I'D NEVER HEARD OF HIM. Found his book, The Ghastly One, on sale at Skylight Books; a whole volume on Andy Milligan, the Staten Island schlockmeister usually referred to as the more prolific, "worse" Ed Wood. I knew enough about Milligan's awfulness to be intrigued and found Jimmy McDonough's paperback unforgettable, moving, and brilliantly put together. I sought out his other three books and they were all funny, compulsively readable, staggeringly well researched and ragingly well written. What kind of gutter-dwelling genius would write not only The Ghastly One, but Shakey: Neil Young's Biography, a vast, fevered journey through the life, times and music of the infuriating icon; Big Bosoms and Square Jaws, the tragicomic biography of sexploitation auteur Russ Meyer, soon to be a major motion picture from David O. Russell; and Tammy Wynette, Tragic Country Queen, a bittersweet, evenhanded appreciation of a singular talent most simply worship, deride or ignore? Who was this Jimmy McDonough, who had bushwhacked a course through the night traps and neon thickets of America's postwar counterculture? I had to know. I requested an interview and got a "yes." Learned he lives in Portland. Drives a Dodge Dart. Loves rayon shirts, Casino and Eyes Without a Face.
But he wouldn't or couldn't meet me. Or even talk on the phone. He agreed to field questions lobbed in over the internet and returned answers honed to an off-handed perfection.
Maybe it's that he's a reclusive crank; maybe he's just a control freak. Or maybe it's that Jimmy McDonough knows how to get a subject to come alive on the page; that getting prose to read like a person's talking, requires prose writing, and not just talk transcribing. "I'd like it to be accurate," he says. "Other than that, bombs away!"
— Jonathan Penner
Jimmy McDonough: My first profile was on the honky-tonk singer Gary Stewart for The Village Voice in the mid-'80s. He was hiding out in a Florida trailer with the windows painted black. Much to Gary's surprise I conned my way into that trailer by finding an old 45 he'd been searching for. Gary was maybe the most talented person I ever met. He just didn't give a shit about fame. He was happier at home on the couch, watching Bronson in The White Buffalo for the 400th time. Gary had great country hits in the mid-'70s like "She's Actin' Single (And I'm Drinkin' Double)" before falling off the face of the earth. I wanted to find out what happened to him, tell the world how great he was.
That's really all there is to it: I write about people who move me. For the most part these are individuals I've spent a long time thinking about. There are just things I want to know... . Even as a little kid I'd get really interested in certain subjects. At one point it was Abe Lincoln. I recall a trip to Ford's Theatre. They had to get another tour guide to answer my questions. I was probably ten or eleven. What a little pain in the ass. I wish I could tell ...read more