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 Frey Goes Arty: ‘The Idea Was To Do A Cool Book That Would Piss People Off’

James Frey (right) and Terry Richardson grin at the prospect of ticking folks off at their book talk.

Controversy-friendly author James Frey and photographer Terry Richardson don’t much believe in rules, so the two intentional outsiders teaming up on a book/photo project makes a sort of sense. For those who don’t know that Frey is co-partner of Half Gallery with Andy Spade and Bill Powers, the move may surprise, but for the writer himself, it was just a matter of time.

“I’m much more part of the art world than I am the literary world,” Frey said before the duo’s Thursday night talk at Manhattan’s Strand Bookstore. “I wanted to make a cool, sort of radical, fun art book. I have no interest in being called a memoirist. I’m a writer.”

Frey envisioned Wives, Wheels, Weapons in the vein of late 19th- and early 20th-century collaborations between writers and artists such as Baudelaire and Matisse. “When I was in Paris, I saw these books and thought they were the coolest fucking things I’d ever seen,” Frey told us. “I went over to Terry’s studio and said, ‘Dude, you want to do a book?'”

Publisher/friend to Frey and Richardson John McWhinnie moderated the two, who wore matching white t-shirts and khakis. “Moneybags McWhinnie” (so dubbed because he financed the project, i.e. put Frey, Richardson and his “camera club” up at the Chateau Marmont for five days in L.A.), saw the book’s brief chapters as standalone vignettes.

“I was drawn to what is emblematic of L.A.: car culture, the immersion of highways and being stuck on freeways. It was also the idea of L.A. culture, gang culture, East coast, West coast,” he said of Wheels and Weapons. “Then, what else to do? When James told me they decided to edit out the passage we called ‘Wives,’ I said, ‘That’s what we’ve got to do. That’s the trifecta.’ Terry [was] telling a story in pictures that James was telling in words.”

Was the alliterative title deliberate, we wanted to know? “No, it was a funny title,” shrugged Frey, “sort of ridiculous and telling.”

Friend/photographer Richard Prince shot the cover for Frey’s recent bestseller, Bright Shiny Morning, but “because Wives, Wheels, Weapons was a bit more salacious [with a] steamy subtext to it, we really wanted a Richard Prince girlfriend straight out of the Sunset Strip — 1980s, big hair bands, all of it,” McWhinnie said, describing limited-edition book’s hardcover image.

The softcover shot came out of a photo shoot at a gun club in L.A. “Terry just poured out all these casings on the floor and laid this .44 Magnum on it, and the casings and the Magnum were just sparkling. It was almost like guns as jewels. It was beautiful and fucked up,” according to McWhinnie.

Photos for the “Wives” section were shot at the home of Apocalypse Nowscreenplay writer John Milius. Milius and his wife happened to be avid IRA members, so the ’70s-era style house (a “fucking armory,” as Richardson puts it) came stocked with ammunition and shooting trophies. Over 150 rolls of film were produced during a series of 17-hour days spent with up to 25 models arrayed before seven cameras.

“I just sort of make it up as I go along,” Richardson said, swigging from an unmarked plastic flask. “My dad always told me, ‘When you don’t know what to do with people, just lean them up against a wall.'” We made a mental note to try that the next time we had to snap away.

“The idea was just to do a cool book that would piss people off,” Frey said. “People who appreciate what Terry and I do would love it and people who don’t, would hate it.” So, what’s next for the pair of provocateurs?

“I’m working on another book and a TV project,” Frey said. “The book’s about a 32-year old secular Jew in New York who comes to believe he’s the messiah.”

“Yeah, I’m thinking of doing Ulysses next,” joked Richardson.

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