Monday, May 6, 2019

A Review of Different Drummers, by Kevin Cummings, with poetry by John Gartland

 (Frog in the Mirror Press, 2019). ISBN: 978-0-692-19767-7 (paperback)

You never know where the connections you make in life will lead. Simply saying yes to opportunity, out of curiosity or even as a courtesy, can open doors to whole new worlds, whole new places, that you never knew existed.
In the twenty-first century, where everything is divided into Us and Them and the Other might as well live in another solar system where their rituals and culture are uber-alienated by some shadowy cabal that has engineered itself to make such decisions, feeding them down through indoctrinal water-drips to the TV-zombied hamster-people, it is imperative to learn about other places, other sub-sets of society. And to learn about and from what occupies the time of the thinkers and artists that reside there.
For this reason alone, Different Drummers is a primer on Thailand and an invaluable read.
So… that saying yes I mentioned. It happened a decade ago, when I received John Gartland’s Gravity’s Fool in the mail for review. His poetry moved me. Still does. I can’t swear to it, but I believe John and I connected on Facebook, which is an admittedly unusual benefit to an otherwise stinking/sinking cesspool of Big Data content and insidious mood manipulation. I had been doing reviews for about five years, which is an invaluable exercise for a writer and content creator (and, should you need more proof, Different Drummers is full to the brim with Cummings’s and others’ reviews of the books of some of the expats he interviews).
John and I got to talking after the review was published and our conversations led to publishing some of his work on the literary website I founded in 2002, www.newmystics.com, and even a collaboration on an extended piece he asked me to do the voice work for, called “Letter to John Wilson” (http://www.newmystics.com/lit/JohnGartland-JohnWilson.html). In 2015 I reviewed the re-issue of his novel Orgasmus, which is a Robert Anton Wilson/William S. Burroughs–esque mind-trip that I highly recommend. Between then and now I have reviewed a few more of John’s poetry books, which involve collaborations with other writers and photographers.
John was how I came to read and now review this collection of book reviews, essays, interviews, and, of course, a good bit of poetry by John, who has been given the well-earned moniker of “Bangkok’s Poet Noir.”
There are a number of things that impress me about this collection (which is a follow-up to Cummings’s Bangkok Beat). First of all, it is an obvious labor of love, which is why I concentrate on reviewing (this is my 170th) small and independent press titles. It’s not about money or prestige or ramming a thinly packaged ideology down a beach-goer’s throat during summer vacation reading time. It’s all about The Work. Second, Cummings is a great interviewer. Great questions, terrific insights, and, as a result, the interviewees give us something other than the standard BS magazine drivel. They truly do give of themselves. I reveled in honest opinions and colorful experiences. I learned what makes other writers write, other musicians play, other artists’ photograph or paint. Third, I learned about a place that seems as interesting and foreign and scintillating and mysterious and yet modern and problematic as any I’ve been to in my travels.
As indicated by the illustration on the cover—a tribute to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—the book features a considerable selection of interesting individuals and a mosaic of undulating, interacting, overlapping stories.
Place is important. What draws a person to a foreign land? What keeps them there so long they are an expat? chapter 1, “The Entertainment Zones,” and the handful of chapters that follow all center upon the places. And more are explored throughout. Through some excellent writing we get to know a bit about the cities, the neighborhoods, the streets, the bars and music clubs. This is important, because, to truly understand this extensive cast of characters, you have to understand the places in which they move, because that’s the mix from which the circumstances come.
And all of the stories told in Different Drummers have interesting circumstances. A standout story is in chapter 6, told by T Hunt Locke, about Noi. The anecdote about Bi and Bo really made me smile. I’ve already shared it half a dozen times.
Of no surprise, I highly recommend the book for the presence of John Gartland alone. There is a hard-hitting, non-PC interview he gives and the poetry in the middle of the book and in the closing section is some of John’s best work.
In John’s interview and others you’ll get an insider’s view of the expat community in Thailand—what brought them there, what keeps them there. Some of the answers may surprise you, some of their comments may move you back and forth on the reactionary scale, but applaud their honesty and acknowledge how much they’ve earned the knowledge they share.
Another highlight of the book is chapter 13, which is an interview with Irishman Hugh Gallagher, aka Von Von Von, a former music scene writer turned musician/performer whose many accomplishments include performing at Harlem’s fabled Apollo Theatre. He is also a novelist.
As I mentioned, John Gartland is not the only one who brings his Truth to the pages of this book in a non-apologetic way. There are opinions and insights—not all of which align—on topics such as Brexit, globalization/neoliberalism, and the state of the arts in Thailand and the world. The writers, artists, and thinkers in Different Drummers all display an impressive balance of experience and intelligence. And most of them have a terrific sense of irony and humor.
Of special interest to the crime thriller and mystery devotee are several interviews and book reviews (I love the decision to pair them for each author) with some of the best in the business. Situating their stories in Thailand and environs is value added. Check it out and see.
So do yourself a favor, and get a copy of Different Drummers. It is not one book, but many all in one. If you are planning a trip to Thailand it’s the perfect primer to keep from being just your average tourist… and if you’re not currently planning to go, by the end of the read, you will be.