Jesus’ Son: A Twentieth Anniversary Retrospective

by Treehouse Editors

Editor’s Preface

Johannes Lichtman

One night a few months ago, I was engaging in two of my favorite activities: getting drunk and talking about Jesus’ Son. I can’t really enjoy drunkenly ranting about Jesus’ Son with my girlfriend (“You’re ruining our anniversary!”), so I have to seek out young jerk-offs like myself who have nothing better to do on a Monday night than sit around drinking beers and saying “so fucking good!” over and over again.

On this particular night, my friend Chris McCormick mentioned that this year marked the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Jesus’ Son.

“Some magazine should really do a feature on that,” he said.

So I promptly stole the idea for Treehouse. As Picasso said, “Good artists borrow; total bastards steal.” Due to the theft of this total bastard, Treehouse now has six great essays for you over the coming week that investigate what it is that makes Denis Johnson’s life-loving mess of a book so damn good.

On Monday, Robert Anthony Siegel talks about the full experience of reading Jesus’ Son—from seeing “Steady Hands at Seattle General” in Esquire and thinking “This is not a story!” to years later understanding Jesus’ Son as a fragmented novel of redemption. Tuesday brings us the intersection of dream and reality in relation to Barthes’ theory of “the seam” from Chris McCormick (the young jerk-off whose idea I stole). On Wednesday, Patrick Somerville unleashes a powerhouse micro essay for a powerhouse story, as he looks at “Dundun” and asks: “How dare you end with that soldering iron?” On Thursday, Michael Wolfe talks about the difficulties of teaching comp in central Texas, and how those difficulties were exploded when Denis Johnson himself came to Wolfe’s class to read “Car Crash While Hitchhiking.” On Friday, Matthew Specktor shows us how Jesus’ Son’s imperfections make its spectacular moments even greater. And on Saturday, Matt Bell illuminates the idea of birth vs. rebirth at end of the book.

It’s been very exciting to get to host a series on my favorite book—I think our contributors are getting tired of receiving emails from me that start and end with “Excited!”—and even more so to get to showcase this roster of kickass writers. Reading these pieces has helped me understand why I love Denis Johnson’s masterpiece so much. I hope you like ’em too.