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Read Bjork's2001 interview with Juergen Teller from the index archives.

Kathleen Hanna discusses writing and making music in this interview from 2000 with Laurie Weeks.

Isabella Rossellini spoke with Peter Halley in this 1999 interview.

Check out our interview with Crispin Glover by Richard Kern from 2000.
Alexander McQueen's 2003 interview with Bjork.

John Gilmore, 1998


Go With What You Know is the first rule pounded into any creative writing student’s head.  In other words, don’t try hoodwinking the reader with tales told out of someone else’s school, and it’s a philosophy John Gilmore has adopted with a vengeance.

Since the ’60s, Gilmore has built a remarkable shelf of literature that scrambles the usually divergent categories of true-crime and memoir.  The Garbage People (Amok Books), a detailed examination of the Tate/LaBianca killings, draws from personal acquaintance with the Manson clan, while Cold Blooded (Feral House), profiles ’60s killer Charles Schmid (the “Pied Piper of Tuscon”), whose defense Gilmore assisted, working alongside attorney F. Lee Bailey.  His two spectacular books on James Dean, Live Fast, Die Young (Thunder’s Mouth) and The Real James Dean (Jove), are reminiscences of his intensely close friendship with Dean, one with a fervent sexual facet.  Just about the only non-fiction Gilmore’s produced that’s not about someone he hung with is the eerie masterpiece, Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder.  Considered the authoritative text on the life of Elizabeth Short, it took twenty years to complete and has just been optioned for film by David Lynch.

If Gilmore’s books aren’t better known, his latest, Laid Bare: A Memoir of Wrecked Lives and the Hollywood Death Trip (Amok), will most likely change that.  With its swirling cast of post-war reptiles and visionaires — Lenny Bruce, William Burroughs, Jean Seberg, Hank Williams, James Dean, Dennis Hopper, Janis Joplin, Jack Nicholson, Eartha Kitt, Brigitte Bardot, Ed Wood, Jr. and loads more — it’s the current can’t-put-down read of just about everyone I know.  As Gary Indiana writes in the book’s intro, “(Gilmore) boils off the myth and shows you how things really were, and what things felt like to the people living what later became a myth.”

John Gilmore lives in New Mexico with his wife, Marie.

Steve Lafreniere:  New Mexico’s gotta be a sweet place for someone with cars and bikes.  You told me the other day that you just bought a Porsche.
John Gilmore:  Well, it’s a 1980 anyway.

SL:  Is it a 930?
JG:  No, it’s a 924, and it needs some work.  With the movie, they were supposed to do the payoff, and they didn’t — they went ahead and did another option.  It paid for the car, but it wasn’t enough to buy a brand new one.

SL:  What movie are we talking about?
JG:  Severed.  It’s being made into a movie next year. 

SL:  Wow, John, I didn’t know this.  Are they casting yet?
JG:  Sharon Stone was originally interested.  Then they wanted Drew Barrymore, but I know Drew and she’s terrified of doing dark things now or something.

SL:  Who’s directing?
JG:  David Lynch is very interested, with Edward Pressman producing.  We’ve been talking with them.

SL:  Man, it’s the right thing for him.
JG:  [laughing] Yeah, a cross between Blue Velvet and The Elephant Man

SL:  I just finished Live Fast, Die Young and I’ve been trying to identify the component that placed James Dean’s work in such a separate category.
JG:  Well, his whole inner core was naked.  Even though he would fuse himself somehow with the role, his self was leaking through.  The bottom line, I think, is that the real artist is the person whose emotions are bound up with what they’re doing, and what they’re doing is their emotional life. 

SL:  I don’t think he ever acknowledged a technique. 
JG:  He didn’t use what the Actors Studio would have said to.  He knew his lines of course, but he would whip himself up into a nervous state, this real high like he was speeding.  And then they’d roll and he’d say the lines, but they weren’t really as meaningful to him as what he was experiencing and feeling.  Sometimes he was able to let it come spilling out.  Of course with Elia Kazan, that’s exactly what he wanted.  But it was very disturbing to people who were on the set.  There was a scene while shooting East of Eden where he’s sitting at the table with Raymond Massey, who’s reading the Bible.  And Jimmy actually did say things off-camera during the take.  He was sitting at the table saying, “Shit.  Fuck.  Piss.  Fuck you in the ass.” [laughs]

SL:  And what was that like for the other actors?
JG:  It really disturbed them because he would explode suddenly, or he would do something that was totally un-called for.  The violence would jump out at moments during a scene so that other actors were taken aback by it, they would actually fumble on camera.  But of course, Kazan would key the whole scene up so that Jimmy might do that.

SL:  In the book there’s a chapter on your sexual relationship with Dean.  You talk about his “perverse core” — what some people would call dirty talk or his raunchy sex play with you.  I’ve only ever seen this hinted at in other bios.  Was it a big taboo for him?
JG:  No, he wasn’t afraid of what he was doing, he was enjoying it.  If we were having coffee, like in the cafeteria or something, he’d come out of the blue saying, “God, I’ve got a fucking hard-on.”

SL:  What was your reaction to that?
JG:  I guess what I enjoyed was the intense interest, there was an interest that was very unusual, very mental.  Suddenly this thing would come out, “Let’s fool around.  I’ve got a hard-on, I wanna jack off.  Oh, you want to watch me jack off?  Why don’t you jack me off?”  But when people say that I was James Dean’s lover, that’s bullshit.  It was nothing like that at all. 

SL:  In your writings on Hollywood there’s the ubiquitous casting couch.  Your and Jimmy’s experiences remind me of the old Playboy cartoons of the showgirls rolling their eyes at their tycoon sugar-daddies.
JG:  I think it was much more prevalent back then, that’s how the game was played.  There was always the fear that, “If I alienate this person, or I’m really an asshole ... it’s really important for me to get this part.”  Ida Lupino really helped me.  She said, “They have their couch there, and they’re doing their couch number, and it does not have to do with the business.  You’ll fall into a category where you’re going to just be a couch person.”

SL:  But the actors you name who fell onto the casting couch ...  I mean, Van Johnson?  That’s one for the sue list!
JG:  I just added Steve Reeves’ name to the sue list.  I recently saw him, I thought he’d disappeared.

SL:  Was Dean seen as competitive?
JG:  Jimmy, when I first knew him, was already working a lot.  People were very envious of him in New York.

SL:  I know this sounds weird, but did you and he and the young actors you hung with ... was there a sense at that time that your generation was beginning to mutate the culture?  
JG:  Yes.  And that carried in itself a lot of energy.  At one point, movies were kind of totally collapsing, but TV was doing really interesting things.  Suddenly movies said, hey, let’s catch up and they started making some interesting films.  There’s always a point when something becomes a subculture, but at that time I don’t think all of that had fallen into place.  There were still all these people saying, “Look at this crazy kid.  These people are nuts.”

SL:  It didn’t surprise you when your friends started becoming famous?
JG:  Janis Joplin didn’t surprise me.  I knew that Janis was going to be something.  What I felt was this total connection, you know?  She was this very unique person.  Nobody made her.

SL:  When I was about 13 she played a ballroom in Denver, and I remember very clearly a drunk pressed up against the stage yelling at her and trying to grab her leg.  She finally stomped on his hand — busted it I’m sure — and continued the show as if nothing had happened.  She was a lot harder than most of her hippie fans.
JG:  Yeah!

SL:  Contrast that with another friend of yours, Jack Nicholson, who’s nowadays actually thought of as some kind of I-did-it-my-way rebel. 
JG:  I knew him pretty damn well, and Jack is someone I never, ever would have thought would get ... anywhere.  [laughs]

SL:  Let alone rule Hollywood.
JG:  Yeah!  I really missed that one.

SL:  In Laid Bare, I get the feeling you enjoyed being able to show what a fool Steve McQueen was.
JG:  The only thing I can say about Steve McQueen beyond what I said in the book, is that I’m sorry I don’t have more rotten things to say about him.  He was a complete asshole.  There were times at Jim Downey’s in New York where he would actually say things about “these kikes,” “these niggers,” and “these fags.”  That’s where McQueen was at. 

SL:  I understand that you used to write DB’s — the “dirty books” that writers would do under an alias to pay the rent.
JG:  That’s what they were.

SL:  Did you write one with Ed Wood?
JG:  In the early ’60s he wrote a couple of things for the same company I did.  That’s how I first met him.  But I didn’t write with him.  He wanted to do a movie of a book I’d written, called Brutal Baby.  So we spent time talking about that.  Ed was a very desperate guy.  He’s one of the real desperate people that I’ve known in my life. 

SL:  So the movie, Ed Wood ...
JG:  That’s not how he was at all.  Johnny Depp played it as this very cool, almost nonchalant, humorous kind of guy.  But Ed was extremely neurotic and intense.  So intense he would seem to tremor all over while he was talking.  He’d be desperate over raising, you know, 87 dollars or something.  He was a strange man.  I just felt so sorry for him when his whole thing went down the tubes.

SL:  But if he’d been successful, the irony buffs wouldn’t have been able to canonize him.
JG:  I don’t think his abilities or talents ... he didn’t have them fused together, and his desperation kept them scattered.  He was a very talented man, yet his talents were never really developed.  The things he wrote, they really sucked.  The movies he made ... they’re not even movies! [laughing] I mean, nobody else back then would hire Vampira.

SL:  Well, my special area of sick fascination is for Hollywood in-betweensters like Curtis Harrington, who made his name with cult stuff like How Awful About Allen, but then also directed Games with Simone Signoret.
JG:  One of the problems with some of the people I’ve known in my life who’ve had a certain amount of fame ... they’re not hungry.  They don’t have the hunger that Janis and Jimmy and other people have had.  It’s a real hunger, like Pac-Man or something.  They just keep eating until they get ahead.

SL:  Now, you’ve written three solid examples of what “true-crime” literature should be, with an impressive attention to detail, like a lawyer trying to sway a jury.  What drew you to writing these books?
JG:  I think my interest in murder really has to do with my personal background.  My dad being a policeman, being raised in LA in a certain time, early detective magazines talking about bathtub murders and such.  I was always fascinated by that, by the psychology of the killer.  And then with Cold Blooded, I realized that there isn’t a great mystique about murder.  You feel impelled to kill, and then you kill, and then you’re faced with these technical problems that prevent you from just walking away from it.  The Manson thing carried me further into that. 

SL:  I’m wondering if some other scenarios might pique your investigation.  I’m thinking of your friend Jean Seberg, who is believed by many to have met a rather assisted end.
JG:  Well, there was already a book on Seberg.  It’s very factual, but it didn’t give a full impact of her as a person.  I felt there was something very special about her.  I’ve thought about her a lot over the years, and I wish that there’d been more of a relationship.  It was like we were two store window mannequins, waiting for someone to put us in different postures. 

SL:  In Laid Bare, I was overwhelmed by so many people who have so much to give and people who need so much.
JG:  You’re also really dealing with people who are kind of, I hate to say this, but it seems like they’re almost fixed at an adolescent level.  I know with Jean Seberg, she had that same depression about the fact that she couldn’t call her own shots.

SL:  It’s something that seems to happen over and over, this bitter disappointment in what being a movie star actually entails.  You tell the story of Barbara Payton, who seemed to leap from starring roles to skid row with frightening quickness.
JG:  Barbara Payton had an extremely negative side to her personality.  “Fuck you.  No, don’t tell me what to do, I’m telling you what to do!”  When she’d go in the commissary — “Have those people moved back out of my way!”  People got turned off with that, and she wasted fast, fast, fast, and soon here was a person with absolutely no control over her own life.  Just being a loudmouth monster half the time.

SL:  In Severed you examine the life of the “Black Dahlia,” Elizabeth Short, another drifting, wannabe actress who ended up starring in the most infamous murder mystery in Hollywood history — found chopped in half in an empty lot. 
JG:  Elizabeth Short lacked the ability to manipulate.  That remained one of her problems.  She allowed herself to be manipulated, and then would find herself in situations that were extremely difficult.  The image we talked about earlier, of Jimmy Dean as this very attractive boy out on a limb who’s about to fall, and you wanna be sure to catch him ... well, Jimmy manipulated that.  He knew how to work that angle.  Elizabeth didn’t know how to do that at all, that’s why she would just be bounced.  A meaningless kind of bouncing that took her nowhere finally.

SL:  I’d think that being so beautiful, so constantly the object of men’s interest, coupled with the fact of not having developed sex organs, not being able to have vaginal intercourse and not ever really coming to terms with that, pushed her outside the envelope of normal 1940s American reality.
JG:  In that sense you’re right.  She would actually put herself in very intimate situations, but when it would come right down to where she’d have to deliver the goods, she would bail out and disappear.  I mean, what kind of game are we playing?  She was continually in this kind of situation, and that, to me, is extremely self-destrucvtive. 

SL:  And then she runs smack into Jack Anderson Wilson, another cipher with a hole at both ends of his life.  And he rubs her out, and makes this ritual statement by sawing her in two.  I’ve read a lot of true crime, but this book made me fucking shiver.  How long did it take you to research Severed?
JG:  It probably took over twenty years, on and off for long periods of time.  Years would pass when nothing happened, and then suddenly something connects.  When I was living in Louisiana I used to travel to Texas a lot, to see one of the major detectives that worked the case, Finnis Brown.  He was old and sick, but I had a lot of really major confirmations from him, because by this time a lot of people had died and he wasn’t afraid anymore.

SL:  When the Dahlia’s girlfriend Georgette Bauerdorf was murdered, it was hushed up by the LA papers and the police.  Why?
JG:  Because the Bauerdorf family was so important, and they were so close with the Hearsts.  They wanted Georgette to be this clean, nice girl.  They didn’t want to see that she was screwing half the people in the Army.  The papers didn’t want anything like that, and simply showed her as this very nice girl, and this tragedy happened.  But in covering it up, they really lost a major connection with the Black Dahlia murder. 

SL:  To research your book The Garbage People, you spent a lot of time with the Manson Family ...
JG:  The thing with Manson was that it was a simple case of, “I’ve really gotten tired of people kicking my ass for so long and I’m just gonna kick some ass for a while myself.  Fuck you and that’s how it’s going to be.”

SL:  Do you believe he’s insane?
JG:  There is this element about Manson that’s really bizarre.  When you’re with him, he does not relate to you.  He bounces off of you.  Nothing he is saying is linked to any concrete bits of reality, he’s just spinning his wheels, burning off excess energy that he doesn’t use jacking off in his cell.

SL:  But in the book, you present him as a half-geek/half-Kali figure, raining death and destruction almost cosmically without guilt. 
JG:  I don’t think he’s a psychopath, I think he’s psychotic.  He is lacking some sort of cohesive whole to his personality, so he doesn’t really have an identity that can say who he is and who he’s not.  Even though he won’t relate to you, he had this power to reach into you. 

SL:  Does he think he’s getting out someday?
JG:  Oh no, he doesn’t want to get out.

SL:  These guys really seem to embody evil.  Does it make you believe in such a thing?
JG:  To dominate and control others and to waste lives and not care, it suggests certainly a very negative side of the world.  They’re on the other side.  And people don’t want to know about that.  Some librarian talking to me recently was saying, “Well, those type of people have no bearing on my life or the world that I live in.”  I had to remind her that 88% of all homicides are domestic.  She was saying that murder is really an uncommon thing in normal society. [laughing] But it’s the leading cause of death!

SL:  You tell a story about Dean wanting some camouflage pants and trying to talk the price down from the store owner.  “They’re for my brother, man.  He’s in a fucking wheelchair!”  That’s such a bizarre anecdote.   
JG:  I think I’ve always been drawn to these intense people who were trying to sort out who they were, who maybe didn’t have a full grip on themselves.  And these are the people I somehow linked up with.  Whether that means that I never had a grip on myself as well could be very true ... I don’t think I did. 
     But this thing recently came out in the paper about me — “Author Recalls Wild Superstars” [laughs] — and the writer wanted to know how I reached the ripe old age of 62.  And I said, “I just wasn’t gonna go over the edge.  I’ll hold your hand on the edge, I’ll walk up and down with you, but if you’re really gonna go over, then I’m going to let go.”


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