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August 17, 2012

Book Notes - Matthew Parker "Larceny in My Blood"

Larceny in My Blood

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

The subtitle of Matthew Parker's graphic novel, Larceny in My Blood, "A Memoir of Heroin, Handcuffs, and Higher Education," succinctly describes the book. Parker tells his vivid life story of overcoming prison and drug addiction to go to college in his 40s, eventually earning an MFA in creative writing from Columbia.

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In his own words, here is Matthew Parker's Book Notes music playlist for his graphic novel, Larceny in My Blood: A Memoir of Heroin, Handcuffs, and Higher Education:

Larceny in my Blood: A Memoir of Heroin, Handcuffs, and Higher Education, incorporates lots of music because music was—and still is—a big part of my life. I began going to concerts at age 12 and haven't stopped since, except when I was in prison. And even there I had the pleasure of seeing Walt Richardson, a staple of the Tempe, Arizona, music scene to this day, and a dear friend, perform on the recreation yard of the Federal Correctional Institution – Phoenix, A medium security prison. This was in 1989, back when some forgotten prison administrator believed that live music just might have some rehabilitative properties.

"It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," by Bob Dylan

Since my book is a memoir, I'll start with this song, which was for me an anthem for adolescent alienation. There is a scene in the book at a Dylan concert in New Haven in 1975, in which I'm bribing my younger brother to give up his seat with large quantities of marijuana. His "seat" was him squished between my mother and my stepfather, who had earlier bought two front-row, center-stage ticket stubs. He was 14 to my 15, and we were both as thin as spider monkeys, so it was no problem for either one of us to squeeze between them. The scene, like the song, is representative of a family and, by that token, a world gone markedly wrong and seemingly in no condition to right itself.

My mother has a considerable presence in Larceny, but had long ago moved beyond the connotations of It's Alright Ma. She became a helpless bystander, and for many years things were decidedly not alright at all. The song serves also as a reminder of all the unnecessary bullshit I (and others) put her through—put all mothers through, and so, in that sense, is a tribute.

"God," by John Lennon

This song signifies to me not just the end of the Beatles but, more to the point, the end of the 1960s. Released in 1970 on the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album, his first since the breakup of the Beatles, the song begins not just questioning the existence, but so too the necessity, for a God or gods. This is followed by a list of gods, idols (political, spiritual, and pop) and philosophies that Lennon does not believe in. The final refrain ends on a note of hope, but centered more on the individual. What Lennon was saying, in effect; "leave me out of your fallacies."

Ten years after its release Lennon was murdered in front of his apartment building in New York City. As depicted in my book, I made the trip to Central Park to attend the vigil the following Sunday. I was with two hippie girls, and suffering the early onset of heroin withdrawal, which only served as icing on a cold and collapsing cake.

"Let it Bleed," by The Rolling Stones

I've always considered this song the junkie's background music; the original tome to sex and drugs and rock and roll. Here is hedonism at its finest, with a touch of nihilism thrown in for good measure. I was shooting heroin by the spring of 1977, when I was 17, and in my view the 60s were dead and the counterculture had gone mainstream. Once something becomes fashionable it is no longer rebellious, or even remotely cool. As expressed in Larceny, "I preferred bikers over hippies. The Velvet Underground over the Grateful Dead. Let it Bleed over Let it Be." Like my dismissal of organized religion, I also rejected the hippie notion of drug-induced transcendence. I touch on this later in the book, when I tell a fellow prisoner that my philosophy had morphed into "nihilism with its destructive bent turned inward."

"30 Days in the Hole," by Humble Pie

Here is yet another ode to drug and sex-enhanced hedonism, but with an all too familiar (to me, at least) caveat thrown in; the punishment phase. If my being a junkie really was a disease, then jail and prison was just a symptom of that disease, and 30 Days in the Hole a metaphor for the symptom. I don't, however, view my decades as a junkie as totally wasted years. I was who I was, and I'm glad that I had all those experiences, as bad as they were sometimes. Moreover, it was a personal choice on my part, and being thrown in jail or prison was a denial of my freedom to make that choice. We could just as easily, under the same rationale as we use to justify the drug war, lock up smokers, alcoholics, and even the obese.

"Show Biz Kids," by Steely Dan

This song always reminds me of how the Charlie Sheens of the world, with a few notable exceptions, are not punished for drug abuse in the same way as us regular folks. Robert Downey Junior is the only celebrity I can recall who actually went to jail (not prison; a notable distinction) for having a drug problem. The money and power of these Hollywood types gives them the unspoken right to have doctors prescribe them any and all the drugs they desire with little or no legal repercussions. In that light, Hollywood, like prison, is just a microcosm of society which only serves to magnify our class distinctions.

"Funk #49," by Joe Walsh

This is just an enjoyable song, and hearkens back to my love of funky music, which began with The Temptations and Sly and the Family Stone. Joe Walsh appears twice in my book. The first was in 1983 at the US Festival in Glen Helen Park, California, and the second came almost 20 years later, at the Clapton Guitar Festival in Dallas, Texas, in 2004. The lyrics are simple enough, but remind me of "Sancho," the universal name given to the guy who is diddlin' your ‘ol lady while you're locked up in jail or prison.

"Third Time's a Charm," by Billy Cioffi and the Monte Carlos

Here is my homage to the Phoenix local music scene, which I credit in the book with keeping me sane and off drugs for the first couple of years after my final release from Prison on March 19, 2002. Walt Richardson, whom I mention above, was a big part of that scene, as was the Kneedeep Experience, a band rooted in the early funk of the 1960s and 1970s, and whose live shows I attended on a weekly basis. All of these guys had become not just my musical drug-diversion program, but fast friends as well.

But it was Billy Cioffi whom I became closest to. A professional musician out of Hollywood who has played with the likes of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, we met at Scottsdale Community College, where we were both trying to right ourselves from past wrongs through the auspices of literature and higher learning. The above song appears on Americamera, his latest collaboration with poet TR Hummer, and is a slightly fictionalized account of my life as well as a stand-alone tale of redemption in its own right. In a similar duality, Americamera melds two distinct cultures, popular music with literature, in the same way that Larceny melds graphic art with literature.

The Wall, by Roger Waters

This album, originally recorded with Pink Floyd, but written and conceived almost in its entirety by Waters, is a metaphor for anyone who's found themselves on the wrong side of a wall; whether in the leg irons of totalitarianism, as prisoners of the War on Drugs, or simply the self-imposed caging of the spirit. The Wall speaks to me of alienation and, like the lotus eaters in Homer's Odyssey, the desire to be anesthetized from it all.

So it is fitting that my book comes to a close with Water's revival of the album in a live show, which I caught at Madison Square Garden on October 6, 2010. The concert not only provided an operatic closure to a life once dominated on all sides by walls, but also, and more to the point, was tinged with the prevailing hope that all such walls, no matter how fortified, will eventually come crashing down.

Matthew Parker and Larceny in My Blood: A Memoir of Heroin, Handcuffs, and Higher Education links:

Kirkus Reviews review
Time Out Chicago review

ASU News profile of the author
Bwog interview with the author
Filmdrunk interview with the author
My Book, the Movie guest post by the author
New York Times essay by the author
The Takeaway interview with the author
Writers Read guest post by the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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