In the Air With Don Bajema
Interview by Bryan Bence & Alexander Laurence
(c) 1994 Bryan Bence & Alexander Laurence
We ran into Don Bajema at Brainwash a few days after he
returned from a "Spoken Word" tour in Europe with
singer/writer Henry Rollins. Bajema is the author of Boy In The
Air (2-13-61) and has read all over the country performing his
"Stand-up tragedy" with Rollins, Exene Cervenka, Lydia
Lunch, and Hubert Selby jr. With these writers he also read at
The Warfield in San Francisco to a packed house last month. He
recently performed an adaptation of Boy In The Air at
Intersection of The Arts. Bajema has a theatrical background, he
lifts weights, he trains potential bodybuilders at his space
Above Brainwash, appropriately titled. He has just finished a
movie about a family of pool players entitled CHALK: directed by
Rob Neilson and written by Bajema. During the interview outside
the door at Brainwash, Bajema had to bounce a drunk man. So the
afternoon was lively and filled with potential violence and
grappling with the unknown.
- Bryan Bence
- To start off. What kind of coffee do you drink? Where do
- Don Bajema
- Here, I usually order a Rocket. It's a regular pint of
coffee with a depth charge of espresso in it. And I
usually have one every day right here at Brainwash.
- Are there any other cafes that you like to go to?
- The coffee is good at Spaghetti Western, but that's not
really a cafe. Spike's is a great place. I'd go there
more if I lived closer. Ground Zero. I like the coffee at
The Horseshoe but the scene makes me uncomfortable.
- Alexander Laurence
- Above Brainwash, which you have been running for over a
year now, is a great space for theater. Could you
describe what its all about?
- I was doing work in theater and I was working out in
gyms. I've been a trainer for a long time. I thought that
it would be great to have a place where people could get
stronger in the day, and where I could provide theater at
night. Generally, I'm appalled by the media. Especially
the film media. And contemporary music for the most part.
There needs to be other sources. I just think that
theater is important.
- There's a lot of arguments over the terms
"poetry" and "spoken word." What do
you call your performances? And do you ever read in
- I have read at the Blue Monkey. But I don't like to read
at cafes or bookstores because it seems like you're
preaching to the converted. The writers there become more
competitive and/or phonally congratulatory of each
person's work. It's an isolated scene most of the time.
For me, I felt that I got a real response when I started
to get sprung on audiences in rock venues. It was a
different time. In the mid 80s, it was acceptable to bomb
Libya. People you knew would say this. It would make you
tear your hair out. The culture was in that environment.
I did some confrontational stuff in clubs. I was totally
unknown. I would get yelled at. People would throw stuff
at me. It was a good experience because I wasn't in a
friendly safe environment where there were these phony
smiles. I went to a reading the other night, and I saw
that wimpy paper wrestling and that competitive yawning
that goes on between readers, and I would prefer an
audience to turn against me.
- Are you driven by an artistic vision or by politics?
- I don't have any political, ethical, or institutional
viewpoint. I don't believe in anything. Zero! I don't
want to be governed. I don't want to be told to go to
war. I believe in nothing. I really hate emulation. It's
spiritually bankrupt. If I believe in anything, it's that
if people are given the chance, they will be generally
good to one another. I don't have any beliefs in any
system of ethics or any values. It's not to say that I'm
an immoral person. I act as honest and fair as I can. But
this oppressive government and culture which I discovered
very early on in San Diego where I grew up on a military
base. It all sounds like "Sieg Heil" to me.
Every single time.
- What is the response to spoken word in Europe compared to
here in the United States?
- It's like night and day. They listen. They get the
nuances. They know more about America than most of the
population here. They understand how we're being
manipulated. For instance, I've gone on public radio in
Germany and also in Holland calling The Bush
Administration up for war crimes. They know that the
United States are the hitman of the planet. In Germany,
we had some great readings at venues the size of 800 to
1500 seats. About the size of The Warfield. There was a
sense of understanding which you often don't find here.
- Is there much of a spoken word scene in Europe?
- It's only beginning. They don't do it too much, because
one of the things that America is, is the future. So they
are looking at us. We're where everyone's going. In
Europe, in many places like Ireland and Scotland, where
their own culture is disappearing, you got young kids
looking through American magazines to figure out what
style to adopt next. You got Irish kids walking and
talking the black thing. I don't think that the European
Community is happening. It may just be padding the nazi
movement that is growing in Germany.
One of my biggest
fears is to somehow be asked later "why I sat around
while the cattlecars were unloading at Dachau." I
feel like a dupe. I feel like I am part of the most evil
form of government since nazi Germany. This is what
causes me to write. I'm not converting people over to my
opinions. I have to say it or I'll explode.
- Why is spoken word so popular?
- By definition, to begin with, people know that there's no
commercial value. That's appealing. You're operating
without a net. There's a stage, there's a microphone, and
there's you. It's a "thought" thing, through
your voice and presence.
- Are there any writers who inspire you?
- I wrote a piece called "Best Time Of The Day"
because I was so impressed with Tennessee Williams. I
don't think that you're going to get much better writing
than his early plays. Then there's other people from
Mars. It's like you'll never approach a bit of their
talent. Like Shakespeare. In San Diego, I went to see
many plays at the Old Globe. Macbeth is a great play.
It's an amazing warning about many things. Other writers:
Carson McCullers, O. Henry, and Eudora Welty affected me
- Are there any writers in San Francisco that you would
like to mention? That our readers should check out for
- I like Kathy Acker. Danielle Willis has really
entertained me. David Barth is a very important
playwright. I have a lot of respect for Cintra Wilson's
work. I hope that I'm not leaving anyone out. I like the
Pep Boys. And Jane Handel is a wonderful writer.
- You participated with Lisa Palac on the Cybergasm
recording. What exactly did you do on that?
- It was a piece about a hand job. To me it was an
experiment. Lisa said "We've got this type of
technology." They put on the headphones on me, and I
said "This is intense..."
- Do you have any advice for writers?
- Get involved in as many things as you can artistically,
rather than being one thing. One of the things that
helped my writing was being an actor, because you take on
characters. When you take on the lives other than your
own, that is helpful for writing. And read as much as you
can. Never try to please your audience.