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
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
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
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
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
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
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).
|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?