1. Marston: Hello. Welcome to Connie Martinson Talks Books. I have two books, really, to talk about today, because my writer is one of the more prolific authors in Los Angeles. The author is Jerry Stahl. The first book is The Heroin Chronicles for which he is an editor and writer and it is published by Akashic Press. The other is his book, solo author, Bad Sex on Speed by Barnacle Books. Welcome, Jerry Stahl.
2. Stahl: It’s a Pleasure to be here.
3. Marston: Thank you. Pleasure to read both books, but as I said to you, certain books are. Its stories sort of melt into both books.
4. Stahl: Sure.
5. Marston: Let’s talk about The Heroin Chronicles. How did it come about?
6. Stahl: I got a call from the editor, who’s an old friend of mine. I’ve contributed stories to their other series, they had a Speed Chronicles, so I did something at a Cocaine Chronicles, and luckily I’ve done Research on the both Subjects earlier on in my Life, so when I did Heroin Chronicles they said, “Why don’t I just edit it,” so I did.
7. Marston: Yeah, as well as writing for it.
8. Stahl: Yes. I have an intro and a story in there.
9. Marston: There’s a story, the one that has a Russian in it. It is ‘Fragments of Joe’ that.
10. Stahl: Is that Tony O’Neill?
11. Marston: Yeah.
12. Stahl: Yeah, he’s amazing writer.
13. Marston: Oh.
14. Stahl: What a writer. Yeah.
15. Marston: Let’s tell our Friends at the audience a little bit about that story of two kids in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time.
16. Stahl: The great thing about that story, it’s like the archetypal Heroin story, because it is two kids in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time. I won’t give away what happens, but.
17. Marston: Well, what. Can I say?
18. Stahl: Please do it. Yes.
19. Marston: All right. There’s a Drug-deal going on. Evidently Bad Drugs had been passed as Drugs that they were supposed to be, and suddenly there’s a knock on the door in the seedy Building they’re in and it’s a man with a gun, a Russian, and Killing is not a problem to him, and the Gun becomes almost like another Person. At the end, there are dead bodies, but he has stepped over the boy and girl, just giving them one little shot and they’re bleeding, there are holes in both of them. They walk away, but it’s as if Death is following them.
20. Stahl: Yes.
21. Martinson: Except for her, she’s a survivor. That’s an interesting part of many of these stories. People being survivors.
22. Stahl: That is pretty much the Definition of a junkie if they’re not dead. They’re survivors because Jails, Institutions, Death, that’s it. And you’re lucky if you make it out.
23. Marston: When they come out of Jail.
24. Stahl: Yeah?
25. Marston: How clean can they be?
26. Stahl: My Experience, from what I know about People who have done a lot of time, there’s more Drugs inside than there are outside. I taught writing at San Quentin. I had the Priviledge of doing that and I taught some of the guys there. It was just like it’s a harder Place to get clean in a way, because it’s so prevalent and there’s so much Time, you know?
27. Marston: Amazing to me too, the amount of women involved with the Drug-situation.
28. Stahl: Why does that surprise you?
29. Marston: I think of women taking maybe diet Drugs, Things that will help them that way, or staying up late for exams or for something, but getting hooked on Needles is not what I. I can see them smoking a Joint. I can see maybe sniffing-
30. Stahl: Really?
31. Marston: -but I don’t see the Needle.
32. Stahl: Not too ladylike as far as you’re concerned.
33. Marston: There’s a cringy Thing about Needles. I mean even now with the flu Drug there are People who are afraid of the Needle.
34. Stahl: That is very true, but you know, you go back to Billie Holiday, one of the great all-Time legendary Heroin addicts, clearly not afraid of Needles. At some point the Needle is the last thing you even think about. You just are in so much Pain you do what you have to do whether you’re a female or a male. It’s non-discriminating, you know?
35. Marston: There’s a story that you write in Bad Sex on Speed with a character named Tonk. A man purely Evil.
36. Stahl: There are a lot of women in my experience whom I’ve known over the years who have been through Addiction, and if there is a common thread it is that they were abused as Children, and this is a story, it’s a conflation of stories I’ve heard and of course Things I’ve invented of the ultimate survivor. A Child who has to try and survive that kind of abuse when their Mother is of no help because she’s completely strung out herself and the Father is not there.
37. Marston: Do you find in the writing, or reading also, that there is a Generation that has been more complacent towards Drugs than the one prior?
38. Stahl: That’s a very interesting Question. I can’t speak for prior Generations. I wouldn’t say complacency. In some Social Strata, I would say it’s a kind of denial, but at the sort of Poverty level, Drugs are pretty much only avenue of Employment open to People. You’ve got the high and low. You know? Different Standards apply.
39. Marston: Yeah. If we suddenly, which looks like it will happen on a larger scale, Marijuana legalised. Will that have an Effect on the undercover Work or back-alley Work?
40. Stahl: Well, Marijuana, to me, legalisation. It’s more of a political issue, because 90% of the People locked up for Marijuana, Latino or African-American. It’s not like they’re going to a dorm in UCLA knocking on doors. You look at New York City with like the stop and frisk. They don’t stop and frisk white guys, so I think it will have a beneficial impact in one sense that there will be a lot less non-violent one-time offenders being shunted into the Criminal Justice System.
41. Marston: On the Heroin Chronicles, as an editor, how did you work with the other writers?
42. Stahl: My way of working with writers is the way I would want editors to work with me, which is hands off, do what you do, and write the best story you can write, I’m not going to tell you how to write it. I wasn’t disappointed with anybody.
43. Marston: Really? When you got the story, say, ‘Hot for the Shot’, Sophia Langdon. Very strong story. Did you edit anything? As an editor, how much editing did you do?
44. Stahl: Not so much. I would basically say if I liked this, do a little more, and that was it, but 99% of them, really, I wouldn’t even say I qualify as an editor, you know? I just kind of read them and say this is great, turned them in, and handed them to a copy editor.
45. Marston: Were they. Are they off Drugs? Were they druggies?
46. Stahl: That is the ultimate Question and a Good editor doesn’t tell. I would venture to say there were few who are still practicing addicts, but most of them are clean.
47. Marston: When you say clean, go to a Party, they have People passing around a Joint or something, will that lead into stronger Drugs again?
48. Stahl: Well, I can’t speak for all of them. For me, if I go down that road, it’s probably going to take me somewhere I don’t want to go, but I don’t really have an interest in that. For me, the last frontier is the straight Life, but I don’t think at this point Marijuana is going to tempt a Heroin-addict. To them that’s probably very boring.
49. Marston: Yeah. Nathan Larson’s book, that’s like. At each and every one of these are, one would say a strong story that even could be enlarged on.
50. Stahl: I think pretty much all of them, you kind of want more, which is my Definition of a great story.
51. Marston: Yeah. Then such being the case, will Akashic sort of encourage them into a longer book?
52. Stahl: That is a great Question. I hope they do, because a lot of them, like Sophia Langdon who you’ve mentioned, is a first-time writer.
53. Marston: Yeah.
54. Stahl: I don’t believe she’s ever been published, which was the joy for me was giving People a break.
55. Marston: How did you know her?
56. Stahl: I had met her when I was on tour in Florida on another book many, many years ago, and sort of half stayed in touch. I knew she was trying to write. And sometimes you give People little encouragement and then if you’re lucky you’re in a Place where you can actually help them get published.
57. Marston: Liz Hansen, her first paragraph was so great.
58. Stahl: Refresh my memory.
59. Marston: “Streets were hot, stinking hot. Sticky cans and discarded food collected around full garbage cans and the flies were feasting. I felt cold. Goose pumps stood out on my arms. I noticed blood spots on the sleeve of my white long sleeve shirt. I rolled them up just enough to hide the blood, while still covering the pit of my elbow.” I mean.
60. Stahl: You can’t fake that. She had to have been there. Great New York writer.
61. Marston: Yeah. It’s interesting I wonder how many of them in going back had their own nightmares.
62. Stahl: Well, I can tell you from having written Permanent Midnight, the trick for me, and I know for a lot of writers, in going back to that arena, you sort of have to lean over the abyss as far as you can without falling back in, because as you’re re-experiencing it, you’re getting those Sensations and they can literally make you nauseous and make you crave, and it’s a dangerous Endeavour.
63. Marston: Because in this first paragraph, you can see what she went through.
64. Stahl: Sure. And she’s clean now and she’s doing great. She’s writing a lot.
65. Marston: Has she written a Novel or anything?
66. Stahl: I believe she’s working on one.
67. Marston: Yeah.
68. Stahl: I’m not sure if it’s been accepted somewhere, but I know she’s working on it.
69. Marston: It’s a hard Time for a writer.
70. Stahl: It is.
71. Marston: I mean, publishing going the way it is.
72. Stahl: Well, I’m lucky because I’m able to work with HarperCollins, but also Barnacle Books is ran by a guy named Tyson Cornell, whom you may know. He used to manage Book Soup, then he started his own literary PR agency, and now he started his own publishing Company, so it’s sort of like in Music. As the big Companies dissolve, you go with the indies.
73. Marston: Yeah, because in yours, I mean I have to say, that the short stories even with your grandmother that I said. It’s your grandmother not, but a woman in Shalom Nursing Home. I mean just to have that as the title, and twice. It’s twice in there.
74. Stahl: It appears twice. That’s how much I liked it. Yes. Shalom Rest Home, if you’re ever in West Hollywood, it is actually there.
75. Marston: Oh, it is?
76. Stahl: Not too far from [unclear]. How could I make that up? I stole the title and I hope they don’t sue.
77. Marston: Yeah, all right, because here is the grandmother who. Well actually, they do give senior Citizens, Alzheimer’s, Drugs that could be used elsewhere.
78. Stahl: Of course. I used to buy Drugs from a guy back in the Bad old days, who was 88 years old and he would get wheeled from the rest home to McDonald’s on Venice and Western and he would sell his cancer pain Medication. He would sell Morphine.
79. Marston: Oh god. Yeah.
80. Stahl: That’s how he got his sort of walking around Money. You know? So he could buy snacks.
81. Marston: That’s in one of the stories. It’s like one line but it sort of jumps at you.
82. Stahl: Yeah.
83. Marston: Yeah.
84. Stahl: That’s the Reality for a lot of People, that’s the only way they can survive.
85. Marston: And the. What is it, it’s a long name you have, with the Amphetamine mixed with America.
86. Stahl: Amphetamerica.
87. Marston: Amphetamine is the speed.
88. Stahl: Yes, it is. [Saved.]
89. Marston: The way you write about it it’s only if you become hooked on it-
90. Stahl: The best depiction I ever saw of Amphetamine, I don’t know if you ever saw the Hubert Selby movie, the movie of Requiem for a Dream, where the Mother in that Movie is a speedfreak. [Saved.] And. You never sleep, you start hallucinating and what you think becomes more real than your Reality, and that is kind of what happens. So for an author, for me there was an exploration of states of Mind, really.
91. Marston: Yeah.
92. Stahl: To get into that-
93. Marston: I have seen People asking doctors and dentists for a Prescription. My doctor is out of Town, can you just write this for me.
94. Stahl: Now when you say you’ve seen, you’ve been there or this was a friend of yours?
95. Marston: No.
96. Stahl: You know People who do. I won’t ask for names.
97. Marston: They’re all dead now.
98. Stahl: That worked out.
99. Marston: A producer asking, it happened to be my father, a dentist, so-and-so, who was a very famous writer and his doctor is out of Town-
100. Stahl: Yeah.
101. Marston: Will you ... Yeah.
102. Stahl: Well, I’ve done all that. [Saved.] I mean that’s what you do, you game as much you can, and writers are not the most stable People in the World, from what I’ve read so a lot of them are looking for a little something to get them through.
103. Marston: Yeah, and in this case, my Father was delighted. He said, “Well fine, oh he’s out of Town,” and he got an autograph of that man and it was. It worked.
104. Stahl: You’re not going to tell us who it is?
105. Marston: No, not at the moment.
106. Stahl: Fair enough.
107. Marston: Okay.
108. Stahl: I appreciate your discretion.
109. Marston: Yeah. The producer went on to be very famous even, but that’s how I guess Things do happen.
110. Stahl: That is how they happen, and People have all kind of ridiculous hustles to get their Drugs.
111. Marston: Yeah.
112. Stahl: My Grandmother lost her prescription, I’m here getting it for her. The Thing about junkies and speed freaks and Drug addicts, you have to be very creative. [Mnemotechnique] As Jim Carroll said, it’s the worst day Job in the World, being a Drug-addict.
113. Marston: It must be, because you’re awake every moment.
114. Stahl: Yes, and you’re always looking for that next hit. Even if you have a pile on the table in front of you, all you’re thinking about is when that table is empty.
115. Marston: Yeah. Well, that’s what’s in the story.
116. Stahl: Sure.
117. Marston: Yeah, and even when somebody took three, I forget who wrote it about taking three packets from the table.
118. Stahl: Yeah. It’s just the Nature of the beasts.
119. Marston: Are there new Drugs coming up?
120. Stahl: Yes, there apparently are. Now I got out of the scene before Oxycontin came by.
121. Marston: I mean that was-
122. Stahl: Rush Limbaugh - God bless him - he loves that, that was his Drug. Oxycontin.
123. Marston: Is he still on it?
124. Stahl: I have not talked to Rush about that, so you’d have to ask him.
125. Marston: Yeah.
126. Stahl: But I know he admittedly had a problem, I believe he did so much that he went deaf. That was a point I made in the book that when I was a kid, all the great junkies like Keith Richards, William Burroughs, Lenny Bruce, these were your heroes.
127. Marston: That was Cocaine, wasn’t it?
128. Stahl: That was Heroin.
129. Marston: Oh.
130. Stahl: But then you have Rush Limbaugh is now the Symbol of Opiate Addiction. I think he’s done a lot to stem the tide of Drugs because he is no young Person’s hero, nobody wants to grow up and do Drugs like Rush. So I think he’s helped keep People clean.
131. Marston: And yet there was the doctor for Michael Jackson. [Saved.]
132. Stahl: Yes, prescribing that very bizarre, that was an Anesthetic, I believe.
133. Marston: Yeah.
134. Stahl: Yeah. Never tried that, so that’s out there.
135. Marston: Okay.
136. Stahl: And now they have, I have a friend in New York - excuse me for interrupting because you’re talking about new Drugs - he gets, they have what they call, they have Popsicle, Morphine Popsicles if you have terminal Cancer and can’t swallow. So this is a very famous writer who I won’t name, walks down the Street with his lollipop or his Popsicle, there you have it.
137. Marston: In that case, somebody [asks], this is my Medicine.
138. Stahl: Well, it’s not his Medicine, but it’s Medicine, yeah.
139. Marston: What a strange World.
140. Stahl: Isn’t it?
141. Marston: Yeah, because you go back in Time, Drugs have always been there.
142. Stahl: Sure. We have the receptors in our head. Yeah.
143. Marston: Yeah.
144. Stahl: Do you find the World is getting stranger?
145. Marston: Oh, absolutely.
146. Stahl: You think so?
147. Marston: It’s getting warmer and the whales are having a problem, yes.
148. Stahl: Yes. Warmer and weirder.
149. Marston: Yeah. On the other hand, you can put yourself in a little square and say I’m going to sit here and read, and that’s all I’m going to do.
150. Stahl: Yes.
151. Marston: Yeah, what do you do with your Time?
152. Stahl: Well now I have an eight-month-old Child, so that takes up a lot-
153. Marston: Who’s gorgeous.
154. Stahl: Thank you so much. I just feel like. I’m on, it’s all gravy to me. I survived, I had Hepatitis-C, I was strung out. Had a lot of strikes against me, lot of People had it worse but I had some things to overcome, and I just feel now. I just write as much as I can.
155. Marston: How long ago was that?
156. Stahl: That I was strung out?
157. Marston: Yeah.
158. Stahl: It’s about 18 years since I put a Needle in my vein. Any findable vein.
159. Marston: Because I see you now and we did do a show before, on Permanent Midnight, and you were different, a healthier looking Person.
160. Stahl: I would hope so, yes.
161. Marston: Yeah.
162. Stahl: Permanent Midnight was tough, because when I wrote that book I relapsed while I was writing the book.
163. Marston: Yeah.
164. Stahl: So here I am, writing a book about getting off Heroin while I relapsed on Heroin. So the book was a lot rawer than it probably would’ve been, had I had all my Senses.
165. Marston: Yeah. Let’s talk about again, some of those stories in this book.
166. Stahl: Sure.
167. Marston: Of Bad Sex on Speed. It hasn’t been published yet.
168. Stahl: Couple more weeks.
169. Marston: Yeah. But the other part about it is speed, the Bad body odor, that that was also part of the stories here.
170. Stahl: Mm-hmm. Well, Drug-addicts are not known for their Hygiene.
171. Marston: Yeah.
172. Stahl: And particularly if you haven’t slept and Water burns your Skin.
173. Marston: Yeah.
174. Stahl: Which can happen when you’re on Amphetamines or Heroin, for that matter.
175. Marston: Love the story, ‘The Minder.’
176. Stahl: Ah.
177. Marston: Yeah. That’s that Public Relations Person who travels and makes sure everything’s in the room for the celebrity.
178. Stahl: Well, a minder these days is the Person who tries to keep the Person off Drugs.
179. Marston: Yeah.
180. Stahl: Which is a hellish Task. Some of my friends have that Job.
181. Marston: Yeah.
182. Stahl: And it’s tricky.
183. Marston: Locking them in the room and then they hate you.
184. Stahl: Yeah, you can’t win.
185. Marston: Yeah.
186. Stahl: They’re paying you to do something that makes them want to fire you.
187. Marston: And Smurf, all three Names for Drugs, all those strange Names People have.
188. Stahl: Well, Smurf is actually in the Amphetamine World. That is someone who goes to Pharmacies and tries to buy the cough Medicine from which the central ingredient for Meth-cookers is derived.
189. Marston: Yeah, and then they take it back and-
190. Stahl: They take it back and as a Reward, they get some Meth.
191. Marston: Okay. You don’t mention going to Mexico to get Drugs and what goes on down there.
192. Stahl: I do not. I probably should of, maybe that’ll be in Bad Sex 2.
193. Marston: Yeah.
194. Stahl: The Mexican edition.
195. Marston: Yeah, because that is where you see People disappear.
196. Stahl: That is absolutely true, it’s wild down there, but there are also those People who go to Tijuana, go to the Pharmacies and then come back with everything they can’t get here without a Prescription and hope they don’t get busted at the Border.
197. Marston: From your point of View, what do you think of these poor Souls that you’re that hung up again. Looking at the needing and doing anything they can to get it.
198. Stahl: I don’t judge anybody for doing that because most of the Time from my Experience, it’s a way to get through the day, it’s a way to block the Memories they can’t deal with, and until you can come out of it and get your head clean, as I always say, every year I stay off Drugs, I discover the real reason I was on them.
199. Marston: Yeah.
200. Stahl: So they’re absolutely poor Souls but-
201. Marston: When you say the real reason, analysis?
202. Stahl: Yes, your head clears a little more every year-
203. Marston: Yeah.
204. Stahl: You remember Feelings you had as a Child and Emotions that are uncomfortable and you never really had a way of dealing with them. I think we all have some version of that, but not everybody goes down that road.
205. Marston: Mm-hmm.
206. Stahl: Did you have a wonderful, Happy childhood?
207. Marston: Nobody does.
208. Stahl: Great answer, yeah.
209. Marston: The best was figure skating and I was alone on the ice, yeah.
210. Stahl: You like to be alone. On the ice.
211. Marston: Hello.
212. Stahl: Ah, fair enough. I hear everything you’re not saying.
213. Marston: Yeah.
214. Stahl: Yes.
215. Marston: Yeah. What do you read?
216. Stahl: I am really blown away by all the great writers these days.
217. Marston: Yeah.
218. Stahl: I was just reading Diaz’s book, This Is How You Lose Her, which I loved, Junot Diaz. I’m a big fan of Denis Johnson, I just read Nick Tosches’ new book.
219. Marston: Yeah.
220. Stahl: Devil in Me, and. I find that I don’t even Time to go back and read the books I love. There’s so many great new ones coming out.
221. Marston: Yeah. Well, that’s the Idea.
222. Stahl: It’s a great Problem to have.
223. Marston: To want to go back and re-read the classics even, and I said to you this is sort of the Russian, the dark edges.
224. Stahl: Sure.
225. Marston: Yeah, and whatever this-
226. Stahl: You like the dark edges?
227. Marston: I think I would be, it depends how dark. So that your story on Tonk, I really liked that.
228. Stahl: Thank you so much, I really appreciate that.
229. Marston: Yeah, because that Child being with this man who is cruel.
230. Stahl: Beyond cruel.
231. Marston: Yeah.
232. Stahl: Yes.
233. Marston: And she doesn’t quite say she’s been sexually molested and yet it’s the Fear of it, and the Mother who couldn’t care less. These are animals. Women who have Children when they are on Drugs are animals to me.
234. Stahl: What happens quite frequently is there is no Money, so not just women, I mean, People live with their Drug-dealers do what they have to do to get what they have to get, and when there’s a Child involved, it’s a Tragedy, absolutely.
235. Marston: But animal. You know, it’s interesting I just did a show with Christopher Lawford and he’s against Marijuana being legalised. He says it leads to stronger.
236. Stahl: That’s an Opinion.
237. Marston: Depends on the Person, yep.
238. Stahl: To me, it’s not really about the Drug so much as it is the legal system, which is so flawed that it’s punitive toward Minorities and putting a lot of People in Jail, and the People who are really against it are the Prison-guard Union because they don’t want the Jails to start emptying out, they’ll be out of Work.
239. Marston: That’s true, that’s true. Are you still teaching writing?
240. Stahl: Not so much, I haven’t in a while. Last Place I taught was at a juvenile hall, up in Sylmar with the Inside Out program. I’d work with violent offenders who are waiting to turn 18 and be sent off. I really miss it and I’m going to start again, probably in a few months.
241. Marston: The juvenile hall, the ones that have the kids whose parents are the criminals, but they’re not, those are the ones that your heart goes out to.
242. Stahl: Sure, sure.
243. Marston: Yeah.
244. Stahl: I mean, the stories you hear of living in a Neighbourhood where if your grandmother sent you out for milk, you had to cross the street and go into enemy, quote, unquote. Enemy gang territory, you’re getting shot so you have to shoot back to save yourself. You end up killing somebody, you’re in Jail at 15, that’s it, you never had a chance.
245. Marston: Yeah. Jerry, brilliant books, will you autograph them for me?
246. Stahl: It would be such an Honour. It’s always great being on this show, I really appreciate it.
247. Marston: Don’t make it so long for next Time.
248. Stahl: I’m working as fast as I can, Connie.
249. Marston: All right, meanwhile if you’d like to know what else we’ve been reading, visit me on the web at talks books at lycos[.com] or conniemartinson.com or visit us at YouTube, you’ll be able to see this show again in a few weeks and it allows you to go back and visit, or go to Claremont Graduate University Peter Drucker Insitute that is digitising all our programs. But support your local Library. Libraries are, above all else, our finest, democratic and healthy Institution in America. No matter what you do, you can go in, talk to that librarian, who in some ways is our unsung heroine or hero here in America. They are at the desk, they help anyone and you can also, if you’re having a Problem reading, friends of the library will help you learn to read and read better. Meanwhile, support it, we’ll see you next Time. Thank you, Jerry.
250. Stahl: Thank you, Connie.