This world is full of folks (like me) who are too scared to be dumb or gross or fun, no matter how smart they are. On the other hand, blessings on the head of Blaster Al Ackerman, a writer, painter and correspondence artist who has produced a massive body of work, much of it untrackable due to his pervasive use of pseudonyms (and, for that matter, anonyms) one of which you, Arthur reader, will find in your own home in the form of the song “Hamburger Lady,” the best song by the rock band Throbbing Gristle. I’ll save the long story of Mail Art that brought about this happenstance for another day, though.
What’s important to know for now is that Ackerman has been producing a lot of text and image huzz for the private consumption of a handful of huzz-hufferers, and its taken form of a handful of side-splitting books (The Blaster Omnibus, Let Me Eat Massive Pieces of Clay, I Taught my Dog to Shoot a Gun and, most recently, Corn and Smoke among them), earning him a place in some circles as the contemporary equivalent of Poe. If you have not previously encountered his writing or drawings, we highly recommend that in advance of the short interview that follows you familiarize yourself with his work, at the least, with his recent text at the Lamination Colony site, “Eel Leonard’s Class Prophecy” and/or the free downloads of his spoken-word LP masterpiece I Am Drunk.
Also, in advance of the exchange that follows, it is worth knowing that as a young person in Texas the 50s, Ackerman became absorbed by the world of pulp fiction and attempted to become a writer, although during the pulps’ waning years he only got published in romance magazines. He did, however, strike up a correspondence with science fiction writer Frederic Brown. In the 60s, he worked as a children’s TV show writer and in a carnival before going to Vietnam as a Medivac and then working in burn wards in U.S. hospitals. In the early 70s, he got heavily involved with Mail Art, ultimately centering around David Zack and Istvan Kantor with whom he co-generated the Neoist banner of 80s pranks, plagiarism, art and multiple identity. Through the 80s and 90s, he published frequently in magazines like The Lost and Found Times (edited by frequent collaborator John M. Bennett) and the Shattered Wig Review (edited by Rupert Wondolowski)
Q: I know you were a fan of the rhythm and blues singers of the 50s as a young person in Texas. Could you tell us a little about those concerts and how they might have shaped you?
Ackerman: The first R&B concert I ever attended was probably the greatest. It took place at the Municipal Auditorium in downtown San Antonio, Texas. This was in the very early 50s and admission was only $4 or $5! A true bargain, especially when you consider who all was on the bill. An unbelievable line-up consisting of Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Frankie Lyman, Little Richard and “Mr. Please Please Please Himself” James Brown. Big Joe Turner (the Boss of the Blues) was the headliner, which seem strange today, especially considering the talent on hand but back in the early 50s Joe Turner was the most prominent name.
San Antonio was a heavy pachuco town so audience participation ran high with many seat cushions slashed; there was also wholesale bopping and vicious horseplay on the railing of the balcony upstairs and frequent injuries from falls.
Through it all, I might add, speculation ran rife over the burning question: “Is Frankie Lymon a hermaphrodite?!” (In rock circles in the early 50s this was one of two questions which engaged the brains of all true R&B fans; the other being “Is Brenda Lee a midget?”)
Anyway, I would have to say that in my experience the only other R&B shows that ever came close happened a few years later at the “Dars” Miller in Austin, Texas, when Bo Diddley and Bobby Blue Bland appeared, the crowd became so worked up that they locked the security guards in a closet, took their guns away and fired them off into the air while Bo stayed on stage and got down with “I’m a Man.” Too much.
Q: What’s the best job in the carnival, job-gratification-wise?
Ackerman: Running the Duck Pond Ride and sleeping down by the river in your duck mask, if you go in for that sort of thing.
Q: Once a person finds his way into an artform, he or she begins, over time, to recognize the mistakes or foolishness of those who preceeded him or her in that form. I wonder, once you’d gotten into mail art, in which ways did you think that Ray Johnson had slipped, a little or a lot?
Ackerman: This is a hard one, especially when you realize how I idolized Ray. And so while it’s true that Ray fell victim on occassion to a certain loquaciousness, especially in the later years, I prefer to remember when he was right on target such as the time when Art Forum was asking for an important statement and Ray came out with, “Every time I walk down the street, the little birdies go tweet-tweet-tweet.”
Really, though, in Mail Art, the real “slappage” comes when you’re on tour and you stop by somebody’s keen little house in Tulsa or Louisville and you’ve been slugging the vodka in the backseat for 3 or 400 miles so that you find upon getting into their guest room that you’re overflowing the bowl and ruining an expensive carpet and priceless antiques. What then?
Q: In Frederick Brown’s story “Come and Go Mad,” there’s long repetition of the colors, “the red and the black,” and it’s left open to interpretation, to say the least. Any thoughts on that passage?
Ackerman: I would guess that Fred was figuring that the name Stehndhal would pop into your mind, comme pour troutes les simmiennes?
Q: What’s your favorite L. Ron Hubbard story about?
Ackerman: Just about anything–uh, just about anything L. Ron wrote before WWII is worth your attention. My own big favorite is “Fear,” a classic from a classic 1940 issue of Street & Smith’s Unknown magazine. “Fear” is available in paperback today so I would greatly urge every literate person to check it out and if you happen to be illiterate, why get a friend to read it to you. You’ll be glad you did.
Q: (Bonus Question) Fill in the blanks: Answering these questions gives me a feeling of both ____ and _____.
Ackerman: To paraphrase John Berndt when he was shimmying across the plains of India, “Answering these questions gives me a feeling of both Spanish Fly and Salt Peter.”