Tue, 18 December 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Silver Lake with Tom Lutz, founding editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books, professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, and author of the books Crying, American Nervousness, 1903, Cosmopolitan Vistas, and Doing Nothing. They discuss whether the internet has brought about a new golden age of the essay; giving writers the word count they need to write about the subjects they want to, such as the literature of Romania; "publish what you want to read" as a guiding editing principle as "write what you want to read" is a guiding writing principle; the team of specialized editors that help him sift through a hundred pitches per day; why on Earth the name Los Angeles Review of Books was still available in the 21st century, and the seat of its "steampunk" appeal; the curiously "doubled relationship" non-New Yorkers have to New York publishing; how his readership turned immediately global, and whether coming from as international a city as Los Angeles necessarily entails that; the internationalism of "taco trucks and Korean spas," and the attendant indifference of distinction between "high" and "low" culture; connection as the very purpose of essays, and cosmopolitanism and debate as the essence of literary culture; the possible corrupting influences of the review form itself; the surprising pieces he has run, such as Ben Ehrenreich's consideration of the "death of the book" which became a consideration of Bruno Schulz; what's to be done about the divide between popular writing and "professionally deformed" academic writing; the value of clarity, honesty, curiosity, and a little bit of obscurity; whether to rule out the parts of Los Angeles by now written into the ground, such as the freeways, the beach, and the entertainment business; his early wanderings through Los Angeles and how they placed him in the city the way books couldn't; and literature's inability to catch up with the expansiveness of Los Angeles, the way he couldn't read everything printed in the year 1903, and the way even Herbert Spencer couldn't capture his entire life in his three-volume autobiography.
Wed, 12 December 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Los Angeles' Sunset Triangle with Jay Caspian Kang, editor at sports and pop culture site Grantland and author of the novel The Dead Do Not Improve. They discuss his youthful Midnight in Paris dream of drinking in red leather bars with dead authors; the racy science fiction of L. Ron Hubbard; the current or former importance of New York City as a destination for a youngster with literary ambitions; his avoidance of the role of "tribal writer," tacitly assigned with explaining his culture to outsiders; growing up imprinted by the last "dangerous," pre-pop hip-hop, which he used as a tool to deal with otherness in his North Carolina high school; filling his main character Philip Kim's head with that and other preoccupations of the era in which he grew up, such as The Simpsons; the thirty-ish generation's combination of high ambition with almost patternlessly scattered efforts, as exemplified by Lena Dunham; slightly younger creators' instinctive consciousness of themselves as a "brand" based on their volume of output; his desire to write a hyper-real novel of San Francisco that would skewer — sometimes by actually killing — that city's more self-satisfied sort of residents; the divide between old and new San Franciscans, and those who fell in between by growing up there in the eighties, when the utopian dreams had fallen through and the town needed an identity; how Chris Isaak turned up in his book; the Virginia Tech shooting, and how he and other Korean-Americans knew immediately that an Asian school shooter had to be Korean; the comparative racial situations of San Francisco and Los Angeles, and what makes Crash "one of the worst movies ever"; coming out of a "hoity-toity MFA program" and writing a genre novel versus one that uses the elements of genre; Troy McClure quotes providing the book with a "funny unreal superstructure," and other aspects of The Simpsons' "large intrusion" into the text; and Los Angeles as a writer's escape from the writerly life which doesn't demand that you be as young, old, rich, or poor as New York does.
Mon, 10 December 2012
Colin Marshall sits down at Hugo's Tacos in Los Angeles' Atwater Village with Adrian Todd Zuniga, founding editor of Opium magazine and impresario behind the international reading series Literary Death Match. They discuss what might make Los Angeles "the new Berlin"; his aim to make the city the literary center of the world by 2022; the hatred that flows into Los Angeles, but not out of it; Literary Death Match TV, the project that moved him here, and his battle against the idea of its being "too smart for television"; December 12th's live pilot shoot at Hollywood's Florentine Gardens; his experiences putting on Literary Death Matches in cities like Tulsa, Helsinki, Amsterdam, and Beijing; his love of his collaboration, whether or not it comes from growing up as the last of eight kids and always wanting to hang out with the most interesting people; how to "explode what literature is in the current pop culture landscape"; his frequent travel, his use of flights as a writing environment, and the thousand-page novel his travel memoir has become; turning your own experiences into fiction, and which rules that changes (especially the sexual ones); his transferring to 23 different schools in childhood due to the workplace conduct of his "tactless genius" father"; his current search for a "quieter sense of what life is" and the conflict between wanting to change book culture forever and wanting to go to sleep; and how he taps into the universal desire to feel literary.
Wed, 5 December 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Portland's Pearl District with Camas Davis, food writer and founder of the Portland Meat Collective. They discuss why bacon has hit the zeitgeist so hard; her interest in fostering an "alternative economy of meat"; her former career writing travel pieces, which invariably and instinctively became food pieces; her education in the "meta-meta theoretical" exploration of food; how meat became cool again, after industrialization made it uncool (and not particularly tasty); her agreement with even the hardest-core animal-rights vegan about the horrors of industrial meat production; growing up in Eugene, where if you weren't vegetarian, you weren't cool; her return from vegetarianism to the meat-eating fold with a bacon meal while teaching in a women's prison; how American got itself into an entitlement mentality about cheap meat thrice a day; the importance of killing animals we eat ourselves, and how she finds some people are better at it than others; her time studying in southwestern France, what exactly separates French eating culture from American, and how the French are just getting into some of what has made American food unpalatable in recent decades; all the surprising things you can do with a pig's head; Portland's food consciousness and food renaissance, and how they might serve as a bellwether for a countrywide shift in attitudes about eating; Portland's suspicion of eateries that get "too big for their britches," which results in a certain elevated-comfort-food trademark cuisine; her butchery classes, in which she's found far fewer obnoxious hipster foodies enrolling than she'd expected; our rightful fear of most meat, and the meat we need not be scared of; and whether America has many small food movements, or one big food movement.
Sun, 2 December 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in the basement of Portland's Hollywood Theatre with Dan Halsted, head programmer there and founder of the 35mm Shaolin Archive. They discuss fake Bruce Lee films; his adventure of rescuing classic kung-fu film prints, including gems like The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter and The Boxer's Omen from a shuttered, junkie-surrounded theater in Vancouver; his youth in a distant Oregon town with 600 people, his move to Portland, and his discovery of kung-fu cinema; how much more kung-fu movies offer than the fighting; the advantageous openmindedness of Portland filmgoing culture; exploitation films and Quentin Tarantino's high-profile love thereof; how different cities react to kung-fu movies, like the robust Chinese turnout in San Francisco or the disappointing attendance in St. Louis; kung-fu movies as a gateway to Chinese culture; 36 Chamber of Shaolin as a gateway to kung-fu movies; the evaporation of celluloid film, and the apparently dramatic shift in the way those under age twenty experience cinema; the various meanings of terms like "exploitation" and "grindhouse," and how the attendant concepts cannot be separated from the seventies, a time when Hollywood acted serious and independent film acted frivolous; what Portland's smallness affords a film programmer; why audiences sometimes prefer watching a beaten-up print to a pristine one; how Portland has successfully integrated food and alcohol with filmgoing; his experience getting tased, and how the Portland police force, known for its own aggression, tried to use kung-fu movies against him in court; and his never-ending task of pushing outward the limits of local film taste.
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Thu, 29 November 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in southeast Portland with Jarrett Walker, public transit consultant and author of the blogs Human Transit and Creature of the Shade as well as the book Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking About Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives. They discuss how Portland "turned the battleship" toward sustainable transport in that least likely of all decades, the seventies; the city's discovery of its own extraordinary capacity for self-promotion in the nineties; his adolescence there spent in fascination at the buses departing to all their myriad destinations; how thinking about transit makes thinking about cities more interesting; the unfortunate divide between urban design and transport planning; how the North American revolt against highway-building also hampered the construction of transit infrastructure; a city's transportation system as the ultimate test of its citizen's freedom; the close relationship between a city's density and its transit possibilities, and why fantastically inefficient systems are always pleasant to ride; how he has come to love Los Angeles, during its current transitional moment, as someone who has hated it; Los Angeles' place as a "city on the edge" that always captures the imagination, no matter the petty judgments it draws; Los Angeles' distinctive geography offering the best possible opportunity for transit-building; the questions he asks about whether a city wants him to understand the whole of its transit system, and whether it treats him as a free actor; the surprises that delight him now that he's gotten used to confusing, sad, and unpleasant transit experiences; airport stations and their tendency toward "symbolic transit"; and the importance of whether a city treats transit as a commuting device or as an all-purpose urban structure, and whether or not it's motivated simply by the coolness of the vehicles.
Sun, 25 November 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Portland's Montavilla with Kevin Sampsell, publisher of Future Tense Books, editor of Portland Noir, and author of the memoir A Common Pornography and the novel This is Between Us, forthcoming from Tin House. They discuss the meth crime to be found beyond 82nd Avenue; Portland from the vantage point of his childhood in Washington's Tri-Cities; how he met other writers by publishing his own "lo-fi chapbooks"; how one forges one's own unique voice by maintaining their not-giving-a-crap nonchalance; his chronologically un-pinpointable founding of Future Tense and its surprise success with Zoe Trope's Please Don't Kill the Freshman; writing as a kind of martial art, which develops you even if you start out flabby, and which demands its own kind of meditation; how he became a (more) serious reader at Powell's Books; his love of southern writers, and more generally those who combine grittiness and heart; how unimportant he finds sense of place in fiction, yet how much praise he won for "capturing the Tri-Cities" in A Common Pornography; his technique of mixing the mundane with the shocking and hoping for the best; moving from the "no style" and short chapters of his last book to the longer chapters and conversational style of his new one; and the attractions of the Portland writing life, including having space to live and being in a place where nonfiction writers and poets might actually associate.
Wed, 21 November 2012
Colin Marshall sits down at Portland State University with Carl Abbott, professor there of urban studies and planning and author of Portland in Three Centuries: The Place and the People. They discuss the debate over Portland's status as a "small city" or a "big town"; the distinctive ease of making connections in the city; how modern-day Portland enthusiasts would look at the place before 1965 and see Akron, Ohio; the oft-made comparisons between Portland, Seattle, and Austin; the history and continued presence of agriculture and industry around the "cool Portland" of today; Microsoft and Boeing, the "accidental" companies that made Seattle the younger sibling that out-competed Portland, one with better booms but worse busts; Portland's "conservatively progressive" politics, and how that sensibility shows up in its light rail system and central library (especially as compared to Seattle's); the relationship between the city's vaunted "livability" and its patterns of diversity; how he came to Portland and when, exactly, the city turned away from its former stodginess (and when its porno theaters started turning into revival houses); Portland entrepreneurship, which Portlanders prefer to call "D.I.Y."; how best to engage new immigrants and hip youngsters in "Portlandism," a civic-minded, participatory approach to incremental problem-solving; science fiction's visions of cities, which present recurring patterns related to urban theory; and whether Portland counts as a utopian project, if a practical one.
Fri, 16 November 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Portland's Slabtown with Matt Haughey, founder of MetaFilter, the most civilized community on the internet, co-founder of Fuelly, and creator of several other sites as well. They discuss his escape from San Francisco's "goofball startup culture"; what it means for MetaFilter to be "civilized"; his desire not simply to create "a safe place for people to yell past each other"; the importance of keeping personal identity out of debates; the strange backend provided by MetaFilter's question-and-answer service Ask MetaFilter; the second-most popular Ask MetaFilter thread of all time, Colin's own "What in life did it take you a surprisingly long time to realize you've been doing wrong all along?"; the strange popularity of questions about how to talk to girls, relate humanity, and/or live life, also known as the "forever alone" series; what it takes to become one of MetaFilter's ten worst users, drunk on power or stupidity; the hyperarticulate sourness that makes bad comments on MetaFilter especially bad, and how it leads to users pre-emptively armor-plate their sentences; Portland as a setting for the simple life, but also the good one; advertising's domination of internet business models, and the bite mobile browsing even now takes out of that; who's actually clicking those ads that ostensibly support everything; the benefits of living down the long tail, and of executing difficult-to-describe ideas that are therefore difficult to replicate; where to shut yourself off from the net in Portland, be it on a bike or at a food cart; and how a Portlander can possibly react to a kid on a unicycle, in a Utilikilt, playing a bagpipe, topped with a Darth Vader helmet.
Sat, 10 November 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in southeast Portland with Mia Birk, author of Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Future and President of Alta Planning + Design, which strives to make biking, walking, and mass transit an integral part of daily life. The discuss exactly how much happier he would have been riding a bicycle to the interview than riding a bus; the way Portland "got the ball rolling" for its cycling infrastructure development in the nineties; the moments of surprising hostility she found upon first pedaling down Portland streets; bicycle infrastructure as a facilitator of cooperation; how to extend enthusiasm for cycling beyond the guys in Lance Armstrong spandex to those who simply need to get somewhere; the ill effects of America's having spent decades incentivizing driving, and exactly how European cities like Copenhagen pulled so far ahead; how she gauges the cycling in a new town, asking first to see "the good, the bad, and the ugly"; the importance of creating conditions of delight for riding in a city, and the need to re-teach the occasional public official how to use a bike before doing so; how the declared identity of a city affects the implementation of cycling within it; how she finds you can fit "a little party" into every day; and what, exactly, to do when you turn up in Portland yourself, jonesing to ride.
Mon, 5 November 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in northwest Portland with comic artist and film critic Mike Russell, co-host on the Cort and Fatboy podcast, creator of Culturepulp, Mr. Do and Mr. Don't, The Sabertooth Vampire, and more. They discuss the excruciating process of drawing an interview; his adaptation of a page of David Foster Wallace's "Up, Simba"; what it's like to artistically live-blog the Portland Opera; the unusual robustness of the Portland comics industry, and its incentivization of "putting comics where they shouldn't be"; his current task of drawing a comic for a set of European finance ministers; the origins of Portland podcasting, and how he became a part; how Star Wars formed at least part of his cinematic consciousness, and what it takes to grow up into an astute genre fan; the worrisome effects of nostalgia and "remix culture"; the Portland "put it out there, what the hell" attitude; Portlandia's proper title of Southeast Portlandia, and how Los Angeles still sees the dream of the nineties as alive in the city; Portland as an undrying source of drawable weirdness; and the quintessentially Portland sport of "hashing," or taking runs from bar to bar, drinking beer at each.
Sat, 27 October 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Silver Lake with Thom Andersen, professor at the California Institute of the Arts' School of Film/Video and director of films including Red Hollywood, the new Reconversion, and the well-known documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself, on the truth and falsity of the city's representation in motion pictures. They discuss The Fast and the Furious shooting on his street; the end of the current era of impressive car chases crafted by Nicolas Winding Refn and Quentin Tarantino; H.B. Halicki's original Gone in 60 Seconds, and the importance of its literalism regarding greater Los Angeles' South Bay; how rarely mainstream cinematic interest looks beyond white people of "immodest means," and what the films that do go beyond them achieve (such as the creation of detective films that actually involve detecting); Killer of Sheep, Boyz n the Hood, and the differences between garden-variety "gang movies" and those that truthfully deal with survival; the questions to do with the black population, bank bailouts, and the destruction of the working class he believes movies could address but rarely do; how much more interesting reality is than our imaginations, which by now have long since filled up with junk; Los Angeles as a representational battleground, and the way filmmakers have an alibi here not to do important work; the native's lack of advantage in understanding this city, and the outsider's advantage in making it strange again, as seen in Zabriskie Point, The Outside Man, Model Shop, and Point Blank; the changes in Los Angeles, how they vanish in comparison to the changes in major Asian cities, and how they have for the most part taken place among the people rather than in the infrastructure; the racism of Crash versus the naïveté of Falling Down; his continuing fascination with the Los Angeles wherein people struggle to make a living; and what fillms and books can to do change minds, given that they so often make minds in the first place.
Mon, 22 October 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in San Francisco's South Beach with entrepreneur, author, blogger, traveler, and learner Ben Casnocha. His latest book, co-written with Reid Hoffman, chairman of LinkedIn, is The Start-Up of You. They discuss the advantages of hanging an IKEA world map on the wall; his ten days of silent meditation and the feeling of enlarged thumbs that resulted; the San Francisco Bay Area's convergence of Californian spirituality and Californian technological intensity; the three Californias: San Francisco, Los Angeles, and everything else; "NorCal" pride and State of Jefferson stickers; being the average of the five people you spend the most time with, and how that got him involved in technology startups to begin with; how where you physically live now matters both more and less than it used to (and who still lives virtually on Livejournal); how loyalty now extends horizontally to your network rather than vertically to your company, and how your identity now comes before your role as an organizational component; his lifelong habit of reaching out to interesting people, and how it differs from the standard sleaziness of "networking"; his visits to Detroit and Athens, and how those cities may have strained his appreciative thinking muscles; his interest in underrated and underdiscussed places as well as people, such as those in South America; his adoption of "home bases" around the world, be they in San Francisco, Santiago, Zurich, or Tokyo; the pronunciation of Tegucigalpa; the loneliness he sees deep in the eyes of people who declare themselves "nomadic"; the necessity of acting consistently on curiosity, and of cultivating both a highly technical and a highly nontechnical mind; whether moving to a city means moving to randomness; and his sensory-deprivation experience floating in a saltwater pod.
Sat, 20 October 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in San Francisco's Bernal Heights with Peter Orner, author of the novels Love and Shame and Love and The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo and the short story collection Esther Stories as well as co-editor of the nonfiction collections Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives and Hope Deferred: Narratives of Zimbabwean Lives. They discuss the heightened Americanness of Chicago and what it has offered his literary sensibility; our tendency as Americans, for good and ill, to chase stuff, whether in the city or the suburbs; his fascination with how life simply goes on amid grand (and possibly meaningless) power struggles; how, as a fresh college graduate, he found his was to Namibia; how his experience compares with the fictional Scottish doctor who falls in with Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, especially in the sense of the gnawing burden of non-belonging; life in a country where things slow down, and the space for thought that provides; how Namibia inspired him to write a story of a man lost in a Kafkanly inescapable shopping mall, and how he used a school's sole typewriter to compose it; his constant aspirations to the condition of the short story collection, the "highest form," and how even his novels secretly take that form; the experimentalism of great books that don't seem experimental, like Bleak House or Moby Dick; how Namibia's situation compares to that of Zimbabwe, and how many of Zimbabwe's problems can be laid at the feet of Robert Mugabe; how he experiences a San Francisco beyond the Fisherman's Wharves and the Transamerica Pyramids; and his criticism of the city's increasing pricing out of families that leads, ultimately, to a loss of stories.
Wed, 17 October 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in San Francisco's Yerba Buena Gardens with Cariwyl Hebert, founder of the community-based classical music appreciation society Salon97. They discuss New Yorker classical music critic Alex Ross' hatred of "classical music"; her project of pretension removal and safe-place creation; how she identified a need in the way her work in classical music proved a reliable conversation-ender; developing and implementing the idea of the classical listening party around which Salon97 is now based; listening party themes that draw attention and/or create tension, and how she strikes the correct balance between too schmaltzy and not schmaltzy enough; having to begin musical discussions with pure opinion, and bringing out the controversial lives of the composers to generate discussion; returning the social aspect to classical music, by beer, wine, or other means; what, exactly, a composer can infuse their music with while keeping it "classical"; the life of the classical music enthusiast in San Francisco, whether or not it crosses into competitive culture-vulturing; what a Salon97 listening party is actually like, versus Ross' experience of the concert hall; why we sat down at our concerts in the Victorian era and never stood back up; the casualizing influence of the tech industry and how it opens up the various levels of San Francisco culture; and how you can watch Mozart doing stuff.
Tue, 9 October 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in San Francisco's Mission at the Noisebridge hacker space with Stan James, founder of Lijit, creator of the first browser-based massively multiplayer games, co-host of the 7th Kingdom podcast, and author of a book in progress on technology and our minds. They discuss Noisebridge itself and its almost Utopian qualities; how the supernormal stimuli of cat videos create addiction; how his early multiplayer games could created addiction; San Francisco's position as the American city to be in for those with technological interests, not exclusively technological interests; the optimal Mission-style burrito ordering strategy; how we've left the concept of immersion in virtual reality behind in favor of always being at least a little bit on the internet, and how we can see it in the ways we navigate and even date; stepping outside our reactions to new technological developments by going back to Plato; parental disregard for the protocol of Skype calling; his life in Berlin, another city where people go to do projects and make things; how and why he became "Wandering Stan," and the importance he's found of digging into others' lives when he's in actual places; whether younger so-called "digital natives" can better handle technological addictiveness; how wide a swath of the human experience San Francisco offers; how he discovered the difference between his engaged-in-a-project face and his dead-eyed Reddit-browsing face; and how word of Avril Lavigne reached Nepal before it reached him.
Thu, 4 October 2012
Colin Marshall sits down somewhere in between San Francisco's Chinatown, Nob Hill, and Russian Hill with conceptual artist, experimental philosopher, and writer Jonathon Keats, author of the upcoming book Forged: Why Fakes Are the Great Art of Our Age. They discuss his own role as, above all, a fake; his attempt to epigenetically clone such celebrities as Lady Gaga, Michael Phelps, and Barack Obama; Forged, forgery, pursuit of simulacra, and Wim Wenders' Notebook on Cities and Clothes; content's ongoing release from form, and how it sends out the concept of forgery even as it brings it back in; the enthusiastically forged paintings of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, and Thomas Kinkade's massively replicated, "master highlighted" images; authenticity as it relates to spaghetti and meatballs; San Francisco's intriguing tension between the claims of its own authenticity and its vision of itself as an experimental utopia — or, in his words, its simultaneous tendencies toward the "incredibly smug" and "very insecure"; why Europeans love San Francisco, and whether that has anything to do with the city's ultimate derivation from their own; his thought experiments' usefulness as "curiosity amplifiers," generating larger questions than the ones they came from; the difference between doing experimental philosophy in San Francisco and in other countries, like Italy; and the exhilarating American freedom that also numbs.
Fri, 28 September 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in San Francisco's Mission with Ethan Nosowsky, Editorial Director at McSweeney's. They discuss security breaches at the McSweeney's office by overenthusiastic fans seeking a physical connection to their favorite publisher of physical books; his tendency to act as "the Joe Lieberman of publishing" in his editorial career, carrying unchanging tastes through changing times; Geoff Dyer, the writer with whom he has worked the longest, and how the subject-independence of Dyer's writing parallels the subject-independence of his editing; the counterintuitively un-self-indulgent qualities of "Dyeristic" prose; memoir booms vampire booms, and the eternal bad-book boom; how he finds the real action in hybrids of fiction and essay, and how those forms provide the surprises that all art should; his life in New York publishing before his homecoming to the San Francisco Bay area, and how he has come to regard the ecosystem/echo chamber of the New York literary scene at a distance; the dominance of food and technology over books in Bay Area culture; David Byrne's new How Music Works , and other books that you want certain authors to write; and the potential usefulness of the authorly switcheroo, as when Dyer planned to write a book about tennis but wrote a book about Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker.
Mon, 24 September 2012
Colin Marshall sits down at downtown San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum with monologist Josh Kornbluth. They discuss the proper pronunciation of the word "monologist"; his simultaneous return to the practice of oboe-playing and late entry into things Jewish; the question of whether Andy Warhol is "good for the Jews," and how he spun it into a monologue; the qualities of faith shared by Judaism and the communism of his childhood, which still releases endorphins when he thinks about it; the difficulty of dragging beautiful, pure abstractions of any kind into the concrete human sphere; Haiku Tunnel, the "FUBU of office workers"; the implicit premise of perhaps most monologues that everything ultimately connects to everything; how to show you've put in the hours on a performance by presenting its artifice just right; building a career in the San Francisco Bay Area, and how the place ratchets the average New York Jew's stress level down from eleven to ten; New York as his own personal primordial ooze; how San Francisco tends to push out its aspirers, especially where theater is concerned; the outsider's longing to understand music, Judaism, or both, and how he's come to experience both as practices; and the wonder of trying, failing, and trying again at one's craft within a community.
Thu, 20 September 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in San Francisco's Castro with Daniel Levin Becker, member of the experimental literary group Oulipo, reviews editor at the Believer, and author of Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature. They discuss whether Oulipo membership impresses the ladies; his earlier, long pre-Oulipo days, when he would make mixtapes consisting entirely of songs without the letter "e" in the title; his fascination with taking mundane patterns, applying enough work to them, and making something pretty incredible; palindromes, beau présent, homophones, metro poems, mathematical constraints, and Greimas squares; his Fulbright-enabled stay in Paris to organize Oulipo's junk, which led to his writing a book on the group, and then to their offer of membership even before he thought he had accrued the necessary literary steez; whether Paris retains its status as a literary-minded young American's dream, and its status as a "literary mindfuck" nevertheless; what Paris legitimizes, including but not limited to sexy Orangina animals; "gamification," in the artistic, urban, and Silicon Valley senses; the possible use of Oulipian restrictions in Many Subtle Channels itself; what makes Oulipo distinctively French, and what its irony about the canon may have in common with the irony of D.A.R.E. shirts worn in the United States; the Believer as a representative of west coast United States literary culture, and how the scrappiness of Chicago stands in contrast; and when he suspends his Chicagoan-ness, and how much of that involves not eating spicy meats.
Wed, 12 September 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in a back room in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury with Christin Evans and Praveen Madan, owners and transformers of The Booksmith, and now Kepler's in Menlo Park. They discuss being deemed "corporate refugees" by their employees for their tech consulting past; creating a positive, aspirational experience that doesn't make bookstores seem like broccoli; what they learned from spending date nights in other cities, having dinner and then visiting the local independent bookstores; the importance of offering serendipity, deeply knowledgeable service, and a multisensory browsing experience; how they've come to hold 200 events a year, including their popular bookswaps, born of customers' desire to meet people in places other than bars; what makes Haight-Ashbury something more than a neighborhood where a lot of fun stuff happened a long time ago, and how they made it a first priority to connect with the local community; the parallel non-profit functions of community bookstores, including public education; what makes bookstores businesses, but not normal businesses; "matchmaking" books to readers such as Dwight, lover of Russian history; how they create an addiction to books, bearing in mind that half of America doesn't read a book afer high school; what the controversy about Yann Martel's Beatrice and Virgil illustrates about The Booksmith's "high-touch" business model; the abstraction of life in corporate consulting, and the total lack of abstraction of life in bookselling; bookstores as social networks when you want to unplug from social networks; and the mind-expanding books that running The Booksmith has brought into both of their lives.
Fri, 7 September 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in a Wallace Neff dome in Pasadena with visual and sound artist Steve Roden. They discuss whether art can exist without constraints; his enthusiasm for "dumb ideas," such as painting with his mouth; the influence of Buckminster Fuller's Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, which he found in a gutter as a kid; the inspiration a Jimi Hendrix impersonator gave him, and how he went on to enter the Los Angeles punk scene of the late seventies and early eighties; his punk band's catalog, including such songs as "Kill Reagan" and "Jesus Needs a Haircut"; his skill set consisting primarily of patience and the ability to evolve slowly; working in forms that admit the most failure, and thus produce the most interestingness; the days when he would hang out at the Westwood Tower Records until midnight, and the clerk that gave him an all-important copy of Brian Eno's Another Green World; the beauty of playing an instrument you know nothing about, and of other ideas born of incomplete information; his involvement with languages he doesn't speak, including researching Walter Benjamin without German, studying in Paris without French, and translating Swedish poetry without Swedish; finding the unknown in Los Angeles, and what it means to be able to traverse the city with ease or difficulty; the importance of maintaining a one-man practice; and his uncommonly fruitful experiences reading liner notes.
Sat, 1 September 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Sliver Lake with Karina Longworth, film writer at the LA Weekly, co-founder of the film-culture blog Cinematical, and author of the upcoming Masters of Cinema: George Lucas. They discuss the public fascination with criticism versus blogging; J. Hoberman's notion of criticism as reporting what it feels like to be in the screening room; how she promoted a version of herself in her blogging days, and what she regrets about doing so; the pre-YouTube video essays she would create in school about Moonlighting, Judy Garland's apocryphal marriage proposal to Frank Sinatra, and Maury Povich; whether it makes sense to ask if we live in an interesting time for cinema, and whether she can even tell through the fog of writing about movies every week; time travel films and the oft-fumbled promise thereof, especially in the shadows of Back to the Future's pop mainstreaming of scientific devices; what she's learned about making Claire Denis and Sion Sono quickly relevant to readers who may well never have heard of them; how New York gets more movies than Los Angeles, how moviegoing means something different in the two cities, and her cover story about the whole dichotomy; her book on George Lucas, and the looming question of what, exactly, happened to him; her fears about her favorite directors getting too much budget, power, and freedom, and her greater fears about the Dodgers falling victim to the same; the strange fate of the rental collection at Kim's Video; her experience of cinematic burnout, and the subjectivity to which is may lead; Andrew Bujalski's Computer Chess, which is actually about computer chess; pictures like Sans Soleil and Kiss Me, Stupid, which so formed their cinematic consciousnesses as to become their representations in film form; and the magical, destructive, entrancing, awful myth of old Hollywood.
Sat, 25 August 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Echo Park with Carolyn Kellogg, writer on books and publishing for the Los Angeles Times and their literary blog Jacket Copy, board member at the National Book Critics Circle, and formerly the blogger and podcaster behind Pinky's Paperhaus. They discuss what happens when the interviewer becomes an interviewee; her use of early internet radio as a social skill-free way to penetrate the Los Angeles literary scene; that scene's coherence through the internet, and its tendency to be "nicer" than New York's, where publishing has cultural primacy; her tendency to strike less of a local-global balance in Jacket Copy than to regard Los Angeles itself as stateless; the city's unknowability, and the probable facetiousness of anyone who claims to know it; whether books, bookstores, reading, and criticism are or were ever in crisis; solid versus ephemeral media, and the importance of your inability to drop your library in the toilet; publishing's former status as a "gentlemen's business," and how that allowed it the tolerance for failure that every creative industry needs; whether Twitter makes people too nice to produce serious criticism; what makes some social networks suitable for book talk, and others completely worthless; the Los Angeles Times' use of blogs, and Tony Pierce's influence on it; her days in the Los Angeles of the eighties, working at an all-night Russian cafe downtown; how writers don't seem to hate it here as much nowadays, though some sort of heartbreak remains; how she filters not just the daily shipment of books to her house, but the onslaught of books that enter existence on a daily basis; and the possibility that someone's finally getting the multimedia reading experience right.
Fri, 17 August 2012
Colin Marshall sits down below the mid-Wilshire offices of Los Angeles magazine with its associate editor Chris Nichols, the man behind the Ask Chris column and blog, former chair of the Los Angeles Conservancy Modern Committee, and author of The Leisure Architecture of Wayne McAllister. They discuss the importance of the now-empty Johnie's Coffee Shop on Wilshire and Fairfax; what being a civic booster means in Los Angeles; the remains of the postwar American car culture of easy, breezy livin', and their enduring value; the preponderance of hard-to-explain objects across the Los Angeles landscape, and how he explains them in his writing; the richness and strange inhospitability of La Brea Avenue, currently caught between old and new ideas of the city; architectural preservation, and how much of it in Los Angeles is too much; the surviving Googie coffee shops like Pann's and Norms, Wayne McAllister's pre-Googie creations, and their place in the city's historical palimpsest; his determination to help tourists determine and discover their fantasy of Los Angeles, of which countless many exist; why you have to go out and find the city, and why it will simply never come to you; the wonders of Cucamonga; how he's used Los Angeles as his own personal party space; the Dutch chocolate shop that became a swap meet, and the spectacular twenties movie palace that became a storeroom; how things filled out when "the world moved in" to places like Koreatown, where you can find, for instance, a cafe that is also a boat; what meaning, if any, Frank Gehry's much-discussed Disney Concert Hall has; and his desire to get lost in Los Angeles once again
Sat, 11 August 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Ocean Park with Frances Anderton, host of KCRW's Design and Architecture and Dwell magazine's Los Angeles editor. They discuss how her countrymen Reyner Banham, David Hockney, and Christopher Isherwood opened up the idea of Los Angeles to England, vague as the understanding of its cityscape remained; the modernism of Los Angeles then emblematized by its freeways and its architectural freedom from the crushing burden of history, as unlike her native Bath as possible; how Paris' Pompidou Centre and the mere image of sliding glass patio doors shaped her architectural consciousness; the rise of preservation in Los Angeles, and how it might take an outsider to clearly see the movement's potential to hinder eccentricity; the American tendency to prostrate ourselves before whatever seems sufficiently old; how stark early-sixties modernism rose in Los Angeles without actually displacing anything, except on Bunker Hill; Chris Burden's ideas about the super-fast self-driving car as the transportation of his future, and his generation's implicit yearning to bring back 1962; how she figured out that radio was indeed a suitable medium for the discussion of design, architecture, and aesthetics, especially when it can include conversations about such subjects with the likes of Moby; and what Moby's architecture blog says about the surreality of Los Angeles, as well as where she still finds that surreality herself after 21 years in the city.
Tue, 7 August 2012
Colin Marshall sits down at the West Hollywood Library with Nate DiMeo, public radio producer and creator of the podcast The Memory Palace. They discuss American history's unique wealth of inventors, fakes, geniuses and eccentrics, such as serial impostor Stanley Clifford Weyman and child prodigy turned streetcar transfer taxonomist William James Sidis; the odd satisfaction of stories that arrive at "close enough" rather than classic success; the issue of the right historical moment for a creation, whether that creation is a podcast, a radio show, or the music of Slash; podcasting's theoretically ideal function as public radio's "indie underground" feeder system, and its failure thus far to perform that function; his own realization that The Memory Palace probably wouldn't take the public radio path, and the freedom that gave him; the enduring appeal, no matter podcasting advantages, of the "kismet" of radio, which can deliver unexpected information, entertainment, and delight; why a relatively high degree of public radio innovation has gone on in Los Angeles, and how a public radio producer can become the hit of any entertainment-industry party here; why the older public radio generation hasn't yielded to the younger; and what it takes for him, as an avowed non-history buff, to draw certain feelings from moments in American history and then reconstitute those feelings in audio form.
Tue, 24 July 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in West Hollywood with novelist Joshua Henkin, author most recently of The World Without You, for their first conversation in four and a half years since his previous appearance on The Marketplace of Ideas. They discuss how the new book makes a space for characters to converge rather than occupying the space between two people, like his last one; the authorial balance between knowing too much and knowing too little, and the need to address the same question in fiction you would on Passover of "why this night is different from all other nights"; his bringing in a divorce, a death, the war in Iraq, and July 4th, and how much is too much; his tendency to throw away thousands of pages when refining each novel, observing the economist's principle of sunk costs; how character is plot, and how stories go wrong when character isn't plot; his ways of fictionally repurposing pieces of his own life that few readers would guess; the dangers of writing about recent-past events, and doing so while achieving the universal with a laserlike focus on the particular; the importance of writing no character as an authorial mouthpiece, especially when dealing with sensitive political and religious issues as The World Without You does; his use of teaching as a feedback look for his own writing, and how early in his career he managed to expose himself to a great amount of what doesn't work in fiction; his writer's life in Brooklyn, and why that borough has become such a writerly place; his childhood in and return to New York, and what that has to do with his characters existing in perpetual relationships to the place; the writer's need to hang out primarily with non-writers; his techniques for achieving a sense of place, and the American difficulty of having any sense of place at all about somewhere as distant as Iraq, which seems to have become a theme of the war itself; the press' eagerness and the author's wariness to discuss the "aboutness" of a book; and the irreducibility of fiction meaning that the easier you can summarize a novel, the worse that novel is.
(Photo: Matthew Polis)
Thu, 19 July 2012
Colin Marshall sits down on top of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles with Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic at the Los Angeles Times and co-author of The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture. Last year, he conducted Reading Los Angeles, a yearlong study of the city through the books written about it. This year, he's doing a series of essays and video explorations of Los Angeles' boulevards: first Atlantic, then Sunset, and soon Crenshaw and beyond. They discuss the break from the city's previous connection with the automobile, the single-family house, and private amenity; the unusual number of existential questions Los Angeles has faced and continues to face; outsiders' visceral reaction to Los Angeles "inconsistent" architecture (especially as manifested by Randy's and Dale's Donuts), and the way freedom and ugliness can go hand-in-hand; his having grown up in Berkeley, a process that subjected him to a certain anti-Los Angeles "indoctrination"; the sense that Los Angeles is its "own thing," and how that motivates deadening choices like freeways as well as enlivening choices like turning away from Europe and toward Latin America and Asia; Woody Allen and his attitudes about cities and urbanism, as revealed in films like Annie Hall and Midnight in Paris; how the stereotype of Los Angeles' superficiality conceals its layered nature, and whether the city's best elements can ever be made directly accessible; how to read cities versus reading objects, and how familiarity with Los Angeles helped him read a city like Houston; the complicated relationship between public and private space in Los Angeles, as exemplified by streets that simply give up on sidewalks and beloved midcentury modern houses in terribly alienating locations; and the tendency of tourists to see only the worst of Los Angeles and go no further — unless they go much, much further.
Fri, 13 July 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Boyle Heights with David Kipen, founder of that neighborhood's combined bookstore and lending library Libros Schmibros and a true man of both letters and Los Angeles. He gives commentary on books and literary culture on KPCC-FM and Sirius XM's The Bob Edwards Show, he's written the book The Schreiber Theory: A Radical Rewrite of American Film History, he recently translated Cervantes' The Dialogue of the Dogs for Melville House Books, and he spent over four years as the National Endowment for the Arts' Director of Literature, where he got their Big Read program started. They discuss how to sell paper books in neighborhoods the Kindle hasn't penetrated; his interest in getting into conversations about books on both the low-profile person-to-person level and the high-profile media one; whether we have indeed left an actual lost golden age of American reading; the lack of "slack" in American life to use for reading; how rail makes up a city's skeleton, and how Los Angeles' skeleton is growing with new additions like the Libros Schmibros-proximate Gold Line; 1939, the annus mirabilis of Los Angeles literature, and the city's modern desire, as exemplified by Mike Davis' City of Quartz, to fetishize its own depredations and destruction; whether it's hard to keep your mind in the narrative of this city, where even the natives have to immigrate; and that undervalued observer of Los Angeles and the whole of California, Thomas Pynchon.
(Photo: Alissa Walker)
Sun, 8 July 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Silver Lake with Alissa Walker, writer on urban design, architecture, and the cityscape — especially Los Angeles' — for publications like GOOD, Dwell, the LA Weekly, and more. She also associate-produces KCRW's DnA: Design and Architecture. They discuss Sunset Triangle Plaza, the area of reclaimed street where they sit, and what it says about the Angeleno "mind shift" toward getting out of the car; how many small, cheap improvements can alter the urban experience in the same way as a few large, expensive ones; her friends' lingering fear of getting "all sweaty" while riding bicycles, buses, and trains; the complacency Los Angeles instilled in its residents in the seventies, eighties, and even nineties; increasing the "stumble upon" factor in a large, spread-out city; her experience building a more accurate narrative of Los Angeles, a city that hasn't done much to brand itself lately, than the ones in the New York Times; the urban projects that work in this city and the ones, like a "living wall" being torn down right behind them, that don't; Los Angeles' tendency to create spaces in which to compress and imitate itself; the lack of markers, literally and figuratively, to show you "where the stuff is"; learning and showing Los Angeles through its architecture, and other works of public design more interesting than the artisanal chairs so popular last decade; her part in the GOOD Ideas for Cities project, especially when it went to her native St. Louis, and how it got her thinking about the possibilities of American cities; and her recommendations on how best to keep your eyes on the streets in Los Angeles.
Mon, 2 July 2012
Colin Marshall sits down at UCLA with urban planning professor Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking and the man who's made us aware of the fact that our cities' problems come not from too little parking, but too much. They discuss the academic tendency to believe, without verification, anything bad about Los Angeles; how this city became the densest car-oriented one in America, as well as the most car-oriented dense one; falsely perceived parking "shortages," how they led to minimum free parking requirements, and how those have worsened our urban experience; Los Angeles' parking requirement-skirting Adaptive Reuse Ordinance, which made even monstrosities like 1100 Wilshire usable; the development of technology needed to allow parking prices to respond to demand, and how it works in systems like San Francisco's SFPark; the importance of treating parking space just like any other real estate, and how irresponsible we've been about that; how Ventura streets got free wi-fi through their parking program; what ruined Westwood, and what parking policy had to do with it; how he realized parking mattered so much, and why the general public has only begun to; the necessity of humor when you're writing about parking for 800 pages; and how cycling makes it users happier than any other mode of transportation (perhaps because of its lack of parking complications).
Tue, 19 June 2012
Colin Marshall sits down nine stories above Westlake with Jesse Thorn, host of Public Radio International's Bullseye, proprietor of the Maximum Fun radio and podcast empire, and host of the men's style web series Put This On. They discuss what it takes for GQ to introduce you as a guy who hates Los Angeles; the points of starkest division between northern and southern California, including burritos and new-aginess; his time growing up in San Francisco's inner Mission district, where he was spoiled by the ease of getting around and much else besides; coming of age amid the city's crack epidemic, nearly witnessing shootings, and dodging batteries thrown from rooftops; neighborhoods as extensions of your home into the outside world; the vast distances one must traverse in Los Angeles, and the toll they takes on one's ability to "pop on over" anywhere; Put This On's exploration of the great men's style cities, including New York, London, and Milan ("the Los Angeles of Italy"); the utilitarianism of dress in America, and the prevalence of surfer and skater traditions in southern California; the twin tendencies of white Angelenos to expensively project the image of not caring about clothes and to nevertheless pay close, anxious attention to their physical attractiveness; and the knowledge that neither he nor anyone else can never go home again to the old now-gentrified San Francisco neighborhood.
Download the interview from Notebook on Cities and Culture’s feed here or on iTunes here.
Tue, 12 June 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Del Rey with David C. Sloane, professor and director of undergraduate programs at the University of California's Price School of Public Policy and editor of Planning Los Angeles. They discuss the book's obvious contrarian marketing angle against the widely held idea of Los Angeles as the most chaotic, least planned U.S. city; how people assume Los Angeles to be both older and newer than it really is; the city's much-discussed "polycentricity" coming from trains, not cars; freeways as conduits, Berlin Walls, psychological shortcuts, and Brasília-style monuments; the fears surrounding the non-disaster of "Carmageddon" and what they say about the increasing difficulty of the midcentury Los Angeles lifestyle; the transition to a world of multimodal transportation, where bicycles, cars, and trains coexist; his move to Los Angeles during the inauspicious year of 1992, though one that paradoxically saw several highly auspicious urban developments on the way; the changes in thinking that led to the changes in American cities from their nadir in the late seventies and early eighties; whether Los Angeles, having spread to its geographical limits, has now run out of excuses for not looking inward; and the city's anxiety about which places are "real" and which "fake."
Thu, 7 June 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Lakewood City Hall with D.J. Waldie, author of books like Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir and Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles, collaborator on books like Real City with photographer Marissa Roth, and a 34-year employee of the City of Lakewood as Public Information Officer and Deputy City Manager. They discuss the importance of Wallace Stevens' "work and walking" to his own writing; his advice to the latest wave of Los Angeles newcomers looking for solutions to the problem of how to live here; what it means to lead a "redemptive" suburban life, and whether "suburban" means the same thing to every writer; Lakewood and other rapidly built postwar tract-home communities as exciting, frightening experiments in living from which new democratic vistas could well; the meaning of Lakewood's motto that "Times Change, Values Don't"; how considerable variation can arise from built uniformity; his premise that there are no "good" places, and his ongoing interest in the question of what would happen if you fell in love with the place where you are; how knowledge of a place, if not quite love for it, can enrich the experience of that place; how the newest Angelenos seem to long to connect to and invest in their place; and how Los Angeles' resistance to its own history has contributed to bad choices over the years, leading to frustrations financial, racial, and otherwise.
(Photo: Tom Johnson)
Thu, 31 May 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Little Tokyo with novelist Todd Shimoda, author, in collaboration with visual artist L.J.C. Shimoda, of "philosophical mystery" novels with science, engineering, Japanese and Japanese-American themes. His latest, Subduction, follows a disgraced young physician into his four-year exile on a tiny, earthquake-prone, mythology-freighted island off the Japanese coast. They discuss Japan's very real earthquakes in Kobe and Fukushima; the book's obsessed characters, whether obsessed with seismology, documentation, or simply staying on the island; the question of how much scientific data he can safely include in a novel, and if this age of Wikipedia changes that; the "four-dimensional" Japanese cultural co-existence of mythology and science, and its blurred boundary between practice and belief; writing a novel of Japan without writing a novel of Japanese-ness, and avoiding other problems that befall Westerners' writing about the East; Haruki Murakami, Kobo Abe, and the Japanese International Style; his risk of real-life island despair while living on Kauai, and his regular, pendulum-like moves between the urban, suburban, and rural worlds; how to use the cultures that converge in Los Angeles to write a novel of Los Angeles, where the appearance of no neighborhoods becomes the reality of too many; the city's actual earthquake of the previous evening; Chin Music Press' sense of geographic place; and the availability of a constant stream of Western fascination with Japan for a novelist to tap into.
(Photo: Mike Mazzoli)
Fri, 25 May 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Barnsdall Art Park with Hollywood Steve Huey, writer and media personality, former critic at All Music Guide and host of the web series Yacht Rock. They discuss his introductions to the likes of Michael Jackson, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Barry Manilow; elements of his home state of Michigan, including Big Rapids (not to be confused with Grand Rapids), Ann Arbor, and the urban ruins and $5,000 mansions of Detroit; the All Music Guide's shaping force on his musical consciousness; the lack of a genre equivalent to Yacht Rock today thanks to marketing departments' lack of imagination; great works, like Nirvana's Nevermind, that both found genres and dissolve them; life in the music nerd ghetto within the entertainment capital of the world at the time of bewildering musical (and cinematic and televisual) bounty; acquiring the name "Hollywood Steve" through a one-off gig on Pirates of the Caribbean; how he came to appreciate Barry Manilow, an artist known to some as a byword for bad music; and why guilty pleasures — whether musical ones in the case of Barry Manilow, or urban ones in the case of Los Angeles — are better enjoyed as regular pleasures.
(Photo: Sammy Primero)
Sat, 19 May 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Silver Lake with Eric Brightwell, proprietor of both Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography, which offers hand-drawn maps of neighborhoods in Los Angeles and beyond (and posts them to Amoeba Music's Amoeblog), and Brightwell, which offers luxury and craft items to the discerning cosmopolitan gentleman. They discuss the days when Silver Lake was Ivanhoe; the distinctively shifting and disputed nature of Los Angeles neighborhoods; the differences between neighborhood mapping by Google Maps, by Yahoo Maps, on subway station walls, and by hand; the unintended Berlin Wall effect of freeway construction; his attracting of angry, all-caps comments from the gangs of Frogtown; longtime Angelenos' lack of awareness about the neighborhoods that surround them, and their need to believe that their own has gone to the dogs; Hollywood's retailers of pimp-geared $169 three-suit deals; how an authenticity jones can ruin your experience of Los Angeles; his discovery of microsubcultures in unexpected places, and the larger fact that no one part of the city is more interesting than any other; Hitler's Pacific Palisades bunker; and the advanced art of entering a neighborhood, exploring it, and documenting it without knowing anything at all going in.
Wed, 16 May 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Silver Lake with comedian, writer, and comedy writer Todd Levin, who's written for Late Night with Conan O'Brien, The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, Conan, and the Onion News Network. They discuss using comedy performers as tools; the advantages of being a cipher; deliberately bewildering the audience, listening for reactions beyond laughter, and in the process becoming a connoisseur of silence; the comparative humorous possibilities of Tetley and Bigelow tea bag package copy; the inevitable and healthy decision to stop reading internet feedback on one's work; Conan O'Brien's coxcomb of hair; New York's inherent masochism, and Los Angeles' bus stops full of people who look just about to surrender; the pleasures of New York's crosstown buses and the agonies of its garbage trains; Los Angeles' lack of an excuse for shuffling around in flip-flops; his heightened suspicion of venues that aggressively promise good times, and what aggressive promises of laughter can do to comedy; the ultimately fruitless technique of reliable joke insertion, which reveals an anxiety to hold an audience's attention and in so doing loses that attention; that particular Conan O'Brien brand of delivering silliness and lasting memories at once; and the haunting question of telling which of your actions indicate maturity, and which indicate complacency.
(Photo: Lisa Whiteman)
Fri, 11 May 2012
Colin Marshall sits down at KPCC headquarters in Pasadena with Tony Pierce, the station's blog editor, former editor at LAist and blog editor at the Los Angeles Times, and author of the Busblog. They discuss the time when he was the only English-language blogger to ride the bus; the longing for Los Angeles that brought him out of the Chicago suburbs; his years in the collegiate Eden of Isla Vista; making like the rich young prince in the bible and selling all his stuff in order to leave San Francisco and come back to Los Angeles; beginning to blog as a way to let all the city's single ladies know he was here; his encounters with different groups of people on different transit lines, and his strategic use of the subway for drinking; how people in Los Angeles can live here for decades without ever bothering to be truly present, and how they might do that in any city in the world; his push, while editing LAist, to tap into as great a variety of voices and experiences as possible; his belief that the Busblog, despite its explosive popularity, never deserved to get known at all; the fixture of Los Angeles literary culture that is the paradoxically positive Charles Bukowski; and how, in all of the Busblog's non-fanciness, he still wants to let the ladies of the world know he's available.
Sat, 5 May 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in an undisclosed Hollywood-ish location with Mark "Frosty" McNeill, co-founder and creative captain of the internet radio "future roots music" collective Dublab. They discuss founding an internet radio station in 1999, when everything sounded like a tin-can phone; the nature of future roots, where the very old meets the very new, the very traditional meets the very experimental, and everything sounds different yet retains a common undercurrent; Dublab's mission to curate the curators, or "DJ the DJs"; his theory that all art is derivative, especially all music, but in a good way; his days doing gruntwork at USC's classical station, and the roomful of free John Cage, Terry Riley, and Nonesuch albums it afforded him; Dublab's early courtship by the companies of the internet bubble, and the free lunches (and nothing else) this offered; Los Angeles' great advantages of diversity and space, of both the physical and mental varieties; what about music seems to incentivize narrow rather than wide appreciation, and how to get around that without being a pusher man; Secondhand Sureshots, the short documentary he co-directed, and what it says about the importance of repurposing forgotten and obscure sounds; whether and how the dust on a record acts as "seasoning"; and the joy of reconstructing someone's personality by buying their record collection at a thrift store — and how he did just that by giving it a spin on his show Celsius Drop.
Mon, 30 April 2012
Colin Marshall sits down at NPR West in Culver City with Andy Bowers, Executive Producer of Slate's podcasts and fourth-generation Angeleno. They discuss his status as a "secret Angeleno"; what it takes to introduce microphones into entertaining conversations without things getting tiresome; the difference between podcasts as podcasts and podcasts as imitation radio; discovering the joy of biking in Los Angeles; the city's troubled downtown bike lanes and what they emblematize about local civic projects; what problems arise when you try to get anything accomplished in a city with 88 distinct municipalities; Roger Rabbit, Chinatown, and the allure of mythical Los Angeles malice; whether or not you can really move into a Woody Allen movie; his youth in Los Angeles and his return which converted the city from an adolescent one into an adult one; the various placements and interpretations of Los Angeles' great east-west divide; his time at National Public Radio bureaus in London and Moscow, and the accessibility of those cities' cultural institutions; his time producing Day to Day, and the loss of public radio's old eclecticism; podcasting as radio's skunkworks, especially in this podcasting Mecca of southern California; podcast listeners connecting with hosts even more than with content; and why Stephen Metcalf stirs so many people up, anyway.
(Photo: Steve McFarland)
Tue, 24 April 2012
Colin Marshall takes a trip to the 99¢ Only Store and beyond with Billy Vasquez, better known as the 99 Cent Chef. They discuss the store as a prime venue for peoplewatching (whether the people dress in their Sunday best or in pink-striped miniskirts); the appeal of midcentury Googie diner architecture; how he drove out to Venice Beach on the 10 and stayed in Los Angeles for 37 years; the meaty usefulness of both chorizo and soyrizo; asparagus, a product you'd never have found at any 99-cent store a decade ago; 99-cent Italian beer with 99-cent Italian pasta, and 99-cent German beer with 99-cent German chocolate cake-coated marshmallows; ingredient substitution (like cumin for curry powder) as the essential skill of the 99-cent gourmand; the strange allure of Vienna Sausage corn dogs; inventing the only pasta that pays tribute to John Cassavetes; the suicidal possibilities of marshmallow ropes; the delicious possibilities of portobello crab rockefeller; the Banquet-to-Contessa spectrum of frozen dinners; the two-piece 99-cent deal to be had every Tuesday at Popeyes'; the Los Angeles Expo Line as a glorious passageway to places like Earlez Grille, Let's Be Frank, and Chef Marilyn's Soul Food Express, and his adventures at cheap eateries on rail lines past; how his Cajun heritage taught him, with nutria and crayfish, that you can eat anything; his street photography, and the Restaurant Nocturnes video series that came out of it; and all of the fascinating contradictions of Los Angeles, a city both beautiful and tarnished, that just might disappear if you don't water it.
Tue, 17 April 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in West Hollywood with Michael Silverblatt, host of the literary interview program Bookworm from KCRW in Santa Monica since 1989. They discuss how he's managed to host a book show for so long "in Los Angeles, of all places;" the near-racist tradition of New York writers savaging Los Angeles in the thirties and forties; introducing the likes of Edward St. Aubyn to Angelenos and others well beyond; radio as a dreamlike "mad tea party," whether dreamt in one's car or at one's computer; the band Sparks as American humorists, the writes Krys Lee as an exponent of ethnic writing as both exotic and erotic, and how to recommend both without resorting to anything so uninteresting as opinion; being not a critic, and not a fan, but an omnivorous conversationalist; the lamentable rise of "patented hip taste;" how Terence Malick's Badlands drew him out to Los Angeles from the East Coast; the Angeleno phobia of cultural confrontation; Los Angeles' failure to insist upon or preserve its genius; not driving because you never learned versus not driving because you don't know how to get the money for a car; America as a "cavalcade of marvels;" and the importance of accepting and existing the confusion of an ungraspable whole, whether its the whole of a book, of a film, of an album, or of Los Angeles.
Wed, 11 April 2012
Colin Marshall walks through Larchmont with Molly McAleer, co-founder of HelloGiggles and writer for CBS' Two Broke Girls. They discuss the definition of internet fame, especially when one's internet debut comes in a photo funneling a beer; whether moving to Los Angeles after graduating from the disappointingly party-free Boston College counts as a betrayal of Boston; her avoidance of the label "humorist," and thus any association with Mark Twain; her time at Defamer, which gave her a "magical" view of Los Angeles, and what she'd say to those who accuse it and every other Gawker site of hastening the decline of western civilization; joining Two Broke Girls at the height of the Whitney Cummings boom; Koreatown, her point of entry into Los Angeles after having lived in a frat house with 32 dudes; aging a thousand years after spending six in Los Angeles; how much of a discount on nail polish counts as a deep discount on nail polish; her struggle to be as popular with her friends as her mom; the resurgence of press-on nails; experiencing utter brokeness in Los Angeles, and getting banned from using Google ads when those friends tried to help her out; cookies aside, the reduced presence of the Girl Scouts, except in cases of high-profile transsexual trouble; her resistance to driving, and her feeling that some people are meant to drive, while others are meant to be driven; the basic tasks of life that somehow never get taught; manicures as the last bastion of personal maintenance; and how hard it is to avoid humblebragging when The Wonder Years' Fred Savage directs your script.
Wed, 4 April 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in downtown Los Angeles with Pico Iyer, writer about place — both our dreams of it and its realities. They discuss his new book The Man Within My Head; how best to introduce Graham Greene's The Quiet American to new readers; how he started a book on being a pleasantly bewildered foreigner in Japan and finished a book about Greene, brush fires, and his own father; the roles of fathers both chosen and unchosen; the ultimate unknowability of other people, and the form of intimacy found in accepting that not-knowing; graduating from school into a British Empire twenty years dead; his Fowlerian perspective to Los Angeles' Pyle; England under the burden of too much past, California under the burden of too little, and his inoculation against the excesses of both by having oscillated between them; his return to England in the form of Japan; how Los Angeles anthologizes the world within itself versus how Japan does, and how Los Angeles handles its multiculturalism versus how Toronto does; his distrust of words, and Greene's distrust of everything but words; his father's interaction with the children of the 1960s' Californian counterculture, and Hunter S. Thompson chronicling the collapse of that culture while seeing idealism without ideology; living friends as traveling companions versus dead authors as traveling companions; and Greene as, at once, his predictor, reflector, guide, understander, and anticipator.
(Photo: Derek Shapton)
Fri, 30 March 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Atwater Village with comedy writer and music video director Scott Jacobson, who has written for programs like The Daily Show, Squidbillies, and Bob's Burgers, and made videos for artists like Nick Lowe, Superchunk, and The National. They discuss the comedic style of George Herriman's Krazy Kat and whether a place exists for it today; expectations, the enemy of comedy; what it means that the likes of Adult Swim and Tim & Eric can thrive in today's world, or if they indeed thrive in it; The Daily Show's rise alongside George W. Bush's, and the trickiness of presenting its voice as the voice of reason; the feeling of finally getting a foothold in New York, and the sense of personal failing that comes from not loving it; whether anyone else misses the obscure cruelty of Craig Kilborn's Daily Show; the "journalistic vamp" and other news filler, up to and including Glenn Beck's moment of popularity; the "trash compactor of reality" that is political coverage, and the solace offered by a Squidbillies or a Bob's Burgers; his childhood love of the divisive Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist; the way critical opinion eventually came to elevate Carl Barks' Scrooge McDuck Comics, and the joy of bringing something in "low art," like Hospitality's "Friends of Friends," to the public's attention; using ridiculous contexts to smuggle genuine content; New York's manic energy that insistently pushes you forward; and the phenomenon of "really smart people doing really stupid things" that, championed by the David Lettermans and Conan O'Briens of the world, has risen to prominence in modern comedy.
Mon, 26 March 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Westwood with William Flesch, professor at Brandeis University and author of Comeuppance: Costly Signaling, Altruistic Punishment, and Other Biological Components of Fiction. They discuss José Saramago's way with obscure Biblical episodes; literary Darwinism and its discontents; why and how we get concerned with what happens to fictional characters at all; the difference between stories we care about versus stories we don't; how we recommend books, films, and shows to friends, thus caring about how they care about how characters care about one another; Michael Haneke's scary Funny Games viewed with an audience and Michael Haneke's ludicrous Funny Games viewed at home; what's so great about Wittgenstein; the trade-off between humanizing and monsterizing your viliains, as with Hitler in Max and The Boys from Brazil; the perfect biological pitching of Onion's 9/11 headline "Hijackers Surprised To Find Selves In Hell"; what makes the 19th-century novels of George Eliot, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, and William Makepeace Thackeray so gripping; our desire to feel we've misjudged characters; Buffy, Angel, and our bets about liking them; and characterization and reversion to type all the way from Shylock to Stewie Griffin.
Download the interview from Notebook on Cities and Culture’s feed here or on iTunes here.
Thu, 22 March 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Larchmont with comedy writer Megan Ganz, who's written for the Onion and Important Things with Demetri Martin, and now writes for NBC's Community. They talk about easing her transition from New York to Los Angeles with the Coen Brothers' Barton Fink; Los Angeles as an unfurnished apartment to New York as a furnished one; her fond memories of aimless subway trips; what we don't know about growing up in Michigan, especially regarding the preparation of vegetables and local pride in Tim Allen; the Onion as something to aspire to in adolescence; the best comedy's tendency to happen naturally, without being in on its own jokes; what one would get wrong by assuming Community, the "show that can get away with anything," represents a model of sitcoms today; her use of the voices of various characters and institutions rather than he own; the comedy gold to be mined from misalignments between tone and content; community college-going as a hobby; and the lingering question that hangs over certain people, places, and operations: "How serious are you?"
Mon, 19 March 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Santa Monica with Wade Major, senior film critic at Boxoffice, co-host of IGN's Digigods, and regular participant on KPCC's Filmweek. They discuss what Sucker Punch represents the coagulation of; whether it is a greater crime for Zack Snyder to make Zack Snyder movies sincerely, or for Zack Snyder to make Zack Snyder movies cynically; the importance of spontaneity, not formula, to creative business; the simultaneous democratization of criticism and of filmmaking itself; the world he emerged out of film school into; his father's career in silent pictures; the philosophical differences between the film schools at USC, UCLA, and CalArts; the possibilities of a new business model for criticism meant to be read after seeing the movie; Pauline Kael's conception of criticism as a means of keeping filmmakers honest; bigtime directors' assumptions that they can't make films about their real passions; The Artist as it taps into both filmmakers' and critics' fears of getting left behind; how without taste, you've lost; feeding off the energy of a roomful of strangers in actual theatrical screenings, and learning something about yourself at the same time; the "dysfunctional family" that is the Los Angeles Film Critics Association; the critic's mandate to move film into a larger cultural context; and the director's mandate to get out into the world and live before ever shooting a frame.
(Photo: Kristi Lake)
Wed, 14 March 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Los Feliz with comedy writer, baseball reporter, and Twitter "suggested user" Alison Agosti. They discuss the preferred pronunciation of "Los Feliz"; Rancho Cucamonga's chief industry of teenage pregnancy; how Los Angeles looked while she was growing up in the Inland Empire; the promise of New York as a land of letters, art, and coats; her mass childhood purchase of used Woody Allen tapes, including but not limited to Husbands and Wives; the morning she woke up to 1500 e-mails from Twitter in her inbox; her realization that comedy writing could count as a job; what it takes to get on a Maude team; her struggle to coming up with new ways to write "hit the ball" or to present a narrative in a 2-1 game against the Diamondbacks; her music blog Headphones In; finding humor in the complicated, as unworkable as it can end up in a sketch; raking in the Twitter stars by mentioning eating something weird by yourself; her weariness of apologizing for Los Angeles, a city that doesn't work against you except when you can't find parking; Venice, either the "weirder" or "non-shitty" Santa Monica; how we only children who refuse to network or compete can explain ourselves to actual grown-ups; the appeal of the intelligent, loud, brilliant but unself-aware Woody Allen-type character; what she likes to satirize in herself; playing (but not beating) Ecco the Dolphin on the Sega Genesis; and "the woman-in comedy thing," which turns out not to be a thing at all.
(Photo: Philip Eierund)
Sat, 10 March 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in the Los Angeles Central Library's courtyard with John Rabe, host of Off-Ramp, KPCC's weekend pointillist portrait of Southern California. They discuss the merits of recording in a library courtyard and in Cheech Marin's house in Malibu; picking a road in Los Angeles and following it wherever it goes; the troubled history of Cypress Park and the truth about the Isabel Street shooting; the Los Angeles "churn" and the effect of constant neighborhood change on the historical consciousness; the historical bounty to be found in the Los Angeles Public Library's photo collection; the city's rising optimism and falling crime (and its lack of a mob); the McMartin preschool trial; his desire to live in a place with the word "gardens" in its name; his tendency to look ahead, not back, and to move randomly, not in patterns, and how that shapes Off-Ramp's character; his anger at drivers who slow down on the freeway with their brakes; his plan to banish citizens who break the social contract and institute a Waste and Fraud Corruption Lottery to give money to the rest; the lessons of Carmageddon; what makes radio documentaries sustain; and how, if you want to create radio, you should just break out your iPhone (or whatever you have) and record something.
(Photo: Karl Rabe)
Tue, 6 March 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in North Hollywood with film and television critic David Bax, co-host of the podcasts Battleship Pretension and Previously On. They discuss his fifth-grade shoving match over Ghostbusters; the difference between criticism and the assertion of one's opinions; being a film and television critic while living right near the heart of film and television production; Chicago's advantages as a filmgoing city, including but not limited to the Gene Siskel Film Center; discovering a cinephile community on the bus; St. Louis and other cities' loss of local critics writing with local sensibilities; whether the aspiring critic must first reject working in production; the sharpening of his critical perspectives on formalism and structuralism as revealed by Michael Mann's Public Enemies; if a critic should tell an audience why they like a film, why the audience should like a film, why the audience should pay attention to a film, or simply how a film works; why the internet offers a superior medium for television criticism; what television can do that film can't, and why to watch them differently; whether television shows labor under a corrupting business model; Treme, New Orleans and geographical verisimilitude; the askew real-placeness of many Los Angeles productions; the outdated marketing of television as evidenced by the Whitney billboards that once littered town; how and why to avoid approaching art as commodity; what he would say to those who who don't consider criticism a "real job" (and how he would agree with them); and the necessity of discussing film and television as if for posterity, just as a program like The Sopranos seems to have been created for it.
(Photo: Jenny Smith)
Fri, 2 March 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in North Hollywood at midnight with film critic Tyler Smith, co-host of the podcast Battleship Pretension and host of the podcast More than One Lesson. They discuss the strong associations between diners late at night and talk about movies; his struggle to stay in Chicago and ultimate move to Los Angeles; his choice between screenwriting and film criticism; film criticism's relationship with the kinds of conversations film geeks have; the impulse to start a podcast, and what it took to understand what makes a fascinating film discussion; how to talk to comedians about film, even if they claim not to care about the medium; his return to his old church in Nixa, Missouri to give a lecture about the film industry in Los Angeles; the concept of discernment not just in criticism, but in Christianity; the power and influence some Christian ideas about film ascribe purely to content; Fight Club and the attitude pictures hold to their own content; whether film reflects the personality of its creators or possesses one of its own; and how much one wants to get to know the personality behind a film when that personality happens to be, say, Orson Welles'.
Tue, 28 February 2012
Colin Marshall sits down at the Los Angeles Central Library downtown with Map Librarian Glen Creason, author of Los Angeles in Maps. They discuss the point at which Los Angeles becomes not just a place to live but a subject; riding the old Pacific Electric streetcars that prompted the city to grow so large in the firs place; using maps to see the influence of trains, water, the movies, and oil on the city's spread, growing up in the "Leave it to Beaver territory" of South Gate; early Los Angeles-boosters selling the city by employing mapmakers' sleight of hand; downtown's death in the sixties and seventies, and its more recent revival; learning little but having a lot of fun at UCLA during the Summer of Love; when the city "took a breath and reinvented itself," Los Angeles' uniquely dramatic geographical setting; how multiculturalism took hold from the very beginning; what it took to build the Third Street Tunnel; how miracles of civic engineering turned into freeway frustration; the non-disaster of "Carmageddon"; where the water in the Los Angeles River went, and how it remains useful as a navigational aid; the American notion of creating an Eden; whether Los Angeles is, as the posters say, "a world in itself"; former Italian and German communities, and current Indian and Chinese ones; the city's surprising new walkability; whether the "driver's paradise" days of twenty minutes to everywhere really happened at all; becoming the Map Librarian serendipitously; Los Angeles' past of rabbits, gambling ships, and Central Avenue jazz clubs; what happened in Chavez Ravine; how good intentions in Los Angeles' development have often led to reconsideration; how even longtime Angelenos learn from the ways the constant influx of new Angelenos approach the city; and the endless last rites given to Los Angeles that it never quite needs.
Fri, 24 February 2012
Colin Marshall sits down at Bourgeois Pig in Hollywood with Eliza Skinner, comedian, musical improviser, comedic rap-battle impresario, writer, and the woman of the one-woman show Eliza Skinner is Shameless. They discuss a Scotsman who left his wife possibly due and possibly not due to what he felt in her onstage spirit; the one-way intimacy of performance; the proper cultivation of one's personal brand; the odd confluence of skills required for the non-career (absent an eccentric billionaire) of musical improvisation, and the fear some have of practicing them; when New York felt like one big "last call"; the apparent ease of performing in Los Angeles as a buoy for the spirit; breaking the shackles of "musical improviser" as an identity; the women of Shameless like Amy and Karen, who compulsively complicate their lives in ways they don't understand; matching mother-daughter breast implants; the lack of female characters who are lovable yet not likable; the fact that nobody, given that everyone plays the hero in their own story, thinks of themselves as an asshole; the fears of being misunderstood, of foxholes, and of getting stuck in underwater tubes; Tyler Perry, who honed his craft on the theatrical "chitlin' circuit," as the ideal career model; the logistical requirements of setting up freestyle rap battles; and what it takes for RuPaul to deem you "shelarious."
(Photo: Tyler Ross)
Tue, 21 February 2012
Colin Marshall sits down at Fat Dog in West Hollywood with comedian and actor Jordan Morris, co-host of the comedy podcast Jordan, Jesse, Go!, writer on the web series MyMusic, former host of Fuel TV's The Daily Habit, and creator of satirical commercials for "Gamewave" and the "Action Circle." They talk about growing up in Orange County with the solace of ska music; The Simpsons' un-overstatable influence on the current generation of young comedy writers; whether and how "Family-Guyization" is affecting comedic culture; the usefulness of college as "a place to be bad for a while"; how those who move to Los Angeles from other major cities have gone blind to their hometowns' sources of suckiness; the prohibitive cost of a bedazzled T-shirt; what kind of a golden calf Conan O'Brien's show represents for today's comedic minds; "gab podcasts" and the rapidly diminishing viability thereof; the temptation to pander to your audience, whichever audience your medium determines you have; whether working at an "action sports" channel made for a living hell; how and why fifteen-year-olds maintain their alienness to non-fifteen-year-olds; and how best to satirize the troubled relationship some hardcore gamers have with human sexuality.
(Photo: Pat Weir)
Fri, 17 February 2012
Colin Marshall sits down at the La Brea Tar Pits with David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times book critic, editor of the anthologies Writing Los Angeles, Another City, and Cape Cod Noir, and author of The Myth of Solid Ground, The Lost Art of Reading, and the upcoming novella Labyrinth. They talk about his attitude as a young New Yorker moving to Los Angeles; his approach to everything in life through the filter of books; his "graduate education" writing for the mythologized oasis of writerly cool that was the Los Angeles Reader; the importance of competition in print journalism; criticism as the search for the most important questions; how to talk about a city that doesn't know how to talk about itself; how to have a coherent conversation about a city that resists coherent conversation; the "sacred ordinariness" of Los Angeles; how literature of exile became literature of place; ersatz public and protected pseudo-urban space; whether the city will feel the same ten years from now; whether we'll still have what architectural critic Reyner Banham described as an "autopia" ten years from now; how narrative offers our only hope of meaning, yet only offers meaning up to a point; and what happens when our narratives go bad, assuming we notice.
(Photo: Noah Ulin)
Tue, 14 February 2012
Colin Marshall sits down in Hollywood with comedian, actor, and novelist DC Pierson, man behind the one-man show DC Pierson is Bad at Girls, one-third of the Mystery Team of Mystery Team, and the author of The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To. They talk about innate, unchanging age; teenage blogging; Daria; the compulsion to read criticism; moving to Los Angeles from New York; avoiding falling into the standard complaint-driven narratives of young New York writers who move to Los Angeles; whether and how Los Angeles is shinin'; the mysteries surrounding how many Hollywood residents earn their income; building things rather than tearing things down; becoming the butt of your own jokes; blogging one's first hundred days in Los Angeles; and the inherent criminality of existing in one's twenties.
(Photo: Zac Wolf)