“Deadheading” by David Bankson

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Deadheading

removes the faded face
from the flowers:
a mask for a cycle.

You say unworn skulls are defective,
but I tell you, they smile even in death.
The maw gapes

for meal or murder, sigh or scream.
Necessity is the mother
of stop signs and duskfall.

At the cliff peak, all change is decline.
The snow is muted in hue,
faded in shade. We cross streams
to pluck flowers for graves.

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“Kings of the Afternoon” by Lewis Shiner

cholame

The following story was inspired by the death of James Dean on this day was written on the 21st Anniversary of his passing some 41 years ago.

~

From somewhere beyond the ragged palm trees came the screaming of sea birds. He lay with his head in Kristen’s lap, watching the lines around her mouth. Her voice, with its rounded European vowels, seemed to mingle with the hissing of the sea.

“…I had crawled to the top of the hill,” she said, “and the water was close behind me. All I could smell was the burning of the bodies, and I knew that all of Califor­nia was finished. They found me there, not conscious, and I was in a dream.”rom somewhere beyond the ragged palm trees came the screaming of sea birds. He lay with his head in Kristen’s lap, watching the lines around her mouth. Her voice, with its rounded European vowels, seemed to mingle with the hissing of the sea.

Landon closed his eyes.

“In the dream I was sleeping,” she said, “and I was wrapped in a sort of blanket, soft, silver colored. From a distance I seemed to be watching and the sun was up but making no shadows and nothing seemed to be lighted, you know, but sort of glowed. Someone was carrying me, I could feel the hands, and they took me to the edge of a water. I remember the dark of it, and a mountain out in the middle. There was waiting a boat, and other hands reaching up for me. The hands, you know, were not human, but like fingers made out of rocks, and the body too was rough and lumpy. I had not then even seen the men inside the saucers, but I knew what they looked like.

“A big sail the boat had, black and stretching, but there was no wind. The hands took me and the boat moved away from the land.

“The sea was thick and clinging and full of odd lights.”

Landon stirred. A seagull stumbled across the beach toward them, its body coated with dark, glistening oil. The bird rattled its wings with a noise like gunfire. Landon sat up, watched the bird stagger and fall into the sand, one dark, empty eye fixed on him. Landon pulled his Colt and fired. The impact flung the bird into a ditch beside the highway.

He lit a cigarette, the match trembling in his hand. The smoke hurt his lungs and he coughed as he stood up.

“Let’s go,” he said.

 

Along the sides of the highway abandoned cars lay rusting in the sun. The sky was free of saucers and the wind carried the smells of the sea.

Landon drifted into a doze, waking as Kristen pulled into a weathered cafe beside the road. The big Pontiac convertible skidded on the gravel and jerked to a stop between two plastic execucars.

“Where are we?” he asked through a yawn. The heat had glued his black sport jacket to his shoulders.

Kristen shrugged. “Here.” A hand-painted sign over the door read don’s california style diner and a card in the window added “Yes We’re open.”

The smells of grease and cigarettes drifted through the screen door. Landon opened it and stood for a moment framed by the doorway, leaving his sunglasses on, mak­ing no effort to hide the holstered Colt at his side.

A few executives lingered in back, sketching on their napkins. Kristen led the way to a booth and Landon sat down, his sweat-damp trousers squealing against the red vinyl. A boy in a soiled apron took their order, then went back to a row of beer mugs on the bar.

“Your eyes,” Kristen said, “they still hurt…?”

He nodded. A close call with a saucer the day be­fore had nearly blinded him, the road melting into a steaming gash in front of him. He had fought the car off the road, tears streaming his face, as the saucer whipped away, leaving a mile-wide path of fire behind it.

Kristen, sitting with her legs stretched out on the seat, touched his arm. She pointed toward the kid at the bar, who had started to juggle the glasses he was supposed to be polishing. Landon took off his sunglasses. The kid was no more than five-eight, wearing boots, a T-shirt, and dirty jeans. His hair was shaggy and stood up like a brush on top, tapering into long sideburns. Light flashed off tortoise shell glasses that hid his eyes. A cigarette hung from his mouth.

The act was meant to be casual, but Landon sensed a desperation behind it, a hunger for attention and for something else as well. The executives had gone quiet, and there was a thump as one of the glasses hit the table on its way back up. Kristen suddenly caught her breath and then Landon saw it too, fragments of the shattered glass hanging above the kid’s head.

The kid stepped aside, catching the other two glasses, and the fragments pinged harmlessly on the linoleum. The kid casually dried his hands and reached for a broom to sweep up the mess. Landon noticed the red stain on the towel, the trembling in the kid’s fingers, the odd sensuality of his gestures.

The kid brought their hamburgers, puncturing the beer cans with sharp, graceful stabs of the opener. Landon couldn’t help but notice the way Kristen watched the kid. He put his sunglasses back on.

“Bring one for yourself if you like,” Kristen said. The boy nodded. He was older than Landon had thought at first, maybe early twenties.

“You have a name?” Landon asked.

“Byron,” the kid said. He ate a potato chip off Landon’s plate, then spun away.

“Hey,” one of the executives said as he passed. “Bring me a beer, will you?”

Byron smiled at him. “Fuck off,” he said casually. He brought a beer back to Landon’s table as the executives lined up meekly at the counter, perspiring in their dark grey suits. A small man with sores on his face came out of the kitchen and accepted their plastic cards with a conciliatory smile.

“Assholes never tip anyway,” Byron said. He turned a chair around and sat with his head resting on his folded arms. The executives filed out and Landon caught the odor of hot plastic as they started their electric cars.

“So,” Byron said. “You cats are like…outlaws?” He kept looking back at Kristen’s face, again and again. He rubbed the back of his thumb under his nose and said, “I seen your car.”

“That’s right,” Landon said.

“I mean,” the boy said, a sudden urgency screwing up his face, “it’s like…if I…I mean…” Then he spun out of the chair and out the front door.

“He’s insane,” Landon said.

“He is beautiful. Can we keep him?”

Landon shrugged and finished his beer. “If you want him badly enough.”

As they started for the door the man with the sores said, “Ain’t y’all planning to pay for that food?”

Landon turned so the light from the doorway glinted on his Colt. “Just put it on our bill.”

“I never seen you before,” the man whined. “I got to make a living too. I’m on your side.”

“Tell it to Robin Hood,” Landon said. “I’m only in it for the money.”

They found Byron leaning against the front of the building, one foot planted into the wall. He’d taken off his apron and had a red zip jacket over one shoulder. He lit a cigarette and said, “Where you headed?”

Landon pointed north. “New Elay.”

The kid took the cigarette out of his mouth and said something to it, too quietly for Landon to hear.

“What?”

“Take me with you.”

Landon didn’t like the edge of hysteria in the kid’s voice. Before he could say anything, Kristen stepped in front of him and got behind the wheel. “Get in,” she said to both of them.

 

The land was gutted and torn for miles in all direc­tions, rolling down to the oily Arizona coastline. Stucco crumbled from the walls of the shattered building, and vines tore the red tiles from the roof.

Behind a growth of acacias lay a burned-out neon sign that read motel california. Landon leaned against the sign, watching Byron. The kid walked in circles around the parking lot, sniffing the dusty air and squint­ing up at the sky. He squatted at the edge of the moss-­filled swimming pool and tossed pebbles into the murky green water. The boy had been with them for two days now and hardly said a word.

“Come on,” Landon said. “Let’s see if we can find you a room.”

They worked down the row of cabins until they found one with most of the furniture still intact. Landon kicked idly at a pile of rat droppings and poked into the corners with a broken chair leg. The air held the tang of mold, urine, sour linen. He wound a window open and let in the gritty ocean breeze. A cough gently shook his chest.

Byron stretched out across the bare mattress and locked his hands behind his head. A smile stretched his cheek muscles into tight cords. “Now what?” he asked.

On the horizon were the executive office towers, massive, opaque, impenetrable. They’d passed the resi­dence blocks on their way into New Elay, equally forti­fied and remote. The buildings in between, Landon saw, had taken their share of punishment from the saucers. Shattered glass and collapsed walls littered the sidewalks; glittering trenches of fused concrete cut the streets.

Kristen drove at high speed, weaving through the lines of plastic cars and fuming executives. Pedestrians, most of them in rags, stared at Landon with blank acceptance. A pack of children chased a dog with a mixture of mal­ice and desperation. An old woman squatted to urinate outside an abandoned storefront.

Landon took a Peacemaker in a worn leather holster out of the glove compartment. Turning sideways in the car seat he showed Byron how to load and fire it. The kid wound his fingers slowly around the grip, his eye­brows contorted in an agony of concentration. Landon watched as the gun seemed to be absorbed into the boy’s hand.

Byron stood up on the back seat of the convertible and took aim at one of the execucars. The driver turned pale and swerved across the road, glancing off the cars on either side of him. Byron rolled his head back and laughed at the sky.

They pulled up in front of a heavily barred store window. A pair of steer’s horns were mounted above it. “A meat market?” Byron asked.

“Lots of cash, pal,” Landon said. “The liquor stores are too dangerous anymore.” He got out and looked back at the kid. Byron had taken his glasses off and was care­fully putting them into the pocket of his red windbreaker. Without the glasses, the kid’s moist, deepset eyes gave him an unearthly beauty. He vaulted over the side of the car, holding the pistol as if he’d been born with it.

“Just stay out of the way,” Landon said. “No grand­standing. Point the gun but don’t shoot it, all right?”

Kristen led the way in, carrying a Luger and a cloth sack. Standing in the doorway, Landon kept his own gun in casual view. He could smell the raw meat, his stom­ach reacting with reluctant hunger. The customers shifted quietly out of the way as Kristen emptied the cash box. Byron stood in the center of the room, radiating quiet menace.

Kristen signaled, and Landon went back out to the car. The crowd had more than doubled in size in the minute or so they’d been there. Up and down the block Landon saw people moving toward him. He started the car and began inching forward. Kristen pushed through the crowd and got in the passenger seat, holding the sack of coins in her left hand. Then she looked back and shouted, “Hurry up! What are you doing?”

Byron was halfway up the metal grille that covered the front window. “He’s taking his trophy,” Landon said. The kid swung onto a metal bracket and began to tug at the huge pair of horns.

“Son of a bitch!” he yelled, the horns giving way under him. He dropped ten feet to the sidewalk, landing in a crouch, one hand slapping the cement. The other still held the horns.

He vaulted into the back of the car, holding the horns over his head. Landon was astonished to see a few smiles and raised arms in the crowd. He leaned on the car horn, pumping the clutch, moving forward a foot at a time. The crowd stared at Byron.

Just as he began to make some headway a frail blonde teenager stepped directly in front of the car. She looked hypnotized. Landon swerved, brushing her aside with the hood of the Pontiac. “Idiots,” he said. “It’s their money we just stole.”

He could see Byron, framed in the rear view mirror, holding the horns over his head.

 

From the door of the cabin Landon could see Byron slumped in a corner, mumbling and nodding rapidly. A bottle of pills was open by his foot, and his hands played nervously over a pair of bongos. A girl was stretched out on the mattress, writhing slowly with some internal pain or pleasure. The sight of her soft breasts and rumpled brassiere, her long legs tangled in the sheets, gave Lan­don a pang of formless longing.

“So fucking high, man,” Byron mumbled, eyes swol­len nearly shut. “This shit, this shit…so goddamned high…” His fingers twitched and fluttered over the sur­face of the drums, coaxing out a shallow, frantic rhythm. “Spinning…falling…crashing…saucers crashing, and like…”

Landon turned away. “Where is she?” the kid screamed. Landon walked to the beach, the hot sand working in between his toes, foam spattering his black coat and trousers. Behind him he could still hear Byron railing against the saucers and screaming for his mother.

The day was clear enough that Landon could see shadowy mountains across Mojave Bay. Among the lit­ter of plastic and rubber on the beach he found a bleached skull and the bones of a single grasping hand. A fit of coughing took him and he crouched in the sand until it passed.

From the distance came a low vibration, like pedal notes on an organ. The flat disk of a saucer dipped into the horizon and disappeared.

 

The motel driveway was crisscrossed with tire tracks. The smell of gasoline hung in the air. Byron’s motorcycle was gone and Landon had a sense of foreboding as he pulled up in front of Kristen’s room.

“Where is he?” he asked, not getting out of the car.

She looked worn, the lines of her face all pointing downward. “Gone,” she said. “With four, five others. On motorbikes. They are after the saucer, I think.”

“What saucer?”

“On the radio, it was. They say one low along the coast was flying, maybe in trouble.”

“Christ,” Landon said.

The tracks turned south along the coast road. Lan­don swung the Pontiac around after them. Unless they stayed on the highway there was no chance of catching them. Landon let the landscape on either side of the road melt into a yellow blur.

Eventually he realized that he’d been hearing a low screaming noise for some time. It seemed to be coming from ahead of him. Finally he saw a faint glow off to the east and pulled over. He got out and slammed the door, the noise inaudible over the throbbing whine.

The source of light lay over the next dune. Landon put on his sunglasses and drew his Colt. The sound carried a pulsing resonance that he could feel in his belly. He went over the top of the dune, his left hand pressed against the side of his head.

A saucer perched on narrow stilts over the sand. Landon had never been so close to one before. Its sheer size was overwhelming, at least a hundred feet in diame­ter. The entire surface glowed with a milky light.

Five men on motorcycles circled the saucer. They wore long hair and sleeveless denim jackets, their faces sunburned and expressionless. As Landon watched they wrestled their machines over the same rutted circles in the sand, again and again.

The riders ignored Landon as he walked toward the single abandoned motorcycle parked under the edge of the saucer. He climbed a flight of stairs into the under­side of the ship, holding his gun like a talisman in front of him. The ladder opened into a small corridor, and Landon found himself in a curving passageway that fol­lowed the outside wall. The roar of the motorcycles and the high-pitched whine had both faded once he was inside and now he could hear the muffled tones of a human voice.

The luminous wall to his left suddenly gave out and Landon looked into the control room of the saucer. The walls were covered with cryptic designs and the air smelled like mushrooms. In the center of the floor was a raised platform; two figures were struggling behind it. Landon ran around the platform and pulled Byron off the alien creature, pinning his arms behind his back. Byron fought him for a full two minutes, the power of his an­ger seemingly endless. At last his strength gave out and Landon tied the kid’s arms with his own jacket.

The gnarled alien watched the process with black, expressionless eyes. Landon caught himself staring at the creature, reminded of a crumbling sandstone sculpture. He forced himself to look away and wrestled Byron out of the saucer.

The other riders were still circling. The pitch of the saucer’s whine climbed threateningly and Landon sensed it was about to explode. Byron struggled free, shrugged out of the jacket, and ran for his motorcycle.

“Leave it,” Landon shouted, unable even to hear himself. It was hopeless. He ran for the shelter of the nearest dune. He got over it and slid down the far side on hands and knees. He burrowed into the loose sand and faced away from the saucer, coughing and gasping for air. In the last moment before the explosion he saw Byron’s motorcycle silhouetted against the sky. It shot over the crest of the dune and tumbled gently into the sand at Landon’s feet, throwing the kid harmlessly to one side.

Another motorcycle followed, and was caught in mid­air by the full force of the blast. There was an instant of total light, then absolute darkness. When Landon was able to open his eyes again, there was no trace of the machine or the rider.

He pulled Byron into a fireman’s carry, wondering if they had been hopelessly irradiated. It made little dif­ference. The boy made a few weak gestures of resistance, then collapsed across Landon’s shoulders.

 

“Why?” byron shouted, slamming a beer bottle into the wall. “What’s stopping me? Who makes these rules that I’m breaking? The saucer men, that can’t even talk? The police, that are too scared shitless to do anything? The fucking executives in their little toy cars? Tell me!”

The kid’s anger seemed to have been building over the months, steadily, inexorably, since they’d first found him in the decaying cafe.

Three sullen girls sat on the floor near him, paying no attention to Landon at all. One chewed gum, another patiently put her hair in a high pony tail. “It’s me,” Landon said. “You’re putting my life on the line when you push things so hard. Mine and Kristen’s both.”

“If you can’t take the pressure,” Byron said, his voice suddenly quiet, “maybe you’re just too old.”

 

Landon got up from the bed and pulled on his trou­sers. Kristen dozed in a narrow band of sunlight, relaxed now, an arm behind her head, displaying the muscles of her ribcage.

Landon slipped on his stained white shirt, combed through his thinning hair with water from a pan in the bathroom. Then, almost as an afterthought, he buckled on his holstered gun.

The fading sunlight drew him outside. A mosquito sang past his ear and he idly waved it away. He took a pint of whiskey out of the car and stretched out on a lounge chair by the pool. Strange columnar mosses grew in the dark water, the beginnings of a new evolutionary cycle. Landon drank, shifting as one of the frayed vinyl straps gave way under his weight. The warmth of the whiskey met the heat of the sun somewhere in his ab­domen and radiated away into space. A single bird whistled in the distance.

Gradually he became aware of a new sound, close to the scream of a saucer, but more prolonged. It grew into a siren, and Landon turned his head to see a police car moving toward him from the north.

He capped the bottle of whiskey and sat up, think­ing of Kristen, vulnerable in the motel room. As he got to his feet he saw Byron leaning against the door to his cabin. He wore a black T-shirt, leather jacket, and jeans, his glasses hanging from one hand. A huge reefer dangled from his lips. He wore the Peacemaker strapped low on his leg, and his eyes were wary and exhausted.

Landon felt the pull of destiny, a movement of forces in planes perpendicular to his own. The approaching car, the tense, expectant figure of Byron, the murky pool at his feet, all seemed part of a ritual, a tension in the uni­verse that had to be worked out.

The lower limb of the sun touched the ocean and the world turned red. Light from the police car streaked the evening as two men got out, carrying lever action rifles. Their khaki uniforms glowed ruddy gold in the dying sunlight.

Finally one of the cops said, “Put your guns in the dirt.” Landon held himself perfectly still.

Suddenly one of Byron’s girls walked out the motel room. The contours of her body were clearly visible through her sweatshirt, contemptuous of the law, threat­ening civilization.

“Hold it,” one of the cops said.

The girl knelt by the pool, dipping one hand in the fecund water. “Fuck you,” she said, not looking up.

The cop raised his rifle, working the lever in short, nervous spasms. “Halt, I said!” His anguished voice reminded Landon of Byron. The girl ignored him, watch­ing the spreading ripples.

The bullet took her in the head, scattering fragments of her skull and whitish brain tissue over the pool. Landon, only a few feet away, stared at her gushing blood in horrid fascination. He pulled out his pistol in a kind of daze and turned to see Byron with his Peacemaker already out. The kid opened up, cocking the pistol with the flat of his left hand as fast as he fired. The two cops seemed to wait for the shots to tear into them, spinning with the heavy impacts, dust splashing up over them as they hit the ground.

Kristen stood in the open door of her room, wearing a threadbare white cotton shift, still unbuttoned. Her lips formed an unspoken question, then she went back in­side. Landon heard the sound of drawers opening and shutting, the rustle of clothes.

Byron spat the stub of his reefer into the dirt and picked up his glasses from where he’d let them fall. He turned the collar of his jacket up, rolling his shoulders in a protective gesture. As he got into his sports car he held Landon’s eyes for a long moment. Then he roared off onto the highway, his tires grazing the head of one of the dead policemen.

Landon left the girl’s body by the pool and began loading his things into the Pontiac.

 

A few days later, swinging south toward Yuma, they passed by the old motel. Hundreds of people, most in their early teens, wandered through the ruins, their faces full of confusion and the gathering darkness.

 

On the last day of September Landon rode into town with Kristen for supplies. He waited in the car as the daylight faded, his feet propped up on the dashboard. Coughing gently, he closed his eyes and listened to the crickets and the evening breeze in the palms. The crunch of gravel startled him and he looked up to see what must have been fifty grey-suited executives surrounding him.

The fear that finally came over him was the result of the failure of his imagination. It had not begun to pre­pare him for what he saw. The men stood with easy authority, their meekness and submission gone without a trace. They carried heavy weapons that Landon had never seen before, intricate masses of tubing and plastic that conjured death and burning.

One of them stepped forward. He was empty handed, authoritative. “Where’s the kid?” he said.

Landon shrugged. “We haven’t seen him for a week.” Kristen came out onto the sidewalk and Landon watched the fear and puzzlement spread over her face.

Another gray-suited figure pushed his way through the crowd and addressed the empty-handed man. “We’ve searched the town, J.L. He’s not here,”

J.L. nodded and looked at Landon. “Where would he have gone?”

“Anywhere,” Landon said, struggling for equilibrium. “No place.”

The man turned to Kristen, still standing in the door­way. “What about you?”

Kristen stared back, wordless, hostile.

Another man pushed through. “They’ve located him, J.L. He’s driving a sports car up the coast, towards New Elay. Some foreign job, silver, with numbers on the side.”

“Green’s outfit is up there. Have them take him be­fore he gets to town. It shouldn’t be hard, in this light. And tell him to make it look like an accident. It’ll save trouble in the long run.”

“The saucers,” Landon said.

“What?” J.L. said.

Landon pointed to the weapons, the communicators. “You made a deal. You sold out the rest of the human race so you could keep on going the way you were. That’s why your buildings and your cars never get hit by the saucers. Because you sold the rest of us out and now they let you run things. What did you give them? Women and young boys? Gasoline? Grey flannel suits?”

One of the junior executives reached over and slapped Landon across the mouth. J.L. shook his head and the man stepped back. “Get out of here,” J.L. said. “We’re through with you.”

Kristen said, “You’re letting us go?”

“Do you think,” J.L. said, “that we couldn’t have taken you any time we wanted? That if we want you again we won’t be able to find you? We don’t care about you. It’s the kid that’s dangerous. You’re just a part of the scen­ery. Just part of California.”

“California’s gone,” Landon said, tasting blood. “It’s on the bottom of the ocean.”

For the first time Landon saw a hint of emotion in the man. “No,” he said. “Not as long as we have a use for it. As long as there’s a coast, there’ll be a California.”

“The king is dead,” Landon said. “Long live the king.”

He was talking to the sunset. The men were gone and Kristen sat on the hood of the car, smoking and looking out to sea.

From somewhere beyond the ragged palm trees came the screaming of sea birds.

~

© 1980 by Flight Unlimited, Inc. First published in Shayol, Winter 1980. Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, usa.

~

Lewis Shiner is the author of Black & White, Frontera, and the World-Fantasy Award-winning Glimpses, among other novels. He’s also published four short story collections, journalism, and comics. Virtually all of his work is available for free download at www.fictionliberationfront.net.

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Interview with Pam Crawford of the James Dean Remembered Fan Club

Pam in James Deans fringed jacket.jpg

Pam in James Dean’s fringed jacket, Fairmount, Indiana. 

Pamela Crawford is the President of The James Dean Remembered Fan Club as well as editor of the DeanZine publication. I recently sat down with her to discuss her work there and her fascination for one of the world’s most talented actors.

For those not familiar with the story can you tell us a little about how you came to be such an admirer of James Dean?

My James Dean journey was kind of a process of osmosis. I turned seven years old exactly one month before Jimmy died in the car crash. At the time of his death, I’d never seen him in anything. I was still into Disney. But my teenaged cousin and babysitter had both seen him in East of Eden and went wild for him. My cousin wallpapered her walls and ceiling with magazine photos of him. It was quite impressive! But then, before Rebel even came out, he was dead. Gone at first blush. They were like widowed war brides –it was over before it really began. There is something especially tragic about the loss of someone so talented before their true potential is fully realized. It was hard to believe it was true. Various rumors began to circulate that Jimmy hadn’t really died in the crash. The theory that our teen girls grabbed on to was that Jimmy was angry with the director of Giant and had fled Hollywood on a cross-country road trip. At that time, my family lived on Highway 65 — a busy, pre-freeway, main artery between smaller Arkansas towns and the state capital in Little Rock. So those two love-struck teens came up with the crazy idea that if James Dean was traveling cross-country then he would just naturally have to come down the busy highway where our family lived. So they put my sister and me up to sitting on the side of the road waiting for James Dean to drive by. Our mission was to get him to stop at our house. Then we were to stall him until they could get there. They made signs for us to hold with edicts like “JAMES DEAN –STOP HERE.” My sister was only a year older than me so we had no idea how impossibly unrealistic the idea was! They described his car and gave us a photo of him so we’d recognize him. We were thrilled that we were entrusted with such an important job by the older girls! It was very exciting because he was a movie star and he drove a convertible. The two of us sat there day after day after school and looked at those photos and watched the road. Naïve as we were, it never occurred to us that we might have missed him while we were at school! We simply had a child’s faith that he would come down that road and stop when he saw our signs. While we waited, we both become infatuated with the young, handsome movie star, Jimmy Dean. We wanted him to come down that highway so bad. We sat out there every day until our mother finally broke down and told us that this beautiful young boy really was dead. She cried when she told us, and of course, we cried, too. Our hearts were broken. All these years later it still pains me to think about his death. It was my first brush with tragedy.

Cover for Deanzine Vol 16 Issue 51

Do you think the death of someone at such a young age affected you deeply because you were such a young person yourself at the time?

Absolutely. It was probably the first time I experienced a twinge of the devastating pain that accompanies loss – as much as such a young kid can absorb that. I’m not sure that I realized then just how permanent death is. I remember wondering if that meant that he would be gone forever, not even being sure how long forever was. Even though I’d never met James Dean, or even seen him in a movie at the time, it felt like I had come to know him. Sitting out there by the road focusing on him, believing with all my heart that we could flag him down, I think I fell hard for Jimmy Dean. At 7, I guess you could say that he was my first love. Being so young and impressionable, it had a huge effect on me. I dreamed about him and that car crash for years after that. In my dreams I was always trying to save him. Years later, when I went to Fairmount to visit his grave for the first time, my dad jokingly teased that after all those years I was still sitting on the side of the road waiting on James Dean to come by. He was right; that experience stuck with me. Maybe by going to Fairmount, I was seeking some kind of closure.

How do you think that whole experience affected who are you today?

I think it triggered a fear of losing people I love. I absolutely cherish my family and friends. I wrap my arms tight around them and would do just about anything to protect them. I am determined to be there for them, to be with them through thick and thin, and above all, to keep them from harm. It is hard for me to let go. Some of that probably comes from that early realization that people can vanish from the earth in a second. So you better cherish them while they are here.

On the upside, I came to realize that you have to live your life to the fullest each day because tomorrow is never guaranteed. Jimmy did that. He made the most of the time he had. It still seems cruel that someone as young, talented and hard-working as Jimmy would be cut off at the cusp of his career. There was so much that he had accomplished in his short life but so much more that he had to give. His future was short-changed but he definitely lived life to the hilt while he walked this earth. It is a lesson for all of us. I try to live my life in the moment, maybe not as extraordinarily as Jimmy, but definitely present.

Jimmy made an impact on me from the beginning – but through the years, I learned more about Jimmy and his philosophy of life. His embracement of new ideas and of people of all walks of life and all cultures – his openness and tolerance and probing spirit — has inspired my whole life.

cover of Deanzine Vol16 Issue 50

What are some of your most fond memories of growing up as you did?

Probably my earliest, fondest memories are of playing with my cousins on the bayou where my grandparents lived. I adored my grandparents. I had a great childhood with wonderful parents and siblings and a big and loving extended family. Also, I treasure memories like watching my babysitter and her boyfriend rock ‘n’ roll like maniacs – totally oblivious to the rest of the world — to vinyl records back in the 50s. Kids back then had so much fun! And naturally, sitting by the side of the road waiting on Jimmy Dean to come by is always with me.  Elvis … The Beatles … JFK … the sixties … the moon landing… backpacking through Europe — all are tucked inside my heart and mind. I kept diaries of everything. I’ve been fortunate to live through some astounding times and events. It’s been a full, eventful life. I’m grateful for that.

What is it like running the James Dean Remembered Fan Club? How can our readers find out more about that if they’d like?

It is an honor.  I have made wonderful friends all over the world through this club. It is always growing. James Dean was an iconic actor who had that unique ability to make everyone feel that he was speaking to them personally and his legend has grown, not abated, through the years. To have a part in paying tribute to his memory is a special privilege. The fan club is a place where Dean Fans can connect with each other and share their experiences, Dean memorabilia, memories and feelings. In addition to paying homage to the incredible man who inspired the club, it is a club that is very much focused on the people who are in it. We are the only James Dean fan club that is sanctioned by the James Dean Estate. You can find us on Facebook under James Dean Remembered Fan Club. We also have a full-color brochure that describes JDR and our goals. And as you know, we publish a full-color, glossy, tribute magazine called the Deanzine three times a year for our members.

You are also the editor of DeanZine, is it challenging coming up with the content for each issue?

Actually, not at all. When I was first approached about becoming the editor of the Deanzine, I was concerned about how I would come up with interesting content to fill up issues year after year. But I worried needlessly. I’ve been publishing it around 17 years and lack of content has never been a problem. Dean Fans send me ideas and content from all over the world. When you think about it, it is absolutely amazing that 62 years after his death, James Dean is still inspiring people. He is still featured regularly in magazines and newspaper articles, TV, film, art, fashion, songs, poems, etc. His name is brought up somewhere every single day. The sheer number of other actors who were – and still are – inspired by him is mind-boggling. The biggest problem I have is wheedling down all the content to fit in a 32 to 36 page publication!

What would you say are some of the most interesting things you have learned about Jimmy through your work?

My initial attraction as a child was likely to Jimmy’s iconic image of youthful beauty and teen angst. That searching, seeking face with its penetrating blue eyes — all wrapped up in such an appealingly shy, enigmatic persona — is a natural hook for the young. But my interest has evolved over the years into a deeper respect for the man as a human being. I still appreciate the former but absolutely adore the latter! The most interesting and amazing things I’ve learned about him is his full-on embracement of life and total commitment to his art. I also admire his unfettered willingness to grow and learn. As a fellow human being, the most inspiring thing for me has always been his openness to new ideas, people and possibilities. He was an enthusiastic student of life – always pulling and probing and seeking the truth so he could embody his characters fully. I love that he embraced real people with no distinctions regarding color of skin, social class, money, circumstances, or employment. He was not blinded by inane prejudices. He was from a very small town but he openly cultivated a worldlier viewpoint. I love his openness and appreciation for unique ideas and individuality. He was a doer and a learner, always aiming higher.

Is everyone looking forward to this year’s festival and the dedication of the high school stage? Will there be more about all of that in an upcoming issue?

Oh yes. The James Dean Festival is always an exciting event for Dean Fans. Fans come from all over the world to attend the Festival and James Dean Run Car Show. There’s extra excitement this year over the restoration and relocation of the former FHS Stage to Playacres Park in Fairmount. It was a terrible shame that the high school could not be saved but we are all thankful to the Fairmount Lion’s Club for rescuing the stage. That stage is where James Dean first honed his acting skills – it is an intricate part of his history. Naturally the next issue of the Deanzine will be full of photos and articles about Festival activities. My personal favorite event is the James Dean Memorial Service coming up on September 30th. The Memorial Service (1pm) and accompanying Candlelight Vigil that evening are always genuine, moving tributes to Jimmy’s memory.

What are the typical festival days like up there?

Busy, busy, busy. The Fairmount Historical Museum has a full line-up of activities over a 4-day period, September 21, 2017 – September 24, 2017. There’s live music, an old-fashioned hometown parade, a 50’s dance contest, a Dean-inspired rock lasso contest, pet parade, carnival rides, vendors of all kinds, great food, a world-class antique car show (The James Dean Run) and World-famous James Dean Lookalike Contest. There’s so much going on that I’m sure I’ve forgotten something! It’s a fun-filled, exciting time for the whole family.

JDR T shirts for fan club

2017 Tshirt design for the Fan Club, designed by Mark Kinnaman.

Why do you think it is important to honor the memory of those who are no longer with us?

Because they are intrinsically connected to the people we become. They inspire us and help us determine core values and traits that define our character as we develop into adults. The examples set by the people who came before us help us navigate through life ourselves. What we learn from their struggles prepares us for being the best of our human selves. We learn from their good deeds and traits and also their foibles. By honoring the good in them we bring honor upon ourselves. They are our blueprint for character development.

Is there anything else you’d like to say in closing?

Just that I am thankful for James Dean and how his inquisitive, full-throttle approach to life has enriched my own life. He is more than a movie icon to me; he’s a role model. I have been especially blessed to be part of James Dean Remembered and the whole Dean family. We are truly a great big, wonderful family made up of many different personalities from all walks of life and all parts of the world. Like his multidimensional characters, we are alike yet different and somehow we meld together like magic. James Dean fans are truly the best, most interesting people in the world! My life is richer because of them.

Deanzine Cover for Issue 50

 

 

An Interview with Bob & Jake Roth on the Dedication of the Fairmount High School Stage

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The stage from the recently demolished Fairmount High School is set to be restored with a dedication ceremony this September 23, 2017 at Playacres Park in Fairmount during this year’s James Dean festival, with guest speakers Marcus Winslow Jr. and David Nall (better known as the son of Adeline Nall, who worked tirelessly to encourage the growth of knowledge and creativity of her students during her time there as the Drama and Speech teacher and beyond). The stage on which Dean and countless other locals performed during their high school years will be a long standing memorial in honor of the past as well as a future venue for Fairmount’s Concerts in the Park. It was an honor to sit down with Lion’s Club member Jake Roth who spearheaded the project and his brother Bob, who was a classmate of Jimmy to learn a little more about why this project is so dear to their hearts.

Bob & Jake Roth:  What was it like growing up in Fairmount when you did? What are some of your most fond memories from those days?

It was a small town and we both knew everybody. Some our most fond memories are of playing basketball with our friends & neighbors.

(Both) How do you think things have changed most since then for better and for worse?

Back in the days we knew all our neighbors and friends. There were no worries like there is today.

(Both) What was it like to attend Fairmount High School? What do you think made it a unique learning institution during its time?

It was wonderful. It was a small school and a small town. We intermixed.

(Both) What would you say is the most important thing you learned during your time there?

To be able to get along with people.

(Both)What was Adeline like as a teacher? What do you think it was about her that made her so good at what she did?

She was a real sweet lady. She had a great personality and was a likeable person. She could see the good in the hearts of her students and she was dedicated to them.

(Bob) I understand from David Nall that you were a classmate of his? What was he like back then? Are you looking forward to his speaking during this year’s festival?

Yes! He was a nice kid. I think it is great!

(Bob)The two of you, as I’ve been told, were Sophomore’s when Jimmy was a Senior and you were on the basketball team with Jimmy as well? Do you remember what he (Jimmy) was like when you first met? What was he like on the court?

Yes. We played basketball and I guarded him at practice. He was just regular kid. A good ball player.

(Bob) What was he like as an individual? Do you have any memories of him that stand out most in your mind to this day?

I wasn’t around him that much. He played Frankenstein in his class play.

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The play, Goon With the Wind, and Frankenstein made their appearance October 29 at the annual Hallowe’en Carnival held at the high school. Characters in the play were: Joan Jones, Jim Dean, and David Nall. Jim Dean, as Frankenstein, grotesquely “scared the wits” out of the Audience.

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(Bob) Do you think that who he was as a person is often lost in the iconic celebrity status he worked so hard to cultivate?

He worked hard at that time. He wanted to be a movie star.

(Both)Marcus Winslow Jr. will be speaking at the dedication as well. Do you enjoy having the chance to hear him speak at various events? What do you think of how all the Winslow’s have worked so hard to keep Jimmy’s memory alive? 

Yes. It is great!

(Jake)What first inspired you to pursue this project? Why do you think it is so important to preserve this piece of history for generations yet to come?

The Stage was all intact while sitting there in the Old School. It was just waiting for someone like…me to notice it. It still had its Life in it. What a great piece of history this town has for many James Dean Fans from all over the World, who have come to our Small Town in USA to visit and for the former classmates from FHS who at one time or another acted in class plays under the direction of Adeline Nall. This was the last place James Dean acted in his class plays while in High School. It is a really nice Stage that can be used for plays and Concerts in the Park next Summer.

(Both) Are you excited to see the stage restored to its former glory?

Yes!

(Both) What is Fairmount like during Festival Days? What do you think Jimmy would have thought of it all?

There are a lot of friendly people. He would enjoy it!

(Both)Why do you think the town of Fairmount should be restored and preserved? What steps need to be taken to see that accomplished?

To keep bringing people in to our small, quiet town. The town as received a grant of $500,000 starting the beginning of 2018.

(Both) Is there anything you’d like to say in closing? 

We have had the new stage re-build and are having a Dedication Saturday, September, 23rd, 2017 at 12:00 NOON  inside the Playacres Park by the Car Registration Booth. Thank You for the Interview.

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(All black and white photos used with permission from CMG Worldwide, others with permission from Jake Roth. )

“From the Day of the Dead to Madison, Wisconsin” by John Grey

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FROM THE DAY OF THE DEAD TO MADISON, WISCONSIN

The tourist stands at the edge of the sidewalk
to contemplate flamboyant coffins being toted through
the streets of Vera Cruz during Holy Week.
He draws nourishment, emotionally and intellectually,
from the integration of death into his life.

Studying the procession as it passes,
he sees the interconnectedness
of smiling Catrina skulls
and wondering when his own passing will come.

Contemplating the decay, the end,
had always sent a shudder through his heart.
But now along comes a dancing, toothy skeleton
and, as with the children around him,
his spirits soar.

He nibbles on a candy cadaver
purchased from a roadside stall.
He explores the treasures
of feeling himself in a body
and imagining himself without.

He’s not afraid of death again
until he returns to the States
to witness his mother in a panic
as she awaits the results of a biopsy
and hears how a cousin was just killed in a car crash.

The man stands at the edge of the lives of others
wondering what they ever did to deserve their fate.
Along comes a parade of coughers and complainers,
worriers and weaklings,
and those who could, even now,
be unknowingly in harm’s way.
There is nothing there for him to draw on.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Sheepshead Review, Studio One, and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Louisiana Review, Poem and Spoon River Poetry Review.  

 

 

“To the Earlobe” by Robert Wooten

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To the Ear Lobe

Like the rising sun
coming through waters
of open life, I hear
the dancers drawing near
and feel their inner strife.
Open books that lean and fall
open narrow doors, leave rootless
the sprouted man.
A simple thought, driven to climax,
takes a simple minute,
reclines to relax
and resolves the nicer cut.

Robert Wooten’s second chapbook, Famous Last Words, was a finalist for the Bright Hill Press Poetry Chapbook Prize.  He is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Alabama (1998) and of the MA program at North Carolina State University (1994).  His poems have appeared in ‘Tis the Season: an anthology of Christmas poetryThe Southern Poetry AnthologyCommon Ground ReviewThe Pedestal Magazine,  Strong Verse, and others.

An Interview with Jim Davis

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The following interview was conducted, years ago on a now defunct website The Damned Interviews, as it can no longer be found online except on The Damned Book of Interviews on Amazon, I figured I would offer it & selected others from the book here at Van Gogh’s Ear. Thank you for taking the time to read.

Who among us doesn’t admire Jim Davis for his hard work and creativity? His career in illustration began in 1969 and has made him one of the most prolific cartoonists there are. As the creator of Garfield, he created one of the most widely recognizable characters of modern day and that is no small feat. He also wrote or co- wrote on all of the Garfield TV Specials. Davis produced the animated series Garfield & Friends which originally aired from 1988-1995. Most recently he created the new CGI TV series The Garfield Show (of which he is also an executive producer) and works as a writer/producer for the Direct to Video CGI Garfield films. He also founded The Professor Garfield Foundation to promote Children’s Literacy. Jim continues to produce the Garfield strip.

Is it true when you grew up you had 25 cats? What was that like? Do you think that is why you chose to make Garfield a cat instead of a dog or some other animal?

Yes, it’s true we had at least 25 cats. They were all barn cats with a mission to keep mice at bay. I used to hang out in the barn and would observe that they all had distinct personalities. Some were aloof, some loved attention, some were playful, others wouldn’t budge unless the barn was on fire. I remember as a kid thinking that cats were kind of cool in their own way. They didn’t answer to anyone.

I actually started my cartooning career with a strip called Gnorm Gnat. My hunch was that nonhuman characters could be placed in many more interesting situations with greater flexibility that human characters. In that strip, Gnorm was the straight man (or gnat) surrounded by a bunch of weird characters:  Cecil Slug, Freddy the Fly, Dr. Rosenwurm. I submitted the strip to all the syndicates and finally one comics editor came back to me with some good advice. He said, “Your art is good, the jokes are funny, but bugs? Who can relate to a bug?” That’s when I started thinking about a new approach. I took a good look at the comics pages and realized there were lots of dog strips: Snoopy, Marmaduke, Belvedere…but no cats.  That was my EUREKA moment.

What would you say is your favorite memory from back then?

Summer days and nights that seemed endless. Starry skies. Fishing with my brother Doc.

Did you also love to draw as a child?

Not at first. I was pretty terrible. I was asthmatic as a child and was forced inside and in bed for days at a time. My mom would encourage me to keep myself busy; she’d shove a pencil and paper in my hands and tell me to entertain myself. My drawings were so bad I had to label everything so you could tell what it was. Eventually, I developed a habit and couldn’t stop drawing. I remember sitting under the kitchen table and making little drawings on the bottom of the table. I’m pretty sure I drew on some walls, too.

When you first created Garfield did you ever dream he would have become such a huge character as he has? Why do you think so many people love him?

When I received the phone call saying Garfield would be picked up by the syndicate, it was the best day of my life. Everything since then has just been gravy. I think Garfield resonated with people for a couple reasons — Number one, I tried to keep the gags broad and the humor general and applicable to everyone. Most of the gags were about eating and sleeping. Everyone could relate. And then, I think people liked Garfield because it was the Jane Fonda era — everyone was being told to exercise and eat less. Garfield was saying, “Take a nap.” “Have a donut.”  He rebelled against the fitness trend and a lot of people needed that to relieve their guilt for being couch potatoes.

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What do you think you’d be doing now if not for that?

Without a doubt, I’d be a farmer.

What was it like to see the specials based on your work be nominated for and in some cases win an Emmy? Was that a little surreal?

I’ll never forget the first show, “Here Comes Garfield.” It was 1981 and I was in a studio in California struggling with how to make Garfield stand up and dance. My all-time hero, Charles Schulz (Peanuts), happened to be working on a project in the same studio. He came by and I explained my problem. Sparky (as he was known to friends) provided me with the solution on the spot. He started drawing over my drawing, saying, “The problem is, you’ve made Garfield’s feet too small. Little tiny cat feet.” So he got Garfield, like Snoopy, up off all fours and Garfield’s been walking upright ever since. Talk about surreal.

Aside from Garfield which of your other characters did you enjoy creating most?

I really love Odie. He’s stupid but sweet, and for a character that doesn’t talk, he’s very expressive. It’s also fun to do strips with Jon Arbuckle’s parents and brother because they’re based on my own family. It’s fun to tease the people you love in such a public format.

How have things in the world of comics changed most since you first started your work in the field?

Comics editors are trying to squeeze a ton of strips onto the comics page so they’re all pretty small when they end up in the newspaper. I’ve had to learn to be a good editor — minimize the number of words and include lots of sight gags.

Can you tell our readers a little about The Professor Garfield Foundation? What led you to form that?

When I was on book tour, people would come up to me all the time and tell me that Garfield helped their child learn to read. The simple combination of pictures and words sparked their interest. After hearing this over and over, I thought there had to be something to it. I started talking to educators and they confirmed that comic strips were a powerful tool in teaching reading. My alma mater, Ball State University, happens to be a few miles away from the studio — they have one of the top Teacher’s Colleges in the country. We formed a partnership and the Foundation was born. Our mission is to provide a fun, interactive, online environment where children can safely explore, learn and creatively express themselves.

Do you enjoy creating works that appeal to children as well as adults?

Absolutely. My wife tells me I’m just a big kid, so it comes naturally. I have four grandchildren now, too, so they are giving me a great education.

Do you find that being a cartoonist helps you stay young at heart? Do you think that is an important thing do?

I make a living drawing a cat. How mature is that? I hope I never completely grow up — that would be very bad for Garfield.

Can you tell us about Paws, Inc.? Do you feel lucky to have the chance to employ and work with so many fellow artists?

Paws, Inc. is the licensing and creative studio that supports everything Garfield is involved in (TV, movies, licensing, publishing). The other artists inspire and challenge me. I feel incredibly lucky to be around so many creative people every day.

Is there any one interview question that no one has ever asked, that you wish they would?

Can’t think of anything…

What is one little-known thing about you?

I’m a decent bridge player.

What projects are you working on next?

There are a couple of projects on the table, but I’m not at liberty to talk about them just yet. Let’s just say, Garfield will be busy for a long time to come.

Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans/readers in closing?

Thank you for allowing a 66-year-old man to behave like a 12-year-old. I’m forever in your debt.

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(Photos used with permission from Paws, Inc.)