The Plate: The Rudest Man in Rock (Part 2)

Note: You can read Part 1 of The Rudest Man in Rock here:

The Plate: The Rudest Man in Rock (Part 1)

Now, to conclude our tale…

Now we arrive at Thomerson’s well-documented fascination with the late 1980s and early 1990s. He has been known to wear hypercolor shirts on stage, soaking them during encores to reveal explicit messages. He has thrown pogs into the audience at shows in New York and London. His stage name is drawn from a character actor popular during the 80s and 90s, so, we have to ask, why the fascination with that era when he himself was born in 1984?

He stares out into the morning light, weighing his answer. “Things were different then. Purer. More alive. People dared to believe in things. At the very least I can bring that to the kids today, ones who never experienced it.”

When we point out that the defining trait of that era was actually considered to be apathy and that, perhaps, his own experiences as a child during that period colored his view, he scoffs.

“Oh, sure. That’s what they want you to think. You think that Kurt (Cobain, one assumes that Thomerson is on a first-name basis with the legend) could have done what he did if he didn’t care? He was purer than you or I could ever hope to be. But it’s not just him. It’s the whole Seattle scene, man.” He becomes animated and begins name-checking, counting each band off on his fingers. “Pearl Jam. Soundgarden. Candlebox. They were all hanging out together. They got it. It was a movement. I’m telling you, man, I was born at the wrong time.”

We ponder whether he’d cite Nirvana as an influence for the new album?

“Influence? I think it’s more than an influence. It’s more like…” He shrugs. “I’m not saying I’m like Cobain, but…” He tails off again, lighting another cigarillo, leaving the reader to wonder what might follow. Continue reading

The Plate: The Rudest Man in Rock (Part 1)

The Rudest Man in Rock

Matthew Weldon

Tim Thomerson is sick of your bullshit.

That’s right. You. And your bullshit.

The lead singer and songwriter for the obscure indie noise-rock collective known as Magic Bullet Theory has just returned from the outfit’s sold-out tour of Europe and he wants you to know one thing:

He is sick of your bullshit.

“It’s pretty much everyone,” he reflected, scratching his chin as he gazed out the window. The white peaks of the Swiss Alps reflected off of the glass, casting a white glow over his face. For a moment, he’s an angel, and you wonder if that’s what the teenage girls see in him.

“All those blank faces staring up at me during the last tour – I can’t stand it. If you’re going to be that person, just stay home. I mean, every night it’s my job to go out there and blow your mind. It’s hard work, and I suffer for it.”

That glow, so fleeting, is now gone. He’s turned back to face us, striking a match and lighting a cigarillo. We caught up with him at his personal chalet just before he headed back to the States, where he’s set to record his debut solo album for Itchy Records. This is a man on the cusp of a transformational moment, and we wanted to be there, to talk about his career, his views, and that controversial statement.

This is Plate Magazine’s exclusive look at Tim Thomerson on the eve of a break-out.

He waved dismissively when he entered the “living quarters,” an hour late for the beginning of our interview. He tells us that he has been listening to a 180g vinyl (for those unfamiliar with the term, this is said to offer the highest aural fidelity money can buy) LP hand-crafted by a Mexican singer/songwriter named Juan Juarez – and he ensures that we spell this name correctly.

“I needed to listen to Juarez. He clears the mind, you know, cleanses the old mental palate.” Getting into this, he sits at the chair by the window, pointing a finger at us. “If there’s one thing you need to know, it’s that artists like Juan are the ones you should be talking to. I’m nothing. No one.”

Duly noted, we switch tack and ask him about the song that he debuted during the European tour, a droning, drum-laden track that is likely to show up on his solo album.

“I think it has the potential to be one of the most important songs ever written,” he admits, rubbing his chin. “But you know, it doesn’t belong to me. It came from somewhere beyond and it belongs to everyone.”

That’s right, including you. Continue reading

The Existential Dread Creeps: Penelope Crowe’s “100 Unfortunate Days”

Full disclosure: I started this book when I was laid up in the hospital, high on pain-killers, and recovering from a painful kidney stone (is there any other kind?). I’m not sure if that should predispose me to liking this story or hating it, but there is that factor. I mean, that said, as soon as I started the book, I began raving to my then-fiancee about the brilliance of what I was reading. I still stand by my statement.

I cut a lot of my real literary teeth on Beat writing. From Kerouac to Ginsberg to Ferlinghetti, I’ve chased down just about every bit of writing from that period, and went through my own period of trying to imitate their works. I think it informed a lot of my writing, and I still dream sometimes of doing a full-on beat-style novel, but I figured now is not the time to be so bold and experimental. I mean, why kill a career in its early stages, right?

Well, Penelope Crowe came along to prove me wrong – that this can be done well and effectively even in a modern context. Seriously, this could proudly stand with a lot of the better Beat works. Have you read William S. Burroughs? I know not many people would classify him as a horror writer, but there are some truly macabre visions in his writings, enough so that I always felt his works were close cousins to the genre, sort of the black sheep of the whole Beat era. For that reason, I find that his works resonated the longest in my soul, once I’d done the whole Kerouac/Ginsberg thing.

I say that because several times when reading 100 Unfortunate Days I got a legit Burroughs vibe. The book starts with such a thing, for God’s sake!:

The pain behind my eye reminds me I have worms in my brain. Not a few, but millions. They have no room to multiply and either dying or boring their way to another part of my head. If a doctor were to ask me what my symptoms were I could say that there is pressure in my skull from an overpopulation of spirochetes. Sometimes I can’t think straight – and I get nervous.

 

Looking back, I can see now that Burroughs, at his best, evoked the same sense of existential dread that you hear from survivors of schizophrenia – the feeling of not being able to trust the very bedrock of reality upon which we all rely. And that absolutely fascinates me even while it hits the core of dread in my own soul. Crowe brilliantly mines that same material.

Be warned: the story, as such, is not really a story at all, in the traditional sense. There is something of a plot, but a lot of it has to be pieced together from trying to sort through the narrator’s statements and determining which are more likely to be true. In that sense, however, there is a protagonist and an antagonist, that antagonist being mental illness, and you won’t find a more insidious or terrifying monster.

Some people have said the book is too depressing, but I disagree; it’s not all existential dread and depression. There’s a sharp wit at work here, too, and I laughed out loud at a few parts. Parts of the book may be difficult for certain people to take (I hesitated before recommending it to a mentally ill friend for whom certain sections would ring very familiar), but if all of this sounds up your alley and you’re fascinated by peeks behind the curtain like this one, I recommend it. It gets five out of five stars. You can also check out her site here.

Enhanced by Zemanta

On The Outside: My Characters

The recent debacle over Entanglements has helped me realize that I don’t know how to write normal healthy people. Seriously. I mean, while I myself may now be kind of a recovered whatever-I-was and feel somewhat normal and healthy, I will probably never have the first clue of the perspective of someone who was raised by a normal healthy family. That’s not to condemn my own family; we did the best we can and I love my parents. It’s just difficult for me to understand and relate to someone who had a completely healthy upbringing.

That’s where I run into this overwhelming problem with getting bored and having trouble really getting hold of the emotions of somewhat healthy characters. I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to write people who have had similar experiences as me, who haven’t walked the “conventional” life, and came from a slightly less advantaged background. They may have worked their way up or gotten a lucky break, but they still have that in common.

Despite coming from an upper middle class life, Mattie from Corridors of the Dead had an extremely dysfunctional family and on top of that is a lesbian, so her outsider status was pretty much cemented from an early age. The fact that she embraced an outsider subculture was just a natural outgrowth of who she was, and the same applies to the new narrator of Entanglements, growing up as an impoverished black woman who aspires to be a songwriter in rural Texas. I think that’s part of why she became so interesting and why she spoke so much in my head as opposed to the other main character, Carla, who had somewhat cold parents but a fairly stable life as a child.

I think outsiders have an especially strong and vivid history in literature and film. Luke Skywaker is a hick farm boy who had the most dysfunctional possible parents and guardians. Jack Kerouac and the Beat movement were all about looking at society from the outside in. I think at their cores fantasy and sci-fi are all about being outside of consensus reality. That’s kind of the point of the genres and, to me, one of the problems of presenting a “normal”, white-bread character in a crazy environment is that character might have a lot of trouble adjusting to that altered reality, whereas someone who came from a more unstable background is used to having things change at a rapid pace and trying to stay ahead just to survive.

For me, it’s more compelling to take someone who hasn’t had all the advantages and has had to learn to survive on their own wits, not to mention that a lot of innovative approaches have come from people who have stood on the outside. Look at the stereotype of the once-nerd who becomes a titan of software development; it’s a stereotype for a reason – because it happened to so many.

I’m not downing modern mainstream society. While it has its flaws (as does everything), there are a lot of advantages to it; one of its prime advantages is the comfort to be taken from its predictability, as well as its definition of roles for its members. What I write is all about removing that comfort and that role definition, about rewriting who people think they are. That’s one of my primary interests, and it’s a lot harder to do with someone who’s heavily steeped in the modern mainstream – they can just go catatonic, like Carla was. Add to that the fact that I just don’t know how to get inside their heads, and the answer becomes clear.

In retrospect you know it’s kind of always been my thing. Take video games, for instance. Most video game heroes are white males, in order to, I suppose, apply to the broadest demographic, but I’m bored of it, and it says nothing to me despite the fact that I am a white male. I just can’t identify, but give me a chance to create an African-American female and put her in the lead? Now you’re talking about something interesting. It’s been that way forever for me, so I need to embrace this fact about myself, that I want to see people who aren’t your “traditional” heroes and protagonists doing the things that those characters would do. It just makes for fresher storytelling.

So I solemnly swear to apply this approach to all of my stories from now on. All of my narrators, at the very least, will have some sort of outsider status, something that sets them apart from normal society, even while retaining their essential humanity. That’s not a challenge – that’s just plain fun.

Character Development and the Influential Novels of my Life Pt 2

First things first – I was informed that this is my 100th post. Worthy of celebrating, I think. Hmmm…I’ll have to figure out something to do next week, when the brain isn’t leaking out the ears.

Okay, so let’s pick up where we left off yesterday, shall we? I’m ready to finally talk about my method of creating characters and how I get to know them better. Here’s the funny thing…a lot of it is drawn from a limited experience of tabletop role playing games. I played a short campaign in my Sophomore year of college (Star Wars, not Dungeons and Dragons, as if one were dorkier than the other), and after I got over the initial shock of realizing that this was basically just acting with a formalized set of rules, I saw the potential for what it could mean for creating characters. Of course, I was also mystified that GMs would go to all the trouble of creating elaborate story lines – story lines that could be used in short stories or novels – and keep them restricted to these small groups. Why not take all that creative output and put it toward something that could really make a difference? I have to confess that I still don’t fully grasp it, but I can at least understand the fun that people derive from the process.

But the important thing here is the characters – those amazing, difficult, hard-to-pin-down characters. Where once I viewed characters as a nuisance, I pretty much rejoice in their humanity. It’s a lot of fun to work with a “real” character. But how to get there? Here’s my process.

  1. Imagine a given actor in the plot that you’ve devised. Seriously. Matty in Corridors of the Dead started out imagining Natalie Portman as a punk rock girl. This gave way to a different view of the character entirely, but trying out these different approaches within the plot can give you some ideas that you never thought possible. How about Liam Neeson as a man pursued by a stalker? Jason Alexander as an action hero (well, trying to be one)? These are ideas that led to some very interesting character and plot possibilities for me. Eventually, you have to settle on one that presents the most story possibilities. Once you’ve gotten that actor “archetype” nailed down, take that archetype to step 2.
  2. Interview the Character. Imagine yourself in a room with that character. Just you and a tape recorder. Imagine the questions you want to ask them. You may jot down the answers, you may not – I typically don’t, as I find it helps more to internalize the character’s speech patterns and the actual answers are secondary. Those answers may come in handy later in the story, however.
  3. Fill out a Character Sheet. Remember what I said about roleplaying games? This is the place where it comes in handy. Height and weight are useful, but you also need to be answering key questions about psychology. Relationship with parents? Formative sexual experiences? Favorite music, movies, books, etc.? Whatever you think is relevant. I have my own sheet template that I use, but I don’t have it handy at the moment. I’ll post it when I get a chance.
That’s pretty much it – at this point I have a solid idea of the character and usually don’t need to refer back to too many of these things, but the process has internalized enough of the characters that I can call them forth. I personally think there’s a deep connection between writing and acting, another passion of mine. In the few chances I’ve gotten to act, I’ve used similar tricks to get into character. Frankly, I’m surprised there’s not more crossover.
Now, on to Part 2. These are the books of our lives…

4. Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. I have had a lifelong love of learning, even if I didn’t favor the methods that schools used to teach me (and still don’t) – I’m a self-driven learner, and do just fine that way. So it was only natural that after getting into the Beat Writers, and especially Kerouac, that I understand the genesis of the Beats’ worldview. I dug into Kerouac’s background and discovered his influences, along with their influences. I’ve mentioned it on this site before. It was an attempt to map Kerouac’s literary DNA. When I hit Hermann Hesse, I found a point of view that resonated with me, and represented the clearest map for the Beat philosophy. Steppenwolf was the first Hesse novel that I dug into, and I’m not sure that I can convey how very closely it matched my worldview at the time. The main character’s view of the world was so very close to how I felt at the time – cloistered and dedicated to study – that I couldn’t help but fall in love. I’ve moved on since then, but this book is still my favorite in Hesse’s bibliography, and highly influential on my works.

5. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. Once upon a time, I wanted to be a journalist. I know, dodged a bullet there, right? This period began well before I entered my “beat period”, but continued even after I had left college. I had visions of the traditional journalist life, and once I left college, I kind of figured that was dead. Then I discovered Hunter S. Thompson, right in the middle of my Beat period (which also coincided with some fairly heavy recreational drug use). Yeah, talk about kindred spirits. I immediately sought to ape his style as do most young writers who discover Thompson, and it finally stirred up my desire to run off, drive across the country, and document my drug-addled experiences. Not exactly original, but I was already a young man who romanticized damage, so there was a lot of romance to the idea. Ultimately, I ended up choosing a different path (one that involved a lot less self-destruction), but this book will always stand as an icon in my life.

 

6. Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. I spent the last few months of 1998 in South Africa, an attempt to cast off the bonds of what I saw as a wasted life back here in the States as I tried to work out a relationship with the woman who would become my first wife. Yeah, she was South African, and we met online during that incredibly damaged period of my life, so the idea of moving to a new culture and discovering it was very appealing to me.  I mean, I grew up in Small-Town America. The concept was mind-blowing! So I packed up three suitcases, the remains of my life, to go there. I also picked up a handful of books to accompany me, as I knew I would have no job there. This book was one of them. I had no idea how it would change my outlook on fiction, and it’s only really settled in for me in the last few years that this book even was influential for me. A book of paranoia and the concept of fiction becoming reality, I can see that it’s driving a lot of the ideas behind Entanglements for me, and has driven me toward similar concepts that involve bringing real-life mythology (even urban mythology) to storytelling. A sneaky, slow-burner of an influence.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the last four, and some of them really surprised me…

Adshade99 Lives and the Influential Novels of my Life Pt 1

Not to give away too much about my next novel, but it’s written as a sort of epistolary novel for the 21st Century, blending a blog with some third-person storytelling and a highly-encrypted personal journal. I have some pretty neat ideas about hos all those things will interact in the long-term, and the best part of writing the novel is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be written in a linear fashion, as the blog lags behind the main story by three years. So, having reached the end of Corridors in my head, it felt like the right time to start thinking about what would come first in the next novel, now known as Entanglements. I started composing the first blog entry by the first protagonist, known only as Adshade99, her handle on her blog. I’m quite pleased with what I’ve come up with so far, and I’m looking forward to writing entries in her voice.

The novel centers around a woman who is kidnapped by an organized crime ring that’s producing snuff videos for an underground website on the Tor network, yet somehow is able to produce these blog entries. Two network admins get hooked on her blog, and we start to see them descend into the same world that she had found. I don’t want to give away too much yet because a lot is still subject to change aside from the “must-haves”.  I think this will be much like the last novel, one that just writes itself – I already have the first three scenes in mind, just waiting to get written.

By the way, Adshade is the last name of someone that I’ve met. I thought it was just a great name for an Internet handle, and here it is.

I’m still a bit out of whack, so this will likely be another odds-and-ends entry, but the words must flow, or something along those lines. Bear with me as I try to get through it. Transitions abound in my life – between books and this medication. But I have faith things will be better on the other side.

I believe our next item of business was talking about some of the books that have influenced me – an idea courtesy of Paul Dail and Worlds in Ink. Today I’ll talk about three – tomorrow three – and wrap up on Friday. By the way – these are in no particular order.

The Dark Tower III – The Wastelands by Stephen King. The entire Dark Tower series is the source of a lot things in my imagination. I picked up the first book, The Gunslinger, in 1986 – I believe – when I was 10 years old. It, along with another book that will appear on this list, The Talisman, were core to where I saw myself going someday. Yes, even at that age; I’ll post my first story from when I was six or seven here someday.

The first book fired my imagination in ways that I hadn’t thought possible – talk about ancient advanced civilizations and the speech about size defeating us just absolutely blew my young mind. The second book, while compelling, misses some elements that I really enjoy about the series. It’s far more character-centric, almost to a fault. But the third book? Ah, that’s where it all came together. It’s where I feel that King started to hit his stride with understanding Midworld and the mechanics of the world that he created, but he also hadn’t started to indulge in the things that would make book 4 such a slog and the latter half of the series so questionable in quality. As long as the third book is, it’s a very taut story.

I think it also effectively explored those concepts of arrested technology in the distant future. So many of the elements of this novel are still my favorite tropes: multiple worlds, different versions of characters within those worlds (the concept of a “twinner” as we’ll talk about in the Talisman), and of course the technology angle. Overall, possibly the most influential book in this entire list.

Imajica by Clive Barker. Clive had a really good run from the late 80s to the mid 90s. As much as I enjoyed his horror writing, I think he really took his writing to the next level when he began crafting fantasy worlds out of whole cloth.  The run began with Weaveworld (please bring this to Kindle!), a highly enjoyable if flawed book, and then started to pick up steam with The Great and Secret Show, which could just as easily have made this list. Then there was Everville, the sequel to Great and Secret Show, which was adequate but a bit too plodding for my tastes. And Imajica.

While any of those books, save Everville, probably could have taken this spot, I think overall Imajica has to make it just for the quality. This is Barker at his imaginative best with themes that I find fascinating: hidden histories, multiple worlds, and compelling characters. The assassin Pie O’ Pah hasn’t really been equaled for me…s/he was just that compelling. I’ve read it several times since, and each time I pick up something new from it. Those four books – again, minus Everville – also have combined in the milieu of my imagination to form a cohesive view of something that I’d like to accomplish. I really miss this Barker. I mean, I enjoyed Abarat, but I wish this Barker would return some day. Oh, and I got a chance to get his autograph earlier this year. Totally worth it.

 

On the Road by Jack Kerouac. This stands in for any number of other Kerouac books – I think Visions of Cody may be a close second or even surpass this novel. I was precisely the right age when a friend introduced me to Kerouac’s writing; I had just gotten out of a hideous engagement that had ended with me dropping out of college and pretty much wrecked my life. I was living a pretty marginal life trying to figure out just what the hell my future held. I was writing every day, but it was aimless, introspective stuff that was fueled by the depths of my depression. Kerouac came along and blew all that away. Well, Kerouac, Burroughs, and Ginsberg. I became a latter-day Beatnik within the space of a few months, just devouring any Beat writing on which I could lay my grubby paws.

For awhile, I aspired to bec0me a new Beat writer, but since then I’ve realized that it’s just not my thing. The Beat writers and poets, however, did help me to find a decent narrative flow, something that I had been lacking up to that point. They also helped me develop my ear for dialogue, something that still serves me to this day. I also think that without their influence I wouldn’t care as much about my characters and their internal contradictions as I do now.

Okay, I know I said I was going to write about my character process today, but I’ve already run long. I’ll get to that tomorrow, along with the next three books.

Influences and Inspiration

Today I want to talk about inspiration and our influences. It’s kind of a loaded topic, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a two-parter. I’ve started to notice that I’m beginning to both outgrow my influences and represent a sort of synthesis of my influences. I was told earlier in my career that while my style might mimic other writers’ styles or other artists’ creations, if I kept working at things I would eventually develop my own style.

I was skeptical for quite some time because I really struggled to make that breakthrough. I would write something, re-read it, and it felt…well, it felt like I was emulating someone or something. In the mid-90s, I was emulating the sci-fi and horror writers that I was reading at the time: Clive Barker, Stephen King, C.S. Friedman, Ray Bradbury.

As I got into the late 90s and my beat period I started to emulate Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, and William S. Burroughs.

The early 2000s were more representative of trying to bring a cinematic approach in the style of David Lynch, Daren Aronofsky, and Christopher Nolan (pre-Batman, of course).

It’s only in the last half of the decade that I started to see something I might call my own. Moving to first-person perspective has really brought my style out. I would say that the original draft of Torat is very close to what I was developing, but what I’m writing now shows a very distinctive lean toward my “own” style.

What this puts into my mind is…how does our work represent our influences, i.e., how much of what I’m writing now is influenced by King, Kerouac, Lynch, etc.? I can definitely see their influences there, and yet it’s kind of my own thing there, too. There are pieces of myself that manifest in day-to-day conversation that are only just starting to come over into my writing. Things that make me who I am. For instance, I use certain very descriptive metaphors that tend to amuse people,  in one podcast I said something smelled like someone had rubbed lemon all over their dirty ass.

It’s that sort of allusion or metaphor or simile – that style of detail and synthesizing these disparate items that come to mind when I think about something – that represents my “true” style, and it needed to come over to my writing. If I can come up with a character that has a bit of an attitude, I can quite easily transfer that over to a story. I mean, in a third person approach you can use that sort of style, but it’s a lot more difficult. For some reason I associate third person with a more stuffy, formal voice, I think. I need to feel that I’m occupying some character’s space to really let that loose.

I also see my influences coming together in my characters. For instance, the protagonist of Corridors of the Dead, Matty, is a punk rocker, which represents my musical influences. She has green hair, drawn from a character that I emotionally connected with as a child. Another character, Kristy, speaks like a Valley Girl, a pattern of speech that interested me in the 80s. Daniel, while exceedingly different from the character Desmond in Lost, has some echoes of him. None of these were conscious, however; the Desmond one may have been the closest, and that only developed over time. I do have some very deliberate references to the Dark Tower, though.

It’s this confluence of different strands of creativity that come together to create this unique thing. It’s something that I had trouble embracing for a long time for fear of ripping off other artists, but I don’t think that’s the case.

I think I’ve spoken about how when I got into Kerouac, I traced his lineage all the way back to Goethe. If you read the chain of influences in order, if you go Goethe->Hermann Hesse->Thomas Wolfe->Kerouac, you can see how that literary DNA carries over. It’s not a matter of not being original. It’s that what you consume shapes what you create. I guess in a way it’s the literary equivalent of “you are what you eat”.

I’ll talk more about how this works with story inspiration on Monday. Now for Music Friday! How about some Black Belles?