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Youre talkin about sex all the time, he tells me. Whats up with that? And what is the underworld of sex? I dont understand that. I think its just teenage sex. I think its just sex.
By now were both cracking up, and I feel like Mary Poppins in a nun habit. I clear my throat to change the subject.
What about teenagers and drugs? And why teenagers instead of middle-aged junkies? Whats your fascination?
Clark insists that he doesnt find the drugs fascinating. But its just there, he says. All these kids and drugs. Its just so available in America. Its almost like a right in this country -- its their birthright.
Do you think teenagers should take drugs? I ask.
Of course not, Clark emphatically replies, looking at me like Im a dumbbell again.
I tell Clark how I was glad I did drugs growing up, that they were a good escape and that they didnt ruin me.
Youre comparing your insides with my outsides, he says. I mean, how do you know how I feel inside? Drugs didnt ruin you, and you think drugs didnt ruin me. Well, they did ruin me. Of course they ruined me. I had years and years and years of addiction and I was miserable, absolutely miserable. You know, I dont want to go into it, but it was wrong, totally wrong. There was nothing glamorous about my fucking life when I did drugs. All I did was have a camera and document what was going on around me.
So many musicians thought that if they shot heroin, theyd be Charlie Parker, he continues. Thats bullshit. Total fucking bullshit. It doesnt work that way. The drugs dont make the work, and they dont make good work. They hindered the photographs. Its hard to work when youre fucked up.
He isnt saying any of this in a lecturing tone. Hes speaking from his heart. Clark has felt real pain and it wont let him go. Maybe thats why teenagers will always be fodder for his art. Hes interested in that time when life is about living. A life with no consequences. A life with no responsibilities. A life so carefree, its pain-free. For a while at least.
Plus, as Clark says, The whole country is obsessed with youth. Its interesting, and visually its pleasing. Everybodys always watching how people grow up. I mean I watch how my kids grow up, and Im interested.
On another day, I reach Clark on the phone. Hes somewhere in Texas and will probably make it to Memphis by sundown. He asks me if I recommend Graceland (yes), then starts talking about some of the reviews that have come in for Bully.
Well, he says, theres no middle ground for this movie. Some of the reviewers are really crazy about it. Did you see the review from Roger Ebert? Its an amazing write-up -- four stars. Then I get a review where The New York Times guy says that you cant call me a pornographer because pornography is better, or most honest. Crash and burn, right? But those kinds of reviews arent about the film; theyre about attacking me. I dont get it. Do I inflame people or ignite something in them that makes them crazy? Are they born again?
But as an artist, I say, dont you like the controversy in some respects?
Well, yeah, he says. The worst thing would be to have everybody just say its okay. And if everyone liked it Id be doing something really wrong. So its either love or hate. Its either a masterpiece or the worst film ever made. Its like that, so I feel pretty good about that.
And then theres that cool review from David Denby in The New Yorker, I say.
You read it? he says. He called me this punk Picasso. That made my week, I tell ya. Punk Picasso. How bout that?
Even on the phone hes got the energy of a teenager. And maybe thats what keeps him going.