Fear No Art Interview with James Campion – Gonzo Author and Political Satirist tells all.


Book World 2/00

NO FEAR: JAMES CAMPION IN AMERICA An Artful Interview With A Wounded Patriot

You have been labeled a satirist and a contarian, but a great deal of your work is vehemently subjective.

jc: True. I hate everything.

But there is a certain direction in which you point in Fear No Art. For example, in the preface for your book one of your editors makes a case for you being equally abrasive in your attacks. But are they really attacks or a soap box for what you believe?

If you’re accusing me of bashing the concept of philosophy in order to espouse another specific philosophy, you are wholly wrong. Because it has been my understanding that anything offered by human thinking is flawed. I honestly don’t believe anyone is ever truly, rigidly correct about anything. And that, I think, is the humor and fun about nonfiction writing, or the very idea of opinion. Who’s to say? And even if one ideology wins over another today, tomorrow you will be embarrassed for even thinking that way. Politics is the great teacher of that theory. These fuckers will change on a dime five minutes after giving the speech of their life in order to plug some other level of bullshit. But, hey, what do I know? By that argument even my theory fails in some way.

Let’s look at your view of the Clinton presidency, which, of course, you cover simply by timeline in Fear No Art. Your depiction of the president is vague.

Vague? I don’t know. I’d choose the word “harsh.” So would some of my more liberal brethren.

So you are liberal, mainly?

No. Again, any theory or ideology has faults. I cannot align myself with any one philosophy. Those things are transient. They evolve, or not so much evolve, as they are never solid. One day you could see something clearly, like, for instance this whole deal with this Cuban kid that we argue day and night on whether to send back to his father or the shooting of that poor guy in New York by the cops. Both sides make salient arguments, but in the end the experience of the child after the final decision, and the effect of the jury’s call will decide, ultimately, what was best, or as I say, not. Nothing is ever concrete.

But don’t you think that is middle-of-the-road thinking?

What the fuck is middle-of-the road thinking?

Don’t you think that it’s your job as a columnist, or even, satirist, to take a position in the debate?

So now I’m not subjective? Make up your mind.

What I’m saying is that you tend to pit both sides of an argument against one another simultaneously. How do you manage this?

Because, as I’ve been pretty consistent in saying, there is never a right answer to the real pertinent questions. People make a damn good living convincing people who don’t have the time, inclination, or the patience to pick apart things like whose fault it is that taxes are too high, or candidates suck, or businesses are corrupt, or even why the hell we happen to be here on this spinning sphere in the first place. Some people, such as myself, find these jerk-offs to be nothing more than snakeoil salesmen who render monumental quandaries to the simplest form, when maybe they’re not so simple. Organized religion, political rhetoric, advertising, therapists…who the hell knows what’s going on?

Including you.

Including me. Correct!

But you do site history a great deal in order to prove that whatever, as you put it, monumental problems there are, it has all been dealt with before.

Yes I do. That’s what is known as reasoning. It is all we have left that keeps us from giving up the act and heading for the trees. Swinging in trees seems like a excellent activity after you’ve spent five minutes with some asshole from an organization that tries to put the universe into a paper cup. I think Lennon said that. You know, John, not Lenin, the poor idiot who thought sharing everything equally would fly. That’s why Lenin rejected the teachings of Christ, you know? He also tried the “share everything equally” thing two thousand years earlier. Backfired, as we know.

It’s extremely frustrating talking to you.

How do you think it feels carrying around this crap every minute of every day? That’s why it’s good to jot it down and sell it to the highest bidder. Can we talk about my book now?

I thought we were.

Sounded to me like psychoanalyzing the author.

Why did you decide to put your e-mails in the book? I liked that.

So did I. Made me laugh, so I put the stuff in there. All real. I get accused of making things up.

While reading Fear No Art I was often reminded of Hunter Thompson’s characters.

Thanks. My hero, the good doctor.

Did you ever meet him?

Once at NYU. A symposium for the Beat writers or something. Met (Allen) Ginsgerg there as well.

Is there any fiction in Fear No Art?

I’m not telling you.

This is your second book, but your first collection of random writings, correct?


Do you plan to chronicle your career this way or take breaks from actual book writing?

Are you intimating that Fear No Art is not a real book?

No, but it isn’t like Deep Tank Jersey either?

True. You got me on that one. I am working on something in the style of Deep Tank Jersey, but I thought this book and it’s style would lend it self more to the readers of my first book and to the people who currently read my columns.

You are pretty rough on the music business, politics, especially (Newt) Gingrich and Clinton, and organized religion. Have you received a lot of negative feed back on this? Because it would seem that some of the subjects in Fear No Art are more than a little touchy.

Look, I get more hate mail than most, but that’s because I don’t pander to one side or the other. I think it was Woody Allen who said that he should have tried bisexuality to double his chances of getting a date. Now if I hammer away at the hypocrisy of these people, who all-but guarantee their ideology is the best and the other guy is full of shit, then I’m going to hear from everyone who has an opinion on both sides. I mostly do it for a laugh. I think humor is truly our best defense mechanism against the world’s problems. Freud said something to that effect. He was fucked too, of course.

As a humorist, I think your stuff works on different levels, but doesn’t that make you a hypocrite? You think these issues are too important or difficult to toss aside with a simple theory or philosophy, but to mock or joke them, that’s all right?

That’s all right for me. And anyway, no one ever laughs at the same things. I don’t care if you think you have a great sense of humor or not. No one is going to find the same things funny. I use satire as a way to deal with pressing issues. I think a good aphorism or punch line goes a hell of a lot further then a speech or a philosophy. Words should be like music. You should here them in your head, like a great quote or something easily put so you can see the many sides of the issue. People have a enough problems, they don’t need to listen to lectures crammed into a column space in some newspaper or magazine with no wit or edge.

Is that why you included the Chaos in Motion pages in the book?

I put those in because I used to send one liners to friends to make myself laugh first and foremost, and then sent it along to them. In this age of the ‘quick aside,’ as you say, it’s best to put everything into something worth reading, or hearing.

Is there something in the book you wish you could take back?

Putting my damn name on it. It would be whole lot simpler on the lawyers if it were just anonymous. Primary Colors, that’s the way to go.

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