Monday, November 10, 2008

Kill all Jonesers

There's a scourge upon the land of DVD documentaries.

When I was in a band there were always scroungy dudes hanging around we called "wannabes" or "jonesers." Dudes who had nothing to do with our band at all in the beginning would see the attention we were getting and want "in" - so suddenly they would be standing right off stage (or on stage if we didn't kick them off), arms crossed, trying to absorb the "glory" anyway they could, appointing themselves the royal beer procurer, bong hit packer, roadie, manager, PR person, whatever... usually we'd never see them again after that one night, but sometimes they clung on for months, sometimes they just stayed and it took us years to figure out no one invited them.

There are people who write biographies of celebrities after three or four biographies have already been written, who can only like an artist once said artist is dead and safely canonized. They may be writing about a star who was on heroin half the time, and they worship this star and glamorize the drug use, but if they were to meet the star, on drugs, without knowing who the star was, these writers would recoil in horror; they would judge and condemn anyone they met in person who did heroin (and would never do it themselves, god forbid) but the star they worship, oh he's a different story...

Take the case of outsider artist Henry Darger. Here is a guy who died alone and unloved in his hovel and was only discovered after he was dead for a spell and they found tens of thousands of hand-written hand-drawn pages of really weird shit in his room. There's since been a movie and several books and bios... and they keep coming. These writers wouldn't dream of championing some other outsider artist, maybe even someone living, who wasn't famous yet. They'd never risk it! If they met Darger in person without knowing who he was they would run the other way. Outsider really means 'they make good art having never been to school for it, but they smell like stale urine and mothballs so don't invite them to the gallery show.'

I'm sure some of this rant reflects my own frustration that my brain can't sit still long enough to finish my own book, or that no one wants to write a book about me. Awww! But damnit, this is a legit frustration. These hangers-on can't even be called groupies because groupies are cool folk who just want to hang with the band. The jonesers don't want to just hang, they want their name linked. We see their ugly heads all over DVD extras, blathering on in tones of turgid self-importance or putting their "signature style" on docs via editing tricks, assuming the reigns of someone else's artistic output in a case of glory by association... and the network of studio production nerds behind them nod approvingly, all locked in the sad ring around the rosie of believing each other's bullshit. As the rest of us writers and artists are out there actually living and breathing, these jonesers hide indoors and wait for us to die, so they can safely approach our corpses, dab a handkerchief in our blood and tell the story to their grandchildren.

Let this humble blog entry serve to stand against this tide of pathetic wannabe-ism. I am all for biographies and read them all the time and most of them are great, but just because you write a biography doesn't make you an authority, a spokesperson for the estate, an expert, nor a cousin. It just makes you a person with some time on his hands, and maybe not even that... maybe you're just an empty shell looking for a new hermit crab. In short, DIE! DIE! DIE!!! Or else live... live your own life, and don't presume to know about a subject until you actually inhale it for yourself.


  1. You are awesome. That was one of my random alienated thoughts come back to me in the guise of genius. Uncanny. That Darger doc was a travesty.

  2. I think one of the things that appeals to folks about Darger too is that most appreciations of him fall into the "found art" category -- pop culture vultures can "read" his work biographically without having to deal with any pesky art history or aesthetics lessons that they might not want to sit through (see also Pollack -- most know what he was famous for, but the posers have no clue as to what influenced him, or even what traditions he was adhering to/breaking with all those drips). Trouble is, even Darger's biography scares people off...the documentary gives such a sanitized version of his cloistered development that most would come away thinking him a poor, misunderstood guy who liked to trace photos of little girls (not that this side of Darger is totally superficial, but the film clearly means to present him as a harmlessly unique artist).

    Either way, Darger has given us the best indicator yet that one's pop culture cred has jumped the shark: when Natalie Merchant writes a song about you, it's time to go back to the drawing board. Also see the film "Junebug" for a sort of southernized Darger depiction that doesn't tip-toe around the guy's obvious hangups.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Jon. You are right - Darger is like the easily co-opted figure that can mean whatever you want, and then make you seem like part of the hip elite that "discovered" him. As I say, meanwhile, the "real" outsider artists who are actually alive and working are ignored--if not outright despised--by these same culture vultures.


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