Ask the Author: Henry James Korn

“Ask me a question.” Henry James Korn

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Henry James Korn Thank you for noting that Amerikan Krazy contains references to consciousness-changing music by The Doors, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and more. Like many in my generation, folk and rock music strongly influenced my socialization and political development. As I think back on those years, my prototypical Woodstock-like communal experience occurred at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964 where Robert Allen Zimmerman premiered a searing acoustic version of Mr. Tambourine Man. But to respond to your question more directly, I first saw The Doors live in the futuristic International Ballroom of the Washington Hilton Hotel in the fateful year of 1967 when I was expelled from my university for publishing an article criticizing President Lyndon B. Johnson in the pages of the campus newspaper. My guest at the Doors bash that night was a poet and Vietnam bound draft resister who was AWOL from the U.S. Army at the time. As college friends, he and I had "chased our pleasures here and dug our treasures there" and witnessed "weird scenes inside the gold mine." And if you must know we experienced our first Doors performance under the influence of Aldous Huxley and were thoroughly familiar with the British author's promise of ecstatic redemption via chemistry espoused in The Doors of Perception--a book title that inspired the naming of the band. Jim Morrison's socially surrealistic and ferocious performance at the Washington Hilton that November night reinforced our intoxication with the revolutionary potential of art. After playing the Doors songs that comprised their debut album, Light My Fire over and over on my dilapidated stereo, my friend and I were more eager than ever to Break on Through. Our heart's desire in those days was to arrive at an ideological tipping point exemplified by Berthold Brecht and Vermont's Bread and Puppet Theater that the Doors termed "the other side." But according to Morrison's dark prophecy, William Blake's road of excess apparently did not lead to the Palace of Wisdom but rather to The End-- a haunting neo Freudian epic about incest and patricide that describes a psychotic killer on Jack Kerouac's freeway to purgatory. In the course of what later became the Apocalypse Now theme song, an assassin informs his father that he intends to bash in his skull--a direct political action at the familial level that my friend and I mistakenly believed was a prerequisite to overthrowing state power. Even today, Robby Krieger's wicked take off on My Country 'Tis of Thee (God Save the Queen) that kicks some versions of LA Woman into gear remains a insolent challenge to ruling class values that still sets its listeners on an anarchic trip arguably inspired by Journey to the End of Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline and City of Night by John Rechy. But in Morrison's version of paradise lost, the Hollywood Hills are filled with fires, flea bag motels and topless bars are burning to the ground, and murder rules the streets--perhaps a reference to the Watts riots in 1965 that dramatically revealed what overthrowing state authority might look like. Many years later, the news that our country's titular sugar daddy, President Ronald Reagan had been shot by a pistol toting young fantasist named John Hinckley Jr. at the Washington Hilton hit me hard--perhaps because I knew in my gut that I could have grown up to become Morrison's road killer or Bob Dylan's orphan with a gun instead of a sweet talking, bow tie and blazer wearing museum executive. But in my new role as a teller of humorous tall tales from a radical perspective, I try to do what Bob Dylan recommended in It's All Over Now Baby Blue and take what I have gathered from coincidence. If only my former Brooklyn Heights neighbor, Norman Mailer, was still alive and helping me puzzle through the ramifications of a national nightmare that came true at the very location where the Doors advocated for madness, murder and revolution fourteen years earlier. Nevertheless, I hope this extended response helps you understand why numerous Amerikan Krazy protagonists, PTSD victims all, are depicted battling both patriarchic rulers and knee-jerk patriotism that are represented in my novel by a dystopian theme park that I intentionally named Founding Father Land.
Henry James Korn Yes and yes. Ironically, I landed at Johns Hopkins University as a freshman in the fall of 1963 as a result of a successful encounter with Dr. Milton S. Eisenhower at Rockefeller University arranged by my late dad through his bank.

As an impressionable Hopkins student, I continued to admire Ike's younger brother (who was an international relations expert in his own right) from afar. Nevertheless, in 1967, Dr. Eisenhower informed me via a hand-delivered letter on embossed stationary that I had brought great shame upon the University by calling President Lyndon B. Johnson a murderer in public print because of his role in the JFK assassination cover-up and the Vietnam war.

In Amerikan Krazy, a boy named Herbert Horn fears an imminent atomic attack and, as a result, wears patriotism on the sleeve of his cut-down Eisenhower jacket and takes comfort from Ike's peculiar but reassuring resemblance to Proctor and Gamble's "Mr. Clean." As a teenager, Herb Horn similarly perceives young Senator Kennedy as his nation's well-scrubbed savior but Herb's fragile psyche is soon shattered by Kennedy's brutal public execution. In response to Kennedy's death, Herb crafts a satire defaming his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson similar to the Hopkins Newsletter essay that enraged Milton S. Eisenhower. This formative, high-profile experience beneath the iron heel of Presidential authority results in Herb's radicalization manifested in sleepless nights, revenge fantasies, odd longings, substance abuse, patricidal nightmares, war wounds, terror bombings and fantasies about new Presidential assassination plots.

Incidentally, when I was suspended from school and the story was published round the world, Lou Panos, who wrote the Inside Baltimore column of The Evening Sun interviewed Milton Eisenhower and asked him where freedom of the press fit in? Panos reported that the ordinarily unflappable Eisenhower snapped, "Don't ask a stupid question like that because the undergraduate newspaper is subsidized." Panos concluded that Dr. Eisenhower's answer indicated that the President of one of the America's leading universities believed there should be two kinds of press--one paid and the other free.

As another interesting aside, my true-life confrontation with the arbitrary power of the ruling elites at an early age had a bit of a happy ending. Several days after my reinstatement as a Hopkins student, I was surprised to receive a letter from Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22 (and a major literary hero of mine then and now) expressing the wish that I was in Washington, D.C. running the country and that the folks in Washington, D.C. were in school learning a few things.

PS: Goodreads friends are encouraged to click on a You Tube link that features Milton S. Eisenhower championing the establishment of concentration camps for 120,000 Japanese-American citizens during World War II. Readers are cordially invited to view this ten-minute War Relocation Agency propaganda film and post opinions on the question of who shamed Hopkins.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esVeg...

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