September 15, 2006


Interesting discussion going on at the blog of King Wenclas of the Underground Literary Alliance. People are up in arms that Rick Moody wrote the introduction to a book on Soft Skull, because he’s not underground enough. Instead it was suggested that Thurston Moore or Henry Rollins should write the intro. Hardly underground figures anymore. Rollins in Black Flag: "Swimming in the mainstream is such a lame, lame dream." Broke that promise a long time ago. And Rick Moody? Really that bad? I have one book of his, couldn't finish it. But of all the enemies in the world, Rick Moody is not high on my list. I had a book on Soft Skull. They wouldn’t accept another unless it could be guaranteed to sell 3000 copies. Impossible for me. Soft Skull needs to sell books. Everyone loses integrity when money’s involved. Everyone.

Yes, it’s terrible that media monopolies have taken over publishers. I’m a victim of it. And yes, places like McSweeney’s seem filled with fabulously beautiful and intelligent people who go to parties you’re not invited to—and all write the same. But I still don’t see writing or publishing as dead. If--as Noah Cicero stated recently (can’t find it)--you shouldn't get published by a big house b/c they're run by an evil corporate entity, you might as well quit your job and stop paying taxes. We live in an evil corporate entity.

Me, I'd rather be read than have indie credibility. I have all the indie credibility I need having put out the book myself. Tony O’Neill said it was punk rock of me to get into Entertainment Weekly, even though the book attacks celebrity. I’ll take that. I guess I’m uptight about this because I do want to belong to the mainstream. I don’t give a shit if Rick Moody writes the intro to a Soft Skull book, or writes a quote on the back of my book. I write books attacking the mainstream—celebrity culture, so far—but I also want to be on a major press. I want to be in Barnes & Noble, etc. That doesn’t make me a sell out, unless I change the nature of my writing. But then, the nature of my writing maybe doesn’t need to be changed. My writing is inspired by mainstream sources—50s pulp crime novels, science fiction. Richard Yates is mainstream. Kerouac is mainstream. Etc. Though Chapman makes this good comment:

The shelf of permanent great stuff is at least 50% full of books by outsiders. people who worked alone, without support, for years, for decades, without having first gone to the cocktail parties to get the material help of the then-current power brokers. people like faulkner, joyce, melville, beckett, agee, blake, dickinson, kerouac, lautremont, burroughs, rimbaud, on and on.

Still, this could turn into a rigid view of what is underground writing and what is mainstream. As if something has to be experimental to be sufficiently underground. Writing just needs to be a pure expression of the writer—wherever it’s published. There’s crap in the mainstream, crap underground. This whole thing feels like another type of conspiracy theory: just because Rick Moody’s words touched a Soft Skull book, it means underground writing is dead and gone—it’s all part of a media conglomerate. I don't see that. This feels like an intellectual exercise.

I don’t know—talk to me in a couple months when my book has been read and rejected. Right now, I’m hopeful. So far everything I wanted to happen with the book has happened. It’s killed some of my cynicism.


Emil Michelle said...

I'm with you, Henry. I don't give a shit whether my stuff, or anybody's stuff, is underground, mainstream, or candy-striped, I just want to walk into Borders or Barnes and Noble and see it. It's credibility is what it is. The supercool underground stuff soon catches on, becomes popular, and enters the mainstream. Just like Pink Floyd. Once upon a time they were supercool underground, too, back in 1970. Now they're about as mainstream as one can get. What's wrong with that? If it's good, it's going to be accepted. Your stuff is good, so who cares who publishes it. Soft Skull or Random House, it makes no difference. I just want somebody to read it.

Tony O'Neill said...

The ULA are so fucking boring. theyre like the kids at school that hate their favourite bands as soon as everyone else starts to like them. Who cares? I mean really...

And if Henry Rollins is underground, them I'm a bestselling fucking author.

Maybe Soft Skul should get the homeless guy who drinks Crazy Horse, shouts obscenities at random passers by, and then bursts into crazed laughter to write an intro for their next book. he hangs on the corner of Steinway and 34th Ave in Astoria.

he's WAY underground.

Henry Baum said...

I agree. Especially after reading the comments after I posted this. He reads like a paranoid schizophrenic: screaming they are out to destroy literature.

Heather said...

Hate to quote Courtney Love, but:
"Ask Fred Durst what 'sell-out' means, and you know what he'll say? 'I sold every ticket at the Forum, that's what sell-out means!'

Henry, don't even think about this, its so not worth your time. Indie street-cred is beneath you. The reason things are 'underground' is usually because they suck. If things somehow improve or really are great, they move up the food chain to a wider audience, and on to the mainstream. Like the Beatles (duh!). And I have a weakness for a few Blag Flag tunes from high school a million years ago, but would probably not read Henry Rollins, its too embarrassing. Fucking sad, really. Too bad G.G. Allin isn't around to write the intro, fer chrissakes.

Nat said...

Ummm...let the record show that Rollins does car commercials.

King said...

Just found this thread.
A question: Henry, why do you and others avoid the point of my blog posts, which went beyond merely Rick Moody writing the foreword in a fake-radical voice, into the takeover by the small press by large media monopolies?
I think people are looking at this through the prism of their own selfish interests. "Well, if they publish ME it's okay."
But what we're seeing is a narrowing of voices, a constricting area of standards which will and is shutting out the main body of writers in this society. Which eventually means: YOU.
And as I said in my posts: why Moody? Why NOT other writers?
God, are you all so used to being shit-on that you're afraid or unable to say a thing in your own interest?
Henry, as you've self-published, don't you think you'd be better qualified to have written the foreword? Yes? No?
(This is similar to writers not saying anything as scarce grant money for artists and writers is awarded to wealthy Insiders. But if no one speaks against this-- if the entire community of writers is made up of sheep-- such actions will continue>0

Henry Baum said...

A question: Henry, why do you and others avoid the point of my blog posts, which went beyond merely Rick Moody writing the foreword in a fake-radical voice, into the takeover by the small press by large media monopolies?

Because there was a lot of talk about Moody and how his introduction to a S.S. book constituted a takeover by monopolies. Which I don’t see. Besides, I think people have too much faith in Soft Skull. A long time ago, they published a book about John Lennon. While I love John Lennon, he’s hardly underground. Soft Skull are arbiters of cool, like any hip indie label like Matador (distributed by Atlantic, right?) They’re hardly that cuttting edge so Ricky Moody writing an introduction is inevitable. There are plenty of other small presses/micro presses to publish. Saying they’re all getting absorbed by monopolies is wrong and paranoid.

And tell me this: what’s the problem with corportate distribution if they publish the exact same books? Corporate does not necessarily equal evil. I like Coca Cola, everything in my apartment was built by a corporation, I read novels on corporate presses. I saw a review of Hollywoodland on your site. Doesn’t get more corporate than that—millions of dollars that could have gone to fund more independent work.

I think people are looking at this through the prism of their own selfish interests. "Well, if they publish ME it's okay."

Yep, I’m selifish. I’ll be the first to admit it. I want to get a big book deal, have the time to work on my next one without slaving on a job, eat well, travel, give a safe life to my daughter, use the world before it melts. I’m a selfish prick.

But I’m with you to a point. The popular Mcsweeney’s-type writing is aggravating, like a snarky magazine article, facetious and insincere. They’re friends and they publish each other. That’s what succesful people write, that’s what people read. Annoys the shit out of me. What can I do—write what I write and hope it finds an audience. That might be apathetic, but the mainstream has always been full of shit. It took Kerouac 10 years to publish On the Road, in 57, when the Beat Generation was almost an afterthought.

I recently did a reading with a guy who’s an editor at A Public Space. He told me to send him a story and I had a much better chance of being in the magazine. But I never sent him the story. I didn’t want to be part of that scene with intelligent, but safe writing, where friends publish each other. So it’s being put out by Another Sky, a place that has the right idea.

The ULA attitude of: It has to be underground to be good is off base. Rejecting the mainstream outright doesn't make sense to me. There’s plenty in the mainstream that’s good. I’m listeing to Duke Ellington now: doesn’t get more mainstream than that, pop music of its time. Harder these days for good stuff to hit the surface but I still want to hit the surface, not be mired in bitter obscurity for my entire life. It’s in my interest to try and get published by a corporate publisher, even if the system is shit. I still believe that the system is dying but not dead.

King said...

The problem is that the mainstream is rejecting good writers and good writing. I'll be writing more about this for the ULA site at
(Note my "Monday Report" from October 10th about the CLMP. This goes way beyond Rick Moody.
And, once again, complaints against Moody go way beyond the S.S. foreword-- into his role in grants foundations.
Corruption needs to be pointed out!)

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