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Gene Gregorits

Some of the greatest minds have been coloured with madness, as brilliance and banality are not often easy bedfellows. Gene Gregorits is a fine example, plagued by episodic depression, stints in mental rehabilitation and a lonely childhood contributing to his nihilistic literary sense. This fringe author’s boisterous, gonzo style of reportage has invited readers into his unique perspective as an investigator of underground arts, and despite troubling maladies his work displays writing’s redemptive power.

“I grew up in a small town,” Gregortis reflects, “and if I wanted to talk about the Sex Pistols I would have to read Greil Marcus or John Savage – I couldn’t have that conversation with a live human being because the people I grew up with didn’t really care about that stuff.”

 

Feeling estranged from his environment encouraged his interest in fellow underground malcontents. “I didn’t really have friends. I just went to the movies, I read books a lot, and when I was about 15 I realised that if I ever wanted to meet anybody who was interested in punk-rock, or literature, or the things that I liked ­­– well it’s not that I liked them, they were my life, those were my friends – but when it came time to meet new people I thought a small magazine would be a smart way to find some stuff.”

 

This idea was realised as Midnight Mavericks: Reports from the Underground. The volume is a collection of Gregorits’ journalistic endeavours in self-published zines, compiled in an anthology of his best articles and interviews. It was through this process of interviewing his idols he came closer to understanding why these mediums had captured him from such an early age.

 

“I was trying to figure out the world, figure out how the people I was obsessed with did what they did and where it all came from, and if it matched up with my perceptions of what they did. And if it [was] near my own then I must actually get this stuff. You’ve found it for a reason, or maybe it found you – a certain record, or a book.”

 

But Gregorits’ vices have often gotten in the way of his progress, which he found to be a particular struggle around the time Midnight Mavericks was released. “I was working really hard on a novel that never got finished because I was drinking far too much, and I mangled it through not having any focus on it. [Writing] is something that comes naturally to me but I didn’t give it my full attention because I didn’t want to fail. That’s one of the reasons I was such a dire alcoholic. I didn’t know what I was doing. I still don’t know what I’m doing but I don’t give a fuck. I’m just going to do it anyway.”

 

Gregortis has now hurdled his own fear and casually achieved his lifetime goal with Dog Days, his newest work and first published novel: a memoir of sorts which begins a trilogy, with the second installment already on its way. “I wrote Dog Days 2 but it’s probably six months away from being published. I wrote the second one in a mental hospital last month after I slashed off my ear – inspired by your hero Chopper Read. And after I’ve finished editing that I’ll be working on the third and final volume which is about a lot of the violence and trouble that I’ve had in Florida, including cutting off my ear.”

 

Though an accomplished writer, the above obliquely referenced episode is part of his struggle with torrid demons that he’s often documented through Youtube. One features erstwhile housemate Chris wrestling him at a truck stop “like macho idiots.” He shot heroin on camera, because “why not?” And, most intimately, he filmed himself performing acts of self-harm, including a recording of the aforementioned ear incident, which is in his estimation “uplifting and humourous, and I don’t know, I think it’s a really entertaining, upbeat ear-cutting video.”

 

“I had a bad week there. I was sick and I got better. They put me in a mental hospital for nine days and they put my cat in jail and it nearly died. So I decided I had to keep my act clean after that. I was smoking crack on the beach in Miami a few nights ago so I’m not sure how clean I got, but no one knows me down there.”

 

Surveying his achievements, Gregorits recognises he’s hard to classify. He’s never been part of a tangible literary movement, doesn’t consider himself fitting into a ‘scene’, and he’s neglected his initial ambitions of journalism because of the industry’s nature. Despite being a published author, his greatest achievement simply could be surviving. “I came from a very small town, working in a lot of factories and grocery stores, but somehow I actually made it to New York, already divorced, suicidal, alcoholic, and I was only 19.

 

“So at this point in my life I’ve gotten over my shyness to an extent, over the self-consciousness, and I just want to have a good time and hopefully get some laughs out of what’s going on. I have a lot of friends now – every time I’m in a jam people help me out, and I’m in a jam a lot. So I must be doing something – I can’t be that horrible a human being if people care about me, right?”

 

BY BELLA ARNOTT-HOARE

Gene Gregorits appears as a guest of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival in An Evening With Gene Gregorits on Friday August 31.