Saturday, March 24, 2007

Gone to China, Back in 2 Weeks

Yeah, no lies, I'm in Shanghai. Not a lot if any posting going on.

Y'all keep it ree-yuhl. Reprusent.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Stand Up Comic

The above (and below) is from "Life Lessons #24," my upcoming contribution to queer comics anthology JUICY MOTHER 2. It represents my first published comics work, and a collaboration with illustrator Robert Kirby. I had read Kirby's "Curbside" relgiously in New York Press some years back and had the fortune to interview him for The Advocate as well. It was quite a treat writing this two-pager strip, and Robert did an awesome job bringing to life one of a million anecdotes from my quite colorful year coming out in West Hollywood, California.

Edited by Jennifer Camper, JUICY MOTHER 2 will be released this Fall. I'll post the details and links when available.

And yes - I used to have hair on my head and wore glasses with a slight prescription.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Gig (and Collar) Is Up!

Well, Michael Adams of Bravo's "Top Design," tonight you got booted off. Yes, you donned a double-popped-collar travesty special. But I have to say you bowed out with dignity and even a little grace.

But back to the collar thing. It makes me toss and turn at night to think you are a souless husk of a man, shuffling about attracted to shiny things like a barracuda and moved by little else. Therefore, should you feel slighted by my imagining such a thing, I would offer to sponsor you $50 if you participate in the AIDS Walk New York on May 20th, 2007. I've done it three times, it's invigorating (albeit do wear comfy walking gear) and you get to see plenty of Central Park along the way. And you'll show you have a sense of social conscience. No, it's nobody's by birth responsibility to be an altruist, but perhaps one should be at least a little bit.

Paris Hilton, you of all should do the AIDS Walk. You can even gab on whatever cell phone sponsor's new pretty model is handed to you. Do it, Paris! I'll only sponsor you $25 though, since you can sponsor your damned self and walk to boot.

I'll be walking!

Deal, Michael?


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Collar of the Wild

You know, it's sick, but I can't wait for Top Design tomorrow night so I can rail about Michael Adam's stupid f*cking collar again. I just know it's going to be up like the Dow during a flush market.

Monday, March 19, 2007

He Said Sedaris Said

So David Sedaris made stuff up says the New Republic (March 19th issue).

I've interviewed David twice via telephone and actually met him in the flesh once. Nice guy, short like me. I'm completely ambivalent about this little development. It's not like Sedaris wrote self-help books. They were funny stories from life, and that they may have been embelished is no shock. Or a turn-off.

I guess claiming fiction is non-fiction is a messy affair, but I can't think of much non-fiction (or at least biography/autobiography) that is truly 100% real. It's always tainted by subjectivity, whether the first person or people relaying their accounts of someone or something.

Is this lying thing like discovering your boyfriend/girlfriend was faking orgasms years back?

David's books remain genius.

I present my uncut second interview feature, published originally in 2004, and below it an edit of my 2001 feature. Enjoy!


Still in Fashion

By Lawrence Ferber

David Sedaris, the acerbic, sardonic, and self-deprecating openly gay humorist/writer, is at his best when life seems worst. His foibles with an eccentric family, employ as a Macy’s Santaland elf, a homophobic midget guitar tutor, insane neighbors, and tricky French culture/language after moving to Paris with boyfriend Hugh Hamrick have made for riotous reading in bestselling books like Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, and June’s highly anticipated Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (Little, Brown & Company). In this new collection he recounts equally outrageous, painfully funny, and sometimes deeply affecting experiences with a Bad Seed little girl neighbor and her equally monstrous mother (“The Girl Next Door”), losing his Halloween candy as a child (“Us and Them”), and paranoia in the wake of the Catholic Church pedophilia scandal (“Chicken in the Henhouse”).
Sedaris is also a widely published essayist, an acclaimed (albeit self-conscious about his tinny, youthful voice) radio presence on “This American Life,” and regularly packs reading appearances at diverse venues from independent bookstore to Carnegie Hall. He’s also one half of “The Talent Family” with sister Amy, best known for her starring role on TV’s “Strangers With Candy.” They’ve collaborated on seven plays including the Obie-winning 1995 production, “One Woman Shoe,” and “The Book of Liz,” which was published by Dramatist’s Play Service in 2002.
These days Sedaris divides his time between home bases in France and England, although he’s hitting the USA for an extensive Summer/Fall reading/signing tour. To discuss his book, getting into trouble by himself, with Amy, and with small town child molesters, I spoke with Sedaris, at his London home that moment, by phone.

How do you go about constructing your stories these days?

“I go on these lecture tours twice a year to different theaters and colleges and whatnot and generally I start a tour with maybe four or five new stories. Then I read things out loud and go back to my hotel room and rewrite them, read, and rewrite. I like it that way because it gives me a chance to try things out in front of an audience. It’s not like I keep everything that gets a laugh, though. It just gives me an understanding of what a story needs. Sometimes on a page it’s hard to determine, but when you read out loud it’s easier.”

How many stories never make it to a completed published state?

“About 80 percent. I have a whole, big file of stories that are three pages long.”

Can you give me an example of one?

“My boyfriend owns a house in a very small village of only twelve houses in Normandy, and one of our neighbors was taken to prison for sexually molesting his granddaughter. He got out of prison last summer. Everyone assumed he would move but couldn’t afford to. There wasn’t a town meeting, nobody officially said we aren’t going to talk to him or look at him again, but that was basically what everyone did. But the man was always nice to me and I walked by his house a lot and he was very lonely and so he started talking to me and inviting me into his house. In this small village when you’re an outsider to begin with and everybody sees you leaving a child molester’s house, it doesn’t look good.”

Was he guilty?

“He did it. I never asked him but I never doubted he did it - he’s sort of functionally retarded. That’s a story I never finished [writing] and I don’t know if I just wasn’t approaching it the right way or being honest when I needed to or it just didn’t have an ending.”

Can child molesting be funny? There’s a whole lot of Michael Jackson jokes out there, but…

“I wrote the story [‘Chicken in the Henhouse’] for the new book when the Catholic Church [child molesting] scandal broke. I know a lot of people, all gay men, who wouldn’t hug a [child] nephew or put a hand on their nephew’s shoulder. You were so paranoid at that time. Pedophilia was front page news, and listening to American talk radio people would start talking about pedophiles and use the word ‘homosexual’ instead, as if they were the same thing, and the host wouldn’t stop them. It makes you very self-conscious. And I accompanied this ten-year-old boy to his hotel room. I had some easy laughs, jokes, in there and I cut them out because I think they got in the way of what I was trying to talk about, which is that paranoia you feel sometimes if you’re gay. Suddenly people are willing to believe they can’t trust their children around you.”

Do you ever actively try to get into trouble or horrible situations for a good story?

“Not to get in trouble, I’m not that adventurous. Usually I wait for things to come to me, but if you’re at home writing all day not that much is going to come. So I have been trying for six weeks to get a volunteer job in London because it would give me something to do. But God, they’re making it hard for me [by requiring training courses and red tape hurdles]. I don’t need a training course! I love hearing people complain. I love it. Especially when it’s nothing I can do anything about. Back pain or the health system – great, I’m all for it. I want to hear people complain and do little tasks for them, like I’ll go to someone’s house who’s old and clean their oven. Happy to do it. And I’ll wash their windows and I don’t need a training course for that. So it’s really frustrating. I think part of the problem is the volunteer system is staffed by volunteers.”

What if they gave you a happy person to care for?

“I’d be disappointed if I went to someone’s house and they were very sweet and gave me cookies and I cleaned their oven and it wasn’t really dirty. I’d come away disappointed. I’m hunting for crackpots, basically (laughs).”

How about someone who might hurt you? Are you willing to get seriously injured for a good story, like hit in the head with a wrench?

“Probably not, because I think often if it comes to that it takes you years to be able to write about it, to put it into perspective.”

So you’re an American living in Europe, which must have been interesting during the whole start of the war. French hatred of Americans was at a high, I understand, with frequent anti-war/American protests.

“I saw a lot of protest, but then I saw a lot of protests in London as well. If anything I would say the protesting was fiercer in England than France. I was in London the day the war broke out and then I was in Paris and then the USA for a month traveling around the country. In the United States, everywhere I went, I saw signs that said ‘support our troops’ or American flags. This whole war industry. And when Jessica Lynch returned, when she was freed, I was watching TV and the reporters surrounded her parents’ house. ‘What did you do when you found out she was still alive? Did you cry? Did you pray? Which did you do first – cry or pray?’ Nothing short of a reenactment would satisfy them. It was interesting coming back to London because they’re in Iraq too, but I have yet to see a flag, or ‘support our troops’ bumper sticker or T-shirt… It’s on the news every night but it hasn’t inspired greeting cards. It’s not sentimental like it was in the USA.”

So what is the British take on what’s happening in the USA right now politically?

“What’s interesting here is you read such different things. If you read the Guardian or Independent you get the idea Bush is going down. These hearings, he’s going down, his days are numbered. And then you get the Herald Tribune and it’s on page six. So I don’t know if it’s just wishful thinking. One thing I do like about London is there are ten daily papers. So many that there will be a column in a paper saying what the other papers are saying that same day. And on TV every night they tell you what’s going to be in tomorrow’s papers. The columnists and reporters from the papers are on TV.”

Do you see your sister Amy a lot?

“Not so much because I don’t live in New York anymore. I see her when I visit and she comes here sometimes. It’s hard when you don’t live in the same country. That’s the only thing I miss about the USA, my family and friends.”

Do you two ever do something to take the other aback?

“Amy does that to me more than I do to her. We were in Paris and I was pointing out that you always see American couples fighting in the street. They’re on vacation together and just snap, they can’t take it anymore. Generally they don’t spend much time together and often they feel threatened, don’t speak the language and only have one another to depend on and they snap and I hear fights all the time on the street outside my apartment. I pointed this out to Amy and then Amy and I were in a crowded place and she turned to me and yelled ‘this is my vacation too, can we please just try to have a good time???’ I thought damn, that’s what I get for pointing things out to her. Back in your face.”

How much embellishment did you add to the stories in Dress Your Family?

“Not much.”

Is your mother that out of control and overdramatic?

“I don’t think so much in this book as in earlier books. There’s a story about wanting a beach house and I think if I had written about that earlier I would have given my mother certain heightened vocabulary. We’re trying to think of a name of this beach house and she says ‘everybody likes Sandpipers, right?’ which is not a funny thing to say. There’s something so normal and naked about it, it makes it real in a way that sort of an invented smartass comment wouldn’t.”

Have any of your stories gotten you into trouble with your family or others?

“I always let members of my family read a story before its published?

Are you afraid at of that psychotic neighbor child from “The Girl Next Door” discovering your story about her?

“I don’t worry about her because I don’t think she grew up to be much of a reader (laughs). I was somewhere in New York State a few years ago signing books and a woman came up and said ‘remember me?’ Which is my nightmare, anyone saying ‘remember me?’ I couldn’t place her.”

Who was she?

“I had gone to a nudist colony and written about a woman there who had just one nipple. It took me a long time to notice that because I’d been there for a week and you stop noticing other people’s nudity after a week. I thought something was different about her and then I realized she just had one nipple. The other had been removed and was very neatly stitched up. So she says ‘I’m the one with one nipple.’ And I said ‘oh boy, it’s so good to see you again,’ and she was perfectly nice. She didn’t mind – I didn’t write that it was grotesque to have one nipple. The way I had written about it was just in terms of how if it’d been my first day I would have noticed immediately. Anyway, it was a close call because she could’ve been angry with me. And one of the reasons I didn’t finish that story about the man who was arrested for child molestation is I didn’t think he was a huge reader either, but the people across the street from me, when the books are translated into French, would’ve asked for a copy and it would feel wrong somehow. If you moved the story to London, there are lots of child molesters in London. There’s only one in this village of 12 houses so I think that had something to do with why I was unable to finish it.”

So he should move to London because then you’d be good to go.

“(laughs) He doesn’t want to - he has a steel plate in his head and when he was in prison he got a hip replacement so he gets a 75 percent discount on all train travel, but only in France. The person he travels with gets a 75 percent discount, too, and he proposed we go on a trip together. He just wanted to hop on a train and go to the south of France.”

How sweet!

“Yeah, but at the same time, like what you said about getting into trouble, I think ‘oh, a train trip with a child molester!’ I would feel so nervous. If he wasn’t in my sight I’d wonder what he was up to. I would feel responsible if anything horrible happened – ‘I knew what he was and brought him to your town.’”

How is Hugh? There’s a lot of him in this book – far more than in Talk Pretty.

“He’s fine. Yeah, I guess you’re right. He is in this book more than the last one. I just exploited my family to death so now I’m moving onto his family.”

What else are you up to lately?

“I finished my book so now I’m just answering my mail, which is a huge task. Most of it is from people I never met.”

Anything scary?

“I don’t answer the letters that are hostile or scary. I just sometimes read something like a letter in which they’re proposing they come to France and stay with me for a while. You’ve never met this person and they’re very serious about it and wondering when they should get their ticket. Even if you write them back a letter that says ‘that’s very nice of you to want to come to visit me, I’m so flattered you’d want to stay with me in my home, but this is not a good time.’ Then they’re just going to write back ‘when is a good time?’ Those letters I tend not to respond to.”

Any recent favorite letters?

“There was a teacher somewhere in a small town in Illinois and he had his students read one of my books and then they had to write letters [about it to me]. He sent me all of the letters the students wrote. Most are very nice, the sort of letters where you can tell they’re high school students and it’s just a job and they mention they like this and that. But here’s my favorite. (finds the letter) ‘Dear Mr. Sedaris. We read your book. Although not very interesting they brought lots of joy into my life due to all the pointless stories. I wondered to myself after reading Me Talk Pretty, what were you thinking about when you began writing because some of the stories seemed quite retarded to me and to my close friends. Somebody who writes stories like that and puts them into a book seems to have way too much time and money in his hands. Maybe you should stop writing stupid stories about your family and go out and get a real job like everybody else.’ ‘Signed, Jason Schmidt.’ I love that the teacher included that! That he didn’t say ‘I’m not going to send that because that’s unpleasant.’”

Don’t cut off the crusts! Flattering that you’re part of some teachers’ curriculums, isn’t it?

“It sort of troubles me. Stories are anthologized more and more in high school, writing, and college textbooks. Usually with notes at the bottom that say ‘notice how he does this and this, what does this make you think of or can you think of three examples of…’ I hate the thought of anybody having to read what I wrote or write a paper on it, because that takes all the fun out of it. And [students] send me their papers sometimes and it just breaks my heart because they’ll talk about ‘this is a symbol of such and such,’ and I wasn’t thinking anything when I wrote the story. I wasn’t thinking ‘this is a metaphor for man’s inhumanity against man.’ I don’t know that anybody consciously sits down and thinks that when they write. And I just don’t like the thought of [my writing] pushed on anybody. Somebody having to stay up late because they have to write a paper about something I wrote. I’d be so angry.”

Are you contributing to any UK outlets?

“I’m doing three different series for the BBC. I did a series about France and I did a series of rerecording a lot of the essays I had done for Morning Edition, a weekly radio show from NY. Every week I would read an essay that was 5 minutes long.”

Would you like to write regularly for one of the numerous London newspapers?

“They use a bit of a term I hadn’t heard in the USA before. Because it often seems everyone in England has a newspaper column, there’s a term, gynocolumnist, which is a female columnist who writes about anything that comes out of her, basically. ‘I’m having my period’ or ‘I got Chlamydia.’ Or ‘do you ever notice how when you’re breast feeding it’s embarrassing when the milk drips onto your blouse.’ That’s a gynocolumnist. And there’s something about a newspaper column, I think that’s got to be the most difficult thing in the world. I can’t imagine a daily, even a weekly newspaper column, especially when it’s something that’s supposed to be funny. It gets so forced. At least here you don’t have the language restrictions [like you would] in a daily paper in the USA. In the Guardian you can say fuck, pussy, whatever you want.”

He Talk Pretty

By Lawrence Ferber

Acerbic, sardonic, and self-depriciating humorist David Sedaris, widely known for his best-selling books of scathingly funny autobiographical essays (Naked, Barrel Fever) and short stories, theatrical collaborations with sister Amy, and appearances on NPR’s Peabody-winning This American Life, is today pondering upcoming episodes of the latter. Producer and host Ira Glass has asked contributors to whip up material on the themes of “Cringe” and “Neighbors,” so Sedaris is wracking his brain for appropriate items, scribbling down whatever comes to the surface.
“I cringe when I watch COPS and see somebody being handcuffed in their underwear,” Sedaris admits in his distinctive, tinny register, “but it’s a little bit different because there’s no personal responsibility. I think I cringe harder at things I’ve done. That makes me even more uncomfortable.”
Like? Well, speaking.
“Most people feel that way,” Sedaris insists. “I like nothing about my voice.”
Of course, Sedaris’ voice, and speech in general – from his childhood’s unconquerable lisp to difficulty with French now that he lives in Paris – is given long thrift in his most recent tome, Me Talk Pretty One Day (Little, Brown), which he has been reading from during public appearances throughout 2001.
“I have no idea why people would buy a ticket to go hear somebody read,” Sedaris continues. “There’s nothing to look at, you’re just up there with your nose in a book. I mean, I look up every now and then but that’s all. I always feel like if they paid for a ticket, they should at least see a bit of movement or something, but I don’t wanna move around. So I don’t have much to offer that way. Even when I thought about [having back-up dancers onstage] I get embarrassed,” he says, giggling slightly. “Maybe like sort of a travelling carnival, but that doesn’t do much for me either.”
Sedaris’ new show, The Book of Liz, probably brings less guilt to his heart, then. Kicking off March 26 at New York’s Greenwich House Theatre, The Book of Liz was written with Sedaris’ sister Amy, best known for her role on Comedy Central’s Strangers With Candy. Dubbing themselves The Talent Family when collaborating – seven plays to date – the siblings’ 1995 show, One Woman Shoe, won an Obie Award.
The Book of Liz, which co-stars Amy and was directed by Sedaris’ boyfriend, Hugh Hamrick, involves cheeseball-making Sister Elizabeth, member of a Pilgrim-esque religious sect. Feeling unappreciated by her peers, she scrambles, embarking on a Candide style journey of her own.
“The theater reminded me of a church,” says Sedaris of the show’s creation, “so we wanted to do something that would maybe take place in a church. We don’t say that they’re Shakers or Menonites or whatever. They just sort of dress like Pilgrims and make their money by manufacturing cheeseballs. And because Amy makes cheeseballs [in real life] and sells them we thought we could sell some in the lobby and make some extra money.”
In fact, Amy’s traditional and smokey cheeseballs have received praise from none other than The New York Times, resulting in popularity and decent sales.
“It was hard coming up with the title for this show because the perfect title would have been ‘The Cheeseballs of Glousterhaven’ but that just sounds too campy,” Sedaris muses. “So we had to come up with a title that didn’t have cheeseballs in it and it was murder coming up with this title. Murder.”
Do they fear alienating the hardcore cheeseball fans out there with this decision?
“No,” he laughs. “I think we’d get all 3 of them maybe to come see this show.”

Tickets are $35. Call (212) 239-6200. Greenwich House Theatre, 27 Barrow Street (off Seventh Avenue South).

Friday, March 16, 2007

If I Was a DJ pt. 4: Jangle Edition!

I visited Perth, Australia last March. It's a pretty isolated city all the way out west, regarded with more than a bit of superior disdain by most other large cities in the country, but has a fantastic music scene. Most genres are represented, and while sampling the local goods I discovered The Bank Holidays, a deliriously jangly quartet that sounds a lot like those Swedish "Summersound" bands a la Ray Wonder. Lots of 60s pop influence, harmonies, jangly guitars, sweet male/female vocals. Friggin' fantastic.

They've got a full length album coming out by this summer. Until now, just a pair of 4-track EPs. There's a video for one of their first releases, "Tread Easy," here.

And let's not forget their MySpace page, where you can hear my favorite tune, "Like a Piano."

Please let this band get noticed by a cool US label like Drag City.

Perth, you're doing something right!

Love 'em!


Thursday, March 15, 2007


Dear Michael Adams of Bravo's "Top Design,"

Seriously now. Put that damned collar down.

What else do I have to say? On this latest episode you did the double-popped-collar thing, an evil tantamount to ethnic cleansing. Or knowingly giving someone herpes. It's seriously fucked. There was a superb essay in The Village Voice, by Andy Selsberg, that pointed out how a popped collar (not to mention TWO of them at once!) indicated a serious flaw in character - a selfishness. A lack of altruism. Do you see AIDS researchers with popped collars? Or someone walking a marathon for breast cancer? It makes me worry that you lack a soul, or a heart. That you're a husk representing such a blaring sense of self-worth and obsession that even Ayn Rand would balk.

And on a fashion level it's noxious. I mean, giving you benefit of the doubt, let's assume these shows were taped a year ago. The friggin' collar thing was tired even then. Is it your "signature?" Get new handwriting, pal.

Man. You looked like Dracula or, from behind, a neckless grotesquerie from "300."

Collar down!


PS - That photo is from Michael's own blogspot blog. He claims that some people insist he looks high-school aged. Whoever said such a thing must have been in a Hollywood agent-level froth of flakiness at the time. Best you can hope for is "you look like mutton disguised as lamb!" Someone load Michael's blog up with comments to get that motherf*cking collar down!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Taken In - JT LeRoy Punks Me

It's been over a year since JT LeRoy - teen-hustler-cum-author turned literary icon - was revealed to be a middle-aged woman. I wasn't entirely surprised. I first interviewed LeRoy back in 2001. His voice reminded me immediately of a young FTM (female-to-male) friend. Like, seriously. I wrote several features on LeRoy, the first of which - for defunct national gay magazine Empire - questioned whether he was in fact real or not:

Does JT LeRoy, 20-year-old author behind last year’s bestselling pseudo-autobiographical novel of a holy pubescent whore, Sarah, really exist? Rumors have drifted about suggesting he doesn’t, that he’s a ruse, a pseudonym created by Gus Van Sant, Dennis Cooper, maybe even Michael Stipe, to put forth harrowing tales of an abused, pre-teen, crossdressing, former truck stop prostitute who wears a blessed raccoon penis bone necklace. But the gentle, disarmingly young register on the other end of a call to San Francisco doesn’t sound like that lot, even with the benefit of voice-altering digital technology. Nor does it care to dispel the rumors.
“I really don’t want any rumors to go away!” LeRoy urges, a slight twang of West Virginia to his voice. “I’m just a media construct. There are people who will totally take credit for writing Sarah and all my other work, push comes to shove - if I need to jump out of the airplane I have my parachute because I don’t know how I like all this. Part of me likes [the attention] and part of me doesn’t. It’s kind of frustrating that it can’t just be about the work. That it has to be about all this other stuff too. Me.”
Hence we’ve haven’t really seen a clear photo of LeRoy, or one in which he’s sans disguise. He even took on his own pseudonym when writing, Terminator, when his work started being published in places like LeRoy attributes part of this “love me/ignore me” dichotomy to his prostitute past, when his cute, barely pubescent looks and butt were all people saw and appreciated. Yet now appreciation for his work, his mind, not his face or ass, is tantamount, and once he got a taste of it “I had this limitless, bottomless pit.”

Ultimately, though, LeRoy stuck to his story. This persona he created.

The second time I interviewed him was for a gay regional story that ran in a handful of publications. He was sick, but still sounded very very very FTMish. Which I support, of course. If he identifies as male, I would only depict him as such. I respect gender identities (even if some of the nouveau terms I've heard used, like "trannycockboi," are begging for ridicule/cackles). But LeRoy was punkin' us all.

I'm probably going to do an interview with one of the Hanson boys soon - more on that down the line - so I went back to this second feature since they come up in it. I hae to say, in LeRoy's defense, he was always quick to respond to my inquiries. A real professional when it came to the press. When I was working on a holiday memories feature where I needed anecdotes from gay notables, etc, he was fast to come up with one. Thanks, JT!

In any case, here's the uncut version of that second interview.

Interesting on so many levels.


The Broken Heart Club

By Lawrence Ferber

JT LeRoy is a sick boy… but he’s getting better. His barely pubescent-sounding voice struggling through a slowly bettering case of bronchitis, the 21-year-old best-selling novelist repeatedly sniffles and blows his nose. Yet physical sickness isn’t what people think of when LeRoy’s name comes up. Instead, they think of his much-hashed about, tortured past as an abused, forcibly gender-bent preteen prostitute. It’s a dysfunctional history which leaked into his alternately delightful/fantastical/painful/sordid debut novel, Sarah - a pseudo-biographical tale of a crossdressing 12-year-old lot lizard (read: truck stop prostitute) with a touch of divinity, smattering of deceit, and desperate need to reconcile with his domineering yet distant mother - and its resulting press. And it’s about to come out again in an even more raw wave with his second book’s release, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (Bloomsbury).
Comprised of confessional short stories written as part of seven-day-a-week therapy some years ago, The Heart recounts painful episodes involving belt beatings, baths in bleach, rape by mom’s sexual partners, introduction to lot lizardry, Krazy Glued genitals, and LeRoy’s resulting preoccupation with S&M. But LeRoy assures us he’s come long a-ways since those experiences were committed to type (or in the case of stories “Natoma Street” and “Baby Doll,” previously published), and like his case of bronchitis, he’s slowly healing. In fact, with a cache of friends and mentor/supporters including Dennis Cooper, John Waters, Suzanne Vega, and Gus Van Sant, who’s making Sarah into a feature film, and several other projects on his plate, LeRoy’s on his way to a healthy adulthood indeed. We recently rang up the Southern-born young author, who first appeared in print under a pseudonym, The Terminator, now lives in San Francisco, regularly writes features for The Face, Shout, and New York Press, and sells raccoon penis bones – an item which crops up often and pivotally in Sarah – through his website, And besides his wincingly painful history we touched on happiness, Hanson and hope.

How proud are you of The Heart is…?

“I don’t know. I wrote it so long ago and I was such a different person that I almost feel it’s hard for me to relate to. There’s so many things as a writer I wouldn’t do now. I read it and I cringe. I didn’t used to understand when people called it ‘raw’ but now I do. But I think it’s also got a real specialness to it. Parts I read and am really impressed I was able to do that. I’m really impressed because I was so fucking checked out. I wrote like a demon, I was so emotionless around it but there was so much emotion in there. It was like puncturing a hole in an overinflated tire. I was writing for therapy reasons, I didn’t have a book deal. I wasn’t really writing to be published. It was stuff I just had to write about.”

How do you see your writing evolving as you flesh out childhood’s painful issues in therapy? Or does the therapy/writing process never end?

“Well, I used to have a session every day and now I’m [down to] three days a week. Sometimes I just stay away altogether. I wrote Sarah after these other stories, and I couldn’t really write the way I do in those stories [anymore]. I feel a lot of my rooms have closed, healed or not, but I wasn’t really feeling much when writing. It was kind of like… mainlining, doing directly into the bloodstream. Then when people read them and got freaked out or say ‘omigod’ I just say ‘what?’ And then when I read these stories to edit them I got cold feet about putting it out and asked if we could edit a bunch of them and take stuff out. I just felt so exposed and my writing has changed. I can’t write like that anymore for better or worse.”

In my opinion Sarah has more complexity to it, both narratively and stylistically.

“Yeah. It’s got a totally different voice. I had stopped the writing for about two years. I got the book deal and kinda freaked out, and I only wrote a couple more things and then I stopped. I did interviews for NY Press and did that kind of writing but I stopped writing those stories. Then, after two years, I felt ready to write and I wrote the story “Meteors.” I knew something had shifted because “Meteors,” of all the stories is the most crafted. Then after that I wrote Sarah. I thought I was just writing another chapter, another short story, but I turned it in and they said ‘you have a book,’ which was a surprise.”

A good surprise.

“Yeah. I knew that voice was different when I started writing. I don’t know where it was coming from or how it happened but it just was different.”

Is the episode in “Baby Doll” where you Krazy Glue your penis back between your legs real?

“Yeah, I did that. But I really don’t want to get into saying… with Sarah there was a lot of what’s real and what’s not. But The Heart was written not to be published, a lot of it. It’s obviously really intense stuff. I guess talking about how true or how honest The Heart is, it really depends on whom I’m talking to. If their purpose is just for sensationalism then it’s like ‘fuck you, it’s fiction, go away.’ But if there’s somebody who has gone through stuff [like I have] then I think it’s really helpful… People who have gone through shit know when they read something if it’s bullshit or not and it doesn’t matter what I say. I don’t want to talk shit about anybody’s work, but there was a book that came out that really pissed me off. It was supposedly by this boy who had AIDS and was beaten and raped by his parents’ friends and still he went to school and was such a good student but of course none of the teachers noticed that all the bones in his body had been broken. Every fucking cliché, like how he befriends the black janitor. Of course he never tricks and of course he’s not gay. Every person I know who’s been abused, in some kind of way, you have such profound damage that’s been done. It was a little too clean and sanitized - it just reeked of fucking bullshit. And he compares himself to Anne Frank! I did some really fucking gross shit and I think if you can be honest and talk about that it creates a space of honesty for other people who have been through stuff. I don’t think the nobility is in surviving horrible things and coming out like a nun. I think it’s being able to talk about it and be honest about it. I beat up queers, you know?”

When was this?

“When I was on the street. I hung out with a bunch of skinheads, I was in love with one of them, and they used me as bait. I’d stand out and wait until a guy would come and then they would attack – and I took part. I took part a couple of times and I really felt that rage of ‘fuck you, you wanted to fuck me!’ That victim wanting to be the aggressor and it really terrified me but at the same time felt really good. I think that’s the kind of shit that’s honest. And people being like ‘I survived all this and I’m like Anne Frank,’ that doesn’t create ANY space for anyone to really relate to. You know why the movie Welcome to the Dollhouse is so wonderful? She’s a victim but she doesn’t turn around and help another kid who’s victimized, too. It’s like ‘stay away from me.’ In school she doesn’t want to be associated with the other losers.”

I’ve read a couple of interviews with you where you said one of your aims in becoming a writer was to get people to appreciate you for your mind rather than your ass. I would say that’s happened, but do you get the feeling that both are going on? That people like your mind AND your ass?

“Well, I just stay out of the physical part. I got the book deal when I was 16 or 17 and if it came out back then I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. I would have been all into whatever anyone was offering.”

How much of a sex trade/barter system is there in the business you’re in now? Do people expect to have sex with you?

“They did, yeah. When I was doing press for Sarah I think there were a lot [of people] who would read what my old profession was… well, not ‘profession,’ but things I did to survive. And they would come at me in that way and I really didn’t know how to construct boundaries and I would just feel like ‘OK, this is what you do’ and go into waitress mode. I did one really bad thing with a Canadian reporter for a big paper and allowed him to take pictures and all kinds of crap. We had to threaten him, we told him I was underage and got the negatives back and frightened the shit out of him.”

How explicit were the photos?

“They were explicit. I was just like really kind of out of control almost surely. Freaked out and didn’t know. I think I’m a lot more wary now around the press. I won’t do interviews in person because you go to too much of a vulnerable place, you know? At least I do, to be honest. Someone would get a much better interview with me on the phone than in person. In person they would basically just get yes or no answers. I’d be too nervous about what they’re thinking. I can’t handle that much stimulation…”

What would you say to the people who think YOU’RE the manipulator now?

“Well, who isn’t a manipulator? I’ll cop to being a manipulator, sure. I had the best training – my mother was the number one manipulator in the world, I would hope I’ve learned well. I think my mother would do a much better job, but I’m trying. Yet the thing is, it all comes down to is it any good. I stopped writing because I felt like everything had to rely on my [own life] ‘story.’ I felt they were all excited because I was young and still really fucked-up, on the street and using drugs. And I felt if they want to trot this mess in front of the public and that’s what’s going to sell it, fuck it, fuck you, fuck them, no. I didn’t want it to come out. But I think Sarah’s a really good fucking book. It surprised me. I know that sounds egotistical but so what? It surprised me, I don’t know where it came from or how it happened and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do it again, but I’m really proud of it and I think it has the right to be out there and it doesn’t matter who or what I am. I really wanted to be a writer and felt if my work can’t stand on its own it has no business being out there in the world at all. Someone said to me think of it as your baby and your job is to get it into a good school and have a good life in the world. You don’t want to lock it up in some closet like Sybil. So that’s what I’ve learned to do. To be an advocate for my child.”

Do you think a lot of people raise their eyebrows when they see or hear about you and Gus Van Sant working together and hanging out? Like ‘what’s up with that?’

“Probably. I think there are people who are just looking for scandals… well, not scandals, but all that kind of stuff. I think Gus is one of the most misunderstood people because there’s some truth to what people say but also a lot of not truth. So whenever you have something that’s kind of personally grounded in truth it gets really ugly.”

Does it irk you?

“I think it’s funny. Like the article I wrote about Mike Pitt, his handlers got freaked out about it because it made it seem like he was Gus Van Sant’s bitch! Well no it doesn’t, I say you guys aren’t involved… but he’s like ‘it makes it seem like I’m always hanging out with him like I’m his bitch and those pictures…’ Gus is very, he’s not like the creepy force himself on you kind of guy at all, you know.”

He seems very nice.

“He really is. He’s one of the nicest people in the world.”

Has Gus introduced you to Hanson yet?

“No, but I think he gave Zack my book. It would be great if you could take Taylor about three years ago, he’d make a great Sarah.”

What sort of feedback did you get from your mentors and friends about your books? You have such a great who’s who of thank you’s in the back of Heart. And how did you become friends with all these people?

“Really wonderful [feedback]. I really iced getting attention. I just thought getting attention from my body was where it’s at. And any other kind of attention… you know, if your body is really starving for protein and all you’re eating is pasta and then somebody shoves a chicken down your face all a sudden you’ll devour it and realize ‘god, I was really hungry for that!’ It was kind of like that. I hadn’t quite realized how hungry I was for that kind of attention and once I got a taste of it I had this limitless, bottomless pit. My therapist had a next door neighbor who was an editor and he worked with me, and he had studied with Sharon Olds. She was the only poet I could really read, that somebody had turned me onto, a trick actually. And he said ‘you can write to her.’ And to me it was like someone saying ‘you can write to Mick Jagger’ or something. Yeah, right. But he called her and told her about me and we’ve been corresponding since then, when I was 14. And she was really wonderful and it opened this world, this sliding door in the wall opened, that these people who write books, you could actually write to them. To me, authors were like rock stars! Someone who could create a world shouldn’t be able to even walk down the street without being mobbed. And the idea you could actually write to them and they’ll write you back or talk to you or whatever was insane! But I still had the drive. I had read Try by Dennis Cooper and it was the first book I really read that so completely resonated with me. The other book I read that was like that was Tom Spambauer’s book The Man Who Fell In Love With the Moon. It’s amazing, but Try was too much like my life, my emotions and everything. So I wanted to interview him for a magazine – Maximum Rock and Roll - so I had some friends ask if I could and they said yeah. I went to the library and found out how you interview somebody, how you contact them… So I called and he said fax a request and I did that and later than night I spoke with him and we really connected. I was 15 and eventually I talked about how I was writing. It took a while but eventually he got me to read him some of what I was writing and then I started writing for him. It was perfect because my therapist class had ended. And Dennis said to me that maybe one day he could get this published and I was like yeah, whatever! It was like telling someone in a wheelchair one day you can run a marathon. And that early work, it’s such a copy of his style. That’s what’s so embarrassing to me now.”

But your stuff isn’t as sexually explicit as Dennis’. Nor are there as many gruesome murders!

“We each have our own separate demons to exorcise.”

How have you reconciled your sex and love life? The last story in Heart, “Natoma Street,” involves you mixing memories of childhood abuse with being tied up and cut by a hustler.

“Just being asexual now. I think if you have sex at an early age sex it just… it doesn’t have the specialness or anything. It’s never been a choice, or something that has a sacredness or specialness. Having sex for me is the same as putting on a handcreme, like ‘sure, whatever.’ And I tend to use that to take care of somebody, if I feel they wanted it it’s like no big deal. So it’s been trying to pay attention to what I want and if I want it. And I really don’t. I don’t understand regular sex. I do S&M, violent sex, and that’s the only kind of sex that gives me pleasure, so to speak. When someone beats the shit out of me. It kind of soothes me, it calms me, that’s how I felt loved. Very often it was the only touch I got from my grandfather and from my mom and I’d do things to provoke it. But I’ve been trying to wean myself from that kind of stuff because I know that I can eventually get myself killed pretty easily.”

How out of control does this get?

“I get pretty out of control. Like when I’m watching a movie and they’re showing a love scene and how they’re enjoying it I’m like ‘well, when’s he going to hit her?’ I just don’t get it. And I feel really sad about that because it’s like being colorblind. There’s certain colors you just don’t see. I’ve spoken to Dorothy Allison a lot about it because she’s out as a lesbian into S&M and she’s very honest about how the S&M comes from her background. If I could do it and not have it be self-destructive I would, but it just isn’t like that for me.”

Have you come close to death because of it?

“Yeah. Oh yeah. Not like getting cut up but just very self destructive.”

Have you met anyone you wanted to get involved with but they just couldn’t deal with that aspect?

“Well, the person I’m involved with now, we don’t do anything like that because he’s not into that, it’s not his thing, and that’s probably for the best.”

So you’ve got a boyfriend.

“Yeah. I love him a lot. It’s more like we’re a family than anything.”

What sort of public recognition have you experienced so far?

“Like getting recognized on the streets? It’s happened a few times where someone will ask me ‘are you JT Leroy?’ and I’ll completely deny it. I don’t really want that kind of stuff. But in a way I think it’s a good thing. I get a lot of e-mails from people who have gender issues or abuse issues. Susanne Vega and Dorothy Allison told me it took years to respond to the people who wrote to them after “Luka” and Bastard Out of Carolina came out. People sharing their stories and pain, telling you how they were inspired. I get so much mail from people and people making me things. I really appreciate it and that’s the stuff that makes it worth it. There’s a Terminator e-group, there’s like 90-something people in it and it keeps growing. They’re really great people, there’s lots of lurkers, but it’s people I feel like a family with.”

If someone could rewind the clock and make it so you were never taken away from your first set of foster parents, they could be a wonderful couple and whisk you away forever, would you want that to happen? Knowing you then wouldn’t be so fueled and probably not a writer?

“(pause) Yeah, I probably would. I don’t know if the world is a better place from my books being in it or that someone else wouldn’t have written them anyway. I’m not a happy person, and I find it hard to be out there in the world. And it’s like I keep waiting for this stuff to fix me. I hear some really great feedback, I got an incredible blurb from Tom Waits and he’s going to be interviewing me for a really big magazine and I’m so excited and honored, but at the same time I wanted it to fix me, and it doesn’t. None of this stuff ever fixes me. It just doesn’t heal. And I still do really suicidal shit and really horrible… I’m struggling to stop ding self-destructive things. Being inside my head is not a pretty place and it’s really fucking miserable and I must say I have moments when I feel happiness but it’s not that much. So yeah, I think if I was a really happy kid and had normal parents I think I would probably be straight, and not into S&M. I don’t mean any of that is better, I don’t mean to qualify it. It’s just in another parallel universe I’d be interested to meet who I would have been.”

Do you really think you would have been straight?

“Yeah, I do. And I don’t think I’d have the gender confusion stuff I have. I think that some people are born gay, they have the gay gene or chemical, whatever it is. Even in animals a certain section are gay. But I don’t think I’m one of those people who had that chemical. I had only sex with men at an early, early age. And the men I had sex with were not gay men. I’d say they were 99.9 percent in their heads straight men who were just into little kids. Whatever the fuck. It’s really horrible that in this country that Middle America makes gays these horrible rapists then the truth is it’s the straights, it’s their husbands and fucking ministers and preachers that are the real… I think that adults should not have sex with children PERIOD. Because I think a child, no matter how sexual they are or can seem, really doesn’t understand the full ramifications. And usually they’re like that because they’ve never had a choice, they just think that’s how you go get attention. Like in [the story] ‘Baby Doll,’ when [the boy] is seducing the stepfather, he’s mimicking something but doesn’t really understand what it means as an adult to have sex. I wanted to show that. He’s looking for is something that’s idealized closeness but he’s getting the brutal act of sex like rape, someone relieving themselves. I think that it’s up to the adult to say no. If I hadn’t had therapy I would just be this damaged person getting older and older and older but with a mind and emotions that don’t really age. And that’s what’s really scary to me. I always thought once you hit a certain age all this wisdom opens itself to you and what I realized is it’s not true. You kind of stay frozen, and unless you really do work – that cliché of 13 year old man – that’s what you are. If I hadn’t had that therapy I’d be an abuser or something.”

So what other projects are in the pipleline nowadays?

“I’ve started a sequel to Sarah loosely based on Oliver Twist and I’m having fun with that. I’ve been writing screenplays, like I’m working on a movie for HBO. I’m really excited about that. I don’t think I can really say what it’s about but it’s Diane Keaton producing and Gus Van Sant directing. I’ve also written an animated kids movie musical if you can believe it with my roommate. You know the creators of Blues Clues, that TV show? They were really big fans of my book and contacted me. They wanted to actually make Sarah but Gus had beaten them for it. So I started working on a TV series with them, an independent project we’re going to sell to a studio or network or something.”

The thing you’re working on for HBO, does it deviate in theme from what you’ve done so far?

“In a way yeah and in a way not. It’s different for me in the sense it’s not my life, my story. But it relates to kids and fucked up shit.”

And has anyone from your past resurfaced since you’ve become an acclaimed writer?

“Yeah! I’ve run into old tricks. I wrote a story [for The Face] about running into a cop [who thought I was still a prostitute]. There actually was a pimp who got out of jail and I didn’t leave my house for a month – it took him that long to get arrested again - because he was threatening me and assumed I was his property or whatever. It’s bizarre when you change and other people don’t. The guy who was my first editor, my therapist’s friend, I recently sent him a gift to thank him and he asked me where I got it, who paid for it. He put me through all this and I got really pissed! I hadn’t spoken to him in a while and I’m like ‘I don’t do that anymore’ and ‘you didn’t even ask me, you just assumed.’ But in a way I really value people who knew me because they hold a part of my past. It feels like a snake skin and I’m so completely and utterly different in so many ways and they hold that person which is just important to me, who and where I was. At the same time I’m angry because I’m not that person. I guess I want it both ways.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Immoral of This Story

I'd love to comment but really, what hasn't been said?

Is it honestly a surprise that a high-ranking U.S. military guy feels homosexuality is "immoral"? And how many immorral people... oh sigh. I'm just pleased he said it openly, so it can be adressed. I imagine an articulate response will be served up on Positive Liberty.

Immoral. Seriously! Did someone not touch this guy in a loving way his whole life?


Monday, March 12, 2007

If I Was a DJ pt. 3

Next track would be "Hello!" by Ram Rider. Basically, it's Japan's Daft Punk. Really contagious, sample-heavy dance pop with lots of vocoder action. I first heard the CD - and bought it - at Tower Records (R.I.P.!) in Shibuya, Tokyo, December of 2005. Damn was that sweet disco. I forced a Japanese friend (who has brilliant taste) to listen to it and he went nuts too.

There's a video for "Hello" on YouTube. And the band's official website is here.

Some ideal day in the future, iTunes will be borderless, and you can buy any album from anywhere in the world. Dream sweetly of this future.

Oh - the other day I interviewed Sandra Bernhard for an upcoming piece in Passport Magazine. A friend asked, "you mean angry man face?" Sure, with some kabbalah thrown in.

I love Sandra! San-dra!


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Yet More Cho Rawness!

OK, Cho fans (a few of whom e-mailed me these past few days), I've dug out (so easy with Mac Finder!) another of my unseen, unedited, and hopefully offensive to even the jaded Margaret Cho interviews.

This was in fact my second interview with Cho, which took place at Manhattan's W Hotel in Union Square. It turns out my first interview, in 2001, was in fact over the phone. My, how the memory goes! That and my other Cho interviews may and will pop up here over time. Comments always welcome. And demands. Even demands with threats!!


PS - The photos of Margaret you see above and a few days back I snapped at Wed-Rock, an awesome gay marriage-related fundraising event hosted by John Cameron Mitchell here in NYC at Crobar a couple of years back or so...

The Notorious Co

By Lawrence Ferber

Korean-American comedian/actress Margaret Cho funneled a lot of personal issues into her 1999 one-woman show/CD/film, “I’m The One That I Want.” A series of confessions about drugs, drinking, eating disorders and deathly depression (much of it brought on during her TV series “All American Girl,” whose producers forced her into weight loss), Cho felt it wasn’t really a “stand-up” production. Her recent 37-city international live tour, “Notorious C.H.O.,” however, was, and returned Cho to the world of laugh-till-it-hurts comedy.
Raunchy, raucous and – c’mon, this is Margaret Cho, after all – queer as all heck, The Notorious C.H.O. was, like “I’m The One,” also turned into a concert film, shot at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre. And at New York’s legendary Carnegie Hall, the show was recorded for a companion double CD. In “Notorious,” Cho shamelessly ruminates on visits to Los Angeles S&M clubs, colonic irrigation, teen drag queen friends, lesbian turn-ons, gay men on periods, doing her part at Ground Zero (blowjobs for firemen and cops), and, of course, and her beloved mother’s “Ass-Master” fan club.
Speaking of, mom and dad make an appearance in the film. Is momma Cho really like we’ve heard? See the film, laugh till you cry, and find out!
To find out a few additional things about Cho’s recent doings, her show’s toe-sucking opening act, and the perks of immobilization, I sat down with Cho in her room at NYC’s W hotel.

So Margaret, do you feel the film captures your best performance or did you think ‘fuck, I wish we shot at that Montreal show!’

“The Montreal show wasn’t all that great, actually! I’m glad we didn’t shoot that one. Actually, I thought [Seattle] was a really good performance and a really good time to capture it, before I had been on the road for several months and gotten tired of it – which sometimes happens.”

So, as you discussed in Notorious, you spent some time in straight S&M clubs. Have you heard from people at the club since?

“They’re very flighty, these S&M people. They’re real flaky. So no. I told my master about [Notorious] and he was very excited about it but never went to see the show. Maybe he’ll come to see the film.”

So nobody’s suggested ‘let’s show it in the club and I’ll chomp on a clitoris while we watch!’

“Oh, they would! They have a big screen TV. They watch the Lakers. It’s totally like a social club. Because when straight people get together to do S&M they’re not like gay men – when gay men get together for S&M, that’s all they do. Straight people will do some S&M and then they’ll barbecue.”

And you can see their faces? That’s not gay!

“Yeah! I know, when you can see the face… who wants that? That’s not gay! It’s only hot if it’s a stranger!”

What does the film accomplish that the show didn’t?

“I think the film allows people to get closer to me without paying for the seats. Even if you did pay for seats you can’t get seats that good. I perform in these larger venues, everyone’s so far away and a lot of my work is right here (points to her face). It’s hard for people to see. And it accomplishes something for me in that I don’t have to go perform every place the film is shown, so I can still get my message across without having to do the physical groundwork, which is such a relief. I also can’t remember what I’ve done [after I’ve stopped doing it for a while]. A couple of months after I’ve done a show I have no memory of it at all. So if I go and do a retrospective I can [watch the film or listen to the CD] and remember things.”

What don’t we get to see in the film?

“You see the whole show. You don’t get to see me going back to the hotel afterwards and going to bed. You don’t get to see me talking to Vaginal Cream Davis, who was the opening act for the entire tour but unfortunately didn’t make it in the film. There was a prior commitment where we had another opener in Seattle, so we couldn’t bring Vaginal out. And it was the only show we didn’t have Vaginal, so it was a very difficult thing because to my Britney she’s my Justin Timberlake. Or vice-versa.”

Ah, Vaginal. Insane drag queen and punk band frontsperson. When I saw the show in New York, Vaginal yanked someone from the audience to the stage and “shrimped” them – sucking their toes - with whipped cream. Was that person a plant?

“No. Every night it was a different person and it was somebody who had no idea that was going to happen to them.”

What does Vaginal do if the person has really stinky feet with corns and toe lint…

“He likes that more! He likes it. The more raunchy the feet, the better it is for him.”

So afterwards he’d say something like ‘girl, I got me some mouthfuls, some cheese,…’

“Yeah. ‘I got some pieces of skin girl, let me tell you what I got.’”

What’s the grossest thing he, uh, ‘got.’

“Nothing, because the guys he picked were totally beautiful and would never have any kind of nasty feet. (laughs) Vaginal Cream Davis, I regret, is the one very essential part of the tour that is not in the film. Although in the DVD we have made a documentary about her, so that will be a nice extra to entice people to buy the DVD.”

Was it easy to convince your parents into appearing?

“Oh yeah, they’re such hams.”

Did you mom insist ‘let me say ass-master!’

“No, no. My mother is a little more reticent to be on camera than my father, who loves the camera. But my parents are so into being on camera and into the public eye, they love it.”

By the way, this is very random, but right behind you on the nightstand is this liter bottle of ‘Smart Water’ that has a hotel price tag of six dollars. What exactly makes it so ‘smart’ for six dollars?

“I don’t know. If you buy it you’re not very smart. (laughs) But you can drink the tap water here in New York. That’s why I love it here. It’s delicious.”

I had some tap water in Poland recently and got a little ill. But it could have been the heavy food or all the booze…

“Or the oppression. It could have been! You don’t know.”

You’ve been phenomenal about speaking with the gay press, Margaret.

“It’s not really conscious. I am so in love with so many gay men, and so many close people to me are gays or lesbians or transsexual. This is like my family, my home. So gay press to me is talking to my family, my friends. Speaking a language the mainstream press doesn’t understand. I love it.”

Have you ever been interviewed by a magazine that was clueless about the gay thing, like ‘you talk about faggots a lot.’

“Noooo. Maybe because I am also very careful about where I’m placed and what I would do and like to do. I haven’t come across that yet.”

Have you ever received stalker letters? Like ‘Margaret, we should be together!’

“No. I mean, I’m so stupid, so I don’t know. I just think ‘oh, they’re being nice!’ The only time I had really bad shit happen was when I was doing All American Girl. Some guy wrote me a letter from jail saying ‘I love women with big fat arms and you have the fattest arms I’ve ever seen. I want you to JERK ME OFF with your BIG FAT ARMS.’ That was a good one.”

The last time we spoke you admitted that some TV people were occasionally coming after you to do something. What have they been approaching you with lately?

“Just pilots that don’t really make sense or aren’t funny or good.”

So they never say ‘Margaret, we want you to do this but this time could you please lose, well, just five pounds?’

“No, no. It never gets to me, anyway.”

How about ‘we’re doing a pilot called ‘Chaser,’ and we want you to GAIN 200 pounds, you can eat all you want. It’s about chubby chasers and you’ll be the chased.’

“That would be so hot. But I think it would be hard to gain 200 pounds. After 50 you have to go beyond the comfort. Then you have to never move and be constantly eating.”

You know, I found a website for ‘gainers’ recently, in which members would post pictures of their expanding bellies and discuss ideal weights. Some listed ‘immobilization’ as their ultimate goal.

“That’s intense, immobilization. I think immobilization would be really difficult. There’s that one guy, he had the long braids and wore bed sheets because he didn’t have clothes that were big enough. I think Jerry Springer had to go ‘save’ him, they had to airlift him out of his house or something. And there was another woman who was 1,500 pounds, also on Jerry Springer – he’s a chaser – and she was talking about how upset she was and then her boyfriend came on and talked about how upset he was about it. My friend and I were watching and looking at each other, going ‘she has a boyfriend. I don’t have a boyfriend! She’s 1,500 pounds and has a boyfriend!’ And he was cute! Maybe there is something to being 1,500 pounds.”

So what’s next for Margaret Cho after the Notorious promotion?

“I’m going to take a little time off, then I’m going to write a new show. Then I’m going to write a film I’d like to shoot later this year. A feature narrative – not a concert film.”

What’s it about?

“I don’t know.”

It could be about a gainer working towards immobilization and then Jerry Springer comes in and saves them.

“That’s my dream! Something funny, we’ll see.”

We’ve got a little time left, so let’s play a round of word association. Anne Heche.

“Diaries. The Anne Heche Monologues – in Los Angeles they had a theater piece called the Anne Heche Monologues, a takeoff on the Vagina Monologues.”


“Like… she is tiny! And lovely.”


“I just have her shirt, I don’t know where to get her other clothing items.”

At Macy’s they have ‘em.

“I want to wear her whole outfit. I need a whole J-Lo outfit.”




“I hate tiramisu. I think it’s a disgusting desert – somebody spilled coffee on a cake. It’s nasty. It’s like penicillin, a big accident.”




“Rupert Everett. I don’t know why.”

How often do you get recognized in public?

“Pretty often, it depends. But it’s not intrusive.”

Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?

“Anna Sui. All the time. ‘I love your clothes.’ I go ‘yeah, thanks, I worked really hard this year. A bitch of a season, but wait until you see spring.’ Or Lucy Liu. I have no resemblance to either one, I don’t think.”

What would you like me to title this article, Margaret? Everyone comes up with puns on your name. ‘There’s No Business Like Cho Business.’ ‘Fox in the Cho,’ which is a Belle and Sebastian reference.

“I love Belle and Sebastian. I’m really co-dependent, so I’m hoping somebody will call me ‘The Notorious Co.’”

I’ll do that then.

Check out all things Cho – and buy her CDs, videos, etc. – at

If I Was a DJ pt. 2

Next on my set list would be "In Peak Fitness Condition" by Spleen United, a pretty tasty blend of post-punk pop, industrial and dance. If Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode and Baby Bird all both booked the same studio time by mistake and ultimately decided to get drunk and share it, they might have made this track. Check out the video here.

As it happens, Spleen United are Danish, and I discovered their CD ' Godspeed into the Mainstream - while visiting Copenhagen in October. There are dashes of Vince Clarke and even a wee bit of Ministry to be heard throughout.

You like?


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Down Boy Down!

Dear Michael on Bravo's "Top Design",

Collar down!

Seriously. At least in NYC we've issued a moratorium on popped collars. Yeah, how fucking ironic it was for a wee while, but that ended by Fall, 2006. Even the behind-the-times suburban mall rat tourists are showing up less and less with the collar shit. It's done! Unless you're in a 1980s-set period movie or Off-Off-Bway play. And you're not in either of those!

I will pursue, with an unprecedented fervor, state by state and national legislation to staunch your collar popping offenses.

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you?

And your fabric choices SUCK.

But you are kinda nerdy cute otherwise. Lose the collar. Get dates. From first world countries.

PS - That collar popping thing, I'm serious about pursuing legal solutions if that's what it takes. Like claim it's a secret sign used by terrorist cell members.

Fame Won't Get You Everywhere in This City

"Everybody has their inner cunt, and a labia major and labia minor in their life. I think everyone has something that needs to be rubbed. I think everyone has a feminine side to them that needs to be developed on some [level]. I kind of believe that." - Kevin Aviance, answering the question of whether everyone has a pussy. Like, inherently. Spiritual almost. Why the hell did I need to ask that? Who knows. I did, though.

Most people assume those buildings at Rockefellor Plaza are excluively occupied by entertainment biz offices. Not so - there are all kinds of offices in there, including dentists, physicians, etc. So yesterday I went to visit one of those offices (a groundbreaking oral surgeon who did a little something on me last year), and as with most upscale NYC buildings - especially those with entertainment offices - you have to check in on the ground level, pass security, and get handed a little badge that you scan to get into the elevator area. Waiting at the desk, with increasing impatience and frustration and an indignant scowl, was a hipster. "I'm from Julian Schnabel's studio," he told the guards yet again. I like Julian Schnabel, at least his films like Basquiat and Before Night Falls (a queer biopic I urge everyone to see). I once went to his art studio for a big party back when I was co-writing the "Ferber & Sabo" gossip column for Gay City News. Brushed shoulders with Willem Dafoe and David fucking Bowie. And I have to say, that aside, I was quite amused by the hipster's dilemna. I mean, he really was proud of this Schnabel association. It probably got him laid a few times in Williamsburg. Yet these guards didn't know Schnabel from Schindler. At one point, one of the guards called up to whatever office this guy was trying to get to, and the guard went into the phone "I have a guy here from George Schnabel," which sent the hipster into a tizzy. "JULIAN!" he came within a decibel of screaming.

I patiently waited for my security clearance while this transpired, and decided not to say a thing to the hipster about liking Schnabel. Had he been more understanding or patient, or looked less like Norman Reedus, I might have made small talk. But ick.

He was wearing the same latex Vans as I was.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Raw Cho

I've had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Margaret Cho about a half dozen times now, I think. The first time was at the W Hotel in Union Square during 2001 in her room. We both marveled at the $6 bottle of artisan water sitting on a desk, as she contemplated whether to open and drink it (and thus be billed for it).

Last time was in Toronto, Canada, during September 2005, where her new movie was making its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (putting it diplomatically, the still unreleased film is a mite problematic). She was as forthcoming as ever. And un-PC. And even put in a phone call to a Cho-infatuated Toronto friend of mine and made his life (for that week).

Unlike with some celebrities - to remain nameless right now - with whom asking questions is like walking on eggshells and you may incur the wrath of a publicist or handler later on, no question is too outrageous for Margaret. Really, how could it be?

In 2003 I interviewed her to discuss and promote the "Revolution" tour. The conversation was funny, and a little sordid and even offensive in spots. In part because I was OBSESSED with the absurd concept of barebacking. (I'm still obsessed with it, as it represents the anthithesis of everything I learned and witnessed during the tail end of AIDS' first relentless wave of devastation and the activism and community cohesiveness it spawned). This uncut, raunchy, potentially offensive version of the Q&A has never seen print or posting before. It's an interesting moment to look back on it - Anna Nicole comes up, and so does the Governator prior to his election win.

I know a few Cho fans out there will enjoy. So please do!

And thanks Margaret! See you soon?


Viva La Revolution!

by Lawrence Ferber

Margaret Cho is revolting... yet again!
The socially conscious gay fave has hysterically gone to heads with body issues, evil TV execs, chemical addictions, and S&M clubs during taboo-smashing, roaringly raunchy live engagements/films/CDs like “I’m The One That I Want” and last year’s “Notorious C.H.O.” Now the funny lady is back with “Revolution,” a politically-infused comedy tour.
“It’s mostly about what’s going on and happening with politics, the world, all of these things that are so crazy,” she proffers. “The whole gubernatorial recall in California - I know everybody’s going to vote for Arnold because they think he’s a robot from the future! People are so stupid! And it’s so not OK because they’re talking about the future of the state. A very important state, and it’s just insane.”
Besides current political events, Cho touches upon eating disorders, fashion’s evils, losing bowel control in transit, and her “Ass Master”-loving Korean mother.
Keeping busy offstage, Cho is working on projects as varied as a clothing line and a rap album. To discuss these developments and hot topics like gay marriage, the California governor debacle, and “Gay Aitken,” I spoke with the refreshingly un-PC Cho.

So about this California governor thing... you think Arnold’s gonna win.

“What we’re seeing is the cult of personality confused with politics and this has been happening since Ronald Reagan. I thought we’d learned our lesson there, but obviously we haven’t.”

I’d trust Alec Baldwin if he ran for a political seat.

“I like Alec Baldwin a lot. He’s also somebody who probably would be very prudent about something like running for office. So would other political celebrities such as Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon. They’d be very selective in terms of running. Also, they’re pretty liberal so their views are pretty out there when it comes to the political landscape. They’re pretty far to the left. I would prefer that if we’re talking about actors running.”

How about Gary Coleman?

“Well, I like Gary better [than Arnold]. It’s so funny because he’s been through a lot of hard times, to hell and back, and I think there’s a lot of intelligence and soulfulness there. And you know he’s gonna use the phrase ‘whatchoo talking about Congress?’ I think that in itself is a reason to vote for him. But for me I think it’s going to be Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante all the way if there’s a recall at all, which I don’t think there should be anyway.”

What do you think of the music industry’s downloading crackdown? We’re seeing 12 year olds sued for pirating music.

“I think MP3s and all of that haven’t hurt the music industry. It certainly hasn’t hurt me - I’ve had a lot of my stuff downloaded and I don’t really care... as long as my stuff’s out there it’s getting messages out there. Of course, [music] artists are going to feel differently about it. Besides, [I don’t even understand the technology]! I’m still having problem with Atari’s Pong! I’m not very computer savvy, so God bless them for knowing what to do but I don’t know... Internet worms - that’s a little much. It’s mean. I don’t want a virus - I don’t want to have to put a condom on my computer. It’s not fair!”

It’s an infected society we live in.

“It’s so infected, it’s got cooties.”

Speaking of society, isn’t it funny that the same people who respond to polls with “I loves that Queer Eye, it’s so funny!” will also come out with “I ain’t not want any of them faggots to get married!”

“I know! It’s so crazy! It’s as if gays are good enough to redo their house, they can definitely be of service to the straight community, but they don’t want them to actually be equal. That’s what’s happening. In the political arena it’s not possible for gays to get married and they’re actually considering amendments to ban gay marriage. But in the culture of America we’re seeing interior designers as the new rock stars.”

So it’s kind of like “I love Prince and Destiny’s Child, but I don’t want no niggers votin’!”

“Yes. It’s similar to when there was segregation and all the kids were listening to Little Richard and Chuck Berry. It’s an outrage. It’s unfair. It’s inequitable and something that needs to be dealt with. People of color [experienced] the same kind of civil rights movement the gays experience now. There needs to be more support with the people of color understanding that, too. Imagine if the Million Man March was combined with the HRC March on Washington and the NOW Feminists and all the different benevolent associations happening in Chinatown. It would be very exciting!”

What about Barebacker Marriage?

“(laughs) Barebacking! That’s very irresponsible, I don’t understand what the fallout is with safe sex. It’s a drag and annoying, but at the same time a lot of us have grown up with it and don’t know anything else. It seems like such a strange phenomomen.”

Do you know any barebackers?

“I do! And people who [say they] don’t bareback are lying! They’re just lying because almost everybody I know is a barebacker, but not all the time. Of course we always remember we’ve got to be conscious of that stuff.”

I heard something really scary. You know how you might overhear straight guys watching girls and saying “I”d fuck her,” “I’d give her a baby,” etc. There were some clearly pro-barebacking Chelsea boys in an outdoor cafe cruising guys and commenting “I’d seed him” and “I’d give that guy a gift.”

“A gift! A gift! Uhhhhh! In a little blue Tiffany box. It’s so sweet, adorable.”

Do you think Schwarzenegger will give California a gift?

“I hope he does. I hope he gives us a big ol’ gift. He’s not the muscles from Brussels, is he? Oh, that’s Van Damme. I keep forgetting. I get them confused. It’s just crazy. People are forgetting this is actual government and politics in the real world, we don’t live in the movies.”

Let’s talk Anna Nicole. I heard you discuss your infamous appearance on her show (Cho made out with Anna) during Revolution.

“I love Anna Nicole Smith. The kiss was totally co-opted by Madonna [on the MTV Video Awards]! And Christina and Britney, which I love by the way. I did make out with her because I didn’t really know what to say. You know when you hang out with somebody and don’t know what to talk to them about, you just kinda make out.”

How much of Anna is an act?

“I don’t know. She’s a good kisser. She’s sexy.”

Did any bits of food get in your mouth during the kiss?

“No no no no. She was sexy and didn’t have any food in her mouth. I was just bored and didn’t have anything else to do.”

Would you like to make out with Bobby Trendy?

“Yeah, but then I would get that orange makeup all over my face. He needs to get the proper foundation. Go to the Prescriptives counter and have them mix him up a formula for women of color because obviously he’s using pan stick by Revlon or something because he’s so orange.”

Would you like to do a reality show? What’s the pitch?

“I don’t know. I think it would just be me being a monster, which is what I am. I’m a showbuisness monster so that’s probably what my whole identity would be.”

Who’s the strangest celeb you’ve ever run into? Richard Simmons?

“Oh, he’s great. I sat next to him on a plane and he was so cute. He was going to try and lecture me on diet and then he put his leg around his head. And this was on a plane!”

Was he wearing glitter short shorts?

“Oh yes! He was so glittery and wearing a tank top and it was snowing. And dolphin shorts. He wears it all the time.”

How would you describe his scent? Was there an odor?

“He was kind of lemony, a pink lemonade smell. Not lemonade but pink lemonade. Citrusy.”

I wonder if he barebacks.

“Oh gosh, who knows! Remember when he was in a lawsuit, some kind of weird crazy thing where he was sexually harassing somebody? I can’t even picture that. I don’t even know if the case went to court. He’s a great guy. I adore him. I think he has a boyfriend. I want him to have a boyfriennd so bad.”

Maybe Clay Aitken! How gay is Clay Aitken?

“Oh God!!! GAY Aitken? He is a gay, seriously. Kathy Griffin is so funny, I was just with her the other day and she had the Rolling Stone with Clay Aitken on the cover and she goes ‘how is this not The Advocate?’”

Loved that issue’s cover line - “Growing Up Clay.” Very sly!

“Clay Gay. Look at him. How much more openly gay can he be? It’s like, I’m sorry, but he’s just a gay.”

If your mom met him, what would she say?

“(in mother’s clipped-English voice) ‘Is he the gay?’ I would say, well, I don’t know if he’s ‘the’ gay. He’s not the only one.”

What’s happening in your personal life?

“I’m really goth. I’m super goth. People don’t realize that about me. I’m almost from Florida, that’s how goth I am. I also put out a fashion clothing line called High Class Cho which is online at It’s so Beyonce. I’m recording a rap record next week. I’m MC MC. All my raps are about healthcare and brushing your teeth, flossing, the food pyramid. My record’s called ‘I’m Your MD.’”

Will there be a bareback rap?

“There actually is! It’s called ‘I want FTDs, not STDs.’ FTDs as in flowers. STDs as in herpes. That’s about to drop in a couple of weeks.”

Seeing any boys or girls right now romantically?

“Everybody! Who am I not seeing? I’m so busy and swamped I can’t do anything... so yes and no. I just go to sex clubs because it’s much easier for me.”

Have you ever fucked a guy in the butt with a dildo?

“Yes, I had to use a really small one because he was such a baby about it. It was like a finger. I didn’t find it that satisfying. I just don’t get the whole strap-on excitement because I can’t feel anything from it. The whole double-dong thing with women, nobody likes it. It’s something for porno. The only thing anybody ever uses is the Hitachi Magic Wand. That’s the only thing a lesbian needs for anything. And I can see the homophobia in the world because I went to a lesbian resort and they had placed the electrical outlet so far away from the bed I considered that a hate crime. That was really bad.”

Do you at least have time to masturbate between it all?

“You know, sometimes that falls to the wayside! I have to tie a little ribbon around my finger so I remember to.”

See for all things Margarett: tour dates, articles, goods, and her hysterical blog.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

If I was a DJ pt.1

I would kick off a set with "Skitzo Dancer pt. 1" by Scenario Rock. This amazing French pop group does the Phoenix thing but with a little added post-punk fire.

Yes, they have a myspace page, where you can hear a few tracks, etc.

Why in hell hasn't Astralwerks picked up their 2004 CD for release? Or Jive released it stateside? How awesome is that track???? Goddamned if it doesn't make you want to dance. Sofia Coppolla, you, put this on a soundtrack. Don't make me ask a second time.

So commences my DJ playlist.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Counter Coulter

That Ann Coulter! Seems like she's discovered that the word "faggot" results in a lot of press. I'm thinking she'll use it more and more now. She called Clinton gay a while back, right? Push that envelope, girl! Maybe she's actually coming out. You know - you can say faggot if you're gay yourself. Maybe this is her way of inching out. We should support her! Let her know it's OK to be a dyke. You go, Ann! Come out! Let it go! Break free!


PS - How Terminator 3 is she in that outfit?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Tori Story

One of my favorite stories - and probably widely posted on fansites - is my Tori Amos piece, written for LA Weekly in 1998. At the time I didn't understand the fuss over Tori, or her music's appeal, or the whole fairy spiritual thing. I just didn't get why some of my friends were Tori cuh-razy at all. Figuring I wasn't the only one, I pitched a piece that would be a sort of layman's beginner guide to Tori and the whys to her following, and the extent to which it goes (I mean, a vocabulary based on Tori??).

I actually grew to like her music a good bit after writing this. And I am quite pleased with it.

Here is the unseen draft version - probably some spelling and/or grammatical errors within - I ultimately turned into the version I turned in and was, after a fab editing by John Payne, published.

Incidentally, I went on to interview Tori again in 2002 for a gay press article. I may post it if there's a demand (hint hint: comment, people!) Meanwhile, you can view my other LA Weekly music features at Do a search for "Lawrence Ferber."



A Tori Story

by Lawrence Ferber

"Well, you think that I wake up and put crystal suppositories in my ass. Know what I mean?” asides Tori Amos, indisputable pop savior to legions of fans worldwide, during yet another conversational inroad. What she’s addressing is the oft-regarded image of Tori as faerie-dust sprinkler, a potentially flaky woman scribing songs on behalf of voices within a red-plumed noggin, an obsessive toiler in religion n’ mythos. Or worse, one aligned with “New Age” sentiment. “I just think that right now, if you have a belief in spirituality, you get aligned with the New Age - 'cocktail spirituality’ - like you wear some ridiculous little red string around your wrist and then go urinate on your coworkers... I'm not interested!”
There’s more, but first some exposition: Rolling Stone’s Steve Daly wrote, “asking her the most straightforward question is liable to produce a radical and unnerving detour into any number of ancient cultures and religions.” It can. BUT she’s not a flake about it. Obsessed, yes, but foremostly practical. Tori continues: “I'm only really interested in people who walk the talk. If you treat the gurus, the shamen, the priests, or the medicine women with respect but then don't treat your coworkers the same way, then you're a hypocrite, and I think there's a lot of hypocrites in the New Age. They go away to their seminar - I lived in LA you have to remember - and of course I did the shamen, I did all that ‘dance around the bloody tea tree sticks.’ But in the end it really came down to, if I'm only open and compassionate when I'm doing these weekends, then what am I like when I'm at Ralphs in line trying to distract somebody in front of me who has a big cart so I can get in front? At a certain point you have to own what you're up to, and that's really what interests me, so any New Age reference I find quite offensive because I do think there's a huge commercial side and not a lot of substance to it."
This particular diatribe sparked while discussing Tori’s recent marriage to sound engineer Mark Hawley. Marriage, it seems, was something pre-spousal Tori wasn’t keen on. "I really didn't feel like I wanted the sanctioning of the church or the state in my private life,” reveals the Minister’s daughter. “I've grown up with the church in my bathroom, my bedroom, in my underwear drawer. I can't wash it off. Every time you try and wash it off, they baptize you again!” Hopping over that baggage, wed they did, an incestuous within-the-industry ("Well, I didn't marry a piano player,” Tori doth protest) coupling which sprung from a well-developed friendship.
Tori’s history has been documented more thoroughly, and often, than some mythologies she’s researched (a habit developed once escaping her family’s hardcore Christian background). “I started to look at Christianity as Christian mythology instead of this is the be all and end all of what exists in the faith system,” Tori says of her myth-mining hobby. “Then I opened myself to many other faith systems that the Christians I was surrounded by weren't open to.” For instance, Native American spirituality - mom’s part Cherokee. “If you go back to traditional Native American spirituality, you have an incredibly grounded way of looking at passion, birth and death that the Christians have really made me feel guilty and shameful about. I like it because it's not "airy fairy." And daddy Amos, his tree’s part Scotch and Irish. “I call it fairy smegma just because I've really studied Celtic mythology and respected it. I know enough that if you want to slag that culture off you should have the guts to go to an Irish pub, find the biggest guy there, and say something really insulting about the faeries. Yeah, that could be fun."
Born in North Carolina during 1963, Tori was infused with enough Christian religion to make holy tea when bathing. Dad’s a Methodist minister, but that didn’t stop him from driving his teenage musical prodigy, who slapped ivories by age 3, to perform in gay bars. A failed musical excursion at 21, “Y Kant Tori Read,” into Los Angeles’ tacky metal pop (and hair teasing) scene, humbled her back to piano, and some while later - viola - the goddess (“That’s ridiculous,” she drawls regarding this elation) emerged. Bleeding pain into piano and lyrics, Tori’s something of a musical phlebotomist. With merely five albums under wing, including 1992’s “Little Earthquakes” and 1994’s “Under The Pink,” her chronicles of loss, most recently a miscarriage (“Music, for the first time in my life, it wasn't priority. Being a mom was."), have borne children of a different kind.
The Lost Souls Club.
Amongst throngs of unofficial websites devoted to Tori is Ears With Feet (, which features amongst its draws the “Tori-Lexicon.” Nouveau terminology like “Torific: (To-ri-fic) Creme de la creme, the absolute finest there is,” and “Toriocrat: (Tor-ie-o-krat) A person living in a Toriocracy,” is founded regularly by obsessed, hopefully stable votaries. Scary they are but in fairness, unlike those who mushroom media idols to deity status, many “Toriphiles” maintain she’s simply one of them (“Andromeda: "gone andromeda"- when you truly believe the lie that Tori is a Goddess, when actually she’s in the Lost Souls Club like everyone else”) albeit imbued with talents to express their mutual struggles, pain, and triumphs. A friend they wish would call on occasion.
“What drew me to Tori?” asks Erwin Weiss, a Dutch 28-year-old. “A soul crying out like mine did. A feeling of ‘I'm not the only one,’ so that afterwards the weight - of which I was not even aware sometimes - is lifted from my heart.” 18-year-old Nikole Kantor, of Staten Island, NY, adds, “I think she doesn’t want people to consider her music depressing but rather as a release and realization that the bad can make us stronger once we let those demons out of the closet.” And Justin Kadel, a gay 19-year-old from Tori’s NC home state, articulates: “Addressing such issues as loneliness, fear, rebellion, obsession, and rape, Tori touches on the entire gamut of topics I could identify with. Having been raised Mormon... organized religion destroyed me, and Tori identified with that. If it wasn't for her, I would’ve never survived my teenage years.”
Tori seems less surprised than I am by these articulate, grounded responses. “They're not mad stories like I’ve heard other artists tell about - people sending themselves by post in a box and sitting there for three days,” Tori acknowledges (betraying a sense of humor, Tori interposes, “obviously there isn't a Four Seasons ladies' room in the box, so imagine what comes out...”). This is pretty hardcore stuff. One thing that it's taught me: I never, anymore, make a judgment. Just because you get a smiley waitress to serve you coffee with braids in her hair, thinking 'she's got a nice life,' you've got no idea what she's been through in the last 24 hours. You have no idea what she has to wake up to... it’s really quite humbling."
To illustrate this routine fan correspondence, a completely somber Tori relays a harrowing letter from a young girl, habitually raped at knifepoint by a scorned older man. It gets worse. “Finally she couldn't take it anymore - she was ready to commit suicide - so she told her mother. And her mother beat her up and called her a whore, and now she’s run away from home.” Tori pauses. “So that's this week.”
From The Choirgirl Hotel not only marks Tori’s enlistment of full-time musicians in studio and on stage to boot, but rocks. Not that her last album, Boys for Pele (referring to a Hawaiian Volcano goddess, not the soccer player), didn’t. Indeed, it remixed, earning “backdoor” fans who were Torified via Armand Van Helden’s Professional Widow recrafting, which featured breathy “Gotta be big” samples amongst its funky charms. Also, in 1996, she contributed vocals to electronica/remix wizard BT’s “Blue Skies” single (“BT sent me some rhythm and sounds on a thirteen minute tape and said 'do something.’”), making famous Amos’ voice familiar at gay dance clubs from Rage to Roxy.
Might she recreate one of her remixed tracks live for these new, booty-shaking followers? "Well, um, remixing live is kind of redundant,” she opines. “You see, it’s about ProTools. If I'm going to do a remix version, I'll just sit there and play the sample of 'Got to be big' for twenty minutes. I'm not gonna sing it. However, there's an ambient version of 'Raspberry Swirl' that isn't out - 'Raspberry Swirl's Scarlet Spectrum Feels’ by Andy Gray - and it's one of the favorite things that I've heard done. It's playing when you leave the concert venue."
Although remixes were a Pele-era staple, one unwavering Tori trademark, besides religious detours, is cover versions, most famously “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” And she does do them in concert. On her methodology (Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” most recently on import copies of “Spark”), Tori offers, “Obviously, you don't do something that doesn't speak to you, but sometimes there are things which have influenced me which I stay away because I know I don't have the right read on them." She moans and groans when pressed to confess a hopeful cover version (Pwetty pwetty pweeze, Tori!), but finally concedes. "You don't have to beg, darling. ‘Dream On’ by Aerosmith, but I don't know. My ‘Like a Virgin’ cover really shouldn't get out, although..."
Although enterprising pirates could do it for her. “Enterprising pirates value their balls," she snips before that suggestion goes further. Speaking of further, Tori’s wrangler paces the room, knotting her face into anguished knots since we’re running 30 minutes-plus later with our conversation than allotted. She’s got to play tonight, so we call it a day. "You've been so wonderful,” Tori says with honey-sweetness. “We've had a very good interview, you and I. So you're going to hold true to what we've done, right?"
As much as enterprising pirates value their balls, Tori.