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Saturday, January 29, 2011

INTERVIEW: LOU BOXER - NoirCon Kingpin



Lou Boxer is the criminal mastermind behind NoirCon a bi-annual celebration of the life of David Goodis and all things NOIR! 



Q1: How do you think David Goodis would have coped with the amount of social networking that a lot of writers do today?

Not.

He was a loner.  Social networking would have cramped his style and his research.

Q2: Do you think Goodis was a product of his times?

Wow! 

Goodis was certainly a product of his times and so much more.

Post World War 2 America and for that matter the world was a time of great healing, introspection and redefining of culture.  Fresh from the horrors of Nazi Germany and nuclear proliferation in the pacific, the human race was left raw and ready to start again.  Goodis found himself at the crossroads of racial injustice, a public hungry to examine themselves and his own personal desire to have a good time on his terms. 

Never being one to capitulate to anyone, he grappled with racial injustice by pursuing life in Watts, Los Angeles and the less desirable neighborhoods in Philadelphia and New York and I suspect everywhere in between.  He was drawn to African American music (i.e. Duke Ellington, Herschel Evans, ), African American athletes (i.e. boxers - Billy "Chicken" Thompson) and one particular African American artist of international renown (i.e. Selma Hortense Burke).  He wrote about people that were down on their luck and with no particular hope of ever having a happy ending in their lives.  But these people seemed to adjust to their situation and in so doing learned to live and feel alive. 

Foremost, Goodis wanted to be a part of everything, experience everything but on his own terms.  This was his undoing in Hollywood, in his marriage and in any of the success he may have garnered when he returned to Philadelphia.

So yes, he was a product of his times.  He practiced his own form of  civil disobedience and I think that is why Esquire Magazine (July 1964: Love (Old Sentimentality)/Love (New Sentimentality)) called him theHigh Priest of the New Cult He had described man  as the anti-hero guy, the protagonist as the loser. For Goodis and probably the majority of people during this time period (extending to present day), good doesn't always triumph over evil.  Life is hard, difficult and sometimes absolute hell.  But I digress, Goodis was a product of his times, but his times are our times also.

Thinking further about the question, DG's middle class, Jewish upbringing and liberal disposition coupled with the rigid socio-political constraints of the late 30s to the 50s, shaped Goodis while at the same time allowing him to blaze his own independent trail into to the much more accepting and tolerant 60s.

Some may say he was ahead of his time in his approach to life.  He certainly marched to the beat of his own drum, maybe even his own parade.

Q3: How did you first crash into the world of David Goodis?

I was hanging out my favorite book store in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia ( a favorite local of David Goodis) when I got into a discussion about famous noir writers from Philadelphia.  Of course there was Poe and Lippard, but I wanted to learn about a forgotten writer. Someone lost to time, but who had made a difference with his writing.  Maybe not as a commercial success, but someone who had left a mark in the literary world but had become overlooked by those not knowledgeable nor well read enough to have known him or her. 

Enter Duane Swierczynski Knowledgeable and well read.  "David Goodis of course is your man.  Not only is his writing first rate, but his life is equally as fascinating if not more. This was late 2005, early 2006.  The rest is history. 

Goodis's published works were elusive/allusive as was his sole biography.  The biography was only available in French and his printed works were equivalent to searching for the Holy Grail.  I was not deterred.  I set out to find all of his works and learn about his life. 

So with obsessive compulsive drive, I embarked on an adventure that continues to this day.  Goodis had been an enigma, but I have spent a great deal of time reading his works and meeting as many family and friends that knew David Goodis.

Q4: What's your medical diagnosis of Goodis?

Although I am not a psychiatrist (I am the son of a psychiatrist), I have had the opportunity to be a student of a great deal of psychopathology, but I digress.  Let's examine David Goodis and his idiosyncrasies and eccentricities.

David Goodis was known for many peculiarities that were perceived as down right "weird" and often socially unacceptable to those who did not know him.  To those that knew him, these traits defined David Goodis.
From my "analysis", David was the oldest of three boys in a family clearly dominated by his mother, Molly.  His second brother, Jerome was born in 1919 and died in 1923 of meningitis.  His youngest brother, Herbert, was born in 1923 and died in 1971.  He died after being missing for 10 days.  His cause of death was malnutrition.  Herbert had suffered from a life long mental illness.  Today it would have been diagnosed as either schizophrenia or bipolar disease.  Given the stigmata attached to mental illness in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s, Herbert remained undiagnosed, untreated and marginalized from the mainstream of society.   His plight was no different than millions of others that suffered from similar metal afflictions.  One thing he had going for him was the incredible love and attention that his immediate and extended family wrapped him in.

David Goodis was the Goodis brother that all hopes were hung on.  On the surface, Goodis was the epitome of success, creativity and congeniality.  He made many friends in Philadelphia that stuck by him until his demise in 1967.  The friends were few in Hollywood.  When he returned from the West Coast in the early 40s, he had been divorced, a persona non grata at Warner Brothers and in need of a way to provide for himself, his brother and his parents.

Okay, the stage is set.  I will run down the laundry list of myths and rumors that shroud Goodis as a man of mystery or just a very talented man with an undiagnosed mental condition.

His penchant for being verbally and physically abused by large, abusive Black women.  Referred to as going "to the Congo".

His desire to wear clothes until they were threadbare after dying them salmon pink or dark blue.  He is rumored to have had a "blue" tartan suit that he wore on the Warner Brothers lot.  He hated wearing new clothing.

He had an aversion to anything touching his waist.  He would purposely alter the waist band of his pants to prohibit the cloth from touching his midsection.  This necessitated the use and fondness of suspenders.

He would collect old jalopies and drive these cars into the ground.  He paid no attention to the upkeep or maintenance of his vehicles. He is rumored to have owned a 1936 AirFlow Chrysler, 4 door convertible that originally belonged to Betty Davis.

He was extremely frugal and rarely spent money.

He would wear a white robe and profess to being an exiled White Russian prince of the Blood.

He was very fond of shoving the red wrapper of Lucky Strike cigarettes up his nose to feign a nose bleed.

Making a medical diagnosis based on historical fact, rumor and innuendo is very tricky, but after talking with many of his friends and family members,  I would have to admit that Goodis did suffer from mental illness, certainly not to the degree that his brother did.  Not being a psychiatrist, I would say that he was manic depressive 

PS:  I have included a picture of Goodis at the piano in a pink suit that he called "Lox".  Yes, Lox, like the color of salmon.  The other picture is of Herbert, Molly and William Goodis.  These photos are not copyrighted so you can include them in the piece.

Q5: How difficult is it for a latter day writer to channel the Goodis spirit?

It all depends on the latter day writer.  Probably the best example of channeling or "projective verse" isCharles Olson's CALL ME ISHMAEL.  It opens:

I take SPACE to be the central fact to man born in America, from Folsom cave to now. I spell it large because it comes large here. Large, and without mercy… Some men ride on such space, others have to fasten themselves like a tent stake to survive. As I see it Poe dug in and Melville mounted. They are the alternatives.-- Call Me Ishmael by Charles Olson

The writer must engage with the SPACE.  Writing is not meant to be a passive process, but rather an active struggle that results in a breathing, living thing that has climbed out of the primordial soup.  I cannot say it better than Olson, himself:

"It comes to this: the use of a man, by himself and thus by others, lies in how he conceives his relation to nature...If he is contained within his nature as he is participant in the larger force, he will be able to listen, and his hearing through himself will give him secrets objects share.  And be an inverse law his shapes will make their own way....This is not easy.   Nature works with reverence, even in her destructions (species go down with a crash).  But breath is man's special qualification as animal.  Sound is a dimension he has extended.  Language is one of his proudest acts....I keep thinking, it comes to this: culture displacing the state."  

Looking forward to modern day writers that channel Goodis that include the SPACE that is our world, I would include Ken Bruen (Galway), George Pelecanos (Baltimore), Dennis Lehane (Boston), Al Guthrie (Edinburgh), Michael Connelly (Los Angeles), James Ellroy (USA), Philip Roth and Duane Swierczynski (Philadelphia).  By all means this list is no where complete and apologize for its brevity. 

It is difficult.  It is a struggle, but is Holy worth it!  

At the 2011 Memorial for David Goodis, I read an essay called WHO THE HELL IS DAVID GOODIS as an attempt to channel the voice and the breath of this man of mystery.  I had to go back to his beginning in order to come forward to January 9, 2011.  I believe it captures some of those secrets objects share:

 ‘Many have called me a pervert, a deviant, a masochist and a hack.  I have been called a man of mystery, a   loner and a forgotten soul.

 I am an artist, a writer, a joker, a non-conformist, a brother, a son and a lover.

 To my family, I am a doting brother, a loving son and a charismatic brother.

 To my friends, I am the ultimate prankster always searching for the shocking, off-color and bizarre.  I have been described as a Jekyll and Hyde personality – self-obsessed, eccentric, reclusive, sentimental, forgettable, mild-mannered, manic depressive, charming, tender-hearted and innocuous.  [correspondence with Sandy Schwartz] Sure, I had my idiosyncrasies and obsessions, but who doesn’t?

 My productivity was prolific and legendary!  10,000 words a day, 1,000,000 words a year with my two fingered typing technique.  Initially I sought to write solemnly and handle only the important issues.  But of course the most important issue of all is putting food in one’s belly and in order to that I deviated from the track most of the time and complied with the wishes of my editors and publishers, I admit that was a weakness.  I threw away a lot of time in Hollywood, although I must admit I had a lot of fun in Hollywood.

 I am an enigma, a riddle, a master of disguise.  I am a chameleon and I can change my color to suit any social situation.  I live and breathe the human condition.

 In my world, Good doesn’t always win over Evil.  You are on your own in this world.  Alone.  What happens is sometimes sheer luck or circumstance; it depends how you react or what you can get away with.  Losers are losers.  For us there is no comfortable redemption nor faith to sustain any reason in an unreasonable world.  In  our wretched condition, where today and tomorrow are a living hell, there must be violence.  For violence frees us from our loneliness and fear.  Though it I am able to feel! To live.

 I hold firm to the belief that the greatest works of art are those wherein the artist is unmindful of the time and effort spent and concerned only with the goal of creating a thing of truth and loveliness and perfection. {Correspondence with Anita Halpern Rosenau.]

 Maybe I wanted this mystery to surround my death and life.  Maybe I never really gave it any thought.  This was the hand I was dealt and I played it to the fullest.  Win, lose or draw.  I lost.  Was it the beating I received from the muggers outside of Linton’s cafeteria, or shoveling snow during big storm of the winter of 1967 or my genetic make-up that brought me to Roosevelt Cemetery some 43 years ago?  No matter.  At last I am with my beloved mother, father and brother for eternity.

I am David Goodis.  I am a writer.’

Q6: Is Noircon an obsession?

NoirCon is a passion.  My wife would disagree with me and say it was an obsession. NoirCon is a treasure map, a symposium, a mystery and an incredible collection of people from all over the world that share in this passion-obsession.   I have often said that NoirCon represents a modern day depiction of Raphael's School of Athens or Scuola di  Atene.  

It is a coming together of the Noir greats (i.e. Ken Bruen, Megan Abbott, Reed Farrel Coleman, Duane Swierczynski, Joan Schenkar (Patricia Highsmith), Charles Ardai, Mike Nevins, David Goodis, Ed Pettit (Edgar Allen Poe/George Lippard), Howard Rodman, Peter Rozovsky, Dennis McMillan, Scott Phillips, Christa Faust, Shannon Clute, George Pelecanos, Allan Guthrie, Johnny Temple, Laura Lippman,Robert Polito, Seth Harwood, David Corbett, Charles Benoit, Jared Case, David Schmid, Sarah Weinman (Dorothy B. Hughes), Jim Nisbet, Mike White, Sandra Ruttan, Kent Harrington, Don Herron, Eddie Muller, Jay Gertzman, Robert Truluck, George Anastasia, Anthony Bruno, Stacia Decker, Carol Mallory, Richard Sand,  Jason Starr,  Jeff Wong, Jen Siler, Rich Edwards, S.J. Rozan, William Boyle (George Simenon), Ken Wishnia, Deen Kogan, William Lashner, Gary Phillips, Cullen Gallagher, William Heffernan, Matt Louis, David Thompson and the list goes on.......

Whether it is an obsession or a passion, it always ends up being one hell of a good time!

Q7: Predictions for NoirCon 2012?

I predict that NoirCon 2012 will far exceed the excitement and drama of NoirCon 2010, 2008 and GoodisCon 2007.  In an age where the impersonal, mega-convention is king, NoirCon 2012 will continue to shine as a bright star where individuality and comradery are cherished  .  

There will be more scintillating presentations/discussions, classic noir movie presentations, amazing award recipients, raffles, and an ever growing family of noir aficionados. I predict that many old friends will meet many new friends as well.  The festivities for NoirCon 2012 will begin on January 7, 2012 as we mark the 45th anniversary of the death of David Goodis.

The celebration will culminate at NoirCon 2012 running from November 8th through the 11th of 2012.   To keep abreast of all activities evolving with regard to NoirCon 2012, follow us at www.noircon.info.  Make sure you mark your calender to come and join the NoirCon Party of 2012!


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