And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks

Being dead has got to be a drag. Being dead and famous? Still a drag, but at least you impressed yourself into the wax of the world sufficiently to live on, if only in name, for a while longer. Being dead and a famous artist? That’s a whole other tank of hippos. It would seem if you achieve fame in your lifetime as an artist your fate after death is to have every awkward, stinking, aborted creative-effort dragged from the darkness of its banishment, tagged, and shoved under the bright lights. That thing you made whilst naked in the mountains, blindfolded, heartbroken, raving, high on poisonous toad-skin, which you set down in grasshopper blood on the back of a banana leaf… that thing which you awoke three days later to find wedged between a wet deer skull and your car’s front tire… if you were too weak to burn it then when you had the chance, that thing will be found and packaged, and your name will be emblazoned across it, and it will be sold. Yes indeed. It will be sold to someone, or anyone, or everyone with a jangling pile of coins burning a hole in their pocket.

The events which inspired
And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks certainly sound novel-worthy, complete with obsession, drunken knife-fights, murder, body dumping, and the incarceration of our intrepid beat luminaries. Surely its publication will have some redeeming value? Whether just for historians and completists and rubber-neckers, or as a work in and of itself, is yet to be seen.

I have to wonder what the artists themselves would think were they alive? Would they be embarrassed? Displeased? Would the fact that even their “undistinguished” works made it to a clamoring marketplace simply satisfy their egos and overrule their internal editors? Would they grin from their easy chairs unable to beat back the maniacal words, “I am legend”?

My “not very distinguished” mock-up of the UK edition.

Letting “unsuccessful” works linger in drawers and boxes under beds is a weakness for most artists I’d say, but then, when they are your creations, even abortive ones, abhorrent ones, embarrassing ones, and your intention is to mournfully review them every decade or so as you would review old correspondences or family photographs, they retain a definite personal value. A personal value.

After Henry Miller’s death Moloch and Crazy Cock came to light, neither of which were sterling examples of his incredible talent , likewise Bukowski has had damn near as many books of poetry published since his death as before. At what point does the pile of “not ready for prime time” work of an artist begin to tarnish his or her legacy? Does it ever? Is our insatiable desire to know everything about those we’ve immortalized self-defeating? And are we actually entitled to see the things artists didn’t want to have seen? It may well be that we afford our idols more “personal space” physically, after their deaths, than we do metaphorically. 

It’s a moot point I guess. There’s money to be made and industry marches on. And perhaps, just perhaps, the rationalization that even a turd from a master is better than nothing is true. One thing we can be sure of is that neither Jack, nor William, nor Henry, Nor Buk give a good god-damn either way right now, and we can take heart in the fact that while they lived, their art was their own.

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03.04. filed under: art. books. observations. people.

Not a photograph of Paul Thek’s Hippopotomus Poison for the backdrop?

posted on 03.04 at 01:15 PMdan visel

Though I am excited and intrigued by this discovery, I cannot help but agree with you regarding the quality of work published under the legacy of accomplished authors-especially because publishing companies can use a name to market and capitalize on the “name” or legacy of an author, instead of respecting that individual’s opinion regarding the quality and or talent he or she believed existed or lacked in a work. Writers and artists alike create masterpieces which they naturally wish to expose to the greater public. However, espeically concerning Burroughs, the pressure to publish (and or create) valuable works, which may or may not reflect the talent and or accomplishments of the author, (depending on how atune the audience is to these subtle concepts) can be quite frustrating. It would be interesting to hear Burrough’s reaction to the publication of the book, however, because it was published after both of the authors’s death, we should assume that the two individuals, were perhaps inclined to divert it from the masses hands.

And I do agree, Charles Bukowski has many published novels and collections of poetry that often it becomes a question of commitment or loyalty to the author for the reader becase they must sift through the enormous hodgepodge of material in order to feel a supposed real connection to the author. However, I do feel that Bukowski’s poetry, espeically the ramblings of his later life, contain a voice of reason and perhaps explaination which can help a novice reader piece together the sparatic, complusive nature of his expressions-or rather, those later poems help to connect the subtle tenor or persona which emerges from within the context of such a massive collection. I have an admiration for Bukowski, but I believe the people who published all of his work have exploited and, to an extent, weakened the strength of his verbal poetics and prose. Furthermore, the producers and writer for the awful movie “Factotum” obviously weren’t versed in other works of Bukowski. It was as if they read the novel believing it to be his “masterpiece” and they were unfortunately, grossly mistaken.

Ultimately the audience will determine whom they consider worthy of the “genius” title, and I suppose it is the author’s humble duty (if alive) to accept or decline the invitation to be expressively successfully in an artistic endeavour. For myself, the pressure of greatness (or rather talent) would be enough to take to the stars and shy from the lime light of success and fame…

posted on 03.04 at 06:00 PM.

I liked your post and as far as burroughs wanting this 1945 piece out,  he had a long time to think about it. Didnt happen.

I write music and songs and even though they’re all my “babies,” there’s some that will never see the light of day, cuz they suck. But there’s “something” I like in all of them…and I think it’s pert neared impossible to not repeat yourself.

Exploitation? Maybe, but with a killer title.

posted on 03.05 at 12:53 AM.

@Monique & Mickey: Thanks for the thoughtful comments, and welcome.

@Dan: You want Hippo poison? You Got It. If you look closely into the bottom hippos eye you’ll see this piece reflected in miniature, appearing backward as a comment on the socio-politi… just kidding.

posted on 03.05 at 08:57 AMjmorrison

Bravo, and well stated - and now what to do with the contents of so many useless boxes and journal scribbles…But wait, I don’t have to worry I am not famous; yet…

posted on 03.05 at 11:07 AMPoetman

Wait, Kerouac achieved talent? (haha, I jest)

You maybe read where I wrote about this that time with regard to Elliott Smith’s posthumous releases. Plus Jeff Buckley plus a bajillion other artists. It makes me pretty uncomfortable, but whenever I voice it people don’t seem to understand my concern. It’s all “part of the deal.”

Saying that, I was reading recently about what a flop Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks was in its first decade, and only later people realised what an important record it was. Entirely different, of course, since he actually released the album in the first place. But it’s worth noting that not all art is appreciated in its time, and pulling it out 50, 100 years later may sometimes be necessary to give it the audience it needs.

I don’t suspect that’s really the case here though.

posted on 03.06 at 08:25 AMPierce

..just dip your toe into the publishing industry for a flailing moment and you will find the pressure to sell and repackage and resell is infinitely more valuable than the artist’s musings ever were. Generally, note the type size of the impish title vs the overbearing helvetica condensed black 200 pt type of the author’s name on most notable books.

posted on 03.15 at 11:14 PM.

Just found your blog and am enjoying it immensely.

Being a book designer, and having worked with the big bad boys of publishing in New York (I now freelance from floaty SoCal) I can attest to their craven greed-lust in hocking every last cocktail napkin that anyone “famous” ever drooled upon. I came to publishing with my ideals intact about the nobility of literature and the written word and was quickly shaken from the reverie - smacked around and forced to add “bursts” and “invaders” to my jacket designs to please the sales staff over at Barnes & Noble.

So ain’t no surprise that they trotted this out, but it is interesting that it took them this long.

posted on 05.12 at 03:26 PM.

Thanks for your post!!!
Your ideas ang thoughts are worthy.
Keep up!

posted on 08.27 at 04:39 AMDen D

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