An Interview with Spoken Word Legend Bucky Sinister


Rumpus: How did you go from King of the Roadkills to writing self-help books?

Bucky Sinister: Get Up is not so much like a self-help book. I don’t have seminars or DVDs you have to buy. Reading this book will not solve your problems. You have to solve your own problems. The point of this book is to drive people to find answers for themselves.

Rumpus: So why write it?

Sinister: Get Up is basically the book I wanted to have my first year of sobriety. I wish someone had given me this book a year before I even went to a meeting because I was already miserable. I didn’t enjoy drinking anymore, I just couldn’t stand the idea of not doing it. I was afraid if I got sober I wouldn’t be able to write anymore. That was a really big fear of mine, which turned out not to be true. I got sober and my writing career took off. I’ve met a lot of people who think their music won’t be any good if they get sober. People talk about Aerosmith and how after they got off the cocaine their music started to suck, but maybe they were due for some shitty music anyway. There’s a lot of musicians who are clean and sober. I’ve met a bunch of them in 12 step and some have told me, “The reason no one knows I’m in recovery is because I didn’t start making music until I got sober. I knew how to play guitar but I didn’t know how to be in a band.”

Rumpus: What’s it like being an atheist in a 12-step program?

Sinister: That was my other big misconception. That if I got sober and went to a meeting they’d make me believe in God. Not true. They ask you to believe in a higher power. You need a higher power, but it doesn’t have to be a super-natural entity. You have all this power inside you. Addicts have incredible energy, it’s just all directed toward one goal. But what incredible luck and grace addicts have. You hear about it all the time, getting into some kind of crazy situation in order to get drugs or to get money for drugs, pulling off something where they fall from a building and land on a truck full of pillows. It’s incredible will, and if you learn to focus that will on getting better instead of getting worse it’s amazing what you can do with that. You can use that strength and resourcefulness for something real instead of scoring dope in a desert.

Q – We’ve known each other more than ten years now. You’re one of the first people I met in San Francisco. I think we were drawn to each other through the spoken word scene in San Francisco. Even though I’m not in recovery I did have a massive heroin overdose a couple years before we first met. Is that part of who you’re talking about? People like you and me, guys and girls with tattoos with lots of roommates wandering into cities where they don’t know anyone?

Sinister: I think a lot of us who had these oddly shaped childhoods, in some ways we’re hyper-capable. We’re able to take care of ourselves in a lot of ways but it’s like we’re missing a piece. When everyone went to school to learn how to be a regular person we were sick that day. We compensate other ways. Alcohol and drugs is one of those ways. Instead of learning how to cope with our problems and deal with hardship and deal with anger, we just decide to get drunk and not care.

Rumpus: Tell me a little about your oddly-shaped childhood.

Sinister: Oddly-shaped is a term I’ve been using because it doesn’t sound better or worse than anyone elses. All those other terms like “f**’ed up childhood” or “broken home,” none of them sound good. Were our childhoods better or worse? I don’t know. It’s different. I love who I am now but I took a real weird path to get here. For most of my childhood we were extreme fundamentalists and then I got to high school and we joined a cult. My family moved to Boston and lived in a cult house and we became street evangalists. The church was run like a strip club, slowly they took everything you had, and when everything was gone they put you to work taking someone else’s money. Eventually they took it all. In this cult you lost all contact with family and friends who weren’t part of the church. When my dad left the church I think we had a van. That was pretty much it. But here’s the thing, a lot of people have this childhood. Not exactly the same. Not like everybody spent high school in a cult, but you know, different. Outsiders. In our childhoods we either get all the social and emotional and ethical skills we need to be well adjusted adults, or we don’t. Some of us don’t know how to tell someone we like them. A lot of us get depressed and get wasted. Why don’t we do something that makes us feel better? Because we don’t know any other way. When I didn’t have enough skills I compensated with drugs and alcohol. It’s like there was a hole in the wall and I put a poster over it.

Rumpus: Our generation, Generation X, is a generation that doesn’t like to be marketed to. We don’t like to join groups and we’re very suspicious of trends. In a lot of ways Get Up is a 12-step book for people that remember Kurt Cobain on the cover of Rolling Stone wearing a t-shirt that says, “Corporate Magazines Still Suck.” People who think Dolittle is the best album ever made.

Sinister: A lot of Get Up is aimed at subculture types. Non-mainstream people seem to balk at the idea of 12-step. A lot of us think 12-step recovery means sitting in a church basement full of Republicans and Christians who drink to much. I used to think, “I can’t go to these meetings because they’ll make me believe in God. Make me go to church.” I knew it wasn’t right for me before I ever tried it. I was suspicious of anything outside my realm of experience. That same kind of attitude carries over into 12-step programs, because they are programs. There’s this feeling that you don’t need this bullshit, you can quit on your own. People that don’t know anything about it seem to have a better idea. They haven’t even been.

Rumpus: Why Conari Press?

Sinister: They approached me. It’s the first time that’s ever happened to me as a writer. They saw me read at the Beauty Bar, at the sex drugs and rock n’ roll reading, same one you did, and one of the editors said, “Hey. Why don’t you do a book for us.” And I said, “No. Because I don’t know what you do.” Most of their books are kind of new-age, wicca, tarot card. I don’t understand any of that stuff and I don’t really have the patience to learn it. But they said they wanted me to really write my experience and my story and how I deal with all this stuff. As far as I know there’s no other book out there that is atheist and pro-twelve-step, even though there are plenty of atheist A.A. meetings. The 12-step literature is very outdated. The official literature was written a long time ago and a lot has happened since then. For instance, when the 12-step program was written there was nothing in there about dealing with the stigma of being in a 12-step program.

Rumpus: The book’s very funny.

Sinister: Being able to play tragedy for humor rather than pity is a new trick I’ve learned. For a long time that’s what I did with my poetry, ask people to feel sorry for me. I got sober and I realized I have to get out of the pity thing; it’s not going anywhere for me. I don’t want to have any self-pity. I’m telling you this because it’s my story, because it might help you, not for you to feel sorry for me. Yeah, some bad things happened to me, but I’m alright. Everything’s fine. I’m OK. And I wasn’t that way for a long time.

Rumpus: Anything else?

Sinister: Judge for yourself. I’ve got my own different take on things. I thought I was special. I was going around thinking I could act however I wanted and people would take my shit. I’ve had three books published in six years of sobriety. What did I have published in fifteen years of drinking? One book. Do the math. I think I can have a book every two years. I think I can do that. I think I found my pace. How much more time do I got in this world? Do I want twenty more books or do I want two?

Stephen Elliott is the author of eight books, including The Adderall Diaries. More from this author →