I don’t know, but I’m honored.
You’re also the first one to have once been the bass player in a semi-famous band.
Yes, I did it! Fie, James Greer.
You’re also the second Self-Interviewer to admit to having sexted a famous writer.
It’s true. Steve Almond favors Robert Olen Butler. I’m a John Updike man, who’s dead now, which is just weird, but there you go.
You’re also the only TNB Self-Inteviewer to admit knowing absolutely nothing about the Milwaukee Bucks.
This one’s embarrassing for me. What you see before you is a broken man.
Badge, your latest, is the third rock novel in your purposed series of ten. How do you know you’ll write ten?
It’s actuarial. I started pursuing the novel when I was 27. It takes me roughly five years to write one, which puts me finishing the tenth at 77. Philip Roth retired from writing at age 78. If I can somehow work seriously at this as long as Roth did, I’ll call it success and be done with it.
Why rock novels?
Because rock life—both as a fan and as a musician—is something I know and love. It’s also loaded with conflict, and it’s woefully underrepresented in fiction for the amount of people who dig it.
Badge is your first novel that doesn’t feature a bass player as the protagonist.
Yeah, I made the jump to guitar players. You lose all your rights in the Bass Players’ Union if you don’t dedicate your first two novels to bass players.
Do you still play bass?
It’s there, and I know how to do it. For each of my novels, I write a song that appears within the text of the novel. I then have the song recorded and release it, which makes it the “single” of the book. The single for Badge is called “Calypso,” which can be downloaded for free here, and I play bass on it. I feel it’s every bass player’s job to secretly want to take over the song, and I try to do so in “Calypso”’s second verse.
Why the second verse?
I typically do it the third verse, but “Calypso” only has two verses.
Anything else on your philosophy of playing in bands?
It’s every band’s job to turn over whatever dump they’re playing that night. That’s what rock bands can do that virtually no other medium can, and that’s a big part of why I wrote Badge. I wanted to convey what it’s like to be onstage and playing for a gaga audience.
Sounds like fun.
Yeah, I mean, I love looking at paintings—my wife is an artist—but they never make me want to shake my booty or invoke the sign of the goat in quite the same way. I believe every art form does something well, and good live rock makes us feel alive in a very distinct way. I’m not sure what the point is of playing rock if you’re not trying to freak people out on this level. I love Wilco, but I don’t want to play in Wilco.
What do novels do well?
Novels show what happens to the interior lives of characters over time better than any other medium.
Better than movies?
Yes, because novels take longer to read, and they present the milieux in a way that allows for deeper absorption. I’m a big fan of the slowness of reading. I only read, like, ten or twenty pages a night. To read a book quickly feels to me like traveling coast to coast by train and claiming you know anything about the towns you passed through.
Over the years at TNB, you’ve taken shots at heralded rock greats like Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello and Eric Clapton. Do you have anything over-the-top and probably false to say about others?
Yes. I think John Lennon’s problem in the Beatles became the fact that he thought Paul was the superior Beatle in just about every way. This was tough for him as the oldest member, the leader, and the guy who’d let Paul into the band in the first place, and John started acting out because of it. In light of this, it’s amazing John stayed in the band as long as he did.
So, you’re saying John was kind of a wuss?
No, John just grew up with women. That’s the biggest factor in being able to handle band life—which in John’s and my era largely meant life with men: When it comes down to it, are you more comfortable being in the presence of men or women? Do you prefer long hours in the small confines of buses, rehearsal rooms, vans, etc. in the boys’ club? Can you take all the subtle and not-so-subtle jabs and jostling for pecking order with the good-natured understanding of a brother, or are you going to flip out, start swinging, take it out on them in some passive-aggressive way, or bottle it up and make yourself miserable? The answer to that question goes a long way to revealing your compatibility to band life, or at least band life as I knew it.
What was your situation growing up?
That might explain why you’ve now been a novelist longer than you were a practicing musician.
Every vocation comes with an attached lifestyle. Bands don’t get paid to write, record or play songs. They get paid to hang out in buses, airports and backstage rooms. Actors don’t get paid to act. They get paid to wait all day in trailers for everyone else to get the set ready. Both groups get paid to be away from their families. If you want to be an actor or musician, you’d better be onboard for this. I’d venture being comfortable with these accommodations is more relevant to your career choice than your desire to act or make music.
What do writers get paid for?
Writers don’t get paid.
Too harsh, but writing does come with its own lifestyle. It means spending a lot of time alone at your desk, and a lot of time in your head. That would drive some artists crazy.
That would drive Bono crazy.
If you need to be in front of 10,000 people who worship you a hundred days a year, you could be as gifted a wordsmith as Shakespeare, but you won’t be happy as a writer.
Of course, Shakespeare was an actor too.
Hey, you’re right! And I don’t want to draw too broad a distinction from one lifestyle to the next—I’m always a writer and musician at the same time—but when choosing an artistic vocation you’re also making a choice about where and how and with whom you want to spend your time. That’s at least as important as what kind of art you want to make.
That’s about all the time we have. Anything else?
Life is short; choose the gauchest Klennex box.
And Kareem-Abdul Jabbar played for the Milwaukee Bucks.
ART EDWARDS, a Portland-based writer and musician, is three novels into his ten-novel series spanning many generations of musicians from 1990 to well into the 21st century. Badge, the third installment in the series, was a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s Literary Contest for 2011. His second, Ghost Notes, released on Defunct Press in 2008, won the 2009 PODBRAM Award for best work of contemporary fiction. His first, Stuck Outside of Phoenix, was made into a feature film. His shorter work has appeared in The Writer and Salon, among many others. In the 1990s, he was co-founder, co-songwriter and bass player with the Refreshments.