Meet the "Real" Crispin Glover

by Jeffery Lantos

December 1989

"Who are you?" said the Caterpillar. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I-I hardly know, Sir, just at present--at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then."

Two hours before my scheduled interview with Crispin Glover, he calls me. He sounds unsettled. "I...I...I...just want to be sure you're not coming over here with, uh, any expectations, because I had a bad experience yesterday."

"What happened yesterday?" I say.

"Well, uh, this person certain things about me and had heard I used to have a steel examining table in my living room..." (I had heard that, too. It was reported to have been a gynecologist's table replete with stirrups.) "...and I just want you to know that that was just a phase..." (the phase included the apparent psychotic break on the David Letterman show) "...and it's over. That's not who I am anymore," says the chameleonic actor whose resume includes Back to the Future and River's Edge. "The album I've just made is a remnant of that period, but personally, I'm not...I just don't want you to be looking for any kind know..."

"I understand," I say.

Crispin's Hollywood neighborhood is one of graffiti and swagger and chili dogs. There's broken glass in the street, and, on the sidewalk, a man without a shirt yells up to a woman on a third floor balcony, "Come down and open the door. The buzzer's broken." A few blocks south is Frederick's. A few blocks east, Nathanael West, living on borrowed money, wrote The Day of the Locust.

The name Glover is on the building directory. I call his apartment. He tells me he's just gotten out of the shower, and there might be a slight delay in starting the interview. At this point a "slight delay" doesn't bother me. This interview has been scheduled and cancelled three times already. "He's just very shy," said his publicityperson at Restless Records. "But he definitely wants to do the interview. He's excited about this record."

I've listened to the record a few times. It's a strange brew. There are prose snippets written and read by Crispin. There are Crispinized versions of such songs as "These Boots Are Made For Walking," "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze," and "Never Say 'Never' to Always," which sports lyrics by Charles Manson. There's a rap number about masturbation and a poem which hints of a love affair between Crispin and his rhyming dictionary. The record is called "The big Problem Does Not Equal the Solution. The Solution = Let It Be," and I expected it to be funnier or at least more pointed, but it's neither comedy nor satire. I'm not sure what it is. I'm eager to hear what Crispin has to say about it.

I ride the creaky elevator to the 14th floor penthouse. On Crispin's door there are three locks. I knock. The locks click. The door swings open.

"Hi, hi. Come on in." His voice is loud. His face is still wet. His hair is cut short. He's wearing a grey suit and tie, and he looks very Dan Qualye.

"Are those watermelon wedges on your tie?" I say. He looks down.

"No, these are moons."

"Oh, yes. Now I see. Gibbous moons."

"Right. Ha ha. I picked up this tie in Toronto. I was there making a movie with John Boorman. It's called Where the Heart Is, and I saw it the other night. It's wonderful. I'm feeling very happy about it. Ha ha." Crispin is obviously tense, and he will punctuate many of his sentences with this nervous laugh.

He leads me down a hallway and into the living room. The examing table may be gone, but the decor is Transylvanian Contempo. The floor is painted black. So are the walls. Some cabalistic insignia are scrawled, in red, on the kitchen door. Black curtains billow in front of open windows. The furniture is from the Bram Stoker Collection...a cranberry divan, a stiff highbacked chair. I notice a pair of dentures in a vice and a collection of doll's eyeballs. There appears to be a dead bird or part of a dead bird under glass. Crispin tells me this is actually a ladies' hat. The book shelves are filled with tomes on art, geology and medical abnormalities. There's an early 18th century painting of a bare-breasted woman, and next to that is a little box decorated with glass baubles. Inside the box is a kind of three-dimensional triptych of a rat's death, funeral, and burial. "That's a gift from a fan," says Crispin.

He offers me a glass of carrot juice. I sit down in the highbacked chair. The arm rests are at chin level. Next to me is a lamp shade made out of volcanic rock. Crispin sits on the divan. Then we hear a strange noise. A sandpapery swoosh. Crispin is startled.

"What was that?" he says.

"I think the glass door on your bookshelf closed."

"Oh." He looks around, not entirely convinced by this explantion.

"I understand you turned down the chance to reprise your role of Michael J. Fox's father in the sequel of Back to the Future."

"Yes, I wanted to be in the film, but the money they wasn't a huge offer, and since the original made so much, I expected more. At the same time I got an offer to do the Boorman film, and the money was comparable. I'm proud of Back to the Future, I'm glad I was in it, but rather than repeat myself, I thought I'd try something else. And after the Boorman film, I did the new David Lynch film, Wild at Heart. It's a road picture with Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern. I show up at various points along the way. David is the closest thing I've ever had to an idol. When I was 16, I went to see Eraserhead over and over."

Crispin Glover's father is an actor. His mother is a dancer. Crispin's first acting job was as one of the Von Trapp children in The Sound of Music. This was at the Music Center, in Los Angeles, and Florence Henderson played Maria. At the time, Crispin was attending the Mirman School for Gifted Children in Los Angeles. "I loved going there. My best years of education were grades one through nine. I'm still friends with my writing teacher Mr. Biegel. I remember one of the assignments he gave us. We had to write a story entitled 'Chocolate Covered Mornings, Medieval Afternoons and Nickel Plated Evenings.' I think the things that you like when you're eight or nine years old are the things you continue to like throughout you like. When I was eight, my father gave me two art books-one on Salvador Dali and another on Hieonymus Bosch. They're still my favorite painters."

Crispin went to public hgih schools for two years, and then he started acting regularly. All the while he continued to write short stories, and then one day, he discovered a recondite art form that so seized his imagination that he's been practicing it ever since. "I was browsing through a gallery/bookstore on La Brea, and I picked up a 100-year-old book. Whe I opened it, I discovered that someone had glued pictures into it." Crispin took this one step further. He not only added pictures, he added and deleted text. Then he put his name on the cover. "You could call me a plagiarist in a way, but if you took all my books and read them, they'd seem more like each other than any of them would seem like the originals."

Crispin doctored his first book seven years ago. He's done 20 since. "Let me read you one," he says. He goes to the bookshelf and pulls down a book called Rat Catching. The book was originally published in London, in 1896. Crispin's version, a beautifully bound edition published by his own company, Volcanic Eruptions, was put out in 1988. The title page had not been tampered with. Indeed, Crispin selects his originals because of their odd titles. The rest of the book, however, was filled with inked out words, inked in words, spooky squiggles, drawings of rats, pictures of rats and pictures of diseased people who, supposedly, had been bitten by rats. Crispin begins to read. "Chapter one. In the following elementary treatise for the use of public schools, I propose following exactly the same plan as my parson(a good fellow not afraid of a ferret of a rat) does with his sermons-that is divide it into different heads, and then jumble up all the heads with the body, till it becomes as diffucult to follow as a rat's hole in a soft bank..."

Crispin reads to me the way a parent might read to a child-with lots of expression, varying his voice when a new character appears, pausing to show me the pictures. I pay attention and try to follow the story, but alas, its internal logic eludes me. All I can say, when Crispin finishes, is, "Your technique seems to be influenced by collage." This is not the response he was hoping for. He gets a tad testy and defends his writing style. "I think structure is very important. A good story has a beginning, a middle and an end. It has a protagonist and an antagonist." It's become apparent that Crispin thinks Rat Catching meets these criteria. I decide we must be living in parallel worlds.

If you, the reader, would like to see whose world you're living in, you can order a copy of Rat Catching, by calling 213-464-5053.

"What about the record, Crispin? Can you give me any clues?"

"Well, all the pieces are connected by a central them," he says. "In each piece, there is a problem, and there's one big problem at the end. If you think you know what the problem is and you have a solution, you should call the number above. I'm really feeling food about the project." Crispin is feeling good about a lot of things. That seems to be the leitmotif of the interview. He tells me six, seven times how good he's feeling about the work he's done lately. I suspect this new joie de vivre is at least partly a result of shedding the old image. Posing as a weirdo had proved its own kind of straitjacket. The publicity had become the work. "I mean it was fun for a while, but after a few years, it became redundant."

"Why did you feel the need to do it in the first place?" I ask.

"I found it frightening to do publicity, because what generally happens is writers put you in a certain category, and people are pegged, and I thought if that's going to happen-what can I bring forth to make me interesting? But now that's behind me. I feel I've grown up making this record. When I began it, two years ago, I was a child. Now I'm an adult."

I ask Crispin about his plans. "I'm going to take my first vacation in almost a year."

"Where are you going?"

"I'm going to drive to southern Utah, and get on some back roads, and drive around, and when I get tired, I'll pull over and fall asleep. I can sleep in my car."

"What kind of car do you have?"

"I'd rather not say."

Crispin jumps up and opens the curtains. The sun is setting. over Hollywod, the murky oxides pinken, and in a rooftop pool below, the water glistens. "I love the light in here at this hour," says Crispin. Indeed, a tin Buddha on a shelf catches the rays in such a way as to give off a kind of etheral glow.

The phone rings. Crispin gets up and goes into an office. I poke around the apartment. There's nothing in the refrigerator except juice. I peek in the bedroom. Crispin's bed is covered by a black canpoy. In the bathroom I notice a movie script. When Crispin Emerges I ask if he reads scripts on the toilet. "No, but I do like to read in the bath."

"Don't the scripts get wet?"

"Yes. Ha ha."

Before I leave, Crispin insists on reading me another one of his books. The first sentence is, "I saw Billow that day, but he didn't see me." I think to me myself, "A beginning and a far so good..."

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