be fooled by the rocks that I got

1/18/06

Perhaps nobody’s still interested in this topic, but the James Frey “A Million Little Pieces” brouhaha is still on heavy rotation at our household. Lucy refuses to shut up about it.

Actually, I’m having a change of heart when it comes to this guy. After seeing him on “Larry King Live,” he strikes me as the worst sort of dissembler. Let me give a somewhat unrelated example. After invading Iraq, imagine Bush saying this: “Because of September 11, one Arab country was going to go down, and Iraq has pissed us off for forever, so we fucking went in there and did our thing. We had to cook up evidence or else you wouldn’t have let us do what we know is right.”

Yes, it would have been horrifying in its own gruesome, Orwellian way – but I might have an inkling of grudging respect. I would disagree with him on every aspect of his plan, but at least I’d know the plan.

That hasn’t happened, of course – it’s lie after white lie after deception after disinformation after “we create our own reality,” and you’re left with a man whose war has gone to shit and whose ratings will never see even fifty percent unless he delivers Bin Laden bound and gagged to Congress.

Much the same could be said of James Frey. Look, dude, your ship has sailed: the Smoking Gun did so thorough a job debunking everything you wrote that you need to just say, “yep, there’s some factual things in there, but it’s mostly fiction, and should be read that way. Sorry for the confusion, but my publisher said it wouldn’t sell as a novel, and so here we are.”

Instead, he (and his lawyers and the publishers) has tried to redefine what a “memoir” is – you know, “remembering things to the best of your knowledge” – and thus cheapening every memoir ever written. As Tessa said, he has to be a full-scale schizophrenic to be remembering things that didn’t happen to the best of his knowledge.

Worse yet, his book acts as an open repudiation to the “12 Steps” of Alcoholics Anonymous, saying that he beat addiction without kowtowing to the AA bullshit. I’m no drunk, but I’m friends with and love many who are, and I know they owe their very sanity and existence to the steps of AA, despite how much fun is had at their expense.

It’s one thing to have a fictional character eschew something that can save lives, but to pretend to have a real character do it is fucking irresponsible. If Frey has a bone to pick with AA, then he should have the balls to take it on without hiding behind a pretend protagonist. Maybe he can bring his mommy with him like he did on Larry King.

I stand by my earlier conviction that he is probably a fantastic writer, and if we had no inkling of the backstory, “A Million Little Pieces” would still inspire, I guess. But now the cat has shredded the bag, it’s time for him to come clean, or at the very least, promote all future TV and movie deals as fiction.

You want to know why I came back to this rant? Because of something on his website – he said “let the haters hate.” Samuel Johnson said that patriotism was the last refuge of a scoundrel, and my civics teacher in 10th grade said that sarcasm was the last refuge of an empty mind.

I’d like to add one, if I might: calling someone a “hater” is the last refuge of the clueless, merciless shill of the 21st century. The epithet “playa hata” stops all debate in its tracks because you are no longer talking about the subject matter, you’re attacking the critic. When it happens in professional sports, the music industry, and now the high-falutin’ world of books, you know that honest discourse has come to an end.

I don’t hate Frey for his success – I know how hard it is to get anything published, and at some point in my life, I would have resorted to anything to achieve notoriety. But Jesus, I’m so sick of our peer group’s constant need to keep lying long after the truth is so painfully obvious. AA is a miracle for most, but they admit they can’t get one type of person sober: the man who is constitutionally unable to be honest with himself.

0 thoughts on “be fooled by the rocks that I got

  1. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    No, no, no!!!!
    NO, NO, NO!!!!!!!
    Ian, please read this book before you criticize my man. This book recounts events from over 15 years ago. How accurate would your memory be, regarding events and exchanges and interactions? Especially if most of that time was spent in a drunken/drug-induced haze. Plus, is it not true that publishers/editors play a big part in tweaking details of a “memoir” for the sake of a good read? As Oprah said, the fault lies more in the world of publishing and the way it labels its genres.
    Frey is not trashing the 12 step program. He is telling HIS story, and for HIM, the 12 step plan did not work. He did not try it. . . was not interested. There were many characters throughout the book who emphasized the value and strength of the Program, to counter his non-belief in it.
    James Frey said on Larry King that he does not plan to write about himself again. Fine with me. I will read whatever he writes in the future because he is an excellent writer. Read his books, and you will see what I mean. I do not agree that he has done “anything to achieve notoriety.” The man writes well. Many people do not. Perhaps this is why most people are not published. In short, let the haters hate. If his book was not well-written, it would not have done as well as it has.
    And, if you were to appear on Larry King with your mother, I would not ridicule you. I think King wanted her there to find out if Frey really had this drug/alcohol problem. Hard to tell since Larry King is on autopilot these days. Mrs. Frey is a lovely woman.
    And, finally, please refrain from quoting J. Lo in your posting titles. This entry has been disturbing to me on so many levels this morning!

    Reply
  2. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    And, you are wrong about the importance of the Smoking Gun. They took issue with some criminal charges that Frey described, and Frey admitted that the details were embellished, but IF YOU READ THE BOOK, you will know that that the criminal charges are tangential to the main storyline. His book is about his experiences in the Hazelden Clinic and his own journey of recovery. NO ONE has accused him of making any of this up. If you can find a counselor or a Hazelden patient who says that Frey made it all up, I will eat my words. But, to date, I have not seen any of that type of criticism.
    Has anyone else here read this book???

    Reply
  3. CL

    >>>And, finally, please refrain from quoting J. Lo in your posting titles.
    Hahahaha. LFMD, you are funny.
    But don’t you think he’d remember if he got novocaine or not when he went to the dentist?
    OK, I haven’t read it. I’m sure it’s worth reading.
    By the way, I have pinkeye, and since it incubates for a week first, I KNOW I got it from reading the blog last week about strep throat. It’s just that contagious. Luckily it’s Thursday so I can see a dr. Thanks a lot!

    Reply
  4. LFMD

    CL — get thee to a doctor! Sorry about the pinkeye.
    Actually, Ian’s J. Lo quote was quite witty. Just a bit disturbing. After all, I heart James Frey. He’s still James from Rehab!
    And, Ian, don’t be fooled by the snark that I got, I’m still Laurie from the Dorm!

    Reply
  5. Beth

    I’m sick of this tempest in a teakettle, but I have to defend the publishing industry–I’ve worked in and around book publishing for over a decade, and I can say with certainty that it’s a load of specious crap to suggest that editors and publishers alter the details of a memoir to make it more marketable. Please don’t believe everything you hear from the woman playing God better known as Oprah. Nan Talese, Frey’s editor and one of the most venerable names in the industry, is on record as saying that the book was acquired as a memoir and published as a memoir and there was never a moment of discussion given to publishing it as a novel. This is just another of Frey’s obfuscations.

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  6. kent

    First off, it’s not very well written a book. If you want to read the king father of all recovery books, read “Recovery” by John Berryman. It is an autobiographical novel, but his description of recovery is so searingly real that it would be unpleasant to read, if not for the meticulous care and awesome talent he brings to bear.
    Second, the fact that Frey didn’t spend the time in jail he claims to, means he never met the person his second book purports to be about. And his doomed meth-head girlfriend is likely a fantasy as well.
    Once you know the facts about Frey, Million Little Pieces is shown for what it is — precisely the sort of lurid fantasy a well-to-do frat boy might imagine, based on his own limited experience with addiction and recovery. Frey is all hat and no cattle, and he’s not willing to come clean about it.
    And while you can prove anything by analogy, the parallels with Bush are delicious. Rich kid frat boy drunk sobers up and builds a career on lies, and then refuses to come clean.

    Reply
  7. Tim

    There’s another category of person that AA can’t help… I know several of them. AA insists on your acceptance of some higher power, and most folks I know don’t think that way. Mind you, I’ve never been in AA myself, so I’m not sure how this religious aspect is incorporated, only that I’ve heard it from several people from several different states.

    Reply
  8. chip

    LFMD:
    I’ll give you that alcohol and drug use can alter memories, but I think most people would have some grasp of their actual criminal record and jail time, and Frey has misrepsented that to this day in interviews, and presumably he’s had time to check and isn’t hey. I’m just going to copy what I wrote in the other Frey entry:
    Two things about Frey:
    1) I read he originally shopped million little pieces as a work of fiction.
    2) It’s one thing to exaggerate or, as he claimed on Larry King, not accurately remember what happened 20 years ago in exact detail, but I guarentee you most people could tell you how many times they’ve been in jail and for how long.
    I guess I look at Frey the same way I’d look at someone who made up a bunch of stuff to make themselves seem like more interesting/tough/troubled than they are…sort of pathetic.

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  9. Neva

    I did read this book and that makes me even more pissed at James Frey. I enjoyed the book. I do think he’s a decent writer. More interesting because of his style than his talent I believe, but I digress…
    I believe this guy is a pathological, antisocial prick who made up stuff to make a good story and there is NO WAY he didn’t realize he was making stuff up from the get-go. People remember how many times they were in jail and whether they got novacaine with dental work regardless of how messed up they are. Also, I have it on good authority (well, at least a guy my husband works with who is from Frey’s hometown) that he was nothing like the person he describes as a kid. He was popular, a member of student government, an athlete who scored 30 goals one soccer season. People in his hometown did not recognize the juvenile deliquent loser he describes. How did he graduate on time from college with a decent GPA? What’s ironic to me is how he pokes fun at people in rehab who are not “hard core” users like him and doubts the rock star’s story who comes to talk at the clinic. Sad, sad, sad. I hate that I gave this guy my money, and I’m so glad I never bought the second book. I don’t care how screwed up your life was or how “far you’ve come” to quote Oprah or how many people you’ve inspired – that’s no excuse for lying. I still expect truthfulness and ethics from you and your memoir.
    Thank goodness you came around on this one Ian. Your defense of him worried me. However, I’m with LFMD on the J Lo quote – it won’t get out of my head now. I’m stuck with that ear worm until another replaces it..
    Neva

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  10. kjf

    i was just about to read that book when this all came out and now its sitting on my shelf for the taking as i have sub zero interest in reading it. the dude is nothing more than a sociopath who was caught and his failure to own up to his lies is classic sociopath 101.

    Reply
  11. jordi

    i read and loved A MILLION LITTLE PIECES a couple of years ago. i thought it was beautiful and powerful. it also read to me as an indirect endorsement of AA, because every time he rejected one of the traditional AA steps, he wound up taking a closely analagous one. the nature of his pride was such that he couldn’t be comfortable subscribing to the program, but the logic and effectiveness of the program was such that it worked for him anyway.
    i think i feel less betrayed by james frey than some of my friends do because i always felt like he was a pretty big jerk (even while i was loving the book). for me, the emotional power came from the kindness and generosity of the people in rehab with james–people who had their own battles to fight but still found the grace and strength to reach out to this angry punk.
    i tried to watch the larry king interview, but frey’s demeanor gave me the pip.

    Reply
  12. James Frey

    To Ian,
    If you had my love
    And I gave you all my trust
    Would you comfort me
    And if somehow you knew that your love would be untrue
    Would you lie to me
    And call me baby

    Reply
  13. Bill

    I read the book…and found it compelling precisely because these events happened to a real person…or so we thought. Reading about a root canal without anesthetic = cringeworthy (and compelling) if it really took place. Reading about a root canal without anesthetic = only mildly interesting if it is one man’s attempt to imagine what this might be like and write about it AS FICTION.
    Eric Gribbin (another occasional commenter here) and I had a long conversation about Mr. Frey the other night, and we worked ourselves into a righteous anger. A Million Little Pieces and its story of personal redemption and addiction recovery really only works because he paints himself as this incredible bad ass who did everything except eat paint chips to get high and who ran afoul of the law and whose teenage years as a hated societal outcast contributed to his fucked up life. After all that, he “recovered” through his own strength of will, without needing the crutches of AA (my words). And with Oprah’s powerful lift, his story was turned into something even bigger: an inspirational blueprint for how to beat addiction. Hold On, etc.
    Now, he’s been exposed as a liar, a manipulator of facts to suit his own narrative purposes, a coward who can’t fess up to his own obvious bullshit. How can you believe any of it? He’s not the Addiction/Recovery Savior — he’s just a college kid whose drinking (I’ll give him this) and drug use (proof?) led him to rehab…could have been me or thousands of others who passed through Chapel Hill or many other colleges/universities. Hold On…you’ll get through another recovery from $2.50 pitcher night at Troll’s.
    His writing — that’s a matter of personal opinion whether it’s good or not. And blaming it on the publisher — that’s lazy. You want an addiction memoir? Plenty of legitimate ones out there, and read Seth Mnookin for a real-life perspective of one of our peers. You want an addiction novel — James Frey is your guy.

    Reply
  14. Rebecca

    Blah, blah, blah, James Frey, blah, blah, blah…
    Who cares?
    Where is Jiffer? We haven’t heard from her lately. Is she still in Afghanistan? Jiffer, check in, please!

    Reply
  15. CP

    what bill said.
    read both frey books around christmas/new year’s, about a week before scandal hit. enjoyed MFL much more, but knew I wouldn’t have had I not read AMLP for the puportedly true backstory.
    the thoughts I kept having during AMLP all went something like this: “damn, this shit really happened? damn, that’s crazy. damn, that’s messed up. damn, that’s sad. damn, that’s so insane/tragic/absolutely heartbreaking in its timing that if this (obligatory poetic license aside — not talking about INVENTING MAJOR STORY EVENTS to enhance the mythology of the thing and/or sales and/or whatever anti-AA bone the guy has to pick) didn’t actually happen, it would cross the line into bad writing.”
    the other thought I had was that the book was really sappy (as in: “damn, this is really sappy.”); a thought I felt tremendous guilt as a reader for having. I mean, all this awful shit happened to this poor fucked up schmuck, and if he needs to fall into sentiment here, so be it.
    it’s great that he’s sober, great that mark (99 problems) romanek is still directing the movie, great that JF got called out/publicly humiliated for still being a fuck up on some level. and you know what, great that the stuff he says happened may not have, b/c who should have to have gone through that, even if you got rich saying you did.
    still, he does suck on a certain other level though (which is called hating the player), a level only slightly lower than larry king/oprah/the publishers for not bothering to do their homework (which is called hating the game)
    final thoughts: 1) I feel bad for his poor mother. 2) for the movie, they should put this incident in as a weird post-modern little coda, but only if spike jonze directs from a charlie kaufman script. 3) the wire and the office (yes, the american one) are really good TV shows.
    4) if you want to read these books now, perhaps don’t buy them, but instead head over to your local public library or borrow from a friend.

    Reply
  16. xuxE

    additional evidence that i am SO not a writer – i don’t really feel all that torn up over james frey.
    i don’t think there is some sort of pristine definition of what a memoir is, to the extent that frey needs to be raked over the coals. i mean, sure there is the problem of sorting through shit you remember while you were on crack, how much was real, how much was imagined. but it’s not like the memoir genre is sacred or something. i mean, does anyone really take anyone else’s story as documented fact? people exaggerate, and i don’t really believe half the stuff my friends say, let alone stuff i buy in barnes and noble?
    bookstore shelves are lined with so-called *biographies* of princess di, and every other minor and major celeb. are they all chock full of truth?
    what about newspaper journalism? do you believe everything you read there?
    self-help books?
    diet books?
    guide to surviving cancer from a person who overcame it through meditation at an ashram?
    i don’t think the standards of truth are really clear in writing anymore than reality tv is really *real*. i know i’m all up in here with written word folks, but i have to say i think you all take it a bit seriously, maybe you’re clinging to a standard that really probably isn’t there in today’s post modern moral relativism day and age.
    we’re talking about a best-seller, commercial entertainment. probably the only written word still forging ahead for pristine objective truth is in scientific acaedmia because there’s a lot less commercial value in papers about the mating habits of tree frogs. as soon as there’s some money in it, boom! lies and scandal like that scientist in korea.
    everybody knows addiction is rampant, and i’m sure that had a lot to do with why the book got picked up, although i really did like it. i like books about addiction and drugs. i also liked fear and loathing in las vegas, and the carlos castaneda books i was able to get about half-way through.
    couple side notes – not sure where in the discussion these came from, but (a) novocaine is a caine derivative, so a lot of people in NA can’t take novocaine because their tolerance to caine based stuff is so high it literally does nothing, doesn’t work on them. (b) higher power doesn’t have to be a god even though that’s what was intended, i know someone whose higher power was janet jackson. i think it’s just whatever gets you through, to each his/her own.

    Reply
  17. oliver

    I don’t know if I even believe that Jiffer is a real person anymore. Or Ian. Or Lucy. I mean, how could Oprah lie to us? How could Oprah defend the indefensible? Oprah, who has appeared on the cover of almost every issue of O magazine, who appears every day on national television. First it was those “not a reduced calorie food” labels on the so-called “fat-free” food. Now it’s Oprah promoting people who are just making up a lot of the stuff they tell us. I just don’t know anymore what is true and what is untrue. Shocking is what it is.

    Reply
  18. eric g.

    I must disagree wholeheartedly that Frey’s legal troubles are tangential to AMLP. The prospect of him spending a long stretch in jail looms over the entire book and caused me a great deal of anxiety while reading it and kept me turning the pages. His mother cries for half the book about this. To find out that this prospect was utter bullshit makes me extremely angry.

    Reply
  19. CP

    xuxE makes an interesting point vis a vis personal history, “the facts” and personal mythology.
    I suppose it all depends on the genre. who’s making it, who’s selling it, who’s buying it, and what the expectations of the marketplace and medium are.
    gangster rap, reality TV, professional wrestling, biopics/movies “based on true events” (everything from walk the line to gandhi to goodfellas to fargo to antwone fisher) — couldn’t matter less
    then there’s autobiography through the filter of fiction (philip roth posing as nathan zuckerman, bukowski as chinaski, bob fosse as joe gideon)
    then there’s fiction/original screenplays/TV where the main characters share names with the writers and in some cases actors, albeit generally in heightened/absurdist/comedic situations. examples include jonathan safran foer, charlie kaufman, jerry seinfeld/larry david, tenacious d, etc.
    so where does that leave memoir? I don’t know. I’m not familiar with jerzy kosinski’s work though I am with his story. I think, though, in memoir there’s an expectation that, more so than in these other forms mentioned, what the author says happened actually did for the most part. and that the “essential truth”, as frey calls it, is very close to what the “facts” suggest. otherwise the story wouldn’t have to be told the way it is; the author can then write anything as the author’s legitimate recollection of the truth is what I’m under the impression (moral relativism/ post-modern funhouse mirror definitions of truth notwithstanding) makes a memoir. otherwise just write a fuckin’ kickass rap song and be done with it. or go the philip roth route. tales (especially the prague orgy, counterlife, and communist) which are a sublime and mysterious blend of fiction based on not only fact, but that which reeks of essential truth.
    I don’t know.

    Reply
  20. Chris M

    Once upon a time, in a place called Park Slope,
    while lounging in the backseat of a Town Car whose destination was LaGuardia — I saw Ian.
    He wore a t-shirt, blue jeans, and sunglasses.
    As I sped past, at the end of his leash, I saw Chopes happily tethered to the unmistakeable almost-Mormon.
    He is real. Believe.

    Reply
  21. Honger

    “I’d like to add one, if I might: calling someone a “hater” is the last refuge of the clueless, merciless shill of the 21st century.”
    It’s the semantic equivalent of calling or equating someone to a “Nazi” or “Hitler”. Where do you go from there? It’s meaningless and you’ve just taken whatever discussion/debate you’ve been having and jumped the shark with it.
    Remember the good old days when it was only just starting to be that? ;-)

    Reply

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