The Last Estate

Kim Vodicka and Jack Skelley Visit the Last House Under the Paper Moon – The Last Estate

Kim Vodicka and Jack Skelley Visit the Last House Under the Paper Moon

There’s a knock on the Estate’s entryway, but rather than anyone getting up to see who it is, we all try to open each other’s eyes instead. Who’s turn is it to answer the door? we say without a word; more fear than laziness, as whoever it is took a wrong turn and are clearly lost and we are never prepared to admit that we’re lost too. Or, this person knows exactly where they are, which means they want something from us we can’t provide. William just put a “no solicitors” sign atop the impaled Jehovah’s Witness on our front lawn, the one Jake robbed at gunpoint—he knew they wouldn’t have a lot of money, he just needed to liberate some quick faith without the lectures or reading material. We already have plenty of that shit inside here.

I take one for the team, and I’m glad I did when I see its Kim Vodicka and Jack Skelley, though I’m confused why they’re here.

“We were just in the neighborhood,” Vodicka says. I look into the wide expanse of wasteland; no neighbors, roads, or anything you would even stumble over or slip on, on accident.

I hand her the peel of my devoured banana. “Sorry, Kim—this is all I can offer at the moment.” I smile at Jack Skelley.

“Do you know Jack?” Kim asks me. “He’s got a new book out, you know…”

Of course I know who Jack Skelley is, but before I can answer, Kim explains they’re circumventing the whole book tour thing for his new collection
Interstellar Theme Park (BlazeVOX, 2022). “We’re revolutionizing it, actually. Instead of expecting people to come to us at some bookstore, we are going door to door, straight to you. Like fucking Paper Moon, you know?” she says, taking a happy drag of her yellow American Spirit.

Jack Skelley smiles, offering me a book. Then a weird thing happens: I notice Kim keeps taking drags of her cigarette, yet blows no smoke out, even when she talks. “Okay, well… do you mind if I just give you our normal pitch anyway? You’re the first house we’ve come to and I need the practice.”

“Sure, Kim,” I say. I hadn’t spoken to her since
last summer, so I let the lady fly, then allow her and Jack to talk amongst themselves to quench The Last Estate’s dissociated idea of “company.”


With a creative career spanning four decades, writer-musician Jack Skelley is a veteran of the Los Angeles punk-intelligentsia scene. His first book, Monsters, was published by Dennis Cooper. His band Lawndale has shared bills with acts such as The Fall, Meat Puppets, and Sonic Youth. His extended literary circle includes David Trinidad, Amy Gerstler, and Eileen Myles, among others. He once received a postcard from Kathy Acker, on which she wrote: “You’re a really good writer—never what’s expected.”

“In the company of such luminaries, Skelley has always held his own. His most recent collection, Interstellar Theme Park swirls high art and low culture with sex, humor, and socio-political commentary like a hardcore soft serve fever dream. You might call it a perverse celebration of the glitz and the gutter, one that ascends its subjects to hagiographical heights as much as it breaks them down to their units of base cosmogony. Punctuated with technicolor collages by Erin Alexander, Interstellar Theme Park does barrel rolls and boomerang loops, double helixes and death drops through pop iconography, Disneyfication, commodification, and rock star tragicomedy. Now, I’m gonna speak with Skelley about this latest literary romp since I’m a bona fide carny. Stay seated, keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle, and enjoy the ride.” 

I humor Kim’s analogy, despite our front lawn littered with carcasses of cars once considered road-worthy. “Carry on, Kim—but we ain’t going fucking nowhere, girl.”

She smiles at me before turning to face Jack Skelley.

Interstellar Theme Park, you decided to group pieces according to subject/theme rather than chronologically. Everything flows nicely, despite, in some instances, pieces having been written decades apart. How would you say your voice has changed over the years, and in what ways has it stayed the same? How have “the times” changed and stayed the same?

I opted for contents-order Plan B: throw the manuscript pages up in the air and see what groupings emerge. One persistent theme is love-hate affairs with pop icons. I thrust archetypal resonance upon them. Interstellar Theme Park spotlights big-time personages: Miley Cyrus, Mary Shelley, Elon Musk, The Kardashians, Yahweh, Wilma Flintstone, Vanna White, The Ramones, Artemisia Gentileschi, Stanley Kubrick, and Hello Kitty are all in the mix. (Sometimes in the same poem!) It’s a twisted apotheosis, elevating the famous to mock divinity.

If these disparate periods and people somehow mesh, it’s because we humans have an inherent, trans-historical need to idolize, despite the atomization of culture at large. Or perhaps it’s just due to marketing, which is another theme of the book. The urge of marketers to exalt products/celebs aligns with religion, ancient prophesy, and the primal impulses of poetry. I love that, and I love to mock it. So, with idolization comes degradation.

As for an evolving “voice,” Interstellar tests verse in weird formats: press release, movie review, biblical scripture. There’s one modeled on the Catholic ritual of the Stations of the Cross. Currently, I’m exploring AI and social media algorithms. Rather than using AI to produce texts (which the whole world is doing now), these new “stories” mimic its fractured forms to pose larger eschatological questions: Is AI the vaunted tool for human evolution? Is it steering “singularity” in a race between hyper-capitalism and transcendence? And…how can I make fun of it?  

You’ve been writing and publishing since at least the early 80s. What was it like to be a writer then as opposed to now? What moved you to release this collection of “New and Selected Writing” now?

My motivation was to stage THEE GREATEST COMEBACK IN THE HISTORY OF INDIE LIT! No, actually, I had a lot of older stories and verse, originally published in magazines or online, that I wanted available again. The pandemic was a factor. For some reason (free time? fear of death?) it birthed a burst of writing. And my earliest books, Monsters (Little Caesar, 1982), From Fear of Kathy Acker (Illuminati, 1984), and More Fear of Kathy Acker (Illuminati, 1985), were out of print. So, I grouped parts of these together.

The Monsters-era writing descends from 1980s days of “The Gang” that coalesced around Dennis Cooper at Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts Center in Venice, CA, where I worked. There’s renewed interest in this period. Not just Dennis, but magnificent writers from that scene, such as Amy Gerstler and David Trinidad, who remain successful and prolific. In 2019, Turtle Point press published Punk Rock is Cool for the End of the World, which collects the poems and notebooks of the late Ed Smith. Another supreme writer and performer from that period is the late Bob Flanagan. His collected works, long out of print, will finally appear this year in Fun To Be Dead: The Poetry of Bob Flanagan, edited by Sabrina Tarasoff.

Some of your work is very sexual, especially parts of
Fear of Kathy Acker and Dennis Wilson and Charlie Manson, both of which are excerpted in Interstellar. Do you feel any tension between creative sexual expression and your (perceived) authorial identity, and, if so, how do you reconcile it?

The Complete Fear of Kathy Acker publishes in May 2023 on Semiotext(e). Its flagrant content is mostly cis-het male, hardly outrageous and mostly satirical. Yet even my publisher exclaimed during proofing how shocking that comes across these days…and Semiotext(e) has published some of the most transgressive shit ever! 

Fear of Kathy Acker
was originally written and published in serial form in the 80s. I’ve made virtually no changes to the text since then. The narrator’s sexual obsessions include a lot of pussy-eating. (Can I say that?) There are asides of queer sex. Like most of the novel, these expressions are couched in arch irony. The prose flies from cosmic to comic, then gets dirty on these same planes. The self-seeking, self-mocking narration, some pulled from extraneous texts, is inflated to funhouse-mirror the setting: 1980s underground Los Angeles, including a stoned gaggle of poets, artists, and punk rockers, plus celebrities and political assholes. A giant Amber Lynn burns down L.A. skyscrapers with her orgasms. William Blake manifests as “Jack’s” friend Rick Lawndale. “Jack” wants to fuck the universe. Stuff like that.

Dennis Wilson and Charlie Manson was written in 2021. Historically, Charles Manson mind-controlled a harem of hippies. He manipulated Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson by giving Dennis free access to the “Manson girls.” Dennis was very screwed-up in his relationships. In chapter one, Wilson face-fucks Manson girl Susan Atkins, a.k.a. Sexy Sadie. The story is classic Faustian tragedy, but with laughs and, ultimately, transcendence. 

To get at your real question, imposed gender norms are wrong. But what work of art is not, in some way, embedded in sexual desire, frustration, and sublimation, including love and romance? The newer poems in Interstellar Theme Park revisit Freud, Jung, and Camille Paglia. Throughout 2022, I ingested the work of feminist theorists such as Julia Kristeva (The Severed Head) and Hélène Cixous (The Laugh of the Medusa). That’s the inspiration for a new story, “Walt Disney’s Head,” subtitled “Since I’m Dead I Give Good Head.” So, I’m never done with carnal content…plus celebrities! 

As Kathy said in an early interview, “One doesn’t express true or false identity, truth or falsity. One makes identity.” In crazy ways, FOKA was an early expression of new-narrative and other genres that now, decades later, dominate literary fiction. 

We know that writing is real magic. It makes consciousness. It melds minds. Kathy fucked me with a universe of fuck: I opened to her bliss, her mockery, her frantic scramble for love, and her extreme sexual anxiety. Yes, her “fear.”

Americans have the longest childhood, and some never grow up. Commodity culture, which you explore at length in
Interstellar, doesn’t work unless it infantilizes its target markets, playing to the lizard id and making people want more, knowing more is never enough. Can you say more about your love-hate relationship with commodity culture, as well as with Disneyfication and pop iconography? How has being a native Angeleno and spending most of your life in Southern California informed these love-hate relationships?

Recently I pin-pointed my earliest childhood memory: Seeing Mickey Mouse and Pluto wall decorations from my baby crib. That’s some powerful pre-verbal branding! Along with pop archetypes, the evil joys of commodification are a long-time theme. Another interviewer recently asked me a version of this question, in the context of William Burroughs’ “language is a virus” concept. Perhaps it’s partly a long-time fascination with the mechanics of marketing, but I see vast, global commodification as a late-capitalist virus rising within the language virus. I enjoy making parodies of our already linguistic-based hallucinations of ego, society, reality, and collective mind.

So, for example, “The Gospel of Elon” in Interstellar rewrites Gnostic scripture using contemporary business jargon. It perverts Gnosticism’s grandiose tropes with brand names and sex games:

These Angels were Yahweh’s yes-men

Who released their stress in the flesh of daughters.

The most pneumatic super-heroines

From Vivid Pictures they would spirit away, 

Collared in the celestial bounce-house,

Its blue-tinted dome, floated and

Inflated with a clean-burning

Composite of silicone and Cialis.

Another chapter, “Disneyland,” has sick poems and stories about The Magic Kingdom. To this day, I dream variations on dark rides and theme parks. These archetypal forms mirror parts of the psyche. The book title, Interstellar Theme Park, satirically posits the amusement park as a metaphor for cosmology, the essentially literary act of creation. 

So, yes, I suppose growing up in Southern California—where mushroom Disneyland trips were a casual thing, and there’s always some dumb film crew blocking traffic—feeds these obsessions along with a half-snarky celebration of celebrity culture.

You’re a founding member of the psychedelic surf rock band Lawndale, one of the lesser-known acts on the punk/post-punk label SST Records. Your creative trajectory feels very punk, very anti-rock star. At the same time, in the “Rawk!” section of
Interstellar, you seem to empathize with rock stars, occasionally even personifying them. How do you feel about ideas of fame, stardom, and “making it,” whether musically, in the literary world, or otherwise? 

Lawndale, despite our geezer-hood, still performs and records. Our new album, Twango, is on all streaming platforms. A fun irony of this project is that Lawndale songs are completely instrumental. No vocals, and yet I’m a writer. Go figure. 

When SST signed us, we’d already been gigging with their roster: Black Flag, Minutemen, fIREHOSE, Meat Puppets, Descendants, etc. We got to be good friends with Sonic Youth and opened for them, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, Husker Du, and every noise or punk band in L.A.

This was an indie scene, so I get your question: Why my focus on big rock stars? The empathy shown in Interstellar toward the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and the Beach Boys is, again, mixed with satire. It comes from seeing them as comic-tragic figures. Both Brian Jones of the Stones and Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys died in quasi-suicidal drownings. Their demons—displayed in their love lives and drug lives—make them fascinating demi-gods. The pressures of stardom warped them even more. I’d love to update this series with Amy Winehouse or Ian Curtis.

As for “making it” in the literary world, does that exist, even at its top levels? Most of us are swimming in the smaller ponds. All the more reason to support each other and be grateful for whatever audiences we draw.”

Considering Skelley’s pond analogy, I invite the two of them around back of the Estate, where stagnation, rot, and erosion has turned our once fertile lagoon into a boundless putrid swamp; where the ducks can no longer swim. Instead they just sit, staring ominously at the bog’s shattered reflection of our jaundiced skies, waiting for something to change. I pull up three frayed wicker chairs, correcting their stance since knocked over from previous tenant’s suicides from the Poplar trees—at least that’s what we tell ourselves.

“Can I offer you two a seat?”

Gabriel Hart

Gabriel Hart lives in California’s High Desert. His neo-pulp collection Fallout From Our Asphalt Hell is out now from Close to the Bone. He’s a contributor to Lit Reactor, LA Review of Books, and a co-conspirator at The Last Estate.