DEEP TALK JERSEY
A conversation with James Campion, the author of the book, Deep Tank Jersey, about a summer on the New Jersey club circuit with the band DogVoices.
Aquarian – What exactly is Deep Tank Jersey about?
James Campion – It’s really a story about me, and in effect, the reader. Anyone caught up in a new society–a new world–where you’re the outsider trying like hell to grasp the manner in which these people you meet co-exist to create that world, is likely to find something out about themselves. I’m no psychologist, but it’s pretty obvious to me that if you throw divergent, young personalities into a sub-culture of sex, dance, violence, booze and fervent release you’re going to get interesting results. And the story of DogVoices runs right through this world. Amazingly enough, the band not only calls this world home, but its work place as well.
So this is not just a biography of the band.
Well, it’s that as well. I don’t know if you can spend that much time with people and not find out a great deal about their make-up, their past, what makes them tick, and what put them there in the first place. And I was extremely lucky to have met these particular guys, because to their credit they made the thing write itself. I’d never experienced the type of honesty I received from those guys and the people they worked with; honesty about their craft, each other, and the events that took place while I was on board. I was very lucky.
Do you think they were careful not to reveal too much of themselves because they knew you were writing about them, or in some cases, do you think they put on a little more of a show to spice up the story?
Only they could tell you that. From my vantage point all summer the band seemed to be feeling each other out as well as their audience and the clubs. Remember, this was the birth of a band from two separate competing units. The singer, Monte, was from a band called Who Brought the Dog, and the rest of the band made up a band called Voices. They were both successful acts in their own right. There was enough going on to worry about aside from me. But as far as holding back, no, because I have to admit there were things that were said and done that at times were probably not too flattering, but again, to their credit as artists they respected my intentions and after I got to know them better I think they trusted me with their stories. I know if someone was to follow me around with a running, objective diary of the events of my life, I would want the truth in there. I got the feeling that they didn’t quite see the point of what I was doing and just let life take its course.
And I imagine a wild course at that.
I’m not easily shocked, but I have to say that some things took me for a loop. All in all though, the reaction I received from the preliminary reads of the original manuscript were exciting, and the people who’ve read the book thus far, many of them never even had met the band at all, were incredulous over the lifestyle and the craziness. As a writer, when you delve into such a project you’re lucky if you find anything out of the ordinary, but this type of thing lends itself to the bizarre. Again, just imagine punching the clock in their factory for a week or two. It’s a nice place to visit, but … you know the rest.
What does the reader learn about the New Jersey club circuit; this collection of rock clubs that house millions of people a year to see all the local bands?
The business aspect of the way the wheels turn is only a subtle sub-plot. You see, the way I approached it was very much first person, and I could only write what my eyes picked up, and the experience that results from that vision. This is in no way an expose of the inner workings of these places or even the band as a rule. Although I’m ostensibly a journalist, and approach most things as such, the book is more like some fun ride in a carnival and I’m the seat with the rusty bar that lands at your waist. Whatever I’m experiencing, you will as well. There could be many things happening in the darkness, but if I don’t put a light on it, your imagination will have to take over. I expect my readers to have an active imagination, an extra eye that sees deeper than the author. When I was a kid I loved to read books and see films that lead you down an unknown path. I don’t want the artist to figure out for me what conclusions I’ll make. Believe me, there’s enough information going on out there, it’s time for people to start coming to their own conclusions.
So your saying the book puts the reader in the story rather that tells them one.
I would hope so, yes.
What about the self-discovery you mentioned before?
I was very much embroiled in the same problems and trials as these guys many years ago. It was on a smaller scale though, because it is important to note that we are talking about a certain level of fame and pressure here. This isn’t the Stones ’72 American tour or anything, but this is only a level or two below that. I mean, DogVoices is arguably the second biggest draw on one of the most lucrative and legendary rock n’ roll club circuits in the entire country. Aside from the powerful draw of The Nerds, who appear in the book as well, DogVoices is the next top act. And it’s funny, but ever since writing the book and getting to know the guys in the band as friends, I’ve learned that people outside of Jersey are shocked at the numbers of people who flock to these clubs to see bands play popular songs. Out in L.A. or even in New York, the club scene is dominated by the dance thing, or bands playing original music like my band did years ago. Agents and bands from other towns marvel at the money and crowds talked about in this book for what I label “The Human Jukebox.” But really, in the end, my self-discovery is the realization that music is a universal love and release. There is a constant stream of violence and animal-instinct explosion that rises in any good rock n’ roll audience. I think if there is one thing I learned during my days on the road, was that the more things change the more they really do stay the same in this country. I don’t see much difference between this generation’s explosion and the one’s prior. It’s how we recall these images and events that make for legend. The older we get, you know, the more interesting our past lives become. A story is only as good as the storyteller.
It’s almost like the experience of listening to music itself .
Yeah, and that’s why I didn’t include the titles of songs the band was doing at one time or another. I didn’t want to date the thing by putting it in a certain time-frame. I prefer letting whatever music the reader deems appropriate ring in their head. Music is, after all, the soundtrack of our lives. I would hope that the book– ironically about musicians and the people who feed off their music– is like a literary symphony. Because the fact is, I could listen to Beethoven’s Ninth or a Chuck Berry record and feel something completely different from you, even if we listen to it at the same, precise moment with all the outside factors being equal. The best and most honest feelings come from inside anyway. That’s the salvation of art for me. I hoped to feel the same in my writing. Doing this has helped me get closer to that.
This is your postcard from the edge.
Wish you were here.
I dont suppose youll be telling anyone what The Deep Tank is?
I really couldnt without you having read the book. Its like trying to explain the impact of a home run in the bottom of the ninth in a game where you just turned on the tube. Not even Kerouac was that good. You gotta run the race to cross the finish line.Press