Old Songs for the New Resistance

(Originally published on BLARB)

A soundtrack of 60s rock political anthems urging an uprising against the establishment, for the new generation of what Lou Reed called “all you protest kids.” I sure hope Inaugural weekend was not the end, but the beginning of a new activist movement against the coming Trumpian Reign of Terror. His cabinet appointees might not be guillotining heads, but if they repeal Obamacare, roll back Medicaid, undo Roe v. Wade, make the EPA the Business Protection Agency, and allow the planet to overheat to a boil, many thousands of lives will be at stake. Everything the Viet Nam anti-war protesters, Civil Rights activists, Feminists, and your basic new leftist fought for — and so many things that are now taken for granted — is going to be (hell, is already) under attack. I purposely omitted Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” That was the Big O’s song and I’m not playing it again until Trump is gone. New songs need to be written; but, for what it’s worth, these are ten of my existing faves. PLAY ‘EM LOUD as you take to the streets.

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The Broken Sleep Music Playlist

(Originally published on Largehearted Boy‘s Book Notes series)

Broken Sleep is a family saga that covers more than 80 years. The narrative is propelled by the unconventional relationships between Salome Savant and her two sons, Moses Teumer and Alchemy Savant. There are multiple narrative points of view, all of which introduce many characters. The multiple plot lines and characters intersect and merge as the story progresses and reaches its denouement. The worlds are: art (Salome), academia (Moses), music (Alchemy/The Insatiables), and politics (Alchemy and Moses).

William Gass, in his brilliant essay “The Music of Prose,” posed the following:

“… prose cannot make any actual music.”
“Yet no prose can pretend to greatness if its music is not also great;…”
“The shape of the sentence, the song of its syllables, the rhythm of its movement is the movement of the imagination too;”

All of my favorite writers make word songs that fill your imagination. And that too was my goal.

I listened to literally thousands of songs during the writing of Broken Sleep and I wanted each of my characters, the novel itself to have certain sounds, moods, rhythms. So, as difficult as it was, I picked eleven songs that I hope create a sense of the sound of the novel.

“Do You Believe in Magic” by The Lovin’ Spoonful

This song captures all that is hopeful and joyful in music and art too. It goes to the innocent, optimistic heart that embraces the indefinable and irrational belief in magic and miracles. John Sebastian’s voice is never more beatific than when he sings “It’s like tryin’ to tell a stranger ‘bout rock ‘n roll.” Although there is much pain and loss in the book, I also wanted it to be balanced with energy and drive, because without those emotions and hope and joy, I might find life unbearable.

One of those high energy moments occurs when Moses first meets Alchemy and he remembers seeing the Insatiables years before, when they played a harder-edged version of “Do You Believe in Magic.” He recalls how everyone in the audience seemed to be wishing they could be blessed by Alchemy’s magic dust. And suddenly, Moses finds hope that, in offering his bone marrow for a transplant, Alchemy could save his life.

“Memphis Egypt” by The Mekons

If The Spoonful represent rock’s songs of innocence then the Mekons are rock’s songs of experience. Years into their recording career, they released their first album on a mainstream label. It failed commercially. Big Time. Why did such a great band never make it? Maybe, it’s that Rock ‘n Roll, with its unceasing blasts of what may best be described as raw-post-punk-power-pop fueled by the voice of the formidable Sally Timms, lyrically drives a stake through the heart of rock ‘n roll’s naïve belief in magic. Or almost, because the last line of Memphis Egypt reveals that, no matter how jaded and cynical you become, after the destruction of “your safe and happy lives” well, you have to believe in something — and what do they believe in? “…that secret place where we all want to go, it’s rock n’ roll.”

Moses and Jay’s safe and happy life is destroyed first by illness and then Moses’ entanglement with Alchemy and Salome. But Moses and Jay struggle on, as they must — more guarded, more wounded, more desperately in search of their secret place where, once again they can be safe and happy.

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On the Random Discovery of Life-Changing Books

Bruce Bauman’s Life Under the Influence

My greatest teachers have been books. And from two unlikely and wildly different sources did I find the first books that opened new worlds to me.

Although my mom taught me to read by the time I was four years old, I don’t come from a family of “readers.” My mom was probably the biggest reader of anyone, and her tastes ran to Daniele Steele and Barbara Taylor Bradford. But it was through a sort of family member that, at the age of 14, I discovered the first important books of my life. My Aunt Betty, a widow, had married Fred, a widower. It seemed Fred’s deceased wife had some books, and instead of throwing them away, they gave them to me because I was a “reader.” At that time mainly of comic books, James Bond novels, and sports books.

And then arrived a box of maybe ten books which my mom deposited in my room. I remember Dana’s Two Years Before and Pride and Prejudice—neither of which seemed that interesting. But three others came that would change my life.

The first was a tattered little paperback of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. I read the poems “Howl” and “America,” and instinctively knew: No way do I ever talk about this with my parents. These were not like any poems I’d read. Not that I actually remember reading any poems in Bleecker Junior High or PS 21, where back in sixth grade the only book they had 38 copies of was The Yearling. Yeah, that’s what a bunch of Queens kids were just dying to read. Then came the anti-Yearling, the explosion that is Allen Ginsberg: opium, snatches of a million girls, queer shoulders, communists… Oh my.

I put Howl back in the box and hid it in my closet underneath a pile of sneakers and sports equipment. Over the next week or so I reread Howl before opening the hardbound version of Whitman’s Abridged Works. I didn’t read it with the same mouth-agape wonder as the Ginsberg. And it was years later that I found myself reading Whitman with real vigor. But old Walt’s words must’ve made an impression, because the opening line to my book Broken Sleep is a riff on a famous line from the first Bard of Brooklyn.

Ah, Brooklyn. Borough of my birth. Last Exit to Brooklyn, Hugh Selby Jr.’s intrepid descent into a very long American season in hell was the last of the trio. What astounded then, and still does today, is the graceful beauty of Selby’s language that conjures a world of ceaseless pain and torment.

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Bruce Bauman’s Guide to Books and Booze

(Originally published on TNBCC‘s Books & Booze series)

Broken Sleep is a family saga that covers more than 80 years. The narrative is propelled by the unconventional relationships between Salome Savant and her two sons, Moses Teumer and Alchemy Savant. There are multiple narrative points of view, all of which introduce many characters. The multiple plot lines and characters intersect and merge as the story progresses and reaches its denouement. The worlds are: art (Salome), academia (Moses), music (Alchemy), and politics (Alchemy and Moses). I report to you now the favorite alcoholic refreshments eleven main characters, helped along with a bit of authorial commentary.

MOSES TEUMER:
History professor with a very serious case of leukemia. Son of Malcolm and Salome. Half-brother of Alchemy. Vodka suits him best, mixed with lots of tonic, or what he called the Black Russian Jewish-style: 2 parts vodka, 2 parts coffee liqueur and 2 parts Coke.

SALOME SAVANT:
Artist famous or infamous for her Art is Dead performance in the 60s. She is the biological mother of Moses and Alchemy. After a violent breakdown during her Flowers, Feminism, Fornication opening, she is sent to the Collier Layne Mental Health Facility. She often “communes” with her ancestors through DNA travel, one of whom is named Margarita.

DNA Potion Number 9: Drambui, drunk while naked and listening to “Angel of the Morning.” (Preferably Nina Simone’s version.) Often sneaks it while she is interned in Collier Layne Mental Health Facility.

The Master and The Margarita: Tequila, fig jam and sherry. To be consumed alone and at night while waiting for an ancestor to commune with her.

THE INSATIABLES BAND (Alchemy Savant, Lux Deluxe, Absurda Nightingale and Ambitious Mindswallow):
Began in the early 90s in Los Angeles. Before becoming worldwide stars, they hang out in the Pantera Rosa, perhaps the last seedy pre-gentrification bar in Santa Monica, CA. The bar is run by Falstaffa and Marty, who later become roadies for the band.

The Pantera Rosa Afterhours Bomba: Prepared differently each night by either Falstaffa or Marty, with an assortment of cheap scotches, gins, vodkas, mezcal, half-filed tonics, cokes, an occasional cigarette ash and whatever else is left over at the end of the night.

ALCHEMY SAVANT: The charismatic leader of the Insatiables and second son of Salome Savant.

Absinthe d’Or: The traditional absinthe, with a floating passion flower and spiced with flecks of gold. Always shared with another. And a revolver hidden nearby.

AMBITIOUS MINDSWALLOW:
Born and raised Ricky McFinn in Flushing, Queens. Having served time in a juvenile prison, he is living on the streets of the Lower East when he meets Alchemy and they form an immediate, if seemingly odd friendship. He becomes the bassist for the Insatiables but never loses his fist-first way of acting or his edgy contrariness.

The Shock and Awe: All done in very quick fashion: A Forty can of any beer (preferably PBR), followed immediately by very quick shots of Everclear, and two lines of coke. To be repeated until passing out.

ABSURDA NIGHTINGALE:
Born Amanda Akin in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, she meets Alchemy when they are students at Juilliard. She is the lead guitarist of the Insatiables. She likes her heroin far too much, but she also loves to drink.

Sunshine of Your Love: While on tour in Chile, she is introduced to the Pisco Sour. Pisco is a yellowish colored brandy from Peru or Chile, which legend has it was invented by Eliot Stubb, an English steward on a ship named Sunshine. The Pisco Sour is made with pisco, lime juice, a fruit syrup and an egg white. Absurda added Dragon Fruit syrup and took out the egg white. Often drinks it as a chaser after oral sex.

LUX DELUXE:
As a young guy growing up in LA as Lionel Bradshaw, he sat beside his grandfather, who drank really cheap wine while listening to Stick McGhee’s “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee.” And Lux too, as a young guy, drinks lots of cheap wine.He becomes an aficionado of California wines. Working with Trader Joe’s, they distribute a line of great wine at cheap prices — Lux Deluxe’s Spo-Dee- Odees. Among them are: The Chuck Berry, the Hansberry, and the bittersweet, Strange Fruit.

MALCOM TEUMER:
Born in Germany, he immigrates to the U.S. after WWII. He meets Salome Savant when she is a teenager and they have an affair. Salome gives birth to Moses. Malcolm then marries Hannah, who raises Moses and never knows Malcolm’s true identity.

The Flaming Bastard (Shooter): Dekuyper Hot Damn 100 Proof Cinnamon Schnapps, Hot Pepper Schnapps and tiny pieces of seared ham.

HANNAH TEUMER:
Adoptive mother of Moses. Born and raised In Brooklyn, NY.

Not much of a drinker, although she has a fondness for two very different wines: Manischewitz red, which her parents served at Passover Seders, and Vinho Verde, the native wine of northern Portugal, which Malcolm introduces to her during their brief marriage. He discovered the wine while making his way from Germany to the U.S. after WWII. He wanted to grow it on Long Island in the late 50s but the venture failed.

JAY BERNES:
Moses’ wife. Art consultant. Raised in Miami, by a father who tried many a strange brew.

Jay’s mother favored her husband’s concoction of Havana Club Rum and Hurricane Whiskey with chipped ice, which became Jay’s drink of choice. When Moses tries it, he reacts with “Wow, it burns.” Thus they dub it the The Bernes Burns when served to friends. She begins drinking a bit more than occasionally when Moses becomes ill.

NATHANIEL BROCKTON:
A 60s radical who is the longtime lover of Salome’s. His parents were Virginia gentry and alcoholics. He doesn’t do drugs or drink alcohol.

His favorite drink is Virgin Mint Julep except for very special occasions and then he sips champagne.


Regrets, He Has a Few: Bruce Bauman on Anxiety, History + Fiction

Interview by Seth Blake for Black Clock

Often funny, occasionally heartbreaking and always revelatory, Bruce Bauman puts deep character-driven narratives through their proverbial paces, playing with conventions of form, genre and conceptions of history. His writing, which runs the literary and journalistic gamut, has appeared in the L.A. Times, Salon, BOMB, Bookforum, numerous anthologies, and literary magazines, and has garnered Bauman the City of Los Angeles Award in Literature, the UNESCO/Aschberg Bursary in Literature, and grants from the Durfee Foundation and the Jewish Communal Fund, among others. The author of the novel And The Word Was–the story of physician Neil Downs, an expatriate New Yorker who travels to India following the dramatic death of his only son–is currently at work on his new book Broken Sleep, which will be published by Other Press. Bauman is also an adjunct professor in the CalArts MFA Writing Program and the Senior Editor of our very own Black Clock.

BLACK CLOCK: Much of your work seems to comment on history and time; individuals’ dynamic relationships with both their own pasts, others’ perceptions and the official record. I’m curious about what draws you to and informs your treatment of these complex subjects.

BRUCE BAUMAN: First, thanks for your compliments and your very thoughtful questions. They made me aware again why interviews are good for my ego but hard on my brain, which leads me to your question. My sentiment is the inverse of Piaf’s “I regret nothing”–I regret everything. I don’t think I’ve gone one day in my life without regretting something I’ve said or done. (I’m already wondering if I will regret this answer.) So, for that reason, and by extension, my characters are always haunted by their actions and their pasts.

I started writing a diary as a teenager. Aside from tedious whining about my failures with girls and in sports, I chronicled my nightmares/dreams. It was also a rant of teenaged angst and anger. Lennon’s song, “Gimme Some Truth”–pretty ironic coming from such a notorious myth-maker–that primal scream against all the bullshit really resonated with me and millions of others. I thought I could find truth. Now, I’m not even sure how to define truth. I don’t believe in any objective truth. There is always more mystery. Questions left unanswered.

Still, fiction became my road to truth. How to wade through our perceptions or deceptions is my challenge. All successful relationships are complicated in their own way. Often, they are based on unstated negotiations, compromises and social contracts. When these negotiations break down or our mythological selves are exposed, the relationships become uniquely unsuccessful and crisis hits. That’s a starting point for much if not all of my fiction. There’s a line in my novel-in-progress, Broken Sleep, that might be relevant here: One person’s version of history is another person’s version of an incomplete truth.

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