Guest Book Review: Altschul on Edison

By Ethan Comment

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I Have Fun Everywhere I Go
Savage Tales of Pot, Porn, Punk Rock, Pro Wrestling, Talking Apes, Evil Bosses, Dirty Blues, American Heroes, and the Most Notorious Magazines in the World

by Mike Edison
(Faber & Faber)
Reviewed By Andrew Foster Altschul

Memoirs can be split into two rough camps: those that place their narrator front and center, and those focused on external events. The former narcissistically inflates its protagonist, even when describing misbehavior or abjection – it says my experience is exemplary, my challenges or tragedies can illuminate your life. It’s an arrogant form, badly abused and overmarketed of late.

The latter approach is more dignified, asserting only that the storyteller was in a unique position to recount and interpret events others might find interesting, shocking, perhaps edifying. Mike Edison’s I Have Fun Everywhere I Go falls comfortably into this camp, a rogue’s journey that mesmerizes and charms readers with its exuberant rampage through the worlds of punk rock, pro wrestling, and hardcore pornography.
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Edison is a film-school dropout, drummer for the punk outfit Sharky’s Machine, itinerant editor, and self-proclaimed “media whore.” His two-decade quest for “Top Secret Action” takes him around the world, from dingy, violent punk clubs to the offices of Cheri and Screw, and finally, improbably, to the publisher’s chair at High Times, this last a period of excruciating frustration and the book’s most dramatically compelling sequence. Along the way, readers gape at this “hedonistic lifestyle of wanton rock ‘n’ roll, stupidity, sex, and drugs,” and the inane behavior of everyone Edison encounters, all chronicled with good-natured ebullience tinged with occasional criticism – though never lingering on this long enough to kill anyone’s buzz.

Edison opens shows for Sonic Youth and the Ramones; carouses the Vegas Strip with Evel Knievel; “busts corn” (translation: tokes up) with Ozzy Osbourne; and goes on television with notorious pornographer Al Goldstein. These encounters are delivered in an energetic, chatty prose – though when the mood strikes, Edison can turn out crisp, poetic sentences or tug a heartstring or two. He is blessed with the ability to swiftly nail down characters in indelible, often hilarious descriptions: one ex-bandmate “had impeccable taste in the ridiculous… loved equally Robert Johnson, Robert Rauschenberg, and Romper Room“; his neighbor, who gets him a job writing fetish novels, earns the nickname “Bobo the Porn-Writing Clown”; a despised former boss “looked like Willem de Kooning had puked on her face.” Edison makes zero effort at political correctness, wallowing gleefully in profanity, not giving a shit if his riotous ass-kicking reads as uncool to the post-rock, venti-latte set. How could anyone fail to enjoy a book with chapter titles like “The Creature from Temple Beth Shalom” and “Those Tits Are Taking Food out of My Children’s Mouths!”?

I Have Fun was clearly inspired by Hunter S. Thompson – I tried to count the uses of the word “savage” but lost track – but a more interesting forebear is Greil Marcus’s groundbreaking history of punk and avant-garde art, Lipstick Traces. Like Marcus, Edison knows that psychopunk GG Allin, the DADA poets, the Yippies, and, yes, Al Goldstein, are all connected in a variegated timeline of sacred subversion. Edison’s commitment to this anti-bourgeois philosophy is what makes his job at High Times untenable – where he sees a storied publication in a position to champion underground culture, the ‘60s holdovers on staff see only an office where it’s safe to pull bong hits at 4:20.

Stranded in Madrid, another band having disintegrated, Edison finds himself staring at Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, verging on painful introspection: “Obviously there were a few things I still needed to work out.” What are those things? We never really find out. I Have Fun seldom steps into the personal ring, and its conflicts tend to show the author in a better light than his adversaries. This becomes problematic in Edison’s recollection of a romance conducted concurrently with the stint at High Times. The parallel calls for more emotionally complex treatment, but the relationship is exiled to the narrative back burner, and readers are left with no doubt who’s to blame for its demise.

The rock-tour-debauchery diary is a tired genre, and Edison offers plenty of overdoses, wrecked hotel rooms, shattered relationships, and strippers named Bunny. The book’s relentless digressions can be exhausting, its culture criticisms somewhat undercooked (“Never forget that the War on Drugs is a war on people”). But what Mike Edison knows how to do is set up a vignette and follow it through to its unexpected, hilarious, and frequently drug-soaked climax. If it’s true that one could open the book at random and enjoy it as much as if they’d started at the beginning, that’s partly the point: Edison’s life does not have a master narrative. It does not lead inexorably to self-improvement or enlightenment. He offers no deathbed conversion, no road to Damascus, no Oprah Moment – only the small triumphs and more numerous tribulations of a regular guy trying to keep his dignity and humor as he lurches through an unpredictable life. Need I say this seems more true than the mountains of “inspiring” crap clogging corporate bookstores? I Have Fun takes the oppressive “moi” out of memoir, focusing, as a good book should, on the memories, not the rememberer.

Andrew Foster Altschul is the author of the novel Lady
and an O. Henry Prize-winning story writer. He teaches at Stanford University. Visit him online