Toronto’s perennial heel wants to turn babyface* and is taking whatever measures necessary to do so. On the cusp of the release of Savage 1986-2011, Moore’s kitchen sink domestic family drama, the author and semi-retired video artist Nathaniel G. Moore discusses his influences, obstacles, the publishing world, love and the family dysfunction that has made him rich, in small press publishing terms. You will be witness.
by Ray McClaghlan Jr. Drawings by Andrea Bennett.
Savage 1986-2011(Anvil Press, 2013) starts out with an innocuous fresh-from-the-public-pool early teen bike ride in North Leaside, a semi-affluent community in central Toronto. It’s 1986. The novel ends some 75,000 words later on the Monday after wrestler “Macho Man” Randy Savage dies from heart complications one Florida morning in May of 2011. In between all of this, author Nathaniel G. Moore discovers the missing link between Simon & Garfunkel’s’ jingle-jangle and 1990s grunge.
In contrast to his last book, 2009’s Wrong Bar, which was teen pathological, insistent, manic and maudlin, his latest book, twenty-five years in the making, plays loud all the way. Ensconced with a more straight-forward and raw subtext he has used in his previous work, Moore orders up chaos unremitting; his characters respond with layers of grizzle and intrigue, affection and concern, each taking a turn screaming like one of De Kooning’s Woman paintings, caught in the tantalizing web of the author’s own much appreciated sense of personal dysfunction and martyrdom.
Fortunately, this creates a story with passion rather than monotony. Only one chapter, in which the protagonist, bored at his sports media office job, creates a fictional interview with Randy Savage, does the book sag momentarily into artful vagueness. The novel is at its most accessible thanks in part to a pair of likable supporting roles in Holly (sister) and the bully / best friend (Andrew Beverley) and the infinitely dense Mom (Diane) and Dad (David) characters who are represented beyond their own human forms by everything from Darth Vader to Hitler to Jesus Christ to WWF’s superstar The Undertaker. By the end of the 1980s it seems the family has gotten too familiar with itself, poised for change – a slow burn.
(*perennial heel is‘rule-breaker’, babyface is ‘good guy’ in wrestling speak.)
No levity as we hit the mid-1990s with disparate stride; this isn’t going to be pretty. Coming of rage in the age of Cobain’s suicide and Phoenix’s overdose, there is a fatalistic sense that Nate, our protagonist feels he escaped a much darker fate than the dead boys he grew up admiring. By why was he spared?
Nate, our skinny hero uses the pop tools he absorbed as a child to decipher wrong from right one fateful afternoon in a real life battle with his father. The chain reaction sticks, setting him on a collision course to depression, poverty, solitude and too much introspection. As he hits his adult life in and out of realities, hospitals and universities, his diet is cynicism, fear and looming violence: Somewhere lost between Kevin McCallister (Home Alone) and Alex DeLarge (A Clockwork Orange). It’s only after seven wilderness years does he reunite with Holly, who is now married and has a young daughter.
The closing moments of Savage 1986-2011 recaptures this dense howl-round of mental turmoil quite effectively, except that its Sisyphean story of a lonely boy going home to mom may seems rather small-scale and narrow in the context of the consuming rage of decades of menacing videotape footage (“it’s squinting red eye burning these incidents onto its magnetic tongue — not unlike “Big Brother is Watching”, I thought, yeah, watch this, welcome to hell…”)
While the family watches Nate, he watches them — and himself on VHS replay. It’s only when Nate realizes he can walk out of the frame for good that we have a sense that things don’t have to be quite so gloomy for this box bedroom rebel hall of fame candidate.
Despite his gifts and craftsmanship as a writer, Nathaniel’s particular universe is one that remains a taste unacquainted by multitudes and Savage 1986-2011 may shape up as the kind of severe honest work that accrues more honor than love.
What made you decide to use a wrestler’s trajectory as constructional scaffolding for your latest novel?
NGM: Perhaps the talented Toronto poet David Seymour said it best or more recently in an interview with The Toronto Quarterly in regard to influence and writing, and his attribution to the works of poets Don McKay and Jan Zwicky. He said that poetry was a tramway (paraphrasing) to “philosophical attention.” He went on to say that these writers “off-the-scale intellectual playfulness also taught me absolutely anything can become an object, or the subject, of that attention.” Enter Randy Savage, the best wrestler of all time who was simply an incredible performer. I didn’t like him at first and was an adamant Tito Santana and Ricky Steamboat fan.
But Randy’s athleticism and antagonistic personality grew on me. By 1987 and into 1988, he was as big if not bigger than Hulk Hogan as a fan favorite. I was 13. The rest is Canadian literary history.
How did your recent art show Savage: Cult of Personality, Pure Media + The Art of Macho Madness infuse the book? Or did it?
To a large degree it did, it was a cathartic experience that art show in that I wanted to honour Randy, but also have him removed from me personally and let other’s toil in his subject matter. I didn’t have a piece in the show but of course was the culprit who made it happen. RM Vaughan summed it up best I think in the Globe & Mail when he wrote “While the whole town busies itself with Marshall McLuhan tributes, writer-curator Nathaniel G. Moore assembles a tribute to the late pro wrestler Randy “Macho Man” Savage. Surely, McLuhan would approve of this hybrid literary, music, video and illustrative multi-platform event. Somebody break a chair!”
Wrestling is a weird drug.
Compared to your other books, how do you place Savage amongst your greatest hits?
As singularly the greatest, but also the most difficult to finish. I wrote Wrong Bar in less than a year, Let’s Pretend We Never Met took a decade and others were two or three years in the making. Savage quite honestly, seemed to begin in 1993 when I was still in high school. I was writing stories about my childhood even then, and they drastically fair well against the early and late drafts of Savage. I know that sounds far-fetched but perhaps it was always that way. At some point in 2000 or so, I fancied writing a Orwellian type novel prematurely called 1988. And so, to a degree, I did just that.
You have assigned Charles Street Video with the task of creating at 15 minute short film to go along with the ebook version of Savage. What went into the filmmaking process, how involved were you in it and why did you choose this medium to accompany the electronic version?
It contains cruel 1990 era VHS and other domestic matter. A must-see for anyone human. Daniel Johnston would be proud.
Savage has illustrations by Vicki Nerino and Andrea Bennett throughout. Why did you choose these artists for the book?
Well, I always wanted to have illustrations in the book, going back five or six years. I discovered Andrea’s work when I was with Broken Pencil Magazine, the must-read magazine of all things under the radar in Canada and the world when it comes to weirdo arts and crafts and literature.
I asked her if she’d draw a few pieces and it turned into something like twenty-five pieces, and so here we are.
Vicki Nerino is another artist I admire and I wanted her to recreate the iconic movie poster for Empire Strikes Back which was based on the original movie poster for Gone With The Wind. In it, mom is Darth Vader, Dad is Han Solo, I’m Princess Leia and Andrew is Luke Skywalker. I believe my Uncle Carl is in there as well, and my late cat Sadie and fictional older sister, the incredibly and always cool Holly.
The book appears to be a direct extraction from your own nuclear family. Care to comment?
It’s an imagined chronicling, with a few special effects. The meals were unbelievably long so a lot of editing went into that, cutting right to the plate-scrapping and dishwasher loading phase. A lot of middle class meat was consumed, and as a vegetarian now, I feel great shame.
Drawings by Andrea Bennett: http://andreabennett.ca/ (c) Andrea Bennett 2013
Ray McClaghlan Jr. is an Etobicoke, Ontario poet and artist, currently working on his first collection of poetry. His work has appeared in The Puritan, Ditch and Jade Magazine.