Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Leaving Las Vegas: Rearview

Bill and Johnny O'Brien, 1960

I wrote a complex feature on my brother John O'Brien's posthumous work for this week's Free Times. "Leaving Las Vegas: Rearview" was sparked by the publication of the anthology Las Vegas Noir (Akashic Books, May 2008) which includes a short story by John called "The Tik."

Cover letter that accompanied "The Tik" when John sent it to us in 1988.

When I read John's work, my mind and my heart refract his fiction like water bends light. It's just different for me. Hence, although I completely understand the following comments from Publisher's Weekly, they only tell half the story:

The late John O’Brien, best known for his novel-turned-film, Leaving Las Vegas, offers a typically warped and nihilistic vision of the city with “The Tik,” about a thrill-killing duo, narrated by the male half, whose indifference to his prey is chilling.--Publisher's Weekly, March 10, 2007

I knew I had to peel back the layer for everyone to see the real John O'Brien in "The Tik." To do that, I was obliged to look backwards through the lens of all of his posthumous fiction to the days of John's adolescence and my childhood.

Johnny and me, 1970.

As promised in the article, here is a photo post peppered with pertinent links for anyone who'd like to read on and on and on.

Leaving Las Vegas, Johnny, and a monster named Press. A kitchen table view of the calm behind the storm that raged in the wake of John's fiction.

An interview with StradaNove. All sorts of miscellany about John.

John held a few file clerk jobs, just like the main character in his novel Stripper Lessons.

What it's like to get the call. A meticulous accounting of the hours following John's suicide.

QRD interview. More Q&A on John and his work.

John's desk at his and then-wife Lisa's place in Venice Beach, circa 1990.

Shredded telephone books and barbecue dreams. Dead guy residue.

John in Venice Beach in 1992. He'd been sober about 8 months.

Me, Johnny, Gramp and a bombilation. One of my favorite posts about John, small and quiet.

Vacationing in Palm Springs in 1987.

The John O'Brien Wiki saga. Long, with many imbedded links, but mandatory reading for anyone who looks to Wikipedia for anything anytime. Truly unbelievable.

A column and an associated photo post. Christmas in July with my dad.

A girl named Jag. A love story for Dad.

Johnny, me and one of Dad's Jags, 1978.

The crash. How my life splintered into a million pieces in one moment--for the second time.

Dear Dad. A few things I had to say, no matter how late.

The house we grew up in at 14000 Lake Avenue in Lakewood.
Photo by Vernice Northrup.

Meeting Larry Brown. And why his work meant so much to me.


swine said...

great post and links.
i lived on euclid first, then at the Carlyle for 2 years.
small world.
ohio as the hotbed for good writers?
(sherwood, toni, erma, thurber, john...etc.)

Anonymous said...

Rest In Peace, John O'Brien. I found your blog because of him. surfing through cyberspace revisiting LLV a link lead me here. A strange, quasi-six degrees of seperation experience. I am an alcoholic, 18 years sober. I struggle with depression. Ironically, I work in mental health and have seen the tragic aftermath of suicide. I am a southener and once attended The University of Alabama where Barry Hannah was residing at the time. He later moved to Oxford, MS and was friends with Larry Brown. Since that connection my appetite for literature, creative fiction has been renewed. John O'Brien has enhanced my living. Thanks John.


Calistro said...

Erin thank you so much for finding my blog and telling me about your brother. I had NO IDEA about the story behind Leaving Las Vegas (one of my all time favourite films ever) and I'm the article you sent and your blog post. Your brother was an incredible talent and that talent lives on and touches people all over the world. Including me. Thank you so much for finding me and telling me your brother's story.

DogsDontPurr said...

Your post at the Times was so poignant. I don't even have words. To just say "that was great writing" or "great work" does not even come close to what that piece evoked. That was one of your all time best. And I just want to give you a great big hug right now.

Doug said...

Damn, but I feel for you. Ditto the hug.

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Erin.

Hal said...

Beautiful, Erin. Just beautiful.

The more I learn about your brother, the more amazed I am.


Mone said...

Sad but beautiful, each in the rigth dosage.

Anonymous said...


The CPD article was amazing, beauty out of pain and an amazing read. Full length memoir, I think, book contract.

Tim Gager

Libby Spencer said...

This post makes me sad in a way that feels oddly beautiful.

John Ettorre said...

Erin, that was one of the most remarkable pieces of writing I've encountered in Cleveland in a long time. Somehow, it managed to make me cry and rejoice at the same time. You managed to bring two dead men to life again, at least for me. How incredibly lucky your father and brother were to have a daughter and sister such as you. I think it's obvious that amazing Irish hearts run in your family.

NEOcreativegenius said...

Erin --

Thanks so much for your story about your brother and your dad. Reading both the Free Times story and your blog entry really moved me. My uncle also took his own life as a result of alcoholism and depression, and it really helped me to read your story and know that our family is not alone (although we always know intellectually we're not alone, it's important to read others' experience, strength and hope).

You are truly a great daughter, sister and writer, and while I don't claim to know what happens after we leave this world, I'm certain that John and your dad are watching over you and are proud of you.

God bless from one of your biggest fans,
Meghan K. Donovan

Geoffrey Hill said...

I am one of the fans of your brothers work and I feel a kinship as I have the same afflicitons with drugs and alcohol, and writing, as he did. I have been off and on sober most of my adult life, and sober now since June 1, 2005. I remember your brothers story, especially at times when I feel like pulling the plug, which is not all that often anynmore, and I wanted you to know that his work, and his struggles are remembered. I almost wrote a post on my blog today titled, "I don't want to be John O'Brien," but after reading your words and giving it some reflection, I elected to take the high road. God bless. Geoffrey

Geoffrey said...

Sorry for the spelling errors...I'm usually better than that...G

Bill Friday said...


Your brother's continuing influence on readers, and writers, and your continued willingness to acknowledge and embrace his legacy, humbles us all. For me, both John's words--and yours--continue to move me to read, and write, like little else can.

Thank you.


Enrique Monroy said...

Greatings!!!... and also I found your blog searching info about John... thanks for this and other post about him... I'm mexican writer and John O'Brien is one of my influences... saludos from Mexico!!!

Från en ängslig till en annan said...

Thank you. I didn't know John at all, I was just curious about his life, and now I found your page.

Hopefully he's more at peace now...

All the best,

Elisabeth Redlig, Stockholm, Sweden