March 07, 2010
In the early nineties I discovered a book that changed my life and it wasn’t Little Women. There was nothing demure, ladylike or well-behaved about The Dice Man and that is exactly why I loved it. It was anarchy and it was chaos. It was life on the edge. I read it the same way that I devoured pizza at 3am with a head full of vodka: quickly and with considerable mess. When I finished it I vowed to one day meet the author and buy him a beverage* of his choosing, and, through a series of odd little circumstances, here we are today.
Please enjoy, without further ado, a conversation with George and Zoë.
*No beverages were harmed in the making of this interview.
ZB: I’m not really sure what to call you. George. Luke. Dice Man? George seems the correct approach. Mr Cockcroft does not seem the right one. Although as an Australian with a bawdy sense of humor the name ‘Cockcroft’ does rrroll off the tongue with a certain lascivious panache. ‘Tis a name to be proud of, indeed. I hope you wear it with a flourish.
GC: Yes, the name “Cockcroft” has been a burden and a delight. When one of my nephews married a lovely Chinese woman and changed his last name to “Lyncroft”, I chastised him for cutting off his cock. And that’s not the worst of the puns over the years. Needless to say I have kept my cock except when I abandon it for Rhinehart, but no one ever accused Luke of not having a cock. How the hell did I get into that!?
ZB: I tricked you. I’m good like that. You write under a pseudonym. Are you ever tempted to use the name Luke Rhinehart to get into restaurants?
GC: Luke Rhinehart may be well-known in some places but not in any restaurants I frequent. Interestingly enough, the owner of a couple of the poshest restaurants in London tells people that he got into the restaurant business by a casting of a die. But he still made me pay my bill.
ZB: After my experiences with being a Dice person I feel a fondness and respect for dice. In an odd way I almost feel like the dice reciprocate. As a Backgammon player I find that I’m often very lucky with my rolling. Do you play? If so…. do you ever come to San Francisco?
GC: Yes, one does tend to get fond of one’s dice–until they fuck up. However, I never feel they reward me with good rolls for being their disciple. Remember we never know what is good luck and what bad. You win at Backgammon and perhaps that turns out to lead to your doing something that leads to your breaking your leg in a fall. But is that bad luck? In the hospital you meet this doctor . . . .
ZB: Have you ever wondered what it would be like if we lived in a world where elections were won based on dice determined voting? What sort of Utopia or Hell would this be in your estimation?
GC: If officials of governments were determined by letting chance choose the winner from the candidates that would be a tremendous improvement over our present “democratic” system. It would eliminate the frightening power of money and corporations over who wins elections.
However, to really be effective, the system would have to be changed so that anyone who wants to should be able to put him or her self on the list of candidates for any office, and then chance would choose the winner from among the dozens or hundreds or thousands of candidates for each position. Only in this way would we at last eliminate a government mostly of, by, and for rich old white guys. By letting any citizen be a candidate we could at last have a somewhat multi-class government rather than one dominated by the rich and educated. Blue collar workers, everyday guys, would not have to be represented, they would now hold thousands of offices, depending on the fickleness of Chance. In fact we might actually have representative government: since there are millions more blue collar and lower middle class people in even developed nations, and relatively few multi-millionaires, we would have a government representative of the people rather than a government of millionaires.
And this idea is not as silly as “rational” people think it is. The Greeks, creators of the first democracy, thought it was a swell idea and chose many of their leaders by lot.
But those in power know that letting chance work in the choosing of office holders means the end of their power. No way it will ever happen.
ZB: The DiceMan changed my life. Or enhanced it. I can’t quite figure out which. I was already VERY liberated as an 18 year old in Sydney, but it certainly added to the mayhem. Drugs, booze, dice, pandemonium. You’re certainly a hero of mine and my cohorts, but not of one particular friend (A.M) who happened to be the victim of some pretty cheeky dice-related shenanigans at 3am one morning. I believe she is owed an apology and, frankly, I refuse to do it as I think you and the dice are completely responsible… what do you have to say to her? And please don’t mention how short she is.
GC: I feel no responsibility for anyone’s dicing except my own, and then only if the dice tell me to. Your tall, lovely friend may be owed an apology but not by me. And not by you. Perhaps Tiger Woods will apologize to her.
ZB: I’ve had to moon The Hells Angels in Kings Cross and bite a bartender on the behind because of some rolls of the die, what is the funniest or most memorably weird thing the dice ever made you do?
GC: Read THE DICE MAN.
ZB: Right. Well, in that case, I hope “Arlene” is getting residuals!
ZB: If The Dice Man is “semi-autobiographical” then I’d love some advice from you for myself and other aspiring writers of autobiographical material. I’ve been toying with my own memoir for quite some time but I keep getting caught up in a panic regarding the rather off-color and illicit events that transpired in my teenage years and twenties. Visions of my children reading about mommy taking drugs, or my mother-in-law reading about my sexual exploits certainly put a damper on the joy of the process. I want to be real and true and honest. I want to be brave. People have suggested I write the book in the third person but it doesn’t feel right. Could you expound a little on this sort of problem and then give me a giant kick in the ass? Thank you in advance. And ouch.
GC: I’m surprised, Zoe, that you have any problem with your autobiography. I was lucky enough to write my Ph.D. dissertation on the obscene American novelist Henry Miller, whose novel THE TROPIC OF CANCER was still not legally published back in the early sixties when I wrote the dissertation. Miller wrote with great exuberance about all aspects of his life, especially the sexual, and never hesitated to reveal the worst things about himself. Had I not had to immerse myself in Miller I would never have had the nerve to write THE DICE MAN.
You have shown you are free to write about yourself with delightful openness to me and Simon and the readers of the Nervous Breakdown, so why don’t you simply write the book for us. Then if a million people end up reading it, including your children and mother-in-law, you can blame us but laugh all the way to the bank.
I often wondered what my puritan mother would have said if she read THE DICE MAN, but Chance intervened and she died two months after I finished the novel and before it was published. My favorite Aunt read it, however, and then told people she had thrown it in the trash. She still kept me in her will, though.
And your children won’t read your book until they are in their teens at which time having a parent who actually enjoyed and enjoys life they will find very cool indeed. And your mother-in-law will probably take you aside after publication and whisper to you, “Your stories about your wild sex life remind me about when I was seventeen and . . . ”
You know full well that we should never sculpt our actions to please others, because we rarely know what will actually and truly please anyone.
ZB: Thank you. I needed that. Have your own children grown up with a fondness for dice? And did they ever try to use the Dice as an excuse for errant behavior? I tried but it didn’t work for me…
GC: A prophet is always without honor in his own family. My children have rarely diced. However, they have been remarkably free without the dice.
I never try to use the dice as an excuse for errant behavior because I guess I don’t recognize “errant” behavior as something that exists. I do many things that I vaguely wish had turned out differently, but I never regret the “decisions” (dice or otherwise) that led to the imperfect results. When I do something that looks like it’s a disaster I can’t help thinking that maybe something good will come out of this. And when things seem to be going swimmingly I wonder what disaster all this good luck is going to lead to.
We never know. Therefore, no regrets, no excuses, no apologies. Roll on. Or Role on.
ZB: I know you get sick of this one, but it’s infuriated me for bloody years. Why has there never been an amazing smash-hit blockbuster movie of The DiceMan, starring a huge star like Brad Pitt or Ed Norton, and directed by an incredible and edgy director?
GC: Chance works in mysterious ways, damn it. But the simple answer is, Can you imagine a Paramount executive making a decision by casting dice? When Paramount hired me in 1986 to write a screenplay of my book, they threw out the script I had already written, one that stayed close to the book, and made me change the story and the characters so that Luke wouldn’t “hurt” his wife and children. They thought an audience wouldn’t sympathize with Luke if he hurt his wife and endangered his kids. They never considered that humans inevitably hurt other humans, even those they love, with dice or without. So they insisted that the Luke of their film could not be married and couldn’t kill any one or couldn’t “rape” a woman who obviously had the hots for him, and at the end of the film Luke had to see that the dice were evil and repent.
Right. Just the sort of film fans of the book would love to see.
The last screenplay Paramount commissioned (four or five years ago) had NOT A SINGLE CHARACTER OR SCENE FROM THE NOVEL. Hundreds of actors, directors and producers want to make the film but the stodgy studio bureaucracy stands firm.
ZB: I lived in Hollywood for many years and also tried my hand at writing and making a film. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that you don’t have to be involved with major studios to get screwed over in that town. Even small Indie crews will bend you over. And they won’t give you a reach-around either.
I have a friend who is unable to commit to any decisions until the last minute. This personality trait appears from the outside to throw his life into complete chaos and causes major annoyance to his friends and colleagues. I’ve recommended the dice to him on several occasions but he is seemingly terrified to pick them up. Can you give me a convincing argument to feed him that might help him relax into the experience?
GC: Try bribery.
If you can’t convince him, Zoe, then no one can. There are thousands of people who read the book or hear about the idea of making decisions by casting a die who can’t let chance make a single decision for them. They may have “moral objections” to giving up their “free will,” or the idea seems too silly and beneath their dignity, or they find a hundred other rationalizations that humans dream up to justify any belief or attitude they have, whether rationalizations rejecting dicing, or rationalizations about what a natural or intelligent thing dicing is to do.
ZB: What is the current view from your window? Feel free to embellish the truth or completely falsify your answer.
GC: I am answering your questions on my laptop computer while here in Vancouver for the Olympic Games. I’m presently sitting on top of the ski jump. When I finish the interview I plan to cast the dice to see whether it’s me or the laptop that goes flying down the jump, or whether I simply go back to the hotel.
ZB: Fair enough, but if you roll a four you have to come to San Francisco and get drunk with me.Okay?
GC: I’d rather give the odds five out of six: if it rolls a four I won’t come to San Francisco and get drunk with you. Okay?
This interview took place over a series of very pleasant and entertaining email exchanges that caused much smiling and ended far too soon. The interviewer would like to express her gratitude to the interviewee, and to Simon Smithson for introducing the relevant parties. The interviewer would also like to thank Chance, for if she’d rolled a three the whole thing would never have happened.