Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Influences: Heather Drain

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. 

 
So when Jeremy asked me to create a list dedicated to the art and artists who have moved and influenced me, it was an offer I could not refuse. Putting together a creature like this is no easy task. Trying to itemize everything is a bit like someone trying to pick their favorite kids. Sure, they might have an idea of who goes where but then have a nagging tendril of guilt tugging at their sleeve about it. So in lieu of your usual numerical list, I will be listing a sampler of the artists who have made an indelible impression on my fevered little psyche. Undoubtedly, the minute after this gets posted, I will be slapping my forehead because I forgot something. If I listed everything creative that has moved me , this would be less of an article and more of a novel of Biblical proportions. Now, without further ado, here is my mondo-list of cultural influence!

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.

 
But it's not just Kinski the writer and man that I adore. He was one of the best actors to have ever emerged on the silver screen. Once you see him, you will never ever forget him. His ability to completely crawl into a role and make it his own never fades with time. Whether he needed to shriek and be wild or be quiet and subdued, he could pull it all off. For proof, just check out any of his work with the great and equally inimitable director, Werner Herzog, especially “Aguirre, the Wrath of God,” “Nosferatu” and “Woyzeck.” Other Kinski greats include two of his Jess Franco films, “Count Dracula” and “Venus in Furs,” David Scmoeller's underrated thriller, “Crawlspace,” “Fruits of Passion” and Klaus's sole directorial effort, “Paganini.”

 

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.

 

Being both a monster kid and European art film lover at heart, it was only natural that it would be love at first sight and sound with the works of Jean Rollin. I was blessed to have an early review gig where I was sent “Lips of Blood,” a film that to this day is firmly cemented as a work that I cherish completely. Rollin was a pure artist, featuring a body of work that is as visually lush as it is moving. He gave horror an emotional gravitas that is so special and often under-used, with a few exceptions. The man's a master, pure and simple. Recommended: “Shiver of the Vampires,” “Lips of Blood,” “Living Dead Girl” and more.
 

Kenneth Anger is another filmmaker whose work has seared its way into my vena cava. From his debut film, the violent and poetically sexual “Fireworks” (made when he was barely 20 years old) to his vibrant, magick filled masterpieces, with “Invocation of My Demon Brother” being the granddaddy, Anger is a cinematic game changer. If you want a true taste of art that is at times lush, harsh, colorful, dark and occasionally witchy, then you would be hard pressed to find someone better than Kenneth Anger. Recommended: All of it.
 

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.”

 

The other big fiction writer for me is a biggie, but one that didn't emerge fully into my view until later in life. It was a chance move, with me picking up my husband's copy of Charles Bukowski's short story collection, “The Most Beautiful Girl In Town” but once I started reading it, I could not put it down. It was the beginning of a love affair that continues to this day. I adore Bukowski's writing so much. Most people focus on all the really obvious stuff. You know, the hard boozing, the poontang factor, etc. What strikes me about Bukowski's work is the immense heart and honest worldview that he has. Many a foolhardy wannabe writer has romanticized the man's hard living, but forget that nonsense. Bukowski's work is the real deal and has the mix of truth, beauty, rawness and poetry that hits me every single time. It was that short story collection that got me through a grueling emergency room wait while someone very beloved to me was going through something potentially very scary and and life threatening. I am forever indebted to Bukowski for this. Recommended: “Ham on Rye,” “The Most Beautiful Girl in Town,” “Tales of Ordinary Madness,” “Women” et al.


 

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.”

 

With music being one of my biggest muses, there are two bands, both seemingly different and yet similar in how they have never compromised and continue to make great and vital music. The first band in question is Devo, musical pioneers from the land where the rubber meets the road, Akron, Ohio. (Sidenote-it's amazing how many great bands and horror hosts have come out of that state. There must be some bizarre magic in the waters of Ohio.) It's easy to focus on the visual aspects of the band, whether it is their famous energy dome hats or the man-baby face of Booji Boy. The visuals are indeed great, often finding that ether where humor, pop culture and something a little more sinister intertwine. But the music is the thing and Devo has often delivered, with their music being something for everyone. There's bits of irreverent humor, dance-ability, guitar crunch and caustic warning about our own culture's de-evolution. It's real, kids. Recommended: “Duty Now for the Future,” “New Traditionalists,” “Devo Live,” “Something for Everybody.”
 

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.
 

When I first started researching and getting into the sexploitation films of the 1960's, one of the things that compelled me was how a number of them blurred the lines between art house imagery and the lurid come hither of sleaze cinema. One filmmaker who fully transcended this line and made some of the most original movies ever, is my hero, Michael Findlay. Along with his wife, cinematographer extraordinaire and later on, a director in her own right, Roberta Findlay, Michael's blend of dreamlike imagery, a sense of often highly damaged sexuality and a bizarre literary sensibility is unlike anything you will ever see. It was “The Ultimate Degenerate” that first hooked me, but it was “Curse of Her Flesh” that sealed the deal. I've always instinctively had a burr about schools of film criticism that preach that movies that deal with pulp-like topics are automatically not worth covering or respecting. That right there is bollocks and guys like Michael Findlay are the proof in the pudding. If they think these films are disturbing, just look at your local news. Art is the mirror that we do not always want to look into. Recommended: The entire Flesh Trilogy (The Touch of Her Flesh/Curse of Her Flesh/Kiss of her Flesh), “The Ultimate Degenerate,” “A Thousand Pleasures,” “Take Me Naked,” “Janie.”

 

Another filmmaker whose work so beautifully blended the grindhouse with the arthouse is Radley Metzger. Actually, scratch that, because Radley Metzger is a pure bred artist, straight up. His cinematic eye is often sumptuous, but usually underscored with something more. Sometimes it's a sense of melancholy, wry humor or just an observant eye on the warm and sometimes dysfunctional dynamics that are a part of human relationships. Radley Metzger is a gem in the world of cinema. Recommended: “Camille 2000,” the absolutely superb “The Lickerish Quartet,” “Naked Came the Stranger,” “Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann.”
 

Last but certainly not least is the man, Lester Bangs. Lester is what I personally aspire to be as a non-fiction writer. The man's fire, hyper-intelligence, intense humanity and uncompromising approach, which at one point ended up getting him fired from Rolling Stone, is inspiring to say the least. Even better, here was a critic who would admit when he was wrong, which he famously did with the MC5, a band he initially panned but then went on to champion. So many critics go into this field for the wrong reasons, whether it is to live to tear down everything they see or just fellate their own egos. Forget that. Love is the number one reason to write. Your ego should be number 13. Being a writer is one of the most unglamorous paths and one often littered with rejection, so you better be in it because you love it and you have no choice and that is one of the many reasons why I love Lester Bangs. The man should still be here but we can at least glory in his works and try to process the inspiration through our own individual filters.
 

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

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