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Hello, my name is Valorie. I have a Master's Degree in History and a license to teach-- I have been both university professor and public school teacher. Currently, I am a middle school social studies teacher. I love horror movies and spooky things. Every day is Halloween. I am also a passionate book blogger.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Blog Tour, Book Review & Author Interview: Visions on America by Jean Koning

Today I would like to welcome author, artist, and musician Jean Koning to Epeolatry.  He is here promoting his book Visions on America. It was a real pleasure for me to get to read his book since he is a pretty unique guy and I love people full of opinions. It proves the person is listening. For more information about Jean Koning, visit his personal homepage or the official !JP site.

About Visions on America

Visions' is a collection of columns written for the e-zine The Noise. A surprisingly intimate portrait on life and every day politics, accomplished with a fierce manner of writing. Inspired by his own research for the musical album 'Notes from Purgatory', Jean Koning digs deep into the well of his personal life and blends the stories he found there with his experiences and visions of the American Way of Life, to portray a whirlwind of emotion, anger and doubt. Dipped deep in a cocktail of absurdity and melancholy, the swift stories are built upon the eagerness to achieve a deeper understanding "in" trends, hypes and the corrupt world of commercial art. 

The stories' subjects change as swiftly as the Dutch climate. From Amsterdam hookers to New York art openings and the ongoing war in Iraq. From the duality toward American lifestyles and Hollywood productions to Barbie and Ken in a setting of ironic perversity. From a heartfelt letter full of tips for Hillary Clinton to a remarkable talk show with Oprah Winfrey. 'Visions' is a humoristic approach of the life we lead today, with a huge comment made on worldwide politics. This is our planet today, with America as the prime suspect, Europe as the jury and Koning himself as the brutal judge. Surprisingly enough, Koning doesn't point a finger of blame at anyone without pointing that finger at himself first.

My Review of Visions

Visions: on America by Dutch artist Jean Koning is a collection of columns written for an e-zine called The Noise. Koning writes in a tone that is blunt, humorous, opinionated, and unapologetic. There is a little bit of everything discussed in the succinct little snippets of life that Koning writes: sex, drugs, commercial art, finger pointing, rap music, coffee, public transportation, war... Did I mention that there is also some Oprah, Tom Cruise, and Hillary Clinton mentioned? And, best of all, some mentions of The Smiths and Morrissey? Though the subtitle is on America, the book is about a lot more than how non-Americans see America. The book is rather a reflection on life, the insight of one person who is without a doubt the culmination of personal experience. And it is refreshing and interesting to see the way that my culture, that of America, is seen by people in Europe. The opinions expressed are always amusing and never offensive, and maybe a bit pleasingly hedonistic, which we could all use a bit more of in today's world where news reports of international conflict shake us to the core. It also speaks of human reservation and the limitations that we place on ourselves, sometimes for propriety, and sometimes just because we want to fit in. Koning questions what art is, what freedom is, and why we place so many restrictions on our nature for the sake of what we perceive to be the better good. Yet, ultimately, the book is just funny. If you are a patriotic American, maybe an extreme right-winger, you might want to shy away or calm down a bit before you pick this book up because it is not a kiss ass book or a series of articles about "what's so great about America." I particularly loved the part about Tom Cruise's Interview With the Vampire role being nothing more than a ploy for him to come out of the closet to Brad Pitt and Antonio Banderas. If only, Koning, if only. I hope to see you on Oprah soon.

Interview With Jean Koning

Q: What do you do to prepare to write? What is the process that gets you ready to sit down a lay out a story?
A: It depends on what I'm about to write. When I try to write lyrics for my music, I usually have a theme of music that I write to. I try to make up a feeling or a story from the past that fits the music and start writing down just words and short sentences. That is such a different way to write than when I work on a novel. For a novel I think of the story. Once I think it's a story worth writing about I make up characters. I try to develop the characters in the earliest stage. And once the characters have voices, "this could take months, even years," the story tells itself. And then there are the columns. For Visions, I wrote on the spot. Things happened in my life and I instantly wrote down a few notes. Later I developed these scribblings into the stories that are collected in Visions. It seemed at the time the best way to work, since I wanted to show America a little bit of instant absurdity. My life is quite absurd, you know, but usually I realize weeks after an event the amount of absurdity that tiny detail in my life allowed itself to grow into. (Do you catch my drift, here?!) For Visions, I wanted to grab these moments and the feeling it gave me on the spot. In retrospect, perhaps the title should have been Tales from the crazy dude on the street, but who would buy that?!?

Q: Visions is a collection of e-zine columns and I am curious to know how you see e-zines compared to other forms of media. What do e-zines have to offer that make them unique?
A: I think e-zines are a left-over from the underground scenes. And that's exciting. I love the underground. I have lived there for many years. And there were these fanzines they used to put out there. I think e-zines in existence come closer to fanzines than to regular magazines. The exciting thing about that is that the e-zines are edited by those people who actually are topic-aficionados. I mean: an executive-economic-chairman with a passion for Mozart would never put out an e-zine about the necessity of punk-bands. He could do an e-zine about economics or the disastrous financial drama we woke up to. Or even Mozart. And he could attract readers who think alike. The downside of Magazines today is that they try to cover, like, the entire world. You can read about politics in Vogue and NME does fashion shoots with singers and bands. It's all a huge melting pot of information. And e-zines seem to cover only one interest. In fact it's a topic on line life and e-zines and blogs and so on I am working with right now. But that's going to be something musical.

Q: Visions is about life in America and the experiences of those in this country. If you had to sum America up in just one sentence, what would you write?
A: "Land of the free, home of the strange."

Q: How do you think people in the future will regard our present? What will they say we achieved or failed at?
A: This is an interesting question. I think-- I hope actually-- people will say we were selfish, stupid and numb. We have a close history of violence and warfare. The Second World War should be a school to our generation and the generations after us. But still there's war everywhere, all the time. Instead of learning from our mistakes, we wasted time perfecting weapons. Instead of teaching our children that every life on this planet is valuable, we teach them to fight for their dubious governmental rights. This is also an interesting point for the internet generation. We now have the ways of mass-communication; the world we live in has never been so small. But we don't know how to communicate. I love the saying: "You talk a lot, but you say so little!" I think that that one sentence sums up our generation. It's all talking and little to no action. We all scream and shout that we want to end all wars, want to end all poverty, want to end all hunger, but no body actually does anything. We have achieved the communication but we failed at communicating. Do you still understand me?

Q: I've looked around your website at all of your various projects and you've done a lot of stuff that would be considered edgy. Of course, a lot of people assume that this is for shock value only. What would you say to them? What do you try to impart on people through your art?
A: I would say: "I'm shocked that you think that way." But honestly, there is not a lot I can say to them. It's funny actually. Ever since I turned thirty, these mid-life-crisis-women-- do you know them? The type of woman who turns fifty and suddenly starts to paint and visit gallery openings and Jean Koning concerts. Nodding to the tunes of the music-- seem to understand me better than I understand myself. They find things I do suddenly interesting, but they voted against me ten years ago. The same women. And men, actually. I don't think what I do is quite shocking. Sure, there is some nudity and sure I write a lot of f*ck*ng words, but it is all a form of art. It is my voice. I don't want to shock people. I want people to understand that there are alternatives. It's not all just Hollywood. I tried Hollywood once, but I had to bleach my teeth. That was enough for me. I smoke and I drink a lot of coffee. It is not possible to bleach my teeth. Not anymore. But European cinema is the place where there is a lot of nudity. Even in some theatre pieces I've done, they've asked me to go the full Monty. But it's not different when I write. My words are also very naked. Hard, harsh and naked. But all of it comes from a good heart.

Q: What is the most valuable piece of knowledge that you've picked up after becoming a published author that you wish you knew from the start?
A: "There is a thing called 'genre'." I wish I would have taken that one more serious. I wanted to blend and mix and cook with French recopies and Asian herbs, but nobody likes that dish.

Q: What writer or writers are your favorite(s)?
A: I love the Beat Generation. Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kerouac.

Q: What is one thing you've never done but would love to do?
A: I still would love to do a Hollywood film one day. But without the bleaching. And when Hollywood doesn't accept that, I'd like to see how Steve Buscemi turns my latest novel (in Dutch only, but I'm hoping for a translation) into a film.

Q: What would your "theme" song be on the soundtrack of your life?
A: Wild is the Wind by David Bowie.

Q: Finally, could you share with all of us a quote that you love?
Once upon a time I was in my favorite cinema, where I watched Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and at some point the main character "forgot his name" played by John Cusack interviews the Lady Chablis and then she says: "My grandmother used to say: Two tears in a bucket, M*therf*ck it!"  I wish I wrote that line. That's a lovely quote. And--this is not really a quote, but let's be funny here-- once I read someone's T-shirt and it screamed "Do you want to have my abortion?" which I thought was fabulous.

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