All my friends are dying, A Jack Mannix interview
Somethingyousaid.com’s Marta Jary interviewed close friend Jack Mannix. What began as a seemingly straightforward exchange regarding Jack’s band, Circle Pit, soon evolved into a startlingly honest conversation about how he came to work in a transsexual/transvestite brothel, his drug usage, his consequent intention to enter rehab facilities and his difficult relationships with friends and lovers:
All my friends are dying – A Story About Jack Mannix As a Means of Apology, by Marta Jary.
Jack Mannix has a pair of pale sunglasses dangling from his necklace the colour and texture of sea glass, like the sanded pieces you find rolled onto the shore, and that’s Jack too – a pale thing remade by breakage, worn by slow force, into a rarer object. Beautiful, busted, and adrift.
Jack says the sunglasses used to change colour in the sun, but one day they just stopped. At night he wears them as a pendant.
A few weeks before he left Sydney, Jack stopped by to sell me a damp handful of Klonopin and gave me his new single. White vinyl. He tells me it’s the worst kind of vinyl for sound quality and that makes him feel bad, but he liked the colour so much.
On the cover he’s like wet porcelain, white and sweaty, his hair black again after bleach left it chemical-burned into hunks of yellow wool, and he has the word slave written on his arm in red lipstick. On the other side is band mate, Angie, topless, and scrawled with red too, on mouth and arm.
Circle Pit is his band. Slave is the new single. A double A-side. There’s talk of a Sub Pop deal. He’s just back from an American tour. There’s talk of bigger things. There’s been talk for years.
I play it with the windows open and the last hours of summer sun sitting adamantly in squares in my sunroom. I play it and have to stop what I’m doing and rest on the window-ledge and listen. It’s the sound of his talent, his illness and his unquenchable romance with it all: an impossible catalogue of emotion. I spend the afternoon doing nothing else but replacing the needle over and over at the start.
Have you still got it all…cities made of gold.
“Jack,” I say, when I see him next, “Those are the saddest songs I have ever heard”. He says, “I know”. He says it long and slow with what sounds like love in his voice. Love for these songs and a more damaged, more complex love for the horrors of private circumstance that made them so. His eyes become round and fluid and memory springs up in them so heavily it’s a thing.
A thing I want.
Jack knows the songs are good.
He had to be hurt to make them.
He had to hurt a lot, but there will a whole album of perfected misery given in barter for his life and his health.
He’ll call it Blue Movie.
He’s on the cusp of something great, and he feels it.
The mechanics of everything already moving when he was a cubby fifteen-year-old shooting bands for Rolling Stone, have clicked round to this.
Nights of snapping musicians through windows when he wasn’t allowed in.
He’s on the other side now.
A child prodigy.
He’s still only 23.
It’s hard to believe, exactly.
He’s world-weary, he’s the true sense of that term.
Jack Mannix has seen and done things that make him shudder, but he still has the jaunty, jolting energy of a kid.
He’s certainly a kid standing on the steps outside my building slipping me a Hello Kitty baggie, full of Valium this time. A young French chef from the bistro next door suddenly appears and asks for a lighter and Jack checks all eight of his pockets: he digs in his deflated puffy jacket, in his two flannel shirts, in his low hanging, too-big blue jeans.
I watch him do this: a Dickensien street urchin; flat streaks of hair sticking out from under a fisherman’s blue beanie, a couple nails rimmed under with black, long slender fingers, a long, slender face, Roman in it’s handsome youthfulness, and that waxy pallor of someone gorgeously unwell, someone you want to take care of. But you can’t, because under the too-softness, he’s wilful as hell. He doesn’t have the lighter.
Sometimes when you write about Jack, or talk about Jack, it feels like a eulogy. He hates that, he hates making people worry for him. But when you see him high with those small eyes and sick soft grin, a thick-lipped, sideways smile that’s the equivalent of a drawl, and he talks about how everything inside him is sunshine right now, and he slings his arm around you and you feel almost as warm as you know he does, you wonder how you can ever take this away from him. Despite his sick liver and his two rotting teeth. Despite the fact that he can’t write songs when he’s high.
It isn’t the drugs or the sickness or the quick, violating acts of prostitution in times of abject desperation that are his art. But they are in it, all over it, about it. How do you tear them apart?
Jack has these beautiful new songs, and I want to write about him. So Jack and I make dates for interviews. Saturdays come and go. I cancel, he cancels. We get in a fight over money. We’ve gotten in that fight a few times.
He makes me a T-shirt, and on it he writes in neat black-texta scrawl, “I have an unhealthy relationship with Jack Mannix”.
We don’t talk for a while.
Then Jack moves to Melbourne. For the better part of a year, he walks the streets in a yellow wig, leaning into stranger’s car windows and calling himself Courtney. God Jack, does everything have to be a ‘90s reference? Does everything have to be about heroin?
Then he resurfaces, alive and excited. He sends me sketches of a novel he’s been working on. It’s some of the best writing I’d ever read and I feel sick with jealousy. He tells me he sent his stories to Dennis Cooper. Dennis Cooper thinks Jack is amazing. Of course he does.
Suddenly Jack is a flurry of activity again. He’s making zines. He has a new band. He has a blog. He’s writing a book.
He is Jack’s indestructible spirit.
In the end, I email him some questions.
These are his answers.
Jack says: Here goes nothing!!
What’s happening with Circle Pit and the album Blue Movie at the moment? It felt like that was about to blow up – and then you moved to Melbourne.
Things with Circle Pit kind of started to slow down last year as our personal lives became more disparate. I guess Angie was really ‘carrying’ things for a good year or so. Obviously she eventually got fed up with that, and my drug use definitely made it hard for her to be around me, let alone work with me, as it hurt her too much.
Is the band over?
We’ve stayed in touch this whole time and although we kind of took a break from things, we’ve definitely not broken up. She is and always will be my soul mate – my other half. When you love someone so much it hurts more than anything.
Blue Movie is still going to happen, and as soon as possible, but we’ve made an agreement that before we can do anything new or play together again I have to address my drug problems head-on and do the whole rehab thing, get clean for real. Not just for her, but for myself and all my loved ones. I’m sick of drugs, but unfortunately it isn’t that simple.
How did you end up in Melbourne?
I moved here because I felt like if I stayed in Sydney I might not live for much longer. I know that sounds super dramatic but I was beyond the end of my rope around Christmas when I moved down.
I’ve been through a lot of pretty traumatic stuff in my life, and have had friends and loved ones die in the past, but within the space of a month I held my uncle in my arms as he died of a heart attack, then a couple weeks later, on my 23rd birthday, I found one of my best friends Tim dead of a heroin overdose in his bedroom.
He was 24 and I was sort of in love with him and I just went numb. Like I was in a state of shock, denial and destruction all at once and it honestly felt like I would be next if I didn’t physically remove myself from that situation and Sydney. So in December 2011 Circle Pit toured Melbourne, played a couple of shows and I missed my flight home.
So what the fuck happened in Melbourne anyway – you went there for the good life and ended up street walking, right?
Well, yeah – but not straight away. After a few months everything kind of caught up with me emotionally and psychologically and I relapsed for the millionth time. Every time you stop using and return to it you start off exactly where you left off, and for me that was by far the lowest point I’d reached by then. My habit spiraled completely out of control – and to help fund it I went back to sex work.
It’s something I’d done on and off in Sydney, but never as a full-time profession, and always as a dude. I started off working at a transsexual/transvestite brothel in Collingwood. My working name was Courtney. I ended up basically moving in, because I became addicted to the money and drugs and that whole cycle. When work at the brothel was no longer enough to support my habit I started doing street work in St Kilda, which took things to a whole different level of fucked-up-ness. The brothel wasn’t so bad, and was officially anti-drugs, but street work is a completely different life.
You’re writing a lot about prostitution. Is it something you have made peace with or still a traumatic means to an ends?
I think I’m writing about the most painful things in my life as a form of therapy. I have definitely not made peace with it, but am trying to. But you can never truly forget, no matter how hard you try.
The stuff you’re writing is insanely good. Dennis Cooper likes it for god’s sake – he was a teenage hero of mine. Right now not many people have seen it, are you planning to release the work publicly?
Thanks, I only started writing when I stopped doing prostitution and heroin. It’s something I’ve always been fascinated by, and wanted to try out, but until now never had the motivation or courage maybe?
I’m still completely new to writing as a medium and feel like a bit of an outsider to the literary world, but I’m comfortable with that since I’ve always felt like an outsider in every aspect of life and all my creative pursuits.
You made a bunch of hand-drawn, custom T-shirts and sold them to people last year. It was like a T-shirt home delivery service: you shoplifted from Vinnies, inked them, and delivered them to our doors. And now there’s a zine of photos of people wearing them, right?
That particular zine is a work-in-progress but the t-shirt project is something I’m still working on – I kept doing it after I moved down here and since I’ve re-entered reality have been making them again.
In a way I feel like the ‘slogan’ format of the shirts was my first attempt at writing, and partly what turned me on to words as an art form in the first place. I kind of regret not documenting each shirt myself before selling them or whatever, but they’re all one-of-a-kind, handmade (and stolen) and I like the personal nature of that. I’m currently in the process of tracking down people who own the shirts (there must be about 50 by now) and asking them to document the shirt in a photo. Speaking of which, you probably own more than anyone else, so get shooting!!
I have at least four. Music wise, you have about ten bands at the moment. Sort them the hell out for me.
Haha. Not really, I mean there’s Circle Pit, which will always be my number one, and there’s Beautiful, which is my band with Roberta Stewart, one of my best friends, but they’re both based in Sydney and so have been on-hold since I moved here.
I was writing a lot of material on my own and played a few solo shows down here over the first half of the year as The Jack Mannix Band which would usually involve me and one to four of my friends playing songs I’d written, usually completely un-rehearsed, and a couple of covers.
This led to me collaborating with my good friend Ben Hepworth (Repairs/Eastlink/Interzone) who I lived with for a while, and we used my solo stuff as a starting point. He also had his own songs, so we kind of met half-way. Now we have Liquid Handcuffs.
We played our first show as L.H last night actually, which was amazing. It was great fun, and one of my favourite shows I’ve ever played. I’m really excited about this band and can’t wait for people to hear it. I feel like it’s some of the best, but also most accessible music I’ve ever made.
Are you dating anyone? Ha ha.
I was kind of seeing this boy in Sydney, who I only really got to know after moving to Melbourne, long-distance, but it was never like boyfriends or anything. I have this strange thing where I tend to get more attention (of a sexual, romantic nature) from otherwise “straight” guys, and in turn find myself predominately attracted to guys who normally date girls.
In a lot of ways I feel more like a girl than a boy – and the tranny-whoring was an interesting but ultimately destructive way of exploring that. But I don’t really identify as being transsexual. I mean, internally, in my head, I feel like a female, and I always have for as long as I can remember. But at the same time I was born physically male, and raised accordingly, and conditioned to sort of put on this more masculine kind of front.
But I don’t feel any desire to get a sex-change. I mean, I get mistaken for a girl on an almost daily basis anyway. I like to think of it as a gift, like I’ve been blessed (and cursed) with the fairly unique ability to experience the world as both (or neither) gender…but woah did I go off-point or what!
Ha wow, and I thought that was a throw away question. What are you doing with yourself in Melbourne besides being date raped?
Just spending time with friends who don’t use smack, getting myself back into being productive and creative, taking it easy, writing, making music, going boy-crazy, looking after myself. Getting clean and staying clean is my main priority for now. I’m currently on opiate replacement therapy and waiting to enter rehab up in Byron Bay.
Are you ever coming back to Sydney?
Definitely. Sydney is my home, but for now its still too painful for me to re-visit. Before I go away to Byron I’ll be coming up for a couple weeks to see my loved ones and say goodbye for now.
Do you feel older than 23? Because you have been through a lot, to say the least.
In some ways I feel like a baby, and in other ways I feel geriatric. If that makes sense. I find it hard to relate to people my own age and always have, but the older I get the more I find I have in common with fellow youngsters. Maybe they’re starting to catch up with me? Ha ha. I got a pretty massive head-start on life, leaving home at 13.
You’re friends with Liza Thorn from Starred? I am utterly obsessed with her. Someone called her the hipster Courtney Love and that’s so apt. You met her in LA right? Your whole American tour sounded like a beautiful nightmare.
Yeah that’s one way of describing it haha! Yeah, Liza and I hit it off straight away. I met her in LA because our mutual friend, Jennifer Herrema (Royal Trux) brought her along to our show, and it was like meeting a long-lost sibling or something. We have this mutual fascination I guess and hope to stay friends with her forever. She’s incredible. Her band, Starred, and Circle Pit will be collaborating on Blue Movie. Her boyfriend and band mate Matt Koshak is recording it in the states when I get out of rehab next year.
What are you listening to?
Bull’s Eye by Ruined Fortune, Video Games by Lana Del Rey, This is a Warning by Lil Kim, Lose the Baby by Lost Animal, Bad Decisions by Bitch Prefect, Malibu by Hole.
What was the last movie you watched?
I’ll Be Your Mirror, which is a Nan Goldin doco. She’s been my favourite photographer since I was about 16.
Would you make an indie porn film? That’s not a bad idea.
DUH. I’m actually doing a nude scene in my friend Micha Couell’s new film V for Vienetta.
So, listen Jack a lot of your writing deals with your drug use and the effect it has on your music and your relationships. Do you ever see a way out of that? I mean, a long time ago you told me that you felt like you were always going to do heroin, like it was a predetermined fate. Would you change it, that fateful choice, if you saw yourself out the other side, or is the romance still hot?
Ha…the romance is clearly long gone. I don’t see the point in regret. But you can learn from your mistakes, and heroin is easily THE BIGGEST MISTAKE I have ever made. I want to make that perfectly clear. I wish I could turn back time, but like I said, I kinda always knew it would happen one day. Unfortunately I’m the kind of person who feels the need to make my own mistakes, I need to KNOW first-hand.
And yet you never seem to be surrounded by enablers. I feel like you’re a lone wolf, ultimately. Like only strangers hurt you.
I’m not surrounded by enablers at all, and in a lot of ways I always feel alone, but for someone like me it’s dangerous to be alone, like I said – I’m my own worst enemy. I’m probably the most sensitive person I know, not that I’d ever let it show too much. Strangers hurt me all the time, but I always manage to find a way of turning it inward. My mum is kind of the same I think, and while she is my hero, I probably inherited it from her. Everyone, everything hurts me, but nothing as much as myself.
The debut collection of Jack’s amazing writing can be read here: http://cocksuckerbruise.tumblr.com/
You can buy Jack’s new zine Cocksucker Bruise via: firstname.lastname@example.org
The music video for Circle Pit’s track Honey can be found here: http://vimeo.com/24617098
Circle Pit’s single Slave/Honey can be found here: http://soundcloud.com/hardlyartrecords/sets/circle-pit-slave-honey/
The music video for Circle Pit’s Another Tick can be found here: http://youtu.be/QtJJbGwqRBw
Words by Marta Jary