In the weeks since the ‘controversy’ over my Lana Del Rey piece, I have spent a great deal of time trying to come to terms with my relationship to fame. For a brief moment, I was a barnacle on a sinking boat’s hull, which is a feeling I usually only have in relationships with women.
This is a feeling I want to have more often. I want to be a part of something. I want to bond with a celebrity, but I want that celebrity to be my friend before they become famous. I don’t want to deal with the emotional volatility, social pressure and unlimited sources of money/power/sexual gratification that come with fame. I just want to be in the presence of a transformational figure, an artist with a clear vision.
I have spent the last two hours searching the internet for such a figure. I believe I have found him after an exhaustive Google search for ‘genius artist.’ He is a musician that goes by the name ‘Max Black,’ which I quickly discovered is a pseudonym. There was a philosopher named Max Black, but he’s dead now. That renders him incapable of assisting me in my journey toward artistic clarity.
This non-dead Max Black ended up being very helpful. I engaged in a 30 minute Gchat conversation that spanned numerous topics of interest. When we were done, I had a new sense of clarity regarding the Lana Del Rey phenomenon, my own struggle with notoriety and the nature of existence. I believe that Max Black will lead the next great musical revolution. If I could describe his music, it would be a cross between the aggressive dance-punk of LCD Soundsystem, the chillwave nostalgia of Washed Out and the aesthetic taste of a young ABBA.
I have organized our discussion by topic. The transcript might read as strained, but I assure you that Max Black and I are not only artistic peers, but we are also best friends forever (aka ‘BFFs’).
DS: How did you get started in music? What’s your story?
MB: You want the real story or the story my publicist came up with?
DS: The real story.
MB: I attended Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I majored in Digital Video Production, with a minor in Sculpture. All of that cost me $300,000 after interest. I tried to get work directing music videos, but I was told that my work evoked a ‘young Helen Keller.’ I’m not familiar with a director named Helen Keller, but I imagine that was not a compliment.
DS: Where did making your own music come in?
MB: Well, I figured if I was going to direct music videos, I could just make my own music and then direct the videos.
DS: Do you have any videos yet?
DS: What artists have influenced your music the most?
MB: I listened to a lot of My Bloody Valentine, Gang of Four, etc. More contemporary artists include Neon Indian, Childish Gambino, Toro y Moi and M83. My tastes are very refined.
DS: What’s your favorite My Bloody Valentine album?
MB: God, there are so many…
DS: Actually, there are only two.
MB: Two is so many. I like them all.
DS: Tell me more about your record, ‘The Rockafire Implosion EP.’ How long did it take to produce?
MB: 3 days.
DS: You produced 5 songs in 3 days?
MB: Garage Band is a great program.
DS: Is the DIY aspect of your work a major part of your persona?
MB: Yes. I like to think that I am a DIYer. My mother loaned me the money to buy my MacBook Pro, but I went to pick it up from Best Buy all by myself.
DS: What’s your favorite track on the EP?
MB: ‘Mexican Sandwich,’ because it makes me nostalgic.
DS: Does it make you nostalgic for anything in particular?
MB: No, that would be foolish. The point of music is to be universal. The song is supposed to make you nostalgic for general things, like sunshine, VHS tapes, eating sandwiches, summertime, the beach, your black lab, Scrappy who was run over by that Metro bus when you were 12. God, there was so much blood everywhere. You know, general things everyone can relate to.
DS: Your song, ‘Brad’s Head Revisited’ is about your first same-sex encounter. Do you consider yourself bisexual?
MB: I don’t like labels too much, though I do use the term ‘bisexual’ in the song. I believe sex should be about the free expression of emotion between two hot people. Well, they don’t have to be hot, but that’s preferred. Also, it doesn’t just have to be two people. Much like Girl Scout cookies, I say ‘the more the merrier.’
DS: Do you eat a lot of Girl Scout cookies?
MB: Of course. My little sister, Kimmy, is a Girl Scout. We share a room, so I’m always getting hooked up by her. She’s got a ton of boxes under her bed.
DS: You are not famous. No one knows who you are, you are broke, you live with your mom and you haven’t sold any records. Does this bother you?
MB: No. I’m famous with the right people.
DS: I’m not sure what that means.
MB: Look, some people are more important than others. As such, I cater to important people.
DS: How many Tumblr followers do you have?
DS: And all eight of them are important?
MB: To me, they are.
DS: So, what you’re saying is that you decide who is important, and then those people that you decide are important decide that you are important.
MB: No, you have it all wrong. The answer is, I am famous.
DS: I guess my question is how do you define fame?
MB: My definition of fame is so complex that if I explained it to you, your head would explode little chunks of crazy all over the floor and ceiling of your apartment.
DS: But doesn’t that just mean that fame is totally arbitrary if there is no established benchmark for fame?
MB: Yes, fame is arbitrary. That’s what’s so great about it. I can literally say or do whatever I want as long as I have enough time and money to throw at my art.
DS: Do you consider yourself a narcissist?
MB: No. I’m just ‘highly motivated.’
DS: You write all of your own music? No samples?
MB: That is correct. I considered using some samples. Specifically, “Who Let the Dogs Out?” by The Baha Men. No one was more enthusiastic about that than my mother. My mother paid for the record, and she felt like sampling that song would help me book more bar mitzvahs.
DS: What stopped you from using the song?
MB: My father is a lawyer.
DS: Do you feel like you are honest with your art? Does your work come from a place of truth?
MB: I would never lie. I have never lied in my life, expect about finishing Anna Karenina. That book sucked. There’s a guy who wasn’t authentic. Tolstoy liked to talk about denial of the self, but let me tell you. That beard was a fashion statement that he was very proud of.
DS: Where did the name ‘Max Black’ come from?
MB: I took two words that are awesome and put them together to make a name.
DS: Are you aware that there was a philosopher named Max Black?
MB: Only vaguely. I think I came first.
DS: You most certainly did not.
MB: I think you have your facts wrong.
DS: No, I actually don’t.
MB: I was the first musician to be called Max Black. That must count for something.
DS: You have chosen to remain anonymous, unlike so many of your contemporaries. Why? Are you afraid that the spotlight will become too intense?
MB: There is certainly trepidation on my part. I see what has happened to Lana Del Rey and I cringe. I’ve decided to go the opposite route. Whereas Lana Del Rey is a real person named ‘Elizabeth Grant,’ who invented the persona of Lana Del Rey, there is no real person for me. There’s only Max Black. Max Black is not real, therefore any and all criticism of Max Black is pointless. Why would you criticize someone that isn’t real? That’s like critiquing the moral choices of ‘Chandler’ from the NBC sitcom Friends. I feel that I am very much like ‘Chandler,’ but also not at all. I’m a mystery.
DS: Will you ever unmask? Will the world ever know your name?
MB: There’s no name to know, as I said. I’m a mystery.
DS: But I’m talking to you right now. You have an e-mail address and you recorded an EP. Are you sure that I didn’t just make you up as a part of an elaborate hoax?
MB: You’re ruining the mystery.