Darkest hour

Screenwriter Jerry Stahl’s tale of the needle and the damage done is about drugs and depravity in Hollywood; naturally it’s being turned into a movie. Eddie Gibb talks to The Man.

‘The thing is. all my heroes werejunkies.‘ confesses former TV writer and ex-drug addict Jerry Stahl in his autobiographical tale Permanent Midnight. ‘Lenny Bruce. Keith Richards. William Burroughs. Miles Davis, Hubert Selby Jr. . . these guys were cool. They would not have been caught dead writing an ALF cpisode.‘

You may remember ALF. an ultra-corny late-80s American sitcom starring a furry alien puppet visiting earth from Planet Polyester. it wasn't exactly what Stahl, a porno writer who had graduated to prize-winning short stories published in Playboy magazine, had in mind when he moved to Los Angeles. No. Stahi‘s plan was to write fiction. but he ended up instead as a part-time screenwriter with a full-time heroin habit.

Permanent Midnight, which could easily be subtitled ‘Fear And Loathing In Los Angeles' in a nod to the palpable influence of ‘gonzo‘ godfather Hunter S. Thompson. is a wise-crackingjunkie confessional chronicling Stahl‘s inexorable slide from manageable habit which allowed him to hold down a SSOOO-a-week writing job to all-consuming addiction that destroyed friendships, a marriage. his health and career.

Jerry Stahl: tear and sell-loathing

Well, maybe not the career. Despite writing a book which names names and portrays TV-land‘s movers and lunchers in an extremely unflattering light. Stahl has now been welcomed back into the entertainments industry fold. He was recently invited to work on a network television sitcom called Can '1 Harry Lore. and now his book is being turned into a film starring David Duchovny from The X-l’iles. Stahl's is a classic American tale of a career resurrected through the ritual of public humiliation.

‘Hugh Selby [author ofclassicjtmkie novel Last

: Exit To Brooklyn] gave me sotne very sage advice

and this is gonna sound so hokey when l tell you which is that it's much tnore of a challenge to write


l 1; heroes in the Heroin Hall of lame.

| Permanent Mir/night ispublisher/12y.‘ilntt'us ml : 'I‘lturs 28’ Mar at £6.99.

1 about all the people who fucked you tip with some

degree of understanding. than it is to go for the slash- and-burn. ducks-in~a-barrel route which was my

5 inclination. lfl had any guiding philosophy it was

escryliody in this book may be ugly. but I'm the

ugliest of all.‘

The book is a fast-paced autobiiigt'apliical account which conducts the reader on a \ icarious tour tliroughiunkie psychology and physiology in grim. sordid detail. Blood drips from Stahl‘s arms throughout the book as he struggles. vainly. to conceal the weeping track marks on his inner elbows where dirty needles have taken their toll on his \ellis. Surprisingly, it's also very funny. ‘I [list w rote a dope book.‘ says Stahl. "l'hcre's a million ol them and the

‘I just wrote a dope book. There’s a million of them and the last thing the world needs is another coniessions at a strung-out loser but I wrote it anyway.’

last thing the world needs is another confessions of a strung-out loser. but i wrote it anyway.‘

.41.!” aside. Stahl had more reason than most who work in American television to feel good about his work: his credits include .lInuit/lcli/lne. l'liirtvsmnelltlng and. temporarily until he got too weird even for Day id lynch. livin Peaks. He was lined tip to be on the team for Nor/lien: l;'.r/msiire. but a speedhall ill the toilets before the first script meeting ensured Stab! lost the gig. \\'as working in television .m bad‘.’ ‘I was kind of pretentious at that stage in my life.‘ says Stahl. 'and i kept saying. Jesus Christ. Dostoyevsky wouldn't have been writing Alf. lfthere was any loathing involyed. it was self- loathing.'

After several attempts to kick. Stahl has been clean for two whole years: he's now an iii-demand itiagazine writer and is mid-way through a novel. As he says. there are easier ways of making your name but it looks as if he may be on course tojoin his

nuunnnnnnlll Foodfor thought

John Leechester: celebrates the lite- etflrmlng aspects oi eating

Sixties cookery legend Fanny Braddock would not be impressed. A sell-proclaimed unconventional cookbook-cum-memoir that relishes its Irish Stew status as a series oi ‘gastro-historico-psycho- autobiographico-anthroplco- philosophic Iubrlcations.’

John Lanchester’s ambitiously brilliant novel The Debt To Pleasure is a delight both to the lascivious senses and the literary intelligence. Despite being one oi the most wiliully anal and snobblsh characters ever to have graced the page, Tarquin Winot astounds us with his bamboozling knowledge on everything irom the etymology oi foodie terms, delicater constructed seasonal dishes and regional culinary variations, while on a loumey from HP Sauce-loving Britland to the cultured tastebuds oi estouiiade-loving France. That is, oi course, when the prole-hating Tarquin

world oi student land.

is not regaling us with his meditations on his sibling sculptor Barry, Mary Theresa the light-lingered nanny irom the nappy years, and Mitthaug the alcoholic Norwegian cook. Perhaps it should come as no surprise to discover that the 34-year- old author oi this literary Babette’s Feast was once restaurant critic for The Observer and is now deputy editor of The london Review 0! Books. However, his interest in load was not iuelled by debauched nights out at L’Escargot, but by the kebab-infested

‘It all began when l was supposed to be writing my English thesis,’ he says. ‘I was sharing a flat and we had a rota tor cooking, so I decided to ask my mother for some recipes like spaghetti bolognese, and how to turn the gas on, and that was it. I got a great kick out oi it.’ Thus, a cook was born and the budding lloyd Grossrnan embarked on

an unoiiicial, in-depth research project on the history oi food. ‘Food connects to so many things to do with history, culture and story and I thought that had been underwritten about,’ says Lanchester.

Throughout the novel are a series oi ciphers, secreted in between the paens to exotic dishes that allude to the darker side at Tarquin’s nature and true intentions. ‘l was conscious oi wanting to celebrate the funny, Ille- aiiinning aspects of eating,’ says lanchester. ‘But I wanted to show that all that pleasure and all that gratiiication has a shadow and certain ambivalence to it.’ A literary novel- cookbook with a moral now there’s something Fanny (haddock could wrap her chops round. (Ann Donald)

The Debt To Pleasure by John Lanchester Is published by Picador at £15. 99.

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