Interview: R.M. Vaughan

words by Ted Coshi | photo by Finn Jackson Ballard
| Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

R.M. Vaughan

R.M. Vaughan is a Toronto-based critic, poet, novelist and video artist. He’s back from a year abroad in Berlin where he was at work on new material while anticipating the release of his book of selected essays entitled Compared to Hitler (more on the title later). An expert and controversial critic, his essays are barbed, depraved, humorous, and contagious, and teeter on the brink of satire, realism and pessimism. Where else but in a city that is run by that lovable monster Rob Ford could an author like R.M. Vaughan work and live?

You recently spent a year abroad in Berlin. How was that for you?

Berlin was marvel-inducing and beautiful and full of Germans, which can be sexy or cranky, depending on the time of day. I’d like to say I went to all the big museums and archives and immersed myself in the culture, but really all I did was write all day and go out and get fucked at night. But I made plenty of great new friends, as Berlin is full of wacko queers making gorgeous art on what amounts to about 11 dollars Canadian. As for cultural differences, the truth is that artists are treated like crap the world over, but at least in Berlin you can be an artist, be treated like crap, but still get to go out and have a reasonable place to live because it does not cost two-thousand dollars a month to live in some shit damp basement.

What were some of your favorite art shows or books or music things you witnessed in your year abroad?

Not so much art, and never music, because I hate live music, I hate watching bands, it bores me. The best cultural events were the amazing Gegen parties, put on by my friends Tomas Hemstad and War Bear — crazy, all night events that featured performances, projections, no end of wondrous combos of people, every sort of DJ deal (I know nothing about DJ culture, but I like loud noises) and of course drag, drag, drag, of all variations. To me, it was what a city is meant to do: draw together giant cluster bombs of creative types and let the event be the art. Also, the club it is held in has a pool and everybody smokes pot and then falls into the pool.

Where did you grow up and how did it impact who you are today?

I grew up in semi-rural and fall-on rural New Brunswick, in the southern, Bay of Fundy/Anglo part of the province. It has given me many things, but the best is the ability to hold lifelong grudges and also to be super careful with money, unless I am drinking. And a cute accent, when I am drinking. I know I should answer that question properly, in the nice way all those Newfoundland artists do, about growing up with fiddles and nanny-granny telling folk tales by the hearth and eating salt cod, etc. But that would be a lie. Nobody in my family can tell a story for love or money, and I kind of think Atlantic Canadian artists who go on and on about that heritage shit are the equivalent of people who make tartan pot holders and sell them on the roadside to tourists. There’s good money in putting on “ayes da byes” minstrel shows for the ladies-with-book-totes set, but since I’m a fag I’d rather do drag and scare them off.

What was the last really great Hollywood film you saw?

Isn’t everything a Hollywood movie now? I thought French culture theorists had proven that. If not, well, I will watch anything with Jodie Foster in it, because when I was really young I used to imagine she was my sister, so Elysium. Also, Matt Damon has bulked up again and that’s fine by me. I liked the floating ring ship that the rich people lived in too, because it seemed so totally plausible. Yeah, I have class issues.

Did Canada invent the scarf?

Oh, no no no. I believe it was the ancient Sumerians, but they are a lost people so we will never know for sure.

Compared to HitlerWith this book coming out and representing your past, what does it do to free up space in your mind for future books?

You know, I never thought about that. I’ll have to wait and see…. the book could be my tombstone for all I know.

How many books does Canada make in a year?

Define “Canada.” There’s the Canada you and I know, and then there’s this quaint place that appears in “Canadian books.” Never the two shall meet.

Where do you think the great Canadian novel has to go in 2014?

Away. It has to go away. Away from me. Besides, nobody cares anymore about novelists. To get attention as a writer in Canada the best thing you can do is not actually be a writer — be an astronaut (I wish that guy would fucking go away, like, now), be an athlete, be a politician. Just don’t, please, be a writer, because that’s a rather suspect way to live, apparently.

In your introduction to your new book you say that it’s important to apologize a lot. Is the politeness thing that a lot of people believe is a real Canadian thing real? Or is that a totally different thing?

I subscribe to the Quentin Crisp theory: “Manners are not morality, they are warfare.” If you can get somebody off your back with two words, why wouldn’t you? I think when people talk about Canadian politeness they are not talking about the “how” of said politeness — i.e., if you don’t be polite and play the game, you will be punished. Canadian politeness needs to be called out for what it really is, Canadian policing.

What inspired the title?

The title comes from the literal fact that in my many years of writing for periodicals, my opinions have gotten me compared to Adolf Hitler more times than I care to count. I figure the public has to just give up and learn to love me. Like Sandra Bullock.

When you were doing interviews for the Toronto International Film Festival a while back, where there any strange encounters or surprises from celebrities?

There were never any not-surprising ones. Celebrities are weird people who live in a bubble. When you go interview some movie star in a fancy hotel, you realize this person has been hopping from blank hotel to blank hotel for weeks, and you are just one more rail on the track. Then again, they are nicely paid for their troubles. The strangest celebs were always the kids. Every one of them had a minimum of five helpers and every one of them spoke like a 38-yea- old investment broker. Celebrities are machines, some less so than others, of course, but at heart still machines. They work very hard to become so.

What will you do when Canada thaws out?

I might go on an arson spree. Seems like a valid career choice at this point.

Visit RM Vaughan’s website here.

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