I must begin by acknowledging that I have neither knowledge about nor interest in two thirds of the subjects Johan Kugelberg writes about in his collection Brad Pitt's Dog: Essays on Fame/Death/Punk. I must further admit that having read each of the essays with as much attention as I could muster my lack of knowledge of the subjects remains intact as does my interest. I must further confess that as often as not I had absolutely no idea what Kugelberg was talking about. Given all that, let me say that at least in those parts of the book that I thought I understood, Kugelberg is one of the most entertaining prose stylists I have come across in many a day.
His flights of rhetorical flash—gems that often come three or four to a page—are more than worth the price of admission. I may have had no idea what he was writing about, but I have to say I had a hell of good time reading it. So I can't tell you if I agree with the things he has to say about punk, I have no idea who the Flying Calvittos are and why anyone on earth would be interested in collecting their "hopelessly obscure" record "Lucky to Be an Australian." I don't know the Lurkers from the The Rings, and I wouldn't know The Dictators Girls Go Crazy t-shirt if it was hanging out to dry in the sun, let alone who Eddie Flowers is. Moreover I have no idea what motivates collectors of fanzines, old rock posters, band t-shirts and any of the other passions that Kugelberg anatomizes with excruciating detail. Come to think of it I have no idea what motivates collectors of anything. So I can tell you I absolutely find his fetish for collecting absurd, but then I find collectors of rare books, baseball cards and aluminum foil absurd as well.
I can't tell you if I agree with his critiques of a photographer like Carl Johan De Geer or an artist like Dash Snow, because until I read the essays I had never heard of them. I did check the internet, and I must admit that what I saw left me unenthusiastic. I have no doubt I would feel the same way about the music Kugelberg admires, although I must admit to listening to the Velvet Underground with a smile on my face. Even here, however, I don't think I could manage the same kind of fervor Kugelberg generates.
I guess the point that I'm making is that it's not so much what Kugelberg says , even when I think I understand and agree with it, that intrigues me, it's the way that he says it. Anyone who can get me to keep reading when I have no idea what he's talking about can write. Kugelberg can write. Kugelberg has a love affair with language, and I'm happy to watch the romance. The best way to describe what I'm talking about is to check out some samples. Here is a list (he seems to like lists) of Kugelbergiana:
--Metaphors worthy of the Metaphysical poets: the musical glory years of 65/66, he tells us "were about to rise like a Phoenix and flush the great white toilet of pop culture."
--Inventive coinages: "Scandihoovians."
--Oh my god puns: cultural expressions may be "hi-, lo-, or uni-brow."
--Internal rhyming: "The unk in the glam-junk, which ultimately is pre-punk, . . ." and "The Masses are asses that need better glasses. . . ."
--Plays on cliché: some hepcats are "letting plenty o'kittens out of the bag."
--Rhetorical echoes: attitudes of some to drugs are a "picaresque of addict picturesgue."
--Sly ironic allusions: The Molly Bloom yeses of the collector's orgasmic reaction to a bargain at a record fair.
--Not so sly allusions: a prize record discovered is a "scratchy and worn Moby Dick harpooned by an Ahab with coffee-jitters."
--What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed: "The sacred ability to capture the anyday grit of everyday life and make it beautiful."
--What ne'er was thought, and ne'er expressed at all: " . . . insights of pure thunka-drum flatulent-fuzztone gnosis."
These are just a few examples, but if you like this kind of thing you'll like Brad Pitt's Dog. If you like this kind of thing and you are into punk and collecting old records and fanzines of yore, you'll love it.
Oh! Brad's dog you ask? In the essay on Dash Snow, Kugelberg talks about a photo of "a dog taking a crap" which only gains value and importance for some people when they learn that it's Brad Pitt's dog. He sees this as the aesthetic fallacy of substituting the artist for the art. I'm not sure I follow the logic, but who am I to argue.