By sheer mystical coincidence, on the very day I received the manuscript of this book from Amsterdam I’d just written a poem in which I imagined myself possessed of the magic power to point at streetlights and make them blink out — a kind of neo-Luddite poetic terrorist action (“Take back the night — Ban electricity”).
And the first thing I read in bart’s book is that he (or “he”, the narrator of Beer Mystic) causes street lamps to dim and die just by walking under them. But “Bart” hasn’t asked for this talent, and it disturbs him. Somewhat. But not too much.
Perhaps I should recuse myself from this Preface on the ground of this, and on several other counts as well. First, I was there — I mean, in the scene this novel describes. Perhaps “I” am in the book too, in the “novel” in some way — an interestingly two-dimensional sensation, or instance of ambulatory schizophrenia.
In part this scene involved the publication of Bart’s and my work by the Autonomedia collective of Brooklyn, where more beer, etc., was consumed than work produced, in a world long ago before the Internet and the triumph of Global Democracy.
Later, I introduced Bart to my old friend, Colorado poet and bird watcher, Jack Collom, because they are the only two people I know who love yodeling and take it, I was going to say “seriously”. But that doesn’t quite describe their weird delight. Jack has done several radio shows on it, Bart has written a whole book on it, and I now feel partly responsible. Our karmas are linked.
Everyone who spends such time in New York, which is really New Amsterdam, becomes slightly Dutch, although mostly without realizing it. If only New Amsterdam and New Holland were a bit more like Old Amsterdam and Old Holland in certain respects perhaps Bart would still be living here. The political/cultural climate of the 80s was quite louche and engagé and seemed at times nearly as legendary as the 60s, but the whole fin-de-siècle thing pretty much came to an end with the implosion of the Spectacle in 1991. It took a few years to sink in.
I hope there are people living in New York now who’ll later look back nostalgically on their misspent boho youth, but the fact that the decade doesn’t even have a name (the “Aughties” never caught on) suggests that the glory may have faded as the rents shot up.
One solution would be for New Holland to secede from the USA, introduce a bit of socialism, legalize pot, revitalize the canal system, become a bit more Dutch.
Fat chance, eh? Oh well.
For a hops-scented lyrical taste of the departed numinousness of the Lower East Side and Williamsburgh in the days of performance art, the zine scene, beer anarchism, late punk, and reasonable rents, read on.
• Peter Lamborn Wilson, June 2006