Interview by Night Watchman


Night Watchman: Okay, I was doing some research online and came across this story you wrote called "Surrealist Party". Is that real?

Joey Goebel: Yes, it is. I have a friend named Robert, he now lives in Montreal, and I always call him The Mad Scientist because heís a genius, but lots of times he uses his brilliance for evil, not good. But one of his good ideas was to have a surrealist party. Instead of having some overused theme, like pimps and hos or Eighties night or whatever, he said, "Letís base the party on an art movement." I wasnít at this party because it was held in Lexington, but he had this house he was living in that was just an architectural oddity. It had these rooms that were halfway done, and it had hallways that lead to nowhere. So thatís how he got the idea for a surrealist party. Everyone came in mutilated and wearing this dreamlike imagery, so I just wrote a story about it.

NW: That sounds amazing. I was talking to Wayne the other day about how if you were around here weíd probably be hanging out with you all the time, and weíd have you over for SmackDown! on Thursdays.

JG: You know, Iíve thought that, too. I mean, I just know you guys from electronic mail, but I can tell that we share the same world views. Iíve actually probably talked to Wayne more through email than you, but he just really seems like an interesting, eccentric guy. I thought it was cool that he started it [tastes like chicken] as a school newspaper. Didnít he?

NW: Yeah.

JG: And then the powers that be didnít like some of the things that he was writing in it, so he took it elsewhere. And now itís become a big thing, right?

NW: Yeah. There is nothing like someone telling you you can't do something to fuel you and make you want to succeed even more, you know?

JG: Thatís been the basis of my career. If I ever get up to Wisconsin Iím gonna look you guys up. I donít know if youíve ever been to Kentucky, but you should come down to my wrestling shows.

NW: Yeah, that would be really cool. Anytime you want to come up this way youíve definitely got a place to stay.

JG: Iíve been through Wisconsin once in my life on the way to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, and there were a couple of things I expected to see, which I did see, and that's lots of cows. I saw so many cows it blew my mind. And tons and tons of silos; it was like everybody had a silo. Do you have a silo?

NW: No. We live right in downtown Milwaukee. Not too many silos here on the East Side. If you stray outside of town at all, though, itís silo city.

JG: You need to get you a silo.

NW: I donít know where Iíd put it in my apartment complex but, yeah, it would be cool to have. (laughs) I want to talk a little bit about your new book, Torture The Artist, but first I have to find out about this Ralph Macchio thing. You sent a galley copy of the book to us with an old Teen Beat pinup of Ralph Macchio stuffed inside. And when you sent the final hardback copy there was another Ralph Macchio pinup in that one.

JG: Oh, in both of them? (laughs) Thatís really funny.

NW: The thing thatís most disturbing about it is that it looks like these pinups were hanging on your wall before they got stuffed into the books. There are pieces of tape on them, so youíve got to explain this to me. Do you have some kind of Macchio shrine in your house?

JG: Okay, first of all, thatís pure coincidence that they were both of Ralph Macchio. By the time I sent the hardcover Iíd forgotten which picture Iíd sent with the galley. Secondly, yes, they were on my wall. My bedroom is just covered in pictures from my sisterís 1980s Teen Beat magazines.

Both: (laugh)

JG: I remember it was the day before I started high school and for some reason I thought, "Hey, Iím getting older. I need to decorate my room like a teenager." So I put up pictures of Ralph Macchio and Judd Nelson and members of A-Ha and Menudo; I just covered my walls with them. I was 15 then and Iím 24 now, so, nine years later, it finally came time to take them down because Iím going to switch rooms. I thought, "I want to make the most of all these pictures. Theyíve given me so much joy through the years, so Iím going to send them along with my book to my new friends, so maybe theyíll enjoy them and paste them up on their wall." Is it on your wall?

NW: It is on the wall next to my computer.

JG: Boo-ya!

NW: (laughs) So your plan worked.

JG: Thatís awesome. What about Wayne? Did he tape his up?

NW: I think so. His room is probably like yours; heís got things plastered up all over the place. Heís got all the Pay Per View posters on his ceiling. We go to BW3 to watch all the wrestling PPVs.

JG: Yeah, he told me about that.

NW: So, yeah, Iím sure heís got it hanging up in there somewhere.

JG: Wayne and I both agree that the WWE is at a low point right now.

NW: Yeah. They were doing really good there for a month or so, but then it kind of crashed and has been boring for a while.

JG: I donít think I noticed it getting better during that month of which you speak, because I think itís been really bad for probably going on a couple years now. But thatís the way wrestling is; like life, it moves in circles, and it will eventually get better again.

NW: Who do you dig the most? Or who do you think is the most underrated wrestler?

JG: Underrated? Iíll have to think about that.

NW: It always seems like they start out with some really good story ideas, and you can totally see where they're going to go with it and it seems really exciting. But then they never finish it. They just set things up and then drop them. Like I thought for sure that Ric Flair was going to become a good guy, but it never happened.

JG: Yes, I was counting on that, too. I really donít know how to answer underrated, but I can tell you which are the few wrestlers I actually like. I actually like Gene Snitsky because he came from nowhere; I thought they were going to turn him into a wrestler named The Abortionist, because his original gimmick was that he caused Lita to lose her baby. And I just thought that was a really funny way to enter the wrestling world, to cause a miscarriage. And that dude, his face is tiny, but his head is huge.

NW: Oh, heís totally a mutant.

JG: And his name, too: Snitsky!

NW: (laughs)

JG: I actually like Eugene. Some people think itís in poor taste, but Iíll admit I like him. I like how he brings the little kids out; I think thatís cute. I like that little Japanese dude--

NW: Tajiri?

JG: Yeah. I like Tajiri. I usually like the funny guys. Christian usually makes me laugh. I was always a big Mick Foley fan.

NW: So youíre definitely more into RAW than you are SmackDown!?

JG: Yeah. Iíll tell you why: because SmackDown! used to come on Saturdays here, but then they moved it to Thursdays and I never got used to it.

NW: None of us have cable, so we always have to beg people to let us come over and watch RAW, so we see it pretty irregularly. But we always get together for SmackDown!.

JG: Those are pretty much the guys I like. I liked William Regal when he was a heel. I really like the heels better.

NW: Yeah, theyíre always more fun. I think my favorite underrated wrestler is Nunzio from the F.B.I. (Full-Blooded Italians).

JG: I havenít seen much of him.

NW: I know youíre also into BeastMaster, and you even have a section about the animals of BeastMaster on your website. Do you believe in the idea of high-brow/low-brow culture? Do you buy into that at all?

JG: I think that anything entertaining is good, and I think that one should embrace both the high-brow and the low-brow. I think both offer escapism, and thatís what anybody looking for entertainment is after. Theyíre after escapism, something to make them forget their worries for a small amount of time. I think you can get that from both; you can get that from reading F. Scott Fitzgerald or from watching BeastMaster 2. The idea that you should embrace both the high- and low-brow is something that I definitely put into Torture The Artist. There are lots of references to dead authors and painters, but then there are also references to Pam Anderson and Tommy Lee. I like both forms.

NW: In Torture The Artist you take big bites out of the stuff thatís become uber-popular-- which I canít understand-- like the Britney Spears of the world. Do you have a love/hate relationship with that side of culture, or do you just hate it?

JG: I just hate it. I have a love/hate relationship with celebrities, in general. For instance, what they do fascinates me, and Iíd love to meet celebrities and talk to them. On the other hand, they repulse me, and I donít want to be anything like them. But as for the Britney Spears and Justin Timberlakes of this world, no, itís pure disgust coming from this end. Iím disgusted that they even have careers. I think probably 80% of the acts on MTV are undeserving of their record deals. I probably sound like a bitter former musician, like the character Harlan in the book. Maybe that did contribute to this world view of mine, but I think a lot of people would agree, especially readers of tastes like chicken. Most of the mainstream entertainers are lacking in talent but abundant in mindless sexuality. They canít write a good tune, but they can lift up their shirt to show off their well-sculpted abs, and apparently that sells records, too. And Iím just disgusted over that.

NW: So do you think a lot of that stems from being a musician yourself? I played in bands for years in tiny little clubs making nothing, and then you see these other people who donít write songs or know how to play an instrument and they get the world.

JG: Yeah. Iíd be lying if I said that didnít contribute to my stance on this subject. Like you say, you see somebody on MTV who doesnít appear to know how to write a good song-- the melodies will be dull and forgettable, the lyrics will be just vague and unoriginal, and the sound itself will be uncreative-- yet they have fame and fortune. It just goes to show itís who you know, I guess. What kind of band were you in?

NW: Hard rock; industrial.

JG: Okay, I was in a punk band. You could call it a pop-punk band because we did have good melodies. So it pisses me off to see somebody like Good Charlotte when itís obvious that they were hosts for some MTV video show before they got big. They do have melodies, but their melodies are kind of saccharine bubble gum.

NW: With so much shit out there, who are the Vincent Spinettis [a character from Goebel's newest novel]? Who are the saviors of TV, music, and movies?

JG: Well, there are a lot of diamonds in the rough. I know I didnít place any focus on these people in my book. But there are a lot of entertainers out there that I do think have talent. For movies, I love the writer/director guys, like Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Charlie Kaufmanís stuff is really unique. The best movie Iíve seen this last year was Napoleon Dynamite. Iíve never seen anything like it, and I canít believe it got made. Television, now thatís a tough one. I canít think of many good things on TV. Freaks And Geeks was one that I really liked. The writing was impeccable, and the acting was great. But it got the axe within months.

NW: That usually happens with the best shows, unfortunately. Did you like Aaron Sorkinís stuff at all, like Sports Night?

JG: I only caught that once, so I guess not particularly. What else did he do?

NW: He used to do The West Wing.

JG: Thatís what I was going to say.

NW: That got a little preachy sometimes, but the way he writes dialogue... I think there was more dialogue in one episode of that show than most TV shows have all year.

JG: You know, ER still has some really good writing. It always impresses me. And I even like [Everybody Loves] Raymond; it reminds me of a good, old-fashioned sitcom, like All In The Family, where it feels more like a play than a sitcom. They usually have three acts in it and long, dialogue-heavy scenes, unlike Friends or Seinfeld, where the scene ends after 30 seconds. I do like Seinfeld, though.

NW: I know you started out writing scripts, and thatís what lead to you writing your first novel. Is that something youíre still interested in? Has there been any interest in turning either of your novels into films?

JG: It is something Iím totally interested in doing. I just love movies, and I think that screenplays are much easier to write than novels. Iím writing a screenplay right now about a man with a social anxiety disorder who ends up being on a reality show and living with six strangers. Itís called Edwin And The Extroverts.

NW: Is that something youíre writing on spec?

JG: Yeah. You know, I really doubt Iíll sell it, but itís worth a try.

NW: Do you get a lot of pleasure out of writing for yourself?

JG: Well, Iíll tell you one thing, writing is no fun. Itís not really something I enjoy at all. Do you?

NW: If it comes out effortlessly. But if Iím forced to do something, or if I have a stack of 18 CDs that I have to have reviews for by the next day, itís pure torture, you know?

JG: The best word I can use to describe my feelings on being a writer is gratifying. It gratifies me. I donít think it really gives me pleasure, but after you finish writing a screenplay or a novel youíre filled with a sense of accomplishment.

NW: Was it hard to cross that hurdle, to finish your first novel, The Anomalies, or your first screenplay?

JG: Whoo, boy, it really pumped my nads!

NW: (laughs)

JG: Did you know I wrote the screenplay for The Anomalies first?

NW: Yeah.

JG: Iíve always finished the pieces Iíve started. My first screenplay was called Frankie Dandelion; it was about a down-on-his-luck guy who ended up getting testicular implants, and it completely changed his life. His nuts were just huge. And, needless to say, I couldnít sell it. So then I wrote two more screenplays, and The Anomalies was my fourth screenplay. I shopped it around a lot, and I couldnít sell it to any agents. I realized my chances of selling a novel were much greater, so why not adapt The Anomalies screenplay into a novel? And it worked out for me. Now, apparently, Iím a novelist.

NW: The Anomalies was a short novel. Did you feel you had to one-up yourself with the writing of Torture The Artist?

JG: I think it was just such a completely different thing. I didnít really have high expectations for myself when writing Torture The Artist. I wrote it in, like, a week... no, I didnít. It took me a year and a half to write. I donít know. I think from the beginning I realized it was going to be better than The Anomalies. I knew that the scope of it was much larger-- itís almost an epic compared to The Anomalies-- so I knew I already had quantity on my side. Itís three times as long and I worked pretty hard on it, so hopefully I got the quality, too.

NW: Was there one single idea that started the whole concept of Torture The Artist, or was it a few things you had in mind that you put together?

JG: The one thought that started Torture The Artist was the question of "What if...?" Most of my stories start with a "What if...?" question. The question was: What if every single love song that was played on the radio came out of the mind of just one guy? And that guy wrote songs all the time and was kept in a dungeon by record executives? Eventually, heíd run out of inspiration, so they would have to make him suffer to inspire him. Because, as you know, suffering supposedly leads to art. So it started out with that idea, and then I turned it into a song called Torture The Artist. But then I realized it could be a metaphor for how the business and commerce side of entertainment victimizes the art side of entertainment. I thought I could definitely make a novel out of that. In your face!

NW: (laughs) I love the way you introduce the characters in the book, with those little choruses of their favorite TV show, musician, and movie.

JG: Oh, yes! That was awesome when I wrote those words! I kicked so many balls, it isn't even funny, dog!

Both: (laugh)

NW: Do you have pyro set up behind you, so that when you write something awesome you trigger it, and sparks and flames shoot up everywhere while recordings of applause and women screaming play?

JG: What I do when I write, I have three Labrador retrievers lick peanut butter off of my shins. Iíve found that if you smear it all over your shins and thighs and invite the Lab in, that will really stimulate you and give you a sense of self-worth.

NW: Do most people assume you are the Vincent character, the tortured artist? My feeling was that you are more the Harlan character. Is that a fair assessment?

JG: Yeah, you nailed it, big boy! Totally, thatís been a concern of mine since I started writing the novel. I was scared that people thought that Vincent was based on me, and thatís just not true. If that were the case, that would make me seem pretty arrogant, and Iím normally more of a self-deprecating kind of guy. Even though sometimes I yell things like, "God, I kick ass! I whoop it! I just whoop it!" But, no, Vincent isnít based on me at all. Vincent is the personification of pure art, so youíre right that Harlan is more based on me. Even the physical description of Harlan is me to a T, except I donít normally slick my hair back. But, yeah, itís Harlan based on me, not Vincent. Get it right or pay the price!

NW: So do you think you could do the things that Harlan has to do to Vincent?

JG: No, I donít, because I love children. I like to get stuffed animals out of skill crane machines so I can lure them into my El Camino.

Both: (laugh)

JG: No, I didnít mean that. I do love children. I said in The Anomalies: "When youíre a child youíre as close to perfect as youíre ever going to be." I think children are sacred, and what Harlan did was bordering on child abuse, even though it was for the greater good and so forth. Iím really a nice guy, and I wouldnít have it in me to consciously hurt somebody. I normally try to be really considerate of other people, like, "How you doing? Is life okay?"

NW: Yeah, itís going pretty good.

JG: Good.

NW: Not looking forward to the Holiday shopping, but what can you do?

JG: I know what you mean there; itís more stress than anything. You have long hair?

NW: Well, I did until this last spring, and then I chopped it off.

JG: How short is it?

NW: Michael Landon, Little House On The Prairie length.

JG: Okay. Well, hereís what you do: cut off locks of your hair, tape them to a Post-it note, and write "Night Watchman Lock Of Hair: Limited Edition Millennium Series". Then number and sign each one, and then give them to everybody.

NW: (laughs) Thatís a good idea.

JG: I did that one year.

NW: Were you worried about human cloning at all?

JG: No, I welcome clones. Just think of the possibilities. I could go rob a liquor store and put myself on the parole board. I could arm wrestle myself.

NW: You could lick peanut butter off your own shins!

JG: Heck, yeah! That is offensive.

NW: Are you able to fully support yourself off the books youíve written, or is it still a struggle?

JG: I still live at home. Isnít that cool?

NW: You donít have to pay rent, do you?

JG: No!

NW: Then that is awesome!

JG: Awesome possum. Yeah, Iím not able to support myself with my writing. Iím planning on going to get my master's this fall so I can actually make some moolah. I definitely havenít received any life-changing amounts of money; most novelists get two checks a year, from what I understand. So, Iíve got a long ways to go, but Iím gonna keep writing.

NW: It seems like a damn good start, though. I havenít read a bad review for either of your books. And I really liked Torture The Artist a lot, so it seems like youíre well on your way.

JG: Thanks. (singing) "Time is on my side."

NW: I had read some interviews before about the book cover for The Anomalies, and how putting your face on the cover wasnít your idea. And youíve got a Hieronymus Bosch painting on the new one. Did you get to choose the image this time?

JG: I had nothing to do with that cover, either, but I think itís definitely an improvement over the first. Anybody whoís gone to a book signing and had me sign The Anomalies has also walked away with the cover defaced. I draw a mustache on myself or "666" or "Satan lives!"

NW: So youíre working on that screenplay. When do you think youíll be shopping that around? What else do you have going on?

JG: I should be shopping that in January, for sure. I need to pick out a college to get my MFA in writing, and Iíve got this wrestling gig for CWA Wrestling. Weíre going to make a Mullets DVD-- that was the band I was in-- and Iíll work on some short stories. So thatís what Iíll be doing.

NW: One last question, and since youíre a TLC reader you should've known it was coming--

JG: Oh, what was it? Do chickens have lips?

NW: Close. Do dogs have lips?

JG: (laughs) Oh, yeah. Do dogs have lips? You know, I should have been prepared for this, but I do have an answer. Remember the Labradors I mentioned? My girlfriend challenged me, or should I say ordered me, to kiss one of the Labs on the lips. First of all, youíd be surprised as to how reluctant dogs are to even kiss humans. Secondly, no, no they donít.

NW: They do not have lips?

JG: We can go through the scientific method on this if you want. I think it will come back negative.

NW: So then what were you kissing when you were kissing the Lab?

JG: Letís see... are you familiar with the word "taint"?

NW: Yeah. It was the taint? I think you were kissing the wrong end!

Both: (laugh)

JG: No, no. Iím saying itís parallel to their taint, only on the other end. Uh... it wasnít the mouth and it wasnít the nose; it was somewhere in-between. They werenít lips. I mean, I know what lips feel like. I mean, I make out a lot! I have a Chihuahua right here. Letís ask her. (to Chihuahua in a baby voice) Voltron, do you have lips?

NW: Your Chihuahua's name is Voltron?

JG: No, itís the end of the snout. No lips! No lips. No.

NW: Now that I know your Chihuahuaís name is Voltron I have to ask, what are the names of the other dogs?

JG: The other dogs, letís see... one is named Lexi, one is named Debra Winger, and one is named Sir Crapsalot.

NW: (laughs)

JG: Man, I should have been ready for that dog question. Do you think I handled it okay?

NW: Oh, hell yeah. Just calling it a taint was good by itself.

JG: Yeah. Itís an oral taint or a mouth taint.