I was pleased to see this review of my late friend David Hansen's book "Off The Road" I did the editing, layout and photographs for this book and published it on blurb.com.
Reviewed by: Rod Clark BookReview.com
“Let me dwell by the side of the road/off the road/and be a friend to man.” These words may be found in an early section of photographer Blaine Dixon’s beautiful compilation: OFF THE ROAD. The same words were also painted on the blistered brick above the fire pit that served as the hearth of the late Street artist and writer David Hansen in his makeshift habitat among the foundations of what used to be the International Hotel in San Francisco—a makeshift home Hansen called “The Pit.” With the help of layout designs and graphic elements supplied by Blurb, Inc., Hansen’s friend Photographer Blaine Dixon has composed a wonderful book of gritty (and sometimes brilliant) underground lit, accompanied by photographs of David, his art, his writings, his environment, his down and out friends, and all the cast off furnishings of a daring and difficult life.
What does “Off the Road” mean in this context? Does it mean being out of the hustle and bustle of ordinary life? Does it refer to the wreckage of a vehicle that was homeward bound after bar time? Is it a deliberate contrast and/or complement to ON THE ROAD, Jack Kerouac’s Bohemian classic? San Francisco after all, since the publication of THE SUBTERRANEANS by Jack Kerouac, has been a breeding basement of American underground culture, and David Hansen’s “pit” certainly qualifies as an underground studio, both by elevation and sensibility.
There are some artistic personalities that, for what ever reason, can only create in the pit, or at its rim. (Malcolm Lawry, for example, in UNDER THE VOLCANO.) Such art often exacts a terrible price from the artist and those who are close to him. Although ex-wino Hansen lived the life of a bum, he did not believe himself to be one. As his wife Rose Marie explains to his son, David is not a bum, because “he’s never stopped scheming and dreaming. Crazy dreams, but he doesn’t know enough to quit.” Yes,the dreams in OFF THE ROAD may be crazy, the syntax loose, and the spelling often creative. Not all the letters make it to the page, but when they do, they often reintegrate into real poetry:
“STRAY CATS of a beautiful Burmese breed were chasing butter- flys through shaggy stands of Timothy,” Hansen writes in “A FIRST RENAISSANCE PERIOD OF DUBIOUS BEGINNINGS.” “California poppies made of bright flecks of orange against the green glitter of an oceans’ worth of long consumed and shattered wine bottles.”
Similar bruised gems of language can be found in sections entitled “The Kandy-Kaine Pain of Painting Christmas,” “Ballad of the Blue Café,” and “Watching the City Burn.” As Hansen eked out a precarious living at the lip of disaster (as a news vendor, a painter of store windows at Xmas time, a seller of used books stolen from the San Francisco Library donation box); much of the life thus supported was documented by the eye of Blaine Dixon’s camera. Dixon knew David well. When the rains made “the pit” less than habitable, David slept on the floor of Dixon’s apartment. Blaine lent the artist money on occasion and helped him publish a few short stories. Sometimes they quarreled as friends often do, especially when divided by economic circumstance. During the period of that acquaintance, these photographs accumulated.
Following a long interval away from San Francisco, Blaine returned to find out from friend and underground art gallery owner Pat Carey that his friend David had died at the age of 52. After returning briefly to France with his wife and Child, Hansen (who had once served in the U.S. army in France and then stayed for a while), returned to San Francisco after learning that his condition was terminal—that alcohol and cigarettes had at long last done him in. Dixon then recalled that at one of his last meetings with Hansen, the writer/artist had asked him to publish his writings with all the eccentric spelling and punctuation intact. OFF THE ROAD is the result of that posthumous collaboration.
This is a wonderful book, a suitable accoutrement for your suburban studio or homeless shelter, a fascinating visual and literary documentation of a creative life lived on the edge—in San Francisco, where the Golden Gate opens to the sea like an escape valve for manifest destiny. OFF THE ROAD captures a person, a place and an ongoing milieu that was first documented by the beat generation in the early fifties. Mostly, these are pictures and poems of a shattered life, fragments of a gleaming jug that once held a rare liquor, or at least a few fingers of “Thunderbird,” that inexpensive elixir of the lost. We can lament the life that might have been—but no one can say who or what Hansen might have been if he had lived differently. Some art can only be created at the edge of the abyss—and this is what we have left of David Hansen, more than what many leave behind them. Blaine Dixon has created and preserved a treasure here. If only every artist had a friend like this….
The book may be purchased at:
"Off The Road" Softcover: