I’ve liked Surfer Blood since I first heard them. They write catchy, mostly short, poppy songs. And usually after a few listens, the hooks really grab you. The strange thing about the band is that the hooks aren’t always readily apparent, which makes their songs sound kind of samey sometimes.
Of course, samey isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. Surfer Blood is quite distinctive and I tend to enjoy everything they do. This new song sounds like their other stuff, which is fine. But the most distinctive thing about the band of probably their singer who sounds like a less-affected Morrissey.
Having also listened to the song from the album I can say that the singer is far harder to understand live, so maybe live is not the best way to hear a new song from them, but for an old favorite, Surfer Blood has a great energy live.
[READ: March 27, 2013] The Last Interview and Other Conversations
Melville House has published a number of these “Last Interview” books, and as a completist I feel compelled to read them. I have read criticisms of the series primarily because what the books are are collections of interviews including the last interview that the writer gave. They don’t have anything new or proprietary. The last interview just happens to be the last one he gave. So it seems a little disingenuous, but is not technically wrong.
There’s so far five books in the series, and I figured I’d read at least three (Vonnegut, David Foster Wallace and Roberto Bolaño–the other two turned out to be Jorge Luis Borges–who I would be interested in reading about and Jacques Derrida (!) who I have always loved–I guess this series was tailor made for me).
At any rate, these interviews are from various times and locations in Vonnegut’s career. There are six in total. I don’t know if the titles they give here were the titles in the original publications but here’s what’s inside:
- “Kurt Vonnegut: The Art of Fiction” from The Paris Review, Spring 1977 (by David Hayman, David Michaelis, George Plimpton, Richard Rhodes)
- “There Must be More to Love Than Death” from The Nation, August 1980 (by Robert K. Musil)
- “The Joe & Kurt Show” from Playboy, May 1982 (by Joseph Heller and Carole Mallory)
- “The Melancholia of Everything Completed” from Stop Smiling, August 2006 (by J.C. Gabel)
- “God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut” from U.S. Airways Magazine (!!!), June 2007 (by J. Rentilly)
- “The Last Interview” from In These Times May 9, 2007 (by Heather Augustyn)
1. The first interview is explained as a composite of four interviews done over a decade in which Vonnegut himself has vetted and reworded the questions (and edited the answers) such that he is actually interviewing himself! So I gather those four people credited with the questions actually did interview him but somehow he was given complete editorial control. And yet he still has fun with it, “interrupting” the interviewer and disagreeing with him. It is also by far the longest interview.
I liked this interview particularly because it was so much older than the other ones. And while the general tenor of Vonnegut’s ideas don’t change over the years, this one has more specifics about his time in Dresden (he was there as a P.O.W. when the city was bombed to smithereens). And he is frankly shocked that so few people seem to recall it (even in Germany). Hundreds of thousands of people were killed but it’s like it never happened. He speaks of his family (which he always does, it’s nice how proud of them he is), of he beloved deceased sister (Kurt raised her kids) and his beloved scientist brother (who was genuinely dismayed when he learned that they tried to make weapons from his discoveries).
He also talks about how important it is for him to keep romantic love out of his books. His example–if Ralph Ellison had given the main character of The Invisible Man a love interest, the story would have lost all focus because people would have only cared about the romance.
2. The interview in The Nation is a more p political one (as befits The Nation) so there is actually more talk about the bombing of Dresden and his experiences both before and after (which was the basis for Slaughterhouse Five). Musil asks him about war and particularly nuclear war. He asks if Vonnegut is worried about nuclear war and Vonnegut’s sensible reply is “…well, I’ve reproduced. I have children and I’m very fond of them.” [That should be the end of all debate about nuclear war, frankly]. This interview took place during the Carter administration and when Musil asks about Carter’s “hope” to achieve a goal of zero nuclear weapons, Vonnegut answers that when Orwell wrote 1984, eh was concerned with the euphuisms of politicians. But with a euphemism, you can unpack it and find the truth. Politicians now simply lie, and there’s no way to decode that.
3. The Playboy interview with Vonnegut and Heller is excellent. Vonnegut interviews well with another author around him (see Shaking Hands with God). He talks about how no authors are ever jealous of each other and that they are genuinely happy when other authors find success (he seems genuine about that but I don’t know…). Vonnegut particularly likes Heller. They banter off each other and of course, Heller wrote Catch-22 which ranks up there with Slaughterhouse Five as a great anti-war novel. I haven’t read much of Heller and didn’t realize he had written so few books (although Vonnegut says that Heller’s books are long and Vonnegut’s books are short so they have probably written the same amount). The interviewer talks to them about war and about Saddam Hussein (hard to believe he was a major player way back in 1982). Heller also makes a great joke that Norman Shwartzkopf (remember him?) should have been named Scheisskopf (learn your German to get that joke). As for current authors, Vonnegut says he’s reading the new Martin Amis book that goes backward (Time’s Arrow, which I loved). He says it’s hard to follow (and he was unstuck in time!). And of course, they speak of Norman Mailer.
They talk about sex (I didn’t realize when I read it that the interview was a woman, which I now find interesting). Vonnegut says he’d like to see a film of Nancy Reagan and Frank Sinatra having sex–he thinks it would be very funny to see “those two scrawny people” (Heller imagines it happening in The White House). Both men agree that scandal is just a way of saying hello to people, in the same way that sports are non-committal ice-breakers (interestingly, I read a similar statement in the same issue of The Walrus magazine that I mentioned in the Roddy Doyle story “Brilliant.” This article was called “Gossip Girl” about Lainey Liu, who sounds really fascinating). Kurt’s final quite is “The big difference between conservatives and liberals is that killing doesn’t seem to bother the conservatives at all. The liberals are chickenhearted about people dying.” Heller trumps him with: “Half the society is underprivileged and maybe a third of the rest is barely surviving. The trouble with the [Reagan] Administration is that it doesn’t want to deal with the problem. It doesn’t want to define it as a problem because then it will have to deal with it.”
4. I don’t know what Stop Smiling is (or was). But this interview came after Vonnegut’s book A Man Without a Country, which is a collection of essays from In These Times. The book also has pictures by Vonnegut The interview includes some basic biography (which is useful if you don;t know it) as well as an introduction of how he came to write for the political magazine In These Times. He says he has been the honorary head of the American Humanist Association for years, and also when he turned 80, nobody cared so he started writing to In These Times and they published it! Then they talk about his art. His father thought art was a waste of time and made him be a scientist (which he hated). Since he is done writing fiction, he has decided to start doing more art (which Joe Perro silk screens and sells). When the interviewer talks about Nixon and says the current administration makes Nixon look like he was playing beanbag (whatever that means), Vonnegut replies: “I wish Nixon were president right now. I could at least talk to him.” He concludes that the current [W. Bush] Administration is not Christian “they’re simply using Jesus to mobilize a group they can count on for votes].
The final two interviews both claim to be his last. The Us Airways one was actually four interviews between October 2000 and March 2007. The final interview in the book was conducted over the phone on February 28, 2007 (he died April 11).
5. I have no idea why Vonnegut was interviewed for U.S. Airways magazine. They talk about art again and that the world is too serious. And that a lack of seriousness has led to all sorts of wonderful insights. It contains the first full mention of his wife, Jill Krementz as a great photographer (I didn’t know that) and how they inspire each other. He also raves about the quality of (some) TV shows (sadly, he singles out Law & Order). He gets a great final line in this one. When asked what he would like people to take from the experience of reading his books he answers, “I’d like the guy–or girl, of course–to put the book down and think, ‘This is the greatest man who ever lived.'” (laughs)”
6. The final interview is a brief one. She asks about where he grew up in Indiana (a subject he addresses in other interviews here) and about humanism. Vonnegut gives an awesome quote from his great-grandfather: “If what [Jesus] said was good, and it was marvelous what does it matter if he was god or not?”
He ends this interview with some pretty interesting last words: “But I gotta go. I’m not well. Good luck.”
There is certainly some repetition in this book (which wouldn’t seem so bad over the course of 30 years, but when crammed together likes this it’s not quite as fun), but it really just shows how consistent Vonnegut has always been. And overall, it’s a great collection of his insights and ideas. There’s a lot to laugh about as well as things to seriously ponder about our past and our future. Had I paid more attention to him when I was younger, he would have been a real inspiration to me.
For ease of searching, I include: Bolano