Life without consequence: an interview with Maxim Galway
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[Note: Maxim Galway first appeared in Jon Leon's last story "The Grand Babeuf." In that story the main character [a novelist] ends up screwing his [M. Galway's] celebrated mistress Clarice Gillenhall. This is the rest of Maxim's story...]
These talks were conducted over a 2-day period the summer of 1999 in a small studio over The Bragg St. Bridges - Cleveland, Ohio.
Interviewer: What is it exactly that you do? Or, first, thank you for allowing the time for this interview. I understand you are Napoleonic in your work schedule.
Maxim Galway: Yes, I am quite busy all the time. But itís no trouble. I havenít had the opportunity to talk at length about my life. As for what I do, well I suppose that will unfold. Right now today Iím listening to a band called Dakota Blue. They are very good. Have you heard them?
I: Yes, I just saw them recently.
MG: What did you think?
I: I enjoyed the show. They are veryÖ rich.
MG: Yes they are rich. What a good word. Bravo.
I: How old are you Mr. Galway?
MG: I will be 47 in October. You know I have published 39 books.
I: Do you like photography?
MG: I donít know much about photography, but I think I have an exhibit coming up of some pictures I took in Philadelphia. I think they are all of little black girls skipping rope. You know double-dutch and whatnot.
I: Hmm. Thatís interesting. Tell me about your books.
MG: I donít really remember them. There was a lot of pedantry there. Honestly, I think once I wrote a book about lollipops. There were Polaroidís of the wrappers. Itís a very colorful book. Conceptually I think it was wrong. A lot of children read it. Itís out of print now but if you like I believe thereís a stack in my warehouse in Vermont.
I: Oh yes, I would like one very much. What do you think of Oscar Wilde? Is he any good?
MG: Itís funny you ask me. My brother is a big fan. Iím not. Sorry.
I: What about this room? How long have you lived here?
MG: Iíve lived here 6 months. I really enjoy it. As you can see I have no furniture. That chair youíre sitting on I borrowed from the neighbor. I only have this one chair, that enormous desk, and a daybed. I make all of my phone calls from the daybed. I also have a phone on the desk, a little rotary that I use to call artists and whatnot all over the world. Just today I was talking to so-and-so in Finland. Jesus, what a beauty. She reminds me of some goddess from northern mythology. Oh wow, today I was at the supermarket. Well I nearlyÖ she peaked through my bones this woman. She had on some of those soft-like boots with the fur lining, looked like sheepís skin, stopping at her calves; a little denim skirt barely hiding her derriŤre; and the most beautiful pale skin. Jesus, I could smell her. It made me nervous though.
I: Have you had many lovers?
MG: I havenít had a tremendous amount, no. Iíve never been married. Usually Iím dating one of my actresses.
I: Thatís right. Youíre also a playwright.
MG: Yes I have written 77 plays. I have never had one performed though.
I: Never one?
MG: Well the actresses come to me and then itís ruined. Iím only thinking of the affair so of course the production falls apart. And I would never allow anyone else to produce or direct.
I: You never let anyone else handle your work do you?
MG: There have been rare occasions. I allowed a book of sonnets to be revised for opera. That is it. Maybe a handful of small things.
I: Is it true you lived at the old Stork Club address for a time?
MG: Yes I did. What a dump, what a rattrap shotgun shack. This place is much better.
I: Where were you born?
MG: Texas, though shortly after I moved with my family to California. I attended high school in L.A. Then right after graduation I went to New York and stayed at the Stork place for 3 years. I never went to college, though I was accepted. Financially it was too much. I wanted to own a house in at least 15 states. That kept me from college.
I: You never thought of selling one to fund your education?
MG: Never once thought of it. See, I had already written and sold Distancing Murdoch before graduating high school. What did I need college for? That was 1973. I knew I was a genius. I didnít need academia to tell me that. Now I own a house in 50 states, one in London, two in Paris, and a chateau in St. Petersburg. When Iím not in them my assistants are there working for me. They have all legally changed their name to mine. I trust them. They are the best. They make it possible for me to write books fifty or a hundred years after my death. Their children are named after me also. So all total there are 88 Maxim Galways and the number is growing by leaps and bounds.
I: That is extraordinary. You are quite a man. Tell me about Distancing Murdoch. You wrote it when you were 17?
MG: 16. The film came out when I was 17. Itís about a young roller-skater becoming an Olympic superstar.
I: I didnít know roller-skating was included in the Olympic games.
MG: It never was. But the film is quite inspirational. Reaching impossible goals and whatnot.
I: What do you do in a typical day?
MG: I wake around 5am and submit my poetry to a minimum of 30 magazines. Some before the first issue is even printed. I have people who tell me the names and contact info for burgeoning editors and their journals. I am usually the first author in the first issue of every new and reputable literary journal in the world. After that I have coffee while I talk to dealers and galleries about my paintings. Ordinarily I sell around 500,000 dollars worth of visual art a day.
I: When do you find time to paint?
MG: Oh I paint a little at a time: cigarette breaks, brunch, on the toilet. I did a lot of paintings in prison. Those are where most of the sales spring. For 3 months I did nothing but paint or draw. I rarely slept, maybe 5 hours a night and I spent a good deal of money on methamphetamines.
I: Why were you in prison?
MG: Robbery. I stole a small collection of German Expressionist works from the North Carolina Museum of Art. They were all returned though.
I: Do you ever feel youíll lose your artistic vision? You have done almost everything. Are you tired?
MG: No, Iím not tired. But I want to stop soon. As for my vision, I donít think I ever really had one. Iím obsessed with Art, thatís all. As a child I never really knew much about Art etc. Not until just before Distancing Murdoch did I begin. The first time anyone saw my work was 1971. I sold out a show at a little gallery in New Hampshire. I was 15 and had been reading a lot about Dubaffet. Dubaffet and electronic music. I said to myself ďMax, youíre better. Do 21 pictures in a week (I just chose a random number), take slides and send them out all over.Ē So thatís what I did. It gave me a lot of confidence to be successful in art at 15. From then on I wanted to devour the world. Well, at that time I was thinking America. I had only been to Buenos Aires and Vera Cruz outside the states. Europe never crossed my mind except as a fairy tale.
I: And now Europe cowers at your feet. How many Galway Galleries are there in Western Europe alone?
MG: Only 17 now. But Iím opening another in October. Right down the street from Charles Dickensís old house. The galleries are just a side project. Sometimes I forget theyíre there. I just wanted a place to show the work of artists I admire, guys who would only be known because I discovered them. But itís no trouble. I employ people to run those galleries.
I: What do you enjoy the most?
MG: The music of James Chance and Louis Armstrong.
I: No, what do you enjoy working on the most?
MG: Architecture. Designing buildings and whatnot. Just the other day I finished the plans for a 37-story restaurant. There are holes in the floor so you can hear white noise all over. Itís very spacious like that. I wanted the guests to experience their meal with thousands of other diners. No one should forget they're here with millions of other people. Iíve found that I forget myself most easily when Iím in the midst of people. I love thronging crowds, packed houses and whatnot.
I: What is your favorite American movie?
MG: Youíll cringe, but itís Wall Street, for all the wrong reasons.
I: Well, thatís surprising. Is ambition important to you or have you worked more or less haphazardly and with indifference?
MG: I cannot deny that I have ambition, but the characteristic isnít something I attribute to myself regularly. Iíve always had goals but Iíve been careless in achieving them. None the less I have and Iíve found it wasnít the result of persistence, hard work, or ambition but merely because everything I touch turns to gold. In the beginning of my career, well really just the New Hampshire show I had ambition but after that I tossed it off. I was to get what I wanted simply because I wanted it. That is the important thing. What I do in life and work comes so very naturally I hardly have to think. I am a machine. Sometimes I forget a project as soon as itís complete. Maybe it will take years for me to recall what I did. Then Iíll put it on display and everyone will love it.
I: You say you want to stop soon. What will you do after that?
MG: Probably not much of anything. Devote myself to leisure I suppose. Get into a routine. Play the piano for fun. I like to eat. Iíll probably spend a lot of time at restaurants or doing interviews like this one. Sell all of my houses and design one spectacular palace to die in. Iím very concerned with having the right death. Itís of great importance to me. Near the end of my life Iíll most likely drive around in automobiles a lot. I would like to die in a car crash.
I: Do you plan to live to be old?
MG: Perhaps, I am very healthy. I have several doctors all over the world. They consult with me at least once a week, advise and encourage me. They are the best in their fields. Experts Iíd say. Pioneers maybe. I can afford a long life. Why not?
I: Yes why not. Who inspires you? Have you had any influences?
MG: From a very young age, maybe 21, I stopped paying attention. I donít think there have been any heroes. Not like myself anyway. No one has had so vast and penetrating a presence to really touch me. Iím really very much inspired by superhuman feats. For example: creation, physiology? Iíve always been inspired by those types of things. If someone made a new solar system or a new human I would be very much encouraged. I would like to do something bigger than creation. I mean what an achievement. Has anyone matched that?
I: I understand what you mean.
MG: Iím glad you do. I mean people are worshipping artists or musicians who are so insignificant or expired. Why not forget about them? Why be hung up on some human making little contraptions. Rachmaninovís Piano Concerto No. 2 is really something but come on. How about a composer writing pieces for a 10,000-person orchestra. Has anyone done that? In 1987 I wrote a piece entitled Circus Grotta. The plan was to include 3100 players. Eventually it came down to 2300 and I had to invent 4 new instruments. That was groundbreaking but it wasnít enough.
I: I believe you will be revered as the fundamental executer and quite simply the best in every sphere of Art for thousands of years to come. Do you feel youíve discouraged centuries of future creators and innovators from leaving a historical mark? And arenít you feeling a trifle selfish in the wake of your already monumental influence on human culture? Not long ago I watched a documentary, Iím A Born Liar, on Federico Fellini and was very much in awe, but even someone so great as he seems to be reduced to an insect-like stature when compared to you.
MG: No. My achievements are necessary to advance the role and technique of artists in society. If anything, I should be an inspiring memory. I never want Art to fall back to the mediocrity it was at before I arrived on the scene. Perhaps when Iím gone it will, but if there is only one to succeed me or surpass what Iíve done then that one will be enough to support a worldís desire for beauty and perfection in craft. Hopefully things will move along at that pace, ever increasing, until the quality Iíve displayed and my success is merely standard for every artist. Iím simply here to bolster the sensibility and boost our creative insight by a thousand fold in a short time. I have advanced culture by tens of thousands of industrial revolutions, thousands more than technology in the last 25 years. I suppose in doing so I am sort of a superhuman creator, a God if you will. I am creating a new human, showing ďa peopleĒ what is possible by relentlessly destroying the influence of the past, and raising the bar. In the future I anticipate what I have done will be common.
I: What will you do in the next few days?
MG: In two days Iím flying to the St. Petersburg house. While Iím there I will begin sculpting the fall of the Berlin Wall. And it wonít be much smaller than the actual wall. Itís scaled down just a bit. While it was being torn down I had my assistants photograph every segment. I have the exact scene down to the second. Itís a tremendous task that I envisioned before the wall ever came down.
I: Are you a drinker?
MG: No Iíve never much cared for its [alcohol] effects. Mostly I drink Sprite garnished with a lemon, or ginger ale, and a lot of cranberry juice and water. Oh, coffee too, and lime tea.
I: We know you make a killing in Art. Have you ever been in the gutter?
MG: Yes I have. Plenty of times. I took a short fall in the mid 90ís; accumulated a torturous debt.
I: What happened?
MG: Well, I spent nearly all of my wealth on attorneys. Someone in Tokyo had been creating sundry pieces of Art in my name. Suddenly the whole world turned on me. Most everyone was sure his or her piece was counterfeit. My work didnít sell for over a year. The doors to all my houses were locked and I found myself sleeping in a small dank studio in Philadelphia with concrete floors and whatnot.
I: Letís talk about Poetry for a bit. Who do you think matters? Or, who matters for you?
MG: Jacques Prevert. Paroles is a petite masterpiece. Prevert can sashay around, be simple and direct, but have that poignancy and impact the dancer has. I like Russian verse too, and Lorca. New Directions anthologies. Poetry has had the largest influence on my direction, especially during the years I struggled. Poetry taught me how a person should simply let things happen to them. I play life like Iím at a craps table. As for who I think matters. No one.
I: No one but you, you mean? I'm inclined to agree with you, though it's a highly immodest statement.
MG: Modesty is failure.
I: Tell me about Clarice Gillenhall.
(Maxim is fumbling with a pair of Revlon fingernail clippers).
MG: Damn these! Do you have an emery board?
(Handing him an emery board)
I like the idea of routine. Clarice is my routine girl. We're not in love but we enjoy one another. She's always there. She gave me my first piece of Czech glass. I knew then we'd be perfect friends.
I: Where does Clarice live?
MG: She's in Santa Fe mostly, doing her pottery. Her pottery is really quite extraordinary. I am the best ha ha.
(Maxim Galway buttons his robe and stands to smoke a French cigarette through a long ivory holder.)
This concludes Day 1 of the minicassette.
Jon Leon's favorite movie is Wall Street, and like Maxim Galway, it's for all the wrong reasons.