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Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”: The Japecake Interview

May 13, 2012

“A version of Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream,’ one of the most recognizable images in art history, sold at Sotheby’s on Wednesday night for $119.9 million, the most ever paid for an artwork at auction.” —The New York Times, May 3, 2012

♦ ♦ ♦

This must have been quite a couple of weeks for you. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us.
No problem, and it’s my pleasure. Actually, I … [is suddenly overcome with a hacking cough, pulls lozenge from pocket, places it into mouth]

You all right?
Sorry about that. It comes with the job. Mmm, that’s better. You want a Ricola? [Offers bag] I couldn’t live without these things. They’re like crack.

“I just get fucking nickel-and-dimed to death.”

No, thanks. So, what are you going to do with all that money?
Of course, it doesn’t all go to me. The auction house gets their cut. Jay, my agent, gets his ten percent, and Dottie, my publicist, gets another ten, even though, as usual, they didn’t lift a finger to get me this. Then there’s alimony, times four, and back payments on child support, times seven. I just get fucking nickel-and-dimed to death. I guess the first thing I’ll do is pay down the balance on my Discover card. I also owe Picasso’s Guernica a thousand dollars in a bar bet.

What was the bet?
Well, it was less a bet than an emergency-room bill. We were all out drinking together, a bunch of masterpieces, and let’s just say things got a little out of hand. People tell me I took a swing at Guernica after he told me to shut my fucking mouth for once in my life, but I don’t remember a thing. All of us were totally fucking wasted. There’s some fuzzy camera-phone footage of a scuffle, but all you can really see is that arrogant little prick Blue Boy with his hand on the Nude Descending a Staircase’s tit, and the guy from American Gothic pressing his bare ass to the diner window of Nighthawks. The AA meetings around here are like walking into the Met or something.

“‘Expressionist’ is just another word for asshole.”

Are you still in touch with Edvard Munch?
What?! No way. Fuck him. Do you know what my modeling fee was for standing there on a bridge freezing my balls off for like a week? Some greasy pizza and a promise to paint something cool on my Harley, which he never did. And then, when I kept asking if he’d sign a photo for my kids, he just blew me off. As far as I’m concerned, “expressionist” is just another word for asshole. Forget “Edvard.” To me, he’ll always be Butt Munch.

You were so famous early in your career, and then you kind of dropped out of sight for a while.
If you read some of the recent coverage, there’s all kinds of bullshit about how I “disappeared into a private collection.” But you want to know the truth? By the seventies, I just couldn’t handle the success, and things got out of control.

“Everyone wrote me off as a has-yelled.”

What happened?
I had a great thing going for a while. I would scream at corporate functions, supermarket openings, bar mitzvahs. It gave me some stability and security, and I got to see the world. For a while, I was perfectly happy with that. But then I got caught up in the whole pro screaming lifestyle, and it was all downhill from there. I became a full-on art-supply junkie. At first it was a little linseed oil here and there, no big deal, but pretty soon I was mainlining turpentine like it was water. It got to the point where I developed a tube-a-day paint habit—titanium white, Prussian blue, whatever I could get my hands on. And you’d better believe that the pigment was a lot purer back in those days. You know what cadmium yellow does to your brain? A few times I was so desperate I tried using pastels like suppositories. After I showed up at a few gigs completely bombed out of my skull on damar varnish, the work dried up like that [snaps fingers], even though oil paint usually remains tacky for a full six months or more. I just couldn’t wait for it to harden. And by that time I could barely whisper, let alone scream. I was a wreck, vocally speaking. Everyone wrote me off as a has-yelled.

But you pulled through.
Yes, with a lot of prayer, and a watercolor detox, I got better. Every day is still a struggle, and I’ve fallen off the wagon more than once, but I’m stronger in body and mind than I’ve ever been. And look at me now. I’m a fucking rock star, baby! I’m screaming at A-listers. I just finished taping an episode of The Simpsons. It turns out that Mr. Burns was my mystery buyer, Lisa says something self-righteous, Bart is a wiseass, Marge is frantic, and Homer does something stupid. Tomorrow I go into the studio to record a new single with 50 Cent, “Holla at Me.” We go way back. I love that man. His pet name for me is “50 Million.” Next week I’m screaming on a panel hosted by the New Yorker with Jonathan Franzen and Malcolm Gladwell. We’re all going to scream about the future of the written word.

“I’m screaming at A-listers. I’m a fucking rock star, baby!”

One of our readers wrote in wanting to know: What’s that thing you’re wearing in the picture?
Oh, geez, I’ve had this for years. I think it’s called a sherwani. I picked it up when I went to India with the Beatles in, when was it, ’67 or ’68? The thing I like about it is that I can go commando, which is so much less restricting “down there,” if you know what I mean. My sperm count went through the roof just in time for the Summer of Love. Incidentally, not a lot of people know this, but you can also find me on the Sergeant Pepper album cover, if you know where to look. That partly hidden face right below Oliver Hardy is actually me. I had a lot more hair back then. I also sang harmony on “With a Little Help from My Friends.” I wanted them to change the line to “What would you do if I screamed out of tune,” and Ringo and George were on my side, but John vetoed it. I got back at him by having an affair with Yoko Ono. I first saw her at a “happening,” and it was love at first shriek.

In closing, I have to ask: What were you actually screaming about when Munch painted you?
You know, people are always talking about existential anxiety and depersonalization and all that shit, and I’ve never told this to anyone before, but here’s the God’s honest truth. You remember that pizza I mentioned? Well, it was ice cold by the time my lunch break rolled around, so I stuck a piece into the microwave without paying too much attention, and when I bit into it, the piping hot cheese basically stuck to the roof of my mouth and seared off the flesh. I had those loose little flaps of skin you get and kind of play around with with your tongue for like a week. Also, I had just stepped on a Lego in my bare feet. It was a pretty lousy day, as I recall.

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. May 13, 2012 6:49 pm

    Pure genius. For the record, Guernica is a hothead, I saw him in a bar in the village one time. He was hitting on Botticelli’s Venus, who looks amazing off that shell. Later, he was poking fun at one of Giacametti’s sculptures, calling him skinny. Was amazed to hear about the tough times with the titanium white – thank god he stayed off the burnt umber, that stuff’s a one way trip.

    • May 14, 2012 5:53 pm

      Thanks. Guernica is also notorious for his habit of sticking the surrealists with the tab. Burnt umber can be bad. Some people just can’t hold their paint.

      • May 14, 2012 5:58 pm

        On an unrelated topic, I was going to take the wife to NYC for a Broadway show for our anniversary, but now I’m thinking that something off off Broadway in a basement might be more romantic, plus a free beer – that’s a win-win!

      • May 14, 2012 6:20 pm

        Nothin’ says lovin’ like Budweiser in a basement. She’s clearly lucky to have you.

      • May 14, 2012 6:21 pm

        A little reminder once in a while never hurts

  2. sonnypi67 permalink
    May 13, 2012 7:23 pm

    I am sooooo sick of subject of famous works of art whining about how hard their life is. Hell, I wish I was known just for posing like a young Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. It’s almost as bad as Roy Scheider lamenting about people always coming up to him and saying “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Please. And don’t even get me started on The Mona Lisa crying about how hard it is to have to smiling all the time when “inside she just wants to die.” Please. I work customer service, something these spoiled icons would not survive a day doing. Come down and shovel some of THIS shit, Roy.

    • May 14, 2012 5:56 pm

      I’ve always felt that Roy Scheider was one of our most woefully underappreciated actors, but I’ll forever remember him, in the words of Spy magazine, as “leathery survivor Roy Scheider.”

  3. May 13, 2012 7:36 pm

    This blog is amazing and I am not quite sure if pastel suppositories Is true or not. He reminds me of Allen Ginsberg—compliment

    • May 14, 2012 5:59 pm

      Thank you. I think the Screamer and Ginsberg were briefly an item in the early ’60s. It was a crazy time for everyone. As for the use of pastel suppositories … the sun may not shine there, but that doesn’t mean it can’t use a little splash of color.

  4. May 14, 2012 12:36 am

    brilliant

  5. May 14, 2012 11:54 am

    Brilliant interview. For the record, that was not “Nude Descending a Staircase”‘s tit that “Blue Boy” had his hand on. It was an aardvark that represented man’s concept of the divine in the composition.

    • May 14, 2012 6:02 pm

      No one knows that what Duchamp actually painted was a Nude Ascending a Staircase Backwards.

      • May 16, 2012 12:08 pm

        That’s what the boys down at the atelier were counting on when they invented modern art.

  6. May 14, 2012 2:47 pm

    I always wondered about that…

    • May 14, 2012 6:03 pm

      Burning-hot pizza causing severe pain? Another of the universe’s mysteries solved. See you at Domino’s.

      • May 14, 2012 7:08 pm

        Oh, actually I was wondering if anyone else thought Ricola’s were like crack. Thanks for the pizza tip though.

  7. May 15, 2012 7:02 pm

    As bitter as he is, at least Scream sounds pretty level.

    Seen Girl w/The Pearl Earring lately? YEEESSHHH! Saw her at a shindig last weekend trying to cougar snare some young dude. Babe- botox all you want but that craquelure don’t lie. Sad really, but I guess I can’t judge– I ended up going home with a Botero! Never messing with jager again!

    • May 16, 2012 11:14 am

      Craquelure Don’t Lie would be a fantastic title for an insider’s sleazy tell-all about the art world. As for Boteros … I went on a blind date with one once and almost went broke. Appetizer, dessert, and super-size popcorn at the theater afterward? I mean, there’s a limit! But the most embarrassing thing is when, during a benefit for MOMA, one of Jeff Koons’ balloon dogs came up to me and started humping my left leg. And then Koons himself came up and started humping the right one.

    • June 2, 2012 1:16 pm

      Botero? They used to have Botero posters in a Harvey’s burger place I used to frequent (very appropriate choice).

      Inspired post!

  8. June 2, 2012 1:53 pm

    Those weren’t Boteros; those were just “after” photos.

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