Christopher Plummer (BSS #253)

Christopher Plummer is the author of In Spite of Myself. He is also a highly talented and very distinguished actor.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Fleeing from Mr. Plummer’s considerable achievements.

Author: Christopher Plummer

Subjects Discussed: The roles that get Mr. Plummer the best seats at a restaurant, Lillian Hellman’s control over director Joseph Anthony during The Lark, whether or not playwrights understand the interpretation of their work, Death of a Salesman, Elia Kazan, the notion of Hamlet as an Everyman, Shakespearean adaptations, creative interpretations, Amanda Plummer’s creative freedom, being turned down for Gladiator, turning down David O. Selznick, the theatrical problems with Arch Oboler’s Night of the Auk, not always knowing when a play or a script is suitable, Christopher Fry, the virtues of radio drama, the lack of decent writing and the commercialization of the media, helping young actors, success in the acting industry being predicated on who you know, being sandbagged by an understudy named William Shatner, Geoffrey Unsworth, concentration during preparation, throwing people out during rehearsals, getting crushes on actresses, when an actor should demand rewrites, the sacredness of text, and being pummeled with rewrites from Neil Simon.


Plummer: There is an Everyman in Hamlet. And every member of the audience must, whether they like it or not, try to identify with him in this sense. And there is the chance in that extraordinary role of them being able to do that. Then there’s the remoter side of Hamlet, which is the urbane and the wit and the wisdom in one so young. And the style that perhaps takes him away from being identified, but particularly with modern audiences, who probably don’t know what style is. So it is such a melange of extraordinary qualities, Hamlet, that it makes the greatest role ever written. There is no doubt of that. And he must have also the great temper. He must possess the great temper in order to frighten the audience. He must have all sorts of qualities all in one. Because it’s written that way. It’s written as a great symphony of a part. And unless you obey the codas, the climaxes, and the stresses, musically, you’re not anywhere near finished playing Hamlet.

Correspondent: Well, this is an interesting distinction. Because I also know that you took James Earl Jones to task in this book for approaching Othello with a more analytical framework.

Plummer: Yes.

Correspondent: And I’m wondering if you believe that Shakespeare needs to always have this great emotional poetry to it or whether there is room, given the complexities, for numerous types of adaptations.

Plummer: Well, of course there’s room. But you’ve got to have all of them. You can’t come on and just sort of say, “Alright, I’m going to play Hamlet as a junkie. Period.” Please! Where would he be able to think so clearly? And how could he give out such brilliant thoughts if he was a junkie? It would take him days to say one line. So, of course, James Earl Jones was fantastic in the prose section of the play. What interested me, and what disappointed me at the same time, was — with his great organ of voice, which he has to his fingertips — why he did not let go in the great poetic passages.

Correspodent: Yeah.

Plummer: He just decided not to. Whether he was embarrassed or he decided he would do them in more monotone realistic way. There was only one great moment where he let fly. It was about the Pontic sea, and that whole imagery in the famous scene with Iago. There, he let fly. And it was absolutely wonderful. And then you wanted him to go on at moments doing the same thing again.

Correspondent: So I take it then that you’re not really a fan of creative interpretations like, say, the R & J or the Baz Luhrmann approach to….

Plummer: Oh, I thought that as a contemporary Romeo & Juliet, it was [the Luhrmann] by far the best I’d ever seen. I thought it was excellent. And I didn’t think that the poetry was mangled. Because I think that somebody helped — obviously, I don’t know if this is true, but it seemed as if someone had helped Leonardo DiCaprio with his words. Because he stretched them out correctly. So even though it was a modern piece, he obeyed the rhythm of the poetry. And I thought that the girl did too. She was a little behind him in that. But he was excellent. And I thought that was remarkable. Because that was an honest departure all the way down the line. It didn’t pretend to be half-modern, half a sort of allegiance to Shakespeare. It was a modern take on Romeo and Juliet.

Categories: Film, People

2008 National Book Awards (BSS #252)

So far as we know, the National Book Awards has not authored anything aside from programs and informational pamphlets. The people that Our Young, Roving Correspondent talked with on that fateful night, however, have authored a few books. Or at least, this is what they have told us.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Deeply suspicious of Harold Augenbraum.

Authors: Joan Wickersham, Annette Gordon-Reed, Salvatore Scibona, Mark Doty, Candace Bushnell, and Richard Howard.

Subjects Discussed: The difficulties of writing a memoir in straight chronological order, the paradox of suicide, having a handrail to guide you through the writing of a book, the Hemmings family, endnotes, the perils of plunging into research, working on a book for nine years, narrative arcs, attempts by finalists to describe a book in 100 words, planning a book for ten years, writing and throwing things away, typewriters and distractions, mixing up Cs and Ds, the difficulties of selecting poetry for a volume, wrestling with Walt Whitman, why Candace Bushnell reads what she reads, attempting to get an answer on how one exudes glamor at the National Book Awards, and how long it takes Richard Howard to write a poem.


Correspondent: How are you wrestling with Whitman exactly?

Doty: Well, I want to think about the common ground that I share with Whitman. A real interest in the relationship between the individual — the single self — to the community. Whitman is always trying to figure out where the margins of himself are, and often he feels like he doesn’t have any. That’s been an obsession of mine too. He’s a person who was so interested in affirming the body, and the pleasures of sex and of physical life. And at the same time, he was a person who was absolutely obsessed with mortality and the end of physical life. So those are all things that matter to me. And I love the way that he really thought his poems could change the world.

* * *

Correspondent: And you’re here for the National Book Awards specifically in what capacity? To exude glamor or what?

Bushnell: To celebrate books. This is the business that I’m in. Publishing. I’ve written five novels. And this is about publishing. So it’s always a treat for writers to come out and see other writers.

Categories: Fiction

Alex Beckstead (BSS #251)

Alex Beckstead is the filmmaker behind Paperback Dreams, a documentary on independent bookstores. The documentary is now touring around the nation and is making appearances on PBS.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Surrendering to hard-boiled journalists.

Guest: Alex Beckstead

Subjects Discussed: Why Beckstead singled out Cody’s and Kepler’s over other Bay Area bookstores, Kepler’s as a prominent fixture on the Menlo Park town square, the Cody’s “hail Mary” play in San Francisco, business location problems in Union Square, the commercial viability of Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, the Bay Bridge as the cultural Berlin Wall, the question of why Cody’s didn’t survive in the present age when it survived the seedy environment of the 1960s and the 1970s, economic vs. cultural shifts, passion and independents, the absurdity of buying everything online, Amazon, bookstore proprietors who don’t own their buildings, the graying of bookstore customers, Andy Ross vs. Clark Kepler as successful bookseller, the independent bookstore as cultural space, listening to the customer base, the importance of being an entrepreneur, comparisons between bookstores and movie theaters as glorified snack bars, the two storefront dilemma, the bookseller as philanthropist, an independent bookseller’s responsibility to the community, the conglomeration of publishers and the lack of dangerous books on the market, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and the Cody’s firebombing, books vs. music as a medium, whether or not the Internet is bad for books, gatekeepers, the importance of the countercultural movement to independent bookselling, and the ubiquity of Amazon vs. the selection of a bookseller.


Beckstead: I didn’t smell blood in the water. I didn’t go in thinking, “Okay, well this is going to be a failure.” I mean, it was a huge risk. The kind of thing that Andy [Ross] was doing, there was going to be a dramatic outcome one way or the other. Either he wasn’t going to make it and then the losses were going to be catastrophic or he was going to make it and sort of prove that somewhere, somehow, an independent bookstore can still make it. That was the outcome I was still rooting for. But that’s not what happened.

Correspondent: But simultaneously, you do have footage of Andy Ross, as the bookstore is opening. He’s saying very proudly in the streets how banks won’t lend him money, how he’s putting his entire savings into this “hail Mary” — we’ll call it that, I suppose, because it did indeed go belly up. And at the end of the film, he even says, “This was a colossal act of hubris.” I mean, this store was operational at the expense of the Telegraph store.

Beckstead: Well, the Telegraph store wasn’t making money. That’s what people need to understand. You know, the Telegraph store was not going to survive. It might have limped along for another year or two, had Andy not opened San Francisco. But it was losing a lot of money. The kind of books that historically sold were not selling well there. And I think Andy’s reasoning was that, when they opened the second store in Berkeley in ’98 — you know, Cody’s on Fourth Street — that store became very successful very quickly. It was smaller than Telegraph. There’s a whole other thing about Telegraph. It’s always been a little edgy, but it’s kind of got a little bit seedy. There’s a high rate of vacancies along Telegraph Avenue. I was talking at one point, when we were making the film, with the owner of Ameoba Music. He has a very large record store on Haight Street in San Francisco and then also on Telegraph. It’s still not clear to me exactly who’s to blame for the decline of Telegraph. But it’s clear. He was saying that there’s hardly any vacancies on Haight Street. It’s very similar in terms of the kind of people who spend time there. Similar problems with aggressive panhandling. With drug dealing and all those sorts of things. But Haight Street does fine. For some reason, Telegraph does not.

Telegraph was in decline. Fourth Street was really taking off as a shopping district. I can’t remember the exact number, but it’s something like 20 to 30% of the sales tax revenue for the City of Berkeley comes from Fourth Street. And Cody’s was the biggest shop on the block. They were the anchor on Fourth Street. So I think Andy’s logic was: We opened a second store in a more upscale shopping neighborhood. That quickly became profitable. Not quite profitable enough to hold Telegraph as well. But maybe if we did the same thing on a bigger scale, then we’d have two successful stores and one that was kind of slowly dying. But maybe we could subsidize it long enough to figure out what was going to happen. I mean, there’s been talk of turning around Telegraph Avenue for years. So I think that he was really optimistic that you could do that. But, yeah, it wasn’t the right call at the end of the day.

Categories: Film, Ideas

Alison Bechdel II (BSS #250)

Alison Bechdel is most recently the author of The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For. To listen to our previous interview with Bechdel, check out The Bat Segundo Show #63.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Overly concerned with modifiers attached to artists.

Author: Alison Bechdel

Subjects Discussed: The relationship between visual developments and storyline developments, how personal developments worked their way into Dykes to Watch Out For, Tips o’ the Nib, narrative authenticity, research through asking people, being afraid of the telephone, the comics world as a simulacrum of the real world, being overly stimulated by the real world, developing specific background details, the risks of diverting attention between graphic novels and comic strips, dwelling upon a community vs. dwelling upon the self, therapy, Woody Allen, being ahead of the technological curve, Proust and the first telephone call in a novel, laziness vs. being seduced by technology, scanned lettering, managing all the characters in the strip, having characters refer to each other by first name, the advantages and disadvantages of deadlines, adapting media messages for the comics medium, Mad Magazine and Mort Drucker, fear of empty space, when text and images are not enough for comics, political semiotics and behavior, strips with little to no dialogue, artistic influences, fitting multiple people into a frame, portraying the butts of various characters, contending with censorious requests from newspaper clients, the limitations of four rows, Madwimmin Books and big box stores, why the bookstore is the perfect social nexus, the outcry upon introducing Stuart, the ideological balance between Mo and Stuart, gender jokes as cheap shots, contending with those who didn’t understand Bechdel’s storytelling style, the role of politics in Dykes, the moral responsibilities of a cartoonist, and Proposition 8 and the future of cartooning.


Correspondent: I think we should really clarify this for the record. I mean, the stripes on Mo’s shirt become more pronounced over the course of time. And they increasingly grew thicker during the course of the early ’90’s. And then sometime around 1995, they solidified into that absolute thickness that we have enjoyed for the last decade or so. I know there have been many Harry Potter jokes that you’ve thrown around. But you were there, of course, before Harry Potter.

Bechdel: That’s right.

Correspondent: But I have to ask you about the stripes. Had it occurred to you at any time to have Mo not wear a striped shirt? Or did you feel that this was such an indelible part of her disposition?

Bechdel: I think there might be one scene where she’s not wearing a striped article of clothing. But I can’t remember what it is or what its significance is. Indeed, the stripes did grow thicker. Very good observation!

Correspondent: Yeah! They did! They did! It was really great to read this all in one burst, because there are so many different character developments, which I plan to ask you about. But maybe I could probably phrase this better by pointing out Sparrow, for example. How the front curls that she had were chopped off to fit in with the adjusting times. And I’m wondering when you decide to change the look of a character. What circumstances dictate that? And some characters, of course, like Mo, stay the same over the course of time.

Bechdel: Wait, can I just make an observation? Thinking about those thickening black stripes, I think that’s of a piece with the increasing darkness of the strip and indeed the era in which it was passing through.

Correspondent: Yeah, yeah, that’s true.

Bechdel: Maybe now if I were continuing to write it, Mo’s stripes would continue to get thinner and thinner.

Correspondent: Thinner, thinner, thinner.

Bechdel: No, I mean literal — I mean like figurative darkness.

Correspondent: Figurative darkness!

Bechdel: Yeah! Yeah!

Correspondent: So there’s some allegory here, I see. So it’s

Bechdel: Yeah, I’m totally bullshitting. I’m totally making this up.

Correspondent: Ah! No, no, this is good. This is good.

Bechdel: But…

Correspondent: But we can give the listeners something to latch onto here. Great allegorical decisions upon your part. I mean, how much of this is intuitive? And how much of this is really a conscious effort? Well, you know, Mo’s stripes look better. They just look better.

Bechdel: No, it was purely a visual decision. I don’t know. I just used a different pen or something. And it looked better thicker.

Correspondent: Okay, what about Sparrow’s hair?

Bechdel: Sparrow’s hair. Well, what made me decide to do that? I don’t know, but interestingly it prefigured her crossing over from being a lesbian into being a…

Correspondent: Yeah.

Bechdel: …a bisexual. I forget what she called herself. A bisexual lesbian.

Correspondent: I think she did.

Bechdel: But she didn’t want to completely let hold of her lesbian title. But she got this slightly more feminine-looking haircut.

Correspondent: Yeah, she did. She did. I mean, did you plan her to essentially shack up with Stuart?

Bechdel: No, not at that point. I didn’t.

Correspondent: How much does a visual decision like this predate the actual plotting? Or perhaps anticipate it in some way? It’s a very interesting observation.

Bechdel: It is interesting. What’s even more interesting is that the way that these storylines and developments prefigure my own life. Or are a reaction of things going on in my own life. Which I don’t like to admit, typically. But as I looked back over the book, I could see all these absurd parallels with my own life. It seemed almost indiscreet to have included them.

Categories: Ideas, People

Porochista Khakpour (BSS #249)

Porochista Khakpour is the author of Sons and Other Flammable Objects.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Avoiding the seemingly erudite man with the flamethrower.

Author: Porochista Khakpour

Subjects Discussed: Professional doodling, italics that represent facial expressions, acting out dialogue, the protracted difficulties of editing, the creative benefits of neurosis, thinking of an audience vs. writing in a distinct voice, maintaining lists of words, bulleted lists within the novel, the relationship between the equal sign and character consciousness, writing lengthy scenes that involve the anxiety of waiting, working from a journal to get at feelings within fiction, playing games in novels, aversion to mainstream narratives, the burden of universality, the novelist as an authoritarian figure, David Foster Wallace as a distinct author who reached a mass audience, “Good People,” the cycle of abuse that runs through Xerxes, missing daughters, how women relate to men, character names and explicit historical associations, the Americanization of Iranian names, truncated names, contrast and comparison with Sam and Suzanne, how 9/11 transformed the idea of looking at other people with an open mind into something else, relying on general descriptions for physical details, keeping specific details from the reader, how far an author must go for emotional truth, going against the contract of a book, the diminished acknowledgments section between hardcover and paperback, losing old friends, reading group questions, moving into an age where 9/11 novels are going to date, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and American diplomacy, and lucky timing with pub dates.


Correspondent: So you actually added 10,000 words just in the editing process?

Khakpour: Yeah, I did.

Correspondent: Really?

Khakpour: Every time I edit. Everything. I have. Even with my journalism. They’ll tell me cut this piece down. And we’ll get to the editing phase. And I’ll always end up adding. Even when they tell me specifically, “Cut it down.” I don’t know what it is. Editing to me just means adding instead of cutting. It’s crazy.

Correspondent: Is it possible that perhaps you’re getting questions from an editor and this influx of information causes you to think more, and therefore causes any kind of piece or novel or whatever you write to expand and protract or the like?

Khakpour: Yeah. Probably, I think. I always think of my audience. And that person that I think of as my audience is very quiet and sits with their folded hands, and is very polite and approving.

Correspondent: Folded hands? I didn’t have my hands folded when I read this. I want to assure you.

Khakpour: (laughs) It’s a good somber schoolgirl.

Correspondent: Wow, I didn’t realize this.

Khakpour: Crossed legs. Very approving. (laughs)

Correspondent: There should have been an etiquette guide in the paperback here.

Khakpour: But then the minute the editor speaks up, I’m like, “Uh oh. This is a very intelligent human being who is not going to buy all my bullshit, is actually going to question me now.” And then I fall into super-neurotic mode. And that always means, well, not only am I going to think of this editor, but I’m going to think of all the other voices of dissent. All the people. And it goes from there. And so it just involves adding and adding and adding. To appease all the various voices in my head. (laughs)

Correspondent: Thinking about the audience then makes you more neurotic.

Khakpour: Overanticipating often. Yeah. I’m trying to tone that down right now.

Correspondent: That’s interesting. But then to a certain degree, you have to leave things relatively organic and intuitive, and you can’t think about an audience. It’s important to have gestation here. And I’m curious if this might possibly be an issue.

Khakpour: I think it is. I’m a control freak.

Correspondent: You want people to like you? Really, really like you?

Khakpour: Well, not even like me. But I like some control over how people are digesting my work. That’s ridiculous. But I think it also has to do with communication. And because English wasn’t my first language. I always feel like I repeat. I’m like Joe Biden. I’m often repeating the same thing over and over and over at people. “I got it the first time.” You know, there’s no need to say the same sentence over and over and over. But I always feel that people aren’t hearing me, or somehow don’t understand what I’m saying. So….

Correspondent: You know, I…

Khakpour: I think I’m going to have to back off now. I’m learning that.

Correspondent: I’ve heard that Nicholson Baker — what he does is that he Control-Fs a specific phrase throughout all of his work to make sure that he has not written that particular phrase before.

Khakpour: Oh, that’s great.

Correspondent: Do you have this level of detail?

Khakpour: I’ll do that with certain words. Because I’ll have certain words that are my favorite word of the moment. And I’ll still — I’ll do that thing that I did when I was a young immigrant. I used to keep a list of vocab words that I loved. And even now, there will be some word every once in a while on a little list by my desk. Like I like that word! Let’s use that word somewhere.

Correspondent: You actually have a list of words by your desk?

Khakpour: Yes, sometimes I do that.

Correspondent: The words I have to include in the book. Really?

Khakpour: Yeah. And they’re not like ten dollar words.

Correspondent: Okay.

Khakpour: Or hundred dollar words. But they’re just interesting or strange. Or words. Or unusual usages. I’m often very much tried to find the Find function or the Replace function. So I’ll have to double check and make sure I don’t use that word several times. But it’s usually on a word level there.

Categories: Fiction

Bat Segundo DVDs Now on Sale!

We’ve received a few requests from listeners asking us how they can get DVD-ROMs of the show. And since Christmas shopping has started, and some of you out there may be on the lookout for a literary stocking stuffer, we’ve decided to begin offering DVD-ROMs of the first 250 shows of The Bat Segundo Show at the very affordable price of $50. (Shows #249 and #250 will be coming online very soon.) For just 20 cents per episode, you’ll be able to experience more than 200 hours of the oddest cultural conversations that can be found on the Internet.

This three DVD set features all programs produced from October 2004 to the present day.

Disc One: Includes interviews with Jonathan Ames, Bret Easton Ellis, T.C. Boyle, Octavia Butler, Jennifer Weiner, Chris Elliott, William T. Vollmann, Erica Jong, Tom Tomorrow, Sarah Waters, Colson Whitehead, John Updike, David Mitchell, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jeff VanderMeer, Robert Birnbaum, Daniel Handler, Alison Bechdel, Tommy Chong, Nora Ephron, Scott Smith, Richard Dawkins, Mark Z. Danielewski, Edward P. Jones, Mary Gaitskill, Kelly Link, Francine Prose, Kate Atkinson, Claire Messud, Simon Winchester, Amy Sedaris, Nina Hartley, Richard Ford, Christopher Moore, Heidi Julavits, Neal Pollack, Tayari Jones, and David Lynch.

Disc Two: Includes interviews with Martin Amis, Ron Jeremy, China Mieville, Tao Lin, Lionel Shriver, A.M. Homes, Scarlett Thomas, Berkeley Breathed, Gary Shteyngart, Richard Flanagan, Katie Roiphe, William Gibson, Marianne Wiggins, Gabe Kaplan, Rupert Thomson, George Saunders, Naomi Klein, Chimamanda Adichie, Steven Pinker, Naomi Wolf, James Lipton, Oliver Sacks, Richard Russo, Tom McCarthy, Andrea Barrett, Will Self, Stewart O’Nan, David Rakoff, Sue Miller, Charles Burns, Steve Erickson, Chip Kidd, Bill Plympton, Michio Kaku, Jennifer Weiner, Richard Price, and Nicholson Baker.

Disc Three: Includes interviews with Mark Sarvas, Errol Morris, Sarah Hall, David Hajdu, Tobias Wolff, Sloane Crosley, Cynthia Ozick, Ed Park, Fiona Maazel, Steven Greenhouse, Ralph Bakshi, Mort Walker, Rachel Shukert, Andre Dubus III, Thomas Disch, Grandmaster Flash, Nam Le, Sen. Mike Gravel, Ethan Canin, Jenny Davidson, Paul Auster, Brent Spiner, Bonnie Tyler, Mike Leigh, Marilynne Robinson, Charlie Kaufman, Neal Stephenson, and David Rees.

Episodes will still be available for free download. But with the purchase of this three DVD set, you’ll be helping us tremendously to continue producing the show, and you’ll save yourself a considerable amount of time downloading them all at home. Particularly if you have dial-up.

The price includes shipping. Please note that all shipments are being sent by FedEx Express Saver to ensure a reasonable delivery time that we can track, and, due to costs, we are currently limiting delivery to the United States. If, however, you’re based outside the States, email me and we’ll work something out.

If there’s enough interest, then we’ll be unloading some additional merchandise, including iPods that have the shows already loaded. But for now, we wanted to offer an affordable way for you to get the shows all in one burst. And if you act swiftly, and you foresee a good deal of commuting time for your Thanksgiving holiday, then we can get the DVDs to you before the turkey is carved.

Categories: Uncategorized

David Rees (BSS #248)

Just in time for Election Day! David Rees is most recently the author of Get Your War On: The Definitive Account of the War on Terror: 2001-2008.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Struggling to cast his vote.

Author: David Rees

Subjects Discussed: Why red was selected for the Get Your War On backgrounds, My New Filing Technique is Unstoppable, inverting clip art figures in different panels, the shift from static panels to animated movies, rotoscoping and stock body language as kinetic clip art, the lack of appeal in drawing original art, laziness and being responsive to news headlines, negotiating the personal and the professional, how the weekly strip for Rolling Stone is determined, live readings, worrying about public perception, Berkeley Breathed, using Voltron in Get Your War On, the relationship between Uzbekistan and Bill the Cat, Iraqi Crybaby Theater, Thomas Friedman’s mustache and facial hair, unusual government allotments, journalistic accuracy, the importance of rage in producing comic strips, the standing guy and his wire and binders, and meta gags.


Correspondent: I wanted to also ask about the use of white space, and often the lack of white space, with some of the panels that have this extraordinarily long rant that one of the characters is conducting versus using the clip art and shifting it to the right hard edge of the panel or the left hard edge of the panel, or what not. What is your criteria in terms of white space and filling up the panel? Is it contingent upon the words you have to deliver for any particular strip?

Rees: You probably don’t know this, but the U.S. government allots all political cartoonists a given amount of white space in a year, and a lot of budgetary issues. If you don’t use your white space in a year, you don’t get it back the following year. There’s no rollover white space.

Correspondent: Yeah, yeah, it’s the appropriations and the earmarks I’ve heard.

Rees: So you have to really challenge yourself every year to use just enough white space, so that they’ll give you more white space next year. You have to submit this form. A white space form. Form JKL-202. And you submit this form. And they will give you more white space. And so as a political cartoonist — I mean, if you’re registered with the government, which I am, which all political cartoonists are supposed to be, if you find yourself at the end of the year that you haven’t used enough white space, then you go on a big rant. So there isn’t much white space around. You know what I mean?

Correspondent: Sure. Sure.

Rees: Because you don’t want to go over your limit immediately. Because you’ll be penalized.

Correspondent: But with all the “fucks” within the rant, that can be very problematic. I know you’ve gotten into trouble based off of that. Because of the specific requirements of this act.

Rees: Right. You’re referring to the Left Wing Political Cartoonists Profanity Allotment Act of 2003?

Correspondent: Yeah, yeah, I am. The number of “fucks” are quite frenetic. Exactly.

Rees: Well, I trade on the gray market. I trade — you know, cap and trade with carbon emissions? They set up the same thing for cartoonists, where you get a given amount of profanity. Fuck, goddam, asshole, shit, cocksucker, bitch, all that stuff. And then if you want to use more, you buy a set on the International Profanity Market. You buy a certain amount from other cartoonists.

Correspondent: They come in 200 units, I think.

Rees: Right. Well, it’s 200 syllables. You don’t actually buy the profanity by the word. You buy it by the syllable. So “motherfucker” is four syllables. You can use those four syllables to deploy one “motherfucker” or four “asses.” So I usually just buy them from cartoonists like Bil Keane, who does The Family Circus. He never uses his allotment. In a year, he never says “fuck” in The Family Circus more than ten times. So I will buy him out usually at the beginning of the year, so that I have enough to get me through a season.

Categories: Ideas

David Heatley (BSS #247)

David Heatley is most recently the author of My Brain is Hanging Upside Down.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: On the waiting list for a brain transplant.

Author: David Heatley

Subjects Discussed: Surreal dream comics, the Ramones, memory and associations, Francois Truffaut looking at an old school photo and remembering all the names of his fellow students over an entire day, the deficits of memory, training your brain with a journal, apologetic footnotes to family members, the ten year rule, protecting careers and trying to be considerate with memoir, pink bars covering penises, flinching from the pornographic narrative, “Family History” as a hip-hop montage, why four Ns are good for the UNNNNH, using an all-red palette for extreme emotions, David Rees, the muted color scheme of “Sex History,” the 48 panel setup, Dave Berg’s “The Lighter Side,” shifting from squiggly panel lines to precise lines, the feelings that a ruler conjures, being traumatized into preferring memoir, imagination at the expense of reality, documenting a life without a sense of style, shifting dreams into narrative, being the dutiful client to the therapist, the influence of therapy upon Heatley’s comics, larger intentions, cliche in personal comics, Heatley depicting himself sobbing, Heatley’s ideal reader, Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Julie Doucet as influences, Doucet’s dream comics and castration, digesting a narrative involving dog fucking, retouching through computers, revealing biographical truth, Heatley’s angry father, depicting personal use of racist language, shared common experience with the reader, and being too concerned with being unique.


Correspondent: I wanted to also talk with you about your “Family History” strip. I mean, it’s probably the closest thing in this collection to a hip-hop montage. You have, of course, the many births with the common images. A mother — one of your ancestors — giving birth with the “UNNNNH!” And you have a marriage with the “I do.” The swathed baby who is being held up by the white hands. And the like. I wanted to ask why repetitive images, or a hip-hop montage, seemed the best way to approach your own particular past.

Heatley: It’s funny. I never would have — that phrase “hip-hop montage” is strange to me. But it also rings true. So, yeah, thanks for that. You know, the repetitive thing is about — once I had my own baby, it was a realization that every single person that’s been born in my family history was this baby at one point. And every mother of that baby grunted in the hospital, and pushed it out. So it’s sort of honoring all these faceless women who have been lost. And it’s also — I think that strip is about, if you take any one of those babies, you can make a book this long about them. And so I’m just one of the babies in that book. And here’s my entire story. And I do it with my daughter at the end. Instead of doing one panel for her life, I wind up doing four pages, focusing on that day. So you could do that for any of those babies too. You could focus in on what was happening that day when they were born.

Correspondent: How did you settle upon the four Ns for the “UNNNNH?”

Heatley: (laughs)

Correspondent: I’m really curious. I mean, did you try out three? Did you try out five?

Heatley: I did, yeah.

Correspondent: Did that just look right? Four Ns really cut that particular verisimilitude?

Heatley: (laughs) Yeah, it did. You know, it’s like poetry. It felt right.

Correspondent: (laughs)

Heatley: That’s a great question though. Four Ns. I didn’t even know they were consistent.

Correspondent: Because it’s four Ns in almost every….I mean, we could dig it out right here. It’s four Ns almost every single time.

Categories: People

Alec Foege (BSS #246)

Alec Foege is most recently the author of Right of the Dial.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Defying the maker of rules and dealing with fools.

Author: Alec Foege

Subjects Discussed: WINZ switching to Air America because of Fahrenheit 9/11‘s success, Jesse Jackson and Keep Hope Alive, profitability vs. integrity, Clear Channel’s Republican viewpoint, conservative talk radio and profitability, Rush Limbaugh, Clear Channel executives as better money managers, the Mays family approaching radio from a profit standpoint, the apolitical realities of financial mismanagement, voice tracking as a cost-cutting measure, the public radio bailout, pre-scripted radio conversation and the lack of spontaneity, Clear Channel’s Walmart approach to radio, the decline in radio advertising courtesy of the economic downturn, Clear Channel selling off stations in 2008 to survive, the self-correcting market impulse, how radio caused a San Francisco Franz Ferdinand concert with only a few hundred people showed up, Girl Talk and the Internet as an alternative marketing device, the few slots on radio playlists, Gnarls Barkley and Internet-based rock stars, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, and the “pay what you what” mentality, satellite radio, the online advantages of local radio, payola, record labels paying radio stations, free market opportunities opened up by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Howard Stern on David Letterman, Clear Channel buying Inside Radio and thus buying criticism, the FCC, and the future of radio.


Correspondent: I wanted to ask you about the subject of payola, which comes up multiple times in this book. Eliot Spitzer is, of course, unfortunately now out of the game. But he did do some good things, such as investigating the relationship between the promoters and the radio conglomerates. One of the most condemning documents revealing Clear Channel’s “pay for play” policy was when an email from Sony’s Epic label basically asked, “What do I have to do to get Audioslave on WKSS this week? Whatever you can dream up, I can make it happen.” Now there was extraordinary payola in all these instances. Sometimes as much as $400,000. But if you are a promoter, you are always going to have to deal with payola on some level. Whether it’s a fruit basket. Whether it’s a free CD. I mean, what is the maximum level of what we might call payola? Inarguably, I bought you this coffee that you’re enjoying right now. So are you perhaps — is this payola? I don’t know.

Foege: Well, it’s good that you just disclosed it.

Correspondent: Yes!

Foege: That’s a step in the right direction. And I guess I didn’t explicitly state that I wouldn’t talk with you if you didn’t buy me a cup of coffee. And I did offer to pay for the cup of coffee as well. You know, the funny thing about payola is that it’s existed since the beginning of radio. I mean, radio has traditionally been a pretty dirty business. It was before Clear Channel existed. It continues to be. A lot of people in the business that I spoke to said payola always exists in some form. Every once in a while, it emerges into the public sphere. And somebody like Eliot Spitzer comes along and tries to have some effect on it. But for whatever reason, people trend back to their bad habits again. And the corruption begins again. The interesting thing about payola is that I think, particularly in the modern era, it’s had a very insidious effect on radio. Because one could argue that it’s not good for radio stations and radio companies. Sure, there are payments involved. But as Clear Channel was wont to argue, when it was sort of caught up in all this, even with the large sums that you mentioned, if you look at the total revenue that Clear Channel now brings in, those are hardly numbers that would matter to them overall.

But the insidiousness comes in the fact that, first of all, ostensibly radio stations are attracting listeners with songs and music that they want to hear. Of course, payola tips that scale and simply has people at record labels paying to get particular artists and songs on the air, whether people want to hear them or not. Or whether there’s any criteria other than the payment to get them on. So arguably, you could say that radio stations can lose listeners if they’re embroiled in payola. And it’s just crappy music that nobody likes. Which certainly has come up in the past.

The other thing is, obviously, payola hurts artists. And in combination with all the other tactics that Clear Channel employed, as it got larger, to cut costs and to streamline their overall operation, payola was yet another part of the equation that essentially cut out most emerging artists. Because how could they compete against songs that were simply on the air because people were getting paid off.

The only interesting thing about this is that payola is a very difficult crime to explain to the average person. Because, of course, some variations on what payola is exist in different kinds of venues. A classic example is when you walk into a supermarket, and you see a big pile of Rice Krispies up at the front of the row.

Correspondent: Yeah. Co-op.

Foege: Few people realize that Kellogg’s paid to have that stack put there. And that also happens to not be illegal. The reason that it’s illegal when it comes to radio is because radio, through the FCC, has a federal mandate. The airwaves are owned by the public. So this is a corruption of the public’s airwaves when these payments are made. And so that’s where the crime is involved. Because there’s an acknowledgment there that mass media, because of its power and influence, is different from boxes of Rice Krispies at the supermarket.

Categories: Ideas