When I first picked up Josh Stalling’s hard as nails noir Beautiful Naked and Dead I was struck by the quality of his writing and the dangerous swagger of his ex-con hero Moses McGuire, but more than anything it was the seething authenticity he put on the page which impressed me and captured the book of 2011 spot on my reading list. When I got to know Josh a little better I found out this authenticity came from living a life which most crime writers wouldn’t survive – we’re a soft lot – so I was delighted to hear that Snubnose Press are publishing his memoir.
Josh drops in today with hint of things to come. Over to the man himself…
All The Wild Children (a noir memoir) is full of pain-driven rage and mad folly. From the late 1950’s to the early 2000’s a lot of things happened, to us all. I’m claiming, planting my tattered flag on my corner of it.
1974. Tad Williams and I were teens who used badly faked British accents to get into bars and girl’s knickers. Accents of indeterminate regionalism. Two dashes Bowie one dash Rod Stewart and just a wee pinch of Neil Innis. Folks in the UK would have tossed us on our asses, but this was Nor Cali so it played sexy.
Disco. Glitter. Funk. David Bowie. Iggy. George Clinton. Marvin Gay. New York Dolls. Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. Curtis Mayfield. It all rolled and splashed against our ears. We took it all in. We read Hunter S. Thompson, Shakespeare and Raymond Chandler. We took ludes. We smoked rag weed. We drank 151 and Coke. Watched Dirty Harry, Shaft and Monty Python. I carried a pistol and laughed hard. This was the wild cocktail we swam into to try and find our way towards manhood.
My pops split when I was eight. Waaa, oh the loss… And, so what.
Context – the 60’s in the San Francisco bay area, our parents had this wild dream, a good one. They thought that if they loved hard enough, with enough conviction and if they chased their ecstasy they could change the world. The Beatles, Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey would all agree.
Our governor, Ronald Reagan called the bay area the epicenter of evil in the free world. He would joke: “We have some hippies in California. For those of you who don’t know what a hippie is, he’s a fellow who dresses like Tarzan, has hair like Jane, and smells like Cheetah.” Funny? Fuck him hard. At least these crazy wide eyed kids were trying something new. What did Reagan give us? He and that stone cunt Thatcher’s cruel forms of an old school social bitch slap?
Back at the Summer of Love – kids across the nation flood into our town seeking free love and a way of being that didn’t make them want to puke when they looked in the mirror. For a bright moment it was a paisley day-glow Camelot. Then Altamonte, Hells Angels, Charles Manson, bad acid, heroin, Kent State and finally with the rape of the flower children by Madison Avenue the deal went belly up. I remember seeing “hippies” in a McDonalds spot, and a flower painted dancing Goldie Hawn on Laugh-In, and knowing the gig was done. Time to pack up the tents and leave town before the villagers torched the joint. The generation of disenchanted young adults stumbled home. Some went into politics, some invented home computers, many went stone mad.
Whilst they were off licking their wounds Tad, me and our mates were coming of age.
My childhood was real and intimate; Quaker counter culture parents who slapped us kids. It was also cultural and impersonal. Context is the luxury of a man sitting safe in bed typing, his dog curled up beside him, his curvy woman blissfully asleep. Context is unavailable to scared kids and drunken glitter boy berserkers.
Life is never one thing. Never. Tad played with Tom, Rick, Andy and Paul in a band called Idiot. I hung around backstage, snaring the loose lovely lasses with my skin-tight jeans and rockstar sneer. Kids dug our androgynous goofy sexy vibe. Kids had not a clue that the band’s name came from Macbeth, “like an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Or some sort, paraphrasing Wild Bill will get the smart ass college boys to come out and slam me. But fuck ‘em, bring it on. Meet me in the back alley and we can talk it out. Come at me outside the safety of the comment box and I will jump ghetto hard. I am badass in my pink little girls T-shirt and glitter platforms.
I thought All The Wild Children was going to be a memoir about my son and schizophrenia. It might drift into his little brother’s scag addiction. But it became so much more. “Life writ large” says Ken Bruen, and that it was. I found myself a kid watching Janis Joplin in Golden Gate Park. I found myself a film editor dancing with the devil whore called Hollywood. Found myself a White boy in a mostly Black ghetto high school. In writing it I was trying to find some context where this all made sense. Trying to lay some dragons to rest. Not even vaguely possible it turns out, best I could do was quiet them long enough to get the book written.
Teenage Josh sends me a telegram, no emails in the 70’s, he tells me it was a wild wonderful time and given the chance we’d do it all the same. We killed it and lived to tell the tale. Sure my folks abdicated and left us to find our way, but wasn’t that the brilliance of it all. At fifteen we reinvented the world then set it on fire. Too young for a driver license I was powering a Pontiac sideways in a four wheel drift. The blonde at my side hung on tight. We screamed and laughed and lived to ball another day.
“We dress like fags and fuck like studs. Bred in the ghetto, dressed in The City we rock glitter hard core.”
It was a horror show, it was a circus, it was a time and half. It was the 70’s and all bets were off.
– Josh Stallings