SPP: You seem to be just a really funny guy and a good writer who just writes about anything he is interested in. Is that pretty much how you decided? You said one day “I’m just going to write about things that I like doing and then just did it.”
Steve: It’s probably a little bit more complicated in things I like doing, although that’s some of it. I mean it’s mostly things I like doing would be part of it, like I like visiting chocolate factors, I like listening to music and being a freaky fan about it.
But a lot of what I write about is pretty much basically, certain in the nonfiction just things that I have fucked up. Things that I have horrible, shameful, humiliating episodes that most sensible people would not want to write about or revisit outside of the context, like I said, a therapist office. But what I would say more broadly is true is yeah, I’m not interested in writing about stuff that I’m not openly obsessed with or that I’m consciously obsessed with rock and roll or candy or sort of our sexual lives or hidden sexual lives, that stuff I’m consciously obsessed.
A lot of the fiction I write it’s all driven by any good kind of writing. Any good kind of art is driven by the stuff that you’re obsessed about, the stuff you can’t get out of your craw. And a good short story is about that stuff that you don’t really know it because it’s mostly your artistic unconscious that’s just fixing on a particular image or line or some story that you heard at the bar somewhere. So I don’t try to sit there and figure out why is this resonating. I just know if someone sticks in my craw I should probably being writing about it. If I can’t get rid of it by other means I should probably be writing about.
SPP: I like it. I like what you were saying about you write about things you’ve fucked up in the past and everything like that. Because again I watched one of the commencement speeches you gave and it was enthralling. I just kept watching it and there’s two old guys in the background who look like there’re some parts of that speech they just really don’t enjoy. Like you mentioned something about a bong and just some other stuff, it made me realize do you think that the reason you have these funny anecdotes and these funny stories is because you kind of don’t adhere to a lot of the social norms, or you just don’t care and it is what it is.
Steve: Kind of a combination. Here’s what I think, everybody has their own storehouse of horrible shameful stuff. You guys if we got to talking and I gave you truth serum or we just got in a particular mode you guys would both be able to confess lots of horrible, shameful stuff you’ve thought and done. Because that’s the nature of being a human being is that you have the story of yourself the kind of marketing version of yourself, polite, well spoken, good habits of thoughts and feelings, and considerate to people and never teddy, and large hearted and all that bullshit. And that’s like how you try to be and that’s the story you want the world to believe of who you are.
And then there’s the other story which is who you really are, disappointed, angry, literally your body stinks, you do all sort of dumb shit you fail in a million different ways, you’re super resentful of anybody who’s doing better than you, you’re pissed off at your family, you’re pissed off at yourself, you can’t get passed a lot of stuff you should be able to get pass. And that’s who you really are, or at least it’s a big part of who you really are. What I’m interested in, what I think makes interesting art is the pinot at which those two stories collide, whether it’s you or a character you’re writing about the story of the person you want the world to believe you are and the story of the person you know yourself to be. Like that kind of horrible, plain moment of self-revelation is what I’m interested in. Because I think people are inundated by marketing, especially in this culture.
And what they really want is for somebody to just fucking tell the truth about the shit that matters to them. Not to pitch some goddamn underarm deodorant or light beer or fucking big ass SUV, but just because it’s painful to be a human being. It’s great and exalted and joyful and those things should be celebrated but it’s also really tough to have a big brain that makes you conscious of yourself and your moral responsibility to others in a way in which you don’t live up to those responsibilities. So I think people just feel a sense of relief when they feel somebody isn’t fucking bullshitting them because they’re having bullshit at lunch or another crammed down their throats pretty much 24/7.
SPP: Yes I couldn’t agree with you more because I feel like I oftentimes really lack that filter. My friends kind of know it of me and just a lot of people and that’s why I think I’ve had some issues in corporate America and things because it can’t be as fake as oftentimes you’re needed to be to succeed in some areas. Do you think that art is a good way to get that expression out in a way that is genuine to you?
Steve: Well I mean it’s the best way we’ve found. I don’t know if I’m in a position to be defining what art is, but from my vantage point it’s not necessary in a material way. For people to have an imagination, for them to sort of examine their internal lives and the chaos of their internal lives, there are no profit in that. In late model capitalism it’s a complete loser product. That’s why I’m so far out on the culture range I can fucking stare over the edge.
That’s sort of what artists are supposed to be doing is saying there’s really no good reason for you to read this book or check out this painting or watch a film other than the fact that you might just be lonely and confused as hell and not know how to live another moment as a human being, unless you know that you’re not alone with all this crazy fucked up chaotic shit. And by the way, I know this sounds unbelievably depressing, but I think the people who are the most openly and honestly baffled by trying to just live and sort of survive your own bad behavior and all the horrible bad data of your own heart and of the world at large, those people generally speaking develop a really brilliant mechanism to live that. And that is a sense of fucking humor. I mean that’s kind of the one saving grace that the impulse towards forgiveness is that despite the fact that we’re all walking around lugging your soro behind us and all these shameful memories and all these invasive thoughts.
The one thing you have that human beings have developed to contend with that big brain, that big troubled brain is that they can fucking joke about it. That they can step away from it and recognize the great cosmic joke that it was being a person. So I feel like I’m coming off as very heavy handed or life is suffering or something like that.
Steve: But you know what I mean? SPP: Yes.
Steve: It’s pretty heavy stuff to talk about and doesn’t get talked about a lot. And the point is all the people who I admire have taken those few moments and are honestly ready to look at and converted them usually in humor. Like all the great stupid great sort of heartbroken idealist are humorous Twain, Vonaget, John Stewart and Colbert, the fool from King Lear. I mean this idea that comedy and tragedy are separate entities are somehow opposed is complete nonsense.
Comedy is the thing that allows you to look at your own tragedy, the tragedy of your circumstances without being crushed by them. It’s like the one thing you have. It’s Charlie Chaplain saying the only person in the United States to stand up and say “They’re turning human beings into killing machines over in Germany.” And everybody else is going “Oh well that’s over in Germany and whatever, the trains are on time over there and they’ve got funny uniforms, but it’s not affecting us.” The comedians are the ones who I think have that extra sensitivity so they pick up on more dark shit, but the way that they contend with it is that they convert it into humor.
SPP: Steve, now I guess a couple of weeks ago you had done an interview with Marc Maron on his podcast WTF Pod. And one of the things that you got into talking about was kind of our generation being a body generation where we’re so worried about our outward appearance and what other people think about us and all that kinds of stuff. And we’re really I guess missing that whole meaning of life where we’re trying to figure out how to develop relationships and be happy and make others happy. I mean do you see us continuing on that downward slope of more of this focusing on completely the wrong things?
Steve: There’s a huge economic incentive for Americans, so we’ll just talk about America. I’m no big on making on generalizations about this generation, that generation. I’m 44 so to me I’m just fucking old. And I already found because technology makes everybody sound like they’re 90. I already like have – Sam [08:56] this great funny writer has this line characters talking about having the old brain, like the old brain that doesn’t understand the new wiring and the internet, the interconnectivity and all this stuff.
So I already feel like I’m kind of ancient. But I will speak to what I’ve seen in my time on earth which is things are moving faster. Late model capitalism is setup as circumstance where technology is harnessed to move people through information and physical space and emotional space so much quicker than we used to pass though them. And just look at the corner of any screen and see how quickly the edits are happening now. And all that has been harnessed mostly by corporations to try and make people hunger after the next McNugget, the next beer, the next perfume that will get you laid, whatever product they’re trying to sell.
And so there’s this kind of frantic it’s almost like this existential cursor that’s constantly flashing and it’s flashing a new buy message every fucking two seconds. And that’s just nobody’s to blame for that and that’s just how capitalism is active in concert with technology is acted upon this culture, but what it means is that people are not slowing down and paying attention to their own internal lives. And to kind of what it means to be a human being.
These larger questions are frankly, Marc Maron is one of the few guys who kinds of wrestles with it in a big way. And I think part of the reason that people like listening to him talk with people is because they sense that he’s the guy who is going to grapple with those big things that we’re all secretly grappling with, but there’s just a huge and incredibly well monetized industry, set of industries that are in the business of keeping people focused on the illusion that if they buy the right shit they’ll be happy and they want have to worry about all this internal turmoil.
I don’t know if that’s going to get better or worse I just don’t know. My hunch is it’s going to get worse. And I say that I’m heartbroken, I mean I got a two and a five year old and I don’t want them tracked down by roving diesel knobs and Max Max gear. I want them to live a happy sustainable life, but the life that we are living all of us are complicit in this, particularly in the United States, is not sustainable.
We don’t have the stuff and we don’t have the oil, we don’t have the water, but much more importantly than that we do not have the attention, the ability to pay attention in a sustained manner the moral imagination to recognize other people suffering. And the fact that we are responsible ultimately for other people and that’s what sort of allows you to live in that phase of well, let me just get mine. Let me just buy the next thing that I’m going to buy and not worry about whether there’s going to be enough stuff left from my kids or grandkid.
The scientist have told us that we’re in charge of this stuff. Like the crazy thing about the way that our media works is that the people who are making declarations about what’s important and what matter are complete fucking paid for demagogues, they’re for profit demagogues. The people that l listen to who I trust are scientists. And the scientist tell us here’s all the bad stuff that’s coming unless we repent, unless we correct ourselves. They’re almost like profits in the Old Testament. They’re saying “Look this is not sustainable.” And to take collective actions there’s one reason that a country as wealthy as the United States should not figure out a way for everybody to get their medical care they need. For everybody to get the education they need to survive in this new world of technology and the rest of it. There’s just no reason. But those things have become complete like pipedreams in the current political environment that we live in.
SPP: It’s kind of funny to look at an issue like global warming and whether or not you believe in it.
SPP: It’s called climate change now Jon, climate change.
SPP: Oh climate change, my apology. You’ve got people that believe in it, you’ve got people that don’t, but just to sit back and say “Oh the earth’s going to take care of itself and the people will take care of itself, and things will just work itself out is kind of a ridiculous notion to make. Where if we can do anything to help it out why not go for it and try to solar power and all that kind of stuff.
But I also wanted to mention a quote that you said in that same interview with Marion where you said “A good piece of art implicates the reader, the consumer, whatever that piece of art may be.” I picked up your book “Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life” a few days ago. And I seriously sat down for three, three and a half hours, and just read the book cover to cover, was completely sucked in.
And I know I sent a text message to Chris saying, “Hey you’ve got to pick up Steve’s book.” It’s amazing. I was completely enthralled with it. And that’s something that I’ve missed recently just because of what you mentioned with the technology things being so fast. I’m always on the internet seeing what’s new and all that kind of stuff. And they were ready to sit back and read. But wanted to check…
Steve: And furthermore Chris being the sorry ass that I did, obviously did not take you up on that. He’s like yeah, whatever I’ve got to and I’ve got to update my fucking Facebook.
SPP: I had to put on a new profile picture after Halloween.
Steve: I understand you got your priorities, you got your priorities.
SPP: No but it really is. It’s an amazing book and I will say this upfront I had no idea who Ike Reilly was and I think it’s a shame that more people don’t know who he is, but his music is amazing. I kind of wanted to jump into that first and just go through the story about how you met Ike Reilly and what that was for you.
Steve: Sure. Well like I said the reason I wrote the book you just expressed. Like it is a shame that people don’t know Ike Reilly, Joe Henry, Dana Kertz, Scott Herring, Bob Schneider, whoever no longer, any of these amazing artist. It’s heartbreaking, not because the world’s going to end but just because it would give them a lot of joy if they knew those artists.
And I really am so tired of seeing the same bands kind of dominate the big markets. And what about all these other dudes that are making great art? I basically just found Ike Reilly’s music and thought he was awesome. I mean this book was my way of just trying to basically creep a little frankly, like try to get into their life a little bit. Trying to figure out who they are, how they make music, how their ideas come to them, whatever, just to fucking be around them because I admire them so much.
And it’s about lots of other things as well but that’s the nature of fan that like everybody dreams of being a rock star but there is about six or seven people who really try to be rock stars, maybe 1%. And of that 1% it’s like a 1000th of a percent who actually get to be working musicians and maybe 1000th of that percent who gets to be rock starts.
So the experience of being a fan never gets written about. You only get the experience of the rock star and the almost famous kind of myth of what it’s like to trash your hotel, fuck the groupies, and all that stuff. That’s great, that’s America, it’s like the bit niche everybody wants to hit the jackpot. But I was trying to write about the much more common experience of loving music and feeling that you need music to reach the feelings inside you that you can’t reach by other means. That’s what it is for me and I think for most people.
And when I found [16:33] that first album I just had never heard anything that was like it, which was what I wanted and always dreamed of in a band. What is it, it’s Blues, it’s Hip Hop, it’s Caltech, it’s fucking punk, it’s like The Clash, and Dylan, all of that stuff and The Poggs, all swelled together. So angry, so eloquent, the stories are great and in a state of outrage. And I could tell that he’s probably a fucked up dude. That’s why I like his music because I’m a fucked up dude, like yeah another fucked up dude. Awesome I want to get into this guy’s world. And he was very reluctant to have me come visit him because he’s sitting there going “Dude I know how good my shit is but I’m not a rock star. Like I got four kids and debts no honest man can pay, like don’t come see that I’m still living in my hometown.” I think there was a lot of shame on his part that he hadn’t become a big rock star. And seeing him like he almost kicked me out when I went to visit him with my friend [17:40] he almost literally just like the first night an hour after we arrived he was so ambivalent about me being there that he was just ready to kick me out and just have his big spurly Australian road manager like literally physically kick me in the ass so hard that I would be launched from his studio out a second story window into his driveway and would have to leave the premises.
But he eventually kind of settled down and recognized that I was really just somebody that admired his work and really had listened to everything and thought he was an important artist and wanted to just see how he did his business. And he just wound up being like a lot of people really harass able on the surface but a complete sweetheart underneath that. He would probably puke if he heard me say that, but he’s a real perfect guy.
SPP: Now you coined the term drilling fanatic to describe yourself and fans that are obsessed with the music, might not necessarily play an instrument or have any talent to play an instrument, but just own tons of albums, own all the movie posters and all that stuff.
SPP: Right. What was your biggest drilling fanatic moment?
Steve: Ah man, I mean I’ve had a lot of them because part of it is – I mean I would say that like the longest and most embarrassing for all involved would have been my visit to see this guy Bob Schneider that lives outside of Austin. My feelings towards Bob Schneider are like as close as you can get to homosexual attraction without just becoming homosexual. Like I’m married, I have kids, I love women, blah, blah, blah, but this guy is so handsome, so talented.
And not like handsome in some like gives a shit spray tan Hollywood way. He’s just a dude that just gives me credibly attractive, partly because he’s just such a badass he can play any kind of music, any genre. He write a shitload of songs. He’s the most magnetic performer I’ve ever seen. And visiting him I just felt like I was seeing the other side of it. And this is true of all rock stars, like we see this exalt moment when they’re on stage doing their thing, the audience is totally like giving them that energy, and it’s this kind of dionece and just fucking orgy of excitement and musical pleasure.
But seeing any performer offstage is an inherent awkwardness to it. Like he’s just a guy he’s not the rock star that I need him to be he’s just a dude, and furthermore he’s a really haunted guy. So I went to his house, which is outside of Austin, and pretty much we spent like four or five excruciatingly awkward hours with me asking questions.
He was also very generous and very forthcoming. In fact amazingly honest about kind of how he really feels and how he moves through the world, which is he makes music and he loves it, but it’s basically the thing that keeps him alive because otherwise he’s really depressed a lot of the time. And it’s very terrifying to see that but it was also remarkable that he was so honest, and that’s part of what makes him a great artist. He said he just can’t help himself.
He just is honest with people. But it was very, very awkward because any kind of interview with anybody it’s contrive. It’s just a contrived situation you have to plan to have a conversation with somebody. But it’s especially contrived when you show up at their house and they obviously aren’t in the mood to want to talk but they’re too nice a person to basically say like “Sorry go home. Fly back to Boston from Texas and let’s try to do this another time.” So he sort of put up with it but it was just an ongoing.
And I just felt so awkward too because one part of me was like wow, Bob Savitt’s this really heavy dude I’m so glad he’s leveling with me. And another part was just like a squealing 14-year-old girl like oh my God I’m Bob Savitt’s bathroom. Oh my God look his soap, he uses cool soap, and what magazines is he reading? He’s got such big sexy man hands. And I was just like it was just a sad horrible moment for me. But again that’s what I like I’m like okay I’m in another one of those sad horrible moments. I will enjoy trying to purge this by writing it.
SPP: Now I do want to say that I don’t think it’s a long shot to say you’re probably outspoken about your political views. I think if anybody listen in the last 20 minutes or so they’d pick up on that. And so in true fashion you decided to write a book about it, which is your most recent book “God Bless America”. Which I haven’t had the opportunity to pick that one up either, but I will.
Steve: You are impressing me already, but I am going to get around to your book eventually.
SPP: I after to update my Facebook real fast.
SPP: But I heard that it was one of Glen Beck’s favorite books and so that kind of worried me a little bit.
Steve: Yes. So just to clarify because I put out this book trailer because I’ve had a long relationship with sort of the rightwing in this country and been on Hannity and Colmes and sort of I’ve had my moments of interacting. I do enough radio myself, progressive talk kind of radio that I know that business. So I wanted to give them a little ribbing.
So the name of the book is “God Bless America”. It’s not meant ironically, it’s not meant as uh America sucks. America’s awesome I’m a super patriot. Only in America would somebody be able to say the kind of shit that I say and not be thrown in prison or executive. I mean we’re an awesome country. All I want and the title in a sense is kind of aspirational, like I want to feel that I want to celebrate my country. I want that desperately.
I think a lot of people was some people who voted for Obama felt like they basically wanted to feel good about the United States again. They wanted to feel that we were going to make good decisions, whether domestically or foreign policy. That we were going to be a good moral actor, a good citizen. And we could feel proud and feel like we actually are the best country on earth. Not because we have the most money or we have the most powerful, but because we’re the most powerful, but because we do goo d things with that earning power compassionate with good hearted if we live up to our ideals.
The book is not a political book though. I just should clarify it’s a book of short stories, which means that Chris will fucking never, ever read it, but that’s what I do best is I write short stories. I recognize again that sort of puts me on the margins of the culture but they are the quickest way to imitate the reader. They’re the sort of stories that people naturally tell. People don’t speak in poems or novels they speak in stories and the stories are all about individual Americas.
There’s no political agenda to the book, it’s not some leftwing rant, it’s really about the way that people in America are living right now and it’s just 13 stories by 13 different people, men, women, old, young. And it mostly just deals with what it is like to have to sort of survive particularly difficult moments where that one story I talked about earlier, the story of who you want to believe you are and you want the world to believe you are ones that smack real hard against a sense of who you really are inside. And that collision, that explosion, that bloody mess is what I try capture in the stories.
Many of them are humorous or they have a humorous cast to them, they’re not depressing, but they are pretty much what’s happening in America and that means that I think people are quite lonely and people have fallen away from their families and themselves and they’re sort of hurdling through time and space and information more and more quickly. So that’s sort of what the stories are about.
SPP: I will tell you that I’m more apt to read short stories because they’re shorter. And I do like the way you present and everything, obviously I think you’re a really funny guy. I recommend everyone to at least watch the trailer as you mentioned for God Bless America, which is located on your Web site. Which do you want to tell our listeners about your Web site or anywhere else that you want to lead them?
Steve: Well yeah I guess I mean it’s just www.stevenalmond.com if people want to check it out. The best thing that they could do I would think is, God you know it’s such a tough thing because I sort of feel like well if they’re listening to a podcast that’s allegedly smart people anyway that maybe mean they’re readers. So if they are readers or the idea of reading they’re going to offend them then my stuff’s not that hard to find. I have the Web site and I have the Facebook page. It’s not like I’m sitting here in some cage going technology get away from me. I’m old man Almond and I kick you off my porch. I’m out there and my stuff can be found I think with the Google machine.
I also feel like it’s my job to make short stories and reading in general something that people feel like it’s just closer to the center of the culture. I don’t know how the fuck I’m going to do that. But you mentioned it before like it’s possible to pick up a book by an author that you don’t know before and never heard of and read it and feel like oh I am deeply entertained by this. I feel less alone, I feel stimulated, I’m so excited about it. Rather than I think the general perception of reading, which is it has nothing to do with me it’s some eggheaded pursuit that belongs in the academy. I don’t know how in the fuck I’m going to convince people that books can save their lives and that literature can save their lives, but that’s sort of like the Jihad that I’m on.
SPP: I mean I applaud that because we’re doing something similar. I mean we just go through Amazon or go through recommendations or our listeners write in and say “Hey this guy’s awesome.” And we’ve talked to tons of people that I might not have found and ended up really appreciating what they had to say and things like that. So I mean just by being out there you’re doing it in a much more difficult way, which requires hours and days and months and years of your life, we take out about an hour a day.
Steve: That’s right you guys just basically sit on your ass raising intellectually morally and creatively on the internet, and then you talk with some jackass like me for an hour.
SPP: That’s it.
SPP: We’re patriots.
Steve: I think of those two models I prefer yours.
SPP: Steve thanks so much. This was awesome and hilarious. And believe it or not our listeners do read so I’m sure they will checkout one of your books “God Bless America”, “Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life” or “Candy Freak”. Thanks for being on. Best of luck in the future.
Steve: All right man. Yeah I’m not going to wait by the phone to get Chris’ book reports. I think that’s pretty much a losing fucking endeavor.
SPP: Check it out on our Web site. It’ll be on our Web site how about that?
Steve: There you go. All right that sounds good. I’ll be checking every four minutes.