Books

My LeRoy Tale: The Truth and Nothing But

James Withers

Maybe that is how the LeRoy machine will make it though this. Silence and the support of hardy friends who will forgive all and talk a lot of noise about 'higher truths'.

Everyday gotta learn to live all over again...
-- J.T. LeRoy on his blog, 8 January 2006


J.T. LeRoy lied to me. The deception LeRoy put on my doorstep is inconsequential when compared to others so my funkiness meter is on low. LeRoy recently has been accused of not being the person he marketed himself as. In his books, Sarah, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, and Harold's End, and interviews LeRoy talked about his life in ways that would have made Dickens rewrite Oliver Twist. The original story is LeRoy started pulling tricks for truckers when he was 12. Sarah, his mother, was his pimp but she would gladly drop him off anywhere once a new man came her way. Soon he become a drug addict, HIV positive, but was saved from the mean streets of San Francisco by Laura Albert and her husband, Geoffrey Knoop. They become the family LeRoy always dreamed of; with therapy and love he put pen to paper burnishing his life into tales that gained literary currency and a movie deal.

As written by New York Times reporter Warren St. John last month, the truth is less Dickens and more Warhol. LeRoy's fictions were written by Albert, a woman in her 40s, while her husband's 20-something half sister, Savannah Knoop, played LeRoy in public with a wig and fabulous sunglasses (apparently she continued the charade at this year's Sundance Movie Festival).

It would be easy to dismiss the LeRoy charade as just good old fun that tweaked the literati, but the family affair used a lot of people who believed in the stories and the person they thought wrote them.

"If the Times article is correct, then I was fooled by the J.T. LeRoy persona as much as anyone," Dave Eggers told the San Francisco Chronicle. Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, is one of the many luminaries who supported and praised LeRoy's work. "I actually edited a story, "Harold's End," by LeRoy, and spent hours on the phone -- with someone -- going through a typical line-edit," Eggers continued.

"I published J.T. I defended him in public, performed for him, responded to every editorial and hook-me-up request. I took Twilight Zone phone calls and tendered his frightening tantrums," author Susie Bright wrote on her website in early January.

When compared to Bright and Eggers my LeRoy story is harmless, not even reaching the level of a made-for-TV movie. I've written two reviews of Leroy's fiction. Both were favorable. Here is how I ended the first in 2002:

At the end of The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, we have only Jeremiah, a character who has been raped, abused, and barely heard by anyone. Like the prophet, Jeremiah testifies although no one hears. He screams about the darkness Conrad hinted about and for a moment allows us readers to see the world that our reading lamps keep at bay. Leroy turns what is on the surface sociology and history into art, and this talent is why we readers should hope this prophet keeps talking about the gloom that is so nearer than we imagine.

Sure the tone is breathless and geeky; I'm both. I found LeRoy's website and sent him an email to give him a heads up. The artist formerly known as LeRoy sent me this response:

Thanks again for your review. It is one I am particularly fond of. Thank you. J.T.

No need to lie. The 15 words gave me a hard-on. Like Nick Flynn's father said in Another Bullshit Night in Suck City when writing to his son about a letter from Patty Hearst: "If you don't think a letter from Patty Hearst is heavy -- you are gone." LeRoy's email was heavy and I've turned to it after each email rejection from an editor.

Unlike James Frey, the disgraced memoir writer, LeRoy has chosen silence to explain these revelations. In his last entry on his blog posted a day before the Times article, LeRoy goes on about the coal mining tragedy in West Virginia and desolate streets during Christmas. But aside from this, the LeRoy camp is silent, sort of like Iago who spends the play scheming, planning, and killing but once caught lets the bodies be his mouthpiece: "From this time forth I never will speak word."

Silence is straight from LeRoy's fiction. There is no way to reason or talk to a mother who pimps you out, or a john who gets mad because you have issues about being literally shit on. There are only two options: you either walk away or get booted. Then you forge family ties with others whose family units are also less than Walton-esque. This is how LeRoy's characters make it though a world that is not chartable. Maybe that is how the LeRoy machine will make it though this. Silence and the support of hardy friends who will forgive all and talk a lot of noise about "higher truths."

F. Scott Fitzgerald would have recognized the LeRoy saga because it is purely American. Shedding one identity for another; having the official story, the one that is public, and then the inconvenient narrative under that. And let's be honest: the young gender freak kid who has a mother as a pimp and survives to tell it all is a much sexier story than the middle class woman writing novels of street survival. Let's be critical of the LeRoy corporation, but let's also save some ire for ourselves because we so wanted it all to be true.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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