‘Nog is the kind of novel that suffers from being called “experimental”. Actually, it is part of a clear, established tradition. I would place it between Samuel Beckett’s trilogy (Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnameable) and Don DeLillo’s Great Jones Street – closer to Beckett in spirit, to DeLillo in time.
‘The narrator of Nog, who may or may not be called Nog, shares with Beckett’s M-people a deep desire for inertia: “It is better to stay indoors and not mess around with useless experiences. A small room in a boarding house. Anonymous… Do nothing, want nothing, if you feel like walking, walk; sleeping, sleep.” With DeLillo’s Bucky Wunderlick, he shares an absurd paranoia: “I have nailed the pillowcase to the wall, as a sign or a flag. I asked for and I received a hammer and nail. It’s not safe here any more. And yet I am unable to creep out and establish some new space. Something has to happen, a new noise, a sense of something impending. Is it safe to say that?”
‘The whole performance, rap, trip, is highly self-conscious, ‘There are times when the voice of the narrator or the presence of the narrator should almost sing out.’ But never, or very rarely, annoyingly so. The hippyisms are kept to a minimum – which for a novel set in California in 1968 is stunningly restrained. In fact, it is the craft of the prose which redeems Nog. There is no sentence here of which Wurlitzer isn’t fully in control – he may not know exactly what its overall long-term effect will be, but this is very unwild writing.
‘The opening paragraph of Nog is one of the most carefully constructed I have ever read: ‘”Yesterday afternoon a girl walked by the window and stopped for sea shells. I was wrenched out of two months of calm. Nothing more than that, certainly, nothing ecstatic or even interesting, but very silent and even, as those periods have become for me. I had been breathing in and out, out and in, calmly, grateful for once to do just that, staring at the waves plopping in, successful at thinking almost nothing, handling easily the three memories I have manufactured, when that girl stooped for sea shells. There was something about her large breasts under her faded blue tee-shirt, the quick way she bent down, her firm legs in their rolled-up white jeans, her thin ankles – it was her feet, actually; they seemed for a brief, painful moment to be elegant. It was that thin-boned brittle movement with her feet that did it, that touched some spot that I had forgotten to smother. The way those thin feet remained planted, yet shifting slightly in the sand as she bent down quickly for a clam shell, sent my heart thumping, my mouth dry, no exaggeration, there was something gay and insane about that tiny gesture because it had nothing to do with her.'”
‘It was reading this passage convinced me I needed to read this book. I was at Waterstones Deansgate, in Manchester, and had just done a reading from Beatniks. I’d browsed a few other books, but Nog was the one which had caught me. When one of the booksellers told me I could choose any book I wanted from the shop, Nog was it.
‘A number of things came to mind whilst reading Nog: The Monkees’ film Head, Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue”, Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Pascal, Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur, Charlie Chaplin. But it is very much its own book. “I bought the octopus, and for a year I travelled through the country with it.”‘ — Toby Litt
RW reads from ‘Nog’
5 movies written by Rudy Wurlitzer
Clip: Jim McBride’s ‘Glen and Randa’
Clip: Monte Hellman’s ‘Two Lane Blacktop’ (1971)
Trailer Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid’ (1973)
Clip: Alex Cox’s ‘Walker’ (1987)
Clip: Robert Frank and RW’s ‘Candy Mountain’ (1988)
* Rudy Wurlitzer Matter Enterprises
* Rudy Wurlitzer @ IMDb
* RW interviewed @ The Chuck Palahniuk Site
* RW interviewed @ Pop Matters
* ‘The Countercultural Histories of Rudy Wurlitzer’ by Jonathan Rosenbaum
* ‘ON THE DRIFT: Rudy Wurlitzer and the Road to Nowhere’
* ‘The resurgence of Rudolph Wurlitzer’
* ‘How the West was Fun’
* ‘Dead Man was stolen?’
* RW ‘This Long Century’
* RW ‘Riding the Dharma Trail’
* ‘Early “Ghost Dog”‘ @ The Jim Jarmusch Page
* RW’s books @ Two Dollar Radio
Rudy Wurlitzer interviewed by Scott McClanahan
from Ain’t it Cool News
Scott McClanahan: Screenwriters always talk about the concept of beats and tone. Usually these are tools that tend to make something more commercial. However, the tone of your screenplays are typically used to produce an unexpected emotional reaction from the audience. For instance, the whole car crash, grandma section from TWO LANE BLACKTOP, which creates this strange anxiety in the viewer. Do you think it’s important to undermine the audience’s typical expectations and maybe even leave them uncomfortable?
Rudolph Wurlitzer: I don’t know what screenwriters talk about, having met very few of the breed. In any case, I prefer not to be trapped into self conscious refrains about concepts of “beat and tone.” Of course, it’s always, one hopes, any artist’s intention to write something original, something that hasn’t been seen or experienced before, the theory being that if one surprises oneself, then possibly the audience might be surprised as well, one way or the other, even if it produces jeers and walk-aways. I never try to “undermine” or know about anyone’s expectations and don’t really care if folks are uncomfortable or even over the top with applause. The wonderful free-wheeling enthusiasms I experienced working with such originals as Monte Hellman, Hal Ashby, Robert Frank and Sam Peckinpah came from their encouragement to read something they had never read or experienced before. Of course, those days are long gone, slammed into oblivion by glassy-eyed marketing dudes, ignorant venal producers, self consciously academic film school imprints, insane pitches delivered inside corporate rooms crowded with cynical sales people obsessed with being secured by what they’ve already seen or read, and thus proved to be commercial, and so on … and on … perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I no longer feel it necessary to be represented by an L.A. agent for what essentially is a broken engine. At least, as it appears to me.
SM: A number of critics mention your work being linked to the European tradition of Bresson and Antonioni. This is probably because of the slower pace of your work. What does a slower pace create in a film? Why do you think the typical American audience rebels against this?
RW: I love Bresson and Antonioni – two maestros who followed the dictates and dynamics of a visual medium for its own sake. Their work is never slow for me. In fact, once inside the zone of their intuitive imaginations, I’m usually relieved of a sense of manipulated, linear time. A script I wrote years ago with Antonioni, TWO TELEGRAMS, the last one before his massive stroke which took him out of the game, has recently been optioned. So, I’ve been thinking about him lately – his ferocious uncompromising purity, the way his language was always sublimated to image, but was at the same time, always supportive, always resonant, and on the point, and how fearless he was in defending his vision. Of course, American audiences are increasingly manipulated by the lowest common denomination of banal escapist mono-culture, so independent artists, such as Bresson and Antonioni, could no longer exist in today’s paradigm and no doubt probably most corporate film honchos have barely heard of them, or if they did, they’re easily dismissed as being “not relevant.”
SM: You’re often looked at as a maverick in your portrayal of the frontier. For example, the frontier becomes a frontier of the mind rather than an actual physical place. But do you see yourself falling in a tradition of films about the American frontier? For example, WALKER could probably be viewed as the flipside to John Ford’s view of national expansion.
RW: Everything for me is a “frontier of the mind.” Which is not to say that I don’t love Ford’s THE SEARCHERS, and many of his films. But I try not to be saddled with a conceptual idea of “national expansion” involving any traditional historical period. Our myths of origins are inevitably invented, along with everything else in what passes for reality.
Slow Fade: Rudy Wurlitzer & Will Oldham
‘Novelist and screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer, has joined forces with Chicago’s seminal independent record label, Drag City, to launch their new line of alternative audio books. His 1984 novel Slow Fade, is a portrait of a director descending into the dark side of the Hollywood film world. This audio release is narrated by singer songwriter, folk music legend, Will Oldham (Palace Brothers, Bonnie Prince Billy). Both Wurlitzer and Oldham participated in this unique literary event. The reading was accompanied by guitar player Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance) and photographic projections by acclaimed photographer Lynn Davis.’ — Basilica Hudson
Rudy Wurlitzer Nog
Two Dollar Radio
‘Nog is a journey without end. A journey through Time past and Time present — a journey of one man without history, without tradition.
‘Nog is about a man riding through American Space, space that is vast and choked and silent. Space that one fills with obsessive monologues, disintegrating memories, hoped-for horizons, buried myths, paranoid plans. Nog rides through this space because that is what we do, that is the great and original promise, the central fact. He explores or suspects he might be exploring The Great Space. He tries to define it, to know he is in it, to embrace it, to settle it, to get through it, to be a witness to it . . . there is a terrible anguish about inhabiting space without a beginning or end. Memories disintegrate as fast as they are brought up. They become arbitrary. words are too fragmented, there is no locus, no safe symbols, no totems that don’t endlessly transform beyond our understanding, no relationships that aren’t brutalized by the speed with which we pass each other. All we know how to do is to keep on, loosed by our own momentum, going faster and faster. The road is brutal and energetic and frantic, and sometimes funny, and certainly insanely fast. There is hardly time to make notes.
‘This book begins in a small town on the coast of California, moves to San Francisco and the desert badlands of the Southwest, from there to Los Angeles through the Panama Canal to New York — and perhaps back again.’ — Two Dollar Radio
Yesterday afternoon a girl walked by the window and stopped for sea shells. I was wrenched out of two months of calm. Nothing more than that, certainly, nothing ecstatic or even interesting, but very silent and even, as those periods have become for me. I had been breathing in and out, out and in, calmly, grateful for once to do just that, staring at the waves plopping in, successful at thinking almost nothing, handling easily the three memories I have manufactured, when that girl stooped for sea shells. There was something about her large breasts under her faded blue tee shirt, the quick way she bent down, her firm legs in their rolled-up white jeans, her thin ankles – it was her feet, actually; they seemed for a brief, painful moment to be elegant. It was that thin-boned brittle movement with her feet that did it, that touched some spot that I had forgotten to smother. The way those thin feet remained planted, yet shifting slightly in the sand as she bent down quickly for a clam shell, sent my heart thumping, my mouth dry, no exaggeration, there was something gay and insane about that tiny gesture because it had nothing to do with her.
I went to Smitty’s, a roadhouse a quarter of a mile down the beach. When I came back, she was gone. I could not sit in my room. The walls closed in on me. I could see the walls closing in on me, and my situation, if that is what it is, a situation, seemed suddenly so dull and hopeless; this cheap thrown-together guest house of imitation redwood on the California coast with its smell of mold and bad plumbing, the inane view from my window of driftwood and seaweed, flat predictable waves, corny writings in the sand, pot-bellied fishermen and bronzed godlike volleyball players. I had to pull out, I thought, I was beginning to notice things, lists were forming, comparisons were on the way. And now I don’t have the octopus. I suppose that is what there is to tell about. Then I’ll move on. Last night there was a storm, and I abandoned the octopus. I didn’t really abandon the octopus, it’s still in the bathysphere on the truck bed, and the truck bed is still up on blocks, but it’s not the same any more. I’m going to move on alone.
I have money and I can make money. I want to say that now. I’m no reprobate, nor am I a drain on anyone. My great aunt left me two thousand a year, and I have, or had, an octopus and a truck. A man sold me the octopus and truck in Oregon. I met him in a bar in one of those logging towns on the Coast where the only attractive spot is the village dump, which at least has the advantage of facing the sea. Nog, he was apparently of Finnish extraction, was one of those semi-religious lunatics you see wandering around the Sierras on bread and tea, or gulping down peyote in Nevada with the Indians. He was dressed in black motorcycle boots, jeans and an old army shirt with sergeant chevrons still on the sleeves. His face was lean and hatchet-edged, with huge fuzzy eyes sunk deep in his skull like bullet holes. He kept complaining about a yellow light that had lately been streaming out of his chest from a spot the size of a half dollar. We drank and talked about the spot and the small burning sensation it gave him early in the morning and about his octopus. He had become disillusioned about traveling with the octopus and had begun having aggressive dreams about it. He wanted to sell it. We bought a bottle and walked out beyond the town into logged-off hills that looked like old battlefields. A low mist hung over a struggling second growth of redwood and Douglas fir. The tracks of giant caterpillar tractors wound everywhere. Pits and ditches were scattered about like shell holes. Thousands of frogs croaked and salamanders hung suspended between lids of green slime and rotting logs. I felt vaguely elated, like a witness to some ancient slaughter.
Nog lived in what had once been a water tank in the middle of a rough field. The octopus was there, all right. It was sitting inside a bathysphere on a truck bed. Nog had built a mold out of plaster of Paris for the tentacles and another one for the obese body with its parrot-like beak and bulging eyes. Then he had poured liquid latex rubber into the molds. The bathysphere was carefully fashioned out of a large butane gas tank and stolen pieces of metal from a nearby bridge. There were three portholes from which you could watch the octopus move its eight tentacles around in the bubbling water. Nog had been traveling to all the state and county fairs through the West and Midwest, charging kids a dime and adults a quarter. Most people believed the octopus was real, but whenever there was a loud doubt Nog would tell them the truth. He would never give money back, and occasionally there would be fights. In Bird City, Utah, the bathysphere had been tipped over by three men who had just been on a losing softball team. He was weary of the whole thing, he kept repeating. We sat down on a bench in front of his house, and he filled me in on octopus lore. The crowd appreciated the devilfish myth the most, and it was important to tell them how dangerous octopi are and how they can drown and mangle a human or sink a small boat. One should never tell them the truth, which is that octopi are quite friendly. I refused any more information. We sat quietly and it grew dark. Finally Nog said that he had stopped knowing how to entertain himself. He said he guessed that was my trouble, too, but that I should take a chance with the octopus. He suggested I transform it into a totem that I didn’t mind seeing every day.
I bought the octopus, and for a year I traveled through the country with it.
Nog is not quite clear enough. I have to invent more. It always comes down to that. I never get a chance to rest. I have never been able, for instance, to understand the yellow light streaming from his chest. But now that the octopus has faded away, Nog might emerge into a clearer focus. Those were sentimental and fuzzy days, those trips through the West with the octopus, and sometimes I find myself wishing more of it were true. (I find, when I ruminate like this, that I invent a great deal of my memories – three now, to be exact – because otherwise I have trouble getting interested.) But I have gotten faster with myself and more even-tempered since I met Nog. Perhaps not even-tempered but certainly more dulcet. I think about trips, bits and pieces of trips, but I no longer try and put anything together (my mind has become blessedly slower), nor do I try as much to invent a suitable character who can handle the fragments. But I don’t want to get into all that. There is always the danger that I might become impressed by what once was a misplaced decision for solitude.
I’m thinking about trying the East. I will go to New York and get a small room on the top of a hotel.
When I was on the road with the octopus I did a lot of reminiscing about New York. New York was, in fact, my favorite memory for four or five months, until it got out of hand and I had to drop it. I lived in a comfortable duplex apartment on top of an old hotel overlooking a small park and harbor. I was sort of an erotic spy on myself then, but managed to survive, at least for those four or five months, by keeping an alert and fastidious watch on the terrifying view outside. I watched ships glide and push into huge docks, and far below, through silvery leaves, the quiet violence in the park. At night I stayed up with the fantastic lights of cars and subways as they flowed over the concrete ramps that weaved around the hotel. I lived precariously in the center of brutal combinations of energy, and gradually, as I closed in on myself, the bridges transformed into massive spider webs imprisoning the subways as they rumbled like mechanical snakes across the black river. The subways shot off green and yellow sparks in defense, in specific relays of time, always getting through. I had to drop that memory. But now, with more miles and memories in control, I might attempt New York.
p.s. Hey. ** Michael karo, Hi there, Michael, old pal. Ron Wood’s stuff was too horrible to include. I kept thinking everyone knows Beefheart painted so he would be surprising enough, but on reflection that was probably wrong. I thought Dylan was too obvious? Well, err, I can’t stand Joni Mitchell, sorry. This blog is a Joni Mitchell-free zone. Funny Mellencamp story, cool. Nice to see you, sir. ** Bernard, Hi, B! The first poem I ever wrote was about the TV series ‘Mission: Impossible’, and it rhymed, and it was a rewrite of the lyrics of the song ‘These are a few of my favorite things’. Can we not do that mashup, ha ha? You’re in Avignon! And you’re not going to go see theater stuff? How wonderfully and self-destructively perverse. One of Sade’s castles (still intact) is a short drive from there. Happy you liked Tours. I love the Loire, as I think I told you. I apologize to you on behalf of the SNCF and, what the heck, for all of France. We’re broiling here too, if it helps. Not as broiling but who’s counting? Big love, me. ** Amphibiouspeter, Hi! Silence is okay. You were here in the big P tinily? Yeah, nice city, Paris. As is Lisboa. It must be god awful hot there right now, though. Thank you about the post. Yeah, Chris Brown, who would have imagined? Lovely to see you. ** Rewritedept, Hi, man. Oh, that wasn’t an old post. Okay, it swiped a few things from a similarly themed dead post, but it’s a newbie. I’m good. It’s too hot, though. Sharing a room with your mom is super weird. The idea is freaking me out. Haven’t seen ‘Bob’s Burgers’ yet, no. I don’t watch TV at all. Except some random French stuff. Take care! ** Scunnard, Hi, J! Man, such big congrats on the book! I was super jazzed to see the announcement on FB! Yes! No, no, I’m too film-swamped to do much of anything else at all, so everything including Michael’s thing is on hold until maybe the dawning of August. Mm, probably friends of mine in NYC know Anohni, but no, I don’t know anything. Cheers (in both senses of the word)! ** Jamie, Howdy. Oh, thank you. Ron Wood’s paintings are as horrible as almost anything could ever be. My Thursday involved a lot of sweating. I think I inched out some emails, but not much else. I’ve had other friends get whacked in the head by steroids. Weird stuff. Glad it’s taking its leave. The suppliers always say that. They might punish you for the infraction, but probably at a slap-on-the-wrist level. The heatwave was a nightmare yesterday, I must say. The sky was as wet as a bog and as unpleasantly warm as a piece of toast. It’s supposed to slip down a degree or two today, but I don’t believe it. My Friday? See a visiting friend. Sort out some film stuff. Maybe see some art or a movie? Complain about the heat. Shouldn’t be too exciting a day. And yours? ** David Ehrenstein, Thank you. The French kind of revere Peter Falk, as you probably know. That detective TV series he did is considered major work here. For instance. ** Steevee, Hi. Yeah, that shotgun marriage idea of Annette and James weirds me out. Thank you very much for your review of the new Jodorowsky. I’ll definitely see it. A friend of mine currently visiting Paris just hung out with him two days ago. I like the two films of his that you mentioned, especially ‘The Holy Mountain’. There are other films of his that I think are really terrible. I did see ‘ET’ and ‘THM’ long ago in the theaters upon their original release, and I probably was stoned while watching them, yes. Look forward to your MacClean review. I thought her film ‘Jesus’ Son’ was pretty bad. Everyone, Here’s Steevee. Follow his lead. Steevee: ‘Here’s my review of a somewhat fascinating but deeply flawed film, Alison Maclean’s THE REHEARSAL. Previously, the director adapted JESUS’ SON.’ ** Tosh Berman, Hi, Tosh. Thank you kindly. I didn’t know Charlie Watts painted. How did I miss that? Dylan struck me as too obvious in the moments of gathering, yeah. From what I could tell, Lennon only drew, but didn’t paint? Best to you, dear sir! ** Bill, Thank you, Bill! Oh, weird, I’m looking to maybe try to get permission to use a Coil track in something, and apparently getting the rights to Coil stuff is extremely complicated, and a few people said I should approach Drew McDowall. Huh. Did you guys hit the ambient club? ** S., Hi, S., and thanks, man. I’d like to Corot myself, I don’t even know why. Nice comment, S. It was/is beautiful. ** Sypha, Knowing the unpredictability of your tastes and past experiences, I’m not entirely surprised you haven’t seen ‘Twin Peaks.’ Zac hasn’t either. I can’t/shouldn’t say which Coil track yet, and I’m not sure we’re going to actually end up using it. I will name it, if you want, though, either way, at some point. You have a new single out! I’m there! (Or will be!) Everyone, Here’s Sypha. Take advantage of what he’s proferring if you know what’s good for you. Sypha: ‘Today I released the second single off the upcoming +Passover- album “Hostile Architecture.” It’s called “Landscape of Thorns”“. ** Chris Corhane, Hi, Chris! Whoa, what happened to your name? Anyway, buddy boy! Yep, Zac and I are about maybe mid-way through completing our film. Sweetness central about your new relationship. Congrats, old pal, you deserve every molecule of the happiness which you are currently radiating! I love that you have a bunch of your work in the offing too, obviously. The perfect life? I haven’t heard anything about the THEM redo since I said I was into the idea. I assume Ish will alert us if it’s a ‘go’ in good time? Would be great! Enjoy everything and take extra-good care of yourself. Love, me. ** Wolf, Wolf! I am, right? That’s my self-image for some reason. Oh, my god, you named a plant after me! And it’s psychotically beautiful and, well, excitable seeming! Wow, thank you! I’ve never been given an honor quite like that before. Gosh, I’m speechless. It makes me sad to think Don S. Davis can’t be in the new ‘Twin Peaks’ due to being dead. He mouthed my all-time favorite/moment in ‘Twin Peaks’ history. In the cabin. When Windham Earl had him held captive. Well, you did more (and more interesting) things yesterday than I did yesterday by far, so … Love plus love, me. ** Brendan, Brendan! Hey, man! It is, right? Every time I listen to the new Oxbow, which I do quite a lot, I think of you. Love, Dennis. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Cool. ** Dynomoose, Hey, A! Yeah, all kinds of surprises, good and bad, and interestingly so almost always? You good, my friend? ** Misanthrope, G-ster. Well, I left Bush out of the post for many, many reasons. Phyllis Diller was a genius. I saw her do her show live once at the end of her life. Genius! I don’t like Andy Roddick, I don’t know why. I like him better than Djokovic. Ice cream soup seems like a good idea and yet it isn’t. What a conundrum. Vanilla is the best ice cream anyway. Well, Chunky Monkey is pretty good, I guess. ** Right. I decided to draw your attention to the great Rudy Wurlitzer today by restoring this post about one of his best novels, ‘Nog’. Maybe you will be interested. See you tomorrow.