Stalker Fiction

Camden Joy turned Cracker's David Lowery into fiction. Too bad he's real -- and really angry.

Joy left the tour after three weeks -- the time frame of Boy Island -- and returned to Los Angeles, where he spent the next two years interviewing Camper acquaintances and writing their history. But in the end, he despised the final product: It was too focused on facts, too dry, too dull. Joy realized he had written the kind of book he would never want to read, so he tossed it aside. "It didn't have the drive, the blood or the entertainment of music," Joy says. Besides, no publishing house wanted to touch a book about a cult band that sold in the thousands. "I thought it was over."

Not long after that, Joy became a genuine darling in the incestuous, back-slapping world of rock criticism. In the mid-'90s, Camden Joy began posting his rock and roll rants on Manhattan street corners during the annual College Media Journal music conference. His diatribes and rants, one of which was titled "Freedy Johnston Must Die," were copied and circulated throughout the tiny congregation of music journalists. Writers tried to figure out who he was, or if Camden Joy was but a pseudonym for a variety of people. For a brief, shining moment, Joy was a cult icon.

In 1995 the Portland-based publishing house Verse Chorus Press released the first of Joy's mini-manifestos, titled The Greatest Record Album Ever Told -- which, in Joy's mind, was Frank Black's album Teenager of the Year. The following year saw the release of The Greatest Record Album Singer That Ever Was, a fanatical celebration of Al Green and an explanation of where parking-meter spare change really goes. Both beautifully bound, delicately packaged tracts were hailed in the music press as the work of a rock-crit guerrilla. (His third tract, The Greatest Record Album Band That Ever Was, about Creedence Clearwater Revival, appears in the latest issue of Puncture magazine.)

A warped perspective: Cracker's David Lowery, left, and Johnny Hickman
Dennis Keeley
A warped perspective: Cracker's David Lowery, left, and Johnny Hickman

In 1998 Verse Chorus published Joy's first work of fiction, titled The Last Rock Star Book: Or, Liz Phair, a Rant, in which the author (and narrator) receives an offer to write a quickie where-is-she-now biography of the singer-songwriter. Joy was working on another book when, in 1993, Phair released her sexually and emotionally explicit debut, Exile in Guyville. Joy would listen to the album incessantly, jotting down scenes he thought the album suggested. By the end of the book, Camden Joy can no longer tell where his girlfriend begins and Phair ends. Phair, for her part, insists she has never read The Last Rock Star Book.

While writing that novel, Joy came back to his Camper Van Beethoven book. Only this time, he thought he could use "fiction" to tell the band's story and relate his own coming-out tale. But his tribute to David Lowery and his bands has backfired: The subject of fascination -- his passion, perhaps even his obsession -- has turned on him. Lowery often says he thinks there is "something clinically wrong" with Joy. The love letter has brought only scorn.

"I guess it's the price of being famous, in a way," Lowery says, trying to shrug it all off. "A lot of bands in the last ten years have grappled with this: "Now we're famous, and fuck being famous.' A lot of people battle with it, and it makes them look ungrateful to their fans. But they're right. I wanted to play music and make a living at it, but I didn't really want my true self on stage, and I never put my true self on stage. I don't really want that known. I understand why people freak out about fame. Half of me is like, "That's the price of being famous,' but the book invades the private part of my life, which I never offered to anyone to look at. And that is specifically what Camden Joy goes after."

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