Jay Bulger was a big-name male model until skin cancer sidelined him from fashion. In hindsight, this horrible experience was serendipitous as it allowed him to devote himself to his various creative endeavors. Bulger, 28, transitioned into being a successful journalist, writing for such publications as Rolling Stone and New York. 10 Goal Drummer, his documentary about famously cantankerous Cream drummer Ginger Baker, will begin showing at festivals next year.
Over some soup, we chatted about his life.
Tell me a bit about your background, before you became a writer or filmmaker or even a model.
I went to Fordham University in the Bronx, and graduated with honors. I went on an academic scholarship and I was boxing. I came here to box. I wanted to win the New York Golden Gloves, that was my goal in life since I was a kid. Boxing is my life, it’s really defined who I am, and unfortunately a lot of negative things come with it ‘cause I’m like really fucking aggressive. I started boxing when I was 8 years old. I was about to graduate from college and I boxed in the New York Golden Gloves, and in my last year I lost. When I lost, this person took my photo when my face was bloody and I was really happy. I was proud of myself, I was like, ‘Fuck it man I tried my best I didn’t even get knocked out.’ I had this picture taken and then someone called me from IMG.
What was it like working in fashion
It’s a world where it’s easy to lose your perspective. I always felt easily replaced, and normally I didn’t get along with anybody. Terry Richardson was the only photographer I got along with, ‘cause he’s like, “I don’t give a fuck, you don’t give a fuck, let’s not give a fuck together. I’m just having fun with my little camera, and this is hilarious.” He’s great. I love him.
You stuck with it for awhile, so there must have been some positive aspects of it for you.
Modeling made me super self-conscious, but it was kind of self-affirming. Growing up, I was a skinny goofball, I was super tall and skinny my whole life. I was never the jock, or the popular guy. I just did my own thing and no one ever had problems with me. But I never thought I was good looking. I was kind of insecure. When I started doing the modeling thing for a minute there it was cool to feel appreciated, it definitely was a little ego boost but then there were these kids who came in and I realized it was this recycled industry. My main problem with modeling was that I realized there’s nothing you can do to get better at it. There’s no value that I could add and I became so frustrated because I was like, “Oh this is cool I’m making money but what can I do to improve?” It’s the easiest question in the book for anything you do in life, and there’s nothing. You know, go tanning, get a tan or something.
How did you learn you had skin cancer?
I was doing the Kenneth Cole Reaction Campaign, and the makeup artist was like, “Man you have this scab on the corner of your nose.” I mean it was right there near my eye, a couple centimeters from my eyeball. I kept picking it, but it was a scab and it didn’t go away, it was there for about a month. First, I went to a dermatologist who tested it and it was cancerous, but all he could do was say it was cancer, and then he had to send me to the oncologist and what they do is they remove it and they keep removing more until it’s all. I went thinking I was going to go in and have a mole removed and the guy’s like, “yeah I’m sorry there’s more,” and I had to go back in ten times, and before when I left going in thinking I was going to have a mole removed it was bigger than a silver dollar chunk of my face and they said had it gone the slightest bit more it would’ve reached into the nerve of my eyeball. I had to get this plastic surgeon on the spot, they had to move my entire face over, because of the placement of the thing, because it was bare so it’s not a spot that they can do a skin graft, so in order to do it they had to shift my entire face over and I had 150 stitches from there all the way to there, running stitches. It was swollen for eight months, and then it went down and then they were like, “Yeah now we gotta operate again because we missed some.” Then I had to do it again, then I had to get it fixed and I just had to go back and back and back. I didn’t leave my room for months. It just took so long to heal. I was really depressed. I had all this money saved up and I spent that all on plastic surgery like literally everything.
So now you suddenly had to find a new career. And you are doing such creative things now, it seems like this experience was horrible but kind of serendipitous
In retrospect, it was such a learning experience.
How did you end up doing 10 Goal Drummer, your documentary about Ginger Baker?
His music is next to Godly. Cream is my favorite band. The title 10 Goal Drummer refers to polo. It’s the only thing that makes him happy. And the ultimate ranking in polo is 10 Goal. A lot of things I do, I do to prove myself wrong. The documentary is cool but I did the documentary because I felt like it was such a challenge. This year I finally felt like I found what I’m doing, which is writing.
Photography Sharif Hamza
Styling Parinaz Mogadassi
Jacket Dries Van Noten
Shirt Paul Smith