I thought of this today, and wondered if it might be safely archived on the internet. I found it on this blog: duh.blog and am thankful it is still in currency. The preamble before ‘This is an interview from 2000’ is from duh.blog. I will keep this here as long as this site remains up, for this is necessary reading, in my opinion.
This originally appeared at Armchair News and has since been taken offline. I have copy-pasted it from the archived copy of the page that was at http://www.armchairnews.com/freelance/eggers.html (now defunct)
This is an interview from 2000 that was originally printed in The Harvard Advocate. I did not conduct the interview; I’m just presenting it here in whole so there is an internet presence for what is an amazing piece of writing. It is all worth reading but gets more salient about halfway through, when Eggers writes, “Now, the addendum.” – Ed. note
From The Harvard Advocate
AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVE EGGERS
In 1993 Dave Eggers founded the now defunct Gen-X sneer of Might magazine. After a brief stint at Esquire, Eggers returned in 1998 to the avant-garde of the magazine world with the eccentric banality of Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern (www.mcsweeneys.net). Eggers’ first book, the bestselling memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, was published in February of this year by Simon & Schuster to rave reviews. The following is an email transcript of a Q&A exchange with Eggers in which he is prompted to “rant” by the mention of the phrase “selling out.”
Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2000 17:06:27 -0400 (EDT)
From: Saadi Soudavar
Subject: Attn David Eggers: Harvard Advocate Interview
I’d first like to say that I hope that, by the time you get these questions, you’ve extricated yourself from under the perfidious yoke of those Massachusetts McSweeneys. Talk about a McFaustian bargain! We’ve got a light question for you before we get to the ones culled from the more serious elements of our staff.
0) In his appreciation of your work in the online magazine Feed (www.feedmag.com), Keith Gessen suggests that you might have been able to handle Puck had you been chosen for the “Real World” instead of that sniveling weakling Judd. But in your book you seem to be a little startled by Puck, even cowed. What do you think? Could you have put Puck in his place and kept his scabbed-up fingers out the peanut butter?
A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS
1) One of the most interesting aspects of A.H.W.O.S.G. is the consistently self-deprecatory tone. In the preface, for example, a list precisely maps out all the symbolism in the work. On one level, this undercuts the obvious amount of work that’s been put into the book by suggesting that the book can be reduced to a very basic level of meaning. But it also functions to point out how much more complicated the book is than the chart makes it seem. The book has been criticized for precisely this reason: in the guise of self-deprecation, it’s self-aggrandizing. What are your thoughts on this and, in general, the relation of the author to the text?
2) I’m curious as to what you were reading while writing this: your style is not that of the average memoir-writer. Resemblances to David Foster Wallace’s essays have been noted, and, by their inclusion in McSweeney’s, similarities are suggested to the style of Lawrence Weschler and Paul Maliszewski (and others published in The Baffler). Much greater parallels might be drawn, however, between your non-fiction and the work of the classic American metafictionists: the dialogue in Donald Barthelme, the narrative conniving in John Barth, or the character sketches in Pynchon. How much do you see your style as a reflection of your influences?
3) Selling out? Good? Bad? Not the issue? : What has surprised you about your book’s reception? How do you explain the backlash to all the hype about you? It doesn’t seem to be about your work, but more about you. Simple jealousy? Media saturation? How does it differ from other pop media backlashes?
4) Having attracted this much commercial attention with your book, the lit-crit establishment can’t be far behind-a slew of theses here at Harvard were written on David Foster Wallace after Infinite Jest came out, a book received in somewhat the same way that yours has been. What’s your attitude towards the inevitable critical discussion of your work (this interview…)? The aesthetic of McSweeney’s, if one can be defined, seems to be one endorsing the pure joy of reading a story. Does criticism miss the point?
5) Whatsup with the cover art of A.H.W.O.S.G.? Are Komar & Melamid for real?
6) Have you optioned or considered optioning the movie or television rights to A.H.W.O.S.G.? Who would you like to see cast (specifically as yourself) and direct? If it became a television series would it be an hour-long drama, half-hour sitcom (with laugh-track or without?) or some hybrid?
Okay. Let’s talk about McSweeney’s.
7) My favorite piece ever to appear in McSweeney’s is Gary Greenberg’s article on his attempts to meet and use the Unabomber. It’s not, of course, about the Unabomber so much as about the cultural and media uses he was put to. It was really a very human and very careful look at what the magazines do to people, and it’s really hard to imagine that article appearing anywhere else. Do you have any favorites yourself, pieces you think typify what McSweeney’s is going for?
8) Well, and what is McSweeney’s going for? Reading your book, one can’t help be struck by your very messianic conception of Might’s mission; that, Josh Glenn notwithstanding, you weren’t just making fun of people, that you were, in your way, saying something, though it wasn’t clear what, exactly. I somehow sense that there’s less of that in McSweeney’s. Do you agree? Without putting you in the position of explaining what McSweeney’s is “saying,” I would like to ask where you want McSweeney’s to go, what you think its place is in the history of the universe.
9) There is talk afoot in the land, Dave, that McSweeney’s, content-wise, no longer differs much from smart journals like Conjunctions or Epoch.
Even from The New Yorker, for that matter. Which is not to imply that, were The Harvard Advocate to receive a story from George Saunders, we would put our street cred above our commitment to excellence, a commitment from which we have not wavered in over 130 years of excellence. But still: are you concerned that you’re not publishing as many unknowns as you had been? And killed pieces? Are you taking any steps-are there any steps to be taken-to keep shit real?
10) One of the remarkable things about McSweeney’s, especially before the whole AHWOSG extravaganza, was the enthusiasm it seems to have unleashed-it was obviously a revelation to all of us who’d become, painful as it was, fairly accustomed to the polite, handsome literary journal that consisted primarily of academic poetry. But it’s also drawing in people who’ve not been interested in literary magazines, which is remarkable, because it is so literary, much more so than The Baffler or Hermenaut, for example. I suppose what’s especially shocking about all this is that young hipsters are so excited about an aggressively textual project. I mean, the only pictures you’ve used are for Lawrence Weschler’s “Convergences.” Your readings have been phenomenally successful. Do you think people are really interested in hearing stories? And reading texts?
11) My final question is a multipartite monster, so please feel free to jump in here whenever. The real issue at hand, Mr. Eggers, is whether you’re on the side of the good guys or the bad guys. Certainly the fact that there’s no advertising in any McSweeney’s production augurs for the former; but you’ve motivated this several times by saying that ads are “ugly.” In a similar vein, you’ve lavished great care on the design of the magazine, and in issue 4 you take this further still, both by creating a beautiful magazine and also devoting quite a bit of space to discussing the aesthetic wholeness of literary texts. Are you hewing a sort of politics from the scattered shards of aestheticism? George Saunders’ horrifying story – the most horrifying to date – in issue 4, makes a clear distinction between the dehumanizing aspects of modern work and the humanizing impulses that remain nonetheless. Saunders is also pretty clear about equating the un-human part of the equation with murder, specifically with, like, organized mass murder. In my hopeful moments, I feel like McSweeney’s is trying to carve out the human space in our culture. In moments of dark suicidal despair, I think McSweeney’s is just trying to sell a lot of magazines by being so pretty and “authentic.” Which do you think it is? And if it is to carve out a human space, why do you think it makes sense to do this on aesthetic grounds? And if this is more or less to the point, can you also explain the extent to which you feel McSweeney’s does more than simply reverse the design formula of the glossies (black/white instead of color, text instead of image, content instead of advertising, etc.)?
Date: Wed, 3 May 2000 17:08:15 -0400 (EDT)
From: David Eggers
To: Saadi Soudavar
Subject: Re: your mail
Here are my answers. At the end is an addendum that’s explained down there. All of this is long, but you can’t edit without my permission. So let me know if you want to, though I hope you don’t.
1) Well, anyone who has criticized the book for the self-aggrandizing aspect – and I must admit I haven’t seen any such review (though I stopped reading reviews a while ago) – are simply echoing my own criticisms, so it’s hardly worth comment. As a longtime critic myself, I anticipated all the possible angles a reviewer might take, and incorporated them into the Acknowledgments. So there were no surprises in terms of any reservations or comments anyone made, given that I was much harder on the book than anyone else could possibly be. As for the last part of the question, I can’t answer it – much too general.
2) I had never read a memoir before writing this thing, so that’s probably why it doesn’t read like one. There’s really nothing more crippling than reading too much of a genre before working within it. But while writing the book, I did read Mary McCarthy’s Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, which was a fairly devastating take on the form, in terms of how impossible it is to write compelling nonfiction without lying a great deal. Otherwise, my influences are mostly people I read in college – Nabokov, Tom Wolfe, Vonnegut, Didion, Lorrie Moore, Vidal, Wilde. The influence of Wallace is always overstated, and he’d agree readily – the similarities are very superficial. Barth, Barthelme, sure. Pynchon? I don’t see it.
3) I address the “sellout” word later on (see addendum). As for the so-called backlash, I can’t say I’m aware of one. I did expect something like that to happen, but I haven’t seen anything yet. Where is it manifest? I haven’t been looking, of course, but if there has been a backlash, it must be a very small or quiet one, because it hasn’t shown up on my radar.
4) I think criticism, more often than not, completely misses the point, yes. The critical impulse, demonstrated by the tone of many of your own questions, is to suspect, doubt, tear at, and to take something apart to see how it works. Which of course is completely the wrong thing to do to art. I used to tear books apart, and tear art exhibits apart – I was an art and book critic for a few years in San Francisco – but my urge to do that was born of bitterness and confusion and anger, not out of any real need to help or edify. When we pick at and tear into artistic output of whatever kind, we really have to examine our motives for doing so. What is it about art that can make us so angry? Is it healthy to rip to shreds something created by an artist? I would posit, if I may, that that’s not really a healthy impulse. Now, as far as I know, out of maybe 100 or so reviews that I’ve been made aware of, my own book has received only one negative example. That’s pretty lucky, especially when you consider that Wallace, for example, has gotten pretty abused by some people, people who for the most part don’t have the patience his work requires. But criticism, for the most part, comes from the opposite place that book-enjoying should come from. To enjoy art one needs time, patience, and a generous heart, and criticism is done, by and large, by impatient people who have axes to grind. The worst sort of critics are (analogy coming) butterfly collectors – they chase something, ostensibly out of their search for beauty, then, once they get close, they catch that beautiful something, they kill it, they stick a pin through its abdomen, dissect it and label it. The whole process, I find, is not a happy or healthy one. Someone with his or her own shit figured out, without any emotional problems or bitterness or envy, instead of killing that which he loves, will simply let the goddamn butterfly fly, and instead of capturing and killing it and sticking it in a box, will simply point to it – “Hey everyone, look at that beautiful thing” – hoping everyone else will see the beautiful thing he has seen. Just as no one wants to grow up to be an IRS agent, no one should want to grow up to maliciously dissect books. Are there fair and helpful book critics? Yes, of course. But by and large, the only book reviews that should be trusted are by those who have themselves written books. And the more successful and honored the writer, the less likely that writer is to demolish another writer. Which is further proof that criticism comes from a dark and dank place. What kind of person seeks to bring down another? Doesn’t a normal person, with his own life and goals and work to do, simply let others live? Yes. We all know that to be true.
5) Can’t say I understand this question. The work of Komar and Melamid is in the collections of every major contemporary-art-collecting art museum in the world. There is no artist alive today doing work that’s more important. They’re carrying on the work of Duchamp, and they’re more skilled as artists to boot. So yes, they are for real.
6) Had this been asked in another, less glib, way, I would have answered.
7) My favorite pieces were all written by Paul Collins. His series, which chronicles the lives of various hopeless dreamers of the nineteenth century, will soon be a book, called Losers. It’s the closest stuff to what I wanted McSweeney’s to be about.
8) Not sure about the Josh Glenn reference. Did you mean John Glenn? Otherwise I’m confused – should I know a Josh Glenn? I knew a Jodi Glenn in college, but I don’t think you’d know her. Anyway, yes, Might had a messianic mission, for about three months. After that, it was a vehicle within which to publish things we found important or made us laugh. McSweeney’s has no political goal. We only want to publish work that we like, and to do so with an attention to the craft of book and magazine production. Art made with mission statements is not art.
9) See addendum.
10) I’ll address the readings portion of the question. Simply put, our readings are so well-attended because they’re fun. I don’t like being bored, but most readings are aggressively boring. There is an assumption, in LiteraryLand, that readings must be sober and slow and long and serious. The spoken-word contingent sometimes improves upon this, but usually in a horribly pretentious way. So what we do is simple: we make sure alcohol is available, to ourselves and the audience, and then we have fun. And part of that involves breaking out of the author-at-the-podium-turning-pages schtick; we figure if 500 people are going to come out, you might as well have some shit happen. Thus, at our last reading, in Brooklyn, Arthur Bradford, who accompanies his stories with guitar-playing, broke his guitar against a wall, John Hodgman was interviewed by a man in a caveman costume, and, during intermission, I carefully cut the hair of five attendees. Then everyone stayed until 2, most people were drunk, and lots of people hooked up with each other. All good, and all at a reading.
11) I address some of this question in the addendum, but I want to address the “sell a lot of magazines by being pretty and ‘authentic’” part here. Honestly, Saadi, what the fuck are you talking about? You’re applying principles of mass-marketing to a money-hemorrhaging literary magazine produced out of my apartment. Please. No one here is trying to sell a lot of magazines. Why would we making a literary magazine in the first place, if sales numbers were our goal? And why would we be printing this thing in Iceland, and printing only 12,000 copies? Jesus, son, you have got to stop tearing apart and doubting the people who are obviously, clearly, doing good work. I mean, who the fuck do you believe in? The Baffler is nice-looking, too, and they print *20,000* copies. Does that put Tom Frank in league with Tony Robbins? I’m exasperated. Saadi, you have to trust me, and you have to trust Tom Frank, because Tom Frank, for example, matters. If Tom Frank, tomorrow, agreed to be in a commercial for the Discover Card – as Kurt Vonnegut did a few years ago, for whatever reason – you would still have to trust Tom Frank and respect him, because he has for a decade been doing work that matters, and you have no idea about his motivations or needs or state of mind when he say okay to the Discover gig. I am giving you really good advice, here, Saadi, and and offer it to other readers of the Advocate, because I wish I had the same advice pounded into my head at your age, when I was a bigger, more smug and suspicious asshole than you – I was the biggest asshole of all. To me, everyone was a sellout. Any band that sold over 30,000 albums was a sellout. Any writer who appeared in any mainstream magazine was a sellout. I was a complete, weaselly little prick, and I had no idea what I was talking about, and goddamn if I don’t wish I could take all that back, because I knew nothing then, just as you know nothing now. You simply cannot judge someone, especially someone whose work you have respected, when they disappoint you, superficially, once or twice. Think of the fuckheads who turned their back on Dylan when he started using electric guitars, for Christ’s sake. What kind of niggardly imbecile would call Dylan Judas when he plugged into an amp? What kind of small-hearted person wants an artist to adhere to a set of rules, to stay forever within a narrow envelope which we’ve created for them?
Now, the addendum.
First, a primer: When I got your questions, I was provoked. You expressed many of the feelings I used to have, when I was in high school and college, about some of the people I admired at the time, people who at some point disappointed me in some way, or made moves I could not understand. So I took a few passages from your questions – those pertaining to or hinting at “selling out” – and I used them as a launching pad for a rant I’ve wanted to write for a while now, and more so than ever since my own book has become successful. And the rant was timely, because shortly after getting your questions, I was scheduled to speak at Yale, and so, assuming that their minds might be in a similar spot as yours, I read this, the below, to them, in slightly less polished form. The rant is directed to myself, age 20, as much as it is to you, so remember that if you ever want to take much offense.
You actually asked me the question: “Are you taking any steps to keep shit real?” I want you always to look back on this time as being a time when those words came out of your mouth.
Now, there was a time when such a question – albeit probably without the colloquial spin – would have originated from my own brain. Since I was thirteen, sitting in my orange-carpeted bedroom in ostensibly cutting-edge Lake Forest, Illinois, subscribing to the Village Voice and reading the earliest issues of Spin, I thought I had my ear to the railroad tracks of avant garde America. (Laurie Anderson, for example, had grown up only miles away!) I was always monitoring, with the most sensitive and well-calibrated apparatus, the degree of selloutitude exemplified by any given artist – musical, visual, theatrical, whatever. I was vigilant and merciless and knew it was my job to be so.
I bought R.E.M.’s first EP, Chronic Town, when it came out and thought I had found God. I loved Murmur, Reckoning, but then watched, with greater and greater dismay, as this obscure little band’s audience grew, grew beyond obsessed people like myself, grew to encompass casual fans, people who had heard a song on the radio and picked up Green and listened for the hits. Old people liked them, and stupid people, and my moron neighbor who had sex with truck drivers. I wanted these phony R.E.M.-lovers dead.
But it was the band’s fault, too. They played on Letterman. They switched record labels. Even their album covers seemed progressively more commercial. And when everyone I knew began liking them, I stopped. Had they changed, had their commitment to making art with integrity changed? I didn’t care, because for me, any sort of popularity had an inverse relationship with what you term the keeping ‘real’ of ‘shit.’ When the Smiths became slightly popular they were sellouts. Bob Dylan appeared on MTV and of course was a sellout. Recently, just at dinner tonight, after a huge, sold-out reading by David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell (both sellouts), I was sitting next to an acquaintance, a very smart acquaintance married to the singer-songwriter of a very well-known band. I mentioned that I had seen the Flaming Lips the night before. She rolled her eyes. “Oh I really liked them on 90210,” she sneered, assuming that this would put me and the band in our respective places.
Was she aware that The Flaming Lips had composed an album requiring the simultaneous playing of four separate discs, on four separate CD players? Was she aware that the band had once, for a show at Lincoln Center, handed out to audience members something like 100 portable tape players, with 100 different tapes, and had them all played at the same time, creating a symphonic sort of effect, one which completely devastated everyone in attendance? I went on and on to her about the band’s accomplishments, their experiments. Was she convinced that they were more than their one appearance with Jason Priestly? She was.
Now, at that concert the night before, Wayne Coyne, the lead singer, had himself addressed this issue, and to great effect. After playing much of their new album, the band paused and he spoke to the audience. I will paraphrase what he said:
“Hi. Well, some people get all bitter when some song of theirs gets popular, and they refuse to play it. But we’re not like that. We’re happy that people like this song. So here it goes.”
Then they played the song. (You know the song.) “She Don’t Use Jelly” is the song, and it is a silly song, and it was their most popular song. But to highlight their enthusiasm for playing the song, the band released, from the stage and from the balconies, about 200 balloons. (Some of the balloons, it should be noted, were released by two grown men in bunny suits.) Then while playing the song, Wayne sang with a puppet on his hand, who also sang into the microphone. It was fun. It was good.
But was it a sellout? Probably. By some standards, yes. Can a good band play their hit song? Should we hate them for this? Probably, probably. First 90210, now they go playing the song every stupid night. Everyone knows that 90210 is not cutting edge, and that a cutting edge alternarock band should not appear on such a show. That rule is clearly stated in the obligatory engrained computer-chip sellout manual that we were all given when we hit adolescence.
But this sellout manual serves only the lazy and small. Those who bestow sellouthood upon their former heroes are driven to do so by, first and foremost, the unshakable need to reduce. The average one of us – a taker-in of various and constant media, is absolutely overwhelmed – as he or she should be – with the sheer volume of artistic output in every conceivable medium given to the world every day – it is simply too much to begin to process or comprehend – and so we are forced to try to sort, to reduce. We designate, we label, we diminish, we create hierarchies and categories.
Through largely received wisdom, we rule out Tom Waits’s new album because it’s the same old same old, and we save $15. U2 has lost it, Radiohead is too popular. Country music is bad, Puff Daddy is bad, the last Wallace book was bad because that one reviewer said so. We decide that TV is bad unless it’s the Sopranos. We liked Rick Moody and Jonathan Lethem and Jeffrey Eugenides until they allowed their books to become movies. And on and on. The point is that we do this and to a certain extent we must do this. We must create categories, and to an extent, hierarchies.
But you know what is easiest of all? When we dismiss.
Oh how gloriously comforting, to be able to write someone off. Thus, in the overcrowded pantheon of alternarock bands, at a certain juncture, it became necessary for a certain brand of person to write off The Flaming Lips, despite the fact that everyone knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that their music was superb and groundbreaking and real. We could write them off because they shared a few minutes with Jason Priestley and that terrifying Tori Spelling person. Or we could write them off because too many magazines have talked about them. Or because it looked like the bassist was wearing too much gel in his hair.
One less thing to think about. Now, how to kill off the rest of our heroes, to better make room for new ones?
We liked Guided by Voices until they let Ric Ocasek produce their latest album, and everyone knows Ocasek is a sellout, having written those mushy Cars songs in the late 80s, and then – gasp! – produced Weezer’s album, and of course Weezer’s no good, because that Sweater song was on the radio, right, and dorky teenage girls were singing it and we cannot have that and so Weezer is bad and Ocasek is bad and Guided by Voices are bad, even if Spike Jonze did direct that one Weezer video, and we like Spike Jonze, don’t we?
Oh. No. We don’t. We don’t like him anymore because he’s married to Sofia Coppola, and she is not cool. Not cool. So bad in Godfather 3, such nepotism. So let’s check off Spike Jonze – leaving room in our brains for… who??
The only thing worse than this sort of activity is when people, students and teachers alike, run around college campuses calling each other racists and anti-Semites. It’s born of boredom, lassitude. Too cowardly to address problems of substance where such problems actually are, we claw at those close to us. We point to our neighbor, in the khakis and sweater, and cry foul. It’s ridiculous. We find enemies among our peers because we know them better, and their proximity and familiarity means we don’t have to get off the couch to dismantle them.
And now, I am also a sellout. Here are my sins, many of which you may know about already:
First, I was a sellout because Might magazine took ads.
Then I was a sellout because our pages were color, and not stapled together at the Kinko’s.
Then I was a sellout because I went to work for Esquire.
Now I’m a sellout because my book has sold many copies.
And because I have done many interviews.
And because I have let people take my picture.
And because my goddamn picture has been in just about every fucking magazine and newspaper printed in America.
And now, as far as McSweeney’s is concerned, The Advocate interviewer wants to know if we’re losing also our edge, if the magazine is selling out, hitting the mainstream, if we’re still committed to publishing unknowns, and pieces killed by other magazines.
And the fact is, I don’t give a fuck. When we did the last issue, this was my thought process: I saw a box. So I decided we’d do a box. We were given stories by some of our favorite writers – George Saunders, Rick Moody (who is uncool, uncool!), Haruki Murakami, Lydia Davis, others – and so we published them. Did I wonder if people would think we were selling out, that we were not fulfilling the mission they had assumed we had committed ourselves to?
No. I did not. Nor will I ever. We just don’t care. We care about doing what we want to do creatively. We want to be interested in it. We want it to challenge us. We want it to be difficult. We want to reinvent the stupid thing every time. Would I ever think, before I did something, of how those with sellout monitors would respond to this or that move? I would not. The second I sense a thought like that trickling into my brain, I will put my head under the tires of a bus.
You want to know how big a sellout I am?
A few months ago I wrote an article for Time magazine and was paid $12,000 for it I am about to write something, 1,000 words, 3 pages or so, for something called Forbes ASAP, and for that I will be paid $6,000 For two years, until five months ago, I was on the payroll of ESPN magazine, as a consultant and sometime contributor. I was paid handsomely for doing very little. Same with my stint at Esquire. One year I spent there, with little to no duties. I wore khakis every day. Another Might editor and I, for almost a year, contributed to Details magazine, under pseudonyms, and were paid $2000 each for what never amounted to more than 10 minutes work – honestly never more than that. People from Hollywood want to make my book into a movie, and I am probably going to let them do so, and they will likely pay me a great deal of money for the privilege.
Do I care about this money? I do. Will I keep this money? Very little of it. Within the year I will have given away almost a million dollars to about 100 charities and individuals, benefiting everything from hospice care to an artist who makes sculptures from Burger King bags. And the rest will be going into publishing books through McSweeney’s. Would I have been able to publish McSweeney’s if I had not worked at Esquire? Probably not. Where is the $6000 from Forbes going? To a guy named Joe Polevy, who wants to write a book about the effects of radiator noise on children in New England.
Now, what if I were keeping all the money? What if I were buying property in St. Kitt’s or blew it all on live-in prostitutes? What if, for example, I was, a few nights ago, sitting at a table in SoHo with a bunch of Hollywood slash celebrity acquaintances, one of whom I went to high school with, and one of whom was Puff Daddy? Would that make me a sellout? Would that mean I was a force of evil?
What if a few nights before that I was at the home of Julian Schnabel, at a party featuring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, and at which Schnabel said we should get together to talk about him possibly directing my movie? And what if I said sure, let’s?
Would all that make me a sellout? Would I be uncool? Would it have been more cool to not go to this party, or to not have written that book, or done that interview, or to have refused millions from Hollywood?
The thing is, I really like saying yes. I like new things, projects, plans, getting people together and doing something, trying something, even when it’s corny or stupid. I am not good at saying no. And I do not get along with people who say no. When you die, and it really could be this afternoon, under the same bus wheels I’ll stick my head if need be, you will not be happy about having said no. You will be kicking your ass about all the no’s you’ve said. No to that opportunity, or no to that trip to Nova Scotia or no to that night out, or no to that project or no to that person who wants to be naked with you but you worry about what your friends will say.
No is for wimps. No is for pussies. No is to live small and embittered, cherishing the opportunities you missed because they might have sent the wrong message.
There is a point in one’s life when one cares about selling out and not selling out. One worries whether or not wearing a certain shirt means that they are behind the curve or ahead of it, or that having certain music in one’s collection means that they are impressive, or unimpressive.
Thankfully, for some, this all passes. I am here to tell you that I have, a few years ago, found my way out of that thicket of comparison and relentless suspicion and judgment. And it is a nice feeling. Because, in the end, no one will ever give a shit who has kept shit ‘real’ except the two or three people, sitting in their apartments, bitter and self-devouring, who take it upon themselves to wonder about such things. The keeping real of shit matters to some people, but it does not matter to me. It’s fashion, and I don’t like fashion, because fashion does not matter.
What matters is that you do good work. What matters is that you produce things that are true and will stand. What matters is that the Flaming Lips’s new album is ravishing and I’ve listened to it a thousand times already, sometimes for days on end, and it enriches me and makes me want to save people. What matters is that it will stand forever, long after any narrow-hearted curmudgeons have forgotten their appearance on goddamn 90210. What matters is not the perception, nor the fashion, not who’s up and who’s down, but what someone has done and if they meant it. What matters is that you want to see and make and do, on as grand a scale as you want, regardless of what the tiny voices of tiny people say. Do not be critics, you people, I beg you. I was a critic and I wish I could take it all back because it came from a smelly and ignorant place in me, and spoke with a voice that was all rage and envy. Do not dismiss a book until you have written one, and do not dismiss a movie until you have made one, and do not dismiss a person until you have met them. It is a fuckload of work to be open-minded and generous and understanding and forgiving and accepting, but Christ, that is what matters. What matters is saying yes.
I say yes, and Wayne Coyne says yes, and if that makes us the enemy, then good, good, good. We are evil people because we want to live and do things. We are on the wrong side because we should be home, calculating which move would be the least damaging to our downtown reputations. But I say yes because I am curious. I want to see things. I say yes when my high school friend tells me to come out because he’s hanging with Puffy. A real story, that. I say yes when Hollywood says they’ll give me enough money to publish a hundred different books, or send twenty kids through college. Saying no is so fucking boring.
And if anyone wants to hurt me for that, or dismiss me for that, for saying yes, I say Oh do it, do it you motherfuckers, finally, finally, finally.