December 18th, 2006
Of course, we can't assert anything positively about Monsieur Derrida's recent failure to exist; we can't even state that he ever did exist, since he may have been a mere metaphysical projection of our own prejudices against absolutes. However, in as much as we may categorically claim anything — Mr. Derrida will not likely be showing up for work tomorrow. Although, who is to say?
— Jacques Chirac, President de la Republique Francais, 2004
First of all, they're great fuckin' books. Some books are a cool read. They grab you. But then they let you go. The JT LeRoy books, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, Sarah, and Harold's End gnaw on your bones. They stay with you, if you let them. (I just caught the last fifteen minutes of the film version of The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things on IFC and it brought it all back.) But then again, maybe you just kicked them out of your head because the writer turned out to be a woman in her thirties and not a boy in his teens. Your loss.
The story of the "literary hoax" has been told elsewhere, and I don't think Laura Albert particularly wants me to add my version to the cacophony. And so I'm going to respect those wishes. For those of you geeks who only pay attention to science fiction, Google "JT LeRoy" and feast on the mediated pathos. Meanwhile, Laura Albert had other kinds of food on her mind when she joined me on the RU Sirius Show just before Thanksgiving. Indeed, you might say that Laura Albert, AKA JT LeRoy, is a riddle wrapped in an enigma, then wrapped again in dough brushed with eggs and sprinkled with sesame seeds, and baked at 375 degrees for about 12 minutes.
In other words, she's a simple gal who likes food, good friends and the odd, occasional, scandalously-complex, literative meta-performance; apparently in that order. "We only did it for the fame," snarled Johnny Rotten, frontin' for prankster/hypster Malcolm McLaren's Great Rock ’n' Roll Swindle. "I only did it for the food," Albert would explain about two decades later.
Necessity may be the mother of re-invention, but nothin' says lovin' like something from the oven.
My tuneful co-host Diana Brown joined in this conversation.
To listen to the entire interview in MP3, click here.
RU SIRIUS: Thanks for inviting us to several parties including one for the cover interview with you in Paris Review. It was nice to see you surrounded by people who love you and care about you — perhaps a different image than some people might have from a distance. Tell us about being included in the Paris Review — an excellent interview.
LAURA ALBERT: I've heard such good feedback from the people who have read it; I just had the feeling that the proper medium would come. I turned down Rolling Stone. I turned down Vanity Fair. I was honored, but I just felt like when Paris Review came it was — they're a literary magazine and I'm a writer. And at the end of the day, what I'm interested in is people who take problems of the spirit, problems of the soul, and transform them into problems of craft. We weren't hanging out with Paris Hilton. I don't know her.
RU: [Ironically] Hell of a writer, though.
LA: That's why you don't see pictures of us hanging with Paris. It's all those novels she wrote, you know? You know, when you do an interview with someone and then they write it up, you're reading somebody's interpretation. They put their projections onto you. It's going to be, "She sits there and she is reflecting on boogers and"... whatever the hell — it's their take. And with Paris Review, it's just a Q&A. And it was the senior editor who came out. He was wonderful. My friends became friends with his friends. It was like family, and I think it was because the whole articulation was just so different being around people who know me. Nobody who knows me has said anything about it all. They don't need their three minutes of fame to say, "Oh, this is who she is or who she isn't."
RU: It's funny that you mention turning down Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. Because in the literary world, Paris Review is it. It's a huge thing.
LA: I always felt like I would never be in Paris Review. I remember my friend was talking to me, this wonderful writer who's a real mentor to me, and she felt kind of snubbed by Plimpton when he was around. And I remember just thinking, "Man, if they're doing this to you, they will never mention my name! Forget it!" And to be on the cover was just, like — it's pretty amazing.
RU: It's a sign of a respect for your work.
LA: What's really funny is: you can have these people talking smack about it, you know, "She's this and that." But the fact is, it's the Paris Review. If there wasn't some value to my work, which, you know, that's the thing that has been questioned...
RU: Right. That's true. And If you get the cover of Vanity Fair, that's questionable. It could be about the gossip.
LA: Well, it means you've got nice tits. Wait a minute, no — I have nice tits, I could do that.
RU: It seems like we ought to live in a culture where people can try on different personas pretty easily. Wasn't that the point of virtual reality?
LA: Yeah, I'm amazed at how [sighs] — everyone asks the question, "Why? Why did you do it?" A friend of mine says, "You know, people have said you did it for the celebrity. You did it for the money." What money? But he said, "I know why you did it." He said, "You did it for the food." I said, "Yes! Yes!" That's true. I did it for the fucking food.
RU: So what kind of food did you wind up bumping into? Does JT LeRoy get different food than Laura?
LA: [Singing] "Is it worth the waiting for, if we live till 84 all we'll ever get is gruel (ah) Every day we say a prayer, will we change the bill of fare, still we get the same old gruel (ah!). There's not a crust, not a crumb can we find can we beg can we borrow or cadge. But there's nothing to stop us from getting a thrill — wait — when we all close our eyes and ima-gine Food! Glorious foo-ood [Co-host Diana Brown joins in] Hot sausage and mustard! Ma, we're in the moo-ood. Cold jelly and custard."
DIANA BROWN: [Giggles] Yes! You sing far better than I! I do love that phenomenal segment from "Oliver." But food, let's go back to fo-o-od.
LA: Yeah, that was it for me. When we were going around the world and everything, it's like, there's that celebrity, but I'm like, "Where's the hors d'oeuvres?" Because I was a ward of the state. I was in a group home where we would get these Type 10 cans, where they come in with the peanut butter.
DB: Like the #10 S.E. Rykoff Industrial size...
LA: Yeah! That's it! That's it! I'm always amazed when you go to these events... I used to write for 7x7 and...
RU: Wine and cheese.
LEROY: Well, these women don't eat! It's the iced tea and a salad kind of scene.
DB: Right. The "society x-rays" in the front row of the fashion shows.
LA: We were at this one party, I can't remember the hotel, and we situated ourselves with a shopping bag by the kitchen. [Laughs] And the wait-people were running from us. They were running! And it was like, "Come on back here, baby!"
DB: [Laughs] You're all seducing the wait staff to get the canapes.
LA: If it came to that...Celebrities? No, I want the waiter!
RU: But did Savannah get some food that should've gone to you? (Maybe we should tell people about Savannah.)
LA: They can read some tea leaves and they can make it up. [Laughs]
RU: Google JT LeRoy and then make up a new story.
DB: [Laughs] They seem to already.
RU: But do tell, what did Savannah get to enjoy? Some fine foods?
LA: That was the thing, we both really enjoyed eating. I was grateful it wasn't just me, because now when it's me, and I make an appearance, it's not the same.
RU: You brought some music with you and we're going to play it.
LA: When I was in New York and I was a punk, I loved The Avengers. There were very few female singers. In the punk world, if you were a girl, it was OK if you were the girlfriend or if you "made yourself useful."
DB: Sewed costumes for the band.
LA: Yeah, sewed costumes. It was replicating what mainstream rock and roll was. And it was supposed to be the promise of the difference. So the fact that she (Penelope Houston) opened for the Sex Pistols' and there were these two songs that were just amazing to me. I sang them all the time. So to be able to record them — I recorded them with Jerry Harrison.
RU: Formerly of the Talking Heads.
LA: Yeah, that was really amazing. I'll tell you one funny story. We were there with one of the producers who had worked on it. And we were there at this table at this really nice restaurant in Sausalito. And they complimented me about my voice, which was really nice. We had recorded some original stuff too, and then they complimented me about some lyrics I had added. And I said, "Well, I actually wrote all the lyrics. And also I wrote all the JT stuff and everything." And there was this moment of silence and then everybody just burst out laughing. I realized, no one was ever going to believe me. I always told people, "I wrote the books." And the reaction was always like this "Prince and the Pauper" thing. People would call up "JT" and say, "You gotta watch your back, because that speedy chick is just megalomaniacal — trying to to take credit for your work!"
RU: The role of women in the hardcore punk scene was real weird actually. Hardcore punk had this macho thing going on, I guess.
LA: There was this whole straight-edge thing going on. I spoke to Steve Blush about this. And the whole straight-edge thing was — you don't drink; you don't smoke; you don't fuck. And I really loved that idea, because really all the drugs going on in the hardcore scene, the punk scene, were really sad. Most everyone came from a really horrible background and it just wasn't making anything better. So here came this movement that made it cool to not use. But the backstory was that it was very misogynistic. There really was rage at women. And I met a guy who told me that he was this other guy's lover. And the guy was not out. It was closeted. There were all these DC kids where, if they fucked — if they engaged with a woman, they would have their heads shaved as punishment. It was this boy's club, and I couldn't figure it out. Once again, it was just like, "Shit!" You know, here's something where you think, well, it's an opportunity to be a participant and an equal, and the doors are shut. "You don't got the genitals fer it! Nope, I'm sorry!"
RU: I don't think I have the genitals for it, actually. I was in what I thought was a hardcore band in Rochester, New York in the early 80s, and if I'd known...
LA: The problem was Rochester. That was the problem. I don't know if it was your lack of rocks, or your preponderance of rocks. I don't know if I want to know.
RU: If I'd known what was going on in hardcore in some of these other cities, I would've turned into a folk singer immediately.
LA: I could picture you kind of like doing sort of an Ali G sort of "Kumbaya" thing, you know, with a banjo going. My mom used to took me — [laughs] "took me." My momma took me! Yeah, that was the start of all my problems. No — I used to go to Pete Seeger when I was a kid. It was the protest stuff. It was definitely early punk.
So let's talk about food!
RU: All right.
LA: My birthday! You were there.
RU: I started asking you about Savannah and whether she got your food.
DB: Yeah, did she get the coconut shrimp and you had to do the Levage rolls, how did that snack hierarchy break down?
RU: Talk about food and friendship.
LA: We're both ladies who munch. But the funny thing is — very often, someone would ask her, "Do you want this? Are you thirsty?" And in the group home, if someone offered you something, maybe you don't want it, but somebody else does.
DB: You always accept.
LA: Right. Maybe I don't want it, but maybe someone else does. You never say no. You're always open. Because everything is of use and you've got a big family that you've got to provide for. You know. It was just a little bit of a mindset...
RU: So the idea of sharing food..
LA: No, no, no, I'm not talking about food. I would probably bite it out of somebody's hand. I probably have. Actually, even my first oral sex experience was with whipped cream. I mean, I wasn't going to put that thing in my mouth without a healthy dosing of whipped cream. It's scary, you know?
RU: It looks better in whipped cream also, I think. With a cherry on top.
LA: Do you find that? You can take little cotton balls and just kind of approximate it too.
RU: I don't think cotton balls, no. It's not really the thing.
LA: You might not get a girl. You might get a dental hygienist who might get turned on by that.
RU: Don't even talk to me about dental hygenists. (The right side of RU's mouth was all messed up thanks to dental surgery that week.)
LA: Well I'm trying to make positive associations. I'm doing it for you.
RU: You're re-framing my negative experiences.
LA: Next time you see them coming at you with the cotton balls, you won't think Novocaine shot or Marathon Man. You'll think, oral sex! See? I've opened your horizons.
RU: On this show we're only allowed to think about anal sex, I think we established that with a previous guest. "Yay, Anal!" was a theme in an earlier program.
DB: It was a theme. It just kept coming up.
LA: So to speak
RU: Do we have a tight-ass culture, do you think?
DB: Speaking of anal sex.
LA: I don't know. I'm from New York. I did do phone sex. I mean, I spoke to so many people who would get deoderant bottles stuck up inside them.
RU: Sure, yeah. The hospitals always have people with light bulbs up there and so forth.
LA: Yeah, hot light bulbs. They put them in; they grease them up; they're warm. But for me, it's not edible, so I'm really not that interested.
Well, you guys came to my birthday! Did you try the vegan cake?
RU: Umm... we got there sort of late. I had something very sweet, actually.
LA: I went to Deadwood, South Dakota, because I work on the HBO show Deadwood, and my son's on the show. And I spent all last year there, and it was pretty amazing... And some of the cast-members were there and they have fans in town and they have this "Wild Bill Hickok Day." And it really brought back how graced we are in San Francisco with food. The quality of the food there — it was all Cisco food products straight off the van. And no matter what they tried to do, they were working with the same product. And you can just scrape off the pesticides with a knife. And, I mean — the level of obesity there — it's the idea of quantity over quality. There was one place called the Corn Exchange in Rapid City that didn't have massive mounds of food, and people were upset. It's just filler! It's like the casino culture.
RU: On the other hand, I've been to some restaurants that are very upscale and they give you so little food and the cost is...
LA: And as a Jew, doesn't that just kill you? I mean, as a New York Jew, it's just like, "What?! Hello!"
DB: I do murder mysteries, and one of the lessons is: Never take an actor's food. One of my friends was joining the company and she came to watch the rehearsal. And she started taking the other actor's food: "Are you going to eat that?" You just don't take an actor's or a musician's food.
LA: My book Sarah — it's just all about the food. I mean, there's transgendered stuff and sex and all that other kinds of stuff in there too but it's like an ideal world. I mean, an actual, transgendered truck stop — it wouldn't exist. Especially borderline South, it just wouldn't be allowed. So, you know — I created a place — this magical world where people can exist and this magic could exist — the food, the people of different genders and different sexuality. And instead of being murdered, they were actually aspired to.
DB: In the Paris Review interview, they asked about stories and their protagonists, and you mentioned Peter Pan. Talking about food makes me think of the scene where the Lost Boys envision any food that they want to eat and it can just magically appear before them. Do you think that might have been some influence?
LA: One thing — we got exposed to such a rich culture. It was a very different world from the group home. I was always amazed when we'd go into the houses of people who were fabulously wealthy and their refrigerator was just like Sam's Club.
I mean, one thing I did early on was I found that writing is like barter. I know so many people who barter in the city for all kinds of goods.
RU: You wrote for Web magazine many years back, like me. What name did you use?
LA: Laura Victoria. I did the sex column.
RU: And did they pay you in food?
LA: No, but I found a way to parlay that into...
RU: You get invited to a lot of stuff.
LA: Yeah, I'm not really a party kind of — You know, it's like, if you've seen one pregnant slut sucking off an elephant, you've seen them all. [Stunned silence] Don't you find that to be true, RU?
RU: You know, I'm going to have to dream about that. I'm going to meditate on that.
LA: You're still on the cotton balls?
RU: I believe I've seem some dog action on film, but...
LA: "I don't know if I can handle this."
RU: It could be rough. Before we let you go, let's bring it back to writing just for a minute.
LA: I want to talk about my birthday — what I did on my birthday. So what would you like to ask me about my birthday?
RU: Happy birthday? So how old are you?
LA: I'm a 41-year-old soccer mom. I think some articles kind of referred to me like that. Nothing against soccer moms. My son doesn't play soccer, but...
RU: He'd be allowed to, though, if he did.
LA: [Laughs] Yeah, I think so. He runs fast. He kicks balls pretty hard.
RU: I'll bet he does. You taught him well.
LA: The apple doesn't fall far from the gosh-darn tree.
RU: All right, speaking of kicking balls....
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