James Campion – Gonzo Journalist for a new century of mayhem

BIOGRAPHY

jc in 1997

Born to James and Phyllis Campion on 9/9/62 at the northern tip of Manhattan, jc spent his formative years on Van Ness Avenue in the Bronx, New York. Sequestered from the swirling chaos of the 1960’s by a loving family, his imagination was fueled by fantasy, comic books and the distant music from passing cars and open windows. Creating fantasy worlds far from the heat and cement of city life kept him from being scarred by stringent Catholic School rules and rough neighborhood wounds. His close relationship to his mom, grandmother and aunt has led jc to often refer to these years as paramount in experiencing the plight of the underdog. This lead to the inevitable questioning and rebellion often displayed by personalities educated in the belief of freedom and expression at home.

Campions
Phyllis and James Campion -1993

“My dad spent much of his time either at work or school trying to make a better life for my brother, Philip John and me,” jc told jamescampion.com. “I didn’t have that constant male presence. Very talented, emotional and brilliant women with an indescribable inner strength raised me to question everything and give your all in the face of any challenge.” jc’s mother noticed his penchant for ignoring the status quo very early in life. “James could never conform to the way things were right from the start,” Mrs. Campion told us. “We couldn’t understand why he didn’t take his first day of school as hard as the other kids. Then the next day when I asked him if he was ready for school, he responded, ‘I already did that yesterday.’ Of course we tried to explain to him that he had to go everyday so he could meet new people and play with their toys and learn new things, but he simply thought it crazy to leave his own friends and toys behind for some group dynamic.”

In his father’s company, jc’s imaginary worlds were transferred to sports or the silver screen. “My dad had this knack for taking me to movies that were incredibly thought provoking,” he remembers. “I developed my love of film and storytelling from those afternoons.”

By the age of ten, jc found himself in the grips of suburbia when his father’s hard work paid off and he was able to move his family out of the city and into a Central New Jersey town called Freehold. Moving again two years later to yet another neighborhood taught jc to adapt quickly to the cruelty and challenges of childhood politics. “When you’re small in stature and the new guy on the block,” he told an interviewer in 1996, “you learn quickly that you have to prove yourself time and again.” Eventually the new kid in town turned to the radio for solace and a source of endless imagination. There, in the din of corny 70s’ pop music, singer-songwriter honesty and the echo of athletic heroes pulsating through its tiny AM speaker, jc developed a nurturing relationship with music and a rabid infatuation with sports. He fell in love with their compact medium of telling compelling stories through song and drama, and with no formal musical training and lacking the body to compete at the highest level of sports, he pined to be the voices who brought those images to him..

jc and cb
jc and Chris Barrera on location of “The Package” – 1997

It was in the bucolic splendor of Freehold that jc also developed his love for reading and began to display an acute aptitude for writing. His budding friendship with neighbor, Chris Barrera, two years his junior, bloomed into a partnership of vivid imagination. Before long, their fascination with comic books and fantasy evolved into their own humble comic book empire. Everyday for countless hours the two would bang out stories of heroes and villains in the basement of jc’s house; Chris sketching the harrowing pictures, and jc penning the dramatic dialogue and plot. Sometimes the kids in the neighborhood would clamor for the latest tale, other times the stories would live and die under a naked light bulb above a black card table where the young team huddled together. “I read Stan Lee’s autobiography on how he conjured up those amazingly complex characters for Marvel Comics,” jc remembers. “The idea that someone sat down and wrote these things from out of their head and the result ended up on my nightstand intrigued me greatly.” In his grammar school year book in the spring of 1976 jc wrote one word under the heading, Desired Occupation: Writer.

This was also a time of great awakening for jc on the subject of politics. “I had this incredibly articulate and entertaining civics’ teacher in eighth grade, Tom Antus,” jc told Westchester Weekly in the fall of 1998. “Height of the cold war, hostages in Iran, Watergate fallout, Kennedy assassination conspiracy rumors; this was a fertile time to unload these things to a kid just formulating his way intellectually. I was hooked from the start.” Having spent two summers earlier glued to the television during the Watergate hearings, jc’s curiosity with power, corruption and the system of government soared. It would be an important theme in his thinking that expanded in a social conscience and fueled many rabid debates throughout his youth, eventually becoming an integral part of his writing career.

When his creative partner, Chris Barerra moved away, and high school began, jc took his writing skills to the school newspaper and monthly student poetry collection. Studying the classics as well as modern mavericks in literature, and covering the school sports teams, jc tackled all his favorite subjects. “I was an avid sports fan and spent most of my time in high school reading,” jc told us of his teen years. “Aside from listening to the Rolling Stones, watching the Yankees and reading Kurt Vonnegut or The Great Gatsby, I can’t register most of my time in High School. I was a lousy student and had trouble buying into established rituals.” Through those years, jc began dabbling deeper into poetry and song lyrics, sometimes corresponding through the mail with Chris. The two built a modest song catalog of original compositions. Once again jc provided the words, and Chris, veraciously learning guitar, the colors. When college life began, jc left behind volumes of work published and unpublished, and armed with awards for poetry and journalism, he set off to capture the dream of being one of the voices lucky enough to bring music and sports to the public.

Over the next few years, jc studied the electronic media, spending quality time on the campus radio station at Mercer County Community College and Trenton State University. “I wanted to be heard,” jc says of his time as a student of radio and television. “Having been weaned on radio, that was my best chance.” Continuing to work on school newspapers and penning commercials and skits for campus radio, jc began to branch out to other forms of writing and performing. “I was influenced by 70s’ satire like Saturday Night Live, Second City, and George Carlin,” jc says. “Irreverence as an art form reeled me in.”

It was also a place where he discovered the unusual bending of his favorite craft by the controversial Beat Writers. “Reading (Jack) Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’ in college truly changed my life,” he fondly remembers. “I know a lot of people always point to that book as a watershed for many reasons–especially young men–but for me Kerouac, (William) Burroughs, (Kurt) Vonnegut, and Hunter S. Thomspon; these were guys who not only wrote, they wrote from the gut. I’d never seen anything like that stuff. It jumped off the page and made me feel somehow more at home with the idea of putting pen to paper.”

It is during this time jc began to teach himself several musical instruments and write more personal songs. Although he worked in radio and dabbled in journalism, he made time to join small bands and was wooed by the seduction of immediate audience gratification. All those years dreaming of being the man cueing up the musical stories and describing sports heroics paled in comparison to being the one getting the cheers. For jc, the bellow of a hyped-up rock and roll crowd beat a lonely radio studio all to hell. He was not only hooked, but not too long after, with his parents moving once again, he was off on his own to chase the footlights.

 

Satyre
Satyre – 1986

By the early 80s’ and entering his early 20’s, jc found himself well ensconced in the Westchester, New York music scene; which wasn’t much of a scene at all. During those years and well into the mid-80s’ jc’s band Satyre played wherever and to whomever would have them; four young men from different places and backgrounds creating original songs and attempting to grab an audience fueled jc’s artistic juices. And while Satyre’s audience wasn’t overwhelmingly large, it was faithful. Its songs of passion and rebellion penned by jc, had a flair for culling the rabid fanatic. His performances as lead singer also raised eyebrows. He was using words to evoke emotions much like the movies and songs of his childhood. “I was so involved in lunatic causes then it was ridiculous,” jc told the Journal News in 1994. “It’s that time in a young man’s life when anger and curiosity take hold. I thought everything was worth writing about and eventually fighting for. That kind of blind commitment, coupled with this internal struggle to reduce all human endeavors to meaningless bullshit, finally turned me into a cynic. By then anything raised my ire, which was everything possible.”

By 1986 Satyre had a single and the financial backing to make a record and go on the road. But money troubles and lawyer squabbles ruined the innocent pursuit of creativity for jc, and although he was personally pursued by several professional talent outlets, by 1989 he was out of the business all together. “A lot of people tried to make me something I wasn’t,” he remembers. “I guess that’s the point of a business based on something resembling art. But that’s not why I went into it.” However, the love of making music remains a major part of jc’s personal and professional life. In 1991 he began a project with local producer and musician, Ken Eustace. The two put together a collection of jc’s songs for a CD called Days that is still circulating around. Since, jc has collaborated with many New York and New Jersey singer/songwriters on various projects including former Satyre band members, Peter G. Stevens and Tony Misuraca.

His appetite for performing, coupled with his original romance with broadcasting, lead to jc resurrecting his career as a respected broadcast journalist in the greater New York area. (See Sports Bio) By the early 90s’ jc drew rave reviews and scores of viewers for his local “Sports Club Live ” call-in television show. At the same time, he began a three-year run as writer, producer, and host of the acclaimed and cable-award winning baseball show, “The X-tra Inning” . These were years spent interviewing the game’s greatest talents like Ken Griffey jr., Tony Gwynn, George Brett, Don Mattingly, the late/great Yankee broadcaster, Mel Allen, and many more. “I spent plenty of afternoons and evenings as a kid in the stands at Yankee Stadium,” jc recalls. “Next thing I know I’m on the field, in the locker room, and chatting with ballplayers.”

jc parlayed his work on local television and radio into a sports column called “Sports Shorts” for the North County News, and during his time there its sports section won annual awards for coverage and quality. Moreover, his continued literary correspondence with friend and foe during his years with Satyre had kept him inside the journalism field. It was through those relationships that jc eased back into the craft of his first love, writing.

 

Sports Club Promo
Promo photo for Sports Club Live -1991

During the early 90s’ jc began research for a book he planned to base on the miraculous comeback of the 1978 New York Yankees. “That was my team,” he said at the time. “I want to put to paper what it meant to a sixteen year-old punk to have heroes come through in an age where everyone seemed to fail everyone else.” Culling interviews with many members of the legendary team, and compiling reams of information, he called it more a “labor of love” than anything resembling a book. Through his constant contacts in the literary world there was some interest in the manuscript, but by early 1995 jc had become wary of making a sports’ book his first published statement. “Pounding my head against the wall for social change and all that crap really made me recoil into the playful world of sports where the most inane detail takes precedence over the terrors of the real world,” jc pondered during a seminar for independent authors in New York City in 1996. “Sports is where journalists go to escape having to make a difference. It feels good, believe me.”

DogVoices at Sea Shell
DogVoices during the summer of Deep Tank Jersey – 1995

It was then jc received a call from one of Satyre’s former band members, Peter G. Stevens. Peter had stayed the musical course and landed in a wildly popular New Jersey club band called Voices. The band was adding Rob Monte, a popular front man of another top Jersey act called Who Brought the Dog to the fold. The harried result called DogVoices would not only set out to expand the success of both bands, but do it on the fly. It would be the band’s first summer on the road in a baptism of fire between a huge fan base and an amalgamation of raw enthusiasm. jc smelled a story, dreamed of a book, and told Pete to save him a spot on the bus. “The writing of Deep Tank Jersey was perfect timing for me,” jc said in a 1996 interview. “I had just gone through an incredibly horrible breakup, there was a goddamn baseball strike, all my closest friends had either moved away or gotten married. I was motivated to do what all my teachers and mentors had been telling me to do since I was a kid; shut up and write. So, I did what any self respecting American boy would do, I packed up and joined the circus, only I brought along a tape recorder and notebook.”

In the summer of 1996, Deep Tank Jersey hit the stands. An independently published rant on self-discovery, while battling the demons of fame and rapture inside the subculture of nightlife, it was read on every beach along the Jersey Shore and beyond. Real stories of real people doing incredibly insane things all in the name of fun, escape and camaraderie spoke to a generation of party animals and music lovers. Even those in the industry gushed about it’s cruel honesty and attention to sordid details. For jc, Deep Tank Jersey was a triumphant marriage of his love for music, artistic expression, obsession with “being heard” and writing “from the gut.”

jc in Jerusalem
At the Western Wall in Jerusalem – 1996

The success of the book was not only the product of timing, it had been the culmination of literary observations made on the move. For jc, the years leading up to the writing of Deep Tank Jersey were spent in the company of women and friends throughout the boroughs of New York, where he channeled a lifelong love affair with Greenwich Village into personal expression. Expanding his literary vision, he began to strategically move about the country for short stints, periodically delving into the lifestyles of Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco. But his dream had always been to travel to the Holy Land. Literally hours after Deep Tank Jersey went to print he was on a plane to Jerusalem and the wonders of Biblical mystery. An avid reader of spiritual tomes with a fascination for their founders, jc spent nearly a month in Upper Galilee and Jerusalem in the hopes that it would become the basis of his second book. But upon his return, and the start of the manuscript, the world of journalism came calling.

 

On the Trail
Covering the George Pataki gubernatorial campaign – 1998

Almost immediately after embarking on his spiritual sabbatical, the offers for jc’s services came pouring in. By 1997 he was firmly back doing what he loved, writing. His work as a freelancer took him from sports and satire to the national magazine scene. Many of the publications learned of jc through the growing buzz around Deep Tank Jersey, which afforded him a new underground audience, but it was in the manning of his infamous, “Reality Check News and Information Desk” that jc found a home. His weekly column for the edgy, and oft irreverent, Aquarian Weekly provided jc the pulpit in which to shine.

“It was always about awareness for me,” jc told a publisher’s conference at the headquarters of BLAZO!! recently. “I was part of that 60s’ radical revisionist movement in the 80s’ when it wasn’t hip to be young and struggling with human rights issues. This was before all that Live Aid stuff. In the time of Reagan, with greed and selfishness run rampant, it was more important to make the grade. But having lived through all that, it’s easier to see that just knowing you’re being screwed by a system or abuse of authority is enough. People mostly know they can’t do a damn thing about the atrocities of this world, they just want to be aware it’s all happening. Don’t tell us everything’s fine. It’s fucked. Let’s come to grips with that and see it for what it truly is.”

jc’s coverage of politics, pop culture and current events in his Reality Check column has brought reaction both glowing and scathing from every faction of society. This period of his work is well chronicled in his second book, Fear No Art. Published in the Spring of 2000 by BLAZO!!, an experience reception network for the new millennium, it catipulted jc into the pantheon of the Gonzo age and helped him share the satirical realm with his mentors and heroes like H.L. Mencken, Mark Twain, Lenny Bruce, Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter S. Thompson. Owner and creator of BLAZO!!, Bo Blaze launched jamescampion.com soon after to allow web surfers a chance to absorb what he called. “The Campion Experience.” Meanwhile Fear No Art helped BLAZO!! signal a maverick age in information dissemination. “BLAZO!! is important for what I’m trying to do now,” jc told us that Summer. “The idea of working with a creative mind like Blaze in an atmosphere of utter insanity and depravity excites me in ways better left unsaid.” The results of which proved fruitful in a host of Internet cartoons including , “Rabbi Blazo Sings the Classics” and “Lil’ Pengy”, both of which jc acted as head writer and co-producer.

 

e
Erin D. Moore pictured with her work at SUNY Purchase College – 1998

In between the long hours of freelance journalism, pounding out a script for an independent film called “The Package” in the summer of ’97, and pulling together notes and essays for Fear No Art in late 1999, jc found time to fall in love with an artist/photographer,Erin D. Moore. A trusted friend and creative soul mate, Erin is an exquisite talent in her own right; with the brash toughness, emotional honesty and a dry wit that would have the two marrying in June of ‘99, shaving their heads and heading West where they camped in the California desert and strolled the wondrous hills of Big Sur. Throughout their romance both have been each other’s creative motivation and often the subject. jc has written several songs and a short story about Erin and Ms. Moore has used jc as a model for her magnificent mosaics, sculptures and was the photographer for the back cover of Fear No Art and his latest effort, the controversial and mystical, Trailing Jesus. She also created the stunning mosaic for its cover. Ms. Moore’s work is available for viewing and purchase at mosaicsbymoore.com.

jc in 1999

Finally completing the six-year opus about his Holy Land journey with Trailing Jesus, jc has accomplished his labor of love and what he now dubs, “the most honest piece of work I’m capable of.” Trailing Jesus is jc’s most ambitious work to date, mixing philosophy, religion, mysticism, politics and revolution in a swirling journal from the edge of the Judean desert. Visions of the Galilean sage come alive as jc follows in the footsteps of the western world’s most enigmatic figure and what he finds is hard to forget.

Today jc’s Reality Check column is bigger and badder than ever. And with the help of this web site it has become an international sensation. jamescampion.com is read in over 20 languages by hundreds of thousands of people every week from all walks of life, gender, race and generation. Its biting and witty prose has infiltrated the very heart of controversy and hyperbole with a style fresh and honest. His critics call him mean and aloof, his fans deem him good and tough. After the terrible events of 9/11/2001, two of jc’s controversial and touching five-part series on the tragedy appear in the charity compliation, Glory: A Nation’s Spirit Defeats the Attack on America. Later that year he followed it up by contributing a stirring account of his generation to the fourth volume of the wildly popular, In Our Own Words collection.

With the release of his third book, Trailing Jesus, published by his very own company, Gueem Books, jc embarks on a new venture that he hopes will touch many more authors. “My hope is that Gueem Books will allow other struggling writers find a voice for independent publishing,” he notes. “It’s all the rage with film, why not literature?” In early 2003 jc signed on with Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists with the hopes of attacking the mainstream media the way his work has succesfully cracked the literary underground. Later that year his first novel was optioned for a film by the Hal and Cheryl Croasman production team. The manuscript is currently in review at several publishers. A street date is not yet known.

“Art is the most important thing left to humans”,” jc told Amazon.com in late 2002. ““It’s our last frontier. So let’s not screw it up.””

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2 Responses to James Campion – Gonzo Journalist for a new century of mayhem

  1. Marc Ferrari says:

    Hey James

    Marc Ferrari here…don’t know if you know me but I was the guitarist of the band Keel (whom Gene Simmons produced 2 albums for) and I co-wrote (well actually wrote 100% of) the song “5 Card Stud” on Ace’s solo album “Trouble Walking.” (also wrote with Peter!) Have had a long history with the KISS guys…

    Just got thru reading “Shout it Out Loud”…wow, what a book! Really impressed with your research and attention to detail. Would love to speak to you or email. I am reachable at 818-707-3613/marcferrari1@gmail.com

    All the best…Marc

    • Hey Marc,

      So sorry I did not get this sooner. Love to chat with you anytime. Drop me an email to remind me at jc@jamescampion.com and we’ll be in touch Thanx so much for your kind review. Would love to add you to my list of reviewers and certainly someone of your background and connection to KISS would be cool to get a review on Amazon.

      Best,

      jc

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