canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999


NOTORIOUS BJD

THE BRIAN JOSEPH DAVIS STORY

TDR tabloid executive and literary entertainer Nathaniel G. Moore caught up with media piranha, that should read darling, Brian Joseph Davis to discuss his life in the modern arts. On the heels of his new book Portable Altamont, Davis dishes the dirt on all things bright and small. With such an eclectic subject, it was not an easy task. Here it is, the befuddled, murky, dark, superlative Brian Joseph Davis Story. Not to be confused with The Betty Davis Story

www.brianjosephdavis.com

(January 2006)

*

With fashionably bloated notes and errata courtesy of the interviewee.

Mr. Davis, Danforth Review, yes, over here, can tell us about your artistic backgroundÖwhen did it all start?

I came out of Windsor a few years ago and in Windsor I didnít really have what you would call a "make things/sell things" art practice. Mostly I just created these offensive posters. I would do a "Portable Altamont" gag (1) on a poster and past it all over town.

And how did Windsor react to that?

I donít think they noticed at all. I met a few people who tracked me down because they liked the posters but other than that I donít know if anyone noticed. No one notices anything in Windsor. Then I moved to Toronto and tried to be a commercial photographer, which I rather sucked at.

Now let us talk about they way that books are presented to the public when they are back from the printers. The industry calls it a launch. How do you feel about these so-called book launches? What do they mean to you?

I think readings, as far as live performance-based entertainment go Ė I think itís cheating. How can you fuck up with the book in your hand, I donít understand why anyone gets nervous on stage.

I try to do something different every time I do a reading. Most of my projects of late involve the public as co-creators: setting up auditions for the US presidency in the streets, or in the case of Montreal I wanted the audience to do the reading for me but I didnít want to come off as arrogant. I thought I would keep myself part of the process by setting up a video camera over my shoulder. I would point it at my book as I was reading. That was fed to a video monitor, and myself and Jon Paul Fiorentino [host of the event] had managed to get the audience into a good mood about it. So, I think, using the video and the monitor was a lot less dangerous, then had I gotten on stage and just read silently.

The reception was really great at your launch.

Jasonís well liked. (2)

Nathaniel laughs.

Getting back; when you pitch an idea to This is Not a Reading Series you have to come up with something that interests them. What we came up with was sort of a Show and Tell. Instead of putting forth this romantic idea of an author who sat there alone for years and came up with their genius, like God just came and took a magical dump in their skulls, we just admitted that we had all these cultural references and inputs. We played examples of songs that might have influenced our books, artwork we stole. Admitting what all writers do.

So is this your official debut then?

Yes, my first ISBN.

As far as my writing throughout my life Iíve never cracked the one page mark. I only recently started doing that. So Iíd never envisioned myself doing a book. Writing was always part of something else, like a poster project or an art piece. So the book surprised me, that I did it.

How long had you been working on it?

It did come out as a Pocket-Canon originally. And that was twenty-five pages. From that point on I heard through the grape vine that my [future] [editor] [Darren] (3) was interested in finding out who wrote it and in putting it into consideration at Coach House. He thought it would make a great book if I could write it to a hundred pages. So I sat down in my spare time over a year and got it up to fifty pages. And I handed that in, and that was actually met with a bit of displeasure. It kinda blew and it wasnít long enough. So another year later it was a hundred. Three years total.

Do you think your work will outlast the references? I think that is what Iím getting at.

I consider it a comedic book. And if you look at the history of comedy, itís always steeped in contemporary references. But hopefully if itís written well enough, the joke structure will lead us to laugh without necessarily getting the references. About halfway through I stopped writing, believing that Altamont would be pointless in three months. And then someone turned me on to the writing of Rabelais, the fifteenth century French writer. Heís making jokes about bishops whoíve been dead for four hundred years, yet itís still really really funny. (4) Itís because of his whole approach, the mercilessness of his attack is maintained after such a long time. That got me through. The ideas that not only do the references not matter, but it will make it a better read when the references are forgotten.

Catullus used to name-drop all the time and have these elaborate alibis.

References arenít the point. To me itís the MSG of the writing; itís just on top.

Imagine your book with non-celebrity stunt muses?

Could I have stand-ins? Well, my methodology with writing was not to come up with the celebrity first. That didnít really matter. It was what was written around the celebrity, or the situation or the wordplay. And I would have to wrack my brain and search a lot of websites to find out which celebrity would fit in, which celebrity would telekinetically move a glass to their lips. And of course Val Kilmer worked. No one else would work for that one. The James Spader piece was different though.

Tell us about the Cat and James Spader. Please.

If you want the entire story, this goes back to one of my first jobs in Windsor. I worked as a waiter at a restaurant. And all of us on staff would sit around and get stoned during slow times and make jokes. I think at the time Stargate had just come out. And we realized that in toy stores, there would be action figures of this really bizarre cast. Which included James Spader and Jaye Davidson from the Crying Game. So we all sat around thinking about which would be the toy figure to have from Stargate. Davidson was voted the coolest one. But we also theorized that James Spaderís hair would translate well into plastic. He has permanently feathered hair (5), and somehow in the stoner conclave it came out that he looked like a cat. And I just carried that with me until years later I said, "I think Iím finally going to write that James Spader cat piece down." Much later when it came to do the footnote, I connected this with Borges essay in Labyrinths, "A New Refutation of Time." In which, he references a parable about "the man dreaming heís a butterfly or the butterfly dreaming heís a man." I thought okay somehow Iíd be able to work this in.

And then the final touch was to ask "What is the context for Borges saying this?" Well why not just put him on Entertainment Tonight. OK why not and then it works. You donít have to justify everything.

Did you think people would riot? Was there any hesitation in publishing the work?

No not at all. I was surprised it wasnít as much an ordeal as I thought it would be. Any publisher that wanted to stay in business probably would run from this book. Kudos to Coach House. The only problems came with the actual design of the cover in that I really wanted to have a cover piece that was as potentially litigious as the inside of the book. Thankfully, some feet were put down and I relented with my suicide mission.

Anything particular against Margaret Atwood? Is there something about Margo?

I get that question a lot and I think people assume we have an Elton John/Eminem relationship and someday weíll appear on stage together and hug. Atwood being Eminem of course. I canít see her having a problem with it to begin with. Anyone having been a writer in Canada for as long as she has must have a sense of humour. All I did was accuse her of having flow.

Iíve read none of her novels but I actually quite like her poetry.

Does pop culture oppress you? Are you oppressed by big lights big city big celebrity?

No not at all. Celebrity is a product that we all crave, that we all have a hand in creating. Itís not this top-down served culture that weíre force-fed. Itís a reflection of our wants, needs, and desires. Each of us has created celebrity culture. And to get in there and figure out the why and how, and what you can do with that and how you can play with that, is when it gets fascinating. To simply hate it would be boring.

Is pop culture now an accepted part of peopleís diet?

Weíre coming up against the two prevailing opinions about pop culture. One: that it is this monolithic thing forced upon us, and that when engaged with, reinforces all that is wrong about contemporary society and then you have the other argument. Which is that pop culture is something we partake in, something that is full of both reactionary and revolutionary forces and trends. That people can actually draw strength and identity from pop culture. Throughout my life Iíve been in between those two opinions and Iíve never quite figured it out. (6)

I donít know what question I asked here. I canít hear my own voice for some reason.

Letís talk about me some more. I am working on a new book. Itís called I Tania; itís about the Symbionese Liberation Army and how they kidnapped a newspaper heiress in the 1970ís and how she joined their forces. My goal is to write this novel without ever mentioning Patti Hearst. Hearst had taken the revolutionary name "Tania" so the book will be an autobiography of "Tania," not Hearst. So in a way itís a sustained Portable Altamont gag. (7)

Iíve got a couple of new audio projects. "Ten banned records burned then played" just launched as a website and as part of a group show.

Another project is with the Art Gallery of York University. Itís called "Voice Over." I found this list of five thousand film tag lines (from trailers and radio advertisements). Over the last few years I sorted this list out into large chunks of narrative and I was able to string it into some kind of story. It sat there and I pitched it a couple of publishers who didnít know what to think of me. So I thought it would work if I took it to a voice over artist (8) and had him read it in voice over style. Rather than have it as a text, return it to its audio origin.

Nathaniel G Moore is a Canadian tabloid star and author of Bowlbrawl (www.bowlbrawl.com)

*

EXCLUSIVE TO TDR: PORTABLE ENDNOTES!

* No one will soon forget the spectacle that was Nathaniel G Moore dancing with Jon Paul Fiorentino during the half time show at the Gillers, which resulted in Fiorentinoís exposed nipple.

1.What the fuck am I talking about? Well, take a lot of Situationist theory (which we seemed to all be gobbling up at the time), a lot of early 90s transgression and Xerox at your roommateís dadís print shop. Things like fake interviews with the police chief, maps for blowing up the Casino. Kid stuff. However, for my first art show I made dolls of my favourite members of the Red Army Faction. That, Iím very proud of coming up with as a 19 year old miscreant.

2.Jason Anderson is the author of Showbiz. Portable Altamont was launched alongside his book, as part of This Is Not a Reading Series. Jasonís book is a celebrity motorcade that cruises at an Ellroy-esqe clip and stops for just enough Palahniuk style black humour. Highly recommended.

3. Meaning Darren Wershler-Henry. Former child actor (Near Dark, Riverís Edge) and former senior editor of Coach House books.

4.Fart jokes people, fart jokes. There are hundreds of them in Gargantua and Pantagruel. A well-constructed fart joke can be as devastating and as effective as Das Kapitol.

5.In sex, lies, and videotape Spader actually sports the worst hairdo ever. Worse than James Hetfieldís mullet phase. In that film itís like Spaderís hair has taken him over, roots fusing with his synapses and controlling his thoughts and movements.

6.Could I possibly sound like a bigger windbag? What; am I looking for "answers" or something? Walking down the only road Iíve ever known? Like a drifter I was born to walk alone?

7. Hereís an excerptÖ

That night, Marx came out on stage with his curly locks teased out, reading lines such as, "Political economy conceals the estrangement in the nature of labour by ignoring the direct relationship between the worker and production" while shuffling across the stage with a cocky two-step and looking directly at the audience after a particularly pleasing word. A simple, quick moue from Marx then sent the audienceís cries into climax register. As his bongo player launched into the chapter "Antithesis of Capital and Labour. Landed Property and Capital (Get It On!)" a groupie ran on stage with arms like grappling hooks into Marx, causing a staggered launch into the hit thesis. After a paragraph, Marx signalled the breakdown with a banshee cry and the quick rhythmic thrusting of his pelvis three times. Slinging his book away, he raised his hands in the air, clapping joyously before picking up two tambourines to aid in frenetic response. Breaking a tambourine in half Marx, increasing the tempo of his suggestive mince, joined his bongo man while the bass player dove into a loud funk. With a roadie handing Marx another book, he arched his legs into his signature splits pose, and began reading loud random passages, scaling up and down the pages, forcing his book in and out from between his legs, his head vibrating and turning his hair into a black hole fro, the centre of which was held by his pained face, suggesting cosmic love as much as the heartbreak of worker alienation. At a point where it seemed Marx had begun speaking every word ever spoken all at once he stopped and without a lost beat arched his back and flung his book into the audience. A final sacrifice from Glamís first prince.

8. Scott Taylor, whoís voice can be heard in the trailers for Traffic, Return of the King and others.

 

 

 

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