Thursday, May 01, 2008

Reader Meet Author

Steven Lee Beeber

We have all had that night or series of nights when you look at the clock and know it is 2:00am and you have to be up in four hours. You close the laptop, force your head to the pillow, close your eyes, and.... explosions, fires, every thought you've ever had rushes to the surface and begins to swirl. You open your eyes and stare at the glowing red numbers as they blur and run together as if profane. You roll on to your other side and flip the pillow, but still nothing. You have left too much unfinished or have too much happening the next day. Maybe you just found you are going to be on live television in a week. Whatever it may be, sleep is being avoided and dreams are not happening.

Mine is usually a self-induced sleeplessness, but whatever your reason for not sleeping, Boston writer Steven Lee Beeber has compiled a collection for you. Pulling together fiction, essays, comics, poetry, and even found text, this is truly the ideal reader for the sleepless. Steven Lee Beeber is also the author The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's: A Secret History of Jewish Punk, and a fellow caffeine addict. Who better to study insomnia then a caffeine addict?

Recently, Steven was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

Orange Alert (OA): You latest project is called, Awake!: A Reader for the Sleepless, what can you tell us about this project?
Steven Lee Beeber (SB): “AWAKE!” is my homage to the Olympic sport I call sleeplessness. It’s about the only event trial in which I might place, and I believe it signifies an active mind, a caring heart and a serious imbalance of serotonin, dopamine or some other multisyllabic catch-all of the moment. While I love to have those extra nighttime hours to catch-up on my reading, bill-paying and blood-pressure-raising over the WMDs multiplying just out of sight, I also seriously believe that there is something very interesting about insomnia, especially for artists, writers and other creative (read “disturbed”) sorts. After all, scientists are increasingly finding that we HAVE to dream, even if we don’t always have to sleep. As a result, when we stay awake over long periods of time, our dreams intrude on our waking hours to varying degrees. That’s why you can catch glimpses of what appear to be ghosts or other optical illusions when you’ve gone without sleeping for too long (not to mention when you’ve gone without not huffing paint fumes over an extended period of time, but that’s another story). In other words, sleeplessness allows us greater access to our subconscious. That’s why I think artistic (read “pretentious MFA/Mother Fucking Artiste”) sorts are so prone to bouts of insomnia. They’re looking for a portal to their dream states. Either that or they’re just feeling guilty about not having real jobs.

OA: How did you select the writers and artists that would be involved?
SB: You mean aside from paying back favors and eliciting promises of future publications for myself? Let’s see, if I remember correctly I wanted to find a selection of artists from a variety of genres. As you’ll notice, the anthology includes poets, writers, painters, photographers, comics, creators of commix, picker-uppers of found objects, punks, bloggers and even a Suicide Girl or two. The point was to show how insomnia is interpreted across the board – and how it affects artists of all media. It also allowed me to not have to decide who to include or exclude. I’m extremely indecisive. It’s one of the reasons I can’t get to sleep. Or at least, I think it is.

OA: I love the concept of blending different genres (i.e. poetry, fiction, comics, art, etc). It is almost like this is a scrapbook of someone who has insomnia, and collects various pieces while not sleeping. Why did you draw from so many sources for this collection?
SB: Uh oh, I think I answered this one above. Even worse, I like your interpretation better than mine! Thanks a lot, pal!! Now I’ve got something else to worry about as I lie awake sleepless tonight! But seriously (ahem), you touch on something else that I wanted to mention about the anthology. It’s set up to evoke the experience of insomnia. That’s why it’s divided up into days of the week, with each one set off by a painting from a series on the subject (see Robin Palanker, “Sleep Won’t Come,”) While these paintings couldn’t be printed in color due to cost, they still give you an idea of the gradually more surreal state that occurs as sleeplessness stretches out over days and days. There’s also the up and down feeling of straight essay, psychotic story, spastic poetry and then crystalline-clear-adrenalized observation. And back again. Hell, I’m explaining it badly. Tell your readers to just go out and get a copy. Then they’ll see what I mean (and I’ll maybe make a few sells).

OA: Soft Skull is a quality small press, what has your experience been like working with Soft Skull?
SB: Fabulous! Amazing!! Rockingly righteous!!! Seriously, I’m not even exaggerating! I really love those guys. Soft Skull Head (as in Soft Skull Leader, not as in Puddin’ Head!) Richard Nash is a human dynamo, a true believer and a truly great humanitarian. He really gets what books are all about and what they can be and he backs projects more because he believes in and loves them than because he thinks they’re going to make big bucks (though I’m sure, like me, he wouldn’t mind that happening. I mean, if Britney Spears can retire on her output* why shouldn’t he/me?) I’d also like to give a shout out to Anne Horowitz who has not only done her best in slapping press releases upside the heads of sometimes uncomprehending journalists, but has also schlepped books far and wide, actually showing up at one of my readings with a stack tall enough almost to engulf her.

(*Hey, stop picking on Britney!!)

OA: You recently took this book on a big time tour featuring musicians, actors, writers, etc. How far is too far in the promotion of a book?
SB: I’m not sure. Some seemed to think when I started biting off the heads of bats and chickens that might have been a bit too much, but I’m still considering staging a stadium-sized reading/healing session in which thousands upon thousands of my tired legions read simultaneously in silence in hopes of conjuring up some good sleepy mojo. Either that or I’m going to get proud sponsor of our Boston event, P.B.R (“Insomnia? Fuck that!! Pabst! Blue!! Ribbon!!!”) to shell out some more bucks so we can continue to take this show on the road. Can’t you just see it? A never-ending book tour in which Dead-Tired-Heads follow our lurching caravan in search of solace and comfort? I can. But then again, I haven’t slept for days, so I’m probably not thinking too clearly.

OA: What's next for Steven Lee Beeber?
SB: Coffee, Ambien, Xanax and a speedball cocktail. After that, I plan to finish my novel about a grad student exploring the work of a little known writer who he considers more representative of his era than some of its bigger names. That writer? A certain Steven Lee Beeber. The name of the book? “About the Author.” Hmmm, let’s see … I’m also compiling another anthology, this one on “first punk experiences.” If anyone has any cool tales, feel free to contact me at my website: (click on my name at the bottom of the page or write One final thing you should know. I’m seriously considering writing about Jews of the South. I’m both a native Atlantan (born, bred and fled) and a Heeb, so I have some experience in the schizophrenic nature of this subject. The only real question is, will I be able to take it on so soon after tackling the Jewish origins of punk? When I return from Germany—where the translated version of “The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s”—is being released in October, I’ll let you know if I can take yet another bizarre contradiction in my worldview. Right now, however, I need a nap. RIP!

Bonus Questions:
OA: Coffee? If yes, what is your favorite type of coffee and where is your favorite coffee spot?
SB: Yes, I say. Yeees, yeeeessss. Coffee is extremely near and dear to me. In fact, if I were going to observe any sort of religion (other than writing) it would be whatever it was that the Aztecs used to practice. After all, they not only worshipped the coffee bean, they also showed how you could use its cousin to make cocaine. Now, their whole thing with human sacrifice seems a little extreme, especially considering it focused on virgins. But don’t get me started on that. … Oh yes, favorite type of coffee? 1369 Blend. And favorite spot? The 1369 Coffeehouse in Inman Square in Cambridge, MA, where I spend far too much time tapping in my computer and downing countless refills while others glare at me for a place to sit. Ah, how I suffer for my art.

OA: We all know you are a fan of punk rock. What is it about punk that initially drew you in? Is it more about aesthetic than sound? All-time best punk band?
SB: Ah, good question. Aesthetics vs. sound. By that I think you mean what we in the rock world would call context vs. content. Let me answer that by telling you the two things that first drew me into punk. When I was a teen, I remember watching a Saturday Night Live episode in which punk progenitor Patti Smith yelped out a version of “Gloria” while beating out the letters (G L O-R I-A) on her chest. Later, on one of my first visits to New York, I sat myself down in the NY Public Library listening room and put the Buzzcocks album “A Different Kind of Tension” on the turntable. Great title. Greater cover art. But what was really amazing was the sound. “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” I remember mouthing under the headphones, going on like that that for so long that I started to get odd stares from the homeless guy sacked out next to me. By the time I took off the headphones and heard the silence ringing all around, I knew I was on my way to a new frontier. Unfortunately, a few years later after a night of a bit too much punkish behavior, I forced the needle of my stereo to stay in place at the end of that album as I all but kissed the vinyl, passed out. The next morning when I woke up to find the return arm banging against my skull, I saw that the grooves at the end of the record had been literally shaved away. Now that’s punk! … Oh, best all time punk band? The Buzzcocks? The Ramones? Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band? I really can’t decide. They’re all great. Maybe Alvin and the Chipmunks?

For information on Steven Lee Beeber please visit and to order a copy of Awake! visit soft skull press.

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