Rick Moody (photo Thatcher Keats)
Rick Moody is one of the most celebrated American writers of his generation. His work includes four novels—Garden State, The Ice Storm (both made into feature films), Purple America, and The Diviners—as well as three collections of short fiction, The Ring of Brightest Angels around Heaven, Demonology, and Right Livelihoods. His first novel, Garden State, won the Pushcart Editor’s Choice award and his memoir, The Black Veil, won the PEN/Martha Albrand award for the Art of the Memoir. His passion for writing is equally matched by his passion for music. A founding member of the Wingdale Community Singers, Rick also writes about music as a regular contributor to the online magazine The Rumpus.
Rick Moody lives in Brooklyn, NY, and on Fishers Island with his wife, Amy Osborn, and their newborn daughter, Hazel. After discussing the possibility of this interview for over two years, we finally got down to the business of it in early May of this year.
Meg White: I’d like to begin with your recently acquired status as a father. You have been one of the most prolific writers/artists on the NYC literary circuit for the last two decades. Can you talk a little about how this new role has affected your creative life?
Rick Moody: In some ways, it remains to be seen how fatherhood has affected my creative life, because I haven’t really had time for a creative life yet!
I am finishing up a novel, it’s true, and every non-baby-related second has been given over to that. But I will admit that this new book, mostly written a couple of years ago, feels very emotionally antique to me right now. Sometimes that just means that you are done, you know, which I am, very nearly. But in this case it could also mean that I have changed a little bit.
I don’t think I’m going to be all sentimental now, just because there’s a little baby around, but maybe I am going to be more direct, less inclined to waste time. Since I have less time to waste. I have been writing an occasional music blog (www.therumpus.net) since January, and it is probably the most reliable example of my immediate pre- and post-labor writing. The music writing is, as I say, much quicker to the point, less comic, more philosophical. I am not going to change into an issue-oriented realistic writer, I don’t think, nor one who avoids stylistic flights. But maybe I will be a writer, at least, who understands the sacrifices of family, and admires them.
I’m laughing because you just mentioned wasting less time, and there are so many of us who envy the quality and volume of your work. We had no clue you were wasting any time. But, seriously, do you think understanding and admiring the sacrifices of family will mean writing a kinder, gentler version of the dysfunctional families for which you are so well known?
I can’t imagine that the families will be any less dysfunctional, but maybe I will be slightly less gleeful in the lancing of hypocrisies. It has occurred to me recently, for example, that it’s possible my parents did the best job they could. And it’s hard to imagine the author of The Ice Storm saying that, right? So who knows? Gentleness may be just around the corner. I am not going to become humorless, but I expect the humor is going to be more compassionate, less malevolent.
I want to talk more about music, but I feel compelled to ask about the new novel first. Your last one, The Diviners, was a delicious satire of the entertainment industry. How about the new one? Have you taken on another aspect of our poor, beleaguered, maladjusted society?
The new book is slightly futuristic and dystopian, like some novels that I loved as a kid: Cat’s Cradle, The Crying of Lot 49, Catch-22, Giles Goat-Boy, Another Roadside Attraction, etc. It’s set in a future North America that is economically second-rate and sort of emotionally depressed as well. The story, such as it is, is lifted from a drive-in horror movie from 1963 called The Crawling Hand. There’s also a talking chimpanzee in it, and a failed manned mission to Mars. I guess, therefore, that this is pretty much the same approach as in The Diviners, but even longer—the first draft was over 900 pages.
Does the chimp have much to say?
The chimp won’t shut up! I read a Michael Crichton book a couple of years ago—I’m forgetting the name now, because it was a very forgettable book—and it had to do with gene transplant therapy, and stem cells, and there was a talking orangutan in it, if I’m remembering properly, and all the orangutan could do was squeak out a word or two. Not in my book! In my book, the chimp actually becomes irritating because he won’t shut up and he thinks he’s right about everything. And, for the record, he’s very dismissive about us. The humans.
He sounds like a lot of critics I know. Would you classify this new one as science fiction?
I would not. That would seem to me to be a genre designation, and most genre designations come into play when a work is substandard in the literary department, plot-oriented, or, in the case of science fiction, more interested in technology than character. This book, like others I have written, is concerned with psychology, character, and language. It just happens to be very imaginative. It’s designed, I suppose, to irritate people like James Wood, who thinks there can only be the one kind of literary fiction, the rigidly naturalistic sort. I come from a different literary world, a more permissive one. And my more permissive literary world loves imagination, the freedom of imagination.
Accordingly, the book is not against science fiction. I read from that section of the bookstore when I was young, and I loved some of it. I’ve taken that license, that permission, from speculative fiction and applied it to some of my usual themes: the high costs of capitalism, the anguish of mind-body dualism, and so on.
Would you tell us more about the music blog, your relationship to music and songwriting process? What’s happening with the Wingdale Community Singers? Are you three still working together and, if so, what do we have to look forward to?
After writing, just about all my time goes to music and thinking about music, so it was natural to try to get down some of the thoughts I have on that subject. I’m probably going to publish a volume of essays on music after I turn in the new novel. I was asked to contribute to The Rumpus on any subject that pleased me, and since I’m trying to assemble writing on music anyway, it seemed natural to try to do some of that work there.
The challenge for me is to try to write the blog-oriented work quickly, and without excessive punctiliousness. Most people don’t like to read discursive stuff online. I’m trying to operate within the form. My results have been mixed, but I have enjoyed the experiment a lot. By the way, the subject of the blog is, specifically, unreleased, unsigned, or self-released bands and recordings, and it’s meant to be very interactive. . . . I like really unusual stuff. Boys with big amps and double-kick drummers and mopey lyrics need not apply.
As far as my band goes, we are now four, not three (with the addition of excellent visual artist and singer/guitarist/accordionist Nina Katchadourian), and we have finished album number two, Spirit Duplicator, and it’s due out in the fall from a very small label in New York City called Scarlet Shame. We like the name of our label a great deal.
I have two final questions. Do you have any idea what we might expect from you in the next few years? And is there anything else you think our readers would like to know about you?
Probably after the music essays, a volume of stories, and then I have in mind a sort of a Washington romance. But who knows? Then we are talking five years out. And I assume your readers, having read this far into the piece, know more than enough!