Signals and Static: loud paper interviews Camden Joy

Camden Joy is a music critic, fiction writer, radio journalist, one-time musician, guerrilla artist, and prolific generator of random rants on pop culture and urban life. An anthology of his work, Lost Joy, was published by TNI Books in 2002.

LP: I don’t know whom I am talking to. Am I talking to Camden Joy?

CJ: Yes. Yes you are. It’s a pseudonym but you know my defense of that is that it is a pseudonym like Bob Dylan, like W.C. Fields, like the Marx Brothers. Like they got to change their names and no one gives them grief. I have another name.

I was attempting some sort of literary experiment when I started writing using that character and naming the pieces by the same person. The by-product a pseudonym creates is that people are not able to trust me, they feel like I am lying with everything I say. I get this strange reception, whereas if I was a rap star and I called myself whatever I did, people would just accept that and it would be fine. That doesn't answer your question though.

LP: So where did the name come from?

CJ: I was looking for a name that had a short, compact sound, and I knew the syllable count I wanted. I had remembered that when I was writing about Trenton, N.J., someone in Trenton asked, “Why are you setting this story in Trenton?” I said I just wanted one of the darkest, saddest places in the country, and I figure that if you can find a reason to go on in a city like Trenton then that is a beacon that can carry you through anything.

And they said, “Oh, Trenton is not so bad at all, you ought to go to Camden.”

I always thought of Camden Joy as something that would carry you through the darkest times. A friend of mine and I, we had this theory that one of the things that art should do is acknowledge, never shy away from, the darkest truths. So the point is to admit, to acknowledge the dark truths and then go on. We called it “Kick Start.” That was our little artistic movement. And then we proceeded to do nothing with it. But when Camden Joy came along I was thinking that it sort of works with the Kick Start movement.

LP: Tell me about your recent collection of past work, Lost Joy.

CJ: I have wanted Lost Joy to be published in some form or another since 1997 and it has just taken this long. It has a lot of things that I self-published, I mean, everything in there that did get published. That meant when I kept going down to Kinko’s and making more copies.

LP: I am intrigued by the wheat-pasted posters in the chapter of Lost Joy, “This Poster Will Change Your Life.”

CJ: The thing that drew me to posters, and that ultimately ended up, by the last poster project, figuring out that was at the source of it was the way in which the street kind of mirrors the radio.

In my experience listening to radios, I am never very good at tuning in stations or figuring out what I am listening to. Usually I hear things, they grab my ear and I have no idea what they are called, where to find them or anything. I describe them to people and they have no idea and they are just lost.

I am fascinated by all aspects of disappearance and invisibility, the shadowy sorts of experiences that are at the heart of so much that we encounter. Usually we filter things out, but the radio offers an almost tangible version of those times when we either fall in love with a song for a real short bit and lose it forever and it just becomes a legend in our mind, or we discover someone and they become a favorite. There is a mystery to the radio in the way that it doesn’t have a location. I understand the science behind the way it travels, but it still always seemed extremely mysterious how it arrives in our little receivers.

When I moved to New York I was intrigued by the free use of the streets. Which is hardly free, cause the police would ticket you if they found you, but similarly I suppose if you have a pirate radio station they will find you and ticket you. And I was intrigued by the way it was entering this dialogue with a bunch of other people—you would put up a poster and it would get covered over by another poster or only slightly covered or smeared or changed by the weather or changed by people walking by who would write on it sometimes. And those were always the best—they would read it and then go and give their opinion.

And I was interested in that and that was the thing I wanted to mention to you. Just that the radio and the street seemed like similar- ___ … I don’t know what the noun is there. They are not both media, they are both canvases, I guess.

LP: Traffic or static…

CJ: Yeah, I was intrigued by static and introducing into my own writing distortion and static. Which occurs naturally when I’m on the street but was another reason for the unreliable narrator, the untrustworthy storytelling and stuff. I was listening to Sonic Youth and I was wondering how to bring fuzz into storytelling. How do you lose the narrator behind a wall of sound?

LP: You grew up first outside of Los Angeles and then in L.A. and then in New York. Do you think where you have lived has influenced how you write or your taste in music?

CJ: I grew up in an agricultural area outside of Los Angeles and I’d go see bands in L.A. and I could understand them being referred to as L.A. bands cause they would talk about local landmarks in their music. When I lived in New York every other band was described as the “New York sound.” But I had a band and my music didn’t make sense in terms of the Talking Heads, Television or whatever the New York music was supposed to sound like. Then I realized it doesn’t mean anything anymore. And that is one of the great things about radio. Radio transcends neighborhoods. It liberates the kids who didn’t have the good fortune to grow up in urban areas. I grew up listening to a great radio station that had a long signal all the way from Pasadena and reached me a hundred miles away. And that was my lifeline and where I learned things.

***

CJ: I figured out my two favorite buildings in Los Angeles: Dodger Stadium and the Griffith Observatory.

LP: Why?

CJ: That’s hard to say. I was interested, once I realized that they were my two favorites, that they both share something I don’t really like, which is an almost cartoonish-ness. But at the same time they are also very useful. I think that what I really liked is that they both have a perspective on the city that is really nice. And the view of L.A. from the upper stands of Dodger Stadium and the view of L.A. from the wall around Griffith Observatory were things I never tired of. So I always went to the ball game and to the observatory and I drank in the view of the city.


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