Unfortunately, Jan Stacy died in 1989 and his life has remained a mystery to readers, fans and scholars....until now. Paperback Warrior was able to locate Jan Stacy's only known living relative, his stepbrother Samuel Claiborne. In a lengthy interview, Paperback Warrior was able to piece together Stacy's short but remarkable life including his inspiration for writing, his fascination with doomsday fiction and his talented musicianship. Our latest Unmasking article hopes to answer questions that have been posed for decades about this mysterious author.
The end of the world leads us to the beginning...
|Left: Jan Stacy / Right: Samuel Claiborne|
After attending the liberal arts college Sarah Lawrence, Stacy found himself as a mainstay in the beatnik culture surrounding New York City's Washington Square Park. It's here that Stacy began his artistic and politically charged endeavors.
“Jan began as a folk singer in Washington Square and it was like a really big network with people like Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe. This hippie culture is where Jan's artwork and his music came from despite the masculine novels that he would later write. Jan's mother was extremely involved in the War Resisters League and worked a lot in The Village counseling young people on how to avoid the Vietnam War draft. I haven't been able to locate it but there is a photo somewhere of Jan burning his draft card in Washington Square in 1966,” explained Claiborne.
In addition to music, the early 1970s found Stacy exploring Xerox Artwork, an artistic trend that had become a staple in the punk music scene.
Claiborne recalls, “I can remember Jan and I would cut the labels off of Campbell's soup cans and he would make these custom labels with odd artwork and put them on the cans. It became a huge hit and Jan would sell them on the street. Campbell's threatened to sue Jan for $16-million over it so he stopped. Later, Jan opened an art gallery in Soho called Fear of Art and it was just around the corner from Talking Heads' singer-songwriter David Byrne. We used to always think that Byrne got the inspiration for the album Fear of Music from Jan's Fear of Art gallery,”
It was in Washington Square that Stacy met his longtime writing partner, Ryder Syvertsen. After Stacy obtained a job working at the New York Times' Classified Advertising Department, both Stacy and Syvertsen began writing music with Claiborne and coming up with book and story ideas. In 1983, the two collaborated on a non-fiction book titled Great Books of Movie Monsters, published by Columbus Books. The two followed a year later with the Great Book of Movie Villains. In 1984, Stacy produced his first solo book titled Rockin' Reels: An Illustrated History of Rock and Roll Movies.
“Jan loved pulp and movie monsters and we shot a music video involving monsters and quite possibly the most cheesy stop-action movie monster of all-time. We loved the cheesy movies where you can practically see the strings. We did band rehearsals every Saturday and then that afternoon we would watch Kung Fu double-features. We would rehearse, then watch 4-hours of Kung Fu movies and then go smoke pot. But Jan loved horror movies and was a fan of Night of the Living Dead,” explained Claiborne.
Beginning in 1984, Stacy and Syvertsen collaborated on a post-apocalyptic series titled Doomsday Warrior under the pseudonym Ryder Stacy. The eponymous first novel is set in the year of 2089 where most of the world is either controlled by the Soviet Union or in a widely contested battle with the communist country. Most of the U.S. was decimated by nuclear bombs and the survivors maintain a meager living either as slaves or wretched scavengers who have succumbed to radiation's side-effects. The series was published by Zebra and ran for a total of 19 installments between 1984 through 1991. The first four novels, Doomsday Warrior, Red America, The Last American and Bloody America were authored by both Stacy and Syvertsen. The remainder of the series was penned solely by Syvertsen.
In 1985, another post-apocalyptic series emerged from Zebra titled C.A.D.S. (Computerized Attack Defense System). It also ran from 1984 through 1991 and consisted of 12 total novels. The house name given was John Sievert but this was a combination of different authors. The first novel, Nuke First Strike, was authored by both Jan Stacy and Ryder Syvertsen. Installments 2-8 were penned solely by Syvertsen with books 9-12 authored by David Alexander (Phoenix).
Jan Stacy's most prominent literary work would emerge in 1986. The Last Ranger series was published by Popular Library and ran for 10 total installments through 1989 (and ultimately Jan's death). The series protagonist, Martin Stone, is introduced to readers as an athletic, cocky teen who defies his father, a stern and conservative military leader. When the Soviet Union begins a nuclear assault on the U.S., Stone and his family retreat to an underground mountain fortress where Stone's father teaches him survival, martial arts and weapons for a number of years. Once his father dies, Stone emerges from the compound only to witness his mother being murdered and his sister abducted. The monomyth series emphasizes Stone's struggles with authority as he searches the wasteland for his sister. It was Stacy's third consecutive post-apocalyptic series of novels, a trend that may have been formulating at a young age.
“The doomsday thing was really a culmination of things. Jan growing up in the 1960s during the Cold War scare. His mom was Jewish and you have to remember that the European Jewish attitude is that God is out to get them. The idea that you just can't rely on anything was prevalent. Think of Woody Allen, a paranoid guy who thought the world was out to get him. Jan was like that and he loved Doctor Strangelove [1964 black comedy film]. Jan and his mom were also at odds and had a strained relationship. She was a committed pacifist and I think sometimes Jan would write these macho books as a way of defying her,” says Claiborne.
The Last Ranger's Martin Stone paralleled Stacy's own life in many ways. Stacy's strained relationship with his alcoholic father and his avoidance of the Vietnam War mirror events in the series self-titled debut. As the series continues, Native American mysticism is introduced as well as Stone's fighting skills in the martial arts.
“When Jan went to Africa to break his heroin addiction, he brought back these gorgeous African spears. I still have one of them. He also brought back a lot of Asian martial arts stuff. Jan was a great martial artist. He studied Chi Kung, Ba Gua, Hsing Yi and Tai Chi. Jan moved Chi around instead of just using brute strength. He was interested in internal martial arts. He also boxed at the famed Wu Tang Physical Culture Association. It was this crazy squatter place in The Village ran by Frank ‘The Snake’ Allen. Jan started training there and was a really short, fast wiry martial artist,” explained Claiborne.
Stacy was in a lot of musical acts from 1978-1988 and when he was age 29 he asked the younger Claiborne to join his band. The two formed a trio with Peter Ford called Things Fall Apart, which Stacy named after the novel by Chinua Achebe. Things Fall Apart existed from 1983 to 1987 and had started to find their own sound and audience. The act began opening on Saturday nights at the famed CBGB club in New York City. Just as the band had begun making strides, Stacy surprisingly told the members he didn't want to play gigs anymore.
|Left to Right: Samuel Claiborne, Peter Ford, Jan Stacy|
Photo Credit: Peter Ford
In February of 1989, Zebra published the only stand-alone novel Jan Stacy wrote, a vigilante novel called Body Smasher. Claiborne explains the idea behind the novel:
“The book's cover features the real-life professional wrestler Captain Lou Albano. Jan got to meet the wrestler and talk to him about the book. The idea was the book was going to tie into a wrestling promotion. It was a whole cross marketing idea that was to be a successful series of books.”
Stacy's later installments of The Last Ranger were written in a dark, negative tone with Martin Stone facing extreme adversity. In 1988's The Damned Disciples, the series' ninth novel, Stone is enslaved by a religious cult, drugged and forced to stir an enormous pot containing a sedative called Golden Nectar for weeks. I think this novel best orchestrates Stacy's endless cycle of AIDS medications. His body's resistance to AZT could have been Stone's own resistance to the forced drugs provided by his jailer. Claiborne seems to think this was a case of life imitating art. In fact, Stacy may have been on his deathbed when he authored The Last Ranger series finale, aptly titled Is This The End?
Claiborne remembers Stacy's last days:
“Jan was still working at the New York Times when he got sick. I am speculating that he made about $5K per book for the adventure novels. St. Martin's Press was involved with the non-fiction books and they paid more. Jan also had received an advance on a memoir he was going to write about getting off heroin. But Jan did what a lot of people did with AIDS and just stayed distant. Didn't want to hang out. Didn't want to talk about AIDS or anything. I remember calling Ryder Syvertsen maybe in July or August of 1989 and he told me if I wanted to see Jan to go to the Cabrini Medical Center in New York City because he was in a coma. One of Jan's martial arts teachers, Mr. Chen, was this unbelievable World War 2 veteran and he gave Jan some Chi and was able to wake him up from the coma. Jan left the hospital and wanted to go to Cape Cod, Massachusetts to live with his mother and my father. I drove him up in a Dodge Astro Van and I remember he was so small at the time and he had difficulty getting up the steps. We got to the house and Jan was reserved. He motioned for me to come over and he told me he loved me. That was a rare thing and he told me he didn't want to die. His health got really bad at the house and my father and his mother put him back in the hospital where he eventually succumbed to his illness.”
Stone suddenly knew he'd be seeing his mother and father again real soon. Well, that would be nice. He wondered in a strangely calm way within the storm of his fear just what it would be like to die. And suddenly he wished with a burst of incredible force that surged through his body right up from the depths of his libido that he could get laid once more before he died. - Excerpt from Is This The End?
Jan Stacy Bibliography:
Great Book of Movie Monsters (1983) w/Ryder Syvertsen
Great Book of Movie Villains (1984) w/ Ryder Syvertsen
Rockin' Reels: An Illustrated History of Rock and Roll (1984)
Body Smasher #1: Body Smasher
Body Smasher #2: Death March
Doomsday Warrior #1: Doomsday Warrior (1984) w/Ryder Syvertsen
Doomsday Warrior #2: Red America (1984) w/Ryder Syvertsen
Doomsday Warrior #3: The Last America (1984) w/Ryder Syvertsen
Doomsday Warrior #4: Bloody America (1985) w/Ryder Syvertsen
C.A.D.S. #1: Nuke First Strike (1985) w/Ryder Syvertsen
Last Ranger #1: Last Ranger (1986)
Last Ranger #2: Savage Stronghold (1986)
Last Ranger #3: Madman's Mansion (1986)
Last Ranger #4: Rabid Brigadier (1987)
Last Ranger #5: War Weapons (1987)
Last Ranger #6: The Warlord's Revenge (1988)
Last Ranger #7: The Vile Village (1988)
Last Ranger #8: The Cutthroat Cannibals (1988)
Last Ranger #9: The Damned Disciples (1988)
Last Ranger #10: Is This The End? (1989)
Buy a copy of The Last Ranger HERE
These deep dives are really great. Thanks.ReplyDelete
I think I had the Movie Monsters book back in the day. I'm going to look this guy up - thank you!ReplyDelete
Hi Sam! I was Jan's friend in our late teens and off and on until he died, although we'd spend years apart sometimes.--i went out of town to college, and like that. He was best friends since toddler-hood with the woman i eventually married.ReplyDelete
This is a remarkably apt write up, and I'm so grateful for it. The only thing missing is that we can't now feel how beautiful his singing was. His completely wacky sense of humor does come across, though For one terrible example, one of those fake Campbell soup labels was for 'cream of baby' soup--awful, but gross and funny at the same time--very Jan. It might be that one that got him sued. I thought the suit was from Warhol, not Campbell's but Sam must be right. Anyway, thanks again. I still love Jan, 30 years after his very awful death.