Monday, October 24, 2016

City of Weird Contributor: Jeff Johnson

I've been a fan of Jeff Johnson's writing since his memoir Tattoo Machine back in 2009. His mind is
like a psychedelic poem kaleidoscope left spinning on a beer-stained bar stool all night. I don't know what I'm talking about either, but I like the stuff that comes out of his brain. I'm forever glad we're friends on facebook for random status updates like this:

6:00 AM, Lightning Hopkins on the miniature jukebox. So much of the blues is essentially happy stuff if you listen closely. Pneumonia Blues for instance, this song. Hopkins feels vaguely bad for the bug that tried to live in the whiskey temple of his body. He has the Fritos pie powered immune system of a junkyard dog and he's a tad too busy with troublesome women to be bothered. Sort of the opposite of Morrisey, whose name I doubt I spelled correctly. Monday! Whatevah, like this is a thing.

When his book Everything Under the Moon came out in September, he had this to say on that same social media outlet, accompanied by a photo of the Bagdad Theater:

Neon, always at its most beautiful at sunrise. It's book release day for Everything Under The Moon. So it might be at a bookstore near you. Satisfying. I love so many things in this world. Food, for instance, the daily art. If you learn to cook, then you can understand more clearly the mastery of great chefs. I once wrote that while we all love Robert Johnson, it's possible that Hendrix could tell when Johnson had his eyes closed. Art is the same. At a certain point in its practical exploration, at least in your imagination, you can fleetingly feel the arthritis in a sculptor's hands, or see more than you might have of what lies beyond the edges of the frame. Books are like this. Writing them makes me love reading even more than I already did. Oscar Wilde said in one way or another that the greatest work of art was life itself, to be viewed by one at its conclusion. The Art of Life. Neon at sunrise. This coffee tastes particularly good. Just like it did yesterday.

If you told me about all the books that came or are coming out by Jeff Johnson in moments close to this very one, I wouldn't believe you, but it's true. There is the aforementioned Everything Under the Moon, published in September by Soft Skull Press. Werewolf thriller, you guys! And what a lovely cover.

And then there's Knottspeed, due out in February of 2017. The
publisher has this to say about it: Enigmatic, charming, and brutally resourceful, Knottspeed is a man on a mission. He also happens to be dead, but the rumors of his demise have been slightly exaggerated ― by the man himself as the key to his plan.

Another great book cover.

And if two books in the space of five months isn't enough, there's Lucky Supreme, published by Sky Horse, coming out only three months later, in April of 2017, and this one is part one of a trilogy. Jeez, how does this guy have time to write all of these? Get a load of the publisher comments for this one. Tattoo parlor noir!

The night world of Old Town, Portland, has gone mad in the grip of gentrification, and at the center of it all is Lucky Supreme, a seedy tattoo parlor, whose proprietor is a street-bred artist with a unique approach to problem solving. Darby Holland has enough on his radar, but when some “flash” (tattoo artwork) stolen from him resurfaces in California he can't help himself. His efforts to reclaim it set him on a dangerous path, dragging along his delightfully eccentric colleagues, including the brains behind his brawn—Delia, a twiggy vinyl-clad punk genius secretly from the other side of the tracks. No one knows why the art signed “Roland Norton, Panama, 1955” is worth anything or how it came to hang on the walls of a tattoo shop in Portland, Oregon. Only the deranged former owner can say--and he's not talking. Before the wrecking balls swing through Old Town in the name of “progress,” Darby must settle old scores and face new demons to save his reputation, his shop, and his sanity.

Here's a bit of full disclosure for you. Somewhere in the midst of the editing period for City of Weird, Jeff and Sky Horse hired me to design Lucky Supreme's book cover. I'd never done anything gritty like that before, so it was a lot of fun.

Around all his book writing and negotiating with TV and movie studios about upcoming projects, I was completely blown away when we took the blind down from the Forest Avenue Press submissions page and I found that one of the stories I had in my yes pile was a Jeff Johnson original. It's definitely one of the weirdest stories in the anthology. Here's a little taste.

A trumpet rang in the distance, a long, braying note that rose into a staccato burst of nonsense. Martin rose and pointed upward. Dr. Weisman followed him out of the basement and up the uneven stairs to the second story of the brick building. Together they peeked out through a broken window. 

A chopped-down car with huge rear fins rumbled into view below them. It was midnight blue, with tiny halogen headlights partially shielded with chrome to make them look like half-closed eyelids. A little boy in a white suit and patent leather shoes stood on the hood. He raised the trumpet and blew a sharp blast just as the car rounded the corner and disappeared. 

“What the hell do you make of that?” Dr. Weisman whispered. 

Martin shook his head. “Twin carbs on bad news.”

Jeff will be reading at Broadway Books as part of the City of Weird event on Tuesday, October 25.

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