John timberlake

Interview with a vampire

Lindsey Seers, Portrait of a Camera (vampire) (detail)1997

Most of my work centres around popularised histories these days -

How do you mean ?

I'm not going to be taken seriously reading Poppy Z Brite and listening to Sisters of Mercy am I? I mean there's no real bite in trying to be a latter day Byron - it's too ... sectish .... Gothic spirits with any sense have allowed themselves to be absorbed - subsumed - into those areas where they have a better chance of corrupting and corroding scientific enquiry and rational explanation. You have to be able to spread out enough to blot out the light ...

So where are you working at the moment ?

Video production mainly - documentaries - and magazines: X - file type spin offs, thirteen part collectibles on famous murders, unsolved phenomena, Hitler and the Occult, that sort of thing. It's very lucrative, although it's not a money thing with me, as you probably realise. When all history's fiction there' s no real need for novellas about shagging werewolves in graveyards or whatever ...

Have you thought of Hollywood ?

Only by the backdoor, as it were. I find the fringes and margins attractive - not too much limelight . Or any light, for that matter. In any case, that which isn't too mainstream has the air of authenticity about it ... as if it's another cover-up. So I'd have to work with "cult" types.

What about Cronenberg?

No, I'll have bitter.

Two more of these please.



That's nice. The main danger is camp. Being seen as camp is a stake through the heart, believe me. I mean all that panto stuff. Like her over there with the Morticia hair-do and black cherry lipstick. I'd never let my daughter go out like that. We've got to be taken seriously or we're lost. Well, we are lost in the damned sense anyway, I know, but - well, you know what I mean.

But this century's been full of horror anyway. What's the point of manufacturing more ?

Ah - now you're missing the point altogether. I'm not manufacturing much at all. My last operational review indicated only about fifteen percent manufacture, which is alot less than most straight journalists, if you count speculation and conjecture. Most of the time I'm simply altering perspectives and focus, making the mysterious and unknown into the Mysterious and the Unknown. Once you've sucked the rational element out, all sorts of wild and shivering banshees come howling in to fill the vacuum. Remove the obvious explanation, and the most Byzantine constructions start to appear like toadstools after a thunderstorm. The other thing I started to do when I got into this game was I started writing and speaking aphoristically. It's great. People immediately start thinking you're saying something deep and meaningful when you're not. Works every time, because you immediately give the impression you're referring to something eternal - and that only you know the full weight of any concept. The Thunderstorm. The Toad's Stool. Ha ha. Ambiguity. Love it. I once played in a band called The Camp Guards. Audiences never knew whether they were going to get The Village People wearing busbies or machine gunned in gravel pits.

Aw come on: this is more serious than that, surely...

No, life as it is lived is serious. Take it from the Undead. But I want drama and grandeur. I want eternal struggles and cycles, and so do my public. Refrains, ciphers, motifs, allusions. I don't want to read about some bloke killing people because there's no funding for a bed in a secure hospital. I want to know he had the look of Pure Evil in his eyes and ran a Satanist website. I don't just want the light off, I want Darkness. Atrocities, murders, executions - the reality of them is tawdry and banal. Even on grand scale. They're performed by sad losers. Like Trotsky said of Stalin; "He's the leading mediocrity". So do you want to hear about Himmler the failed chicken farmer or Himmler the Odinist Overlord with his inner circle of SS knights ? When it all becomes too real, you need to be able to fall back on something which tradition tells you fits the mood, and in so doing conjures up notions of transcendence. After all, when want and poverty are generalised, all the old crap revives. Maybe that's why Hitler played Wagner's Gotterdammerung incessantly during the last days in the bunker. Signs and motifs are such wonderful things. And what's marvellous about the age we're in is their sheer profligacy of course. People like me have never had it so good.

What about working on a more intimate level - most of your references so far have been to 'big' history as it were ...

Generally the same principles apply. You've got to give the impression of unspeakable - and more to the point unexplainable - terrors lurking below the surface whether you're talking about sex and blood taboos or the mechanisms of political dictatorship or family tragedy. Not everyone sees a creaking rocking chair on a heat stifled veranda and thinks of Lizzie Borden with her axe, giving her parents forty whacks. But many more will see some possible reference to the dark side - whether it be through films like AngelHeart or half remembered accounts of lynchings ... but the distinction you're making isn't that important, because the concerns and interpretations I'm attacking - the scientific and rational, are the same whether you're talking about big history or the kind of 'micro'-sociology, psychology and criminology of individual murders, phobias or whatever. The reason why I've tended to point up the 'big' examples is to emphasise the massive influence ghouls like me can have in D'n'D - Disorientation and Disinformation - at the present time. And in some ways the farcical nature of it all is particularly evident in the big cases. Torquemadas, Eichmanns - the worst thing you could do to them - from their point of view - is bury them completely, rather than keep raising the damned to exorcise them once more. Throw them into the oubliette of history; deny their ghosts the chance to play the demon king. Stop the cinematic caricatures. In the end the gothic venal or ghoulish portrayal of the past offers the same seductions as Dworkin points to pornography having for sex - albeit a safe chill rather than thrill.

You sound to be almost on our side - or at least very cynical.

No. I'm just soulless, that's all. The living have to assess the world by participating in it, not holding up a darkened mirror as I do. Collectively or individually you have to relish or suffer each fragment of an unimaginable whole uniquely, engaging with the concrete specifics of the moment, in that space between the quieted tears of the dead, and the laughter of children yet to be born.


You're welcome.

© Interview John Timberlake 1997 elogo