Mighty Denis Johnson, My Hero and “Contemporary,” RIP, Part II



Hey, warning: copious name-dropping ensues in the following text. I can’t help it. This is my Denis Johnson story: fact, not fiction. Denis wrote about weirdos and losers burning at the edge of town, weirdos and losers burning at the edge of everything. I’m one of those weirdos and losers. Denis saw right through me. His sentences blasted my shadow on the concrete. Here we go.

IN THE FALL OF 1986 I was 21 years old and trying to write a dystopian novel called RUIN. (A dystopian novel! Jesus Christ, what a concept!) Anyway, my immediate readers—friends, slackers, poseurs, weirdos, losers—they all shook their heads and said, “Who the fuck is going to want to read this?”

Ruin p1005

Well, my teachers read RUIN and liked it. My teachers at the time were Peggy Rambach, onetime wife of Andre Dubus, and Robert Waukenon of The Art Institute of Boston. And they both said to me, independent of each other, “Go read Denis Johnson.”

God, I wish Denis could read this. He’d be amused.

Let me clarify: when Peggy Rambach and Robert Waukenon told me to go read Denis Johnson, they were in NO WAY likening my sentences to Denis Johnson’s. BUT they recognized what I was aiming for—the darkness, the yearning, the passion.

Peggy recommended that I should read Denis’ first novel, ANGELS. I had to special-order it. The special order took months. It was worth the wait.


“Dazzling and savage.” Indeed. Denis Johnson’s ANGELS ripped me to shreds. SHREDS. What a book. What words. Holy shit, Peggy Rambach had ushered me into an arena I wasn’t fit to enter.

Waukenon suggested I read Denis’ second novel, FISKADORO.


Like the rest of the world, I didn’t like FISKADORO. “Curse of the second novel,” which is a myth I do not buy into, it’s nonsense. For example, Iian Banks’ second novel, Walking On Glass is infinitely superior to The Wasp Factory. But at the end of the day FISKADORO just didn’t work. As much as I wanted to like it, I didn’t.

But then…


“Daring” is putting it mildly. I’ve never read a text written by a man more convincing in conjuring of the voice of a woman than The Stars at Noon. What… balls. no screwy pun intended. I wouldn’t have even tried such a feat.



JESUS’ SON hit the reading/writing community like an ELE (Extinction Level Event) slamming the planet. Suddenly, everybody fucking loved Denis Johnson! Writers, readers, and editors whom I loved and respected were all over him like Uncle’s Day at a whorehouse, an indelicate but accurate comparison. It was sick. But no one made me sicker and madder than Gordon fucking Lish.


For those not in the know, Gordon Lish’s chief claim to fame is to have “discovered” Raymond Carver— a claim Carver himself came to vehemently refute, going as far as commanding Random House to forbid Lish from editing his final books.

Lish was my editor, my publisher, and my “employer,” ha. I would show up at his office  early in the day and do all his slave work, and all the other editors in Random House (Knopf, baby) would walk by Lish’s office and shout, “GIVE BOUCHER SOME MONEY, GORDON.”

He never did.

Anyway, when Denis Johnson hit the planet like an ELE around 1991, 1992, 1993, Lish was THE BIGGEST poseur, like he was in on Denis from the start. He wasn’t. Not even close. Which really incredibly pissed me off—Lish was just following the fucking crowd, the same way way he did a year before when Cormac McCarthy made it really big with ALL THE PRETTY HORSES and Lish crowed and crowed that McCarthy made Faulkner look like “a punk.” (He didn’t. Not even close.)

Which led me to an important realization: despite Lish’s self-delusion that he was a trail-blazer, Gordon Lish revealed himself as a follower, a fucking privileged white boy coming from money and literary snobbery— a liar, a faker, a ghost.

Denis Johnson was a real man, man. He ate, bled, shat, fuckedand wept like a real man.

These are all of his books:



Crying as I finish this. Goddamn it. God fucking damn it.




My Stupid Dream, October 7, 2017

Kodai Rebirth

For Ali

SO, my brain was very kind to me this morning: it granted me a very nice dream, a dream that contained everything I love. (Well, almost everything.)

It began with a friend buying me a gift. A deluxe super nice tri-fold edition of a YAMATO movie (curiously, VHS), but the packaging and design was SO beautiful, and I say this as an Art Director who has executed and produced over 1,000 books; I treated each book as an object of beauty: the book should be beautiful, the reader should love to gaze on it, hold it, even smell it. (I will never ever forget the smell of the freshly pressed ink of the Star Wars soundtrack double LP in the summer of 1977).

Anyway, the YAMATO package design was wicked cool. It unfolded as a triptych, in three parts: the first holding the title and literature, the second the movie itself (VHS!) and the third a slim but elegantly designed book of concept art of all the YAMATO characters.

I was so ready to cum.


The EVIL TEACHER yelled at me, “YOU MUST WRITE!”

The Evil Teacher was SUCH a cliché of a librarian! Mousey. Short hair. Glasses. Conservative skirt. LOAFERS, for fuck’s sake! She said,


I sputtered, “Huh? What? Why? When?”

She pointed a hooked claw at the clock. ‘YOU MUST PRODUCE SIX THOUSAND WORDS IN FIFTY-FIVE MINUTES!”

“WHAT?!” I countered, going dah-dah-do-jib-jib, “that’s impossible! Even Stephen King couldn’t do that!”

“You must,” she hissed, “and so must he.”

I turned. “He” was the young man whose life I had saved earlier in the week.

He, George, lounged sleepily on a bed behind black iron bars. He roused when I turned to him.

“Hey, Drax. What up.”

He had a million fucking needles sticking out of his arms. Clive Barker would have loved it.


“Drax,” he drawled, his eyes those of a zombie, “get over it.”

And then the librarian was hitting me, hitting me, and I loved it, and I woke up.

The end.


One more time: Neil Young / Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World

God, we need passion like this more than ever.

Me, to liquor store man (who is a stoic, humorless, unimaginative robot): “How’s it going, Sarge?”

He (as always), “Can’t complain.”

Me, after a solid sigh: “A man who can’t complain is a man without consciousness, self-awareness, vision, compassion, guts. There is PLENTY to complain about: Las Vegas. Our failing ecosystem. Donald fucking Trump.”

He: “That’ll be $10.26.”

Jesus. Keep on rockin’ in the free world, kids. Don’t give up.



Really? Only Once?


I am up to the challenge.



Supergirl in Bondage (a photo essay by yours truly) NSFW

I know. Today was Wonder Woman Day. And this was by far the most charming photo:


BUT THEN! I was accused of a crime I didn’t commit! It was awful! Stupid bathroom bs in my stupid boardinghouse! The landlord looked like this, the late (and mightily missed) DENIS JOHNSON:


(God, Denis. I can’t believe you’re gone. I wish we’d met, I wish we’d shared a smoke and a drink at 9am and talked about god.)

So anyway.

I was so outraged! I was furious! Accused of something I did not commit! First World Problem: so many men in prison are currently incarcerated for crimes they did not commit! So I stormed around, grimacing, making fists, sneering at the sky (like a Michael Moorcock hero), until I realized…

I needed to tie up my super-powered girlfriends.


All of my girlfriends had super powers. All of them. Why else would I have been with them? Because they had powers that dazzled me.

My ex-wife, for example, is a 4th degree Black Belt. Karate. Our second night together? She put on black tights, barefoot, and slashed around her (very small) kitchen, cutting the air w/ Sais like fucking Elektra, and I was like OH MY FUCKING CHRIST I’M GOING TO MARRY THIS GIRL.

I did. We got married. She had super powers. ‘Nuff said.

My sisters had super powers. My mother had super powers. Every woman I’ve ever been attracted to has had super powers.

So, like a dope, like a complete weakling—I needed to bind the pretty sexy girls I liked and wanted and needed, I needed to tie her up


I didn’t realize this until later—way later. She was so powerful. Bronze bare skin my hand ached to touch, like an exploding sun.


She will wake, she will rise, she will break free. (And I’ll probably be wicked embarrassed by this post tomorrow, but fuck it. I love my super-powered girlfriends.)


Good Morning


We must resist despair.


I Like the Special GUEST STARS Who Show Up in a Google Image Search for Denis Johnson: Jeanne d’Arc and Lenin.

Screen Shot 2017-05-29 at 9.08.33 PM.png


The Fisher King: “Forgive Me.”


Wake Up Wake Up Wake Up

Fan vid by MrMarrs. It’s really excellent. Check it out.

The ghost of Denis Johnson stands across the street, coins over his eyes. Soon, everybody’s going to be telling his story. I have only one story to tell about Denis, but it’s a fairly potent tale. Stay tuned.


Day Made. Kudos to the Artist.

Exorcist White House

File this under “Oh damn, yes.” Thank you unknown artist.

PS: If anybody has a copy of EXORCIST II: HERETIC, I’d be more than grateful.


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