by Jason Bayani
Jamie was one of the first guys I met in slam. We also lived together for a few years. People always ask me questions about it when they find out like it must have been all insane and crazy but I’m pretty sure when it came to living habits, I was probably more strange.
He’s one of the first people I’ve ever met who managed to make the art happen at the same time in several different spaces. I’ve always had a deep appreciation for what he creates on paper or film. Sometimes I think some of his most intriguing art is what happens the moment he hits the stage. It’s not just the pushing or discomfort he can make you feel at times, but the kind of pull you feel into accepting your base urges. It’s a kind of transformation not a lot of poets feel comfortable in inducing. But Jamie is right at home with it.
He’s become so much more than a poet over the years. He’s a filmmaker who directed the movie, Smoked, and is responsible for several of the Youth Speaks produced videos going viral right now. He’s one of the most sought after hosts and is running what is probably the biggest monthly event in the Bay Area. He’s a segment producer and has often been featured on NPR’s Snap Judgement. And he’ll still come by and perform at the slam or coach teams every once in a while.
He’s been interviewed a lot because, as many of you know, he is the great grandson of L. Ron Hubbard and a vocal opponent of Scientology. But I was hoping to get more of a peek into his artistic processes and find out what makes the work he creates.
“The God and the Man” has been the piece that’s followed you throughout your career as an artist. If I recall it’s brought you some notoriety at several different points since 2000. I remember first hearing it about the time I met you and it was really long. There’s definitely been some changes over the years and I was wondering what it’s been like for you to carry a relationship for this many years with a piece and for you to engage with it as you have changed as an artist and a person.
In 2000 I wrote an entirely different piece called “Judas Son”, it was a 15 minute long messy rant written in an hour, an angry screed at the secrets my own family had been keeping from me, secrets the cult had kept from the world for three decades, all the threats, all the damage one man had inflicted on the world and had gotten away with. These were secrets people were fighting to get in the open but the mainstream media was scared to go near it. An early spoken word label (Bleeding Edge) put the uncut, rough recording online and the cult immediately sent agents after me, they tapped my phones and stalked me and were following me. I ended up being flown by a anti-Scientology group all the way to Clearwater, Florida (the Mecca of the Church) and saw first hand the staggering scale and true might of the cult. It cut my swagger in half. I realized I was too young in my career to take on such a monster and win, that it would destroy me just like my grandfather (L. Ron Jr.) and I didn’t want the cult to define me.
It was the raw work of a boy and as a ‘piece’, it embarrassed me as it became this defining poem flying around the internet when it really was just a first draft I read in a cafe. I always wanted to address the subject again, but it always felt too monstrous and big to approach in a ‘slam’ context, I knew it had to be a one man show or a film. I knew I couldn’t let that be my last word on it.
When NPR’s Snap Judgment asked me to do a ‘family story’ I half joked that I would only be interested in writing about the L. Ron side, and they encouraged me, no matter the danger it could bring to their show. I decided to focus only on the story of a father and a son with the same name, and the entire piece came out in straight through one night. I wrote it the week before I performed it. I still have the original hand written draft and it amazes me how fluid it came out with no edits, from the first line all the way to the end. Many people don’t realize that L. Ron isn’t just a bit of family trivia, that he’s informed me as an inspiration since I was a child. Originally he was my main inspiration to be a writer as a kid, though I didn’t know he was a cult leader at the time, simply a science fiction writer. When I got older, he became my dark guide, a testament that you could carve your own reality. Now he’s a cautionary tale of when your carnivorous ego and madness use other people as your prey. He’s what happens when you use your gifts only to feed the hole in your chest. It made me realize I owe it to his victims, his ghosts and the lives he destroyed to not let the truth die with me, no matter the risk or the fear.
In the earlier days it felt like there was a more unwieldy element to the way you wrote, I think you are one of the poets who popularized much of the rant-style confessional that is still popular today. In time though I could see you settle in, the writing still felt aggressive but there was a much more controlled pace and rhythm to what you were doing. What do you feel changed for you over the years in the way that you wrote and approached writing?
I realized that the abstraction and academic wordplay smoke screen never interested me as much as being as direct and blunt as possible. To me word play can simply hide the fact there’s no meat on the bone. In my view obscenity, ‘shock’ and curt language all serve to cut away the fat, to zero in on what exactly you’re saying. When I started in slam, I had no reference point as to what I was doing, but knew I had to unleash everything screaming in my brain. I rarely even edited anything, it was all primal and a hot rambling mess. That may feel cathartic, but doesn’t necessarily make for good art. Working with the Suicide Kings made me refine what I was saying, we all brought a different style and emotional approach to our writing. It’s all still coming from the same root, but I learned how to candy coat poison so an audience can swallow it easier. I’m also not as bat shit insane as I used to be. I don’t show up to slams with knife slashes on my arms. It’s a perk of maturity.
You primarily work in film now. Which, as a I recall, was what you were into before slam. How has your work as a filmmaker informed the way you write, and how has your work as a poet influenced the way you approach film?
I always was a visual writer, and I think the live shows I’ve been putting on for years always had a visual component as well such as fire, circus performance, and flying because words have never been enough on their own for me. It’s great foreplay, but isn’t the whole feast. Many of the films I make these days are actually of poets themselves, transforming their words into visuals. I never was entirely satisfied with being a slam poet, I will always look like me, sound like me, will only be one man and one mouth. I’m a total live show junkie and will be on stages until they have to drag me off, but writing scripts and film allows me to use every art there is to create one whole: using music, movement, actors and cinematography to create something that stands on its own without me having to be in the room for you to enjoy it. It’s the entire canvas.
Every time I see you hosting Tourettes Without Regrets, I’m kind of amazed at how much you have that audience in the palm of your hands. We can talk about your lineage and how that has some kind of effect but there’s something you offer the people who come to your shows, beyond the show itself, that keeps them coming back. What do you think a person in your audience gets out of coming to one of your shows?
I think they instinctively trust me as a curator, I’m promising to push their boundaries, to blow their mind, but also to make something feel absolutely alive. They come back because they trust I won’t fail to fuck their heads up in a way they enjoy. It’s like being a reverse cult leader as I’m being naked about wanting to brain wash you for your own entertainment and for a hell of a lot cheaper. They also keep coming back hoping they finally came to the right show where I’ll be killed on stage.
What are the 5 most disturbing scenes you’ve seen in film?
Irreversible – A brutal rape scene in real time, for an agonizing ten minutes. Without any cuts or edits, it forces you into a state of horrified paralysis, violence you can’t stop.
Angel Heart – A sex scene that transforms into a hallucinatory murder with a Cosby Kid raining blood inter-cut with satanic imagery. You don’t want to masturbate to that one on acid. Trust me, I tried.
Lost Highway – Having your lover transform into a stranger in your own bed is a constant nightmare of mine. It’s like DMT mixed with roofies.
Kids – The opening scene is as vile and brazen as a punch to the face. It’s a warning this movie isn’t going to soft pedal shit and sociopaths start early.
Mysterious Skin – The climax of the film is one of the most beautiful and brutal scenes I’ve ever seen. As a victim of sexual abuse myself, the films ability to sink in the blade without flinching or without judgment is something I will always aspire to. That movie made me lock myself in a bathroom for an hour afterwords. A stunning work of art.