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Tucson Weekly Culture Doctor

The Writings Of A Lesser-Known Pop Culture Visionary Resurface On The Small Press

By Tonya Janes

Ask Dr. Mueller: The Writings of Cookie Mueller, by Cookie Mueller (Serpent's Tail). Cloth, $16.

SEPTEMBER 8, 1997:  COOKIE MUELLER'S CINEMATIC presence as the hard-boiled psycho-hippie temptress of John Waters' films did much to enhance her wayward notoriety. Possessed with heavily mascared eyes and a gift for vintage mix-and-match chic, Cookie knew how to work her medium to a T. At the time she appeared in such films as Multiple Maniacs and Pink Flamingoes, few knew that Cookie could write stylish prose. Unlike many of the crazed and strung-out narcissistic hipsters of the day, she chronicled the weird and fantastic in an even, meditative tone fueled by a sweetness so genuine that you have to wonder: What special gift allowed her to rise above the snarly catches of fame and drugs and egomaniacal bliss? And why, after all that, did she have to die so relatively young?

Ask Dr. Mueller is the first collection of Cookie's writings, including stories from her Baltimore and Haight-Ashbury days in the late '60s and works from the '70s and '80s spent in Provincetown, New York and elsewhere around the world. Nan Goldin, Cookie's friend, occasional travel companion and photographer of the party-hardy elite, shot photos of Mueller that grace the front and back of this diverse collection of stories, essays and magazine columns. The unkempt hair--Waters says she never combed it, that was her look--and many-ringed hands set the mood; not exactly hippie or punk or slut, Mueller had her own look that defied tradition.

Desperate for a cure from adult acne, I first discovered Cookie's indispensable advice in the pages of her chapbook, How to Get Rid of Pimples, a holistic-dietary remedy published in 1984. The East Village Eye ran her "Ask Dr. Mueller" question-and-answer column in the early '80s, featuring advice on how to deal with insomnia, impotence, rashes, aging skin, AIDS, needles, and love. Word has it that she wrote both the questions and the answers. Here's her answer to a "reader" asking if people can really die of a broken heart:

The human body is at its maximum energy and health peak when the soul is in love. There is no other time when one feels better, physically. Unrequited love can throw the body into a sort of shock, but love that has been found and lost is by far the most disastrous situation...If you can't seem to eat anything at all...and I've said this before...take some brewer's yeast...at least it's food that is easily digestible and it contains all the B-vitamins and essential amino acids that are so depleted during a stressful situation. Love, The Doc.

While Cookie understood the hippie-speak of peace and auras and third eyes via tripping on substances too numerous to name, she was also blessed with a down-home charm that enabled her to move through a broken and wounded culture with the studied skill of an anthropologist, picking up anecdotes here and there while getting cozy with the natives. Her prose has the easy manner of a brushstroke let go, not rushed nor overly studied but laid-back and gently experimental, especially in the non autobiographical stories "Brenda Losing" and "The One Percent."

Her later work, collected from columns about art and other social concerns, published in the early days of Details magazine when it still had some verve, explained, among other things, how to spot good art: "It's easy. All you have to do is imagine the painting in question under a fluorescent light in a dingy little room against a really ugly wall--one with cracking, yellow-stained, and finger-smudged wallpaper. If the painting looks good in this setting, you've found the masterpiece for you." Her thoughts are part tongue-in-cheek, part truth. After all, she watched Jean-Michel Basquiat go through the art world trials of hype and fame and understood that "he was doing some kind of shaman work, some voodoo hoodoo, like automatic writing" and, like herself, was not destined for old age. Seven weeks after her husband Vittorio Scarpati died of AIDS in 1989, Cookie died of the same disease.

The glow of positive thinking runs through Ask Dr. Mueller with a sweet vengeance. We are asked to love and question and take care of our bodies; blatant self-destruction has no place here. We could all do well to listen.


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