20 Questions: Augusten Burroughs

What do you get when you mix Lolita, Dexter and Ignatius? Something like Augusten Burroughs.

A Wolf at the Table

Publisher: Picador
Length: 272
Formats: Trade Paperback
Price: $14.00
Author: Augusten Burroughs
US publication date: 2009-03-31

Running with Scissors

Publisher: St. Martin's
Subtitle: A Memoir
Author: Augusten Burroughs
Length: 352
Formats: Paperback
ISBN: 9780312938857
US publication date: 2006-08

Possible Side Effects

Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 9780312426811
Author: Augusten Burroughs
Price: $14.00
Length: 304
Formats: Paperback
US publication date: 2007-04


Publisher: St. Martin's
Subtitle: A Memoir
Author: Augusten Burroughs
Price: $14.00
Length: 320
Formats: Paperback
ISBN: 9780312423797
US publication date: 2004-04

What do you get when you mix Lolita, Dexter and Ignatius? Something like Augusten Burroughs.Ranked among the 25 funniest people in America by Entertainment Weekly Burroughs, satirist of so many things held precious in contemporary society, talks with PopMatters 20 Questions about a few people and things that he admires , not least a brave little girl named Anne Frank.

His most recent book, A Wolf at the Table, published in March (Picador).

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

The last movie I saw was a documentary short about restoring the Buddhist temples and culture of Mustang, and I did nearly cry but only because I did not think I could endure even one more moment of the lotion-covered woman's perfume two rows ahead.

But in general, if it stars Debra Winger I will cry. And not a guy cry either, where you pinch the bridge of your nose, sneaking your thumb and forefinger into the corners of your eyes to squelch the tears.

2. The fictional character most like you?

Good god, I don't know how to answer this kind of question. A combination of Lolita, Dexter and Ignatius.

3. The greatest album, ever?

I'm not the kind of person that really has “favorite” anything. And I don't know what makes an album “great” or just “good”. This is a question for the Deadheads, who have that kind of loyalty and devotion.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Well, duh. Star Trek.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Huh? What do I consume when I want to be ... smarter? Pork chops sprinkled with Adderall, I guess.

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

The publication of my first book, Sellevision. Because the odds were against me in every possible way. I was worn out, very nearly beyond repair and had reinvented myself so many times, I just did not know if I had the stamina to want something again. And then make it happen. But I did. So I'm proud of that.

7. You want to be remembered for...?

This sort of thing doesn't matter to me. I don't “want” to be remembered for anything in particular. I understand that some people really have a need to feel their legacy and imagine its impact. I could not possibly care less.

People can forget my ass or they can remember me as the greatest humanitarian who ever lived, right up there with Princess Diana. Either way.

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

This probably sounds depressing, but I have never looked to other people for inspiration. Growing up, all the adults I saw around me were wrecks. So I was locked in my head for so many years that I wouldn't even have known where to look.

But a couple of years ago, I was in Amsterdam and I toured the Anne Frank house. It was interesting. Then I bought her journal and took it back to my hotel room, one block away. I read it. And that girl blew the top of my head off, just like Emily Dickinson said can happen with good poetry. Or I think it was Emily.

Anyway, Anne Frank wrote with such naked -- absolutely stripped of irritations like 'style' and 'voice' – human girl need and hope that it was as if the girl herself continued to live right there in her own words. I have never read such a fine memoir and most certainly never will again. And, as a person, here we have a child who is growing up in circumstances we truly cannot imagine. Her life overnight become The Worst Thing That Can Happen to the power of ten. And did this girl sit and weep endlessly or kill herself as I most certainly would have done? She did not. She thought about love and boys and life after.

I am so glad I never went to school and therefore did not have this book spooned down my throat. Because it should never, never be an assignment. It should only be read as a reward.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

Any of what's his name's paintings. The Girl with a Pearl Earring man. I saw one in person and I'm telling you, the man caught light itself and glued it to the canvas somehow. I have seen many fine paintings in my life. But never one that seemed painted from the scene itself, made of that scene's molecules.

10. Your hidden talents...?

I am very decisive, but that's kind of boring. Oh. Okay, wait. This is sort of a talent, maybe. I can detect the very slightest deviations in pattern. For example, I can tell when a piece of crown molding is un-level by 1/16th of an inch. I think it was 1/16th but maybe it was 1/32nd.

Well, either way the contractor who measured was shocked. So yeah, go ahead and ask me if those jeans make you look fat. I'll tell you if they do and by how many pounds.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

I can't think of anybody who has ever given me advice. Advice? You mean like, “Always marry a girl whose mother had freckles,” or some such thing? Nobody has ever said things like that to me, I don't think.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

Oh no, another one of these. Okay, here we go. I'm going to mentally toss all my “things” into the air as high as I can and then the first one I catch is the one that will be my favorite.

I never could catch anything.

I don't know, then. Oh, wait, I do, I do: I bought two of them, about a year apart. I liked these French bulldogs so much, I even gave them names: Bentley, and then The Cow.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or...?

Levis. Because I feel an obligation to fine clothing. Whenever I must wear a beautiful suit I always feel like I’m taking somebody else's child to the park.

“It's like I said, Allyson, it just never occurred to me that there even was such a thing as a blueberry allergy. Strawberries and peanuts, yes. But blueberries? Even if I had recognized the signs, I never could have made it to the hospital on time. Ask any of the other people who were there, it just looked like he was hot, wanted to cool off the top of his head in the fountain and wanted to be on his back when he did it. His eyes were wide open, we all thought he was just picking out shapes from the clouds. Nobody could see that his tongue was gone. And the blue urine didn't even show up against his jeans.”

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Well, there is only one reason to take somebody to dinner at the Ritz and that is to impress them. But impress them with what? Which is why I would select some very angry, sullen teenager from a part of the world that least resembles ours. And we would have dinner at the Ritz and I would explain to this person, do you see how different this is? It’s not anything like what is familiar to you. And that tells you that you may think you know the world and you may feel there are a certain number of possibilities, but this is proof that you do not and that the number of possibilities is beyond figure.”

But after the Ritz, I would want to take him somewhere else, so they didn't the wrong idea. I would like him to see the tunnels, beneath the city. I would like to take him to Times Square and then somehow, down. Where it was silent and empty. And I would say, “You see? You have to scratch, scratch, scratch the surface like a big old cat and then you'll find something else entirely.”

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

New York City, October, 2009. To see if my disaster of a building is any closer to being finished or if one should still take care not to electrocute one's self by forgetting to duck in the lobby.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

I did take a spa vacation recently and about two minutes after sitting back on my teak recliner, these words entered my mind: now what? And with one week before me, I suddenly felt hopeless and bored to a fatal degree.

So I think pills, probably, would be best for me.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or...?

Having watched my friend go through it, I would need all of the above if I was pregnant. But as it is, I can get by OK on just Sugar Free Red Bull and nicotine gum.

Photo by Dennis Pilsits

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

I think I would have to say Australia, either Brisbane or Melbourne. Sydney, of course, is spectacular. But does spectacular suit me, really? Do I need spectacular? What would I do with it?

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

Well, I would say the only thing that is appropriate to say to such a man. “Yes, sir, Mr. President. Anything you say, sir.”

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

My next book, You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas, will be released this October. Between now and then, it's enough work just trying to keep myself out of the mental hospital.


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

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