My Time as an Artist at the Center of the Insane Financial Industry Boom
An excerpt from Molly Crabapple's upcoming memoir, "Drawing Blood," out on December 1.
Molly Crabapple is an artist, writer, and activist born and based in New York. She is a contributing editor here at VICE, and has been hailed as "equal parts Hieronymus Bosch, William S. Burroughs, and Cirque du Soleil," by the Guardian. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
Her upcoming illustrated memoir, Drawing Blood, details Crabapple's life and the development of her craft and career since she began drawing at age four. Alongside the story of her coming of age as an artist, the book simultaneously charts the changing face of New York City and the political upheaval that the world has seen in that time. From 9/11 to the financial crisis of 2008 to Occupy Wall Street, Crabapple captures it all with an artist's eye for detail.
VICE is proud to present this standalone excerpt from the upcoming book, out December 1 from HarperCollins.
I spent more and more nights at the Box. Outside the club, I fell into New York's frenzy. I was photographed for magazines, staring into the camera's insect eye as I once had as a model. But I was no longer girl flesh—I was me. The morning news did stories on Dr. Sketchy's. A T-shirt company gave me my own line and flew me out to Hollywood to launch it. At the party, the publicist guided the starlet Bai Ling and the boy-starlet Boo Boo Stewart over. We embraced, letting go just after the cameras stopped. But Buck Angel showed up and hugged me for real.
Together, my friend Gala and I went to a party for Louis Vuitton. I prepared with great care: sequined dress, Louboutins. Gala showed up on the corner of Houston in a cerulean tutu. We had a tense moment at the door. Would the girl see our names on the list? Some New Yorkers were legendary door crashers: They viewed lying past guest lists as a test of fortitude. I was not one of them. When I wasn't on the list, all I wanted was to apologize to the door girl and slink away. But miracle! Our names were found! Gala and I strode into the room. Like all fashion parties, the Louis Vuitton party was a sort of video game. We had three goals: Gulp as much champagne as possible. Get a swag bag. Pose for photos.
I stood around, trying to look haughty, too scared to talk to anyone. I willed the photographer to turn his flash in our direction. Why even come if he wouldn't record our presence? Eventually, he noticed us. Hands on hips, Gala and I snapped into our glamorous molds. He took two photos and turned away.
After thirty minutes we left, toting champagne headaches and swag bags full of gummy bears and conditioner packets. I dumped them into the trash.
Later, Gala wrote up the party on her blog. On the Internet, we were chosen, enviable, fabulous. She sold back the myth of our enjoyment, sandwiched in between ads.
In New York, before the crash, this was all there was.
The media had become stupid with money. Web 2.0 brought with it the intoxicating delusion that we could all be wealthy microcelebrities. Thoughtful work was for idiots. There were gilded prizes to be seized.
Gawker turned a bland dating columnist into the era's Becky Sharp, making her famous by eviscerating her online for her naked ploys for attention, then scooping up all the clicks for themselves. Video editors donned white suits and were flown to Vegas on private jets, working-class craftsmen transformed into brands, traveling to a branded city on a branded plane. One friend made a Tumblr of crowdsourced photos of bacon. He got a book deal for a hundred thousand dollars. Facebook took over the New Museum and gave five thousand people panama hats and tiny apple pies. Where did the money come from? Who cares? I thought, stuffing a minipie into my face.
Outside New York, books like Rich Dad Poor Dad spread the lie that, for the middle classes, money could come from nowhere. They didn't reveal that this trick only works for the rich. Buy a house on credit, flip it, buy another—so the pundits counseled. Don't think. Don't wait. Everyone was getting rich. You'd be an idiot to hesitate. Don't miss out. In New York, we were the credit we would draw against. We were no longer writers or artists. We were start-ups. Branding may have been for cattle, but we were all brands. We would get book deals movie deals angel funds venture capital cash cash cash and never think that someday we'd have to earn it back.
One night Richard ordered me to duplicate Raven O's tattoos on the bodies of the waitstaff. Raven's torso was a muscled wonder, emphasized by stars and tiger stripes, and the words American Boy stretched across his improbable abdomen. Each waiter would take off his shirt and stand, bored, while I daubed paint over his perfect back. The job took me eight hours.
I stuck around for the show. A guest came up to me. "I can get you into the VIP section," he bragged. He was rotund, with a bowl cut and a suit.
"I work here," I answered.
I gestured to a waitress painted with my handiwork.
He chortled to his friends. "Can you body-paint me?"
"Sure. If you give me a hundred dollars." I made myself sound bored. You always get more money if you sound bored.
He led me to a private box filled with his friends. I unbuttoned his shirt. His belly was a furry dome. His chest rose with anticipation.
I took out a Sharpie and drew a smiley face on his stomach.
Smiling, I shoved out my hand.
He dropped a hundred into my palm, too embarrassed to protest.
Rose Wood was dressed as a caricature of a sex worker: lime-green tube dress, clear platforms, pounds of fake hair. She'd just gotten her tits done, and the bags sat proud atop her well-developed pectorals. Beneath her glitter-caked eyelids, Rose had a handsome, stoic face. Her jaw was square, and you could see the tension of someone who had fought hard but wasn't going to show it.
During another act, Rose had walked the floor, opening audience members' beer bottles with her asshole. While she did it, she wore the same cold dignity on her face.
For this act, Rose led an actor onstage. In his banker's suit, he looked identical to any man in the audience.
From the wings, Raven whispered the banker's thoughts.
She's so beautiful, the banker said to himself. No one at the office would think I was wild enough to get a prostitute. But I am.
Rose started to undress the banker. She unbuttoned his shirt with the movements of a lover, not a worker, with poetry and pain. As she removed each gray piece of his suit, she hung it up on a coatrack.
She's so neat. Not like my bitch of a wife, the banker thought.
Rose led him to the bed. She cuffed his hands to the bed frame, with his head pointed toward the audience.
"Naughty! Kinky!" the banker purred.
She straddled him. She pulled her dress up, over her breasts.
Oh. She has a dick, the banker thought. But she's hot. I don't care.
They mimed sex. The banker screamed in pleasure. The bed jumped.
Afterward, the banker lay back, stupid in his satiation. Rose pulled off her wig. She was bald underneath. Her gestures were graceful, slow, as if the blue stage lights were water. Her shoulders slumped with exhaustion. She lit a cigarette.
Raven began to sing.
"This is not a love song."
From behind the coatrack, Rose pulled out a knife.
"I'm going over to the other side. I'm happy to have lots to hide ..."
Rose walked back to the bed. We couldn't see the banker's face, but we could feel him there, grinning with satisfaction. He was brave. He was a rebel. He had just been fucked liquid. He was a man. Rose straddled him, hiding the knife behind her back.
Then she raised the knife. The banker's head jerked with surprise.
Didn't they have a nice time? Didn't he pay her? Weren't they friends?
Then Rose brought down the knife.
The lights went to strobe.
In that confusion of smoke and flash, Rose stabbed the banker over and over. Blood flew. Rose rode the banker as she killed him. Her face shone orgasmic. She bit her lips with joy.
Finally, the banker's body lay flaccid.
Rose cut off his head.
The lights went back to blue. Spent, Rose rose from the bloody bed. She pulled off the tube dress to the rhythm of Raven's song. Then she stood naked in the middle of the stage and stared hard out at the crowd. She showed her breasts, her penis, the cold dignity on her face. She stared at every motherfucker in the audience as if she had tied him to that bed and stabbed him too, and she wanted to let him know he deserved it.
Slowly, Rose put on the banker's suit. In class drag, she walked off the stage.
As she left, she tossed her cigarette onto the bed. It went up in flames, banker and all.
Then, in 2008, the stock market crashed. When it did, Simon Hammerstein was one of three people who rang the opening bell.