I was first hipped to the artist known as Sam Pink via some tasteful, gay bathtub porn he'd disseminated through his twitter feed. ‘Ho ho’, I said, ‘the algorithms are full of it today.’ When I scrolled through Pink's feed, I quickly ascertained that this cat had a sublime sense of humor and possibly a high degree of mental derangement. All those bizarre, intricate paintings and tongue-in-cheek threats of violence . . . Also, I saw that Sam is an author - and a prolific one! He's dropped 12 books since 2010! I happened to have an Amazon gift card left over from X-mas, so I figured, what the heck, let's give this desperate weirdo a try.
I started with a book called Rontel. I must admit, I approached it with a healthy level of skepticism. (A novel named after dude's cat? Of course! A rambling internal dialogue with no plot? Can't miss!) I expected, at the most, maybe some decent pulp. And the survey says . . . wrrrrrrong again, dipshit!
A few pages in, I got that sick churning in my gut that starts any time someone else is good at something. I knew right away that SAM PINK was a name Joyless House had to associate with. Hitch your wagon to a shooting star, baby, those things stay up forever!
Sam agreed to talk with us after a minimum of arm twisting. The following interview was conducted via notes tied to bricks and thrown into each other's faces over a table at a Shakey's Buffet.
JH: Thanks for sitting down with us, Sam. How is your mental well-being today?
Pink: Ted I'm doing just fine today, thanks.
JH: Nice. The reason I ask is, in looking at "the Pink canon" (and it is pretty impressive, by the way) I see that most of your work deals with alienation, depression, suicidal thoughts, etc. Is your stuff as autobiographical as it seems? Because it reads as pretty autobiographical.
Pink: Yeah, that's my world I guess. I think it's more that writing is the reaction to it so it's the most characterized part of my life. Like, I'm never just sitting there thinking, 'man I'm in such a good mood, I'm going to write a story about being in a good mood'. Because that's usually a dead-end. But by writing about the stuff you mentioned, it seems to open up more, and prevent me from 'wallowing' in it.
JH: I get that. We're compelled to work out through art, the things we can’t get a good handle on in life.
The physical city of Chicago, and the people of the city play a big part in everything I've read form you. You recently moved to Florida. Has that move had a big impact on your writing?
Pink: Yeah, I think moving to Florida has changed my writing, but I'm not exactly sure how yet. It's probably a blend of the change in state but also just the normal changing/evolving. 'The garbage times' (soft skull 2017) felt like the last part of a cold/fever or a long piss/something. The last bit of crust in something before something else starts flowing out. So I'm excited for that to come out and then really get into new stuff.
I see you also do a lot of painting (I think they're paintings). Do you consider yourself more of a writer of a visual artist? Like I've been writing songs and playing in bands for 20+ years, but I know I'm a writer first.
Pink: I've been drawing since I was really young but then started painting when I moved to Florida (like a year ago). I think I consider myself a writer more, but I enjoy not thinking about writing sometimes and just painting. It's a different kind of enjoyment. I also think being into other stuff besides writing only helps your writing. It's fun/nice to learn lessons in one medium to be applied in another.
JH: I dig that all the way. I feel like my music and my writing are outlets for the same energy; but playing with a band there's a visceral gratification and a physical and collaborative element that writing doesn't speak to.
Pink: Yeah I agree. I play the drums and writing/painting can't offer that kind of feeling.
JH: So what about music? What do you listen to? Were you much into the music scene in Chicago?
Pink: I haven't really gotten into any new music. I like 'Bongripper' from Chicago. Just been listening to old stuff I like, like Ministry. I enjoy listening to 'Spins the Worlds Wheel Again' by Prurient on repeat while painting. Also been getting into this band Mothers and the guitarists side band New Wives. They're out of Athens, Georgia. Sometimes I listen to 'Boilermaker' by Jesus Lizard on repeat too.
JH: Damn. You should try painting something to Hawkwind. I bet you could paint some bad-ass shit to some Hawkwind, man!
What about literature. Who are your favorite authors, what are some of your favorite books?
Pink: Books that seemed to do something major to me were 'Junky', 'Why Did I Ever', 'Ask the Dust' and 'The Mezzanine.' I'm re-reading 'Woodcutters' right now and I love that book too.
JH: These all seem to make sense. I bet you'd like The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño; lot's of filthy sex.
When did you take the plunge into writing, or was it something you always took a cotton to?
Pink: The plunge took me, man, you know? You don't go taking the plunge. The plunge takes you. Damn thing took me not but 10 or so years ago. 10 years almost to the day, I'd say. Damn bastard. The thing about the plunge is, there's no going back. You just keep plunging. Pretty soon, you forget what choos even looking for. Until it finds you. Finds you no more or less plunged than when you started, and you look around and everything is completely different and not only do you not understand but you don't care about understanding. Plunged in.
JH: That's the spirit. That's the Sam Pink we've all grown to know and love.
Would you say then that you were 'called upon' to write? To spread your message to the world, for the redemption of mankind, perhaps?
Pink: Yeah I mean, of course. My goal sure as fuck wasn't to try and live off 6-10k a year. My goal was to, obviously, enrich the lives of everyone on earth such that, when I'm done, or in roughly 2-3 more books, everyone will be perfect and equal and there won't be any more problems and everyone will be happy about it all. At the exact moment the last book comes out, problems will immediately end. A man swinging a knife down into another man's chest will disappear and become a flower he is handing him. Crying babies will stop crying and start singing. People are gonna be like, 'damn, I didn't know all we needed was 15 'cult classic' books by some whacko nutjob (finger circling side of head whistling sound motion) to set us all on the right path. At which point, in the background listening, I'll smile a little and nod, before winding up a bolo punch and hitting myself in the face such that it sends me up into space where I become a sizable meteor that winds up, in roughly 230 million years, colliding with a small unpopulated planet and destroying it completely.
JH: That's a nice thought and all . . . but I don't know. Seems pretty far-fetched. Do you think it's a coincidence that Knut Hamsun and Céline ended up being fascists? Like they wrote these great books from an outcast's perspective and when everybody loved them for it they showed their appreciation by jumping on fucking Hitler's bandwagon. Rotten fucks. I think Bukowski was a fascist at heart too, but he was too shrewd to spoil the golden goose by copping to it.
Pink: Ted, you doubting me makes it REALLY hard for me to want to complete my mission. Nothing pisses me off more than a doubter. You're boiling my onions here. (allows onions to reduce to a simmer). I don’t know about those fellas. They didn't have twitter back then so it was probably hard for them to get political information. If they had twitter they would've tweeted something like, 'lol thinking about jumping on Hitler's bandwagon don’t @ me' and people would've argued with them and convinced them to remain on their own rusted and roaming bandwagon. Twitter is the stick in the spoke of the wheel of Hitler's bandwagon. Or so it has been said. Also, to be clear, I have little idea what I'm talking about right now.
JH: Most of the harm done in this world is done by people who think they know what they're talking about. Maybe if we would've just taken a moment leading up to the election and said, "Alright, this has gotten out of hand. We've all said some things we didn't mean. Let's just postpone this thing for a couple months and start over with cool heads . . . " But no, we're Americans and we're fucking right! I stand by whatever I said when I was high on bath salts, goddamnit!
Pink: I enjoy people who only talk when they know what they're talking about and who say 'I dont know' when they don't know.
Been thinking about starting a third political party whose only goal is to protect itself from the other two
JH: I'm on board. As long as we're legalizing weed.
Do you get out and do readings or signings? Do you like/dislike getting up in front of people?
Pink: I do readings. I really enjoy doing readings.
JH: Is there much opportunity for book events and general high culture in fucking Oldsmar, FLA?
Pink: I haven't done a reading since living in Florida. High culture is wherever you bring it, mang. Inside each strip mall, a renaissance waiting to happen. In every pseudo euro-cafe vape place, a da Vinci. Every palm tree a speaker of the word. Every motherfucker bug, annoying as fuck.
JH: True words, my man. How are you adjusting to them Florida bugs? You wouldn't think you'd miss the big freeze until you see the monstrous shit that can grow in a climate that never freezes properly.
Pink: Ha ha, for real man. It's very disorienting. Like it's hard to tell what month it is, generally. I miss winter badly. Pretty much everything bites you here and it's always a weird kind of bite.
JH: So I'm going to try a real question. You're what, 30? 35? Had the onslaught of technology (e-publishing, easy self-publishing, twitter, etc.) hit already when you were called by the plunger? Or did you have to adjust?
Pink: I'm 33. Kind of changing right as I got pulled into the plunging. Factor in that I'm always like five years behind on shit anyway.
JH: Do you feel like you have a pretty good idea of who your audience is? Or don't you think about that stuff at all. I'm not trying to nudge your onions here.
Pink: I don’t think about an audience when writing something. I'm the audience. But having done this for a while now, yes, I am familiar with my audience. They come from basically every kind of background (though economically from what one might call the 'broke as hell' class, of which I am a member as well) and generally have mental problems. So basically, broke psychos. I've met the coolest people in my life through writing. I'm very grateful for them. It makes writing really meaningful, when you can flip on the switch at the lighthouse and find other stranded people. I've also found that most people in my audience are 'ride or die' folks. Basically, I've met the coolest weirdos because of writing, and it is one of the only meaningful things in my life. Much love to anyone who spends any amount of time reading my shit.
JH: That's a huge step, I think, for an artist, figuring out who YOUR weirdos are.
There's a theme of human decency that underlies your work that is refreshing. Many famous artists and successful people in general, seem to be shitty human beings who just happen to be talented. That's not really a question, but feel free to expound.
Pink: Yeah I agree. It's because most people (especially artists) are egotistical insecure assholes. They don’t have inner strength/certainty, so a bunch of strangers telling them they’re great is all they need to believe it. Which leads to mistreatment. I recommend staying 'down in the shit' to remember to be decent to people. You're never going to be in a position to rightfully be able to mistreat people. 1 on 1, everybody deserves a shot at respect/understanding, and, most of the time, if you give that, you will receive it. But your life is nothing without it. Money and big name publications/exposure are pennies on the dollar for mutual respect/understand/love/help. Writing a book that people like/appreciate shouldn't negate the overall feeling of never being good enough. I mean, it's a fucking book.
JH: Rather than piss on that noble sentiment with more inane banter, I think we should end it there. I feel like we're friends now. Are we friends?
JH: You’re the man, Pink. Or better yet, you’re the PERSON. Get it?
For art: @sampinkartt
Find Sam's books: https://www.amazon.com/Sam-Pink
Watch for The Garbage Times in November 2017 on Soft Skull Press!!!