Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Article about me, and the new book

My thanks to Michaela Duckett and the Post for this article. I hope to see you all on Thursday (Sept. 26),  at 7pm at Park Road Books, here in Charlotte.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Link to my appearance on Carolina Book Beat

Here's an hour of me on the radio last week in Chapel Hill. Three interviewers, and one of me. Who will win? Listen, and enjoy. Thanks,
September 21, 2013


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Nat Perrin, Marx Brothers writer, 1996 interview

Nat Perrin: The Man Who Put The Words In The Marx Brothers’ Mouths
interview and introduction by Daniel Coston
originally published in Tangents Magazine, September 1996 issue

Let’s face it. Although it’s been nearly fifty years since their last film, and nearly seventy years since they roamed the Broadway stages, the Marx Brothers are still cool. Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx were the original anarchists of comedy and film, railing against convention, conformity and whatever else got in the way.

Joined at various points of their careers by their younger brothers Gummo and Zeppo, the team was the first to mix highbrow verbal wit with lowbrow slapstick. They attracted luminaries ranging from George Bernard Shaw and James Joyce, to the Beatles and Alice Cooper.

Nat Perrin was witness to it all as both a writer and family friend. With only a few days’ notice, he left a burgeoning law career to leave with the Marxes for California, eventually contributing to their classic films “Monkey Business” (1931) and “Duck Soup” (1933), along with their later films “Go West” (1940) and “The Big Store” (1941). Perrin also holds the distinction of writing for the team’s lone radio series, “Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel” (1932).

Perrin later moved on to produce “The Addams Family” TV show (which we’ll feature next month), and to this day remains close to the Marx family, despite the brothers’ passing many years ago. Though 92 years of age, he still has a critical view of his work with the Marxes, but Perrin remembers the team with both warmth and affection.

Tangents: How did you first become associated with the Marx Brothers?

Perrin: One day when I was finishing [Fordham, N.Y.] law school, I happen to get an idear in the library, and I wrote in out as a sketch. The Marx Brothers... had already appeared in three Broadway shows, and they had done done two pictures, “Cocoanuts” [1929], and “Animal Crackers” [1930]. I love those pictures, and when I wrote the sketch, I wrote it with Groucho and Chico in mind. 

And some guy at law school said, “Jesus, that’s good. You oughta get that to the Marx Brothers.” I said, “I don’t know how to get to the Marx Brothers.” He said, “Well, I know a guy who works in an agent’s office, and maybe I can get a note for you introducing you to the Marxes.” They were appearing personally with “Animal Crackers” at the Keith-Albee Theater in Brooklyn. Well, he did. And I got to the stage door, and I gave the doorman the sketch, and he said, “Just wait here.” And he took it, and a few minutes later, he came out and said, “Mr. Marx will see you.”

So he ushered me into Groucho’s dressing room, and the first thing that he [Groucho] said to me was, “Well, we’re not going to do any more shows and sketches,” and my hear dropped. And then he said, “But we’re going to Hollywood to make moving pictures. Would you like to go to Hollywood? We’re leaving Wednesday.” And I don’t think I even let him finish his sentence before I said, “Would I? Wow!” The bar exam was scheduled for Monday and Tuesday. That gave a chance to take the bar exam, and Wednesday I met them at Grand Central Station.

Tangents: What did you think of Chico and Harpo?

Perrin: Harpo was a sheer delight, and Chico was a good-natured guy. Chico was a big gambler. They used to keep throwing him out of the Hillcrest Country Club for nonpayment of dues, and Groucho and Chico would pay up his back dues. He was always playing bridge there, he was a great bridge player. He [was considered] one of the expert non-professional bridge players.

Tangents: Groucho once said that he thought Chico was fascinating in that he was that he was tremendous gambler...

Perrin: ...and womanizer.

Tangents: But he was also this tremendous business person.

Perrin: He was the one who gave them the interest to go to Hollywood. He played cards with the skanks who were the real controllers of MGM, and Chico, through his contacts with them, got the Marx Brothers set up in Hollywood.

Tangents: Tell me about Gummo and Zeppo.

Perrin: Zeppo, he was the excess baggage when they first started, and he later quit. He was a sharp guy, and a tough guy from Chicago. He went into the ammunition business during the war, and he made a fortune in it. 

Gummo quit the group in vaudeville. He said he thought that they didn’t have a future. He went into the dress business and he failed in six months. Gummo was the only snob in the family. The rest of the boys were fine, but Gummo was the soft-show snob. But he wasn’t a bad guy.  

Tell me about “Monkey Business.” It’s one of my favorite Marx Brothers films.

Perrin: I was just brought out to add some gags. There were two guys already working on the script. Will B. Johnstone, who was a well-known cartoonist, and [famed writer] S. J. Perelman. When we came out there, there was gonna be a reading that night at the Roosevelt Hotel. 

S. J. Perelman was a very nervous man, and the worst guy in the world to read the script that could’ve been picked to read this script that he and Will B. Johnstone had written. And while he was reading, let alone the fact that he was sweating profusely, Harpo had a little terrier dog that he didn’t have on a leash, and this dog would keep coming in and biting on the cuffs of [Perelman’s] pants. Anyway, he droned on and on, and there wasn’t a single snicker, and when he finished, all Groucho said was, “Well, now all we need is a script!”

We also had a Chicago newspaper man named Arthur Sheekman, who we’d picked up on the train on the way out here. He couldn’t get along with S. J. Perelman, and Sheekman and I wound up as partners. I threw him whatever gags I could.

Tangents: Was it tough presenting your work to the Marx Brothers?

Perrin: I didn’t think so. I got along great with them. They would interrupt a lot, ‘cause they were yakkers and talkers, especially Groucho. But they were basically such nice guys. 

Tangents: What kind of input did the Marx Brothers have into their scripts?

Perrin: It was very hard to write for Harpo, because when you’re given dialogue, it’s very easy to read. But when you put that solid block of explanations of what happens with the action, nobody can make head or tail of it. And Harpo wasn’t getting anything from the writers. No one could write that shit anyway. So he used in bring in his own stuff, he’d think of things. He could do the little [scenes] with Chico, but most of the gadgets and gadgeteering, Harpo thought of himself. 

Tangents: What about Groucho? Did he have input?

Perrin: Groucho always had input. He had input when [Pulitzer Prize Winners George S.’ Kaufman and [Morrie] Ryskind write their shows on Broadway. Apparently, [Kaufman] once was standing in the wings when the Marxes were on stage, and he was talking to somebody. And he suddenly stopped, and he said, “Oh just a minute. I thought I heard one of the lines from the original script.”

I gotta tell you a cute story I was just reminded of. The Marxes... were out [touring theaters previewing] scenes from “Go West,” and they thought they needed some work done on the script, so they called Louie B. Mayer and said they “needed help” there. “Send Perrin out.” A guy named Irving Brecher was there working with them, and he was going mad. So I was sent out to do what I could. I watched the show with Brecher, and then Brecher and I wrote some new material for them.   

The Marx Brothers could never remember the stuff that they had. They had no desire to memorize, and that’s the way they were. They had to perform, so I was concealed behind the curtains to be the prompter, and they got lost in one of the new routines that Brecher prepared, and I whispered the line. And all I could hear was, “Huh?” So I whispered louder, and they said, “Huh?” So I whispered louder.

Anyway, we finally and mercifully got through with that performance, and as the Marx Brothers were heading up the iron staircase to the dressing rooms, I suddenly heard my name at the stage door. It was a friend of mine from the Beverly Hills Tennis Club. We were in Chicago, so I was surprised to see him. He said, “I was sitting in the back of the theater.” I said, “What did you think of the show?” And he said,”Well, the only one I could hear was you.”

Tangents: After “Monkey Business,” you wrote for Groucho and Chico in “Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel.” 

Perrin: Perrin: Yes, I did that with Sheekman, and they weren’t very good. You had to see Groucho with his mustache and his slink walk. We used to try stuff with audiences first, and it would go very well in the studio, but when it got to the radio, it was still just talking and it was deadly.

Tangents: After “Flywheel” ended, you did “Duck Soup.” 

Perrin: They had a decent director, Leo McCarey, but he and Groucho got carried away with joking around on the set. Very often you find a script, and before you finally get to performing you go over it so many times. So finally, everybody’s so familiar with it that it becomes stale in your mind. So anybody that ad-libs on the set, it sounds fresher and better than anything they’re familiar with. And very often, they put in the wrong things, but that’s just a personal opinion.

Tangents: MGM also took a story of yours from “Flywheel” and turned it into “The Big Store.” What happened with that film? It was apparently rewritten quite a bit.

Perrin: That was for a theater man-turned-producer at MGM, George K. Sidney. I think I got paid for the script, and Sidney brought in a couple of writers for it, and I didn’t think that they did anything for the script [to make it better]. It got all fucked up, but I was out of the [writing] scene by that time. 

Tangents: What do you think are some things that people would be surprised to find out ab out the Marx Brothers personally?
Perrin: Groucho always used to say that he wasn’t an actor, he was a writer. He had great respect for writers, and all of his friends were writers. You’d go to his house for dinner, and all the people he had there were writers.

Once, a friend of mine was remarking about how Harpo, a guy with no education, how he fit in with the Algonquin Round Table, the wittiest crowd and smartest set in New York. This was Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman, Alexander Woolcott. They wouldn’t accept Groucho because he was an insulting character. He would insult too much. And somebody said to Harpo, “How do you fit in with them?” And Harpo said, “Well, somebody’s gotta listen.”


Of all the interviews I’ve done since, this interview still inspires the most “You did what?” or “How did you get that?” questions. It all started with a TV show, and the Los Angeles phone directory. 

I’ve been a big Marx Brothers fan since my early teens, and know their history backwards and forwards. When the Disney Channel aired “The Unknown Marx Brothers”  in 1996, it was like they had raided my collection of rare Brothers footage, and they even had footage of the rare “Deputy Seraph,” a 1959 TV show that the Marxes never completed. In it, they used a good number of quotes from the then 92 year old Nat Perrin. Tangents was completing its first year of publication, and I was growing more confident in bringing whatever I was into to the magazine. So, I thought, these people interviewed Nat. Why couldn’t I?

I guessed from reading something (a book from the 1970s, I think) that Nat lived in the Los Angeles area. When I called the Los Angeles phone directory, I asked for Nat Perrin. “There is a Nathaniel Perrin,” the operator told me. “Would that do?” Looking back, it hadn’t even dawned on me that he might have had an unlisted number. But he didn’t, and I now had his phone number.

I called his number, half expecting to leave a message, and Nat answered the phone. When I recovered and told him that I’d like to interview him, he replied, “You don’t want to talk to me. Nobody cares about that stuff anymore.” Without pointing out to him that I was calling all the from North Carolina (darn right, I cared), I built up this belief that great work from the past is still great work, much like great painters. Despite my youth, I did an good job of pulling that answer out when it mattered. Finally, Nat said, “Okay, call me back on Saturday.”

I really enjoyed talking to Nat, although I kind of pushed it by calling him back a couple of times to ask him about other comedians I loved (the fist comedian he worked with after Monkey Business was Buster Keaton, and I got the impression that Keaton left Perrin cold). And the guy was 92, for crying out loud. But after I sent him the interview you see above, he told me, “You’re a great writer, and you should keep it up.” Despite the photography career I soon dived into, that comment still means a lot to me.

Perrin passed away in May 1998, less than a year after my interviews. I didn’t find out until 2008, when I looked him up on IMDB. My thanks to Nat, and his family. And when people ask me what world event I wished I’d been at the most, I still say that I wish I’d seen the Marx Brothers on Broadway. I once went to the theater that the Marxes performed “Cocoanuts” the same afternoon I sat in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel, and I took at all in, and dreamed of what I would have seen. 
-Daniel Coston, February 2010

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mountain Oasis Festival preview for Big Takeover Magazine website

Mountain Oasis Festival preview

The North Carolina mountains just got a little more interesting. In late October, the Mountain Oasis Festival will converge on Asheville for a three-day extravaganza of music. It's subheading is "Electronic Music Summit", a nod to previous years when the festival's name was tied to longtime Asheville resident Bob Moog. In reality, there is a lot of music (electronic, and somewhat not electronic) to check out. There are a number of big names that will headline the festival, but let's cut straight to why I'm going.

Friday night, October 25th. Neutral Milk Hotel. Yes, I said Neutral Milk Hotel. If you're an indie rock fan of a certain age, and younger (if leader Jeff Mangum's recent solo shows are any indication), the news of the band's improbable reunion of the Aeroplane Over The Sea-era lineup is enough to make you drop everything. Birthday parties, wedding plans, bar mitzvahs and family interventions included. Combine this news with a lineup that includes Daniel Johnston, and Half Japanese on the same bill, and yes kids, the best just got better. And if you're mind isn't sufficiently blown yet, you can see Sparks, AND Silves Apples in other venues, on the same night. As Einstein once said, damn. (I'm sure he did. He was an intelligent guy.)

The other two nights? Just a few other bands you probably have heard of. Nine Inch Nails, Animal Collective, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Gary Numan and more on Saturday night, and Pretty Lights, How To Destroy Angels and the Orb, among others on Sunday. So there. Come to Asheville. The mountains are pretty, and the NC General Assembly is safely tucked away in the other end of the state. Let the mirth commence. Let the heck yeah's begin.
-Daniel Coston

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Original complete Douglas Adams interview from 1996, from original Tangents website

There is no way to describe Douglas Adams' sci-fi comedy opus The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, and accurately capture why it has become one of the most popular books of the past 20 years. With characters such as Guide researcher Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox and Marvin The Paranoid Android, it 's one of those books that you just have to read to understand its popularity.
It's also very hard to describe the career of its author, who has now sold over 15 million books worldwide. Born in Cambridge, England, Adams did everything from odd jobs to write with Graham Chapman of Monty Python fame before he found his voice in Hitchhhiker's.
Originally done as a radio series for British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) radio in 1978. He has since adapted Hitchhiker's into five books, a popular 1981 TV mini-series and every other form of media imaginable. With a second popular book series, Dirk Gently, now under his belt, Adams has now positioned himself at the forefront of the Computer Age, with several upcoming CD-ROMs now in the planning stages.
During his stay in Charlotte last month for the Novello festival, I sat down with Adams to talk about Hitchhiker's, his experiences with Monty Python and "Doctor Who," and the numerous Hitchhiker followers that fill the Internet.

Tangents: What were some of your early influences as a writer?

Adams: I'd have to say that Monty Python influenced me a great deal from a comedy standpoint, because I consider myself a comedy writer. Doctor Who also was a big influence from the standpoint of science-fiction. I don't know if you can imagine it now, but the impact that Doctor Who when it was first broadcast was amazing. It was so huge that the following week, they had to run the first episode again, and stagger the rest of the series back a week.
I guess on a prosaic level, I was influenced by the classics. Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, P. B. Woodhouse. They were the ones that you always looked up to as a writer, and always convinced yourself that your never be as good as theirs. There were a few science-fiction comic books in England when I was growing up. They were the rather sort of upper crust comic books that were there, I think, to instill good Empire values into young boys. But I think that the great one was called Dan Dare, Pilot Of The Future.
I must profess that I have a bit of a problem with a lot of today's science-fiction. I just find that it's very hard to read. In what many people think of as the "Golden Age" of science-fiction that produced [Arthur C. ] Clarke, [Isaac] Asimov and those guys, they were all working for voracious editors. You always read them complaining about how much their editors beat them up, but it produced very clear, clean, lean storytelling.
If you read science fiction nowadays, everybody's been to creative writing classes, and you get page after page, after page of "creative storytelling" without it ever actually going anywhere.
There was one great, great writer who is now, alas, largely overlooked. His name is Robert Sheckley. He was a very funny science-fiction writer, which was unusual. In fact, I'm going up in a few days' time to meet him, because we're probably going to collaborate on a little thing.

[At this point in the interview, Adams and I noticed that my new tape recorder was starting and stopping due to the machine being switched to voice-activated, a problem that Adams actually spotted. And yes, the irony of technology going awry in the middle of a Douglas Adams interview was not lost on me.]

Adams: I was a junior producer for BBC radio, and I was doing a radio show for Christmas...that was based on the story of Cinderella, and it was called "Black Cinderella II Goes East." We had a bunch of luminaries taking part in it, including John Cleese. John was, predictably, the only one couldn't turn up for recording. So I worked this out with the writers that it was written in such a way that John, who was the Fairy Godperson, was such and successful Godperson that she could never turn up to see Cinderella, but she would leave all her spells on her answering machine.
So I had to go off and record all of his bits, and it was terribly difficult finding a moment in his busy schedule when he could do this, and he finally could see me at 8 o;clock for an half-an-hour to do this. So I turned up with my tape recorder, tested everything to make sure it was all right. I did a quick test record and everything was fine, and I said, "Okay, let's go ahead."
And at that moment, John just happened to say, "Do you think it's a bit warm in here?" And I said, "Yes, it is a little bit. I'll fix that," and didn't think anything more about it. And it turned out that when I turned on this air conditioning fan, it set up a hum over the whole tape.
So I had to call [Cleese] the next day and say, 'I'm terribly sorry. I know we took weeks of work trying to find the time, but can we do it again, please?" And he was a little bit shirty, but eventually he agreed to do it, but unfortunately the second recording wasn't such a good performance, because he was a little cross about it. So I understand your frustration.

T: You came from a largely medical family.

A: That's right, yes. My mother was a nurse, and my father's father was an ear, nose and throat surgeon. My stepfather, because my parents divorced, was a doctor, and my sister from time to time is a nurse.

T: Did you expect to be a doctor when you grew up?

A: Well, I don't know about expected. It certainly crossed my mind from time to time, and there were certainly times when I thought, "Oh God, that's what I should have done." But it was never really an option, or if it was an option that I had taken, then it would have involved taking a U-turn in life, and suddenly giving up another eight years.

T: You said once that you became a writer because you couldn't think of anything else better to do.

A: Yes, that's true to a certain extent. That's funny, looking back now I would have a whole bunch of ideas about different things I'd like to do, but they weren't clear to me then. If I'd known back in 19747 which is when I left University, what I know now, among the things I would've thought of doing was being an evolutionary biologist. I guess a better time to decide this would've been before I went to University. But also a computer scientist, I would've loved to have been a rock musician...

T: Yes, you actually play some musical instruments.

A: Well, I actually play only two musical instruments, really. One is the guitar, and the other is the computer-driven synth. I'm a fairly poor keyboard player, but I can write music pretty well, so I basically write to a sequencer.

T: One of your first jobs was writing with Graham Chapman during the last season of Monty Python.

A: Well, it was something that seemed to me at the time as a young kid just out of University like this was having the clouds opening. "Wow! I'm working with all the Pythons." It wasn't quite as straightforward as that. Graham, and I think is a matter of record, so I'm not doing him any disservice, was a very, very heavy drinker at the time. He wasn't working with John Cleese anymore, and he was working with a lot of different people, but an awful lot of work really wasn't being done. So it a period of mixed output, and after eighteen months of that, I really felt that I was better off taking the plunge myself.

T: What were your impressions of the Pythons when you worked with them in that period?

A: Well, I do want to emphasize that it wasn't really working with them. My actual input to the Python era was about two lines. But, to a greater or lesser extent, they're all friends of mine. I know Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, John [Cleese] I know to a small degree, Mike [Palin] to a small degree, Eric [Idle] to a small degree. But the two Terrys are great.

T: In between that and getting the radio deal for Hitchhiker's, you worked as a bodyguard.

A: Yes, for an Arab Royal Family, the Altoni of Gutar. That was strange. It wasn't what I was expecting to be doing at that point, but like anything that happens to you in life, it turns out useful in some way or another. I think some of the weirder ideas that carried me through the next couple years after that came from long nights sitting opposite the elevator shaft at the Hilton Hotel, while I was trying to keep my sanity.

T: The ideas for Hitchhiker's came from several different inspirations, didn't they?

A: Yes. The actual title, as I've told many people, came to me while I was lying in a field, in a capside, actually, in Innsbrook at night, and looking up at the stars. There was a book around called The Hitchhiker 's Guide To Europe, which I had a copy of, and it occurred to me that somebody should write a Hitchhiker 's Guide To The Galaxy. I then promptly forgot about the idea until six years later.
I was intrigued by the idea of doing science-fiction as a form of comedy, and it was only while I was at work on the story that became Hitchhiker that I suddenly remembered this title, and that idea that folded into it.
One thing that I always want to tell people is that people always described Hitchhiker rather carelessly or loosely as being a spoof on science-fiction, and it isn't at all. Basically, a spoof or parody might give you enough material for a couple of pages, but that's about it. So it was very much using science-fiction to enable one to parody everything else, but there's no, or certainly hardly any attempt to actually parody science-fiction.

T: You also once said that a lot of the characters in Hitchhiker's were originally based on friends or people you knew, but then you expanded on those characters.

A: Well, I think you'll find that's common for most writers. Very often you have an idea for a character from just some little aspect of someone you know. something they do or say, or some thing about them, and then it grows into something else. It's often quite a surprise when you look back and think, "Oh, this character came from that person. It's not much like them now."

T: Marvin, for instance, came from a friend of yours.

A: Yeah, who's a comedy writer called Andrew Marshall. Hence the name in fact, because in the original draft of the script, he was actually called Marshall, because I did want Andrew to be absolutely clear that I meant him.
It was the producer who said to me, 'I'm worried about you naming him Marshall, because it has other connotations which you don't intend, but maybe the audience will pick up and then be confused by it." So I thought, "Oh, yeah. Mar, Mar-vin, then." It practically became Marvin on the way to the recording studio.

T: While you were writing the Hitchhiker's radio series, you were hired to become a writer and script editor for Doctor Who.

A: The sequence of events was that while I was waiting for the BBC to make up its mind about doing Hitchhiker, which took a long time, I needed some income from somewhere, so I thought, "Well, I've got this one script I've written that I've written for Hitchhiker. What else could I generate with this?" And the obvious place to send it was Doctor Who.
So they said, "Okay. Come in and see us." So we talking about storylines, and the inevitable happened, which is that [Doctor Who] took a long time to sort out, and the commission for the rest of the Hitchhiker 's series and the commission to write four episodes of Doctor Who came in the same week.
So it was pretty hectic. I really had hardly a day off for four years after that, until I finally decided, "That's it," made the escape from London, and holed up in a hotel in New York for a month, and tried to figure out what to do next.

T: What's your feelings now about your work with Doctor Who?

A: Well, Doctor Who's great in all sorts of ways. I remain tremendously fond of the actual idea. I think the idea is brilliant, and it obviously got very well-worn and tired over the years. I think the problem with it was simply that we were doing 26 episodes a year on a very, very small amount of resources, and there comes a point where you're having to compromise on so many things, and rush so many things just to get to the next problem that you're no longer getting any satisfaction out of it. It's merely a collection of missed opportunities.
Now, obviously anything you're working on there are compromises, missed opportunities, things that go wrong and things that you can't quite do. But the question is at the end of the day, have you done a good job? And I feel on Doctor Who, there was just too much. Too much expected from too little in the way of resources, so at the end of the day, you feel, "Well, we didn't even do a good job, I'm afraid." So it was a little disappointing.

T: The character of Ford Prefect in Hitchhiker's was originally conceived as a sort of anti-Doctor Who, wasn't he?

A: In a kind of a way, yeah. One of the keynotes of Ford was that given the choice between saving the world and going to a good party, he'd go the party. Or even a bad party. [laughs]

T: Whereas Doctor Who would just save the world.

A: Yeah, he was that kind of boring guy about saving the world over and over again. That's why I thought with Hitchhiker, "Let's just get the world out of the way from the word go." Boy, that was a decision I came to regret. [groans] Good God.

T: Why is that?

A: It was such a problem thereafter. It's one of those you do, like a gesture. Michael Nesmith, who was one of the Monkees, told me how there came a point when he wanted to leave the Monkees, and everybody was very down on him for that, 'cause as far as they were concerned, they were doing well, everything was going great, everyone was earning money. Why kill it now?
So somebody said to him, "Look, it's all very well for you. You've very comfortably made this amount of money. Now you just walk away from it. Is that right?" And Michael said, "No, it isn't about the money," and they said, "Oh, yeah." So he said, "All right, how much have I made from the Monkees? I'll give it all away." So he did that, and he said he woke up the following morning, and he thought, 'I've got no money now." [laughs]
That's the problem with it. You make this grand gesture at the beginning, and you give up the earth, and you think, "Damn. Now where's the thing going to be set?" You haven't got any good reference point thereafter, so I've made these sort of futiling attempts to bring it back from time to time, but it never quite works.

T: What's you feelings about the various Hitchhiker incarnations?

A: The top ones in my mind are the radio series and the books. The TV series was kind of a mixed blessing. I was very fond of the towel. I thought that was a good read. There was a couple of comic books over the last couple years that, well, I don't know, I'm not a great expert on comic books. It's not a media I'm really sufficient to converse with and to have an opinion, but I guess I'm old fashioned to think that it works better as a book.

T: There was also the record albums, there was a sort of musical that was done...

A: A couple of stage productions, yeah. It's kind of difficult to perform on stage. One of the reasons why it keeps on being about to be a film, then never quite becoming a film is that the whole thing is essentially picaresque, which means it's just one damn thing after another. It's the momentum with which it rolls forward, rather than sends it going anywhere in particular, and that's very, very hard to translate into a movie. A movie has to be 100 [minutes], maybe 110 at the most, but it's beginning, middle and end. I've been able to come up with a couple of scripts that observed those constraints, but somehow, it now fails to be Hitchhiker. It's become more like Star Wars or whatever. No disrespect to Star Wars, but Hitchhiker ain't that.

T: Do you think the Hitchhiker's story can be taken any further?

A: I'd like to, actually. A lot of people have not particularly liked Mostly Harmless [1993], including myself. The problem with it, and most people never notice this when they're reading books, was the year in which I wrote that book was just full of terrible problems at home. Professional problems, family problems, a sad death in the family. I don't want to talk about it all, because it's personal stuff, but it was a really, really bloody year, and against the background of that, I had to write a funny book.
It was tough, so there's a little bit of me that, I know I'll keep on saying that I'll never do another [Hitchhiker book], and then I do it, but I might well another one at some point because I'd like to leave it all on a slightly more upbeat ending than Mostly Harmless was. Take the thing back up again, because it seems sad to leave it at that downbeat flavor.

T: Do you ever tire of people asking you what you were working on next?

A: I got very crazed by it, actually. I'm afraid that I went through to almost a sort of parodic degree a real mid-life crisis, hitting forty, thinking, "What am I doing? I'm going round and round in circles, doing the same things over and over again."
When I started out, I did something in radio, then I did television, I did this, I did that. Then I did a book, and then suddenly, the book was such a hit meant that the next thing I did was another book, and the next thing after that was another book. And that wasn't the kind of life that I really wanted, but there was a huge pressure on me to keep on doing that, and for years I found myself sitting in a room alone not really enjoying myself at all.
So a little while ago, I started thinking, 'I've got to do something different," and it's a hard call to make. Because you're a well-known author, everyone's expecting another book from you next year, and you think, "Well, I also have a life I have to try and sort out." Essentially, what I wanted to do was to find a way of working which could enable me to go back to doing what I did to begin with, which was moving from one medium to another, and working with people and actually having fun.
So I've set up with a bunch of very complimentary and bright bunch of people, and we've formed a company called the Digital Village. It's turning out to be enormous fun. My first project is a CD-ROM, which I'm working on at the moment, and television, and film, we hope at last. But the center of it all is going to be a huge Web presence. Everything will sort of flow into that.
I'm just having the best possible time. Suddenly, all the creative juices are flowing again, and I'm working very hard on the CD-ROM, Starship Titanic. Now that looks like it'll go on into different media, but I don't want to do what I did with Hitchhiker, which was "Okay, now I've done the radio series. Now I'll do the book of it, and now I'm gonna write the television series," and this and that, and virtually become my own word processor. So what I'm intending to do with each of the projects that I start with the Digital Village is that I will do the first alliteration of it, and then hand it over to other people to take it to the other fields. So this Starship Titanic starts as a CD-ROM, but as far as the novel is concerned, even though a lot of people will think that I should do it because that's basically what I do, in fact I'm handing over the novel to Robert Sheckley to write, because I want to go on to these other projects.
One's called Secret Empire, which will be a television project. I want to go on to another project, which will be a film. I can't tell you what the title of that yet, simply because I can never get the right title for it. But in each case, I want to hand on to whatever else may come of it to other people to do, because I want more variety.

T: What's your feelings about the different Internet groups that follow you?

A: It's kind of weird, actually. Andy Warhol said that in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes. Now he would say that in the future, everybody will have their own alt.fan group. There was a point where I used to go into the different newsgroups from time to time, but I found that it was an uphill battle because you get a lot of flak from people saying, "Oh, it can't possibly be you, so butt off out of here."
But the other thing is the effect of Chinese Whispers, because of the way in which notes would fall off the bottom of it. Someone would ask a question, and I would go on and answer it, and I might right a full piece. And over the next two or three days, your piece would disappear, and a lot of people would miss it and ask "What did he say?" And then you'd watch as more and more people garbled versions of what you'd said would proliferate around, and got to be a full-time job just trying to keep it under control.
So I thought, "I'll duck back out of this now," and wait until I can do my own web site, where I can keep control of things. The other thing I have to say, and this is an important issue because the Digital Village is about to start producing some major Hitchhiker's Guide sites, and this is the tricky thing on the web, because some people who are doing fannish stuff, which is great, terrific.
And then when you see where a major Web designing group is calling itself "the hitchhiker's guide to" this, that or the other thing. No, sorry, that's my property. Back off. I'm having to start being a little bit tough about that, which I don't like. But you feel that people are saying, "Hey, he's a good, cool guy. Let's go and burgle him." [laughs]
Unfortunately, my lawyers have said, 'If you're going to preserve your right against major infringements of copyright, you've got to protect from all infringements of copyright." So I'm having to go out of the way and say, "Oi guys, stop doing that, 'cause it looks like you're starting to look like you're doing a professional thing here."

T: Would you ever do another nude scene like you did in the TV version of Hitchhiker?

A: [laughing] No! Absolutely not! They got me very drunk to do that.

My thanks to Jessica Walter of the uptown branch of the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County for setting up this interview.

NB, You can find a later version of this story, with more recent reflections from me, on this blog, as well.

Babyshaker Interview for second Tangents website, 2011

Babyshaker interview
By Daniel Coston
For over ten years, Charlotte’s own Babyshaker has brought together a mix of pop, punk and glam that is always a fun and loud good time. Now, the four members of Babyshaker (vocalist Scott Weaver, guitarist Dudley Collins, bassist Corrie Throckmorton, and drummer Scott McCannell) have released Legendary, the debut album (yes, I said album) that finally documents their music on wax. While all four members of Babyshaker are also involved with other projects around Charlotte, they have kept the band together without any lineup changes, a minor feat in today’s music business.
Scott Weaver and I recently talked via email about the new album, music in general, and what keeps the  band going today.

Tangents: How did Babyshaker originally come together?
Weaver: Through a series of earth-changing, cosmic events. Combined with the fact that we all met, got along and thought it would be fun to be in a rock band. It was all about timing, really.
Tangents: Did you know what you wanted the band to sound like from the start? Or did that evolve early on?
Weaver: Not really, other than the fact that we were ready for some rock-n-roll. At the time, I was going to New York and L.A. a lot, and there was a great over-the-top rock thing going on in those cities, and I personally found it exciting. We got together and decided to do it here, but in our own way. It certainly was not the popular thing around here at the time. Looking back at our early shows, I can certainly see that we had serious balls to be doing what we were doing.
Tangents: Were there certain influences, or bands that influenced what the band sounds like?
Weaver: Tons. As a whole, we are a group of music fans. We were listening to 70s punk, stoner metal, riot grrl bands, shoegaze, and Steely Dan. I think bands with the front-person lineup, like Iggy & the Stooges, and Blondie and AC/DC were important, because that was the kind of format we were set up to do. As time has passed, we have shifted through different sound vibes, but it’s always been about rocking.
Tangents: Tell me the band’s CD. It took a few years to put together.
Weaver: Well, it’s not even a CD, just a vinyl record (although I think we will press a few CDs based on demand) and available on all of the main digital music stores. And yes, it took a while. We have always been a live band, not a bunch of studio types. It takes a lot to wrangle us in to record. We will play live anywhere, anytime, but recording is always secondary for us. This record was a great experience though, because of how and where we did it and who we did it with.
Tangents: Speaking of that, you had the legendary producer Don Dixon produce it while you played onstage at the Milestone Club. Why Don, and why the live setup for recording?
Weaver: Well, Don actually set up a studio on stage and had us set up in a circle on the floor. It was his idea to put us in a more immediate, “live” situation. He did his Don Dixon wizardry, and set up all kinds of room mics, and just had us rock out. It was so cool to do it that way, in the Milestone, a place that we love, and not be separated in a sterile studio environment. And of course, Don is an amazing producer and a good friend to us, so it was a privilege to work with him. We ended up using the first take on 8 out of 11 songs that ended up on the record.
Tangents: As you mentioned, you had the record pressed on vinyl. Would you do that again?
Weaver: Yes. It is great to have your own custom vinyl record. One of the coolest things we have done. It’s not cheap, but we did not want to scrimp on the packaging. Totally worth it.
Tangents: Fellow photographer shout-out. Who did your promo photos? One hopes you really weren’t lying in a pool of your own blood.
Weaver: Frank Balthazar. He is super-talented and has taken some of the best, most attention-getting shots of our band. He and I work very well together in terms of conceptualizing shots for the band, and he’s a good friend. Of course it’s my own blood-metaphorically speaking. Blood, sweat and tears!
Tangents: How has Babyshaker stayed together with the same lineup for ten years? That’s an accomplishment, in rock terms.
Weaver: It does not feel like it’s been as long as it has, but we have really grown up as adults together and are basically like family. There would never be a replacement if someone stopped. The four of us are Babyshaker. It may sound cheesy, but we are so comfortable together on stage that I’m spoiled by the unconscious magic that occurs when we play live. I guess I’m one of those in-it-for-the long haul types, because my other band, Snagglepuss, has been around almost as long. Locally, Antiseen is the model of longevity. We have mad respect for them.
Tangents: How has the Charlotte scene changed during Babyshaker’s time together?
Weaver: It has certainly grown! A lot of bands have come and gone, and there are tons of great bands here now. It has changed for the better. We have more venues, and an influx of new people to be excited and inspired by.
Tangents: What have been some of your favorite Babyshaker shows over the years?
Weaver: Opening for Iggy Pop, shows with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the Warlocks, Blonde Redhead, the Make-up, the Fetchin Bones reunion and Glass Candy all come to mind. And of course Jucifer, who we have played some 75 shows with through the years. They are an amazing band and dear friends. And we can’t forget Squatweiler and Ultra-Babyfat, who were the first established, out-of-town bands to be supportive of us.
Tangents: What are you listening to these days?
Weaver: Everything from Stan Getz and Dusty Springfield to Autolux, Tame Impala and Two Tears.
Tangents: If you could get hold of the TARDIS, and visit yourself ten years ago, as the band was starting up, what would you tell yourself?
Weaver: Get ready, this is going to be a big part of your life and it’s going to be AWESOME!

Jon Lindsay interview for 2nd Tangents website, 2011

Jon Lindsay interview
By Daniel Coston
Over the last few years, Jon Lindsay has established himself as a sideman for other musicians, as well as sharing the lead role in two bands (The Young Sons and currently the Catch Fire). Now Jon has stepped out on his own, with the release this month of his first solo album, Escape From Plaza-Midwood. Released by the Chicago-based label Chocolate Lab Records, Escape is an expansive expression of powerpop and rock, with Lindsay’s descriptive lyrics leading you through the ups and downs of everyday life. [Editor's Note: This interview originally appeared in August 2010 on the previous version of this site.]
Tangents: Describe Escape From Plaza-Midwood.
Lindsay: It’s a 15-track record made in 2009 at Sioux Sioux Studios in Charlotte. It came out August 17 on Chocolate Lab Records. All the songs were written by me except “The Launch Codes,” which was co-written by Peter Gray (Benji Hughes/Todd Busch) and myself. I like to think the album is a really good time. A fun pop record with many shades of feeling, that hopefully ranges all over the place. A lot of it is deeply confessional. Some of it is more character portrait or fiction/imagination driven. I would recommend it to moms in Nebraska, as well as my peeps in Williamsburg rocking the skinny jeans.
Tangents: You have been a part of two bands (Young Sons and Catch Fire) in the past few years where you shared the lead role. What led you to make this record on your own?
Lindsay: Even while in those other bands you mentioned, I’ve been a solo artist. So though this album is the first official JL full-length release on a label with full-band solo tours and the whole nine, this is something I’ve been working toward for quite some time now. I would like to mention that regarding The Catch Fire, we have a new powerpop record called Rumor Mill, what will be that band’s official full-length debut, almost completed and it sounds amazing. It is also about 15 tracks. That band is co-fronted by Mike Mitschele (Alternative Champs/Jolene) and myself. Also in that band are John Cates (former Young Sons drummer) and Adam Roth (Bellglide, Laburnum).
Tangents: How and where did you record this record? Who else is on the record and how long did it take to record?
Lindsay: Think I covered most of this, but for how long… about a year. I made it in between doing shows with Benji Hughes, The Young Sons, and the Catch Fire, all of which I was involved in at the time of tracking EFPM. On the personnel, additional peeps include Chris Waldorf, who co-produced it with me and played drums, vibes, some keys and created loops and samples with me. Jonathan Erickson played drums on a track. David Kim played drums on several tracks. Rodney Lanier played steel on “I Take Care of You Now,” Victoria McLaughlin and Chris Johnson played strings, Bryan Osborne played trumpet and Brent Bagwell played clarinet, baritone and tenor sax.
Tangents: How extensively did you demo this record? Did you know what you wanted when you went into the studio, or did some of that evolve during recording?
Lindsay: To be honest, I did zero demos for this record. It was all recorded with very little pre-production. My newest record (that I’m working on now, Summer Wilderness Program, set for early 2011) is the complete opposite. I wrote the whole thing in about three weeks, and we’ve already demoed all the songs prior to even beginning official tracking.
Tangents: How’s the new album coming along?
Lindsay: Going really good. I am so proud of the one we’re making now. EFPM too, big time, but this one is seriously out of control.
Tangents: It sounds like the songs are informed by late 60s, early 70s pop-rock, but filtered through 90s influences such as Elliott Smith and the Posies. True?
Lindsay: That is a fair statement. Hopefully also filtered through my own singular vibe as well, but I am influenced by a lot of those things you mention. As well as the greater culture at large that isn’t musical.
Tangents: Let’s talk about lyrics. Some of the lyrics sound as though they’re autobiographical. How much of them are from your own experiences and how much is from someone else, or imagined?
Lindsay: I will say that even the sketches or character portraits or vignettes or whatever still contain autobiographical sentiments at the line-level here and there. I try to never go full-fiction. Though I often go full play-by-play on the confessional songs. And I think it’s important not to spoil which are which. Word?
Tangents: Do you think that people will see something of themselves and their lives in your lyrics?
Lindsay: Definitely.
Tangents: You’ve put together a touring band to promote Escape. Who’s in the band and how did you find them?
Lindsay: Current lineup is me on vocals, keys and guitar, Kyle Dussault on keys, Chris Waldorf on drums, Grant Funderburk on guitar, and big Mike Mitschele on bass. They were all hiding in my backyard one day, growing weed and it just made sense.
Tangents: Has playing more shows with your own band been influencing the songs you’re currently writing?
Lindsay: Honestly, the songs inform everything that happens live. So kind of the opposite of what you said. I’ve always played a lot of shows as a co-front man, or side player with other artists, and also a lot of solo shows, which I’ve been doing for years and truly love as an art form. Nothing else like just you and a crowd. But the fact that I’m playing all the time now under my own name isn’t really informing the songs, so much as just making me a happier person.
Tangents: A shout-out to your photographer. Who takes your photos?
Lindsay: Always great to give a shout out to Carolyn Clemans, and all the great East Coast photographers I end up working with all the time.
Tangents: How has the scene in Charlotte changed in the past few years? Or has it changed at all?
Lindsay: No comment.
Tangents: Any questions for the interviewer?
Lindsay: When can I take YOUR picture, Daniel?