that was good. I don’t see him as much I’d like to and he’s just a great fuckin’ kid. He’s about 6’3″, 220, all lean and righteous. Good athlete. He’s very bright—writes plays, and they’re produced. He’s a good writer. I don’t know how he got started with plays, but he did. His wife is the head of the drama department at that university. She directs the plays he writes, at least initially, to get the kinks out of them. So they got a thing going and it gives them a life they tell me they love, and I don’t doubt it. But he rarely gets home.

But he came back when you got hurt.

He stayed by my bed forever. I was in there over a month. I was in the ICU for 16 days and then I went to rehab. The surgeon had to sew me up and all that good shit. Now I’ve been out for about four and a half months. It’s a short enough time that the goddamn scar is sore. When you get a really big, wide one… I’ve never had a scar like this. Now, I’ve got scars on me all over and I’ve broken damn near everything you can think of at one time or another, including my neck. At my age, whatever you broke growing up, however you nicked yourself, in that place of course, you’re arthritic. And arthritis ain’t a fuckin’ joke.

It’s an evil, evil thing.

It really is. I broke my neck diving off the Main Street bridge in Jacksonville, Florida. It’s a really high bridge that boats go under and shit. Nobody had a gun to my head saying I had to dive off that son of a bitch. And the water is deep enough that I shouldn’t have been hurt.

Were you drinking or something?

No, no. I was just young. I was with a bunch of other guys and somebody went off it and so I went off it. I just did it wrong. I broke a vertebra in my neck and I had to wear one of those halos. Had to sleep in the son of a bitch.

So now you’ve got an arthritic neck. That’s the kind of stuff that makes me feel terrified of growing old.

You oughta be terrified of growing old! It’s a motherfucker. What you’ve got to do is to just have no respect for it whatsoever. Cuss it a lot and kick and raise hell. Spit and scratch your ass and do all the things you can do when you’re an old guy. And don’t suck up and suck around when you’re an old guy. Fuck it. So you’re old, so what else is new?

So don’t behave like a senior citizen, basically.

Anger has gotten me through a lot of things in my life and I have to confess—and I don’t recommend it really to anybody else—but hell, I stay mad. Mad as a motherfucker.

And that’s just the way you’ve always been?

Yeah, for one reason or another. If I can’t finish a book, I’m mad. If I’m not writing a book, I’m mad. If I am writing a book, I’m mad. It don’t matter. I just got a very short fuse. I try to be polite and civil and decent and whatever, but I’m not very good at it. I’m just not.

Did you ever think that anger would go away if you reached some kind of a brass ring, like finishing a certain amount of novels or finding the right woman?

No. All the males in my family are like this. They’re like a bunch of goddamn sore-tailed cats. They just walk around looking for pussy and a fight. I was the light heavyweight champion of the first marine division. My nose has been broken I think six times. For a long time I never knew which side of my face it was gonna be on from year to year. But I liked boxing for a long, long time and I like karate and I like blood sports. I like a lot of things that are really not fashionable and really not very nice and which finally, if you’ve got any sense at all, you know, are totally indefensible. Anybody who is going to defend much of the way I’ve spent my life is mad. Crazy. It’s just that there’s so much horseshit in the world. How can you live through it without being madder than hell?

You can set yourself aside from it.

Well, yeah, you can, but getting away from the world means getting away from bars, getting away from women, getting away from all the stuff that’s been good in my life. I, curiously, don’t drink at all anymore. I haven’t had a drink in ten years. Not a drop of anything. But goddamn, I drank my share in my life and I’m not a bit ashamed of it.

I wish I could say the same.

Well, do you regret much of it?

Some, but I also know that it would have gotten way worse if I’d kept going.

Alcohol was good to me and good for me. I swear to God. But I swear on my dead mother’s eyes, man—and my dead son’s eyes—I ain’t had a drop in ten years. I put it down for the very reason you said. I thought, Well man, this is gonna get really sloppy and really bad if you go on with it. You’re just not strong enough to do this anymore so you’ve got to put it down. I was thinking yesterday about Hemingway killing himself. Did you know the things that were wrong with Hemingway when he shot himself?

I read a biography of him, but it was a long time ago.

You know how he drank all his life. He drank like a European drinks. Sometimes he drank wine for fuckin’ breakfast, and usually at lunch and dinner he drank a bottle of fuckin’ wine. He drank, period. A lot, his whole life.

Right.

And then he went down there to that clinic, that psychiatric clinic, and they told him he could have one eight-ounce glass of wine a day, all right. He weighed about 220, 225, his whole fuckin’ life, and they told him he had to go down to 180 pounds. So he couldn’t eat the way he did. There was something wrong with his ejaculatory duct, whatever the fuck that is, so he couldn’t have conjugal relations with Miss Mary anymore. So check that one off—he couldn’t fuck anymore. So now we got a guy that can’t eat, can’t drink, can’t fuck… and whether or not he could write then, he thought he couldn’t. He tried and it made him sick—he just couldn’t stand what came out of his pen. Sixty-two fuckin’ years old and he puts what was called an English bulldog—it’s a short double-barreled shotgun—in his friggin’ mouth and that was the end of him.

Because he had too much taken away from him.

Well, I don’t know, man. He just got mad enough with it. But there’s a number of things you can do. Something with your ejaculatory duct and you can’t fuck? Well, who says I can’t fuck? I’ll find another way to get off. Damn, do something. You say I can’t drink anymore—the hell I can’t. I might die, but I can drink. Listen, if I can’t have but one glass of wine, I don’t want any at all.

There’s no point in getting part of the way there.

And it was the Mayo Clinic, that’s where it was. And while he was up there those fucking shrinks would take him home on the weekend and have a cookout in the backyard and invite all their shrink friends over and show him off. “Look who we’ve got as a houseguest—Hemingway. Look at this.” And he was just old—well, not old, 62—but he was hurt and confused. It was terrible. Just awful.

Maybe he did the right thing at the end then.

Maybe so, man. I don’t know.

Why do so many writers end up being drunks?

I’ve thought about it a lot, and I don’t know.

A lot of people seem to think it goes hand in hand with the solitary life a writer needs to lead to get their work done.

Well, that may be true. I don’t know what it is, but it would seem to be a true thing. Alcohol is the writer’s friend or enemy or something, and they do a lot of it.

 

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Book

Harry Crews A Childhood: The Biography of a Place
University of Georgia Press

A Childhood is the unforgettable memoir of Harry Crews’ earliest years, a sharply remembered portrait of the people, locales, and circumstances that shaped him–and destined him to be a storyteller. Crews was born in the middle of the Great Depression, in a one-room sharecropper’s cabin at the end of a dirt road in rural South Georgia. If Bacon County was a place of grinding poverty, poor soil, and blood feuds, it was also a deeply mystical place, where snakes talked, birds could possess a small boy by spitting in his mouth, and faith healers and conjure women kept ghosts and devils at bay.

‘At once shocking and elegiac, heartrending and comical, A Childhood not only recalls the transforming events of Crews’s youth but conveys his growing sense of self in a world “in which survival depended on raw courage, a courage born out of desperation and sustained by a lack of alternatives.”

‘Amid portraits of relatives and neighbors, Bacon County lore, and details of farm life, Crews tells of his father’s death; his friendship with Willalee Bookatee, the son of a black hired hand; his bout with polio; his mother and stepfather’s failing marriage; his near-fatal scalding at a hog-killing; and a five-month sojourn in Jacksonville, Florida. These and other memories define, with reverence and affection, Harry Crews’s childhood world: “its people and its customs and all its loveliness and all its ugliness.” Imaginative and gripping, A Childhood re-creates in detail one writer’s search for past and self, a search for a time and place lost forever except in memory.’ — University of Georgia Press

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Excerpts

Whatever I am has its source back there in Bacon County, from which I left when I was seventeen years old to join the Marine Corps and to which I never returned to live. I have always known, though, that part of me never left, could never leave, the place where I was born and, further, that what has become most significant in my life had all taken place by the time I was six years old. The search for those six years inevitably led me first to my daddy‟s early life and early death. Consequently, I have had to rely not only on my own memory but also on the memory of others for what follows here: the biography of a childhood which necessarily is the biography of a place, a way of life gone forever out of the world.

*

I wondered what would give credibility to my own story if, when my young son grows to manhood, he has to go looking for me in the mouths and memories of other people. Who would tell the stories? A few motorcycle riders, bartenders, editors, half-mad karateka, drunks, writers. They are scattered all over the country, but even if he could find them, they could speak to him with no shared voice from no common ground [. . .] It was in that moment and in that knowledge that I first had the notion that I would someday have to write about it all, but not in the convenient and comfortable metaphors of fiction,3 which I had been doing for years, It would have to be done naked, without the disgusting distance of the third person pronoun. Only the use of I, lovely and terrifying word, would get me to the place where I needed to go.

*

It was commonly believed then in Bacon County, and to some extent still is, that a miscarriage or a baby born dead or deformed was the consequence of some taint in the blood or taint in the moral life of the parents. I know daddy must have keenly felt all over again the crippled pleasure of that night so many months before under the palm-thatched chickee with the Seminole girl.

*

If I ever woke up and the house was empty and the weather was warm— which was the only time I would ever awaken to an empty house—I always went out under the oak tree to finish my nap. It wasn‟t fear or loneliness that drove me outside; it was just something I did for reasons I would never be able to discover.

*

I went into the long, dim, cool hallway that ran down the center of the house. Briefly I stopped at the bedroom where my parents slept and looked in at the neatly made bed and all the parts of the room, clean, with everything where it was supposed to be, just the way mama always kept it. And I thought of daddy, as I so often did because I loved him so much. If he was sitting down, I was usually in his lap. If he was standing up, I was usually holding his hand. He always said soft funny things to me and told me stories that never had an end but always continued when we met again.

He was tall and lean with flat high cheekbones and deep eyes and black thick hair which he combed straight back on his head. And under the eye on his left cheek was the scarred print of a perfect set of teeth. I knew he had taken the scar in a fight, but I never asked him about it and the teeth marks in his cheek only made him seem more powerful and stronger and special to me.

He shaved every morning at the water shelf on the back porch with a straight razor and always smelled of soap and whiskey. I knew mama did not like the whiskey, but to me it smelled sweet, better even than the soap. And I could never understand why she resisted it so, complained of it so, and kept telling him over and over again that he would kill himself and ruin everything if he continued with the whiskey. I did not understand about killing himself and I did not understand about ruining everything, but I knew the whiskey somehow caused the shouting and screaming and the ugly sound of breaking things in the night. The stronger the smell of whiskey on him, the kinder and gentler he was with me and my brother.

*

This boy right here is seeing that girl back there, the one in her step-ins, and she is the youngun of him back there, and them shotguns behind’m belong to him, and he ain’t happy [. . .] That gal is the only youngun the feller in the jacket‟s got, and he loves her cause she is a sweet child. He don’t want her fooling with the sorry man in that suit. He‟s so sorry he done got himself in trouble with the law [. . .] He‟ll steal anything he can put his hand to [. . .] He’ll steal your hog, or he‟ll steal your cow out of your field [. . .] That suit [. . .] done turned that young girl’s head. Daddy always says if you give a man a white shirt and a tie and a suit of clothes, you can find out real quick how sorry he is. Daddy says it’s the quickest way to find out.

*

Some farmers always had crops that grew in rows straight as a plumb line. Others didn‟t seem to care about it much, one way or the other. It was not unusual for a farmer bumping along in a wagon behind a steaming mule in the heat of summer to comment on how the rows were marked off on each farm he passed. “Sumbitch, he musta been drunk when he laid them off.‟ “I bet he has to git drunk again ever time he plows that mess‟ [. . .] For reasons I never knew, perhaps it was nothing more complicated than pride of workmanship, farmers always associated crooked rows with sorry people [. . .] the feeling was that a man who didn‟t care enough to keep his rows from being crooked couldn‟t be much of a man.

*

Daddy followed us about the house, alternately begging mama to stay and threatening to shoot something else if she did. There was no doubt in my mind that what he might shoot was me or all of us. But I still loved him. For all I knew, every family was like that. I knew for certain it was not unusual for a man to shoot at his wife. It was only unusual if he hit her. I had heard enough stories—many of them told by the same wife the shot barely missed—to know that.

*

I had always been fascinated with boundaries and borders—the Little Satilla, for instance, separating Appling County from Bacon, made me feel safe and good when I started to sleep at night, knowing that it was keeping all of us in and all of them out—but the St. Marys River was a border that went beyond fascination. Before mama spoke to me, I had recognized the river although I had never seen it before. I knew also it formed the border although I don‟t remember anybody ever telling me that it did. The vague shape of streets and houses and buildings and factories began to filter down behind my eyes. I knew I had never seen any of it before but if I concentrated, I could see all of it.

*

I knew it was hopeless. I could not have said it then, but I knew in my bones that he was caught in a life where the only thing left to do was what he was doing. He had told himself a story he believed, or somebody else had told it to him, a story in which the next thing that happened—the only thing that could happen—was the knife. It was the next thing, the right thing, the only thing, and the knife felt good. If my life to that moment had taught me nothing else, it had made me understand exactly what he meant. Talking wasn‟t going to do any good.

*

As soon as I‟d spoken, I knew what I had done. The four boys perceptibly flinched. When they turned to look at me, the joking and laughter were gone. “Look,‟ I said, “I . . . I didn’t . . . ‟But there was nothing I could say. I had already done what, in Bacon County, was unthinkable. I had cursed the sun. And in Bacon County you don‟t curse the sun or the rain or the land or God. They are all the same thing. To curse any of them is an ultimate blasphemy. I had known that three years ago, but in three years I had somehow managed to forget it. I stood there feeling how much I had left this place and these people, and at the same time knowing that it would be forever impossible to leave them completely.

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** wolf, Hi, EW! Happy that I, or, rather, Brendan, albeit with the help of my instincts, such as they are, hit your spot! Well, it was about 10 years between ‘Thin Black Duke’ and their previous album, so … don’t hold your veritable breath? Misa has admitted he never tried the bbq sauce, so it’s in the clear as soon as I feel up to making the trip to The American Store, which I’m told has, since my last visit, been bedecked with pro-Trump posters, so there’s that off-putting thing in addition to its weirdo location. Unless Anglophile-centric WH Smith, which is three minutes walk from me, has it. They sell Pop Tarts so it might be possible. Glad you’re at least wearing a hat, but, hey, it’s just skin, you know? What are you reading? ** David Ehrenstein, I hope Brendan sees your thanks and feels thanks. You know him, or you’ve met him at least. He used to run that little newsstand just off La Cienega where we had an LA d.l. meet up years ago, if you remember. Sorry for your loss, and I hope you find his music. ** Misanthrope, If and when I ferret out a jar (?) of Paul Newman bbq sauce, I will review it for you. I think Gaddis can be lumped into the post-modern area of the experimental category. Great stuff. Or I think so. Oh, wow, you were so gung-ho and diligent when you were working on the novel. But, yeah, it’s so much easier to feel that way when you’re writing a novel than when you have to schlep it into print. Nose to that grindstone though, I say. ** Wow, quiet. Okay. For those of you might not know, Harry Crews, spinner of tough, shapely fiction and non-fiction, used to be quite hip and fairly widely read at one point. There was even a very cool, short-lived band called Harry Crews featuring Kim Gordon and Lydia Lunch. But I feel like almost no one talks about, or maybe even reads, Crews these days, which was one impetus to put something by him in the spotlight, and, hence … Check it out, no? See you tomorrow.

9 Comments

  1. Dear Dennis: Sorry for the quietness yesterday. I felt very low. I loved the post, especially lyrics, though. Today, Harry Crews. Thank you for the introduction. I feel ashamed to say I’ve never heard about him. You know I’m just relatively young and got “imported” here, so sometimes I don’t know important authors whom I should have known. So I read some excerpts you shared here, and the prose feels present and rightly close. I love the description of Daddy and this paragraph: “I had always been fascinated with boundaries and borders—the Little Satilla, for instance, separating Appling County from Bacon, made me feel safe and good when I started to sleep at night, knowing that it was keeping all of us in and all of them out—but the St. Marys River was a border that went beyond fascination.” Old borders in old landscapes… fascinating to picture them in my mind for those inhabitants in the past.

    Are we going to read/see your new gif novel soon? On the 29th? So excited. I feel I’m aesthetically growing up a bit to understand your gif work better. Still it’s
    a challenging and surprising medium for me. On my end, I’m writing on John Akomfrah for a promised submission to a nice place, so I must focus on that, but I have other things (4-5 projects) I’m working on simultaneously, so my head space is kind of messy aside from anxiety induced by uncertain circumstances here. I’m about to drink cold brewed (in my room!) green tea to start a day properly right now. Have a nice day.

    • People here might be interested in viewing this movie (which is gorgeous both sonically and visually):

      June 22–29: Screening of Bruce Conner’s LOOKING FOR MUSHROOMS
      Presented by Paula Cooper Gallery and Camden Art Centre, stream Conner’s acclaimed film throughout the week of June 22nd.

      https://paulacoopergallery-studio.com/posts/bruce-conner-looking-for-mushrooms

      Bruce Conner, LOOKING FOR MUSHROOMS (Riley Version), 1959–67/1996, 16mm to 35mm blow-up, color, sound, 14.5min. Digitally restored, 2016. Music by Terry Riley: “Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band,” 1968 – BMA – Publisher: Ancient Word Music.

  2. Hey Coop, howdy?
    Damn, I didn’t even know about Crewes. Some crazy stuff! What a life, jeezus. Makes you wonder — could he have turned out any other way? Well he could have had not as much brain and no talent for writing and ended up another body in the great roadside ditch of history I guess. But realistically would you expect to find, after a childhood like that and the decades that followed, a chilled-out gas station slash tourist shop owner tending peacefully to his roses…? Maybe not.
    Well shit, speaking of unlikely facts, I would have guessed the Venn diagram of Americans living in Paris and Trump-supporters would have been 2 well-spaced circles. Are the posters an expression of the shop-owners’ allegiance? A desperate ill-thought attempt at attracting a few euros from theoretical Parisian Trumpists? Dry-as-fuck sarcasm falling flat? I stand bemused.
    I’m reading that Robert MacFarlane book, Underland. It’s very good although perhaps not your cup of tea. Beautiful prose. Quite heavily indebted to Sebald. Since it’s mostly about underground spaces of various ilks (including a pretty trippy sojourn through the Paris catacombs), it makes great baking-sunshine reading. Made me realize I’d never been in the Catacombs. I did not quite realize how far they extended and how complex they were. Of course the bit you ‘can’ visit is probably about 1/100th of the whole thing, if even, so… is it even worth it? Have you been down there?

  3. Dennis, I’m liking the Crews here. Think he’d be up my alley.

    Yeah, I’m getting my head around the early part of this Gaddis novel. It starts in media res, so it took a little adjusting to get my bearings. Now I’m liking it. There’s a lot of humor in it, very satirical, which I like too.

    You’re totally right. That just may be the kick in the ass I need, hahaha. Hearing it from somewhere other than my own brain, you know. Though it can be tenuous and precarious, I’m actually pretty confident in the stuff I do and I realize that not everyone’s gonna like it. That’s already accepted. I think some of it, too, is knowing that there may be the eventual, “Hmm, I like this, but you should do X, Y, and Z,” and I’m kind of not looking forward to that, though I know that’s how these things work. In other words, it’s not necessarily “finished,” no matter much I might feel it’s complete and “ready to go.” Just need to take the plunge. Thanks again.

  4. I’m just wild about Harry Crews.

    Ddidn’t hisdaughter “model” Guinevere in Bresson’s “Lancelot du Lac”?

    I well remember that little newsstands. Almost all newsstands are gone now — swallowed by the net.

    I didn’t know Paul Kilb personally — just his image as disseminated by Gregory Markopoulos

  5. You ever heard of this Four Yorkshiremen Sketch? It’s a pre-Monty Python routine where the Yorkshiremen compete with each other telling tales of their difficult childhood days. Not that I’m making any kind of light re what Harry Crews went through, it just brought that to my mind. But A Childhood does look compelling and I’m defintely keen for his Vinepisschismo.

  6. Hey Dennis – Nice to see this Harry Crews day. That’s a wild interview and looking forward to checking out the ‘Just Harry’ doc. I really like ‘Childhood’ – a book that reminds me of my father’s family, who’ve been on my mind lately since I’ve been mired in family stuff over the past few days. Gave the book to my grandfather to read shortly before he died, but never found out if he finished it.

    I love some of Crews’ essays — one about his struggles to become a writer cast a long shadow when when I found it at the bookstore where I worked as a teenager. Constantly reread it. Are there any of his novels that you particularly recommend?

    Appreciate The Band recs. Been listening to ‘Stage Fright’ and loving it. Not sure why I passed it by for so long and glad to correct that.

  7. I now have a date for my eye surgery: August 3rd. I have to get tested for COVID (and turn out to be negative) the week before for it to go through. I wish the date was a bit sooner, but all in all, I’m quite happy.

    I wasn’t surprised that the subway was almost deserted on the way to the doctor’s office. I should’ve expected this, but almost every ad on it (and in the stations) was a PSA about wearing masks and other COVID health advice.

    Lots of restaurants are opening sidewalk tables – more than 3,000 in New York at this point, according to one article I read. I plan to finally enjoy that tomorrow. It seemed like half the people I passed outside today weren’t wearing masks. That’s probably not very dangerous in the open air away from other people, but I hope they put them on in crowds and when they go into shops.

  8. Great stuff, Dennis! I’ve got an old hardback of Childhood in storage somewhere. Always loved the Gospel Singer too!

    And excellent to see Zac’s Drug Binge on the way!!!

    Work’s been busy, juggling the online thing, but four days a week, and getting some good writing in still, the J-novel and a couple of different projects…

    Love, P xx

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