Jessy Talks About Dan
I can tell you some things that no one else can about Daniel M. Shapiro’s new chapbook, The 44th Worst Album Ever (Nap, 2012, available for free online here).
First of all, that’s Dan’s son Dylan wearing the KISS makeup on the cover, but it could easily be Dan himself at a similar age. I didn’t know Dan then – we didn’t meet until he was a ripe-for-the-picking middle-schooler – but here’s photographic proof that he and Dylan look alike:
Anyway, back to the topic at hand. The 44th worst album ever, according to Q Magazine, was KISS’s Music From The Elder, an album to which I’ve never listened, but Dan has, apparently. Probably a lot of times. (Dan’s knowledge of music and film is encyclopedic.) The full list (“The 50 Worst Albums Ever!,” Q Magazine, May 2006), is available online here.
The title font in the chapbook is Die Nasty by Ray Larabie, and although I hear there was a problem with the lower-case r, it’s pretty freaking awesome to see the poem titles in KISS-style letters.
You may think you know the essential purpose of the human tongue (or at least its most interesting purposes), but Gene Simmons is ahead of you, and so is Dan. In “The Human Tongue’s Essential Purposes” we learn that in a 2002 NPR interview, Gene Simmons told Terry Gross “Women … want to see if my oral appendage actually does have a spin-and-dry cycle, and whether or not it has the ability to whip up a good froth. Ladies, I’m here to tell you it does.”
With this and other poems of Dan’s, one begins to wonder: did this really happen, did he really say that, is this a joke or is it real? In this collection, the answer is generally yes. It’s a joke, and it really did happen. Gene Simmons really did say that. (Proof: Terry Gross Interview with Gene Simmons, minute 11:45) Eric Carr really did ask for autographs when he auditioned to replace Peter Criss. And so on.
It turns out Dan’s job in life may be to take these moments from popular culture and … not poeticize them, no, because they did that themselves … rather, just to set them down. It’s a kind of found poetry, but only Dan could find it.
My favorite poem in the collection is probably “Buying All Four Albums, Gold Circle, Rochester N.Y., 1980”:
We passed the scent of salted butter to ride
one level up, where the heads of monsters lurked
under dimmed lights, a shrink-wrapped coven.
It was as if the store didn’t want to let them go,
as if they were that plush gift-shop creature
we had craved before the clerk scared us
by sobbing goodbye to it. We just left it there.
Years later, we would hear a rumor that pro wrestling
wasn’t real, that half our heroes had been taking a dive.
No one ever told us Floor Two had housed the bargain bin,
disgraces propped up by forgotten cables and moon boots.
Before the grease paint came off to reveal four standard men,
we would keep our masks on, thwarting those not made up.
I’m also partial to “Daniel M. Shapiro Sings ‘Heaven’s on Fire’ with Alan E. Simon during a Spanish Test, Brighton High School, Rochester, N.Y., ca. 1987”:
What we did wrong:
We made devil horns, extending
pinkie and index finger correctly,
but we locked the middle fingers
with our thumbs. When Gene Simmons
invented I love you, he aimed a loose thumb
at the sky. We would need to learn
how to love 4,000 women later.
What we did right:
We whispered, unplugged,
an homage to Wicked Lester days.
We showed our genuine faces
under gawking lights, never
missing a word. Prepared
to take burn with me
literally, we both got A’s.
Alan E. Simon is a real person, though I can’t speak to whether or not he and Dan got As on that test. Here’s a picture of them from ca. 1987 (the time of the poem):
Finally, to prove that I’m objective and critical about the book, despite being friends with Dan for thirty years, I shall state a criticism: maybe there are too many Ks in the chapbook. (KISS, Katalogue, Korporation) There, you can see I’m objective, and when I tell you that this chapbook is stylish and funny and great and profound, you can believe it.