April 2, 2012

Gavin McInnes: An In-depth Interview With “The Godfather of Hipsterdom”

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Gavin McInnes has been called many things: the godfather of hipsterdom, a punk, a misogynist, a white supremacist, a prankster, a fashion icon, a tree planter, a drug-loving boozer playboy, an entrepreneur, a drug dealer, a cartoonist, a storyteller, a musician, a writer and perhaps most memorably just an all around fucking asshole of a human being. Case in point: the time he shoved heroin in the face of a few recovering ex-junkies or used “my mom is dead” as a pickup line.

But Gavin isn’t actually an asshole. He’s a levelheaded, amicable guy. The above instances are exceptions to the rule.

I’m standing with Gavin at the bar at Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, interviewing him about his new book How to Piss in Public, a hilarious collection of balls-to-the-wall party stories chronicling his outrageous life. Fighting Nazi skinheads, to wild threesomes, to getting his mom so high that she called the cops because she thought goblins had broken into the house — it’s all in the book.

Then there is the person who did all these things. Gavin, wearing a ridiculously puffy jacket and a 98 Degrees band tee, orders a Guinness and Maker’s rocks. His beard is haywire and he has a gold chain around his neck. The dude is 41 and a multi-millionaire, but he dresses like a cross between 14-year-old wigger and a 20-something working at the local pizza joint. He pulls it off, though, because with Gavin you get the sense he’s doing it for you — he wants to entertain you, liven the atmosphere. He’s here to have fun and make sure you to do, too.

And that’s the thing about Gavin: he’s not so much an asshole as he’s someone who gives a shit. He gives a shit about making people laugh, making them think, and challenging them.

During our two-hour conversation, we confronted all the important questions under the sun. How do you get rich doing what you love? What’s up with Obama and the religious left? Who the hell is Jim Goad? Why is it important to sleep with as many people as possible? And more, just read it.

Thought Catalog: Your goal in life is to have fun on your own terms. You do what you want, when you want. What’s remarkable about this, though, is despite your devil-may-care attitude you’ve managed to become a multi-millionaire. How did you pull this off?

Gavin McInnes: Well, it’s not that difficult. There’s a real culture of fear and trepidation and it’s not just political correctness. It’s an economic fear where people are scared to go start a business, or go teach English in Taiwan, or fight someone who insulted them. Just try it and have some enthusiasm. Find your obsession and go nuts.

TC: How do you find your obsession? Then, how do you turn it into a lucrative career?

GM: Just watch less TV, I don’t know. It’s hard to tell people how to live their lives, but just work hard. Find your compulsion and do it, become consumed by it. Charles Bukowski was all about this; he said he didn’t even like writing, but he couldn’t not write. It’s like these kids with Asperger syndrome. They become obsessed with one thing at a certain age. They’re looking at dryers and that’s it. The only thing they care about for the rest of their life is dryers. They end up working at Maytag or whoever makes dryers because they know everything about them and they love their job. I don’t think it matters what your obsession is and it doesn’t have to be an Asperger’s level of obsession, but if there’s enthusiasm, it will work out. Look at Nick Weidenfeld; he took over Comedy Central’s Adult Swim because he went to interview the head of it, Mike Lazzo, and Lazzo could sense his enthusiasm. Nick had no experience with television or the entertainment industry, but he got the job because he was obsessed with it and he did well at it, too. Opportunities just come when you blindly tumble through life with your eyes open.

TC: So recklessly and passionately pursue your gut instincts and impulses.

GM: Yeah, and don’t complain. I don’t have any sympathy for complainers in the Western world in 2012. All this shit about the middle class… “they have no jobs,” “they can’t pay their bills.” I have been creating my own jobs out of thin air for twenty years and I was providing shit to people for free. When I couldn’t do that I was planting trees, or teaching English, or traveling the world and staying in squats.

TC: The appetite grows while eating.

GM: Exactly, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” If I email Jimmy Kimmel and ask him a question, there’s an answer a few minutes later. Then you ask someone who is unemployed and five days later they say “Oh, sorry for the delay, man, I was very sick.” Wait, didn’t you say you were sick?

TC: Yeah. I’m still sick. I know you’re judging for me it, too.

GM: I am, yeah. Jeez, herpes?

TC: Bronchitis, I think. Have you ever been sick?

GM: No. I never get sick.

TC: Except when you swallowed your own cum and got gonorrhea.

GM: Yeah, but even when I had gonorrhea, I still went to work. It’s just a puss coming out of your penis.

TC: You have an idiosyncratic perspective on Occupy Wall Street. You’re sympathetic and disgusted. What gives?

GM: It’s a tough one. The problem with my colleagues at Fox News is they just see the cherry picked worst behavior. They only see people shitting on cop cars and raping blind men. I don’t doubt this happened but I also see the overall picture, and that was kids angry at the way things had turned out. They weren’t just mad at rich people. They were mad at Obama, too. Sure, a lot of it was uninformed and misdirected, but I’m just glad it’s on the books because I want history to know our president is a fucking douche and people weren’t happy with the way he handled things. He’s spent way more than Bush did in half the time, and it’s money we don’t have. You don’t bail out big business and you certainly can’t hire their CEOs as the head of your Job Fairness program or whatever the fuck it’s called. The government can’t create jobs. The only way it can stimulate an economy is to get the fuck out of the way. The OWS people who know this didn’t get as much air time as the idiots.

It’s actually tricky doing an interview about this book because all the interesting topics are semi-serious and sophisticated but the book is nothing like that — it’s just party stories.

TC: I don’t know. Partying is political. Fight for your right to party. Anyone who is inspired by your book must internalize your politics of defying authority and living on your own terms.

GM: Yeah, maybe. I’ve seen my whole life as a straight line of “fuck you if you can’t take a joke” and I guess that’s political in a sense. Thing is, if I were to write a book about politics, I’d want it to be dense with footnotes and that’s not really how comedy flows. This book should be in the comedy section of the bookstore.

TC: Is the party metaphor a left or right sentiment?

GM: I’ve watched the left sort of be with me and then abandon me. In the past few years they have become conservatives. If you say the wrong thing, you’re fired. They’re almost like puritans now. People are demonized. It’s sort of like the right of the 1950s. They’re paleocons basically. They have their rules and they don’t care why you broke them, but those are the rules and you can’t break them.

TC: The left does seem more religious than the right these days, or at least more in your face and your business about it. You must love everyone or you’re a monster! You must give 30% of your salary (and counting) to charity and if you disagree with this law you’re heartless! If you’re rich you should be ashamed! If you say X, you speak blasphemy! YOU MUST OBEY AND CONFORM TO OUR LAWS AND LEVELING NORMS OR ELSE!

GM: All right, you’re scaring me now. 

TC: Jim Goad is probably your biggest influence. Goad’s zine Answer Me! played a crucial role in defining the editorial voice of Vice in the early days, and you still cite him to this day as the “greatest writer” of your generation. How did you discover Goad?

GM: I think [Vice cofounder] Suroosh turned me onto him. Suroosh had just quit heroin, but he had also been doing lots of pharmaceuticals, and those can be just as hard to kick. The way he explained it to me was, when you quit cold turkey, you stop releasing dopamine and the heroin turns your whole body into third-degree burns ’cause you’re so used to having the opiates handle all the good feelings in your brain. On top of that he had all the pharmaceutical withdrawals, which is apparently a year of depression, dark blackness. In that blackness, he started reading all these dark zines like Sewer Cunt and Fuck and then he discovered Answer Me! And it seemed to take all that darkness and make it comical and even kind of academic. They made being mean, funny — and in an era where everyone was all about showing their sensitive side, it was really refreshing.

TC: If Goad shaped Vice’s editorial, what inspired Goad in the beginning?

GM: This is just my personal theory. Jim’s brother was killed and it gave him this anger against the whole world. His brother was kind of a mute, handicapped guy — pure innocence, a unicorn — and was murdered in Paris. Maybe he was gay, maybe he was fag bashed to death by some guy who let him suck his cock and hated himself for it or something. I don’t know those details, but I do know his brother was special and special and I think that tainted Jim’s genetic disposition as a funny guy with a very twisted and realistic strain. He’s always been an angry iconoclast and his relationship with [his late wife] Debbie was just an extension of this. One thing he’s always been very serious about is “honor.” He mentions it all the time and says things such as, “That guy has no honor at all.” I think that sense of doing what’s right is what kept him alive in prison and I think it’s what makes him a good father. I mention that in the book, too. Fame and fortune are fleeting and what really matters is what you pass on to your children, namely “Character.” Goad has that in spades and it drives his detractors nuts.

TC: Goad has sway in certain elite circles. But will he ever be more than a fringe figure to the general public?

GM: Jim is kind of like the punk band, Crass. He doesn’t want to be a leader. He doesn’t like fame. He lives in a black neighborhood in Atlanta; his is the only white family there. History will look back at Goad as someone who had the balls to say what they mean, as someone who could be a communist during McCarthyism and not worry about his career.

Goad is also one of those rare birds who likes confrontation. We both do. We like being ripped out of our comfort zone.

I love discovering I’m wrong and I love having my mind changed about something. It’s amazing that people want to shrink their IQs, by not being questioned about their beliefs. That’s ultimately what political correctness is — it’s painting yourself into a corner until you can’t even move.

TC:  That surprises you? People are lazy and pushing boundaries is “scary.” It seems against human nature to want to embrace things outside your comfort zone. That’s what got our ancestors killed.

GM: Well it’s also how empires were made. You can either be the worm who gets eaten or the early bird who gets him. Suffering isn’t easy but there’s joy derived from it. Look at working out. People put their bodies through pain to get stronger and lose body fat and replace it with muscle. Why can’t they do that with their brain? For me, arguing is like going to the brain gym.

TC: People go to the gym to get laid.

GM: Smart people get laid, too.

TC: No they don’t.

GM: You know what? You’re right. You just changed my mind about something. Now I have to take my “brain gym” theory back to the lab and see if it’s salvageable. You gave a tinkerer something to tinker with, thanks.

TC: Most smart people are alienated. They’re on a different frequency and can’t tune in with most people. And it’s only a select few that are actually successful at the gym, most give up when it gets too hard. That happens in the brain gym, too, probably more often because the stakes are even higher. There’s that Nietzsche quote “It might be basic characteristic of existence that who know it fully would perish, in which case the strength of a spirit should be measured according to how much of the ‘truth’ one could still barely endure.” Once you expand your brain to a certain point, it’s like trying to bench a billion tons — the weight is just going crush you.

GM: I don’t see the stakes at the brain gym as that high. You’re falling for this culture of fear we’re living in today. Admitting you’re wrong doesn’t hurt. It’s a lot less painful than boxing, and that’s fun! Nietzsche was a manic depressive with a big vocabulary. I’m more of a Thomas Jefferson dude. He said, “There is not a truth existing which I fear or would wish unknown to the whole world.”

GM: One thing I’ve never understood about nerds is why can’t they get laid? They can figure out an algorithm for separating a missile from its surrounding decoy missiles but they can’t convince a girl to allow an internal massage? Go buy a bag of coke or learn to play bass guitar. Done. You’re laid.

TC: You can lobotomize yourself to get laid, or just jack off and skip all the bullshit. I don’t know which one is better. They both seem like good options.

GM: WHAT? Are you kidding me? So, for 40,000 years your ancestors ran from saber toothed tigers and recovered from the plague and took a boat across the ocean and you are finally born in a world where the life expectancy is unprecedented and after all those miracles you go, “This is lame”?

TC: I didn’t say it was lame.

GM: You gotta do a lot of chicks. I’ve fucked about 300. You definitely gotta get about 50 under your belt. 50 is the minimum because you get to beat off to them when your wife is not horny.

TC: The sacred spank bank.

GM: Yeah, the wank rolodex…  and when I’m walking down the street, and I see a woman — some little chubby black chick who is like 28 — I think, “I know exactly what it would be like to fuck you because I’ve fucked about seven chicks that look exactly like you.” Of course I still want to fuck her, but I don’t pine for it because I can play it through in my mind. Once you’ve mowed a certain number of lawns you stop thinking the grass is always greener.

I think a lot of guys go way past the point where it’s time to get married because they keep thinking, “Well, I still think the grass is a little greener. Maybe I’ll go another five years.” That’s bullshit. If you’re in a long term relationship and you’re in your 30s, propose, you fucking pussy. And if you’re a woman in your late 20s and you’re dating a loser, abandon ship. You can’t make a baby forever. Both of these scenarios are at their peak here which is why I call New York an elephant’s graveyard for ovaries.

TC: We haven’t really talked directly about your new book How to Piss in Public. It’s a hilarious collection of stories from your life, a greatest hits collection of your most insane antics. What else is there to say?

GM: It’s hard to talk about this book in interviews because you go, “What are you trying to say with the book?” or, “What happened here?” It’s just funny stories.

TC: Is it going to sell?

GM: Yes.  There are plenty of people who have had a life like this, with crazy orgies, drugs, jail, violence, punk rock, comedy and celebrities hating your guts — but they can’t write. So I’m one of the few who can string a sentence together and tell you about all this fun shit. And I think with a writer, if you have some crazy stories to tell, you enrich other people’s lives by telling them. And the crazier the story, the more people will enjoy it, because they haven’t experienced that. The book provides that vicarious experience.

TC: What’s the deal with Dash Snow? What kind of person was he?  A violent vandal? A drug addict? A nutbag? A deadbeat?

GM: No. That’s not Dash. Rockets Redglare is that guy. Yes: Dash lit a Christmas tree on fire that burned a car and started a huge fucking fire on a boring night. But that was just for four seconds and that was just the craziest thing he has ever done. Really, he was just into what’s right and he wanted everyone to have fun. The thing about Dash is, he was abandoned as a boy. He was sent to that stupid juvenile corrections whatever at a very young age — I think twelve. But when I met him he was eighteen or nineteen and had been living by himself in an apartment since fifteen. Remember when you were fifteen? I had a green mohawk and I was slam dancing and I lived in the suburbs in a nice middle class neighborhood and I remember coming home one day and my mom goes, “How are you doing?” And I go “I’m kind of sad, I’m depressed, Mom.” And she played with my green bangs and she said: “Why don’t you go upstairs and listen to some of your punk and I will make you some soup.” I had that, you know? And I did  go upstairs and I put on The Exploited and my mom brought me some soup. When that was going on, Dash was sitting alone, watching TV, eating cereal for dinner. And so he was just a child his whole life, and when he saw people having a bad time in New York it was like you went over to a kid’s house for a play date and you were having a bad time on the play date. He just wanted to make you happy.

TC: And his death? What happened?

GM: My personal theory is that when Dash was getting older and he felt like he was a dad now, he didn’t have any context. It was like if you made a child a dad. And he chickened out. And that’s a very crucial part of it, but it’s in a sense a small part of it. The big picture here is heroin. Heroin is like Rasputin and it takes away your fear of death. It gets in your ear and starts going let’s just get out of here, fuck it, let’s go. Dash was in that bath, in that hotel, doing a heroin bender, and Rasputin said: let’s just go. And then he thought “I’m just a kid, why am I a dad? We should go. Let’s go.” And Rasputin took him away.

And I cried so fucking hard the night he died, because I have maybe a dozen friends like that — and you just think the party years, which is this book, are so trivial. You’re going be alive for 80 years. Your party years are 15. What is that: 20% of your life? It’s this small moment and to say this is everything and I’m going end it all when it ends, because there couldn’t possibly be anything else… dude, there’s an entire universe left. Fatherhood makes punk rock, fights, and doing coke in the basement of Lit seem like a fun but tiny joke.

TC: So are the party years even worth it?

GM: Of course they’re worth it! They’re fucking fun. You have a brief epoch in your life when you can be totally reckless and stay out all night and destroy shit. You can create some kind of legacy and make your mark. I don’t care if it’s killing a dictator and taking over a country or simply starting a cool scene in your tiny suburb of Chicago. It’s about making the most of your youth. That’s what this book is about: one person’s wild years and what he did. Hopefully, it serves as a funny How-To guide that inspires others to make the most of that time of their life. I’ve had a lot of friends who thought this phase was the be all and end all and wanted to “Live Fast and Die Young” and that breaks my heart. It’s like loving my book so much, you blow your head off after the last page. It’s a good read but it’s not that good. There is life after How to Piss in Public. In fact, one of the working titles of the book was Just Don’t Die. TC mark

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