Eric Bogosian read from his third book, Perforated Heart, (Simon & Schuster), which comes out in May at the American Writing Program conference in Chicago at the Chicago Hilton at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, February 12, 2009 in a ballroom filled with would-be writers. Two ladies “signed” as he read, and that led to one of the more hilarious moments in the presentation, when Bogosian, reading about a sexual encounter, turned to the elderly gray-haired lady who was translating for the deaf and asked her if she was getting all this. He then simulated some sexual moves, in a humorous way. (I had to ask myself: How many of the people in the audience are deaf? I felt like I sometimes do at the movie theater, when, out of a parking lot of 500 spots, it seems like 450 are set aside for the handicapped. I’m all for being handicapped accessible, but maybe they could take a survey, in advance, and find out if there is really a single deaf person in the audience. Hopefully, there were a lot, because the “signing’ people detracted a great deal from my ability to concentrate on the writer, himself, as he read from his upcoming work.
Bogosian is perhaps best known currently for his regular appearances on television’s “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” but I remember him best from “Talk
Radio,” the movie based on his screenplay about a Howard Stern-like shock jock who was assassinated by a psychotic fan.
Bogosian himself said, “I’m not a born-and-bred writer. I started out as an actor.” And he went on to prove it with a really wonderful reading. He treated the audience this day to a reading in character as Big John, a drug-addled portrayal, and drug use was a common theme, as it is in his books, but the author noted that he has been clean and sober for years.
Bogosian said that his third show, “Drinking in America” was a big hit and was solidly sold out through 1994. As a Pulitzer Prize Finalist for “Talk Radio’ and the winner of 3 Obies, Bogosian was compared to Studs Terkel in that his works “reflect our culture back to us.”
Bogosian lived in Chicago and attended the University of Chicago from 1971 until 1974. He talked about the advent of the Internet and said that he was one of the first ‘bloggers” when the Internet hit in the mid-nineties (For me, Mr. Bogosian, the Internet hit in 1985 when I had to write a book for a New Jersey teacher training firm, Performance Learning Systems, long distance from Illinois. I had to network with One Dupont Circle by computer. Not fun. Not easy. Everything looked like hieroglyphics in those days and had to be converted to regular English words. [Al Gore had not yet perfected the Internet. It required a screwdriver to adjust the teeth on my modem to be in perfect harmony with the teeth on the modem back in New Jersey or in the offices in California. Not fun. Not easy.)
Bogosian noted that the Internet “allows you to find the audience, wherever they may be,” and also commented, “What I write about is important to me.” Bogosian got a laugh with the comment, “Most gold American Express card holders do not share my avlues and defined sex, drugs and what hand Jimi Hendrix picked his guitar with” as being necessary values to put those others “on my wave-length.” He gave “phallo-centric old white guys” a bit of a put-down (a phrase credited to another writer who coined it.)
Of his current book, Bogosian said,” I thought it was coming out this week. It’s coming out in May. At least it’s coming out.” (As a sometimes-author, of books, I can relate. I thought my book “It Came from the ’70s” was coming out April 10th, featuring movie reviews from the decade, trivia, pictures and cast lists. Now, who knows?).
Commenting on his “Law and Order” gig, Bogosian said, “It’s way better than a Macarthur Grant,” which got a laugh from the audience filled with would-be writers.
Bogosian’s latest book is about an author in his fifties who has had some success but is pissed off that he’s not as successful as he would like to be (Bogosian’s own description, not mine). At this point, he praised John Updike and also noted that this character is not his alter ego, with a phrase along the lines of “I’m a dick, too, but I’m a different kind of dick.”
The novel is set in Connecticut and the upper west side of New York City. The protagonist has to have minor heart surgery and, while recuperating, finds boxes of journals that he wrote over a 30-year span between 1976 and 2006. Said Bogosian, “It’s the structure of the book, which I think is brilliant.” (Another laugh).
The first part (my favorite) that Mr. Bogosian read was a dialogue between the author and his ex-girlfriend, Elizabeth, with whom he lived for 15 years before they broke up 8 years earlier. In a diary entry dated 1/27/2006, Richard, the protagonist, describes how Elizabeth— a true beauty—is not happy with the book’s portrait of such intimate things as their sex life, when they were together. Richard says, “Even now, as I despise her, I ache for her.” He tries to portray himself in her eyes as vulnerable, as he has just had a heart operation, but notes, “She’s (Elizabeth) never ever thought of me as vulnerable. She wasn’t buying this new Richard.” Richard muses some on “the eternal passport” (beauty) and notes “beauty contaminates any real ability to communicate.”
Elizabeth tells Richard she hates the book.
Richard responds, “You’ll have to get in line, Elizabeth. Many people hate my book.”
Elizabeth replies that Richard has no ability to empathize, that he is unable to feel. “You are a bully. You possess zero empathy. You are pathological.”
Richard responds, “You mean f***** up?”
Elizabeth: “Yes, f***** up.”
What Elizabeth objects to is the depiction of her in the book as a “pathetic, desperate nymphomaniac.” Richard has already told us what an insightful reader Elizabeth could be, when they were together, noting, “Entering her mind was almost as thrilling as entering her body.” (Good line).
The conversation eventually moves on to Elizabeth telling Richard that the book almost made her physically ill when she first read it, but that, although Russell, her lawyer says she could sue Richard, she doesn’t want to bring more attention to the book by doing so. Ultimately, she says, “You want to make things right, pay me. Pay me or I will sue.” A discussion of what % of royalties should be paid ensues, whether Leon should recall the book, and ends with Elizabeth stating the obvious: “I don’t trust you.”
Still, Richard makes a play for the ex-lover, asking her if she wants to come over to his place to rest a bit before going home, which causes her to bolt from the coffee shop after giving him a dirty look and leaving him to pay the check. (I couldn’t help but think, “A true male thing. He says he despises her, but he still invites her over to see if he can score.”)
Big John, the journal entry from 8/03/1977 involving Big John, the drug addict, was in dialect and all about doing peyote buttons. It had a good line: “I know who you are, even if you won’t admit it to yourself.” From that point on, the description seems to be of the drug trip, complete with a girl with long hair who stops by, says “hi” and then glides off, and a python, perhaps (?) and the user saying, “I saw myself off to one side watching myself watching her.” There is a couple from Denmark, nude, making love, that the writer accidentally stumbles upon in a bedroom and he marvels at the muscles the Danish male lover has, wondering if he does tae kwan do.
Bogosian made reference to a script her wrote about Gia, the young model who died of AIDS, although noting it was not the Jay McInerny script that vaulted Angelina Jolie to stardom when her portrait of Gia aired.
The line that seemed to sum up Bogosian’s feelings: “For me, writing is about having experiences that are so intense that I have to write about them.”