Still beating - Page 2

Laura Albert and the ballad of JT LeRoy
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About a boy? The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things
PHOTO COURTESY OF WILD BUNCH

"Yeah! It really was transformative to me. There's a scene where someone asks [the main character], 'Why are you still doing this?', and he makes reference to the act of giving yourself over completely. And that was it. I gave myself over completely. I did not break character. You know how, in that movie, he'll do anything? He'll kill someone! He's in it. Most people don't know what that's like. And that was it. I will never apologize," she says, firmly. "We're talking about art. Nobody was harmed in this, really. I didn't really scribble that far outside the lines. Everything was labeled 'fiction.'"

At her mention of an apology, I have to ask: does she feel like people demanded one?

"People like to give themselves a lot of credit for how vanguard they are. I can't tell you how many people I've had tell me, 'Warhol would have loved it!' — including people who were close with Warhol," she says. "I think it revealed more about other people and what they could accommodate, and what they put on the work, than it does about me. If you have a personal relationship with JT, then that's a conversation between you and me. I put my email [in the books], and I really did have a connection with the fans because I grew up in the punk scene, and I wasn't into hero worship. The problem was — psychologically — I wasn't able to do that. It wasn't like [adopts goofy voice], 'Gee, how do I burst forth onto the literary scene? I know! I'll create a little boy!' No. It wasn't like that."

As we talk, Albert makes references to her own troubled youth: surviving abuse, living in a group home, being institutionalized. Amid the tumult of her teenage life, she would "call hotlines — I don't know what I would talk about, but it was the only time I could feel. I would give myself over to another being, and it was always a boy. So when I hear people say, 'I'm gonna do what you did,' it's like, good luck. For me it was created the way an oyster creates a pearl: out of irritation and suffering. It was an attempt to try to heal something. And it actually worked, and it did so for a lot of other people. The amazing thing is, now I can be available to people."

We're delving more into her work ("I didn't do anything new — writers have always been using combinations of pseudonyms and identities," she points out) when the doorbell rings; it's a Comcast technician here to see about Albert's Internet connection. We move to her office, which features a wall collaged with photos and several filing cabinets full of archives — material she's letting Feuerzeig use in his documentary.

But it's not a room completely given over to the past. It's also where Albert works on her new projects (besides her memoirs, she's writing screenplays — building off her experiences working on Deadwood with David Milch), and stashes new mementos, including a program from a recent Brazilian rock opera entitled JT, A Punk Rock Fairy Tale.

Before I leave, she gives me a copy of a New York Times article from 2010 entitled "Life, In the Way of Art;" its subjects include Joaquin Phoenix, still smarting from the backlash after his faux breakdown in I'm Still Here. The director of that film, Casey Affleck, cites a line from a Picasso quote that Albert emails to me in full the day after we speak: "We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies."

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