Memoirist Royal Young on misbehavior, the nice Jewish boy inside him, and seeking fame after a stint on the casting couch.
One night, I encountered Royal Young at the top of a narrow staircase, standing beside a woman who introduced herself as “Royal’s mom.” She offered me a tangerine and a glass of fruit juice. The disarming gathering was a literary salon, held in what I later discovered was the setting for Young’s memoir: the art-laden living room of his parents’ rambling Lower East Side apartment. The bohemian dream home to a certain species of New Yorker, its trove of handmade objects reminded me of how I grew up—gazing at tribal talismans, masks, and weapons. Young and I were raised in similar circles, centered on art and film, but two decades apart. Our fathers led parallel lives. His is a painter with an outsider’s flair, edge, and verve. Mine was the pioneering documentary filmmaker and explorer, Robert E. Dierbeck, now dead. We’d been raised by a pair of men who’d achieved prominence in their respective fields yet had been set mysteriously adrift for a time, like two isolated desert wanderers. Though I knew little about Royal Young, I became curious and then beguiled that night as he took the stage—a stretch of carpet between the sofa and the table—and began to read.
Young’s memoir, Fame Shark, unfolds in a seamier, dingier New York—a city whose sidewalks glitter with broken glass. Brooklyn attracts more drug dealers than poseurs. Manhattan is populated by rich foot fetishists, poor artists, and seedy modeling agents who prey upon bright young things while thinly disguising their pedophilia. Darkly comic, this harrowing coming-of-age story chronicles a teenager’s desperate hunt for stardom. It exposes its narrator’s naked ambition, sad yearnings, and bad decisions with such self-deprecating wit that we can’t help but like him, even if his own father locks the door against him and his mother tearfully admits she hates him.
The book is Young’s first. At the end of the summer, we made a date to talk it over.
Royal Young It’s hard being back in New York. When you’re away, you’re surrounded by trees and you don’t see fifty shitheads when you get out your door.
Lisa Dierbeck It’s like the first day of school. Everyone’s scurrying around. I had so much anxiety with all my meetings and deadlines, then realized they were largely imaginary.