So yesterday you went to St. Marks Bookshop in the East Village (of New York City) and signed a bunch of copies of your new memoir Poseur. How did that feel? You write very affectionately about discovering St. Marks Place and that very book store as a teen in the late 80s and feeling like you had something of your own in the City. Something independent of your father’s City. And of feeling like Madonna in and her friends in Desperately Seeking Susan.
It’s true. I was telling this to another journalist last week actually. That is probably the most important New York movie since Midnight Cowboy and Mean Streets and nobody really gives it credit they way they do say Stranger Than Paradise. Which is also very important. But Desperately Seeking Susan totally captures the attitude and style that made me want to move to the City and be one of those people too – before there was even a word for them. I guess hipster was a word but you know what I mean. Before I even knew what the word for them was. Most people see it as “the one good Madonna movie,” but I know I’m not alone in thinking it’s got a lot more going on. It was a freaking magnet. So yes, it was cool to have a book of mine for sale in a store on St. Marks. Just off St. Marks if you want to get technical.
But generally speaking it’s weird to revisit any place at my age. I was planning for an early death. I write about it in Poseur. It sounds ridiculous but I completely conducted myself like someone who was going to die in his 20s. And when I hit 30 and found myself above ground, it was like suddenly I was the cat without the whiskers. I had no way of navigating. I had to learn how to do things like balance a checkbook. I had to find out what my blood type was. I had to stop taking drugs. Well, stop taking drugs every day and night. Stop cheating. Lying. Stealing. Messing up. Because there was going to be a reckoning. That’s when I wrote my (2003) novel How Soon is Never.
I know it. It’s become something of a minor cult classic.
There are people who own it, enjoy it and revisit it, yes. They share that with me. Which is very flattering. It’s certainly not a calling card. Most people don’t know it. Where was I? You threw me with that “cult classic” thing. If I say it is, then I sound arrogant. Like “I wrote a classic.” What qualifies a book as a classic? How long it’s been in print? When did Coke become “classic Coke?” After a debacle, that’s when. Are you saying my other books are debacles? Because certainly you are not wrong on some occasions.
It’s just a term. It’s like calling someone who’s not really a superstar a superstar. Or an icon. The appeal is swiftness not accuracy.
Right, okay. Fine. But, wait, what was I saying?
Hang on. (checks notes) You were saying that when you turned 30 you freaked out and wrote –
Right, yes. Right. I realized I was not going to join the 27 club or even the 29 club and the same thing happened when I turned 40. I freaked out again and wrote Poseur, which has the same heart and soul and humor as Never. Largely because of the same terror and anxiety and let’s face it, bruised vanity. The only difference is it’s formally non fiction; although there were many, many elements of Never that were autobiographical, which is natural for a first novel, it’s full title is How Soon is Never: A Novel.
But it’s not your first novel.
First published novel. Let’s not split hairs, Jack. Come on.
I’m just having a little fun.
Yes. It’s true. I wrote a bad book about heroin entitled Loose after the Stooges song on Funhouse. That tells you pretty much all you need to know about what kind of book it was. A little Burroughs. A little Selby a little French sex nonsense. A lot of crap. And yes, when I was 21 I though it was not a bad book. I thought it was my breakthrough book. I though it had truth in it, when it really just had stuffing.
I’m only mentioning it because you chronicle the struggles of an ambitious but possibly deluded, or at least misguided young writer so candidly. If there’s suspense in the book it’s drawn from the question, “Is this guy ever going to make it? Is he ever going to get published?”
The first half absolutely, and that part is sort of a comedy of errors. Things like getting thrown of out Gordon Lish’s workshop or showing up for meetings with my first agent, high as the moon and wondering what I was doing wrong – and literally not being able to see the error. But it’s relative. We all thought were going to make it. We were not that far removed from the graffiti painters who became millionaires. Basquiat. Haring. We were about five years younger. And going to Bennington in the late 80s, which I did, my little group of writers, we had the long shadow of Bret Ellis and Jill Eisenstadt who were again, about five years older, and who’d both been published very young and I figured the same thing would happen to me. And it did not. Can we shut off the TV? There’s a commercial for Tag Away, which removes skin tags. It’s really distracting.
Yes, of course. How about if I mute it?
That’s fine. I’ll just stare at the skin tags. At least they’ve invented something to make them vanish.
Do you have a problem with skin tags?
I’ve got a lot of problems but skin tags are not among them. No. Not at the moment. But that’s my point. Old people get skin tags. Young, good looking, ambitious, pretty junkies who are 21 in 1989 and drink at Max Fish probably aren’t too worried about them. So the second half of the memoir, once I’m 30 and 31 and 32 and hanging out with the Strokes or whatever, and publishing books, is like –
“Is this guy who has now made it ever going to stop being a prat?”
Exactly. It’s not about “how to make it” anymore. It’s about how to be a real person. How to live without the junk and not cheat and be good to a woman who is a good woman. How to care and feed for an animal. Two animals. Two fine dogs. How to write well. How to not hurt your parents or your friends. How to live and work and speak in one’s own voice and not be the sum total of your heroes or your bullshit. How to not be a poseur or poser. We added the E because there’s a book about yoga called Poser. And because there’s a lot of “E” in this book. And C. And D. And LSD. TCH. MSG. Look, I should also say, it’s not wholly aging that triggers such a change. There are other things that happen along the way that I write about that would effect you no matter how old you are. Being here on September 11th shook me obviously. This is a small thing comparatively, but it changed my writing. I was writing really bloody, violent, punk rock, plays before that and afterwards, not so much. If you read my plays – –
I heard they are now available on Amazon and on your website marcspitz.com
Yes, they are, with my notes and the full list of credits – which if you look through them you will see – contain some now famous names – I always loved that, whenever reading those old Sam French pamphlet plays.Like when it premiered – who was in the role. It’s always like, “Wow – Alan Arkin?” Anyway, in the mid and late 90s, the plays I was writing were really anarchic and vulgar and bloody and funny, almost as an answer to Rent, which I found fraudulent, and almost insulting, and as I got older, and certainly after 9/11, they get – a lot sadder and more searching – to the point where I finally forced myself to write a farce about a guy who takes an E.D. pill and his dick won’t go down for four hours. It had 12 people in the cast and Time Out New York named it the second worst play of 2010. But at least it wasn’t searching. You can only search so far before you become a ponderer.
The theater scene centered around Ludlow Street – is well chronicled in the book too.
God you’re really being kind.
I didn’t say it was documented well. I just said it was “well documented.” You covered a lot of it.
Well the thing is, it’s dead now too. On the Lower East Side anyway. That’s what I was talking about earlier. If you don’t die young as planned, you start to feel like a ghost. The whole City becomes a “This used to be my playground,” scenario, speaking of Madonna. I mean you can go from “Into the Groove” to “This Used To Be My Playground,” fast if you’re not careful and break a hip on that ice. How do you process the Chelsea Hotel being what it is now without moaning? Or CBGBs? The Holiday bar or the Pink Pony? Or old friends who died, if we’re going to get even more serious here. How do you write about that without being morose or worse, grouchy? Anyway, people have been bitching about “New York not being what it used to be,” since, well, probably since the Dutch came here and bought the place with beads, like Dylan sang.
See there you go. I was curious to see if you do that in person. And you do! Your book is absolutely littered with this secret pop culture language. Lyrical references. Sometimes they’re not even hidden. You could fill a website with an index of your pop references. Movies. Books. Music. Obscure and not. It’s like you’re a one man Gilmore Girl.
Now you’re doing it too.
I know! It’s infectious.
That was a conscious choice. I love that show. And I loved watching Woody Allen movies and not knowing what “speed reading Schopenhauer” was. It’s comforting to me. It was a style choice. Not to qualify everything. It’s not the New York Times. You get it or you don’t. If you don’t you sometimes bitch. If you do, then you’ve got a friend for life.
You changed some names. Are you nervous about how some of the people you write about are going to be perceived?
No. But some of the people I write about seem to be, judging from some of the pre-release communication. The book’s been vetted. Nobody is going to sue and if they do – the book’s been vetted. It’d be frivolous. Spend your money elsewhere or give it to charity. But I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t crossed my mind, sure. I write about my father in Never and it was a little too real for him. He didn’t speak to me for over a year. We’re fine now, more or less. I think I may hear more negative stuff from the people who are not in it. The assumption being they didn’t matter, which was not the case. I wrote two chapters that were fully cut, for example and in each of them there were two women who were hugely important to me. It’s just one was in New Orleans and the other was primarily an LA gal. I may post them on the web the “out takes.” Odds and sods. Bonus tracks. My “Adult Education” and “Say It Isn’t So.” My editor Ben wanted to keep it mostly NYC centric and he is right. Even the LA chapter that I fought to keep has me fleeing back to the East Village every so often to do white smack instead of brown. Look, to answer your original question, or elaborate on it, the world has changed. Most of the people in the book are only little squares on Facebook to me now anyway. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s where we’re at as a people. We kibbitz in squares. And how can a little square hurt you? It’s Munchkinland. Speaking of Woody. Allen.
Really unnecessary. I wasn’t thinking Woody Guthrie.
Or Harrelson. Woodpecker.
Yes. I agree. Winding down!
One last question.
If you live to 50 will there be another book?
Already keeping the diary, my man. Although there’ll be a lot less sex in that one. A lot more complaining about strange aches and pains. And Geico commercials.
Marc Spitz has written and produced numerous novels, plays, and biographies, including We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of LA Punk (with Brendan Mullen), How Soon Is Never: A Novel, Bowie: A Biography, and Jagger: Rebel, Rock Star, Rambler, Rogue. His writing on rock ’n’ roll and popular culture has appeared in Spin, Rolling Stone, Maxim, Uncut, Nylon, Vanity Fair, New York Magazine, and the New York Times. He blogs at marcspitz.com. Spitz lives in New York City.