Head over to CLASH MEDIA to see two grown men hurl words at one another like drunk jai alai players. Plus this gif!
“The Slow Poisoner (alias Andrew Goldfarb) is a one man surrealistic rock and roll band who hails from San Francisco and has been playing the devil’s music to audiences across America since 1996.” –The Slow Poisoner Website
I’ve had a fondness for multi-instrumentalists and one-man bands most of my life. As a child my favorite scene in Mary Poppins was Bert busking and making up songs about his audience while he simultaneously playing an accordion, trumpet, horn, and drums strapped to his back that were triggered by strings attached to his legs. As I matured, so did my taste in music, but always I found myself drawn to the solo musicians who took it upon themselves to craft every shape in their sound. Even my first Unearthly Sounds article was about a one-man band.
I’ve seen The Slow Poisoner perform five times, five years in a row, at the five BizarroCons I’ve attended, and he never fails to totally capture and enthrall a room full of drinking and dancing weirdos. A quick look at his website’s tour date history will show you the hard working man has experience when it comes to entertaining an audience. I decided to probe his mind a bit and find out what lurks beneath the witchcraft and voodoo shenanigans:
J.W. Wargo: Tell us of your origin. Were you born in the swamp, under the swamp, over the swamp, or just near the swamp?
The Slow Poisoner: I was born into a metaphysical swamp, as are we all. The origins of my swamp obsession actually go back to a seedy carnival I passed through in the mid-1970s, when I was around seven years old. It was at the midway of a county fair; after looking at pigs and flowers all day my parents were trying to find their way back to the parking lot as night fell. They dragged my brother and I through what seemed like an endless corridor of creepy amusement park rides, most of them luridly-painted haunted houses, the kind of ride with little two-seater cars that go on a track through a series of black rooms with day-glow mechanical horrors. I was especially struck by one featuring an animatronic old man in front of a spooky bayou scene. He was gibbering about the demons that dwelled in the swamp, and warning people not to come inside, as glowing yellow eyes blinked from the sinister trees that surrounded him. It thrilled and unsettled my childhood mind, especially in conjunction with the carnies that I glimpsed in the shadows behind the dark rides, making out with their girlfriends… I figured that this was what the adult world was really all about.
JWW: Being in a one-man band, does your right foot ever get tired of the drummer jokes?
TSP: All those drummer jokes are true, which is why I became a one-man band. Collaboration (with other humans) can potentially be a wonderful thing, when you get artists that can harmonize together to explore further in creative directions than they would on their own. At other times, however, collaboration will just dumb ideas down to what all parties involved are comfortable with or understand – this is especially true of rock bands, who often have to find their secondary members through posting want ads. Inevitably, it’s the drummer that will suggest doing Stevie Wonder covers. One thing I like about one-man-bands in general (not just my own) is that there’s a singular intensity of vision that goes undiminished by other parties’ ungainly participation. That said, I make a happy exception whenever John Skipp can join me on bongos.
JWW: Describe your process a bit. How do approach your songwriting? What generally comes first, the words or the music?
TSP: I’ll usually get the title first, and then I have to wait around for some suitable notes and chords to come to me by night-wagon. Sometimes it’s a long wait. I had the title “Flaming Arrow” on my to-do list for a year, but none of the music that slithered out of my hands was quite flaming enough. Eventually, if I batter at my guitar endlessly while repeating the title like a mantra, the right melody will come along and I can then introduce it to the title. The rest of the lyrics then assemble themselves from there, like rats coming out of a hole in the wall.
JWW: I heard the last bottle of “The Slow Poisoner Genuine Enervating Elixir Miracle Tonic” was recently sold. Did you ever have to dodge any assassination attempts by the American Medical Association while you were still in the Magick Potion business?
TSP: I advertised it as being a cure for consumption, women’s troubles, gout, neuralgia, wandering limbs, stoutness, onanism, disinterested bladder, elephantiasis, cholera, barnacles, boils, the fits, excessive abscesses, necrosis, lavender fever and general wasting, but I also received a testimonial from the Midwest that it was effective in getting rid of whooping cough. I always found it to act as a mild stimulant, myself. I did get a warning from a guy that worked at the FDA, but it wasn’t an official thing; he just happened to be at one of my shows. After a few years I ran out of ingredients, and figured it was time to pursue other endeavors.
JWW: Your live performances incorporate your own beautifully drawn art/set pieces and you sprinkle amusing anecdotes between your songs, giving your shows a truly interactive feel. This concept came together seamlessly in your latest album, Lost Hills, an epic, 10 song Swamp Rock Opera complete with narration and illustrations. Musician, Painter, and Storyteller. Would you consider yourself a modern day Artistic Renaissance Man?
TSP: More of a jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-some. My only ambition is to share a certain weird mood – a sense of surreality that appeals to me and that I believe will appeal to at least a handful of others. Using different mediums betters my chances of conveying this atmosphere, since art and music express ideas from different angles – like opposite walls of one crooked house. I’ve gotten interested in video too, plus a bit of acting and I write an advice column. Also, I think it’s important to stay productive and continually create new work. Having a short attention span, it’s easier for me to be prolific if I vary the format. I get bored of singing songs all day, so I go and paint a picture after a while.
JWW: Has Ogner Stump, the protagonist of your long running “One Thousand Sorrows” comic strips, ever made an appearance in your music?
TSP: Not by name, but the narrator of Lost Hills was a similar character, in that they’re both semi-autobiographical avatars. The setting for my comics and my songs is the same, though, in that it’s just an exaggerated and stylized (or maybe unfiltered is a better way to put it) version of the “real” world – a place of swamp witches and cosmic horror, where bizarre creatures of every stripe are engaged in sinister pursuits in murky places. This hollow planet that we live on is actually bursting at the seams with trolls and goblins, slinking across a shifting and exotic landscape of weeping foliage and sparkling elixirs. If you give the eye-window a quick wipe, the feathered beast is clear to see in all its speckled, scaly glory.
JWW: Let’s hold a seance: …..MMMMMHMHMHHMMMMMMNNNNMNMMHNMMHHMMM….. Tell us, oh great and salty snack-size spirits! What does the future hold for The Slow Poisoner?
TSP: In the next few months I’ve got a solo art gallery exhibit of my black velvet paintings happening in Hollywood, plus I’ll be putting out a new album, titled “Ever Been Chewed Upon By Teeth As Sharp As Knives?” I plan to do some touring in the summer, and new Ogner Stump strips will appear in the Magazine of Bizarro Fiction. In the greater distance, I have two more rock operas in development; I think the first will see the light of day in the 2020’s and the second sometime in the 2040’s. Both are based on real events, one of which is a secret and the other being a re-telling of the Air Loom Gang of the late 18th century. The Air Loom Gang (the Middleman, Glove Woman and Sir Archy) were pneumatic practitioners engaged in the nefarious psychic torments of political enemies by means of magnetized lobster-cracking, stomach-skinning and apoplexy-working with a nutmeg grater, not to mention sordid lengthening of the brain.
Don’t forget to check out The Slow Poisoner’s latest music video Hot Rod Worm!
by Horatio Dark
The Slow Poisoner is a one man surrealist rock band based in San Francisco. He travels the west coast with his guitar, bass drum and props, spreading his sly stories of the mysteries and horrors of the denizens of the fringe. When not performing wherever he can, he is busy writing, illustrating, throwing hexes in the woods and spreading the word on his genuine invigorating miracle tonic. I ran down The Slow Poisoner for some questions to get a grasp on his creative process and what it takes to keep him motivated.
Horatio Dark: I first heard Run Rooster Run when was looking up the story of Miracle Mike, the headless chicken, after someone mentioned him at my local bar. Is Miracle Mike the inspiration for the song?
Slow Poisoner: When I first wrote Run Rooster Run I was just thinking about the few minutes that your average chicken spends post-amputation, flapping bloody about the barnyard. At some point I learned about Mike the Headless Chicken, and became pretty obsessed. I started to tell the story before playing the song, as a kind of motivational speech about triumph over adversity. I even traveled all the way to Fruita, Colorado during a tour in order to see the town where the incident occurred. They have a statue of him in the town square, made out of rusted wrenches. The Chamber of Commerce sells a very strange DVD about it, called “Chick Flick,” and of course they have their annual headless chicken races – with people dressed as chickens. I was especially struck by the fact that after two years of exhibiting Mike, his owner got too plastered one night and left the feeding syringe back at the carnival, so Mike “the living miracle headless chicken” starved as a result of one man’s drunken failure. A strange, lonely death.
HD: How’s the miracle tonic selling? Have you thought of branching out into snake oils, elixirs or other panaceas?
SP: The patent medicine sales are good. Lots of folks are suffering from elephantiasis and disinterested bladder these days, not to mention lavender fever and wandering limb syndrome, so as long as folks are sick I think I’ll continue to offer it, though it’s been more of an under-the-counter item lately as I’ve had some warnings come my way. It’s dovetailed nicely with my advice column “Ask The Slow Poisoner” which is in a magazine called PORK, wherein I dispense with all manners of helpful information. My best-selling merch is my black velvet paintings, though.
HD: In addition to being The Slow Poisoner, one man surrealist rock band, you are Andrew Goldfarb, author and illustrator. Tell me about the interplay between Andrew Goldfarb and the Slow Poisoner.
SP: As for the connections between my writing, art and music – I see it all as being the same thing, really. I display paintings for each song when I perform live, or sometimes I use felt cut-outs to illustrate what I’m singing about. I act out my rock opera, “Lost Hills,” and recently I built a giant monster head that will swallow me on stage, so visual stuff is a big part of the music show. Some of the songs have become comics, like “The Hex”, which is an instruction manual to the black arts that appeared as a song on my 2nd album but also as a comic strip in various places. It’s all about getting a certain mood across, inviting folks into some weird place that I’ve been to on occasion and that I want to share with others. To that end, the more media that I employ the more effective it all is.
HD: The life of a one man band has to get to be trying at times. What keeps you motivated?
SP: Being a one man band is actually very easy, especially when compared to having drummers and bassists to contend with (although bizarro writer John Skipp has been joining me on percussion sometimes and he’s fantastic). There’s a law of physics that an element in motion with no opposition will remain in motion in perpetuity, so I plan to carry on ’til I’m 100 and go over Niagara Falls. As for motivation, I tend to employ numerical goals to keep me on track. I aim to do at least 31 shows per year, and I have 1000 episodes of my comic strip (“Ogner Stump’s One Thousand Sorrows”) to complete, so I stay busy and avoid staring into the endless black abyss.
HD: With that kind of workload, you must need to keep a rather consistent flow of ideas. How do you deal with creative blocks when they arise? Any day to day habits that keep you focused?
SP: I’ve found that napping is really important to my creative process. I got to sleep at least twice, sometimes three times a day. Perhaps it’s narcolepsy. But after I wake up, whatever my first idea is, I go with that. So when I get an idea for a song or comic, I run with the first fool notion that hits me, I don’t judge whether the idea is good or bad – I’ve learned that I don’t know the difference. I’m just happy that I have any idea at all. In a sense, I think quantity is more important than quality – if you make enough stuff, some of it is bound to be good.
HD: All of your music is put out by Rocktopus! Records. Is it a fair assumption that Rocktopus! is you? What are some of the ups and downs of putting your music out yourself? What have you learned that you would do differently if you could?
SP: Yeah, Rocktopus! Records is my own label and it just has me on it. I believe in the Gideon Bible method of distribution – I slip CDs into hotel room drawers, under the windshield wipers of interesting cars, I tuck them into pamphlet racks at government bureaus. You never know who will come across it. I don’t have any complaints, though it is nice to be part of something bigger on occasion, as with Eraserhead and Bizarro, for the human interaction with fellow freaks – it’s always a pleasure to be among other folks treading the weird path.
HD: Tell me about how fans and community have affected your process.
SP: Audience reactions have definitely shaped my music performance – the difficulty of reaching into folks’ brains in dark bars has led me to become increasingly over-the-top musically. I used to perform delicate ballads of ethereal mystery, but I couldn’t hear myself over the sound of the bartender, so now I scream about cutting off chicken heads and throw eyeballs into the audience, and everyone has a better time, including myself.
HD: Now that everyone is captivated by The Slow Poisoner, where can we find more about you and your work?
SP: I’ve got a couple of Internet sites – my music stuff is at TheSlowPoisoner.com and my comics and art is at OgnerStump.com. I contribute regularly to the Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, and people in the Western half of the US can catch me on tour a couple of times a year – in only the finest lounges, cafes and laundromats.
Kevin was one of the first Bizarros that I met. It was in Portland, in the days before BizarroCon 2012, and that first meeting involved 3D glow-in-the-dark pirate mini golf, Moroccan food, and Vince Kramer. To put things in perspective, Vince is the sort of guy you expect of Bizarro. He’s loud, fun, and totally outrageous. Kevin was much quieter, and behaved much more like how you would expect a normal author to behave. I later accompanied Kevin, Vince, and my first flesh-and-blood Bizarro buddy, Sam Reeve, out to Mt. Hood. This was a phenomenal experience for me, as I had spent most of my life to this point living in Sunny Western Australia. I had never seen snow before. The more time I spent with Kevin, I saw him as a creature of quirky mannerisms, and of a meticulousness that I felt matched his work quite well.
At BizarroCon, where weird comes full-force with a capital ‘W’, amongst all the many other outrageous Bizarro peoples, Kevin’s quirkiness was a spectacle to behold. He was the chaotic persona of Bizarro author Kevin L. Donihe, a mystical creature of profound knowledge and spirituality that the other Bizarros pestered constantly if only to bask in his divine wisdom, lest he revert to the quieter Kevin that played mini golf and danced in the snow like a mere mortal. Some people have told me that they can’t read any of Kevin’s work in any voice other than his after hearing him read. When he gets into that persona, there’s no holding back. To me, Kevin is at the same time a radical and entertaining performer (I was so thrilled when he performed select readings from his poetry collection), and the quiet oddball stomping through Mt. Hood and sharing my first snow moments with me.
S.T. Cartledge: Kevin, you were in with the original bunch of Bizarros. I only came across the genre in late 2010, so for myself and people like me, can you explain what things were like for you guys back then?
Kevin L. Donihe: 1999. The nexus was just forming. Bizarro wasn’t called Bizarro then. It was simply Eraserhead Press, and—following the initial chapbook series and Dream People webzine—the first six books were released. My Shall We Gather at the Garden? was one of those books.
Back then, it felt less like a community, but that stands to reason. Still, I was happy I’d finally found a publisher interested in the strange and unusual things I wanted to write. It gave me hope. It gave me confidence.
STC: What are your thoughts on how Bizarro has progressed, and do you have any thoughts you’d like to share on the future of the Bizarro scene?
KLD: Bizarro has progressed further than I thought possible, and I believe it will continue to progress. In 1999, I had no idea Eraserhead Press would still be operational in 2013. I never imagined there’d be yearly conventions in Portland, OR, or that we’d publish the number of books we’ve published, or that there would be multiple imprints. That sort of growth didn’t seem probable, as most small and independent presses wither on the vine.
Of course, on individual levels, we’ve all grown as writers and editors. We’ve also grown as a community, and it grows stronger as years pass and more and more people join Bizarro, thus extending the family.
STC: You’ve been editing the New Bizarro Author Series from the start, giving a whole bunch of authors their first start in the publishing industry. How does it feel to be involved with these first-time authors on such a level, and what does the NBAS mean to you?
KLD: I enjoy the author-editor interaction, and, of course, editing the works of others helps improve my own work. I enjoy showing writers their faults, not for malicious reasons, but to help them grow in their craft.
To me, the NBAS means the infusion of new blood, which is necessary for Bizarro’s continued existence.
STC: From the second year, I’ve been a big fan of the series. The first books in the series I read, I thought “Donihe really knows how to pick them.” What do you look for when someone submits a manuscript to you for the NBAS?
KLD: Ideally, I want strong-voiced writers who have a solid command of the language. I want unique, high-concept manuscripts that are weird to their cores. I also want to see real character development and real emotion.
Most of all, I want to feel that the manuscript’s weirdness is a genuine thing. By that, I mean the oddity isn’t forced and doesn’t seem shoehorned into the narrative.
Of course, I realize a new writer might require extra assistance, so if I feel that the author has good ideas, but some issues with prose, then I will work with that author, showing him/her the problem points and offering suggestions to correct them.
If I feel that the author has good prose, but his/her ideas could be more interesting, then I will work with that author to see if he/she can’t rethink certain elements in an attempt to better the manuscript.
STC: The Wonderland Award (for those that don’t know) is an annual prize chosen by the Bizarro community for the best novel and the best collection of the year. Tell me a bit about your Wonderland Award winning novel, House of Houses. How did it feel to win the award?
KLD: House of Houses is the tale of Carlos, who loves his house, Helen, as a man might love a woman. On the morning of their “wedding,” however, a structural apocalypse occurs. All buildings the world over collapse as though they’ve committed suicide en masse. Now, it’s up to Carlos to venture to House Heaven—which is overseen by a tyrant—in an attempt to rediscover the soul of the house he loves more than life itself.
And how did it feel to win the Wonderland Award? Well, it felt great to know that the community that I love had enjoyed the book and that my time spent writing it hadn’t been wasted.
STC: You have published three collections of short work to date: The Flappy Parts (poetry), The Traveling Dildo Salesman (stories), and your latest release, Papier-Mâché Jesus (stories). You’ve been writing short fiction since your teens. What do you like about short stories and poetry that keeps you coming back to them?
KLD: I prefer working in the longer forms; that is true. It takes me longer to write ten pages worth of story than the same number of pages in a novel. Still, I like the challenge, and that’s probably what brings me back.
I especially enjoy short-shorts. They’re so neat and compact. But they’re more challenging than short stories. So few words are involved… and, of course, every word must count.
Unfortunately, the time it takes to write short stories eats into my book-writing time. That’s why short stories are somewhat rare things for me.
Poetry, however, seems to come to me in floods. 2002, for example, was a big year for poetry. Many of the poems from The Flappy Parts hail from that time. At the moment, however, it’s been almost two years since I’ve written a single poem. The floodgates will reopen. Just can’t say when that’ll happen.
KLD: Space Walrus might very well be my favorite book to date, so I’d be happy to tell you about it. Space Walrus is a tough and tattooed space-faring hero. Walter is a flabby, technologically enhanced walrus, a test subject aboard a space station. Space Walrus exists only in Walter’s mind… but he knows if he can go on space walks like the chimps he hates, he will win the heart of his trainer, Dr. Stephanie. Dr. Ron—master over the chimps—however, might have different plans, and eyes on Dr. Stephanie as well.
Concerning Walrus Tales: I can say, with total confidence, that it is the best damn walrus-based anthology ever published on this or any other planet. It will satiate the hunger for pinnipedal fiction that you never knew you had. Contributors include Carlton Mellick III, Bentley Little, Nick Mamatas, Rhys Hughes, John Skipp, Mykle Hansen and many others.
Read it, or get tusked.
And why so many words spent on walruses, you may ask? Because they’re awesome.
STC: What are your favourite books, and who are your favourite authors?
KLD: Honestly, I find this a difficult question to answer… so I’ll just list the last three books that I’ve read and enjoyed: Bigot Hall by Steve Aylett, Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory and My Pet Serial Killer by Michael J Seidlinger.
STC: Would you like to offer any tips for aspiring writers?
KLD: Don’t grow complacent. Read a lot. Write a lot. Develop a thick skin and keep on going…
Kevin L. Donihe is the author of Papier-Mâché Jesus, Space Walrus, and Night of the Assholes, amongst several others, editor of the Walrus Tales anthology, and editor of the New Bizarro Author Series.