Archive for the Interviews Category

My First Review

Posted in Interviews, Photo Gallery, Scrapbook on 30/03/2010 by todcrouch

Mickey Avalon’s First Interview

Posted in Interviews on 30/03/2010 by todcrouch

I respect anyone who’d rather be a hustler than a busboy, so when I heard Mickey Avalon rapping the phrase, “I worked nights at hotcock.com, but then I got fired when my mom logged on” I knew something was happening and Avalon was part of it.  Avalon moved on to a different kind of hustle: working with Kev E. Kev at Shoot to Kill records, releasing his debut self-titled album–a funny and gritty depiction of what goes on between junk and hustling.  It’s hard to find an artist equally respected by drag queens, b-boys, Trannies, queers, hipsters, punks, goths, and  indie kids–It’s shit like this that brings people together when nobody has a fucking clue on how to get our generation’s collective shit together.  Taking the attitude of the 70’s New York scene and setting storytelling to rhyme, Avalon’s just getting started.

TC: How long have you been playing music?

MA:  When I was a kid, My mom actually got me piano lessons–like two of them–but I wanted to play Jerry Lee Lewis and he was trying to teach me that Fur Elise, but I’ve been rapping since about fifteen.

TC:  What was your first gig?

MA:  The first gig was about two years ago at the Roxy.  I opened for Andy Dick.  I never really performed–I wasn’t a get-up-on-a-table-and-entertain-everybody kinda guy.  I think it’s accessible to other people who aren’t necessarily into rap or hip-hop or whatever they call it these days.  It wasn’t like an art school project or a conceptual thing, you know?

TC: What or who got you interested in music?

MA:  Music would be my dad.  He used to collect forty-fives.  Rockabilly, TexMex, Swamp music kinda stuff.  As far as rap, I missed punk rock and that age, and rap was around and that’s what I liked.  It came around at a time in my life when the music just stuck.  That was accessible to me and now looking back, it was really the golden time of it.  That’s when I started rapping but I never thought of it as music.  I didn’t know how to play any instruments, I’m white, I didn’t want to sing–storytelling and stuff like that is more my thing.  Someone would make some beat…and since there wasn’t like a band with smart people playing instruments, I didn’t think about trying to make a good song.  If anything, it’s just as hard and qualifies as music.  And now I’m glad because I can say, “Yeah, I rap” instead of “Yeah, I play bass in some emo band.”  It comes 180 degrees, ’cause when I was a kid I probably woulda said the opposite.

TC: So what kinda stuff are you listening to these days?

MA:  I like a lot of country girl singers, actually.  Gillian Welch and Emmylou Harris and stuff like that.  A lot of girls with really pretty voices sing simple songs about people drowning or killing their husbands.  Old stuff like the Carter Family, too.  I like Too Short a lot, Danzig, Misfits, Public Enemy.  I don’t listen to that much rap right now.  Especially when I’m recording, I don’t want that coming in.  I feel more affinity with the stories that other people are telling as opposed to the music their making.  I don’t find that many rappers telling that kind of story or talking about the same shit–that’s why I’m listening to words of another time.  Iris Dement, I like her a lot.  She’s got a good voice.  As far as rappers go, it’s been pretty much the big ones–Cool G Rap, EPMD, Public Enemy, Dana Dane, Slick Rick, Too Short, Beastie boys used to be very good, Run DMC…

TC: You started shoot to kill records with Kev E. Kev.  When did you two start working together?

MA:  I’d say about two years.  We have a lot of the same friends–we just never met before.  I’m surprised he’s put up with me for so long.  He gets the brunt of all the shit my girl can’t handle.  It was never some executive decision.  It’s just the way its happened because I trust him and stuff.  I was just making CDs for fun or for places to stay or party favors.  I never thought I could ever make money like this.  But when I made the CDs, usually if someone had a studio, I could stay the night there or whatever and make new songs.  So none of them were really songs with hooks or choruses or anything like that.  They got to the company that Kevin worked with.  I was living in a halfway house when I got a call from them.  I thought it was a joke because I’d been making fun of them.  I realized it was real and went in to meet him.  They gave me some money and then I would just talk to Kev.  I just got an apartment like this week.  I don’t trust too many people and he’s come through in spades with everything he said and then some.  He’d take my phone calls at four in the morning–He’d just be there, you know?  It just seemed like, “This is the move to make.”  We wanted to do it ourselves, we got a solid team.  He’s my Russell Simmons or my Chuck White.  If I call him at eight o’clock in the morning and start ranting, he’ll still take my call.  And other stuff–like being on his couch for long periods of time, having him bail me out of strange situations.  There’s a lot of babysitting, really, keeping me out of strange bathrooms.  But I didn’t come into it thinking I was going to make money, and if I did–this would be a bitch.  I don’t wanna say I got lucky, because I work hard but It’s not like filling out an application, you know?  Maybe you gotta wake up in hostels a bunch, maybe you don’t–it depends on who you are.  Maybe you don’t give a fuck about everybody else except for yourself, maybe you hate yourself more, maybe you love yourself more…  I mean, I gotta pay child support for example, so why would I become a musician?  How could that even be a part of my plan?  So if someone came and thought they would make a million dollars, good luck and I hope you could.  You can manipulate whatever you have to get things, whatever your hustle is.  How you get your party favors, how you get your money, or a place to stay.  I was never encouraged that this could be a hustle, and it is.  And it’s not like a two-bit hustle, you know?  So what would I say to someone who wanted this to be their hustle?  Be true to yourself?  Don’t be true to yourself?  I don’t know… Maybe just “don’t die”.  And if you do, that’s cool too, but that’s game over for that particular thing.

TC:  So.  How long were you a hustler?

MA: OK, all that kinda stuff was for, uh, specific needs.  We’re talking about me YOUNG, 18, 17, 19, you know?  I don’t do that stuff anymore because I don’t need to, and I’m a bit older.  But any particular day depended on how much energy do I had–how strong I was, how sick I was, how good looking I was.  My first choice was not to do it.  I mean, A trust fund woulda been cool, but that didn’t happen.  Obviously the more money or more substances or more energy, I could go out and get in a situation.  I would get into a situation and know that I have enough strength and be fit enough to just pretend something was about to go down, get some guys wallet and get out of there.  Obviously, if you’re sick or in a situation and you know there’s no way to get out–being younger and quicker and prettier, for the most part…  I got to call the shots, let’s just say that.  I’m amazed at some of the things I can do in moderation when on paper, it shouldn’t be.  But I do think you should go balls out.  You’d be surprised through years of practice that didn’t kill me.

TC:  Do you remember your first trick?

MA:  I was in Portland.  Drugs led to more crime on a different kind of side in Los Angeles.  So I spent the night in Portland Jail for getting something on a stupid fucking sting operation.  Me and this other kid got out at about the same time and I didn’t really cop on the street for some reason.  He was telling me how he was a hustler and he was kind of amusing, you know?  So I let him stay at my hotel–250 dollars the whole month with a shower in the hall.  You got your own toilet which was cool.  So I let him stay at the crib for the night.  He left for like forty, forty-five minutes and he came back with two bags of coke and a whole bag of candy and a shitload of dope and I thought, “I’m in the wrong business.” I wasn’t thinking about me going out and doing it, I just figured I’d just let him stay.  I guess it was some form of pimpery and that would have been fine.  That would have been perfect.  He coulda just moved in forever, you know?  Then I was like, “Yeah, I wanna kinda see” so I’d watch from the corner and he came back with a bag of candy and shitload of drugs back then.  But then he fell in love with me.  I don’t care what other people do, I don’t have much of a judgment factor on other people.  I just wanted to be like “We’ve got a good thing going here.  You’ve got a place to live and I got this, so why not forget about it?”  But he wasn’t down with that.

TC:  So what’s the most fucked up thing that’s happened to you doing a job.

MA:  I actually don’t remember the first few times, but after awhile it was just straight robbery.  No guns or anything stupid, and I mean these guys are chumps.  There’s nothing to it.  You know, you play with your eyebrows and all that stuff.  And once their wallets are out and their pants are down, you bolt.  Most of the bad shit that happened was usually something I had to do.  Again, it’s easy to justify doing something to a pig.  The farmer doesn’t feel bad when he has to kill a pig.  I had to do stuff that maybe I didn’t wanna do, maybe something that was halfway gross and I did stuff that I don’t necessarily want my kid to know about and definitely stuff that society frowns upon.  I don’t know if it’s selective memory or a defense mechanism, but I only remember stuff other people did.  I dated–well you don’t really date when you’re in situations like that–but when I let people live with me or I’ve lived with them, girl prostitutes–I can remember more their stories that I was a part of.  I remember this one chick had to beat this dude up–but he wanted a dude there too.  So I remember going there and beating him up.  He got off on it and actually came.  We’re beating him and kicking him in the face or like pulling up with the car and having her jumping out of windows.  It’s a lot like asking what happened at a seven-eleven on Monday as opposed to Wednesday.  A lot of running and a lot of acting.  I’ve never been hurt.  I’ve been chased but no one’s ever gotten the best of me.

TC: So what’s the hottest sex you’ve ever had?

MA:  With my current girlfriend every night!  Since memory, whatever happened last.  If they come and I come, we’re good. There’s so many years when I didn’t come from medication, and I get off on my own performance.

TC:  So where do you want to go from here?

MA:  I wanna get something to eat.  I like staying at a safe place and work in the studio as much as possible, making new songs and I hope that some of them are good and people like listening to them.  If it keeps going the way it’s going, I’m happy.  People are getting it.  People call from rehab, people I never thought I had anything in common with.  I’m starting to find out I do.  So….I guess I want a have a good time, create a scenery for that.  I want to just drag it back by the hair and not being a dick about it.  If I can support myself and my family, then I guess I win, right?

TC: Absolutely.  So what do you want to accomplish with your music?

MA: I want to be surrounded by my friends at all times and I’m not looking for any new ones.  I’m hanging around with people who have my best intentions in mind and I like to keep it that way.  It’s been done before where you could go to some place and you’d have a b-boy in one corner, a fag in another, a Goth in another and we don’t have that anymore.  I want to get rid of the segregation between all these different groups.  I wouldn’t want to sign a major label to get away from that.  It’d be “okay, now we’re ready for your guns but we’re going to use our bullets.”  Why would anyone want to throw away stupid amounts of money– which is the only money I would take–can’t be a fluke.  We’re okay for a minute and we’d only go major if we could do more of what we’re doing for more people without diluting it. and I don’t  want some broad who wants all my check stubs.

TC: They’re usually a lot more fun and a lot cheaper on dates.

MA: Exactly.

Mary and Larry: River Boats and Penalty Boxes

Posted in Interviews on 30/03/2010 by todcrouch

Thick air held a heavy scent of concrete after a real piss-down summer storm.  A few of us gathered outside KGB to take in the cool damp air before it clotted back into unbearable humidity.  Suzanne Dottino, the fiction curator, talked with a woman using a cane.  I never ask about these things.  Just then, a homeless gal came strolling up to steps of KGB.  “What happened to your leg?  Are you all right?” the friendly (and possibly deeply disturbed) the homeless gal asked the woman with a cane, who ended up being one of the readers, Mary Morris.

The woman with the cane was caught off guard, but unshaken, “I broke it.”

“Well, you should stay off of it as much as possible,” The lady in purple said.

“I will.  Thanks,” The woman said politely before turning back to Suzanne Dottino.

“Get better!”  The stranger said, walking back to the bowery waving sloppily to us as she diminished down the sidewalk.

“Well, I think it’s time to go in,” The woman said.  It was time to stay off that leg as much as possible.

Time to get lit, and a few drinks, too.  Inside, an intimate group gathered around for story time.  The mike wasn’t working, but the A/C was.  Larry read firmly from his new book, “The Penalty Box”, an interesting story about the Stanley Cup and the envoy  carrying it from city to city. Larry was not in a good mood because the Penguins just lost the Stanley Cup.  Outside, someone’s over-amped car stereo sent the windows abuzz just as Larry read a particularly lyrical passage.  The car eventually moved on, just as Larry spoke his last lines: Don’t you just love this song?

The crowd chuckles.

After the break, Mary Morris read from her travelogue, “The River Queen”.  Mary loved digression and so did I.  Her novel concerned the passing of her father, the departure of her daughter, and riding on the Mississippi while her husband drove around in an RV listening to Creedence.  As the readings winded down, I grabbed Larry for the interview.

Larry and I walked downstairs to the theater lobby for the interview.  He stood across from me with arms folded.  I started off, “I wanted to ask you a little bit more about your memoir.  What period of your life does it frame?”

“It’s from my early days until my thirties.  It’s a time when I was working in the newspaper business as something in my father’s family happened.  It’s called ‘The Tip of the Iceberg’.  It parenthesizes my life up until my thirties.”

“Now your current book, ‘The Penalty Box’ is about the escort of the Stanley cup. Is that like a full time position?”

“It’s more than that.  There are more than one person who escorts the Stanley cup.  In the summertime, the escorts take the cup to the hometown of the players who win the cup.  For a 24-hour period, he hands over the cup.  He does not go into the family home, but he does travel all over the world. Now, just because the team members may play for a North American team, they may not necessarily live in North America. “

“Now, your main character’s name is Kyle, and if you were representing yourself, as all fiction is a little autobiographical, I was curious to know if there was anything that you escort, much as your character escorts the Stanley cup.  Is there anything that you carry with you that you refuse to let out of your sight?”

Mr. O’Connor thought for a moment to say, “It’s a funny thing, because my wife stopped me from coming down here for this interview and said, ‘why are you bringing your bag?’  There is something to be said for carrying things with you that you don’t want people to touch in some kind of primitive way.  In my case, it’s my bag.  I keep my journals in it, my phone, my doodads, and things that are my totems.”

“So now I have just a few little quick questions for you,” I sensed an impatience to get this over with.  Perhaps he wanted to return to his family upstairs, perhaps his current frustration over the Penguins’ loss, or perhaps he just didn’t like interviews–I tried to keep this as smooth as possible and blow through a few stock questions.

“What is your favorite sound?” I asked.

“A champagne cork.”

“What is your least favorite sound?”

“Jackhammer.”

“If someone wanted to be your friend, what should they know about you?”

O’Connor answered immediately, “Where I come from.”

“Ok, and all theosophical debates aside, What do you want God to say when you reach heaven?”

“What book do you wish your wrote?”

O’Connor’s stumped.  “There’s so many.  I don’t have a single one, but I could say Ulysses.”

“What’s your favorite curse word?”

“I don’t wanna say,” O’Connor replied.

“That’s fine.  What is a guilty pleasure of yours?”

“Too much maple syrup.”

“How do you stay disciplined?”

“I think it’s all about routine.  About doing it even when you’re not wanting to do it.”  Larry O’Connor said.  I thanked him for his time and we went back up to the bar so I could interview his wife, Mary Morris.

Mary’s racked up quite a resume, including a Guggenheim and NEA grants, as well as a George Perkins fellowship at Princeton.  She’s written several travel memoirs and five novels, including her new book, ‘The River Queen‘.  We headed over near the women’s restroom, where we had our little sit-down.  Two prominent characters in her book are Tom and Jerry, the captains of the boat, The River Queen, which cradled her in her journey.

“So tell me a little bit about Tom and Jerry,” I start, “how did you find them?”

“I had an assignment for a book to write about the Mississippi River and I really didn’t know what I was doing.  I went to a marina in Wisconsin with my nephew, Matthew.  He’s a wrestler at the University of Wisconsin, this huge guy, and we hung out at the marina until we ran across two river pilots who had a boat who were willing to take me downstream and they turned out to be Tom and Jerry.”

“Was that their real names?” I asked.

She smiled a little, answering for the thousandth time.  “It was, and it was basically why I hired them.  I have to say that the moment I met Tom and Jerry, I knew they were my story.”

“You said you grew up in Illinois…”

“I did.  I grew up in the North shore of Chicago.  I’m a writer and a mother and I love New York, but home is the Midwest.”

“Yeah, I grew up in Illinois.” I told her.

“Where?” she said with some surprise.

“I grew up in Decatur.” I said. “Me and my father used to go canoeing all the time down in Missouri.  I think at that time, it was called the Cotewois river, but it might have changed by now.  It was in the middle of nowhere.  And I know what you mean by the river folk.  We used to hang out with this married couple, Waterbug and his wife, Bronco.”  A woman coming from the restroom accidentally kicked my glass across the floor, sending ice skittering across the floor.

“I’m so sorry!” the woman exclaimed.

“It’s ok.  It was empty.” I lied.

Mary adjusts herself in the chair, “Excuse me for a moment.  I broke my leg this winter.”

“You didn’t do it on the boat, did you?” I asked.

“No, I did it ice skating this winter,” She replied.

“Do you know what type of boat you were riding on?”

“It was a 1969 River Queen houseboat,” Mary says.

“Do you know how many tributaries there are on the Mississippi?”

“Tod,” She announces, “I am going to fail this exam.”

“Naw, don’t worry about it.  Sometimes there’s a theme and other times not so much.  But tonight Larry was talking about the Stanley cup and so I picked his brain and figured I’d do the same with your subject.”

“He knows SO much about the Stanley cup.  You know I’m married to him.”

“Really?” I said.

“You don’t know that?” she said with some surprise.

“No! That’s so funny!  Because you guys were both talking about your other half and I had no idea it was an inside joke!” I said.

“My husband, Larry, knows hockey very very well. For me on the Mississippi, it was an adventure, it wasn’t about the knowledge.  For him, it’s really about the knowledge.  Yeah, we‘ve been married forever.  Our daughter‘s in there.”

“Short black hair who I saw at your table?”

“Yeah.”

I elbowed Mary and wink, “She’s a little hottie!”

“She is! What can I tell you?  You are cracking me up!  I’ve never had an interview like this before!”

“I do enjoy talking to people.” I said, “So back on track!  So one of the things that you mentioned is that your father just passed and your daughter was looking at college. It seemed to be a tough time for you.  I was curious to know how were you able to turn the corner on that?” I asked.

“A part of this trip was going to a place of understanding within myself.  And without giving too much away, I had an experience that gave me that understanding, which is built in to the arc of the father story.”

“Did it end up being a spiritual awareness or was it an emotional awareness or an awareness about relationships?”

“I’ll try an explain it as best I can. There was a moment where a kind of peacefulness came over me.  It wasn’t like I was looking for spiritual journey.  It’s not like I was on a quest, but there definitely was a moment where I felt I was able to find a certain peace in myself and move on.  There’s a whole thing in ‘The River Queen’ about my father’s ashes.  Nobody wanted my father’s ashes.  Actually, I wanted the ashes, so they came to me FedEx.  It was very bizarre.  They actually went to the chiropractor next door.  But I put them behind the piano for a year until somebody told me I could plant a tree in prospect park and put the ashes there that I found a place for him.  I thought about scattering him in the Mississippi, but I wanted to have him near me.  I understand this whole thing about making peace.  I mean, you are who they are, and making peace–everybody has to do that in our own way.” Mary said.  I agreed sullenly and didn’t want to think about dead parents anymore.

“Now the fun questions!” I said, “So what is your favorite sound?”

“The Mockingbird.”

“What is your least favorite sound?”

“Plastic bags.”

“If someone wanted to be your friend, what should they know about you?”

“They need to listen.” Mary said.  I worry suddenly about being to chatty.

“All theosophical questions aside, what do you want God to say to you when you reach heaven?”

“You did what you were supposed to do.”

“What book do you wish you wrote?”

“Anna Karenina. Or 100 Years of Solitude.”

“What is your favorite curse word?” I ask.

“I don’t know.”  Mary answered.

“What is a guilty pleasure of yours?”

“Old scotch late at night.”

“How do you stay disciplined?”

Mary answered quickly, “First cup of coffee in the morning.”

“What got you interested in writing?”

And Mary replied. “I wanted to speak.  I just wanted to speak.”

Bai Ling: Siamese Dream

Posted in Interviews on 30/03/2010 by todcrouch

It’s to imagine how one woman accomplishes so much and travels so far to fulfill her destiny, but not for Bai Ling.  At fourteen, she served 3 years in the People’s Liberation Army in China, later exiled for her role as a justice-seeking public defender in Red Corner.  She sought refuge in Hollywood, and has since been in over two dozen films, including Oliver Stone’s Nixon, Spike Lee’s She Hate Me, and most recently the Sci-Fi hit, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. But Bai Ling has more in store for her audiences: a new book soon to be released entitled A Clock Falling From the Sky: Dreams of Tibet, a pictorial with Playboy, a role in the final installment of Star Wars, and her movie still in production, Man About Town.

Her acting talents landed her a nomination for Taiwan’s coveted Golden Horse movie award for best supporting actress in Three Extremes. Light-hearted, wise, and evocative, Bai Ling is one of the sexiest people alive according to people magazine and with good reason.  I spoke with Bai Ling on the set of her upcoming movie to discover this multifaceted beauty is more than a sex-symbol.

TC: How do you like Vancouver?

BL: I like it very much. It’s very cold and raining, but somehow it’s kind of romantic.

TC: I understand you had your beginnings serving in the People’s liberation army in China.

BL: Yes I served for three years. My book, a clock falling from the sky: Dreams of Tibet, which will be out soon, is about my experiences there.

TC: And from there you had a bout with depression that put you in the hospital?

BL: Well, it was a big transition in my life. When you’re fourteen, you don’t understand a lot of things. You get tortured, because you’re supposed to be open and talk to everybody, but the reality is much more harsh than that. So I began to go back to myself to question why. My body did not adjust very well to the coldness and harshness of the high altitude. You had to get up very early to train and it was really tough on a fourteen year old girl.

TC: From there you became a Chinese movie star.

BL: (Laughs) Yeah! When I think back on the journey of my life, it seems like a miracle. Everything just…happened and for me. There was just this tenderness of love to nature, music, and poem. That’s basically what I grew up with. Those three things formed me and I’m really sensitive and appreciative of those things. I think these things gave me reach into this inside world, giving me the sensitivity and passion to give back to others through my acting. I found it as a gift I had to give. Because of that I think I’m lucky because of my goal and what I’m doing is so pure and real and passionate. And the path just unfolds for me by itself, by nature.

TC: You worked with on stage with Andrejz Wajda on “Sansho the Bailiff”, what was that experience like for you and how is it different from working on movies?

BL: In a way, Acting is acting. Every moment that I’m on stage, I am quite truthfully there in the moment. There’s no game and from the stage to the screen it’s the exact same way in experiencing the truth there. Except on stage, of course, you have to speak louder (laughs).

TC: You first received international attention with “Red Corner”, where you co-starred with Richard Gere and the Chinese government took offense to this movie for the civil liberty violations this movie exposed. For the role you played as Chinese public defender, they cancelled your passport and exiled you. Has the situation changed?

BL: Actually, about two months ago, an article in the Chinese newspapers stated that Bai Ling has a very good attitude towards the government and they extended their warmth and apologized. Through communication and many years of trying, I can go back to China and work there.

TC: Do you ever get homesick? Today, I got nominated for the Taiwan Oscar, but I can’t be there. But I made a little speech saying that I feel lonely and sad like a gypsy in the western world, but then I see that so many people care for me and support me over a long distance. When somebody cares for you but you don’t even know it, I feel very thankful. As I grow older, I become much more innocent, simple and grateful. I’m just basically living in the moment, and I leave the things that belong in the future because I’m not supposed to know it. I’m existing in this moment as a gift to me, because in life I have the opportunity to love, to give, to work, to enjoy, to smile. All these wonderful things. I’m very positive and enjoy a simple and beautiful way of looking at life.

TC: The book, the movies, the photo shoots I think would take a lot of energy. How do you relax?

BL: Well, actually, sometimes I feel like I’m not here, that I’m not really connected to the reality here. I feel like I’m hanging in the air, floating. You know, What I really enjoy doing nothing and take a long time to take one step or stand there and watch the wind go by or watch nothing. Just to sit there, doing nothing. I like that.

TC: So generally, do you think in Chinese or English?

BL:  When I’m thinking, I’m lost in my thoughts so I don’t know! But when I dream there’s no language. In my dreams, there’s usually only music or silence. My mind is oddly formatted, and I think in my previous life I was a wild animal. As a child, I was extremely shy. I still have a shyness, but I’m challenging myself to overcome it and be open. But in my nature when I was 10 or 12, I might say two words a day. I just didn’t talk, and I found this beautiful inner world. In acting, I found there was a lot of fear in me. When I figured out why, I realized when I was a wild animal running around in nature, I had a lot of privacy. Then I became adopted in human form with this body, but I don’t know how to behave because of society’s rules. But as I grow more comfortable as a human being, I learn to adapt. So that’s what I’ve learned from my journey, that I was a wild animal transforming into a human body but still carry that wild, sexy, animal side. And with humans I’m kind of shy and don’t know how to behave–sometimes break the rules and say things that are weird or outrageous.

TC: I’ve noticed you talking a lot about nature and personal paths that brought you to these points in your life. I was curious to know if you had any philosophical leanings. LB: Yeah, I think that miracles happen when you deliberately pursue your dreams. If you’re really passionate about something, then you are destined for that purpose. We all have that inner world, we all have that inner reason and special talent. I feel lucky to have found that and be able to express emotions in different characters in the moment and in a truthful way. If you trust your true self, there is a gift there. And then things happen to you like…like, every time I play a character it’s like this mysterious, invisible being that’s changing you. It’s a romance, it’s a love affair, it’s a tango together. You just have to be careful and let it happen to you. I believe in fate. I believe that for the individual, it’s already there. Your job is to be there and be good enough to take that role and shine the best you can.

N.S. Koenings

Posted in Interviews on 30/03/2010 by todcrouch

N.S. Kroenings: Been caught Thieving…

( N.S. Koenings is the author of the novel: Blue Taxi and holds a BA in African Studies from Bryn Mawr College and a Ph.D. in socio-cultural anthropology from Indiana University, where she also completed her MFA. in fiction. She currently teaches at Hampshire College. She reads from her short story collection: Theft.)

Hidden in the red walls of the second-story bar, KGB, Koenings read from her new book, “Theft”, a short story collection evolving around the theme of Thievery.  T.S. Eliot once wrote, “Great writers borrow, good writers steal” and Koenings steals with the grace and poise of a republican running for the millennial election.  She commented before her reading, “Theft is a terrible thing, but a great noun.”

As she read from her book, I was overwhelmed with her style–one which combines the auditorially visceral poetics of W.H. Auden or Dylan Thomas merging with the contemporary conundrums of a Pensylvanian tourist too far from home and trapped on a bus in Africa.          I snuck up behind her in modest fashion as she espoused to her cadre recent passions until they gently pointed out that there was an impish fellow with a vodka-cran and a Dictaphone behind her.  She turned to me with the indifferent passion of a silver screen scene-stealer to say, “Pardon me, but do you smoke cigarettes?”  Of course, I threw my healthy armor on the floor and said, “I’ll meet you outside.”

We gathered outside, hunched over in our bundled coats, shivering out the last puff.  “Is it recording?” She says.

“Yeah,” I snarl, wishing for the confidence to have a photographic memory, “but I’ll keep it subtle.  So where are you from?”

Koenings lit her cigarette from one of my tawdry lighters, “That question always drives me crazy, because whenever someone asks me, I refrain from it.  I was born in Belgium and immediately afterwards–like a week later–I was taken to Uganda.  My father was working so I ended up growing up mostly in East Africa and a little bit in the U.S., mostly Greenwich, Connecticut and a little bit in Canada and then South Africa, which is where I went to High School.  So my father is Dutch, my mother is Belgian.  I’m very attached to the identity of permanent alien.”  A gaggle of theater people gather at our feet and fail to project.

I ask in our own little world, “So where are you residing now?”

“Sommerville, Massachusetts.  You can see Boston from my deck.  It’s just next to Cambridge.  It’s the last sort of affordable place in the area.”  she says, squeezing in a drag.

“So I have some stock questions that are kinda Proustian, though I really hate Proust…”

Koenings laughs, “Ok, go on…”

I continue, “So what is your favorite sound?”

Koening answers, “Wow.  I bet people have really stupid answers for this one.  Two things come to mind.  And the first is–some of it happened today in that reading in that bar and um someone started playing ’Rubber Sole’ the Beatles album? Which I love and I love it so much I sit on hilltops and listen to it and it always makes me feel so good and warm.  I guess my favorite sound is the perfect song coming on and you didn’t expect it…? And then my second favorite sound is the sound of rain on corrugated tin.”

“So what is your least favorite sound?”

“Helicopters.”

“Have you had a lot of experience with that?”

“Oh yeah.  That is probably my least favorite.  The sound of war is the most terrifying sound. I hate it.  I hate it.”

“Where did you hear war?” I ask.

“Well, when we were living in Uganda, we were not far from one of the killing grounds, so there was often gunfire and we knew exactly what it was.  I’ve done a lot of work for the human rights watch and political violence in Zanzibar.  I’ve been in Zanzibar when violence erupts and the army helicopters sort of bear down and people start dispersing and the sound of helicopters arriving and the people dispersing and the footsteps starting to get fast and it’s a really fucked up awful sound.”  Koenings says tossing aside a cigarette and lighting another.

“I could believe it,” I reply, feebled by my lack of genocidal innocence.  “So if someone wanted to be your friend, what should they know about you?”

Koening responds, “They should know that I value sincerity.  If they’re too ironic, I just wanna knife them.”

I laugh and move on, “When you die, what do you want god to say to you when you get to heaven?”

She angles an eyebrow at me, “These are your stock questions? Really? Did you come up with them yourself?”

Sheepishly, I confess “Some have been inspired by Proust’s questionaire, which is really the only thing I can stand by Proust.”  We laugh together at Proust. We should all laugh at Proust.

“Hm,” Koening says, “I don’t know about god.”

“Theological debates aside, of course.”  I say, trying to make a simple question easy.

“Do you mind if I tell you the truth?”

“Go ahead!” I reply.

“Well when my first novel came out, I was really nervous about responses because I think of writing as a kind of private disease and I feel really lucky that someone pays me, but I’m not really pleased by the fact that other people get to see what goes on…and I was preparing myself for really bad reviews.  And I thought ‘ok well now what do I do?’ What do I need to know about myself and what do I need to know about my work?  And I thought there were three questions I wouldn’t be able to answer.  The first is, ‘Did I do my best according to what I knew at the time’ knowing that what I know is always going to change.  ‘Is it hateful, in any way?’ If I could say ‘no’, then I’m ok.  Maybe just those two questions.  If I could answer yes to one and no to the other in my whole life, then I’m set.  So I’d be good in that respect. “

“What book do you wish you wrote?”  I continue, lighting up another cig.

“I don’t think I feel jealous or envious of anybody.  I feel most admiring of people who have been on their own trip and their own belief and who were straight with themselves about what that was.  And that is what I want to be.  So…I wish I wrote my best book.”  I took a moment to apply this to myself and continued.

“So, what is your favorite curse word?”

“Fuck me Jesus,” Koenings says with a wry smile, “Because he was my first love!”  We laugh, “I’ll be frank with you because I’m a little wasted right now, but when I was a kid, we’d go to Belgium every summer where my mother’s from.  It’s Catholic country and I went to many a Catholic mass and there was a time where they would take Jesus down from the cross and he’d be walked down the aisle and we’d all have to kiss Jesus’ wounds.  And he was life size and beautiful.  And he’s in pain, you know?  So he was my first guy so it was very beautiful and sexy and all that stuff.”

“He was an attractive man.” I reply with nearly homoerotic undertones.  “As for my next question, declare a guilty pleasure,” I ask, with a hint of blasphemy.

“I don’t feel guilty about pleasure,“ Koenings responds.  “I just feel a little bit mad at that question.  I love mystery novels.  I love comic books. I’m not ashamed.  I’m also a college professor.  I feel like I’m supposed to be ashamed, but I’m not.  I’m not ashamed about pleasure, and I don’t think people should be.”

“Amen.” I respond, moving off script, “So…Where do you get your ideas?”

“Huh.  Wow.  From a faraway place somewhere inside me and it takes a lot of fucking work to get to.”  This makes sense to me.  Too much sense.

I ask her “How do you stay disciplined?”  She laughs.  I laugh.  We laugh, tossing our contraband drinks to the sidewalk

“You know I don’t.  I spend months not writing a thing.  I just trust it all.”

“That’s how I think it should roll.  Did you ever read Stephen Kings book on writing?”

“I began it, but I don’t like books on writing.  It’s such a private, slightly dirty pleasure.”

I respond, “Well one of the things that he says in it is that a novel is a lot like archeology…”

“Sure.”

“And you find one bone and you keep digging and you keep digging and digging and digging and you find more bones.  And you don’t know what you’re going to get at the end but if you have a little bit of faith in it, you end up with a full skeleton.  So what got you interest in writing?”

“There’s an image of me at age two trying to wrestle a pen from my father.  I dunno what it was, but it’s always been there.  I guess I love the words.”

“I noticed that.  You have a very poetic quality to your work.  You know, I got into this huge argument with a coworker who loved Charles Dickens and I didn’t know he was a writer, too.  But I told him that I don’t trust anyone who gets paid by the word–”

“I Know! Fuck me!”  Kroenings says as we barrel over in laughter, “It’s exhausting to read!”

I slur out, “If Hemingway got paid by the word, he’d be broke all the time!”

She give a Dietrich smirk, “I totally agree.  I like you, man.”

“I like you too!” I respond before be burst into laughter again.

“And he told me ‘You’ve sullied the quill!” I say as we burst into laughter again.

“You know who I love the most?” Kroening teases.

“Who?”

“Jean Genet. Do you know him?”

“Oh absolutely.”

“and Jean Genet loved words and he read Baudelaire.  And he read true crime fiction like a junkie.  And he read hi/low and didn’t care what anyone thought about him.  And he wrote a book called “the thief’s journal” which makes me really happy that my book is called ‘theft’.”

“Ah!  So it comes full circle!”  I respond.  “So do you have any hobbies aside from writing?”

“Uh, I think this goes back to the question of loving words.  I don’t think of myself as a writer, I think of myself as a maker.  I love making stuff.  If I’m making a pie or I’m making a picture or I’m making a creature out of sculpey, embroidering which I do obsessively, and I just–I really love my hands and I love to do things with them.  I don’t distinguish.”  Kroening says.

“So how many languages do you speak?” I say, smoothing out.

“I speak three.  Swahili was my first language and I soon learned to speak French from my aunt.  And then I went to kindergarten at an English school.  My favorite word was ’cardigan’ and I said it all day long’.   But I speak three languages and I feel like that’s really important.  I just had an eye test and they told me that in my reading one, I can’t see anything. And It’s true in whatever I was reading in.  Whatever zone that is, I just see white, I can’t see anything.  She felt very sorry for me because I’m a writer…this is tragic…but what I realized was that writing for me was not about the two dimensional site about the page.  I have so many languages kicking around in my head, and I love music so much that It’s all about sound.”

I interject, “And it totally shows because during your reading, because in a post-millennial world, I fell that prose gets no recognition when it should be absolute.  I feel that the only way that literature can transcend the doldrums of humdrum bestseller moorings is to accept the poetic and phonetic craftsmanship that prose offers, much like your work.”

“It’s a rough ride.”  She replies, “you know, I tap my feet when I read.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“I can see how that works.”  I reply, “Eh, I’m gonna turn this off now before this ends up being…”

Koenings replies, “Oh? Well it was good to talk to–”