Punk Prose: An Interview with Michael Marcus
While I waited for Michael Marcus to show up at Astro Diner & Coffee Shop in Silverlake, CA there was a lot going through my head. I really wanted to ask him who, of all of the great writers the world has produced, would he most like to smoke crack with. However, I thought this might come off as a little strong, so I just sipped my coffee wrote down bullshit interview questions like “What does culture mean to you?” What a load of shit. Thank god Michael entered the restaurant like he was entering the octagon. Nobody needs their time wasted with another decaffeinated, millennial “What was the world like before Lady Gaga?” interview. Besides you can read his book, #1 Son, if you want to know.
At first glance, Michael Marcus comes off as a normal-enough guy who is punctual about showing up to interviews, but after a couple minutes of chatting with him the distinct “too weird to live, too rare to die” vibrations were humming like a faulty transformer. The man is on fire. I could feel the heat emanating out of the luminous, feral eyes. No wonder he did so many drugs. I could hear the gears audibly turning in the background and he would adopt this overzealous cadence whenever we stumbled on a topic he found interesting. It was no wonder that #1 Son had come out of him. Michael Marcus is by no means the clean-cut F. Scott type, but he definitely fits the mold of a Zelda side piece.
Let’s dig into the real reason for this interview, the book. #1 Son, by Michael Marcus, is a gut wrenching expose on the vicious depravity of an abused, drug addicted youth careening through the cruelest subcultures of the 80’s while trying to not piss his pants from crack induced paranoia. “It’s a diary of a very twisted kid,” he said. “It’s a story of the victim becoming the victimizer.” With each new chapter, Michael draws the reader into his world of reckless indulgence by subtly increasing the intensity of the storyline with the dexterity of a philharmonic conductor. Hand to god, #1 Son is like a one night stand that starts off kind of awkward and uncomfortable when, all of a sudden, her eyes turn red and she’s hissing in your face, “Just fucking choke me already.” Before you know it it’s four thirty in the morning and you’re staring at the ceiling trying to pop the thumb on your left hand back into its socket without crying. She leans over and grabs a half-smoked Marlboro Black 100 out of the ashtray and lights it up, ashes on the duvet, and says, “What was your name again?” Suffice it to say this book should come with pint of jack and a coupon for an STD test.
What is most striking about the book is that this skinny Jew can do anything he wants with little to no repercussions. He can sling coke by the brick with Isreali gangsters. He can fuck strippers and hookers with crack dealing pimps. He can piss on nuclear warheads and pass the field tests to guard them. He can cook crack in a bungalow at the Beverly Hills hotel with a borderline schizophrenic trust fund junkie. N’importe quoi. N’importe qui. There’s only one catch. To do all of this he has to be high. And not an after-work glass of chardonnay kind of buzz. No. He’s gotta hit the bell with that pipe so hard it goes wah wah wah… AWAKE! That’s the only kind of fucked up that will get him through. The eagle’s gotta land, but when it does there’s no stopping him.
By mashing together quizzically structured and deeply developed characters of different cultures and ethnicities, Michael accomplishes such a vibrant level of clarity in the dialogue the scenes practically spring out of the pages and into the room. Sidechain the manic dialogue to the straight up obsessive attention to detail and bizarre yet scrupulous observations pumping through the poetic soul of this jonezing crack fiend and you have some truly remarkable prose writing. Once the chaotic foreplay becomes nearly too much to brave, the story climaxes in a frenzied rampage that is so visceral and realistic that even my face went numb. The house of cards finally comes tumbling down. What follows is an honest admonition of the struggles of a boy that grew old but never grew up.
DA: So I gotta ask. Of all of the great writers the world has produced, would you most like to smoke crack with?
MM: Stephen King I truly believe it would be a full-fledged multi-dimensional horror show.
DA: But on a serious note you pull no punches on the introspective auditing. Were there any parts of the book that were difficult for you to face?
MM: Of course, man. I am a dick in that book. I didn’t pause. I didn’t wonder whether or not what I was doing was right. I didn’t give a fuck. All I did was react. Over and over and over again. It’s still hard for me to read a few of those chapters, like, the bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Dude. That one puts me right back they’re in that jittery hell, peeking through the fucking blinds and minding my fellow smokers and their every move. Revealing my darkest shadows wasn’t easy, but it was necessary. I had to tell the story of how I had been delusional and wrong? Is that even the right word? How can I be wrong when there was no moral fucking compass?
DA: So, it’s not a valiant junkie war novel?
MM: Ha! Valiant. Dude this is about me taking responsibility for my actions and showing others that they can too. I don’t have to be afraid of the things I’ve done. I don’t have to be afraid of being a toxic male. Accountability is breaking the cycle. The entire time I was pretending that I was the victim I was never able to heal.
DA: Heal what?
MM: Heal that unloved, fucked up inner child that was running my life. I know it sounds cliché, but the life I lived and the actions I took were a direct result of the bizarre belief systems that I adopted during my childhood through my early manhood. I learned to fight from my dad. I mean on certain levels I learned how to treat women from the pimps I hung out with. I learned how to sell drugs from gonnifs (Jewish for criminal). And I blamed them for the way I behaved. My book is how I take responsibility for the fact that I thought this way of living was the only way that I could survive the unfair hand that life had dealt me.
DA: Did you change because of it?
MM: Well it would be difficult for me to say how exactly I changed, but I guess you could say I had a shift of perspective. Between writing this book and facilitating groups at rehabs I have started to forgive myself for a lot of the fucked-up shit that I did back then. I mean the kids that I work with have been through a lot of the things that I have and they have created a lot of the same wreckage because of it. I may be decades older than a lot of these kids, but fear and loneliness are timeless. I know what hopelessness feels like. When the light is at the top of the well, not the end of the tunnel. There’s no generational gap in pain, so I relate to the kids I work with on a completely experiential eye to eye level. How the fuck can I tell these kids to forgive themselves if I can’t do the same with the dude in the mirror.
DA: Damn. We’re getting into some pretty deep philosophical subject matter.
MM: I disagree. You fucking millennials think everything is so esoteric. Forgiveness isn’t deep. Neither is honesty, humility, or hope. These things are right there inside of all of us all the time. It doesn’t matter how far gone you think you are. You are always one decision away from living a completely different life. My book is for those kids out there like me. I wrote down the life I lived so that maybe they don’t have to.
I have to give it to Mike, he has done exactly what he set out to do. For those of you who think this book is full of stories… Great! Be entertained, be disgusted, pleasure yourself while you fantasize about smoking rocks and railing physically and emotionally abused prostitutes if that’s what you want to do. Feel whatever you want to feel. Art is yours to do with what you please, so please away.
But know that #1 Son is not about the glamorous life of a 9 life junky. The real story is behind the story. Buried between the lines. The size 11.5 smudges of ink splattered across the pages aren’t words. They’re mirrors. Tiny fucking mirrors that show us our darkness and denial. The things we say we have forgotten, but claw at the backs of our eyeballs when we judge the actions of others so we don’t have to judge our own. The things we have hidden underneath Instagram posts, college degrees, job titles, and all of the other little gold stars we compulsively paste over the things we hate about ourselves. These aren’t the narcissistic ramblings of a self-obsessed, disillusioned man-child. Writing #1 Son is how Michael takes responsibility for who he is, what he has done, and how he stopped justifying the pain he inflicted on the world. By illuminating the shadows of his past with the strike of a "strike anywhere" Ohio Blue Tip and immolating his shame and his guilt for the world to see Michael Marcus has earned the right to tell the angry, fearful kids he counsels, as well as all of us, “You aren’t alone. You aren’t broken. And the echoes of yesterday don’t disqualify you from being worthy of love and respect.”