Welcome to the Tea Interviews.
I devised this feature to edify fellow artists and to share that edification with you readers/participants. I've seldom met an artist, particularly a writer, who didn't tend to gab or spill opinions or offer musings on his/her own work and worldview. Therefore I'm tapping into this common tendency.
(Most of the questions are tailored toward the featured interviewee.)
Tea Interview with Jackson Ellis
To benefit those who aren't familiar with VERBICIDE MAGAZINE,
please tell us about its origin, its rise from obscurity, and Scissor Press'
Like a lot of independent magazines, Verbicide
was originally a cut-and-paste zine. I put together the first issue when I was
19 in the summer of 1999, following my freshman year of college. I was at home
in Vermont, playing for a summer baseball team in Keene, New Hampshire, and
working part-time for my dad doing some carpentry. Not having a particularly
busy schedule, I put a lot of free time into making Verbicide issue 1. It
was12 pages and had some poetry and rants that I'd written, a few pieces
written by some other people (including Leanne O'Connor and Christopher Connal,
who are still part of the magazine today), and some stupid pictures I'd
clipped out of comic books, cereal boxes, whatever. I didn't take it very
seriously. I made about 25 copies in the fall of '99 and gave them to friends.
Issue two, another cut-and-paste job, came a
year later, right around the 2000 election. This time I made about 60 copies,
and, in addition to poetry and short stories, I did my first two interviews and
my first record review. A copy of this issue fell into the hands of my former
partner, Douglas Novielli. He was Chris Connal's best friend from high school,
and had just recently started an online lit-zine called "Terraspatial"
(which was around until early 2003). Doug and I quickly became friends, and he
proposed that we "join forces," so to speak, to promote one another's
In June, 2001, issue three of Verbicide
was released—it was the first professionally-printed issue; it was 48 pages on
newsprint and we had 1,000 copies printed. Around this same time, www.scissorpress.com was launched. "Scissor Press" (the name was
coined by Chris Connal) was decidedly the publishing company "umbrella"
under which we would release our various projects. So far, aside from Verbicide
and Terraspatial, Scissor Press has published two issues of Excommunication
Fanzine, a single issue of the now-defunct Boston Heights Magazine,
and a CD called Get Away Volume by The Mishaps.
Verbicide's rise from obscurity has
been a slow process over the last three years, and I hope that our "rise" is
far from over! For a magazine to have any success, it takes both consumer demand
and a LOT of work by the publisher to get the magazine into as many stores as
possible, and to be carried by as many distributors as possible. Right now, I
deal directly with about 13 different distros and retail chains, and to this
day, I am always trying to find new avenues for getting Verbicide out there. For
any zinesters who are seeking distribution, just do your homework. Seek out
magazines that are similar to yours and find out who carries them. Do Internet
searches; make phone calls; contact other zinesters. Most are very happy to give
D: VERBICIDE's style and musical flavor seems to lean toward
punk/punk-pop (to use a term I dislike). Does
this reflect your particular preference for punk culture, or is it a collective
groove in the VERBICIDE staff?
Though I have the final say on who gets featured
in Verbicide, it definitely reflects the "collective groove" of the
staff. Verbicide got a review in Broken Pencil a couple years ago that
stated, "There's a real 'whatever we like' feel to Verbicide," and
I thought that was well-put. Because of Verbicide, I've gotten the
opportunity to speak with some of my most favorite musicians and thinkers of
all-time, including Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, and Milo Aukerman. But I'm
always taking suggestions from my friends on who they'd like to see in the mag.
Chris Connal has had a big influence on who gets featured—in the past year
alone he's had a hand in the interviews with Tiger Army, Descendents, Street
Dogs, Dropkick Murphys, Flogging Molly, and author Dennis Lehane.
Verbicide also has a ton of record reviews in every issue. The reviews reflect entirely upon the individual taste of the reviewer. Sometimes, reviewers give negative reviews to CDs that I think are decent, and sometimes they give positive reviews to CDs that I dislike. But Verbicide is an open forum, and I have never censored any reviewers based on my own personal bias.
D: Punk music quite influenced me as I matured through teenhood,
from the Ramones to the Minutemen, with the Buzzcocks and The Clash in
between. (I've never
been a Sex Pistols fan, and I think most credit for them is undue.) As far as I'm concerned, the Ramones were the first all-out
punks, with folks like early Pink Floyd, The Who, and Iggy Pop as
precursors. Your thoughts
on this? Your take on the
I LOVE the Ramones and The Clash—they're two of my all-time favorite bands—and I'm into the Buzzcocks, too. (The Minutemen are cool, but I've never liked them quite enough to go out and spend money on their albums. I probably should, eh?) I really regret never getting to see the Ramones or Joe Strummer play live. And I'll one-up you and flat out say that the Sex Pistols totally suck. I've never been a fan of their shitty music or the generations of wannabes they've spawned. In my day-to-day I don't bother thinking about music I don't enjoy, and I don't get all worked up about bands and "scenes" that I don't like; I don't like to go around talking shit about anyone. What's unfortunate, though, is that the whole ridiculous, talentless, snotty image that the Sex Pistols portray is the only thing that a lot of people associate with punk rock, and that's a shame. Anger and rebellion is one thing, being an asshole is another.
D: Your favorite writer(s) and book(s)?
Even though it's been a while since I read one
of his books, Jack Kerouac is still my favorite author. I love his books because
they are so varied in topic, tone, and style—and every time he does something
new, it works. Visions of Gerard fascinates me. You won't find any
other book that duplicates his stream of consciousness style that digs so far
back into the memory of early childhood (and the way a toddler might interpret
the death of a sibling). Then you read something like Maggie Cassidy that
captures the essence of being an adolescent in small town New England by
simultaneously reflecting on heartbreak and optimism for the future. Then skip
ahead to Big Sur—one of the most bitter books I've ever read; you'd
think Kerouac had the weight of living 120 years on his shoulders when he wrote
that. My favorite Kerouac book of all time, though, is The Dharma Bums,
because, for one, I find his religious views to be pretty interesting, and his
romanticism of nature completely sucks me in. Also, that book partly inspired me
to move to Montana in the summer of 2003 to be a park ranger. I even hiked
Desolation Peak alone last June. It's the most serene, isolated place I've
Some of my other favorite books include Grendel
by John Gardner, Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck, The
Stranger by Albert Camus, the poetry and artwork by Blake in The Marriage
of Heaven and Hell, haiku poetry (Issa, Basho, etc.), and lastly, Le
Petit Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, which should be read by everyone
(especially the dialogue between the Prince and the fox).
Recently I went on a long car ride that afforded
me a lot of time to read. I finished a book of short stories by Shirley Jackson,
who wrote "The Lottery," and it was very good. I also finished "Black
Spring" by Henry Miller. I found some of his stories to be a bit monotonous,
but I really liked "The Tailor Shop," and I especially enjoyed
"Megalopolitan Maniac," which ends with this quote: "Tonight I would like
to think of one man, a lone individual, a man without name or country, a man
whom I respect because he has absolutely nothing in common with you—MYSELF.
Tonight I shall meditate upon that which I am." Awesome.
D: I'm quite fixated on mortality and how the human foreknowledge
of it plays with our worldviews, art, and mental health.
Anthony Burgess wrote: "Am I
happy? Probably not.
Having passed the prescribed biblical age limit, I have to think of
death, and I do not like the thought...But rage against the dying of the light
is only human, especially when there are things still to be done..."
In the introduction of VERBICIDE's issue 10, you wrote: "...death
delivers gut-wrenching truth and bittersweet perspective".
More thoughts on mortality?
Sure. I'm sort of fixated on mortality myself.
I used to be pretty afraid of the concept of death, getting panic attacks at
night, but I think a lot of it had to do with my overwhelming tendency to get
sleep paralysis. If you've never had sleep paralysis, consider yourself lucky.
Basically, it's when your mind wakes up from sleep, but your body is still
immobilized. It's a
horrifying experience, and when I'd awaken in that state I would wonder if
this is what dying is like, with your body still, eyes shut, vocal cords unable
to work, and your conscious mind still clearly operating, the last thing to go.
Fortunately, it's been a while since the last time that happened to me.
least now, at 24, I don't feel any "rage against the dying of the light."
But after all the death in my family this past winter, I have been heavily
considering what is most important to me. When I said "death delivers
gut-wrenching truth and bittersweet perspective," I was basically saying that
when you see people who once seemed so strong succumbing to death, it's a
staggering reminder of where we are all headed. But rather than fixating on the
negative aspects of death and loss, it makes you appreciate the people that you
love a lot more, and all that you share and have shared with them.
someone has passed away, you can't do anything about how much time you spent
together, or how good or bad your relationship was, so there is no point in
worrying about it. The things we have
control over, to a degree, are the relationships we have with our living friends
and family. THAT is what I concern myself with. I tend to be a fiercely
independent, solitary, moody person, but I know that someday when I'm staring
death in the face, it's not going to be those moments I spent alone that
I'll remember fondly, and it's not my absence from people's lives that
I'll be remembered by. My favorite aphorism by Nietzsche says it well:
"Shared joy, not compassion, makes a friend."
D: Esteemed author William Somerset Maugham wrote: "Most
people think little. They accept
their presence in the world; blind slaves of the striving which is their
mainspring they are driven this way and that to satisfy their natural impulses,
and when it dwindles they go out like the light of a candle. Their lives are purely instinctive."
While this assertion is certainly controversial, it raises a
question about the different regard for experience between mentalities.
Do you think the more artistic person may suffer more acutely than the
average masses, due to sharp perception? Disagree?
Human nature is generally very nasty. I think anyone who has sharp perception, artist or not, is going to feel a lot pain, because if you are a perceptive person you're going to be constantly aware of a lot of the harmful shit people do to one another and to themselves. But I don't think it can be generalized that all artistic people have sharp perception. A lot of "suffering" artists are simply self-centered and self-indulgent, and nothing is more self-indulgent than self-loathing.
I think a big source of pain and frustration for
many artists and writers are the high demands they place upon themselves. I
discussed this with Rollins a couple years ago when I interviewed him for
Verbicide issue six, and he added to the thought by saying something like,
"the best writers are the ones who throw themselves at the mercy of their own
wicked egos." People can drive themselves insane with the high standards they
place on their own writing and art—which is why a second set of critical eyes
is a good thing to have.
In my opinion, the key to not getting too down
is to keep things in perspective—and I'm not saying I succeed at this all
the time, or even most of the time, but I try. People can be really horrible,
and I've been hurt many times, but yet I still have a few really close friends
and family members, so that is all that matters. I used to want to be a great
baseball player, but it didn't work out, and I got injured, and yet I got over
it and moved on. Now I am very driven to produce a great magazine. I would like
very much for Verbicide and all my other projects to continue improving.
I'd love to be a great writer. But if it all ended tomorrow, it wouldn't be
the end of the world; if I don't write the Great American Novel, it's no big
deal. Doesn't mean I won't work my ass off every day trying to reach my
goals, but I always remember that there are more important things. Just as
happiness can't be measured by wealth, self-satisfaction and self-worth
can't be entirely defined by your work or your artistic indulgences. "What
is essential is invisible to the eye."
D: Writer Ray Bradbury wrote: "There is more than one way to
burn a book. And the world is full
of people running around with matches."
He was infuriated at sensitive groups, from "liberals" to
"conservatives" and races and religions, ranting against writers' choices
in their literature. Fahrenheit 451's dystopia outlawed books on the premise that
everyone is offended by something in some book.
I'm an outspoken critic of so-called "political correctness"
(PC) and its frenzied assault on sensibility and thought-freedom.
Rather than producing better situations and status and outlooks, PC
usually perpetuates its own agenda of bigotry, emboldens thought policing, and
dehumanizes all involved. The very
"enlightened" who wield the PC sword against "witch hunts",
"ignorance", and endless "isms" tend to be the most stubborn witch
hunters, ignoramuses, and ism-obsessed folks around.
What are your thoughts on this?
Thanks to my crass sense of humor I'm not very
PC, but I still manage to be decent and respectful by acting accordingly to the
situations I'm in and the people I'm around. The root of people being
obsessed with political correctness is that many people AREN'T decent humans,
so those with an agenda seek the source of the problem: if people are a product
of their environment, then language, pop culture, etc. must be the problem.
Blame television, music, foul language, whatever.
Here's the problem with that way of thinking:
people—and especially kids—don't need to be sheltered, they need to be
taught to use good judgment. And lots of kids don't receive the proper
attention it takes to be fit to stand up against the constant onslaught of poor
taste, product advertising, violence, and so forth that every day life in
America heaps upon them.
For instance, I spent the last nine months
substitute teaching around Boston. I had kids as young as first grade kicking
other kids in the face, little pint-size boys telling little girls, "Shut up
bitch, before I smack you!" Walking around middle school lunchrooms, I don't
think I've ever heard the words "bitch" and "nigger" so many times in
my life. For as much as I hate pop culture for exploiting and cashing in on the
innocence of kids, I still stand up for free speech—because the problem starts
at home. These kids aren't fucked up because they're playing video games and
watching TV, they're fucked up because they're being RAISED by their video
games and TV. Every day I went into school was heartbreaking, seeing kids who
were abandoned by one or both parents, kids with bruises and burns, kids with
junkies for parents, kids who are coddled and spoiled rotten, and kids who are
completely ignored. Some days I'd get so worked up, I swear, I felt like I
should just wait around, find some of these miserable parents and kick the shit
out of them for being so negligent.
To get back on track, I'm sure many people who
are fiercely PC have good intentions. They're just misdirected. And sooner or
later it spirals out of control and, as you said, political correctness
"dehumanizes all involved." People start pointing fingers and blaming those
who've done nothing wrong for problems that they aren't the cause of or a
direct part of. Of course, another part of the PC epidemic is that many people
just like to piss and moan and soapbox their point of view. Thought policing and
moral high ground protest feels very empowering, especially under the guise of
enacting a "correct" way of thinking.
D: Your favorite film(s) and director(s)?
I wish I had something to offer you here, but I'm not a movie buff at all! One of my roommates, Kevin Munley, watches tons of movies, and it's thanks to him that I'm able to drop the name "Fassbinder." I don't even know if I spelled that right. Kevin's also a great (and sick and twisted) screenwriter, and so is my younger brother, Asher—he's really good behind a camera, too. I hope someday they both make it as big-time Hollywood writers or directors, something.
My favorite movie when I was a kid was Stand
By Me. I still remember seeing it in the theater when I was five, and
it's still my all-time favorite movie to this day. In fact, I've been trying
to contact Wil Wheaton recently. I'd love to have him interviewed for Verbicide.
D: Aside from clever science fiction books, Robert Heinlein also
wrote essays about government, geopolitics, science, and liberty.
He strongly supported the 2nd Amendment as guaranteed defense
of a free citizenry, for instance.
Heinlein also opposed the Draft.
He wrote: "...the draft is involuntary servitude, immoral, and
unconstitutional no matter what the Supreme Court says."
Thoughts on this?
My generation never has had to deal with a
draft. On one hand, the draft is a good idea, because it's blind to class and
social hierarchy, so instead of having a service comprised of mostly poor people
with few options outside of joining the army, you have a service of people who
are equal, where money can't buy privilege. On the other hand, involuntary
servitude is a horrible idea—being forced to do anything against your will is
awful. I can't imagine being 18 or 20 years old, my whole life ahead of me,
and being forced to go off and shoot people. What a miserable existence. What a
rotten world where people do this stuff. If there was a draft I'd probably go
off an hide under a rock in Canada, because I don't want to die under those
circumstances. But, bouncing back to the other side, I am a fighter, and if
someone comes and screws with me and invades my turf, I'm not going to just
roll over and take it.
I don't know. I guess it depends on the
desperation of the situation and why we got there in the first place. The whole
concept of war, people running around killing other people, is really absurd.
D: Any brand-new ideas or projects on your mind or in the works?
To start, I'd like to improve Verbicide.
Verbicide developed greatly between 2001 and 2003, but over the past year
(in terms of production and design quality) it has hit a plateau. I'd like to
increase circulation, get some better, PAYING distribution, and just make it
look nicer, maybe start actually paying myself and paying the people who
contribute to it. That would be so nice. I'd also like to relaunch Excommunication
Fanzine by next winter—I haven't released an issue of Excomm in
over a year now. Also, if I ever recoup the money I put into The Mishaps' Get
Away Volume, I'd love to release another CD through Scissor Press Records.
After all the "mishaps" (har har) we encountered in releasing that CD, I
think I could do a much better job the next time around. I'd also like to get
into book publishing or co-publishing. We'll see!
D: Jackson, I appreciate VERBICIDE and congratulate you on your
achievement. I wish you blessings
on your path.
closing words for readers/fans?
Well, first I'd like to say thanks, David, for interviewing me! This was really fun and I'm very flattered. I hope I wasn't too boring and longwinded. To everyone who reads Verbicide, I'm extremely grateful and honored that people take an interest in the magazine. I hope Scissor Press is around for a long time. Lastly, there is nothing better than hearing from people who enjoy the magazine and getting suggestions on how to make it better, so please feel free to contact me any time you want.
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