Jerry Stahl's memoir Permanent Midnight detailed one of the most harrowing and hilarious journeys into degeneracy and drug addiction ever published. His new novel Perv: A Love Story will be published October 1st by Morrow. A few days ago, he was in my living room, strapped to a plush red-velvet sofa for 45 minutes of psychotherapy that left us both spent, soaked in sweat, convulsing in fever, and delirious with the opportunity to once more stroke each other's egos in a verbal tongue-to-brain fuck.
GETTINGIT: After Permanent Midnight, do you feel you have more to live up to, or more to live down? It was a huge revelation of one's life.
JERRY STAHL: Neither. Just putting it out there in a way that seemed deeply remarkable and disturbing at the time, but as soon as you do, it seems completely pedestrian. So all the shit that is shocking to Joe Square, is Mickey Mouse to a whole other population. I don't think it's about living down or living up, it's about finding another disgusting quarry to mine.
GI: What did you think failed about the film version?
JS: I don't think it failed, I think it succeeded in what it was trying to do. I thought the acting was great, it was just a different kind of asshole than what's painted in the book. Once you take the money, I think you've got to just shut the fuck up.
GI: Was it a relief or was it horrifying to know that your life was projected not only up on the big screen, but then invading other people's houses?
JS: The horrifying thing is that it wasn't my life, it was somebody else's version of my life. So it was a relief that Jon Bon Jovi wasn't playing me, and they didn't change the drug to ecstasy. There's no muscle, gland or corner of the brain that's been evolved to deal with the fact that people are going to be staring, over their bunions in their bed, at some really off portrayal of you. It's so disturbing and so weird that I don't even think about it, it's somewhere between denial and oblivion.
GI: No matter how much we reveal in our writing and readings, I find the most satisfaction in gloating over the things that people don't know. Do you feel the same? You're exposing more in one book than most people will have to deal with in their lifetime.
JS: I'm exposing what seems like the truth at that time. I couldn't write that book now. Everything is completely different. I was 10 minutes clean. My nerve ends were completely flapping in the wind.
GI: Do you think writing it was a huge part of your recovery?
JS: Who the fuck knows. It got me out of the nightmare I was living in, on Sunset Boulevard when I didn't have a place of my own, on the corner of Crack & Eightball. Taking a shit at Musso's and Frank's because I didn't have a toilet... it got me out of there.
GI: Did sex change a lot after you got clean?
GI: Better or worse?
JS: If you'd never fucked anyone without being totally loaded, it's really terrifying. There's no place to hide. So on one level it's terrifically hot, because you're feeling everything, and on the other hand it's paralyzingly disturbing because you can't chemically stage-set the experience.
I had to fuck people for money, shelter, food, drugs. I was a chemically-altered whore in a lot of ways. Then I stopped being a whore, stopped being chemically altered, and I wasn't sure what the fuck was underneath it -- if anything. The "no place to hide" -ness of it is probably spectacularly healthy for that reason.
GI: What's so amazing, especially about your readings and the details in Perv, is that most men spend their entire lives bragging about the sexual prowess they will never possess, yet you willingly expose some of the most excruciating and humiliating sexual experiences of your life. You must be a master of sex.
JS: I wonder if shame has become my new heroin. Because it really is disturbing and embarrassing in a way, but at the same time I feel you get strung out on revelation, on saying the unsayable. I'm sure you know that. It's another kind of drug. I had a woman come up to me and say I can't believe you said your penis at rest was the size of a... what did I say?
JS: Acorn.... and she said the same thing you said: "You must be a really confident man."
GI: Has it made it easier to score with women? Are they lining up to throw down?
JS: I said, let's focus on the phrase "at rest." It's the accordion factor, let's march that out right now. As a wise woman once said, "Jerry, you have nothing to be ashamed of... you're a hard average." I was so proud at that moment. At 15 or 16 that's how it is. The reason it's so fresh to me, is because there's a cliché about recovery from dope or whatever substance, and it's true -- you stop developing emotionally at the age you start using every day. Okay, so I wash ashore clean and I may be in my 40s, but in my head I'm feeling what guys are feeling at 14 -- which is this weird vulnerability. When you can stay hard on a speedball for seven hours, your standards are a little warped back in the real world. At my age you'll blow your prostate out your fucking ear.
GI: Especially if the person you're screwing isn't on the same chemical high.
JS: I was always with straight women. But the only women I ever actually had relationships with were ex-hookers, ex-dope fiends, horrifying survivors of God knows what kind of abuse, because they're the only people who, in my state of exposed nerve ends, I can actually be with. I fall in love with their pain, they fall in love with mine. And that's where the sex comes from.
GI: Pain is the great divide. Those who have been there, and those who haven't. And if you haven't, you're just not on the same level of understanding.
JS:That brings it back to something you asked before, about revealing all this. I'm the luckiest motherfucker in the world because having done that, I don't need to hide. Anybody that can relate to me will, and anybody who doesn't isn't in my face. The groupies I would get, the one in a hundred women who would actually want to be locked in an elevator with me are so bent anyway that I can fucking relax.
Lydia Lunch is a confrontational media-manipulator who has explored and exploited the written and spoken word, music, film, video, theatre, photography and sculpture.