Interviews, Outliers

Kay Taylor (Parker), Taking the light behind enemy lines, Part 1.


Kay Taylor (Parker) is perhaps best known as the star of the (in)famous pornographic film series Taboo, which fetishized mother-son incest and oedipal desire. The controversy around the film is well-known, but what is little known is the story of the real-person of Kay Taylor. Kay remained in the industry for 10 years, and has reached a sort of iconic status by some purveyors of porn, but she could not exist farther from that world, spiritually, ethically, emotionally.

Taylor lives and works in Santa Monica, California, and her work as a spiritual healer and intuitive could be seen as the polar opposite her work in her past life, but that would be a misguided view. Taylor is a person that has graciously lived and seen her life as a continuum, a process of refinement, a work in progress, always towards the eventual goal of more light, more grace, more peace and truth.

This two-part interview took place at her  home in Santa Monica, where she instantly made me feel comfortable. The conversation ranged from her upbringing in the UK and Malta to the impetus for her coming to America and getting involved in “The Industry”, from her reputation as “the prude of porn” to her associations that influenced her spiritual path and current community.

Kay’s website offers more detail about her life journey and work:

The first part of the interview deals with Kay’s upbringing, history, and involvement in the industry, and part 2 is a  conversation concerning her spiritual work and focus. The interview begins after my having answered some questions posed by her concerning my career path and what sustains me.

KTP      …Yeah, well, there are no mistakes.  Obviously you know that’s what you’re meant to be doing, and uh, you know, personally I’ve always worked outside the box so you know, there are uh, challenges with that.

PH        Hm.

KTP      (Laughing)

PH        Yeah.  We’ll talk about that because I wanna know what some of those challenges are because one of the things that I’m interested in is how people  sort of take these circuitous, interesting paths, and how the experience sustains and enriches them,  You know what I mean?

KTP      Yeah.

PH        I mean, just being able to sort of make things work.

KTP      Trust.

PH        Yes, you know what I’m talking about!

KTP      Trust my relationship to God.

PH        Yeah.

KTP      It’s that simple.

PH        Yeah.

KTP      God provides.  One way or another.

PH        The more simple the better?

KTP      Yeah.  I mean, I could elaborate upon that of course, and I’m sure we will as we talk on.  But essentially you know, people say how do you do it? And I say, well I have my challenges but wherever I go, I always go back inside, go back to God and remember who I am, why I came here to this planet, what my mission is and center myself in that, and then suddenly everything gets handled.

PH        Yeah, yeah.

KTP      You know, one way or another.

PH        Have you always felt that way?

KTP      Well, I mean, I’ve been on my path, this path, in this lifetime for over 30, maybe 35 years so, always? No of course not.  You know, we all vacillate,  we all go through our ups and downs and times where you just wanna say… what?  Just, “I gotta be crazy” you know, but I’ve always had a sense of self meaning since I was a child that there was something different about me.

PH        Uh-huh.

KTP      I wrote about this in the book, you know, it’s like, the voice inside that said you’re one of the chosen ones which really translated that I was one who had chosen to be different, to be here and be what I call a light worker on the planet.  And because of that my path would not be like everybody else’s. If you would have asked me when I was a kid growing up and certainly as an adolescent, and perhaps even a 20 year old, I still had the dream of finding the perfect mate, having children, etc., etc.  But it just was not my destiny in this lifetime. I do believe that we all have a destiny and destiny lines us up with certain persons, places, events, that we need for our soul growth.

PH        What was pivotal in your understanding that facilitated your changing gears and adjusting to your current path?

KTP      Well  what changed was actually coming to LA after having already sort of gotten into film for a short while and then moving to LA, even though that was not my idea of an acting career you know.

PH        I understand.

KTP      So I think if I’m really serious about this I should move to LA, that’s the place to be.  I was in San Francisco at the time.  And so I came here and within a couple of weeks I met, number one, a numerologist who blew my mind with what he told me just by reading my numbers, and I went whoa, you know. I then joined a meditation group, and shortly after that I met two individuals, both men, who were my teachers, and then entered into what was really a seven year spiritual study program. During this time I met a friend of mine  who lives just around the corner now, with whom I’m doing a major project and it just started to become clear that this was a path that was already laid out long before I was aware of it, and that there was a destiny involved. That really my job was to align myself, and to surrender to that which is not easy to surrender to, because it means you have to relinquish your attachments to certain things, maybe everything.

PH        What was the hardest thing for you to detach from?

KTP      That’s a good question. It wasn’t hard for me to detach from my family, I had already detached from my family.  I mean, I love them and they’re still in my life but, I moved to the other side of the planet practically, away from them. There was a certain sense of oppressiveness in terms of living in England at that time. So, I guess the ongoing process of just surrendering the ego.

PH        We all get stuck in stuff.

KTP      Yeah.

PH        What I mean is that we all have our thorns in the flesh or the thorns in the spirit. We have things that trip us up and which are sort of consistent obstacles for us, and which if we are fortunate and diligent and open, maybe we get to navigate them so that they don’t become oppressive.

KTP      Yeah.

PH        So I guess, what, might be that thorn for you? What was that thing?  Or was there that thing? Not everybody has to have that, you know.

KTP      No, definitely.  As a child I had asthma, and uh, I’m sure you’ve run into this, but asthmatics, um, do you know who Louise Hay is?

PH        Uh-huh.

KTP      Yeah, okay, so in Louise Hay A to Z, you know, illnesses may be a result of the consciousness that created the illnesses and then the affirmation.  Asthma, and I’m just referring to her definition, asthma has to do with smother love or, in my interpretation of that, is not having the space to be who you are to expand, to be who you really are.  I was just writing about this actually for my website because I’m doing it over.  So, it was a constant search for who I was and not surrendering, not succumbing to anybody’s idea of who I am.  Even after being in the porno business for 10 years, it was like that’s not who I am.

PH        Uh-huh.

KTP      It’s something I happened to be doing.  Who I am is, is light, is love, is God, is spirit.  I had a father who was a strict disciplinarian, you know, naval person, and a rageaholic, you know, and consequently I struggled in my relationships with men, always had, and perhaps still always do, always will, because that in a sense keeps me on a certain razor’s edge, you know, where you’re, you’re always checking, it’s always like well, am I giving away my power?

PH        That’s interesting.  It’s interesting that you say that even when you were in the porno industry that you had a strong understanding that that was not your essence.

KTP      Uh-huh.

PH        Because you know the interesting thing about it is that it you have come notable for this deep compassionate otherness coming across in the performances.

KTP      Right. I hear that all the time, and by hearing that I know that I did my job. I don’t know if you had a chance to read this but there is a chapter called “Orgasm” in the book.

PH        I have not.

KTP      Okay.  It’s worth a read. Every once in a while I go back and read it. I refer to one of my dear dear teachers who taught me the wonderful art of kinesiology which I use, muscle testing, which I use extensively these days, always have.  He was an amazing man and he was one of these eccentric geniuses who had discovered all these tests for specific, specific consciousness’s shall we say.

PH        Uh-huh.

KTP      One day Henry called me up very excited and  said “ I’ve discovered the muscle test for passion” and I could tell this was very important, this was a man that didn’t get excited you know, he was a very sort of neutral, very evolved being. But he was excited and I said okay, I’ll be right over. Because I knew if he was excited that this would be something that would excite and interest me.  So I went over there in a flash and he said okay, sit down, knees about a foot apart, and your fingers interlaced behind your head.  I want you to think of a time when you were in passion.  So I said okay and thought of a dear friend of mine that I was in love with for many years, a Soul Brother by the way, and a well-known actor, no names mentioned.  But we were in each other lives for a long time. He was in and out of my life, but we had such a soul connection it was just a lifeline for me.  So, so I thought of one evening when he showed up with the yellow roses and the Sherry, because he knew I loved Sherry at that time, and crackling fire, you know, sensuality and…

PH        The whole thing.

KTP      So Henry said okay now, I’m going to try to push your knees together, so resist. So I’m thinking of this beautiful moment in time, and he pushed and my knees went like jello, didn’t hold. He said that wasn’t passion.  So I said whoa, okay.  So okay, he said, think of another time.  So I thought of another, same person, and same thing happened.  He said there wasn’t passion.  So I went what? Then I said wait a minute, okay, I’ve got one for you.  And I held in my consciousness the scene in Taboo, what’s called the seduction scene with the son.

PH        Uh-huh.

KTP      Held that in my consciousness and he tried to push my knees together and without even trying my knees did not budge.  He said that was passion.  And I said whoa. You know, it’s like, what are the implications here?

PH        Yeah, that’s what I wanna know.

KTP      Okay, well what is passion?  One has to define passion, right.  So passion to me is when you are connected, there’s a total connection, mind, body, spirit.  There are no rational logical thoughts, nothing in the way of you connecting on an almost tantric level. Tantric.  Whereas the other two incidences that I thought of, there was always something amiss, I was idealistic, I didn’t feel worthy of having the relationship, so I accepted what was given to me, with great relish. I definitely loved this man, but, he was off doing his thing and having multiple relationships, you know.  What I’m saying is that was what was delivered to me and that’s what I took.

PH        Right.

KTP      So it was not resonating as passion because, excuse me, um, there wasn’t a total connection.  Are those chimes too much?

PH        No, they’re wonderful, it’s fine.

KTP      Yeah they are wonderful, they just get a little loud sometimes, I can always close the door.

PH        No, they’re fine.

KTP      So, so when I thought of that and I thought whoa, and I thought no wonder that movie sold so many copies because you know, the camera doesn’t lie, and a person, even though a person may not be conscious of what they’re seeing, they are witnessing true passion, what a blessing, what a blessing.  It just so happened that my body was being used for this. And this is why spirit used me, even though I was entering a period of time where I was not comfortable with the fact that I was still doing movies. And I said Henry, why can’t I break away?  And he said well somebody’s gotta go behind enemy lines and take the light…., those were his very words.

PH        Someone has to go behind enemy lines and take the…

KTP      Take the light.

PH        The light, the light.

KTP      Consciousness, love.

PH        And so you were that somebody.

KTP      That spirit chose me. I chose back, but you know.

PH        What  were the responses  to you by the people that you worked with doing the years that you worked in porn, because obviously you were very atypical of many people who worked in that industry.  How did the men and the other women respond to you as a person?

KTP      In the business?

PH        Yeah, in the business.

KTP      They didn’t get me, they didn’t get who I was.  I mean, there were a couple of people that I deeply connected with, for reasons that they certainly weren’t conscious of, but I knew why. But for others I was just way too…I think deep was the word that was used about me, because I cared about what I did, even though this was undeniably something that was sort of taboo, it still mattered to me that I  connected deeply as I was performing. I would meditate before each scene; I would do this little sort of chanting thing where I called in the light and protection, always asked for protection. I did it very consciously, though a lot of people weren’t aware I was doing that part of it.

PH        Right, right, right.

KTP      But that, that was fine but, and then when I was done I would go home. I did not fraternize with people in the business, it wasn’t of any interest to me because I don’t do drugs, don’t drink, don’t smoke. I labeled myself for the longest time as the prude of porn.

PH        So you never did any of those things?

KTP      Oh yeah, I did them, but at that time I was weaning myself off of everything because it just didn’t work for me, it was like why do I do this? It was just peer pressure that’s all.  And I’ve always been the kind of person, it’s like don’t tell me not to do anything, I will do it and I will find out for myself.  So you know, um…

PH        You have to touch the stove, as it were.

KTP      Yeah, but it was really becoming clear to me that sexuality’s not something you mess with in an unconscious way which so many people do.  I mean, I saw in some cases the people who were making the films and their rage and their anger and it’s like, I’m not gonna put that on the screen, I’m not gonna put that in my performances because I care.  It was very idealistic, but there were several of us at that time who were really dedicated to doing something different.

PH        Well, what other people would you consider in that category?

KTP      Seka cared, and Richard Pacheco who is still to this day a buddy of mine, I love him dearly. We did a lot of TV talk shows at that time and I’m trying to remember who was…? There were a couple of women who were on the other end, on the production end who were also very dedicated to that.  Um, can’t remember the names at this point. But there were a few. I think Juliette Anderson who recently passed. She died about um, I wanna say about six months ago, and then Jamie Gillis went soon after actually. Annette Haven, Annette in her own weird and wonderful way was also dedicated to that and took no guff from anybody you know.

PH        I would this is an industry that has changed tremendously over the years.

KTP      Yeah.  And really I have to, I mean I only hear, I have no interest in it whatsoever anymore, it’s like, as I told somebody my banner has changed so much over the years, it’s not, it’s like, it’s like a dream that came and went but I, yeah, I think it inevitably has changed tremendously.  But I hear all the time about people who were still drawn to, to the vintage films because they, they had more heart and soul. We had scripts; we had multiple days in which to shoot.  You know, I mean…

PH        Some “story” or what have you.  But I have one question that I wanted to ask and then we can move on to other things.  There’s an element to the whole pornographic experience that has a strong flavor of compulsion and addiction for the men who are purveyors of it…

KTP      Yep.

PH        Men who use it on a regular basis.  When you were acting, did you ever connect to being part of that reality at any level at all, I mean, did you ever ask yourself about that?

KTP      Sure. 

PH        Yeah.

KTP      Sure, because there were gentlemen that I would run into from time to time that admitted to me that they were either hardcore addicts, or just addicted, you know, that it was far easier for them to sit at home with films than go out and actually seek a relationship.

PH        Uh-huh.

KTP      There was actually one very well known film producer who( this was after I moved to LA), called me up and told me that he had a job for me in a low budget mainstream film that he was doing that turned out to be just a ruse to…

PH        To try to get to know you?

KTP      To try to get to know me, and what was interesting, one of the amazing experiences I ever had was to sit with him while he consumed two bottles of wine, by himself because I don’t drink, and I had to walk him to his car that night. He had admitted to me over dinner that he had jerked off to me many times and he said I would much rather do that, it’s easier for me to do that than to seek a relationship or to go through the steps of having a relationship.

PH        Uh-huh.

KTP      So, as I was closing his car door, I don’t even know why I let him drive, I should have insisted, but anyway, that’s beside the point, but he said to me, he looked at me and very sort of wistfully said lady, I don’t wanna go to bed with you, I’d like to wake up to you. And I said well, I would just ask you one thing…. remember this conversation that we’ve had tonight.  Because first of all, I was brought there on false pretenses, you know, and that I’m a pretty intelligent person, I know what’s true and what’s not. But there was higher purpose in that whole situation, that whole meeting and uh, I’m sure it left an impact, it left a mark on his spirit. But it was interesting hearing, coming from somebody like him, he probably could have had the pick of all the young starlets in Hollywood and yet what he was saying was he’d rather just stay home uh, and watch, he said me, but I’m sure he watched other, I mean, I’m sure it wasn’t just me, I’m sure it was other women, but….

PH        Well that’s, that whole sort of compulsion, it pulls people into a  netherworld to where I think if they go deep enough it’s quite difficult for them to find the boundaries, you know,  and that’s hard and it takes effort, and transparency and vulnerability to actually be in a relationship. 

KTP      Yes.

PH        And then when he was actually confronted with the real person he found out that he liked you.

KTP      Yeah.

PH        And you know, finding out that he liked you, you know, really turned things on their side.

KTP      Yeah.

PH        And I think that’s, that’s really a wonderful process, that if we open ourselves up to all kinds of people on different levels, people can surprise us and we can surprise ourselves, and then it’s easier to sort of let go of this nasty murky stuff that we create that has nothing to do with other people.

KTP      Yeah, I mean it is, yeah, I mean, to go deeper into that, it was, I was saddened by the fact that there were addicts in the world of individuals who are lonely, who are um, unable for whatever psychological reasons to reach out and to be vulnerable enough to expose themselves to uh, meeting women.

PH        Uh-huh.

KTP      Yeah, I mean I was aware that there were tons and tons, there was a time when you know, there were a lot of magazines, I don’t know if they exist anymore today but I was in touch with a lot of the magazine publishers and people who wrote a lot of articles for them and it was a whole different time…

PH        Right.

KTP      And so I had much more exposure to a lot of different areas and it was really obvious to me that there was one slice of society who were totally okay with their sexuality and they were very um, experimental and open, something that I had never been, believe it or not, I used to call myself the prude of porn because, because I um, hold on one second.  I wanna make sure he takes this envelope here.  She did.

PH        Uh-huh.

KTP      But that, but that one area of the lonely, the lonely men or the lonely middle aged virgins, and there were a lot of them, you know, were sad, and again there was a time where I was very idealistic.  I used to write a lot of letters to these people, I handled my fan club myself, I used to spend a lot of time writing letters and also to men incarcerated because my position was not to judge but rather to shed some light where I could and always, until it got to the point to where it’s like oh my God, I’m spending way too much on this, I’m not making any money, I’m losing money if anything, but it was kind of like my mission at that time, you know, it was kind of like a, what do you call it, um, ministry. You know, so, and then I, then I let that go.  But still today I get letters from individuals, from men who are obviously lonely and inept at the whole art of interacting with other people, um, painfully so.

PH        Then there’s some men, that’s not so much their dynamic, they just are consumed with lust.

KTP      Yeah, oh yeah, they are different.

PH        Men can be just as simple as that.  You know, there’s nothing else to it, there’s no psychological, you know, whatever, they’re consumed with lust, they have regular relationships, they have lots of sex, they have successful jobs and whatever.

PH        But let’s shift gears a little bit.  I’ve read a few  cursory things about your background, but I’d like to hear you talk about that a little bit more… when you were in England, what your family situation was like, what were sort of the precipitating things that led up to you leaving and coming over here.  Like how did you get to San Francisco?  You know, what was that path?

KTP      Right, well, um, I actually did not spend that many years of my childhood in England because my father was in the Navy as I said earlier.

PH        The United States Navy?

KTP      No, no, no, British Navy. And so we, we spent about five years over-seas, on the island of Malta actually. It was great, it was like another lifeline for me because when I was in England I was depressed, the weather was cold, I mean, I didn’t wanna be there, for whatever reason.  Often, you know, even as a child, I would um, kind of look up at the heavens and say “why here? “You know, it’s like, this doesn’t make sense to me.  And I remember as a kid  spending a lot of time struggling for breath because I had asthma, which was as far as I’m concerned just as my resistance to my circumstances and the constriction and the oppressiveness of my father, and a post-World War II depression.  I mean, it, it was tough, and so when I spent all those hours sort of struggling, holding on for dear breath, I talked to God.  And then when it was summer and I was outside I would lay on the Earth and I remember just loving the smell of the Earth! Every British person has a garden so you know, I mean, if you’re fortunate enough to have a little strip of land behind your house you got a garden and you grow vegetables and I loved to go up to the garden and pick the vegetables and just smell things and just be in touch with the Earth.  I’m a Virgo so maybe that’s what that was but…

PH        When’s your birthday?

KTP      August 28th.

PH        Mine’s September 6th.

KTP      Oh, so you’re a Virgo too.

PH        Uh-huh.

KTP      Ah-ha, okay.  So I had these, not visions, I suppose they were sort of visions, of other realities. What does a child know except lots of kids talk about the fairy kingdom and things that adults don’t talk about, and they talk about them until adults tell them not to talk about them and try to shut them down, you know, but it’s all, as far as I’m concerned it’s all very real. It’s not just a fantasy land.  So I was aware you know, of, I was aware of let’s say another reality.  So, I grew up and got back to England and was enrolled again in a girl’s school and I hated it, it was just so completely ridiculous as far as I was concerned.  I wasn’t aware I was learning anything, so as soon as I could get out, I got out, which was interesting because my parents let me and I…

PH        How long were you stuck at this school?

KTP      Well, I was actually out of school at 15½.

PH        Okay.

KTP      Now there’s, the English, the way that the English school curriculum goes is that, is that for grammar school students, grammar school being college prep, it’s different from here, there’s an exam called the 11 plus, which determines which school you go to. But at 15 you take the GCE, which is the certificate of education Well, I failed miserably because in Malta I’d been studying the Cambridge syllabus where at the school in England they were studying the Oxford syllabus so it was screwy you know, so, and my only choice at that point was to go back and redo two years and it’s like you gotta be kidding, no way. So I left school and I, I took a couple of jobs, you know, in shops, and started commuting to London… and it just was like one of those things where I just need to leave, I just needed to go.  And as it so happened, I met a German boy in the summer, I met a German boy, soul connection, so it became my ambition to leave and go to visit him in Munich, and he lived in Munich.  And in a sense, he was my carrot.

PH        He was your…

KTP      Carrot.

PH        Your carrot.

KTP      To leave.

PH        Right, right.

KTP      So, just shy of my 18th birthday a friend and I left and we hitchhiked around  Europe for a bit and I landed in a town called Wurzburg, which it has an American military base. Because I had met a boy.  The girl I was traveling with, her money got stolen in a youth hostel so she had to go home, her parents called her home and I said I’m not going home.  Because my father’s words to me as he put me on the train to Europe was you’ll be home in, I think, what was it, he gave me six weeks I think and he said you’ll be home, mark my words and it was kind of like one of those things where it’s like, there’s no way I’m gonna go home and give him…

PH        He threw down the gauntlet.

KTP      Yeah, the satisfaction, so, sounds to me like you know these kinds of things.

PH        Yeah, a little bit.

KTP      Little bit.  So anyway, so I decided I was going to stay and I had met um, not the friend who originally drew me there but another boy and he ended up taking me to his family in Wurzburg who were so sweet and wonderful to me and put me up for a while and then I was there for about nine months. I was working for Americans actually at that time, but I was realizing that I really wanted to speak the language and so my goal had been to learn another language and I wasn’t doing it because I was just speaking English all the time.  So I ended up moving to Munich, I took a job with a family, a very prestigious family who were involved in the world of opera, worked for a gentleman who is very well known in German opera, throughout Europe and theater, and it changed my life.  They were so wonderful to me.

PH        In what way, I mean, just the exposure, the acculturation…

KTP      Just the exposure, yeah, the exposure to the culture and uh, and within about three months I had picked up fluent German, this was amazing, and um.

PH        You still speak?

KTP      Not much, not much.  I’ve forgotten, I’m very rusty.  I mean, I could pick it up again.  But what I realized, I came to realize many years later was the reason it came so easily to me was I was just retracing old steps, that I was German in my last lifetime.  And, this is when I became interested in past lives and looking at the bigger journey and it was also very familiar to me, even Wurzburg by the way was familiar to me, so I had for some reason, somehow, I had been guided back there.  So anyway, so I worked for the family in Munich for about a year and then my father was taken ill and I had to go back to England and I quit the job because I wasn’t going to spend my life working as an au pair, you know, so.

PH        Right.

KTP      And once again, my father was kind of like the catalyst for me moving on. After three months you know, he had recovered enough and I left and went back to Germany again, not quite knowing what I was gonna do.

PH        Uh-huh.

KTP      But the American people I had worked for came through and they pretty much handed me not only a ticket to the States but a green card and I ended up spending the first year in Santa Fe, New Mexico, because that’s where they were going.  They were getting ready to retire from the Army and  they were headed to Santa Fe because they had relatives there and so that was my first stop which was amazing, you know, for somebody you know, young and wet behind the ears as I was at that time, the first stopping place to be Santa Fe, New Mexico.

PH        Uh-huh.

KTP      It was amazing, I loved it.  And then I went from Santa Fe to Boulder, Colorado for a year.

PH        I love Boulder.

KTP      Yeah.  Not knowing that several friends who I would later meet were there at the same time that I was, including Aaron, my mentor, my dear mentor.  So that was about a year and then I got pregnant and it was one of those things where okay, what am I gonna do.  So I was fortunate enough to be able to get an abortion and right after that I got on a Greyhound bus and came west to San Francisco.  So I landed in San Francisco in ’68. Slap bang in the middle of the flower child era, sex, drugs, and rock and roll baby!

PH        Uh-huh, absolutely.

KTP      Yeah.

PH        Yeah.  Yeah, I was 8 years old. 

KTP      It was an amazing time.

PH        Yeah.

KTP      It was an amazing time.

PH        Yeah, people keep trying to recreate it so I assume that it is a…

KTP      They do?

PH        I mean, they try to create the aura of it but they don’t do a good job I think, recreating the conviction of it.  I mean, you could go to Haight-Ashbury now and it’s still hippies and stuff but it’s…

KTP      Is it?  I had no idea.

PH        You know, it’s different.  I think that was a special time in the history of this country.

KTP      Well, you know, I moved around for a while within San Francisco and then I, I moved to Sausalito.  I don’t know if you know the area…

PH        I know that area very well.

KTP      So across the Golden Gate Bridget here’s a little town called Sausalito which is a little tourist area…

PH        Right, yeah.

KTP      And I ran a store there, a little head shop. Marin County was the home of so many of the bands and musicians; it was music central during those days.

PH        Jefferson Airplane.

KTP      Well, my old man for a while was Joey Covington who was the drummer for Jefferson Airplane for a while.  Joey and I met in the store that I ran, this is the funniest thing, he used to come in and buy all this stuff right, and I ended up living with it all, and it’s like, oh God, there’s some kind of weird karma here but you know, but um, that’s how we met.  And we ended up having a relationship for a while.  I actually saw him last year by the way um…

PH        Any experiences with Grace Slick?

KTP      What, sorry?

PH        You know Grace Slick, the…

KTP      Well, actually, I never actually met Grace.  I knew Marty Balin because Marty and Joey were very good friends and uh, and so many other musicians from that era but never met Grace.  Um, what’s funny though is that, and Joey was saying this last year, that they, they have a bond that’s kind of like, it’s just unbreakable, it’s kind of like a fraternity, they just hang together year after year after year and they’re all in their 60s now.

PH        Right, yeah.

KTP      It’s like all these old musical codgers, but, it’s kind of funny.  But Joey’s a hoot, I mean Joey’s one of these ageless type of people..

PH        It’s interesting to me, you know, that you get from the Bay Area, you know, from San Francisco, to LA. This is quite trite, but you know, we all do it, we sort of type people as to locations  It’s like even just after having spoken with you for just for a little while, you just seem so more suited to be in Northern California than Southern.

KTP      Yeah, yeah.

PH        It’s just interesting.  I mean, how did you make your way down here?

KTP      Well, and it’s interesting you say that because before I moved here, I had only been here a couple of times, once with Joey as a matter of fact, and one of the times that we came down here was we actually stayed with Papa John Creach, does that name mean anything to you? 

PH        Uh-huh.

KTP      Papa John was amazing and his wife was even more amazing.  We stayed with him because Joey discovered Papa John in the unemployment line, I mean, this is story after story after story, this amazing gentleman who was absolutely, he was, he had arthritis so badly but the minute he stepped on that stage he came alive.

PH        He could play, yeah.

KTP      And it was gone.  So um, but I couldn’t stand LA, even that time, I mean, as much as I enjoyed our time with the Creach’s, you know, it’s like, it was like get me out of here, to me it was like this cultural wasteland.  I didn’t enjoy the life, you know, it wasn’t time, it wasn’t time.  So I had to go back. Joey and I broke up and da-da-da, and then finally uh, after I got involved in film, it finally became time for me to move down here and once I was here I never looked back.  This is my home.

PH        Yeah.

KTP      But Santa Monica’s my home, I mean…

PH        Yeah, Santa Monica, Santa Monica’s like an island to me.

KTP      It is, it is.

PH        I really like Santa Monica, I’m not that fond of the rest of LA.  I used to spend a lot of time here for a lot of different reasons and…

KTP      Yeah, I mean, just being by the ocean and plus my family, my spiritual family is here, this is the whole thing is I came down here to reconnect to my spiritual family and they’re all around me now so this is where I was meant to be.  That’s the journey, you know, you, you kind of follow the flow and here you are. 

PH        Right.

KTP      So, yeah.


Excavating The Soul; an interview with Anthropology Of An American Girl Author Hilary Hamann

Excavating The Soul; an interview with Anthropology Of An American Girl Author Hilary Hamann

 Hilary Hamann’s new novel is at once lyrical, filmic, confounding, poignant, anachronistic, and timeless. It blurs the boundaries of semi-autobiography and lucid fiction. The Protagonist, Eveline Auerbach is a container for personal and historical experience, a template upon which Hamann draws a history of the process of maturation  of a  young women rooted in a particular time, the late 70’s, and a place, Long Island,  but does not limit the impact of this history, this templated experience, to that time and place. It’s a universal story in a unique container. The best kind of story in fact.

 Hamann’s novel has exposed the engines of maturational angst; immaturity, sexual confusion, the false sense of immortality that dopamine- soaked teenage brains revel in, and not least, the toxic self-righteousness of youth. Hamann does a masterful job in creating characters that radiate truth while not being the least bit cloyingly likeable. This is part of the strength and genius of the story. You don’t need to be Spielberged or Ronnie Howarded into some false emotional experience with these young people. Their struggle and blindness is palpable, and beautiful. It is a synthesis of teenage maturational experience writ large. You just accept the reality, and that can be uncomfortable. Hubert Selby-like uncomfortable without the gratuitous sex, violence and utter spiritual decay. 

 In the following interview we talk about the novel, but also about the process and context of remaining human and artistic in the present environment, as well as the motivational context and fabric of her upbringing.

 PH The title of your novel, “Anthropology of An American Girl” is evocative, not only of the search for meaning, the soul-mining and exploration of one girl, Eveline, but of a process of potential discovery that may be resonant with every or anyone. How did you write this character to be so much an individual while remaining so recognizable?

 HH I didn’t try to write the character necessarily. I tried to speak in as small a voice as possible, and that particular character [Eveline] is what emerged. Not “small” meaning powerless, but “small” as in near and known. For me, writing is a matter of proximity. I don’t try to write from someone’s perspective so much as from beneath their skin, behind their eyes. In Anthropology, I tried to juxtapose the narrowness of Eveline’s voice and the near-sightedness of her vision against the “vastness” of culture and the “infinity” of the environment. For a while I studied acting in Manhattan. I had this teacher who would advise us to focus on “small moments of truth” when striving for a genuine performance. I thought of this a lot while writing. I didn’t want to deny the specificity of who the character was—a middle-class, heterosexual, white girl in the 1980s. Nor did I want to resort to generalities or stereotypes to make the work more accessible to many. The more specific those moments of truth are, the greater the chance that people from diverse backgrounds will share them. It’s funny, but, often generalities serve us least. Also, the novel covers ground with which many are familiar. Many share feelings of being lost, lonely, and confused, of being non-essential components of some unfeeling socio-economic machine with tremendous reach and endurance. Many know what it’s like to have identities that are evolving and in flux, or to be unfairly judged based on looks, backgrounds, education, values. I wanted to examine stereotypes and the degrees to which we participate in them.

 PH I’m very interested in scene and setting being used as a  character in film, books, and songs. The Hamptons are an entity unto themselves in this book. How were you able to create a personality of the Hamptons so strongly without veering into the rocky terrain of cliché?

 HH Because I worked so hard to avoid clichés! Ultimately, clichés are just time-saving devices used to communicate efficiently—though not effectively. My hope was to look at known things as though encountering them for the first time. Every time I confronted a potential stereotype I tried to soften into it. No matter how much it is discussed, there is still a surplus of art out there—literature, film, music—that treats humans inhumanely, as though they exist in some fixed state, without possibility for growth or need for compassion. I tried not to contribute to that. I share your interest in setting as character. Of course, having the Hamptons as a primary location presented its share of challenges. Most people are familiar with the “Hamptons” of media hype, a Frankenstein hybrid of sensational parts—parties and pools, shoes and cars, real estate and restaurants, celebrities and magnates—sewn together and paraded about as though it refers to an actual entity. I looked between the seams to see what had been cut out—all the concessions and compromises that were made in the selling/trading off of the East End. The “Hamptons” as a phrase has become synonymous with luxury and leisure, but the physical environment out here is complicated and divine, and very much at risk. Obviously it is to everyone‘s benefit if it is treated respectfully, if development decisions are made with extreme caution, if public and political discourse centered on environmental sustainability rather than on a celebration of personal profit. But that’s not the case. I refer to that in my writing.

 PH Your novel is immanently musical. So much so that I have taken to constructing a soundtrack to it in my head that is coming together quite nicely! I shudder a bit when I think of what the typical Hollywood musical director will do to the inevitable film. How do you hear a soundtrack to the work if you do hear one? What songs are evocative of the time and feeling of the novel? Were you listening to any particular artists during the creation of the book?

 HH Thank you for saying that it’s musical. When writing, I always use music for pleasure and for research. Not just the songs I like or the character might like, but ones that represent the moment, ones that the character might have encountered. For Anthropology, I secured the rights to include a few lines from the lyrics to 26 songs in the book. Here is the list:


                Follow you, Follow me, Genesis

                Can’t Find My Way Home, Traffic

                You’re All I’ve Got Tonight, The Cars

                Cow Cow Boogie, Ella Fitzgerald

                Here I Am, Come and Take Me, Al Green

                Who’s Gonna Be Your Sweet Man When I’m Gone? Muddy Waters

                Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More, Allman Brothers

                Turn the Page,  Bob Seger 

                Jesus Met the Woman at the Well, Peter, Paul, and Mary

                Rock On, David Essex

                Bernadette, The Four Tops

                Tell Me Something Good, Chaka Kahn and Rufus

                Bennie and the Jets, Elton John  

                Mainstreet, Bob Seger      

                What’s Going On? Marvin Gaye

                Hey You, Pink Floyd

                Fire, Parliament

                Let the Sunshine In, the Fifth Dimension

                Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You, Four Seasons 

                Romeo and Juliet, Dire Straits

                Point Blank, Bruce Springsteen

                She’s the One, Bruce Springsteen

                The Cisco Kid, War 

                My Cherie Amour, Stevie Wonder

                How Soon is Now?  The Smiths

                Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues, Bob Dylan

Of course, if the book were ever to become a movie, it would have to have an independent soundtrack because the inclusion of these songs would cost too much money. In this case, I like the ethereal and melodic piano scores and vocal minimalism of French New Wave films. I would need something nostalgic, something that speaks to a time that has “already been.” And you wrote a piece inspired by your reading that is just lovely. You should put a link to it here!

 PH So much of our high school experience was a blur to me, but you seem to have captured the essence of that transition from HS to young adulthood in your characters. Maybe that’s an element of feeling free to be present, which I did not have, with my church and sports impositions….Did you journal a lot during that time? How eclectic was your social group?

 HH My social group was extremely eclectic. I was class president for the first three years, and instead of having the traditional president, vice-president, and treasurer, we elected to have a class “congress” to give fair representation to kids from all the different feeder districts. It was really great. But by senior year, kids with competitive families began to compete for power, all that democracy went by the wayside, and the traditional political roles were restored. In the end, three kids out of 200 got to sweeten their school resume without doing any major work since it was senior year and there was not a whole lot to legislate. It was all very Reagan-esque. An indicator of things to come. I abstained from running. I guess I’m observant by nature, and I’m interested in people and their stories. I like the way everyone is the protagonist of their own account, and the way their personal concerns are of central importance when people tell their own story. I even like the way people act bored when listening to each other’s stories, but become animated when speaking of themselves. Of course, it’s obnoxious, but honest. The emphasis people bring to their own stories is impossible to predict. If you choose to work realistically—in filming, writing, acting, recording—that kind of unpredictability is priceless. Look at the work of the monologist Anna Deavere Smith, or I should say her art—it’s difficult to know which to call it, “art” or “work,” when it’s both, and yet, to call it “artwork” is somehow insufficient. She brings new life to the stories she hears simply by recounting them with their original emphasis, by honoring the first release or issue of the words, so to speak. She is a genius of capturing essences, the perfume between the bodies, the story between the words. I was fortunate enough to have had her as an acting teacher when I studied at NYU.

 I did journal a lot in school, but not in the typical sense. I mostly recorded details. Clothes, sports, weather, television, things people said. I didn’t write about feelings. I still record details and sometimes feel quite boring, but the boring details end up being the triggers that work best for me. I also hate to use a journal to be negative or secretive. It feels like bad luck. That doesn’t mean I won’t think or write critically, but to me there’s a difference between deconstructing and destroying. Regarding differences in memories, church and sports are great reasons for distraction, and can actually be indicators of a balanced life! I’m more concerned with those who say they remember nothing.

 PH I feel that Anthropology of An American Girl is a work that perfectly hits the seams of commercial viability and intense, individualistic artistry, much like The Corrections, or The Emperors Children, or, most notably Elliot Perlman’s amazing 7 Types of Ambiguity. Some work is too good to be denied by both the public at large, and the literary intelligentsia.

 HH Again, thank you for the compliment. It sure would be nice if you’re right. To tell the truth, it felt good to have done it. I wrote the book to tell a story, to extract it from my mind and memory, to get it on paper. At the time, I didn’t intend for it to be widely published, so the story unwound more organically than it might have if had I been thinking of the target needs or a target audience. It was a luxury I no longer have. It wasn’t until after it came out in the original “self-published” version that I “met” my audience. I had no preconception of readers while writing. That’s not to say I never imagined anyone reading and enjoying it, just that I didn’t exactly write for a “market.” Maybe that is the individualistic stamp you’re referring to. With this recent release, I’m meeting a whole new audience, and it’s been even better than it was the first time. I am meeting a lot of older women this time around, and that has been a pleasure.

 PH You had the interesting experience of splitting your time between East Hampton and The Bronx when you were growing up. Some might not see that as a potentially strange bifurcation of time, but I do. East Hampton and Manhattan sort of makes sense, but the Bronx? What were the benefits of growing up in both of these places?

 HH I was born in Manhattan. When my parents divorced in 1965, my father went to live with his family, who had moved from New York City to the Bronx. Four years later, my mother left the city for the East End of Long Island. Though the period of the late 1960s and early 1970s is remembered as a culturally rich time, it was actually an impoverished time for New York City in terms of resources, jobs, services, and safety. Each of my parents, being poor and young, did what they had to do to survive and live sustainably.

My life in the Bronx felt idyllic, though we carved out our existence on acres of concrete divided by strips of broken asphalt. It was pretty much a dead zone. The tiny street we lived on was a turn-around point on a garbage truck and city bus route. If you Google map my old street, there is this massive fan of lines on the end of block. It looks like a lunatic pitchfork with hundreds of tines. In fact, it’s a train lot for subway cars. We used to call it “The Lots.” It was sort of the equivalent of Boo Radley’s house in “To Kill a Mockingbird”—a place that weighed heavily on our imaginations if not on our practical realities. We avoided it at all costs. Though it extended for as far as the eye could see, I never knew how far it went until about a week ago. I’m still shocked.

 By comparison, my life in the vivid, fragrant, living landscape of Long Island was terrifying. In the Bronx I had extended family and a net of friends. It was fun and funny, safe and exciting. We played cards and dice, rode bikes, had water fights and watched television together. It was the place to be—everything was vital and real. The film “Dog Day Afternoon” with Al Pacino and John Cazale is how I remember childhood to be.   But on Long Island, things were private and protective, lonely and secluded. There was a lot more alcoholism and drug abuse close up. You needed a car to get around, and you still do today; so if you’re young, there are limits to what you can experience. Love and loving are harder to find.  Subsequently, I’m in respectful awe of nature as experienced on Long Island, and most confident with character as experienced in the Bronx. It might seem hard to believe given its reputation, but I found people in the city to be more accepting of diversity. There was more tolerance of difference, a “seen it all, done it all” quality to life. Though things could be divisive racially, people of differing ethnicities had to manage on a practical level, working together, shopping and commuting together. I’m not suggesting it was paradise—far from it; but too often people of lesser means—of all races—bear the brunt of racism and or being referred to as racist, when basically they’re trying to survive while competing for scant resources. Togetherness is a day-to-day reality they face, for better or worse, not some theoretical abstract. They are in the trenches together. That’s what it felt like then.

 PH The publishing industry, like the music industry, is in a state of decline, and the existing paradigms of commerce, as well as artistry, are not serving artists or the industry. The magic of the internet has not harnessed the promised results, and consumers increasingly see the fruits of an artist’s work (their recordings, writing, etc.) as being able to be had for free. What are your thoughts about doing your work in this environment? How should the artist respond to these challenges?

 HH Whether or not change is inevitable, I regret the often reported suggestion that it’s consumer-driven, that corporations are simply trying to meet the demands of new generations of consumers. There is a false populism to all this. Corporations are in the business of making profit, and what’s profitable at the moment is supplying people with a constant stream of disposable devices—and the applications to make those devices addictive. In turn, these devices shape taste and tolerance. It’s like a closed circle with little or no room in the system for the cultivation of originality or the protection of ideas and ideals. Creative content hasn’t even entered the race yet, and in the interim, the focus is on “reality.” Reality material fills the airwaves and the shelves while the deep, rich story stuff struggles to get up to speed—though perhaps it never will.

So, the wholesale conversion to digital information systems might be a given, but at the moment, the transition is not occurring responsibly. Quality is being sacrificed and many quality content providers—large and small—are at a loss for how to make a living. As a culture, we are being somewhat short-sighted. Consumers still demand great stories, but they are withdrawing their support, consciously or not, from the systems that provide long-term support to story-tellers. Journalism is a prime example. How can tomorrow’s journalists possibly break Watergate without someone, somewhere making an investment in mature, career reporters? I always tell people to watch Alan Pakula’s All the President’s Men (1976) for a primer in old school journalism. I mean, two journalists with the backing of a good publisher, take down a presidency. No faxes, no cell phones, no internet, no Fed Ex—just instinct, determination, teamwork. Sweat.

 I worry about public access to properly vetted, balanced information. The public has greater access to information, but not “greater access to great information.” So much of what is shared is sloppy. Somehow when I get my news online, I am always about three clicks away from a Beyonce video. Consumers are distracted, our time is wasted, our relationships begin to disintegrate, and to what end? Ultimately, we are less informed. Going a step further, a distracted, uninformed public is ripe for all sorts of abuse. We’re like guinea pigs for the new technology. Sadly, we won’t know what we lost or gained until the experiment is over. One last thing. I think the general reporting on the changes has been too soft, too tongue-in-cheek. There tends to be a lot of talk on networks about friendship and networking, etc. The conversation is limited to “the new ways we get the news.” Few people are talking about what is at stake for the public in terms of loss of political power and potential abuse of rights.

 PH I was pleased to see, in my view, that the sexuality in your novel is not political sexuality, is not a plasticized iteration of what young women of Eveline’s “type” are supposed to experience, but deeply personal and individualistic, and in that, oddly enough, becomes universal….was this process purposeful?

 HH Absolutely. I tried to cross a minefield of familiar tropes. I tried not to romanticize sex, or to resort to violence. I tried not to be too graphic, but not to be too symbolic either. I tried to provide a new perspective to something well known. I tried to be very personal, but not too intimate. Lots of times when you read what’s written about sex, it seems too detail-oriented. I tried to remain impressionistic. There is a rape scene, though, which is very minute-to-minute detail oriented. I like that scene.

 PH What are you working on next?

 HH Two different novels. One is based on my childhood in the Bronx in the 1960s and the other is based on a woman in contemporary culture who experiences a major reversal. I want this to be like a Russian novel. Or like Kafka’s Metamorphosis, when the guy (Gregor Samsa) wakes up as a giant bug. One take on this is that, one day you wake and everything’s completely different. Another take is that one day you wake up and everything’s exactly the same, and you WISH it could be different—so different that you’d even elect to be an insect. I am hoping for a quick turn-around on the next work. The paperback version of Anthropology is due out next spring, and I am working on the screenplay this fall.


Chaim Gur-Arieh, blending science and beauty

Chaim Gur-Arieh is the proprietor and owner of CG Di Arie , A Sierra Foothills winery in the Shenandoah Valley in Northern California ( I can say without reservation that his elegant, complex, utterly robust wines are my favorite. To my Palette, Chaim has succeeded in combining very intense and “dense” flavor profiles in wines that are consistently punctuated by the stimulation of an immediate, hedonistic, and emotional experience for the drinker. Sublime. I wanted to talk with him as his history is decidedly unusual from that of the “typical” Sierra Foothills Winemaker. A food Scientist by training and history, he has emerged as a truly artistic Vintner.

PH Chaim, I’m very interested to know a bit about your roots. Where are you from, and how did your culture, family experiences and life choices shape your path to becoming a food scientist and then winemaker?

 CG-A I was born in Turkey to a Jewish family.  I grew up during WWII in a Muslim country that was sympathetic to Germany while it stayed neutral during the war.  I saw my dad taken to a labor camp and I felt strong anti-Semitic sentiments in school.  After the State of Israel was established in 1948, as a young boy I left my family in Turkey and immigrated to Israel to live with my uncle. When I face difficult situations in my life I always think about my dad who inspired me with his optimism and positive attitude that helped him overcome many adversities in his life.  My dad was a great example to me.  He was always very supportive and tolerant of me even when I did some crazy things in my life.

 I come from a culture that encourages learning and achievements.  As a young boy and later as a young man I was very rebellious.  At the age of 14 while I lived in Turkey I was cutting school and then in Israel I dropped out of high school in the 12th grade and joined the Israeli Army.  It was there that I learned discipline, commitment, responsibility and perseverance.  While I was in the army only for a relatively short time, I would say that it was an important milestone in my life that shaped my character.

 After I was discharged from the Israeli army I went back and took my high school diploma and was admitted to the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology where I graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering.  Like many other things in my life that happened by serendipity I met a young professor at the Technion who had received a Ph.D. in Food Science at the University of Illinois and he got me interested in this subject.  I applied to the University of Illinois, was accepted to their Ph.D. program and received an assistantship in the Food Science Department.  Coming to the United States and going to the University was one of the greatest experiences in my life.  I was able to get a Master’s and a Ph.D. in three years.  From there I started a career in Food Science that lasted for 38 years.  First I worked for large corporations in food product development and then in my own consulting company and finally in a flavor company that I founded named California Brands Flavors.  While working for large food companies I was involved in the development of Cap’n Crunch, Pudding Cups, Fruit Cups, etc.  In my consulting company I created the Hidden Valley Ranch Salad Dressing and Power Bars.

 I sold my flavor company in 1998 to pursue my lifelong passion for wines.  The transition from Food Scientist to Winemaker was very natural.  Especially since I was I involved in the development of so many food products that wine to me was another new product.  Since I viewed it in this manner I was able to think outside the box and come up with some innovations.  Becoming a farmer was a lot more challenging.  As a farmer I’ve had to accept the fact that I don’t have total control.  I do my best but have to accept Mother Nature’s final verdict.  This brings me to where I am at now.

 PH The path from food scientist to wine-maker seems to make perfect sense to me, and I think that there is artistry in both. How do you, as a scientist see this?

 CG-A Maybe what you call artistry, I call creativity.  Obviously there is room to be creative and think outside the box in every field.  Wine is not an exception.  While science enables you to make a wine that technically has no flaws that doesn’t guarantee that it will be a great wine.   I think that to make a great wine you need a creative touch or passion or artistry, as you say, and in some cases the end result may reflect the personality of the winemaker.      

  PH What is the genesis of your love for wine?

 CG-A   I acquired my love and passion for wine after I met my wife.  Until then I drank only beer and Scotch and Martinis on occasion.  When I met my wife she was dancing ballet and I was introduced to wine by her groups of friends who were wine drinkers.  At first it was Cabernet and Merlot, the early Napa wines that were made with an abundance of oak.  I thought then that this was how good wine should be.  Then we started travelling in Europe and my palate became more refined.  It was then, in the early 80’s that I started having the fantasy of owning a winery and making wine.  What really attracted me to making wine is that I perceived wine to be an elusive entity that would be a tremendous challenge to conquer.   In this I was not wrong.  

 PH The fact that the physical structure, the art, every detail of your winery’s environment seems to bend towards beauty. Do you and your wife work hand in hand to create this aesthetic environment?

 CG-A The credit for the beauty and the aesthetics of the environment should go to my wife Elisheva.  She had the vision for the architecture of the winery and the surrounding areas.  She is very detail oriented, has a strong mind and an enormous amount of energy.  My contribution to this part of the project was to act as an expeditor. 

 PH What is your favorite wine?

 CG-A This is a tough question to answer.  If you ask me who is my favorite child this is easy.  I will tell you right away that it’s my daughter.  I only have one daughter but I make at least 15 different wines every year. What makes it even more difficult is that I have seasonal favorites.   I can tell you that among the wines that I make Syrah is my favorite variety and one of my favorite wines is my 2005 Southern Exposure Syrah.  Having said that, I also love to drink my 2007 Petite Sirah, my 2007 Sierra Legend, my 2005 Cabernet Franc and my 2008 American Legend Zinfandel.  Next month I will be releasing a blend that I call Amalur which translates as “Mother Earth” from the Basque language.   This is a blend of Syrah, Tempranillo and Grenache.  It’s an understatement if I said that I am very fond of this wine.

 PH Much has been written about the dulling of the American palette due to Robert Parker’s influence on taste. Your wines, to me, are outrageous with flavor, passionate, excessive in the most respectful, best use of the word. Do you feel that your wines are resonant of the Parker aesthetic?

 CG-A Not at all!  I don’t like to send my wines to Robert Parker because he gravitates to a different style of wine than mine.  But at times I wonder whether he is consistent in the way he rates wines.  I have tasted wines that he rated in the 90’s that were robust with excessive amounts of oak alcohol and residual sugar.  But I have also seen that he shows appreciation for elegance.  In general I am not in favor of allowing anyone to have so much power to prevent people from uncovering their own taste.  I heard a quote attributed to Socrates that I would like to repeat: “The expression of taste is an expression of freedom; the moment you abdicate responsibility for your own taste, you voluntarily abdicate your freedom”. 

 PH From where do you receive joy in your life?

 CG-A What gives me joy is having a sense of purpose in life.  People ask me if I will ever retire.  Not if I can help it.  There is no question that being passionate about something will cause pain, but how can we appreciate joy without feeling the pain?

PH I love the artwork and design of the bottles and the labels. Who is responsible for this, and what was the inspiration?

 CG-A The artwork was created by Elisheva.  The 2 lions or sphinxes with their tails entwined symbolize the two of us.  The part of my name “Arie” translates from Hebrew as lion.

 PH How has the business of making and selling wine fared throughout the economic crisis?

 CG-A We have not escaped the economic crisis.  While the overall consumption of wine in the US has increased slightly since the beginning of the recession, the price point which people are willing to pay has decreased.  Wines priced under $10 per bottle are doing better in this economy than two years ago.  Wines priced over $20 are difficult to sell.  We are doing everything to adjust to the present situation and hoping that we will see this through.

 PH What is the most interesting story you might be able to relate from your years as a food scientist?

 CG-A I left Quaker Oats in the late 60’s and moved to California to take a job with United Technology Center in Sunnyvale.  This company was in the aerospace business dealing mainly with government contracts.  I joined the Life Sciences Department as a Food Scientist and I was assigned the project to develop foods for the astronauts that would go into space for short durations.  These foods were going to be synthetic in nature providing the essential nutrients without any fiber and creating no waste.  The goal was to get the astronauts not to have bowel movements while travelling in space.

 I formulated a diet that consisted of the 8 essential amino acids, a carbohydrate source for calories, an essential fatty acid like linoleic acid and all the minerals and vitamins required to sustain life.  Since this diet contained no fiber at all, the idea was that all of the nutrients would be absorbed into the body before they reached the gastro-intestinal (GI) tracts and this way the astronauts after going on this diet for a few days before their flight would cease having any bowel movements.  In working on this project I faced numerous challenges.  First the food had to be palatable to get people to want to eat it.  After months of experimentation I finally made it in the form of a gelatin dessert. 

 The second challenge was to test the diet with people to determine its efficacy and intermediate term effects of taking it.  We were 5 people in the Life Sciences group and we all volunteered to go on this diet exclusively for periods of a week or two at a time.  The results were fascinating.   After two or three days of going on this diet we all stopped having bowel movements.  While on the diet we were taking stool samples for analysis and discovered that each one of us had different strains of E. Coli micro-organisms in our stools.  My strain was exceptionally unusual.  We were also testing our blood chemistry and my level of cholesterol was extremely low.  The department chief, Milton Winitz, thought that there was a correlation between the low cholesterol and the strain of E. Coli.   Since his cholesterol was unusually high he decided to try to implant my strain of E. Coli into his GI tract.  We grew my E- Coli strain on Petri dishes and several times he tried to get this strain implanted in his GI tracts without having any success and always going back to the E. Coli strain that he had originally. 

 While this was an interesting period in my life where I learned about nutrition and physiology, after a couple of years I decided to move on.  I left Dr. Winitz cultures of my E-Coli strain and who knows maybe by now he was able to make an exchange with his culture and thus control his cholesterol.  As for me I moved to San Francisco to take a job with Del Monte, I met Elisheva and my life changed.

 PH Now for the inevitable: Cap’N Crunch is an iconic cereal, and you created the flavor profile? What is it like to know that billions of mouthfuls of this cereal have been consumed? Also, I think the flavor has changed over the years, as I was a huge consumer of CC when I was at University!

 CG-A I worked on this project in the early 60’s never thinking that it was going any place.  Actually I did not create the flavor profile of Cap’n Crunch.  I worked on the development of the technology for manufacturing of this breakfast cereal.  At the time the project had a number and the Cap’n Crunch name came much later in the development process.  While recognizing that a lot people have very fond memories of this product that they grew up with, personally I can identify myself more with the wines that I make rather than Cap’n Crunch.  The reason?   Cap’n Crunch was the creation of many people from different disciplines, from the technology to the manufacturing, marketing, advertizing, etc. while the wines that I make are all my creation.  Am I egocentric?  I hope not.


Lydia Lunch will not go quietly

**All Photos by Richard Kern, Collage by Lydia Lunch

I have written about a few modern prophetesses this year, and Lydia Lunch falls within that broad category. She will provocatively call to the front of our consciousness the impact of our collective violences, those both monstrous and petty. It’s not pretty at times, but it is true. LL has had a prolific career as an artist. The emphasis is given here in that little, if any of her work reeks of the stench of compromise, or the machinations of any market driven scheme. This has not created an easy life in a material sense, but has created one that is able to rest within a world-friendly consciousness, a pattern of forward movement, and ultimately kindness and grace.

I could give the history, the full resume, as it were, but it would take as much time as the interview. An essential player in the No Wave movement of the early 80’s, she has been a profound influence on  a generation of multi-genre performance artists, her output spanning the worlds of film, spoken word, music, memoir. From Teenage Jesus and the Jerks to her recent project Big Sexy Noise, and current film projects, she continues to infuse the world with her immovable, beautiful, astringent, and urgent refusal to compromise.

PH Lydia, I’d like you to “tell the tale” if you will. What were the environmental, geographic, spiritual, and familial circumstances that led to the development of your artistic and aesthetic perspectives and output? I mean were you raised in the woods with nihilist hippies or in a convent with fascist nuns or something? Do tell.

 LL I was raised in Upstate New York supping on a toxic stew of environmental pollutants thanks to Kodak, Xerox and the Hooker Chemical Company which contaminated Niagara Falls and the surrounding townships. Born to a small time card shark who grifted through a series of door to door (starting with bibles) sales jobs and a long suffering Sicilian psychic, I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and have not managed to find a way over the other side yet. By the time puberty hit, Glam broke, and after feasting on a diet  of Cream, Rock Scene, and Circus magazines, The Midnight Special &  Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert on weekend TV, as well as scamping my way in to almost every concert that came to town, it was obvious the direction I was about to take. I blame The New York Dolls for inspiring me to sneak out my basement window, jump a greyhound bus and hitting NYC for the first time at 14. Although literature truly saved me from committing more crimes against humanity than  I have already admitted to (Miller, Selby, Genet, deSade) music made me run out into the night screaming and I haven’t shut up since.

PH One of my interests now is the issue of power and the fungible exchange. Flesh for money, or control, or relationship. This exchange plays itself out in porn, prostitution, pro sports, marriage…what are your views on why we trade flesh for goods, money, or power?

 LL I can understand why women trade flesh for money, power, control, what I DON’T GET IS WHY MEN ARE STILL STUPID ENOUGH TO FALL FOR IT. Ever since it was invented Pussy has been treated as a magic elixir, a voodoo that some men just can’t seem to resist or get enough of. The hyper-sexualization and commoditization of women in all forms of media, culture and music has NOT BEEN TURNED ON IT’S HEAD by middle aged pop porn princesses running around in lame aerobics costumes playing brain dead disco as they sell mega-units for mega-corporate record company pimps. More useless entertainment which tells us nothing and only serves as a distraction from the real issue…..ahhh…I forgot the original question….

 PH You have been very busy as of late, your collaborations with Gallon Drunk (Big Sexy Noise), and Philippe Petit, a re-release of Queen of Siam, a film score, film narration …Please talk about the genesis of these projects, why they have appealed to you, and your working method that allows you to juggle so much intense work at one time.

 LL I have been working with Terry Edwards & Ian White of Gallon Drunk for more than a decade in a variety of different live ‘illustrated word’ projects. (Text based performance accompanied by music and sometimes visuals) Occasionally inviting James Johnston into the mix. Gallon Drunk invited me to a duet. I thought they meant duel. Big Sexy Noise was formed. A relief from 3 decades of political ranting and apocalyptic nay saying as the No Wave Nostradamus. All my predictions have come all too obviously true. Especially MOTHER NATURE GETTING PRETTY PISSED OFF AT THE MADMEN WHO HAVE BEEN RAPING AND PILLAGING…although truth be told, global warming and weather manipulation ala HAARP is no doubt to blame as well. It was just time to fricking RAWK. And so Big Sexy Noise does… Collaboration fuels my existence; it takes me out of that dark dirty cubby that writers are prone to lock themselves in. And Percy, you called it…I always refer to myself as a ‘juggler’…just what I do. When I’m not deep in ‘creating’… I’m the laziest bitch in the cathouse. Trust me, I love to loaf.

 PH Way before Chloe Sevigny and The Brown Bunny you performed as a character in a film, an actual artistic film, in which the character was having (non-simulated) sex.  Back to the issue of the fungible exchange. What was the value of this experience over time? What were the parallel processes that Lydia Lunch was encountering in lockstep with the character, if there were any?

 LL The films I did with Richard Kern were an experiment in public psychotherapy, an attempt to deal with my own obsessive desires. A need to express a specific type of psychosexual behavior that I felt hadn’t been addressed thoroughly enough. What’s most interesting to me is the different ways these films have impacted people, or the different reactions they have elicited. 

 PH In Will Work for Drugs you detail a life that has been a constant balancing on a razor’s edge of danger. A life begun in the dark tunnel of the womb that has seemed to only take occasional forays into the sunlight…. Have these experiences been resonant of somewhat constant despairing for you, or fuel, fuel to give you impetus to regurgitate stark reality or… am I full of shit and barking up the wrong tree?

 LL I focus on intense emotions, situations, experiences that may appear negative, but that my stamina and stubbornness do not only survive but blossom is the root of why I continue to exist. If extremes of passion, love, desire, and genius often wound with their inability to contain a primal violence and an insane urgency (resulting in a temporary agony), I will go to the mat again and again.

Pain always subsides, but wisdom, love, intensity, and genius feed the soul. And the soul is a hungry motherfucker. In my day-to-day reality, at this point at least, the demons are kept at bay. I’m incredibly steady, patient, encouraging, supportive, and funny. But who the hell wants to hear about that shit?

 PH You have been long thought of in some circles as a sort of Queen of Punk…I’ve never quite seen you that way. I don’t see your work as any more punk that I would that of Rimbaud, or Baudelaire, or Andre Gide. Punk has always struck me as reactionary fashion and what you have created and how you have lived seems more psycho-emotionally expressive and well, dangerous, for lack of a better word. What are your thoughts on this?

 LL  I AIN’T NO PUNK YOU PUNK. Never played punk rock. Never dressed punk rock. No Wave all the way. I view myself as more DADA, a surrealist, a situationist even, or just straight up CONFRONTATIONAL.  A CLASSIC IN OTHER WORDS.  hahahah

 PH How do you receive love in this world Lydia? Who do you love, how and why?

 LL A Beautiful question. My loves are long and many. Even though my nomadic nature insists that I relocate every few years, my dearest friends have been such for decades. And I keep in touch with them. Traveling allows me to connect with people I care most about, as well as allowing me to meet new people all the time. I give a lot of love so Darling, I GET A LOT BACK. I’m loving you right now!

 PH You have long operated deep within the confines of DIY when it has come to promoting and selling your work. The music, publishing, and to a lesser degree film industries are in complete decline. The internet has not proved to be the environment of salvation for artists that it was promised to be. How does an artist that wants to make a living as an artist move ahead in this environment?

 LL The only way I can manage is to live in Europe which supports and understands the ‘artist’ as an ‘artist’ and not a mere commodity. Between spoken word shows, solo multimedia performances, festivals, rock concerts and all my releases, it’s still a struggle and I’m still poor. But I didn’t start creating thinking it was going to be a moneymaking venture. I do it because if I didn’t the world would be even LESS SAFE. And I would be even LESS SANE.

 PH How does a Lady GaGa come to be, in your opinion, and why is the culture so drawn to these overblown inhabitants of the fashion simulacrum?

 LL Unmitigated ambition. A pillaging and plundering of every last cultural icon. Pop Pornography as spectacle. Robotic hypnosis. Immense amounts of money spent to make immense amounts of more money. The most insulting aspect of Gaga, Beyonce, Kylie Minogue, Madonna…is the fraud under the extreme exhibitionism. They’re all selling SEX (showing us everything, telling us NOTHING) but none of them are having much of it. At least Gaga admits she’s celibate. It’s still ridiculous and creepy. Fuck Lady Gaga. I’m coming out as LADY GAZA, Bitch.

 PH I am interested in your definition of the word obscenity. I think that it has been misappropriated, and there are some potentially good uses for the term that some dilemmas of the present age present, like describing the motivations and actions of the players behind the universal economic meltdown.

 LL THE REAL OBSCENITY is the war whoring, greed and incomprehensible disregard for human suffering that The Amerikkkan Corporatocracy in their race for a NEW WORLD ORDER is perpetrating against the entire prison planet.

 PH Who are some present artists (writers, filmmakers, musicians) who you consider to be making vital, timely, and significant work, who are in short, contributing to a more meaningful understanding of the human condition?

 LL Music : Bryan Lewis Saunders (the finest stand-up tragedy performance artists out there) Sage Francis, Carla Bozulich,  JG Thirlwell, Sandy Dillon, Oxbow, Scarface, Eminem, Ice Cube

 Writers : Charlie Smith (Three Delays, Chimney Rock), Craig Clevenger (Dermaphoria, The Contortionist’s Handbook), Virginie Despentes (Baise Moi, King Kong Theory)Jeremy Rifkin (Entropy, The Age of Access, The Biotech Century) Naomi Klein (Shock Doctrine, No Logo) John Perkins (Confessions of an Economic Hitman), Mike Davis (EVERYTHING), Jerry Stahl (Permanent Midnight, I, Fatty)

Films: Intacto by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, 21 Grams & Babel written by Guillermo Arriaga, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Devil’s Backbone Guillermo Del Toro, In A Glass Cage, Augusti Villaronga

 PH Do you have what some might consider a spiritual practice? What sustains your soul, replenishes your motivation, keeps the blinds open in the room of your heart?

 LL Meditation, spending a lot of time alone in silence, unplugging fully, living in Barcelona, boxing, random acts of kindness, a cat’s smile, the smell of calla lilies, the irrepressible urge some people have to hug me and a sense of duty, a calling, that somehow what I have been trying to express for 33 years is rooted in an ancient, universal plea for, if not justice, at least to give voice to the screams of our collective refusal to go quietly into the gaping grave of man’s violence, ignorance, greed and domination.


Alex Robinson; Drawing from life

Eisner and Harvey award-winning graphic novelist Alex Robinson’s poignant, filmic, true-to-life work stands out from the hordes of others of its type due to the gentle grace inherent  in the stories. The dialogue possesses a sort of flat reality sandwiched with layers of profoundity reminiscent of the films of Hal Hartley, or the writing of John R. Powers (Do Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?). Robinson’s most notable books are Box Office Poison, Tricked, and Too Cool To be Forgotten,  all three released on Top Shelf, the latter in the beginning stages of possibly being made into a film. The stories are the straightforward stuff of life, relationships, self-image, love, failure, middle age and maturation, and he makes it all live in a way that draws the reader into the core of the experience. Robinson’s characters are characters that you will care about long after you have put the book down.

PH Alex, first of all, I have to say that Box Office Poison is my favorite “true to life” Graphic novel of all time, in a tie actually with Craig Thompson’s Blankets.  Sadly to say I lost my copy recently in a hotel room in Eureka, California. The Characters are extremely believable, and seem reminiscent, possibly of your real experiences, or combinations of experiences/people.  Is this the case?

AR I think a lot of writers, especially young ones, fall back on autobiography for their first book, intentionally or not. You just don’t have a huge amount of life experience to draw on so it’s natural. Some of the book was purposely drawn from my life at time, some of it was autobiographical without me even realizing it at the time and some of it was just made up.

A handy way for creating characters is to use real life people as templates. Ed, for instance, was originally inspired by my friend and fellow cartoonist Tony Consiglio. As the book went on, however, the character took on a life of his own to the point where he “outgrew” the real life person he was based on. Dorothy was a combination of a roommate I once had and the writer Dorothy Parker, but again, by the end she was her own character. I actually forgot that I had used some of the details of Dorothy Parker’s life in the book so it’s funny when I come across one of those details.

Other characters, like Jane and Stephen were just kind of created from whole cloth. They were kind of an idealized couple, having the kind of relationship I would’ve liked to have been in.

PH Is there a process you engage in to decide the degree to which your characters are echoing the reality of people in your life? What are the responses you get from friends, family and others who see themselves in the characters?

AR It’s more of an instinctual thing rather than any formal process. I think as I’ve done more work I use real people as models less and less, or at least I disguise them more. I really don’t want to repeat myself so I can’t keep basing characters on the same group of friends over and over.

I haven’t really gotten much reaction from people I know. This could be because they are either angry and don’t want to say anything or most likely they just haven’t read the books. I guess it’s also possible that they don’t recognize themselves since I’m such a clever writer!

PH I see that there is some possibility that Too Cool to be Forgotten may be made into a film. Good for you, but, is there any concern that the delicacy of the story might be castrated in that oh so Hollywood way? The story is a very sensitive portrayal of the impact of middle age, passages, regret, longing, remorse. These are not always subjects that translate gracefully from books to film. What are your thoughts on this?

 AR I was very pleased when the wheels started moving on it. The producer has been involved in some thoughtful, intelligent movies so I have high hopes. Of course, I’m not naïve and know that plenty of good books have been transformed into lousy movies through various means so we’ll see. I do think that out of all my books it would be the easiest to adapt.

 Ultimately, though, the thing is that it really doesn’t concern me. The book will continue to exist in the way I created it no matter what else happens and I would honestly be curious to see how someone else would handle the material. Even in very early preliminary meetings with the producer we would talk about possible changes and I would think “Shit! The way he’s describing it is a better way than the way I did it!” I’m fully prepared to let it go and let them see what they can do with it.

PH I love the Irving Flavor sub-plot in Box-office poison. You obviously take a very sharp jab at the industry using Irving as an example of an artist that had his ideas and creativity sucked out of him, turned into massive profit, and was then subsequently left with nothing. Can you talk a little bit about the business of comics/graphic novels today? How the hell do you make a living doing this man?

AR It isn’t easy. I’m fortunate enough that my books have been pretty successful, at least on the small scale by which graphic novels are judged. They’re all still in print and have been picked up by some foreign markets. But you really don’t go into comics thinking you’re going to make money, or at least not enough to live on. You do it because you love it or at least have to do it. Most cartoonists I know have some sort of day job, sometimes involving cartooning or at least graphic design, but also not—retail, whatever. You have to just look at it as a time consuming hobby which will, hopefully, someday supplement your income.

I was very lucky in that the goal I had in mind—doing self-contained graphic novels—really became possible just at the time I was entering the business. I read a sad story about Harvey Kurtzman where he was pitching a graphic novel to publishers in the sixties and no one went for it and it was just a case of him being ahead of his time.

I have a theory that WATCHMEN, DARK KNIGHT and MAUS all came out around the same time and it took twenty years for the kids who were influenced by that to grow up and get jobs in the media and really push the idea of graphic novels to a wider audience.

PH Your drawing style is extremely expressive and some might say “cartoony”, although I won’t throw that derisive brick at you.  I know that you have been (or have you?) influenced by people such as Will Eisner, and it comes through even in the expressive style. This is what makes it work for me. The combination of a kind of cartoon elasticity, with the fact that these characters look, physically and emotionally like people you know….is this your intent?

AR It’s odd because I don’t really think of “cartoony” as the insult you imply. I think superhero comics are kind of backward in that they seem to insist that cartoony is bad and “realistic” is good, which seems totally at odds with the rest of the culture. The most popular comics have always been “cartoony”—Mickey Mouse, THE SIMPSONS, the Pixar movies. Peanuts, Tintin. Manga has become hugely popular and realistic is not how I would describe most of the art styles.

I draw the way I do and I’m not the kind of artist who can switch styles depending on the story. I see someone like Chris Ware, who mostly draws in an inconic, cartoony style, and you look at his sketchbooks and see he could probably draw in any style he liked. I’m always amazed at people like that—people who can really draw, I guess!

PH As a psychotherapist, I’ll have to say that you did a masterful job of bringing the devastating depression of Sherman’s alcoholic, potentially bi-polar girlfriend into the story (in Box Office Poison). She is a good example of the way in which you are able to show all sides of the characters, without them (the characters) knowing…..this “god intervention” works well to show her as by turns selfish, inattentive and brooding, as well as well, utterly lost. The scenes with her alone in her apartment with just pictures and no dialogue are especially effective.  How did you come to adapt this process when presenting the more difficult characters?

AR Again, I don’t know how much of it was conscious or whether I did this any more with one character of another. I suppose showing private moments of otherwise less sympathetic characters pays off more than it would with a character people already like such as Jane or Stephen.

Dorothy seems to be one of those characters people loved to hate, but I never really saw her as a villain. One of the things I tried to avoid in the book was that kind of characterization. It’s almost a natural outcome of spending six years writing a book as I did. You spend so much time thinking about the characters, spending so much mental company with them that you really learn so much about them and kind of walk a mile in their shoes. Since you have to come up with their dialogue and actions you have to think about what they are thinking about when they say or do them. For Dorothy to be believable she has to think all of her actions are rational so in a way they also have to seem rational to me.

Someone told me that they were disappointed by the fact that the publisher of Zoom comics, the one who is fighting Irving Flavor over the rights to his character The Nightstalker, is really kind of a one dimensional bad guy. I think this person is right. I think it was a case of me not really being able to get in the head of someone like that, someone willing to screw the underdog, so he came across as flat. I think I could do a better job in that department now.

PH I’m curious to know, if you had ultimate power, who would direct the film version of Too Cool to be Forgotten and who would play the protagonist?

AR It’s strange since other people have asked me this and I never have a good answer. You’d think I would’ve come up with a pat answer but I never can. I think part of it is that, as I said, I feel like the book is my creation and any adaptations would be someone else’s job. I guess because I was so intimately involved with the characters it’s hard for me to step outside and try to look at the characters like that. This is getting pretty pretentious but what the heck: maybe since they came from my own head on some level they aren’t characters to me so much as ideas, so asking who would play Andy Wicks is like asking who would play nostalgia or regret. Whoa, I just blew my own mind!

PH Are you familiar with the filmmaker Hal Hartley? It would very interesting to see what he would do with one of your stories.

AR It’s funny because this has come up a number of times over the years, since I was working on BOX OFFICE POISON a decade ago and somehow I’ve never managed to see a Hal Hartley movie. I should put one of his movies on my Netflix queue as soon as we’re done with this.

PH It’s very clear that your work centers around great stories that cohere, and while they resonate as true, have elements that help us distance from pain, laugh at it, re-process that icky stuff of maturation and adolescence, and make us miss it all. You share the ability to do this with people like Chester Brown, Julie Doucet, and Ross Campbell… this something you shoot for, or is it more naturalistic?

AR I think it’s just the way I’m wired. I think I’m one of those people who are constantly mulling over the past, obsessing about regrets, memories, nostalgia. When I did TOO COOL part of it was a definite conscious attempt to explore that, explore why high school loomed so large in my mental image. It made the book something of a frustrating experience. Having to spend that much time thinking about your own adolescence, ugh. It was like art therapy. I think it helped a little. I certainly wince at the idea of people judging me by the way I was in high school so it wouldn’t be fair to condemn the people I went to high school with who I haven’t seen in twenty-something years.

PH Can you give us some insight into the business life of a Graphic novelist? What is the hustle like?

AR I think I’m at a fortunate position where I don’t have to hustle all that much. It also helps that I’m probably not as ambitious as some people. I think more than money my biggest concern with doing comics is control and having as much of it as possible. I’ve never really made a serious effort to try and “move up” to a bigger publisher trying to capitalize on the graphic novel boom because I really don’t want to have to alter my material for the sake of some editor. My experience with Top Shelf has been great in this regard since they’ve given me a lot of leeway and freedom which I value. I generally write and draw the books in page order so Top Shelf usually doesn’t see the book until it’s complete. They’ll give me notes on typos—lots and lots of tpyos—and ask some questions about particular scenes or suggestions as to how things can be improved but that’s what they’ve been: suggestions.

I don’t think they work this way with everyone, and I consider myself lucky that my books have done well enough where they’ll give me a long leash.


Robert Wyatt and “The Merry Dance of Shared Creativity”


Robert Wyatt is that rare musician who has been making individualistic, quirky soulful music for years that has managed to resonate across a broad spectrum of listener, and engage some population of more youthful listeners with each successive generation. This is a good formula for making art live. Wyatt’s songs have been covered by artists such as Elvis Costello (Shipbuilding), and he can count Brian Eno, Bjork, and Fred Frith amongst his collaborators over the years. For me, Wyatt’s music has always hovered in the same beautiful universe  inhabited by Scott Walker’s muse. Always singular, by times poignant, wistful, infused with wonder, and delivered with the direct nature and good humor of a man who probably sleeps quite well at night.

Wyatt has long collaborated with his wife Afreda (Alfie) Benge, a noted artist, lyricist and poet, who has penned the words to many of Wyatt’s tunes over the years. Our mutual friend Rob Ayling, noted photographer and Voiceprint records owner (the wonderful patron of a label that releases my work…. buy all thier stuff!) put us in touch for the interview.  I was glad to have this discussion, if even only over e-mail, with one of the great singular talents of this or any age.

PH Robert, you have become known as an artist’s artist, in that there are many prominent artists in mainstream pop culture that like to state you as an influence, and who view your work as seminal and essential to their own development. What do you think about that?

RW Percy, my record collection is more like a dusty museum than a 21st century update. I’m embarrassed to say, I know little about what younger musicians are up to. But of course it’s reassuring to hear that some of them have heard what I’ve been trying to do…..and I’m especially grateful to those who’ve used my material. Most recently the Orchestre National De France, Mop Meu Machiine (also French) and the heavenly Unthank Sisters, not to mention Annie Whitehead’s band featuring Julie Tippetts and Jennifer Maidman,  Karen Mantler with John Greaves ( that last project not yet available on record), and several other kind hearted people.

PH I’ve been listening to your recording Comicopera, and with each listen, come away with another layer of emotional connection. The story telling is rich, filmic, poignant, lyrical, and comical at times. Can you tell me a little bit about the creative process concerning the writing and recording of this album?

RW  Comicopera has several geneses. From scraps of paper with momentary thoughts onto recorded equivalents, scattered around my room- sometimes for years! The coherence comes in the editing. More than with previous records, I assumed that the pieces would take on a life of their own, without my interfering with a plan. The eventual sequence to become apparent in the studio (mostly in the last few years with the engineer I met at Phil Manzanera’s studio, Jamie Johnson). And, perhaps from enjoying  so many very old records, this time I really asked a lot of the musicians, I wanted to make a record of total music, not just “vocal with instrumental accompaniment”, although the final order was  guided by the lyrics, by what is being said. For a long time I’ve felt right making records with two ‘sides’ like records used to be.  But for Comicopera, I found myself turning to the idea of music in three parts, like posh symphonies. But not very, eh?

 PH It seems to me that it is often a perfect storm of circumstances that creates an audience for “difficult” artists. Pop culture is a fickle mistress, who is difficult to serve. How do you see the “canon” of your work fitting into the overall universe of all things “pop”?

RW Pop(ular) music is to me a great resource, and even One Hit Wonders can make at least one terrific record-But I’m not in the market  competing for mass attention; I just have to shift enough records to earn a living. So a more apt comparison would be with a little local cafe, or baker’s shop. (i.e. not the kind of retail outlet that depends on media saturation.) So when I was told that the most powerful disc-jockeys might not like Fred Frith’s solo on I’m a believer my automatic reaction was, “who gives a fuck?”)

 PH Your particular musical gift always brings to mind our friend Fred Frith. Fred has a unique way of bending the strange around to the poignant when you least expect it. He does it through a sort of frenetic worrying torrent of sounds that break out at once into lyrical atmospherics and whimsy. You come to the poignant through seemingly indirect, observant, lyrical revelations. How do you conceive of a lyric like: Cuckoo Madame with your teddy bear eye, yellow fingers clinging to the chain link fence. Bombers above you. Bombers behind you.” (“Cuckoo Madame, from the album Cuckooland). I’m not sure what it means, but it makes me want to cry….

AB (This question was answered by Robert’s Wife and Collaborator, Alfreda (Alfie) Benge)

All I can do is explain how this poem happened. The line you quote from Cuckoo Madame was a totally accurate description of what my eyes saw. While watching from the window of a seaside chalet with no-one else around. She was, as described, grasping the wire on a fence with her yellow finger-like claws. Her eyes just like a teddy bear’s glass eyes. Exactly the same colours. The first time Isaw her there was a bomber exercise going on in the air. The lovely peace shattered by horrible noisy low-flying jets. She sat there with bombers swooping overhead. She came regularly twice a day for over a week. I was on my own, and she was my only visitor. My first instinct was antagonistic. I knew there was a meadow pipit nesting nearby, and I knew cuckoos often used meadow pipits nests to plant their eggs. She was the villain. Then, I started to think about her and her life. She never saw her chick, had never seen her parents. A really solitary madam. Soon she’d be off to Africa , and later her chick would make the same journey all alone. No-one to guide it. What a lonely life. And what had happened in cuckoo history to condemn her to such a life? So I imagined being her. And remembering my first reaction, was reminded of the way people are judged without any attempt to understand them. It had recently happened to me, (it was quite traumatic) and no doubt happened to all the outsiders, strangers, foreigners that become hate figures. People who often have tragedies in their lives that we’re oblivious to. Most of the stuff I do when words come first happen in a similar way. I try and look hard. That’s how it starts. I try to pay real attention to something in the physical world, and often that will spark off thoughts about other things. It’s like nature study with added daydreaming. But basically my eyes are OPEN. When the music comes first, I write with my eyes very SHUT, and my ears very OPEN. I Just dive into the music and try and drag out the words that are hiding in there. What film am I watching? ‘Old Europe’ for instance was definitely a black and white French film. The music absolutely dictates the subject matter. In Lullaby for Hamza, three notes just said ‘lullaby’ to me. So I wrote one for someone who needed one. 

 PH What has been the effect upon you of the almost total collapse of the music industry? Has your way of working, your audience, and the way your work reaches your audience helped you escape the carnage somewhat?

RW The record industry, like the leisure industry and the food industry, may boom, bust, do the hoochie-coochie, whatever, people still listen, play and eat. Been doing it for tens of thousands of years. Widespread ‘free’ downloading is a bit scary for us though, like all  theft, naturally)

 PH I am curious to know what young artists (if you listen to any) you think are creating significant work.

RW I’m well aware that there are lots of terrific musicians out there, young (and not so…) In all genres. Here and around the planet. And mass-market pop music seems as entertaining as ever- I’ve listened to Timbaland and Cheryl Cole, and think they’re really good at what they do.(I’m not interested in the various  snobberies around show-business.) It’s all just people trying to do their best. There’s room for all of us, I’d like to think.. 

 PH Much like Scott Walker, you are an artist that the pop culture is always in the process of “catching up to”…it’s a brilliant historical comment, but may mean that some potential benefits of the catching up will not be available until you are gone! What is your take on this phenomenon?

RW See 1 again! Plus, I know that I myself am still catching up on music from before MY time, from Plainchant (a liturgical chant form) to Paul Robeson. Even the ‘originators’ of British popular music as a global phenomenon based most of their original material on that of (mainly Black American) predecessors. Made it ‘New’, as every generation does. Or they simply spread the word, just with a different accent; it’s all part of the merry dance of shared creativity.

PH Your music is quite filmic and imagistic to me. Are you a film lover? How does the imagery of life as      found in film, affect your work if at all? Have you had much music placed in film?

RW Yes indeed, I admire lots of film makers, and have been particularly affected by John Cassavetes (Shadows), Eisenstein, Ozu, Eric Rohmer– and many of the more widely known film makers from early Hitchcock to Mike Leigh. And Alfie (a qualified film editor and Robert’s Wife) introduced me to the wonders of many films from around the world. Um…….where were we? Oh yes. Your actual question! I see my transition from live performance to making records as like the transition from live theatre to making films, Necessity being the mother of invention in my case.

 PH I’ve always wanted to hear a duet between you and Marianne Faithful, this may seem wacky to some, but I think it would be fantastic! What artists would you like to collaborate with that you have not thus far?

RW I choose collaborators that the piece I’m working on seems to want. There are still people I’d like to do music with though, but I don’t wish to embarrass  them by naming them in, as it were, public! Oh, alright then, Sinead O’Connor.




Frank Wilderson, Wallowing in the Contradictions, Part 2

The Second part of my recent interview with Frank B. Wilderson, University of California Professor and author of the Books Incognegro, and his most recent Red, White and Black, Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms took part after a live reading/discussion he did of both books at the University of California Davis in late May. It is important to call out the proverbial 10,000,000 pound elephant in the room regarding this interview without being apologetic. This discussion was punctuated by the idea and flavor of struggle, and for the reader to benefit completely from it (the conversation), they must be willing to engage in a process of struggle.

There is theorizing here concerning the role of Black flesh in human history that could be considered disturbing, or even evocative of widening a schism between black and white, but that is not the purpose or intent of the theorizing. The purpose and intent is to describe in unfettered terms, a very difficult truth concerning an historical and systemic, oppressive and negating dynamic regarding the very idea and reality of Blackness in the world.

Human beings often define themselves according to the quantity, quality, and dramatis of their suffering, but I don’t think this is what Frank and I were discussing here. This is about trying to make sense of it all. This is about posing the essential questions that could lead to…the end of the world as we know it……So please read and capture the discussion with the spirit in which it was intended. Join the discussion, post your comments, I’d really like to hear back from people speaking from their hearts concerning all that’s here.

Besides all this we also discuss Oprah, Public Enemy, Expectations of Black Comedians, PTSD, and the particular struggles Black and White Therapists have in engaging with their clients. Read On.

PH        Frank, your new book Red, White, and Black: Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms is as much a philosophical foundation for a way of looking at the necessity of revolution of some sort as concerns relationships between Blacks and Whites in America as it is a study of the impact of the implicit coding of films concerned with race.  Can you elaborate a little bit on that?

FW       Um, the necessity of revolution?

PH        Of some sort…In your writing, in both books, you basically call people to a point of going beyond looking at race relations as simply figuring out how to get along, which is not enough.

FW       I see what you’re saying.

PH        What is the next step?  There must be some sort of revolutionary impetus involved, and I only use that term because I don’t really know another one.

FW       Yeah, I hear you.  And I’m often….not often but sometimes afraid of the political implications of what I say.

PH        That’s understandable.

FW       Yeah.  Orlando Patterson wrote a book called “Slavery and Social Death”, and I’m not sure Patterson would agree with where I’ve taken this but what I like about his book is he says that work is an experience of slavery but it doesn’t define slavery.  He says that slavery is general dishonor, that the being is dishonored regardless of what he or she does natal alienation of the being whose family ties or kinship structure in his or her mind is not respected by anyone else. (Slavery is also punctuated by) openness to gratuitous violence, which is a body that you can do anything with.  And what interests me is that if that becomes the definition of a slave, the slave can work, but the slave can also sit on a divan and eat bon-bons. 

PH        Absolutely.

FW       You know?  In my hometown of New Orleans in the days of physical slavery you could buy the slave to inject them with poisons to watch them die. So what’s interesting to me is that, as I was saying earlier today, there’s a way in which the Arabs and the Europeans came to a consensus (not sitting down at a table but over years), that Africa is a place where people are generally dishonored, where we do not respect their kinship structures and where their bodies are available to us to do to them whatever we would. This has been our (Black people’s) place ever since then. Once I got to that and started thinking that through it occurred to me that cinema was just another place in which the Black Body was possessed and deployed in the way that one would possess and deploy a slave in any other context.

PH        Right.

FW       And that there is no reformist program for ridding ourselves of that. I mean, it’s like if we’re gonna get out of that we’re gonna be in a whole new world order. 

PH        Right.  And it’s interesting because you look at film as just a context, a context for this process to occur. You know, one can I think Say the same thing about the NBA.

FW       Exactly, yeah.

PH        It brings back the scenario in which the slave can eat bon-bons and make $20-million a year.

FW       Exactly, exactly.

PH        But you’re still a slave, because to me, that really sort of encapsulates the whole conceptualization of fungibility.

FW       I mean, that came home years ago to me. And I don’t remember, I think it was Cleveland, where fans were so happy when the Blacks are performing on the court and when they were not, then when they threw garbage at the court.

PH        Steve McNair syndrome.

FW       Yeah.

PH        Steve McNair in Houston.  You know, he was the hero of the town but you know, when things weren’t going well you know…nigger, he’d hear it every day.

FW       Man.

PH        I think your book brings this point out in sort of stark relief, in an unemotional way, which I can certainly appreciate, and which is necessary. During your talk today (at U.C. Davis) you talked about the fact that we don’t have the cognitive mapping to discuss the issue correctly.

FW       Right, right.

PH        So I think books such as what you’ve just written are a good step in the direction of at least  of mapping out the issues. Whether people can respond unemotionally and thoughtfully to these hypotheses is another thing.

FW       Yes.

PH        I’ve got another question here, but I’m going to chop off the second part of it. 

FW       Okay.

PH        I’m actually going to skip right over it.  It seems to me that part of the ongoing entrenchment concerning the master slave dichotomy is self-imposed upon us.  Black people willingly accepting the role as allegorical slave for certain rewards, we’ve been speaking of a little bit.  I think this is an operational reality when it comes to Blacks in the entertainment industry in general. What are your thoughts about how and why this occurs?  What do you think attributes to this process? 

FW       I think it’s such a deep problem that it’s even hard to go ahead and think about, but we’ll try here. One of the things I didn’t get as deeply into in my book as I would have wanted to would be the work of a Black psychoanalytic scholar named David Marriott who’s down at UC Santa Cruz.  And I’m not sure I have the time to do the heavy lifting of reading all his work right now, but what I can say is that he has this theoretical intervention about the unconscious which suggests that the Black unconscious is always at war with itself because it shares something with the White unconscious which is a hatred for the Black imago, for the image of the Black. I hope I can do the theory justice because I use his work in my film book but I don’t use it in the breadth and the depth that he has written in his books.   He’s not trying to condemn Black people for an unconscious that has as a constituent element hatred of blackness, but he’s trying to suggest that there is violence in the world which is coordinated with Negrophobia. There’s the fantasy of a Black as a phobic object, an object that will destroy you and you don’t even know how it will destroy you, just an anxious threat, you know. And he says, okay, that’s a fantasy, but what’s important, what psychoanalysis hasn’t really figured out, is that what’s important about this fantasy is that it is supported and coordinated with all the guns in the world…

PH        Uh-huh.

FW       And I, the Black, can have a fantasy of white aggression, but it is not coordinated with any institutional power.

PH        Right.

FW       And he says if you go through generations, that it’s really not immediately possible for you to simply genocide that unconscious hatred of yourself because the hatred of Black, of the Black, is also fundamental to being accepted in society. So he’s saying that there is, that there’s two things happening in the Black unconscious, one is a hatred of the Black, of aggressivity towards the Black imago which is the same aggressivity that society has, so that Denzel Washington can say at the end of Training Day “I’m King Kong”, you know.  You know, my God.  You know? 

PH        I actually laughed out loud, it was just ironically bitter when he said that in the movie, yeah.

FW       Shut up!

PH        I know.

FW       My God.

PH        I’m King Kong!

FW       I’m King Kong! So that’s necessary to live in the world.  And it’s like damn, you’re faced with this, like I said today, every Black person in Africa was incorporated into the question of captivity.  That’s really intense.

PH        Yeah it is.

FW       To have a whole continent of people having to negotiate captivity.

PH        Uh-huh.

FW       That’s something no other people in the world have ever had happen to them.

PH        Right, right (Editorial comment: With the possible exception of the Jews during the time of Egyptian captivity and exile….another subject for a later discussion).

FW       So one of the ways that people tried to negotiate that is to find a way to the side of non-captivity which is “how can I be a good white negro?”  You know, I would be remiss if I said that I don’t have those thoughts…From time to time, everybody does, you don’t get promoted, I mean, your promotion at work is based on the degree to which you can embody that

PH        We have gotten to the point to where, in my opinion, there’s this weird thing that’s happened to where the dynamic has sort of flipped back on itself in the entertainment industry in the sense that, let’s just say you’re 50 Cent, you know, he embodies a caricature of blackness that he’s not allowed to go outside of in order to be successful.

FW       Yes, yes.

PH        The minute that 50 Cent wants to make an album of polkas…

FW       Exactly.

PH        He’s done.  Or he wants to do some strange avant-garde thing with Russian singers… can’t do it.

FW       Yeah.

PH        But he can be as Black as he wants within the narrow parameters of a blackness that’s defined from without.

FW       But that’s what’s most important, a blackness that’s defined from without, yeah.

PH        It’s stunning to me, you know, because the thing is that you know, artists (entertainers), I think knowingly capitulate to that, and it’s problematic because so much of our culture is informed by art (entertainment).

FW       Yeah, yeah.

PH        You know what I mean?  You know, even if its incidental, you know, but it’s interesting because people don’t seem to recognize that it’s occurring.

FW       Yeah, I mean, a guy I know is a Hollywood actor and I don’t know what he thinks about all this…

PH        Don’t talk about it?

FW       No, I don’t want to represent his views of anything.

PH        Sure.

FW       This guy has done TV shows and he’s done a lot of commercials and uh, small parts in movies and so, so he makes his money from this and it’s really good money. At the same time it seems to me that prison and Hollywood are one of the two places where everyone’s just really honest.  My friend’s agent sent him to an audition for a comedic part, and they were telling him ‘try it again, try it again’, the casting director said no, you know, and they said ‘look, your agent said you were funny, what’s this?’ And he goes well I’m doing my best’, and she goes, ‘this is not Black funny’, you know.  And he goes ‘what do you mean Black funny?’  I mean, because his humor is more I guess like Lenny Bruce you know, and she goes uh, ‘I think you know what I mean, Black funny. Let’s try it again’.  And he goes, well this is what I do…And she was like  I mean like Eddie Murphy.  So can we take it again’, you know.  He just didn’t get the part because he does narratives, it’s not Black… The funny thing I forgot, the punch line of this is he took me to Denzel Washington’s restaurant and there was a guy, behind the bar who was about the same height, 6-feet, and in his 30s, so they were both like 35, and he was tending bar, at Denzel Washington’s restaurant.  And as we walked in, the guy looked at my friend, and my friend looked at the guy, and they looked at each other and said Black funny, you know.  They had both gone to the same audition.

PH        But you know, that is part of, that’s sort of, it’s a plantation mentality that gets played out, I mean, I’ve been dealing with that for years because you know, I’m also a musician and I’ve been able to have a project called Meridiem and it’s always me and some very interesting people, and it’s been very avant-garde. I mean the project has included people like Fred Frith and Bill Laswell, Vernon Reid of Living Color, and Trey Gunn from King Crimson. But I’m always looked at as the weird Black artist who does this avant-garde thing; they don’t know what to do. I had a guy one time from Melody Maker magazine you know, very prominent British magazine, say to me ‘if you were White they would be branding you the next boy genius, you would be like Beck’.

FW       Wow.

PH        They would just think it was weird and amazing but you’re Black so they keep wondering where the R&B is gonna come from.

FW       Yeah, yeah.

PH        So it’s an interesting thing, and we haven’t moved very far from it, you know, at all artistically.

FW       I had so much, there was a lot of pushing back against this memoir (Incognegro) before I came to South End Press.  One agent really liked it, she was a wonderful Black female agent, and the firm was owned by two white women and when they read it they were like fire him! One major New York house just loved the writing, but gave it to the sales force and they said there’s no way in hell we’re walking into Barnes and Noble with this….. Every time it hit upon some institutional gate, it was a problem. It wasn’t until these two Black women at South End Press were like okay; we’ll take it as is with your vision. 

PH        Good for them.

FW       Yeah, but it was, but it was two years of moving from $30,000 on the table for the advance to $1,500 when it finally got done.

PH        You know, the thing that really gets me about this  concerning the business is that people are not even acting in their own best self-interest when they make these decisions in my opinion.  I mean, I look at Incognegro and I see above and beyond you know, the political orientation of it, the ANC, etc… it’s just a rollicking good yarn! I mean if I was Spike Lee, I’d be seeking the rights to the film.

FW       Wow, that’s so nice. One guy, one Hollywood producer, heard me do a reading of some new work in Los Angeles in April, and he came to me and said ‘I really want to do this,   let’s do it! You know how they talk…

PH        Get all excited in the moment.

FW       Yeah, exactly.  And I was like okay, okay, well I’ll, we can talk a little bit later. Then as I was going into the theater to my reading, he says, but you know, we’re gonna have to cut out all the white women stuff you know……

PH        That to me is a gross underestimation of the general public’s ability to deal with a great story.

FW       Yeah.

PH        There have been some films in the last four or five years that have been difficult stories that have caught on, but Hollywood shot callers have a short memory for that, they don’t see that, they wanna take a certain safe route to it.

FW       Wow, thank you.

PH        It’s a great story. In your book, in the recent book (Red White and Black, Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms), you speak about the prison industrial complex. We talk about the military industrial complex, etc.  But not the prison industrial complex, and to me that’s very resonant, especially living in California which is the capitol of this sort of engagement, California and Texas.

FW       Uh-huh.

PH        You talk about it as being basically sort of a logical extension of this dynamic of the master-slave dyad. Maybe you can just talk a little bit more about.

FW       Well, I think that the question of civil society, not all the questions but the truth of civil society, not the totality of it, but one of the concerns of civil society is how to contain “the Black”, and the  answer to that question is like a hundred different splices of light going out in all directions. The professor uh, Desmond, I can’t remember his last name(A UCD prof that attended the lecture that afternoon), the older Black man who was speaking in the middle you know, he used to teach Economics here….he, talked about Jamestown and one of the things that I came across in the research for this book was a dissertation, a pro-slavery dissertation written by a White intellectual in 19-something in Virginia, and he was writing about the grain of sand, the germ, that creates the modern police force.  And he locates this germ in the question of Black mobility. He charts how throughout the colonies all the way through the Civil War this thing that will become the modern police force, starts off as small collections of people just coming together to monitor the movement of Blacks. And that was really fascinating to me, you know. Obviously the police do a lot of other things today, they do the border patrol, and they do white collar crime…. but what his dissertation is saying is that the constituent element of policing is the maintenance of surveillance of Black bodies. I see the prison industrial complex as an extension of a kind of need, based upon what I would say is a fundamental anxiety concerning where is the Black and what is he or she doing.

PH        There’s, a high degree of sensitivity to that.  My father and I were just talking about this once, in the context of Rodney King, The LA riots, etc. My father made this beautiful analogy, he says you know, if you train a horse, if you train a horse, you know, and you tether him to a little peg and he gets used to it, then you can take it away, you can take the leash off of him and he’ll stand by the peg and he won’t run. 

FW       Yeah.

PH        He said that’s how Blacks have learned to function in Los Angeles, they would not cross the line.  They would come right up to the line, but not cross with violent intent, because we’re not supposed to be there and we know that deadly force will definitely ensue.

FW       Yeah, yeah. There is a guy named Loïc Wacquant who also talks about the Black life being a life from birth to death of existing in what he calls a carcereal continuum (Editorial notes: original attribution of the term is to Foucault) and that different Black people live different modes of incarceration, but that imprisoning Black bodies is a project of civil society and for some people from the ghetto, their bodies take in this project full force, and others like you and I, meet the project when our car is pulled over by the police for being in the wrong neighborhood.

PH        Speaking of Henry Louis Gates.

FW       Exactly, exactly. Now as a Marxist explanation that I think is also prevalent but which is, I think, secondary to the collective unconscious explanation of it that I just gave you… Black people enter humanity, which is part of the premise of both my books, and humanity was demeaning. You know, I’m not the first person to say it, Baldwin just said everything in these two books in one sentence. We exist solely for this purpose of letting everyone know that they’re alive.  You know, that’s my function. Because if someone loses their wife and their buddy and their job, and they are white, at the end of the day they can say at least I’m not a nigger. 

PH        That’s right.

FW       And if you don’t have that at least I’m not a nigger then what you have is the end of the epistemological framework of modern life.  We’d  find ourselves self in a whole new episteme,  and thought would have to be reorganized.

PH        Absolutely.  And I think that this is one of the primary mechanisms of resistance against something like reparations.  Because if you take a step in the direction of something like reparations then you are recognizing the fundamental flaw in your orientation towards Black people.

FW       Yes.

PH        You’re recognizing it.

FW       You’re recognizing it.

PH        And they will not be recognize it.

FW       No.

PH        And it’s funny because until I read Red, White, and Black I hadn’t really formulated an opinion about reparations. I’m all for it man, they need to give me about $2.5 million tomorrow, you know, and it’s not even the money, we could all go out in the middle of the field and burn it, in fact that’s probably what you should do with it, go out and burn it because that’s not what it’s about.  It ‘s processes, you know. And that’s another thing that your book helped me think through is what is the beginning of the discussion of processes for sort of, even just getting the ship up on its side because right now it’s upside down, so we don’t want to deal with these questions of truly ontological significance. That’s something that I’m kind of obsessed with right now is how do you actually have this discussion

FW       I think that, as I said today, it’s such a mind blowing question and sometimes Percy I get so depressed. I just feel the weight of it, I come to school and I know that no other professor has this like fundamental question about how, about how to be in the world, And  I’m really thankful for you and for a smattering of other people I’ve met out here because I haven’t really found this much on the West Coast. I like doing these interviews and these book talks mainly on the East Coast because…

PH        There is a difference.

FW       Yeah.  I just find the Black people out there are, it’s kind of like what I was saying today about why Sacramento shocked me (Frank was shocked at the ethnic and economic diversity in Sacramento). After being on the East Coast, you know, it was like, normally California crowds are just so touchy-feely and the Black people in them are so isolated that they’re just trying to get along with the multicultural groove.

PH        And you get that in San Francisco, in San Francisco you have this, what I call hyper real bohemianism amongst the Black left.

FW       Yes.

PH        So they really can’t talk about anything.

FW       They can’t talk about anything. But you know, I’ve had things in Washington and Boston and New York and it’s, it kind of throws me back being in California just how intense Black people are (on the East Coast), and uncompromising and just hungry to have these discussions and just don’t care.  You know, it’s like, I’ve had people ask me on the radio how to do guerilla warfare! (Mutual laughter). We were at WPFW in Washington, the FBI’s listening, they’re like how do you make a bomb? (Again, laughter). Metaphorically speaking—I’m mean they didn’t actually use those words, but they sounded ready for the get down.

PH        It changes, exponentially, you know, with the more status and money that they have.  California Blacks really get subsumed into this, especially if you’re upper middle class or above into this sort of disconnection that we seem to have on the West Coast.  Now people always think that the East Coast is cold and disconnected, no, there’s more disconnection here just because of land and space and all this kind of stuff so you can just, you can afford to believe that everything’s cool. Whereas in New York City, you know man, you got a melting pot yeah, but still to this day you know that you can’t go to Bensonhurst, you can’t.

FW       Yeah.

PH        And if you’re a Black person you don’t go to Bensonhurst and they don’t go into Bed-Sty, they don’t do that, there’s this thing that’s there and it’s ever present and it’s real.

FW       I did two radio shows with Black commentators who like you, just got to the heart of the matter.  And then I did a reading discussion at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn which was…

PH        I saw that.

FW       Oh okay.

PH        I actually watched that three nights ago.

FW       Oh, the C-SPAN thing, yeah, that was actually recent.

PH        That wasn’t at Medgar Evers?

FW       It was but I had done one before two years ago by myself and that was so intense and I did one the next day, it was 70 White people at NYU.  So I was like getting a real hit of this New York intensity and what really blew my mind was that the sophistication and the anger combined…. just ordinary people politically sophisticated and angry.

PH        When you did the talk at NYU you know, when it was predominately a White audience…I would presume to think that they might even be more transparent and ask difficult questions, or questions that might even expose their biases more so than you would think…

FW       Yes, yeah.

PH        Was that sort of your experience?

FW       Yes, I felt that a lot of people at NYU were, were, because New Yorkers like get in your face, I mean, they don’t have no California nice going on.

PH        No.

FW       And so, so, so foolish me not remembering when I used to live in New York what it’s all about you know, I had been at Medgar Evers the night before and,  then before that I think it was Harlem, the Brecht forum which was a mix of Black, White, and Asian, Marxists, etc, and then NYU.  So at Medgar Evers, what was happening was that, I would say out of 70 people, 50 were we’re actually going to vote for Obama but all 70 people were against the United States as a concept.  I mean, in other words they were all politically militant, some were nurses, some were lawyers that were trade unionists,  perhaps random students, and people that were unemployed. But no one tried to shut down what was happening in terms of this like ongoing spontaneous critique about how unethical America was as a place, which was what I had introduced. At NYU the young people there were demonstrably bored with me! They put their feet up on the back of chairs, it was like who is this fool? I mean they were getting up and leaving and so on, so it was quite, you know it was quite…

PH        Right.

FW       Everyone’s on the same page regardless of what they were gonna do in two days time when the election came.  Okay?  And at the book signing, I mean brothers and sisters like took up chairs next to me to tell me their horror stories about what’s happening in their profession, you know.  And I had said at one point when someone asked me my feelings, and I said I’m not a Democrat or Republican, nor an American, you know, and this nurse, this older woman nurse walked up to me and said ‘I want to talk to you about what you said’ and I thought oh no, here it comes.

PH        She’s gonna smack me.

FW       And she said “I have thought that all my life but I don’t say that at the hospital.  I am so glad you said it tonight.” I hate this country but I just can’t, I can’t say it at the hospital, I thank you so much for having said that’.

PH        And I think there’s a lot of interesting impetus for that. It’s a very complex set of emotions for Black people around this country, because one can say I hate this place and you mean that on a profoundly real level.

FW       Uh-huh.

PH        And on another level, it’s not your experience or what you mean…

FW       Yeah.

PH        Because you know, you have these contradictions that go on…. do you remember the Public Enemy song Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos?

FW       Yeah.

PH        Because what does he say in that one line, he says something about “because I’m a Black man and I can never be a citizen’. 

FW       Yeah.

PH        But I, mean Chuck D, his Dad was a dentist or something, he had this certain life but then he has this other experience, you know, that co-exists sort of side by side with that.

FW       Well my father, he rose to the Vice President of the University of Minnesota, very involved in the  Democratic Party, major lobbyist you know, for the University of Minnesota, and on boards of these corporations, same with my mother, and you know, the other day, he had this problem. He’s almost 80 and had a complicated issue with his shoulder and needed to go for surgery.  When he goes to the University Hospital they treat him like a king, I mean, there’s just, the University of Minnesota owns, has a hospital on campus where he’s treated like a king, but it also has a University hospital in Fairview in the suburbs where the doctors are not professors and out of convenience because he lived near there he just went there to the suburban version, And they treated him like a n-i-g-g-e-r for maybe the first time in 30 years and what he didn’t, I mean, if he had gone in and said uh, I’m Frank Wilderson, former Vice President of the University and da-da-da, then they would have treated him right. And they left him on a stretcher, on the gurney after the operation in the hallway for five hours and…

PH        It’s kind of funny you say that because that’s how my grandfather died.

FW       Well, he almost died, the blood clot went from his shoulder to his lungs, and my mother couldn’t get anybody to pay attention to him in the hallway of a major, major suburban hospital.

PH        Did they catch shit for it after…

FW       Well, I’m hoping my parents will sue.  And on top of that they tried to push him out of the hospital early, you know, and finally, my reading of the story is that someone from the main University hospital called them and said basically, this is not a Negro, this is our Negro.

PH        Yeah.

FW       You know, this is our prized Negro, what are you doing, you know….then it all changed.

PH        But that’s the unfortunate reality, like in a Black ghetto having to be subjected to a certain type of brutarian experience regarding race that we don’t have to suffer every day.

FW       Right.

PH        But when we do come into contact with it, the apparatus, it’s like that, and often the answer is you get a pass because of your context.

FW       Yeah.

PH        We’ll give you a momentary pass and we’ll give you a contextual pass.

FW       Right.

PH        And the fact that someone has to give you a pass…

FW       Yes.

PH        …is just as oppressive as if they didn’t. 

FW       Yeah.

PH        It’s hard for people to understand.  I went to university at a place called Harding University. Have you heard of it?

FW       Where is that?

PH        It’s in Arkansas.

FW       Okay.

PH        And it’s a small liberal arts Church of Christ university and I went there in 1979. When I was a freshman there were 180 Black students on campus and 155 of us were athletes.  Seriously. 

FW       That’s amazing.

PH        So those experiences, I mean, that whole process became very alive for me at that time you know, when you really could realize the whole contextual exemption from Blackness because you’re smart, and middle class.

 PH        On another note, regarding your contrast of the thought of Fanon and Lacan on these issues, I always thought Lacan was a Buddhist…..

FW       Yes, yes, yes.

PH        He’s a Buddhist. I never really sort of questioned his a priori assumptions.

FW       You know, someone accused me of being cavalier with that, and my point is that I’m not cavalier, I’ve been in psychoanalysis for over 10 years and I’ve just left it, not that I’m cured, but just because it’s so expensive and I’m not sure…

PH        Yeah, it’s expensive.

FW       But I’m saying that this doesn’t matter in an essential way; I’m not saying that I wanna be crazy walking around. When I first came back (from South Africa), I was going crazy….

PH        Well you might have had a touch of PTSD as well.

FW       Yeah I really did, I really did.  And I had physical ailments that were really psychosomatic; I used a cane for a while. It was just hard being back. My brother, lovely and wonderful (we grew up separately because he went to private schools in the suburb and he’s 10 years younger than me) he allowed me to live at his house. I was teaching at Compton Unified School District which, I didn’t know how it could be worse than Soweto, but it is. 

PH        Compton’s pretty bad.

FW       Yeah…. and so trying to find psychoanalysts you know, when I finally moved to Berkeley at the end of ’97, what struck me is that there were very few Black people in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis then.  And when I went to White Therapists to interview them, I found a tension there in that they were a little too anxious about bringing the whole racial component into the analyst room. And then when I went to some Blacks, maybe the wrong ones, they were a little too anxious about wanting to make me better now because seeing how crazy I was and crying uncontrollably and needing anti-depressants and so on, I knew that they were suffering my suffering right here in this room, but I felt that the help was coming too quickly because they wanted me to be safe. So I finally end up with this white guy which is very problematic for about two years only because he said the least of anybody that I had interviewed.  And what I kind of got through him was that  he could help me not go into psychosis and to manage neurosis but at the end of the day his other clients had contemporaries in the world and I did not, and that was  fundamental, it’s like my dad’s situation.  My dad thought he had contemporaries but when he went to the wrong hospital he realized that he was just Black you know, and that was the one thing that can’t be solved in the psychoanalytic encounter. 

PH        No, it can’t.

FW       So, I stayed with this guy for a while, a long while, because what I was able to do through him was hear myself talk over 10 years and work out a lot of the stuff in this book without him pushing back like it’s not about race, it’s not about race, it’s not about race which was what a lot of the Whites were doing that I interviewed. The Blacks were saying this is what you gotta do to stay alive, you know, that kind of thing.  Ultimately we parted and I’m not necessarily sane or anything like that, but I did get a book, you know, and uh, and he learned a lot, he learned a lot about the limits of his profession through me.

PH        Yeah, White psychotherapists often struggle profoundly with something that is jammed into the brain of every psychotherapist, and that is cultural formulation, cultural formulation, cultural formulation.

FW       Interesting.

PH        It’s essential to not deny you know, from whence a person comes, you must look at the universal breadth of their culture. But what happens is, you get taught, it’s an academic nail in the head, um, but what happens is it’s the way that being able to perform a useful cultural formulation gets stuck in very small parameters, i.e. the color of one’s skin, are you a male or a female, these sorts of things.  What gets negated is the sort of functional breadth of experience.  What I mean by that, and this happens to Blacks like you and I quite often, is that we share the fact that we were raised middle class people.

FW       Yeah.

PH        There is an element of the formulation of culture within us that is informed by that, inescapable. We did not grow up in Harlem or Compton. 

FW       Exactly.

PH        But see what happens is that the White psychotherapists are not prepared to deal with the Black person who is possessive of those types of nuances. 

FW       Yes, exactly.

PH        Or the Indian person or the Asian person or the White person for that matter because the training is not sufficient to the task of taking a more global view of certain human suffering.  So when you found this guy he was a guy that didn’t suffer from that particular malady, he didn’t have to perseverate on that issue.

FW       Yes, yeah.

PH        Good therapist, Black, White, or otherwise.

FW       Yeah.

PH        You deal with what presents and then you move on.  But that’s what you were encountering and many people encounter that in therapy and I see it as a flaw in the educational preparation and process.  In fact I’m involved in a project right now, and  one of the things we’re taking a look at is this flawed cultural formulation. 

             Your experience with the Black therapists was a very common experience. I think Black people in America have a tendency to have a profound fear and distrust of mental illness.

FW       Yeah, yeah.

PH        Because it’s been used as a weapon.  Black psychoanalysts man, they want to be the guardians of the gate, they want to help you get past it, you’re not crazy, I don’t care if you’ve been told you’re crazy, you’re not crazy and this is how we’re gonna show you you’re not crazy, we’re gonna do it and they have a tendency to be very functional, very outcome oriented…

FW       That’s the word, functional and outcome.

PH        Yes, very constructed you know, and the better they are the more they are that way.

FW       Yeah, yeah.

PH        You know, so actually I’ve been doing some writing about this very issue so I’m glad you brought that up.  But yeah, your experience just to let you know Frank, very typical.

FW       I appreciate that.  I was feeling guilty.  You know, I was like you know, I gotta use a Black person but this is, it’s not that simple that we, we can’t like make a life plan in four sessions you know.

PH        And that was extremely typical you know, so that’s not your issue.  Well, I just have a couple more questions here and I did send you some email questions so you can get to them…

FW       I’ll definitely get to them.

PH        How do you, how do you see it, what is the role, what can be a role of spirituality or religion you know, in this human drama, in this struggle, or is there a role?

FW       Um…

PH        How do you see it?

FW       Well I have two contradictory answers to that. 

PH        Okay.

FW       Uh, I’ll try to put them together. 

PH        Ok.

FW       What I’m trying to say is at the level of relations of power, what does it mean to be Black?  In the way that Marx said, at the level of the relations of power what does it mean to be a worker?  Well, what it means to be a worker is that one goes through one’s life captive to two questions; how long will I have to work and how much will I have to do?  And that the only things that change one’s life are the particulars of those questions when you change jobs, when you earn more money, etc., etc. But why he calls capitalism unethical is because those are paradigmatic questions for one class of people, and the other class of people doesn’t have those questions.

And so what I think is that there’s so much talk about hybridity, diversity, and possibility that what I want to contribute to the world is a text about impossibility, Blackness as a space of impossibility.  Now having said that, there are things I do to manage myself, to help me be okay, know what the world is saying or whatever, in a place where everyone sees me as their object, you know.  One of the things I said in psychoanalysis and another thing that I do is consult regularly with a teacher, Babalawo, who consults ancestors to help me. But I’m, I’m a little cautious and uh, uncomfortable with incorporating that into my political analysis and my political philosophy.  One, because I don’t write about, I don’t write the answer to Lenin’s question, what is to be done?  I think, I believe that the liberation of Black people is tantamount to moving into an epistemology that we cannot imagine. Once Blacks become incorporated and recognized I don’t think we have the language or the concepts to think of what that is.  It’s not like moving from Capitalism to Communism, it’s like the end of the world.

PH        It’s like moving to Mars.

FW       It’s like moving to Mars. 

PH        You know, it’s a contextual dilemma. You know, and that’s a good enough answer.  I think that’s great.  Um, what else, did I have anything else?  Actually I had another question but I don’t think I want to ask it now…

FW       Tell me what it was.

PH        I have a little Oprah problem. I don’t know, I just, I always ask, I always like to ask, especially Black artists what they think about the sort of sociological significance of Oprah and how she’s impacted, you know, the whole landscape of sort of aesthetic and artistic acceptance of Black output you know, because she’s monolithic. 

FW       Yeah.

PH        But we don’t have to get into that.

FW       Well, you know, um, uh, Charles Burnett, he was doing a screening of Killer of Sheep and some other movie at UC Berkeley, he was at the Pacific Film Archives giving a talk.  And someone in the audience asked him about a film that Oprah had produced and he said working for Oprah is worse than working for the Klan.  I was like what!? I kind of got whiplash.

PH        Did he go on or did he just stop?

FW       He didn’t go into great detail but he likened to a problem that he had spoken about a few minutes earlier but he said he made a movie called Night John about a slave who runs away and re-enslaves himself so that he can teach people to read and find his wife. 

PH        Right.

FW       And he said  Charles Lumbly, who lives in Berkeley played in Night Job, and he talked about how unsentimental and how raw and true he wanted that film to be….

PH        Right.  And they (Disney) killed it.

FW       And they just kept reaching their hands into, they gave him, there’s a little girl in the film, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it but it’s a really interesting film.  There’s a little girl and he had a little girl that he wanted as a slave girl and they got this other like, Disney slave girl and he was just fighting with them all the time, you know. And so his point was that, that working for Oprah was worse than that because she, her interventions are more in line with White civil society.

PH        Like I said I got a little problem…I remember walking out of the Color Purple. 

FW       Yes.

PH        To me one of the most profoundly disgusting horrendous pieces of tripe that I’ve ever had to deal with.  And there you got a combination of Oprah and Spielberg. Spielberg who is highly invested in this… people want to compare him to Frank Capra, I’m like don’t compare him to Frank Capra. 

FW       No, no.

PH        Capra had a sense of irony about this stuff, you know, I mean he really did.

FW       Yeah, yeah.

PH        I mean he knew that everything was so shiny and there was always some weird thing that sort of came in there with Capra.  But you know, that sort of Spielbergian vision, you know, coupled with her stuff has not been good for art.

FW       No, it hasn’t.

PH        And they both have like a monstrous amount of power, but.

FW       My acupuncturist, he’s a White guy and he means really well, wonderful guy but he keeps saying to me, this is such a great book, why doesn’t Oprah want you on?

PH        Oprah would never let you on her…

FW       I’m like Jay, Jay!, I got on NPR and the day after they had transcribed the entire thing on a right wing blog and someone was, people were writing in about why they need to close down NPR because of this interview….

PH        Oh yeah.

FW       And it was, it was just, and then I was supposed to be on another…

PH        To bad Moyers retired, he’d probably…

FW       He might have.  But I was supposed to be on another public radio station, NPR station in Minnesota and the day before the interview the producer called me and said we just need to know, did you kill anybody(in South Africa).  And I said the book is about the relations and structural violence and personal violence and I do not want to talk about violence at the level of personal guilt.  I want to talk about it in a different way.  She says ‘you gotta answer my question’.  And I said when, you’ve interviewed former members of the CIA, um, military officials…

PH        And plus that’s nuts because you know what?  If you killed somebody and and they knew about it, as soon as you came back to this country you’d be in jail.

FW       I’d be in jail. 

PH        You know.

FW       And I said to her um, do you say that to your son or daughter when they come back from Iraq?  You know, is that a prerequisite for them sitting down at Thanksgiving with you?  Is this a prerequisite for you having police officials on your show?

PH        It was a moral conundrum for that producer.

FW       Yeah.

PH        It didn’t have anything to do with them having to do a certain type of due diligence.

FW       And I said well, that would mean that I would have to in some way renunciate the idea of our struggle for people who are suffering and the book doesn’t do that you know, and I said why can’t we have a conversation about that question on the air tomorrow?  And she said ‘I’m sorry, you know, you either answer the question or we have to call the show off.’  So they called it off.

PH        And this is probably a show that had somewhat of a leftist image.

FW       Yeah, yeah.

PH        There you go.