ike every dutiful gay subject who has lived under her reign, I went to several Soho bookstores this Tuesday to buy the new Madonna biography. It was the day of release, yet a succession of assistants looked puzzled at the enquiry. Flustered, I spotted another pristine hardback written by another Italian-American woman of stout gay repute, another attention magnet who blithely dusts controversy off her shoulder, another absolute dame who defines her particular New York moment.
With arched eyebrow wit and candour, Julia Fox’s memoir is titled Down The Drain. On the arresting cover, she is dressed for a fashion editorial, falling down a tube of crinkled silver foil, a drug reference she makes good on from the age of nine in this most startling of memoirs. Within two chapters I, too, was hooked.
The dedication page warns her father directly not to read a page of it. It soon becomes clear why. Ms Fox is an unflinching cult star, teetering precipitously on the margins of mass appeal. She has proved adept at provocative art, dominatrix sex work, independent film and extreme fashion, equating each professional discipline as flipsides of the same coin, a sliding scale of expression by which outsider survival is best arbitrated.
You may know her from her excellent performance in the nervous breakdown heist movie, Uncut Gems. Or perhaps from her brief interlude as Kanye West’s first public girlfriend after the breakdown of his marriage to Kim Kardashian. That cemented something in the public imagination. Kardashian would’ve no doubt been an Andy Warhol obsession. Fox would’ve been a regular at The Factory. There is a highly recommendable podcast too, Forbidden Fruits, in which Fox gleans stories from her subjects deemed publicly scandalous, demystifying them from a human angle.
As Down The Drain quickly proves, Julia Fox’s major skill is as masterful storyteller. Where there is danger, she will tread. She is entirely self-made. Her childhood becomes an apocryphal fable for what the metropolis does to poor kids, dangling baubles before their eyes on each street corner while denying them the resources to touch them. In this regard, her adult proclivity to grab everything she can get her hands on makes perfectly reasonable sense.
Fox is a fiercely intelligent, firebrand clapback to victimhood
Fox is a fiercely intelligent, firebrand clapback to victimhood, sliding through her life story like a Bret Easton Ellis character just released from the clutches of his dry authorial irony grip. She’s funny, too. Sometimes she recounts her life like a Brat Pack movie, on hard narcotics, then as if auditioning for Larry Clark’s Kids or its most recent spiritual offspring, Euphoria. Most of her boyfriends — beginning with a first live-in situation, who she agrees to marry, high on ecstasy having his name inked on her skin during their first night together — make West look like a dashingly uncomplicated romantic hero dreamt up by Jane Austen.
That particular relationship comes to a morbid end with her in an involuntary padded cell, him in Rikers Island on combined manslaughter, coke-dealing and assault charges, her father sleeping with her old best friend and Fox overdosing on PCP in the W Hotel, Times Square, on St Patrick’s Day with a bunch of Irish strangers she’d just met. She sees God as she’s slipping out of consciousness. By this point she’s 16.
Fans of Edie Sedgwick, Cookie Mueller and Courtney Love will die for Down The Drain, a story which reads like a particularly astringent Stooges album sounds. Remember when stars used to dangle their lives at extreme edges, as one part alarm siren, one part thrill-ride, so that audiences didn’t have to? Ms Fox is very much that. At several points, I had to remind myself this was a memoir, not a work of fiction, in between the thumb ache I was developing texting everyone I know who is a little bit Julia Fox that they must buy this book as a matter of some urgency.
Beneath her knife-edge life, Fox acquires a casually worn wisdom which now, as a mostly sober mother in her thirties, gives her the determination to give her own kid the New York life denied her. For all its harsh brutality, her story is strangely magical, life-affirming even, her resolve often astonishing, particularly for those of us blessed and cursed with her sometimes uncertain capacity to grasp the value of the life handed us but determined to make the best of it regardless. I think I just accidentally landed on my book of the year.