Through the Cracks: An Interview with Joey Goebel

In his recent novel, Torture the Artist, Joey Goebel turns his unflinching eye to corporate entertainment and the negative effects that it has had on contemporary consumers. He resists our dumbed down culture by turning it on its head, positing that the only way to turn our culture around is to attack it.

In the book, a dying media mogul acknowledges the untold damage he has heaped upon the masses by supplying them with mindless entertainment, and develops a company, New Renaissance, to assist young artists in putting art back in entertainment. New Renaissance takes a bold approach to developing their artists: they torture and torment them; believing that the best, and truest, art comes from suffering.

According to Torture the Artist author Joey Goebel, not all mainstream entertainment is bad… just most of it.

Referenced book:
Torture the Artist
by Joey Goebel

October 2004, 265 pages, $23.00

The story focuses on Harlan Eiffler, whom the fledgling corporation has recruited to manage Vincent Spinetti, their starred pupil. Harlan, a jaded former musician, cynical of the times and the entertainment that people so willingly consume, secretly torments Vincent by insuring that his prodigy never finds true love, suffers from imagined diseases, and takes away everything that Vincent adores — which culminates in a dark scene where Harlan poisons young Vincent’s dog — for the sake of inspiring true, unadulterated art.

Goebel, also author of 2003’s The Anomalies, writes with the passion and humor of a modern day Mark Twain. He mixes highbrow and lowbrow humor with insightful jabs while painting satirical portraits of our contemporary landscape.

Intrigued by his worldview, PopMatters book reviewer Daulton Dickey asked for his take on movies, music, and the general state of globalized entertainment.

PopMatters: Your assessment of entertainment, particularly in Torture the Artist, is often a damning one. Yet you seem obsessed with entertainment, and pop culture in general. So, instead of indicting corporate entertainment, what do you believe are its virtues, if any?

Joey Goebel: Its virtues lie in the occasional bursts of creativity and originality that seem to slip through the cracks. Not all mainstream entertainment is necessarily bad to me. Just most of it. It’s just easier to focus on the negative when you’re writing a book, I guess.

PM: Do you see an improvement to mainstream entertainment, or are we doomed to increasing stupidity?

JG: I guess what you’re asking is, “Can it possibly get any stupider?” And, yeah, I’d say that it still could. I mean, look at the box office right now. Hitch, fuggin’ Vin Diesel in The Pacifier. Miss Congeniality 2. It’s definitely not getting smarter. And it’s not just movies. TV seems to have no shame. And music, well, Nelly and Tim McGraw collaborating? And the public goes for it? It just feels to me like the masses will take any piece of crud thrown their way.

PM: In many ways the music industry seems worse off than others. I mean, when was the last time that you were excited about the release of a new CD?

JG: Um.

PM: So I’ll take that as ‘it’s been a while?’

JG: Well, I’ll admit to liking the Strokes. I was excited about their sophomore release.

PM: But good CDs, it seems, are so few and far between these days?

JG: No doubt about that. I mostly find pleasure in digging through the past and finding music that I’ve previously neglected. The Left of the Dial ’80s Underground compilation was great. That’s my favorite era of rock music, and that set turned me on to a few groups I had previously ignored, like the Db’s, Mission of Burma, Magazine.

PM: What prompted you to adapt The Anomalies, which began as a screenplay, into novel form?

JG: Simply put, I couldn’t sell the screenplay version. It was rejected and rejected until finally I realized my chances of getting it published were much greater. I was right.

PM: I recently read an article that stated that Hollywood execs aren’t interested in original screenplays because they’re too hard to market, so they only use the original scripts as writing samples. What’s your take on that?

JG: That’s really sad. From now on we’ll just have remakes of remakes of remakes, until finally we’ll just have one movie. We’ll just have one movie, starring Ashton Kutcher. And probably Jude Law.

PM: Was there a great difference between the screenplay and the novel? Considering the narrative, told in numerous voices, I can picture the script having a Scorsese feel, in that it’s also told from the point of view of several different characters.

JG: The only difference between the two was the perspective styles. See, the screenplay did not have that Scorsese feel, and it was told in a very traditional, third person sort of way. But as I started to adapt it into a novel, I realized that I just didn’t like using third person narration. Third person is limitless, but it feels less personal, less human, and kind of detached. On the other hand, traditional first person with one sole narrator wouldn’t work with The Anomalies, because there are so many subplots, and not one single character has a reason to appear in every single scene. So, using dozens of different narrators was my way of getting around this problem, and people seem to like it.

PM: At what point did you say ‘screw ’em’ to the studios and start submitting the piece to publishers?

JG: Damn. Well, it was when I saw that none of the agents were willing to take a chance on unique material. I guess that was after my thirtieth rejection slip or something.

PM: They can be pretty disheartening, can’t they? Cold and informal…

JG: Yes! If you’ll recall, in The Anomalies, there’s a passage written from the perspective of God, and it was purposely written in the style of rejection letters. I was getting so many at the time I was writing that book. For a young writer, agents are like Gods, in regards to your career. They control your destiny, and you can never seem to speak directly to them. Your query letters are like typed prayers.

PM: I’ve noticed a few of your short stories have popped up online. Do you have any intentions of publishing a collection of stories?

JG: Sure. I plan to gradually accumulate about forty or fifty, and then I’d like to publish them.

PM: What are you currently working on now?

JG: It’s the story of America, the struggle between the classes, and an examination of the political situation that we are currently dealing with. Though it’s one that is as old as Neptune. Rich man’s war, poor man’s fight. But here is more specifically what it’s about: A rich, powerful Midwestern family are at odds with the youngest member of their family, a son who has somehow become white trash despite his affluent background.

PM: When do you expect to finish it?

JG: No tellings. A year or two. I gotta go back to school first and get my future back. I start school this summer, and I’m studying creative writing. I’m going for an MFA. I’d like to teach someday.

PM: One last question, and I’m sure you’re sick of hearing this: the hardcover edition of The Anomalies features a photo of you on the cover. Did you cringe when you saw that?

JG: How are you so sure that’s me?

PM: I’m assuming, because the Torture the Artist jacket used the same photo as your author’s photo.

JG: Damn. Can’t get anything past you. At first I cringed, but then I saw what a sexy bitch I was, and I liked it.