Dennis Cooper’s Telling Interviews

Written by J.T. Leroy on . Posted in Books, Posts.

I first read Dennis Cooper’s
Try when I was 14. It was the first book I ever completely related to. Bad shit
happens to this kid, Ziggy, in the book and there is nobody there to save him.
No social workers, no helpful teachers, it all just is. A kid making porn for
Ziggy’s creepy uncle ODs and gets fucked, parents betray, a crush is more
into heroin than love, horrible shit happens. Yet the book has an underlying
sweetness, an honesty that makes everything just click into place. Try became
my bible; I carried it with me everywhere and reread it constantly. It made
me want to write. I knew I had to reach Cooper. I asked Maximumrocknroll if
I could interview him for them. I got his agent’s name, and later that
day I had my first conversation with him.

Try was third in
a series of five novels: Closer, Frisk, Try, Guide and now Period, which will
be out next spring. His most recent book is a switch–All Ears: Cultural
Criticism, Essays and Obituaries (Soft Skull Press, 146 pages, $13.25), a collection
of his articles and interviews that appeared in various magazines including
Spin, Artforum and George. Markedly different from his fiction, they display
his range as a brilliant chronicler of people, music, art.

I should say that now, almost
five years later, Dennis is one of my best friends. I never did that interview
for Maximumrocknroll. but I promised him one day I would do an interview somewhere.

This is pretty weird, me
interviewing you, finally. So, I read this book and I have just one question:
Why am I so fucking great? It’s all about me, isn’t it?

Yeah, there are so many
aspects of you it took a whole book to write about you.

Why did you put me on the
cover as well?

Who else would I put on
the cover?

Exactly. Well I guess that’s
the end of the interview… Uh, seriously, why is the guy on the cover cupping
his ear? And is that Leonardo DiCaprio?

He’s cupping his ear
because they wanted to use a picture by David LaChapelle, which was Leonardo
with a conch to his ear. But they couldn’t get the permission, so they
wanted to do something similar.

Why wouldn’t they give

I don’t think they
could ever find the guy. So they just got an artist to do a copy of it, and
it’s "all ears" because he’s listening.

I notice that his ear is
slightly red, as if some violation has been done to his ear.

Well, it is a book by me…
(laughs) God knows Leonardo’s ear wouldn’t be safe around me–my
famous ear-chewing penchant.

Does Leonardo know he’s
on the cover?

I have no idea, I haven’t
seen him in a while… He moved.

He bought some big-ass house…

He used to live right near
me, but he moved. I see him driving around sometimes, but I haven’t talked
to him in a while.

You should tell him–

I don’t think he gives
a shit. He’s on the cover of everything so I guess a drawing of him on
the cover of…whatever.

What about all the Leonardo
DiCaprio fans? This is one of the best interviews ever with this guy. I mean
this interview came out in magazine from when I was into him too, before the
Titanic thing.

Right, it was for Romeo
+ Juliet

Is it that a lot of people
you interview are people you’re attracted to?

Not really.

Like William Burroughs?

Yeah, like William Burroughs…
(laughter) Wooo! I mean, well, you know. I wasn’t attracted to Leonardo.

Is it hard? (laughter)

No no…

Does it make it harder?

No, because I really wasn’t
attracted to him. He wasn’t up there with Lukas Haas or Vincent Kartheiser
or something. I used Leonardo in [my novel] Guide, but that was more
because I knew that everybody else had a thing for him. He never was a big fantasy
of mine, partially because he lived on the same street and I saw him around,
so… He was very real to me. Back when I met Keanu Reeves, back then, I
thought he was pretty fucking cool. More than Leonardo, really.

That was a great interview.
I found something in every chapter that you were making a prediction that ended
up coming true. Like with Keanu you talk about becoming junkies, doing that
kind of stuff, and that shit happened with River Phoenix. And even with Leo
DiCaprio you ask if he wants to be really fat or really old, and he ended up
getting fat.

(Laughs) He said if he had
to be one or the other, he would want to be fat. He wasn’t really really
fat, and that was the question.

His love handles were sagging.

He’s gotten back in
shape now from what I understand.

Thank God.

Yeah, thank God! That was
disgusting! But Keanu got fatter than Leonardo.

I thought Leo’s answer
was pretty good.

That he wanted to be like
Biggie Smalls?

No, that he didn’t

See, there you go. I asked
him the question and he talks about people he knows who are overweight that
are really great people. He’s a good guy. It’s not the kind of answer
you want about Leo. I’m supposed to say that he was really stoned and some
guy was fist-fucking him while I was interviewing him. He just seemed like a
really nice guy. Very polite. I liked him.

Did he play footsie with

No. He smoked my cigarettes.

If you’d saved those
butts can you imagine what they’d be worth?… A lot of people read your
books, and it’s always like, Dennis Cooper, woooo scary. I can understand
some of the other ones, but
Try and even Guide are
really sweet.

I think they’re all
sweet–except maybe Frisk. For a lot of people, just the fact that
you write explicitly about people being raped or people eating shit… I
mean Try may be really sweet, but there’s this guy who eats someone’s
shit, you know what I mean. To me that makes the sweetness sweeter. Clearly,
you put this horror around this kid who’s a sweet kid, then you realize
how screwed he is… But a lot of people see that other stuff and they see
red, they don’t even see the sweetness in it because they just can’t…
The fact that I thought these things up and had the nerve to put them in a book
makes me a monster, you know?

I’d give Try
to people, most folks wouldn’t make it to the end.

Well, it’s rough. It
doesn’t let you off the hook… It’s intense and awful.

It’s nothing that isn’t
on the news.

It’s a little more
explicit. I think most people just don’t want to think about those things.
And I think that I want to understand them, so–not that everyone should
be interested in those things…

Have you heard from fans
who are used to your fiction? The first thing I read from you was the
piece about the homeless kid (collected in
All Ears). I remember
thinking the interviewer was a really nice guy.

What response I’ve
seen has been, among the reviewers, they assume I’m a particular way, creepy,
whatever, and they say that there’s this surprising compassion. And friends
have said to me, "This is really you, as opposed to your novels, which
don’t seem like really you." But they don’t live in my head.
But yeah, it is more reflective of who I am as a day-to-day person, this book,
than my novels.

The interview you do with
Nan Goldin, it’s funny because Laurie Stone sent me Nan’s book two
and a half years ago–the really big book…

I’ll Be Your Mirror?

Yeah, and I ended up trading
it to somebody. This girl is a photographer, husband worked on motorcycles,
we had a motorcycle that needed to be worked on and we did a trade.

So you didn’t get anything
out of it.

Well, I got to ride on the
motorcycle. I remember that book was really sad.

Yeah, it’s really sad.
I really liked that work a lot, and I can relate to some of it. I know some
of those people because I lived in New York for a while.

Some of the people in the

Yeah. When I was living
in Amsterdam, and I was kind of at my kind of bottom or whatever, I saw her
work projected in a museum, and it was weird, because it made me think about
my life in a way that I hadn’t before, like the tragedies. You get so gripped
in drugs and obsessions that you can forget what your life looks like. Her pictures
give you like the full story. Her work shows you the beautiful and horrible
at the same time. It was quite powerful… It made me rethink the way I was
living my life.

So you were doing a lot
of drugs then?

Yeah, I was like really
lonely. I didn’t have any friends there. My boyfriend and I weren’t
getting along. Yeah, so I was doing a lot of speed. I was hanging at the brothels
and stuff. In retrospect it was quite interesting, but…I just felt really
miserable, and I was thinking that I was on some kind of weird investigation,
but I wasn’t really learning anything. I was really alone and really fucked
up and sex-obsessed, drugged out… It was bad.

Do the people you interview
contact you later?

A couple of people said
they liked it… Leonardo said he liked it. Steve Malkmus liked it. On the
other hand, Bob Mould was a friend of mine at the time I did the piece on him,
and, as I say in the introduction, the piece destroyed our friendship.


It’s a combination
of things. Bob was under pressure to come out as gay. I don’t think he
really wanted to. I don’t think he was really ready to.

Try is all full
of references…

I think that’s partially
why we became friends, because he was touched that I would pay homage to him.
We became friends and hung out. It just seemed that he trusted me and thought
I wouldn’t mischaracterize him when he wanted to make his statement about
being gay. I think he was very uncomfortable about having done that. And because
we were friends, you know, I stayed at his house for three days, and I guess
it wasn’t quite clear when we were doing the piece and when we weren’t,
and I reported some things he said when we were just hanging out, and my assumption
was that Spin was going to factcheck with him, but for some weird reason
they didn’t call him and say, Did you say this, did you say this…
So when it came out Bob was very upset. There were things he said to me as a
friend that got into the article. I apologized and everything, but he was very
angry and said some terrible things about me afterwards. And I feel really bad
about it. I mean, I take responsibility for it, but it was sad because I really,
really admire him.

What were some of the things
he didn’t want to talk about?

That he said in the article?
Some gossip. He told me that the My Bloody Valentine album had
been trashed and that the Butthole Surfers were having trouble in the studio…
It just didn’t seem like a big deal to me, but it was to him because he
was friends with these people and he had betrayed confidences.

In the interview with Courtney
Love there was something you said that again was predicting the future…

Well, I also said their
marriage was like Ozzie and Harriet–that was really a mistake… (laughs)
I liked her. I don’t know what to think of her now. I’m so sick of
the whole shtick. I really liked talking to her. I thought she was a really
smart, intense person. But I don’t know what the fuck she’s doing

Was Kurt there during the

No. We were hanging at her
house at one point, I don’t know why… She had to do makeup for the
photoshoot, or see the kid or… And he was supposed to come back; we were
waiting for him, but he never did come back. So I never did get to meet him.
I’m kind of glad I didn’t, now.

Didn’t she ask you
to try to write a screenplay for her?

Yeah, through Craig Marks
at Spin… It just never happened.

Now (novelist) Mary Gaitskill
is trying to do it.

That’s probably a better
fit. I don’t know how to write a screenplay. I have no fucking clue…
I don’t want to write a screenplay. It’s such a cliche, like everybody
in L.A. I hate that… It just drives me insane that everybody writes their
book to be made into movies. To me, it’s a book. I write novels. That’s
what I want to do. I just don’t have any interest in doing screenplays.
Sure, I’m broke, and if somebody offered me a lot of money I’d probably
think about it. It’s just that everybody in the fucking world is a writer
that writes screenplays. It’s just not interesting to me.

They made Frisk
into a movie.

So to speak. It’s a
piece of fucking crap.

Yeah, it was really bad.

Horrible. It’s made
me very wary of doing anything like that ever again.

But at the same time
I would love to see
Try made into a movie.

Well, a couple of people
talked about it, but nothing’s ever happened. I mean, Try is probably
the one that would make the best movie. I don’t think any of the other
ones would make a good movie, but Try might make a good movie… The
trouble with it–I was half involved with the Frisk movie and that
was what was so horrible about it. I was misled, led to think I had input that
I didn’t have, and it was just ugly, so I don’t know. In a way I think
it would be better to just say here, just don’t have anything to do with
it, just leave me alone. They’re making this movie of Horror Hospital
in Australia, and it’s fine, it’s there, you can have it, take it,
do whatever you want with it. That’s like a silly little story and that’s
fine, even if it’s bad I don’t care.

Is it true that the singer
from Silverchair, Daniel Johns, is going to be the star of it?

(Laughs) Yeah. He’s
the star. He’s naked the entire time.

And you’ve written
a part for me in it as well.

Ummm, yeah, you’re
in it too…

And what do I get to do
with Daniel Johns?

You rim him for 30 minutes

That’s going to be
a very interesting movie.

Far as I’m concerned.

So I’ll be eternally
in your debt. So your Sonny Bono interview, I had a hard time reading that one.

(Laughs) Yeah, well, I wonder
why? It was a weird thing. This really great editor who was at Spin,
she actually edited the homeless-kid piece for Spin (included in All
), then she became the editor of George, Biz Mitchell. Elizabeth
Mitchell, but everybody calls her Biz. Anyway, she went to George and
offered me a gig to do something about Sonny Bono. But what they really wanted
was a more political thing, and I’m not that versed in politics, so I had
to do so much research and rewrite that so many times to bring in all the info
and interview all these Republican people and stuff. I mean, it was fine in
George, but it doesn’t even feel like my writing anymore to me.
But I thought it would be interesting to put it in there because it was different
than the other ones. It was a strange experience, but I was glad to have it.

I didn’t know Sonny
Bono was such a… It was hypocritical the way he–

Well, he was always fucking
right-wing scum… (laughs) I mean he’s dead now, so it’s hard
to… Whatever. But I mean he’s just a total wuss. He did really great
stuff when he was young, with Phil Spector and stuff, I mean he did some really
amazing things. But he was just a wuss. You should hear his solo album, my God,
it’s the most embarrassing thing you ever heard. Unbelievably horrible.

The rave article in the
book is really funny, because I can tell the part that’s (Cooper’s
friend and cowriter of the article) Joel Westendorf and the part that’s

It was so exciting to discover
all that stuff, and I feel funny about that piece. It was right at the end of
rave culture and it seemed so exciting, like it might be this really major thing,
and then it turned out to be nothing. Just a fucking dance club phenomenon.
Joel believed in it so much at the time, the philosophy, it was such an important
thing to him. So it’s funny, because it’s a very naive piece in a
way, to think that that stuff was going to turn into some major cultural force.

I remember when you’d
go off to those things and I was really jealous and wanted to go too. It wasn’t
that long ago. Like four years ago?

Well, they were amazing,
those raves. God, they were fucking unbelievable. They were great. They were
just gorgeous–but they didn’t last very long, you know? People were
doing ecstasy and stuff and it was like really beautiful, nobody drank… It
was so nice to be with a bunch of kids that weren’t fucking drunk. They
were all on pot or ecstasy and everybody was kind of blissed out.

There’s a difference
in what ecstasy does to you and alcohol–look at what happened at Woodstock.

Well, ecstasy isn’t
really ecstasy anymore, so. It was such a brief time…

There’s something kind
of sweet about that article.

Yeah, I wanted to believe
in that. It’s too bad that it didn’t end up being that important.
It’s more about music than a new way of thinking, which is what it seemed
it might be.

Did William Burroughs ever
read what you wrote about him?

Probably. I know that the
people who handled him (laughs) read those things. I am much much hated among
the people who like Burroughs for those pieces. Burroughs was just this old
guy at that point, I think he thought, "What the hell’s going on?"
Everyone around Burroughs thinks I’m Satan for attacking Burroughs. Whatever,
fuck off.

He had this kind of saint
thing around him. All those rock ’n’ roll people discovered him.

That good writing he did
when he was younger was great writing. It wasn’t that they just discovered
him, it was the people around Burroughs pushed Burroughs. It was just disgusting,
ridiculous. Stick Burroughs into every fucking rock video, it was like…uhhhggg.
I don’t know. Just thought it was ugly. I didn’t get it.

You guys had some personal

(Laughs) Well my boyfriend
at the time, Mark, was having a relationship with Burroughs the same time we
were boyfriends. But I didn’t care. I think they cared more than I did.
I wasn’t threatened. I didn’t think Burroughs was going to steal my
boyfriend away. I mean, give me a break. But yeah, I think that made them even
more paranoid about me, like I was some kind of spy, whereas I didn’t care
if Mark flew off and had sex with Burroughs. But other than that I only met
Burroughs once, like for about three seconds. I never spent time with him or

I remember you warned me.
I used to be jealous of Mark having sex with all these literary figures–

I don’t know that it
made Mark happy.

And you warned me not to
do that, because I had an opportunity, you know, with Ginsberg and Burroughs
and those guys.

I don’t think you’d
have felt very good about yourself. I think they were in it for themselves,
in my opinion. I personally think that if some young person admires you, the
worst thing you can do is fuck them. I think, let them have that admiration.
It means a lot to people to admire someone and have the person show respect
back, and then to use them and just fuck them is just… Because how many
of those people those people fucked were actually attracted to them? It was
just like taking advantage of a situation. I think it’s really important
not to let your cock get ahead of your compassion.

There are probably ways
that you could mine your fame, that you don’t.

Me? Well, I don’t know.
I don’t do that. When I was younger I took advantage a few times. (laughs)
But that’s when I was young. It was conceivable that someone who liked
my work might also like me. But I’m like a middle-aged guy now, and it
would be grotesque to do it now… What’s the point of it? It’s just
like…sex to me is unimportant. I don’t see the point in using some
kid to get laid. It’s just wrong. Sex isn’t that important. If your
work can make someone feel something important, that’s more important than
sex. Who cares about sex?

So you have people who are
angry with you about your books?

Yeah, some people think
I’m horrible. Even to this day, whenever I get books reviewed in gay magazines
it’s like this horrible monster blah, blah, blah–What an evil, horrible
person he is.


Because it’s all about
positive imaging about gay people and stuff. I’m gay, and I have those
weird fantasies and I write the way I want to about it and they should accept
it. Being gay means all sorts of things. You can’t clean it up. You have
to be honest about it. There are people who write really positive gay books,
and there are people like me or Burroughs or Genet who explore imaginations,
and we’re gay too. That’s the way it is. They shouldn’t be so
afraid of it. I’ve never heard about anything happening in real life that
was inspired by one of my books. It’s like they think that some redneck
is going to buy my book and beat up some gay kid–some guy is going to read
my books and go rape and kill some boy. It just doesn’t work that way.
You know, it’s not pornography. I think it’s clear in my book that
I’m horrified by those things.

Well, I remember when
I read
Frisk, with the scene in the windmill where the very young
prostitute gets beaten very badly by the Dennis character, and I cried. I remember
getting really upset and needing to know, was it really true?

Well, you know, in the book
it isn’t true. The whole point of that book was to present it as though
it was true, and make it pornography, so that whoever was reading it would have
to deal with whatever it made them feel, and if it turned them on, it turned
them on. And then at the end of the book it said that this isn’t true,
which makes you take responsibility for whatever you felt. I had to do that.

But I bet a lot of people
stopped reading.

And a lot of people did.
And an even stupider response was, "What a cop-out." A lot of people
thought, "What a cop-out that it isn’t real at the end." If I
said it was real, would that make it any more real than if I say it’s not
real? It’s a fucking novel! That is the stupidest response.

You can’t win either
way. So, you have your new book coming out,
Period. How many more
in the series?

That’s it. That’s
the end.

What are you going to do?

I’m going to write
a completely different kind of novel next, that has nothing to do with what
I’ve written about… I think five is plenty, and I don’t want to
repeat myself, I want each one to be completely different, and they are. The
next one is not going to have any of that stuff in it. Maybe it’ll be really
bad, I don’t know, I just gotta try. But if it’s bad and I don’t
have anything else to say, I’ll just quit writing I guess.

If you quit writing what
would you do?

Uhhhhh… Kill myself?

You can come here and I’ll
take care of you. Because by then I’ll be a famous writer.

We’ll have a suicide

That’s a lot of faith
you have in me.

That’s true. You just
continue on and I’ll be your fan. I’ll be your secretary–Terminator’s
press secretary.

You’ll handle the Burroughs
people for me?

Yeah, like they’ll
still be alive.