in Old London Town
Monday afternoon in Soho, London.
for the 'Groucho club', a fading 21st Century Frank & Musso's.
for Dan Fante, author, survivor and second son of John.
was a writer. In my opinion, one of the truest that ever wrote. He's written
lines that make you stop right there, place the book on your chest, and
say 'Fuck' to an empty room.... some of John Fante's lines have brought
me closer to the essence of true beauty.
by God... you know that...
so, I've met the essence but not the man.
forge a tangible link with one of my heroes, through his son. Someone
who will turn out to be a strikingly rare and real man in himself. I don't
use that term; 'man' often. maybe you'll see what I mean later...
now I'm late... dying for a drink...I don't want to fuck the guy about..
this place... looks like the reception of some evil skyscraper... maybe
it's here... smells like Keith Allen...
a lot of good pubs in Soho and Dan Fante hasn't been to any of 'em.
hasn't drunk for 14 years, which is 6 years longer than I have been drinking...
I'm having large Scotch and Coke, Dan's having soda with a twist. The
pub is the 'French House', a place that's survived while it's most famous
patrons have died... (Francis Bacon, Jeffrey Bernard)...
Dan is slightly
distant and very polite, largely avoiding eye contact.
has an almost 'Hollywood' sheen to it. I mean... he looks like someone
playing 'Dan Fante'. Something of the Bulldog about him... White Hair
cropped, he appears youthful rather than young... this is accentuated
by the stud in the left nostril.
in the middle of a promotional tour for his latest (second) novel; 'Mooch'.
For all he knows, I'm some just some young hack, with nothing but brief
notes from the editor as prior knowledge of him and his legacy. He isn't
aware, yet of the deep and profound Love I have for his Father's work...
I've read it all, the recent Biography included. I've also read Dan's
first published novel; 'Chump Change'. Maybe you're familiar with it.
It'd make a good film. It's grotesquely readable, full of quiet horror
and broad melancholy. It falls short of a 'masterpiece', in my opinion
but the seeds are there. I can't help comparing it to his dad's stuff...
c'mon... but we'll get to John later, I hope.
When my scotch has kicked in.
I feel good
and loose now and Dan has opened up too...
He has one
of the realest faces I've ever seen.
it that said 'by the time he is fifty, a man has the face he deserves'?
Dan looks like he's lived a tough life but a life that was his own...
through the usual subjects; coke abuse, downer abuse, sawn off baseball
bats, crack and anal sex, booze, of course... how all of the afore mentioned
seem to go so well together...
I turn the
tape recorder on around my third double.
We are talking
about limo driving in the early/mid seventies..(later Dan tells me that
he drove Bowie in this period..imagine those two fuck-ups in the same
car! beautiful!) as you do...
I didn't have a life, if I wasn't driving a limo, I was drunk at home...
I was in and out of marriages, relationships... living in a real dump...
my boss knew that... after several warnings I stopped drinking while I
was working. I was working a 78 hour week and wearing suits that were
so stiff, they stood up on their own... My boss said..(an' he lived to
regret it)... he said 'let's open a limo service in LA, together, 50/50'...so
I opened this Limousine company with this bitch who had a propensity for
a drug called 'black beauties'... pure meth speed...'
to the tape in retrospect, it strikes me that when Dan drawls the words;'
black beauties', it is, actually, Iggy Pop speaking.
was hitting the mood wizards himself at this point...
something about mixing uppers and downers with inbetweens. Try it. It'll
stop you doing anything and make you not mind at all. You'll feel like
you're doing... everything. And nothing. You've never felt so good about
doggypaddling/sleepwalking. Heh... It'll also take you into other spheres...
the cassette is taken up at this point of talk of Crabs, (genital), celibacy,
wearing your best friends Jeans, whilst not wearing pants... (it improves
the Sperm count)... oh, all sorts. But what of writing?
I.. We.. Oh..not now.... Now we must speak of Ron Jeremy, international
porn star... Nurjev of the pop-shot... oh go on... be annoyed if you like...
you fuck... it's not often I come here, now.
count from fifteen to one... and he will come'... Dan has seen the guy
in action. On film. I think... 'He will come. To order. Absolutely on
request'. We talk some more... Ron is obese now, apparently. (I wonder
how Peter North is looking)?... We reach our own conclusion on the subject.
'we digress' drawls Dan. Yes. Nice diversion, though... considering the
Scotch is making my Blood hum...
point it strikes me; Dan is one of those wonderful people who has been
as high as you like in his time and yet isn't freaked out by the intoxication
of others... even though that's a route he's forgone.
anyway, for sure.
I ask Dan
if he still frequents bars and pubs...
I mean, it depends... I hang out with actors 'cos I've got this play going
on...('The Boiler Room') this is the play that Ran in LA for two years.
The LA times named it as one of the best plays of '98. Now we finally
got the money together to take it to New York. I don't mind going to bars...'
reason, at this point we start talking about the elderly having sex for
the last time. The point is, are they aware at the time that 'this is
the the last time'? I guess it's to do with the fact that Dan doesn't
drink and I'm getting at how tough it must be to say 'This is the last
happen like that', Dan tells me. He speaks with the unaffected tone of
experience. 'You take it a day at a time'.
prorates.. .too. Sex was my top priority for a long time. Now the top
priority is my work. The second is staying sober.
I haven't read Mooch. Dan's second novel. Haven't seen it anywhere. I want to read it.
read Chump change, of course..."
"Mooch is the sequel", Dan tells me.
I'm surprised at this... to me, 'Chump change' seems so complete. As the book ends, it ends pretty surely, a chapter ending on a life. "it's a pretty definitive ending" I venture, lamely.
bar old queens gossip. Rain is falling on old London town. But there's
Scotch a plenty. My glass is full. What a wonderful pub this is. What
great company, too. I go on, (and on):
course... it was you're old man's work that brought me to 'Chump Change'."
is wandering. I'm thinking of the hands of Nick Fante, John's old man.
Brick laying in the snow. And how, on finishing 'Brotherhood of the Grape'
I phoned my Ma.
sure there's no Italian in our family'?
Welsh and Irish. How dull. Didn't I feel the same after watching 'Godfather'?
This is the effectJohn
Fante's work has on you. Early Scorcese too... Marlon... a fine actor.
Big hands. Yes, He had big hands too... Like Nick Fante. Stout papa...
(hang on..weren't the stone mason's hands stubby and tough)?
us back to earth. Lord, I ain't no interviewer.
Iggy twang again, reeling me in; "I should ask you, really... or
you should ask me... the styles (of John and Dan Fante), are very similar
except the context is very different'
disagree but am not sure exactly why.
I sip the
Scotch delicate, like. Then order another.
wrote in a different style, it seems to me... I mean The Road to Los Angeles
was so different to the majority of his work.' (in fact, the atmosphere
of this, subtly psychotic, is aped mucho in Brett Easton Ellis' 'American
Psycho'... ) and then there was 'Wait Until Spring Bandini' (You know,
there's a Scott Walker song by the same name, minus 'Bandini')... which
was written so consummately from the child's point of view... by consummate,
I mean this book asked and answered the same question in however many
pages... it was a 300 page poem to me..'
his style... there's a fluidity that he managed around that time... it's
interesting in that he wrote 'Wait Until Spring' before 'Ask The Dust'...
'Bandini'... in structure it has a beginning an an end... 'Ask The Dust'
does not. It rushes for a hundred pages and then falls off... it's choppy.
The first hundred pages are jerky and choppy... it's written by a guy
who is forcing his writing... I mean, I knew my old man... and then he
hits about page one hundred and it just flows. So, there are two styles...
if you ever read it again... read the beginning and the first hundred
pages are hard and then it reaches a point where it just begins to flow...
and it cuts loose, and it's uneven... but it's brilliant'
I must admit,
I hadn't noticed his pacing. The book for me is a seamless beauty. I hadn't
jarred upon such differing rhythms; 'Maybe it takes a writer to notice
that' I ask.
know, it had such an impression on me when I read it. I was twelve years
old... 'Ask The Dust' was the only novel he wrote where he actually confronted
his feelings openly and dealt with what was really going on with him...
his gut-level aspirations. The detestation. And he really dealt with that'.
that I use is the same edge of that protagonist in my writing.
something I did consciously... I always just wrote what I had to write.
My father became a quite literary writer. His prose is just... beautiful...
and... well... he was a powerful presence... a real raconteur...'
outwritten Dan, in terms of published works... eleven (not including the
collected letters) to two at this point. I've wallowed in all of John's
prose... And, of Dan's I'd only read 'Chump Change'. I'd anticipated the
possibility that Dan may have felt threatened by his father's reputation,
overshadowed, dominated... and that he wouldn't want to discuss the work
of his old man... not now, when at last, deprived of the monsoon of booze
and drugs, his own work was at last in bloom. But no. That's not the case
And I think this is a real compliment to Fante Junior's integrity and
relation or not... imagine meeting and relating to a writer that didn't
appreciate the mastery and majestry of John Fante's work?
the scene in 'Chump Change' where Bruno (Dan) goes into the City Lights
bookshop and can't even afford his father's book.
thing about that book, Anthony, is that it really is the consummate novel
of somebody so self conscious and driven by their demons and being honest
about... I mean, think about it... 1937... it was so un literary to write
a book like that. I mean, it's contemporaries were 'Grapes of Wrath' and
'For Whom The Bell Tolls'. I mean, there's nothing wrong with that shit...
but compared to a guy writing first person narrative in 1937? It was very
unpopular... and it was a great book. Just a great book. Completely singular
in it's vision and unlike anything else of it's time.'
fall on distant planets, in Alaska, a movie ends in a shabby theatre...
somewhere in Asia, the Messiah is born.
I remember what I need to say; "For me the best works are a universe
to themselves. You enter their world and then leave. They are...that word
again..consummate. Also, I've read Steinbeck and Hemingway and those guys...
and of course, they are good... but there's no Blood...'
an idea of Blood and there's a representation of Blood... but... it's
interesting, just today I was cramming, re-reading a lot of John's stuff,
'cos I didn't want to make an idiot of myself tonight..."
you'll be fine... you've just gotta'...
up and not puke... haww..."
is a John Fante night at Borders Bookshop, Oxford Street, London. Dan
and I are 'hosting' it).
I should just show up and puke!"
I lose my
train of thought and start to think about the hands of Nick Fante.
rain has eased off. An afternoon lull has settled on the French House.
Twilight time between the Oasis of the lunchtime pint and the after work
blitz. A good few hours before we take 'stage' at Borders.
of Jeffrey Bernard, Dan'?
o'him... wasn't he one of your English drinkers'?
Then suggest we visit the late Jeff's favourite oasis. The Coach and Horses.
A few yards away and a wonderful pub.
We are soon
there. I forget that Dan isn't drinking. He seems to be going along with
it all, at my pace. We talk of Catholic guilt, the shame of robbing one's
own money box, penance... I mention Ted Hughes... Dan's heard the name
but it means little. I ponder on the rare collision of Artists worlds.
How frreaky it was for the Beatles to meet up with Elvis. Freakier that
there's no photo's of this mythical meeting.
in the hospital ward where John Fante lay dying.
first time I've heard it, but Dan says... 'Bukowski was a gentlemen. Real
Coach and Horses. A place where I once saw legendary landlord; 'Norman'
throw someone out for being 'too boring'. It's here that the maudlin drunk
act kicks in... (usually a precursor to the raging-drunk thing)... I'm
bemoaning to Dan the obscurity of an audience for what I do... and..also...
though in a different league and realativeley speaking for what he does...
for what John did...
once said to my father...after he wrote 'Dreams from Bunker Hill'... 'What
is this...? What are you doing? This is so uncommercial. Look at this
stuff... I said it tactfully or he would have bit my head off... I said
'Pop, this is a story about an old man dying from diabetes and alcoholsim
up in the hills of Calafornia. Who is gonna' read this?... He said 'That's
not my business. My business is to write it and it will find it's audience
if it's good.'
'Chump Change' and 'Mooch' fit into this?
are so uncommercial in their appeal... but if a work is true and clear...
if it expresses you... it's gonna' change somebody... it's gonna' change
their life... people have visceral reaction... people will react not in
an intellectual way... but in a... in a... a... soul way'
said it. Fante... soul music of the printed page.
I pass on a quote I picked up recently, regarding Henry Miller from the
'Odessey' film... It's where Anis Nin recounts a letter written to her
where someone wrote her; 'Henry Miller's last book... Man... it re-arranged...
In the Coach
and horses, London, Soho, on a Monday afternoon, Dan Fante slaps his Palm
against the wooden table in approval:
back man... I gotta' get a call from my publisher'.
tape has ended now.... what follows is a re-visit to the Groucho... I
stumble through 'Mooch' in the Bar as Dan deals with whatever up in the
hotel room... an hour passes... we are in a black cab... the ice singing
in my latest large Scotch as we sail the short distance up to Oxford Street
through the Christmas light - bollocks London night...
there... at the table... Jane, the sweetest events manager Border's ever
had... (she has invited and tolerated my presence at recent and previous
Bukowski and Jacques nights...) sits us down... arranges wine... becalms
us... (the place fills up... a good crowd... so that's what Fante readers
look like... a young bunch.) Off we go.... Red-wine has replaced the Scotch...
I read a few Bukowksi pieces; poems about John and letters to John Martin
where Bukowski speaks of the effect of John's work on himself... and the
world.... Dan reads the opening paragraph of 'Mooch'..it's scatter-shotgun
brutal and funny... the delivery pumping the words out as one imagines
they were written-black bullet holes appearing in space.... as funny and
relentless as their writer.
I read a
piece from 'Brotherhood of the Grape'... 'One of the main reasons I like
this stuff is 'cos it's funny. And this is a funny passage'.
and no-one laughs. The booze has screwed my timing and the audience have
taken on the appearance of stuffed animals... a red-faced Goon in the
front row tells me that 'You think everything's funny'...
looks embarrassed or like he's just come...
red face doesn't amuse me...'
the hell did that come from'?
this slurp of fun, the reading goes well... the audience are respectful
and appreciative if a little London like (reserved)...(at one point I
single out a bright looking guy - 'Any questions? You... why do you enjoy
Fante'? His reply is the tone of the audience; 'Uhh, I'll think of something,
uh...later... maybe'? Good grief).
Dan signs copies of 'Mooch' for what seems like every audience member...
(I get this book a week later... it's funnier and deeper than Dan's debut...
leaves you with a sense of loss once you've finished it... you miss the
characters... come home disappointed to find the book closed, once you've
read it... it would make a great Film... if that's a compliment now...
the third in this trilogy will be the masterpiece).
to a near-by Bar... Dan, myself and two friends of mine.... whom I initially
and mischeviously introduce to Dan as 'two Groupies'- his response is
to say nothing, tilt his head and flick an eyebrow upwards momenterialy)...
our seats... Dan's attitude seems to mellow slightly, now that we're in
the presence of females... something of the old school gentlemen is suddenley
about him. The bulldog is Charming and gracious... he suddenley appears
somehow exotic in this light... there are four of us at this table...
but I sense the presence of John and Nick... through the bottom of my
Glass... through the prisim of Dan Fante's authenticity... whatever that
may mean now...
to my left, suitably forthright and noticing the 'Soda with a twist' that
Dan is cradling... asks how and when he gave up the Booze...
I had a... a... conversion of sorts... I'd reached a nadir... with the
drinking and what have you... shooting out the mirrors in my Hollywood
apartment with a Magnum... I reached a trough and I had a... a sudden
knew... in a moment... that everything was gonna' be alright'...
Let the next round begin.