Rotten Bastards

It's a blog. It's a way of life. It's many things in between.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Success In Failure

[Inspired by Tomby's post.]

You know, I often describe myself as a failure. But then I look back, and I can't regret the life I chose. Everyone knows the creative arts are a tough business. As I like to put it; a one-way ticket to poverty, addiction, insanity and death. And that's if you "make it."

10 years in music, 10 years in comedy, while also writing everything from porn to award-winning speeches to fanzine reviews and comix, and my only real mark has been left on other musicians and comics, and a tiny handful of fans.

But I've met a LOT of cool and interesting people. At times, I've lived a life that would make Nero say, "That's a bit much." I've indulged in about every vice, and regret very few. I was a favorite niche performer at two separate fetish clubs' events.

I gamble regularly, including a monthly poker game at my house. I've always been a porn junkie, from the time I discovered my Grandpa's collection of Olympia/Grove Press books. (Which included everything from Burroughs and Nabokov to The Story of O and A Man And A Maid.)

And drugs? All of them. I even broke my "no more illegal drugs" rule -- which has kept me "clean," but drinking and smoking for over 15 years -- once, to shoot ecstasy right before it was made illegal. (Although I had done MDA before.) Me + cocaine = very, very bad. I'm lucky crack wasn't around at $10 a pop. However, when I was a heroin addict, I was arguably at my most productive, working a day job in a chemical plant and getting regular gigs as a musician nights. The problem with heroin is when you can't get it, or get really good stuff and OD. (I did once.) I preferred the pharmaceutical Dilaudid anyway, when I could get it. Quitting really does suck, but in a different way from cigarettes: Quitting dope makes you feel like you're going to die for a couple weeks, from a real physical need -- like not being able to take a shit for the rest of your life. Then it gets better. I quit smoking for a year once, and I wanted a cigarette every fucking moment of every fucking day.

I learned a lot from LSD, and was popular as a "guide." That's where my "nobody goes to the hospital, nobody goes to jail" rule originated. I could turn a bad trip around with some markers and a roll of paper. But eventually, I felt I'd gone from learning the interconnectedness of the universe to watching cartoons and giggling.

I wish everybody could have a safe, positive environment to try LSD in at least once.

I just read an article about how every drug should be legal "except crystal meth." That whole panic cracks me up -- we were doing crystal ("crank," the exact same drug) in the '80s like crazy. Get this: The Air Force still gives Dex to its pilots. But, like crack before it, the drug warriors need one absolute bugaboo to keep the charade going.

I have hepatitis C as a consequence of my drug use. (And, ironically, the refusal in the '80s to enact needle exchange programs -- instead informing us to clean our needles with bleach. Which killed the HIV virus, but not the then-unknown Hep C.)

Totally worth it. I'd just like everyone to be honest: People do drugs because drugs are fucking FUN. They have drawbacks, each and every one. But if people are made aware of the actual risks, (often the worst of which are prison and dealing with hardcore criminals, or the expense of a black market product) instead of bullshit propaganda (smoke weed and you'll shoot your brother), they could weigh them rationally.

I am not rich. I am not famous. But then sometimes I rethink my "failure:" I've appeared on 40 episodes of a television show which Bill Moyers called "the most interesting weekly half hour of social commentary and criticism on television."

I've been quoted in the New York Times, and had a clip of me shown on ABC news.

I've seen just about every punk band from the '70s and '80s live, and opened for several, and met many more. Would it be cooler if I'd had a hit song than it was opening for SWANS and Sonic Youth on their first show in Minneapolis? Having Paul Cook and Steve Jones party at my apartment? The feeling of just being there, to see a brand new movement in music, fashion and art develop -- and being part of it? Would I trade all that for commercial success?

In comedy, I was always proud of my writing, but I was a notoriously inconsistent performer. I could never tell why the same material that killed the night before, ate it the very next night. I stopped getting mean and pissed off when I was having a bad show, which helped, but I never, ever got confident.

What really killed me was that, in the span of two years, every club that booked me for more than three nights (from Des Moines, to Grand Forks, to Memphis, to Madison -- where Jim Taugher was the ONLY booker crazy enough to book me and Stanhope together) closed. At the same time, Tribble's hotel venues changed management and wanted "PG" comics.

Stanhope, in true form, said, "Maybe that should tell you something."

But I had the respect of guys like Stanhope. Lines and tags I gave them came out of some of my favorite comics' mouths. (Once you give a line away, you never take credit for it. I once had someone say they saw this great comic, and if I knew him. They then proceeded to tell me a joke I'd swapped to him.) Likewise, I had lines given to me by comics I worshiped.

I got to do time at the LA Improv, where the staff treated me, an absolute nobody, like a king. I got to do a show in New Auburn, MN, in a house where the living room had been converted into a bar after the VFW burned down. The whole town, about 80 of them, showed up starving for entertainment, and just poured out the love -- and the free drinks.

I used to do a bit about the new puritanism, and how we need to LIVE. That bit ended with, "When I go out, I want to go out with lungs that look like Swiss cheese, a liver the size of a basketball, a raging hard-on, a needle in my arm, and a goddamned SMILE on my face!" After one show, a guy came up to me and told me he'd come down to cheer up -- his girlfriend had dumped him, and he was actually feeling suicidal. But that bit had made him realize there was plenty of fun left to be had in one life.

How could I trade that moment for anything?

So I did fail in one sense: I forgot to sell out. Okay, I didn't really get the opportunity. I also used to say, "My artistic integrity ends right around the point payments on a Corvette begin."

But we only get one shot at this life, and many believe we only get this one.

I've had a lot of fun, and been awed at the respect I've been given by those much, much more talented and successful than I have been.

But most importantly, I've made people laugh. I've entertained people when they were at their lowest. I've even inspired people to try music, or comedy or writing themselves.

I can live with that. I can die with that.


Tomby Stone said...

I'd just about written this place off but this post makes me think it might be worth saving, though it does make me feel like even more of a loser.

I had no idea cleaning needles with bleach killed HIV, you need to host a show in which you inform the general public of this and other handy tips for the grimier side of life. Like a Martha Stewart for the drug and fetish club crowd.

Though I don't approve of your slamming America's drug education ads. I mean people need to be informed of the horrors of marijuana. Just think, if you leave a loaded and cocked gun in an unlocked and easy to reach draw and leave your kids alone in the house all day they might find that gun and hurt themselves ... if they're smoking reefer ... or something.

Thanks for the piece though my good man. Hope to hear more from you in the future.

Sariel Thrawn said...

Tim, it was worth the wait.

Thank you for adding your voice to the chorus.

billyboy said...

To paraphrase Stanhope, the Hep C is proof that you were a player in this life, not just a spectator. As part of the crowd watching comfortably from the couch, admittedly while high on many different substances, I have always been in awe of those who got off of their asses and followed a dream. It requires not only talent (and not much of that in many cases) but huge steel cannon balls to put yourself out there for lots of criticism and little money. Never achieving commercial success means you've got unlimited indie street cred and can claim to have stayed true to the mythical punk ethic. But just try paying the electric bill with that.

Your own personal satisfaction with your life thus far is the only true measure of success. I salute you and your big balls.