Talking Heroin, Fame, & ‘The Heroin Chronicles’ With Author Jerry Stahl

It’s ridiculous out there. It’s so cold that I saw a cab driver explaining something to a potential fare and his middle finger froze. It’s so cold that my lawyer put his hands in his own pocket. OK, OK, I’ll stop. It’s hard to get people to go anywhere when it’s like this. January and February can be rough on clubs and bars and such – especially in a world where homes have so many ways to entertain: thousands of TV channels, the World Wide Web, and other etceteras I cannot mention in a family column. 

Tonight I will brave the weather but stay in Brooklyn. Jerry Stahl, the author of Bad Sex On Speed, will be reading from his new book: The Heroin Chronicles. According to Zoe Hanson, my fierce friend who contributed to this book, Jerry is… the man. The event will be early, at 7pm at Word in Brooklyn, 126 Franklin St. Brooklyn Brewery is providing it’s product. The tome is available on Akashic Books. If you can’t make it tonight, they’ll do it again tomorrow night at St Mark’s Bookshop, also at 7pm. The crowd that gathers to hear these tales will be super hot and smart and cool…all those things noticeably absent at most joints in town. Dress warm, juice up on some yerba mate, and join me. 

I asked Jerry Stahl a few questions.

Was heroin ever chic? Is it always chic? Does it give the users a certain badge – a certain credibility – or is it just a very bad thing?
Heroin involves a lot of puking on your shoes. And, I think we can all agree, nothing says ‘chic’ like shoe-puking. I never bought into the heroin chic thing myself. I mean, a real dope fiend has to try not to look like a dope fiend, or risk being busted. So anybody who actually wants to look that way is either a poser, in a fashion spread, or Keith Richards. Keith is the exception that proves the rule – plus, he always had the dough for lawyers who could get him off, or a judge who figured setting a charity concert was better than sending him to jail.

On the other hand, an old-time needle jockey once told me how he went to see Charlie Parker in New York, and hours after he was supposed to go on, when the crowd was ready to split, an announcer stepped up to the mic and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Parker is just pulling down his sleeve….”  Which – I can’t lie – sounds pretty goddamn glam. But the truth is, "Bird" was probably backstage wiping puke off his shoes.

Are the stories chronicled success stories or screams or what?
I would describe them as successful screams. Or, in the immortal words of Jonathan Swift, “crawling is performed in the same position as climbing.” I have no idea how this applies to your question, but it’s a great quote, and – if you kind of squint – it does sort of apply

Is a junkie always a junkie, even after the using is chronicled in the rooms/at meetings?
Well, junkies are like veterans. They all share that wartime experience, but not all of them are still living in the jungle 20 years after the war’s over. 

Alienation And Weirdness At Tao Lin’s Book Launch Party

This week marks the publication of Internet lit kingpin Tao Lin’s seventh book, the perhaps-more-autobiographical-than-usual Taipei. Wednesday evening there was a party to celebrate at indie bookstore powerHouse Arena in Dumbo. Here’s how it was for your BlackBook correspondent (a somewhat less well-known novelist) to attend:

7:50 Arrive 50 fashionable minutes late, knowing I need a large crowd if I’m not to look appallingly awkward. Lots of people smoking outside. Speak to a Salon reporter who is shoveling a giant Poland Spring bottle into his backpack. Inadvertently interrupt his conversation with a smoker in a red dress whom I then realize is Marie Calloway, whose own book, what purpose did i serve in your life, is doing quite well despite three publishers balking at its “obscene” content. Have no idea what to say. Run inside.

7:55 Notice the crowd is twice as big as most literary parties that happen in this space, and the booze line is about four times longer than average. Get on line for booze. Encounter a prominent reading organizer who asks if I see anyone from Vintage (Taipei’s publisher). We decide the actual publishing people must be the ones in neckties, etc., as most others are out of hipster central casting.

8:05 Burrow as deep into crowd of strangers as I can. Sip wine. Realize I haven’t eaten yet. Listen to the music DJ’d by two Pitchfork writers. Not bad. Spot Lin himself sitting atop amphitheater steps, drinking just sparkling San Pellegrino: the classic pillhead cocktail. Begin to look around with an eye as to who might be a drug dealer. Approach none of my guesses.

8:15 The editor for Taipei makes a few strained remarks (leading off with a standard publishing joke about drinking, no laughs) as Lin sits back and records the whole thing on his iPhone. Briefly concerned that I may be in the background of this video, but think I’m okay. Editor does get one laugh, by relaying a line from the New York Times book review (“like Hemingway filtered through Twitter and Klonopin”) and then instructs us to “exhaust the wine supply.”

8:16 Get on the wine line again, this time behind Marie Calloway, who turns around and locks eyes, and I have the fleeting fear that I’m about to puke on her. Discussion with other dude about whether we are on the line for wine or the line to get books signed. Some confusion. 

8:17 Wine supply exhausted.

8:20 Lost time. Think I sat down for a minute and tried to sip the last wine as slowly as possible to stave off impending anxiety attack. Enjoying Pitchfork DJs. Consider going up to tell them so, as have nothing better to do. Ultimately too nervous.

8:40 Get in finally shortening line to get book signed. Only have an old book by Steven Millhauser. I don’t know Tao personally, but we each know whom the other is, kind of, so I think he might think it’s funny, especially if he’s high, as he must be.

8:45 Notice guy in vintage Tommy Hilfiger t-shirt who is pulling Presidente beers out of his backpack. Having finished the wine, offer to buy one of the beers off him. He only has one left and it’s got someone else’s name on it. I tell him he’s a good friend. “I am,” he agrees thoughtfully.

8:50 Party almost over, looks like Tao is told to speed up the signing process. He nods when I ask him to sign the book he didn’t write and puts down “T. Miles Klee” on the title page, with sunrays shooting out of it. Collector’s item for sure. Without knowing why, I drum the back of his non-writing hand enthusiastically. It’s odd.

8:55 Feeling guilty, actually do buy a copy of Taipei on the way out.

9:05 Stop by reBar, where the afterparty is being held for no good reason whatsoever. Say goodbye to some people I never said hi to. Order a beer and drink it quickly and leave. It’s a long subway ride back to Harlem.

1:30 p.m. the following day: Place Taipei on my formidable to-read pile and notice the shiny typeface glinting on its spine. Seems faintly mocking. 

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Photo: Canteen Mag.