TT with HD: T. Casey Brennan
[Ed. note: The full-length version of the song Social Worker discussed below is available in .mp3 file format under that link. Caution: it's not safe for work environments ... T. Casey doesn't care much for social workers.]
HD: Sometimes it's an effort for me to be gracious.
TCB: It doesn't appear that way.
HD: Ready to mount?
TCB: Of course.
HD: Okay, here we go.
TCB: Okay ... [laugh]
HD: I'm going to need to scoot forward. I definitely outweigh you.
TCB: Oh, yes.
HD: This going to work for you?
TCB: Of course, of course.
HD: You know, we've been talking, or actually you've been doing most of the talking, for the last good hour or so, and I'm still not sure that I know the answer to the following question, so let me put it to you very simply: who are you?
TCB: I'm T. Casey Brennan: has-been comic book writer, band member, alleged JFK figure, homeless guy.
HD: Unlike me, who is just a pretender, an imposter?
TCB: No, that's totally cool. One of the many factors that have contributed to my sort-of 'comeback' if you will, is that it's now fashionable to speak out on the rights of homeless people or even to identify with them to a certain extent.
HD: So being authentically homeless is a part of the package that you present?
TCB: Yeah, it's another oppressed minority group. Americans in this era, they identify with oppressed minority groups. So I'm a part of an oppressed minority group.
HD: So you find that being homeless is an asset in what you present to people in terms of who you are?
TCB: Well, I've made it an asset. One thing is, though, I don't drink. Not only don't I drink, I don't like alcohol to even touch me, I simply refuse to drink.
HD: But you do smoke.
HD: And that surprised me, because part of the background reading I did, I uncovered, well, I didn't exactly uncover it, because it's right there on the internet, so it's not like I did a whole lot of library research, but one of the things that, I guess, is commonly known about you is that back in the early nineties you organized a campaign against the depiction of smoking in comics ...
TCB: ... 80's, yeah, yeah
HD: ... and the culmination of that effort was the declaration of T. Casey Brennan Day ...
TCB: T. Casey Brennan Month ...
HD: ... in Arkansas by none other than ...
TCB: ... Bill Clinton ...
HD: ... then-Governor Bill Clinton. Which is, I suppose, ironic that Bill Clinton would have had anything to do with an anti-smoking campaign of any kind, given his connection to cigars later in his political career. But also ironic because you smoke? How is it that you smoke now?
TCB: I smoke. There is a book called the Warren Companion. It is a history of the Warren Publishing Company, which was my primary publisher during the 70's. They did Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella. In that interview I admit that it was purely a combination of a political publicity stunt and a vendetta!
HD: So it wasn't a moral issue for you?
TCB: Oh, no, no, no. The thing is, I think that had my [anti-smoking] statements been accepted, I think it would have been a boon to the comic book industry. I think one of the things that made comic books appealing in what we call the Silver Age, in the 60's and in the 50's and the 40's, is that they were always taking ethical positions on something. We have lost that and I think it would have been ...
HD: ... you mean along the lines of fighting for Truth and Justice and Right?
TCB: Yeah, yeah, oh God, yeah. They had little one-pagers and DC comics where they would counsel kids against racism or say, Support the United Nations! or they would say, oh God, I can't think of them all, you know, any number of things. Of course during the polio thing of the early 50's, they would tell kids how to avoid polio. I think it would have been a positive thing in that sense, if my [anti-smoking] statements had been accepted by the comic book industry. So what I said in the Warren Companion interview, and what I can repeat now, is that privately I alleged that I had been black-listed by the comic book industry in the 80's. But I don't think the 80's would have been the proper time to allege a conspiracy, because people in the 80's were not really amenable to that kind of approach. Now in the post 9/11 era, a conspiracy approach to anthing is a good approach to take, if you're dealing with young people, because they like the conspiracy angle now.
HD: You mean just marketing-wise, the marketing of an idea ...?
TCB: Yeah, essentially. The thing is, I did not feel that I could have gotten anywhere in the 1980's by doing television appearances and radio interviews and by magazine interviews, I did all of those things for the ban-smoking-in-comic-books campaign, by saying, Well, I've been blacklisted in the comic book industry! I think it would have seemed like sour grapes. And I don't think it would have been appropriate. So I felt the only thing that I could do to counter-attack the comic book industry was to ...
HD: ... create this anti-smoking campaign?
TCB: ... well, to take them on in that way. They thing they feared most was congressional attention. Many comic book publishers had been destroyed in the early 1950's by these congressional investigations into links between comic books and juvenile delinquency and so on and so forth. The government was their arch-enemy. And I wanted to capitalize on that. And in the interview I say, all through the ban-smoking-in-comics campaign I would tell people privately, I smoke myself, but I haven't read a comic book in twenty years! Ha! [laugh]
HD: Okay, that's cute! When I read your biographical information it says, 'authored' thus and such a comic, you know, Vampirella, or Creepy, or what have you. What does that mean exactly? Does that mean you wrote the text? Does that mean you drew the illustrations, too? Does that mean you did the whole thing?
TCB: I wrote the comic book stories like a play script. And I was very exact.
HD: So did you actually do some drawings or was that handed off to a graphic artist, who then had the job to translate your vision into ...
TCB: They used to ship my scripts to other countries in those days. In the 70's when I was writing comic books, that was the era in which the comic book artists in New York were getting up on their hind legs and saying, We want to be accepted as fine artists! We want more money for our work! We want this kind of right and that kind of right! and so on and so forth. This is just off the top of my head information, and it may not be entirely accurate, but it's basically accurate: they had been getting something along the lines of $50 a page and they were suddenly asking for $100, you know. So the publishers, these are the comic book publishers, in those days, and I suspect now also, even though I have no dealings with them, they were quite mercenary. They went to these artists who were getting up on their hind legs and they said, Well, we don't have to pay you 100, we don't even have to pay you 50. We can ship these scripts off to essentially third-world Countries, Spain, the Phillipines, and the artists there will do it for $10 a page. And that's what they did. So most of my scripts were drawn in other countries, and for a pittance. What I heard is that a lot of these artists were being paid less for drawing these scripts than what I was being paid for writing them. And there was a lot more work involved. But I would lay down what I wanted done in a kind of a script format, and I would lay out the number of panels on a page, and I would have the caption, the dialogue and I would have description of what I wanted in the page ...
HD: ... like stick figures, or?
TCB: No. I would say something simple like, 'Vampirella in a rowboat and she's with Adam van Helsing, who's one of the backup characters, and in the background there's a snake coiled around a tree,' or something like that. Now there's a funny thing: Jose Gonzales was the artist on Vampirella, who drew my Vampirella stories, and he didn't speak English very well. I had a character, his name was Dreamslayer, and he was awfully similar to Freddy, although he didn't come until a decade later ...
HD: Freddy from, is it Friday the 13th?
TCB: Nightmare on Elm Street, yeah. Freddy did not come for a decade later, but my character Dreamslayer could only kill people in their dreams, you see. And so in this script, I said I wanted Dreamslayer to have lightning bolts coming out of his headgear. Actually what I was shooting for was a kind of Jack Kirby kind of villain, I think Magneto or one of them was something like that, or kind of a Kirby motif, and so I said I wanted him to have lightning bolts coming out of his headgear. So Jose Gonzales got the script, so he's looking at dictionaries and all sorts of things trying to figure out what a lightning bolt is. So the only thing he can come up with is it must be something like a lightning rod, so he made a headgear for Dreamslayer, with lightning rods coming out of his head, and it looked like what now would be a guy with his hair spiked.
HD: Is that how it was published?!
TCB: Yeah, I could probably show you. I think I have a tattered copy of Vampirella in my side pouch.
HD: Speaking of copies of Vampirella, I called Vault of Midnight this morning to ask if they had any of the Vampirella stuff from your era, because I guess it continues to be put out on a very sporadic basis ...
TCB: There's two collections. I've autographed one of them and that's the only copy I've seen. Vampirella Crimson Chronicles, Volumes II and III have both been published recently and each of them have some of my Vampirella stories in them.
HD: They [Vault of Midnight] suggested that they might have some Vampirella, but not necessarily any that you worked on, in the store. When Adam de Angeli was here he said he thought maybe he had some stuff of yours at The Planet. I don't know if he meant comics or music, but really my question is: Where would somebody go other than eBay, to try to find some of the comics that you actually created?
TCB: Vampirella Crimson chornicles, Volumes II and III, I think you can order them from the publisher ...
HD: ... and the publisher is Warren?
TCB: No, the publisher now is Harris Comics. Warren went bankrupt and Harris Comics bought the properties at auction. They continue to release trade paperbacks that contain some of my stories. There's still a couple of things of mine on sale at The Planet. There's a magazine called Steam Shovel Press that has a text, it's one of the JFK stories. He [Adam de Angeli] has just done a tremendous job of mobilizing the community. It takes time for a business to take root and personally what I think that he has to do is to acquire a national reputation for his store so that people that come here from other communities, and from other states, and so forth, so that The Planet is a tourist attraction that people will come to. There's a store in Chicago that's called Quimby's, are you familiar with it?
TCB: Well, it's a nationally known bookstore that handles alternative publications, but see, with Quimby's there's all sorts of people nationally that know about it. And with The Planet he's pretty much concentrated on a local audience. And those people just don't spend money. He's got to get people from other states and people who, if they come into Ann Arbor, that the first place they want to go to is The Planet. Do you remember Wall Drugs in South Dakota?
TCB: Wall Drugs, surely you've heard of Wall Drugs?!
HD: Maybe I'm just showing how young I am.
TCB: Well, Wall Drugs was this giant drug store out in the middle of nowhere. But they had a national reputation, it was like a tourist attraction.
HD: Well, maybe if you get to the point where it's not the first thing people want to go see when they come to Ann Arbor, but it's something that they want to make sure they don't miss, that they don't leave Ann Arbor without seeing. I think that's a much more attainable goal than making The Planet the point of coming to Ann Arbor. You mind if we talk about music for a while?
HD: This morning I went on the web, and I found a couple of these tunes you've recorded with Frankenhead. One of them is Social Worker Blues. It's not a subtle song, is it?
HD: Did you write the lyric?
TCB: Yeah! [laugh]
HD: Well it's easy to recite the whole lyric, but I guess 'recite' is not the right word to use, because it's just one line over and over again: Hey Social Worker, fuck you.
TCB: Yes. Well, twice I also say, We're street punks, We're gutter punks!
HD: Yeah, so you don't have much left over for social workers, I take it? Or was it meant somehow tongue-in-cheek?
TCB: Now, Dave, I'm sincere in that song. I'm one-hundred percent sincere! Yeah, it's definitely new-school punk. The rage is the message. And if we were old hippies, then there'd have to be philosophizing and there'd have to be some kind of blueprint laid down for a solution to the problem, an explanation of the problem, and so on and so forth.
HD: Why this rage against social workers? I mean, my next-door neighbor is a social worker and she's nice. Once she baked me a peanut butter pie for no reason.
TCB: [laugh] Boy, you're in big trouble now! You think it was for no reason? Yeah, you've just been registered as a recipient of social services, they've opened a file on you, yeah, there was a price on that! [laugh]
HD: She's just my neighbor! [laugh]
TCB: Did she fingerprint you before she gave you the pie? [laugh]
HD: [laugh] No, she's just my next-door neighbor. I think. You know I was going to say, She's just my next-door neighbor, T. Casey, but is that whole thing what most people actually call you? It seems a little formal.
TCB: The first person on the planet to ever address me as T. Casey, was my former publisher, Jim Warren, and it stuck.
HD: The 'T' in T. Casey doesn't stand for anything in particular?
TCB: Yeah, my first name is Terrance. My parents named me that, but decided not to use it. They decided to call me by my middle name, Casey. So all through my school days I was always Casey Brennan. When I began publishing, I decided to appropriate my first initial. The customary situation now is that if people are familiar with my work, they will call me T. Casey, if they're not familiar with my work, they'll call me Casey.
HD: So the people you spent the night with last night, what do they call you?
TCB: I don't remember! [laugh] See, I crash at too many places. I'm really homeless! And I try to crash at a different place every night. It's just a place to crash. I don't drink, I don't steal, and consequently I have a lot of places I can go and stay. It's just a place to spend the night. If I can shower and wash my clothes, in addition to eating or whatever, then I hit the street in the morning and that's how I do it. But you know, the Social Worker song, you have to understand, I totally dislike the fact that my guitar player named it Social Worker Blues, there's no Blues involved.
HD: Yes, it's a very confusing title. I clicked on it to listen and I thought, Hmm, that's not very bluesy ...
TCB: Yeah, there's no blues in a musical sense, there's no blues ...
HD: ... yeah, there's not really blues, it's more just anger ...
TCB: ... right, it's a statement of rage. In the 80's I was homeless intermittently, then I went through a long period where I was employed and housed and so it was not a factor. But when I became homeless this time, in this century, the first thing that I observed was that there are two extremely different groups of homeless people, the traditional old winos ...
HD: ... the old-school homeless as it were?
TCB: Yeah, and their lives are complete hell. They don't have relationships. They're always drunk. They don't have any parties. They have no fun. They have no lives whatsoever. And in sharp contrast, in sharp variance to them, are the young homeless people, the street punks ...
HD: ... and you identify with that group?
TCB: Well, those were the only people who were having any fun, you know, for God's sake. And those people are at variance both with the grizzled old wino type of street person and with the social workers. So that's the statement of rage.
HD: So I'm getting the idea that finding a home or erasing homelessness from your life is not necessarily a goal?
TCB: No, no. I want my career restored. That's the main thing that I want.
HD: Your comic book writing career?
TCB: Comic books, music, whatever. The thing is I want my career back. Which is being done. The whole concept of whether or not I am housed or whether or not I am fed, that's purely incidental. I mean there have been times in my life when I've always had a home to come back to and always had a job to go to, but I wasn't happy and now I am happy. Plus I'm producing artistic things. And I think that's the most important thing.
HD: So, for example, the music with Frankenhead.
TCB: Yeah. And I may even secede. I may start Frankenbaby!
TCB: I may want to start an all-girl band and call it Frankenbaby.
HD: You couldn't be in that band, though.
TCB: Well, all girls except me.
HD: So where can people actually buy the Frankenhead CD?
TCB: They can get it at The Planet. There's actually a number of places on the net where you can listen to the music. There's a video of one of them, the satanic one called Let Them Rise ...
HD: ... yeah, Let Them Rise, that's a very dark and sinister song.
TCB: [laugh] Well, it is if you believe in religion, if you believe in gods and devils, but, of course, I believe in neither. And when that was podcast in Israel on a program called Kitaro's Sideshow, it's comic books and punk music, the disk jockey was speaking Hebrew, so I couldn't understand what he was saying. But he told me in emails saying that he had qualified it by saying I was a popular writer of horror comics in the 70's and this song was a spin-off of that. And it was played on Crazy Mark. There's something called the Crazy Mark TV Show and this guy is sort of comparable to you in terms of his ingenuity. His show goes out on public access, actually several public access channels in the state of Michigan ...
HD: ... he doesn't have a teeter totter, does he?
TCB: No! [laugh]
HD: I'm always worried about competition.
TCB: [laugh] Oh it could happen! They could swipe it right out from under you! And then sue you and claim that you no longer have any right to the teeter totter! Get rid of some of these Ann Arbor radicals! [laugh]
HD: Well, that would be a sad day. From some of your earlier conversation before we got on the teeter totter, I got the impression that finding food here in Ann Arbor is not a huge challenge, that there's a lot of places that you can get free meals?
HD: But shelter? You say you've got a lot of different places you stay. Is that difficult to manage on any given day?
TCB: Yeah. But to hell with it. I can stay out for days at a time. I can go days at a time without food. I can go days at a time without sleep. I need to have fun. I'm not that much into food and sleep. And if they're there, they're there. If not, then to hell with it.
HD: You also said there's no place else on earth other than Ann Arbor that you'd rather be homeless and penniless in.
TCB: Oh God, no. This is perfect.
HD: I was thinking some place warmer would just generally be a more pleasant place to hang out.
TCB: Nooo. There's other things besides a warm climate. I didn't like California at all when I was in California.
HD: So it's fair to say you have a certain fondness for Ann Arbor?
HD: Would you say you would elevate that fondness to the level of 'pride'? I mean would you say you're proud to be from Ann Arbor?
TCB: [laugh] I'm an Ann Arbor patriot! Yeah, baby! [laugh] The Ann Arbor patriot movement! Maybe so. [laugh]
HD: My thigh muscles are starting to wear out, I don't know how you're doing.
TCB: I'm impervious to absolutely everything.
HD: I think you're a hardier soul than I am. Let's pause the teeter totter so I can take your picture.
[Ed. note: The Frankenhead II CD featuring The Social Worker Blues is, true to T. Casey's word, available for purchase at The Planet, which has a relatively new location just north of Felch on N. Main St. in the same space as Natural Canvas: 613 N. Main St, Ann Arbor, Michigan. The sound sample below (click on the play button) appears here with T. Casey's permission and is not work- or family-safe, so put on your head phones. The disk also includes two versions of Let them Rise, plus covers of Falling in Love and Fall to Pieces. For T. Casey's interpretation of these Elvis Presley and Patsy Kline classics, buy the CD.]