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Brian Panowich: Rock 'n Roll, Batman and Hillbilly Lit

RICH AND I fumble putting singles into Brian Panowich’s G-string.

 “No, dude. Lincolns only,” Panowich says, lording over me at the edge of the stage. I snap the George Washington in the thin strip of waistband material hard enough to leave a welt. It looks at home with all the other welts he already has. Part of Panowich’s stage presence, his flair, is to taunt the men as he catwalks round, snapping that thing. Grubbing for bills.

It’s been a rough night, but it’s paid well. Which is good, because ol’ Ryan here needs a new hip after what Brian did to me last week.

“Hey, have you seen Joe and Tom?” Panowich asks, kneeling down. All the dudes at the stage cheer and Panowich smiles, does his signature no-pants-hand-stand for them. Everybody rants. Everybody raves. Something wet hits me on the cheek. I ignore it, much to my chagrin.

“No,” I say, stub out a smoke.

Rich leans in. “Last I saw, they were still doing touch-and-goes over at that Supple Hands joint you took me to.”

That was hours ago.

“All right,” Panowich says as he drops back down, collects bills scattered along the runway. “If you guys want, meet me in the Celebrity Room. Text Joe and Tom or whatever. They’re supposed to do a triple-decker with me later.”

Last triple-decker I was involved in threw out my back for a month. I’ve been sober since 2003 but that was enough to drive me to get thirsty again.

Rich and I stand up; walk through the throngs of salivating, skeezy customers and over to the dude at the velvet rope. Rich has a hard time keeping a straight line. Whatever that orange pill was he took over at The Supple Hands has him teetering and bleary-eyed. That’s not good, considering the gun he has tucked in his belt.

The dude is dressed like all the bouncers here: khakis, polo, ‘roided out muscles. I’m sure somewhere in there is a barbed wire tattoo and dreams of being in the WWE. At the velvet rope I lean in, say, “Brian Panowich has reserved us the Celebrity Room.” The dude stares. Doesn’t move. He’s probably sick of hearing the sounds coming out of that place.

“So let us in.” I say. Still staring. Nothing.

Rich clears his throat. That vein throbs in his forehead, the one that says he’s getting ready to go drill sergeant on someone’s ass. His vent pops, he pulls out his iron, stuffs it in the guy’s face. “The only kind of velvet I tolerate has an Elvis painted on it.”

The dude gawks. I would as well if I had eighteen pounds of blue steel itching up my nostril. I’m surprised the dude don’t piss his drawers. Maybe he don’t speak no English. I hold up a hand. “What my friend means is the rope needs to move and we need to go inside. He hates velvet. Please understand he’s whacked out of his mind right now, so some of the things he says don’t translate well.”

The dude relents, unsnaps the damn thing and we blow on past. Rich shoves the iron down his pants again just as Panowich shrugs on a robe and starts walking our way, his tittie tassels jiggling with each step. The only problem is, Rich, still fired up from almost killing that guy, he shoves the gun too hard.

Fires it. In his pants.

“Holy shit Ryan! Some dude done blasted off my jimmy!” Rich shouts, pulls the gun back out. Never sees the blood spray on his own damn barrel. Just turns around, holding the gun in one hand. He then yanks out a second gun—one I never knew he had—and goes apeshit. Screaming like a banshee. The DJ shits his pants. Music cuts like it were a bad record. Lights come up, bodies rain down.

The all-male, all-nude, all-inclusive joint Brian Panowich single-handedly put on the map turns into a hot zone straight out of Afghanistan. Bullets everywhere. Fire. Dead bodies. Rich running around fucking the place up like no one will believe, even after they see it on tomorrow morning’s news.

And through all of it, Panowich easily strolls up to me with that Southern swagger of his. Dudes getting shot in the back, their guts bursting out through their belly in one big wash of intestine and goo.  He sidesteps his manager—well, the upper half of his manager, still feebly reaching out for Brian with one crimson-soaked hand—and takes me by the arm. Gently. Puffs his cigarette.

“Let’s go into the room and do this interview,” he says as Rich stumbles around, massacring employees and patrons alike as a red blossom fills the crotch of his pants and sends two thick runners down his legs.

To the soundtrack of people screaming like animals run over in the road and Rich hooting and hollering, I ask my first question.

***

Define noir for the masses, please.

Noir is the other side of things. It’s the shit that happens in the negative space. Take anything bright and shiny, or mundane and ordinary, and turn over the stone, all the ugly dealings happening in the dirt underneath, in the shadows, is what noir is about to me. That’s the thing that keeps people interested whether they want to admit it or not. People love stories about fuck-ups fucking up. Look at all the great antagonists in pulp and crime stories through the years, Sam Spade, Joe Gillis, Jake Gittes, Marv and Dwight from Sin City, they’re all fuck-ups. Even the cool ones, the guys with the razor sharp lingo and the smokin’ hot dames, they still spend most of their time dodging the shit storm they brought down on themselves, and the rest of the time trying to un-fuck their lives.

Who doesn’t want to read about somebody living under a bigger mountain of shit luck then we are? It makes our lives feel a little better by comparison and if the poor fuck we’re reading about comes out on top instead of catching a bullet in the brain-pan, than it even puts a little light at the end of the tunnel. So, you see what I did there? Noir is a warm and fuzzy, hope-inspiring genre (up your collective asses, Lit-Fic social club).


You used to be a professional musician. Walk us through that evolution, how it came to be that you settled down as a family man, a writer, a fire fighter/EMT.

I grew up a comic book geek in the 90’s, foil covers, Force-Works, The Death of Superman, Batman Forever trading cards, the whole shebang. And although Matt Wagner’s Grendel, and Frank Miller’s Sin City blew my world apart and went on to shape the kind of writer I’d be, my deep swooning love for that shit practically guaranteed I’d never get laid.

In my high school you have two kinds of guys: football guys and guitar guys. It was clear from my comic book fixation that football was never going to be my thing, so I grew my hair long and picked up my Dad’s guitar. I knew I still wanted to be the next Frank Miller, but the rock ‘n roll thing was my cover to impress chicks. Turns out I got pretty good at it and I spent the next damn near 15 years playing that same guitar and reading my Wednesday stash in the back of the van between shithole clubs. It was a good way for a single young man to see the world but when my daughters came along, being in a van with three sweaty dudes and a glove box full of crystal meth for 250 days a year stopped being so attractive. I packed it up, moved back to Georgia.

After all that time being the center of attention and running my own life, I knew I just couldn’t buy some slacks and report to some dickhead with a time clock so the next career move was obvious. 

I needed to become The Batman. 

I had the playboy part down but the problem was I wasn’t a billionaire. Hell, I wasn’t even a thousandaire. The Fire Service offered the next best thing. I got my own big red Batmobile tricked out with all kinds of gadgets, a Batcave, A mask and a uniform. I even have a utility belt, and every third day I get to combat the evil that men do. Fucking rules.  

Giving up the music was/is really fucking tough though, and I needed another creative outlet or I was going to explode. So, I picked up where I left off when I was a young man and put the pen back onto the page. That first short story I wrote (Theo and Fat Terry, you can find here for free) was the physical equivalent to the last 20 minutes of a Bukkake video. The release felt so good, I knew I would be doing this forever.

The family man part is easy. My wife is so goddamn hot, I just do whatever she wants.

Dude, tell me about the bukkake stuff. I can't get enough. Where does your stuff come from? I remember you saying you wrote lyrics that told stories, so this is a natural extension. Are the stories similar? 

Most of the stuff I’ve written so far is based on shit that has happened to me, and then I just let the story spin out of control and start to lie my ass off. Just this past year I have really immersed myself in the world of online flash fiction. I tend to be long winded with my shit, so flash fiction was a massive challenge for me. I discovered Shotgun Honey and read and read and read for days. It was like being in a school taught by some of the most badass teachers around. I put the second draft of my novel on hold to try my hand at it.

Flash fiction is the closest format to songwriting. You find your hook (normally the gut punch at the end) and build a simple structure around it. You want people to leave your show singing your songs, just like you want people who read your stories to carry them around in their heads forever. John Rector’s Folded Blue on SH is a perfect example of that. It would have been the lead single off his record if you get my meaning.
 
The first thing I read of yours was on Shotgun Honey here. Loved it. I read on someone's blog (which I can't find now to save my life) it was one of the best things she'd read in 2012 up to that point. Know about this? If you don't sorry to tease you with that dead end but it's true. I read that. You followed it up with another story, Ceiling Fan In My Spoon, here. It made a huge impression. Now you're winning contests and building a resume. What's next?

Other than Tracking down Joe Clifford and talking about the fine art of Batman and drugs? I finished the first draft of my first novel, A Warm Machine, that I’m calling Superhero Noir. It’s a cross between The Rocketeer and Death Wish. It’s a culmination of everything I love. The plan is to buckle down on that and begin pimping it out next year. In the meantime, my story Sixteen Down from Evolved Publishing’s Evolution Vol. 2 just came out and is available here. That book is the first physical published story of mine I ever held in my hand. I still have a hard-on from that. 

Other stuff I have out there or coming soon are, Tales for the Toilet (short stories to be consumed on the shitter...) from Crowded Quarantine Press. It features my weird western short, Firewater. It can be found here. I also have stories in two anthologies from Pill Hill Press coming later this year, Use Enough Gun that introduces my on-going Urban Fantasy character Harmon Brown. Think Shaft meets The Yeti (I fucking LOVE making shit up!). The other one is called Nuke The Fridge in the Psycho Cinema collection. Joe Clifford just accepted my story Coming Down The Mountain for The Flash Fiction Offensive. And finally, My Wife Dawn...And The Dead will be one half of a split-book I'm co-writing with some guy named Ryan Sayles. You might have heard of him. It will be our unique take on the zombie apocalypse.

The thing I’ve got my head into now is a mixed media idea that will be kicking off with a story over at SH that debuts on  October 22nd. It’s called If I Ever Get Off This Mountain. It’s part one of two companion pieces that tell a story from two different sides of the same event. It’s an experiment in tone that turns the classic good guy/bad guy theme on its ass.

Anyway, the cool part is, in addition to the stories, I’m in the process of recording two songs, one theme per side, and putting all of it together along with printable art as one big single downloadable package under the title, The Ballad Of Bull Mountain: Told in stories, pictures, and songs. I’m still trying to figure out all the logistics involved in packaging and selling a multi-media project, but I think I’m on to something.

 If I know one thing about you, it's that Batman is huge in your life. What's your impression of the Christian Bale trilogy? How has that character affected your writing? What about his settings, tone, antagonists, etc?

As asinine as it may sound, I don’t think I would even be a writer without the influence of the Batman. For those that know, that mythos is largely, if not solely, the product of a hopeless addict named Bill Finger. A drug addled genius who died penniless. That says a lot about the desperation and inner fucked-uppedness that when into The Bat’s creation. Batman is Noir. Period. In fact DC released an Elseworlds story called Batman: Noir and I thought it was a little redundant. He fits the mold perfectly. Here you got a guy who has everything, money, fame, beauty, the perfect life, but because of his broken psyche and his Obsessive/Compulsive disorder he spends his life covered in the worse kind of horrid shit he can get into. Most of it caused by his own hand. He’s brilliant and cool as ice but doomed to the darkness forever. That concept permeates EVERYTHING I write.

As far as Nolan’s trilogy is concerned, I could go on and on about how it’s the single greatest trio of crime movies ever made since The Godfather (because they are) but that’s been said already. I’ll tell you this though, Nolan’s films are the first to really respect the writers of the book throughout the years, Denny O’Neil, Frank Miller, Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, etc., more so than anything that’s come before. Most pay homage to the TV show, which was conceived as a parody.

I remember sitting in the theater with my Dad watching the first Tim Burton Batman, leaning over and saying, “This sucks.” My Dad agreed and we both left disappointed. Directors that think they can second-guess the fans that made the source material popular enough to make a movie in the first place make me fucking crazy. I’d love to show Tim Burton my version of Noir with an aluminum bat in a back ally somewhere. Nolan not only gave the fans a movie to call their own but also made it very clear that writing a superhero comic is on par with every literary profession out there.

What theme song would play as you walk into a room? Would you compose a theme song for me?

Anything by Waylon Jennings would do for me, but for you Ryan? Nothing I write could ever be better than the band of demons you currently have following you around belting out a grind-core version of I’ll Tumble 4 Ya. That shit is awesome. By the way, back in the day I got a chance to open for Slayer on the Jagermeister Tour (we were both sponsored by them) and those guys get off stage, take their spikes and leather off, and put on glasses and Duckhead shorts. Fucking hilarious to watch. Some of the nicest guys around.

If there was one Brian Panowich story the world could read, what is it? Why?

Published? I would say Ceiling Fan In My Spoon. I tapped into something there. It’s the only thing I have out there right now I wouldn’t want to revise. I constantly wish I could edit or improve my stories after the fact, but that one still breaks my heart to read. I’m pretty proud of it.

Unpublished? I absolutely cannot fucking wait to introduce the world to Will Parsons and Emmett Cobb from A Warm Machine. It's about a fireman (of course) that finds something in a house fire that gives him ridiculous power, but it also puts a target on his forehead for some surly motherfuckers. He's not that bright and ends up having his entire life burnt to the ground, but armed with some inside knowledge and help from his dope fiend uncle, the hunt begins for a little payback. It’s the story I’ve been waiting to tell since I was that geek reading old crime comics in the back of The Augusta Book Exchange, knowing full well this is what I wanted to do with my life.

What parts of Brian wind up in your stuff?

Damn near everything. The main character in A Warm Machine is a fireman, and the second lead is an ex-doper musician. I was able to use those two huge chucks of my life experience to create two separate characters. I also blend in the character traits and mannerisms of folks I meet or spend time with to sweeten the pot. I tend to be a callous ass sometimes, so if my characters were carbon copies of me, I wouldn't have any likable protagonists.

I met John Mellencamp once at a show my band was playing and I asked him for some advice on songwriting. He told me to ALWAYS write what you know. Never try to fake it because the fans will know. If you write a song about drug addiction without having some kind of connection to it, all the people struggling with that problem will know it and know your full of shit. They won't support you, and your work will be dismissed by the people you’re trying to reach.  I think the same principle applies to writing. So yeah, it's fair to say most of me ends up in what I write. 

Where does your grit come from?

As a writer, I'm blessed to have two very extreme environments to cull from. My past, out on the road I met and saw a ton of surly folks doing surly things. Hell, I was one of them. I spent most of my time in the world that exists in the wee hours and dark corners of bars, pubs, and generally sleazy joints. I absorbed all of that. My present day job as a Firefighter/ EMT-I shows me some of the most heinous and brutal things that happen every day. This stuff happens in every city, everywhere, but no one cooped up 9 to 5 in an office somewhere is prone to see it. The terrible shit people hear about on the news while they eat dinner, I have my hands in every third day.  It changes you. A lot of the people that do this kind of work get desensitized to it over time, but I don't want that to happen. So I write about it. It's a coping mechanism.

If you and I were to get married, what would our children look like?

The women of the world would rejoice because there would be entirely too much sexy in them genes…too bad, they would most likely be serial killers.

***

And that’s Brian Panowich. I loved the twist to his Shotgun Honey story Services Rendered and from there I started seeing him everywhere. It just made sense to pair up with him for a zombie apocalypse thing. 

Nest week—Tom Pitts, of The Flash Fiction Offensive fame. The dude has one crazy story to tell, a brand new novella out called Piggyback through Snubnose Press, and-gasp!-he also was a former rocker. Where could he go wrong? Oh wait, he’s Canadian. That’s where he goes wrong.

Ever since he can remember, Brian always wanted to write comic books. That’s how it started. Somewhere around puberty, Rock and Roll started whispering in his ear and took him on a 20 year journey all over the country writing songs and playing them for whoever wanted to listen. Songs that told stories. Settling down to start a family took Brian off the road and his songs became stories for the written page. His short stories are starting to appear online and in small press anthologies while work begins on the second draft of his first novel "A Warm Machine" Brian lives in East Georgia with his smokin’ hot wife and their four children. He can also be found on Facebook and Goodreads, as well as his website Panowich.com