Jerry Stahl’s latest novel Happy Mutant Baby Pills (Harper Perennial), is a sexy, gore-filled, glorious train wreck. Transfixing us with characters who hurtle towards disaster, Stahl captures both the rapture and raciness of destructive, addictive love. Lloyd writes copy of pharmaceuticals, trying to diminish the dastardly side effects (bad breath, depression, death) while happily shooting heroin on the side. But when Lloyd meets Nora, a fucked-up femme fatale on a cross country bus ride, he falls into a toxic, torturous, titillating, sex-dripping love that leads him to murder. For starts. Set amidst the tents of Occupy Los Angeles and soundstages of CSI, Stahl gives fast, furiously funny action with sardonic, sharply smart observation. If this is the virus, I never want the cured.
I spoke with Stahl about living forever, why the human race is a virus, health as commerce, disastrous love and why it’s crucial to come through hell and back.
Is anyone truly healthy?
Are we talking mental or physical?
I’m kind of weird where I think the mental leaks into the physical.
I don’t think that’s weird at all, I think that’s absolutely true. I don’t think anybody is completely healthy because they all end up dead. Which is a really bad sign. If it were possible to do everything right, there’d be boring 1,000 year-old vitamin freaks out there. Fortunately they all die off.
Do you think that’s the goal?
Do I think the goal is eternal life? No. I mean, I try to be healthy not because I‘m some kind of some kind of health nut, but because I spent most of my life feeling like shit for a variety of reasons, self-induced and otherwise. I just cured Hepatitis-C after twenty years and I didn’t even realize that I was walking around feeling like I hadn’t slept and had a hangover besides not touching booze for decades. You don’t know how sick you are until you get cured. That being said, for me personally it’s kind of like running up a down escalator just to stay in the middle. We’re all sicker than we think.
The cure is the disease.
The cure is just a more benevolent disease. It’s all a fucking disease. We’re all just two legged disease bags when you break it down.
[laughs] The human race is definitely a virus.
We just kind of infect the world and everything around us. We’re parasites as well because we’ll move on to another planet at some point and infect that.
I think you’re being a cock-eyed optimist [laughs]. You’re very flattering to the human race. I’m working my way up to parasite personally, but that’s just me.
You bring up this idea that Nixon wanted a counter culture movement. You want the protest to happen so you can create paramilitary storm trooper gear. You want the virus so you can sell the cure. That idea is really terrifying and fascinating and makes so much sense to me.
I think that’s absolutely true and I’m not the first person to say it. Thomas Pynchon in Vineland made the case in a very funny way that essentially all political protests and all counter-culture was engendered by the government as an excuse for paramilitary and domestic intelligence organizations to have a reason to exist. It’s not unlike General Electric in the form of NBC doesn’t tell you that they own vast weapons manufacturing entities. It’s not really a political issue, it’s a business issue and it always has been. We pretend it isn’t.
What happens when health becomes a business issue?
Health is a business issue, don’t you think?
It’s an interesting thing when you look at American commerce that most of the shit we eat makes us sick, which makes one wing of the world rich and there’s probably an overlap, the other wing gets even richer trying to sell us a cure. I mean, if I were a heart surgeon, I’d invest in McDonalds.
I haven’t been to a doctor in like ten years.
How do you feel?
I feel awesome, actually. Whenever I go to the doctor or dentist, they discover suddenly all these weird maladies and issues to make money off. People get sicker.
I’m sure that’s true. There are probably all these cancerous tumors inside you that will die of ignorance. They’ll just shrink and go back to tumor island.
[laughs] Yes, I can just think them away.
I think you’re on to something. You’re being very cagey with this.
Let’s move on to love.
Another health issue.
I think it can be disastrous for one’s health but it can also health everything. We want it to heal everything.
Are you happily in love at the moment? Have you been?
I have been, but I’m happily in love with myself at the moment.
Look at you, that’s great!
But as you know, I’m a fuck up who falls in love with fuck ups. I have this kind of magnet sensor for people who are just as crazy as I am and I crave that.
Which is not necessarily a bad thing. On one level, we probably are pain magnets, but my theory of love is that damage loves damage and we find complimentary damage. The corollary to that for me, is I don’t trust anyone who hasn’t been to hell. Some people come back from that completely demented, damaged and insane and some people come back from that scarred but with a degree of compassion, awareness and understanding that those who have spent their lives going to PTA meetings don’t have. I’m really fucking lucky in my old age that as I round the corner to ultimate mortality, being a square is the last frontier. I’ve lived every form of depravity there is and it almost seems that in this world the most demented, kind of outside, wildass life I can have is I’m at home with a wife and a baby now while the world around me is crumbling into as you would say—a giant pod of disease.
Photo: Frank Delia