An ARCH-HIVE Exclusive interview with Jonah bar Amittai’s agent & stunt double, Mattathias Westwood
A couple of weeks ago we reached out to Mattathias Westwood, who participated with us in our Sunstone Panel on the Struggles and Successes of Mormon Art, to discuss his relationship with the Biblical prophet and Twitter commentator Jonah bar Amittai—an edited version of the interview is below.
Mattathias: Hello, this is Mattathias.
Archkeeper: Yes, this is the Archkeeper.
M: Oh, hey, how are things going? I had a lot of fun at the panel last Thursday. It’s always nice to be able to show people that we don’t have to wait around for a Mormon Renaissance. There are so many artists doing the work, and the support for them is here, in official and less official ways. It’s been happening for decades now!
A: Yeah, the panel was really great. We were very glad to have you join us!
Today, we just want to ask you a few quick questions about Jonah bar Amittai.
A: Yes, he had an interview with us that we published last week (editor’s note: several weeks now) and we just had a couple of follow up questions regarding some of his more provocative statements.
M: (deep sigh) You … you published it?
A: Yes, was that … Was that wrong?
M: Uh, I just, I mean he told me he had done an interview with you... but no one ever publishes his interviews, so I really didn’t expect . . . hmm . . .
A: Didn’t you see the post on the blog?
M: You know, ever since I had that crash last year doing stuntwork for Jonah, I don’t read as much. And lately my day job has been crazy and besides the panel I really haven’t been keeping up on anything else, to be honest.
He mentioned having an interview with you.
But you guys published it?”
A: Yeah, uh, last Thursday, before the panel. He didn’t mention it to you?
M: Oh, no, actually. He was really, really... kind of bouncing off the walls happy Thursday, but to be honest, that’s not really out of character for him on Tisha B’Av. He gets really excited about any event commemorating the end of the world, to tell the truth. It’s a little uncanny, but it’s something I’m used to by now.
Yeah, I thought it was just that and the Sunstone panel, really. He got pretty into the Sunstone thing. Which is unusual for him; he isn’t usually interested much in the Mormon stuff. But I figured it was just stuff he was seeing on Twitter rubbing off on him. But yeah, if you guys published his interview, that would do it! I mean, no one, no one ever publishes his interviews. That’s really something.
Care to tell me what he said? Just off the record here?
M: Oy Gevalt … (deep sigh) Yeah, what should I say about that? (brief muffled laughter)
A: Well, we had a few questions. To begin with, what exactly is the nature of the business relationship between Jonah and you? He said you’re his agent, and stunt double, and that lately you’ve been his roommate and personal chef?
M: Oh, yes, well, all of that is technically correct. And he does make sure that I am compensated fairly for all the hours that I work for him. But, uh, I really see this more as avocational and as an opportunity to learn from someone who really has a deep understanding of subjects I care about more than a particular business transaction, per se.
A: Okay, uh, interesting, yes. And you’ve been doing this for how long?
M: Well, hmmm. Going on 12 or 13 years now. And, you know, the workload really varies. I mean, you know, he moved in again about a month ago but, uh, Jonah doesn’t tend to stay settled in one place for long. So I’ll go a couple of years without hearing much from him except the occasional postcard from a new spot asking for help or a plane ticket back to Provo or something along those lines but for the most part . . yeah, it’s been about 12 or 13 years that I’ve been handling bookings for him and, you know, taking care of some other things.
A: Pardon us for asking, but is there anything at all exploitative about the relationship?
M: Oh, I see, you’re trying to sniff out some sort of scandal. Let me assure you—there is nothing of the kind and if you don’t . . .
A: Oh, no, no, that’s not it at all. We just wanted to check--given his statements we just wanted to check and make sure you weren’t being taken advantage of.
M: (deep sigh) I see. Because he’s a loudmouth ancient prophet with zero filter and basically no sense of human boundaries, and you assume I’m some kind of pushover who he just bosses around, is that it?
A: No, no, we think . . .
M: No, I’m sure you mean well, but uh, I’m a little touchy about this. Look, Jonah and I have worked together for a long time. He treats me well and I do my best to make sure he’s taken care of. He’s as dear to me as my own grandfather.
I bet you didn’t think about the possibility that I could be taking advantage of him, did you? Elder abuse is a really serious issue, always has been. It’s something that a guy like Jonah is really at risk of. He’s so up front about who he is, he doesn’t even know how to be suspicious, you know?
It’s something I worry about a lot when he’s out on the road. But, no, there’s nothing at all exploitative about our business or personal dealings in any way whatsoever.
Is that a sufficient explanation for you?
A: Oh, yes, our apologies, entirely.
M: Yes, it was out of line for you to ask about, but consider it forgiven. You’re probably not the only ones worried about that. So it’s worth getting the word out.
A: Well, uh, thank you—thank you very much. We did also want to ask about some of Jonah’s more, uh, provocative statements.
M: Oh, you mean the State Department stuff?
A: That, and a few other things.
M: (laughter) Yeah, uh, see the thing is, Jonah doesn’t intend offense at all. He just has very, very different life experience and way of approaching things. It’s really a sort of bull in a china shop situation. Uh … he’s no agent provocateur. I don’t think he has an intentionally provocative bone in his body. He doesn’t have that level of self-awareness about what he says, for goodness sake. He really just says whatever is on his mind, um, and what is on his mind happens to be moderately terrifying to most people.
Jonah thinks absolutely nothing of hoping for the utter destruction of the American government, because to him, America is just yet another iteration of the evil empire he’s been fighting for over 2,000 years now. It’s really hard for him to imagine people having different feelings than he does about this national project. I don’t think he really even has the machinery to imagine that America might be somehow different than Assyria or Babylon or the Seleucid Greeks or Romans. To him it’s just all one tale of oppression from the foundation of the world until the present—one long cycle of bloodshed. And that’s … that’s really where he is coming from when he makes some of his more provocative statements.
Uh . . yeah, I . . . again, usually, people just don’t publish his interviews after he’s said things like that. So this is really uncharted territory for me as well.
A: Interesting. By the way, have you been keeping track of his tweets?
M: No. Why should I? It’s Twitter, right? Who’s going to notice?
A: Well, he has called for armed revolution at least twice in the last 48 hours.
M: (laughter) And what were you expecting? That’s just Jonah!
A: … it was in response to the President suggesting that the Election should be postponed this year.
M: (long pause) You’re right. I guess the current political situation does make him less likely to be safely ignored right now. I’ll keep an eye on it. Thanks for the heads up.
A: Uh, yes, and um … could you offer us any insight into his final statements?
M: Oh, the matchmaking part? Yeah, he’s been trying to set me up for years. I keep telling him that I can make my own dating decisions and that that’s how we handle things in this century and this country. But he sees himself as an older member of my family with a responsibility to arrange a good match. And, you know, I don’t expect that to go away any time soon. But for the record, yeah, I can take care of myself in that regard.
A: Oh, no, we were referring to his statements about his own romantic entanglement.
M: Oh, yeah, you mean him and Wisdom?
Yeah, that’s … that’s a complicated one and it’s probably best if I don’t speak to it. It’s between them, really. I will just say he absolutely adores Her and, well, Jonah’s been mistreated a lot by a lot of different people he’s cared about but She’s one who has never done him any wrong that I’ve ever seen.
But again it’s really not my place to say anything about that.
A: Hmm, well, then, so you’ve met her?
M: Not in person, but you know, when you’ve spent a lot of time around Jonah you tend to, uh, encounter some of the People that he works with … and, well, that’s about as much as I feel comfortable saying about that now.
By the way, I heard you might be publishing excerpts from his memoirs?
A: Yes, he sent them to us unsolicited at the start of July but we weren’t sure it was for real until after we talked to him. They’re a little unusual, for sure!
M: Could you just run those by me before you print any of them? You don't want to draw the wrong kind of attention from any of the People he works with. Let's just say there's a reason his Book was ghostwritten. It's worth being a little bit cautious. For his sake as well.
A: Interesting! All right, then. We'll send them over to you for review.
We do have another note here: You said it's been 12 or 13 years since you started working together. How did you actually meet Jonah in the first place?
M: I’m not sure I’m the one best qualified to tell that story.
A: Uh . . . Jonah said you would be better at telling it than him, actually.
M: (laughter) Well, I’ll bet he did. Hmmm . . . What I meant is, I’m not sure that’s a story anyone should be sharing publicly right now.
A: We are really curious about it, to be honest. I mean, it’s not every 29 year old who has a long term business relationship with a Biblical doomsday prophet, you know?
M: (slightly manic laughter) Uh, yeah, that’s fair. Ok, yeah . . . Sure, sure, I’ll go for it.
It all started with my uncle Elijah. When I was a kid Elijah used to come by the house pretty often. He was a go-between in some disputes between my dad and my grandfather at the time. And he would drop by once in a while to talk to my dad and to drop off gifts or letters from his father and I … I always really enjoyed those visits as a kid.
I enjoyed seeing his car pull up to the house. And I think he had a sweet spot for me, in particular, out of the family, because my parents named me for one of his fellow idol-breaking priests, and so he often brought me little things like Hanukkah coloring books or dreidels, and would usually have some sort of candy for me, so I really looked forward to him coming by. When I got a little older and was starting to have challenges of my own with my dad, it was pretty natural for me to give Uncle Elijah a call every now and then and ask for his advice. He’s a really great listener. Surprisingly good, in fact. I understand it hasn’t always been that way. But he’s really learned to listen to the silences, as well as the things that are said.
And so we had a lot of good conversations during those couple of years, and he really helped me out a lot in terms of understanding my dad and understanding the things that he’d been through. And, um, then like I said, about 12 or 13 years ago Elijah came and asked me for a favor. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t turn down men who drive flaming cars when they ask me for favors! Especially when they’ve done as much for the family as Uncle Elijah always has. And . . . and so I said yes, before he could even say what it was.
And then what he asked is, "My old friend Jonah, he still hasn’t found rest. Do you think there's anything you could do to help him?"
And, you know, that’s a hard one, but like I said, when Elijah asks you if you can help out, the answer is yes! So I said I’d give it a shot.
That’s the first time I’ve told that story, actually. But that’s where it all started.
A: Huh… And you’ve worked with Jonah ever since?
M: Yeah, yeah . . . That’s about the long and short of it. Don’t tell Jonah any of this, by the way. I think he would hate to think that anything I do for him is done as a favor.
A: We won’t mention it to him, but aren’t you worried he’ll read this interview on the blog?
M: Nah, again, a thing you’ve got to understand about Jonah is he really doesn’t read much. He doesn’t have the attention span for that sort of thing. More than anyone else I’ve ever met he really is entirely in the present moment. It’s fairly astounding, to be honest.
But I think it’s the only way someone can function still given all of the grief and pain he’s seen and been through. You kind of have to be able to block it all out and just focus on the now, and so there will be moments when he’s furious or sad but then pretty soon he switches back to just being excited to see the end of the world, and yeah, it’s quite a trip and it’s been a real pleasure to work with him.
A: Well, we would never mention it to him. Don’t worry.
M: Thank you. He really prizes his independence, if you know what I mean. And he makes sure that I’m really well compensated for any hours I put in for him.
You know, I put all that away to donate to charity. It’s not something . . . I can’t take money to fulfill a promise I made to Elijah, that’s for sure! But I appreciate and understand the reason he feels he has to pay me and so I haven’t pressed him on that since pretty early on. I tried to turn him down once or twice, and then realized that just wasn’t going to happen.
A: Huh. Well, that’s certainly unexpected.
M: Yeah . . . [laughter] I think you could safely say that just about everything about our situation is pretty unexpected, but like I said, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
It’s been great for me. It really has. And I do feel sometimes like maybe, one day, I’ll finally see him rest.