Bouncers tell all

By JAMES PARKER  |  August 22, 2007

Bouncer Lit has its origins over the pond, where it began as a subgenre of the “hard man” memoir. The English are very indulgent of their old-school psychopaths, every one of whom — by the mid ’90s — seemed to have a volume of wistful, self-absolving reminiscences displayed face-out at airport bookstores. Gangland torturer “Mad” Frankie Fraser and permanent Category “A” prisoner Charles Bronson were just two of the old lags helping to form the new authorial class. These men were storied head cases, embedded deep in their country’s criminal lore, but less-known faces, too, soon got in the game. Bouncer Lit was inaugurated in 1997 with the publication of Jamie O’Keefe’s Old School–New School (New Breed) and triumphed a year later with the success of Lenny McLean’s The Guv’nor (Blake). McLean, a leg-breaker, bare-knuckle boxer, and mega-doorman with a face like the front of a truck, scored himself (posthumously) a bestseller: now the velvet rope was lifted, and the bouncer invaded the halls of the printed word.

10 Essential Works of Bouncer Lit
Doing the Doors by Robin Barratt (Milo)
A Professional’s Guide to Ending Violence Quickly by Marc “Animal” MacYoung (Paladin)
Show No Fear: A Bouncer’s Diary by Bill Carson (Athena Press)
Bouncers by Julian Davies (Milo)
The Guv’nor by Lenny McLean (Blake)
Fight: Or, Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Ass-Kicking but Were Afraid You’d Get Your Ass Kicked for Asking by Eugene S. Robinson (HarperCollins)
Muscle by Carlton Leach (Blake)
Memoirs of a Bouncer by Mark J. Gadsen (Authorhouse)
A Bouncer’s Guide to Barroom Brawling by Peyton Quinn (Paladin)
Clublife: Thugs, Drugs, and Chaos at New York City’s Premier Nightclubs by Rob the Bouncer (HarperCollins)
Carlton Leach’s Muscle (Blake) arrived in 2002, the literary apogee of UK bouncer criminality. “I’m the Deadliest Bastard You’ll Ever Meet,” runs the type on the front cover. “If You Cross Me, I’ll Track You to the Ends of the Earth and Destroy You.” Ex–football hooligan, debt collector, steroid abuser, and bodyguard — “a compassionate man,” as it says in the preface, “who cried unashamedly when his dog died” — nothing in Leach’s portfolio of heaviness comprehends him like the single word bouncer. “I said, ‘I don’t give a fuck who you are. You’re not welcome.’ A fight kicked off, and I grabbed him by the throat, pulled out a knife, and said, ‘Look, mate, we don’t want this grief. You’ve caused the fucking problem. If you don’t fuck off, I’m going to drag you behind that tree and cut your fucking throat. How do you want it?’ All the boys were on steroids those days and were pumped up and growling at everybody like animals.’ ” US Bouncer Lit has not, so far, produced a work of comparable viciousness. One suspects that it won’t be long.

There’s the bouncer-as-muscle, and then there’s the VIP area. Of all his duties, none more cruelly burlesques the bouncer’s role as interdimensional gatekeeper than his post outside the VIP area. Here the big man endures for hours between wobbling stanchions, flecked with moon-dust dandruff under the UV light, sourly clinking and un-clinking the velveteen sausage of the rope. The glamorous and the entitled breeze by him; he tangles only with the no-hopers. Within the cordon of privilege, there is nothing special: it’s a place where you can spend your money faster — that’s all. But the pull of the rope is powerful. As Rob the Bouncer puts it: “Throw down a set of stanchions in the middle of the Gobi desert, with a velvet rope clipped between them, and you’ll eventually see a guido wander out of the dunes and step over it.”

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