THIS BOOK SAVED MY LIFE. Well, not the book per se — although that definitely helped — but one of the guys who wrote it. The Book of the SubGenius told me that there were Others Out There who felt and thought as I did (or as differently as I did), and when I went through a suicidal phase back in ’85 I wrote to co-author Ivan Stang explaining my position. He immediately wrote back a two-page letter asking me not to do it and saying that if nothing else, I could always live for spite — that living could be a sort of revenge against the multiform factors contributing to my wanting to off myself.
Dang if he wasn’t right. Since then, of course, I have found other, more compelling reasons to live, but at the time Stang’s words were exactly what I needed to hear. (“I’ll show ’em. I’ll show ’em all! They won’t get rid of me so easily…”)
The Book of the SubGenius was initially published in 1983, when I worked at Tower Books in Concord, Calif. My first thought on beholding the Book at the bottom of a boxful of thick McGraw-Hill hardcovers was, “What the hell is this?” 35 years later, I’m still asking that question. Some of the answers include the pursuit of Slack (for some, endless time to work hard at their passions; for others, a daily nutritious meal); the smiling, be-piped face of catalog model and aluminum-siding salesman J. R. “Bob” Dobbs; the concept of “Short Duration Personal Saviors” — catalysts for better living that put everything into perspective for a time (a movie or conversation, say, or a fortune cookie, or really anything that “gets you through the night”) but that you don’t have to evangelize about to other people; and the dread, multitentacled Conspiracy, which has a vested interest in robbing everyone of their Slack through forced conformity, nickel-and-diming stress, and general cussedness.
For a price, the Book offered an ordainment in its eponymous authoring body, the Church of the SubGenius. I sent in the requested fee of $20, and the Church sent me back a huge ephemera-stuffed envelope (including ordination card and a big picture of “Bob”) and a lifetime subscription to the irregular newsletter The Stark Fist Of Removal, which featured riffs on the Book as well as the names and addresses of fellow ordainees (some of whom, like David Byrne, DEVO, R. Crumb, and Peewee Herman, are also famous for their own weird reasons).
The Book, like all SubGenius material (and there is a lot of it), was designed to be skim-proof, and thus its message is hard to sum up (or worse yet, explain) in one 300-500-word blog post. But those who know, know. After a few pages of exclamation-mark’d, anthemic wordclips (“Do people think you’re strange? DO YOU???”), the Book begins like this:
Dear Querent into the profundities of This Twisted Randomness We
“IS THIS SOME KIND OF JOKE?”
Well, if you thought this Church was a joke, then you’ll by
God NEVER ‘GET’ THE PUNCHLINE.
Oh, we’re the first to admit that we deliver far more laughs and yuks
per dollar than Scientology, the Unification Church, or any other religious
group, except possibly the Southern Baptists. But they are for Braindeath.
We are against braindeath. That would put a damn bounty on our heads except
that we tread the thin tightwire of the jokes just enough not to have been
covertly killed Or Bought. MY GOD, look what they did to any of our pred-
ecessors that kept straight faces.