Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Cult of Personality: Charlie Sheen, Layne Staley, Tiger Blood In Our Veins

The past day I've been on a jag about reality art. Well, I've been on about it for a lot longer than that, but I've been tracking down a particular pattern the past few days. So check it out.

Maybe it began from working on Clark the past few months. The levels of fiction within reality within fiction with that project are getting downright absurd, to the point that I don't think I could coherently explain it. (Which is alright, since I haven't coherently explained anything since 95 when that kid gave me this tab of paper and asked me if I wanted to "take a ride." No clue how I would fit on a piece of paper that small but...)

Here's the second episode of Clark. There were 8 in season one so if you like it, watch the other ones before we revamp them in surround sound and work Jabba the hut into the background of every scene so we can say it was "DIGITALLY REMASTERED." Cause so far it wasn't "mastered" at all. (As Kool Keith sagely said, "I get real raw. Change arrangements on your face.")

But maybe it was also watching I'm Still Here. Maybe it was the realization I've had for years that there are layers within layers when it comes to persona, especially when it is embodied in media, and those that know how to dance between the layers are the real enigmas, manifesting the trickster archetype of our times. We think of Andy Kaufman. We think of Hunter S Thompson, or maybe Crispin Glover. Ego, in its classical rather than common sense, is more or less unchanging. The "feeling" of being me, the eye that perceives me, seems more or less the same now as it did back in 95. Persona, though? That's as mutable as the contexts we are immersed in. And media, like myth, adds halls of mirrors.

There are many other versions of these tragicomedies that are less self-apparent than Kauffman or Hunter. For instance, there was the seemingly sudden explosion of "grunge" music into the mainstream, an explosion which carried all of these misfit outsider artists into the limelight, so they could dance like puppets on David Letterman.  (Who has either been gaffed by almost every single trickster I mentioned above - for example - or who has secretly orchestrated quite a few reality-art pieces. I'm guessing the latter, either way it's the gap-toothed douchebag act that he pulls off so well whenever a guest does something unexpected that makes it work. "David Letterman, meet Clark!")

Grunge "Fashion"
It's not like they wore flannel originally to be stylish. It was cold, they were broke as fuck, and junk is expensive. The things that made grunge "cool" was how raw and outsider it was, though of course as usual the moment it became marketable, the end was nigh. It was surreal for me, even back in the 90s when I was a wee lad, I felt some kind of unease, an inkling of the surreal, seeing a heroin-infused, already nearly skeletal Layne Staley openly singing one of his suicide notes on MTV award shows and late night broadcast television. Kurt Cobain was the same story, and I'm not sure how different the core myth is from Janice, or Hendrix, or Morrison, or... So my thing is, when these guys are playing through networks of corporate shills, does no one listen to lyrics? Of course not, they know what they're into. I'm not saying that anyone could have gone out there and said, "So uh. Hey Layne...all this talk about blowing your brains out and shooting heroin, I guess you're not feeling so good, huh?" Or if they did, that it'd create his "come to Jesus moment." Like, "Wow! I guess you're right. I've been pretty depressed, huh? And you're all feeding off of it!"

No. No one is going to say that. And in a culture where we are spending billions on a war on drugs with one hand, with the other, we're shilling Junkhead which gets about as explicit as you possibly can. (Remember the days when Jim Morrison caused a stir by saying "higher" on the Ed Sullivan show? Me either.)

I mean, I'm all for legalizing many drugs for a variety of reasons, I'm just saying that our cultural hypocrocy is palapable. Always look to the bottom line. Who does the war on drugs benefit? And who does the idolization of outsider-drug-culture-rock-star myth benefit?

The so-called "majors" saw an opportunity to market to disaffected youth through the voices of some other disaffected youth, and fuck the body count. Which is the least of the issue in regard to corporate interest, as we've discussed on this blog many times before. I'm certainly not trying to moralize. It is only inevitable that some talented and some truly insane or tragically scarred individuals would try to play hopscotch into the public mind. For some of us, it might be our only ticket to a brief moment of "living the dream" before we've got to pay the toll. As I've said before, in the end the mob will only be satisfied to see your bloody sacrifice. But first, for a time, you can be King For A Day. You know the deal: today, virgins and feasts. All the kids can project their angst and suffering on you. Tomorrow, the volcano will have you, and they can grow up and get to work.
(Shortly after writing this, Alice In Chains bassist Mike Starr died.)

There's a train-wreck in effect right now that brings this to light. Yeah, you've probably heard about it.

Charlie Sheen's brilliantly insane rants on national TV are making Tom Cruise's couch hopping seem like light calisthenics, and Mel Gibson just seems like a bellicose retard by comparison. I normally could give a damn about pop or mainstream culture, and the tabloids are clearly bastions of high-order thinking, but I can't take my eyes off this particular train wreck, though it's not quite like rubbernecking at an accident.

No, it's simply because it is making me laugh so hard that I'm crying. Maybe I'm just a cruel hearted asshole, but the lines this guy is dropping are almost as good as the ones he's been snorting up his nose.

I always thought Charlie Sheen was a no-talent hack riding the coattails of his father, who is by all rights an incredibly talented - and multifaceted - actor. I honestly never gave him much thought. Now I'm beginning to wonder if he just missed his calling: he's been trying to do mainstream sit com schlock when he should be doing Gonzomentary improv. Finally he is heeding that creative calling, to be the jester-lunatic- now that he's got the platform to leverage. And watch us sacrifice him on the altar when his time comes. (Not that he's not sticking his own head on the block and screaming "DO IT!" Joaquin Phoenix or River Phoenix? We'll see...)

"It's not available because if you try it you will die.
Your face will melt off and your children
will weep over your exploded body."
I realize that you might think that "no, the guy is a batshit insane egomaniac and the media vultures are swooping in as they do." And you'd probably be right. But consider the amount of free press he's getting, the fact he is, at least in his potentially delusional mind, calling the shots on how much he'll accept to resume shooting. Seriously, if he actually gets 3 mill an episode  for this stunt, I'm calling him a genius. You can call him tragic, even pathetic. Maybe. Was Layne tragic and pathetic? Maybe so, but his obvious passion, before his body could no longer sustain much of anything, makes us feel hesitant to say so. When they found his body he weighed 85 pounds. He was 6'1". We watched him sing his guts out, we lived vicariously through his torment, and then shook our heads and said "what a shame" when he became a recluse and withered away in a dark hole. There wasn't a single part of Dirt that wasn't "prophetic" for him, and that term deserves broad finger quotes since it seemed more like merely a pronounciation of the facts of his psychological state. (The only question mark is how much of the lyrical and musical content actually came from Jerry Cantrell.) What was his entire musical career aside from a really long, drawn out suicide note?

We got to watch every single step, except for the final, darkest chapter of them all where, by accounts, he hid, lived on a diet of hard drugs, and fell to pieces in ways that call to mind what is a bit heavy-handed moralizing in its way, Aaronofsky's Requiem For A Dream.

Get tiger blood and Adonis DNA and
meet me out back in 15 minutes.
Back to Charlie Sheen. Consider the sheer lunatic genius of everything the guy has been spouting since he went off script and by all accounts completely lost his mind. "How will I stay sober? I just won't do it. I will not believe that if I do something then I have to follow a certain path because it was written, it was written for normal people, people that aren't special, people that don't have tiger blood and Adonis DNA." This could have come out of the script for a mockumentary about method actors like Tropic Thunder. Hell, it could have come out of our gonzomentary, Clark. But no, it's coming out of this guy, off the top of his head.

Ladies and gentlement, the lid has come off. Either off his skull, or the myth that media is reality. It's hard to say. "We're definitely at war. The war is they're trying to destroy my family and I take great umbrage with that. Defeat is not an option. They picked a fight with a warlock," says Sheen. Indeed, Charlie.  Bring some of your potent vril forces. Unleash that brain which has a potence "not of terrestrial origin." (I'm serious, that's a quote.) Check this out. I too want to love my rock star life violently. Grip it with both hands, and. What is he implying? Ass-fucking his own ego without lube? It's hard to say, at times. Though if you really need help in comprehending his lexicon, there is a growing online guide which may help you start. Also, as if that wasn't enough, this rap piece just showed up that quite frankly blew me away. This guy has chops.

In other interviews he's said, "I'm tired of pretending like I'm not special. I'm tired of pretending like I'm not bitching, a total fricking rock star from Mars, and people can't figure me out; they can't process me. I don't expect them to. You can't process me with a normal brain." I'll tell you what: If I made 2 mill an episode, I'd be a tiger-blooded warlock from Mars too.

Straight up. I mean, I am a tiger blooded warlock from mars. But I'm not going to say that on national television unless I get that kind of payment off the front and backend, nor would the national news media give a fuck if I said it. I mean, I just did. So far, I haven't gotten any calls from CNN. You see my point.

To end let's take a look where this media circus began... would you believe it... Alex Jones. Who is, check it out, tying his 9-11 truth narrative right into Charlie Sheen's narrative with this story.

If I was concocting an SEO-charged, subversive ad and media campaign, this is exactly how I would go about it. But of course, this is reality, right guys? Not fiction. This is the really real world. (There's another 90's "alt culture" reference for you.) One thing he got right, "There ain't no comin' back."

By the way, I really wanted to get a comment from Joaquin Pheonix and Crispin Glover about this whole thing, but unfortunately Comcast is having a "service outage" in our area, and I'm going to want to run it STAT as soon as we get our Internet back. So I guess we'll have to get their perspective on the matter at a later date.

Oh. Also. Check this shit. And then get yourself an enormous dose of "Charlie Sheen" and melt your face off as your children weep over your exploded body.

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.


  1. wow, i really really needed this. all the artists i used to know in san francisco have committed suicide or been evicted, and who's left is just laughing at him.

    it's sent me into yet another existential tail spin, right on the heels of my friend's gang rape. something's "off" EVERYWHERE, but as you say, everyone's pretending it's business as usual.

    i'm still ruminating...

    so glad i can read you.

  2. I hate to say it but underneath this, you know focusing on the "public eye" mass media stuff-- I also have been watching my old crew disappear and drop like flies, I've seen them go so mad that the brilliance that used to be in there is just fucking gone, like that cheesy Pantera song, and I've known more and more artists -- some of them my good friends -- that are so close to the edge right now that if I get the call "s/he's dead," I wouldn't even be surprised.

    And, not that I'm planning anything, but if someone was getting the call about me-- I doubt they'd be especially surprised, too.

    Anyway... subscribe to the blog if you don't already, check out the books, whatever. For as long as I can crank out content I will. And I don't mean to be melodramatic or anything but, you know. I'm an artist. I can't fucking help it. :)

  3. "melodrama"..(smile)... me, too. but that's my every day. and sometimes, most times, i'm embarrassed or ashamed that i care so much.
    but the older i get the more rare it is that i DO care, so i am learning to not give a fuck and sob over a charlie sheen disemboweling if i want to. i look at the non-plussed people and they're dead, with a constant IV drip of "not-giving-a-fuck" pharmaceuticals and i hurry to FEEL even more. so thank you for sitting on the same stoop.

    i SO know what you mean about artists being "gone" all the sudden. the edgiest gays who got me on my artistic start are all dead of AIDS and things just seemed to get crappy after that without their influence.

    i'm still here on my block, but white knuckling it as the landlords have evicted all the other artists on this block long ago.

    i get scared that no one else sees how bad things are getting. when you lose your mind, your freedom to think, or your ability to have expansive visions, you're truly fucked.

    and i'm so sad that we've lost so much. it's hard to get back. i was just on tour and saw/heard a lot of despair, but few have the energy or the will to just show up and do something with others to get out of it.

    just like motorcycling changed and got super scary when everyone was hurrying in big SUVs and cell phones, it will be the same with art.

    it takes a certain amount of chutzpah and insanity to THINK you can even make a difference. it takes near-death insanity to make anyone fight back.

    i know nothing. it's bigger than charlie sheen. it's the dead look in the porn stars at his house. it's death everywhere when it doesn't have to fucking BE this way.

    i have no answer. i only know that it's enough that a few of us get this shit.

  4. the bit about the corporates marketing disaffected youth regardless of the body count struck a cord man. At what point does personal accountability enter the picture? Were the disaffected youth being marketed to brainwashed by the music they were sold?-not likely and you know it. How about encouraging ppl to think critically and question the content of the music they enjoy? because the other solution to the problem you bring up with "corporates causing body counts" is censorship.

  5. I don't propose a "solution."

    At least, certainly not here. I have put a lot of thought into the marketing of "counter-culture." The original version of an article I wrote about that ran in 2007 here:

    (Sorry the image links are all broken- when there was a server change in like late 2008 or so all the earlier articles lost their images and it would be literally hundreds of pieces we ran to fix... so. Life moves on.)

    But there's an updated version running in The Immanence of Myth as part of a longer series.

    And even then, there's no singular answer. It's not about accountability and finger pointing like "who is to blame?" It's about pointing out myths and trends in action because one thing I have noticed: "brainwashing" is a bullshit term. You have to meet it halfway for it to work, but one way to meet it halfway, to give your complicit acceptance rather than explicit, is to be ignorant to what's going on.

    Otherwise, as we say in Clark, quoting Divine: "Shoot Your Shot."

  6. Got a link to this post off twitter after I announced:

    "America is sitting around jerking off to Charlie Sheen, tuned into his trainwreck & 'admiring' his hedonism because they starving for hedonism & don't realize you can enjoy hedonism respectfully & responsibly. America thinks you have to choose between being a responsible citizen or a wild hedonist. I'm proof you can be both. Look at me."

    Thank you for this brilliant piece, I hope it's viral! Just posted it on fb



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