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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tom Robbins: Still Relevant?

Posted by Patrick Alan Coleman on Tue, May 12, 2009 at 3:49 PM

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When I was a quasi-hippie, living in the ashram ghettos of Ashland, Oregon, I was turned on to Tom Robbins by a mathematician housemate who’d taken the name Ocean. Between massive bong hits and coughing jags we somehow managed to have an almost lucid conversation in which the book Jitterbug Perfume was cited as crucial reading for those in my dazed pagan cohort. It was the first Tom Robbins book I’d ever read, and I fell immediately and completely in love with the maverick Northwest author. How could you not love someone who has begun a book like this:

The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.

And so starts a tale about perfume, Pan, sex, and of course, beets. I devoured it. Then, I began burning through Tom Robbins' books as quickly as I could steal them from friends and acquaintances. I kept up with his career until Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, and only made a half-hearted attempt at Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. But by then I’d stopped smoking dope and had left Ashland and my pagan hippie ways behind. Still, Jitterbug Perfume has stuck with me. Just yesterday I was reminded of the book when I accompanied a friend from California to a strange apartment deep in Southeast Portland to buy some pheromone perfume from a rail-thin stranger we’d curiously called on a whim. But that’s another story for another blog post.

I’d long begun to wonder if Tom Robbins had lost his mojo, and I had pretty much given up on him. I mean, can you really sustain a writing process which I once read includes something like an hour of vigorous exercise, an hour of pornography and non-release masturbation, and an hour of staring into the sky… before you even approach the page? I’d think not.

I thought wrong. My guess is that when someone deigned to ask Robbins, “Won’t someone think of the children?” he thought it was a good idea, because he’s emerged again (as inscrutable as ever) with a book for kiddies called B Is for Beer. The description from Harper Collins:

Once upon a time (right about now) there was a planet (how about this one?) whose inhabitants consumed 36 billion gallons of beer each year (it's a fact, you can Google it). Among those affected, each in his or her own way, by all the bubbles, burps, and foam, was a smart, wide-eyed, adventurous kindergartner named Gracie; her distracted mommy; her insensitive dad; her non-conformist uncle; and a magical, butt-kicking intruder from a world within our world.

And apparently, though the book is meant for kids, an adult might enjoy it as well. At first, I had mixed feelings about a book related to beer aimed at children. But then I thought about all the pubs that have recently opened with amenities that include children’s play areas. It’s become about as common to see tie-dyed toddlers as bearded beer-lovers in Portland’s more popular suds emporiums. So I guess Robbins is providing a kind of needed service in the world of brew. Finally there’s a book that can be slurred lovingly to your progeny before bedtime. And those slurs will only add the nuance of the book, rather than making it sound as if Winnie the Pooh hit the honey wine.

So the inevitable question arises: Is Tom Robbins still relevant? If this book is any good then he might have just secured his relevancy for one more generation.

You can see Mr. Robbins at the Bagdad Theater next Monday night on his publicity tour for B Is for Beer. The $18 ticket gets you a copy of the book and the speechifying begins at 7 pm.

Hat tips to The Beer Here and my favorite bearded beer-lover, John Foyston. My favorite arts editor (Alison Hallett) who COVERS THE BOOK IN HER SECTION NEXT WEEK.

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