Stories rooted in the imperfect tense


WHEN the angry, drug-addicted Butchie Yost, one of the main characters of “John From Cincinnati,” starts hanging out with the mysterious John, his problems begin to dissipate. The arc of a man, dead to the world, who starts to live again is a familiar one in Kem Nunn’s novels -- and in David Milch’s life.

Milch, 62, has described a childhood tormented by an adored surgeon father who beat him and later committed suicide. He said he was an alcoholic by the time he was 12 and used heroin into his 50s. “I was loaded every day for 30 years. I did all my work -- ‘Hill Street Blues,’ ‘NYPD Blue,’ taught at Yale -- when I was loaded. In the day, it was supposed to be hip, it wasn’t much of a problem. Then it stopped being hip,” said Milch. “I was also [screwed] up, a sociopath, all kinds of stupid things.”

Milch got sober 8 years ago through “God’s grace,” he said. “To me, sobriety is taking the world as I find it. Trying to glorify it in its complexity, its reality, its beauty, its horror, and not try to judge it.”


Of Chris Albrecht, the former HBO chief who last month admitted to an alcoholic relapse in the wake of his arrest for misdemeanor battery, Milch said, “I’m sad and concerned for him.”

Nunn said he admires Milch for having fought his personal demons to a draw. “He can be who he is and make his art,” Nunn said. “It could have gone the other way.”

Beset with health problems (he has had several angioplasties), Milch said he feels time is precious. Still, he said he won’t compromise his work by giving people easy explanations. “I think if you put your work out there, people find a connection to it without being necessarily guided. If that’s [nonsense], and I’m prepared to believe it’s 98% [nonsense], it’s the lie that I want to live by.”

-- L.S.