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The International Writers Magazine: Reality Check

Decayed at the Desk (with added Testimonials August 10th)
James Campion

Ten Years Of Treachery, Mockery & Felony
The only people who know about mercy are the ones who need it.
- Charles Bukowski

have been putting words in this space for ten years this month. (And eight at Hackwriters). Ten years. I have never held a gig for that long, ever, anywhere, for anything. I am a freelancer.
This is not a job description or any kind of reasonable vocation, it is a lifestyle, no, a malady, no, more like a virus one accepts to live with until they find a cure, but then you realize you're immune to any vaccine so you endure, because you must. But between the years of 1997-2007 I held firm my position here at The Reality Check News & Information Desk, thanks to the bravely insane people at The Aquarian Weekly, four hearty managing editors, the precipitous influence of the Internet, and the most diversified, deranged, and ornery readership in the Fourth Estate.

Millions upon millions of words, week after week, month after month, about subjects far and wide, opining for pennies, editorializing for catharsis, shoveling wit on the cheap. This is the fate I chose willingly, or not.

A few months after the publishing of my first book, Deep Tank Jersey, written in the shadow of the region's finest pop culture/music magazine, its then managing editor, Dan Davis, began harassing me to explain myself. I could never quite grasp his motives, but he kept buying me drinks, so I indulged him. Then I began turning the tables; sending letter after letter to the editor's desk about kidnapped journalists I dated in college, my meager affiliation with local sports figures, and one lengthy missive decrying a barely-cobbled New Jersey State Commission protesting a Marilyn Manson show at the Meadowlands.

Speedwriting senseless junk and repeatedly faxing it to editors seemed like a good idea at the time. I had quit all modes of journalism for almost two years and was sufficiently bored with book-plugs and writing fiction, so I spent enormous blocks of my time aggravating legitimate periodicals with the most rancid and unconscionable spite imaginable.

Soon after, Davis stopped buying rounds, which I took for an ominous sign, and hired me to pen a sports column for another publication. I did so, reluctantly, having toiled in every mind-numbing corner of sports journalism for six years. But free drinks are a powerful aphrodisiac for the freelancer. Never attempt it. They'll end up sleeping on your couch and making long distant phone calls to their agent by morning.

Here's where my affiliation with this magazine becomes hazy. Someone, and it may have been Dan, hired me to lend my voice to some half-baked editorial experiment; three generations discuss issues, one younger, one more grizzled (me), and one more established. Lord knows who those other people were and where they now reside, but I kept plugging, week after week, sending one onerous sentiment after the other, exceeding an impressive personal record for vulgarity and wrath.

And here's the deal: No one objected. No one. Occasionally I would get a phone call wondering if I had been abused as a child or accidentally doubled the medication, but for the most part I kept sending column after putrid column to press and these maniacs kept printing it. I only walked into the offices once the first year and a half when the surprised receptionist actually remarked that I "didn't look like a monster".

It was a venerable laugh-a-minute soul by the name of Chris Uhl who then suggested I take this exercise up from 500 to 800 words and call the thing Reality Check. I wanted to call it Fear No Art. He refused, claiming it made no sense. I asked if he had even read my work, to which he responded, "Mildly". Later I signed on with an web-based content firm run by a crazed renaissance man called Chief Wonka, where he set me up with a nifty web site and published the first three years of Reality Check in a compendium called, you guessed it, Fear No Art -- Observations On The Death Of The American Century.

The demented Wonka and Uhl, who succeeded Davis as managing editor, used their posts to bate me into seducing libel. We came close those first few months, but alas, my years of training had bested us. I would not be going to jail or be successfully sued, although on four separate occasions the weak and stupid attempted it. But we sent them packing, humiliated by defeat and shunned as constitutional pariah. I knew my First Amendment rights and would continue unabated to stretch their limits for a decade. Much of this harangue appears in Midnight For Cinderella -- Reality Check Papers Volume II, released late last year.

The new boys on the block, J.J. Koczan and now Patrick Slevin have more or less left me alone or come to my aid when the heat was on. I thank them as I thank my editor Terry Allen, whose preternatural adherence to deadlines would give the most ardent fascist pause. I also send plaudits to publishers Chris Farinas and Diane Casazza, the latter of whom I never met, who I think still gain a measure of profit from this enterprise, and anyone else on the masthead who've helped me wax exotic, sell books, and act like a petulant jackass for ten long and painful years.

The Desk has moved several times over two states these past years. We've taken on some fine young journalists, radicals, freeloaders, and substance abusers; I met my wife along the way, suckered her into hitching her gorgeous/mad wagon to mine, and help plant our freak-flag on the terra. I have befriended and made enemy of some notable celebrities, politicians, and artists in every realm. They read my stuff, and yet continue to drop my name in respectable circles. I am a better man for having known, spoken to, skewered and lauded them.

I have asked a good many of them to lend their thoughts, recollections, disgust, and blame to this space over the remaining weeks of this month. Why would I subject myself to such a professional roasting? For one, I have not taken two consecutive weeks off from this mess in ten years, and two, I've been meaning to get a well-deserved public butt kicking before autumn.

So to my beloved readers, friends, family, and citizens of earth, I say, thank you from the bottom of my vapid heart, tortured soul, and fractured brain. It has been a pleasure to expunge my bile before you.
Here's to another decade, or not.
© James Campion Aug 3rd 2007

Aug 10th Update:
Reflections On Ten Years Of Reality Check Part I

"Humans need laws. We are weak and stupid and would reduce our quality of life to fossil fragments without them. We have so many laws now it would choke forty civilizations. We cram God and country and all that weepy singsong crap down every throat possible. Yet we continue to reign as the most heinous creatures sucking air."
 - Tramps, Thugs & The Corporate Lie 12/8/99

Campion's whole bleak trip is a means to an end. It's so apocalyptic it has to be a put-on, or it reveals ulterior motives, like a reverse pep talk. As long as he's painting everything dark you no longer feel so bad about your place in it.
John Cusack

It feels almost as though Campion and the yet-unconquered mountain of human reason were made to square off against each other, and when I read his regular dispatches from the front of whatever war he happens to be fighting that week, I picture him standing before that mighty pile of rock, shouting out the real deal, telling logic and actuality how it really goes down on this twisted and interminably fucked planet of ours. The mountain, for its part, has no response.
    And what incredible self-indulgence could drive one to grate week after week on the spinal nerves of America's backbone in hopes of maybe digging through the spin and misinterpretation, the utter lack of context, to the discovery of true motives. Like planting a flag on the North Pole and calling it yours, so too is the futility of speaking truth to a power that simply will not listen, and doubly admirable then is continuing on until the throat is raw and bleeding.
    Undaunted by the hopelessness of his or anyone (everyone) else's position, Campion continues forward, upward and deeper inside, pulling apart the sediment of that mountain, element by element, so that at the end of it he may have the pieces wholly dissected and ready to be put back together in a way that actually makes sense. Those upon whom the title of "rational" would be heaped can only stand on the sidelines and whisper well-earned wishes of "good luck," or otherwise lose themselves in their own desperate sneers of, "you're out of your mind." In either case, Campion is the one who does while we are the ones who watch.
    Unable to idle in an age of enforced stillness, his is the frantic and hyperventilating voice of a man who cannot give himself up to the ultimate cynicism--that belief that in between two sides of any story there is no truth to be found. Whether there is or not, I'm at no liberty to say, but I take great comfort knowing there remains at least one good human being out there dedicating his decades to finding out for sure.
To the next 10,
JJ Koczan

AQ Managing Ed. July 2004-May 2007
"Interventions and parental group therapy are nice, but a carefully placed fist to the temple sets the bully straight and gives a lifetime of hope for the bullied. I've had plenty of experience with bullies, and it sounds to me like the AMA is bullying us into robbing our kids of childhood's most precious victory, the ass-whupping of the deserved. Life is about a series of defeating bullies; the sooner we understand it, the better."

In Defense Of The American Bully 6/26/02
'James Campion sees the truth in art and life in ways that few people recognize and even fewer are able to express so eloquently'.
Wayne Ewing
Filmmaker (Breakfast with Hunter, When I Die, The Last Campaign)

I first came across "jc" while interviewing him about Deep Tank Jersey and Fear No Art, the latter had just been published. Coffee turned to beer and critical interpretations of music [Lester Bangs on low battery life] led to insights about religious exile - no Main Street here - rather an address amid a hipster neighborhood yet to be discovered by the New Yorker or some other rag worthy of at least a few page turns before interest turns to self congratulatory prose. You won't find Campion there, however. He lurks between the shadows cast by accepted "rogue" journalists. Lyricist John Perry Barlow penned the phrase  "Shadow boxing the apocalypse;" Campion's column is his gloves. Ten years in, the laces are tattered, the red, leather mitts scuffed but his blows still hit hard, especially when on target.
    Late last year my wife and I read excerpts of Midnight For Cinderella at some joint in New York City celebrating its release. The bar was loud, the PA was at times inaudible, but somehow Campion's truths, his take, rang true.
Keep on, keeping on...
Will King

Musician (Coming In From The Cold) Journalist (North Country News, The New Jersey Cooperator, Rescue Magazine)
James Campion was an ardent supporter of my former column, Ruminations for many years, during which time he made outlandish declarations about my thoughts and writing. He is often self-indulgent (aren't we all!) and takes
his own opinions way too seriously (ahem! I too have been guilty of same!) but he's also brilliant at his best, consistently passionate and insightful.
Rita J. King
Journalist/Author (Village Voice, CorpWatch, Huffington Post)

"Come now, fellow travelers, this is the waning century. Let us rise from slumber and count the coffee beans among us. Power corrupts, and absolute power is like an IV loaded with speedballs cruising through the main vein. It is King Richard III wandering through the desert looking to trade the Third World for a goddamned horse.  No human can survive it with a shred of decency left intact. There are horrible places on this globe where you can go to see the fierce results of its wounds."
- Ugly Truth 3/24/98

When I started Hackwriters I had lots of enthusiastic writers but none with any political savvy. James sent in a piece that was witty, intelligent and a little wicked. I knew immediately that here was a guy with talent and a great set of values. James Campion wants the world to be better than it is and knows that someone has to point out the imperfections. I cannot think of a better man to point the finger than James Campion and we have valued every piece for eight long years. The world is still imperfect so anticipate that James has a long career ahead of him
Sam North
Editor of

Campion doesn't bash sacred cows -- he bludgeons them, removes their entrails, leaves them wishing they had never been cows at all. And yet, for all of it, Campion has that thing held probably in common by all great satirists, be they Swift, Twain, Mencken, Vonnegut, or Campion's beloved Hunter Thompson: a deep romanticism, an unshakeable love for the things, people, ball teams, bands, towns and ideas that have been unable to lose him along the way.
- Dan Bern
Singer/Songwriter (12 CDs and EPs, including New American Language, Fleeting Days, and Breathe)

Author (Quitting Science, Tales of Toscana, Ted The Cow, World Cup)
"I am lucky to have friends with guts of steel and the resolve of titans. Unfortunately for them I have none of these attributes, and can only churn out bad words and funny asides about meaningless bullshit, so I offer only my gratitude and undying friendship to the faithful. The Desk is dead. Long live The Desk."
 - A Bittersweet End To The Putnam Bunker 9/5/01


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James Campion
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