by Jerry Stahl
1995, Warner Books
Grand Central Winter
by Lee Stringer
1998, Seven Stories Press
Couple of “I was a druggie loser” tales here. One good, one bad. Both with an amazing amount of things in common, and an equally amazing amount of near perfect mirror reflection symmetries, which only adds to my perplexity as to how one could fly so high even as the other augured itself into the Good Earth.
Two guys. Two drugs of main choice. One a crack head, the other a junkie. Opposite ends of the continent, in two of the most godforsaken urban cesspits known to mankind. New York and LA. Eeech.
Winter is the tale of a black man with nothing going for him excepting his crack pipe, lost in the depths of New Yawk. Stringer starts out low, bottoms out completely, and then somehow manages to rise above himself into the realm of more “normal” existence.
Midnight is the tale of a white man, with all sorts of unfair advantages going for him, who manages to throw most of it away but somehow survives anyhow. Or at least survives enough to get the book deal from Warner Books.
Stringer writes compellingly even as Stahl manages to merely come off as some kind of blowhard.
Both books provide a wonderful look into a world that most of us have only heard about. It’s just that page after page of Winter provides crystal clear panes of glass instead of the badly scratched plastic served up by Midnight .
Grand Central Winter gives you a feel for life on the mean streets of New York and is just loaded with all kinds of neato gritty details. Permanent Midnight seems so self-absorbed, so damn eager to drop names and play the glamour card of Hollyfuckingwood, that you could easily miss those equally gritty snippets of real life that are buried within.
Stahl, somehow, has managed to both brag and whine at the same time. Stringer just tells the goddamned story.
Stringer gets a foreword by Kurt Vonnegut, Stahl gets a foreword from nobody at all.
I say to read both books together. Each compliments the other in strange and beautiful ways.
And oh yeah, lay off the heavy dope. I’m guessing you’re not gonna get the chance to write one of these things about your horrific slide into downtown hell.