PUNCHING HOLES IN GLASS HOUSES How James Campion Had The Courage To Fear No Art
by Seth Cales
For three years now James Campion has manned the Reality Check News & Information Desk. The results of its findings have appeared weekly in his Aquarian Weekly column. Many at the staff of the pop culture, news, and music paper have never met him. Few have vague memories of when he penned the odd concert review, but since his total submergence in the field of hard core rogue journalism, they have heard merely rumor, inuendo and rare echoes from the occasional phone call or caustic e-mail sent from a place Campion has often described as a “media bunker.”
The man who hired him for the job, and penned the introduction to his new collection of writings called Fear No Art , shares some rare insight. His name is Dan Davis, and hes sticking to his story. One day I recieved a fax from Jim addressed to the King of the Wild Frontier, writes Campions former managing editor. It was a rant decrying the cancelling of a Marylin Manson concert and according to the man himself, was the start of Fear No Art.
Campion now sees it differently. Davis never wanted to hire me, he recently told a mutal reporter friend at a news conference in Westchester, New York. The man called the cops when I sent him a query letter, he mused. Hes spreading nasty rumors about me having something to do with a goddamn basketball whupping of 100 points! Sh**, Ive seen Davis play ball. Why would he even have me on his team?!
And thats the perk of being James Campion these days. Even though his new book is filled with intimate portraits of his insider life as a reporter (personal e-mails, letters, an open plea to his wife not to leave him, a manical friend named Willie who gets arrested for an array of crimes ranging from assault and protest, to standing in a Dennys demanding to see more black folk while overdosing on Viagra, and countless nicknamed political insiders verbally maming the very people they try and defend) Campion remains mysterious to even the those who give him the space to rage.
And make no mistake about it, Fear No Art rages. In the bent tradition of H.L. Mencken and Hunter S. Thompson, Campions true wit is in his blantant disregard for everything worth disregarding. Current managing editor of the Aquarian Weekly, Chris Uhl also lends something of an M.O. to Campions style by writing in the books preface that nothing is sacred, no punches are pulled. When asked at a recent sypmposium on free-lance writing, Campion was more than complimentery of Uhl who he described as a man truly disconnected from the things that make him who he thinks he is, and thank God for that.
James Campion may prefer to remain a mystery, for his work has few warm and fuzzy sides. Fear No Art sports such notable headings as “Ugly Truth,” The Multi-Billion Dollar Lie, or How the Fat Rat Left the Sinking Ship, “In Defense of Larry Flint and Other Scumbags Like Him, and New York’s Political Divide or How the Mud Slings.” Life inside Fear No Art has a dangerous quality because the reader is sure to be simultaneously offended and defended by the same sentence.
When speaking about such taboo subjects as Princess Dianas tragic death Campion uses the massive outcry against the paparazzi by hilariously demanding the shut down of all tunnels and the banning of motorcycles. When describing protests against controversial religious films he reduces the rankled to faith horders who would rather leave icons of lore in glass cases with Elivis 70s garb and bow with thoughtless reverence. Through Campions voice, Social Security is a fantasy money pit, and the white rabbit will disappear all too soon. Wall Street is seeing God while kneeling in a pile of disgarded slips; far too late to save the planet. Journalism is a dispicable trade, protest is a futile square dance in the face of the brutal law of the jungle, and business etiquette is shameful and insipid, and only the most unholy amoung us can even fathom it without a modicum of taint on our souls.
Although things do get rough at the Reality Check News and Information Desk, James Campion does find time to pepper plaudits throughout Fear No Art. The most moving of his pieces involves a friend who has been reported missing (later the man was found dead of an apparent suicide) and Campion laments his absence by painting a portrait of a lost generation following the dreams of their parents and the false idol of television to a place he calls anywhere but here. And when he addresses the glut of teenage killings in high schools or the threat of war abroad the pain can be felt in every word.
But the true genius of Fear No Art is in its dismantling of icons and celebrity, whether in the realm of politics or Hollywood. Campion finds the sacred abhorrent when dealing in personality. In a piece entilted, “Bill Clinton – An Appreciation Campion opens the presidents infamous mia culpa speech highlighted by his own subliminal defnitions, by stating, Officially, after 220 years this country has not produced a better liar than William Jefferson Clinton.
As with his penchant to riff on concepts Campion hammers away at names. Saddam Hussein is a glorified camel salesman with fancy medals and a cute beret without his weapons and ‘mother of all crapolla’ anti-American propaganda.” Madonna is “an award show/Oprah appearance away from show-biz has-been oblivion.” Rudolf Giuliani “treats the first amendment like a Bazooka Joe comic”, Kenneth Starr “leaks, freaks, and gives good press conference, but displayed about as much ability to build a case against the President of the United States as the kid who takes your change for the newspaper every morning,” and Mike Tyson is “the savage core of humanity come to conquer, unceremoniously handed the keys to his own destruction.”
Tributes abound in Fear No Art, they’re just not as fun to read. And that is the allure of Campion’s best work throughout the book. His bark is mighty, but the bite is sweeter. Somewhere in the dark images of his worst side scrawls the demons from his brain to which he hardly appologizes for. Just like any good reporter, and his hero Lenny Bruce said, so many times, “I’m just describing what I see.”Press