-- Sam Shepard interviewed by Benjamin Ryder Howe, Jeanne McCulloch, Mona Simpson for The Paris Review.INTERVIEWERI read somewhere that you started writing because you wanted to be a musician.
SHEPARDWell, I got to New York when I was eighteen. I was knocking around, trying to be an actor, writer, musician, whatever happened.
INTERVIEWERDid you start right in?
SHEPARDNot immediately. My first job was with the Burns Detective Agency. They sent me over to the East River to guard coal barges during these god-awful hours like three to six in the morning. It wasn't a very difficult job—all I had to do was make a round every fifteen minutes—but it turned out to be a great environment for writing. I was completely alone in a little outhouse with an electric heater and a little desk.
INTERVIEWERDid you already think of yourself as a writer?
SHEPARDI'd been messing around with it for a while, but nothing serious. That was the first time I felt writing could actually be useful.
I thought if you were a singer and went out and performed, that’s how you made your money. Like when I would see Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra on TV, I thought of course you went in the studio and made records—that’s how the public got to like them—and then they’re going to make their money when they go out and perform. So I never thought about royalties. When we toured the UK and US, that’s when we made tons of money. But who knew? It was nothing compared to what the writers and publishers got.
But I don’t care. I’m still out there. I'm still on stage and they're not.
The early days of the internet were like ham radio: a few keen operators who communicated with each other more or less alone in the network. The web stage saw newcomers who actively reached out to each other, building networks. The third stage was a general, off-line population who joined the networks out of curiosity and interest, generally seeking fun. The fourth stage was the capitalisation of said networks; the fifth was the commercial trawl for new users. The sixth was about pushing: consolidating the gold rush, locking users into systems that complimented and became essential to their everyday real-world lives. Everything since then has been competition -- first for "eyeballs", then the remainder of the virtual body.
You don't need to go online to find things now. Now, things find you. People look for you, corporations look for you, products want you to work with them. The new frontier has become the crowded mall, the jammed city. The community is a crowd, the group is a mob.
In theory we could avoid this by going off-line, but in reality that's as practical as disconnecting the plumbing.
So the next stage, I propose will be the stranger in the crowd phase. We know we're out there, we know we're in a public space, we know everything we do online is visible to someone at some point in time. So we'll put up the same front that we do when we're crossing a busy street: yes, this is me, but it's not the real me.
And we won't go online to interact. We'll go online just to be online, knowing that we'll be confronted by in-your-face bots and channels and real people, all of them pan-handling -- because going online is as natural as crossing the street.
But we won't be going online to do anything. We'll simply be online because we have to be there. Having an online presence will become as passive as that phrase. We'll just be there in the crowd. And sometimes you'll find money on the sidewalk, and sometimes strangers' eyes will meet. But mostly it will be crowded and noisy and not carry much meaning beyond the space itself.
Welcome to the rush hour: the strangers in the crowd phase. We're all in Shibuya now.
(Pic: Shibuya by prof.dr.cash c/- Panoramio)
I still love The Big Boss. The film boasts a perfect mise en scène: an ice factory in Thailand. The weather is hot and the men are trying to stay cool, Bruce Lee most of all. After a brief scuffle at the beginning he holds it in for the better part of the film before erupting into, well, Bruce Lee. He's a slow burner, like Clint's Man With No Name. He's imperfect, tested, and prevails.
This is what heroes used to be: stoic, principled, tested -- always to failure -- but coming back at the end when their true self is realised. The storyline is likewise classically simple: starting quiet and driving to a climax. Now movies start big, flounder, panic and distract with gewgaws until arriving at some legal definition of an ending: boxes ticked, pulses never raised.
The Fast And Furious series is the closest thing to a modern equivalent of the Hong Kong martial arts movies. A gallant camaraderie, tight budgets and cheap locations, a cast that can laugh at itself and shonky set pieces that work in spite of their ludicrousness because you're in the heroes' headspace and you want them to prevail. The female characters are equally noble. Maria Yi is the moral compass in The Big Boss just as Gal Gadot is in Fast 6.
'Pornography violates the Aesthetic Distance. What does this mean? When we see the scene of simulated sex we can think only of one of two things: 1) Lord, they're really having sex; or 2) No, I can tell they aren't really. Either of the above responses takes us right out of the film. We've been constrained to remove attention from the drama and put it on the stunt.'
-- David Mamet, Make-Believe Town (Little, Brown, 1996)
'I think that one of the functions of Art (both for the artist and for the perceiver, though not necessarily in the same way) is to furnish a false world which is an analogue of at least some of the aspects of the real world and to explore within that new behaviour patterns that might yet be too dangerous or imponderable in a real-life context.'
-- Brian Eno (Another False World interview by Ian McDonald, NME Dec 3 1977)
'Any sort of upheaval gratified our anarchic instincts. Abnormality we found positively attractive.'Been thinking about how many of my favourite things have fallen foul of both official and self-appointed censors. (Including my own work.) Talk is cheap, anger is free and all threats in art are metaphorical.1
-- Simone de Beauvoir, The Prime of Life (Libraire Gallimard, 1960)
Those threats which one believes can pass from the fictional world and into reality to do real harm (computer games, pornography, modern art, hate speech, fight scenes in movies, Miley Cyrus at the VMAs) tends to be dictated by personal taste rather than empirical evidence.
I could be wrong. The only way to find out is to keep talking about it which, unfortunately, also requires one to keep listening, no matter how much you don't like what you hear. Or watch, or log into, or subscribe to, or buy to read every day, over and over...
(Pics: Existenz (David Cronenburg), Maitresse, Once Upon A Time In America, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny tease Reddit for The X-Files 20th anniversary)
1. I think Eno said this but I can't find the quote just now. I propose a law that after being interviewed for so many years all quotes can be attributed to Brian Eno.↩
Q: Many films based on real-life events are being attacked over accuracy. What responsibility do you have to the facts?
CLOONEY: This is a new thing, by the way. This is all, like, bloggers -- if that existed when Lawrence of Arabia came out, believe me, Lawrence's own autobiography would not hold water. Patton wouldn't. You can go down the list of movies -- Gandhi -- these movies are entertainment. And that's what we have to get back to. A movie like 12 Years a Slave, somebody will go looking for something that doesn't jibe and they'll try to disenfranchise the whole film because of it. Because there's this weird competition thing that's going on now that didn't exist 10 years ago. That happened with us on Argo. It's bullshit because it's got nothing to do with the idea that these are movies. These are not documentaries. You're responsible for basic facts. But who the hell knows what Patton said to his guys in the tent?
-- Actor / writers George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Julie Delpy, Nicole Holofcener, John Ridley, Danny Strong and Jonas Cuaron interviewed by Stephen Galloway and Matthew Belloni The Hollywood Reporter.
And a very interesting thing happens to your brain, which is that any information which is common, after several repetitions, you cease to hear. You reject the common information, rather like if you gaze at something for a long time, you'll cease to really see it. You'll see any aspect of it that's changing, but the static elements you won't see ... The amount of material there is extremely limited, but the amount of activity it triggers in you is very rich and complex.
-- Rob Tannenbaum, "A Meeting of Sound Minds: John Cage and Brian Eno," Musician 83 (Sept. 1985)