I grew up in a California town that no one's ever heard of called Riverside. Being a creepy goth in Southern California was surprisingly easy because, when faced with endless, endless sunny days, the go-to rebellion is to shun all vitamin D enriched goodness in favor of old books and masturbating both yourself, and your friends. My unknowing guide down this path was a man named Johnnie B. Baker who lived in a rickety house filled with brilliant pervs in downtown Riverside, and ran an independent press called Budget Press.
The first thing I ever got published was a chap book called "It's Always Something" that BP put out in the late 90s. I still think about Johnnie, the guys who lived in that house, and the fact that I sucked a gay man's toes and made love to my Mormon girlfriend in an upstairs room there, in front of a crowd, while a wedding ceremony was being held in the backyard.
Johnnie is revving up the Budget Press engines once again to release Budget Press Review # 5. There's a Kickstarter underway to raise funds for the printing of the anthology, and you should really donate to it. Especially if you're interested in hearing all about my most recent breakup. Why wouldn't you??
I interviewed Johnnie to find out more about what exactly his goals are, for life or whatever. Here's what he said:
VICE: Budget Press began in 1995, but when did you get the idea to do it, and how did you wrangle up contributors?
Johnnie B. Baker: The idea of Budget Press had been in my head for years before I did it. But then I moved back to Riverside from San Francisco and I was living in an art studio at the Life Arts Building. In Riverside I found one has to keep oneself angry and busy. The angry thing is easy, but the busy thing can be hard. But if you don’t keep busy, you can get real comfortable, and bored, and apathetic, and then no longer angry. So I was back in the ‘cide and I was surrounded with talented people, and Budget Press was how I kept from getting sucked into the black hole. I started by publishing myself, then some friends, and then you were the first person I published that I didn’t know, who found Budget Press somewhere and sent some stuff in.
Was one of your initial goals to corrupt young sponges like myself and set us down the path towards filth, or is that just what happened?
That was not one of my initial goals, which were just wanting to publish my friends and keep busy. But there were a lot of 17-19 year-olds around, and soon I realized that made me, in my late 20s, seem like a sage of some sort. So yeah, corrupting young minds became a goal of mine, though there were others who took on that role with more relish. Indeed corrupting as many young minds as possible has since been a very important priority in my life. Now I’m a professor, and I get paid to corrupt young Southern California suburban kids with my leftist agenda and stories of drug abuse and sexual impotence in foreign lands.
I remember bringing home a few copies of the chapbook I did for Budget Press entitled "It's Always Something," and showing one to my Dad. What I hadn't realized, before handing the book to my father, was that there was a drawing of a fat man with a huge penis on the back cover. I don't even think I knew what a penis was, and still don't, really, but my Dad sure did and when he saw that he looked like he wanted to cry. Looking back on this now, I would consider that moment a general life "success." How do you feel about it?
I don’t know why there was a fat man with a big penis on the back cover of your chapbook. That was not normal. There was Pat’s “Unpleasantly Plump” that had a fat man with a big penis on the cover. So although that is strange, I’m glad I could help. But have you really never seen a penis?
I got the word FUCK tattooed on my leg when I was nineteen. My mother has offered to pay to get it removed. Last summer my mom and I went to Puerto Rico, and one day we went on a hiking/rowing group excursion thing. In our group was a family (mom, dad, girl, boy) from Iowa, and of course I was wearing shorts the whole day. That night in our hotel room, I remembered my tattoo, and realized that Iowa family had probably loved that. I made the mistake to tell my mother about this realization, and she got upset and told me the father had said to her “Your son is nice, but what’s up with the tattoo?” I laughed, and she went on about how she was embarrassed and what not, and I finally said “Sometimes the squares need to be fucked with!” So there ya go.
Some of my happiest memories of my formative years were taking the bus to Downtown Riverside and creeping around the Budget Press house to eavesdrop on everyone's conversations in an effort to learn how to be a cool, writerly person. I remember how the house smelled like old leather, paper, and wood, and that everything in it seemed like some unearthed treasure of great importance. Did you have any idea that what you guys were doing at the time would have such an effect on people?
I think every town, and every generation within that town, and the different groups within that generation, have these houses that exist for a few years in our youth that become the hang out place. I’m glad that for a few years the House of Men was that house. I think the others who lived in the house were more the cool artists and writers, I was just the one who helped provide a space for people to let their freak flag fly. That’s kind of what Budget Press is as well.
How would you explain Riverside to someone who has never heard of it, which most people haven't.
I think that people who never fit in when they grew up and fought hard to get out and stay out sometimes over-romanticize the evilness where they came from. It is street cred, it makes them seem more battle-hardened. That being said, I have traveled to a lot of places in the world and met a dizzying array of people, and the biggest freaks I have ever met are the freaks from Riverside.
Every time some other magazine or website lists the 10 or 15 worst places in the US for whatever, Riverside and the Inland Empire region are at the bottom. I love when I find these and I always post them. Like the April 14 NY Times - "In January, Forbes magazine named Riverside the hardest city in the country in which to find a job." "The Inland Empire and the San Joaquin Valley, in the center of the state, have some of the highest rates of poverty in the country." When I was growing up in Riverside, all my friends did speed and worked in construction. Now all the construction jobs are gone, and the speed is smuggled in from Mexico. And I just saw today that of the 25 largest US metro areas, Riverside/San Bernardino is the worst for women, where “one out of five adult women have never completed high school, and typical female wage-earners bring home about $22,300 a year.”
Riverside in the end is not much different than any of the other dead-end nowhere conservative suburban shitholes that dot the US, though by nearly all statistical measures, it is one of the worst. Nevertheless, it is still in Southern California, and that’s a whole lot better than Kansas.
Where do you see Budget Press in another 15 years?
Budget Press is basically my artistic outlet. Ten years ago Budget Press stopped publishing, but for a few years it was an email list, and then for a few years there was a blog, and now I’m back to publishing. In fifteen years I may be living in Argentina or Chile or Uruguay, and who knows what publishing technology will be like then, so who knows what Budget Press will be. The thing is with Budget Press is, it’s all me. At times I get other people to contribute, but in the end, I do whatever the hell I want to do. And fifteen years from now, who knows what I’ll want to do?