No, Eddie Woods don’t do beer, he does white wine, anything above 3 euros is just fine. Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay is more than OK by him. Not before 5 and thereafter, he switches to red – Merlot [EW correction] or Beaujolais is, again, OK by him. Modest, not bottom shelf rot gut, but also not something that a Goan would have to work 6 months to afford… Because, you see, wine, like beer must not dominate or distract from the essence of the evening: human interaction.
That is why some time ago he insisted on In De Wildeman [literally In The Wildman], a bar – no a beer-tasting room – in Amsterdam’s scrunched-alley center. Not only do they have a great selection of Flemish, Dutch and other beers on tap and in the bottle but there is also a code of silence – there is no canned music, no manufactured frivolity, because all attention must fall on conversation about and/or with beer and even the tourists [pils pilgrims] generally behave here.
I usually accept advice and luckily some people love to recommend beer. But I am just as likely to be won over by a beer name or label. Pursuing beers like Rasputin, De Wildeman en Flying Dog, Piraat, Morte Subite means pursuing poetry, word association and happenstance, where a great name can lead to a sublime beer and a few choice words written down on a coaster. Most of their 200+ beers on hand are great beers with more history than hype as their witness. Not bland and gimmicky, not piss or maple syrup, not liquid white bread or crack cocaine – a complex and subtle partner in the evening’s intricate proceedings. [When in Amsterdam also visit the Bier Koning or Beer King, emporium of 1100 beers. What Lourdes is to believers, the Bier Koning is to beer-lievers.]
After all, flamboyance [the embodied craft of hype] contains its own denouement and disappointment. Like the leaky balloon, like the promise you shouldn’t be promising, like the brag that leads to nothing beyond attention for attention’s sake, like mediocrity with cleavage, like the lonely all-eyes-on-you gesture, like sad people who run out of conversation once they’ve discussed all of their tattoos. This is how I would describe some new [craft] beers although I’m terrible with names.
Eddie’s a poet, an ex-pat-in-the-true-sense-poet like as in exiled [from the US and his native Queens], and a good one, a really good one at that. You learn from him that a good [modern] sonnet or haiku can actually out-dazzle the obligatory Hollywood car chase scene.
I’ve known him since 1978 when he had just moved to Amsterdam and I was passing through on my first return since immigration in the 1960s. I think of that period now as a period overshadowed by extreme shyness, you know the kind where you either don’t breathe enough or you’re hyper-ventilating out of nervousness and so all reality passes through a not always un-delightful fog as a result of perpetual lightheadedness, add a few beers and I needed no opium. Luckily I wrote it all down but then lost the notepads while hitchhiking.
Eddie has had his forays into flamboyance – i.e., a decade of psycho-chemical excess as well as developing a well-honed persona sculpted out of a certain brand of – what was it? – cognac and poetic spare parts to carve out his magisterial gangster poet persona, wearing a certain insouciant slouch hat way before gangsta rap,.
His true terror is his talent for parsing syllables [“How easily we succumb / to the sharp edges / of imaginary splendor” (“White Lady”) or “my words are like bullets” (“Bloody Mary“)] like someone humming Sinatra while separating the cocaine from the gun powder, grain by grain. See him hunched over his mechanical typewriter [now a Mac], fluttering curl of cig smoke [shag], window cracked to ventilate, key pressing into the soft paper to leave its mark, a physical indentation like a tattoo of erotic intimacy between paper and ink, between kinesis and stasis, between contemplation and rough and tumble… “on the edge of total recall.” Passion is his crime and contribution with all of its inherent and messy idealism or naiveté.
Eddie proves that a whisper can trump a bang and insight exquisitely rendered can beat Jersey Shore in the ratings. His Tsunami of Love is a case in point. You resist, ask why not just “Storm of Love” or “Squall of Love”? Because in his own inimitable way this intense love affair was a tsunami, having gone all the way to Devon to slide from all to none, from mountaintop to sea bottom in one bungee-cordless leap of faith, which only the writing of this book could rescue him from. Let him explain how he entered the hell of heaven: “I didn’t invade your privacy, my love; your fevered willingness invited me into it.”
From his earliest Amsterdam days, he has served as a conduit, an underground railroad, a hitching post, a saloon, a virtual B&B [Bohemian & Breakfast] at his Ins&Outs Press haunt in the groin of the Red Light District. Here bohemians, outlaw poets – Jack Micheline, Harold Norse, William Burroughs, Ira Cohen – meandering mendicants, impassioned photographers from several continents passed through and linked into one another’s magic, which morphed into Ins&Outs Magazine and a series of cassettes. It’s this kind of passion that can melt egos, can explode indifference, shove guardedness into the nearest gracht. People get along, they feel welcome, in the realm of kindred spirits, commiserate and beg to differ.
This is what passion can do is what I remember thinking – put your mouth where your heart is and your heart where your mind is and then lance it with a fountain pen. What I also remember is that he really reads your work when you send it to him and this can be unsettling if your used to skimmers and people who talk over your words like its background noise. Not Eddie, he treats it all like a personal letter addressed to him. This became most evident when I helped organize his archives some years ago for sale to Stanford University – this passion produced an archive full of correspondence about literature, an invaluable contribution, a missing link between worlds and times.
I remember him shoving me, shy beyond measure, onto the floor to read just before William Burroughs was to read in the Melkweg during the 1978 P78 Readings that forged an awkward link between punk and poetry. I read – the words shaking like a Halloween skeleton in an autumn gust – too nervous, jittery, voice breaking, not a yodel, but cracking and then fading, the words betraying me. And that was just the level of cruelty I needed.
Whenever we get together now we may discuss how subtlety has its own rewards – or revenge – even today in a world where extreme is everywhere. Craft Beer, for instance, with overblown head demanding the world revolve around it, with one too many flaky ingredients – it’s like a drag queen, dowsed in cheap perfume, without a story. Like the gregarious overbearing tourist with his arm around your neck, buying you one more round if you’ll just listen to his Indiana hunting stories. You partake, slake, finish and then take a pee, and return down the other end of the bar seeking subtle insinuation, a stare into the head of your beer. Beer should speak to you but not for too long and not too loud – remember that.
We survive the misconception that we thrive in a world of hyped extremes, of entitled thrills to consume our way out of consciousness, where every sentence is a one-liner with its own attached file of generic laugh track. Even a basic handshake where one’s warmth negotiates with another’s has given way to elaborate high-five slaps of flesh celebrating the most mundane of successes – gimme five, you finished your porridge, gimme five, I bought those shoes. And yet, we greedily, desperately seek our escape from our homemade boredom via ever-escalating extremes – outlandish, oafish behavior to shake off any suspicion that you may be a bore – our souls becoming these insatiable black holes greedily sucking up [cell/mobile phone] stimuli at twice the speed of film. Extreme is just our escape clause.
Twenty years after 1978 we met again when I attended a reading [series] Eddie was organizing at the notorious Co-Meyer bar in the Jordaan in Amsterdam. I was by then a veteran of a tough Lower Eastside poetry scene, where people attend readings just to loudly ignore you – or that’s what I thought anyway. I still imagine a happy medium between the suburban audiences with their polite silence and respectful golfer’s clap and the calamitous reading scene where everyone reads but no one hears a word.
That first night, Eddie coaxed me to read and read I tried. But mere seconds into my text, a loutish gal, drunk beyond her talents began to heckle and just could not shut up. So I did what I had never done before. I confronted her, engaged her, jabbed my finger into her deltoids and kept on with her well beyond the sell-by date.
A few weeks later I got my revenge by reading a piece called “Nina Hagen’s Cold Cut Couture” with live modeling of cold-cut couture by the inimitable Anna Montana. Imagine a fashion line of selected meats, a salami skirt, that when you strip it means the guy has to eat it off of you… The triumph could easily be measured in the number of denizens who offered to buy me a beer and thus inebriation emerged as a measure of my success.
The Gangster Poet, photo of Eddie Woods in 1984 © by Cristi Kluivers