It’s Victor Victoria with Writing!
The documentary Author: The JT Leroy Story tells the story of Laura Albert who, under the pseudonym Jeremiah Terminator (JT) Leroy, penned several well received books and short stories during the 1990s. Now, if that was all there was to the story there would be no point in making a documentary. But, as it turns out, Albert didn’t just write as JT she actively promoted the belief that JT was a real boy.
A real, damaged, former child-prostitute whose mother, a prostitute herself, had pimped-out at various truck stops throughout the North-West United States.
He also wrote books.
The manufacturing of JT Leroy began in the 1980s, when Albert, lowering her voice to a thin rasp, started calling crisis hotlines (and later, other authors and helpful literary types) as JT.
During these calls, JT would disclose details about his horrific upbringing, his mixed emotions about his mother and his struggle with his declining mental and physical health. In response “he” was encouraged to write down his experiences. These notes would then become the basis for JT/Albert’s published work.
Both the documentary and Albert seem to view this initial deceit as minimal and relatively harmless. Albert was able to exorcise some of her own demons during these calls and, as long as no one needed to meet JT face to face, no one was really getting hurt.
Except, perhaps, the handful of folks who actually needed to speak to a mental health professional on a crisis hotline, but couldn’t get through.
Then again, they probably weren’t “artists”, so f#*k those people.
Once JT’s work was published, Albert’s situation quickly became complicated. Especially when the young author was expected to appear at readings and literary events. Finding herself in quite the pickle, Albert thought fast and came up with a solution straight out of an 80s sitcom: She recruited her thin, slightly androgynous looking sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop. Dressed in a wig, loose fitting clothing and dark glasses Knoop was thrust into the spotlight as JT for a one-night-only reading.
Problem was, as JT’s literary star rose so did the demand for public appearances and Knoop’s one off performance quickly turned into a full-time gig “being” JT Leroy in interviews, photoshoots and celebrity schmooze fests.
Meanwhile, in order to stay close to Knoop and make sure theruse went smoothly, Albert created a second alter-ego “Speedy” a British singer/songwriter and JT’s self-appointed guardian.
Along with her husband “Astor” (Albert’s then real-life husband), Speedy would appear at events, readings and interviews at first as moral support and later as mouthpiece for JT dominating interviews and answering questions for him in a bloody awful cockney accent.
But as JT’s star rose and celebrities started singing his praises questions began to be raised about JT’s authenticity and the plausibility of his traumatic childhood and the documentary does a solid job of how the truth finally came to light. Unfortunately, it also portrays Albert as some kind of hapless, bumbling character from a French farce, who told one little white lie that spiralled completely out of control.
And, sure, she may have started the lie, tended to the lie, developed the lie, dressed her sister-in-law up to take on the physical persona of the lie, convinced her then husband to support the lie and took full financial advantage of the lie, but none of this was really her fault.
I mean, what was she supposed to do?
The lie just got too big.
In fact, the lie got so big that JT ended up (allegedly) romancing, becoming engaged to and impregnating Asia Argento. All without ever being an actual person.
I guess it’s true what Churchill said: a lie can make its way around the world and impregnate an Italian actress/director before the truth even has its boots on.
Or something like that. I’m too lazy to Google it.
Personally, I’ve made up my mind about Albert and how much responsibility I believe she had in what happened to her (hint: all of it), but I’m also happy for her story to be put to rest in a 90s themed time capsule along with designer flannel and Ace of Base.
The main reason I think this documentary is worth mulling over is because in a movie about lies there’s one great big one that’s never addressed.
Admittedly, it’s not easy to spot.
A bit like one of those magic eye pictures that were also popular in the 90s. You have to squint to make it out amongst all the bullshit but it’s there.
That lie is this: writing is easy.
If we are to believe the documentary, the works of JT Leroy/Laura Albert weren’t so much written as “channelled” seemingly without any of the blood, sweat and tears that go into an artistic endeavour.
That, whether true or not, makes Albert even more unsympathetic.
Had we learnt about the love and care and time she put into her writing we might have been able to see her as a gifted artist. Sure, we learn Albert studied writing in college and that it was something she enjoyed, but we never get a sense of her passion or the hours upon hours of work she must have invested into turning her notes into coherent pieces of writing.
It all just sort of…happened. You know, like writing does.
There’s no work involved. You don’t need to learn to write and you certainly don’t take classes, read hundreds of books, analyse good writing, experiment, draft, write, rewrite and rewrite again in order to get a hair closer to the ideal you have in your head.
Pfff, real writers don’t do that! They just sit cross legged on their beds, pens poised expectantly in the air, and wait for the muse to attend. Duh!
In medieval times, artists worked as apprentices and journeymen to more experienced craftsmen. If you wanted to be as good as the masters it was understood that you needed work at it, often for decades.
In 2018, we don’t like to mention THE WORK. We hide it away, kicking it the bed like a pair of dirty underpants in a teenage boy’s bedroom.
Why is that?
What is the value in making every human endeavour seem instant and effortless?
It certainly isn’t necessary to know about the labour that went into a piece of art, but what harm does it do to know the truth?
Does it make a painting less beautiful if you know that the artist spent years getting it right?
Does it make the movie any less enjoyable if you know it took a decade to write, years to get into production and hundreds of people to get to the screen?
Is a book less engaging if you know the author spent days on a single paragraph?
Or, am I reading too much into this?