Joy, Camden 1963(?)-

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JOY, Camden 1963(?)-


Born c. 1963.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, Highwater Books, 5944 Rue Waverly, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H2T 2Y3; c/o Author Mail, TNI Books, 2442 Northwest Market, #357, Seattle, WA 98107.


Author. Has worked as a receptionist, word processor, and legal secretary; worked for fourteen years as a musician, singer, and song writer.


The Greatest Record Album Ever Told (also see below), Verse Chorus Press (Portland, OR), 1995.

The Greatest Record Album Singer That Ever Was (also see below), Verse Chorus Press (Portland, OR), 1996.

The Last Rock Star Book; or, Liz Phair: A Rant (novel), Verse Chorus Press (Portland, OR), 1998.

Boy Island (novel), Quill (New York, NY), 2000.

Hubcap Diamondstar Halo (novella), Highwater Books (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2001.

Camden Joy, Highwater Books (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2002.

Pan (novella), Highwater Books (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2002.

Lost Joy (includes The Greatest Record Album Ever Told, The Greatest Record Album Singer That Ever Was, and The Greatest Record Album Band That Ever Was), TNI Books (Seattle, WA), 2002.

Palm Tree 13 (novella), Highwater Books (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2003.

Also author of numerous tracts and manifestos about music; contributor to periodicals, including Village Voice, Boston Phoenix, SF Weekly, Puncture, Swim, and Greatest Hits. Musical recordings include Fallen Highways, 1989, Holy Water, 1990, and Interrogation Songs, 1990.


A musician and songwriter who played with underground bands in the 1980s and 1990s, Camden Joy gained sudden attention in the music world in the mid-1990s for what could be called a binge of guerilla postering in New York City. Initially begun as a way of promoting his band, the posters he created evolved into a kind of street art containing comments and observations about various rock stars and bands, sometimes venturing into humorous or wry remarks on society such as "Advertocracy Rock Teaches Youth Tobacco and Tattoos. This Ain't Rock and Roll, This Is Genocide." The posters, which were often torn down by passers-by within days or even hours of being put up, gained Joy a kind of cult following, and the manifestos and tracts he published at the same time gained fans among music critics who compared his writing style to the likes of Hunter S. Thompson and Frank O'Hara. Although he does not consider himself a genuine rock critic—he told Smokebox interviewer John Richen, "I just rarely have very fixed beliefs. This is why I know myself to be a terrible 'music critic.' I change my mind a lot"—nevertheless, his passion for music is genuine. Joy tries to convey this passion in his essays, tracts, and fiction writing.

Joy's explorations into writing actually began with what he calls "faux-religious" tracts about Al Green and Frank Black, he told Richen. These pieces were later published in The Greatest Record Album Ever Told and The Greatest Record Album Singer That Ever Was, which were later reprinted in Lost Joy. Joy's interest in old-style printing then led to the posters. By 1997, however, he felt he had run out of new things to say, so he left New York for Boston. Soon after, his first novel, The Last Rock Star Book; or, Liz Phair: A Rant, was published. The book offers a blend of fiction and reality about a down-and-out writer, also named Camden Joy, who accepts an assignment to write a biography about feminist rocker Liz Phair, whose album Exile in Guyville was a favorite of Joy's.

After releasing two acclaimed albums, Phair went underground, and in Joy's book he imagines a trip to Chicago to discover the person behind the music. But the novel is not really about Phair so much as it is an "ode to squandered youth and perfect pop songs," remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Joy muses about the nature of rock music and the tension between fame and musical creativity. Although the critic felt that this first novel contains few genuine insights, the Publishers Weekly reviewer praised Joy as "a spectacularly energetic writer."

Joy was actually working on writing The Last Rock Star Book at the same time as his Boy Island, which was released in 2000. As with the former novel, Boy Island was inspired by Joy's fascination with a singer—in this case, David Lowery, the frontman for Cracker and the disbanded Camper Van Beethoven. The author, in fact, tagged along with Lowery's band for three weeks. At first, Lowery was suspicious of Joy, thinking that the young man was some kind of obsessed groupie or stalker. But when the singer confronted Joy, the writer explained he wanted to do a book about Cracker. Flattered, Lowery helped Joy out by providing names and contact information of people to interview. When the book eventually came out as a novelization instead of a nonfiction work, however, Lowery was upset to the point of seeking a lawsuit. Boy Island, which is about a touring rock group featuring Lowery and others by name, contains fictional scenes that the musician felt were slanderous. For example, the band members play a game called "tonnage" in which they add up the combined weights of the women they have slept with. This game was never played by Lowery and his Cracker band mates. But despite the threat of legal action, the only result of Lowery's ire was that the publisher changed the book's disclaimer to indicate that it was a work of fiction.

Originally, Joy had intended to write an objective work of nonfiction about Cracker, but he felt that the text was too dry, so it evolved into a novel. The main character, also named Camden Joy, is a drummer touring as part of a new band formed by Lowery. The members of the group have all agreed to join the tour for various reasons ranging from a desire to relive old times to a need to find musical success. For the character Joy, it becomes a journey in which he discovers his identity as a homosexual. Along the way, the characters philosophize and rant about the current music scene. While critics found parts of Boy Island to be admirable, many felt it fell short of capturing the experience of a band tour. For example, Booklist contributor George Needham felt Joy illustrates well the feelings of "isolation and … boredom" during a tour, but he misses "the exhilaration of performance," which is the reason musicians do what they do. Mark Athitakis, writing in the New York Times Book Review, said, "While there's no denying Joy's ear for dialogue and passion for music, he can't overcome the conventions of the genre."

Joy followed up Boy Island with three novellas that are one-hundred-percent fictional. Hubcap Diamond-star Halo, Pan, and Palm Tree 13 are "about Camden Joy's fictional life in fictional bands," reported Katia Dunn in the Portland Mercury. As with the other books, the main theme in these stories is the "relationship between music and real life." While Dunn was somewhat disappointed that these novellas show Joy to have evolved into "a normal fiction writer," she still maintained that he remains a "pioneer in his time."

About his fiction writing, Joy told Richen: "I'm trying to accomplish several things in my writing. Polemics don't interest me, except as a character flaw. I think of myself as a storyteller. I want to evoke a place, a scene, a plot, or an identity which is suggested to me by a certain piece of favorite music. I want to testify to the slipperiness of self, the uncertainties of being.… I want to remind people that what is good about music is its unspeakable mystery, how it plugs directly into our consciousness, establishing a whole world inside the listener's head."



Booklist, February 15, 2000, George Needham, review of Boy Island, p. 1081.

New York Times Book Review, March 26, 2000, Mark Athitakis, review of Boy Island, p. 21.

Publishers Weekly, February 23, 1998, review of The Last Rock Star Book; or, Liz Phair: A Rant, p. 51; March 6, 2000, review of Boy Island, p. 85.


Camden Joy's Web site, (April 7, 2004).

Fine Print Magazine, (April 7, 2004).

Metro … Active, (January 18, 1999), Katy Radditz, "A Fan's Note."

Miami New Times, (June 1, 2000), Robert Wilonsky, "Stalker Fiction."

Portland Mercury, (May 16, 2002), Katia Dunn, "Camden Joy: Reading Frenzy.", (February, 1997), Sarah Vowell, "Joy Division: Filling in the Gaps with Poster Boy Camden Joy."

Smokebox, (October, 2002), John Richen, "Smokebox Interview: Camden Joy on Liz Phair and Lost Joy."

Splendid Ezine, (November 25, 2002), "An Interview with Camden Joy."*