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a head of himself





















“He spoke in two voices. He was in his fifties. He’d wasted his entire life. Such people were very dear to those of us who’d wasted only a few years.”
Denis Johnson, from Jesus’ Son

Couple of…three things. One, thank all the gods that Denis Johnson writes fiction and not memoir. Two, thank the rest of them that Jesus’ Son feels so true, and reads like a memoir, like a sad, beautiful dream. Three, that he woke up.

This hirsute fellow is John the Baptist. Jesus may have had a son, but no one painted any pictures of him. Cousin will have to suffice.

I was thinking about this book again in relationship to Hollywood Babylon II by Kenneth Anger. The debauchery in Hollywood that Anger describes is common to the human experiment in every place and at every time. People with a self-destructive, restless curiosity/indifference show up on the planet; they “test the edge” in each other’s company.

In Johnson’s fiction, the setting is Portland (Seattle? Olympia?) and people accidentally shoot their friends, go in and out of jail, get high at work, make horrible relationship mistakes, etc. Same thing happens in “Hollywood Babylon” in the thirties, forties, fifties except the people are celebrities and semi-celebrities who we imagine in black-and-white. Some of them are legendary for their defective personalities (Joan Crawford, Alfred Hitchcock, James Dean.) But they behave exactly like the bums at the bus station in Portland.

The narrator of the stories in Jesus’ Son gets clean in the end, but he still engages in extremely questionable behavior. It’s after he goes “straight” that he becomes a peeping tom. That’s just so ironic and true.

correction, d. johnson has tried his hand at memoir, but it looks like he is “unable to bear the I” . . .so that’s a good sign. (nytimes)

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