“Being in a wheelchair didn’t change me; it just made things harder to do.”
From the Flora-Bama to Vietnam, Claudia Young has sprinted through life. We got together to talk about running songwriting workshops in Nashville, redesigning the menu for the hippest bar in Cleveland, living in the Chelsea Hotel as a teen, and being confined to a wheelchair for the past 35 years. We also talk about food-blogging, southeast Asia’s pull on her, the place she regrets she’ll never visit, what she’s reading, and getting the sear on a scallop! It’s a fascinating conversation, so give it a listen!
Claudia Young used to blog at CookEatFret. She should probably get back to that.
Credits: This episode’s music is The Wheel by Roseann Cash. The conversation was recorded on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ms. Young by me, photo of both of us by Amy Roth.
“Artistically, LA’s a disaster. It’s full of amazing stories. But as a city, it’s not a city. Nobody but bus-drivers see the whole place.”
Singer-songwriter, musician, inventor, dad, reader, and writer David Baerwald joins the show to talk about the ups and downs of his career in the music biz, his crazy family history, the perils of grafting personalities onto up-and-coming musicians, and why he doesn’t trust happiness. We also talk about the Watchmen-like trail of destruction that followed Sheryl Crow’s breakthrough album, why the drug business is notoriously filled with short-tempered people, how being a script analyst for a movie studio taught him how to write a song, and why he’s a firm believer in the notion that to tell a big story, you have to tell a small one.
“You just want to do something decent when you make a record, but then it becomes a whole thing. It becomes an industry, and you’re always on display and people are tearing you apart psychologically, and you just feel like a buffoon.”
We also get into the difference between writing poems and writing songs, the writers who inspired his work on the David + David album, Boomtown, and why he thinks Thomas Pynchon understood things about the world that people are only now coming to grips with. (BONUS: I clean up some loose ends from last week’s podcast with Merrill Markoe)
David Baerwald was one half of David + David (along with David Ricketts), a band whose one album, Boomtown, scored a gold record. They split up and Baerwald put out several solo records — Bedtime Stories, Triage and Here Comes The New Folk Underground — between 1990 and 2002. He’s written songs for plenty of acts you know, and he wrote many of the songs on Sheryl Crow’s breakthrough album, which is a story he gets into in our conversation. He’s also done a lot of work in movies and TV, both scoring music and writing songs. David’s IMDB page lists many of his songwriting credits, including Come What May, the love song for Moulin Rouge, which was nominated for a Golden Globe award. He also wrote Supermodel, for the movie Clueless, which proves he’s not ALL grim and gloomy.
Credits: This episode’s music is Welcome to the Boomtown (David + David), Colette (David Baerwald), If (David Baerwald), and Heroes (David + David). The conversation was recorded in Mr. Baerwald’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Mr. Baerwald by me.
“One day, I was on the train to work and I had a terrible anxiety attack and a crisis of whatever, and began just scribbling on a yellow legal pad that I had. It was basically my complaints about my own misery. I was terrified that if I even lifted the pen from the page, I would just be carried off that railroad car screaming, past all the commuters.
“I did that for about three days, just a therapeutic venting on the page. In a little while, I began to become cold and calculating and worldly, and I thought, ‘Shit, this is pretty interesting. What if I just gave this a little quarter-turn to the left? Maybe this would be fiction.’ So that was it.
“Having nothing else to do, it was, hey, let’s dedicate the life to this.”
This episode of the Virtual Memories Show features a conversation with one of my favorite contemporary authors! In June, I drove up to Bennington College to talk to David Gates, author of the novels Jernigan and Preston Falls, the short story collection, The Wonders of the Invisible World, about owning his niche (once described as “smart-but-self-destructive-white-American-middle-class-male-in-crisis”), teaching fiction and non-fiction writing, why he left the east coast for Montana, how he feels about the end of Newsweek, what it was like to make his start as a writer in his 30s.
You’ll also find out why he doesn’t want to write another novel, whose books he rereads every year, the status of his next collection of stories, the lineup for his country-rock band of writers and critics, and why he’s not exactly as enamored with Jernigan as its fans are.
As a bonus, our very first guest, Professor Ann Rivera, rejoins us for a quick conversation about what she’s been reading lately and why! (Hint: she’s down on postmodern lit.) Why, here we are at Gina’s Bakery in Montclair, NJ, recording away!
David Gates is the author of the novels Jernigan and Preston Falls and a collection of stories, The Wonders of the Invisible World. His fiction has appeared in such magazines as The New Yorker, Esquire, GQ, Granta, The Paris Review, Tin House and Ploughshares. His nonfiction has appeared in Newsweek, where he was a longtime writer and editor, The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, GQ, Rolling Stone, H.O.W., The Oxford American and the Journal of Country Music. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, and his books have been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is an Assistant Professor Fiction and Nonfiction in the Creative Writing Program at University of Montana.
Ann Rivera is a professor of English at Villa Maria College in Buffalo, NY, where she teaches courses in writing, narrative and literary genres. Her current project investigates the influence of digital media on narrative, reading networks and social structures. She attended Hampshire College along with your humble podcast-host in the early ’90s, which may help explain our mutual dislike of postmodernism.
Credits: This episode’s music is Guitar Man by Bread. The conversation with David Gates was recorded in the back yard of the Dog House residence on the Bennington College campus on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 mics feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The conversation with Ann Rivera was recorded Gina’s Bakery in Montclair, NJ with the same equipment. (Sorry about all the door opening/closing noises in that segment!) I recorded the intro and outro with that gear, sitting in a comfy chair in my library. File-splitting is done on a Mac Mini using Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band. Photo of David Gates by me, photo of Ann Rivera and me by Amy Roth.
On Friday evening, Amy was over at a neighbor’s, so I spent some time downstairs in the library, looking at my books and pulling ones that I hope to read in the year ahead. I’m going to list them here so I can check back in December and see how far I deviated from plan. Also, so I can look like a smartypants:
Stories – Anton Chekhov (tr. Pevear & Volokhonsky)
That’s only 14 books, so I’ve left myself plenty of wiggle room. I don’t think I’ll start a major reading project this year, like tackling Caro’s biography of LBJ or re-reading Proust. I’ve been thinking about re-reading Middlemarch, or taking up David Mitchell’s newest one, and there are a bazillion other books downstairs to discover or return to, but this seems like a good starting point. I’ll let you know how it goes (like it or not).
It’s been far too long, dear readers! But, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, the month of June is devoted to the Top 20 Pharma / Top 10 Biopharma issue of my magazine. In addition to researching and writing a shit-ton of profiles, I also had to transcribe and edit a bunch of interviews I did with major companies and their outsourcing partners. I hate that process, but don’t trust other people enough to let them handle it. (I have a weakness for Q&A-style articles, so I try to include one or two in every ish.) Late in the process (as in last Monday), one of the pharma companies told me that the person they’d given me to interview had subsequently left the company. In the two weeks between the interview and my sending them the transcript. They didn’t get around to telling me this for 10 days, and offered no solution outside of, “You can’t run any of his quotes.”
I built a lot of flexibility into the structure of this ish, so I can absorb the loss of a two-page article a week or so before press time, but I’m still peeved enough at their crap behavior to put them on my banned list for future publicity, articles, etc. I mean, it’s not like they’re even going to notice this, being a $20 billion company, but I have to have my petty triumphs.
Still, I finished writing my Tops profiles a day ahead of schedule, putting myself in a less stressed mode before tomorrow’s trip to DC for the annual BIO convention. I still have to clean up the page layouts and write short intros for the two features, but those will be manageable. (With a little work done over July 4th weekend.)
During BIO, I’ll be staying at a hotel called the Helix. If my room gets downgraded to a double, I’ll laugh at the cosmic jokester.
This is my first post in a while, and I thought I’d ramble about Bob Dylan. He turned 70 a little while ago, which got me listening to his music. I also found myself watching two of his great videos, Jokerman and Series of Dreams. On Facebook, I pondered whether any other musician has enough built-up history/iconography to freight a video like this one:
“Freight” felt like an odd but appropriate choice, given the artist and the video.
Amy & I also watched No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese’s 87-hour documentary about Dylan. Not being too much of an acolyte, I found a lot of the details and anecdotes illuminating. I thought it was interesting to see a documentary about a guy with encyclopedic knowledge of music made by a guy with encyclopedic knowledge of film. I was surprised at how at ease Dylan was in his interview segments. I was expecting a mystic making cryptic / gnomic pronouncements, rather than a plainspoken older guy. (Which isn’t to say that he was necessarily honest, just that he was speaking plainly.)
I enjoyed the documentary up until the last hour, when I realized it was only going to cover Dylan up to the 1966 motorcycle crash (with a coda of his first post-crash live appearance, in 1968). Don’t get me wrong; it was a really engaging documentary. I loved learning about the schisms in the folk scene, how Dylan evolved from protest-singer to rock star, how his relationships went, both with lovers and other musicians, how he dealt with fame in the early days, how he transformed himself from that kid from Hibbing, MN.
But I realized as the documentary unfolded that that wasn’t the Dylan I wanted to learn about, exactly. See, I was hoping that the narrative would continue into the 1970s (and maybe beyond). I wanted the Dylan who embraced his Judaism, became a born-again Christian, got divorced, recorded Blood on the Tracks, sank, rose. What I wanted, I think, was to find out how he tried to live once he got all the fame and riches, and had no idea what to do. A lot of the documentary involved the matrix of Dylan and his audience: how betrayed they felt over his distance from the protest movement, how shocked they were when he went electric (ha-ha). I would have loved more insight about Dylan when those audiences became stadium-sized and his popularity was more immense. How did he cope?
I guess I’ve always been fascinated by that question, “What next?” It’s because stories so rarely seem to end, so much as just stop. It’s why I’ve always adored Anna Karenina‘s ending, because Levin finally understands that there’s no miracle secret to living a good life. He at last understands the day to day negotiations to try to live better. I think what I wanted from a documentary of Dylan is some idea of how he dealt with his life once he achieved (what he thought were) his goals.
And that made me wonder about the filmmaker. See, Martin Scorsese has confounded my expectations in exactly this fashion before, with The Aviator. That biopic about Howard Hughes focuses on the industrialist’s movie-making aspirations, and ends just before HH’s obsessive-compulsive disorder sends him totally ’round the bend. Sure, there are a few scenes of him losing his grip for a while, but I was much more interested in the Hughes who wore tissue-boxes as shoes, never cut his fingernails, and whittled himself down to 90 lbs. by the time he died. A pal of mine, SF writer and critic Paul Di Filippo, had the same reaction when I mentioned the movie to him: “That’s the Howard Hughes that I find interesting. I wish the movie had started from that point.”
Of course, I understand why Scorsese would focus on HH-as-filmmaker, what with that aforementioned encyclopedic knowledge of film. But as a character, batshit-nuts Howard is much more interesting to me than young up-and-coming Howard. And post-rise Dylan would have helped (me) complete the image of Dylan as an artist and as a man. Or at least it would have put together a narrative sequence, like a series of dreams.