[ by Christian Detres ]
In the course of publishing a small indie magazine like this one, there's an ongoing dance on the precipice of Success Mountain overlooking Failures' Gorge (also referred to as "Living In My Parent's Basement Hollow"). Thousands of tables waited on, dozens of paychecks never received and still we soldier on in the chase of confidently answering the question "What do you do for a living?" with a publishing-related response.
The Richmond Zine Fest is coming up this month (April 28th) and when it arrives it will bring with it a host of entrepreneurs who can relate to that sentiment. The musk of hope, ambition and sometimes desperation will linger and create a communal vibe of improvisational creativity we all need to survive in this business. As RVA finds itself on the cusp of "arrival" (but still doing that dance) we take heart in the success stories of others that have come before and added something new to the experience of independent media.
One of my personal heroes and favorite writers to make the same journey is Chris Nieratko. He's been a long time contributor to VICE Magazine, clearly the vanguard publication in upstart media, and a feature of other groundbreaking publications like Big Brother and Paper. Skater, writer, interrogator, prank artist (he's been linked to the CKY films, lackass and other cultural depressants) and recently husband (check out his burly man-fist choking his lovely wife on the cover of this issue), he is as much a renaissance man of underground publishing as you're going to find.
Chris has a new book, Skinema (Powerhouse Cultural Entertainment Books) coming out June 7th, that compiles his many columns in vice Magazine by the same name. If you're not familiar with his work, Skinema is set up as a monthly review of some random porn movie. The twist is that the review is never really about the movie. You're lucky to get two sentences out of Chris that directly relate to the supposed topic of the column. His quick and eager digressions into his own past as a junkie, asshole or grumpy dissertations on whomever he hates at that given moment are without parallel in wit, scabrous insouciance and devilish glee.
"I'm not an egomaniac, but I'm a million times more interesting than anyone I've interviewed" encapsulates his ever-present humility. Not to be overshadowed by his work with VICE, Chris is equally revered for his interviewing style frequently showcased in Big Brother magazine. He makes an art out of pissing people off and yet somehow keeps them enganged in conversation. His interviews lay his subject bare by unwittingly getting them to admit their prejudices, test their limits of cool and forcibly make them drop the towel of celebrity long enough to glimpse their shrunken, wrinkled id. A simple concept brilliantly executed is what indie media is all about.
Christian Detres: What's your educational background? How do you prepare for this career?
Chris Nieratko: I entered and dropped out of at least six colleges. I read a LOT of comic books and skated too. I don't know if I recommend that path but I guess if you were successful the first time through college you wind up writing for BusinessWeek instead of describing the best lapdance ever. I can now recommend it.
How did you get started with VICE?
I met Gavin (Mclnnes) Shane (Smith) and Suroosh (Alvi) in Montreal when Vice was still a newsprint publication. They were French Canadian and therefore did not speak English. They came up to me in their berets and striped shirts slurring Frenchese while miming erratically about some magazine they were doing. I spoke loud and slow, in English, so they could understand me. Somehow we made some deal in which I would write for them and I've been making them incredibly rich ever since.
Yay for revisionist history. Your new book Skinema is a collection of your VICE columns. Considering how much of these columns are basically anecdotes from your own past, do you feel like you've just written an autobiography? How does that kind of personal exposure affect you?
I can say that Skinema is as autobiographical as they come, I'm not some bullshit fiction writer lying about his drug addictions to get on Oprah. When I say I was an alcoholic, drug addict who had a gun put to his head by a pimp for refusing to pay a hooker I don't remember ordering in Vegas or that I had AIDS for two weeks, I am telling the truth. I don't know if it's something to be proud of but I will say I've always been entertained by the mistakes of others so here's a chance for people to laugh at mine.
How much of what you do is credited to talent versus hard work?
I don't really much believe in talent. There's nothing you can't accomplish through hard work that you can with simple talent. I think talent is the product of hard work. I get up at five in the morning everyday and write for five hours before I go open my skate shop (NJ Skateshop in Sayreville, Nl - www.njskateshop.com). It's all hard work.
Describe your interaction with Richmond.
I love Richmond. It just has that affect on people. I didn't understand v/hat the saying "Virginia is for Lovers" meant until I went there. The first time I was in Richmond was to interview Dave Brockie of Gwar and to do a photo shoot at the Slave Pit. One of the photos of Gwar hitchhiking in Richmond is actually in Skinema. After that I continued to come back for Gwar-b-ques and to skate Richmond. There's a really great shop called Dominion Skateshop that does a great job for the Richmond scene.
If I had come to you with a Chris Nieratko-style antagonistic interrogation, what would be your reaction? Considering your reputation as a journalist, do you get that a lot and what makes you better at it than most?
If you came at me in any way that was reminiscent of what I do I would have exposed you for the fraud that you were in record time. Nothing really gets me too worked up, I would have simply said, "You just don't have what it takes, kid. You're much better at being you then you are being me." What makes me the best at interrogating and torturing people in interviews is that I'm doing it for the enjoyment of the reader. It's not about me or the subject having a good time, I'll suffer an awkward interview so a reader can get a good laugh. I'm kind of martyr in that sense.
You're very opinionated about a great many people. I don't like long-hairs either but what segments of society especially burn you?
On any given day I can love or hate anyone or anything. I'm constantly contradicting myself especially when I can press someone's button in the process. I'll completely argue the opposite of my own beliefs with someone just for the simple fact that it pisses that person off. And since I don't care either way, I always win, because I have nothing to lose.
If you were a dildo, what special features would you have?
I'd have temperature sensitive hooks that eject, like a grappling hook... [Ed. note: the rest of the answer was far too hilarously graphic and disgusting for publication. Sorry]... It makes it easier for me to talk to pretty girls.
Tomorrow, Larry Flynt will approach you with an open-budgeted proposition to publish a magazine of your choice. What would it be about?
God, what hasn't been done yet? Urban Karate? Tantric Skateboarding? Eledroclash Scuba Diving? Honestly, it wouldn't be about shit unless there was a lot of money on the table, because, as you know, owning your own magazine is a labor of love. Generally the financial rewards are shit in comparison to the hours of headaches, more so now than ever with the demon known as The Internet. But if the price is right, shit, I'll write about anything. I've got mouths to feed and I wouldn't mind renting a six-pack of porn stars to service me and my wife for a long weekend.
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© 2007 chrisnieratko.com