Blaster Al Ackerman (19xx – 2013)
Blaster Al Ackerman passed away in mid-March. (Link there is to a very nice remembrance by our own Adam Robinson.) Some folks who knew him wrote some things about him. Michael Kimball and Rupert Wondolowski collected them for HTML Giant. Here—accompanied by some photos and some of Blaster’s mail art—they are.
I met Blaster in the flesh only once. He was ludditical, sweet, grumpy, and eventually he put a bar of soap in his mouth. Soon after he moved to Austin, I picked up some shifts he had vacated at Normal’s Books & Records, and there his absence was a constant presence — notes from Blaster, paintings by Blaster, & stories of Blaster: goofing on telemarketers, giving fucked up directions to the Book Thing, &c. It got so I was seeing his influence all over Baltimore — particularly among that stripe of Baltimore artist that believes in the prank as a spiritual path and one’s life as a work of art.
– Bob O’Brien
Dr Ackerman alias Blaster, who prepared himself at the age of 6 to outclass both Dante and Mark Twain, is one of the most enigmatic writers of the current literature of outcasts and damned poets. He is the author of such masterpieces as “The Fifteen Bath Towels” and “2976 Vienna Sausages,” not to mention “The Ecstasy of Macaroni.” In March/86, after being arrested for the millionth time for dancing naked, holding a flaming steam iron in his right hand and a half empty bottle of Whyte & Mackay scotch whiskey in the left, in front of a shopping center in San Antonio, Texas, he pointed out very clearly in a confessional letter (Confessions of an American Ling Master) he has sent from jail to the major of San Antonio that poetry is a social issue and not just a question of publishing and selling books.
-Istvan Kantor Monty Cantsin? Amen! Esmeralda Eldorado Sawang
The Blaster was the great great ungraspable force of nature that he was, up there with Vivian Stanshall, Lord Buckley, Andy Kaufman, and all the 14 Secret Masters of the World. Hail Al, see you soon in the black mailstrom of the Ntity!” (To be whispered in the Networker’s ear the moment he/she is about to get on the train, holding a long asparagus)
– Vittore Baroni
“In the late 80’s I moved to Italy during a time of heightened participation in the Neoist movement, and “the master” (as I always referred to Al Ackerman, though never to his face), always looking out for his humble student, decided to write an “instruction piece” for me that would last for the duration of my time there. He stressed that it would only work if I took it seriously. It was called “The White Head: Neoist Performance Piece for John Berndt.” Though I cannot say I was completely diligent with it every day (weakness springs eternal!), the essence was that in every conversation (and I mean every) I was meant to inject the following towards the beginning: “Telephones and telephone bells have always made me nervous;” and the following near the end “It’s head was WHITE, all WHITE.” There you have it, The White Head. It is a testimony to the master that I kept this up, even learning Italian to be able to more extensively realize the instruction. Exactly as Ackerman said, this subtle change of behavior would break the ice with people and “rotate” the situation in unexpected ways. The challenge never got boring, and throughout Tuscany I was know as “That telephone weird guy” (in Italian “Quel ragazzo strano telefono”).
– John Berndt
I remember when Blaster arrived in Baltimore. Our collective body (more literal than one might think) acquired a strange new organ. Part pituitary, part portal into a world of characters more substantial and catalytic and flawed than even those in Blaster’s stories. That organ, after years of medication, transfusions, xrays and strange rituals has stopped pumping. Our collective body awakes in a bathtub full of ice. Blaster Al Ackerman is one of the Greats and there will never be one like him.
with much love,
Blaster always asked me how nursing was going. He got really stuck on me being a nurse. I took some prerequisites and dropped out but he never let it go. One thing I received from him in the mail was a terrible photocopied photograph of a woman facing a wall with “BE A DETECTIVE AT HOME” typed underneath. Above the image he had written, “JUST REMEMBER–IF THE HEALTH CARE DOESN’T WORK OUT 410-235-1198 Ask for Augie.” In another letter he scrawled, “So tell me: did my story about the hot chocolate at Dr. Stew’s birthday party have any effect on this [nursing] decision? Eh?” I have no idea what the hot chocolate story was and I wish I could remember. Maybe someone will see this and can contact me to remind me.
I brought my parents to see him do the John Eaton Recommendations one night at the 14 Karat Cabaret. They were in hysterics. I was humiliated when it was my turn to read because I felt like what Blaster did for them (my mom and dad) was more than I could ever do. I think I did a push-up during my reading to compensate. And I think we should have a reading to commemorate Chris Toll and Blaster by dressing as them and reading their poems in their voices/speech patterns/dialects and drinking their preferred beers. Blaster’s voice was dynamic and predictable–a grumble in the middle with an upward urgency at the end. And those eyes, and that hat, and that beard, and then he was gone.
– Lauren Bender
Thrift Store Shopping With Blaster Al
Back in 2008 when Blaster Al was still living in Baltimore and working at the legendary Normals Books & Records, I would often drive down from Delaware and spend a few hours visiting with Al and Rupert and checking out the vintage LPs, books, and little magazines in the store. Usually Al and I would go to lunch at a favorite Thai Restaurant on Greenmount and then hit the thrift shops on the way back. Browsing the thrift shops with Blaster Al lifted the experience of digging through the sour-smelling piles of castoff goods from mildly depressing to weirdly entertaining. As soon as we entered a thrift store Blaster Al would turn the place into a theater of discovery and shenanigans. First we would make our way through the clutter of old wheelchairs, crutches, TVs, VCRs, microwave ovens, and infant car seats to the shelves of books, and piles of mostly unlistenable CDs. Blaster Al’s antenna would soon zero in on something that seemed to
capture the whole thrift shop ambiance. I recall one time when Al handed me a book and said, “Here’s a book you should read.” It was titled, Honey, Mud, Maggots, and Other Medical Marvels. He would also disappear into the clothing section and soon reappear with several t-shirts, coats, neckties, or hats that he recommended I purchase to “complete” a look he thought I should go for. At his suggestion (I never questioned his taste in thrift store merchandise), I once bought a “Head Counselor” t-shirt for a religious youth camp. His quiet asides and the twinkle in his eye as he would point out some other hapless or strange find always made me smile. I think it was another way for Blaster Al to share his mischievous side. Thrift store shopping with Al was also an opportunity for him to show his sense of fun and delight at examining the detritus of this world, a world that he was so adept at transforming in his stories and art. I miss those trips to see Al and hang out with a true original. “Happy Trails,” amigo and “Peace.”
– Francis Poole
i liked blaster right away. i met him at the first baltimore writing group i attended at amy peterson’s house. adam and i were still pretty new to town having moved here and promptly departed for upstate new york. amy had a slightly mad dog and some beautiful plants and was quiet. blaster sat on the couch and made an impression. blaster was the rare eccentric who was able to talk a good game and listen one too. he was a question asker and a rememberer. his life had more twists and turns in it than is common and this felt comfortable for me–a way we had both decided to conduct our lives. one day he told me about his wife how she’d been a shape shifter. it was ok but then a friend of hers came to visit and it just became too much. he went to the refrigerator and was someone and when he closed the door, turned around from the refrigerator, he was someone else. it got to be too much is what blaster said. he made a portrait of me in a bubble of cigarette smoke. i don’t smoke anymore because i read the book which hypnotizes you. or, rather, me. we liked each other right away and would always talk and be happy to see each other when we did but didn’t make real dates and visits–didn’t make real ‘friend friends’ til just about half a year before he moved. he was painting painting painting in the room downstairs at john and rupert’s. it was snowing and that wasn’t great for walking. he got a little sick and went into a place on charles street where the guy next to him was just out cold, you know? it is hard to see the beginning of the end and it was hard for me because that was the beginning of my friendship with blaster. it was the beginning of spring then too. what a book lover! a real book lover and a real book knower. he spoke about books the way some people speak about their garden, like what is coming up and how everything is doing, a bit of being part of it and a lot of awe. but the best was he was a real conversationalist. a real back and forther, which is my favorite. it was an easy pleasure to talk from topic to topic with him. casual and deep and this extended to his letter writing mania. blaster started writing me letters before he even moved away. i didn’t write back too much until he left and then i used to write him letters about things that happened in the sorority i was, you know, IN. he worried the other girls were cruel. and they were. i would also write letters about my real life and send videos i had made. blaster’s letters were mostly stories and poems and drawings and stamps and stickers. sometimes more chatty and newsy and sometimes a combination of both. the last video i sent him, in november-ish, was dedicated to him. i used a line about the ‘tiny yellow hairs’ which featured prominently in a number of poems and stories blaster sent me. i sent him that last one as soon as it was finished but i think he didn’t get to watch it. he was a little past the video watching time by then. all it is is a line which says ‘sway in light on the tiny yellow flowers, so tiny as to be almost tiny yellow hairs,’ it is read by a very talented woman i met on craigslist. i had the good fortune of having been given the name stephanie which is blaster’s daughter’s name and which i know gave me advantage in his heart. though his heart was full of so many friends and collaborators. i think when people build lives outside of the norm they also construct (out of need or simple chance) more extensive friend bonds. this is presumptive. i know so few people with “normal” lives, it may be that this is an inelegant unicorn, this “normality,” but anyway, blaster was a good friend. i loved hearing about his friendships with rupert or john or bethany. how he would tell me about what they were up to in that way that friends have of being part of each other’s lives. an ease of familiarity that extends beyond gossip and straight into love. the same nutty love that appears in his work. the way his stories and poems wrap around and become a very object. become a friend you get to know through seeming strangeness and towards understanding, clarity and loving expectation. there is more to say and think about blaster. i liked him very much and am so happy to have gotten to have some good time with him. a radical is necessary, atomically and for our joy.
– Stephanie Barber
Having Blaster in Baltimore for so many years was like the “puffy treat” that never ended. His stories and poems are a universe of their own. We were spoiled, getting to hear him read on a monthly basis. He had a way of creating alpha waves when he spoke and read his work that just relaxed the listener into these mind-warping narratives. I had the opportunity to perform with him, travel with him, and once on a road trip, I protected him from “Rupert’s foul projectile.” He was a tremendous influence on me, and opened my world to other language-oriented writers. I remember being particularly thrilled when he read one of my poems with a bar of soap in his mouth. He was brilliant, hilarious, a world of weird, and liked dancing to our music. I miss him bad. Oh, and he really had a great laugh!
– Chris “Batworth” Ciaetti
An Appointment With Dr. Feebnuts
Well Dr. Feebnuts
I didn’t have these
lumps when I entered
but here they are
with so many
heads mewling sweetly
mewling at the body with bop cap
of word clattering glory
the horded pork
loins of droopy drawers Jim
a big bummer
Hey sailor, there’s
a pumpkin in Uranus
There is a sun behind our sun
A moon behind our moon
and the puppet strings
have crossed forcing my
hand onto your leg
Here is the alley where
you took a blackjack
to the face for me
Here are the Clover eggs
fried with hangover leaden lids
still sliding on the sweat-sheened
I am not Lulu
and you were not Sidney Poitier
but if you wanted the moon
I would write across the stars
The Moonhead News
– that news being that
you cracked my mind
revealed my past to me
like a turd shimmering
on the end of a fork
but with promises
of comets blazing ahead
And how should I thank you
for that and the Thai meals
and Emmylou fried chicken
I will never know
but I will place
you in the wrinkled
McDonald’s bag of my heart
jammed under the seat of
a pickup truck
Sadly Dr. Feebnuts, my
current insurance won’t
cover a mind blowing, a
near deadly glimpse into
The True Reality
but I will use the
one last bit of advice
from my old pal Blaster –
If the bill collectors are
calling, always answer your
phone “Juan’s Taco Palace!”
– Rupert Wondolowski
Dr. Blaster’ Al Ackerman 1939-2013
Love to you now out there in the eternal network!
“… I’ll come this way again
one day and pay homage
to the old Clinic Home; as
you smile, and
wave your little hands, and
show off your porcelain
feet in a red coloured room
in another dodgy part of town
on the east side of Baltimore…”
– Andre Stitt
I will value forever Blaster, my former roommate, who shared my belief that cleaning house is pretty much an option, but by no means a necessity, for a life well lived. And, in fact, bathrooms, kitchens, and bedsheets are in fact SELF-CLEANING, if you just ignore them for long enough…
– Anne Bonafede
I was once standing in the middle of a circle of Jim Thompson geeks at Normals, with Blaster presiding. The topic, proposed by Rupert, was, “What was Jim Thompson’s worst novel?”
Blaster went deep into thought, brow furrowed, stroking his beard as he reviewed each book in his mind. He finally said, “The Transgressors.” But he said it with some reservation, as though not quite certain he had reviewed every possibility carefully enough, as though he felt he were under pressure to make such an important decision, as though he would have preferred to have had several days to think it over.
Rupert enthusiastically replied, “But Blaster, was The Transgressors worse than The Alcoholics?”
Blaster stroked his beard some more, and fell deep into thought. Then, with a certain resignation, he said, “No, not worse than The Alcoholics.”
– Kevin Johnson
For Blaster Al Ackerman
Sick as I am of obituary writing these days, I was going to tell a humorous story about Blaster Al Ackerman, a drunken incident outside the old Rendezvous Lounge. The more I thought about it yesterday, the less sense it made. Was it Blaster or me lying against the red door? Was it really the old Rendezvous or that Klan bar in Hampden? Did I still have that long raincoat with a piece of black electrical tape through the top buttonhole? Was it a trio of evil white men or was it boys? Was it even one event or have I mixed up multiple drunken events? Only Blaster knows now. It turns out I’m just as feeble-minded and confused as a typical Blaster Al protagonist. Maybe all the Lingmaster adventures are simply chrononautic glimpses of my baleful future. This morning I woke up with my daily back pain and a dream in my head. Blaster was showing me an old, yellowed newspaper front page that showed the huge crowd in Washington DC for Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Blaster said to me, “I wasn’t there,” with a hurt look. I said, “You never claimed to have been there, Blaster.” He said, very happily, “I know.” There are many men in my neighborhood here in New West, BC, who try to carry off Blaster Al’s look: the beard, the little hat, a dark T-shirt. Unfortunately they ruin the effect with short pants that are too short, never mind the cold rain. Running through my head all day, following me in my errands at the grocery store and the bank, has been this verse, which I associate with this morning’s dream. Maybe it’s from Blaster, maybe it’s my groping unconscious in desperate mimicry: “I’ve got bread in my moustache and roses and roses and roses.”
– Mark Hossfeld
The truth can now be told. We are almost all dead now. I am the only one left alive. The 6 Finger Club sent circulars from Belfast to San Antonio to Tepoztlan to BalTimOre to San Leandro. Lafferty is dead, Zack is dead, Blaster is dead. The stench of sulphur that hung about us has been sanitized by the shrunken hebephrenic cardboard pine tree. We all opted out: live fast, die old… but DIE, baby, DIE. We are all dead now, except for maybe DJ… & Nunzio… & False Kitty… Blaster began by breaking things that morning. He broke the glass of water on his nightstand. He knocked it crazily against the opposite wall and shattered it. Yet it shattered slowly. Even I am dead… & if you were to ask me why I’d tell you that story, the one you’ve heard more times than you can remember. In fact you can’t remember it at all & that’s why I keep my shaving cream next to the bust of Blaster. Wch is a flat screen tv. I am tENTATIVELY, a
cONVENIENCE & I am a hebephrenic. Oh, sorry, wrong meeting. Blaster’s bust is flat. In fact, Blaster’s bust IS that pine tree, that pine tree he planted that thyme, most commonly Thymus vulgaris. Fact is, the world’s a flatter place w/o Blaster. The Flat Earth Society was right. Marshall B. Gardner was right, contradictory as that may seem. If Blaster were still here he’d have a bicycle pump attached to that sucker in no time flat & Pego & Rupe wd be plunging it up & down like a dynamite – w/ Blaster & that fucking pillowcase & Mogen-David cackling like a hen w/ a Johnny Cash brain implant. & the world wd be a safer place for it.
– tENtATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE
So many memories of the Great Man. Not many can be summed up in a few words. I guess if I have to come up with a single, brief, episode, it would be when he revealed unto me a miracle by speaking a simple, sensible sentence from his hospital bed. I was sitting a vigil by his bedside and feared he was gone for good, his brilliant mind gone to mush. Two, or was it three, days of trying to convince skeptical MD’s (a breed he held in deep contempt, always pledging to die with dignity in an alley before letting the medical industry get its hands on him, I felt like a traitor for even taking him to the ER that day) that he was not senile, that the stroke had come on like gangbusters out of nowhere. That he had been hard at work just the night before, writing at the computer in the back room at Normal’s, as always. I wept like a baby and then laughed like a loon when they asked if what he had been writing the night before made any sense. If they only knew how nonsensical that question was. My god, it was a nightmare, pure and simple. And then, two days later as I sat by his side, watching some idiotic cartoon on television – something I thought would at least be visually entertaining – I caught a glimpse of something in his eye. I asked him if, maybe we could find some sports on instead (he would assuredly proclaim that every sporting event was rigged but still enjoyed watching a game now and then) and he looked me in the eye and said “Do you think so? Do you think there might be a game on?” I just about jumped out of my chair. Hell, I did jump out of my chair, I just about jumped out of my skin. I had just experienced a miracle.
– Courtney McCullough
You had moved in to Normals and seemed to like it.
Who was this new denizen of the murky book nook?
Rupert quaked and burbled in your presence, which made me wanna
Quake and burble too.
Soon after first meeting you… I would don the wretched yellow
Bathing suit and drag you around town for a night or two…
Or was it a week in that fucking thing?
You said the strangest things in the night that I could never quite remember… but you were quite serious
With the beer drinking quietude in the daytime.
And that always made me feel unsure… which turns out is
Something I thrive on.
Ca- Rack o Canned Beer! o yeah from the corner… and a swift Quay sashay…
You had a chair there… but I could swear it was a fucking merkahbah
You had access to… I was convinced you were an honest
To god time traveler. I liked that you liked beer how I liked beer.
Then one day I decided to pack up and leave… Rupert bought all my books which would end up being what I had to move away with. We had a going away party… I heard that someone was getting a champagne enema in the basement and I wanted to go and look but you stopped me and you gave me One of your pastel 8 by 10 drawings… I think it was a self-portrait of you barely held inside a red Bathrobe… the NYC skyline in the background and the words… “Welcome to New York” were written in black oily scrawl. All the hair on the exposed body looked like gray ramen… how’d you do that? Shoo.
I seen done been so many fucking things since way back then… and from my travels I have very little left to show…. but that I held onto and still can admire. When I look at it… I remember all of us… fearlessly fucked up and all friends and friendly. Last time I saw you… you had yer soap in mouth maw a flappin… and out of the sudsy garbled sides flew your one of kind poetry. I knew it that first day I laid eyes on ya and also the last day… I was lucky… we were lucky when you decided to move into Normals.
– Amanda Pollock
Blaster Taught My Dog to Shoot A Gun and Other Recollections.
I’m sure I picked up my first collection of Blaster stories, The Blaster Al Ackerman Omnibus, after some unstoppable Shattered Wig Night reading that inevitably had left me breathless for more. This tidy green book, the cover graced with a “looming threat – public menace” portrait of Blaster holding an adoring marionette staring deeply into his grimacing mouth, contained within its modest covers a nugget of a story that sparked for me a very profound early Baltimore experience.
May I ask you to consider, on page 83, a classic hero’s tale of a simple man with a visionary spirit looking for love in this dark and cold world. A man who undertakes an epic task to create a suit entirely made out of Vienna sausages. The story is captivating. A tightly wound couple of pages that rivals the heroic narratives of Odysseus and Gulliver (if those two heroes washed down a couple of bennies each morning with a snifter of vodka and orange juice that is). I laughed and I cried. I did. Because Plopman is above all such a touching and innocent figure – full of light and love and hope. He’s an artist with a humble heart just looking for the best fingers foods in which to express himself.
It would turn out that this fine story inspired another great Baltimore treasure, filmmaker Catherine Pancake to turn this tale into a movie. The Suit starred yet another Baltimore great Tom Boram as the indomitable Plopman. You see this is what Blaster could do – his gravitational pull always brought amazing minds together to accomplish improbable tasks! As I’m sure you can imagine – the film was absolutely riveting. To see Tom Boram sliding around in a suit made entirely of Vienna sausages is not a sight you’ll soon forget.
It was sometime during the screening of this film that I realized, quite profoundly, that I had made the right decision to move to Baltimore instead of following my college mates to New York City. It was clear that nowhere else would I find such a special treasure as Blaster Al Ackerman living just down the street. No other town would have given me years of listening to Blaster bring down the house at Wig Night, collaborating together on writing projects, telling him stories about my dental work, presenting his drawings and visual work in a retrospective show, and just hanging out at Normals.
My heart is so saddened to have lost an extraordinary writer who could spin tales of such pathos and joy and humor wrapped around outlandish characters and situations. His writing is and will always be a breathtaking glimpse into one of the most imaginative and creative minds I have ever known.
– Bonnie Jones
shoulder water an my wave re
petition the soggy blade my
leg remeats my repe
tition where my your po
cket cheese finds the rep
etition scrawls the nu
mber same the numb r
epetition ur swallow off
the elbow juice repetit
ion nods all closet
treasure repetition dust an
gritty sock repetitio
n ease yr fading b
ones yr repetiti
on itching like a g
nat repeats repeated
in yr r ear no wonder
they call you King of the World
for Blaster “All Different All the Same” Al Ackerman
After nearly a decade’s worth of crazy mailings from Blaster it was a shock to finally meet him in the flesh at Normals Bookshop in Baltimore. He was incredibly friendly and well behaved… that is until he managed to get me alone and was able to tell me that he’d made a mistake when he sent the instructions for the sex magick ritual with the dead pea fowl. It turned out I wasn’t supposed to jerk off over the bird and various bits of old laundry in Charring X station. Instead I should have used the dead bird’s beak for a spot of irrumation in Kings X station. Blaster apologised for his mistake but said I’d have to go through the ritual again if I was to become a fully-fledged Ling Master. He also told me it was best to do magick and not to talk about it. So the subject was never mentioned again and we carried on as before by acting as if Blaster was just an average guy possessed by incredible comic talents!
– Stewart Home
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