J.T. Leroy at Foyles

This is a London Line piece from Spring 2004. A volatile topic. Despite the fact I’m not skeptical enough about LeRoy, I don’t think I make myself look a div here (yes, I am vain enough for that to be a concern). His/her books weren’t as awful as I thought they would be. Not my cup of tea, but not awful.

At Foyle’s last Monday, JT Leroy gave a reading. He’s written three
books, Sarah, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, and Harold’s
End. They’re all pretty good – Flannery O’Connor Southern Gothic
bubbled through William S. Burroughs’ outlaw transgression, all mixed
up with a touch of tenderness missing from most hipster fiction.

You wouldn’t know this from reading about Leroy. All you’d find out is
the following: he was a child prostitute; Madonna likes him; he wears
wigs; Liv Tyler likes him; he’s been raped a lot; Juliette Lewis likes
him; his mother was a whore; Pink likes him.

Leroy mostly doesn’t do readings – in fact, it’s rumoured that he
doesn’t exist, and is the creation of Dennis Cooper, another
transgressive US novelist – so the gallery at Foyle’s is jammed. It’s
not an attentive literary crowd: rather, it’s the Royal Twat of the
Year Show. A taxonomist of shitwaddery would delight in these
specimens. Is that divtard wearing a kilt? Why is that 40-year-old
woman made up like a minipop? Is that your hair or an infection? It’s
a fashion-plate bestiary, a catalogue of every art-school monster that
can crawl from the Hoxton dank. The sponsor is i-D magazine.

First of all Leroy’s friends – minor actors, pop stars and drag
queens – read passages from his books. Beth Orton has a go. She says
she’s never read a book by J.T. Leroy, and races through a passage.
The trembling flower is warmly applauded for her efforts.

What comes next is predictable. A cultish ‘creative’ is cooed over by
famous women who desire an edge of outsider literary chic. Who’s
eyeing up the bandwagon? Of course! It’s Marianne Fucking Faithfull,
the patron saint of parasitic dilettantes! As she reads, I note that
time has exercised his habitual cruelty: she sounds like Marianne
Faithfull, but looks like an extra from Corrie.

Leroy takes the stage. He looks like a miniature Wayne Hussey in a
blonde wig. He reads quietly. Extremely quietly. I’m not certain he’s
reading aloud. He answers some questions very quietly. I wonder if I
need my ears syringed. The best I can tell you is that he thinks
“Barnabas makes chin moggle doll.” I may have misheard.

Oddly, I end up worried for him. His work appeals to the emotionally
underdeveloped, like rock stars and actresses. Some of his fans want
to be near damage, want to be damaged themselves. They seem to think
that there’s a correlation between suffering, authenticity and art.
This fashion crowd like to see blood – they don’t understand
understatement. It’s a poisonous environment, and I hope the scene
doesn’t suffocate or manacle his odd gift.

On the other hand, you can buy a jt leroy t-shirt for £10. The boy’s
onto a good hustle. He can probably look after himself.