The people in the psychedelic world had been religious but had always covered it up. There was such a bad odor about being frankly religious. I mean Kesey would refer to Cosmo, meaning God; someone in the group used the word manager. Hugh Romney [a.k.a. Wavy Gravy] used to say, “I’m in the pudding and I’ve met the manager.”
On unusual style / carrying yourself as a reporter:
When I first started at Esquire, I made the mistake of trying to fit in. And given the kind of things I was sent to cover – stock car racing, the Peppermint Lounge, topless restaurants in San Francisco – not only did I not fit in no matter how hard I tried, but I would deprive myself of the opportunity to ask very basic questions that the outsider can ask. You just discover after awhile that people like to be asked questions they know the answers to.
be an odd, eccentric character… people will volunteer information to you
On American literature:
In France they discovered Faulkner – not as we would, as a very complex and somewhat arty writer, but as a primitive who had barely emerged from the ooze, somehow, to write.
At the same time they were admiring the energetic, classless and low-rent, rude, animal side of American art, our artists were striving like mad to shed all of that and to stop being hicks and rustics.
re: The Painted Word and From Bauhaus to Our House
I want people to pay attention to what I think is my sole contribution in these areas – showing how certain fashions, certain styles, certain trends come about. They’re not like the weather. Most of our critics and historians seem to think that styles are like Bermuda highs. That it’s the spirit of the age and so cosmic in nature that you don’t have to think about how it happened. You just note that it happened, and if the weather is serious enough, you bow down. What I keep saying is that styles are created by people. And the task of a historian – which is all I picture myself as in these books – is to find out who these people are and what the competitions were that brought the styles out.
On advice to young journalists:
You should get up your courage and approach the biggest magazine you can think of that might be interested in the subject. Approach a junior editor rather than the man at the top, because the junior editors are in competition with one another to discover new writers. Even if you’ve already written it, present the story idea to the editor, because editors like to feel that they’re part of the creative process. Wait a decent interval of about two weeks and then send them a manuscript. Magazines will be in a receptive mood if you have approached them ahead of time. They’ll want it to be good, they’ll want to buy it, and they’ll want it to be a success. There’s a continual shortage of good writers and good journalists. It’s really not an overcrowded field because there’s not that much talent to go around. A lot of it is having the determination and perseverance to do the reporting.
There are several references to an article I’m not sure I’d read before, about carrier pilots operating off the USS Coral Sea, dodging missiles over North Vietnam, “The Truest Sport: Jousting with Sam and Charlie,” which you can read here on Esquire’s website.
Status competition, that’s what interests Wolfe.
Making writing appear spontaneous:
I wanted the writing to appear buoyant, free and easy, spontaneous. Creating the effect of spontaneity in writing is one of the most difficult and artificial things you can do. I was much relieved to learn that Celine used to spend four or five years rewriting his novels in order to achieve the effect of someone just sitting down across the table from you, spouting up the story of his life. Writing is an extremely artificial business: it’s artificial by its very nature – you’re taking sounds and converting them into symbols on a page. To make that transference from one sense to another and reinvest the words with vigor and rhythm and spontaneity is quite a feat.
my intention, my hope, was always to get inside of these people, inside their central nervous systems, and present their experience in print from the inside.
[after he wrote an attack on The New Yorker, and everybody came after him]
I suddenly found myself denounced by the likes of Joseph Alsop, Walter Lippman (he called me an ass in print), Murray Kempton, a distinguished columnist for the New York Post. Richard Goodwin called up from the White House to denounce me; E. B. White; even J. D. Salinger, whom the press hadn’t heard from for years, sent in a telegram denouncing me as a yellow journalist. I really felt that perhaps the world was coming to an end. All these eminent people descended upon me, and I felt the sky was falling in. Then a few days later I woke up, and nothing had happened. It dawned on m that it’s very difficult to get hurt in a literary fight. In a strange way, all the shouting and shooting and the explosion were part of the literary excitement.
(funny that one of the criticisms, J.D. Salinger’s term, was that Wolfe’s attack was “gleeful.”
The next two are from an interview with Ron Reagan in “GEO, 1983. The prompt here is about Pol Pot and the then rampant Khmer Rouge:
So much of the political thought and fashion among writers and other commentators in the United States is based on the idea that liberty has always existed in a kind of mist over the left. In this country there have been very few ideologues, but there has often been a Marxist mist, the idea that there is something wonderful about socialism that if pursued correctly will lead to liberty, peace, harmony and the betterment of man in a way that nothing going on in modern industrial nation can. In the past ten years it’s been discovered that socialism, when put into effect by experts, leads only to extermination camps. This has been a terrible blow to a very fashionable idea. That’s why it’s embarrassing to dwell on Pol Pot. Pol Pot is not a maniac. He’s a man who studied the future for his country for years starting in France, and the whole Khmer Rouge movement was probably as rational an undertaking under a Marxist ruler as has ever occurred. Everywhere the experts have put socialism into effect, the result has been the gulag. Now to point this out is to be regarded as right wing. I regard it only as obvious – so obvious, in fact, that you have to be crazy to avert your eyes from it.
On why writers like Hemingway and Mailer are interested in fighters and “people who got their hands dirty”:
For this analysis, I go to Sigmund Freud. He said that writers and artists are people who discovered as youngsters that they lost out in the hurly-burly of the playground. They discovered, however, that they had the power to fantasize about such things, about the fruits of power, such as money, glory and beautiful lovers. In a way, that resonated with the fantasies and dreams of other people who were not so talented. When they are successful in presenting these fantasies to the public, they end up achieving through fantasy that which they were previously able to achieve only in fantasy. But somehow it’s not enough to be known as someone who is a skilled fantasist. That is second best; it would have been much better to have ruled the playground. So they constantly try to prove to themselves that they can rule the playground if they really try. But only rarely do you run into an obsession like that.
Wolfe later mentions he things handguns should be banned:
I think if manufacture and sale stopped, the price of the ones remaining would go up on the black market. If it became a felony nationally to possess a handgun and there was a public call to turn them in , I think you’d be surprised at how many would be turned in.
Wolfe had really done his homework to develop his styles.
I really made a concentrated effort to get in the game. I adapted a lot of things I had run across in graduate school. For example, there were these early experimental Soviet writers like Aleksei Remizov, Boris Pilniak, Andrei Sobel and the Serapion Brothers. One of them, Yevegeni Zamyatin, was best known for We, the book that Orwell’s 1984 was based on. From Zamyatin, I got the idea of oddly punctuated inner thoughts. I began using a lot of exclamation points and dashes and multiple colons. The idea was, that’s the way people think.
The four basic techniques of novels Wolfe tried to introduce to nonfiction:
The first is scene-by-scene construction. In other words, telling the entire story through a sequence of scenes rather than simple historical narration. Second is the use of real dialogue – the more the better. The third, which is the least understood of the techniques, is the use of status details. That is, noting articles of clothing, manners, the way people treat children, the way they treat servants. All the things that indicate where a person thinks he fits in society and where he hopes to go socially. The fourth is the use of point of view, which is depicting the scenes through a particular pair of eyes.
Re: psychedelia and mus:
Without that world, without Ken Kesey and the Grateful Dead, there would have been no serious music by the Beatles. They take off from the Grateful Dead, starting with that album Revolver. Everything from Revolver on comes out of the American psychedelic world, to which they were turned on by Bob Dylan – in person, in private. Not by listening to his records, but by getting involved with him personally.
Here’s another thing that’s now like a foreign notion. The seven deadly sins are all sins against the self. And this is an idea that’s vanished pretty much. Lust for example. The reason that lust in Christian religion was – particularly in the form of Catholicism that originated the seven deadly sins – was considered a sin was not that some man would be leading some nice girl from Akron into white slavery, or the pages of pornographic magazines, but that he would be hurting himself by wasting his spirit on this shallow and pointless, base passion.
I hope editor Dorothy Scura doesn’t mind me quoting so extensively from her book, which is itself a roundup of other interviews. My goal is simply to share some of these wonderful insights with likeminded readers.
There was a period when I was working on a novel, not working a steady job, and I figured, “I should make sure I at least hear an hour of human conversation a day.” That was the time in my life when I watched the most Charlie Rose.
The Charlie Rose Show website used to be elegantly organized. It’s still good, but there was a neat way it used to be indexed, there was section called like “writers on writing” I appreciated.
Charlie Rose has now been banished for his crimes which sound bad enough. Sometimes in the wake of what’s (perhaps unfortunately) called “the MeToo movement” I hear like “well what about due process?!” or arguments along those lines. But shouldn’t our public media gatekeeper/narrative shapers be not just merely not sex pests, but in fact above reproach? Couldn’t we have higher standards for our public broadcasters?
This got me riled about about Brett Kavanaugh as well — like, can’t we find someone for the Supreme Court who can’t be credibly accused of anything? I believe it is possible!
Anyway. Here are some memories of moments on Charlie Rose that stuck in my craw:
- The Franzen/DFW/Mark Leyner “Future of Fiction” episode
- When John Grisham was on, and Charlie asked him “what advice would you give to an aspiring writer?” Grisham said, “figure out where you’re going to get your paycheck from.”
- Charlie needling David McCullough about selling the rights to John Adams to Tom Hanks. McCullough was going on about how Hanks came to him with the book all marked up and noted, and how THAT was what convinced him. Charlie: “But surely some money changed hands, David.”
- Charlie would often say to a guest, who was just back from Iraq or whatever, “take me there.” (In fact, I think Charlie himself even called attention to this technique.
- Charlie referencing his “girlfriend”
- In a Remembering John Updike episode, David Remnick (or maybe Updike’s editor, or both) noting that Updike wanted to “get it all down.” Like, all of life, his every thought. Is this a good instinct?
- Charlie saying “c’mon, Toby” to Tobias Scheeman’s bullshit justification about why he had sex with a Papua New Guinean tribesman in Keep The River On Your Right
During a speech in November 1957 Eisenhower employed the saying again. He told an anecdote about the maps used during U.S. military training. Maps of the Alsace-Lorraine area of Europe were used during instruction before World War I, but educational reformers decided that the location was not relevant to American forces. So the maps were switched to a new location within the U.S. for planning exercises. A few years later the military was deployed and fighting in the Alsace-Lorraine: 2
I tell this story to illustrate the truth of the statement I heard long ago in the Army: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of “emergency” is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning.
I remember learning at the Nixon library about Nixon’s writing routine when he wrote this book in a house in Apple Valley, CA:
He used a Dictaphone or wrote longhand, working in seclusion, according to Esquire Magazine.
For breakfast, he ate a bowl of Grape Nuts and drank a can of orange juice. He wrote until noon, then paused for a ham sandwich.
Believe I first heard Eisenhower’s quote from Jeff Melvoin at a WGA showrunner training like mini-camp. I’ve found it profound.
One time a female Uber driver told me the secret to winning over women is “plan ahead.”
A brief skim of Eisenhower images on NARA.GOV leads us to this gem
Noticed something about myself, but maybe it’s true for you, too. I am most productive when I am a certain level of “busy.”
When I have absolutely nothing to do, like zero, I rarely get anything done.
There’s a level of overwhelmedment where I am also useless.
But at just the right level of medium busy, my machinery hums and I get a lot done.
Surely there’s meaning in this!
(Image found by doing a search on NARA.gov for “busy.”
Original Caption: Older Citizens, Retired Persons and Those Unable to Care for Themselves Physically Are Cared for in Two Community Centers. This Man Lives at the Highland Manor Retirement Home, Keeping Busy with “Old Country” Crafts. New Ulm Is a County Seat Trading Center of 13,000 in a Farming Area of South Central Minnesota. It Was Founded in 1854 by a German Immigrant Land Company That Encouraged Its Kinsmen to Emigrate From Europe.
U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 412-DA-15875
Photographer: Schulke, Flip, 1930-2008
New Ulm (Brown county, Minnesota, United States) inhabited place
Environmental Protection Agency
Persistent URL: arcweb.archives.gov/arc/action/ExternalIdSearch?id=558325
OV: You teach an MFA class at Columbia called Literature from Los Angeles. Why didyou decide to do that?
PB: Why? I guess my reason is twofold. I stole the idea from a friend of mine who actually taught a class like that. She’s always complaining, “These kids never have any setting!” So I wanted to talk about setting and what setting means, not just in terms of place but what the notions of setting are. So it’s partly that. And partly a way of getting the students to read stuff they haven’t read before. So we read Chester Himes, we read Michael Jaime-Becerra; we read Wanda Coleman, we read Karen Tei Yamashita; we readBret Easton Ellis, we read Bukowski. We read a ton of stuff.
I’d like to take the class Paul Beatty lays out in this LitHub interview. Sent me to learn about Chester Himes.
Mike Davis in City of Quartz: Excavating the Future of Los Angeles, describing the prevalence of racism in Hollywood in the 1940s and ’50s, cites Himes’ brief career as a screenwriter for Warner Brothers, terminated when Jack L. Warner heard about him and said: “I don’t want no niggers on this lot.” Himes later wrote in his autobiography:
Up to the age of thirty-one I had been hurt emotionally, spiritually and physically as much as thirty-one years can bear. I had lived in the South, I had fallen down an elevator shaft, I had been kicked out of college, I had served seven and one half years in prison, I had survived the humiliating last five years of Depression in Cleveland; and still I was entire, complete, functional; my mind was sharp, my reflexes were good, and I was not bitter. But under the mental corrosion of race prejudice in Los Angeles I became bitter and saturated with hate.
Moving stuff around in my house I found the handwritten list of words I had to look up from Suttree, by Cormac McCarthy, and their definitions.
Trull: a prostitute or a trollop.
Tellurian: an inhabitant of Earth.
Feels like I used to have a lot more spare time.
Suttree is set along the river in Knoxville, TN.
If you think Suttree might be for you, try the first sentence:
Dear friend now in the dusty clockless hours of the town when the streets lie black and steaming in the wake of the watertrucks and now when the drunk and the homeless have washed up in the lee of walls in alleys or abandoned lots and cats go forth highshouldered and lean in the grim perimeters about, now in these sootblacked brick or cobbled corridors where lightwire shadows make a gothic harp of cellar doors no soul shall walk save you.
some recent Twitter stir about John Wayne’s unwoke Playboy interview from the ’70s got me looking up a phrase that stuck in my craw since I read it. It’s Charles Portis, author of True Grit, telling his impression of seeing Wayne on a movie set.
What impressions do you have of John Wayne from the film?
“Wayne was a bigger man than I expected. He was actually bigger than his image on screen, both in stature and presence. One icy morning, very early, before sunrise, we were all having breakfast in a motel…. A tourist came over to speak. Wayne rose to greet her. He stood there, not fidgeting and just hearing her out, but actively listening, and chatting with her in an easy way, as his fried eggs congealed on the plate. I took this to be no more than his nature. A gentleman at four o’clock on a cold morning is indeed a gentleman.”
Found that here on the Fort Smith National Historic Site website.