Today we're talking with C.B. Murphy, author of End of Men
FQ: This book takes a look at suburban life and the downside of that whole thing. Is this something that you are familiar with? In other words, is the character of Ben close to you personally?
Indeed, he closely reflects my personal experience of suburban life. I grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and lived as an adult in Edina, Minnesota—both affluent suburbs of major US metropolitan cities. One of my strongest connections to Ben personally is that I actually did make films as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan and hoped to become an “underground” filmmaker. Also, like Ben, when I finally started to get jobs in the business world, I found myself wearing suits and successfully negotiating deals, which never felt true to who I really was. I rapidly rose in the ranks of in the corporate world, which amused me greatly, given how little I had cared about business in school. In my novel, Ben works for his curmudgeonly father. I worked for my curmudgeonly father-in-law, so I know a lot about the tensions of having any boss who is also a relative, let alone a very close one.
FQ: The strongest characters in your book are the females, and the art gallery show’s theme, etc., certainly show the women as the dominant creatures. Do your personal beliefs coincide with that thought? Such as, do you believe that, say, a female should run this country? And, why?
The pressures on men and women are very different now. Men are seeing so much of their traditional territory (i.e. breadwinning) fall away, while women are dealing with the consequences of balancing employment and motherhood. Kay feels she “missed out” on the hippie world that her older husband experienced, but has thrown herself into her work, putting the idea of motherhood on the back burner. Ben’s mother was invested in the old order and displays a certain toughness that we sometimes forget was part of that world, too—not unlike a Bette Davis or Katherine Hepburn who could kick men in the shins even at the height of “male power” (late 1950s). I think the challenge for both sexes now is to realize they do have differences that can be complementary (rather than antagonistic) but this doesn’t necessarily mean either one is less important. I support women who hold top leadership positions (including presidents of nations) and believe they are strongest when they don’t buy into myths (like women are naturally pacifists) but again, recognize the inherent differences—and strengths—of both genders.
FQ: You speak a great deal about Andy Warhol and “The Factory.” Not to sound corny, but if you could sit and speak with Warhol about the past, “The Factory,” his life, his choices - what would be the one topic of conversation you would definitely bring up?
Whatever people say about Warhol, his influence over the arts is unarguably immense. To be sure, The Factory was not the healthiest setting in many respects, but the idea that a bunch of people could live and work together with the purpose of making art was very original. Warhol was in some ways a “counter hippie” in that he valued celebrity and profit from his work. Still, he managed to shock, change minds, and promote creativity in a number of art forms and genres. In addition, he was prescient about where the media was headed: get your name out there and don’t care if what you created was good or bad, as long as they know your name. My best friend in high school adored Warhol and ended up going to college at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. In many ways I felt my hippie experiences were from a completely different world, the West Coast back-to-the-land variety.
If I could talk to Warhol now, I would ask him how he feels the Internet has influenced artistic creativity and poetic license. And obviously, I’d want to know how he would manipulate and maximize the opportunities it holds for contemporary artists today.
FQ: I am, historically, very interested in Crowley and researched he and Bacon a great deal. Have you ever had the luck of traveling to Crowley’s residence (Boleskine House) where it was known that his group of followers met? If not, is this a location you would really like to view in person?
Wow, interesting question. I became fascinated with Crowley in college both on the occult study level and also through the films of the underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger. I had a mentor at the University of Michigan who was an anthropologist, poet and filmmaker. His name was Richard Grossinger and he’s actually more famous now as the father of the filmmaker Miranda July. Richard introduced to me the world of underground film and also the artists who were, if not literally occultists, used much of the research and thinking in their own work. These were followers of the Black Mountain School poets, the most famous of whom are Charles Olson and Robert Duncan. Stan Brakhage was considered one of “the group”, and his book Metaphors on Vision was hugely influential to me.
FQ: Along this same lines…are you a historian who loves to research? And do you believe in the stories of The Knights Templar, etc.?
By the time the Knights Templar were popularized by Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code I was already studying them (and employing their imagery in my paintings). I’ve always been interested in cults and secret societies, and the mythology around the Templars is immense. I was intrigued with the idea that the young princes who joined the order had to divest themselves of everything they knew, which included God and their sexual identity. Crowley also followed the idea that as one journeyed through the Sephiroth of the Tree of Life, each world required actions that in another world would be seen as immoral. It’s all very fascinating.
FQ: In this current atmosphere of the literary world, where vampires seem to be heading back to their coffins and eroticism (Fifty Shades of Grey) seems to be the next subject up for commercial success, how do you feel about the eroticism line? Are we heading back into the world of free love with authors not having to deal with the taboo of writing about it?
Being identified as a member of the counterculture for much of my life, it seems more like the straight, “post hippie” world had to eventually embrace eroticism in a new way. Again, this started early for me when my buddies and I (who modestly called ourselves The Freethinker Assocation ) found this free love commune (Kerista) forming on a Caribbean Island and were ready to move there.
I read all kinds of stuff (while going to an all-boys Catholic school, mind you) like Sex Without Guilt, The Harrad Experiment, Kraft-Ebings’ Psychopathia Sexualis and Stranger in a Strange Land all of which challenged conventional morality and sex roles. Fifty Shades of Grey seems like a latecomer to the game as far as I’m concerned, but I’m pleased by the success it’s experiencing.
I’m a big fan of horror movies, too. Once again, it seems like every time something becomes popular (like Twilight), people act like it’s never been done before! Maybe it’s just that each new generation has to discover these metaphors, but David Bowie was a dapper vampire in The Hunger in 1983, and the relationship between Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon was one of the most compellingly erotic depictions of vampire love ever produced.
FQ: I have read in your bio that you are a painter as well as an author and anthropologist. Is there a favorite among those interests? What inspires you about anthropology?
In many ways I think anthropology trumps all the other disciplines in that so much of what people think is derivative of their tribe’s “group think” (read Democrats and Republicans, for example). Anthropology provides models for how to communicate with people who think and live in a different universe than you. Mostly people seem to be saying, “Why don’t you think like me?” A more helpful approach is to examine various perceptions and where the Venn Diagram overlaps exist in your world. It’s like when kids fight about bands, who is “the best?” What they’re really learning is to defend one’s tastes as legitimate while being open to someone else’s influence.
As a self-described “rogue anthropologist” I’m always talking about monkeys (which I think of as anthropological primatology) in that so much of our collective thoughts and feelings arise from primate (and primal) reactions.
I try to paint every day and I learn a lot from it. I attempt to follow an idea and see where it goes, making decisions along the way as to my skill level and whether I want to stop and improve my skills. I tend to be most inspired by outsider artists (Raw Magazine) and those related to the PopSurrealist movement (Juxtapoz Magazine). I have a piece in a Pop Surrealist show now in Baton Rouge.
I also volunteer teach art at a high security prison once a week and I’ve been doing that for five years. I love it. Here are these tough macho guys learning to draw and I am able to show them how art history has enough branches for everyone, possibly even them. It’s very cool.
FQ: I must know, as most readers I believe would love to know - is Shiraz based on a real person?
Though I was inspired by the work of Shirin Neshat, the Iranian videographer, I think Shiraz’ personality is closer to the American avant-garde. My wife was a dancer with the Trisha Brown Company and she also worked with Meredith Monk. I was also, briefly, in an improvisational performance art troop (The Hook’Em Cows) who improvised with Yvonne Rainer at the Walker Art Center. I remember thinking “Oh my god, Yvonne Rainer is lying on me—am I famous?” What I found interesting about Neshat was how she managed to be accepted by the modern art world and walk a line that doesn’t alienate Muslims from her work. That’s quite a feat!
FQ: What’s up next for readers?
I’m currently working on two new books. Bardo Zsa Zsa (working title) is a science fiction story and meditation on gender. It uses the Heaven’s Gate suicide cult as a launching point, which sounds very dark, but it isn’t. I personally find it pretty funny. So does my seventeen-year-old son, Lucas, who is serving as my creative collaborator and critic.
The second novel, The Voodoo Murders of Brainerd is coming along nicely as well. The voodoo gods of Haiti come to visit a small Minnesota town, so “real magic” is woven into the mystery. I’m excited about both.
I’ve also started releasing short stories as ebooks on Amazon. My first one is “Dangers of the Road,” Death of a Salesmen meets Sunset Boulevard. More will be coming along.