Panda-eyed world of fashion and nightlife - Joost van Bellen on the dark side of success
We met Joost van Bellen at his book signing at the Mary Go Wild shop in Amsterdam. After 30 years of DJ-ing and organising parties, Joost made his debut as a novelist. We spoke about Pandaogen, the fact that everyone wants to be famous nowadays and personal lessons learned.
I always wanted to write a book. I DJ-ed and partied and everything in between — never had time, but at certain moment I thought I should get started… So I did.
Started writing to keep memories?
No, that's not what it is. There are some memoir realities, but Pandaogen is fiction. It is about a girl who used to live in a boy’s body, a person who had a gender identity disorder. Living through a difficult childhood, she was dreaming of becoming a woman, the most beautiful woman in the world. "I'm gonna conquer the world and everybody's gonna love me!" — seeing success as a Holy Grail. Of course things are going completely wrong. It is a roller-coaster drama, partly set in the world of fashion and nightlife.
Though do not expect the supermodel glamor or ecstasy on the dance floor. Pandaogen is about the dark side of success — airport-hotel-location routes and hectic schedules fuelled by drugs. But in a way, it is also about the things that really matter in life: family, friendship and love. Everybody thinks that success is great and everyone wants to be famous. And now more than ever, with countless talent shows — The Next Top Model, Project Runway, X-Factor, you name it. Everyone thinks success means happiness. But it doesn't.
You are a successful DJ and nightlife entrepreneur, how is it for you then?
In a way I was also fascinated by the dark side of success. I know it from the music industry, but also from the fashion industry. There it is much worse, because fashion pretends to be beautiful and all that wonderful, when the backstage is gruesome. It can also be lots of fun if you have the skin for it. In the music industry there is no such thing as you "have to" — you don't have to release an album every half a year. And in fashion you have to put a new collection out. It is a killer machine that can leave you with no love, no friends and no family.
So it was a personal journey?
Writing Pandaogen changed my life. Working on the characters I started to see who people really are. I started to value friendship and family even more and stopped playing games with those who are full of ambition and ready to elbow their way to success. And all that social media image of success, the life everyone wants to live.
But just a few can live that glamorous life and then is it even worth its price?
Love is much bigger than fame. It is more important to hang out with friends and have a dinner date together, or go on holidays. Spend time with your family. My father died 3 weeks ago. I spent 6 months together with my mother, my brother and my husband taking care of my father, but also of each other. Because of this book I learned that being there is much more important than DJ-ing everywhere, so I canceled quite some gigs. It feels sad and we miss him, but it feels good we came together as family.
Maybe it has something to do with how people are. You want to share what you have learned. And when you have kids, you automatically do it with the kids. I am gay. I don't have kids. But I had such a ridiculous life till now — now I am 52, such a special life. I've seen things lots of people would never see, I've learned things that other people will never learn. Nobody has ever written about the dark side of success. Not like the ridiculing Devil Wears Prada, the girly stuff, which is again successful, but it doesn't make you pause your busy-busy life and have a honest moment with yourself.. and that's what I tried to do with my book.
Are you following your own advice?
Actually yes,I am going take it easy for a while. It has been a roller-coaster period personally for me too — getting married and with the book coming out earlier this year, losing good friends and now — my dad. I am going to flee Amsterdam to some islands in the Mediterranean. In the wintertime it is less busy there. I want to sit on the beach or stroll through little villages; buy fresh fish at the market and cook — all those simple things.