January 26 2017

Hard to Read: Kool A.D. Launches 'OK' at The Standard, Downtown LA

Los Angeles-Standard Sounds
On November 15, 2016, a handsome crowd assembled in the lobby of The Standard, Downtown LA to celebrate the launch of Victor Vazquez a.k.a. KOOL A.D.’s debut novel OK It was the second event in our new monthly lit series Hard To Read, and our bestseller—we sold out of books, with all proceeds going to Planned Parenthood.

Poet Mira Gonzalez opened the night, followed by Melissa Broder, Saba Moeel, a.k.a. Cult Days (she is also Vazquez’s wife), and Ayesha Siddiqi, who orated (note-free) on POTUS Bush, burning bridges, moments of silence, and saying no, quoting an unnamed Indian poet and George Eliot: “There is no private life which has not been determined by a wider public life,” she said.

Then KOOL read, starting with the first chapter of OK, which ends—synchronistically—with its narrator-protagonist, “KOOL MAN,” a.k.a. “MUHAMMAD X,” and his new bride, “Shirazi,” a.k.a., “KHADIJA X,”  checking into The Standard hotel and conceiving a child.

After the reading, Vazquez, Moeel, and their young child spent the night in the hotel. The next morning, I met with Vazquez in the lobby-side restaurant to talk about his book and related work (he’s also a rapper, astrologer, and an artist). Most of that conversation was published by the Los Angeles Review of Books. The rest is published here, gently chopped and screwed to cohere. 

FIONA ALISON DUNCAN: Thanks for doing this. Last night really set the standard, so to speak, for what I want to do with the series. I’ve worked in bookstores for years, and while events in that context can get to that electric whatever, it’s rare. Most readings are…staid. So thanks again. You drove in from Baja last night, right? That’s where you live? What’s it like?
KOOL A.D.: Baja’s tight. It’s like the most Mexican parts of California that you might have found yourself in. Super mellow. We’re right by the beach. Been there about a year. There are a lot of natural things. Pretty good taco stands here and there. It’s still pretty country-rough, dirt roads, you know. And there are little pioneer problems that you run into — the water pump, stuff like that...
 
Where did you grow up?
San Francisco and Alameda mostly — Oakland and Berkeley. The Bay area.
 
Do you go back there often?
Yeah. More now that I have this kid.
 
I want a baby so bad it’s disgusting.
[Laughs] Ah man, all it takes is…
 
I know I know. [Laughs] Low key: this whole series is really just designed to find a person who will seed me.
I’m sure there’s plenty man.
 
They gotta be responsible though.
Well that changes the whole thing. But organizing book readings, I’m sure you can—
 
Find a responsible one?
Exactly.
 
So, the mysterious woman, the wife and mother character in OK I was disappointed she wasn’t more present.
That’s kinda her [Saba Moeel’s] brand. She likes to be a purveyor, silently producing. I was holding back a little, being polite. All the characters in OK are a little caricaturish because I find it interesting to play with the bigger ideas.
 
Woman is often occult. Like Mama Matrix Most Mysterious.
I think a lot of male writers know better than to try and write a woman cause they know they’ll get it wrong. Actually—I really was just talking about myself — can't speak for all male writers. I'd amend “know better than to” with “am afraid to.” [Laughs]
 
Maybe we’re almost always talking about ourselves…my questions included. I was just reflecting on this. Like, how can I be less “myself” while interviewing? I fear putting words in people’s mouths, projecting, etc. Maybe we can talk about that, if it’s interesting to you—the responsibility of using language.
I agree—whatever we talk about we’re mostly talking about ourselves, so the more we can remember that and treat that idea with honesty, the less likely we are to abuse the power of language probably.
 
You quote a ton of musicians, writers, movies, and TV in OK It’s almost like a syllabus. Like if someone was a real fan and wanted to lurk your world —
[Laughs] The raps are pretty referential, the literature, too. The nature of art these days is super referential—the postmodern condition and all that stuff.

What are some of your favorite books and writers, or... creators?
Most of my favorite books are nonfiction like The Autobiography of Malcolm XThe People's History of the United States, Black Elk Speaks, Mingus' memoir, Hawkings' Brief History of TimeBlues PeoplePlease Kill MeRip It Up and Start Again, the biography of Muddy Waters, the Captain Beefheart biography, The Art of WarThe Bible, The Torah, The Koran, The Bhagavad Gita, The Tao Te Ching… Big fan of Hunter Thompson. Also a big fan of Charles Bukowski, John Fante, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Haruki Murakami, Junichiro Tanizaki, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Roberto Bolaño, James Baldwin, Laura Esquivel, Zora Neale Thurston, Sister Souljah, Vlad Nabokov, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Maxim Gorky, Dave Foster Wallace, Tommy Pynchon, Ken Kesey, Ray Carver, Flannery O'Connor, Tao Lin, Mira Gonzalez, Noah Cicero, Danzy Senna, Arundhati Roy, Jamaica Kincaid, bell hooks, Zadie Smith, Junot Diaz, Porochista Khakpour, Alex Chee, Stan Parish, Intisar Abioto, Collier Meyerson, Tecla Esposito, Kassa Overall, Guillermo Brown, Will Johnson, Ashok Kondabolu, Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, Pat Mooney, Dave Chappelle, Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Hedburg, Saul Williams, Amiri Baraka, Gil Scott Heron, Eldridge Cleaver, Iceberg Slim, Tupac Shakur, MF Doom, Lil B, Young L, Foucault, Zizek, Walter Benjamin, Adorno, Karl Marx, Paulo Freire, Frantz Fanon, Cornel West, E-40, Too Short, Boots Riley, Andre 3000, Killer Mike, El P, Big Boi, Talib Kweli, Yasiin Bey, Hakim Bey, John Zerzan, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Jean Michel Basquiat, Legs McNeil, Rammellzee, Rumi, Captain Beefheart, Ornette Coleman, the Wu Tang Clan, Nathan Heller, Richard Linklater, Godard, Wong Kar Wai, Ai Weiwei, Cai Guo Qiang, Philip Guston, Laylah Ali, Marina Abramovic, Sol Lewitt, Carroll Dunham, Louise Bourgeois, Alice Neal, Melissa Carroll, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Tino Sehgal, Jackson Pollock, Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, Miles Davis, Betty Davis, Prince, Kanye, Kim Kardashian, James Bond, Abe Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Chris Dorner, Ice T, Ice Cube, Master P, Mac Dre, Rappin 4-Tay, Rakim, Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Bob Marley, Lee Perry, Obama, Farrakhan, Al Sharpton, Spike Lee, Charles Burnett, Fela Kuti, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Spoek Mathambo, Janka Nabay, Miriam Makeba, Chinua Achebe, Meshell Ndegeocello, Isa Nakazawa, Ana Portilla, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Muhammad Ali, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Beyoncé, Solange, Jay-Z, Jaz-O, Nas, Dame Dash, Funkmaster Flex, Ebro, Amaze 88, Loren Motor, Fab 5 Freddy, Martin Luther King, Malosi, Browntourage, HRNL, Cool Reve, Cult Days, my sister, my parents, my extended family, my daughter...
 
Last Q. Your book is humorous, jokester-like. I was thinking about the tattoo on your arm [a yin yang], the yang more than the yin? In your tattoo, the dark’s not filled in...
I guess, like, you know how some hippie funerals have little pamphlets or banners that are like, we're not mourning the death of so-and-so, we're celebrating the life of so-and-sothat kinda like, half-full perspective? I fucks with that. Not to the extent that I think we should ignore pain and sadness and whatever, but just that there’s so much more utility to joy—it’s the definitively preferable thing.
 
What I dig about the yin yang is that the yin got a yang dot and the yang got a yin dot, which I guess is like the whole point. [Laughs] A yin yang is such a beautifully simple and elegant shorthand for duality and its essentially illusory nature.
 
Dudes ask why I didn't color it in—they seem to think I'm trying to say I'm like an all yang type dude, but the linework already describes the concept to me, it's like a blueprint of a yin yang. Plus I'm half black, half white, so my skintone is already a yin yang. Plus I didn't want dude sticking a needle into my arm for another hour. Maybe I'll fill it in later, but I like it how it is now. I don't think it makes the yin any less present if it’s less overtly stated, which I guess is how I feel about the book, too?
Writer
Fiona Alison Duncan
Photographer
Paul Olaechea