In Alarm, Mick O’Grady is a young man who is struggling in a way familiar to anyone who has grown up working class or lower middle-class. His family, his parents, a context of where he came from, is absent. There is no one to co-sign for an apartment or cover tuition. O’Grady lived in another city before he moved to Los Angeles. His mother is maybe back wherever he came from, somewhere else that is not where he is at in the beginning of the novel. O’Grady is dirt poor. At one time he was less poor, at least wealthy enough that he has a library of books and CDs to sell when his money runs out. He sells his Sonic Youth CDs to buy vegan patties not because he is vegan but because vegan patties are cheaper than meat patties. Books and music and vegan patties are interchangeable to O’Grady; they are objects required for his sustenance.
O’Grady lives in a crummy apartment. The books opens with a sequence of brutally crummy jobs. He gets a job unloading bags of cement from a truck. Everyone at the warehouse unloads cement from the truck by hand for some inexplicable reason. My first job involved similar rituals, the warehouse work was less about performing something of use than merely doing what I was told. O’Grady unloads cement. He gets a job for several days putting together pens. When he gets enough money for food he buys some food, and he also buys a CD.
O’Grady is not into entertainment. Rather these objects provide contact with people who don’t live the lives that he lives. These objects are not escapism, which is a kind of avoidance, but instead provide access to escape or liberty, I guess. He collects this work not in the way that consumers collect objects in order to have a collection, but rather he collects books and music in order to gain knowledge of the object under consideration that is, whoever produced it. This consumption is like scholar attempting to master the subject instead of a collector trying to complete their collection.
O’Grady manages to find allright work at a health food store and at a coffee shop. The coffee shop has open mics. O’Grady gradually becomes the host. Other people like O’Grady come through the coffee shop to take part in the open mics. They read poetry. They perform stand up comedy. They play music for their friends. These people are aware of each other. This all happens in Los Angeles, the epicenter of what is supposed to be the caustic, end-of-culture as we know it mass media. In this context, among people who do not have the appropriate professional certification from MFA programs or “industry connections,” culture is manufactured and ideas are passed from poet to comedian to folk singer.
In the course of O’Grady’s failing relationship and the open mic, he discovers a Portland, Oregon, writer named Kevin Sampsell, the same Kevin Sampsell who publishes Future Tense Books. Sampsell publishes zines and pamphlets and anthologies. Sampsell becomes the object of O’Grady’s study. O’Grady writes Future Tense Books to acquire everything ever published by Kevin Sampsell. O’Grady becomes an expert on what he calls, Sampsenellia. In turn Sampsell replies to O’Grady. In turn Sampsell becomes aware of O’Grady.
Kevin Sampsell as portrayed here is just a guy who writes and publishes books. He publishes books in the way some people fix their cars or build their own electronic gadgets.
O’Grady decides to move to Portland. Oddly this isn’t creepy. There is little (aside form his compulsive collector tendencies) of the fanboy or stalker to O’Grady, although looking the book out of the context, it seems like O’Grady might be excessively both. O’Grady isn’t freakish because he remains interested in the public text produced by Sampsell in the same way he is interested in the discography of Sonic Youth rather assuming the private life of Thuston Moore by killing him and kidnapping the widowed Kim Gordon. If O’Grady began to wear a Sampsell suite or something the book would stray into the underground Mark Chapman Saga. Sampsell and Portland represent a kind of cultural grace to O’Grady where there is no clear division between writer and audience. Writers and audience mix. Writers read readers, and readers read writing. In the end, to give away the ending, O’Grady find a kind of cultural grace.
It would be remiss not to mention that fact that the book also comes with two CDs. The CDs are very well produced. The spoken word section contains large swaths of book performed by Mike Daily that while are spoken word are also a lot more musical than your typical person performing their poetry or prose of the microphone. Many of the pieces are outright songs and several parts of the book come out as pretty good songs. The entire book comes as a bundle of postcards, stickers, two CDs, and the book itself. While it echoes the commercialism or consumerism of a kind of mass produced object it an expressive object that is clearly the result of a single sensibility rather than the marketing arm of some media company. A bookstore, I suspect, would not know what to do with Alarm. Is it music? Is it a magazine? Is it a book? A reader however knows what is knows now to read it and listen to it and stick stickers to the backside of traffic sings or whatever it is you do with stickers. The book points to the fact that far from bookstores and print being dead, there are tremendous possibilities in what can be a book and what can be read as a book.
You can get a copy or find out aboutAlarm at Mick O’Grady.