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March 4, 2011

Dean Wareham Interviews Lauren Grodstein

In the "Largehearted Boy Cross-Media Cultural Exchange Program" series (thanks to Jami Attenberg for the title), authors interview musicians (and vice versa).

Lauren Grodstein is a writer. Her most recent book is the novel A Friend of the Family.

Dean Wareham is a member of Dean & Britta, whose most recent album is 13 Most Beautiful...Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests. His previous bands include Luna and Galaxie 500. He has also written a memoir, Black Postcards.

Musician Dean Wareham interviews author Lauren Grodstein :

Dean Wareham: Hi Lauren,

I am writing to you from Cadiz, Spain, one of the oldest cities in the world – I'm in the middle of a 17-day tour. Your husband Ben played keyboards in the Dean & Britta band, on a couple of tours that were frankly rather grueling. Has his pinky finger completely healed from the hideous accident with the van door in Germany?

LG: Hi Dean. Wow, I'm so jealous that you're in Cadiz, especially since I'm writing back to you from New Jersey, where I sit on the couch next to my toddler, mindlessly snagging an occasional dinosaur-shaped chicken nugget from his pile. Anyway, yeah, Ben's finger. It'll never look 100% normal, but compared to some tour injuries I've heard about, a gnarly pinky finger is probably nothing.

DW: You visited us on the road. Were you selling T-shirts for us that night when our dressing room was robbed (quite obviously by the security guards) at that London club?

LG: I was indeed. Before that night went precipitously downhill, a groupie came up to me and asked if I actually knew the band or if I just got to sell their t-shirts. When I said that I knew you guys, her eyes got wide and she asked how I figured out which one to sleep with while we are on the road. I said something like, "It's easy – I pick my husband," and her eyes got even wider. "Wow," she said. "That's so cool." Then she bought a t-shirt.

DW: Your novel opens in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Pete, though he lives in New Jersey, not Eastern Europe, is afraid. He notes as long as he has been alive there was always a Soviet Union, and that the cold war provided stasis – us versus them -- and that this stasis would likely be replaced by instability. Was he right to be afraid? Is the world a safer place now?

LG: You know, I was a kid during the very end of the cold war, and there's something now that seems almost childish about my memory of that period – a sort of reassuring Us vs. Them, Good Guys vs. Bad Guys reduction of the order of the world. And that's how Pete Dizinoff, my narrator, still imagines world politics, even though the planet has gotten more complicated, and quite possibly more dangerous, since. Pete wasn't built for the competing narratives and complicating backstories of the post-Cold War era; he likes what's predictable, and what he's used to. So although I think the world is probably safer for some people and more dangerous for others since the fall of the Soviet Union, for Pete, the world will never seem as safe, or as orderly, as the Cold War-era, porkpie hat, Ford Fairlane Yonkers of his youth.

DW: "The suburbs, man. I don't care what anybody says. It's the only civilized way to live."

Is this true? Or do you miss Brooklyn?

LG: I miss Brooklyn desperately. Every day. All the time. I miss my friends, I miss the wonderful bookstores, I miss the street life, I miss the subway, I miss the bagels. I miss the music. I miss the park. I miss the general sense of something wonderful happening just around the corner. The only thing I don't miss is my crappy old apartment and alternate side of the street parking regulations.

DW: The whole novel shifts rapidly into gear around a quarter of the way in – when Laura shows up in person, and all of a sudden everyone goes crazy. From that moment I didn't want to put the book down. I was struck by Pete's regard for himself as a father, his moral certainty, certainty that he knows what is best for his son and is making decisions accordingly, when it seems rather that he is extremely jealous of his slacker son's freedom (both sexual and artistic). Is Pete a good father or is he out of his mind?

LG: I think he's a good father, but he's driven out of his mind by the fact that his life – in the form of his son - is not going the way he thought it would. It's also driving him nuts that his son's burgeoning adulthood is forcing him to confront all sorts of things – his sexual desires, his buried dreams – that he'd much rather have never examined at all.

DW: I was struck by this passage:

"Twenty-three. How hard it had become to navigate this age. Only thirty years ago, all you had to do was finish school, marry your college sweetheart, pick a job, and stick with it. Now these wonderful kids were breaking down all around us."

DW: Is Pete is living in the past, in the grips of this earlier, simpler American dream?

LG: Yes, I think he is – and it's a dream that was probably always just that, a dream, a fantasy of American life. But I don't judge him for it, because the older I get, the easier it is to romanticize "the way it used to be," when kids could run around outdoors all afternoon and nobody had ever heard of BPA in your plastic containers or Facebook bullies or even Facebook. But was it really that great to grow up in the late ‘80s – or really that much better than it will be for my son to grow up in the 20-teens? I doubt it. It's just that memory is so selective, and so seductive.

DW: Can you listen to music when you write?

LG: Not a single chord. If Ben's home and trying to listen to something while I'm writing, even if he's on an entirely different floor, I make him put on headphones or just turn it off. I love music, but when it's on I'm listening so intently I can't concentrate on much else. There's no such thing as background music for me.

DW: What are you working on?

LG: A new novel. So far it involves alcoholic mice, a college ornithology major, and Darwin. It's entertaining to write until I start to panic that I'll never be able to pull it off, but when that happens I try to remember it's just writing – it's what I used to do for fun when I was supposed to be doing my math homework instead.

DW: What is your favorite new book?

LG: I'm in the middle of Swamplandia by Karen Russell. It's been raved over by everyone from Stephen King to the New York Times, and rightly so. That girl could write the back of a cereal box and I wouldn't be able to put it down.

Lauren Grodstein links:

Lauren Grodstein's website

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by Lauren Grodstein for her novel A Friend of the Family

Dean Wareham links:

Dean Wareham's Wikipedia entry
Dean & Britta website
Dean & Britta MySpace page

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by Dean Wareham for his memoir Black Postcards
Largehearted Boy review of Dean Wareham's memoir Black Postcards

also at Largehearted Boy:

other musician/author interviews

Antiheroines (Jami Attenberg interviews comics artists)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
guest book reviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Soundtracked (directors and composers discuss their film's soundtracks)

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