about mark flanigan

Cincinnati native Mark Flanigan has been writing and performing for over 14 years....Works from his collections Wrong-Way Poems For One-Way Streets, Not Necessarily God Stories and Next to Nothing have appeared in a variety of independent publications and, along with his performances, have garnered critical acclaim. He has also co-written a screenplay (“Midway,” with Brian Keizer), edited a literary publication (omnibscure) and worked to develop, produce and curate various gallery shows and performance readings -- notably, VOLK/c.s.p.i. and Intermedia Series readings at the Contemporary Arts Center and the Weston art gallery. Flanigan’s monthly column, “Exiled on Main Street,” appeared for over three years, first in x-ray, and upon his resignation there, at semantikon.com. Performances of his can be found on “the Volk/c.s.p.i. spoken word series CD (2001),” which he co-produced, and on the CD “One Night Only" (2002).   To learn more about his work, read his blog, review some of the works mentioned above, and listen to additional audio tracks:

Visit markflanigan.com

flanigan audio
mark flanigan exiled from archives

October 2007: The Dance

June 2007: Cake
May 2007: Special Edition "Light Travel" Mark Flanigan and Steve Proctor
April 2007: Zero Hour
March 2007: Prelude to a Kiss-Off
Jan 2007: State Of The Disunion Address 
Nov 2006: Youngblood
Oct 2006: How I Spent My Summer Vacation
exiled on main street archives

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Dying to Tell II:

Part Four Paper Cuts

      When I finally arrived home, I realized I had less than an hour’s wait until the morning paper would be delivered. A fact that had a certain resonance this morning, if only because I was expecting to receive my first ever review...
     Sure, I’d had plenty of press for things that were happening in the future, but still had yet to read anything by someone attempting to objectively critique my work. In the end, I would almost have exchanged a full house for some favorable words or insight. Such a thing could potentially open some doors, like those of another city for instance, not to mention maybe fill in some of the many seats that had been empty on opening night. It was standard, I knew, for most if not all the fringe shows to be covered. And although I hadn’t spied Miss Demaline as I hoped/assumed, I took it on faith that someone else had been there in her stead. Thus, I dug into my carryout, grabbed my notes for the next show, and bided my time....
     Our delivery guy’s a madman, and by that I mean you simply can’t miss him. Why just the other night he broke our ADT sign in half with the strength and accuracy of his arm, probably on purpose. The gunshot sound followed by some self-congratulatory hooting on his part, I’m sure, before proceeding to gun his 1980 Toyota truck in reverse back up the mighty hill that is Milton. So, upon hearing him shred what remained of his clutch, I headed outside in my slippers. We have a roommate; the paper’s delivered on her side of the house so I have a walk ahead of me. Down the hill, through the park, back up to her doorstep where, at this point, an ADT sign wards off prospective criminals. The cover boasts nothing less than “Complete Fringe Coverage,” and thus I don’t even make it back around the house before opening it. There’s a light in the park, so I sat on a step and found the “Life” section. Just as advertised, review after review has me tearing through the paper, hungrily....
     In the preceding hour, I had given probably too much thought as to what to expect, but without coming to any real conclusion. I mean, as an artist, the only rule of thumb I personally have to go by when watching or listening to others is this: a tinge of jealousy that it wasn’t me saying or doing it. And despite being confident not many do what I do, as it was I still had no way of knowing or preparing myself for how a reviewer would go about describing it. Nor, for that matter, what they might think. All I knew was I had given it a good old-fashioned go, and thus I sat there and thumbed through the pages to find out how it may have translated. Not really concerned with whether what they had to say was positive so much as accurate or pertinent, I kept turning pages until I came to the full page ad on the back where I didn’t see my name either. Certain I had missed it somehow, I started back at the beginning, with similar results. Started my long walk back home, uphill....
     Well, I thought to myself, ain’t that some shit. They reviewed that collegiate bastard Chip Campbell’s play, he was right before me, so why the hell not mine? Then I finally figured, fuck, that’s it! My show was a late one, I’d just have to wait until the next day. After all, only half the shows were reviewed, so once home I finished my beer and hit the sack for the first time in probably a week.
     That Friday afternoon, when I awakened, I knew I had all of two days to prepare for the next show. For the next two shows, actually, as they were set to happen back-to-back, Sunday then Monday. The first was the straighter arrow of the two, the latter being a full night of collaborations with my musical compatriot, Steven Proctor. Thus, as soon as I swiped clean the cobwebs from my head, I headed out to his place. An early start was necessary; we had a lot of boning up to do for one, and also because The Wrens—whose album The Meadowlands demanded that I be in attendance—were playing the Southgate House that night. Besides, there’s something ultimately inspiring about seeing a good show, or any worthwhile work of art, while preparing oneself for a gig; in fact, there seems to me to be no easier preparation. So, you could have found me there, once again (and definitely without justification at this point) until well after the band had broken down and the bar closed....
     That next day I woke up and, like a good doggie, ran for my paper. To my amazement, with the same rotten result. Damn near every other show had been reviewed by now and the more I thought about it, the less I could believe it. Fortunately or unfortunately, I couldn’t dwell on it too much as this afternoon I had not one but two Weddings to attend, the first of which I was reading at. My good friends Brad and Suzanne had asked me awhile back to write something to read in honor of their marriage, but I had doubts early on that I wouldn’t be able to do it, not exactly anyway. See, fact of the matter is, anytime anyone asks me to write something in particular, it takes me six months. This while the only vision I have is best represented by a tunnel, and I have no idea what it means to ‘multi-task.’ Consequently, I had the good sense to ask our mutual friend and poet Heidi Joffe, who lives out West and wouldn’t be able to attend, if she would write something, which I in turn would read. Which, gracefully, she did.
     An outdoor wedding, the sun forced alcohol from my pores as I waited my turn to read. The tasteful ceremony over, we headed up into the tent for both shelter and fluids. My blood alcohol content was becoming dangerously close to legal, but I was on top of it. Kate and I sat at our designated table, alongside Suzanne Lambert—coincidentally, one of the first people to ever invite me to read—and a handful of others. The conversation pleasant, I nonetheless found myself confounded when she asked what I had been up to; so many, it seemed, had no idea that at that precise moment my photograph was anywhere they happened to look! I mean, did some folks just not go out of their houses, or turn on their radios, or read their emails even? Ah, what a life! I’d head there myself before all was said and done....
     Yes, my mood was a dark one. One that I attempted to drink down and not without some success. This until my head teetered on the brink of spinning, at which time we promptly said our goodbyes, explaining that we still had another wedding to attend, my friend Kate Donelson’s. I’d have to swing by the house before that, though, for a pick-me-up; which of course only served to give me both a headache and the shakes. But I made it somehow, said my congratulations while sucking on a beer and fretting about the fact that I hadn’t even run through the next day’s show once—I would have to do it that night—and for what? To see myself fall through the cracks yet again? Another night without rest in exchange for an empty basket?
     I drank some more. And driving home I suggested we stop in at the neighborhood bar, Milton’s, for a nightcap, the result of which you can probably guess by now. Thus, no need for me to be clever.
     That’s how I felt, anyway, in a nutshell. Uninspired more than tired. The alcohol having cut through the speed, once home my previous diet of Jameson and air gave way to true hunger. There was a pizza in the freezer, thankfully, and I ripped its box open and preheated the oven as suggested. Then, I grabbed a knife in order to cut the plastic; it was one of those packages that NASA apparently designed to have never under any circumstance be opened. I cut at it with the blade, but with little success: par for the course these days, it seemed. Then, frustrated, I tossed the fucker up and stabbed at it in mid-air. Caught it with my other hand, and did it again....
     The package was open now, if only to allow the pizza to become covered in blood. That’s when I started running around the house impersonating Job at the top of my lungs. Ran upstairs to Kate and yelled something crazy like “Look what you did to me now!” Upset, apparently, that she had thought I was capable of opening a pizza. Then, realizing I was bleeding all over the house, I ran out of it and walked outside to the neighbor’s parking pad. It looks out onto the city, so I had a seat there and waited for it to stop.
     It did, after twenty minutes or so. Which I took for a good sign, despite the fact that to this day I still can’t bend it.
     None of which did anything to improve my mood, of course. And now it was early morning, almost four. Not before long, I’d hear the newspaperman grinding his gears and figure hell, maybe today’s
the day?
     Nope. Wrong again.
     I went back inside, taped up my finger. There was beer in the fridge and medicine in the cabinet, so I took some of both. Like it or not, I had to get ready. The second show was a pretty straightforward affair; I was reading my Miss Jessica triptych in its entirety for the first time, with Steve and I wrapping things up with a Neil Young cover at the end, “Music Arcade.” No eight tracks or samplers, no Broadway production. So, I could still pull it off, conceivably. All I needed to do was practice a couple of times, re-familiarize myself with the material.
     Problem was I was so goddamn disheartened I couldn’t bring myself to do it, not in earnest. I’d read a page or two out loud and then remember that I wasn’t reviewed, that the auditorium would most probably be all but empty anyway, then say ‘fuck it’ and steal one of Kate’s cigarettes and brood some more. I wished that the whole thing were just the hell over with already. That I could just sit in the crowd and watch someone else do their thing.
     And, as mentioned before in these pages, this story and I have a history concerning live performances. It doesn’t bear repeating but there’s no way around it: one night, while attempting to read the first part while in a similar mindset, I found myself so incredibly drunk it took a whole hour to read the fifteen minute story. And things, well, things were heading in that direction again. I don’t pretend to understand self-destructive tendencies, except that for me they seem to walk arm-in-arm with self-pity at times, and that I indulge them every so often. Consequently, on June 5, 2005, at 5:58 AM, the record bears that Mark Flanigan wrote to Steve Proctor:

     Okay, here's the thing: the scenario, if you will.... You got a decision to make, so let me give you the skinny. Tomorrow I'm doing Miss Jessica from start to finish. On paper, it should take exactly 1 hour and ten minutes, 1 hour fifteen with “Music Arcade” on the back end. So, the bottom line is this:
      You remember how you thought my reading of Miss Jessica part one was awful when I got really drunk that one night? I think you neglected to look at what I had done, at what price I had done it, at the love I lost because I put all my money and energy into my art instead of saving money to join my girl in New York, that I got sick the night I finished that piece--and not sure if you know, but I was sick man, couldn't get out of bed except for her or work, only because I had to, or the volk CD, because it was that important. I wrote a fucking beautiful story, and at a price, tried to give it away for free, and no one, not even you, found the time to do so much as send me a self-addressed envelope to find out how it ended. I had every right to be pissed, and still do. Still am. You know that about me, even though we don't always talk about it. When in “Pillow Talk” I’m yelling “you said you'd be/around alright/you promised me.” I ain't talking about no chick, not really, I’m talking humanity not meeting me half way in general. Of course, it only makes me better! But, that's the truth. I quit my job to be embraced by what or who? Me again. And you, more often than not. And Aaron. And Tim. And some few others. Things are percolating in this town, to be sure, stay the course all right, but be realistic while dreaming. I deserve better, and I don't feel bad at all voicing as much.
     That said, you should know tomorrow will probably be along the same lines as that “horrible/drunken” show that you despised so much. Except, it will definitely be better. Because I know it in advance now. Here’s the thing, and the decision you need to make: it's going to, not because it's too long on paper but because of my (hopefully, this time) more pointed digressions, it's gonna be longer than an hour fifteen minutes, so:
     Tell me what you think of this, and weigh your words (like you normally do) before answering:
     What you think about, once our hour is up at the CAC, moving whoever would like to come outside of the black box, finishing the story there at the foot of the steps, and then capping that off with a completely unplugged version of "Music Arcade?" I think it would be amazing, honestly.
     I don't fit into one-hour segments. Don’t want to. Very few people have given me as much as I have given them, a group that by no means includes you! And even less of them have vision, or ears, enough to realize that every time I choose to perform I pay to do it. I pay to do this, Steve, as you. Still, please think about this:
     Music arcade belongs after miss Jessica: walking down main street.... and then:

“have you ever been singled out
by a hungry man?
you're listening to the radio,
he's washing your windows,
when you look in those vacant eyes
hhoowwddooeessiitthhaarrmmoonniizzee
with the things that you do....”

Anyway, you either trust me or you don't. Let’s take it outside the black box, if only because we do it outside the black box every chance we get. Before there was a "fringe”, even.
     Well, you know what to do.

Love,
Mark


     So, somewhere beneath all that hubris, I was kindly preparing my partner in crime for a train wreck that, what with another beer in hand and black clouds above, was already in motion. I’d give the fuckers what they deserved, once and for all! That’s how I figured it that morning, anyway.
     Yeah, I was just gonna riff and it would either be great or horrible, I didn’t much care. With no intention of practicing, I’d continue drinking while surfing for porn instead. But before setting down to do that—and here you’ll just have to believe me when I say this—strangely, I googled myself. And the first thing to pop up, besides that goddamn general whose long dead but still much more popular than the guy who didn’t try to kill anybody other than himself, led me to this:

CityBeat Fringe Coverage

Dying To Tell
Contemporary Arts Center

     The performance began with synthesizer, lush chords and auditory feedback. The performer added to the mix with an insistent, repetitive vocal—something to do with a broken heart. He appeared to be a diminutive presence, wearing one of those knit winter caps, swaying to the music and bawling out the lyrics like a man with the blues. Eventually the noise interference segued into the disembodied pagers that you hear in a hospital, or was it the taped messages on someone’s machine? Against all this, Mark Flanigan assured us over and over again, “I’m not
coming down.”
     There exists in this young man a well-known tension between creating art and working in order to live. Mark has chosen to continue to work on his poetry and music in spite of his sometimes very poor health. The upshot is that Mark doesn’t appear to dwell on this too much. He is a born storyteller, and his readings come off with the sheer delight in words and in the quirky sort of life they are capable of expressing. His casual manner of delivery belies a real craft with the composition of a line and of a story.
     The small audience sat in thrall of this self-effacing individual’s ability to draw us into his world. With a total of five completely different performances, Dying to Tell should attract theatergoers who are looking for something genuine and unique: Flanigan’s exultant poetry, heard aloud in the theatre, reminds us of what it is to be alive. (Mark Sterner)

     
I sobered up instantly. Holy Shit, someone had gotten it, whatever it was! And his reply had arrived not a moment too soon. This man I had never met—not in the flesh anyway—literally picked me off the floor, slapped me a couple of times, and reminded me that, if my sheer exultitude was to be heard, then I best start practicing....
     But first I checked The Enquirer online to see if there was anything similar on their site, and found the following pasted on the end of a review that had been printed from another show, as if it were an after thought:

      “Dying to Tell” is the kind of work that the Fringe Festival was made for, the kind that rarely finds a home in conventional theater.
     A combination of electronica, song, poetry, story-telling and live music, the performance by Over-the-Rhine writer/musician Mark Flanigan occasionally gives off a whiff of self-absorbed noodling, but generally regains its footing quickly. It helps that Flanigan shows impressive technical skills, both vocal and electronic.
     The piece derives its name (apparently) from a long story - in the form of a recitation addressed to a former girlfriend - about the death of a beloved dog by euthanasia. With a live recording of a concert by The Cure playing in the background, Flanigan's yarn eventually threads its way to other piercing memories that lend it the emotional heft to hold the center of the show.
     Before the dog story, Flanigan sang - a cappella - a long metaphorical song (about sexual trouble, fear of commitment and bad pop music, it seems). Afterward, he recited another poem, accompanied by guitarist Steven Proctor, then closed the show with a clever gimmick:
     Flanigan told a story about his efforts to make his way back to his Main Street apartment with a broken foot when he is accosted by a neighbor who puts the touch on him for a $20, leaving him torn between hope and cynicism about getting any money back. Then he cut the story short and told the audience to come back to Sunday's performance to find out what happens.
(Margaret A. McGurk)

     Well, all right, not as good as the last one, although I quite liked the “self-absorbed noodling” thing. I was, after all, basically getting high and exorcising my own personal demons, which in my guesstimate, probably didn’t differ from most others. Either way, I reminded myself this was the same reviewer that had recently given Rob Zombie’s movie The Devil’s Rejects a one out of possible ten, and went back to the City Beat page and read that once more.
     Went to work with renewed vigor and a steady focus, then. In particular, I spent most of my time practicing the voice of my character, Miss Jessica, and familiarizing myself with the material well enough to read the pieces in the allotted amount of time. Had an easy time of it, really, what with the night(s) before, all of a sudden it wasn’t much of a stretch to imitate her gravelly voice.... my own not being all that far from hers.
     
What’s more, since I was no longer dead set on derailing the show, I decided to dub a recording of the live performance in which I had, and play that fifteen minutes before show time. I waited backstage this go ‘round, wincing all the while it played and wondering if anyone had walked out. Most of the recording was of me singing an old Replacement’s song, “Treatment Bound,” a cappella and terribly wasted. “What will we do now?” the song ends. “What will we do now?” I sang over and over and over. Terrible, really.
     The curtain up, I was thankful not to be doing a repeat performance after all, confidant that I wouldn’t. Instinctively, I started the show by singing, “What will we do now?” Followed that with my best Lauryn Hill impression: “Forgive them father for/ they know not what/ they do.” Then, I read, nicely. Until Steve and I drove the night home with the Neil Young song, from inside the black box but unplugged all
the same.
     And that night, when the bartender told me it was time to go home, I still had no idea that, at the end of my run, my reward would be the news that Mark Flanigan would be banned from ever stepping foot back inside the CAC again....

          PART FIVE: Halftime

                    for Stanley Wilson


          the funny
          not to mention frightening thing
          about those
          who don’t know when
          to say when
          is
          someday
          they can’t help
          but find out....