Me & Mr. Cigar

Me & Mr. Cigar
By Gibby Haynes
[Soho Teen Press]

Yeah, it’s not that uncommon when aging punks and indie rockers shift genres from music to, ahem, literature. I mean, being a novelist is in some ways easier (and perhaps more profitable) than being a musician. It doesn’t entail the tedium and tribulations of interacting with bandmates, touring – you know, doing musician kinda stuff. For example, there’s The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle, whose 2017, adult fare horror novel, Universal Harvester (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), reaped fair to middling sales, quasi legitimacy, and probably a small handful of cash. And then there’s the Mr. T Experience’s Frank Portman (a.k.a. Dr. Frank), who made freakin’ bank with two installments of the King Dork series and another teen novel, Andromeda Klein (all published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers).

So it’s not that much of surprise that Butthole Surfers main man/auteur Gibby Haynes has seen fit to delve into the profitable abyss of young adult fiction with his literary debut, Me & Mr. Cigar. Yeah, that guy, Gibby Haynes. I’m talking about the diaper clad (and/or oftentimes naked), clothespin festooned leader of the band that was, for a brief sliver of time, the weirdest, dirtiest and most drugged-out band of America’s post-hardcore underground. Thankfully, Haynes survived all that inspired nonsense to become something of a wise and wizened, shall I say it, “elder statesman?”

Anyway, Haynes’ foray into teen literature, much like the Butthole Surfers’ oeuvre, is a bit iffy. Sure, there are moments of humor, revulsion and inspiration lurking amongst the book’s 200+ pages. But persevering through the labyrinthine twists and turns of Haynes’ convoluted plot proves to be more than a bit of a Sisyphean onus. More simply put, this shit is confusing. Honestly, I doubt I’d have made it through the book if it weren’t for the reason that it was written by the Gibby Haynes, that guy, and isn’t it wild that after all decades of lysergic dissipation, he’s written a freakin’ teen novel, of all things? Who wouldda thunk it?

The book is a surrealist bildungsroman about a 17-year-old boy, G. Oscar Lester III, and his telepathic dog, (you guessed it) Mr. Cigar. Oscar and Mr. Cigar embark on an odyssey of adventures that include, but are by no means limited to, Oscar’s drinking an LSD and MDMA dosed Red Bull energy drink, hosting illegal rave parties for quick ’n’ easy money, Mr. Cigar biting off Oscar’s sister Rachel’s hand, dealing MDMA, entanglements with corrupt cops and politicians, and, eventually, a road trip to New York City to free Rachel, who is being held hostage. (I didn’t do a spoiler alert because, well, I’ve spoiled nothing. That was confusing at best, wasn’t it? I wish I could say it would make more sense when and if you read the book. But I can’t.)

There is a degree of charm and artistry scattered amongst Mr. Cigar’s psychedelic miasma. First of all, there’s Hayne’s discernible reverence for the genre of kid’s books. Hell, the exposition in the first few pages is practically a “once upon a time” setup. Haynes certainly isn’t portraying an idyllic adolescence here, but he nevertheless idealizes the coming-into-beingness and infinite possibility of the teenage era. Perhaps Haynes himself got mired in a state of perpetual adolescence? Whatever. Anyway, Hayne’s obvious warmth and affection for his characters and for the idea of youth in general renders a book that exudes warmth and benevolence. (Believe it or not, I was not trying to damn Mr. Cigar with faint praise in the prior sentence, as tepid as the phrase, “exudes warmth and benevolence” may seem. There really is something, well, sweet about this book. Really.)

Still, there is a giant sticking point with Mr. Cigar. Gibby Haynes is fucked up. And this book is fucked up. Haynes probably intended for the book to be fucked up – but that doesn’t make it one iota easier to read. While Haynes may have been striving for magical realism ala Marquez, dissociative time/space/meaning fracturing ala Burroughs, or Proustean stream of consciousness, the end result is an oftentimes garbled mess that, well, it gets waaaay tiresome. Sorry, but here’s the honest truth: Most people just won’t have the necessary patience for poor Mr. Cigar. And it’s not like the book’s myriad loose ends get tied off in the end, either. Like, wow. It’s, like, a pointless trip, man.

And this leads us to the burning question of who Mr. Cigar’s real target audience is.

This is nothing new, but there’s a disturbing trend among middle aged parents to try to push ’80s and indie music culture to their teenage kids. You know the deal. There are those parents who force feed their children a steady musical diet of bands like The Replacements and The Pixies (or, for that matter, The Replacements and Pixies’ postmodern, mutant spawn, Beach Slang). I mean, what was cooler than The Replacements and The Pixies back in the day? And what is cooler in the present than Beach Slang? (Pretty much everything is cooler than Beach Slang, FYI.) So, if “the kids” like those bands, they’ll be cool, right? Sure, The Replacements were a pretty great, cool band. And Pixies were sometimes OK. But a 15-year-old kid who loves The Replacements in 2020 is not “cool.” A 15-year-old kid who loves The Replacements in 2020 is a dork who loves oldies from their dad’s vinyl collection. Feh.

The Butthole Surfers were couple of popularity/coolness tiers below The Replacements in the ’80s. And Gibby Haynes is the Butthole Surfers’ Paul Westerberg, an icon of cool from a bygone era. So, “cool dads” everywhere are going to push Mr. Cigar on their teenage kids.

I find it hard to believe that young people are really going to like Mr. Cigar. And I find it a further stretch to think they’ll even read it. (Here we go with “kids today.”) Kids today don’t read books. And, if they did, Gibby Haynes wouldn’t be their go-to author. The burning truth is that Mr. Cigar’s core audience is going to end up being 50-something men who loved the Butthole Surfers “back in the day.” It’s not necessarily a bad thing for 50-somethings (and, baby, I’m one too) to read Mr. Cigar, but it is what it is. And “what it is” is albeit a well-intended, meandering screed by an acid-fuddled, aging indie/punk icon. That’s OK. But it’s merely OK.

If only GG Allin were still alive today. He could rewrite Everyone Poops for the “cool” toddlers of 2020. Yeah, if only. And so it goes. I’m really, really glad I don’t have a stupid kid.