For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. And for every legitimate reason to dislike Michael W. Dean’s Starving in the Company of Beautiful Women (The Great American Rant) [Kittyfeet Press], there’s an equally legitimate one to love it.
Michael W. Dean (see our review of his DVD, DIY or Die) is no writer, in the classic literary sense. Set up as sort of an On the Road for the 1980s punk rock set, Dean’s book is full of overly-long narrative, typos (many intentional, such as his mysterious compulsion to capitalize the letter ‘B’ in the word ‘Beautiful’; his religion, I guess) made-up words (“squimmery” is just great) and invented spellings like “Gurl,” “Chix,” etc. Now let’s counter that with the fact that Dean’s a hell of a story teller with vivid imagery and some ‘Beautiful’ prose occasionally sneaks out through the muck. The book is also full of humor. The word ‘Rockstar’ is always followed by a ‘™’. The mega-Rockstars also get a ® and a ©. And ya gotta love the scene when he’s being hired as a bicycle messenger in San Francisco:
”How long have you lived here and what do you do with your time?”
“About a week. I drink…and I brood.”
“Well, why should I hire you?”
“Because I have no fear of death.”
“Can you start tomorrow?”
His imagery is at once erotic, explicit, and dead-on original:
I hold you down and nail you to the center of the Earth with my cock
Sometimes Dean goes off on little philosophical diatribes, imparting wisdom that is clichéd and timeworn. The world is fond of the image of the starving artist. People love the archetype of the struggling, brilliant young man or woman, garrisoned away in a garret, slowly going insane while producing a dazzling body of work… You get the idea.
Other times, Dean really is much more original: …if you don’t believe your own hype, then no one will.
The book is filled with distractions: lyrics, unnecessary bolding and italics, photos, crazy fonts, photos, and musical notes. Tiny numbers for footnotes litter the pages, requiring a flip-flop of pages back and forth. Some of these footnotes are worthless because the reader gets it without having to be told: [#128] My old “you are fat” fear-trick. Some of these footnotes are brilliant--and in many cases much better reading than the book itself. [#45] Rock 'n Roll is best played by young egomaniacs with low self-esteem. They have a lot to prove. If simple music is done with enough conviction, it sublimates believeability and becomes holy. It is too bad that the purposeless determination of youth is wasted on the young. Most of these footnotes should have been written into the text.
And speaking of flip-flop, Dean has also made this into a flip-book of little photos that run across the top of the pages. We see him skateboarding and watch his face morph from guy-in-a-cowboy-hat to alien being to cat. It’s too bad the photo quality sucks and most of it is a blur.
Set up to supposedly be a series of journal entries a long-time girlfriend compiled into a book for her Doctorate in Modern Literature from UC Berkeley, this book is called a work of fiction. That’s a hard idea to swallow, given the fact that the protagonist, Cash Newmann, bears a fierce and amazing similarity to the actual photographs of the author scattered throughout the book, and they have eerily similar backgrounds in rock and roll. But hey, isn’t all art grounded in the artist’s influences and experiences?
Full of sex-and-drugs-times-ten, Starving is an education in Heroin addiction. We get deeply into the junkie’s mindset; weaving an intoxicated path through its seductive beauty, rationalizations, and horror. We learn the street culture, the sign language and the underworld habits between users and dealers. Throughout Newmann’s wild adventures, a sadness resonates. It’s awfully hard not to wince at the photos back in the footnotes section of the pretty girl, passed out in her underwear with a needle in her arm. In the corner of one photo, a small kitten watches curiously. The picture is disturbing on so many levels that it makes me think: this picture could be great Art! Alas! That print quality issue works against that point, too.
Once can’t help but think, ‘Damn! A few years in a serious writing workshop could make this guy great’. But maybe that’s just what would ruin him.