Allen Johnson, and Violence is Good
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Page updated 25-Dec-2008

Categories: masculinity

Allen Johnson is like a mini Henry Rollins. He does a one-man comedy monologue about episodes in his life. Like Henry, his material comes from poetry he's written. One thing he understands is that violence can be good, a way for men to connect. Even if it's antagonistic it's still intimate, though of course voluntary is better (a consensual fight). When I read the review in the Stranger I felt like, "He thinks like me; I have to see him." (The review has several good quotes I won't bother repeating; you can read the original.) In person he gestures a lot, like all good spoken-word actors, and when he talks about delivering or receiving a punch he throws some excellent hooks, so I think he's boxed a few. Which made me think, "Right on."

But his first encounters with violence were bad. His dad abused him at age three, and a few years later threw him down the basement stairs and locked him in. I have a hard time forgiving this, but as Allen was trying to open the locked door, face bleeding over his new Buster Brown shoes, he says he still felt an intimacy from the action, man throwing man. This reminds me of my friend Mosh, a boxer who gets into a lot of bar brawls. He says he does it because he doesn't have a friend nearby to fight with. Then he asked me if I would beat him up while he just stood there. I said sure but why? He said he likes to see how long he can hold back, but more importantly, he feels there's a bond of trust that's built in doing that: that's how he knows somebody cares about him. I still don't understand his reasoning, it doesn't quite make sense to me, but Allen seems to glimpse something similar.

They say men think about sex every thirteen seconds on average, and Allen is certainly no exception. If he's not doing it with chicks he's thinking about what kind of chick he wants to fuck, and making flirty eyes at everyone he meets. Yet at the same time he knows there's another kind of intimacy beyond that. Once he asked a girl if he could go to her house and just read with her. So he did, each reading their own book on opposite sides of the apartment. She can't resist pulling him in for some snuggling before he goes, shirts pulled up, chest against chest. Not sex, you understand, but something different. Another time, way back in kindergarten, he and this girl knew each other so well they could sense what each other was doing even if they couldn't see each other across the room.

But ultimately he seems to be about connecting with God, not in a traditional religious sense but abstractly. He doesn't really explain what he means by connecting with God. In fact, he doesn't know himself. Finally in the beauty of his girlfriend he thinks he's seen God. That's not an answer, it's a question. She's given him the perfect question.

I get creeped out thinking about being so close to chicks, so I wish he handn't gone into so much detail. Also his toilet prop is a bit irritating, and the stream-of-conscious way he jumps from subject to subject. But you don't have to approve of everything somebody does or thinks to identify with parts of their thoughts, to recognize a common motivation or two even if the details are different. This was Allen's last performance of Another You, unfortunately, so if you haven't seen it you'll have to wait a while. But he has a book in progress, a collection of stories called Another Exit.

[drawing] [drawing]

Sluggo is Mike Orr, a helluva friendly guy in Seattle. Email me if you have feedback.