Blaster Al Ackerman (19xx – 2013) is a hallmark of the obscure, but those who have encountered his work are never the same. His writing seethes with bizzare truths and ironies but is strangely familiar
Blaster Al Ackerman, THE COMPLETE WORKS from LOST & FOUND TIMES 1979-2005, Introduction by Jack A. Withers Smote, Compilation and Afterword by C. Mehrl Bennett, Luna Bisonte Prods, 2013.
Luna Bisonte Prods is proud to offer (alas, posthumously) this vast testament of humorous ramblings and scramblings by none other than one of the 14 Secret Masters of the World!, Blaster Al Ackerman, as well as works he wrote under eighteen different pseudonyms. This anthology includes the complete works of Blaster Al from Lost & Found Times 6/7 through 54, 1979-2005. It includes every appearance of his inimitable column, Ack’s Wacks, and all of the Ack’s Hacks published in the magazine, in which he created poems and other works using as source material poems by John M. Bennett and many others. His processes for doing these works were lunatic, wonderful, and constantly varying and unpredictable. Many of these accounts are included as they are often as interesting and hair-brained as the results. The anthology also contains many drawings, paintings, poems, texts, and wide swaths of other material from an acknowledged master artist, mail artist, writer, and prankster, one of the great minds of our times.
He was a presence. He was the sort of guy, he walked into a room, everyone noticed. He moved through
Baltimore like he knew what he was talking about, and what he was talking about was, like,
“It’s a curse you’re from low testicle tapin land” or something.
He had more original thoughts by bananas A.M.
than I’ll have this year. He could marry words in the funniest ways. What’s “low testicle tapin”? He was so great at reading his poetry that the last half-dozen times I saw him read at Rupert Wondolowski’s Shattered Wig Night, he performed with a bar of soap in his mouth.
He gave me a John O’Hara book once, a dime store edition. We’d never talked about it, but when he handed it to me I had just finished Cape Cod Lighter, which was the first O’Hara book I’d read. Maybe it was coincidence or maybe he intuited my interest. He often seemed shamanic like that. He had a big beard.
He wrote lots of books, including one called Corn and Smoke, which I used to see laid out prominently in the home of every self-respecting Baltimore reader. Finally I picked it up off someone’s table. I was stunned by the ecstatic language, so unexpected and jangly alongside the actually-damn-interesting storylines he wove together. To say the least, if art creates worlds, Blaster was an adventurer beyond and between them all.
Much of what he wrote was published by friends and their small presses. Much more of it was published through the postal service: Blaster did a lot of mail art. He would always write “Get to:” above the address on envelopes, which seemed so wishful, as if his words could make it there on their own. He even made his own stamps, which featured his own paintings, which, like, come on.
I didn’t know him well enough, but I knew him well enough to know I was lucky to know him at all. He seemed like the kind of person who prioritized making strange things and sharing them with interesting people, and in this was the fullness of life. I sort of feel like he’s still adventuring beyond and between all these worlds he created.
Here’s a poem of his, published in the Shattered Wig. Read it. It ends, “We cannot be correct/We haven’t time” – well, huh. I hope someday to be as incorrect as “Blaster” Al Ackerman was. Nicely done, sir.
Al Ackerman, Blaster: The Blaster Al Ackerman Omnibus, Feh! Press, 1994.
An incredible anthology of words and drawings from the man that many consider to be the greatest living American writer. Ackerman is a hallmark of the obscure, but those who have encountered his work are never the same. His writing seethes with bizzare truths and ironies but is strangely familiar.
"The Legendary Al Ackerman, that second-story man of the psyche, the country's greatest humorist, teller of tales Mark Twain wanted to write but was scared to. What the personal ads call a "teddy bear," but the kind who devours two or three tourists at Yellowstone every season." -Bob Black
Blaster Al Ackerman, Corn & Smoke. Stories, performances, things.., Shattered Wig Press
It's been far too long since a nice perfect bound anthology of Blaster Al Ackerman's disturbing, challenging and always darkly funny writing has been in print.
"Dr. Al Ackerman is perhaps the modern writer who best captures the in-between-states of being, bringing to light those fevered ideas lodged painfully between our attempts at coherent thought. THE poet of dysfunction, his enormous, shocking imagination rides waves on the tingling underside of urban life and on the entire history of cryptic literary derangement like no one before him.
"His perfect mastery of both the traditional pulp styles and the most 'advanced' dissociative language writing is deeply unusual to say the least, but all the more so because he puts both of these mindsets to such wildly unexpected, personal ends.
"In Ackerman's world, we are all just 'ghoolish fools,' and yet, as a great master of the macabre, he somehow manages to make that realization a soaring, liberating song, rather than a crash into depression. His writings both illuminate what is spectacular in our human debris, and also provide a strange humility--as they honestly expose our inherent strangeness and disorientation. What other writer is entirely himself, while also being the heir to the crowns of H.P. Lovecraft, S.J. Perlman, Robert Aickman, and Flann O'Brien, all at once?"- John Berndt
" A master of pseudonyms and of schizophrenia, his influence is clearly felt everywhere. His works are chilling shockers meant to be read in in the dentist's waiting room or on the toilet, and he churns them out regularly under varying titles. They can be ranked among the SMILE literature but had existed years before SMILE. Ackerman is one of the oldest and most significant Spanish Art personalities... right now, he's sitting in the kitchen, drinking and writing a letter." - Istvan Kantor, reprinted in: Géza Perneczky, The Magazine Network, Edition Soft Geometry, Cologne 1993, p. 178
Blaster Al Ackerman, I Am Drunk, (Ehse 002)
streaming & download
This listener's prediction: the muffled voice of Blaster Al Ackerman reading his "Pepper Young" translations with a presumed bar of soap in his mouth followed by tree frog belches will replace the sound of a passing steam locomotive as the poetic sounds of indescribable mystery and high lonesomeness. This audio icon of the 21st Century can be found on Ehse Records' LP release of Blaster Al Ackerman's "I Am Drunk". And indeed at times he does sound drunk, but not just on booze, also on language and human absurdity. Featuring live as well as "studio" recordings, "I Am Drunk" also has two Blaster classics that raise the humdrum world of the workplace to the giddy heights of Philip K. Dick in Munchkinland - "The John Eaton Recommendations" and "The Crab". Another prediction: copies of this album with its linguistic hijinks and squat and thrusts will be played far more times and enjoyed much more than any mothball enshrined Caedmon LP of T.S. Eliot or Robert Frost intoning.
The Profound Pranks and Prose of "Blaster" Al Ackerman
JEFFERSON JACKSON STEELE
If you blindly ran into Al Ackerman at his day job behind the counter at Normals Books and Records in Waverly or strolling the streets of Charles Village carrying a blue plastic grocery bag, you might not give him a second glance. He is a quiet and compact 62-year-old, outwardly remarkable only for his full gray beard and his ever-present flat cap. He certainly doesn't look like someone everyone calls Blaster, much less like a major force in the Baltimore demimonde.
But Ackerman's poems and stories have inspired multiple stage productions. He paints, stages pranks, and gives regular public readings. And a new cadre of local Ackerman devotees has begun proselytizing his surrealistic aesthetic to a larger audience, creating a new wave of Ackermania that includes narrative videos directed by local filmmaker/dramatist Sleaze Steele, a short film by local filmmaker Catherine Pancake, and an upcoming mail-art exhibit at Canton's Chela Gallery. Measured in terms of the peripheral activity and thought he has inspired, he is one of the most influential artists currently working in Baltimore.
Ackerman's creative journey began after his family settled in San Antonio shortly after World War II. L. Frank Baum's Oz series and early EC comics (publisher of Mad magazine and Tales From the Crypt, copies of which were scornfully burned by Ackerman's mother) provided the avid reader with his first literary inspiration. In the third grade, he presented his teacher with an illustrated fictional work of his own. "'You really like repulsive things, don't you?'" Ackerman remembers his teacher saying. "That's how I knew I was on the right track."
Ackerman began greedily devouring fanzines devoted to his favorite science-fiction and mystery authors and wrote to many of them, stating, "I am a very young person in San Antonio, Tex. Tell me how to get out of here." His most encouraging responses came from sci-fi magazine publisher Ray Palmer. While Palmer didn't buy any stories from the teenaged Ackerman, he gave him some pointers to improve his craft. By the age of 20, Ackerman had placed several stories in romance magazines--"the only [magazines] who would accept stories without going through an agent," he recalls.
Over the decades since, Ackerman has chosen a variety of unusual vocations, shifting gears dramatically when he's needed a change. In the 960s he worked for various local TV stations in Austin and Houston, scripting public-service announcements and children's shows. In a twisted juxtaposition that would have a great impact on his peculiar aesthetic sensibility, he went from entertaining kids to gruesome hospital work, spending almost 5 years as a medical technician in burn wards along the West Coast--an experience that still occasionally produces nightmares. "I can't stand doctors," he says.
Then Ackerman encountered a 972 Rolling Stone article that greatly enriched his life. "Correspondence Art" focused on artists and cultural outsiders who had begun exchanging work through the mail, often transforming the mail itself into art objects. The spontaneous, noncommercial nature of this artistic approach captured Ackerman's imagination, and within a month he had established correspondences with several people mentioned in the article. These exchanges led to others, some continuing to this day. Exchanges with outsider musician Genesis P-Orridge resulted in an Ackerman letter appearing on the back of Throbbing Gristle's 97 D.O.A.: The Third and Final Report of Throbbing Gristle --the letter inspired the album's signature song, "Hamburger Lady."
The 90s found Ackerman eking out a living in San Antonio making commissioned crayon-on-black-velvet portraits of cats in historical and literary settings--an eccentric vocation catering to an eccentric clientele. "[It] was an interesting way to starve," Ackerman quips. A lecture tour on his concept of potato therapy, in which participants cover both eyes and plug their mouth with potatoes until they begin to hear voices and see things, brought him to Baltimore in the early '90s. He has rarely left since.
New Baltimore friends quickly became fans and supporters once they read his writing, which some admirers compare to writers such as Philip K. Dick and William S. Burroughs. Ackerman's plots sometimes veer through acid-tinged, cyberpunk twists, and his post-semantic delight in playing with language speaks for itself. Yet his writing remains relatively unknown and, because of its obscurity, resonates that much louder to its local discoverers. Admittedly, part of Ackerman's obscurity is intentional. Catherine Pancake, who adapted her recent film The Suit, from an Ackerman short story, quotes an Ackerman axiom: "To remain creative, artists should always work in a despised medium."
"Blaster has always seemed a Zen, egoless conduit for his art," says Shattered Wig Press honcho (and City Paper contributor) Rupert Wondolowski, publisher of many Ackerman works. "I've seen him create intricate masterpieces on the outside of envelopes and send them off without any concern for whether or not they'll be appreciated or preserved." As for Ackerman's prose, "it's hard not to be pulled into his orbit and want to write in his style," Wondolowski says.
Ackerman may court obscurity, but he hasn't avoided it completely. His stories have appeared in a variety of magazines and chapbooks, sometimes under pseudonyms. Still, with 994's Omnibus (Feh! Press)--a rich volume compiling material dating as far back as the mid-970s-- still in print and last year's I Taught My Dog to Shoot a Gun (Popular Reality Press) also available, accessing Ackerman's writings has never been easier.
Sleaze Steele began shooting Ackerman stories on video while living in England in the early '90s, continued making Ackerman-inspired videos since moving to Baltimore several years ago, and recently starred with Wondolowski in several local performances of the original Ackerman play Kant's Gnawser, in which Immanuel Kant interacts with an imaginary playmate. Steele revels in the way that the "generally jolly" Ackerman's writings "turns the corners of expectations and subverts the forms in which he works." Having memorized much of Ackerman's work for various performances over two decades, Steele likens himself to a character in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 45, assigned the task of memorizing the writer's canon for preservation after all books are burned.
Pancake sees Ackerman as a defining personality within Baltimore's experimental cultural scene, and certainly a key influence on her own work. "Through meeting Blaster and others, I became aware of a world of creativity that was divorced from above-board, formal art and more concerned with getting people's brains free," she says. Pancake says she sees his art as very political, a crosshatch of "pranks and tricks that draw attention to possibilities of other worlds in nondogmatic ways." Her 0-minute cinematic translation of the Ackerman tale "The Suit" follows a young Baltimorean's attempts to liberate himself and woo his neighbor by fashioning a beautiful suit from sausages, artfully capturing both the surface humor and the darker undertones running through his work.
Along with these writings, films, videos, and plays, a exhibit scheduled for November at Canton's Chela Gallery demonstrates Ackerman's versatility as a visual artist. Chela's Bonnie Jones has secured loans of 00 to 400 Ackerman items from 0 international mail artists who have traded artwork with him over the last few decades--including Welsh performance artist Andr2 Stitt, Italian mail-art pioneer Vittore Baroni, andDuplex Planet publisher David Greenberger--in addition to pieces preserved by locals Wondolowski and John Berndt. Pieces by each of the contributors will also be shown.
The work going on display at Chela includes pencil and ink drawings, black-velvet pieces, pastels, acrylics, watercolors, illustrated zine covers, postcards, envelopes, hand-drawn stamps, and a jacket bearing a painting of Elvis Presley. While certainly consistent in tone with his writing--absurdly humorous and pointedly shocking--his colorful, cartoonish visuals stand strong on their own. Jones notes a fascination with hebephrenia (a form of schizophrenia characterized by silly behavior) as a dominant theme in Ackerman's visual work.
Yet, while Ackerman's work often dwells on disturbed individuals, you never get the sense that he intends to insult them. Wondolowski, who regularly hosts Ackerman readings at his Shattered Wig Night events, feels that Ackerman's empathy for his characters overrides any mean streak he might manifest: "There's an amazing kindness behind it all," he says.
Indeed, Ackerman spends much time carefully underscoring the support others have given him, stressing that both Pancake and Steele produced their adaptations without any prodding or assistance from him. He is unfailingly polite and soft-spoken while giving succinct biographical information peppered with the occasional one-liner. But his avuncular demeanor only aids his subversive nature. At the interview's end, he slides a hastily scrawled-on piece of paper across the table. "See if you can work this into your story," he says. The paper contains a single quotation from William Carlos Williams: "The pure products of America go crazy." He offers no other explanation.
Indeed, while his unsappable energy has left behind plenty of physical evidence, Ackerman's major influence on others may be the sly wit of a lifelong prankster. Most of what he says sounds fabricated, but most of it--including those bits about the potatoes and the cat portraits--are completely verifiable. The simple explanation: Ackerman has lived his entire life so that truth seems stranger than fiction. The portions of his life that sound embellished may just as well be true.
Blaster Al Ackerman: An Obituary, from Reviewiera
Matthew Simmons: Blaster Al Ackerman (19xx – 2013)
Blaster Al Ackerman passed away in mid-March. (Link there is to a very nice remembrance by our own Adam Robinson.) Some folks who knew him wrote some things about him. Michael Kimball and Rupert Wondolowski collected them for HTML Giant. Here—accompanied by some photos and some of Blaster’s mail art—they are.
I met Blaster in the flesh only once. He was ludditical, sweet, grumpy, and eventually he put a bar of soap in his mouth. Soon after he moved to Austin, I picked up some shifts he had vacated at Normal’s Books & Records, and there his absence was a constant presence — notes from Blaster, paintings by Blaster, & stories of Blaster: goofing on telemarketers, giving fucked up directions to the Book Thing, &c. It got so I was seeing his influence all over Baltimore — particularly among that stripe of Baltimore artist that believes in the prank as a spiritual path and one’s life as a work of art.
– Bob O’Brien
Dr Ackerman alias Blaster, who prepared himself at the age of 6 to outclass both Dante and Mark Twain, is one of the most enigmatic writers of the current literature of outcasts and damned poets. He is the author of such masterpieces as “The Fifteen Bath Towels” and “2976 Vienna Sausages,” not to mention “The Ecstasy of Macaroni.” In March/86, after being arrested for the millionth time for dancing naked, holding a flaming steam iron in his right hand and a half empty bottle of Whyte & Mackay scotch whiskey in the left, in front of a shopping center in San Antonio, Texas, he pointed out very clearly in a confessional letter (Confessions of an American Ling Master) he has sent from jail to the major of San Antonio that poetry is a social issue and not just a question of publishing and selling books.
-Istvan Kantor Monty Cantsin? Amen! Esmeralda Eldorado Sawang
The Blaster was the great great ungraspable force of nature that he was, up there with Vivian Stanshall, Lord Buckley, Andy Kaufman, and all the 14 Secret Masters of the World. Hail Al, see you soon in the black mailstrom of the Ntity!” (To be whispered in the Networker’s ear the moment he/she is about to get on the train, holding a long asparagus)
– Vittore Baroni
“In the late 80′s I moved to Italy during a time of heightened participation in the Neoist movement, and “the master” (as I always referred to Al Ackerman, though never to his face), always looking out for his humble student, decided to write an “instruction piece” for me that would last for the duration of my time there. He stressed that it would only work if I took it seriously. It was called “The White Head: Neoist Performance Piece for John Berndt.” Though I cannot say I was completely diligent with it every day (weakness springs eternal!), the essence was that in every conversation (and I mean every) I was meant to inject the following towards the beginning: “Telephones and telephone bells have always made me nervous;” and the following near the end “It’s head was WHITE, all WHITE.” There you have it, The White Head. It is a testimony to the master that I kept this up, even learning Italian to be able to more extensively realize the instruction. Exactly as Ackerman said, this subtle change of behavior would break the ice with people and “rotate” the situation in unexpected ways. The challenge never got boring, and throughout Tuscany I was know as “That telephone weird guy” (in Italian “Quel ragazzo strano telefono”).
– John Berndt
I remember when Blaster arrived in Baltimore. Our collective body (more literal than one might think) acquired a strange new organ. Part pituitary, part portal into a world of characters more substantial and catalytic and flawed than even those in Blaster’s stories. That organ, after years of medication, transfusions, xrays and strange rituals has stopped pumping. Our collective body awakes in a bathtub full of ice. Blaster Al Ackerman is one of the Greats and there will never be one like him.
with much love,
Blaster always asked me how nursing was going. He got really stuck on me being a nurse. I took some prerequisites and dropped out but he never let it go. One thing I received from him in the mail was a terrible photocopied photograph of a woman facing a wall with “BE A DETECTIVE AT HOME” typed underneath. Above the image he had written, “JUST REMEMBER–IF THE HEALTH CARE DOESN’T WORK OUT 410-235-1198 Ask for Augie.” In another letter he scrawled, “So tell me: did my story about the hot chocolate at Dr. Stew’s birthday party have any effect on this [nursing] decision? Eh?” I have no idea what the hot chocolate story was and I wish I could remember. Maybe someone will see this and can contact me to remind me.
I brought my parents to see him do the John Eaton Recommendations one night at the 14 Karat Cabaret. They were in hysterics. I was humiliated when it was my turn to read because I felt like what Blaster did for them (my mom and dad) was more than I could ever do. I think I did a push-up during my reading to compensate. And I think we should have a reading to commemorate Chris Toll and Blaster by dressing as them and reading their poems in their voices/speech patterns/dialects and drinking their preferred beers. Blaster’s voice was dynamic and predictable–a grumble in the middle with an upward urgency at the end. And those eyes, and that hat, and that beard, and then he was gone.
– Lauren Bender
Thrift Store Shopping With Blaster Al
Back in 2008 when Blaster Al was still living in Baltimore and working at the legendary Normals Books & Records, I would often drive down from Delaware and spend a few hours visiting with Al and Rupert and checking out the vintage LPs, books, and little magazines in the store. Usually Al and I would go to lunch at a favorite Thai Restaurant on Greenmount and then hit the thrift shops on the way back. Browsing the thrift shops with Blaster Al lifted the experience of digging through the sour-smelling piles of castoff goods from mildly depressing to weirdly entertaining. As soon as we entered a thrift store Blaster Al would turn the place into a theater of discovery and shenanigans. First we would make our way through the clutter of old wheelchairs, crutches, TVs, VCRs, microwave ovens, and infant car seats to the shelves of books, and piles of mostly unlistenable CDs. Blaster Al’s antenna would soon zero in on something that seemed to
capture the whole thrift shop ambiance. I recall one time when Al handed me a book and said, “Here’s a book you should read.” It was titled, Honey, Mud, Maggots, and Other Medical Marvels. He would also disappear into the clothing section and soon reappear with several t-shirts, coats, neckties, or hats that he recommended I purchase to “complete” a look he thought I should go for. At his suggestion (I never questioned his taste in thrift store merchandise), I once bought a “Head Counselor” t-shirt for a religious youth camp. His quiet asides and the twinkle in his eye as he would point out some other hapless or strange find always made me smile. I think it was another way for Blaster Al to share his mischievous side. Thrift store shopping with Al was also an opportunity for him to show his sense of fun and delight at examining the detritus of this world, a world that he was so adept at transforming in his stories and art. I miss those trips to see Al and hang out with a true original. “Happy Trails,” amigo and “Peace.”
- Francis Poole
i liked blaster right away. i met him at the first baltimore writing group i attended at amy peterson’s house. adam and i were still pretty new to town having moved here and promptly departed for upstate new york. amy had a slightly mad dog and some beautiful plants and was quiet. blaster sat on the couch and made an impression. blaster was the rare eccentric who was able to talk a good game and listen one too. he was a question asker and a rememberer. his life had more twists and turns in it than is common and this felt comfortable for me–a way we had both decided to conduct our lives. one day he told me about his wife how she’d been a shape shifter. it was ok but then a friend of hers came to visit and it just became too much. he went to the refrigerator and was someone and when he closed the door, turned around from the refrigerator, he was someone else. it got to be too much is what blaster said. he made a portrait of me in a bubble of cigarette smoke. i don’t smoke anymore because i read the book which hypnotizes you. or, rather, me. we liked each other right away and would always talk and be happy to see each other when we did but didn’t make real dates and visits–didn’t make real ‘friend friends’ til just about half a year before he moved. he was painting painting painting in the room downstairs at john and rupert’s. it was snowing and that wasn’t great for walking. he got a little sick and went into a place on charles street where the guy next to him was just out cold, you know? it is hard to see the beginning of the end and it was hard for me because that was the beginning of my friendship with blaster. it was the beginning of spring then too. what a book lover! a real book lover and a real book knower. he spoke about books the way some people speak about their garden, like what is coming up and how everything is doing, a bit of being part of it and a lot of awe. but the best was he was a real conversationalist. a real back and forther, which is my favorite. it was an easy pleasure to talk from topic to topic with him. casual and deep and this extended to his letter writing mania. blaster started writing me letters before he even moved away. i didn’t write back too much until he left and then i used to write him letters about things that happened in the sorority i was, you know, IN. he worried the other girls were cruel. and they were. i would also write letters about my real life and send videos i had made. blaster’s letters were mostly stories and poems and drawings and stamps and stickers. sometimes more chatty and newsy and sometimes a combination of both. the last video i sent him, in november-ish, was dedicated to him. i used a line about the ‘tiny yellow hairs’ which featured prominently in a number of poems and stories blaster sent me. i sent him that last one as soon as it was finished but i think he didn’t get to watch it. he was a little past the video watching time by then. all it is is a line which says ‘sway in light on the tiny yellow flowers, so tiny as to be almost tiny yellow hairs,’ it is read by a very talented woman i met on craigslist. i had the good fortune of having been given the name stephanie which is blaster’s daughter’s name and which i know gave me advantage in his heart. though his heart was full of so many friends and collaborators. i think when people build lives outside of the norm they also construct (out of need or simple chance) more extensive friend bonds. this is presumptive. i know so few people with “normal” lives, it may be that this is an inelegant unicorn, this “normality,” but anyway, blaster was a good friend. i loved hearing about his friendships with rupert or john or bethany. how he would tell me about what they were up to in that way that friends have of being part of each other’s lives. an ease of familiarity that extends beyond gossip and straight into love. the same nutty love that appears in his work. the way his stories and poems wrap around and become a very object. become a friend you get to know through seeming strangeness and towards understanding, clarity and loving expectation. there is more to say and think about blaster. i liked him very much and am so happy to have gotten to have some good time with him. a radical is necessary, atomically and for our joy.
– Stephanie Barber
Having Blaster in Baltimore for so many years was like the “puffy treat” that never ended. His stories and poems are a universe of their own. We were spoiled, getting to hear him read on a monthly basis. He had a way of creating alpha waves when he spoke and read his work that just relaxed the listener into these mind-warping narratives. I had the opportunity to perform with him, travel with him, and once on a road trip, I protected him from “Rupert’s foul projectile.” He was a tremendous influence on me, and opened my world to other language-oriented writers. I remember being particularly thrilled when he read one of my poems with a bar of soap in his mouth. He was brilliant, hilarious, a world of weird, and liked dancing to our music. I miss him bad. Oh, and he really had a great laugh!
– Chris “Batworth” Ciaetti
An Appointment With Dr. Feebnuts
Well Dr. Feebnuts
I didn’t have these
lumps when I entered
but here they are
with so many
heads mewling sweetly
mewling at the body with bop cap
of word clattering glory
the horded pork
loins of droopy drawers Jim
a big bummer
Hey sailor, there’s
a pumpkin in Uranus
There is a sun behind our sun
A moon behind our moon
and the puppet strings
have crossed forcing my
hand onto your leg
Here is the alley where
you took a blackjack
to the face for me
Here are the Clover eggs
fried with hangover leaden lids
still sliding on the sweat-sheened
I am not Lulu
and you were not Sidney Poitier
but if you wanted the moon
I would write across the stars
The Moonhead News
- that news being that
you cracked my mind
revealed my past to me
like a turd shimmering
on the end of a fork
but with promises
of comets blazing ahead
And how should I thank you
for that and the Thai meals
and Emmylou fried chicken
I will never know
but I will place
you in the wrinkled
McDonald’s bag of my heart
jammed under the seat of
a pickup truck
Sadly Dr. Feebnuts, my
current insurance won’t
cover a mind blowing, a
near deadly glimpse into
The True Reality
but I will use the
one last bit of advice
from my old pal Blaster –
If the bill collectors are
calling, always answer your
phone “Juan’s Taco Palace!”
- Rupert Wondolowski
Dr. Blaster’ Al Ackerman 1939-2013
Love to you now out there in the eternal network!
“… I’ll come this way again
one day and pay homage
to the old Clinic Home; as
you smile, and
wave your little hands, and
show off your porcelain
feet in a red coloured room
in another dodgy part of town
on the east side of Baltimore…”
– Andre Stitt
I will value forever Blaster, my former roommate, who shared my belief that cleaning house is pretty much an option, but by no means a necessity, for a life well lived. And, in fact, bathrooms, kitchens, and bedsheets are in fact SELF-CLEANING, if you just ignore them for long enough…
– Anne Bonafede
I was once standing in the middle of a circle of Jim Thompson geeks at Normals, with Blaster presiding. The topic, proposed by Rupert, was, “What was Jim Thompson’s worst novel?”
Blaster went deep into thought, brow furrowed, stroking his beard as he reviewed each book in his mind. He finally said, “The Transgressors.” But he said it with some reservation, as though not quite certain he had reviewed every possibility carefully enough, as though he felt he were under pressure to make such an important decision, as though he would have preferred to have had several days to think it over.
Rupert enthusiastically replied, “But Blaster, was The Transgressors worse than The Alcoholics?”
Blaster stroked his beard some more, and fell deep into thought. Then, with a certain resignation, he said, “No, not worse than The Alcoholics.”
– Kevin Johnson
For Blaster Al Ackerman
Sick as I am of obituary writing these days, I was going to tell a humorous story about Blaster Al Ackerman, a drunken incident outside the old Rendezvous Lounge. The more I thought about it yesterday, the less sense it made. Was it Blaster or me lying against the red door? Was it really the old Rendezvous or that Klan bar in Hampden? Did I still have that long raincoat with a piece of black electrical tape through the top buttonhole? Was it a trio of evil white men or was it boys? Was it even one event or have I mixed up multiple drunken events? Only Blaster knows now. It turns out I’m just as feeble-minded and confused as a typical Blaster Al protagonist. Maybe all the Lingmaster adventures are simply chrononautic glimpses of my baleful future. This morning I woke up with my daily back pain and a dream in my head. Blaster was showing me an old, yellowed newspaper front page that showed the huge crowd in Washington DC for Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Blaster said to me, “I wasn’t there,” with a hurt look. I said, “You never claimed to have been there, Blaster.” He said, very happily, “I know.” There are many men in my neighborhood here in New West, BC, who try to carry off Blaster Al’s look: the beard, the little hat, a dark T-shirt. Unfortunately they ruin the effect with short pants that are too short, never mind the cold rain. Running through my head all day, following me in my errands at the grocery store and the bank, has been this verse, which I associate with this morning’s dream. Maybe it’s from Blaster, maybe it’s my groping unconscious in desperate mimicry: “I’ve got bread in my moustache and roses and roses and roses.”
- Mark Hossfeld
The truth can now be told. We are almost all dead now. I am the only one left alive. The 6 Finger Club sent circulars from Belfast to San Antonio to Tepoztlan to BalTimOre to San Leandro. Lafferty is dead, Zack is dead, Blaster is dead. The stench of sulphur that hung about us has been sanitized by the shrunken hebephrenic cardboard pine tree. We all opted out: live fast, die old… but DIE, baby, DIE. We are all dead now, except for maybe DJ… & Nunzio… & False Kitty… Blaster began by breaking things that morning. He broke the glass of water on his nightstand. He knocked it crazily against the opposite wall and shattered it. Yet it shattered slowly. Even I am dead… & if you were to ask me why I’d tell you that story, the one you’ve heard more times than you can remember. In fact you can’t remember it at all & that’s why I keep my shaving cream next to the bust of Blaster. Wch is a flat screen tv. I am tENTATIVELY, a
cONVENIENCE & I am a hebephrenic. Oh, sorry, wrong meeting. Blaster’s bust is flat. In fact, Blaster’s bust IS that pine tree, that pine tree he planted that thyme, most commonly Thymus vulgaris. Fact is, the world’s a flatter place w/o Blaster. The Flat Earth Society was right. Marshall B. Gardner was right, contradictory as that may seem. If Blaster were still here he’d have a bicycle pump attached to that sucker in no time flat & Pego & Rupe wd be plunging it up & down like a dynamite – w/ Blaster & that fucking pillowcase & Mogen-David cackling like a hen w/ a Johnny Cash brain implant. & the world wd be a safer place for it.
– tENtATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE
So many memories of the Great Man. Not many can be summed up in a few words. I guess if I have to come up with a single, brief, episode, it would be when he revealed unto me a miracle by speaking a simple, sensible sentence from his hospital bed. I was sitting a vigil by his bedside and feared he was gone for good, his brilliant mind gone to mush. Two, or was it three, days of trying to convince skeptical MD’s (a breed he held in deep contempt, always pledging to die with dignity in an alley before letting the medical industry get its hands on him, I felt like a traitor for even taking him to the ER that day) that he was not senile, that the stroke had come on like gangbusters out of nowhere. That he had been hard at work just the night before, writing at the computer in the back room at Normal’s, as always. I wept like a baby and then laughed like a loon when they asked if what he had been writing the night before made any sense. If they only knew how nonsensical that question was. My god, it was a nightmare, pure and simple. And then, two days later as I sat by his side, watching some idiotic cartoon on television – something I thought would at least be visually entertaining – I caught a glimpse of something in his eye. I asked him if, maybe we could find some sports on instead (he would assuredly proclaim that every sporting event was rigged but still enjoyed watching a game now and then) and he looked me in the eye and said “Do you think so? Do you think there might be a game on?” I just about jumped out of my chair. Hell, I did jump out of my chair, I just about jumped out of my skin. I had just experienced a miracle.
– Courtney McCullough
You had moved in to Normals and seemed to like it.
Who was this new denizen of the murky book nook?
Rupert quaked and burbled in your presence, which made me wanna
Quake and burble too.
Soon after first meeting you… I would don the wretched yellow
Bathing suit and drag you around town for a night or two…
Or was it a week in that fucking thing?
You said the strangest things in the night that I could never quite remember… but you were quite serious
With the beer drinking quietude in the daytime.
And that always made me feel unsure… which turns out is
Something I thrive on.
Ca- Rack o Canned Beer! o yeah from the corner… and a swift Quay sashay…
You had a chair there… but I could swear it was a fucking merkahbah
You had access to… I was convinced you were an honest
To god time traveler. I liked that you liked beer how I liked beer.
Then one day I decided to pack up and leave… Rupert bought all my books which would end up being what I had to move away with. We had a going away party… I heard that someone was getting a champagne enema in the basement and I wanted to go and look but you stopped me and you gave me One of your pastel 8 by 10 drawings… I think it was a self-portrait of you barely held inside a red Bathrobe… the NYC skyline in the background and the words… “Welcome to New York” were written in black oily scrawl. All the hair on the exposed body looked like gray ramen… how’d you do that? Shoo.
I seen done been so many fucking things since way back then… and from my travels I have very little left to show…. but that I held onto and still can admire. When I look at it… I remember all of us… fearlessly fucked up and all friends and friendly. Last time I saw you… you had yer soap in mouth maw a flappin… and out of the sudsy garbled sides flew your one of kind poetry. I knew it that first day I laid eyes on ya and also the last day… I was lucky… we were lucky when you decided to move into Normals.
- Amanda Pollock
Blaster Taught My Dog to Shoot A Gun and Other Recollections.
I’m sure I picked up my first collection of Blaster stories, The Blaster Al Ackerman Omnibus, after some unstoppable Shattered Wig Night reading that inevitably had left me breathless for more. This tidy green book, the cover graced with a “looming threat – public menace” portrait of Blaster holding an adoring marionette staring deeply into his grimacing mouth, contained within its modest covers a nugget of a story that sparked for me a very profound early Baltimore experience.
May I ask you to consider, on page 83, a classic hero’s tale of a simple man with a visionary spirit looking for love in this dark and cold world. A man who undertakes an epic task to create a suit entirely made out of Vienna sausages. The story is captivating. A tightly wound couple of pages that rivals the heroic narratives of Odysseus and Gulliver (if those two heroes washed down a couple of bennies each morning with a snifter of vodka and orange juice that is). I laughed and I cried. I did. Because Plopman is above all such a touching and innocent figure – full of light and love and hope. He’s an artist with a humble heart just looking for the best fingers foods in which to express himself.
It would turn out that this fine story inspired another great Baltimore treasure, filmmaker Catherine Pancake to turn this tale into a movie. The Suit starred yet another Baltimore great Tom Boram as the indomitable Plopman. You see this is what Blaster could do – his gravitational pull always brought amazing minds together to accomplish improbable tasks! As I’m sure you can imagine – the film was absolutely riveting. To see Tom Boram sliding around in a suit made entirely of Vienna sausages is not a sight you’ll soon forget.
It was sometime during the screening of this film that I realized, quite profoundly, that I had made the right decision to move to Baltimore instead of following my college mates to New York City. It was clear that nowhere else would I find such a special treasure as Blaster Al Ackerman living just down the street. No other town would have given me years of listening to Blaster bring down the house at Wig Night, collaborating together on writing projects, telling him stories about my dental work, presenting his drawings and visual work in a retrospective show, and just hanging out at Normals.
My heart is so saddened to have lost an extraordinary writer who could spin tales of such pathos and joy and humor wrapped around outlandish characters and situations. His writing is and will always be a breathtaking glimpse into one of the most imaginative and creative minds I have ever known.
– Bonnie Jones
shoulder water an my wave re
petition the soggy blade my
leg remeats my repe
tition where my your po
cket cheese finds the rep
etition scrawls the nu
mber same the numb r
epetition ur swallow off
the elbow juice repetit
ion nods all closet
treasure repetition dust an
gritty sock repetitio
n ease yr fading b
ones yr repetiti
on itching like a g
nat repeats repeated
in yr r ear no wonder
they call you King of the World
for Blaster “All Different All the Same” Al Ackerman
After nearly a decade’s worth of crazy mailings from Blaster it was a shock to finally meet him in the flesh at Normals Bookshop in Baltimore. He was incredibly friendly and well behaved… that is until he managed to get me alone and was able to tell me that he’d made a mistake when he sent the instructions for the sex magick ritual with the dead pea fowl. It turned out I wasn’t supposed to jerk off over the bird and various bits of old laundry in Charring X station. Instead I should have used the dead bird’s beak for a spot of irrumation in Kings X station. Blaster apologised for his mistake but said I’d have to go through the ritual again if I was to become a fully-fledged Ling Master. He also told me it was best to do magick and not to talk about it. So the subject was never mentioned again and we carried on as before by acting as if Blaster was just an average guy possessed by incredible comic talents!
– Stewart Home
By Turns Subversive and Stale, the Mail Art of "Blaster" is a Message from the Edge
By Bret McCabe | Posted 11/13/2002
Yes, she's holding what looks like feces. She's tarted up in a satiny white sleeveless gown, her blond hair gussied up in a wavy 1950s do. And she's smiling like she just found out smiling felt good. Think Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch and that white summery dress.
Local avant-everyman "Blaster" Al Ackerman draws this woman as if she were emblazoned across the cover of a midcentury pulp magazine. She's buxom, her fair skin, hair, and dress popping off the red background. But since this is Ackerman--a writer fond of the out-of-pocket bizarre--the image is not purely eros. And it's not just because of what she's holding in her hand. In the background behind her stand a line of frogs, stately as servants. She has cat ears--like Josie and the Pussycats cat ears--and her smile is a ludicrously exaggerated gap-toothed grin, her two lone front teeth separated enough to pass a corn cob through sideways. Red lettering screams from a yellow banner across the top, Here, have a turd. In the bottom right corner of the image, "31¢" sits inscribed in a circle.
It's that little value tag that defines Ackerman's art--as a drawing for a sheet of mock postage stamps--for better and worse. For the past 30 years, Ackerman has been involved in mail art, and from the moment you walk into his retrospective show at the Chela Gallery in Canton, its sheer volume threatens to overwhelm you. Mostly unframed, it is tacked, taped, and otherwise affixed to the gallery's walls, hanging from strings running between poles, and bound in binders on a table. They number 400-plus, which is but a fragment of his total output. It ranges from stamps, envelopes, paintings, collages, zines, leaflets, articles, single-panel illustrations qua comics, a calendar, sketch notes, postcards, and miscellaneous other items that cascade around in the room like the visible spectrum run amok. As with staring at the collected volumes of Anaïs Nin's diaries, however, confronting even this sample of Ackerman's works leaves you wondering what seizes your interest--the quality of the work itself or the single-minded devotion that produced it.
Taken one at a time, the pieces read as impish and momentarily amusing distractions. Ackerman employs and appropriates as many visual styles as he does media. And his vocabulary reveals that he is very much a product of his time. Many of his drawings embrace a naughty sense of humor in the rough-hewn lines of 1960s underground comics. (For "Fur-Burger," he renders a woman--with the aforementioned gap-toothed smile--in pen and ink holding a slightly hirsute hamburger.) He uses bright, solid colors and the straight-ahead graphic design style of household product packaging. His collages gleefully juxtapose and layer images. Overall, the works are a splatter of ideas, media, and color that gleefully showcase Ackerman's witty intelligence, a conflagration of 20th-century pop imagery refracted through a mind that knows James Joyce from Joyce Brothers, Kafka from Cocoa Puffs.
But Ackerman's work is best--and perhaps only--understood in the the context of mail art. New York artist Ray Johnson, who spent some formative years at the happening Black Mountain College in the '40s, is generally considered the big bang of mail art; he amassed a rather large list of recipients, sent them collages and other peculiar objets d'art liberally infused with his beloved verbal and visual puns. People in the network started responding in kind, using aliases (a practice that continues today; one of Ackerman's many being "Blaster," by which he is now renown), and over time, the correspondences created a network, a limited audience for their art that existed outside the conventional gallery system, mirthfully defying the normal consumer-to-commodity relationship between art and audience.
All of which remained relatively underground until 1972, when San Francisco Chronicle art critic Thomas Albright published "New Art School: Correspondence Art" in Rolling Stone, where Ackerman first encountered the practice. Albright included a number of mail artists' names and addresses; Ackerman reached out to a few and was soon hooked.
Some of his 1970s and early 1980s contacts blossomed into long-term relationships, and a number of them donated their Ackerman pieces (and, in some instances, a few of their own) to this show: Italian music critic Vittore Baroni, mail artist "Eerie" Billy Haddock, performance artist Andre Stitt, poet John Bennett, artist and scholar John Held Jr., mail artist Darlene Altschul, Duplex Planet publisher David Greenberger, performance artist Ames Montgomery (aka INEX), and locals John Berndt and (City Paper contributor) Rupert Wondolowski. Their involvement is a testament to the widespread social network--and the archival impetus--of the mail-art enterprise.
But seeing such a large sample of mail art in a gallery installation, though entertaining, removes it from its defining context. No longer a surprise found in the mailbox, Ackerman's works when exhibited resemble that most traditional art entity--an oeuvre--and, as such, they're subject to the sort of critical scrutiny under which they don't weather. En masse, Ackerman's trickster humor feels one-dimensional--Why the gap-toothed smile? Why the litany of puns? Why the obvious jokes? He is obviously technically skilled, but the ideas behind the imagery aren't as clearly drawn.
Furthermore, the works themselves feel dated, and haven't aged as well as other underground art of its era, such as the homemade zines and flyers of Raymond Pettibon. That outmoded waft is partly due to mail art's insular existence; Ackerman comes across as still fighting the same sensibilities that Johnson reacted against in mail art's nascent stages. Even his '90s output on view reads like it's about the '60s and '70s, with its familiar and easily hit satirical targets: homogenous corporate culture, sexual and scatological taboos, the commodification of aesthetics, and generally rattling easily agitated "squares."
Those things are definitely worth rallying against, but other media--installation and performance art, for example--achieve the same end with a more resonant power. At worst, Ackerman's collected works feel like they bear only the joke-laden veneer of the "subversive." At best, they are as picturesque, nostalgic, and sentimental as a book of family photos--even if that family comes from one man's wonderfully and endlessly original mind, unfettered by commercial or popular acclaim.
Blaster Al Ackerman is 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.) As a young person in Texas the 50s, he became absorbed by the world of pulp fiction and attempted to become a writer, although he ultimately got published in the pulps' waning years in romance magazines, although he did 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 in U.S. in 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), the Shattered Wig Review (edited by Rupert Wondolowski, who deserves a place in literary history of his own) and Dumb Fucker (edited by photographer Richard Kern). In full possesion of the rhythms of the post-War American writers like Brown, Theodore Sturgeon and Raymond Chandler, Ackerman's writing incorporates elements of structural modernists like the Oulipo and Francis Ponge, and creates macabre and hilarious journeys into the linguisitic-cognitive quality of madness. (A letter to Genesis P-Orridge made its way into music-land as the lyric of perhaps Throbbing Gristle's best song "Hamburger Lady.") His books include The Blaster Omnibus, Let Me Eat Massive Pieces of Clay, I Taught my Dog to Shoot a Gun and, most recently, Corn and Smoke. A spoken word LP, I am Drunk, was issued on Ehse records and is available for freedownload at http://www.ehserecords.com .
We took an opportunity to ask a few questions about Blaster's influences.
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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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 _____.
A: 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."
Ackerman, Al: Confessions of an American Ling Master (1984)
Ackerman, Al: The Blaster Omnibus (1994)
Ackerman, Al: I Taught My Dog to Shoot a Gun (2000)
Ackerman, Al: Corn & Smoke (2006)
“Blaster” Al Ackerman, Together At Once by Benjamin van Loon