When thinking on any great artist I admire I always contemplate who possibly influenced them. It's the reason I always flip to the index of an autobiography to search for possible clues to other artists who might have made an impression at some point, and it's the reason I always ask about influences in my Q&A series here. I recently had the idea to start a new series where I ask a few of my favorite fellow artists, photographers, filmmakers and writers to stop by Moon in the Gutter and discuss the people who have had the most powerful influence over their work and lives. I was thrilled when one of my favorite writers, the magnificent Heather Drain, agreed to kick-start the series. Heather, whose fabulous work has graced the pages of Video Watchdog, Ultra Violent among many other fine publications, has graciously submitted this wonderful essay on some of her great influences to kick-start this new series and I am so, so grateful. Thanks so much to Heather for this striking piece and, after reading, please visit her blog Mondo Heather for more examples of her truly terrific writing.
List-o-Mania by Heather Drain
Lists, especially where art is concerned, are a source of fun, interest and occasionally ire for me. Like a moth to the flame, I will gravitate towards a list, even when I know more than likely it's going to launch me into a two hour diatribe. But a great list can be a thing of beauty. It can make you feel like you have found some sort of kindred spirit or even turn you on to something new that could blow your mind. And worst case scenario, you can get a great piss and vinegar rant out of the deal.
One of the very first people that come to mind is Klaus Kinski, the legendary and, in some circles, (usually those made up of his ex-directors and ex-girlfriends), infamous actor. Of all things, it was his book “Kinski Uncut” that made me a convert, after picking it up in the late 90's, right as I was on the cusp of graduating high school. The book itself is like a violent passion play of words, all documenting the obsessions of this great and troubled artist. One of the most captivating qualities about Kinski is that he goes out of his way to detail his id-centered flaws more than his virtues. Kinski was once quoted as saying, “One should judge a man mainly from his depravities. Virtues can be faked. Depravities are real,” which I adore because it is true and if you love it too, then you must pick this book up. It's long out-of-print, but the “Kinski Uncut” edition can be had for a somewhat decent price. If you're wanting the original English language edition, “All I Need is Love,” that was yanked off the shelves since the publisher got cold feet due to litigious reasons since Kinski talks about a number of known people. Realistically, not unlike former adult film star Jerry Butler's own obsessed autobiography,“Raw Talent,” no one comes off more damaged than our narrator. That sort of testicular fortitude always and eternally sends me.
Speaking of sister Europe, the UK band Bauhaus has been moving me ever since my goth friend Mike lent me, back around the 11th grade, the first volume of their singles compilation. To simply label them goth is a mere understatement, since to this day, there is really no one that did or does sound quite like them. All the right influences are there, ranging from David Bowie (hence their blazing cover of “Ziggy Stardust”) and T-Rex to the Surrealist and DaDa art movements, with a dash of Eno. In fact, their song “Antonin Artaud,” named after one of my other godheads, is all sonic teeth. It's gristle and beauty and shadows and filigree, which is everything Bauhaus was to a tee. Recommended: All of it, but especially the albums “The Sky's Gone Out” and “Burning From the Inside.” Masterpieces.
Writing wise, there have been eleventy prose writers whose works have left little heart shaped scar marks in my brain. Flannery O'Connor, Mikhail Bulgakov, Lermantov, Katherine Dunne, Poe, Shelley, Stoker, Caitlin R. Kiernan and way too many more to mention. However, there are two fiction writers in particular that have changed the writing landscape for me. The first is Poppy Z. Brite, whose debut novel “Lost Souls,” found me in my smallish hometown's public library years ago. Brite's florid, often lush prose and intrinsic understanding of his characters wooed me from the start. To this day, his numerous books and short stories are works that I revisit time and time again. Recommended: All of it but especially “Exquisite Corpse,” “Drawing Blood” and “Lost Souls.”
A different type of writer who has influenced me is Jeffrey Lee Pierce, best known for his terminally underrated group, The Gun Club.Pierce's music, both with the band and his solo work, is the stuff that the American dream (and nightmare) is made of. It's like the spirit of an old Southern bluesman got channeled through a west coast punk kid. Not unlike Bukowski, Pierce's work is raw, beautiful, at times heartbreaking and always compelling. Recommended: Everything but especially, especially The Gun Club's “Las Vegas Story.”
The Cramps saved my teenage life. Never has a band's sound so perfectly defined a good chunk of my sensibilities. Hearing their “Date With Elvis” album in particular was like finding a long lost family member. They are the sleazy primordial ooze of rock and roll and I will eternally love them for it. Lux Interior is my co-pilot. Recommended: Everything but especially “Date With Elvis” and the live album, “Rockinandreelinginauklandnewzealand.”
Following up Devo is another band that moves me forever and that is the best UK punk band ever, The Damned. Unlike a lot of their peers, The Damned have not only stayed together since the beginning, for the most part, and have continually evolved musically. From the three chord punk of their first album, “Damned Damned Damned” to the Seeds-flavored psychedelic garage rock of their 2008 album, “So, Who's Paranoid?,” they are a superb band whose work never ever grows old for me. I'm always in the mood for The Damned and you should be too! Recommended: All of it, but especially “Machine Gun Etiquette,” “Phantasmagoria,” “The Black Album,” “So, Who's Paranoid?”
Dipping briefly into the pinkies-out world of art for a minute, the works of Dali and Warhol continually send me into fits of visual and mental excitement. My love for surrealism and it's cousin, DaDa, runs deep but Dali's work in particular is so crystalline in its execution, color and vision. Plus, like Warhol, the man himself was living art. Taking the creative impulse one step further is forever exciting and often needed to keep things from getting too moldy and stagnant. With Warhol, his ability to use a visual form to comment on pop culture in a seemingly objective way is unparalleled. Even better was his pioneering role in underground cinema and like a white-haired catalyst, attracting a colorful array of brilliant, eccentric and occasionally mad people all around him. (I love Ondine!)Recommended-These are masters, so get thee to a library and museum stat.
So there you have it! The veritable sampler of the artists whose works inspire, influence and move me to the extent that they are practically intertwined with my DNA. Undoubtedly, I am already thinking of 10 others that should be on here, but I will spare you my Russian-sized novel of influence and hope that this list got your own creative rivers flowing. Art saves.
© Heather Drain 2012