SWEAT STAINED REVIEW: CONFESSIONS OF A BLUE COLLAR MISFIT
Untangling the Duality
By Dan Denton
This column has been the most white knuckled one yet. Life has met me with a confluence of madness that seems to reach unparalleled heights every year. In the past 14 days I’ve experienced so many new life circumstances, seen so much of the beauty of the world, and witnessed too much of the real sadness that lives around all of us, and it’s moments like these that I find the writing the most difficult. It’s the duality of my life. The thirst for adventure. The quest to experience all that life has to offer me in the too short span we all get. And the crossroads of being that eyes wide open astral explorer, and being a writer, which requires the processing of things seen, lived and experienced, and hours and days alone in an undisturbed area, where I can be left alone to figure out how to string the words together to tell my stories.
I knew last week when I began to think about this column, that I wouldn’t write a Labor Day one, because that’s the most predictable and phoned in thing I could possibly do. Besides, every column is a Labor Day column when it’s written by a working class writer that refuses to bow to the bourgeoisie. So what else is there left to confess from a blue collar misfit? Nothing but the blue eyed view of a heart wide open observer.
Two weeks ago I towed my new home, a 20 year old, 26 foot travel trailer, to a rural Michigan campground, where it’ll sit while I paint and remodel it into a customized tiny home on wheels. Then I played carpool Dad for the first time in my life. My old factory gig of 10+ hour shifts, six and seven days a week, never allowed for 8:30 in the morning drop offs, and 3:03pm pick ups, where four tween and teen kids tell me I’m the coolest parent in the carpool. In all fairness, my kid is a young artist and student at an art school. Carpooling a group of young artists is probably better company than anything the corporate world has ever offered me. My new writer life says getting up before 8:30 is really goddamned early, but my life gave me the experience of being a Dad, and these are the things Dads do, when life lets them.
Then I jumped on an airplane and landed in Vegas. Along the way there were heart felt emails with an actor friend that’s been on strike now for nearly two months. That actor friend is also a legendary underground writer, and someone I’ve idolized for much of my life, and I try to be cool about these things, but I’m also a product of government projects. A former homeless and addicted human, so sometimes the duality of the life I’ve experienced crashes down on me, especially when the underground poets that I’ve long looked up to, welcome me like a long lost colleague. Sometimes I feel like I’ve already outlived my biggest daydreams, and can you imagine aiming for the stars and finding yourself in another artist dimension? Imagine being just another factory worker for your whole life, but always dreaming of being a writer, then waking up one day and everyone says ‘hey, you’re a writer, now.’ Life is wild. For what it’s worth, I’d hoped to find a strike action in Los Angeles and drive over for support, but those plans fizzled. My actor friend, S.A. Griffin doesn’t know how to change the world either. But the poem he sent me a few weeks back gives me hope someone will eventually figure it out.
Our emails mentioned one of my all-time favorite poets, the great David Lerner, and the trip out west afforded me a magical opportunity to meet with another living writer that I’ve long looked up to, the poet Bruce Isaacson. Bruce and Lerner started, or were at least the most influential humans involved with starting the Cafe Babarians, perhaps the strongest west coast slam scene, and by far my favorite. The scene spawned Zeitgeist Press, and some of my all-time favorite poetry written by my favorite poets. Lerner, Bruce Isaacson, Diane di Prima, Bucky Sinister, Maura O’ Connor, Julia Vinograd, and on and on. Jack Micheline was there, too. This is the scene spawned by the Beats, and City of Lights. Ferlinghetti, Bob Kaufman and A.D. Winans. The scene was the result of all of that and punk rock and Ronald fucking Reagan. Because fuck Reagan. It’s Labor Day and we should burn him in effigy.
I got to have coffee for three hours with Bruce, and Zeigeist Press co-editor James Norman. James is a little younger than me, but has nine full length poetry collections and a life lived full speed ahead befitting the Babarians and Zeitgeist Press, of which he has become student to custodian and torch bearer. Bruce is one of the most modest artists I’ve ever met with, and a true statesman of poetry. Him and David Lerner have been referred to as “the Ezra Pound and T.S. Elliot of the underground” in case you’re wondering of their outlaw writer influence, and he’s the Poet Laureate Emeritus of Clarke County Nevada. His work here in the Vegas valley has not only brought multiple U.S. Poet Laureates to the desert, but has created programs for schools that will ensure that poetry will be alive here for generations. Yet he sat and listened to me and James Norman banter, and occasionally, begrudgingly would tell us stories about Kaufman, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Maura O’ Connor and yes, his friend, the gone too young underground legend, David Lerner. At one point during the coffee shop hang, I quoted Lerner’s famous poem that might be the definitive poem of the outlaw underground, ‘Mein Kampf’ and James and Bruce joined in, the three of us reciting a verse together that quieted the buzz of the caffeine consumers around us. A moment so spontaneous and beautiful it nearly made my heart weep.
I attended a poetry reading in a dive bar celebrating Norman’s and Tohm Bakelas’ new books on Zeitgeist Press. Tohm is editor of the underground Between Shadows Press, and an incredible poet from North Jersey, where a real life poetry renaissance is well underway. I’ve read with Tohm, once in Jersey and once in Kentucky. It was great to hang with him, and he gave the best reading of his that I attended that night. James Norman is the real deal, too, and they both owned a punk rock dive bar just a few miles from the Vegas strip. They owned it like it was their backyard party. And it was a party. Live DJ, kick ass poetry and some songwriters thrown in for fun.
So I’ve experienced an artist high this week that’s up there with some of my favorites. I’m surrounded by Las Vegas neon. Beautiful mountains and the magical desert beckon from every direction. Beautiful women are everywhere. Fun is for sale at every step I take.
But there was also a monsoon in Las Vegas. I watched water falls spring out of casino ceilings. Lakes form in parking garages. I’ve seen rivers flowing down streets that are so unfamiliar with rain that they don’t know what to do when it happens. I’ve seen rivers wash away entire homeless refugee camps and watched streets turn into scenes from third world countries, as canvas homes and trash bag suitcases raced down the gutter behind billion dollar buildings. I ate steak at one in the morning three nights in a row, at Denny’s, as displaced people with nowhere to go slept in empty booths, and midnight junkies nodded out over coffee mugs grown cold with lost hope. I’ve declined the invitations of half a dozen sex workers, the kamikaze result of a lone man wondering sin city at 3am, in the places where 3am things happen. My friendly banter and open human heart led to one new social media friend among those working ladies, and my tattoos have gotten me confused as a biker more times than I can remember, by baristas, other bikers, working women, and fellow poker players. I attended a country music themed topless review that jolted alive old fantasies and maybe created a few new ones, and I watched a two girl street performer S&M show on Fremont that still makes me smile with the memory of being there. I’ve made friends with a dozen random artists I’ve met along the way, and smoked two joints with two different homeless men that had stories that my heart still bleeds from hearing. I’ve given just as many dollars to those making their homes in afterthought nooks and crannies of places where billions of dollars pass by as they lay melting in desert heat, trying to hold down the few possessions they have, as I’ve given dollars to hypnotizing, clanging slot machines. I’ve seen 110 degree afternoons, and 75 degree midnight thunderstorms, on back to back days. I’ve met with artist royalty while thousands jammed traffic lining up to see Jelly Roll and Lady Gaga, and the duality of the life I’m experiencing at this very moment is overwhelming, and probably too much for one heart to live through. But I wouldn’t want it any other way.
I’m sitting on the patio of the top floor of a poor man’s Vegas resort, off the strip, overlooking the pool and smoking a joint. I’m writing this column for a growing punk underground magazine, where everyone knows that I’m a writer, the one thing I’ve always dreamt I’d grow up to be. Later, I’ll drive to the mountains, to a place that’s so beautiful a thousand writers, a thousand painters, and a thousand photographers have tried to harness its grandeur. It’s an hour drive from my balcony, and along the way my heart will begin to unpack the craziness that it’s lived through, and it’ll get broken open again by the magic of this world. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I too, have not figured out how to change the world, but I hope these words, and the poems that my blue-eyed view and my beat up blue collar heart bring into this world find hope in your hearts this Labor Day.
Dan Denton is a former union autoworker and UAW chief steward. He now writes full-time and plans to live in a travel trailer. His next novel, The Dead and the Desperate is available on preorder from Roadside Press.