Musique from a departed universe 
 the electric eels 
 An Interview with John Morton by Alex Simon 
eels
The world's happiest group: the electric eels, December 1974.
L to R: Dave E, John Morton, Paul Marotta.
(Photo; electric eels)
      Any music fan with a soft spot for geniune weirdos, out of this world fucking mutants, what the hell were they on about types, will get the same kinda kick outta coming across a picture of the electric eels ("It should be all lowercase. You know, like ee cummings.", as expressed by their singer, who came up with the name) – some would call it "being moved", others "gaining an instant interest", but the most romantic types will just say it straight up – the eels are a band to fall in love with.
      One of their most famous pictures features singer Dave E looking like Gollum from Lord Of The Rings, sporting his kick-ass afro while smiling like the retard son of a confused antechrist; guitarist Paul Marotta is dressed up like a hip grandma, his face truely seems gender-neutral, like an ageless queer character from the movie Gummo, 'cept from a time where there were no "queer characters" in any movies; in the middle, holding both of his bandmates in his gigantic hands stands the man you're about to hear talking inside your head, the white-trash glam-rock longhair spiritual father of all devos himself – ladies and gentlemen, Sir John Morton.
      Now, before we go on, you gotta look at the picture really closely, for five or ten minutes, then close your eyes, and imagine – you're in Cleveland, Ohio, in nineteen-fuckingseventy- two. The sixties just ended, we haven't even celebrated the thirty year anniversary of the end of WWII yet ; Richard Nixon is president for the second time, Ronald Reagan is best known for being the main actor in Bedtime for Bonzo; hippies still rule, but the four dead bodies found at the Altamont Stones concert, at the the tail-end of 69, plus the Manson family trial in 71, have started to show the limits of blind beliefs in peace, love, or anything at all; those are times of post-happiness and cold war, proto-close-mindedness and closed eyes, but in Cleveland, Ohio, times don't move at the same pace as the rest of the world. Morton says it best: "Cleveland is and was a vacuum, a place to leave." There is no need for yet another description of the industrial wasteland the city is, was, will be, but let's just say it's the midwest, ok, it's 1972, ok, you got your wife and your kids and your bar and your shitty job and everything's fine but suddenly, something catches your eye on the corner of the street, something you can't describe, something there is no words for – yet – you see three motherfucking punk-rockers. Wait, what? In 1972? Yup, the hippies have mutated faster in Cleveland than anywhere else, pal. Better get used to the idea 'cause it is here to stay.
      Aesthetically, musically, the electric eels were pure punk-rock when "punk-rock" didn't mean shit to anyone apart from a few rock critics who were playing around with the term. They had it all – the sound, the songs, the clothes, the attitude, the nihilism, the impossibility to be reduced to a cliché, a postcard, something that would be easy to buy. Between 1972 and 1975 they did something that's usually refered to as "writing history", and they did so by fighting whoever was on their way, including their own selves; they did so by playing the most avant-garde raw rock'n'roll there was at the time, toying around with freejazz, bringing sledgehammers and power lawnmowers on stage and playing them, but also by writing some of the best, most primitive, most catchy straight up punk songs ever – listen to Agitated, listen to Cyclotron, Anxiety, Safety Week – that shit hasn't aged one iota in forty years – in fact those songs sound as modern as they ever did, and it isn't the growing number of young bands citing the eels as influences who will argue that fact. So now, what?
sun ra      Now, seat back, relax, grab a beer or two, read on, as guitarist John Morton agreed to answer some questions for Ugly Things, in hopes of achieving what should remain as the definitive electric eels interview. For such an important (albeit shortlived) band, to say the eels are under-documented by punk history books is an understatement. The rare sources giving them their due props (handfull of fanzines, few blogs, a couple message boards) usually seem pretty confused on a number of crucial details (exact number of gigs they played being the most obvious one.) Of course it would have been great to get other versions of the story, for instance to hear what Dave E (one of the most memorable voices in punk, ever – listen to his other projects The Jazz Destroyers and The Cool Marriage Counsellors by all means necessary)had to say about it all, but as any fan of the band knows, Dave doesn't want to talk about the band, busy that he is living the christian, ahem, "dream". We thought of tracking him down for a while, we actually found out some crucial infos but after thinking about it we decided to respect his privacy and his right to remain silent. As for Brian McMahon, should he contact us, we will gladly talk to him.

Tell us about your life before the electric eels. What was Cleveland like back in the
days? What kind of kid were you, what music were you into growing up, etc.

      I wanted to be a beatnik, like TV sitcom character, Maynard G. Krebs (nee Gilligan nee the late great Bob Denver.)
      I tried espresso when I was 9 . . . "Wow –really strong!!!"
      Sputnik scared the fuck out of me (hey, I was 4!) (Useful/useless information gleaned from Wikipedia but presented to sound like I already knew it) The "nik" in sputnik was coopted and added to "Beat" to make Beatnik. Tuli Kupferberg preferred the term bohemian to beat.
      I listened to The Beatles in 1964 on my transistor radio, the Beatles exponentially beat out the then current top forty ie. what was available on the local AM station Lover's Concerto by The Toys . . . 1– 2-3 by Len Barry. Then 1966 hit with The Yardbirds' version of (Bo Diddley's) 'I'm a Man', and then Baby my mind split open... Traffic, Jimi, Cream, the Velvets, the Stooges, 13th Floor Elevators, The Sonics, Alice Cooper, Captain Beefheart and Gadzooks!!! Oh yeah I forgot, fuck Buffalo Springfield.
       Whilst in the fifth grade, because I had been informed that in the real world scientists didn't behave like Dr. Serizawa (the eye-patched inventor of the oxygen destroyer in Godzilla®), I decided to switch from my scientific explorations and become an artist (again my information about artists solely gleaned from movies like Lust for Life (I wanted to be Gauguin, not Kirk Douglas by the way, or Gulley Jimson in The Horse's Mouth.) Being an artist seemed like a way-viable means to get away with a whole lot of societal misbehaving.
       I loved "The Flats" (the industrial area of Cleveland.) The giant lift bridges over the Cuyahoga and the glow of the blast furnaces...
       Oh and yeah, in the sixth grade I did a report on heroin addicts, a topic I chose because I thought it might be a future career path. That about sums up my pre-eels existence.
 
jm pm, de, jm dave
Above: Dave E (photo: Michele Zalopany)
Far left: Morton (Photo: electric eels)
Center: electric eels, 1974. L to R: Marotta,
Dave E, Morton.
(Photo: electric eels)

How and when did you meet Dave E and Brian McMahon? How would you describe their personalities, and were you friends for a long time before starting the band? How did you decide to start the band?

      Paul Marotta introduced me to Dave E and Brian McMahon in high school. We had a commonality in music. Dave was into the Sonics, Ornette Coleman, Lothar and the Hand People, Brian listened to Merle Haggard & was a huge Kinks fan. He would fall out of Kink Love and put their albums at the bottom of his basement stairs, walk on them and then have to replace them. We all enjoyed Fleetwood Mac (Most people don't realize that Mac was originally a blues band under Peter Green's leadership. We stopped listening when Peter fled the band.)
       I was introduced to Sun Ra via the cover (Rocket # 9) that NRBQ did. And The ESP sampler provided a lot of inspiration, that's where I first heard Cleveland native, Albert Ayler, and The Godz, Gato Barbieri, The Holy Modal Rounders, The Fugs and some spoken word by William S. Burroughs (ESP also put out "Lie", the only Charles Manson & the Family album!)
       Note – I traded some really good pornography (a rarity in those days) for The Fugs second album.

How did you decide to start the band?

       Dave, Brian and I went to see Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band at some dive in Cle. The opening band, Left End, were so disgustingly horrible that I said, "We can do better than that!" and on the spot we decided to form a band and start practicing.

Is it true that you wanted to play free -jazz at first, despite the fact none of you had ever touched an instrument? Apart from Sun Ra, Coleman, etc, what were the other influences?

Dave E.       I am not sure where the rumour started that none of us had picked up an instrument... Probably because our sound was so based on rawness and explicit lack of technique but I did the usual tour of high school bands . . . Playing Little Black Egg and Wild Thing. So did (Paul Marotta alternative) Brian McMahon and (Brian McMahon alternative) Paul Marotta. Paul was a very technically complete musician. Davy, Brain (Brain on purpose) and I started rehearsals playing the harp of a piano with hammers. Dave E. sang because he didn't play any instrument.
       Regarding the eels doing free jazz... I think we made a credible stab at it. Ornette Coleman would play instruments he wasn't proficient on i.e. he played violin goofy foot (playing left-handed when he was right-handed) to remove virtuosity from his music... To purify it. Jon Savage wrote recently in Mojo (September 2011 MOJO 214) "[the eels] sound is trebly, distorted to the max, scrapyard '70s rock and '60s garage put through the blender with a healthy dose of free jazz." Now I trust Mr. Savage not to lie and he did say "with a healthy dose of free jazz"not "with a healthy dose of amateur and un-musician-like attempt at free jazz"
       And... there are no wrong notes.
       I used to attend any number of young guitar players at DiFiore's music store, shitting out perfect replicas of messieurs Page and Clapton (yes, Stairway to Heaven) and I asked myself, "Why would anyone want to play music that someone had already played?" (97 % of the Cle bands at that time were cover bands)... Mix audacity, grandiosity, some fauvist ideas about music and sprinkle with a little faery dust (by faery dust I mean nihilism) and you have the [nascent] eels.
 I do believe one stands on the shoulders of giants, 
 but I would say in reference to our specific eels sound, we did start from scratch— 
 Or in any case tried to synthesise an original noise we heard in our heads. 

Were you into classic rock?

     No, I can defiantly state none of us were into classic rock. Besides, the term/genre "classic rock" was a backwards designation, except in the case of one "classic rock" radio station that spews, "Remember, It doesn't have to be old . . . to be classic!"
       If I could go back in time, my one and only mission would be to murder all the members of "Heart" while they were still in elementary school. I wrote a song a few years back, "Cleveland Sucks" about Joey Ramone after his death lamenting the induction to the rock hall of fame. "I don't wanna' be for eternity next to Billy Joel, Steely Dan I don't wanna go 'cause everyone knows that Cleveland Sucks, Cleveland Sucks, Cleveland Sucks, Cleveland Sucks, ad infinitum."
       If I was suicidal and wanted to make sure I "ended it all" I would listen to anything by The Eagles to insure a succès fou. I believe that expresses the entirety of my feelings regarding "classic rock."

What were the other influences? Is there a particular rock band you were inspired by or did you start from scratch?

     We listened to an eclectic array of music and would often share new finds with each other. Alice Cooper, Beefheart, David Bowie, The Dolls, Terry Riley, Harry Partch, Love, MC5, Kim Fowley... All heretofore mentioned bands. I do believe one stands on the shoulders of giants, but I would say in reference to our specific eels sound, we did start from scratch... Or in any case tried to synthesise an original noise we heard in our heads.

What about the no drummer situation? Did you try finding one or couldn't you just be bothered? By now the legend has it that you guys used "sheet metal hit with sledgehammers, anvils and a power lawnmower" on stage, was that a way of making up for having no drummer? Who was banging on those things, where did the idea come from and how did the audience react?

Dave

       Davey played (or started) the lawn mower. I used to hit pieces of metal with sledge hammers. The audience was appropriately scared (and confused.) I particularly felt that sledge hammers, the crescent wrench I would have taped to my wrist were just different ways of presenting sound. I was just listening to a live tape from my 1978 band, X___X, and was reminded we did a song that required us to play rip saws. (One could put any other band name between the X's, That night (8/31/78) at the Real World we were proudly X-Charles Manson & The Family-X.)
       We felt we didn't need a drummer (though we eventually opted for one) and felt that bass was antithetical to our guitar sound.

At the time of the electric eels there was no such thing as a "punk-rock scene" as far as I can tell, yet it is now pretty clear that you guys were punks before there was punk. I'm not sure what my question is but I'm fascinated by that... Not by the word "punk", which is just a word obviously, but by the fact you guys existed on your own terms, dressed on your own terms, created music that was clearly your own – things are so different today, in so many ways it's so easy and accepted being an "outsider." What did it feel like, being "punk-rockers" (for lack of a better word) when there was no "punkrock" around?

       We were doing just what came naturally.
       We loved "Oliver Reed" as "King" the leader of a group of Teddy Boys in Joseph Losey's 1963 film These Are the Damned.
       We just sat around (when we weren't practicing) drinking beer, watching TV and discussing nihilism.

The number of shows you've played seems to vary depending on the source. Do you know the exact number? From what I understand you've played three to four times in the same bar in the city of Columbus and three times in Cleveland (two times in the Viking's Saloon, one at the Case Western Reserve University.) Is that accurate, and is there more?

     Two shows at the Viking in Cle, two shows in two different venues in Columbus and the last at Case Western Reverse (as we called it.) Oh, and include one incarceration for me
and Davey.
eels
electric eels, 1975. L to R: Nick Knox, Dave E, Brian McMahon, John Morton. (photo: Michele Zalopany)

You've said the band moved to Columbus pretty early on because you'd slept with a married woman and had to escape Cleveland. Could you share more details on this story and the move itself? How did you convince Dave and Brian to move to Columbus with you? Was the band the reason you all moved there together?

     One of my (married) girlfriends overheard a conversation where some cuckolds said they could get a couple of Hells Angels to kill me for $200. Whether this was a plausible possibility or not, I don't know. It was easy to move back then. Throw your equipment, clothes, LPs in the car and drive, find an apartment and there you were. Dave and Brian came because I said they should. Not that they didn't have wills of their own, it was just one did things on a whim. Cleveland is and was a vacuum, a place to leave.

There are stories of you and Dave E "going to a working-class bar and provoking fights by dancing together as if a homosexual couple." Was that just a one time thing or did it happen often? Was it in Columbus or Cleveland?

     It was Brian McMahon and I that danced together in bars. Dave E was ever so slight & delicate to be caught up in any situation that might speak physical violence. And we weren't necessarily a homosexual couple either in fact or in theory, just two males dancing with each other in order to mind fuck the drunken lumpen prole patrons.

The band is surrounded by an aura of violence (damn that sentence sounds pretty wanky). How much of it is true? Did you fight with audiences at all the gigs? Was there ever an Electric Eels gig with no violence? What about fights between the band members, how often did they happen and what were they about? You've said Dave E wasn't much of a fighter, was it true at all times?

     I was primarily the instigator of violence. (Though Brian once asked me to hit him in the face. I did and broke his jaw.) I felt a sociopath's entitlement to express violence against anyone or anything that crossed my path or upset my delicate sensibilities or balance. We (the eels) collectively took the wrong moral precept out of the Aesop's fable 'A Clockwork Orange.'

How and why did the band break up?

     Just one too many violent episodes. We imploded after the "Case" gig.

What's the total number of people who played in the band. Did you stay in touch with Nick Knox when he joined the Cramps?

     Danny Foland was the first (and never recorded) drummer. Nick was the second. Paul Marotta would replace Brian when Brian was out and vice versa. When we did "The Men from Uncle" tapes, Jim Jones played bass.
       I'm in touch with Paul, I went on tour with him last year with his band, The Styrenes. I email occasionally with Brian to discuss legalities of our great huge electric eels money making concern (facetious). I saw Dave E once a couple years ago and Jamie Klimek told me about him at Jim Jones' memorial service. Jim Jones (yes, when he was alive) and Scott "Cheese" Borger brokered a luincheon where both Nick and I were present. Cheese has started work on a music project where Nick and I will play on some cuts together. I love doing new music.
Nazi HQ
Nazi H.Q. in Cleveland, You source for everything NAZI!

What about the use of the swastika symbol, was that just on the records or also on stage and in day to day life? You can elaborate on that if you feel like it, but I know it's explained in the Eyeball Of Hell liner notes already so feel free to develop or not.

     The swastika (for me) was just left over kids stuff used for shock value. I really didn't conceive of how it would offend the mostly jewish club owners. In the political climate at the time there was a thought that the far right and the far left would meet. (Much of this came from Paul's older brother Michael.) We went down to the Nazi headquarters in Cle just to check in. There was a chap in Nazi garb with a huge swastika flag behind him on the wall and armed with a luger which I presume wasn't a real fire arm. He had some pamphlets including one that said, "Who needs niggers?" and one with a black man, then the equals sign, then a gorilla. We purchased some "White Power" t-shirts, took some pamphlets and left. To show you how naïve I could be, my black friend, Donald Avery, asked me if I could get him a "white power" T-shirt and I insisted he could just go down there and pick one up himself... I don't believe he did.
 
foiled ouch!

How did Rough Trade Records heard about the band and how did they get in touch with you? Do you know the number of copies that has been sold of the record? Do you have a hand in the recent re-release of the Agitated single?

     Jim Jones was a roadie for Pere Ubu on their first euro tour (though later, Jones would play bass for them.) He became friends with writer/music critic Jon Savage. They were in the Ubu van talking and Jones put on an eels practice cassette and Savage went nuts, "Who the fuck is that?" Jon then got hold of Rough Trade and told them they must put out the "Agitated" 45. When Rough Trade contacted Paul, Paul said that the recording quality wasn't good. They said "We don't care if it was recorded in a closet!" pretty way-cool!
       The re-release of the Agitated single was a licensed negotiated deal.

What's your relationship with Scat Records? Is the label runned by a friend of yours? How did the Eyeball 2xLP happen?

     Scat Records is run by Cleveland native Robert Griffin. I never met him. Paul Marotta
brokered the deal with him, but I'm not sure who approached who.

Tell us a bit about your time in the Styrenes.

     I had a great time as a member on the Dymaxion reunion tour. There are some
YouTubes on it.
spligerty-splat

Back to the present – tell us about your life post- electric eels. What have you been up to for the past... fuck, I was gonna say for the past 35 years but that's a lot so feel free to skip some parts! But also feel free to go on for as long as you want. I've read on your website you live in Brooklyn. When did you move away from Cleveland?

mic     I moved from Cle to Brooklyn in 1978. I've lived 200 miles upstate in a little farm town for the past several years. Not in chronological order:
       Get sick, get well. Hang around a ink well / Speed jive don't want to stay alive, When you're twenty five / I've seen the needle and the damage done. / Giganto has had it with you fucks. / Word falling--Photo falling--Breakthrough in Grey Room. / I've been out walking, I don't do to much talking these days. / The past sure is tense, The pasture is tense / Turn Blue you purple knif! / Cool it with the boom-booms / PTSD / Bi-Polar / Heroin Addiction / Alcoholism / Michele Zalopany / Madrid Jail / Surfing / It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. / I would prefer not. / NYC The Tombs / Suicide attempt / Sal Paradise / Dean Moriarty / Old Bull Lee / Holly Block / William Lee / Akbar del Piombo / Alister Crowley / Jean Tinguely / Peter Laughner / Jim Jones / Celia Converse / Scott Borger / Scott Kulpa / Dead Junkies / Laura Kennedy / Brad Field / Charlotte Pressler / The pump don't work / Céline / 9'6" triple glassed Hobie Dana Point / The New Fag Motherfuckers / Last Exit to Brooklyn / Moby Dick / Jill Marotta / Brown rice, seaweed. And a dirty hot dog / Watch waterfalls of self-pity roar / Easy Rider / The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) / Judy Rifka / Paulette Nenner / COLAB / ABC No Rio Dinero / Hepatitis C / Johnny & the Dicks / Cancer / Coma / A Clockwork Orange / My Bible's in the fireplace and my dog lies hypnotized / The Dunking Swine of Chelsea / All he wanted . . . Was to be free . . . And that's the way . . . It turned out to be / Enrico Fermi / Niels Bohr / Wittgenstein / East Deck Motel /

Tell us a bit about your website of post-911 art. Tell us about your art in general. The design for the electric eels website is pure genius, and so are some of the pieces on the mortonia.com site. Have you been making a living with your art?

     I have never made a living with my art, I guess I should have watched some more movies with inaccurate portrayals like Marcello Mastroianni in Shoot Loud, Louder... I Don't Understand (1966) or Dick Miller's tragic tragic portrayal of Walter Paisley in A Bucket of Blood (1959) before I chose to delve headlong into the artiste field, but recently there is a lot of interest in my work. I do occasionally sell some work and get a check from music royalties. I've just been a studio musician with the Cleveland based band, Scarcity of Tanks. I've been offered a show in England.
       I am surprisingly humble at this point in my life. I believe that god . . . (in whom I adamantly do not believe) . . . truly wants me to keep making art and music, because he keeps supplying me with venues, just not the remuneration to go with it. I am actually a credentialed alcohol and substance abuse counsellor, but I haven't been able to land a job in that field. Maybe it's the tattoos on my penis . . . But how do they see that?
       I've started an on-line store to sell eels ephemera (coffee-mugs, posters) and my photos and giclée prints. Come and visit Ye Olde http://mortonium-emporium.com/

Brian McMahon tried to trademark the electric eels name and steal the website domain from you. How did that happen and what was the end result?

     I was in webmaster school at NYU trying to learn a skill that would give me some
kind of income. The days of lugging sheet rock were over!.
       To my very great surprise I was very good with computers, computer graphics and HTML. I had to do a class project for the course and Paul had asked me if I was going to do an eels site. This was still pretty early in the web/internet. I decided that was a great idea, I got all revved and started putting together what exists as the "official fucking electric eels" website. I e-mailed Brian something like, "Hey Brian, I am creating the official fucking electric eels website!!! Would you contribute to it?" At this time a domain name was $70 for a year, this was a bit of coin for me in those days, but I figured I was going to make a stab at webmastering and I did need a place to park my website after the class was over, so on my birthday I decided to splurge and by the name electriceels.com. Imagine . . . Just fucking imagine my surprise to find the domain had been purchased earlier that day by Brian. He said later he didn't think I was gonna' use that name, I said yeah, I was thinking about "Fuck-Me- In –The-Asshole-You-Super-Scumbag-Brian.com" but that domain too was already taken..
       Couple years later, Brian goes and trademarks the name "electric eels." Paul and I , (Dave E. had decided to drop out of the festivities) had to pay lawyers to form an LCC to govern the trademark. I love the electric eels, (oh sorry Brain) I meant the electric eels®©™ but we aren't Thee Monkees®©™. Nothin' like having to pay to use your own band name the whole fucking thing is much fucking ado about nothing.
       I sort of felt bad outing Brian like this . . . then I thought, "Wait a minute, BRIAN was the one who stole the domain name, BRIAN was the one who trademarked the electric eels (oops, sorry again) the electric eels®©™." Not me (or Paul or Davey)

When was the last time you heard about or saw Dave E? Do you know what he's up to these days? Where does he live? When did he become a born again christian? Did that surprise you? Do you know of a way to get more recordings from The Jazz Destroyers (I've only heard "Love Meant To Die")?

     Dave is a very private person, so I want to protect that, I feel I can mention the
following. I met his wife and she had not a clue who I was or that Dave had even been in a
band. I can't say he became "born again" as much as became more strident in his religious
beliefs. I didn't realize it at first, but after a couple years of friendship I discovered that Dave
absolutely believed in the Catholic Church; he just assumed he was doomed to hell for his
behaviour. His brother Mike once said of him, "Davey inherited the dogma of the catholic
religion without any of the faith." I think that was an accurate statement.

To this day are there still unreleased electric eels songs? Practice tapes? Anything?

     To my knowledge, everything has been released at this point.

This isn’t related to the eels, but I’m curious, can you tell me what happened between you and those 8 cops in Madrid in 1994?

blondie       I don't know where you heard about that, but let me relate what happened two weeks prior to my jail time in Madrid excerpted from my upcoming and slanderized unauthorized auto biography "I" to be published in 2012. It all started with a great idea. A real gre
       at super-idea and the genesis of the super-idea will spin a yarn so spine tingling that in fact, it will literally... Tingle your spine...
             "He's always at it, and he's an orgasm addict."
       "Wow!" I exclaimed surprisedly in my head, "Wowwy! The Buzzcocks! Fifteen years too late to be timely and at two in the morning. In Venice of all places! It must be just for me!" I drew that conclusion probably because I was already very fucking drunk . . . and it is all about me. I sought out from whence the sound emanated and found just a regular Venice bar with a few aging (like me) hipsters making up the cliental (which is why they were playing the previously cutting edge Buzzcocks). But I was still going to make it magical. I drank beer until they were getting ready to close . . . still no magic. Then the legerdemain started when I was either in reality or a black out. I heard the only other remaining patron and the bartender talking about bombs, Brigado Russo and the Milano Train Station. I kept my "drunk passed out at the bar act" until just the right moment when I popped my head up and mentioned that I'd overheard most of their conversation. Surprise, the terrorist/bar patron pulled a handgun and aimed it at me. "No need to worry a jot about it; I'm so drunk I won't remember any of this tomorrow!" My impeccable logic won out again as the terrorist/patron lowered his gun and the bartender said something to the effect of "Get the fuck out of here!" But before I left I requested just one more . . . for the road . . . to insure with certainty I would be too drunk to remember. He poured me one. I wasn't trying to push my luck I was just thirsty.
       I became increasingly incensed walking around in labyrinthine Venice. "Why the absolute unmitigated gall! How dare they pull a gun on me and then threaten me like that. After all, I am an American!"
       I was the kind of "American" who would have spat on returning Nam vets and yell "Baby Killer" if I had indeed spent the effort to go to wherever returning vets came into Cleveland. Instead of burning my draft card I just didn't register for the draft, I was a very lazy political protester. I did need a weatherman to tell me where the wind was coming from. Now here I am a few short years later demanding my ugly American rights. I wasn't being duplicitous with the "american" shit, I was just being severely intoxicated. Ah, the great universal! I didn't mean it, I was just drunk. I'm sorry, I was just drunk.
       You've been to Venice . . . or at least seen, "Don't Look Now" with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie? Venice is the very defining of labyrinthine, every canal, piazza, pizza joint, bistro, restaurante, gondola looks the same. You leave a piazza; venture through an infinite number of streets and alleys, little cut throughs, cross innumerable bridges over innumerable canals for forty-five minutes only to walk into what appears to be the same piazza you started out in.
       So I wandered into another little piazza that looked exactly like the one I had fled forty-five minutes earlier and I found another little bistro about to close and made the owner (by threat of violence) call the police! The owner decided the national police would do the trick. About twenty minutes later, three of Sicily's finest eighteen year olds with Uzis, also known as the Carabinieri, arrived.
       The first Carabiniere queried, "Sì Signor, what is it?" I explained to him the frightful urgency with which we should pursue my terrorist adversaries. When I had finished he said simply, "You're drunk Signor, go home."
       Of course I refused accept that response, after all, I'M AN AMERICAN, so the scene was replayed with the second Carabiniere who gave the same answer, "You're drunk Signor, go home."
       Well by jiminy, you don't fluff off this kind of behavior ON AN AMERICAN CITIZEN so I demanded (demanded mind you) to speak with a superior officer. "Sergente!" they called and the even more put out and bored Sergente listened to my account and gave the same answer, "You're drunk Signor, go home."
       Out manned and outgunned I reverted to a rash yet bold tactic that should allow me to overpower the reluctant trio and have the Sergente groveling and begging my forgiveness. And all of this in a trice.
       I would now address and remonstrate our dear Sergente in front of his underlings . . . with the super genius idea master stroke!
       I spouted loudly in my best Italian one of the only phrases I thought I knew. "Va fangul faschista!" ("Fuck you, Fascist!")
       The Sergente slowly and deliberately lowered the Uzi so that it was aimed at my heart.
       The Sergente flipped off the safety.
       The Sergente then put his finger on the trigger . . . (gulp, maybe I had misjudged this one.)
       Providentially, I did not hear a series of hollow pops. Then, fatefully, the two underling Carabinieri threw up their arms and operatically pleaded with the Sergente, "NO!"
       As the two minion Carabinieri held me, the Sergente was beating the fuck out of me with the butt of his Uzi. Each blow life affirming, as I knew the Sergente was being sated by this act and would no longer find it necessary to kill me that particular night. When I regained conscience, I returned to my, "I'm an American Citizen, send assistance immediately" routine and then switched to a more compact and direct, "Help!" That worked much better and soon I was journeying to the hospital in an ambulance that was a boat!

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer. I know that was a lot of questions. Just a last one: in retrospect what do you think of the electric eels? What would you change if you could go back?

     nothin'
alas!
Morton today (photo:John D Morton)
Ugly Things
       I'd (that would be me, John D Morton) like to thank Ugly Things Magazine for permission to web-re-print this article and Alex Simon for a bonzer job as interviewer of the interviewee (again, that would be me, John D Morton.) To order this back issue from Ugly Things, click on the cover.