“A shelter of immense preoccupation keeps off reality. On the cusp of learning, you know humanity is about to be blindsided by celebrity again. As if Atlas cringes under a baseball”.
Enter Steve Aylett and Lint, a strange little paperback from Thunder’s Mouth Press ($14.95, 223 pp). Lint, “offers the first-ever biography of one of the great minds of our time: Jeff Lint, author of some of the strangest and most inventive satirical SF of the late twentieth century”. In just about 200 pages (followed by footnotes, bibliography, and indexes), Aylett gives us Lint’s whole life, from his 1928 birth in Chicago to his 1994 death in the Southwestern desert, which befell him immediately following a near-death experience and did little to quell longstanding rumors that he had actually been dead for many years. In between those two dates, Lint hobnobbed with the Beats, confounded even the pulp sci-fi publishers (he first got published by pretending to be Isaac Asimov), experimented with mind-expanding techniques of all sorts, got married a few times, pissed off pretty much everybody he ever met, and naturally became much more popular after people thought he was dead (both the time he was mistaken for dead and then much later when he actually died).
Aylett has created a world that feels like a Monty Python movie animated by the Ren and Stimpy people. Jeff Lint is an objectionable lunatic who resembles Philip K. Dick passed through an amplifier with both volume and distortion pushed to the max-a sort of visionary savant. Indeed, the man who told an interviewer that “when the abyss gazes into you, bill it,” also wrote “I seem to be outliving my ears” as a line of dialogue in his screenplay Kiss Me, Mr. Patton (eventually filmed, after substantial revision, simply as Patton).
Aylett likes body-part jokes (mostly of the G- and PG-rated variety) and I have to say that I don’t. Knees, bellies and noses aren’t all that funny to me. Beyond that, I’ve not got much to complain about. Lint is funny. The chapters are short and punchy, sometimes reporting a single incident and sometimes covering large swaths of Lint’s life and literary output. Aylett has a fine sense of pacing and a stand-up’s eye for comedy, knowing just when to be silly or crude or gruesome, and how to thread it all together into a punch-line before the absurdity begins to grate. One running joke: the quote-unquote “quotes” from Lint’s books. It is left to the reader to try and imagine situations where lines like the above-quoted might have anything approaching context. That game, while quite fun, is ultimately futile since Lint was hardly anymore forthcoming or decipherable outside of his fictions. “An earwig’s progeny will not grieve,” wrote Lint in his (mostly) nonfiction work Prepare to Learn, and while this may be true, why he brought it up remains a mystery. Later, as an old recluse often sought out by worshipful and cultish fans, Lint took to describing the act of conversation as a “violent novelty”. To young writers seeking advice on the craft, he would only warn them to ignore newts which, as Aylett points out, should always go without saying.
Perhaps the funniest aspect of this faux-biography is seeing Lint’s impact on the lives of people who really existed. Lint hung out with Kerouac in New York, and went to Tangier in 1967, only to find it “deteriorated since the days of Burroughs and Gysin” and populated mostly by “people trying to be noticed”. He caught up with Burroughs again in London in 1971. Lint attempted to participate in a cut-up experiment, but accidentally reunited the severed halves of a Shakespeare passage, leading an infuriated Burroughs to chide: “You terminal fool, it’s supposed to be gibberish”. Lint’s (rejected) script for the original Star Trek TV series so dismayed and offended Gene Roddenberry that his arms would not uncross for three hours after reading the material. A friend of Terry Southern’s, Lint accused him of selling out when Dr. Strangelove became a success, and frequently wrote him dismissive letters. Aylett credits Lint with being the first person to steal Michael Moorcock’s “Multiverse” idea, and Gore Vidal described Lint’s entry into the world of letters as akin to “a fat man jumping into a swimming pool”. Rigor Mortis, Lint’s JFK conspiracy book, drove Norman Mailer, “his blood boiling,” to such outrage that he “pulled at his own ear so hard that it sprang back into place with a noise like a whipcrack-he was dictating into a tape recorder at the time and an audio sample of the event has become one of the most frequently downloaded files on the web, along with the exploding shark and Limbaugh stating a verified fact”.
That last, incidentally, brings me to an aspect of Aylett’s Lint which I expect will be largely overlooked by the literary world at large. While fulfilling all its obligations as a cheerfully ridiculous romp, Lint manages to weave in a considerable amount of radical-friendly humor.
We learn that Ann Coulter was a seriously zonked Lint-head in her day, though one supposes she must have recovered later on or perhaps she’d have heeded the warnings given in Lint’s Easy Prophecy novels. The hero of the Easy Prophecy books is Helio Lashpool, a man inexplicably transported one day from a “free America to one closely resembling that of the 1980s”. Lashpool spends a good bit of time trying to convince people they are living in a fraudulent superficial excuse for a world, but nobody believes him and by the end of the first book he is overwhelmed by “blanket hypocrisy and a media made up of oppressive smithereens. In an apparent foretelling of Bush Junior’s reign Lashpool remarks: ‘Better than a leader smart enough to lie is a leader stupid enough to genuinely believe what he’s saying.'” In the manuscript for Zero Learned from Nero, the final Lashpool installment, he leads a revolution not for the sake of humanity but as the most efficient course to human extinction. Placed before a firing squad, one politician explains “that he followed a particular policy merely because it was eleven times more interesting than common sense”.
Similarly prescient are the Felix Arkwitch novels, which Lint began working on as early as 1973. In The Stupid Conversation, protagonist Arkwitch somehow figures out that Tom Delay will be “instrumental in the destruction of the world”. As a solution, Arkwitch traps Delay and a colleague in an “etheric syntax loop, whereby they talk bullshit endlessly and cannot leave the house”. Arkwitch, unfortunately, becomes trapped with the two men and spends the rest of the novel trying to escape from the house without Delay or the other guy noticing. To divert their attention while he works, Arkwitch instructs Delay to dress up a hen in underpants and then try to keep it from climbing in the sink.
Inspired by a poem that took a personal account of the 1974 U.S.-backed 9/11 massacre in Chile and merely divided it up into lines, Lint decided to try something similar with Kissinger’s green-lighting of the Suharto genocide in East Timor:
“the use of U.S.-made arms
could create problems
our risks of being found out
our efficiency is cut
our main concern is that whatever you do
does not create a climate
that discourages investment
we will do our best to keep everyone quiet
until the president returns home”.
The fact that the Kissinger quote is genuine blackens the humor till it burns.
In the closing chapters of the book, Aylett writes on the blossoming of Lint’s legacy in the years following his (actual) death. He describes the first conference of the Jeff Lint Fan Club, held in 1997 at “the Red Lion Inn in Portland, Oregon, historic venue for the September 1989 meeting at which U.S. military officials instructed Iraqi technicians in how to detonate a nuclear bomb”. As absurd as this is, it takes just under 30 seconds of internet sleuthing to find the 1999 Project Censored report confirming that the meeting, sponsored in part by Honeywell and Hewlett-Packard (Aylett mentions them), actually did take place.
Aylett goes so far as to include a few pages of color pictures, featuring the covers of select Lint books-all hilariously detailed satires of pulp art and style-as well as a couple panels from Lint’s short-lived comic The Caterer, and the album art from his utterly indescribable musical project: The Energy Draining Church Bazaar. Elsewhere in the text we are treated to a map diagramming the “magic bullet” that Lint contended killed Lincoln, following which it took to globe-trotting for nearly 100 years, occasionally killing other politicians, until finally taking out JFK; we see a page from the rejected Star Trek script, a line-drawing of a flower that Lint submitted in lieu of covering the 1968 Nevada Martial Arts Expo as he’d been commissioned to do (that sequence is a delightful, if obvious, send-up of Hunter Thompson).
There’s more I could say, and I do regret not leaving myself space to dwell on Cameo Herzog, a literary critic and Lint’s arch enemy, who may just be the funniest character in the book. But it’ll be funnier and more enjoyable for you to discover the rest of Lint’s delirious, schizophrenic pleasures on your own.
JUSTIN TAYLOR is a writer living in Franklin, TN. He can be reached at http://www.justindtaylor.net/