Upon reading Clive Barker for the first time in the 80s, reading volume one of the Books of Blood, having been prodded by Stephen King's famous blurb, "I have seen the future of horror, his name is Clive Barker," two stark truths struck me as I got into those stories, "The Midnight Meat Train," "Pig Blood Blues," the astonishing, "In the Hills, the Cities," and the rest: Barker could write. He wasn't just a horror writer, he was a Writer, and horror was simply where he decided to sow his words, a crop that has expanded to include the fantastique as much as horror over the passing years.
And the other stark truth?
His tales made me uncomfortable.
I Loved It!
Writers who dig into the brain, into the deepest realms of the psyche and touch me, those are always the ones I go back to again and again. J.G. Ballard did this repeatedly, but at that time in the horror field, nobody was shaking it up on that level; okay, let me reconsider this statement, because about then, another huge influence and no-holds barred writer, Joe R. Lansdale, was riding shotgun with Barker, as Barker kicked in the door to all pre-conceived Hells and added more blood and depth (layers, and you know I love layers) to the process, smiling impishly all the way. In their wake, the splatterpunks and like-minded graphic blood-spattered graffiti artists posing as writers swarmed in and it got messy. Fun, sure, but messy. ;-)
"I forbid my mind nothing." That's probably my favorite quote ever. It's from Barker. This way of thinking and approaching it with his fiction, and showing us exactly what that means...it was bliss to my young, malleable writing mind. I wasn't even thinking stories back then--well, derivative ideas as stories, some okay, most just half-formed, stepping stones on the way to now, but raw, so raw--more so writing lyrics and occasional poetry, all of it in need of direction; just stuff, just getting it out, snippets as brain shrapnel, observations of the world and more; manifestoes for life that co-workers taped on their refrigerators; any excuse to put pen to paper and Say Something. I had no real idea where I was going in life. I was young and as half-formed as the stories back then. But over time I gained focus, direction, stories demanded the ink to leave their mark. Later than some, but not so late, I finally decided to write and mean it. And so on and so forth and back to Barker and what he did.
He opened the door to the full breadth of imagination for me; an imagination that keeps expanding exponentially as I go along, learning and writing and exploring. His stories there, and deeper into the other Books of Blood--I still cannot read the opening sequence to "Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament" without squirming as she turns a man into a box, done with such visceral freedom, such amazing imagination--ignited something within me. An understanding that writing with no inhibitions, as I had always done but not really done, if you know what I mean, well, that was the path for me. No Inhibitions and Meaning It. A mantra for me, a tattoo as yet inked, those letters, those ideals, I swear, mean so much to me. Art with restrictions is bullshit. Reach deep and pull out that which you are afraid to put on the page and do it no matter your fear. You'll appreciate what it brings to your words, as I do. To the stories. The stories people remember.
The point is, Barker showed the way, opened that door and I realized I could put all those explicit, harsh, demented, or simply psychologically disturbing words down, shape them into stories, and perhaps make somebody else squirm with joy as well.
I thank him for it all, one of our finest Writers no matter where he takes his tales.
And seeing Hellraiser on the big screen when it was released, another revelation. Here was a movie unafraid to take horror to the most perverse and darkest places (at least at that time). Then Nightbreed, so imperfect, yet a sheen of something special is in there, and his love of the monsters, another lesson learned, it's okay to love the monsters; this is touched on in a sideways manner in my story, "Plastic," from my collection, The Dark is Light Enough for Me, if you're paying attention...
And he can paint? Okay, now he's pushing it. ;-) Yes, with textural dynamics and, again, images that dive into the perverse and the beautiful, Barker's paintings are the perfect visual accompaniment for his writing style. Full-bodied and breathing...alive!
Enough riffing, not even sure what I've written, but let's get this one out there before I decide to ramble on about The Great and Secret Show, one of my fave novels Ever! I could go on for pages about Barker, but this is a blog and gotta just let it go, man, gotta let it gooooooo...
Here's one of my fave pieces of Barker's art, the cover for the Books of Blood Volume 3, referencing "Son of Celluloid"--oh my, That One!
The man's a genius. "Nuff said.