The Story of Junk by Linda Yablonsky

The Story of Junk by Linda Yablonsky

I’ve read my fair share of drug books over the years (“Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas,” “The Basketball Diaries,” “Dead Babies,” “Naked Lunch,” etc.). Most of these classics derive much of their uniqueness from the fact that they describe a sensation that most people haven’t or will never experience. Often these drug-oriented books breathe a strange stream-of-consciousness language that, for obvious reasons, just sounds differently than most other fiction. If anything is certain, it is that drugs, even when used recreationally, can and do generally change people. They provide a frame of reference, often impossible to achieve, without the drug-induced effect. In the end, it is either the long-term mental repercussions or the resulting addiction that really causes the transformation.

Addiction is usually conveyed, in books, movies and real life as this pathetic, debilitating evil that strips away humanity leaving only bones and disease in its wake. But in the “The Story of Junk,” the page turning, modern-epic about becoming a junkie in New York City 1982-6, Linda Yablonsky manages to tell about the experience of being and becoming a junkie by using a narrator who, through it all, still seems to understand the physical and emotional ramifications of her lifestyle.

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Elliott Smith – XO

Elliott Smith - XO
Label: Dreamworks

In the old days Elliott Smith was the stringy haired reclusive singer for Portland’s short-lived melodic punkers – Heatmiser. As his punk became mellower and increasingly introspective, he began releasing quiet acoustic albums, sounding more like the angel of Nick Drake than the vocalist for a straight-ahead Northwest guitar band. His first two solo efforts, “Roman Candle” and “Elliott Smith,” are powerfully fragile lo-fi masterpieces recorded in bedrooms and 4 tracks in and around Portland.

In a stroke of good or bad luck, depending on how you slice it, Portland auteur Gus Van Zant asked Smith to score his film “Good Will Hunting” propelling him indirectly into the arms of Celene Dion and the gazillion people that were watching the Academy awards from sofas all over the world. He had already signed to Dreamworks and almost overnight the still stringy haired Smith had a whole world of expectations resting on his shoulders.

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Illtown

Illtown

Director : Nick Gomez
With : Lili Taylor, Michael Rapaport, Kevin Corrigan, Adam Trese

“Illtown” is a surreal trip through the oddly cool Miami drug scene. The film is captured through the lenses of indie impresario Nick Gomez, whose attention to a drug-slowed opiate energy creates a stylistic haze that becomes a unique reality. Gomez, whose prior films include the gritty low-budget street film “Laws of Gravity,” and the studio backed Newark car-theft film “New Jersey Drive,” has created a dream world where is becomes difficult to discern what is and isn’t real. The film glides effortlessly through the deliberately ambiguous and colorfully stylized landscapes where everything looks like it might through a heroin glaze. In the film, Cisco (Kevin Corrigan), Dante (Michael Rapaport) and Micki (Lili Taylor) run a lucrative small time heroin ring selling drugs through teenaged boys to the yuppies at the sheeshy Miami nightclubs.

Told in a series of non-linear flashbacks and flash-forwards, the story begins when Gabriel (Adam Trese) is released from prison after allegedly being framed by the others. Looking prison buffed and screaming for vengeance, Gabriel sets out to destroy his former partners. He begins by trying to convince the Miami’s heroin kingpin, a bizarrely erudite character played by a very effeminate Tony Danza dressed in a smoking and jacket playing croquet, to cut off Cisco and Dante. He then sets out to turn the dealers and couriers against them, recruiting a brutal gang of delinquent kids to helping see to the demise of the empire.

In the end we are left with a few dead bodies, lifeless under the multi-colored Miami skies, and an outpouring of pain and greed. This is a 90’s gangster film for GenX art film lovers- and that’s a very good thing.

The Aluminum Group – Plano

The Aluminum Group - Plano

Label: Minty Fresh

About a year ago I was milling through the used CD bins on St. Marks and I stumbled upon a compilation benefiting a Chicago performance art group called Doorika. Most of the bands on the comp were from Chicago (Tortoise, Sea and Cake, etc.) but of the twenty or so songs, only one really seemed like anything other than just a throwaway track for a good cause. The song was called “Chocolates” and was recorded by an relatively unknown band called themselves The Aluminum Group. Six months later the band recorded their debut masterpiece, “Plano” on the sugar-pop, hometown label Minty Fresh.

Listening to The Aluminum Group is like walking directly back into what youºd like to remember your adolescence as. I’m thinking specifically of that time and place where stacks of Prefab Sprout, Aztec Camera, Roxy Music and “Body & Soul” era Joe Jackson records were strewn across your floor and you were falling in love for the first time, making mix tapes for the crush of the moment. The Aluminum Group is the brainchild of brothers John and Frank Navin. The twelve sweet and sophisticated songs on “Plano” come across as the perfect fusion of 80ºs alterna-pop (complete with synth beats and jangly guitar strums) and the sophisticated slightly more serious emotional and lyrical stylings and orchestral rock of Eric Matthews.

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Permanent Midnight

Permanent Midnight

Director : David Veloz
With : Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Hurley, Janeane Garofalo

Movies about junkies are less common than movies about people with serious coke habits. This is largely because it makes people less squeamish to watch someone doing a line than it does to watch someone tying up and shoving a needle into arms, feet and other unimaginable places. “Permanent Midnight” is the true story about comedy writer Jerry Stahl (the guy responsible for the stellar dialogue on the sitcom “Alf”) and his descent into the dark world of heroin addiction.

At first it’s hard to take Ben Stiller seriously as the heroin crazed hipster, but Stiller has, as with every movie, proven himself profoundly versatile. Although playing a heroin junkie was an imaginative experience, having never used the drug himself, Stiller is said to have lost 30 pounds to better look the part of the twisted and bleary-eyed junkie. Stiller, dressed-in-black leather pants and jacket, does a good job of looking and sounding the part of the transplanted New Yorker, which he is, gone Hollywood to “get away from all the drugs.”

The story is told through a series of flashbacks, during a confessional evening in a motel room with another recovering drug addict. While recovering Stiller does his time frying fish in a fast food restaurant as the last step in the rehabilitation process. With the exception of some pretty explicit heroin shooting scenes, “Permanent Midnight” is a pretty easy watch featuring a good-looking cast (Elizabeth Hurley, Owen Wilson, Janeane Garofalo) and some entertaining dialogue.

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