"One of Entertainment Weekly's "Top Ten Books of the Year"
"Most writers survive circumstances that would have killed a lesser person, but Knipfel's survived things that would have destroyed a civilization. Blindness, poverty, idiot social workers, and rage seizures aside, the worst of it was probably going to college in the Eighties"
-William Monahan, Academy Award winning screenwriter of The Departed
"Jim Knipfel lives his life like a Samuel Beckett character: wry, dry, and matter-of-factly melancholy. Now and then I laughed so hard I choked."
"Life hasn't been easy for Jim Knipfel. He's blind...He's got a drinking problem. He's been in an out of mental hospitals. He's attempted suicide. But he's managed to keep his sense of humor"
"Funny, heroic, and yes, entertaining...remarkable elan and some wicked black humor."
-The New York Times
"It's not like any of the other memoirs you're reading...Knipfel may be blind, but his artistic vision is as stunning as the sunset over the Brooklyn Bridge."
"A book that can only be called inspirational...he never loses his appreciation for the basic absurdity of life."
Knipfel’s first book is a memoir concerning a drunken, suicidal, misanthropic punk rock kid who goes blind.
The thing I loved about newspapers was their sheer disposability. A story ran, then a few days later it was thrown in the trash and completely forgotten. Every week was a clean slate. It fit in perfectly with my general nihilism. I was already in the habit of erasing my own background as I went along—destroying all old correspondence, moving without leaving a forwarding address, etc. The plan was simply to get this “living” shit over with, then die and be thrown away and forgotten as completely as those stories. I always made it clear I had absolutely no interest in writing a book of any kind. I had nothing of any lasting value to say, so what would be the point?
Well, then a publisher approached me waving a check and I reconsidered. We get older after all, and our thinking changes. Maybe leaving a little something behind wasn’t such a loathsome idea after all, right? A little mark (or at least a smear) of some kind?
Here’s the funny thing. I took two weeks off work, sat down, and wrote the damn thing marathon fashion beginning to end while listening to Ennio Morricone. Assuming this was going to be my one and only book, I made the same mistake so many others do, and tried to cram everything into it. I mean every damn thing, like Henry Miller’s Rosy Crucifixion.
By the time I finished, the manuscript ran about 800 pages. After typing the last sentence, I stepped outside to stretch my legs a bit. I was battered ans sore and muddleheaded. For some reason I stopped into a little used bookstore down the street run by an asshole who always ripped me off. That was my first mistake. My second was to tel him what I’d just done, and worse to mention the final page count.
“Ahh,” he growled. “No one wants to read that much about you.”
He was right, of course. I didn’t even want to read that much about myself. Nevertheless I turned the whole thing into my editor, and this is where I learned the value of a good editor.
David Groff was his name, a funny, smart, sneaky little low-key man and one of the best editors I’ve ever worked with. He handed the manuscript back to me and said “Okay, now cut this in half.” It took a lot of swearing and stomping, but I did. When I turned that one in, he handed it back to me again and again told me to cut it in half. We went through the same routine one more time, until finally he said, “Okay, now start building it up again.” That’s how I learned to write books.
Oh, but then the publisher’s libel lawyer came along. But I won’t bore you with that.
As mentioned above, I wrote this book to the music of Ennio Morricone. It was an accident, really, but by the time I finished it I came to understand what a role that music had played. For every book that followed I chose a specific piece of music that would provide the soundtrack. Something that set the tone and mood and rhythm. While writing a book, whether I’m sitting at the computer or making dinner or paying some bills, I listen to nothing but that one piece of music. It fills the apartment and gets in my head. Sometimes I can spend more time tracking down the perfect soundtrack than I do actually writing the damn book it’s set to accompany. I’m very picky. For this reason, and to note the role the music played in the final result, I’ve included a note about the soundtrack at the end of each back story.
[Slackjaw] is an extraordinary emotional ride, through the lives and times of reader and writer alike, maniacally aglow with a born storyteller's gifts of observation, an amiably deranged sense of humor, and a heart too bounced around by his history, and ours, not to have earned Mr. Knipfel, at last, an unsentimental clarity that is generous and deep. What begins as a cautionary tale turns out to be, after all, an exemplary American life. The Park Service ought to be charging admission. Long may he continue to astonish us."