Thursday, December 5, 2013

Interview: Jerry meets The Underground Press, 1975

Self Portrait "In My Prime." Jerry the Bird, 1976.

Following the publication of Among the Humans in 1974, Jerry was briefly something of an underground star. He was interviewed by some mainstream media outlets, but more often by student newspapers, small-run magazines, and so-called "underground" papers. One such paper to interview him was the Denver-based "Underground Calliope," which spoke to him in 1975. The article is reprinted here in full.

"Jerry the Bird Comes to Colorado."

by Taylor Gibbs and Wallace Carlson

Sometimes the clouds part and the sun shines in on our little freakshow in the mountains. Even though the Mile High State can be a little hard to take, occassionally a wandering soul joins us to remind us what's going on in the real world. Such is the case right now, as Denver welcomes writer, poet, and unintentional animal rights activist Jerry the Bird.

Jerry has come to Denver to give a poetry reading at Roy's Cafe on Saturday night. We caught up with him at the Holiday Inn hotel lounge and watched him drink beers and smoke cigarettes. And of course, we asked him some questions about what it's like for a bird in America.

Taylor Gibbs: Welcome to Denver.

Jerry the Bird: Thanks. I've been to Denver before actually, but not for a few years. It looks about the same. Except this time I'm staying in a hotel.

Wallace Carlson: Where'd you stay last time?

JtB: Larimer Street, down on skid row. I remember crashing one night in a shelter down there, but they wouldn't let me in the second night.

TG: How come?

JtB: I don't know. I guess somebody complained or something. A lot of places don't like birds or animals coming in. You hear all sorts of stuff. You'll bring in fleas, you'll shit all over the place. It wasn't so bad though. It was in summer time. It would have been worse in winter, I imagine. I've never been here in winter, but I bet it sucks to sleep on the street here in December.

WC: You bet.

TG: Your book, "Among the Humans," deals with a lot of issues like that, with harrassment and discrimination of animals who are trying to live in human society. There are incidents like having popcorn thrown at you at an ice hockey game and being mistreated at parties. Do you still deal with those issues?

JtB: Sure. Not much has changed, but the events in the book are fairly recent. It's all pretty much the same, but I try not to get all angry or broken up about it. I can see things from a human's point of view, to a certain extent. You look at a big animal and you don't see an equal. You see someone who belongs outside, or on a leash, or in a zoo. You have a hard time computing that this big furry or feathered beast could be your friend, or could get served in a restaurant.

TG: Do you think your book could help change that perception? Like people could read it and maybe see animals differently?

JtB: Maybe. That's possible, but I don't think it will have that kind of reach. Maybe it will be a drop in the bucket, like a small part of a bigger wave. I think things will eventually get better. I don't know if I'll see it in my lifetime. Like black authors in the Nineteenth Century, maybe their books did some good, but I bet it still sucked for them at the time, you know?

WC: You think there are comparisons there?

JtB: I don't know, man. I wouldn't want to open that can of worms, because someone will get sensitive. You don't want to say animals are like the blacks, because then it will get turned around and someone will say oh, he's saying blacks are like animals. You can't say anything. It always gets twisted around. That's why I didn't talk about any of that stuff when I wrote the book. I just tried to talk about me, my experience. The book is supposed to be just a little love story, but it gets blown up into the bigger issues surrounding it.

TG: Johnny America has been talking about your book a lot. He says it tells the story of a lot of birds and animals in America.

JtB: Right, Johnny America, the great American eagle. That's true, I've seen him mention "Among the Humans" in a few different interviews. You know what's funny? He talks about it a lot, but I can never tell if he even liked the book or not.

TG: How come?

JtB: Because he always sounds so mad when he's talking about it.

WC: Yeah, but don't you think he's mad about what the book is talking about? He's mad about how you're treated in the book?

JtB: Maybe. But like I said, the book is meant to be a tragic love story. He's blowing it up into something bigger.

TG: Isn't the tragedy of the book the social injustice though? The girl and the bird can't be together because she's a human and he's a bird.

JtB: That's not why they can't be together.. Well, it is, but it's not a social barrier. He doesn't have a penis. Girls want a guy with a penis. It's like Hemingway. In Hemingway they're both humans, but they can't be together because the guy got his dick blown off in the war. She wants a guy with a dick.

TG: I don't remember that part.

WC: I only read "The Old Man and The Sea." In high school.

JtB: It's in one of his other ones. It's not important. You get my point.

TG: Does it bother you that Johnny America keeps talking about your book?

JtB: Not really. I know he's trying to help animals get equality, or better treatment, or something like that. That's all right, I guess. It's probably helping with sales, too. But I don't necessarily want to be a spokebird for anything. I'm still trying to figure things out for myself. The Eagle of Washington seems to have everything figured out for everybody.

TG: You mentioned he's an eagle. Some people say he's using the fact that he's an eagle, which is an obvious American symbol, to elevate the status of his arguments.

JtB: Maybe he is. He sure looks like someone who should be arguing in Washington.

TG: You make it a point in the book not to say what kind of bird you are. Why?

JtB: Because people make assumptions based on it. If I told you I was a pigeon, you would think about shitting on statues. If I said crow, you would think about eating roadkill. It's not much different from humans. What's your background?

TG: German and Irish.

WC: I'm obviously black.

JtB: Right. And maybe someone would say, oh, he's black. He's probably a good athlete. Or he's Irish. He has a hot temper. Or he's German. He likes war or something. People make assumptions. Who cares what kind of bird I am? Does it make a difference? If I write a good poem or a good story, that should be enough.

TG: Is it true you write detective novels under pen names?

JtB: Sure.

TG: Why don't you just use your own name?

JtB: For the same reason. If people know a bird wrote the book, they'll be thinking about a bird the whole time when they read it. I'd rather they didn't think about it at all.

TG: Do you want to reveal your pen name? I'm sure a lot of people would like to read your detective novels.

JtB: That's the beauty of it. They may have read them already.

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