The title of this book tells you a lot. Jack Sutherland, who grew up in London and Los Angeles, worked as a personal assistant to Michael Stipe, the singer in REM and, later, to Mickey Rourke. He also worked as a limo driver in Hollywood. A drug addict, he gravitated toward crystal meth, which can make you both wired and horny, sometimes for days on end. So we know to expect a particular brew of glamour, indignity and recrimination that perhaps some readers (including me) have come to enjoy.
Sutherland certainly delivers — with a bit of glamour, an awful lot of indignity and not too much recrimination. But there’s something else going on here. This book is a collaboration between Jack the addict and his adoptive father John Sutherland. Jack told his life story to John, and John turned Jack’s words into a book. Jack is dyslexic. John is the emeritus Lord Northcliffe professor of English Literature at University College, London, and the author of many books, including Last Drink to LA, the story of his own (raging) alcoholism.
So, as you read Jack’s story — the disturbed childhood, the alcoholic father, the gay teenage sex, the drugs and so on — you can’t help thinking of John, listening to Jack, and seeing himself through Jack’s eyes. ‘I learned to smell, at a yard’s distance, whether there was alcohol on his breath. That might well mean a bad night,’ says Jack of John.
Jack describes his first sexual experience. It happened in Griffith Park, in Los Angeles: ‘He knelt and went down on me,’ says Jack, ‘after slobbering all over me and feeling my nipples.’ And then: ‘I jerked him off.’ And then: ‘He climaxed.’ And then: ‘He upped and left.’ Which, surmises Jack, must have been because ‘he didn’t want to be caught with a 14-year–old’. Reading this, you feel for Jack, and also for John. There is an echo.
The drugs begin at school. Then there’s a suicide attempt. Then Jack gets a job in a company that makes rock videos. He hooks up with men in the street. (‘On Santa Monica, whatever you pick up will have a cock.’) Jack is smart and laconic. Or is it that John’s version of Jack is smart and laconic? ‘There’s a third person in the mix —- Raymond Chandler,’ says John, who says he has been influenced by the Chandler style. At one point, Jack is discussing the porn baron Larry Flynt. ‘You could fill Lake Tahoe with the ejaculate the man’s inspired,’ he says.
The book moves towards the promised disaster. Jack becomes addicted to sex. By now a limo driver, he cruises Los Angeles at night, looking for action. ‘I was a sex vampire on wheels,’ he says. Sex addiction, he tells us (and I believe him) is a terrible affliction:
Michael Douglas is honest enough to admit his addiction in public and those English tabloids giggle their balls off. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It is, believe me (and I’ve been through all three), as destructive an addiction as drink or drugs.
Things get worse when Jack tries crystal meth. ‘Love at first gasp. As I grabbed the pipe and puffed, deep and long, I found myself totally without inhibition. Or, more importantly, pain.’ Soon, he is into ‘chemsex’, a powerful and terrifying thing. The crystal meth triggers a craving for sex, and enhances sexual sensations, in a guy who was already using sex and drugs separately as different ways to escape his demons. ‘I didn’t want satisfaction,’ says Jack. ‘I wanted oblivion. And death.’
What do we learn? Pretty much what you’d expect. Drugs are good, then bad. ‘Addiction is the cunningest thing.’ A compelling story, this. Poor Jack, you keep thinking. And, of course, poor John.
Available from the Spectator Bookshop, £10.99. Tel: 08430 600033. William Leith is the author of The Hungry Years: Confessions of a Food Addict and Bits of Me Are Falling Apart.