Writer Eliot Wilder has worked as editor of Amplifier magazine and as a copy editor for the LA Times. He is also a songwriter and musician, and has just released a new album, The Sentimental Education of Eliot Wilder. He now resides in Boston with his wife and daughter. Eliot Wilder and I talked by phone on September 25, 2005.
Are you a big baseball fan or just the Red Sox?
Just the Red Sox. I moved here from Los Angeles and I wasn’t a very big Dodgers fan, but I’ve been living in this neighborhood now for about five or six years and I’m literally down the street from Fenway Park so it’s kind of hard to ignore it.
Was that part of the draw, or was it just where the best apartment for the price became available?
Sort of, yeah. It was the latter. I lived in another part of Boston before I moved here and I’ve kind of generally been in this one particular area. I like it. You get anywhere when you live in this part of town either walking or taking the subway so it’s pretty great.
Well, I’ll use this as a segue then. You thank Joe Pernice, who is a Red Sox fan extraordinaire, in the book credits, and I know that he’s hooked a few people up with David Barker and the 33 1/3 series. So does Joe Pernice play a role in you landing the assignment?
Well, I was working for this magazine at the time called Amplifier. It’s this kind of alternative rock magazine. In fact, I was the editor for a couple of years. And I also did photos. So I was scheduled to shoot Joe, and his manager and record label, Ashmont Records, is down in Dorchester which is not too far outside of Boston so I just took the subway and I showed up. I’d never met him before but I really loved The Pernice Brothers and so I was kind of excited to meet him, and he was a really great guy, and we kind of went out in the garden and shot some photos and I think he was in the process of working on the Meat Is Murder book, and he started to talk about it. I don’t know if any other books had come out yet even, from the first batch.
So he kind of described it, and he said, I’m going to write it as fiction. And they’d pretty much given everybody kind of carte blanche with the way they wanted to handle it, and it’s turned out pretty well for Continuum. And so he said, You should give David a call. Or e-mail him. And I thought, You know, I should.
So I was thinking, actually on the subway back, you know, one album that I just totally loved was Endtroducing . . . and I wonder if anyone would even think to do something about that. And so I e-mailed David with kind of a little bit of a proposal and heard back not too long after, and it kind of began from there.
There were no constraints, really. I didn’t actually know like how it was going to turn out. I thought of maybe writing it as fiction but then I thought, Well, you know, Joe has handled that. And, you know, a lot has been written about the album, and I’ve been a huge fan since it came out, but I don’t recall reading all that often, especially in like more domestic newspapers and magazines, I haven’t read a lot of interviews with the guy and so I really was wondering how it would be if I could get a hold of him, what would he be like as an interview and what could I turn this into off of that, so it was kind of a matter of pointing myself in a direction and saying, I’m going to take this a step at a time and however it turns out is kind of the way it goes. And that was really exciting.
So the album selection happens immediately. Because you know some of the 33 1/3 writers have been like, I could write about this. I could write about that. And David kind of helps them narrow. But you picked the record and he was in agreement from Day One.
Yeah. I mean, that was definitely the thing I wanted to write about. I remember specifically when that album came out. I remember the day that I bought it and I remember how it made me feel and how it kind of really turned my head around. You know, I knew about hip-hop but this was really something different. I think, as Josh in the book says, they called it trip-hop. It was kind of lumped in with a lot of things like Portishead and Massive Attack, and I’d heard all that stuff, but when I heard this it was just like, Oh jeez. This is like so different from anything, you know. And I really didn’t know anybody who was really that into it, but as I kind of went along through the years with the album it became more and more considered kind of a classic.
Do you have any idea what the album has done sales-wise? I don’t want to get too far into the business end, but obviously if you’re going to write a book about an album and in your experience, at least at the beginning, not too many other people know that it’s out there, did you have to think about the size of your potential audience. David, theoretically, has to make his money back. How well has this record done?
You know, I really don’t know. I guess if I turned to whoever tabulates that stuff I could’ve found out. I know that it’s sold pretty well. And it might be in the book, how many units it pushed initially, but it’s one of those albums that has a huge cult following. It’s like people, now, like years down the line, even young people come to it. It doesn’t seem to have really aged very much at all. Even though there’s a lot of hip-hop breaks and all these things that people now have kind of copied, when you listen to it just fresh, if you just come to it, it’s like this could’ve been made ten years ago, or this could’ve been made last week, I think. And you listen to stuff from ten years ago, even things like Massive Attack and those other groups, and they sound a little bit 90s now.
To answer your question, I don’t know how much it sold, but I do know that this year they re-issued it and Josh, real generous guy that he was, allowed me to do the liner notes so I’ve got that out there too, and I think it’s doing pretty well. I mean, they put out ads on it and it’s been like reviewed again and getting five stars everywhere. It’s one of those things that’s obviously more of a cult-type following or critics seem to really love, you know. In fact, I was hoping that, if I could get a hold of him, and find out really what was going on when he was making the album that, you know, maybe I could help spread the word because it really matters to me that much. Like people might come to it and think, Hey, there’s something here. I should get this record.
Let me ask you about that process. You pitch Endtroducing . . . and David’s in agreement. Whether it’s an e-mail reply or whether it’s a contract that you have to sign, at some point this is becomes a real assignment and this is what you’re going to do.
Yeah, and I did sign a contract and I kind of put together a proposal, but like with anything that you write in any area you kind of don’t know – well, at least for me – I didn’t have it in mind like how it was going to turn out since I didn’t really know then I could get a hold of Josh. And I didn’t want to get a hold of Josh if I didn’t have the book, you know, because I didn’t want to call the guy and say, Look, I want to do this interview but I don’t know, because I didn’t think he would go for it.
Is the contract when it becomes real? Or does it feel real to you when you get the e-mail back from David? When does the realization hit you that you have a book to write hit?
Well, you know, there’s that feeling. Like, David was really nice. And when he sent me the e-mail – I don’t remember exactly when that was, but I certainly remember thinking, Yeah! And then, Uh oh. Now I’ve got to write this thing. And a lot of it was anxiety kind of stemming off of not so much the process of writing it but just, you know, wanting to do justice to the album. All along, that was kind of my goal.
You know, I’ve written a lot about a lot of different things, albums and musicians, and I think the reason why I picked it was because I knew I would be completely into it and I knew that whatever came up would just be really interesting to know and to learn about, and then maybe in that process it could get into the writing and then spread the word.
Whether we start from David’s e-mail or signing the contract, how long does the process take?
Well, like the whole process between when I like really first started doing it and the book coming out, which was about a month ago, I think it was about two years.
What about the mulling process? I mean, you know you can write a book. You’ve got experience writing, but it seems like your main concern was to write a book worthy of the record. You wanted to make sure you could do a really good job.
So how long does it take you to decide that you want to interview Josh, that that’s the void that needs to be filled on this record?
I needed to find out if I could get a hold of him, which was kind of a big deal. But once I did, which was kind of a funny story, just getting a hold of him, because he’s not reclusive but he’s not like somebody that you can just track down in some kind of easy way, but I thought, Yeah, I want to interview him, and then if he turns out to be like a really good interviewee, like if he’s somebody that really knows what he’s done and is smart and articulate, then I think maybe it could turn into like kind of a Q and A, which is sort of how the book is. And so I first tried MCA in New York, which the album originally came out in the U.S. - it was on Mo’Wax in England - and I called MCA in New York, and you know how you get those kind of phone deals where you can’t get a hold of a human being? And I was being bounced around and finally I got somebody who transferred me somewhere to get to like some department that had something to do with like artists, and they didn’t know who he was. They were like, Who? I was like, He was on your label. The album came out in ’96. And they had no idea. And then they called LA, the office there, and I got kind of run around the same deal. Nobody seemed to know who the hell he was. I could see how it happened, but it just seemed ridiculous.
So I was reading in some story on the Internet about this place in Sacramento that Josh frequents called Records, and I thought, Well, maybe I should just call there and leave a message and tell them to hand it to Josh if he ever comes in, and so like that happened. And he ended up e-mailing me, and then we talked and I kind of said, Well, what do you think of doing this like an interview kind of situation? And maybe I’ll turn it into a story that incorporates it, but you know, I really want to find out what you were thinking and how you were feeling when you put it together, and what’s kind of your story. And right from the start he was really a great guy and really interested in wanting to do it and really smart and really, really remembers like every little thing that went into it and what he was thinking, and that was great. So once we started to sit down and really do the interview I realized that it was going to go well.
So there was no hesitation on his part? No “I’ve got to check with my management”? He was like “This is a cool thing” from the beginning?
Yeah, yeah. I mean, he’s just a very straightforward guy. And also I was kind of nervous. You know, what if he was kind of a dick? And I’ve interviewed dicks before and then you get Yes or No answers and that kind of thing and I’d be really stuck, but from the moment we spoke he just seemed like easily the best interview I’ve ever done, even though it was done over the course of three months. We spoke every Sunday for about ninety minutes over the course of, I think it was between like, April, May and June. And as it turns out my wife was pregnant and we were having a kid in July, and then he had, shortly afterwards, twins. So we were kind of going through similar sort of situations – first time dads. There’s a lot of talk that never ended up in the book.
This is April, May, June of ’04?
Yeah. And so after that I felt like it went real well. I had all these tapes, you know, from the whole three months of talking with him, and I had to get those transcribed, and then my kid was born, so even though I had like a lot of other freelance things I kind of had to put it aside, the book writing part aside, because we’re kind of alone in a four hundred square foot apartment without really any kind of family, so the focus really had to be on the kid, you know.
What’s your child’s name?
Astrid. She was a real handful, but a great little girl and, you know, the first few months were just completely crazy and my wife eventually went back to work three months later and then this was zeroing in on like October and I knew I had to get started on the book. And I was pretty much alone during the day with Astrid and she wasn’t really sleeping at all during the day. She cried a lot, because little kids do that, but right around December she started to kind of mellow out and I would have her sitting in her my lap - at that point I could actually turn her around but before I couldn’t do that because she was too small to face forward – and she pretty much, I would say, during the day, most of the time, she would just be sitting there while I’d be writing. And I’d always have music going and, you know, spend a good chunk of the afternoon writing. And I managed to do the whole thing with her, pretty much, most of the time, sitting right in my lap. And so that was really an experience. I worked at the LA Times for a really long time and I was used to kind of compartmentalizing myself so you could be in a crazy situation and still have to turn out something and so I think that was a good education.
I realize that your wife is pregnant and you’ve got other work you have to be doing to bring in the money and that kind of stuff, but it doesn’t sound like you were doing any transcribing from Monday through Saturday before you talked to Josh again on Sunday.
Oh no. But I kept notes and so I knew. Whenever we would sort of seize one weekend, I’d say, Okay, here we were in October of 1989, or whatever, but at the end of collecting all the stuff, all the interviews, I took the advance that the publisher gave me and I spent it on having it all transcribed. There’s like a place in downtown Boston called The Transcription Center, and so because I just never would’ve, you know, been able to get through it all. And I know from doing my other interviews. This is the first time I’ve ever done that, just because of the sheer volume.
So how many cassettes do we have of you and Josh talking on Sunday afternoons?
Ah jeez. Well, it wasn’t like every single weekend, but we used up an entire cassette each weekend we did talk. We talked for ninety minutes because he said pretty much that was all he was good for.
I wonder what the math is on that? About twelve, thirteen cassettes. I keep just about all my interviews unless it just went particularly poorly, you know, and I don’t want to ever hear it again, or I would never read it again.
And you’ve got room for all those cassettes and you and your wife and your daughter in those four hundred square feet?
Well, yeah, and I have like ten million CDs in here too. It’s a little bit like the apartment in High Fidelity, although it’s all in one space. But I’m pretty organized. If I wasn’t I think we would just be screwed.
How much an hour do they hold you up for on those transcription services?
God, I can’t remember now. I’ve got it all down for taxes and stuff, but I remember it came at a pretty substantial price. I mean, it was, I don’t know, maybe twelve hundred bucks or something like that. And there was a slight problem. I kind of went in order just to see what I had, you know, and stitched all the documents together, and this huge, huge document of all the things that we said, and in the first section it was great because the person obviously knew music and there’s a lot of names being dropped, and so if a person knows that Grandmaster Flash is not some sort of cereal or something like that, they tend to know who he is, but the second set someone else must have taken over because like I couldn’t even figure out. It was almost complete non-sequiters. I mean, the person just wasn’t hearing. And Josh was very eloquent so I was kind of dismayed, and rather than, at that point, go back and have it redone, I just like put the tapes on myself and tried to figure out the real problem areas. And, I mean, obviously I had to take a lot out, but even though you didn’t want to sculpt it so that it flows, the dialogue, what goes on in there, there’s things that I moved around, only for the sake of, because, so things would be matched up in time. I didn’t change anything that he said, you know, maybe took out “uh”s so that it flows, but there were things I had to kind of move around because sometimes he would refer back or forward to something and I wanted to put it all into context so that was really a lot of work. And when I got to the very end, that wasn’t really probably the last thing that we talked about, where he was talking about his wife, like when he gets all his courage screwed up so he can play the album for his wife, who really loves him, you know, and is really into his stuff, and he’s like, What do you think? And she said something like, That’s great. I’ve got to go to the bathroom. And that just seemed like the right note to end on because it kind of shows his intensity but his humor as well because there’s both, you know.
Yeah. And it’s a good reminder that there are human beings actually creating this stuff. The wives of artists have to go to the bathroom too.
Yeah. And really, when he was making it, the feeling I got was that he felt pretty confident about what he was doing because he had a lot of knowledge about what he was doing. But he also was humble about it. Like there’s this movie, I think I mention in the book, Scratch, this documentary. It’s great, you know. And like a lot of it really goes back to the sort of history of hip-hop and turntablism and the differences between all the different types, and a lot of it is huge competitions in New York for like DJs and all, but then there’s this segment where DJ Shadow’s featured, you know, and he’s just like in the basement of that Records record store, and he’s just looking through the catacombs, kind of worshipful, you know, reverent towards the music and saying, You know, all these albums that people are discarding. Everyone thinks they’re making their mark, but just know that one day you will end up down here too. And I think he understands the disposable aspect, and how there’s like worthiness even in that discard, and I think that’s what makes his music so interesting is that he finds, you know, like the things that people have sort of gotten rid of and makes something completely new out of that that’s really interesting.
Now if when you first talk to Joe Pernice the first batch of the 33 1/3 books hadn’t even come out, then you probably have an assignment before more than a handful of books are published. So are you at all conscious of the fact that you’re kind of stretching the mold of this series by doing the long interview?
I didn’t know really how the other writers that were writing while I was writing were going to handle it. I had read the ones that had come out when they came out, but there was actually a time in there, I should mention, that like David was sort of saying, Well, we’ll kind of see. It wasn’t like Yes right away because we need to know that these books are going to sell before we get started on the second round.
So your proposal doesn’t include the interview because you don’t know that you can get Josh.
Yeah, I mean, I didn’t really finesse that. I mean, I didn’t say something I was going to do that I couldn’t do. If I knew I couldn’t do it I certainly wasn’t going to say I could because I didn’t want to get stuck that way. But there was never a time when they said, Well, you have to write it like this, or You need to have that. And I knew if I didn’t get Josh I just couldn’t write about the album other than, you know, following what’s already been said, and I didn’t want to do that. So I was thinking, Well, worst case scenario, I’ll just go the Joe Pernice route and do some fiction out of it. I don’t think it would be that difficult to do that because the music’s so evocative and so ambiguous in a lot of ways. It’s not like, well, I’m putting on some other album like Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Yeah, there’s a lot of room there.
Yeah, there is a lot of room because the album plays in your head, you know, and it’s really kind of like a musical suite.
So when you go to David and you say, I want to do this as an interview and I’ve got Josh, is there even a thought in your mind that a long interview may not be a good idea because it’s so different that what has been done? Or are you just so completely pumped that you’ve got Josh on board that you’re sure that everybody will agree that this is a good idea?
I would say a little bit of both. I just didn’t know, you know. I just try to approach everything I do with the feeling that it’s just going to work somehow. I don’t go on complete faith, because I feel like I could fail easily. “Yeah, I’ll have no problem. I’ll do this.” It wasn’t like that, you know. It was just like, I’m just hoping this works, you know. When you come to a blank page you don’t know really what’s going to go on it until you’re actually in the process of writing it. And I’m not an outline type guy. In everything I’ve written I don’t sit down and go, This is where this is going to happen. Especially once I knew that it was going to be a dialogue. And then I was really, as the months were kind of passing with my kid and I was kind of too engaged in that to really give it a lot of thought, you know, I had a lot of worries like, What if there’s no arc here? I mean, I’m remembering what he was saying, but what if there’s not enough substance? But once I got writing it, it just really seemed to take on a shape. And it does kind of have the composition. I mean, obviously it’s like kind of maybe a little bit of a reference to My Dinner With Andre, like My Sundays With Josh, but you know, one thing I really love about that movie now is. how often do you get a conversation where there seems to be a beginning, middle and an end. And it seemed like it kind of took that shape after a while. Thank God. I don’t know. Maybe other people might see it differently. I’m not sure. But I feel like there’s a shape there.
You’re a big fan of the record, and therefore Josh, and you’ve talked to him before you actually start recording the interview. But there’s a difference between interviewing a band you really like and interviewing a band because that’s your job. Do you have that pre-interview adrenaline rush when you dial his number that first Sunday? Are you thinking, Okay, this is it. This is the beginning of the book.
Yeah, sure. I was pretty nervous, because I’m just generally kind of a nervous guy anyway, and you know even the interviews that I thought would be kind of a cakewalk that I’ve done – well, none of them have ever been but people that I thought, Well, this shouldn’t go too badly, I always keep my adrenaline, kind of a little bit like stage fright or something that I think just kind of keeps you buzzing a little bit. And it kind of went away.
I was looking forward to the conversation each week. I feel like he was too. And I think as we got to talking, and I think maybe I left out of the book, but he wanted to give like an oral history maybe, to have it down for himself, because we were both saying, you know, as the years go on, you know, things blur in the mind and maybe this was a good chance for him to kind of revisit. And also because the album was being remastered and coming out around the same time he was thinking about it again, so he kind of just wanted to set his own record straight on it. He mentioned several times, “I’ve never told anybody this.” That popped up a lot, but it was just because we talked a lot. And my sense of nervousness went away.
Is it ever gone completely?
Well, every so often you think, Man, I’m talking to DJ Shadow. That’s pretty cool. But he actually, unlike this conversation, he mostly spoke and I just kind of hung back, because for me I’ll just gab up if somebody asks me a question. I have to really reign that in and just let the guy go. And whenever I felt like he had said what he needed to say, when we were talking about a specific thing, then I would sort of say, So . . . And the questions were pretty brief like it is in the book.
Did you ever feel like he was leading you to a place where you hadn’t started? Like if you asked, What records when you were buying when you were 12 years old? And all of a sudden he starts telling you about Little League? Not because he doesn’t know where he’s going, but because he needs to get you to a place that maybe the question didn’t allow him?
Well, yeah. I mean, he definitely sometimes would take roundabout ways, and he would also kind of get on tangents and then say, Wait a minute. He was very like compartmentalized in his thinking, which I liked. He would take like a side track and then put it aside and say, You know, I need to talk about that another time. But we can talk about this right now. Just remember that thought. And so that was really good, but I think that, yeah, he did sometimes come in the back door with his answers, and it made it much more interesting because by doing that he set up kind of a context for, you know, whatever point he was trying to make about why he had done a certain thing. Yeah. I felt like he had a handle on what he was telling me.
What surprised you the most? What did you learn about this guy or his process that you didn’t know from what you had read and the years of listening to this record?
I don’t know if these were surprises. They were like interesting points that he made about himself, and a lot of it was that here’s this guy – I mean, I knew a little bit about him obviously – but here’s this guy who’s pretty much this kid living in UC Davis, which is kind of an aggie town, or it used to be, in California, who’s like a white kid who’s into this music that people are listening to, you know, 3,000 miles away in a culture that is as different as it can be from his, but he liked it. He loved it. He went nuts for it. And he learned so many things kind of just by loving it and so when he was in a position to like maybe call a disc jockey on an urban station in San Francisco and say, You know, I’ve got these tapes and I’d like you to play them, and the guy’s like, Who are you? And then him being able to like say to the guy, This is what I know. This is my knowledge. And then the guy being, Well, I don’t care who you are. You know what you’re talking about. But that was really interesting to find out. Like he kind of really self-made himself, you know. I mean, that sounds a little goofy, but he loved his music so much and he was able to do something with that love. And I think that that is in that album. Also, a lot of things like emotionally that were on his mind which I really didn’t know about, but listening to certain songs, like when he talked about this one or that one when he was feeling really down or bleak, you know, I got that when I heard the album, but to hear that he was actually doing these things and wasn’t just like some guy in a laboratory cleverly stitching together music from tapes, but somebody that was like trying to express real, raw feelings, you know. That really was pretty interesting. There was like one song that’s not on the album, but kind of a precursor, “Lost and Found,” and I didn’t have that and I had to go find it and I did and, you know, it’s great. And he was talking a lot of what he was doing with that and what he went through to turn that out, and how that, in a lot of ways, led to the other tracks that he made for the album.
Which gave you a process.
Do you think the interviews would’ve been different if they had been conducted in person?
Yeah, I think they would’ve been. It just depends. I mean, you know, I went to interview Nick Cave and I’d heard a lot of really scary things about the guy. And I came down from Boston to somewhere in Chelsea (in New York City), and I was pretty nervous, you know, and I thought, If I’m face to face with this guy, what if he’s really in a bad mood or something? But that turned out to be great. He was such a gentleman and, you know, really wanting to talk and I caught him at the end of the day and he didn’t have anything after so we talked for a really long time. And I think with Josh, I might’ve been a little bit shyer and maybe he would’ve too. I think it kind of opens up a little bit more when you don’t have to look at the person face to face, especially if you say something and you go, I can’t believe I just said that. You can kind of hide that a little bit. It just would’ve been what it was and it would’ve probably been different but who knows? I knew it wouldn’t be able to happen that way because I certainly couldn’t fly out there. And also the fact that it was over the course of some months, rather than if I had gone out there and we’d squished all the time into a weekend. Because he would come back the next week and say, You know, I forgot to tell you about this one thing. I should really mention this. And I doubt that would’ve happened if I was there and we did it over the course of a couple of days.
So the interviews take place between April and June, but it’s October before you start working with a manuscript. Is there a moment in time where you were like, Oh God, I should’ve asked him this?
Well, it was only when I was kind of at work at it that I realized what further questions could’ve been asked, but I felt like because we had spoke for so long, and I didn’t want to bug him, you know. I don’t overstep that line where I feel like, Okay, now we’re buddies, right? And it was like I just wanted to see what I could come up with. If I felt there were any real holes then I would definitely have asked him. And his manager Jamal was always really good about getting back to me real fast with anything. I think there may have been one or two things I asked about. Oh, and I was trying to get James Lavelle to do a foreword, especially because Josh said some things about him. They kind of have a real sort of brotherly love/hate relationship, I guess. And I thought, Well, that would be great. And Josh tried to set it up and then Jamal tried to set it up and I just couldn’t seem to get a hold of him. So that’s too bad because I’m sure James would’ve had a lot to say about Josh and the album. He was a huge, huge help to him getting that album out and doing the whole uncle thing and kind of giving his career a kick start. Whatever issues they may have had, he knows that James totally believes in him and really wanted the best for him. And that’s just too bad that I couldn’t get that foreword at least.
Yeah, but if Josh is working on it and Jamal’s working on it and they can’t get it done. They may not have wanted it done as bad as you did, but if it was meant to be they would’ve gotten it done, I’m sure.
Yeah, and I just felt like, Well, I can’t wait any longer. I was going to put it on even up to the last second that I sent it off back to Continuum, but it didn’t happen. I just thought it would’ve added a nice, separate view on DJ Shadow and the album.
Has Josh read the book or the manuscript?
Yeah, Continuum sent it to him, sent him galley proofs, and he caught a few things, which was great. And he liked it. I saw his e-mail that he sent to David and he was like, I liked the stuff that Eliot wrote about himself and his band. And I thought that was really funny because I didn’t know if that part was going to work. I mean, I just wanted to set up the context of me coming to the album and my personal experience and what I think about it, and I felt like that might act as sort of an intro thing.
Well, many of the 33 1/3 books are extremely personal. I mean, obviously if you’re writing a book it’s personal because you’re choosing the format, the subject matter, but we actually go into first person in many of these books. Hell, Colin Meloy’s book on The Replacements’ Let It Be is very personal because he really doesn’t talk about the record that much. It’s more like, This is what I was doing, and Let It Be was the soundtrack, so in a sense the Q and A almost feels less personal by comparison. Do you come up with the idea of the intro on your own or does David have to suggest it to get more of you in there?
No, actually he didn’t. I think he was really happy when I finally showed him what I was working on, that I took this route. I think he wrote at one point, No one really thought of doing one of the books like this before. So I presume that to be sort of a good thing. I think at one point when I was starting to get back into actually writing, like November or December, he was like, So, how’s it going? I get this little e-mail and I’m like, It’s going. It’s going. And that was it. You always hear about all the horror stories of record labels and book publishers and how mean they can be and you work really hard, and I’ve certainly turned stuff in that I heard back on it that That’s the total wrong direction you should be going this piece, or whatever, but I think he was just trusting, you know. I felt like this was a real blessing, you know, because he just said, Whatever way you want to do it, and I’m sure he’s told that to the others. I mean, I know that what really got me into it obviously was Joe and also Joe talking so well about it. He said, Yeah, I’m going to write it as fiction, and I’m like, Wow. What’s that going to be like? And of course he’s a really great writer so it’s really a good story. But you know, being able to do it that way in this day and age, I’m sure, is a real rare thing. No one’s like riding you to have it come out a certain way or be done in a certain format and I think that’s why it’s done pretty well, because you know people come at it in the way that they feel about it and it’s not a formula.
So when Josh agreed to do the series of interviews, already you’re like, Okay, that’s going to be two-thirds of the book and I’m going to write my own little thing to join the Q and A. That’s already there. It’s not like, Well, I’ve got this interview and I need to add something.
No, I started writing that part, I think, while I was originally talking with Josh, and I kind of thought, you know, just to have it just be the conversation. I could have filled out the book even longer but I just felt like I wanted to keep the parts that seemed really pertinent so that each quote was strong, that wasn’t just like filler.
But you started writing that while you were still talking to Josh.
Yeah, because I was feeling kind of inspired and also, you know, I was reading up. There were a couple of people that I talked to just to get a little more background on post-modernism. I didn’t want it to be too high falutin’ sounding in the beginning, like Here’s what post-modernism and this is why it affected . . . But Josh talked about it. He was a rhetoric major at Davis so it wasn’t like something that was by accident. I’m sure he was aware of the medium in which he was working, and that’s what makes the album also kind of not like anything else, because it really stands as a different sort of work of art. It’s not really hip-hop and it’s certainly not trip-hop, whatever that was, and it’s certainly got great beats in it, but truly there’s nothing like it, you know. And to try to kind of get a handle and communicate why something like that would happen at that point in time is what I was trying to evoke in the beginning of the book, and then to lead to the conversation just seemed to kind of just happen naturally.
What’s the first album you ever bought?
I think I mentioned this, but I used to buy singles, and there was like a Rexall, which is a drugstore in LA, and I bought “Live” by The Merry-Go-Round. The first album I ever owned was Yesterday and Today by The Beatles. Not with the cool cover, the butcher block. And I even peeled my cover because there was a time there when it was like, Peel your cover off. It might be underneath. I ruined the cover just doing that.
But yeah, I really was a huge Beatles fan and to me, like I never stopped being interested in new music. You know, I’m a musician as well and so that was a huge part of like just growing up and listening to different kinds of music and what was on like no format radio, but when I came to listen to Endtroducing . . . for the first time, I’m like, I’d read about it and I thought, What could this be about? I think it was an article in the LA Weekly.
That was my next question. How do you get to this record that none of your friends are listening to? Is it the article in LA Weekly?
It was either that or when I was working at The Times I had a swing shift, and every morning for like ten years I listened to “Morning Becomes Eclectic” on KCRW and Chris Douridas was the DJ. And the cool part was, when I moved to Boston, he quit. One had nothing to do with the another, but I’m like, Yeah, there’s a lot of reasons I don’t want to leave, but I don’t want to miss this show, you know. I think he ended up being an A & R guy, because like he had Eels on there before they were signed. He had Fiona Apple before she was signed. A lot of people, and more interesting people than that, were on there, and he was playing Endtroducing . . ..
And the LA Weekly article and the radio show were pretty much contemporary to each other as far as Endtroducing . . . goes?
Yeah, and when I started reading about it and then I heard some stuff off of it and I thought, You know, I’ve got to get this. And I was going into work when I got it. I went to this store called Moby Disc which was in the Valley. I don’t know why I went there. And I remember putting it on in the car and it being like this usual million degree day, smoggy day in LA, and I just sat there and listened to the whole thing and I was late for work. And I listened to it on the way in again and then listened to it on the way home and, you know, it’s kind of been playing ever since.
Here’s a completely unfair question. How many times do you figure you’ve listened to this album?
I can’t even count. I mean, it would just be like thousands and thousands and thousands. I know that people will say like, Did you ever hear that in it? I mean, there will be something like hidden there, or hidden from me, and I’ll be like, No, and I’ll put it on and, you know, I mean, I’ve just never stopped listening to it. And I can remember very specific situations where like, when I moved to Boston I was walking home down Beacon Street. I give sort of an allusion to it in the book of like being all snowy and cold, and I wasn’t used to that and it was just freaking me out. And I was working at this web company in Back Bay of Boston. And I was walking home every night in the cold and had the album playing and the combination was just really vivid, you know. Like having this particular music that sort of follows you through your life and sort of gives like a soundtrack to just everything that’s going on, you know.
I’ve talked to several 33 1/3 writers who, since they turned in their manuscript, haven’t really listened to the record they wrote about. They overdosed on it. But you’re obviously not anywhere close to sick of this record.
No, I don’t think I ever will be. And especially, well, because the re-issue came out. Of course, I had to have that version, you know. The record label sent me it, you know, and it’s got the second disc. And I think I have just about everything that he’s put down somewhere or another I’ve managed to track down, and so I’ve got a pretty good knowledge of his stuff. Whatever he does next will be great, fantastic, and it may well eclipse Endtroducing . . . but you know that’s where he started and there’s just nothing else that’s quite like it.
So is this your favorite record?
Yeah. I would say, Yeah. Definitely.
And how does Astrid feel about it?
She digs it. She dances and she’s doing that little hippy shake thing, that little fourteen month old girls do. She was born to it. We were at Brigham and Women’s and we had a midwife and I had this like mixed thing going on with some Shadow and a lot of other things. The midwife was more like, Hey, what’s that? And I was like, Can you pay attention and deliver a baby?
That’s not in the book, is it?
That should be in the book. When you do the ten year re-issue you’ll have to tell the midwife story. That’ll be the bonus cut.