I was born again, not raised on acid

I’m reading John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead and laughed out loud at this passage in the book’s first article, Upon This Rock. Sullivan has driven a 29-foot RV to a Christian rock festival:

In the midst of all this, I began to hear, through the shell of the twenty-nine-footer, Stephen Baldwin giving a talk on the Fringe Stage—that’s where the “edgier” acts are put on at Creation. If you’re shaky on your Baldwin brothers, he’s the vaguely troglodytic one who used to comb his bangs straight down and wear dusters. He’s come to the Lord. I caught him on cable a few months ago, some religious talk show. Him and Gary Busey. I don’t remember what Baldwin said, because Busey was saying shit so weird the host got nervous. Busey’s into “generational curses.” If you’re wondering what those are, apologies. I was born again, not raised on acid.

Rather than re-type that passage, I found it on GQ.com, where the story was originally published in 2004, only in subtly different form. The changes between the Pulphead version and the GQ versions are bolded:

In the midst of all this, I began to hear, through the shell of the twenty-nine-footer, Stephen Baldwin giving a talk on the Fringe Stage—that’s where the “edgier” acts are put on at Creation. If you’re shaky on your Baldwin brothers, he’s the vaguely troglodytic one who used to comb his bangs straight down and wear dusters. He’s come to the Lord—I don’t know if you knew. I caught him on cable a few months ago, some religious talk show. Him and Gary Busey. I don’t remember what Baldwin said, because Busey was saying shit so weird the host got nervous. Busey’s into “generational curses.” If you’re wondering what those are, too bad. I was born-again, not raised on meth.

I think the first version is actually significantly funnier—being raised on meth has a terrible and sinister undertone and being raised on acid strikes me as absurdist, with comically excellent consequences. That and the description of Baldwin made me laugh out loud.

The articles are “in substantially different form,” from the original, according to Pulphead‘s copyright page (via Sullivan’s wikipedia), and there are a number of minor but notable changes from the GQ version. In one Pulphead passage, Jake “smiled. He said I cracked him up,” but “laughed. He said I cracked him up” in GQ. In Pulphead, Sullivan “woke without having slept—that awful feeling,” a feeling that is “evil” in GQ. A “colossal go-to-pieces” was a “colossal fucking go-to-pieces.”

I greatly prefer the Pulphead version—it is softer, kinder, charitable, and in a story that is remarkable for its charity. In other words, in very small ways, Sullivan has perfected the tone of the article, and I wonder whether the edits are corrections to embellishments put in at GQ, pumping up the volume for its readers, or whether Sullivan, returning to the story after several years, gave it another look and decided things needed to be softer.

But in that case, why not give it a heavier revise? As far as I can tell, structurally, the story is unchanged, which makes me wonder whether it was delivered to GQ in its present form, or whether GQ rearranged it in a way that pleased Sullivan so much that he was happy to reprint it with only these subtle stylistic changes appended. Neither scenario seems likely.

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