Derrick Ferguson: Who is Michael A. Gonzales?
Michael A. Gonzales: Born on June 23, 1963, I’m a kid from Harlem who has been interested in books, movies and comics since I was a small boy, and knew I had to figure out a way to make those things a part of my life. I grew-up on 151 Street between Broadway and Riverside. My biological father lived in Westchester while my step-dad, a Puerto Rican barber/hustler, lived on 7th Ave and 123rd Street, so I always tell folks I had the best of both worlds.
DF: Where do you live and what do you do for a living?
MG: Currently I live in Baltimore. I write full-time, but I’ve had all kinds of jobs including working as a NYC foot messenger in the early 80s, working at a coffee shop restaurant, a clerk at Tower Records and, my longest job, was working at a NYC homeless shelter for a decade. I started out mopping floors, but a few years later worked in the recreation department with the kids. That was trip, believe me. It was also the height of crack, so the shelter could get wild. It was a family shelter…the first one I worked in was in Brooklyn in the middle of Fort Green Projects while the second was on Catherine Street on the Lower East Side. Needless to say, it was an adventure, but I was writing for various newspapers and magazines during that time as well.
DF: You have an interesting background. Tell us some of it.
MG: Growing-up in NYC in the ‘70s was a great adventure. Our block and building was full of kids, so I had a lot of friends. I was raised by my mom and grandma, but my biological father as well as my stepfather was a big part of my life. My stepfather adopted me, which is why my last name is Gonzales. His name was Carlos. My “real” father was named Lafayette Dixon and he came from down south. For most of my young life I went to private (The Modern School) or Catholic (St. Catherine of Genoa) school and was a kind of shy as a boy. I went to Rice High School for a year, then my mom moved to Baltimore in ‘78. Our NYC neighborhood crew went to the movies together every week, so I saw a lot of films as a boy. Also, my mom was a big reader and film lover. My mom was (is) the coolest and exposed me and baby brother (two years younger) to museums, concerts, Greenwich Village and all kinds of arty stuff. I was also a TV junkie and watched EVERYTHING from “The Brady Bunch” to cartoons to PBS.
DF: How long have you been writing?
MG: My mom said she used to put books and magazines in play pen and I would look at them like I was really reading them. I had a cool German godfather whose family came to NYC when Hitler came into power. Uncle Hans was a writer and one day, out of the blue, asked me to dictate a story to him. My mom had just taken me to see a movie called “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight”, so I stole the plot for my own story that Uncle Hans typed up. I was eight years old. When I saw the collected pages when I was finished, I was hooked. That same year, Uncle Hans bought me an Olivetti typewriter and that was that. But, many years later, it was my late girlfriend Lesley Pitts who believed in my work and told me she would support me until I finally broke through. I wrote about her in my essay “Love in the Age of Prince.”
Love in the Age of Prince: https://catapult.co/stories/love-in-the-age-of-prince
DF: What have you learned about yourself through your writing?
MG: Besides the fact that I spend too much time living in the past, I’m not sure.
DF: What audience are you trying to reach with your work? IS there an audience for Michael A. Gonzales?
MG: That’s an interesting question, because I’ve been blessed to have written for a wide variety of publications from New York magazine to a ghetto-lit collection edited by Shannon Holmes to various erotica and crime fiction anthologies. I love telling stories, all kinds of stories, and always hoped my stories reached everyone from the b-boys on the corner to the be-boppers in a jazz club, from the around the was girls to the Spellman College grads. Also, while I write from an obvious Black perspective, I hope the stories can be appreciated by folks of all races.
DF: The first thing of yours that I read was “Jaguar and The Jungleland Boogie” in the BLACK PULP anthology. An improbable mash-up of Hip-Hop, New Jack Swing, Blaxploitation and Pulp, after a single reading it became one of my favorite stories in the book. What’s the origin of the story?
MG: Oh, man, thank you. I had started writing that story years before Black Pulp but asking to be a part of that book gave me the courage to finish it. Really, I wanted to write a hood version of Batman and Robin with a little bit of the Shadow mixed in. Growing-up, I loved Batman, the TV show and the comics. As a kid, my favorite Batman artist was the late Marshall Rodgers. In 1978, he and Denny O’Neil did a weird mash-up of comics and fiction called “Death Strikes at Midnight and Three” and I was so inspired by that. Comic Book artists and writers (but mostly artists) are a big influence on me and I channel their work when I’m writing those kinds of stories. Guys like Howard Chaykin, Michael Kaluta, Alex Nino, Berni Wrightson, Jim Steranko and, of course, Jack Kirby.
“Jaguar and the Jungleland Boogie” excerpt http://www.egotripland.com/jaguar-jungleland-boogie-michael-gonzales
DF: How familiar were you with Pulp before you wrote the story?
MG: I’ve been a pulp fan since I was a boy. I used to order old Shadow radio shows on records, I watched Flash Gordon serials on PBS and read Byron Preiss’ Weird Heroes series of paperbacks. I think that was when I first heard the word “pulp,” but I’ve been a fan since childhood.
DF: Having dipped your toes into New Pulp waters, do you plan on diving in again anytime soon?
MG: I hope so. I wrote a second Jaguar story that hasn’t been published. It was done for BLACK PULP II, but I have no idea what is going on with that project. I really like writing pulp stories and, if given the opportunity, I’d love to write some more.
DF: Your musical knowledge is extraordinary and you are perhaps best known for your articles and essays about music. How important has music been in your life?
MG: I’ve been buying records since I was a kid. Growing-up uptown was the best music education because I heard everything: jazz, salsa, soul and pop. I grew-up listening to WABC-AM as well as WWRL and later WBLS. I was a major rock fan too, which got me teased, but I didn’t care. I loved Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes, but also Elton John and Queen. My mom took me to see Little Anthony in Central Park when I was kid. Her friend Chucky played drums with the group and we went backstage after the show. I was about six or seven, but that changed my life. I couldn’t sing or play an instrument, but I knew I wanted to be in music somehow. Later, music critics Lester Bangs, Greg Tate, Nelson George, Barry Michael Cooper and other became my guides.
DF: Your opinion on the current musical landscape?
MG: I’m going to be 55 this year, but I try to stay somewhat current. I don’t listen to as much new rap, but I’m down with guys like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. Still, I am very much an old school head…still blasting the Super Fly soundtrack like it came out yesterday.
DF: I’ve read the term “culture writer” applied to you. Does that fit? Exactly what is a “culture writer” anyway?
MG: I stole that tag from my critical writing hero (and now friend) Greg Tate. In the ‘90s, when I was on staff at both Vibe and The Source, I was writing about music, but also books, films and old school NYC life…to me, cultural critic best described my beat. I did stories on Snoop Dogg, Lauryn Hill, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, The O’Jays, Barry White (spent a few days in Europe with him), Curtis Mayfield, Kool Herc and many others. I also co-authored a book about hip-hop called Bring the Noise: A Guide to Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture, published by Random House in 1991. I wrote it with my buddy Havelock Nelson.
DF: I’ve read a few of your articles where you describe your movie going experiences back in the 1970s/80s and I’m convinced that you and I must have been in some of the same 42end grindhouses at the same time back then. How important have movies been in your life?
MG: Very, though I must admit I didn’t start going to Times Square until I was an adult. Our hood had some great movie houses…the Tapia (which was The Bunny when my mom was a teen and later became The Nova) was my childhood spot. There was also the Roosevelt on 145th and 7th Ave, the RKO Coliseum on 181 Street and Broadway, and The Olympia on 107 Street and Broadway.
DF: How much of an influence do movies have on your writing?
MG: Man, I don’t even know where to begin. The movies I grew-up with, from “Across 110th Street” to “Annie Hall” “The Mack” to “Network”, have perhaps influenced me more than any books. Then, as a teenager I discovered foreign films. I think “The 400 Blows” was the first one I saw and I was hooked. I’ve written a few essays about my love for film and its influence on my work, but “Into the Cinema, Onto the Page” is perhaps my favorite.
Into the Cinema, Onto the Page: https://catapult.co/stories/into-the-cinema
DF: What are you working on now?
MG: Well, I have a new book column I’ve been writing for a site called Catapult. The column is called The Blacklist and it explores out-of-print books by African-American authors. I have a heist novel called Uptown Boys that I’m ready to dust off and try to sell. I also want to revisit a few short stories I have in the can. I have an essay of New York City graffiti coming soon in the Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap as well as an essay about the Gordon Parks/XXL magazine collaboration A Great Day in Hip-Hop, which will be published in Contact High edited by Vikki Tobak. Also, my essay on the book Hog Butcher, which was adapted into the film “Cornbread, Earl and Me”, will be published later this year in Sticking It To the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1956 to 1980 edited Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre.
The Blacklist: https://catapult.co/editorial/topics/the-blacklist/stories
DF: What’s a typical Day In The Life of Michael A. Gonzales like?
MG: I need coffee first thing in the morning. Strong Bustello. It used to be coffee and a joint, but now it’s just coffee. I try to write every day. I’ve been blessed to having never had to deal with writer’s block, because, usually if I get stuck on something, I jump to something else. Also, if I get stuck I usually watch a movie, watch cartoons, listen to Miles Davis or the speeches of Malcolm X. Also, reading the Beat poets including old LeRoi Jones also helps.
DF: For anybody wanting to know more about you and your work, where should they start?
MG: My most recent short story a weird semi-gothic joint called “Roses,” that The Root published earlier this year. Fiction wise, I’d love folks to check out my erotica in the Brown Sugar series and other collections. One of my favorite non-fiction pieces that combines music and crime is called How Cool C and Steady B Robbed a Bank, Killed a Cop and Lost Their Souls, about these Philly rappers who became bank robbers and killers. I’ve also published some cool music pieces at Soulhead.com, Complex and Wax Poetics, where I did major articles on Curtis Mayfield, Nina Simone and D’Angelo.
How Cool C and Steady B Robbed a Bank, Killed a Cop and Lost Their Souls : https://medium.com/cuepoint/how-cool-c-and-steady-b-robbed-a-bank-killed-a-cop-and-lost-their-souls-d24d404f120a
Wax Poetics: http://www.waxpoetics.com/author/michael-gonzales
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
Michael A. Gonzales: I could go on and on, until the break of dawn. But, this is cool. Thanks for the honor.