Q & A with Dayna Clay
by Hugh McCarter
(transcribed from audio)
Q: Dayna, are you fictitious?
A: (laughs) Of course not. I mean, c’mon: the very fact that I’m here to answer that question. . .
Q: Then why present your life story as a novel — and one written by someone else?
A: Think of it as my upraised-middle-finger to our current Jerry Springer culture. The whole crass, exhibitionistic “reality TV” trend sickens me; besides, I’m a big fan of objective distance. Sure, I could’ve taken a stab at a memoir; seems like everyone is these days. But then the emphasis would’ve ended up being on me, me, me, rather than on what happened, on. . .the journey. So here I am, swimming against the tide as usual. Besides, I’m a musician and a songwriter; I didn’t have it in me to write a book. Still don’t. Leave that to the authors.
Q: How did you select Paul McComas?
A: Paul and I go way back, and we’ve always seen eye to eye, by and large. Plus, I liked his first book [the short story collection Twenty Questions], and I thought his style would lend itself well to telling my story. Which I believe it did.
Q: It didn’t matter to you that he was a man?
A: Of course not. You know my take on gender: all things considered, it’s a pretty minor distinction. I’m pretty sure Paul feels the same way — and that, again, qualified him to tell my story.
Q: Is it true that you two were once involved?
A: Years ago, yeah. It didn’t pan out; I think we were. . .too much alike. But honestly, I’d rather keep the focus here on the work, not on my personal life, OK?
Q: Sure. One last question, though, about the fact-as-fiction shtick.
Q: Those are photos of you on the book and on the Unplugged CD. So, just who is the woman listed in the book credits and CD liner notes as “cover model Leah Barnum”?
A: It’s a pseudonym. Think P.T. Barnum — “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Leah’s as fictitious as I am real. Or, if you prefer, vice versa.
Q: I’m. . .not sure what that means, but I said we’d move on. How, precisely, did you and Paul go about collaborating?
A: He already knew parts of my story through our correspondence. So we got together for some lengthy interviews to fill in the gaps. Also, he made a bunch of trips out to the Badlands to hike and climb and soak it all in, mostly alone, but a couple of times with me. You’d have to ask him, but I think the area ended up becoming his “sacred space,” too. Oh, and he talked with Kayla and Drake and a few of the other important people in my life. Then he just started to write. He showed me each draft once it was done, and I gave him feedback each time, but there was very little I asked him to change.
Q: Does the “novel” do you justice?
A: Oh, yeah. If anything, Paul may have tried to idealize me. But I insisted that he show my darker side. Not in terms of the depression — that, he got from the start — but in terms of the fact that I, too, can be a grade-A bitch. My “rock snobbery,” for instance, and the way I used to treat the people I was involved with. . .these were things he glossed over in Draft 1. Always a risk, I guess, when working with a friend. But we addressed it.
Q: When you disappeared from the public eye, your career went through the roof. Now that your whereabouts are again known, your record sales seem to have leveled off. Any thoughts of. . .
A: Re-vanishing? Hugh, you know me better than that. It’s not about record sales; it’s about staying sane. Sure, I want the new CD to sell; I’m proud of the songs, and besides, net proceeds from every copy go to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) and to Badlands preservation. But I’m not looking for the brass ring any more.
Q: What’s your own favorite composition on the new CD, and why?
A: “Hand Over Hand.” ’Cause it was so hard-won. It’s a song I literally could not have written a year ago. I had to go through hell to catch hold of the. . .the little bit of heaven that, to me, is that song.
Q: You’ve re-recorded one of your early numbers, “Karma Bomb,” and given it a new ending — one that changes the meaning.
A: Doesn’t so much change it, I think, as refine it. I’m a different person at 28 than I was at 21, when I wrote that song, or 12, when I started living it; that transformation is actually a big part of what the book is about. I still believe in everything “Karma Bomb” says about bigots and batterers; I didn’t change a word. It just seemed important to insert a cautionary note, lest in opposing those people, we become them.
Q: What’s next for Unplugged?
A: Hopefully, someone will make a movie version; I think it’d work great on screen. Very visual and cinematic. I kind of see Kimberly Peirce [Boys Don’t Cry] directing. Supposedly, John Doe has expressed interest in playing Drake, which would be great.
Q: Would you portray yourself?
A: Hell, no! Like I said, I’m a musician. (laughs) Maybe “Leah Barnum” could do it.
Q: What’s next for Dayna Clay?
A: Who knows? My life is a constant surprise to me — as the book vividly conveys!
Q: Any hunches?
A: Well, last time I talked to Paul, he was working on a short-story sequel toUnplugged. “Fallow,” I think it was called. So I suppose I could try reading that — and living my life accordingly. That’d be quite the turnabout, wouldn’t it?
Q: Art imitates life. . .then spawns a sequel wherein life imitates art.
A: Yeah. Deconstruct that, baby!
To read Hugh McCarter’s previous (and far more extensive) Q & A with Dayna Clay, see pp. 153-168 of the novel Unplugged.