Issue 184, Spring 2008
When your stories began to appear, a lot of reviewers took you to be a typical citizen of the sixties.
The truth is that I’ve never felt I was part of any era or had any conscious relationship to what was in the air. Compared to my friends, I was very uninterested in Kennedy and his circle. When Bob Dylan was big, I preferred the Coasters.
I’ve never gotten with it. I lack a sensibility that quivers at change in the cultural atmosphere. I still listen to Miles Davis and Tito Puente and hang out in Latin clubs, especially Cesar’s Latin Palace in San Francisco. Cachao, the bassist who invented the mambo, seems to me as significant an artist as Picasso. Considering the emphasis on sound these days, maybe more significant. Anyway, I listened for forms, not oracles. Sometime in the sixties a lot of people began listening to popular musicians for the meaning of life.
In the old great days of the Palladium and Birdland, I’d move between the clubs. I’d hear Puente and watch the Mambo Aces, then hustle fifty feet down Broadway to catch Erroll Garner and Sarah Vaughan. They were my idea of counterculture. Unacknowledged national treasures. An artist like Tito Puente should get a congressional medal.
Have you ever carried a banner? Literally, I mean.
I carried a placard once outside the courthouse in San Francisco during the House Un-American Activities Committee witch hunt in 1960. A friend, a woman named Donna, had been beaten up by the cops while trying to get into the courthouse to witness the hearings. When Donna got beaten up, I felt obligated to have the same experience. This sort of allegiance changed after my sons, Ethan and Jesse, were born. Everything changed for me then. Conservative politics is built into biology, as Burke has suggested, whether you like it or not.
In his Paris Review interview, Faulkner said, “If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies.”
Would he say the same about little girls? He sounds like a moral midget having a tizzy.