LL: Hi Daron, ready to start with a difficult question?
Always ready! 🙂
LL: Alright then: David Bowie, Prince and the Pulse shooting, it’s been a rough year for you. Can you tell me how each of these events were relevant for you?
Daron: Rough year doesn’t even begin to cover it. It’s been like the universe wanted to slam us with some kind of backlash after the marriage equality ruling last year. You can’t make this stuff up. With both Bowie and Prince it was like two of my main role models as far as how to make music and be a performer without compromising any of your principles were wiped out. They didn’t compromise on anything, not their sound, not their ever changing styles, nothing. Someone please wrap Robert Smith of The Cure in bubble wrap. But then to have the Pulse shooting happen on the same weekend and in the same town where Christina Grimmie was shot by a crazed fan or whatever he was while autographing after a show. Both those things are my worst nightmares come to life. Ever since John Lennon was shot when I was a kid I’ve always wondered if there’s a bullet with my name on it out there. Just devastating.
LL: What have you done to deal with these events?
Daron: The only thing I can do, which is put my head down and make more music. Over on the website for Daron’s Guitar Chronicles we’re encouraging people to make art, tell stories, stuff like that, because creative outlets are the only way I know to heal. But for those who don’t write or draw or make fanworks we’ve got a thing going where people who make donations to the Pulse victims’ fund or a few other charities like Rock the Vote can get some swag as a thank you from us for just being a part of the effort. We’ve had about a half dozen people do it on the first day.
LL: Do you and Ziggy deal differently with such traumatic events?
Daron: I think it depends. I think people think of him as the more outgoing one of the two of us because he’s the flamboyant one, but he’s just as likely to bury himself in work to avoid confronting painful feeling as I am. After Bowie’s death he literally locked himself in a room for a couple of days. I was on the road at the time and didn’t have the luxury. We had friends who were on tour in Europe when the shooting happened at Bataclan in France and they cancelled their tour to come home. I don’t blame them. I don’t think anyone really knows how to live in the current world gone mad. This is way beyond just gay rights issues or even culture issues–but there’s a way in which it’s almost like everyone now is feeling like we’ve always felt. We’ve always felt we could end up like Matthew Shepard or like the people at Pulse–we are safer than we used to be within the US but only by a little. There are always going to be people who want to kill us for being “decadent Americans” or filthy perverts or whatever. And we’re just trying to be ourselves. That’s the bottom line. Freedom of expression is freedom to just be yourself.
LL: I read a blog post, I forgot where or by whom, I read so many in the days after the Pulse shooting, where the author explained that, since queer people grow up as minorities, even within their own families, clubs like the Pulse are the only places where they feel at home and really accepted. Coincidentally, you describe that feeling in DGC Vol 9, when you go out with Fran and Clarice in Albuquerque. Can you expand on that?
Daron: Absolutely. And remember how Mitch, the sax player, traveled the world with a notebook listing all the gay bars in other countries and stuff, too? It’s not just about knowing where the hookup spots are in a place where you don’t know the language or anyone personally. It’s about being able to go somewhere safe to be yourself. What was gold about Fran and Clarice taking me out to a gay speakeasy was that they knew. They knew it would do me good to be able to let my guard down and stop having to keep up my “for straight people” front. Nomad and Remo are like a family to me, but they’re just like a straight family where you’re the only queer one. My “chosen” family is a lot different, and then just having safe spaces to go to… it’s so important. You feel validated as a human being when you are with other people like yourself. Some people get that every time they walk out the door. You don’t if you’re like me, though. So yeah, it’s important, and so often what we gather together to do is dance or go to a show or share music in some way. Music is entwined with it, with the power to bring a community together, and to have that shattered is just…shattering.
LL: And in the light of the shooting, what do you think the relevance is of telling a story like yours?
Daron: When I started telling my story I think I was trying to do it for me, to kind of figure some stuff out for myself and as yet another form of self-expression that says “I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it.” The thing is that as I’ve gone along telling the story for what, six years now? The current climate for gay rights has gotten superheated and yeah, it’s still super important for people to see themselves reflected in the world. Every time one of us stands up and says “I’m here” it helps give strength to the next person who has to say that. And that goes for movies and TV shows and stuff, too. I’m still kind of amazed that we went from no gays on TV at all, not in characters or in actors who were out, to now it’s like part of a show’s planning, “hey, which character will be gay?” Will & Grace and Ellen and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy were just ground-breaking and none of them were what you’d call militant, you know? Just…there. Being part of pop culture. Right on.
LL: So how do you feel like queer baiting in popular shows? Where creators kind of hint at two, on the surface, heterosexual characters possibly being gay, to fan the interest of (mostly) fangirls and their social media power, but then never actually following through or even trying to squash that interpretation later?
Daron: It’s annoying as fuck. I love movies, I get sucked into TV shows, we binge watch stuff on the tour bus or when we get home, and it’s like… In my real life I already have all these politics and negotiations going on about my identity and my relationships just because I’m gay. The last thing I want to be thinking about when watching two hot dudes beat each other to a pulp or half-flirt with each other or whatever is about how the only reason they haven’t kissed already is because of all the politics and identity shit that fucked up my own relationships for so long. I mean, really. Don’t get me started on the latest Captain America thing because that one is like waitasecond. Not the Nazi thing, the Bucky thing. But I said don’t get me started.
They’re just scared as fuck if they put actual gay stuff in there they’ll lose the homophobes they imagine are actually the main audience. It gets worse than that, though, it’s not just being coy about characters who don’t even exist. It’s way more fucked up to me that they groom and contract who they queerbait with in groups like One Direction. Those are real people whose lives and sexual identities are being fucked up for the sake of fame and making a boatload of money. You can see why I would be against that shit. But it’s there and it’s still going on.
LL: Honestly, I think that is only going to get worse. Because judging by my tumblr feed, it’s working out really well for someone.
Daron: Did you see the thing where Justin Bieber was wearing a Marilyn Manson T-shirt and people were like that crazy Bieber he’s just trying to look edgy and cool, and then Manson trolled the whole Internet by wearing a Justin Bieber shirt in return? I loved it. I think it shows Manson knows it’s all a game. Fame is a fucked up game. I do wonder if there’s fanfic about the two of them now though. And how fucked up it is. But yeah.
LL: Let’s go back to your story for a bit. It’s been posting as a web serial since 2009. It seems to have more of a m/m cult classic status, rather than attracting the block buster crowd. Who do think is your audience?
Daron: It’s a little hard to tell because only a small number actually comment, while the main readers are just lurking or reading via Kindle or Wattpad. In the beginning I thought it would probably mostly be m/m readers but there is also a large contingent of older gay men (and some younger ones, too, now that I think about it, college age guys mostly) who see themselves in the story, I think. And some straight ones, too, who see their own struggles against the shit masculinity and American male stuff makes you do, in what I go through. It’s just more obvious when you look at it with a gay character sometimes than a straight male character who can hide it better or for longer. It’s a very mixed group.
LL: The readers that do comment on the web serial can get very vocal and opinionated in the comments. Do you ever feel that is influencing the story the way you’re writing it?
Daron: It helps me to see if they’re getting the point I’m trying to make, or if I’ve failed to get my point across. Which admittedly I may do, what with trying to get it all out of my head and onto the page. It’s funny, sometimes I put a flashback in or something that I think is going to flip people out and instead they’ll totally focus on something I didn’t even think was that important. But then again sometimes they really do see stuff that I don’t even realize is that important to me. It’s fascinating to see people giving it a third or fourth read and being like “whoa, how’d I miss that the first time.” I think people get different things out of the story depending on where they are in their own lives. And it’s really awesome to see that in the comments.
One thing that everyone who comments has in common, which I didn’t see until recently, is that they all respond to how emotionally vulnerable the story makes them. That’s the thing that blows my mind. In a way it’s kind of my journey of how to deal with my own emotional vulnerability and when people respond to that, it makes them vulnerable as well. They’re very passionate, too. Unfortunately strong passions can lead to pain–which right there could be the understated description of my relationship with Ziggy.
Daron: Strictly talking about the parts you’ve already read, yeah. Don’t you think?
LL: With you, I don’t know what to think. I am under no illusion that it’s going to be smooth sailing from here on out, I’m just praying that the worst is behind us.
Daron: Uh, no comment.
LL: Okay, fine. Be that way. So here comes the question I have to ask every so often: how many more books is it going to take, do you think?
Daron: Okay, well, I’m not sure. I mean, I really didn’t think it was going to take two whole books just to tell what happened on one tour, but it did, but then I was in Spain for what nine months and that was only like a handful of chapters? There are several big things in my life still going to happen before I would consider myself done, but I don’t have a sense of how long it’ll take to work up to each one. They might all hit at once, kinda, I don’t know. I do know that pretty soon we’re going to cross the Harry Potter line. (i.e. be longer than Harry Potter).
LL: Oh, we’ll definitely need to celebrate that milestone!
Daron: Yeah, we should! I’ll have to math that up. I know it’ll be soon. When we’re done celebrating the release of Book Nine, of course. I really didn’t think I was going to have this much to say!
LL: Thank you for being so forthcoming here, too. See you when book 10 comes out? Which is another milestone!
Daron: See you then!
If you decide to pick up Daron’s Guitar Chronicles Buy Link and email Cecilia Tan at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell her you found it on Gay Book Reviews, she’ll send you the first -explicit- bonus story as a present! You can find last year’s interview with her here.