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Smothered in Hugs by Dennis Cooper
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Aug 10, 2010

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Dennis Cooper is many things – poet, essayist, critic and novelist – but through it all, he is insightful, cutting, personal and dark. As a critic for various magazines and alternative weekies, his work often mines the outer edges of popular culture, which is exactly what is collected in this new compilation from Harper Perennial, “Smothered In Hugs: Essays, Interviews, Feedback and Obituaries.”

In it, Cooper tackles such luminaries as Courtney Love, John Waters, Quentin Tarantino and others who generally operate at the intersection of pop culture and the indy underground. Unlike his few alt-culture contemporaries (from the late Lester Bangs to Chuck Klosterman) Cooper’s insights, while probative and insightful, remain dry and analytical; exposing irony above humor, the essence vs. the obvious exterior. His pull-no-punches style often questions popular adulation of those who have risen to the top of the indy-culture pile (Tarantino would not be so nearly revered as a director if only he had a dozen competitors in his sub-genre) while treading a fine line between getting inside his subjects mindset without quite pissing them off. Cooper’s purview runs the gamut from art to music to film and literature due to his curriculum vitae as a writer for Artforum, Spin, the LA Weekly, Interview, Village Voice and similar others.

Along this decade-plus, sometimes drug-addled journey, Cooper’s work covers a wide swath of writers, actors and artists like Nan Golden, Mike Kelley, Clive Barker, Christian Bale, Pavement’s Steven Malkmus, DiCaprio, Fassbinder, a hilarious interview with Japan’s Ryu Murakami and others and while Cooper’s interviews and critiques are always incisive, the unfortunate lateness of this publication of decades old essays makes many of them simply less relevant today. (Do we really care that there were heroin hints in MTV videos when we observe a channel that now barely even plays music videos?)

The most valuable sections may be the obituaries, (Cobain, Wm. Burroughs, River Phoenix) as they still remain both poignant and timeless today. As a compendium of 90’s indy subculture, ‘Hugs’ (named after a Guided by Voices tune) makes for an interesting time capsule, but as a reference that could live in the present, many of these stories have either evolved over time or worse, have already been throughly exhausted elsewhere.

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