Author: The JT LeRoy Story
Some writers live it. Some just make shit up. But if communication is the desired goal, both are means of expression.
Writing is a private affair, not an orgy, which is why it is not uncommon for authors to lock themselves away from the outside like some mad scientist experimenting until daylight. The difference is the writer’s door is unhinged, open to public scrutiny as adulation or criticism.
That balance is summed up in the comment from Ishmael Reed, which also serves as a dire warning: “One of the reasons I left in the summer of 1967, for Los Angeles, was because my working class background taught me to be suspicious of too much affection.”
But, making shit up or not, “fiction” contains an element of “fact,” and is not whatever the fuck sells! A writer spends extensive periods doing research to collate information about a particular subject.
So it was in the prevailing wind of change, while searching for “a new voice” and an “exciting torchbearer,” that writing got suppressed as the bacteria of beatitude, replaced by the quick fix fictional character known as JT (Jeremiah Terminator) LeRoy, loved by asshole indie rockers and arrogant NY academia alike, desperately seeking minion and muse in the waifish guise of a homeless blond teenager living on the street, struggling with HIV, who has gender issues stemming from broken family ties and a truckstop prostitute for a mom.
In director Jeff Feuerzeig’s film Author: The JT LeRoy Story, it’s not JT that’s the fraud, but the climate and the celebrities that birthed him.
Aspiring writer Laura Albert, a sad, 320 lb. loner with multiple aliases, resorted to the pseudonym in 1995 after her “alleged” therapist suggested she write her disturbed stories. Now, lots of people use nom de plumes for various reasons. Years ago, women used them to get published at a time when writing was a male-dominated field. Blacklisted screenwriters wrote under assumed names to get past restrictions.
Laura’s trouble began in 2001 after her first book, Sarah, inspired the likes of Tom Waits, Courtney Love, Michael Stipe, Eddie Vedder, Billy Corgan, Matthew Modine and Kurt Loder to champion this brilliant, iconoclastic wunderkind, which caused the literary world to demand lectures and book signing tours for a non-existent writer!
I have to account for whatever I write, and for the last 35 years I’ve been called to the carpet for what has been added to my copy without my approval, received death threats (on Christmas Eve, no less) and been bombarded with calls for my expulsion for giving negative reviews. Laura Albert never had to deal with anything like that, but decided to satisfy the public craving for a “celebrity” to rub elbows with. She chose her sister-in-law Savannah to wear a sloppy looking, ill-fitting wig that borrowed from both Andy Warhol and Jeffrey Lee Pierce, don permanent sunglasses and use exaggerated gestures as if a 17-year-old boy was flirting with being a girl, even though Savannah was all-girl. AND THEY BOUGHT IT!
I give Laura credit, not for hiding behind a human shield due to embarrassment but for successfully having faked out these idiots who were so willing to embrace dysfunctionality. All Laura did was take advantage of their hopeless liberalism that encourages being an outcast, exalts that which is mediocre and heralds false gods on a daily basis!
Years later, once the illusion wore off, these gullible musicians and Hollywood hyenas would feign outrage that this woman (actually two women) would violate their trust and jeopardize their reputation. Oh, like it wasn’t sullied enough by their association with Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier? Then the transgender community chimed in, calling for Laura’s head because here is a woman (or three!) trying to capitalize on the plight of those infected with HIV – something Hollywood has used as a cash cow for decades!
Once Savannah had been established as the face of JT, to keep track of associates and prevent any mix-ups, Laura becomes “Speedie,” JT’s surrogate mother and handler who would evolve into the singer for the band Thistle. She’d contribute to the scam known as Rock the Vote and claim her true name was Emily Fraiser, who’d be tied to HBO’s Deadwood as a contributing screenwriter!
All of which transpired while millions of potentially gifted writers struggled on spec but remained ignored while Laura slithered to notoriety. But I can’t hate Laura for seizing the opportunity; her actions exposed the powerful tastemakers who declare themselves the authorities on pop culture while promoting their ugly cynicism to worshipping kids. Those self-same nutjobs who haggle over social justice for debauched pimps, who preach that heroin dependency is such a groove, who have forever shunned the rebels and innovators in lieu of enshrining the trite, the vulgar and the mundane in the Usher House of horrid hymns known as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
These are the very same people who have prevented much better writers from reaching a wider audience, latching instead onto anything or anybody that resembles a life preserver.
Nobody in their right mind would’ve been fooled by the JT LeRoy hoax, with Savannah in a scary wig acting like a boy trying to act like a girl – except those who were taken in by this hoax! Laura Albert sold ‘em a bill of goods that was willingly grabbed up! She didn’t force anyone to believe anything – they all wanted desperately to believe this crap!
Stomp and Stammer has its own connect to the JT story, when in 2005, Da Capo Press chose JT LeRoy as the guest editor for their Best Music Writing anthology, who in turn chose Tom Roche’s article “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” about attending John Peel’s memorial service.
JT LeRoy may have been an iconic participant in 1996, 2001, 2003, but what were his credentials for judging what the “best music writing” truly was? Roche’s piece may have been solid writing, but the point being is that someone gave credibility to assess the talent of others to a street hustler.
The problem here is that Laura wanted to fit in and sit at the table with the big boys… a table that consisted of people unqualified to judge fact from fiction because they so much hoped the world could indeed produce a teenage vagrant with the ability and insight that they themselves did not possess. The first tipoff should have been that anyone turning tricks for any length of time who was HIV positive and drug addicted would look more like Bukowski than River Phoenix!
The excuse given is that Laura could not get beyond childhood ridicule and created a myth that could. In all probability, remembering childhood ridicule is exactly what any competent music critic needs in order to deal with the adolescent male ego of rock stars!