I just read Sam Lipsyte’s review of Jesus’ Son, the movie, in Feed. I don’t agree with his take on the movie much, except he did a wonderful description of the book–“its drugs, its controlled beatnik flourishes, its deadpan cool in the face of the heart’s horrors”–and how Johnson “tends to zoom out at the end of the story for some addled but poetic reflection from the narrator, as in this summing up of “Dundun”:
“Will you believe me when I tell you there was a kindness in his heart? His left hand didn’t know what his right hand was doing. It was only that certain important connections had been burned through. If I opened your head and ran a hot soldering iron around in your brain, I might turn you into something like that.”
God I loved that book. I enhanced its pleasure by reading it in the waiting room at Gouverneur, the big public hospital way down in far eastern Chinatown. When you go to a public hospital you wait for hours, and this one has an amazing mix of immigrants that gives you such a different perspective on New York than if you were waiting in, say, Pastis.
I didn’t think the movie was such a success; maybe I worship the book too much to ever be able to like a movie made of it. But it was trying in part to capture something that I discovered in a totally different movie-from-book, High Fidelity. I liked that book an awful lot, didn’t love the movie but liked it OK. The part that, to my total surprise, kind of knocked me out, were the little scenes in the record store, with the snotty, music-obsessed record clerks competing over music trivia, sneering at customers who weren’t part of the initiated elite, and generally treating this area of culture as a matter of the utmost seriousness. It was religious, really.
When I lived in Minneapolis during the late 1970s, there was a sort of punk/new wave thing going on there and all of my friends were like those record clerks. Some of my friends and boyfriends were record clerks. And until I saw High Fidelity, I hadn’t realized just how sickened unto death I’ve been, finally, by money mania, dot-com fever, blah blah blah. I am thrilled that so many people made so much money and that there were lots of jobs created. But I was just almost moved to tears by the spectacle of these guys pouring all of their emotional energy and time into something purely because they loved it.
The constant buzzing of money, and buzz itself, was missing from that world–as it was from the world of Jesus’ Son in an even more extreme way. That’s at least part of what makes the heroin drifting of Jesus’ Son so incredibly attractive. Doing heroin a lot is not so smart, from what I hear, and it’s not a solution to, you know, the world being too much with us. And Ken, I would never advocate that people neglect, say, their personal finances, because they’ll regret it later. But there has got to be some happy medium between the world of Jesus’ Son and the world of, I don’t know, doing road shows for venture capitalists in Silicon Valley.
Hey, ex-punk-rocker, do you know where that happy medium is?