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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

getting this right in the head 

Jenn, first, thanks for posting about JT Leroy. I've been angry about JT Leroy lying about having AIDS, lying about being poor, lying about so many things, ever since Frank Sherlock first told me of the story breaking.

But, at the same time, I now have to be honest about my feelings about Bill Shields, or rather, I need to examine them closer I guess is what I really mean. Around this same time when the JT fraud was first disclosed, so was the fraud of Bill Shields, a poet who made quite a name for himself as a Vietnam Vet poet, who as it turns out never stepped foot in Vietnam.

Bill and I were friends back in the day when he was writing his dark, compelling poems about bodies being ripped to shreds by gunfire in the jungles. He was really good at helping us understand the complexities of this war, making the brutality bigger than the endless parade of movies which were coming out at the same time. He brought responsibility with the word for these war poems unlike any other poet has been able to do-- or so it seemed.

He brought me to a greater understanding of my own history with guns, coming from a family who insisted I own one when I turned nine, the same small rifle I turned on my violent stepfather more than once, though never fired at him. It all became very personal, the way Bill would open you up, to get you talking about the guns, how you had wanted to defend your life and other lives.

He came to Philadelphia at my invitation to read at the North Starr Bar, and freaked the audience out by waving his long, wide-blade knife around, and talking about using it in the jungles, and I have to admit that that was when I first thought that maybe he wasn't all there in the head, watching him put the knife back in his shoe.

I'm thinking right now, HOW COULD IT BE THAT HE MADE IT ALL UP!? We were young, those of us who met him back then, but none of us stupid, or without some worldly experience.

Henry Rollins published several of his books, one of which I'm mentioned in the dedication because of the friendship and time spent with Bill reading and corresponding on the poems.

When it was recently made aware to me that Bill had fabricated all of this life he wrote of, my initial response to everyone writing to me was that it was okay. More than once I wrote saying that I was shocked, yet that we need to allow Bill his reality. This angered nearly everyone, but what was I thinking? Well, I was thinking of many things, not the least of which were all the men who were writing to Bill from mental hospitals and elsewhere in the world, not able to fully or even sometimes partially recover from that war. These men all seemed to have an affinity with Bill's poems that helped them, somehow. And now I'm thinking of these men again, and the incredible betrayal against them as Bill had written back to them at length as comrades, of having shared the pain, the experience, the torture of it all. Telling them, telling us all he had been exposed to Agent Orange, and how much he was suffering with that.

Or maybe some good can still come of this? We're standing on the tightrope of reality here.

Is it okay? Or not? If it's okay for Bill, then why not JT Leroy? My anger for JT Leroy was without hesitation, but that is because I've known men who have died of AIDS, as most everyone I've ever met has known and loved such beautiful men who didn't want to die so young and leave this world behind.

JT Leroy was an immediate, horrible person to me. But if I had been to Vietnam and made to carry a gun, shoot, be shot at, and later found solace in Bill's poems, maybe I would be as angry then, wouldn't I?

Empathy needs to shoot its umbrella over all this.

But then the judgments tangle.

This is difficult. And now it's the difficulties of conscience which anger me.

Let this somehow expand to the greater Liars who control this country, which would be worth it all in some small way.

Also though, the obvious thing is that Bill Shields might not be a well man. Maybe in his mind he didn't make it up? I've had no contact with him about it, so I don't know. It takes me such a long time to notice someone is crazy.

Although Bill might be crazy, JT Leroy it seems to me is really someone who exploits. This fake JT Leroy, on the back of the many real JT Leroys, the prostitute drag queens I've known, some now dead with bullets in their heads from standing too long on the corner of 12th and Spruce on a Saturday night when the skinheads circled the block.

JT Leroy --I can't help it-- is scum to me. Is a spoiled brat, who is really like a NIKE shoe ad in the end, complete with fucking rock band, etc., etc., Hollywood coming to read the short stories. Ah! This SO pisses me off!

CAConrad

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