#58: Jason Heller
Jason Heller says he’s been a jack-of-all-trades — blue-collar warehouse worker, record-store clerk, itinerant musician and drunkard. He's also an erstwhile Denver journalist who occasionally still writes for this publication. But with age, Heller honed his many interests into one humming machine that works, really well — and today, he’s a published writer of books and articles for national magazines, a bandleader and a popular throwback DJ with regular gigs. Life apparently begins at whatever the heck age Heller is, and he has plenty to say about that for the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Jason Heller: I grew up poor, hungry and angry. Strangely enough, poverty, hunger and anger are the things that fueled my creativity when I was young. I’m a little less of all of these things now, so I try to rely on more positive muses these days. Joy is the best revenge.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
If I could hang out with J. G. Ballard, Curtis Mayfield and Poly Styrene to discuss the comparative philosophy of futurism over herbal tea, I’d consider my existence fulfilled. All three are deceased, though, which is probably for the best, since I’m super-introverted and get totally tongue-tied at parties.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
I guess I’m involved in three fields: writing, live music and deejaying. But they’re all related in the sense that their respective communities tend to spark both synergy and shitty politics. I’ve been doing creative stuff in Denver since the early ’90s, and I don’t see this dynamic being much different these days. The same positives and negatives are still there, only on a bigger scale now that Denver has grown so much. I used to be in the trenches of the local scene — writing about it, putting on shows, and paying maybe too much attention to what was going on. Now I just keep my head down and do what I love.
How about globally?
I’ve had some extremely positive experiences getting involved with various literary and musical communities outside of Denver, especially as online networking, kvetching and creative commiseration has become so commonplace and easy. And like I said, I’m pretty introverted, so being part of an online scene that’s loosely knit is more my speed. But I try not to spend too much time and energy thinking about creativity as creativity or community as community nowadays. I used to do that so much it made my head spin — and kept me from actually creating. And at a certain point, it just gets way too myopic.
What's your day job?
Doing creative stuff is my sole source of income, and it has been for a while now. But earlier in life I spent many years operating the cash register at Wax Trax, where I worked for ten years, as well as pulling orders in warehouses. I have far more respect for people who put in a hard day’s work sweating their asses off and/or serving people than I do for people who whine about how tough it is to make money being creative. Maybe it’s because I grew up poor, but it doesn’t take much to make me comfortable and happy.
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as a creative?
My upcoming book — Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Science Fiction Exploded — is by far the accomplishment I’m proudest of. It’s being published by Melville House in June, and since it’s distributed by Random House, the book will be everywhere. That means a lot to me, because these two topics, music and science fiction, are my favorite things in the world. I’ve been writing articles for years about how the two overlap, and getting to do so on such a huge scale is insanely fulfilling. This isn’t my first book and it won’t be my last, but I can say for sure that no other book of mine will ever be as much of a pure expression of who I am, for whatever that’s worth. That’s why I got into this whole creativity thing in the first place: to express myself, simple as that.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
I’ve had one novel published, a political satire called Taft 2012, but it wasn’t really the book I’d wished it had been. A decent first effort, maybe, but I have two other completed drafts of novels I’m in the process of revising right now, and I can’t wait to put a novel into the world that I can truly own and that fully reflects me as a writer. Strange Stars is nonfiction, and I will always love writing in that genre, but I’m ready to make a fictional statement I can stand behind and scream, “Yeah, this is me!”
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I moved here in 1985, and I have zero desire to live anywhere else. I lived in some real shitholes back east in states like Florida and West Virginia, and relocating to Denver when I was kid saved my life. People who can remember Denver circa 1985 might not say it was a paragon of culture at the time, but for me, the city was far bigger than anything I’d ever seen. I mean, I thought punk rock was something from TV and the movies; I didn’t know punks actually existed until I moved to Denver. And sure enough, within a few years, I was one. I’m pretty sure that if I’d never ended up in Denver, I’d be the assistant manager at a reptile store in Port Charlotte, Florida. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just not for me. On top of that, my wife, Angie, is a native Denverite with deep family roots here, and that’s all the more reason for me to stay.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
This is going to sound incredibly self-serving of me, but honestly, this isn’t about me at all. Jennie Mather is the singer of my band, Weathered Statues, and she’s incredible. We’ve known each other for many years — she’s married to one of my oldest friends — and she and I first had the idea to play music together around 2000. We formed a very short-lived shoegaze group called Hyacinth, and it was Jennie’s first band, but it was obvious at the time that she had so much talent and depth as a vocalist.
She and her husband, John, were later in a group called the Nervous, which I’d easily say was one of the best punk bands in Denver history. About a year ago, Jennie and I started a new project called Weathered Statues (along with bassist Bryan Flanagan and drummer Andrew Warner, both of whom are also amazing). We went in more of a dark, post-punk direction — and all of a sudden, she was doing stuff both vocally and lyrically that I’d only guessed she’d be able to do. I’m blown away every time she comes to practice with a new set of vocals and words. She could sing over a garbage disposal and it would sound amazing. Maybe I’ll switch from guitar to garbage disposal, just to see.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
Weathered Statues’ debut album, Borderlands, is being released by Svart Records in April, so we’re gearing up to do some touring behind that. Lol Tolhurst, a co-founder of the Cure, remixed one of our songs for the album, and we’re hoping that helps draw some attention to it. Our drummer, Andrew, is also in Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, so who knows, maybe we’ll wind up doing some dates with them. Also, I’ll be doing a book tour for Strange Stars this summer.
I also have to finish a couple more book projects before summer, both of them with collaborators. Mechanical Animals is an anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories that I’m editing with Selena Chambers, and it’s coming out in November through Colorado’s own Hex Publishers. I’m also putting together a nonfiction book about the history of science fiction and fantasy with Desirina Boskovich for Abrams Books; it’s titled Starships & Sorcerers, and I still have tons of work to do on that.
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Then I have my two monthly DJ nights at Syntax Physic Opera, Funk Club (’70s and ’80s funk) and Mile High Soul Club (’60s soul) to keep up with. I’m also kicking another DJ project of mine into higher gear in 2018: 45s Against 45 is an all-vinyl, anti-Trump dance party and benefit for the ACLU that I came up with last year. I’ve done a handful of them so far, mostly at the hi-dive, and they’ve been super-successful. So I’m going to start doing them on a regular, once-every-two-months schedule at the hi-dive starting in March. I used to have a weekly ’80s dance night at the hi-dive called Off the Wall, so that place just feels like home to me. And getting to raise money to help the ACLU fight Trump is just the cherry on the whipped cream.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local creative community in the coming year?
Although he’s already been featured as one of Westword’s Colorado Creatives, I think R. Alan Brooks is only beginning to blow up. I’ve gotten to know Alan over the past couple years, and the guy is built out of integrity — he’s someone who rolls up his sleeves and gets shit done, and done his way, rather than just sitting and talking about what he wants to do. He’s also a fellow multi-tasker: a graphic novelist, a podcaster and a live performer. I can relate to and respect that. Even better, I think he expresses a point of view that Denver could always use more of — raw, conscious, funny, thoughtful and real.