Thursday, May 5, 2011

Have you ever tried to outrun yourself?

A couple days ago the Tuesday Top Ten topic was book recommendations you're glad you took. Black Coffee Blues by Henry Rollins is a book recommendation I'm glad I took.

I don't really remember how the topic came up but Ben from Dead End Follies had recommended I read some Henry Rollins and suggested I start with this one. I probably mentioned something about how I like his spoken word stuff, but I've never read anything of his. Indeed I just checked my iTunes listing and I have 134 tracks spanning 22.4 hours of Rollins spoken word. Apparently this includes Get in the Van, another Rollins recommendation from Ben.

If you can't tell by the sheer volume I've accumulated, I like Rollins voice, his ability to tell a story. It's different than anything else I've heard and his writing really matches the tone in his spoken word stuff. Or perhaps I'm just reading it in his voice. But the subject matter of this book was not what I expected. It's so angry. So lonely. So hopeless. I expected these topics to be touched upon but they are the focus. And there's so much violence, especially against innocent people. According to the intro Rollins began work on this in the late '80s and I suppose in light of the things he's done in later years it's easy to forget a lot of the anger he carried when he was younger.

It's difficult to describe Black Coffee Blues. Some of it is short stories, some of it are his thoughts while touring with Black Flag, some of it is poetry. It's even difficult to describe if this is fiction or non-fiction. Sometimes it's just a story, sometimes it's a dream, sometimes fact and sometimes it's a melding of all of these elements.

My favorite part of the book, "124 Worlds", also contains some of the parts that disgusted me the most. "124 Worlds" is a series of 124 vignettes, some a sentence or two, some a few paragraphs and others a couple pages. It makes up a little more than 1/2 of the total book. These stories don't intersect, there are hardly characters in them let alone characters that show up in multiple snippets but this was the section that drew me in more than the others. I couldn't put the book down, I wanted just one more, even when I was disgusted by the unprovoked and all-consuming violence that took place within some of these worlds. Even the worlds I liked were horribly depressing, such as #30, about a boy and his awful Christmases with a resentful mother and a drunk father. With the stories it's just one thing after another and you begin to feel the weight of the stories suffocating you. Here are a few of those stories. Or at least pieces of the stories:

#17: She has been off heroin for three months. Every day that goes by is a special day for her. It's a day that she hasn't taken drugs...It's not easy. Sometimes she feels bad and it's all she can do to hold on. Sometimes she sits on her bed and repeats, "I don't need you. I don't need you. I don't need you."

#30: ...He remembered the Christmases of his youth. He was living with his mother. She would get him some presents and never let him forget for a minute that he was a pain in her ass...He would pull the presents into his room and put them in a pile in the corner. He rarely played with the things that they bought him. He was scared to break them. She would hit him. Call him ungrateful and threaten to have the police come and take him to jail forever.

#32: It was her third black eye in one year. She didn't freak out. She did shoot him in the back of the head while he was watching television.

#54: He shot the guy like it was nothing. I've never seen anything like it in my life. He pulled up to the red light, got out of his car and walked over to the Plymouth and fired three shots into the driver's face. Then he got back in his car. He had the music up loud, some heavy metal garbage. I never seen anything like it! He just wasted the guy! Anyway, the light turned green and he took off, and so did everybody else except for the dead guy. I would have too, but my car stalled.

#115: Loneliness is her friend. She lost her job today. The rent is due in two weeks. It's like a bad dream. The night comes. She drinks and wonders what she'll do.

I don't think I'll put this on the re-read list anytime soon, but I suppose you never know. I do plan on reading some more Rollins though I'd like something later, something with more hope and less anger.

Title quote from location 1621

Rollins, Henry. Black Coffee Blues. Kindle edition, 2009. Originally published 1992.