Nothing will stop the mayhem! March Mayhem, that is! If you haven’t signed up for the epic swag giveaway (lots of free books, guys! So much reading material for your eyeballs!) sail on over and do so, then come back here for an interview with Orne St John, hero of Joanne Renaud’s timey-wimey romance, Doors.
Orne St. John, the hero of Doors, is the youngest child and only son of Stephen Orne St. John, the only son of billionaire philanthropist Charmian Struck (of Struck Museum fame). The Struck family is old New York money, descended from Gilded Age railroad magnate Herman Struck, who was related to the Schemerhorns and part of Mrs. Astor’s 400. Orne is an eccentric dilettante who loves occult theory, paranormal conspiracies and collecting rare books and art; he is also a throughly modern guy who loves EDM and is attached to his smartphone. We’re happy to have him here today.
If you had a free day with no responsibilities and your only mission was to enjoy yourself, what would you do?
I’d love to just disappear. Back when I was a kid, after I dropped out of Princeton, I roamed the world going to raves and sleeping in the rough. I’d love to fly off back to Thailand and hang out at Koh Phangan. I had a lot of good times there. I went to several Full Moon Parties back in the ‘90s and it was always spectacular. I wish I could go back.
Of course, my love of Koh Phangan isn’t exactly a secret. I think I’d pick a new place to go. Some place new to explore. Some place no one knows about. A secret. (Well, maybe one person.) But I don’t think I’ll tell you. Then it wouldn’t be a secret, would it?
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
I think I’ve been fairly lucky in my lives so far. I’m aware of how privileged I am. I imagine my next life should be something rather drastically different then this one. Maybe I’ll be a ditch-digger on Mars. Or maybe I’ll work in a asteroid mine. It’s hard to tell what the future will bring, as it looks like Late Capitalism has— and will— make life on this planet exciting for quite some time to come.
What are you most proud of about your life?
God, who knows. I’ve hardly changed the world or solved hunger or cancer or whatever. I know I’m not the easiest guy to get on with. But I like to think that I’ve been a good patron to artists, authors and other creatives. It’s tough— very tough— to make a living in this city, and I want to help out however I can.
What was the happiest time of your life?
I’d say one of them was traveling the world back in the late ‘90s in my beat-head phase— seeing new places, meeting new people— hearing the most astonishing new music out under the open sky. New York is one of the greatest cities in the world, but it can be like living in a fishbowl.
What about the lowest point?
Dealing with the fallout from my cousin’s death. Or my mother. Anyway, I’d rather not talk about that.
If you could spend the day with someone you admire (living or dead or imaginary), whom would you pick?
There are several. Who to pick? I know the amazing Clark Ashton Smith is high up on that list. An artist, author and a world-builder of the most astounding and prolific imagination— I can’t speak too highly of his work, and it’s a damn shame he’s not better known.
Noah Rayburn was also part of the Weird Tales scene, along with Smith and Lovecraft. He wrote this story Doors, which is all about alternate universes. Anyway, he disappeared in 1952, only a week after Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. He didn’t leave a suicide note, and his body was never found. (He also left behind his cat Charlemagne, which I find particularly sad.) I’ve always wondered what happened to him. I’d love to talk to him in person. I wish there was some way I could do this— outside a seance, of course. Or automatic writing. Or some other potentially dubious way of reaching out to a spirit.
I’m sorry, this whole subject is so fascinating to me I tend to ramble.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
People have asked if I relate to Henry Frick, but he was an awful person, all things considered. I am more interested in Peggy Guggenheim’s story. She fascinates me. She suffered immense tragedy— her father died on the Titanic with his mistress— but she persevered and helped bring modernism to America. She stayed in Paris, right before the Nazis marched in, so she could bring with her as much modern art as she could so the alleged ‘decadent art’ wouldn’t be destroyed. She was a great friend to artists and had an immense influence on art and the world. She was a flawed woman and arguably a terrible parent and an alcoholic too; but she was a hero. I’m not, admittedly, the biggest fan of modernism, but I love going to the Guggenheim. I find it soothing.
I also love the story of Herbert and Dorothy Vogel, who had a superb collection on what was basically a civil servant’s salary. Christo gave them a collage in exchange for cat-sitting. I love that.
Who are your favorite writers?
Clark Ashton Smith, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and Noah Rayburn, of course! I also enjoy Borges, Umberto Eco and China Miéville. Tanith Lee is incredibly talented as well, and so is Gene Wolfe. I could go on and on…
Do you think you’ve turned out the way your parents expected?
Oh, God. That’s a tricky question. I think Father is relieved that I didn’t blow off managing the [Struck Museum] Trust as he thought I would when I was younger. (We’re an equal opportunity family, before you think it fell on me because I’m the boy. My sisters also were given opportunity to step up, but their interest in art was nugatory. Less then mine, even when I was a kid.) But the idea of art grew on me. Like athlete’s foot. So here I am. I’ll be managing the board of trustees at some point whenever Father retires or dies.
But I’d rather not dwell on that. Father’s healthy. He’s got many years left in him, I’m sure.
As for Mother, well… She’s off in California. Somewhere. Let’s say she’s far more interested in her new husband (whoever he is now) than whatever I’d do. Yes.
Is there anything you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t done? What would happen if you did it?
I would hate for you to think that I’ve had any shortage of opportunities to do exactly as I pleased. But— if there’s one thing I’d love to do, that is most likely impossible— I would love to travel back in time. Or travel to some sort of alternate universe. Sounds crazy, right? But it’s my dearest wish.
Even if I could just travel back in time one week, I’d love to do that. But yes. As I said— most likely impossible.
But I can still dream, can’t I?
What is your greatest fear?
Turning into my father.
All right, that sounds unkind. It is. Father’s not a bad guy. We get on, mostly. But I don’t want a shallow life. I don’t want to become some empty socialite who goes through the routines of a loveless marriage complete with couples tennis and season tickets to the Met and casual infidelity at the Hamptons because that’s what every one else does.
I don’t think Father really started out that way either. You can’t underestimate the enormous pressure to conform, everywhere you go. It’s just so much easier to shrug and give up your dreams and take the easiest path…
…But then you wake up one day, and you’re fifty, and you wonder what happened to your life, and when all love and passion and joy went out of it. I know so many people like that, and it’s depressing as hell.
Tell me about your best friend. How did you meet? What do you like about this person?
Well, uh, yes. Her name’s Jackie, and she’s a pretty cool girl. She does comics, and she lives in this roach-infested dump up in Washington Heights, but she’s really talented. She has such a French comics sensibility— all stippling and dark washes and a splendid sense of anatomy and composition. Think Moebius by way of Virgil Finlay.
Anyway, how we met. I had broken up with my last girlfriend, and I decided the thing to do was commission a whole wall of paintings based on Clark Ashton Smith’s works. A friend recommended her because he’d seen her work in DeviantArt, and he swore up and down it wasn’t furry fan-art or Gothic slash chibis or whatever was big in 2008. I sent her a note, we moved on to emails, I hired her to do the work, and during the course of the job I met her in person. She’s so much fun. She’s blunt and angry and breathtakingly rude, but she’s so smart and passionate and funny. She’s like no one else I’ve met.
So yes. She’s a friend. I’d like to go traveling with her someday, but I’m not sure when that’ll happen. Soon, I hope.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done to someone? Why?
Ugh. Well, I’ve said and done some hateful things in my life. I admit that I’m petty and I like revenge a bit more than I should. I’m not the best ex to have. That’s something I’m working on.
Let’s leave it at that, shall we? You still find me charming and personable, and I’d hate to do anything to ruin that impression.
What’s the most important thing in your life? What do you value most?
Passion! Following your heart, your dreams. Which sounds unbearably cheesy. But I suppose being earnest requires a certain amount of cheese.
But, by the same token, I also think that responsibility is important, and part of responsibility is helping others and not leaving them holding the bag. Because that makes you an asshole.
So I think that life requires balancing one’s responsibilities, and your own passions. Like the card Temperance, from the Major Arcana, illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith. (From the Rider-Waite deck. I assume you are familiar with the Tarot? No?) You have an angel, pouring from one cup to the other. That seems like much of life to me, a delicate balance between both vessels— the current ever flowing, never ending.
How do you feel about your life right now? What, if anything, would you like to change?
Things are… promising, I think. And I’m being extraordinarily open with you, dear interviewer. But I suppose I could be more candid in my own personal relationships. I don’t like being vulnerable. It’s a bad habit. I should open up more.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I think I’ve made a positive impact on the lives of my artists and authors and filmmakers with my patronage. I just helped fund a documentary by this great new Argentine director, Mireya Bernal, that’s going to Sundance. I’m not creative myself, but I believe strongly in helping talented creatives with a vision to the utmost of my abilities.
How would you like to die?
Comfortably and loved, at an advanced age (of course). Of course, in the end, we all die alone. But I’d like to know that I made a difference.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I think the very idea of ‘perfect happiness’ is poisonous. What if you were perfectly happy right now, but you become convinced that there’s some illusion of even greater happiness around the corner— and you throw out all things of value to chase after this mirage? This seems to happen a lot in America, I think. You either settle, and let society crush all spirit of you, or you flake out and run after impossible mirages. I’ve seen this in my life, unfortunately. The former was my father; the latter was my mother.
But here we come back to Temperance. The true path to happiness is concord— a balance— a reconciliation between two extremes. I’ve struggled with this all my life. I suppose I always will.
But that’s life, isn’t it?
Would you care for some brandy?
Thanks to Joanne Renaud and Orne St John for today’s interview. Sign up for the giveaway to win a copy of Doors and a whole basket full of other awesometacular prizes!