Outline of My Lover: Q&A with Douglas Martin, Who "Knew" A Certain Athens, GA, Musician
Douglas A. Martin
What inspired you to write this book?
I lived in a very boring little town called Athens, GA, where there was nothing to do but sit around in coffeehouses during the day and the same two bars at night. I finally got sick of just sitting there, so I decided I'd write this book; that way at least I'd be doing something every morning when I got up and went down to the coffeehouse. Also, I'd kind of already slept with everyone in the town I'd ever want to, so I needed to do some quiet-time assessing.
What is the gay scene like in Athens?
There's one little bar called "Boneshakers" that ended every night by playing "Justify My Love." I use to just go there and pout. The most exciting thing that ever happened there was once the bouncer had to pull me off of this boy I was choking for stealing my Morrissey CD.
Sounds kinky. That would be a great headline story: Gay boy doing hard time in Macon County prison for Morrissey CD... Athens must be pretty different from the rest of Georgia.
Well, you just have to know where to look. At UGA [University of Georgia-Athens] it was on the seventh floor of the Main Library until someone told on someone and they started keeping the men's room doors locked 24 hours a day, so it just moved across the street to the third floor of the journalism building. That was Athens. In Macon you just went to the mall.
It is pretty obvious that the book is about an affair with a very famous Athens rock musician.
Really it's more about celebrity in general and how that fucks people up, but if it simplifies matters, okay.
Does he know about the book? How does he feel about it?
The guy who the book is about knows about it, but I also think that he does think that he's out, although I guess it is one of the burning issues that keeps all the closeted fratboys crossing their fingers and the newsgroup posts flying.
Why do you think it took him so long to "formally" come out?
I don't know. Do you think it's more enigmatic? That's a joke. I think just not to be labeled anything. Which is why he is just "my lover" in the book, because that's the aspect I'm dealing with, what was mine.
Is it weird having to talk around his name?
It's not that weird for me. Part of my point is I spent a lot of time not being able to say that name, even though I was saying it repeatedly in bed. A big part of it, too, is how that name had to cease to mean anything for there to be any attempt to get around, continue to be anything real, even though that name is also out there. I think with anyone in bed, the exciting part is when what you're doing is renaming each other on whatever level, knowing how to call each other. Another part of it is just that I like books where there aren't really proper names, where there are uber-men and uber-boys, but usually there aren't these books, just uber-men and uber-women, so I wanted to get the uber-boy in there with the uber-man.
Exactly how autobiographical is your book?
Well, I did go to the University of Georgia. I did feel everything and believe everything I write about in the book. But it's not really about my life, I don't think. It's more about the actual act of writing the book, finding an outlet when decorum expects you to be silent. My concerns aren't, This is my life. My concerns are often, Look how I got you to pay attention. My concern is one isolated experience and its ramifications, how that experience could never stay isolated, how I was only able to stay isolated within it. Don't you know I'm too young to be writing an autobiography? My hope is that that book won't be my life, that there will be something else I'm able to feel. I also think you never really know the story of yourself, that once you start seeing that self or writing that self it's already ceased to exist or is in the process of becoming dead.
How did you parents react to the affair, or to your being gay?
I think my mom trusted I knew what I was doing, after it was obvious that I was going to do what I wanted to do, that I felt like I needed to feel certain things, and she was there for me emotionally when it became obvious I had gotten very lost, that I'd started this thing that was making me live a very ugly life. My stepfather wanted me to go to a psychiatrist, but my first boyfriend's favorite movie was Maurice and he made me watch it, so I wasn't about to fall for that.
So, back to the unnamed one. How did you meet this unnamed rock star?
I have to insist that the rock star of the book is a fictional character, because I'm partly pretending he's the same as Duras' Chinese lover, although the parallels are striking... I mean, what is rock 'n' roll here in America but another form of colonialism? They sell us their lifestyle, we buy and help them keep living it because we want to be a part of it one day, but they're just living off of our voyeurism. They show us what we want to see so we'll keep thinking they've got some great secret to impart, and we just keep buying. If you want to get Marxist, I think the market shows we don't want that shit anymore.
I really don't agree. I am a huge pop-rock fan, and for me it is very visceral, about the music and what it does to me emotionally and physically.
Really? Who is still moving you? I thought we were all supposed to be listening to electronica now.
No, that was like two years ago. Rock is back, my man.
I just think most male rocks stars these days suck. What do you think Ricky Martin is stirring in people?
There will always be the boy-toy bullshit bands and performers. What is funny about Ricky is how hard he is trying to come off as straight, like a Rock Hudson thing. But all the boys know, when he shakes his ass, it ain't meant for the little girls.
My best friend, who is a PhD student at Brown, told me this really sad story about how Ricky does want to come out but his manager won't let him. Now I feel more for his blond highlights.
Don't buy it. If he really wanted out... He's making too much by being a boy toy. So, why did you base your book on Marguerite Duras' The Lover? Were her gold lamé shoes an inspiration?
I like how she confuses fiction and memoir there and it's beside the point. Her self-mythologizing seems more and more symptomatic of our times. It was also the only way I could justify to myself reading another one of her books, if I was going to do something with it. But the real inspiration for the book was Courtney Love's defense of herself in Rolling Stone, when she said something like, "That was my experience. I was there. I have the right to reference it." I know I cut it out and pasted it in the front of one my journals...
She made me realize you can do anything you want if you are willing to defend yourself, including going from really inspired to really lame, and I think when I saw the gold lamé shoes I thought, Courtney Love isn't hitting herself in the face anymore or fat or feeling anything but how good it feels to spin around in a gown, and I thought: gold lamé is lame. At least Duras was only 14. Do you think it's weird they made the shoes black in the movie version?
You know, you could've changed the town if you really wanted to keep the unnamed rock star's identity really secret.
I think it can be really lame to transpose like that. It wouldn't be too hard for people to figure out the real college town I once lived in and then think that's what I was talking about no matter what I said in the book... I wanted to streamline and simplify, because I wanted to try to get at something deeper in the text than proper nouns.
I mean how many superfamous probably gay rock icons come from Athens?
Well, we have the B-52's, we have the Elephant 6 kids, we have this band Macha. In my book they are all gay. A lot of it's just metaphorically dicksucking, but they still know where the dick is and how to best go about appearing to not want it while holding it. The whole town is riding on the gay man's back. It's the big skeleton in the closet of the university.
I personally would love to meet Michael.
I do think he is amazingly tuned in to our culture on many different levels... You're in school, taking a class with Mary Gaitskill. Are folks in your class jealous that you have a book coming out?
People in my class hate me because I don't like Raymond Carver or Alice Munro.
How old are you?
Twenty-six. My waif days are in decline.
Are you doing a book tour, readings?
I am, but I want to put together a cover band to back me before I do.
Who do you see playing you in the film version?
Is that boy from Home Improvement who is supposedly gay too old now?
And who playing the Unnamed Rockstar?
Todd Haynes, definitely Todd Haynes. I love how he wanted to make Velvet Goldmine because that's where his heart was for some reason and the people it is supposedly loosely based on didn't want to have anything to do with it, and Todd went ahead and did it anyway. Even though everybody knew who he was winking at and whose eyes he was doing it with. That's the kind of rock stars we need, ones who don't need anyone to sign off on their projects. Plus I think Poison has the sexiest sex scene ever in a movie.
If my story has to go hetero to be made or sold, maybe Kim Gordon could be the rock star. I think she's the last real rock star in America. She could pull it off.
I've fantasized about her being my mom.
Op-Ed: How the U.E.S. Dies
Scrapbook: Imaging at Lenox Hill
Op-Ed: How the U.E.S. Dies
Scrapbook: Imaging at Lenox Hill
Summer in the City