Few people I know personally have written books and even fewer have written books that have been unanimously praised on iTunes, so when I discovered that my lovely friend Mat Devine had achieved this rare feat a celebratory glass of wine was certainly in order. Since Mat now lives way the hell in Los Angeles for whatever reason (Probably something to do with his various musical endeavors – he’s the frontman of the band Kill Hannah and his solo album comes out this spring), we had to accomplish this via Skype.
Mat’s a strange fellow who wears killer plaid Vivienne Westwood Suits and hosts impressive afternoon tea parties. While being a weirdo as an adult enjoying a prosperous music career is cool, being a weirdo as an adolescent can often be grueling. Luckily there are adult weirdos like Mat to dole out advice to weird kids, which is exactly what he does in his aforementioned book. Entitled Weird War One: The Antihero’s Guide to Surviving Everyday Life, the book, now available on Amazon and iTunes, is a how-to guide for folks who feel like they don’t fit in. Some of Mat’s well-known pals such as Bam Margera and Amanda Palmer also weigh in.
If that doesn’t deserve a glass of Skype-wine, I don’t know what does. While I had his attention, I figured I’d go ahead and ask him some questions about the book too.
So tell me about your book.
Oh, is this official now? This interview is brought to you by Zara Women’s, because that is what I’m wearing. So the book, it came out just before the holidays in ebook form and the actual printed version is going to come out this spring.
What qualifies you to write this book?
Absolutely nothing qualifies me to write a book.
OK, but really.
I was writing a blog for a long time for Fuse – a tour blog, just recounting what kind of trouble I was getting into on the road and at first the fans of that blog were fans of the band. It’s hard to describe that demographic, but I guess it’s art-leaning, music-driven, anemic, homebody-type people… Like me and all my best friends, essentially. When I ran out of stuff to write about when we got off tour, I asked them “Well, what should I write about now?” And they started asking questions in the comments section. I think because of the tone of my music and the writing I had done they felt safe to write these questions that were very personal. Then parents started reading the site to understand what their kids were going through. I would call friends or my sister for help if, for example, I got asked what it’s like to be a fifteen-year-old lesbian.
You mean you don’t know?
Maybe I do. So I’d call a friend of my older sister’s who I really admire and ask how she relates to this and find a way to answer that question in a thoughtful, helpful, legally-defensible way.
Good point. Are there any legal ramifications of giving kids advice or is it just a moral issue?
Oh, I gave up on caring about moral ramifications when I was 10. Legally, yeah, there are disclaimers on the site and all that. I always air on the side of caution.
What’s one thing you cover in the book that you wish you would have known when you were 16?
I lucked out. I had an older sister who was an edgy-goth hero of mine. She painted her walls black and all her boyfriends were skinheads or punks. There’s a lot of stuff about relationships. You know me – I’m one chromosome away from requiring hospitalization – but later in life, I realized they’re just girls… not to minimize your existence or anything.
How dare you.
Guys are so terrified of girls. There’s a chapter in there that would have helped me put into perspective how universal insecurity is. Maybe it would have given me more balls when I was younger.
Who was your first crush?
I went to a Catholic school with 20 kids in each class for 8 years. So you get a crush on someone when you’re six and you hold onto it. Her name was Stacey Dekostanza. I just kind of stalked silently and occasionally on the playground I’d punch her in the back really hard and run away and hope that that worked. High school my tactics approved a little bit. Can we just address for a second how awesome your onesie is?
It’s two pieces and it’s little boys Uniqlo. It even has the little pee-crotch thing.
You’re the fashion expert, isn’t there a more technical name for that? There has to be a better way to say that. Those are really, really great.
Thanks, I’m very comfortable. Tell me about the guests in the book?
I started having guests every week because it was so much to handle. Early on I had Amanda Palmer.
She’s interesting to have, because it seems as though she sort of gets bullied now, by the press and Internet haters.
Amanda and I hit it off a long time ago. [My friend] Kat Von D has this saying that you’re either one of us, or you aren’t. Whether she’s describing someone she might have an interest in or someone she just met casually, she uses this phrase, “They’re not one of us.” It’s just a broad summary to say if they get our ridiculous humor and the bands and the culture. Amanda Palmer immediately was one of us. So she was great, because I edit stuff all night long and she doesn’t capitalize or punctuate. One girl wrote about how women have to conform in certain says and Amanda wrote back, “I don’t even shave my armpits. Fuck anyone who shaves their armpits.” She really doesn’t give a fuck.
This conformity issue is interesting to me. Because when I was thinking about your book and whether it relates to my adolescence, I was definitely in the “cool” crowd, whatever that means, but my entire adolescent life was spent trying as hard as possible to conform. I was in the cool kids group, but I wasn’t the “leader.”
Were you the vice president?
Yeah, something like that.
To hear that from you is exactly what your 18-year-old equivalents need to hear, because even the people who really had their lives together are secretly just as nervous and self-aware as the people who don’t fit in. What breaks my heart is a town in the Midwest or the South where the one person who has a clue is the person who is bullied. I look at that and I’m like, “Nooooo! You’re the good one!” Everyone else is rotten and trite and there’s this one kid, maybe he’s gay or he secretly listens to good music and he’s the one that feels like he wants to commit suicide? I wish everyone else would commit suicide!
How did you cope as an outsider?
Your army gets bigger one person at a time. You meet a kid from another school who wears a Jane’s Addiction t-shirt, and you become best friends. And he’s like, “I’ve got an older brother that’s in this college and there are six weirdos there!”
Well your advice works, apparently. Your iTunes comments are exceptional.
Oh good. I haven’t looked at them.
If you want to feel really good about yourself for 10 minutes, I suggest it.
I made the mistake of looking at the comments for my band’s last album and I haven’t been back in a while. It’s funny, because we think bullying is relegated to teenagers or kids but you encounter that your whole life.
Would you rather have a weirdo outsider child or a really hot jock child?
I get what you’re asking, because having a child that struggles through that sort of thing must be the most heartbreaking thing in the world, but it leads to a life that’s more enriched with more depth. I would just choose to have a child that is themselves. Maybe they are into sports, but they equate football with war strategy.