Purple Magazine
— S/S 2007 issue 7

Glenn O’Brien

photography by MARCELO KRASILCIC.

Also featuring HEROES, an excerpt from Glenn’s SOAPBOX, Essays, Diatribes, Homilies and Screeds, 1980-1997.


Glenn O’Brien, writer, art director, first editor of Andy Warhol’s Interview, ringleader of the savvy, chic, unruffled downtown gang, whose latest trend looks like it’s alway been around.

Hero is a successful maniac. When a hero wakes up in the morning, or in the evening, he thinks, “What I am going to do today?” Then he does it. When the hero wakes up, he might get himself a beer. The hero finishing his beer, prepares a hero sandwich for lunch. A hot hero or a cold hero, depending on his mood. The hero starts the coffee and then heads for the bathroom for a shave and perhaps a shot of heroin. Then coffee. Then the Post and the Daily News.

Here are the results of the previous day’s heroism. You’ve got hero cops, hero firemen, hero emergency medical service people, hero bystanders, hero passersby, hero victims. You’ve got hero frogmen, hero chopper pilots, hero jet jockeys, hero Seabees, hero coastguardsmen, hero soldiers, sailors, and merchant marines. Hero WACS, WAVES and lady Marines.

Hero archbishops, hero diamond cutters, hero astronauts, hero butchers, hero dogcatchers. Hero popes, hero accountants, hero lawyers, hero doormen, hero pushers, hero pimps, hero bimbos. The hero wonders, “Is it true you’ve got to be football hero to be in love with beautiful girl?”

The hero notices that Shaft is on television at 1:45 A.M. Some heroes are like John Shaft. That man Shaft is a bad dude. (Shut your mouth.)

To be a hero first you must be bad. To be bad you must defy conventions as though you were not even aware of them. Once the hero faced death and mutilation; violence was the primary means of repressing the actions of the individual. Today, heroism primarily shows itself in the transcendence of embarrassment. To be a hero you cannot be embarrassed. You bad. Little Richard was bad. James Brown was bad. John Lennon was bad. Jim Morrison was bad. Jimi Hendrix was bad. Lou Reed was born under a bad sign. Babe Ruth, Aaron Burr, Rex Reed, Ernest Hemingway, Liberace, Errol Flynn, Andy Warhol, Elvis, Jackson Pollock, Batman, Liz Smith – all bad.

Bad is neither masculine nor feminine, neither homosexual nor heterosexual, but there’s something at least subliminally butch about it.

But being bad is not enough. To be truly bad, to be a hero, one must prove that there is nothing to be embarassed about. That the shame one is assigned by others can be converted to pride. The modern hero conquers the fear of embarassment and humiliation in the same way that the classical hero conquered the fear of pain and death. The hero trails toilet paper from his shoe and puts spinach between his teeth.

The hero, instead of going to work, waits for a telephone call, for a fight to break out in the hall, for the screech of tires or the report of gunfire on the street, for a jet to crash in flames. In the meantime he thinks of Sherlock Holmes, The Thin Man, Victor Mature, Buster Crabbe, Zorro, Baron von Richthofen, Eliot Ness, François Villon, Audie Murphy and Sergeant York.

The hero smokes a cigarette and before long he’s mad and he doesn’t know why. Heroes get mad. When they get mad they get tough. When the goings gets tough the tough get going.

The hero likes to get going before lunch, which he sometimes skips, saving his hero sandwich for dinner, or better yet, giving it to someone who really needs it.

The hero gets a lot of phone calles. Often these set him off.

When a hero insults you, he doesn’t generalize. He doesn’t call you a nigger, a honky, a fag, a bitch, etc…He gets as specific as possible.

“Your hairdo is a parody of decadent topiary.”

“You have the morals of Geraldo Rivera.”

“Your aura is brown.”

Being a hero is dangerous, although it often promotes good health right up to the end. Heroes, like sharks and schizophrenics, don’t get cancer. They don’t get ulcers. Sometimes they they get sexually transmitted diseases or cirrhosis. Sometimes they die of a broken heart or neck. But sometimes they die of just plain heroism.

The symptoms are: “Now what?” Or “What are you going to do for an encore?”

The hero is idolized by millions, but for himself it’s never enough. Hero zero. Don’t be a hero. Hero today, gonzo tomorrow.

Heroes get drunk, but they don’t have drinking problems. They drink, they fall down, the get back up. No problem. Do you think it’s easy being a hero?

I never knew a hero who wasn’t plenty scared. But if he wasn’t scared, then he wouldn’t be a hero, just another dumb asshole.

The great thing about being a hero is that once a hero, always a hero. If you get tired you can just park your butt on your laurels.

The tired hero will sit there saying to anyone who’ll listen, “I don’t put a lot of stock in (religion, courage, people,) – I just did what I had to do.”

It’s instinct. Maybe it’s a gene. The hero helps others. He can’t help himself. Sometimes he’ll add, “And if I had it to do all over again, I’d do exactly the same thing.”

And the next time it happens, sure enough, he does exactly the same thing. If this keeps up he’ll probably wind up a god.

Taken from SOAPBOX, Essays, Diatribes, Homilies and Screeds, 1980-1997, originally published by Imschoot, January 1998

Nicolas Klam, stylist — Marlous Bjorm, stylist’s assistant — Dan Schwatzam, photographer’s assistant — Renata Abbade, grooming

[Table of contents]

S/S 2007 issue 7

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