Laura Albert is the real name of the author of Sarah and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things. JT LeRoy is the pseudonym she used to portray not only the author, but the protagonist who told the story from his point-of-view, in first person narrative. She never intended to perpetrate the Greatest Literary Hoax in History, but things went south quickly. It got out of hand, and before you knew it, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things was being made into a motion picture directed by Asia Argento, who portrayed, Sarah, Jeremiah’s drug-addicted mother. Also of note were Marilyn Manson, Michael Pitt, Jermey Sisto, Peter Fonda, Dylan Sprouse, Jeremy Renner, Lydia Lunch, and Tim Armstrong, of the punk rock group Rancid, as Stinky. An unaccredited Winona Ryder played a shrink. The title of this collection of ten loosely edited short stories was taken from Jeremiah 17:9:
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
King James Version (KJV)
The book, Sarah, a novel about LeRoy’s truck stop hooker mother, his abandonment by her and his subsequent career as a cross-dressing lot lizard was attracting major buzz. The publisher wanted a book tour. Bono raved about the book and wanted to meet JT. Somewhere along the line Laura Albert recruited her sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop, who had the image she had envisioned for LeRoy — an androgynous beauty of indeterminate gender — handsome girl or gorgeous boy? as her stunt double, stand-in, her avatar.
There is a documentary: Author: The JT LeRoy Story. There is a podcast by Marc Maron and also lots of articles and even Laura Albert’s own website and Twitter account. Anyway, this is what I gleaned from her experience: she went through a lot of trauma and abuse herself, but in order to talk about it, she created an avatar who had gone through similar experiences. She seemed to have developed this avenue of escape early on, and in fact was able to tune into these stories of Lost Boys, as in Peter Pan, only grittier, almost like it was a soap opera on her own TV channel. Her sister had trouble getting to sleep, and she said ‘don’t you get that channel with the show about the Lost Boys?’ like it was something accessible to everyone.
Laura would also call hotlines and tell stories as JT, her avatar. Later, after being encouraged to write them down for her psychologist, this urge to call these anonymous hotlines evaporated. But the stories were more of a therapeutic purging than an attempt to get published. So, the books weren’t an attempt to deceive, but rather they were a confession, like something you would say to a priest with the guarantee of confidentiality, and the avatar, was a kind of mask, or a confessional booth, to conceal the identity of a fragile soul. It reminded me of saying number 70 from The Gospel of Thomas:
Jesus said, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not have that within you, what you do not have within you [will] kill you.”
Anyway, after going to extraordinary lengths to keep the deception going, it all blew up. I think that Laura Albert is onto a new phase now, and writing under her own name. She is finding it difficult, not only now that she is in the spotlight, with the added pressure to equal or exceed her previous work, but also hard to find her own voice. Her avatar wasn’t just a mask to hide behind, but it was also a voice that she could just tune into, and transcribe the words spoken.
I think that she will rediscover her voice and perhaps other voices that she may conjure up, like the multiple points-of-view and streams of consciousness one finds in Faulkner or James Joyce. Plus, she has all these incredible real life experiences to draw on now. I am looking forward to hearing what she has to say under her own name, Laura Albert.
I can almost hear Frank Sinatra singing that old standard, written for the film of the same name by David Raksin:
Laura is the face in the misty light
Footsteps that you hear down the hall
The laugh that floats on a summer night
That you can never quite recall
And you see Laura on a train that is passing through
Those eyes how familiar they seem
She gave your very first kiss to you
That was Laura but she’s only a dream