Brian Eno told the Los Angeles Times in 1982, “I was talking to Lou Reed the other day, and he said that the first Velvet Underground Record sold only 30,000 copies… I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.” The same could be said of Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, a slim collection of short stories that had the same effect on hundreds, if not thousands, of burgeoning writers.
I encountered Jesus’ Son at twenty, on break from college and wandering around a massive old bookstore. I saw that cover in the remainders section, bought it for $4.98, and promptly left it in the bag on my floor, only to discover it again, a couple of weeks later. I read it on breaks from my landscaping job (filthy, mulch-stained fingerprints litter the pages) and would go back to whacking weeds and edging beds with Johnson’s electric language pinging in my brain. I marked lines and passages I loved at that time with a stubby green pencil engraved with the name of a golf course I’d never been to, and bite marks in the wood that weren’t from my teeth: Continue reading
The print edition of Carson Mell’s Saguaro has been sold out for some time, but Electric Literature is bringing it back as an e-book. Which is fitting, since Carson Mell is probably the finest short story writer in the world whose primary medium is the animated video—electric literature indeed. Think King of the Hill meets Jesus’ Son meets a sickly coyote howling at the Arizona moon.
Mell’s writing is full of broken dreams, drug binges, lush appropriations of Southwestern kitsch, and rock & roll as a last resort for lost souls. His narrators can talk for hours, sounding as if Mell didn’t so much create them as encounter them at an abandoned bus stop and press “record.”
I was living with Serenity in a one bedroom in Santa Fe within the year, doing drugs like nothing. Like they were side orders. Macaroni. This was the most I’d ever done too. And let me tell you, during that year or so that I was straight, the drugs had gotten much stronger. Ten times stronger. Probably because of computers.
Doing that many drugs is like putting on some sort of a voodoo zombie coat. You don’t know what your body and mind are doing, you’re just along for the ride. It’s the same way when you’re up on stage and you get in the zone. That’s why so many musicians become drug addicts. They mistake the drug high for being in the zone, not realizing that by doing all those damn drugs they’re shutting the very door to the only realm that gets them high for real. Thank God I got my shit together before I totally sealed off that channel. There’s a big-ass boulder in front of it for sure, but with the help of the lantern of love and a withered old map called sorrow I can sometimes slip back into that world and fly around and get it right.
I fell down a YouTube rabbit hole, watching clip after clip of Carson Mell’s strangely dignified animations, before I came to my senses and dove into the e-book. Naturally it’s full of illustrations—both in color and black & white—and it comes with the only blurb I’ve ever seen from skateboarding legend Tony Hawk. Funny how it takes an animator with an e-book to make the grit of the American Southwest come alive.
Watch the videos, read an interview, get the e-book.
– Brian Hurley