Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Best Jesus-es.




James Frey got at least reasonably wealthy and famous by making up a story and claiming it was true -- something that more and more authors are finding easier and easier to do, giving us absolute proof that many Americans now subscribe to Stephen Colbert's reasoning for real.

The Christian Science Monitor proved as much when it said that the book 3 Cups of Tea had an "essential truth" about it despite being (allegedly?) riddled with lies and essentially about as true as Where The Wild Things Are, upon which it appeared to be based.

Having kicked off that trend, James Frey is at it again.

Frey, who owes his continued ability to be able to make a living doing something most people wouldn't consider to be "work" at all to the extreme gullibility -- excuse me, deeper truth seeking-- qualities exhibited by the kinds of people who watch Oprah (and who now watch the show about the making of Oprah), has a new book coming out, and he would very much like this book, too, to be a best-seller, which poses a bit of a problem for him, in that nowadays, to have a best-seller, you pretty much have to write a controversial-but-possibly true book, a book in which you claim to have built a school for Osama bin Laden's kids, or at the least a book in which you threaten to kill a kid's rabbit if she doesn't play violin at a virtuoso level. (I'm assuming that's what the "Tiger Mommy" book is about; I haven't and won't read a book which promises to be full of exaggerations... I mean, deeper truths.)

(Although, as long as I'm on the subject, I have to admit that it's possible that Tiger Mommy and its ilk are not exaggerations or simple lies/ deeper truths. As someone who chronicles many aspects of his life, I can tell you that it is possible for a writer to try to find things which are more interesting to write about; one way to make your writing zing is to do something interesting, and then write about it. David Sedaris went to Japan to quit smoking, and wrote about that, because, I assume, writing about quitting smoking somewhere less interesting would be somewhat less interesting. I've fallen prey to just that temptation: once, I decided that I would write about a trip to a midnight movie that Sweetie and I took. [Although I decided to see the movie first, then write about it later, so that's not quite apt.] Given that some writers seek out a way to make their life interesting, I have to allow for the possibility that Amy Chua didn't make up how bad a mother she is simply for the purpose of writing a book, but instead simply deliberately decided to be a bad mother in order to get a book published.)

(It's also possible that the concept of "doing boring things in interesting locations" would translate well to reality TV, so I call dibs on Help Me Do This!, the reality TV show where we help people achieve their goals by sending them someplace weird: Watch as Ron tries to start his bakery business... at a monastery in southern France! Meanwhile, Angela is going to finally take the plunge and learn to bowl... while scuba diving on the great Barrier Reef!)

Back to the point: James Frey has a problem, because at this point, even if he were to be filmed live building a school for the Taliban with the help of his Mandarin-Chinese speaking children who he found while praying to spaghetti during the time he spent traveling with Reese Witherspoon's circus, nobody would believe it, anymore than we believe that Barack Obama isn't really the same person as Osama bin Laden (ever seen them together in person? And why do their names seem to be anagrams of each other?). So Frey has to do something else to justify his existence/sell books, and that something else, in this case, is to pretend that modernizing Jesus and seeing what he'd be like in today's world, is a new and/or controversial idea.

Or, as Fox News put it: "James Frey's New Book Has Messiah Smoking Pot, Sleeping With Hooker."

With a headline like that, any author is more or less deemed to be immune from such writer-ly maladies as "humdrum sales," "lack of publicity," or "needing to write a good book," and I don't doubt that Frey has done the bare minimum to justify the controversy: I am certain that he has supplied his publishers, who recognize the value of not one, but two controversial names associated with the book (James Frey, and Jesus), with an actual book full of actual words arranged, more or less, into a narrative structure; I'm also reasonably certain that in this book, Jesus will in fact, smoke pot and sleep with a hooker.

But will the book be good? All signs point to no, for a couple of reasons: First, most books aren't very good. Have you noticed? Most things aren't very good, and books are no different: the cream rises to the top, because there's less cream and it's something different than the elements it is initially surrounded by. So it is with most human endeavors: many of them are not very good.

Which means that the odds are against Frey's book, or even my books, being very good. (Although, in my case, I beat the odds. My books are very good, and you should read them.)

But Frey's new book -- called, hopefully controversially, "The Final Testament of the Holy Bible" -- has more going against it than that.

It is, for instance, written by James Frey, who has proven that absent controversy, he cannot sell a book. Good writers can sell books simply by writing good books. Bad writers have to invent a fictional friend, or throw a three-year-old into the snow, to get people to buy their books, a move that works because you can't return a book once you've bought it, so the author gets to keep the money you threw away on what turns out to be a collection of words spattered over a fake controversy. (Although, in Frey's case, his publisher actually did offer to give you your money back, but the refund wasn't specifically because the writing was bad.)

Frey's new book -- which I hesitated to mention because I don't want to publicize it, because you should not buy it, as I guarantee you it is awful, and you will hate it, but won't likely get a refund because even class action lawyers have not yet figured out a way to sue God -- is also guaranteed to be awful because Frey has chosen to make it so deliberately controversial...

... which it isn't, really, but which Frey desperately wants you to believe it is, so that he can sell you a poorly-written book on the basis of all the controversy a pot-smoking, hooker-bedding Jesus can generate...

Interviewed by Newsweek, Frey "opened up" about his controversial choice of this controversial subject which he contoversially would now discuss:

Your new book follows a modern-day messiah in New York. How did you choose the subject?

I’ve always wondered what it would be like if the Messiah, or Christ Returned, were actually alive and living in our society; who would that person be, how we would identify them, how would they live, and what would they believe in, how would society react to them?
That kind of thinking is what sets Frey apart from other, lesser people: who else wondered what it would be like if Jesus lived in our society, with the Internet and all! That's a concept that's never been explored, I imagine. I mean, we've had Hamlet retold as a story about dogs, and Anna Karenina updated and moved to New York City, and even a modern-day Romeo And Juliet, but Jesus in modern times? I can't possibly imagine such a thing. Lucky for me, James Frey can, and even luckier for me, James Frey can do so in the most artful way possible: by having someone who's not even a traditional publisher publish his book:

You’re publishing this work in partnership with art dealer Larry Gagosian. Why not go through a standard publishing house?

I wanted to make a really beautiful book. Something readers would be excited to own as an object.
So, if you're keeping track, note that now James Frey is a self-publisher -- but because he previously snookered a publisher into putting his "writing" into print, he's not described as such; instead, he's artfully not going through a standard publishing house.

This is the beautiful book the "formidable" James Frey has published with the grateful help of the art world:



And it is artfully unlike anything you've ever seen before, provided you've never seen these four images I found in Google in about 40 seconds:






But those books don't have Jesus in them, and they don't have Jesus as (re)imagined by the "formidable" James Frey, who, you should know, "is not like other writers." That quote comes from his website, where you can learn that his book is available for pre-order and will be shipping April 12 (from which you can also learn that James Frey does not update his website at least monthly), and also you can learn that someone, somewhere, once confused James Frey himself with Jesus, as demonstrated also on his website:

He has been called a liar. A cheat. A con man. He’s been called a saviour. A revolutionary. A genius. Now he has written his greatest work, his most revolutionary, his most controversial. The Final Testament of the Holy Bible.


That's actually when it hit me: James Frey might not be writing fiction this time at all; he might be telling the absolute truth this time, that Jesus really is alive and living in New York City, and that in fact James Frey might be Jesus.

He doesn't come right out and say it, but it's there if you want to see the Truth. Not only has James Frey been called a saviour (note the British spelling, suggesting that Frey was called a saviour by someone of higher class than you), but also the website notes that Frey lives in New York City (just like the Jesus in his book!) and also the website notes that in writing this new book, which may or may not be fiction, according to James Frey:

My goal was not to retell the story of Christ. ...My goal was to create a new mythology. One that is relevant in a world with nuclear weapons, advanced physics, the internet, genetic testing and manipulation, one where we know homosexuality is not a decision. My goal was to create a mythology, ...James Frey

I like to think that, if that quote were read aloud, the final two words would be said in a wistful, windswept voice: Jaaames Freeeey.

It isn't just James Frey who thinks that perhaps James Frey might be Jesus, though: it's people who comment on his web chats, like when he interned at Gawker, (which I imagine Jesus would also totally do in between all the homosexuality and murder he'd be doing, too), and Frey was asked this question, which amused him but which he also thought was "just plain weird:"


Q: “You look like you’re from the Bible. What’s your favorite part? Don’t say “all of it.”
Yours in Christ, Lornetta Churchypants”

James: “My favorite part is when the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are riding around. I want to follow them and see what kind they shit they stir up”
So you know what the next Final Testament will be about: What if the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse came back to our modern world, where we have nuclear weapons, and physics, and telephones without cords, and what if they were totally unlike how they were pictured in the original Bible, and instead were a fun-loving bunch of people, like maybe if Rex Ryan were an Apocalyptic Horseman?

But we're still on the current Final Testament, which may or may not be fiction -- Frey's own website suggests that he still believes A Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard were true-- and which may or may not show us that Jesus/James Frey is, in fact, living in New York City with his wife (and his dog -- the site has a link to the dog but when I clicked it was, sadly, broken, so I was unable to determine what kind of dog Jesus would own if he came back and lived in New York City with his wife.)

There are also links on the home page of Frey's site where you can click through to find video answers to questions you didn't even know you had -- suggesting that Jesus would totally approve of Youtube, if He came back (and who says He hasn't?), and that Jesus also would ask people on the street whether they could judge a book without reading it:




You can also find out, if you'd like, "What kind of music is James Frey into?" (I'll save you the trouble of going to look: mostly Bob Dylan, with some AC/DC mixed in.)

You can also find out how James Frey writes, the short answer to which is: weirdly. His essay on how he writes mentions how he may find himself sobbing at the keyboard... or listening to Bob Dylan. Or not. He also listens, while he writes, to:

Happy music, sad music, cheesy music, angry music. I listen to beautiful music and repulsive music, music that I don’t understand, music that confuses me. I listen to hardcore punk, gangster rap, heavy metal, love songs, the latest teenage pop hits, classical symphonies, classic rock, opera, jazz, disco, new wave from the eighties, funk from seventies. I have a two thousand song library of music on my computer and it is always on while I write.

I don't remember Jesus being into music, much, but, then, this is the Modern Jesus, who maybe likes cheesy music, perhaps as an ironic counterpoint to killing someone and defying the government.

Did I mention that Modern Jesus, in Frey's Maybe-True Book, defies the government? Because he does:

What if the Messiah were alive today? Living in New York. Sleeping with men. Impregnating young women. Euthanizing the dying, and healing the sick. Defying the government, and condemning the holy.

Don't bother asking why Jesus would condemn the holy; he's probably doing it ironically.

Frey's writing sounds more fun to watch create than to actually read:

If anyone were to ever watch me write, they would probably think I was either an idiot or lunatic or both. I dance, I yell, I throw shit and kick shit and break shit. Sometimes I cry and sometimes I shake and sometimes I’m sick. I talk through all of it, say the same sentences over and over and over.

Which proves my suspected point even more: If Frey must throw himself into his writing by becoming the very thing he writes about, getting angry to write the word angry and curling his hair whenever he writes calamistrate, then if he wrote about Jesus living in New York, what does that tell you about what Frey had to do to achieve those literary heights (?)?

(But, Jesus or not, I question his taste in music:

While writing this essay, every single word was spoken before it was written, most of them several times. I listened to Bruce Springsteen, Anthrax, Run DMC, Taj Mahal, Queen, Journey and Debbie Gibson.

I bet the Journey song was Don't Stop Believin'. Because Modern Jesus totally wouldn't stop believin'.)


So is Frey Jesus? He won't say:





Probably because he's still living in the Matrix. Take the red pill, James Frey!

So it falls to me to determine whether Frey is, in fact, Jesus, here to help you by helping himself (or something like that, with some government-defying and genetic testing thrown in), by comparing him to other Modern Day Jesus-es, to see how closely Frey hues to what has become a not-new concept at all: That of Jesus living amongst us, taking part in our modern-day life and befuddled by our modern-day foibles, but still being Jesus, and possibly sleeping with hookers.

Note that I am not saying that Frey hasn't come up with something totally new that hasn't been done in any way, shape or form before, because clearly he has; the other Modern-day updates of Jesus fell far short of Frey's all-new, controversial concept of a Modern Day Jesus, because all these other ones I'm going to mention weren't trying to create a new mythology that would be relevant in a world where we genetically test hookers with nuclear weapons, or whatever.

Also, note that I'm completely unfamiliar with Frey's book beyond the blurb and the Newsweek interview, but I'm not going to let that stop me, because truth is a slippery concept, as James Frey/Jesus and I both know. "What is truth? Pontius Pilate asked, only nowadays, that question would be asked by a homeless man on 5th Avenue, because that's very controversial.

So, to help you determine whether or not James Frey is, or is not, Jesus Come To Live Amongst Us In New York City With An Unpictured Dog, I have put together a list of The Best Jesus-es, which I will explain to you and rate on a scale of 1-5 Fake Friend Leonards, 1 being the lowest score and furthest from the actual truth of what Modern Day Jesus is, and 5 Fake Leonards being the highest score, but also the furthest from the actual truth of what Modern Day Jesus is.

(I'm using that kind of scale because I'm not trying to create a system of measurement, but a new standard of ratings that will be relevant in a world where we have genetic testing and where women are free to paint their sons' toenails pink. Try to keep up with me, and James Frey, here.)

1. Jesus of Suburbia:



Background: "Jesus Of Suburbia" was more than just the eponym of a song on a moderately-good Green Day album; he also (going by what I understood the concept of the album to be) might have been a kid living in suburbia and selling drugs. Or something like that.

Jesus of Suburbia hangs around a 7-11 a lot, and takes Ritalin, and tries to avoid the "moms and brats," while being mad that nobody ever died for his sins in Hell, and he does drugs but there's nothing wrong with him because "this is how [he's] supposed to be."

According to Wikipedia, which exists specifically for things like this, "Jesus of Suburbia" was created when Green Day's lead singer, apparently tired of singing about masturbating, asked "himself what sort of person the title of "American Idiot" referred to," and came up with "a powerless everyman."

It turns out that Jesus Of Suburbia isn't just a powerless "everyman," but also a character named "St. Jimmy," who dies. Oh, and [SPOILER ALERT! ] Sorry.

How Relevant Is Jesus Of Suburbia in a world where women are free to genetically test artsy publishers, or something?

2 Fake Leonards: So, not very relevant. The fact that Jesus Of Suburbia turns out to also be a regular guy makes him seem kind of relevant to our life, but Jesus Of Suburbia did not, so far as I can tell, kill a single hooker, and killing a hooker is the bare minimum for what has to happen in order for we, as every men who may or may not live in New York City, to relate to a person.

2. Family Guy Jesus



Background: When Jesus is discovered working in a record store, he's invited to dinner at teh Griffins, where he and Peter trade stories and he magically creates sundaes for the kids. But things take a turn for the worse when a newly-celebrified Jesus overdoses in Mary Kate Olsen's apartment and needs to be bailed out of jail by Peter. The Second Coming is delayed for a while because Jesus feels he needs to be more mature.

How Relevant Is Family Guy Jesus in a world where nuclear weapons interview people on the street, or something?

37 Fake Leonards:
so, not very. Despite the way I subverted your traditional notions of "counting from 1 to 5" by including 37 in that -- something I did to create a new numbering system that is relevant to our world, where women are free to count any old way they want-- Family Guy Jesus just doesn't relate to our world. He doesn't defy the government, for one thing, and Jesus would totally do that, just the way Jesus defied the Roman Empire back the first time around by refusing to submit to their rules and not going to be crucified. Jesus was a rebel, man.

3. Sexy Jesus



Background: Technically, Sexy Jesus is only a fictional character ... or is he? The star of "Hamlet 2," Sexy Jesus uses a time machine to go back and save Hamlet, defeating the devil and working through his issues with his father, all while helping save the reputation of a small-time recovering alcoholic drama teacher. With his surfer body and catchy theme song, Sexy Jesus is a messiah for the pop age.

How relevant is Sexy Jesus in a world where we know the "internet" is not a decision, or something?

4 Fake Leonards, so, not very. Jesus, if he were alive today ... if?... would definitely be sexy because he'd be having all that sex with hookers and homosexual affairs that were not decisions (?) but time travel is not possible, at least not until James Frey writes a book that involves time travel and must actually invent a time machine in order to write about it, which he will likely do just after he finishes writing a book about curing cancer.

4. South Park Jesus:



Background: Jesus may live in South Park, Colorado, but his influence is worldwide, as he and his other "Super Best Friends" battle evil (including Satan, who threw a boxing match against Him to collect on a bet), organize Rod Stewart concerts, and start cable TV talk shows. Jesus' powers in South Park are mainly resurrecting himself, but he does throw a mean glaive.
How relevant is South Park Jesus in a world with genetic testing and manipulation of mythology, or something?

You can't judge a Fake Leonard without reading it, so not very. I think the key point to take away from this is that despite the many numerous efforts in the past to modernize and update Jesus, nobody ever actually modernized and updated Jesus in such a controversial and formidable way as James Frey has; that's likely because nobody ever had the sheer guts to put on some Debbie Gibson music, writhe in agony, and really tell the story of Modern Day Jesus the way it was meant to be told: On a very special episode of Oprah.

But watch out, Jesus/James Frey. You may just get some competition:




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1 comment:

Rogue Mutt said...

So really, James Frey is just stealing from South Park and Family Guy now? Maybe also a little from Christopher Moore's "Biff" too. Pathetic. But it'll probably sell far more than mine, which again proves you just need to do something to get your Q rating up and then people will buy your books no matter how terrible they are.