The saga that began two months ago when I was contacted by a writer wanting to know if I was interested in an exclusive interview with this enigmatic prankster known only as "Asterix" is such a succulent example of the media cannibalizing itself that I could not help but chime in to set the stage. I must state for the record that I was immediately repulsed by the idea. From what I knew at the time, "Asterix" was Jerry Seinfeld, whom I have loathed since his first appearance on the Tonight Show in the 80's (and don't get me started on Larry fricken David), and under the guise of "Asterix" he had plagiarized heretofore unpublished work by one Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, whom I have adored since the usual age.
I was forced to ask myself why Jerry Seinfeld would be interested in 3AM Magazine. My answer led to a month long debate between the Editorial staff as to whether or not we wanted to run the story and give Asterix free publicity.
How that unfolded is what I feel is the true theme of this story.
If there exists a difference between media-savvy and media-dependent, this scenario you are about to read is the living epitome. You have on the one hand, the foil, the force of evil, "Asterix", who ironically was the one to wield media-savvyness, whilst the other two players, Thompson and Seinfeld, were the ones who fell all over themselves in a fit of media-dependence. That "Asterix" was the one to get the least amount of exposure and still remains relatively obscure is such testament to this celebrity incest we are plagued with these days. While both our celebrity contestants profited from the New York Post fax war, Asterix has yet to see the proverbial dime in hard currency or sweat equity.
So, essentially, I was wrong, because I believed what the media told me. As you read on, you will understand why that is so very significant.
3am Magazine Politics & Non-Fiction Editor
I first came across Asterisk's work when I was directed toward one of his controversial articles called The Savagery of the Flighty White Nigger. There was some tainted electricity in the air at the time that was indicating he had plagiarized some -- or all -- of the article from Hunter S. Thompson. While I was reluctant to believe this, I did sense the same sort of intensity and hard-fought prose within the text. It was a very clever piece. Very feisty. But if you looked carefully enough, very absurd. As I continued to read Asterisk's work, I noticed that this was a warm-and-fuzzy concept that he had great affection for. I tried on numerous occasions to pin him down and discover the identity behind the absurdity, but the elusive bastard had his way of avoiding the press while engaging it at the same time. Eventually, through a series of correspondences, he warmed up to the idea of trying to set some things straight for the record. I warn you, however, that very little is unbent in his world. But I'll let you trip over that notion in what follows.
3AM: I guess we should jump right into the question of how you got yourself messed up in the situation regarding the Hunter Thompson, Jerry Seinfeld and Ted L. Nancy.
*: First, I inadvertently came to realize that die-hard Hunter Thompson fanatics are dementedly protective of his work. They'll dissect a sentence of another writer and piss on it until it drowns if they think you've used a comma in a similar fashion as Thompson. And for a while, all sorts of comparisons were being drawn between him and me. Some of the hate-mail I've received regarding this was filled with so much over-the-top belligerence, it's hilarious. I see a perverse charm in the fact that someone would take the time to write me a detailed description of their hatred of me for something I wrote … and their main bone of contention being not what I wrote about, but how I wrote it. But I get plenty of supportive mail, too, and these people don't have any problem seeing the myriad of other things that are going on in my writing. I write in a strangely structured, multi-layered style, and my supporters see that and appreciate it for being more than the sum of its parts.
3AM: Is one of these hate-mailers behind the whole fiasco then?
*: Not at all. I just needed to set that up to explain my motives here. So that being said, after reading over some of the hate-mail with a few of my friends, I said to them, "I bet I could really put some of these hate-mail nuzzle-nuts back in their place." "What do you have in mind?" they asked. So I joked, "Instead of responding to each of these letters, I could write one letter and fax it to a few newspapers. But I'll write it as if I were Thompson and I'll accuse myself of plagiarizing him and I bet I can do it without any plagiarism whatsoever, but do it in such a convincing Thompson voice that all his rabid devotees will believe it's actually him."
3AM: You were going to accuse yourself of plagiarizing yourself … I mean Thompson?
*: Basically. My friends cheered at the insane irony of the ploy. A few beers later I was at the typewriter, shooting from the hip. When I finished and asked them to read it, their jaws dropped. They said it was so dead on it was spooky. I just laughed it off and forgot about it, with no intention of going any further with it. I honestly thought the thing had gotten chucked into the waste bin.
3AM: So you never plagiarized Hunter Thompson at all then?
*: Plagiarize Hunter Thompson? I've done a lot of crazy things in my life, but I'm not that off-balance.
3AM: How did things progress from there?
*: About a month later, that letter started showing up all over the Internet. The New York Post got a hold of a copy and went mongoose-wild with it. And I soon found out I was dead on about all those fanatical Thompson devotees. They jumped on the train and sucked down every drop of the load, quoting the letter in emails to me, telling me, "Thompson's going to hunt you down and fry you to death with 100 Tasers". While I was personally reveling in the queer irony of the stunt, the fact that a publication like the Post ran with it created a problem, in that the faux Hunter Thompson fatwa against me started reaching unruly levels and had the potential for obscuring the point that I was trying to make when I originally wrote the letter.
3AM: But you never planned to do anything with it.
*: Which made it trickier, because I hadn't really thought the scenario out past the first fax. So I found myself in need of some sort of counterbalance. (See all faxes here.)
3AM: In essence, you were picking up the ball and running with it.
*: Sure. I figured things had progressed this far so let's see how far I could crank them.
3AM: Didn't you ever fear any retribution from Thompson?
*: I knew it was a fine line I was walking on, but I also thought Thompson would probably appreciate something like this considering he pulled off similar stuff on the '72 campaign trail.
3AM: With the Ibogaine and Ed Muskie?
*: Yeah, that rings a bell.
3AM: Do you think he approves of what you did?
*: He's actually applauded it. He was quoted on the Rocky Mountain News as saying he thought it's all been a "clever little stunt", and that he "salutes me for it."
3AM: How did Seinfeld get involved?
*: I read a story that suggested he'd been writing behind the cloak of the Ted L. Nancy persona, which is the pen name for some shyster who tries to lure celebrities into giddy letter schemes and then publish them in his Letters From a Nut books. I thought, what better pawn than someone who would be reluctant to come out from behind their alias? Not to mention the fact that I'd actually be stinging Nancy as he'd been stinging others. So I sat down and banged out a bogus letter supposedly roping Thompson into one of Nancy's Letters schemes using a totally convincing Nancy voice. Then I handed it off to my friends, along with another Thompson letter I'd concocted in response to it. A few weeks later international celebrity headlines were filled with Nutcase Torments Thompson and "Gonzo Takes a Shot at Seinfeld". If you go to Sideways, it actually has the best overview of the whole story. (See all press reports here.)
3AM: Thompson and Seinfeld certainly got a substantial amount of publicity out of it.
*: Yes, indeed. I'm expecting a check from both of their publicists.
3AM: Really? They've been in touch?
*: No. And I'm not holding my breath either.
3AM: But you got publicity out of this too.
*: Not nearly as much as they did. But that doesn't really concern me. It was basically all an accident that the story even got out there. And once it did, I eventually proved my point. That's all the satisfaction I needed.
3AM: The faxes proved your point or the media did?
*: With the help of the media, the faxes I composed proved that if I really wanted to imitate one specific author, I easily could. I know when the faxes first became public, it seemed like I was stroking a double-edged sword. But in the end, I was really just tempting sensationalism to have a steamy affair with self-deprecation and irony ... and it worked.
3AM: That's quite a ménage à trios.
*: The bottom line is, anyone who writes because they seriously have to -- because it's the only thing they really know how to do -- they know that unless what they're doing is something they feel comfortable calling their own, it defeats their purpose. Stylistically, I don't think my writing comes off sounding like anyone else in particular. If you take the time to look, you can find a bulging hornet's nest of influences in my work.
3AM: And who would you say some of those influences are?
*: I've had a heavy diet of Ayn Rand, Albert Camus, Marshall McLuhan and H.L. Mencken, so I'm sure they've all tainted my work. Spalding Gray's definitely made an impression on me with his monologue approach to storytelling. Cintra Wilson and Anthony Bourdain are a charge. Matthew Collings' breezy yet engaging approach to sifting through the visual arts has impressed me. And of course there's Douglas Coupland and Chuck Palahniuk, and a heap of screenwriters…The Cohen Brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, David Mamet, Aaron Sorkin, Chayefsky.
3AM: Your writing seems to include factually-based political opinion as well as fiction. Do you favor one above the other?
*: I feel like I suffocate when restricted by disquisition. I prefer to write anecdotally, where I can swerve into a serrated jazziness. But it's harder to pull off, especially since I'm amalgamating it with the truth -- whatever that might be.
3AM: Where did this concept of "Asterisk" come from?
*: The name was a vestige from "Smear", a screenplay I wrote about the contemporary art culture. After extensive research on the topic, I came to the soundbyte-induced conclusion that writing the script under the Asterisk name was an absurdly appropriate thing to do considering the absurdity of the art scene it was describing, and ultimately representing. Then the Asterisk concept just naturally evolved into becoming the main character/narrator of Spaghetti Psychosis, which is essentially a visual-laced memoir.
3AM: What are the circumstances regarding the publication of Spaghetti Psychosis?
*: Spaghetti Psychosis was originally conceived as a live multi-media monologue, where I would be on stage performing the monologue live and interacting with pre-filmed material being played on large screens around me. I started developing it around the time "Smear" was supposed to go into pre-production. But then one of the major backers of "Smear" bailed-out at the last second to develop some silicon-brained movie with Geri Halliwell, which never took off and sunk his bankroll. In any event, when everything blew up financially with "Smear", a lot of reallocating of funds took place, which affected the production schedule of Spaghetti. So I decided to work Spaghetti into a book in the meantime. Surprisingly, the entire project translated to paper quite fluidly, considering the nature of it. Basically, it ended up being half-book, half-screenplay, but they blend -- or blur --together seamlessly. The symbolism is obvious there, but it's meant to be … it plays on itself. Currently, my agent at McIntosh and Otis is shopping it around to some major players.
3AM: What's Spaghetti Psychosis about?
*: It's set on Martha's Vineyard during the summer of 1998. I spent a fair part of the season camped out on the island's beaches and was trying to keep my mind tuned into a particularly hermetic wavelength because I had some pretty difficult issues I was facing in my life at the time. There are many locations on the island that usually cater to seclusion quite well. That summer there weren't, however. Between JFK Jr's plane going down and President Clinton holing-up there while the Lewinski bullshit peaked, the island was a certifiable monkey farm. Suddenly the whole world was focused on the Vineyard through they eyes of TV cameras. So Spaghetti Psychosis deals with identity caught in a conflict between media and privacy, with a lot of neurosis, boozing and drug-induced sex going down on the side. Combine all that with the alternating format of prose and script and you've got some text that moves so fast it almost falls over itself. But there are plenty of interconnected details within it too, almost like hypertext, if you care to go back and dissect them all. It works on many levels. The overall concept of it has definitely raised the eyebrows of everyone who's read it -- especially since I have it bound between two pieces of airplane wing that I found on the beach.
3AM: Airplane wing? On which beach?
*: I can't really comment on that.
3AM: You tend to enjoy taunting mainstream ideals.
*: I don't know if I'm really consciously taunting them. I just have my own ideas and like to express them in my own way. I never felt comfortable being in a massive pack. I think you lose a large part of your identity within them as well as the desire to experiment with life. Status quo is such a polluted term as far as I'm concerned.
3AM: I take it the "Asterisk" identity plays off of that motif?
3AM: You wrote a story call Piercing Double Talk for GetUnderground where you strongly suggest that Jenna Bush, the president's daughter, procured some experimental jewelry on her lower extremities. And in that first fax from Hunter Thompson, which you actually wrote, you talk about White House officials coming around to your house and giving you the "fish eye". Is that statement based in reality at all?
*: Reality. That's a slippery term.
3AM: Okay, did you every take any flak from the White House for what you wrote?
*: Let's just say I'm not on their Christmas card list.
3AM: Your recent article on Karl Rove probably didn't help in that cause either.
*: (Laughs.) Definitely not.
3AM: Have you always had such a fond distaste for the Bush family?
*: G.W. in particular. I believe that you have to earn the right to be president, or to be anything else for that matter. The only thing G.W.'s ever earned is the right to be a rat bag haberdasher.
3AM: How much prior knowledge do you think Bush had about the 9-11 attacks?
*: Probably not enough. But I don't think he made it a point to know either. Just like he didn't make it a point to know why some people at Enron were using C-notes to wipe their ass last year while at the same time California was having rolling blackouts. It's sinfully suspicious, however, that Bush was the one who most benefited from the attacks. But I'm sure he just chalks it up to dumb luck.
3AM: Do you think Americans are coping well with everything now that it's a year after the attacks?
*: Americans want someone's head. If they can't find bin Laden and can't find the Anthrax lunatic they'll settle for someone they can find, which is Saddam. He's going to be the scapegoat, whether he's guilty or not. Not to mention the fact that Bush has got to make his daddy proud … vindicate him for all the criticism he took by not getting rid of Saddam 10 years ago … as well as please his oil pimps.
3AM: Press-wise, in these post 9-11 times, isn't grappling with the White House somewhat taboo?
*: Someone should be doing it. And someone with a hell of a larger platform than me. But no one really is. Maureen Dowd from the New York Times is one of the few dangling herself out in that wind, but not many others. But even before 9-11, the media gave Bush a free ride … with complimentary popcorn … and pretzels.
3AM: How do you mean?
*: Well, for one thing, this whole crock about a "Showdown with Saddam." The fact that it's being focused on so intently by the media all of the sudden, a few months before midterm elections, is blatant manipulation. Bush and Company are now claiming that one of their primary goals as an administration was going to be to mandate regime change in Iraq even if the 9-11attacks never happened. I don't ever remember that being mentioned as a fundamental part of the Bush agenda during the 2000 elections. No one's calling them out on that either. But no one bothered asking Bush or Gore any tough question while they were on the campaign trail. The press probably doesn't want to embarrass themselves now. They dropped the ball in 2000 and haven't seemed to be willing to pick it back up since then.
3AM: Can you expand on that?
*: First off, all the major media outlets are owned by major corporations. So most journalists with a platform have to answer to the stiffs that run these corporations. Secondly, there's Karl Rove. He's able to spoon feed these companies whatever he wants. He makes Robert De Niro's character in "Wag the Dog" look like the Pillsbury Dough Boy on smack.
3AM: Why do you think he's so influential?
*: He came out of one of the "Body Snatcher" pods on the Richard Nixon farm. He's a very shrewd and crafty man. In the book Fortunate Son, which brings to light G.W. Bush's questionable drug habits, there's a strong indication that Rove was the one that was able to quash the story of G.W. getting busted in Texas for cocaine possession. Sander Hicks is working on a book about Rove called The Kingmaker and I'm hoping he'll get to finish it.
3AM: Why wouldn't he?
*: Rove killed the first attempt at publishing Fortunate Son. And even though it eventually got back out into print, its author, J.H. Hatfield, died under suspicious circumstances around the same time.
3AM: Are you saying you believe Rove was behind his death?
*: Not necessarily. But I do believe that Rove does realize that there are a lot of impressionable right-wing fundamentalists out there who are stewing around, twisting their own nuts, just waiting to be pointed in the right direction so they can act out their fanatical impulses. And Rove definitely knows how to kindle a slew of neon arrows. In all fairness, Hatfield did have some heavy personal problems, but the coincidences definitely warrant suspicion.
3AM: Sounds like great fodder for conspiracy theorists.
*: If you want great conspiracy fodder, go to the Bush Body Count site. It lists tons of mysterious and suspicious deaths of those who have challenged the Bush dynasty.
3AM: And you're not worried about having your name posted to that list?
*: (Laughs.) Not yet. I do understand that I piss a number of people off with some of the stuff I write. Dissension goes with the territory. I can't write what I write and how I write and expect not to enrage some people -- or a lot of them, for that matter. But I'm not quite worthy of that list just yet. Although, I did receive some bizarre threats after I wrote an article on the government's apparent inability to come up with the Anthrax culprit.
3AM: Was that your story titled, "Clove Blowback and other Doomsday Toxins"?
*: Yes. It was in my GetUnderground archive, but I've taken it out of circulation for the time being.
3AM: What originally inspired you to write for GetUnderground?
*: I supposed it was editor in chief, Shlomo Sher's, willingness to grant me carte blanche as far as content and style goes. That's a seductive luxury.
3AM: You dubbed your GetUnderground column "Sideways". Is that an extension of "Asterisk"?
*: Indeed it is.
3AM: Do you write for any other publications?
*: I'm being published in Excess Magazine, in London; and something is supposed to be coming out in ice-itsocool; there was a story in Retort Magazine recently; and just before I went to GetUnderground, I did a couple of freelance gigs for Real Magazine down in Miami and the Vineyard Review. I've also done work on numerous screenplays.
3AM: When did you develop a serious interest in writing?
*: Years back, I wrote a screenplay that made it to the finals at Sundance. That gave me the motivation to start bullying words around on a consistent and serious basis.
3AM: Do you think you'd ever consider a run for political office?
*: Wouldn't that be something? Sure, I'd consider running for a government post some day if I had enough social status to do so with some sort of impact. Honestly, though, I think I'd be run out of town with barbed pitchforks before anyone would let me be put on a ballot.
3AM: You are currently working on a book called The Modesty of Gangrene. When do you expect its completion?
*: The Modesty of Gangrene won't be completed until certain pending legal matters I'm involved with are resolved. They're alluded to it a bit at the end of Spaghetti Psychosis, along with reasoning for the continued use of the name Asterisk. In a sense, it's a sequel to Spaghetti.
3AM: What's Gangrene about?
*: Gangrene will basically end up being about how the legal system is set up to protect the wealthy. The majority of the book takes place in Florida, which is probably where I'll be shackled to for the next several months. I'm also in the process of putting together a compilation of essays for publication, titled, A Taste of the Whisper Gong.
3AM: Do you have any other aspirations aside from writing?
*: There's some myth about a philosopher -- I think his name is Diogenes -- he's this philosopher who wanders around during the daytime searching for truth and honesty with an ignited oil-lantern. When he finishes his daily prowling, he returns to his home, which is a bathtub. I'd like to aspire to that. Except I'd prefer a Jacuzzi and a flame-thrower.
3AM: I don't think we can end on a better note than that.