Working Class Hero
Iris Berry, the ageless and hypnotic Glittery Queen Of Thee Hollyweird Underground hipped me to this remarkable, marvellous, soulful, author-poet-novelist from Toldeo, Dan Denton, whose powerfully poignant debut novel, “$100-A-Week-Hotel”, is catching fire with everyone who has been yearning for a voice of truth to arrive in these ridiculously propagandized, fictitious times.
Denton's characters are all so sensitively illustrated, it almost feels you are bellied up to the bar with them. It is startling to read the modest words of a real person because most novels, books, and records, and even "hip-hop influenced murals" painted on the side of hipster trap juice businesses are generated by rich college grads from the gentrified Julian Casablancas or Miley Cyrus upper classes. All the media professionals promote falsehoods and stereotypes and bogus narratives from the elitist perspectives of the ruling class.
Denton is a hardworking laborer from the rustbucket factory wasteland of Northern Ohio, and shares a working class sensibility and world view with people like Wayne Kramer, Zack de la Rocha, Boots Riley and Hunter S.Thompson. He has become one of my very favorite writers, alongside Chris Hedges, Falling James, Caitlin Johnstone and Frankie Delmane.
The only time we really see or hear working class or poor people on the monopoly airwaves is when they are being gunned down by murderous, racist cops, or being shirtlessly dragged from trailers on "Cops", or denying paternity on some adultery sensationalizing, fake moralizing, exploitive daytime talk show like Bill Cunningham, Jerry Springer or "Cheaters". Denton mercifully conveys the quiet humanity and real life desperation of the weary and downtrodden majority of us who failed to inherit the privileged lifestyles of showbiz dyanasties or relatives of the Bush and Clinton and McCain families who all get big media jobs for being related to war criminals.
He is a deep cat, smart as hell, with a heart full of soul. If you love the MC5, Steve Earle, Woody Guthrie, Immortal Tech and Billy Bragg, check out Dab Denton. His work is revolutionary, like the Clash. He might not be rich, or on script, but he is important.
Dan Denton on the picket line.
I read somewhere that you said you'd started like 87 novels. How did you finally decide that "$100-A-Week-Hotel" was worthy of publishing. Did you know when you were typing it, like did it all fall into music, or was their rewrites and weeping and gnashing of teeth, etc.?
Being bipolar is hard. It’s easy to write 32 pages in a notebook on an 18-hour manic bender. It’s harder to sit evening after evening, working a paragraph at a time, to see the story through. I was a few chapters in when I figured I had something good going. And, no gnashing of teeth, but I wrote, edited, and rewrote each chapter before moving on to the next. I've written some books but never bothered to go back in and change the names like Henry Miller did.
What advice do you have for writers when it comes to publishing and knowing when you're ready?
I go through phases of thinking I'm good, and other prolonged times where I feel crushed under the weight of my own songwriter heartbreak and usual rage and crippling self doubts.
Didn't you mention having another novel written and almost ready to go? How to know when you’re ready to publish?
Fucked if I know. I just keep showing up every time I get a chance to read poetry, hoping people will like my writing. I’ve been sending stuff to some impossible to get published in mags for years. Most of the time I never hear back. Some send too polite rejections, cock teasing like I almost made it in this year. I take those rejections as a personal challenge. ‘Some day I’m gonna write something so well that it can’t be rejected’.
Plus, my submissions get better every year, and many of the ones the New Yorker has ignored have found themselves home in some of the best underground and small press publications in America. Is that even an answer?
And I’ve finished a couple of larger projects since “$100-A-Week Motel.” I’ve got a solid “picket fence-American Dream” chap size group of poems I’m stitching together to send out soon. I’ve got an upcoming limited run chapbook coming this summer from Holy & Intoxicated Press in the U.K. and I’ve got a good short story that isn’t long enough for a book, but it’s pretty fucking good. So I gotta write another good short story to go with it. Hopefully that’ll be my next book on Punk Hostage Press.
How old were you when you first found Bukowski?
Eighteen. It changed the way I viewed poetry. His poem ‘for Jane’? To write a love poem so raw, so honest. Might be the best love poem I’ve ever read.
Thoughts on Thompson and Baldwin? Other faves?
I like Thompson for who he was as much as I love his writing. That was a motherfucker chasing freedom, in life and in art. Plus, he forever left me enlightened at too young an age about America not being what she says she is. Same for Baldwin. He was chasing freedom, too. Notice how both of these legendary writers immersed themselves in activism, politics and the problems of their times. Both were fearless in their pursuit of truth.
I just started reading Baldwin’s poetry on a tip from one of my living heroes, a writer I’ve been lucky to get to be penpals with. Baldwin’s poetry is fucking incredible. Should be taught in school.
I related to what you said about phrases and ideas coming to you while you are working, I remember writing some of my best stuff laboring in a Kroger bakery and at the Ryko/Rounder warehouse and Target and Wal Mart. All that friction and frustration. Do you experience writer's block, or spells when you aren't as inspired as other times?
Yes. Any writer or creative person that says they don’t is lying, and or putting out a lot of mediocre shit. I’m sure Thomas Kincade had painter’s block, but who can tell? Every fucking painting looks the same. Sure, there’s plenty of light, but not an ounce of goddamn heart. Kincade was the richest artist in America at one point. So what the fuck do I know?
There’s a lot of times I feel like I’m not writing, or that I’m not writing anything worth much, and a few weeks go by and I’ll tinker here, and there, and stay up too late listening to music, and there’ll be a few good poems there. I’ll keep showing up, I guess.
Who are some artists, writers, bands, and poets who you personally draw inspiration from?
All of them. There’s an eternal thread that winds through all good art. But Leonard Cohen, and John Coltrane have been hanging out late at night. A few months back it was Springsteen. The Stooges have been regulars all year. Patti Smith’s “Just Kids” always inspires me to write. That’s an artist’s guide to learning to be an artist.
If you ever get stuck as a writer pick up your copy of “The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry”, and start reading til you feel like writing. And you will. I promise.
What are your greatest joys and inspirations?
Joys? That’s tough because I wouldn’t use that word in my life much. I think the closest I can get to it is that I’ve come to realize that surviving a tough life provides character, and a certain richness of freedom. And there’s stories to tell from it if you can just figure out how to write them.
Inspirations? I decided years ago that I was going to keep writing poetry until I write a better American anthem than “Howl”. It’s impossible, sure, but if that ain’t what we’re chasing then why the fuck are we doing it?
How did you become aware of worker's history and unions and class struggle?
The monopolies are killing what is left of Main Street. Soon, Bezos, Musk and Gates are gonna own it all. What can everyday people do with our remaining time to help fix this greedhead country, when the oligarchs at the top control the food, medicine, information flow and own the entire big five media and the enforcer class? If you spend enough time hanging out in a library it ain’t hard to figure out that unfettered capitalism is the devil.
Hell, no one in the mainstream ever talks much about my hero Martin Luther King Jr’s work to eradicate poverty. His anti-war stance. No one talks about how my hero Walter Reuther the man who United the autoworkers and built the UAW, they don’t talk about how he was a socialist. They don’t talk about how congress crippled unions by passing a law that says no member dues can support a political candidate. They did that because of Walter Reuther.
As head of a powerful UAW he was too dangerous to be allowed in politics. Once, a Republican congressman said Reuther was a bigger threat than Red Russia. How’s that for union clout? Maybe we oughtta read up on that socialism stuff?
Reuther and MLK jr were friends by the way. The UAW paid for the sound system for the March on Washington. Reuther was the only white speaker that day. What a proud history to be a part of, if only we taught it. Then again, no one talks about how Ronald Fucking Reagan and John Wayne were rat fink snitches who sold their union brothers and sisters in the actors union down the fucking River.
What can we do? Make art. Make love. Feed our neighbor. Smile at your supermarket cashier and shake your fucking fist at the two-way mirror up above where the corporate middle manager is checking yesterday’s report wondering if he should write up Wanda for scanning 6 less items per hour. Fuck that guy.
Tell me about your chapbooks, anything you have available for consumption in addition to your masterful $100 A Week Hotel. Links to where people can buy your swag and stay updated about your activities?
My first chap “Bury My Heart in the Gutter” is still available from EMP Books. I’ve got a podcast called the “Blue Collar Gospel Hour”, of which I’m currently at war with the U.S. trademark office about because those fascist morons said I don’t put out any “Christian content, or gospel music.” Like the Christians get to horde all the fucking gospel.
What music heals, or fuels, or uplifts and empowers you?
The blues are my first love, followed by outlaw country and punk. I celebrated ‘fiddy cent Friday’ for years, when I’d listen to fiddy all day. His “Get Rich or Die Trying” is one of my favorite albums. John Prine wrote lyrics that will train wreck a poet’s heart. Even Dylan said so.
How did you first discover Iris Berry? Or how did she first discover you?
I bought a copy of Iris’ book “All That Shines Under the Hollywood Sign” from Michele McDannold’s Citizens for Decent Literature table at a small press fest. I’ve been an Iris Berry fan since. Then because Michele invited Iris to a zoom reading to celebrate a chap of mine, Iris liked my poetry, and now we’ve been friends since. These things happen when you share the same birthday.
Iris is a writer’s dream of an editor and publisher. She constantly puts the work of the Punk Hostage family of writers in front of her own work, and she tells the best underground Hollywood stories. I’ll forever consider myself lucky that Iris discovered me.
How do you cope with depression?
Anyway I can. From meditating my ass off, to medicating my ass off, and usually winding up somewhere in the middle. Mental healthcare in America is fucking atrocious. Healthcare, too. Someone tell uncle Joe to declare a national emergency on mental healthcare cuz it’s goddamned sure a fucking national crisis. Free up some fucking fema bucks for that will ya Uncle Joe?
What books would you suggest to young people?
“Still Life With Woodpecker” by Tom Robbins
“Night” by Elie Wiesel
“The People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn
“The Color Purple” by Alice Walker
“Chronology of Water” by Lidia Yuknavitch
What are your favorite things about Toledo?
There’s a solid, diverse group of artists here. Housing is affordable. And Toledo has a certain toughness to it. Plus, the Autolite Strike happened here. One of the most important strikes in American Labor history. The cops and national guard deployed so much tear gas for so many days that the whole neighborhood around the factory turned on the cops, pissed they were living in a cloud of tear gas and madness.
What else do you wanna tell the people?
Travel. Art. Psychedelics. All ways to expand your horizons. And as the great John Prine once wrote and sang “try and find Jesus on your own.” Thank you.