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Cowboy poet

Michael Madsen just wants to sign a few books and find a morning drink in this town

Saturday, July 03, 2004
Chris Rose
The Times-Picayune

Michael Madsen, the actor, pulls into the parking lot of Borders book store in Metairie in a Superfly green '72 Lincoln Continental Town Car. That's his limo for the day.
He's got on his Ray-Bans -- always Ray-Bans -- and a pack of American Spirits in the blue box.
His sartorial statement says drugstore cowboy and his squint and face and hair -- those hard-whiskey lines and that too-black pompadour -- give him the look of a country & western star whose best honky-tonking nights are precariously close behind him.
Madsen is in New Orleans to act in the Frankenstein TV mini-series -- written by Dean Koontz and produced by Martin Scorsese. He plays a cop with two hearts, literally.
But this Sunday afternoon, Madsen alights from the old Town Car in a suburban parking lot wearing a different hat: That of the auteur.
Yes, he is a writer. A poet, sort of. A teller of brief, riveting and generally depressing Bukowski-esque musings, observations and anecdotes. Lots of stuff about cigarettes and booze and fighting and women and cars.

What else is there, really?

Here's one called "Sufi Man:"

Sometimes when I drink
too much vodka
my whole life seems
to have been like
the dizzy dance
of the Sufi.
I heard Cat Stevens
was a Sufi.
Maybe I should listen
to more of his music
or maybe I shouldn't
drink so much vodka
I doubt if either
of those things
will happen.

OK, it's not for everyone. I happen to like it, the stark imagery and in-your-face confessions of a profoundly flawed man -- but not too flawed to admit it.
Madsen's newest book is called "46 Down," a title he came up with when he was doing a New York Times crossword puzzle and discovered that he was the clue to 46 down and, therefore, famous.
(I recommend "Burning in Paradise," a previous collection of poems, more autobiographical and visceral than his more recent works, which tend to be dreamy and ethereal.)
Anyway, that's why Madsen was at Borders on a hot and steamy Sunday afternoon -- to sign books.
Although Madsen has made more than 100 movies, he has -- in past interviews -- openly admitted that about 95 of them suck and of the five remaining, he will always be remembered as Mr. Blonde from "Reservoir Dogs," the guy with ice in his veins who cuts a cop's ear off while dancing to "Stuck in the Middle With You" by Steeler's Wheel.
And he recently starred in the "Kill Bill" series (they don't suck, says Madsen), so his fan base is drawn primarily from the Quentin Tarantino school of film buffs and they are -- how do I say this nicely? -- a little intense.
You know, the kinds of guys who can recite Samuel L. Jackson's entire Burger King monologue from "Pulp Fiction," word for word. That kind of nebbish intensity is what I'm talking about.
So a handful of people show up, buy a book, take a picture, tell him they love his work and leave. Maybe 20 in all.
"The adoring masses," he murmurs, but he doesn't seem bent out of shape about it. He worked until sunrise that morning, filming nighttime scenes, so he's a little tired and a little frazzled, but he treats everyone very kindly.
He's scheduled to sign for two hours but the crowd thins fairly quickly so he decides to take a break. He asks a Borders employee, an adoring fan: "Where can I get some liquor around here?"
The guy does his best to explain that there's a convenience store down Vets a few blocks and, with that, Madsen walks out the door alone, a famous face, red shirt and cowboy boots exploring the suburban outback.
He's not gone long. He comes back, signs a few more books, chit-chats with his traveling amigo, another rough-hewn character with a three-day growth, and his driver, a trusted New Orleans friend.
The two hours pass and that's it, Michael Madsen, author, goes back to Michael Madsen, actor. He climbs into the old Town Car looking every bit like the time-warp Hollywood outlaw that he is and they drive away.
His life goes on, at 45, more movies, more stories, more memories for print and barrooms.
I page through "Burning in Paradise," reading the poems.

"Luxembourg:"

Rain drops sliding down
the windshield crying clouds
feeling better, I took my belt off,
dropped it on the couch,
it looked like a black snake.
I can hear the traffic on the highway,
cars driving through rain sounds
the same wherever you go.

. . . . . . .

Columnist Chris Rose can be reached at chris.rose@timespicayune.com; or at (504) 352-2535 or (504) 826-3309. Or you can leave a comment any time on the Chris Rose forum at www.nola.com.

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