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Awesome Men Throughout History: Blaster Al Ackerman

I was going to wait a little while longer before featuring another Baltimore artist as an Awesome Man Throughout History, but time has forced my hand a bit. Blaster Al Ackerman, an artist, writer, and pillar of the Baltimore weirdo community, passed away recently, and since I’m a fan of his work, it feels right to give him his propers.

I used to run into Blaster every so often at Normals Books and Records, where he worked until he moved back to Texas in 2010, and Citypaper’s description of him as “a quiet and compact 62-year-old, outwardly remarkable only for his full gray beard and his ever-present flat cap” is pretty accurate. At a glance, Blaster looked a lot like every other Baltimore eccentric of a certain age, with a touch of old Baltimore charm and a demeanor that blurred the line between mild social awkwardness and smarter-than-you zen calm.

His writing is equally hard to pin down. Blaster (whose real name was William Hogg Greathouse, according to Wikipedia), was obsessed with pulp authors and fanzines, and used to write them letters that said things like “I am a very young person in San Antonio, Tex. Tell me how to get out of here.” His work as an adult was very pulp-influenced, with lots of black humor, surrealist word games, and playful obsessions with madness and weird phenomena thrown in. His work didn’t always make a whole lot of sense, and would probably drive readers of mainstream or literary fiction crazy, but his writing had a pure sense of fun, even when it got weird.

Blaster’s books and collections also have some of the best titles around. I Taught My Dog to Shoot a Gun is probably my favorite, but Let Me Eat Massive Pieces of Clay is pretty good, too. The latter volume occupies a place of honor in my bathroom.

Blaster was also a participant in the correspondence art movement, in which a community of artists circulates their work, be it visual, written, or audio, through the mail. It’s the art equivalent of those people who send each other postcards even when they’re not on vacation, and correspondence artists often make the envelopes a part of the artwork, too. Blaster was a part of that community for decades, and collections of his visual work have been displayed in galleries, where the single-mindedness of its creation is as obvious (and impressive) as its quality.

I like Blaster’s work because it’s funny and odd and subversive, but I also really admire how much of it he produced in his lifetime. The world is full of “artists” who never do anything unless they’re in school for it, but guys like Blaster—people whose work ethic and strange sensibilities drive them to make art all the time—are a rare breed, and they should be celebrated for what they put into their respective art scenes. Blaster did a lot for Baltimore whether most of the people who live here know it or not.

If you’re so inclined, check out this free mp3 audiobook of I AM DRUNK, narrated by the author with a bar of soap in his mouth. I am not even kidding about that last part.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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