The Shrubbery
July 1999
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Permanet Midnight by Jerry Stahl

A review by Gordon Dymowski

Permanent Midnight You know, normally, I don't like reading books or seeing movies that relate to my chosen field, namely,substance abuse counseling. It's kind of like a car mechanic reading Motor Trend, or Larry Flynt perusing the latest issue of Penthouse - yeah, you could, but why be reminded at home of the stuff you have to deal with 9-5? Personally, I prefer more simplistic fare, like the comics Starman and the recently canceled Sandman Mystery Theater. But I figured that, after reading this book, I'd pipe in my two cents about it. This is a way cool book, and not just for the obvious reasons.

Basically, the book is Jerry Stahl's recount of all the drugs that he took, and all of the crap that he pulled. Most of that crap was writing for television shows, most notably Alf and thirtysomething. Yes, this may sound like one of those "Oh, woe is me, here's all the stuff that I did under the influence" kind of books...and yes, they've already made a movie, featuring Ben Stiller. Although the movie is really cool, read the book. Trust me, you'll dig it.

One of the great absurdities of the book - as Stahl points out again and again - is how it seems to suggest that, in order to write for episodic television, you almost need to be on drugs. Of course, there's something almost perverse about having an addict write for not only a show about whiny baby boomers, but also for a puppet alien from outer space. (Sadly, the movie doesn't deal with these "real" shows, substituting really thinly disguised versions in their place). As Stahl notes with insight (and I'm paraphrasing here), "Creativity has nothing to do with writing for television. Your job, in writing for tv, is sounding exactly the way the pilot was written." You know the old saying, truth is stranger than fiction? It gets proven repeatedly in this book. You'll especially dig the early story involving Jack Klugman. (And no, I am not going to repeat it here...I'd only spoil a book if it were total crap. This isn't crap.)

And yes, in this book, you'll get a lot of drug use and drug references, so much so that some parent with nothing better to do will complain that Stahl is glorifying drug use. Far from it - in fact, he neither adopts a Jack Webb-esque "just the facts, ma'am" prose nor does he go into another "just say no" rant. His writing style presents not only "the facts", but also a context - this is probably the only other autobiography I've read that doesn't sound completely whiny or self-satisfied. (There is, of course, Wake Up, I'm Fat, by Camryn Mannheim, and if you send me enough money, and maybe arrange for a night of passion with said actress, and say please a lot, I'll write a review for the August Shrub. Maybe.) It's actually refreshing to read an author worry about the effect that his confessions are going to have on his young daughter, assorted compatriots, etc. This isn't another whiny, tedious tell-all.

I strongly recommend this book, and give it four out of four stars. My only piece of advice is that you don't see the movie after reading the book. Trust me, the movie reads like the writer/director just chopped up the novel, took out the best bits, and strung them together. If you've seen the movie, then read the book anyway, because if they ever did film the book, it would be rated NC-17. It's that good.

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