Q&A Pt. 1: Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie & Ron Currie, Jr. at the Strand Bookstore
Musician Benjamin Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie, The Postal Service) and Ron Currie, Jr, the author of such acclaimed novels as God is Dead and Everything Matters, took the stage at the Strand Bookstore on January 10th to showcase their work and highlight thematic similarities that transcend their respective mediums.
Check back tomorrow for part 2 of this Q&A, along with full coverage of what will hopefully be the first in a series of similar events at the Strand. To make sure you don’t miss out, follow us on Twitter (@FlatIronHot) and Facebook or subscribe to Flatiron Hot News on our homepage.
Full disclosure: The following questions were posed by the moderator, audience members and the artists themselves at a Q&A session hosted by the Strand Bookstore. Flatiron Hot! News does not claim credit or ownership of them in any way. For the sake of clarity and brevity, some of the questions have been reworded. The sequence has also been altered for maximum clarity.
Q: As artists, how do you draw inspiration from each others’ respective genres?
BG: I have a number of writers who are my favorites- it’s kind of like when someone asks what your favorite records are, you kind of blank on them. But I can say that when I’m having a hard time writing songs, I tend to read a lot more. It inspires me in a number of ways. Primarily that if someone can pull it together to tell a story in such an expansive format, then surely I can sit down and write three minutes of music.
It’s not the duration so much as the scope of the story. What I’m trying to do in a song between three and five minutes, you’re surpassing that in the course of a book and telling a number of stories. If you were writing an album, it would be a quadruple album in terms of the amount of detail in the storytelling. I’m fascinated with people like [Ron] who can write long-form stories. For me, I like songwriting because I like that it involves trying to do a lot with a fairly small amount of space. Over the course of my career as a songwriter, I’m trying to tell a lot of larger stories with smaller and smaller amounts of space. I do that also because I have a difficulty trying to think about stories larger than that.
RC: I’ve said this before – it’s sort of a chestnut of mine at this point – I learn how to write stories from listening to songs. I figure there are so many songs I listen to where somebody does in three minutes what it takes me 300 pages to do, and I have that sense of it. So, I think saying that the duration [of a written work] is what matters in terms of the difficulty is problematic.
Q: [To RC] What is your advice for young writers who are trying to utilize the stream- of-consciousness style prevalent in your work? Do you have any more general advice?
RC: The simplest piece of advice I can give you is not to lock yourself into one particular style. Certainly, you want to follow your nose in terms of what it is that you like to read. That’s a strong indication of the way you should be writing. Don’t be too deterministic about it. You shouldn’t set out to write a book by saying: “I’m going to write a stream-of-consciousness novel.” The book itself dictates the form, not the other way around. We all go through our imitative periods, that still happens to me. It’s not like you reach the mountain top, don the toga and then, you’re the guy or you’re the girl. There’s a lot of trial and error, there’s a lot of wasted pages, but with a good amount of hard work and faith you’ll get somewhere. Then and only then will you figure out the type of book you’re supposed to be writing.
Q: Where do you draw inspiration for your stories? Do they derive from personal experiences or those of people you know?
BG: With anything you write about, even when you feel like you’re writing about yourself, at a certain point you take a turn and end up adjusting the details of the story to fit how you want it to be in the song.
RC: I often say to people when I’m teaching: usually, the moment when you start making shit up is when it gets interesting. That’s almost always the case with my writing. [my upcoming novel to be released in 2013, Flimsy Little Plastic Things] plays with the idea of whether fiction and non-fiction are even valid distinctions.
BG: In Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s character said something along the lines of we produce art to create outcomes that we would have liked to have happened in real life. We can adjust the bounds of reality and make them more dramatic.
RC: It’s basically the professional and artistic equivalent of walking away from a conversation and hours later realizing: “Damn, I should have said that.”
Make sure you check Flatiron Hot! News tomorrow for the second half of this interview and full coverage of the event. For now, watch Benjamin Gibbard’s music video for “Teardrop Windows,” a single from his 2012 album Former Lives (no, Flatiron Hot! News does not own the rights to the recording):