Stalker Fiction

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

Lowery takes great pains to point out what is fact and what is fiction in the book. He says, for instance, that the "tonnage" game was played by one of Hickman's pre-Cracker bands; it was not, he insists, a Cracker pastime. Joy says the publisher's lawyers have told him not to talk about what is and what isn't true. The threat of libel, he says, is enough to keep him mum on specifics.

"The way I think of the book is akin to painting on a Polaroid," Joy says. "You have a Polaroid that's wholly accurate, then you start working with it, and you have something neither one or the other. No one will come at this story the way I have. I alone know where fact falls off and fiction begins. That might be one of the games I want people to be interested in, but that's not the only thing. I want to create a mosaic that is larger than that, where you look back on the experience of reading it and think, 'This is really about how [rock stars] are given to us as an invention.' I am trying to get to this thing where we are haunted and pursued by celebrities and what we imagine them to be by listening to their records. I am trying to replicate that, the mystery that goes into the music, the uncertainty, the wobbly feeling of not knowing where we stand with this person singing this song and whether they're telling the truth."

Joy is in his mid-30s and has since written about Cracker as a rock critic for various publications. In a recent Village Voice piece, he writes of the band as a one-hit wonder, with the song "Low." But he had been a fan of Camper Van Beethoven during the late 1980s. He not only adored the music, which was a strange brew of smart, wry rock constructed from bash-and-pop guitars and Middle Eastern violins, but also the way it reminded him of the Clash and the Band--groups, he says now, that "stood above the individual." He admired how easily Camper made the leap to a major label (Virgin Records) with 1988's Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, how it managed to release its finest album with corporate funding. Camper, he insisted, bought in to the system without selling out to it. But the band broke up shortly after the release of 1989's Key Lime Pie: Earlier, Lowery had told multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Siegel he could no longer work with him, and then Lowery and bassist Victor Krummenacher stopped talking. The band, Krummenacher has said, had "run its course."

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

Joy, however, became obsessed with the band when he heard that it had broken up under "mysterious circumstances." For him, the timing could not have been better: He was trying to finish a novel, he had just lost his job, he had grown depressed from a lifetime spent in Los Angeles, and he was looking for a way to kill some time. So he decided to follow Lowery's new, then-unnamed band around during its first tour. He bought a Greyhound bus ticket and went along for the ride. It was, he says, a good time to take off.

"As we went along, I got to ride in the van with them and sold T-shirts," Joy says. "I thought they were really cool...I was going to ride around the country anyway. I enjoyed hearing the same music every night. It was a nice little adventure."

Lowery tells almost the same story--but says Joy was less a companion than an unwelcome shadow. They wondered who this guy was showing up at show after show. Joy creeped them out; they referred to him as "Hinckley." Finally, Lowery approached him and asked him what he wanted. Joy told him he wanted to write a book about his beloved Camper Van Beethoven--words that calmed the singer's fears and stroked his ego. He liked the idea of having his old band's story told; who wouldn't want their past celebrated in permanent ink, their forgotten histories preserved for tomorrow? Lowery even gave Joy numbers of people who might fill in the gaps.

"He was really persistent," Lowery recalls. "He interviewed me about Camper, and I gave him numbers of people he wanted to talk to. I mean, I thought it would be good to have Camper's story told. But most people began to feel that really he wasn't interested in writing about the band per se, but that he wanted to pry into Victor's sexuality, which made everyone uncomfortable. In the end, everyone did shy away from him." Joy dismisses such notions; he insists he was interested in writing about Camper, its music, its impact, and its eventual dissolution.

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."

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