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review 2016-04-04 17:21
A Series Of Pained Facial Expressions Made While Shredding Air Guitar by Brian Alan Ellis
A Series of Pained Facial Expressions Made While Shredding Air Guitar: Poems, Observations, Lists, Letters, Notes, Bullshit Aphorisms, and General Tales of Ordinary Crabbiness - Brian Alan Ellis

I´m now the proud owner of four Brian Alan Ellis books, which is extremely awkward, but as it is, I start to like this fool.

With A Series Of Pained Facial Expressions Made While Shredding Air Guitar: Poems, Observations, Lists, Letters, Notes, Bullshit Aphorisms, and General Tales of Ordinary Crabbiness BAE has written his own 12 step AA (Author´s Anxiety) program.

Now if you expect some traditional story telling with a beginning, middle part and an ending, move on, wrong book. He delivers exactly what the subtitle (and the book description) promises.

A long series of Twitticism, interrupted from movie talk with his buddy and fellow author Bud Smith plus a lot of self-pity and randomness told in his typical ironical way. What BAE does is breaking boundaries between confession, satire, fiction and those fleeting moments of clarity where one realizes one has to move from the couch coz the cats are puking in the other room. It is a deconstruction between paranoia and parody at the intersection of fiction and reality without some hackneyed aesthetic, which is rather ambitious to do. A least he doesn´t write chick lit with an edge.

Books are like people: there are too many and most are garbage but we keep producing them because maybe a really amazing one will turn up though it’s doubtful as fuck.

That´s deep but I like it, so whatever.

Now of course BAE pretends he is loaded with self-hate and delusions, but not buying it, way too emo. What I like mostly about his writing is that he lets you connect more closely to him than other authors, even yeah, it sure as hell is at least partially a stunt. At least he gives the impression that you know him, especially since there is a little bit of an overlap between his tweets and his writing. He is either not that original or simply loves to recycle his best-of-the-best like a band who run out of ideas and cash in on the big hits again with an album. We are good here since he was making me laugh a lot, but good lord, I do wish he would shut up once in a while.

It would be less funny if BAE wouldn´t wrap his "poor artist shtick, look at me, look at me, I need validation" assphorisms in a cultural context like a bacon sandwich, even I was disappointed he didn´t offer any donuts. BAE nevertheless resists applying an cookie-cutter analysis of the sad existence of the author life/whatever, instead just makes fun of everything. Which I consider a good thing that he does not approach the subject like an anthropologist from a distance, but puts himself in the center of the stage. Or more an alter ego of himself as a writer.

The Artist As Tortured Soul is surely one of the most used tropes in the history of literature, ever. Where many a good time was had was that is impossible to tell where BAE is deadly serious, and him just doing what he does, writing books that is.

Where it moves into the realms of digital vs analog meta-existence is the moment one realizes what he writes as satire/cry for help is the daily reality and there are people out there like him, or rather the ones he describes/pretends he is himself. Which is as bizarre as it is hilarious (and sometimes cringe-worthy), and admittedly I laughed a lot even with feeling a little bit guilty about it. It happens. *shrugs*

Now I pity those poor fools who were raised and feed on bands like KISS or Judas Priest or Poison - remember the time where people were genuinely afraid of Satan worshipping Heavy Metal bands? Yeah, me neither - and all those 1980s (?) movies and video games he mentions or wrestling shows (aka dick measuring contest) I couldn´t care less about. I am aware that any generation thinks itself superior than its predecessor, still if you look at the lost generation of Star Wars fans who cry themselves a river or that their superhero Superman ain´t so cool anymore they surely can´t complain about us Millennials. Pull me a ducktail, you frightened rabbit! Not my fault you never grow out of wearing short pants.

Pro tip: Try to sell more books and watch your anxiety shoot through the roof.

Frequently checking Twitter/Facebook/etc - he probably has a MySpace profile too (LOL) - while the ´can I just sit here and *not* tweeting?´ is the ultimate death blow to existence. Decisions are hard in this regards, especially when - without the internet - one has no life. Which is the irony that plays itself out insofar that without those instant gratifications of sharing the latest hot shit/purchases/think pieces about Kim K.´s butt, or those ´everyone is Hitler´ memes, one doesn´t exist at all. Hell is indeed other people´s Twitter feed. Where retweets and likes is high fiving oneself for getting attention from random strangers on the net who have already forgotten who you are or what they "liked" the moment they clicked a button.

Now all this could have gotten horribly wrong if not for BAE´s wicked sense of humor, either that or he has so many issues he´s every therapist´s wet dream. Or maybe he´s just one of those brilliant savage idiots of the digital era (every village has one of those!). A 21th century Baudelaire aka the offspring of Woody Allen having buttsex with Adam Sandler.

Those books I´ve read so far by him often felt like written by someone with undeniable talent without really knowing how to bring it across in a more focused way aka deliberately bullshitting coz fun! That said, A Series of Pained Facial Expressions Blah Blah Blah is a bold move, a step in the right direction (even I´d love to read more of his more serious short stories), with adding fresh impetus from an author one could easily think was left behind by the Indie lit scene.

Partially it still feels again like the work of an author still exploring his possibilities (a neverending task, I am sure) while pushing his stories/bullshit aphorisms in new directions. A Series of Pained Facial Expressions Blah Blah Blah nevertheless feels like something more concrete, even not fully done exploring what he can actually do as a writer, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

In the meantime he was probably jerking off to Aerosmith´s Cryin´/Crazy/Amazing videos on YouTube while crying himself to sleep. Sad, really.

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review 2016-03-26 18:36
Tables Without Chairs #1 by Brian Alan Ellis and Bud Smith
Tables Without Chairs #1 - Brian Alan Ellis,Bud Smith,Waylon Thornton

I kinda find it hard to define what Tables Without Chairs #1 actually is. A literary journal of sorts, or a split book more likely even not really, where two writers are working together to achieve what? To have fun first and foremost, but which is also deliberately avoiding classifications or labels. Tough cookie that one.

Brian Alan Ellis´ and Bud Smith´s approach to writing is similar enough, even both have their own distinctive voices, that I see how it makes sense that they work as a team. Plus they rather obviously share the same craptacular kind of humor. The book itself has the rawness and lo-fi quality of a home made record, including monster illustrations by artist and musician Waylon Thornton, of the ´you have to see it to believe it´ kind. Oddly enough they fit, even you know, monsters. Or whatever those things should be.

WaylonThornton

I´ve read and enjoyed Brian Alan Ellis´ Mustache book, but Tables feels more cathartic but that´s just my uninformed opinion. There is a story of sorts, with “Sexy Time in the Spook House, Oh Yeah!”, a first person narrative told in punchy and quick stories within stories about some guy or the other and him being a reject of a woman. Heartbreak! From smart ass anectodes to spiraling into an abyss of his own making, where BAE at the same time challenges my own observations of what is happening with his lean prose. Similar to Mustache it´s very much an idiot male perspective, with shallowness and sex as something that happens, to - plot twist! - genuine moments of tenderness and feelings. Despite its decidely grittiness it´s rather lovely.

And then it finally moves into Obscurelandia, they do things differently there!, with "Ha-ha! Sad laughter."

Obscure insofar that those are a lot of one-liners, just how seriously I should take them I am not sure. Taking the piss at publishing and everything that comes with it, including by extension taking the piss at himself, it feels like a stand-up comedian routine who totally unironically pokes fun at everyone and everything. Including self-reflection in that kind of "my life" way, told ironically of course. Which might only be fun for other writers, or maybe it isn´t funny at all. The cynicism is strong with this one. From the Indie lit scene to Goodreads to the #amwriting hashtag, BAE doesn´t shy away to confront those who take themselves all too seriously with their own dead set idiocy. He is a smug one, that Brian Alan Ellis.

"When other authors recommend how-to writing books to you on Goodreads, like wtf they trying to say?"

That a correct sentence would be, "wtf they´re trying to say?" Maybe? But that is just a guess. :)

Or about those? "How-to blurb a book", which skims the line between nonsensical and the ridiculousness even seriousness with which books are blurbed by other authors.

"[This writer] writes like a sadistically imaginative child who plays house by burning down the house."

BAE ´s characterization is rather tame, tough, nothing really to piss off anyone, or so I would think. Anti-litery advice of sorts, even he does offer good advice as well, like:

"If a publishing house is willing to print your books out on rolls of toilet paper, sign with them immediately."

This guy clearly knows what he´s talking about, can´t argue with that. Or my favorite:

"Writing is like sending an SOS out into the world and not quite getting the help you need, if any at all."

#LifeSucks #GetUsedToIt

Bud Smith´s approach to storytelling, in his ´Calm Face´ novella, seems to be a slightly more mature one in comparison to BAE. No bullshit, no pretense, intimate yet natural. Minimalistic, maybe a tad unpolished, but what I like most about his stories is that those are about mundane, every day life things that could happen to everyone, and nevertheless go slightly wrong for stupid reasons. Building a jacuzzi in your apartment, DIY style, is apparently not the smartest thing one can do. Life lessons, kids, life lessons!

He is witty, has an eye for keen observations while feeling natural even those novella in stories are more like short sketches than anything else. A first-person protagonist going through his daily life. That´s pretty much it. How Smith describes those interactions is the real thing as they are nevertheless rather detailed. Those are random, even rather odd, moments in life. From having his morning coffee, to commuting to work, to dealing with a screaming neighbor, seeing a doctor, to his favorite sandwich place closing it feels a bit like reading someone´s diary, or sneaking into a party coz you are a friend of a friend of a friend.

"Know who else came? The lady downstairs who I’m at war with, but that’s normal. She always comes up and knocks.

This time she told us to keep the noise down. I said, “YOU’LL HAVE TO CALL THE POLICE!” and opened the door just enough to slam it for effect. Fun!”

The zen like, stoic quality with which his characters go through life is what makes the story quirky and fun. There is also some undercurrent of longing in them too, which I appreciate. Somehow to do right by the world, a desire to build something out of those puzzles and broken pieces that is worth having.

"City bus almost runs me over. Bus driver has calm face. I have calm face. All bus passengers have calm face. We´re all good here."

What I particulary like about this short sequence is that it captures the moment so well.

Or as Gwen Beatty praised the book so eloquently, more eloquently than I ever could. "A couple of dicks wrote a book!"

Those are some likeable dicks you want to hug and punch in the face. Yeah, you definitely want to punch them in the face.

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review 2016-03-23 15:34
The Mustache He's Always Wanted but Could Never Grow by Brian Alan Ellis
The Mustache He's Always Wanted but Could Never Grow: And Other Stories - Brian Alan Ellis

The first association when reading Brian Alan Ellis was that he´s a better looking Bukowski, mixed with some Noah Cicero and Sam Pink, filled to the brim with beer and whiskey and stories and poetry and madness. There is something charming about BAE´s special brand of insanity, even I suspect he enjoys being a pervert a tad too much at times.

Leftover heels? A story only recommended if you are a shoe fetishist AND a chronic masturbator; it´s just flat out vulgar and a tiny bit bizarre. I could have done without that knowledge, you know? Other stories like Loco Mask II, where a guy meets the new boytoy of his mother, a professional wrestler and just some two, or three years older than him, is walking the line between heartbreaking and offensive.

When BAE is good he is very good. My favorite opening in the story collection is from Drinking In Bed With Zadie which in itself is already a short story within the short story, and beautiful and sad and just awesome, even in this something´s not quite right way.

We are kamikaze lovers. We spend the night drinking red wine from the bottle, shoving pills down eachother´s throat. We take turns vomiting into the toilet during our cloudy attempts at lovemaking. We are, if anything, a train wreck of suicidal passion. Something cliché.

It seems rather common that someone or the other tugs at their junk hanging out to make sure they are still alive. No argueing that BAE´s story collection is very much a boys thing, where women are taken as a prize, rather than seen as another human being. (...) he will try forcing an erection between her ass cheeks. She will of course refuse this invasion by elbowing him in the chest, and he will wonder aloud what the difference between putting something in one place and not the other is. Makes one wonder, indeed.

And still, those stories are essentially love songs, sung by the downtrodden, the losers, those at the bottom of the pit. Or as the book description says, BAE writes about schemers, dreamers, losers, boozers, stolen televisions, professional wrestlers, self-mutilators, compulsive masturbators, shoe fetishists, and a dead cat named Johnny Thunders.

What BAE doesn´t do is making fun of his characters and their life stories. He presents them matter of factly without sitting judgement about their short-comings. Those stories aren´t really that bizarre in the end. Strange? Hell yeah, but at the same time BAE looks at those guys, maybe, but only maybe shaking his head in wonderment and shares a huge grin. He understands, and he makes you empathize with them too. He finds humanity in those weirdos, something to love even one might not always want to think about that those people he writes about exist. It is an honest look which *is* uncomfortable where every day life is sad and ugly and tiresome and endless sleep seems as good an option as any but thanks to the dry and dark humor BAE makes them shine.

Most, if not all, of BAE´s characters have this kind of self-awarness of a brick wall. However, it does feel like most of the times that he writes deliberately "badly" (which he doesn´t btw) to come closer to the bottom, to something that resembles any kind of truth, whatever that means in the end. BAE´s stories are rough, often cruel, some times downright nasty but at the same time funny and there is a catchy tune to almost all of his stories. It does seem a bit like an act too. Like he really doesn´t want to apply to some kind of mainstream with his stories, indeed has choosen to be a literary outlaw by his own making. Which is fine, I like it.

This, my friends, is literature from the fucked bottom. (...) just milking one off - all sticky and strange and hardening the surfaces once more.

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