This elevated pitch: An interview with Tom Bradley
In Talking on March 6, 2009 at 8:55 am (retrieved)
Tom Bradley’s latest books are Vital Fluid (Crossing Chaos Enigmatic Ink), Even the Dog Won’t Touch Me (Ahadada Press), Put It Down in a Book (The Drill Press), and Hemorrhaging Slave of an Obese Eunuch (Dog Horn Publishing). What follows is a “post-neoplatonic dialogue” between Bradley & Mikael Covey, on food, music and books, but not religion and fucking.
Mikael Covey: There’s this image of Tom Bradley as the madman from across the waters. But is the real you perhaps a kind, gentle, loving husband and father who quietly nurtures tomato plants in the backyard garden?
Tom Bradley: Fuck no. I’m a crazy mean son-bitch. As for tomatoes, I behave sadistically toward them, with my teeth. But nobody’d better dream of calling me a vegan. If you’re looking for a mean son-bitch, just briefly consider breathing the word vegan within three city blocks of my bristly knuckles.
MC: Thanks for the warning.
TB: Vegan’s a wussy-whimper coined in the thirties because people were abusing the word vegetarian by sneaking in eggs, milk, fish, and other such karmic toxicities. If you want to cheat, it’s incumbent upon you to add prefixes like ovo- or lacto- or ichthyo-. Why should a solid, four-square vegetarian kind of guy, such as me, be expected to self-apply a cacophonous neologism like vegan? I tell you, Mikael, that entry in the Newspeak lexicon sends me just about as deep into a quasi-roid rage as a purely plant-food person can be sent.
MC: And how deep is that?
TB: Well, you know, without all those animal proteins jostling one’s molecules, it’s hard to stay miffed about anything for long. Actually, you can say vegan if you want.
MC: Maybe later… So much for the nourishment of our bodies.
TB: Yeah. Glad we got that out of our systems.
MC: On to the feeding of our minds… Bizarro lit screams at the reader in a schizophrenic whirlwind, and your fans can’t get enough of it. Is this indicative of a bored upscale culture longing for a non-stop rave party?
TB: A rave party? Slap me down if I’ve got the terminology wrong, but I’m assuming that “rave” is a sub-species of what Mel Torme used to call “three-chord manure.” Are you talking about the monotonous idiocy they’ve been hammering into our heads ever since Alan “Moondog” Freed wiped his ass on Cleveland’s airwaves sixty years ago? The fascist noise which simultaneously anaesthetizes and tortures us in every restaurant, elevator, gas station, glory hole, mega-church, and cretinous movie soundtrack? The rock-’n-retch which Homeland Security’s mercenaries employed to turn Jose Padilla into an end table?
Make no mistake, they plan to Padilla all our asses. Heaven forefend we should have a quiet minute to think and maybe even talk politics. Why do you suppose the Trans-National Corporatocracy maintains pet execs in the recording industry? How come do you reckon they soak everybody’s existence, in-utero onward, with perpetual grunting decibels? Do you think it’s coincidental that our gallant troops iPod this sonic dreck into the sides of their learning-disabled heads while marauding through the scab-clogged gutters of Ur of the Chaldees?
You don’t hear much ambient jazz these days, do you? Betty Carter singing ‘Moonlight in Vermont’ – could she persuade you to shoot an Ishmaelite baby in the back? Eric Dolphy sipping ‘Epistrophe’ from the silver bell of his bass clarinet – does he make you want to kick down a door and rape a veiled grandmother? Bill Harris sliding a bright ‘Bijou’ from his trombone, Clifford Brown letting ‘Joy Spring’ from his young trumpet, Bix Beiderbecke sweetly floating ‘In a Mist’ – do they put you in the mood to hover in a helicopter and shit brimstone that melts the skin off schoolchildren’s bones in the occu–
MC: Softly, softly, as Cicero says.
TB: One day people will look back at the Dark Age that began with the second half of the twentieth century, and they will recognize this screaming, pounding, migrainous aural-expulsiveness as a symptom of humanity’s contemptible degeneration, right along with mega-meat farms, television, Ritalin, the collected works of Mark Helprin, the military application of that substance which sizzles between silicon and sulfur on the Periodic Table of Elements, and the cold-blooded politicide of–
MC: Softly. You’re going to get us shut down, Tom. Never mind about the rave party, okay? Subject change. Let’s see. We’ve covered food, music…
TB: How about religion and fucking?
MC: I know – books. Recently you’ve been writing and publishing them like mad.
TB: Are you referring to Even the Dog Won’t Touch Me, which at this precise moment is rolling off the press in a sweet dioxic cloud of combusted printer’s gloss, just in time to adorn Ahadada’s booth at the AWP Conference in Chicago?
MC: The Lord awps those who awp themselves.
TB: Or maybe you’re thinking of Vital Fluid, my novel about dueling hypnotists, brought to you by Crossing Chaos Enigmatic Ink, in which Victoria Regina is heard to exclaim, “Look at those big sharp cock-suckers!”
On the other hand, Mikael, possibly you have in mind Hemorrhaging Slave of an Obese Eunuch, my plunge into transgenderism and reddish-blond human scalp wigs during the reign of Emperor Nero, for which Dog Horn Press is throwing a combination coming-out/Halloween party this autumn.
Alternatively, perhaps my second nonfiction title has occupied your attention: Put It Down in a Book, inspired by the legendary writer’s block of Rabbi “Yitzy-Baby” Luria. The Drill Press will be presenting that one to the world right soon here.
MC: Are you on a roll or just keeping up with demand?
TB: The only demand I acknowledge is metabolic. I must breathe occasionally, eat whole grains with legumes, and write. Not necessarily in that order. I’ve always produced at this elevated pitch. The publication end is out of my hands. For all I know, or need to know, getting my books into print has as much to do with the moon’s minor perturbation as the whims of acquisitions editors.
MC: Your writing is so emotionally charged. What is it that drives you – anger, contempt, revenge, what?
TB: The force that through the green fuse drives the flower, drives my medium-point Bic. Traction is provided by the Moral Law of Causation, in all her disinterested grandeur. Every time I sit still, shut up and empty my head, I become aware of inhuman vitality: an impersonal feeling that seems all my life to have flowed from somewhere around my lumbar ganglia, for no particular reason. An abstract electricality, not a biological mood but a mineral sort of pyroclasm, just the vibration of my particular embodied existence this time around: a life-informing sensation of near-perpetual, intense and almost perfect delight. Did I ever tell you about my immune system, Mikael?
MC: Not lately.
TB: Well, from kindergarten through twelfth grade I was expelled from a series of parochial schools with chapel services every morning. These entailed periods of silence, sitting among the entire student body, during which you were perforce aware of everyone’s upper-respiratory condition. I remember the morning, between ages five and eighteen, when I had the sniffles.
MC: Jesus Christ.
TB: You got that right. A couple weeks ago I visited my friendly local otorhinolaryngologist because the rapid consumption of a sea bag full of overripe peyote tubercles had given me tinnitus. He wedged his flashlight into the side of my head, gasped loudly, and scrambled out of the examination room, as if I had a tumor so huge and ugly it made him need to puke. Just as I was mentally preparing myself for the Devachanic probation that awaits us all, my physician commenced dragging in everybody he could find: surgeons, proctologists, interns, nurses, janitors, bereaved family members, candy machine repairmen, random corridor loiterers. They took turns peeking in my earhole and murmuring with stunned admiration.
Otorhinolaryngologistically speaking, my eardrums are unsmutched and dewy-sweet as the spring-loaded hymen of the Blessed Virgin herself. Tom’s tympanic membranes are transparent as the nipples on a freshwater undine. This is because I’ve never felt so much as the slightest whiff of an inner-ear infection. So I am a walking brain anatomy lesson. You can see straight through to my naughty gray bits. In this way my eardrums resemble my prose.
The clinic has informed me that I have a freakishly butch immune system. They’ve asked me to donate blood, tissue and marrow samples to the AIDS research lab, so the secret miracles of my mutant leukocytes might be probed, toward the betterment of mankind’s wretched plight and the alleviation of suffering worldwide.
MC: Have you donated?
TB: How can you even think of asking a vegetarian such a question?
MC: Doesn’t this kind of writing take a heavy toll on the author? I think it would be spiritually and mentally draining, maybe exhausting to the point where it wears you out completely. Aren’t you worried about burnout?
TB: Nah. It’s all technique. I compose everything, including this interview, in utter, yawning relaxation. My heart rate never gets above the low fifties. I write on my back, in my socks, at my leisure. Easefully, loosely, I apply a set of simple techniques that, after a moderate number of drafts, cause my prose to sound as though it was screamed by an archangel with a hard-on.
Live in a dead place among spiritual corpses and you, too, Mikael, will have plenty of time to achieve the same artificial effects. I could teach you the tricks in half a lazy afternoon. The only prerequisite is a neuron-deep sense of time’s plenitude. My maternal grandmother lived to a hundred. We finally had to back the pickup truck over her. I suspect I vampirized the longevity gene off ol’ Granny, because my instincts tell me to think nothing of spending the entire morning placing a comma, and the entire afternoon et cetera (see dear Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Whoozit).
MC: There is a sense of underlying angst about nuclear devastation in your work. Do you see this as a threat or a concern that haunts you?
TB: The only underlying angst haunting me is that I’ll miss out. I hanker for a good hydrogen holocaust, right smack across the chops. Imagine how smug you could be if you survived something like that! The whole stinking world would grovel on its belly just to commiserate with you. Multitudes would jostle for the privilege of murmuring “tsk-tsk” to your toes. You could dash off any old rough-draft crap, and get it accepted by those sorts of magazines made of paper and staples which are rumored to pay money. You could moan hoarsely and cultivate a liverish wince of existential pain for the photographer, and people would be expected to purchase prints for pondering late at night when insomnia descends, due to man’s inhumanity to man. You would be admired for flying into a censorial rage whenever some insensitive lout posted the blasphemous coinage “LOLocaust” on the web. I’d gladly absorb any number of thyroid tumors and unsightly scrotal keloids for such consummate victimological cachet!
Besides, nuke-you-lariousness is in my blood, both hereditary and congenital. Allow me to quote from a certain widely-consulted reference work. The subject of the present interview is–
–matrilaterally descended from an earlier Nagasaki expatriate, Thomas Glover, the “Scottish Samurai,” known as the Founder of Modern Japan, whose heavy industrial pursuits eventually attracted America’s second atom bomb…
Furthermore, today’s interviewee–
–attended kindergarten downwind of above-ground hydrogen bomb tests.
In later life, as an unsung nukee, he naturally–
gravitated to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “the most glamorous nuclear test sites of all…”
Why do you suppose I’ve snuggled myself up against North Korea? I’m just about as close as anyone can be to that steaming stew-pot of gamma particles without getting all relic-Stalinist and actually going there, or sidling into Dandong and peeping across the Yalu River while sipping blueberry juice (which I do whenever I get the chance). Kim Jong’s Illness is well within missile range of where I recline so easefully right now. A flub, a misfire, could slide right down the neck of my wife-beater and make me a glamorous star, darling! I’m a moth drawn to the fissile flame.
MC: You can’t honestly give such a psychotically morbid excuse for having allowed more than half your life to evaporate in the Far East like failed reactor coolant.
TB: Well, there’s that, and also the literally do-nothing jobs.
MC: Ah, yes. I believe you’ve written about such wonderful career opportunities in Arts and Letters Daily and Salon.com.
TB: Ever since I was old enough to understand the connections among time and money and eating, I knew I’d eventually have to starve, or become a different person (a karmic non sequitur, of course), or else wind up in a place like this. As soon as I was able to grasp how long an hour is, and to string eight of them together in my imagination, it struck me as preposterous and grotesque that such an infinitude of riches should be squandered five times a week merely in order to postpone the flesh’s inevitable slipping away from the spirit. Before I was old enough to be aware that other countries, languages and races exist, I knew everything worth knowing about this sham called Japanese academe, and the sinecures it offers to pedagogical sociopaths like me. Hence the eventual necessity of showing America my long, skinny white ass and relocating to this ludicrous side of the International Date Line.
I saunter into the Nippo-classroom and flop down in the professorial comfy chair. I put my stocking feet up on the professorial lectern, fart, adjust my balls and relax. I lay my manuscript across my thighs, and, loosely, easefully, with my medium-point Bic, begin to apply that set of simple techniques which I offered to teach you in an earlier paragraph of this impromptu conversation we’re having.
The rest is silence. You’ll be gratified to know, Mikael, that, this very morning, Nanjing Rapists’ grandchildren paid twice Harvard’s tuition rate to sit and silently watch me answer your interview questions. It’s impossible to keep a straight face and simultaneously pretend that an actual higher-educational environment can exist in a Confucian culture, so I didn’t even bother to order my captive audience to pull their pencils from their Hello Kitty satchels.
In fact, I forgot their existence altogether as I wrote the impishly endearing vegan diatribe which opens this post-neoplatonic dialogue of ours. I neglected to excuse the unhappy zits at the end of class because I was so engrossed in removing a comma which I’d placed under the watchful eyes of their schoolmates during the previous period. By the time you so ill-advisedly let slip the phrase rave party in your third question, the Pavlovian lunch bell had rung. But not so much as a single salivary gland stirred, for our Nipponese brethren do nothing, not even secrete, without permission from a superior authority.
As you and I segued ever so naturally into my rollicking yet poignant anecdote about visiting the otorhinolaryn-etcetera, the sound of a few polite throat-clearings was heard from among the midget-sized desks ranged so neatly in front of me. The poor swindled youngsters tried to penetrate my museful haze, for they hankered to scurry on bandy legs to the varsity cafeteria and nibble their gummy wads of colonically cancerous swamp cereal, their dioxin-drenched sperm whale burgers and bottlenose dolphin tacos with extra mercury. Gradually, as the lunch period wasted further and further away, my disciples escalated to coughs outright. This is what passes for student rebellion, here in the World’s Safest Country.
Eventually the place starts to sound like a phosphorus-bombed consumptive’s clinic in post-apocalyptic Gaza. But even this can’t recall to your faithful interviewee’s mind the location of his body. To the relaxed rhythm of his heart’s fifty-one beats per minute, he is taking his prose through that moderate number of drafts which must eventually cause it to sound as though shrieked by a bass-baritone molting golden pin feathers in the back row of Jehovah’s celestial glee club.
In the meantime, if our author happens to cause a few words to be juxtaposed happily, he might look up, grin graciously at his adoring public, and shout a hearty “Bravo!” to himself: “…that substance which sizzles between silicon and sulfur on the Periodic Table of Elements – well put, Doctor Bradley, well put!”
Perhaps he’ll recite an especially delicious paragraph to the unpopular nerd who twitches solitarily in the front row of every classroom on either side of the Pacific. No matter how many lunches he misses, this one little ass-kisser will sit up straight and keep his bespectacled eyes nailed on the Master, ready to provide whatever audience response his idol requires in this “loneliest of labors,” including moans and tears and gnashings of teeth in those rare instances when the word juxtaposition turns out not so happy. Scratch-outs are occasionally called for, accompanied by the bellowing of mild self-critical strictures: “…soak everybody’s existence, in-utero onward, with perpetual grunting decibels – that could have been better put, don’t you think, Doctor Bradley?”
MC: Who says the writerly craft’s a solitary one?
TB: Not me.
MC: Call me bourgeois, but the phrase job security keeps popping into my head.
TB: This scribbling outlander’s beard, skin and eyes – red white and blue respectively – have dazzled the gibberish-belching university administrators into taking his unconscionable goldbricking for an advanced application of the latest Language Acquisition Theory developed in the laboratories of Big Name U., America. Therefore it must be an excellent investment in their proud nation’s future. He has even given his crime of omission a name that croons unrivaled trendiness: “You guys have heard of distance learning, right? Well, this is distance teaching.” The signers of his paychecks are persuaded to turn a deaf ear to any appalled complaints from mere tuition payers.
Think of the gall, the sheer lack of basic potty-trained humanity! The best years of the youngsters’ lives are pissing away, right at his feet, and he doesn’t just sit there doing nothing (many a mortal schoolmarm manages to accomplish that feat), but he is able, with all these little faces staring at him in indignation and unmitigated hate, to concentrate on the exacting production of archangelically tumescent prose!
How does this sleazy, hairy-armed, big-nosed, good for nothing, barbarous anti-sensei do it? Can it be that, as a completely self-centered being, he possesses the most extraordinary powers of concentration, and can deploy his three-dollar words into five-dollar sentences even as his disciples pass out from hunger, one by one? Is it because only a true genius has the cheek to compose when he’s the moderately well-paid cynosure of rows and rows of malnourished eyes?
Mikael, if, god forbid, there in your Dakotan Shangri-La, you should ever arrive at a state of affairs where breadwinning leaves you inadequate leisure to compose, please accept my invitation to come here, to the land of cherry blossoms, bukkake, suicide clubs, grown women with baby mouse voices, eight-fingered Yakuza goons whose tobacco and benzedrine reek make you swoon in a typhoon, and the world’s greatest tertiary education system, outside Brazil. (I hear profs don’t even have to show up in Sao Paulo.)
MC: This is bullshit.
MC: Tom, you didn’t go all Oriental to avoid squandering Time’s infinite riches on the postponement of your flesh’s slippage from your spirit.
TB: I didn’t?
MC: No. And you haven’t moved to the opposite side of the planet from everybody normal just to scribble about your unsightly scrotal keloids when the North Koreans nuke you.
TB: I haven’t?
MC: You are where you are because you want an audience.
TB: Mikael, I will ask it again: Huh?
MC: To retain your deviated sense of self-respect you may have told anybody who’ll listen, such as me, that you are using boys and girls and their hard-working parents as cash cows, milking them in your vegetarian way, while you compose. But I can tell you that no writer puts himself in such a situation for so many decades without a better, or at least more complicated, reason than money.
Think of the impression you’ve made on that unpopular bespectacled nerd in the front row. The admiration you have elicited from his racially self-hating postpubescent heart is no doubt the result of semi-conscious acts on your part: flourishes you make with that medium-point Bic under his gaze, which you’d never do alone at night in your Nippo-hovel – unless you really are insane. You are dancing and your pet nerd is applauding. With the educator’s eye you’ll never own up to possessing, you have seen something in him beyond the lust for a passing grade that narrows his classmates’ eyes. You are selling this terminally un-Englished nerd your books.
Anyone who’s been exiled to the Dakota of the mind and experienced the excruciating isolation of literary effort will see the plausibility of my analysis of your life’s motivations. To undergo the act of composition in the presence of an audience – a captive audience obliged to remain silent, constrained not to hiss or shuffle their feet, not to distract one’s concentration, yet to console and beguile the loneliness of that lofty crag –
TB: Lofty crag?
MC: – upon which all poets abide: this temptation must be difficult to resist.
TB: Will you be arriving on All Nippon Airways?
MC: Let’s wrap this up so I can pack my bags. Please tell us which abiders on the lofty crag you like, or who, if any, have had an influence on you or your writing style.
TB: I acknowledge the ecstatic prose in certain chapters of Moby Dick, in the entirety of Tale of a Tub, in Nietzsche‘s non-aphoristic works, and in the nightmare tales of the Mighty Pythoness of Dnepropetrovsk, for which she was paid a rate-per-word comparable to Turgenev‘s.
MC: Any thoughts on the death of Updike?
TB: I didn’t have any thoughts on the life of Updike.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Mikael Covey lives in Dakota with his little girl. He writes books and other stuff, and edits Lit Up Magazine. His first novel Out There, is due to be released in the spring (2009).