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My Lunch With Dave Hickey

Sit Down. Buckle Up. The UNLV 'Genius'--the Unguided Missile of Art and Social Criticism--Is About to Take Off. And That's Before the Caffeine.

December 08, 2002|Richard Cheverton | Richard Cheverton's last piece for the magazine was about photographer David Paul Bayles and his pictures of the urban forest.

"I try to be charming," Hickey says of life on the stump, "and I'm extremely glib. And that seems to make people hesitate to attack me. That just means that people are sullen, you know what I mean? At universities you go in and you're talking, usually in a medium-sized auditorium. Kids are up front, the faculty's along the back row. As you're talking, you just watch the faculty filing out. So by the time you're done, nobody's left but the one guy who's got to take you back to the motel."

Hickey finds this greatly amusing. And it is a funny story--the butt of most Hickey jokes, both printed and verbal, is usually himself. But as with most great humor, there's an undercurrent of tragedy as well. It's damn tough being a maverick, with all those hammers waiting to pound you down.

To which Hickey replies: "[For] a person like myself, who is privileged with a deep repository of I-Don't-Care, that means that I can say and do things that need to be said and done, totally heedless of the consequences, because I don't care. There's nothing I want to win. So that's a privilege, and you try to take advantage of it."

Then the self-proclaimed lion in winter puts it all into perspective: "I've had enough adventure in my life. Once one has been on tour with Aerosmith," here Hickey unleashes his machine-gun laugh, "and you [have sex with] someone you saw in the movies and you sit in a Mexican jail, what the hell else is there?"

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Hickey on Hickey

Although he is best known for his books of criticism, Dave Hickey also is a short-story writer of uncommon talent. His latest book, "Stardumb," came about because "a friend of mine, [the artist] John DeFazio, wanted to do this astrology book . . . then I decided I would write these little narratives. I did them one a day."

The stories are exquisite. In their precision, deadpan humor and elevation of the commonplace into art, they bring to mind writers such as Raymond Carver, John O'Hara and, even, Hemingway. The stories revolve around the art world--dealers, artists on the make, writers, patrons. No one's hands are entirely clean.

"Some are me," Hickey says. "Some are other people." Then the critic reemerges: "They're not polished . . . they don't kind of bang! the way they should--but they get better as you go through the book, as I kind of got the hang of it."

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Hickey on Everything Else

"There's no difference between the highest art and the lowest art, except for the audience it appeals to. I have never seen more art and craft and thought and gift and talent and learning go into anything as watching Allen Toussaint produce a Meters record in New Orleans. That was real art."

"[In] the 20th century, that's all there is: jazz and rock 'n' roll. The rest is just term papers and advertising."

"I don't care anything about church. I hold this sort of 'electric meat' theory of the human condition and I am as spiritual as snot."

"I have gradually come to distrust the very idea of high art in a democracy."

"People despise critics because people despise weakness, and criticism is the weakest thing you can do in writing."

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