With the publication of “Pulphead,” his debut essay collection, Wilmington’s John Jeremiah Sullivan is being compared to a number of nonfiction icons, including Joan Didion and Hunter S. Thompson.
Sullivan is funnier than Didion, certainly saner than Thompson. But I get the references. Like Didion, he can deliver a piece that captures the spirit of the times. Like Thompson, he can be gonzo.
Publishers Weekly praises his book as “extraordinary prose that’s stuffed with offbeat insight.” The Los Angeles Times calls the work “thoughtful, electric and alive.” In short, he’s a guy worth reading.
Subjects in “Pulphead” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; $16) include Tennessee’s prehistoric cave art, reggae legend Bunny Wailer and Guns N’ Roses’ Axl Rose.
The book also offers an inside look at Creation, a huge Christian rock festival. Initially, Sullivan had planned a festival road trip with a van of hard-core fans.
It seemed a fine idea, until he posted a chat room invitation and learned the fans he was soliciting were young – very young.
“I had just traipsed out onto the World Wide Web,” he writes, “and asked a bunch of twelve-year-old Christians if they wanted to come for a ride in my van.”
One girl who responded tried to set him straight: “I’m not saying you’re a creepy petifile, lol, but I just don’t think you’ll get too many people interested.”
One of my favorite stories in the book is “Peyton’s Place,” Sullivan’s tale of renting his family’s Wilmington house to the people filming “One Tree Hill.”
The family was paid to decamp occasionally to a hotel so the teen TV show could film in their home, which doubled as the home of Peyton. Peyton’s character, Sullivan writes, was “complicated, deeper than the other teens on One Tree, which in teen-show terms meant that she often wore flannel shirts.”
Sullivan, 37, grew up in Louisville, the son of an English teacher and a newspaper reporter who covered, among other things, horse racing in Kentucky. His first book was “Blood Horses: Notes of a Sportswriter’s Son.”
Since 2004, he has lived in Wilmington. His wife, Mariana Johnson, is a UNC Wilmington film professor. They still live in Peyton’s house, but they stopped renting it out to “One Tree Hill.” It got too weird, he told me. Fans, however, continue to pay them visits.
GQ magazine recently published a version of his “One Tree Hill” story. Read it here.