Poets Online Talking About Coffee: R.M. O’Brien

Your favourite drink is Diet Mountain Dew, of course. But would you switch to coffee if it is was served in an official Big Gulp container?

No, I would never. In fact I wouldn’t drink a DMD of that size anymore, either. I mean the biggest Big Gulp. I think there are multiple sizes. I was on tour w/ my band Nuclear Power Pants in 2005. We were Somewhere in the South — Georgia? the Carolinas? — and we stopped at a 7-Eleven. They were doing this weird deal where fountain drinks were 39 cents or something no matter what the size. The biggest size offered was 64 oz – half a gallon. My brother (who was in the band) and I were like, Well this is a no-brainer, and we each got a 39-cent, 64-oz Mtn Dew (I didn’t do Diet then). So we’re driving around with our Super Wicked Big Gulps or whatever you call them. And, you know, we’re nursing them so long that they get warm and go flat and whatever, and it was like this revelation. We weren’t geniuses, and there are limits to desire. But back to the point at hand. I have never been able to hack coffee. I don’t like the flavour in ice cream or in some weird chocolate thing. It could be the world’s sweetest café au lait — I would not dip my beignet in it.

So, the people want to know, how and why have you moved onto diet?

I was doing like 40 to 48 ounces of Mountain Dew most days. I got to a point where I could drink a tallboy of Mtn Dew and immediately go to sleep. (That sounds like a brag or whatever, but, believe me, I tell you this w/ great shame.) I decided I was going to kick Mtn. Dew with Diet Mtn. Dew. I really didn’t like the taste of Diet at all. I made the rule that if I wanted Mtn Dew it had to be Diet. That worked sort of for a while, I would only down like 12 ounces a day because it just wasn’t that enjoyable. Then, of course, I developed a taste for a Diet, and here we are.

Tears fall like Diet, don’t they? 

My tears do.

Just how obsessed with Springsteen are you? Tattoos? Courtney Cox posters?

I’ve recently gotten quite religious — which I don’t mean as a boast — which is to say to truly be religious is to be moral & compassionate & good — and all I mean is that I spend more and more of my time praying and reading — but anyway, since I’ve gotten more “religious” I really try not to be obsessed with anything and not to participate in celebrity so much. Like, did you know that Walt Whitman was a hopeless racist? (Maybe Brits see him as a provincial kind of writer, but he’s a big, big deal over here and has inspired generations who are better than his brutality.) I don’t know anything bad about Bruce Springsteen, but I’d rather not treat artists as if they are gurus or deities or whatever anymore. Saints maybe, but compassionately and in spite of themselves. But I will tell you this: I have his first four records memorized. I cried when the remastered Born to Run came out packaged with Hammersmith Odeon concert film. I discovered that the Darkness sessions were finally being put out when I heard “Save My Love” on the radio, and I had to pull over and figure out what was happening to me. I gave a “lecture” on the arc of his early career as part of the Wham City Lecture Series in Baltimore. (During which I THINK I gravely offended the guy who wrote the 33-1/3 on Born in the U.S.A. but I’m not sure. That guy later trashed a play of mine, and of course I’d like to believe it was some kind of Springsteen beef.) I’ve retracked fantasy versions of The River and Born in the U.S.A./Nebraska using alternate takes and cut songs. Used to be, I couldn’t handle anything after Darkness on the Edge of Town (too many misters and sirs), but now I’m into all of it. I mean, in “Dancing in the Dark” he’s singing “I’m sick of sitting ’round here trying to write this book” — that’s pretty special I think. That was the no. 2 song on the radio..

Yes, I’ve played Dancing in the Dark on the jukebox many times. Do you listen to music while you write?

I do. I do. Sometimes. I do the bulk of my writing in my head while I’m doing menial tasks, sort of charging up with ideas. Then I sit down to type and put music on loud. I prefer something instrumental, Morton Feldman, Peter Brotzmann, Ornette Coleman (Skies of America is a go-to), but occasionally — and embarrassingly — something with vocals: Laurie Anderson, Vic Chesnutt, et al. Embarrassing only because admitting so incites accusations about lack of focus. Oh well. I used to write music listening to music. Sometimes I like silence, but I can never work for as long that way. I get jittery after a few minutes and can’t stay in my seat.

What do you do?

I tend to use music as a break from writing (pop-punk, hair metal). Although sometimes I’ll play something instrumental (jazz, classical). I’ve just been reminded of my beef with the author of the Use Your Illusions 33-1/3 book. It’s an attack on Izzy Stradlin, really. And he’s not down with Estranged.

You’re a GNR fan? I guess Wikipedia tells me that had “worldwide success” but I find it hard to imagine they would have much appeal outside of the United States. Do you all watch Duck Dynasty?

Of course! Slash was born down the road from here. He was raised in Stoke-on-fuckin’-Trent, man.

I’ve never seen Duck Dynasty. The Mad take on it put me off.



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