Wednesday, January 04, 2006

laura barton on JT LeRoy

Despite the best efforts of the singular Lucy Mangan, Laura Barton has been the best feature writer on the Guardian for some time, and her interview with JT LeRoy in today's Guardian is brilliant even by her standards, especially when you consider the fact that she's dealing with such facetious people as the withdrawn writer and his entourage. I think that LeRoy is a decent bordering on brilliant writer, athough I couldn't be less interested in his subject matter, but I've never understood the excitement roused in people by his strange behaviour and secretive personality. He evokes a uniquely self-absorbed and American take on the cult of celebrity, and something about him depresses me; I'd far rather take the conceptual myth-making of, say, Tracy Emin or Sarah Lucas than I would his or someone like Vincent Gallo or Courtney Love. Predictably, he gives Barton the runaround, but gives her in the process an interesting angle, enabling her to embark, like Nick Broomfield, on a fruitless but entertaining quest for identity. Doubtless exactly what he intended, but the intrigue drives Barton to some really great writing.

"I am confused by their sudden desire to be candid, and baffled by the late-night telephone calls and the accents and the giggling celebrity entourage. I am perplexed by the fact that when I left them, Emily handed me a packet of organic chocolate chip cookie mix. I could not tell you if I liked them or they liked me. The facts remain as clouded and uncertain as when I left London. But in some curious way, I am rather pleased to be left clinging to a solitary yet buoyant fact: somebody has written those books, and really, I don't much think it matters who."

The best feature-writing leaves you with an appetite for the writer's work, and while I read without particular enthusiasm some of LeRoy's work previously, Barton makes me keen to do so again. I fear, however, that I won't enjoy it as much as I did Barton's closing paragraphs.

"It is all a matter of authenticity. Is it because if JT LeRoy is not a drug-addled hobo hooker made good, we feel embarrassed because we've been conned, as if we paid full price for a Louis Vuitton purse only to find it was a fake? But nothing has been taken from us. The books remain: as startling and disturbingly beautiful as they ever were. There is nothing that has sullied the New York Times's assertion that "his language is always fresh, his soul never corrupt". And what strikes me more than anything is that in this age of overblown celebrity, where people such as Paris Hilton can be famous purely for being Paris Hilton, mightn't JT LeRoy represent the precise inversion of this? The work is all. The identity is irrelevant.

The words that surface most frequently in my head are those of the writer Peter Murphy, who contacted LeRoy after the New York Magazine piece to show his support: "It all boils down to this," he wrote: "I can't prove the existence of god, but I sure do love the Bible"."

1 comment:

Bird said...

Pardon?