By Corey Deiterman
By William Michael Smith
By Jef With One F
By Craig Hlavaty
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Sonya Harvey
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Nathan Smith
As longtime readers will know by now, we don't like to gloat in this column. Frankly, it's beneath us -- it's unseemly, rude, uncouth, ill-mannered and downright tacky.
But hell, so was JT LeRoy, whose ridiculous fiction-posing-as-memoir we trashed in this space back in August of last year, at the risk of what little hipster cred we retained. (You can read it here: Racket).
We exposed ourselves to the rage of an incensed and imperious lit-mag editor (Marc Smirnoff of the Oxford American), the utter condescension of whoever answered the emails at the vortex of LeRoy's web of deception, and even tedious phone calls from Mr./Miss/Ms. LeRoy him/herself. (That person went on and on about how "spiritual" they were. That word makes me want to puke on general principles, and this came when we were dealing with the all-too-tangible phantasmagoria that was the Summer of Katrina and Rita.) And then we imagined that LeRoy's friends Shirley Manson, Courtney Love, Madonna and Tom Waits would all scratch my name from their Christmas lists when they read my piece.
And we'll admit here that we are not above a spot of vanity-Googling now and again, and when we did so regarding this matter, most of what we found was more wrath and disdain. Why, one poster on some books blog even called me "a douche." The horror! Boo fucking hoo.
But hey, it's always darkest before the dawn. My tears had barely dried before sweet vindication thundered in to the rescue amid a fanfare of cavalry bugles. Gawker teased my piece without slamming it. Stephen Beachy's exhaustively reported, years-in-the-making exposé -- in which he all-but-proved that the "JT LeRoy" persona was in fact an amalgam of San Francisco musician Laura Albert and a few co-conspirators -- showed up in the pages of New York magazine a month or so after mine came out in the Press. Then the New York Times dispatched a reporter, one who had been duped by LeRoy before, to go salvage his rep by wrecking LeRoy's shop. (And in the meantime, the Smoking Gun revealed James Frey to be a complete and utter liar.)
And most recently, Albert's former domestic partner Geoffrey Knoop, with whom she is involved in a custody battle, surrendered the rest of the details. Albert wrote the stuff, and Knoop's sister made the enigmatic public appearances, he confessed. And oh yeah, he's signed a contract to make a movie about the whole mess.
LeRoy's erstwhile friends have turned on him. (This is not surprising, since he doesn't exist.) One such is author Ayelet Waldman, who says her suspicions first arose five years ago. She was troubled by "the morality of courting people's sympathies, including mine, by exploiting the issues of AIDS, homelessness, teenage castaways and transgenderism."
None of that troubled me so much as his lack of verisimilitude regarding mother-son shoplifting in late-'70s, early-'80s Nashville. As much as I loathe our confessional culture, I feel obligated to inform you that, as a child, I really did jack stuff out of supermarkets with my mother in Nashville for a couple of years (she had a monkey on her back, but that's another story). And we damn sure didn't do it at Publix, because there were no Publixes there. Had they been there, we would have hit 'em for sure, because we swept through just about every other supermarket in town. (It's always smart to vary your targets. You don't want to get too comfortable anywhere, and you don't want the staff getting too familiar with you. Or at least that was the way my nine-year-old brain processed it. And for some reason, we never called it "stealing" -- we always called it "techniquing.")
The story offended me intellectually as well as emotionally. Here was the Oxford American, by reputation the Harper's or Atlantic Monthly of the South, printing a load of stereotyped hooey that read like postmodern Snuffy Smith. If poor white Southerners couldn't find honest portrayals there, then where could they turn? Jerry Springer? Mississippi Burning? And then there's this new trend prevalent among today's smart set in which editors commission non-music "star" writers to pen music pieces. Presumably, that's because they're intrinsically better than us -- after all, if you've come up with such blazing, eternal cris de coeur as The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, then an essay on Loretta Lynn should be a piece of cake, right?
Right? Well, maybe some of them can string together words more effectively than we can. But I'll bet you dollars to dingleberries not a one of us would have concocted a tale as utterly preposterous as that piece of garbage LeRoy turned in.
Lastly, there's this whole matter of honesty. I was raised to worship it, and when I evaluate any work of art, it is honesty I am looking for, first and foremost. You can find honesty in paintings, poetry, prose, sculpture, architecture, criticism -- any creative endeavor, including music, and I hate sham and pretense in all things. (To name but one current example: Bun B, honest. The Black Eyed Peas, not so much, these days.)
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