How VERONICA hurts

The heat broke and L.A. became suddenly like autumn, a little chilly under the cloudless crazy blue sky, but I don’t care.

On my desk sits my dog-eared copy of Mary Gaitskill‘s book VERONICA. I always really really liked Mary Gaitskill, maybe more than liked, but this book destroyed me. It’s so bizarre (in the way only deeply true things can be) that I am amazed it was nominated for the National Book Award. I do remember reading a disgusted review of it somewhere, maybe People, and I’m surprised that wasn’t the general opinion. I wonder nervously if they just didn’t understand it.

Anyway, when I started this project of writing songs out of novels, I immediately thought of VERONICA and then dismissed it. It was too emotional for me, and I knew it would be better to use a book where the primary emotion was not the book’s but my own. I mean, I’d be better off writing about my personal reactions to a book rather than the book itself. I am not here to “adapt” any writers’ work.

But VERONICA captures why so many of the people I knew escaped to New York, as well as the way that escape took everything most of us had. But that was OK, because living in New York then allowed you to see and feel and hear things that seemed forbidden everywhere else: the bizarre was normal there. We could just be who we were and that was enough. Then the city changed and we felt stranded. We went from being normal to being freaks again, but now we were freaks in our own home.

That was bad, but it mattered less to me because I was wrapped up in creating my own work, and I could move to California with it. But if you have no other means of expression – if you depend on the world you live in to reflect your inner life – then the loss of a home like the old New York is devastating.

I am not giving a clear impression of VERONICA here, only a sense of what part of it is in my head now; the issues and emotions ebb and flow as I work. Only a piece of VERONICA is ending up in the song.

Right now, I am across town, writing this in Silverlake without my dog-eared paperback, so I can’t quote perfectly. But there is a scene from the novel that sits in my head and won’t leave: Veronica is in an art gallery or museum, looking at a retrospective of Robert Mapplethorpe photos, including the infamous self-portrait in which he shoves a leather whip into his anus. As Veronica studies the photo, a couple beside her says something like, “I didn’t need to see that.” Veronica screams at them, embarrassing her friend. But when Veronica finally leaves the exhibit, she bursts into tears. She says (to misquote slightly) that everything we were, everything we meant is being erased.

I think most people will find this section of the book puzzling. This is what Nan Goldin meant in her film, I’LL BE YOUR MIRROR, and most people I spoke to didn’t understand it either.

I am disappearing, wrote David Wojnarowicz at the end of his life. But not fast enough.

I began this entry days ago and had to stop; in between, we shot a music video of THE UNDOING and I was busy in a North Hollywood crack hotel and, later, in an old Echo Park church where nobody tried to take advantage of us. But VERONICA never left my head. The weather stayed cool.

I have only a few more lines of the song to write, but I can’t bring myself to write them. Maybe I don’t want the story to be over.

© Dudley Saunders