What is even the point?
I’ve had visceral, deep body reactions to somebody else’s writing on three occasions. The first was when I was young, still in high school, and someone lent me a copy of John O’Grady’s novel, They’re a Weird Mob, written under the name of Nino Culotta. It made me laugh. Out loud. For real.
I didn’t think much about it at the time. I just wanted to know how O’Grady had worked that magic trick, reaching out across time and space with a few splotches of ink on paper, to pull such a powerful reaction from me. Deep, rolling belly laughs.
I spent way too many nights copying out page after page of that book, trying to crack its secrets. I should’ve been studying. My school results might’ve been better if I had, and yet I still think of that private act of plagiarism as one of the best investments I ever made.
Fast forward a couple of years and I had copy of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Reading it felt as though Thompson was rewriting my source code. It was another strangely physical experience. As I raced through that hallucinogenic book, I started to see things differently.
Another decade on, and it happened again, this time with Douglas Coupland’s Generation X. It was like Coupland had reached into my head and turned it inside out, like an old sock.
That’s partly why I write.
I’m trying, and inevitably failing, to recreate the coolest fucking magic trick ever : creating that weird connection to somebody who isn’t even there.
For a long time before He Died With A Felafel In His Hand, I tried to work the magic through feature articles. Thompson had been a feature writer for Rolling Stone, and so I became a feature writer for Rolling Stone. He experimented successfully with the form.
I, er... well, I experimented too.
I’m returning to that experiment here. For you. And to see if I can nail it this time.
For me, that answers the question of what is even the point.
I’ll totally keep pounding on the monsters who are ruining everything. Every Thursday or Friday, I’ll drop that word bomb into a target rich environment. That’s what a subscription pays for, you magnificent bastards.
But I’m gonna try give you and everyone else a bit more than that. I’m gonna go back where I started, when I had a business card that simply read: Things Found Out. Stories Written.
Maybe once a week, maybe once a fortnight, depending on the accelerating madness of the world, I’ll tell you a story that isn’t all rhetorical violence and dark, absurd humour.
There are things I want to know.
And I want you know to know them too.
Like, how the fuck did the crack smoke fever dream of 5G conspiracy theories come to cross-infect the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m gonna work on that one first.
Back in the early-mid 1980s I was teaching and studying and in other roles in the (then) TESOL and multicultural education fields. I remembered the October1966 film version of the 1957 novel "They're a Weird Mob" and what a bewildered yet loveably naïve character as played by Walter Chiari the main character was - and who wouldn't want to be a part of that black-and-white rough-and-tumble Aussie world if the prize was Claire Dunne. Anyway by those early 1980s I was becoming deeply interested in writing which told our national Australian story/stories from all the participatory players - of whatever ethnic, linguistic background - among the names of writers I came across was Giuseppe "Pino" BOSI (1933-2017). An Italian immigrant arriving in 1951 he was fluent in standard English (among other languages) but totally at sea in terms of idiomatic or colloquial English - like the character Nino Culotta. He was a generous man and agreed to come along to one of my adult TESOL community classes and tell them about himself (among others such as poet/writer Peter Skrzynecki and novelist Olga Masters). He referred to himself as a model for the Nino Culotta character. In fact he had a book of short stories (from a some ten already published in "La Fiamma" in 1955 - "Australia Cane" ready for publication, accepted in fact but not proceeded with when Jon O'Grady's "They're a Weird Mob" as published by Urethras Smith... He told my class about how he had been forced to study spoken English as an entirely different form of the language after arriving in Australia (and there were many nodding heads at that remark) but that his best progress came after his children began attending school - referencing playground rhymes and such things - an aspect I kept in mind during my many years in Japan - picking up on the cultural aspects which flow through reference and allusion - the matters which colour an entire language. The week after his visit there was a large spread in with the SMH or The Australian about Pino BOSI and his family. Truly a larger than life character. This is totally off the track of your own desire to take apart and re-build in your own way the kind of writing which carries viewpoint through humour - bizarre humour indeed... I am looking forward to the journey - take us away, John!
John, just remember to keep it simple and do a couple of things-
1. Please keep writing
2. If in doubt please refer to point 1😀