MARK: So, Thom, I hear that you’re going to be leaving us sometime soon. What’s up? I’m hoping it wasn’t anything that anyone said on my site.
THOM: No such luck. My life is in a time of great transition… I’m getting married, finishing my degree at EMU, and trying to decided what to do for grad school. And I was also recently diagnosed with type II diabetes. Living here for over a third of my life has been enough, for now. I am moving to a condo in Novi (owned by my parents) with my fiancée.
MARK: While in Ypsi you lived in a house commonly referred to as the Pleasuredome. What can you tell us about the Pleasuredome, the role that it played in the community, and its ongoing legacy?
THOM: The house in Depot Town we call the Pleasuredome is a one hundred and sixty year old former way station for freshly recruited Civil War soldiers. My bedroom, which is on the first floor, would have been where the country doctor examined them, and the rooms upstairs would have been used to store them before they were sent wherever they went next… probably to die on the front. Much like my great grandmother’s home, the P-dome has been like a depression-era boarding house, a place where people could cheaply turn their lives around, or where a person could completely self-destruct. Dustin Krcatovich once called the P-dome “the longest running semi-autonomous zone in Ypsilanti history.” I would say its role has been multifaceted; it has been a trailer park, a mental institution, cultural center, counterculture flophouse, and philosophical symposium, as well as one of southeastern Michigan’s première venues for some of the most culturally significant outsider music and noise over the last decade. We’ve had musicians and artists play my basement or kitchen from all over America and the world. What is the P-dome’s legacy? Well… it was definitely formative of not a few artists in our area. Its alumni have gone on to either fade into the apeiron, or to be innovators in their mediums. People have told me they already miss it.
MARK: What first brought you to Ypsilanti?
THOM: As a seventeen year old, I applied to one college because I knew someone who lived near campus (who tragically went on to take his life). I was accepted to Eastern, so that’s where I went, and it has made all the difference in my life… That one choice made me who I am today. I never had a plan. For some reason, I have always naturally put more stock in chance circumstances and encounters. I was entranced by the ancient architecture of Ypsilanti, the mesmerizing blur and haunting bellow of the train, Vinyl Joe’s Café, the extraordinarily variegated social scene, the storied hedonistic atmosphere, the oddball cultural history, and the sheer density of creative artists and interesting events. In my highly traumatized, dreamy, and lost youthful condition, it felt like Ypsilanti was the center of the universe… and for me it was. This was especially the case when juxtaposed with the endless expanse of graveyards and golf courses, strip malls… the charmless suburban nowhere I was accustomed to as a youth.
MARK: Will you be moving closer to, and further from, your guru?
THOM: Farther from Rama, who lives in Toledo.
MARK: You are the only person that I know who has a guru. What’s that like?
THOM: Well, guru means roughly, “dispeller of darkness.” I have had many gurus who have been extraordinarily meaningful in my life, including Dr. Sarah Heidt, Dr. Andrew Antis, and Dr. John Koolage. My guru you are referring to, Dr. Ramakrishna Puligandala, is like my philosophical grandfather, and I visit with him about once a month. He is a great rishi and teacher in the philosophical tradition of Advaita Vedanta, or the non-dualistic phenomenological interpretation of the Vedas (India’s oldest wisdom tradition). It means I have a basic metaphysical allegiance to the concept that you and I, and all beings, are actually non-different from Being itself, that there is approximately one ontological reality, it is one without a second, and you are that. Discovering that I was always already in Being, but radically nescient to it, was tremendously soteriological, or life-changing for me.
MARK: Speaking of changes, in the time that you’ve spent in Ypsilanti, you’ve no doubt seen quite a few. If you were to distill those changes into six words, what would those six words be?
THOM: Lack of mindful attention and care.
MARK: Where did you meet your wife to be? What were the circumstances?
THOM: Kassey and I met initially through mutual friends in EMU’s philosophy department, at a now defunct anarchist collective in Ypsilanti – the “Ypsi Free Commune”. We had an encounter where there was a protest (I think over the unionization of adjunct professors) happening at EMU, and there used to be a wall at EMU called the “free speech zone” where people spray painted their crude political slogans and other ephemera. She apparently had spray painted the vulgar expression “fuck EMU cops” earlier, and, not knowing that she’d done it, I commented that whoever had done it was likely a “real sociopath,” vandalizing property with vulgarity like that. She responded saying, “Yeah, a real nut,” but I think I could tell it was her from her reaction. We met again at the commune’s Halloween party, and she was just so adorable to me. At one point in conversation she quoted pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus, and it was all over. The rest is history. Our first date was at Café Habana. And, three years later, we’re getting married… in May of 2014, at a Victorian mansion in Toledo.
MARK: I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that, over the course of the past few years, your comments on this site have been among the more incendiary. I’m curious as to how you see your role relative to this site.
THOM: I grew up reading the 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche… he was probably my first real role model in life. Returning to Nietzsche is like hearing from an old friend. He gets ever more profound with each passing year. Nietzsche (riffing on Martin Luther) commanded those living in the era after the death of God to think with a hammer! Amongst my duties as a philosopher are to sometimes use my thinking as a tuning fork to find that which rings true, that which sounds hollow, and other times to smash utterly that which is rotten! Philosophers in tragic ages are those who are called-out to be diagnosticians and physicians to their sick society, and ours is surely a tragic age. Our bleak, neo-medieval technicity and its ubiquitous relativistic egoism need desperately to be overcome. If our tragically ill society cannot be “enlightened” because of the twisting effects of our absolutist framework of global technology, then individuals must make personal ‘U-turns’ away from the spiritual destitution of our age. I am condemned to be a Socratizing gadfly, wherever I am, and at markmaynard.com.
MARK: What do you think of this site? Feel free to be critical.
THOM: Markmaynard.com and other weblogs like it are the equivalent to the ‘town square’ of yore, it is where the people of our disharmonious hamlet and others voice their ideas. In the age where the ‘virtual’ has entirely overtaken the ‘real’, your site provides an essential function. I don’t care for the mainstream democratic, flesh eater bent if that’s what you mean.
MARK: Will you continue to visit the site after you’ve moved away?
THOM: I’m sure. I’m sort of addicted to markmaynard.com and facebook.com… The cobbler’s house is never finished.
MARK: (I sent the following question to a woman who will be leaving Ypsilanti for China, but, since she never wrote back, and as I very much like the question, I thought that I’d give you a shot at it.) What would shock you the most… If you returned to Yspi, after being away for two years, to find no signs of life whatsoever? Or to come back and find Ypsi a bustling metropolis?
THOM: Frankly I think either would be surprising… apart from EMU I feel like Ypsilanti is a place which will always have a niche appeal for its 19th century architecture, its gritty bar scene, and its cultural history as one of the most artistically productive and strange in the area, which attracts working class weirdoes. I’m sorry; I don’t prognosticate that Ypsilanti will become a megalopolis or a ghost town, barring some unforeseen disaster (in either case).
MARK: What will you miss the most about Ypsilanti?
THOM: The convenience of excellent vegan cuisine in our positively first class restaurants and bars (like Bona Sara Café, Beezy’s, the Sidetrack, Dalat, etc), the Ypsi Food Co-Op, living in beautiful (slightly gothic) Depot Town across from the ancient mayoral mansion, proximity to my hair stylist Sindy (of hair rock band Glitter Trash), living in the shadow of the most enormous lingam statue in the US (which are venerated by worshippers of Shiva), proximity to one of the best bookstores in the world (Cross Street Books), the transcendent tranquility of LeFurge Woods nature preserve (on Prospect), the dreamy Van-Gogh-esq ambiance of Frog Island park… and, mostly, my gloriously strange, beautiful people and ghosts who I love.
MARK: In Casey Dixon’s exit interview, he noted the existence of an “evil tree” in Ypsilanti. Do you know the tree of which he speaks?
THOM: Only the dead one in the P-dome’s backyard, which threatens every house around it.
MARK: Over the course of the past several years, I think it’s fair to say that you’ve done quite a bit to turn your life around. I don’t know to what extent you’d like to share the journey with our readers, but I thought that I’d offer the opportunity, in case you wanted to share?
THOM: Well… after a series of horrific events, I was very alone and trying to drink my profound clinical depression away. At one time my therapist said something like “any one thread of your life would require a lifetime worth of therapy alone.” Drinking was for me an ineffective coping strategy for catastrophically out-of-control traumatic stress; I was a terribly mentally ill person. Ypsilanti has a dark drinking scene, and if you don’t care what happens to you so much, you can find yourself in pretty horrific circumstances. After years of terrible alcoholism, and the kind of debauchery only really depressed people can get into (I was also a fairly prominent drummer/noise artist at this time as well), I eventually started to turn my life around. After a terrible night, I spent a strange day walking for hours, eventually losing myself, staring into the sunlight on the Huron River. Somehow I knew I had to change my life, and that I felt different. I quit smoking Kools (I was a two pack a day smoker for longer than I like to think), and started meditating and walking regularly. The shift came too late to stave off life threatening illness, but since that time, about four years ago; I have lost cumulatively almost one hundred pounds, I drink single glasses of red wine very occasionally, I eat a strict low starch vegan diet, my blood glucose is well controlled, I found Shiva and mysticism (which in itself is a radical shift from my fiery church protesting atheism of the past), I’ve almost completed my double bachelors, and I met the love of my life. Now I lead a mostly relaxing life of erudition, unconventional music (with my new group Oak Openings), and love.
MARK: What was childhood like for Thom Elliott?
THOM: I have some memory loss, but I recall being a highly imaginative, artistic ,and isolated boy, who spent most of my free time in make believe play, drawing, avoiding school work, playing the OG Nintendo, and being involved in theater. I was also constantly harassed, first, as a child, it was for being weird… If you reverse my initials, it spells ET, as in “ET phone home”. And, my last name is Elliott, like the first name of the little boy in the movie. So, I was knows as “alien”, or “ET”. Children are so creative in their cruelty. I was constantly harangued with that until, in middle school, people began alleging that I was a homosexual. I was bullied throughout my public schooling experience, which I may have taken out on my younger brothers and cousins. I was also diagnosed with a learning disability and prescribed Ritalin as a child, so I was made a class-three narcotics addict at twelve, when your brain is most plastic. My rearing may not have been entirely this way, but, unfortunately, what I remember most about my parents growing up was screaming, name-calling, and inappropriate conflict resolution. I was also molested. I’d rather not discuss that really, but there isn’t much to discuss… the person is in prison as far as I know for internet predation. People in my life also started killing themselves in high school, and haven’t stopped; it was a really popular option in the town I grew up in. I made friends with other outcasts, started smoking young, and we made noisy industrial music. Then I went to college too young.
MARK: My friend Pete seems to recall a discussion that the three of us had together in which you noted that you went to school with a person whose “intestines kept falling out.” As I don’t remember this at all, I’m inclined to say that Pete is making it up. Is he?
THOM: No he isn’t, that’s very close… that was after an excruciatingly dry presidential debate that we watched at the Sidetrack. For some reason, I was talking about the school I went to from 7th to 10th grade for intellectually gifted children who also happen to have learning disabilities (Eton Academy in Birmingham), which is an amazing program, and I was very fortunate to go there… but some of the people there had some terrible problems. The fellow who I was talking about, he was born with all his organs on the outside of his body… he was a “miracle” baby… they were able to surgically put them all back in, but he had some… dilemmas.
MARK: What do you hope to find in Novi?
THOM: There is positively shit for me in Novi other then the condo, my family law firm, a radical health-food/Reichian pseudo-science store in Farmington that I love called the “Tree-house for Earth’s Children”, and good Japanese, Thai, and Indian restaurants. There are no book stores (of merit). There are really no weirdo places. The people are all yuppie bilge who drive like they are looking to kill themselves and others… A piece of my heart will always live in Ypsilanti.
MARK: Your most memorable Ypsilanti moment?
THOM: There are so many… maybe my Talking Heads cover band’s set during the Totally Awesome Fest (with Patrick Elkins, Leggz Pierce, and Stevo Doccerson), where they played on the roof of the Déjà Vu. It was so awesomely, spectacularly Ypsi weird.
MARK: Please complete the following sentence. “I’m thankful that I moved to Ypsilanti because______.”
THOM: It is responsible for who I am, and almost all the positive things I have.
MARK: Please complete the following sentence. “Now’s the right time for me to leave Ypsilanti because ______.”
THOM: It just seems like the right time for me, but I will never leave Ypsilanti behind.
[All of our Ypsi/Arbor Exit Interviews can be found here.]