09-30-10:A 2010 Interview With Al Astrella and James Greene
"It'd be Freddy Krueger right next to a picture of Bela Lugosi."
—Al Astrella and James Greene
So now, some (mumble mumble) years later, here I am in Santa Cruz on a Sunday night, playing my show on CD and generally minding my own business. I usually figure that one or two friends are listening. The Red light in the studio flashes, which usually means that Johnny Simmons, our super-smart, all-pro actually-paid-for-his-work host, is calling to suggest that I change my delivery in some manner. That's not the case, this time. It's Jim Greene calling about his new book.
And that, in short, is how I came to enter 'The House of Ackerman.' From there, it was only a matter of logistics to get James and his co-author Al Astrella on the show. I chose Talk of the Bay because that show is dedicated to the live interview and I thought it wold be best to get the more raw feel for this rather nostalgic material.
Both writers talked knowledgeably about Ackerman, and his house and, I learned stuff outside their fine book. You'll hear some great stories and histories of Ackerman and his work. You'll learn about the Ackermansions. I really didn't know that there had been any beyond the one I had visited.
But, and I think this is extremely germane to the reading experience, you'll also hear some stories about fans and family, and fans as family. And this much is surely true. When I was at the Ackermansion, it was not like any field trip I had ever experienced. No, it was like visiting the Uncle who left out the Playboy magazines, like going to the corner liquor store where you could get Vampirella and Tales from the Crypt.
Both writers point out that Forrest Ackerman called himself Uncle Forry and I think that is critical to understanding his importance and his appeal. Fans, like myself, who found their taste met with distaste in their family environment could find a second, surrogate family home in the Ackermansion. Under the flat, hard, bright smoggy skies of Los Angeles, I saw my own future.
"I thought, that looks pretty cool, and it actually looked pretty easy."
Live radio interviews are a peculiar subset of the interviewing trade. When your voice is being heard by an unknown number of listeners, you have to be careful in ways that are not so important when you're recording an interview for later broadcast. Of course, there is also a certain freedom in knowing that you cannot edit. Once the words have left your mouth, they're in the air and they're never coming back again.
Needless to say, there are some technical challenges in this situation, especially when, as was I, you're alone in the studio. You might even find yourself at the studio thinking you have a couple of hours to prepare while you run through some recorded material, only to find yourself in a five-star, I-left-my-show-at-home emergency.
This was the scene last Sunday. I slaved over the Agony Column broadcast show, editing the interviews and carefully putting together a tight show about the Southern Gothic. I barely finished it in time, started working on the website update, worked on that — Monday's Susan Casey page — until the last minute. Then, making sure I had all the materials queued up for the interviews I was going to run on Talk of the Bay — Dan White first, then James Greene and Al Astrella — I took off, leaving my Agony Column Broadcast show on the computer.
This meant that I spent most of my first hour at KUSP getting the CD to KUSP for the second hour of radio. And during the second hour of radio, I completed preparations for my third hour, beginning with Dan White.
Fortunately for me, Dan White is just as engaging and funny in person as he is in print. Better still, he brought photos and papers to rustle and give the show that much-desired-I'm-so-hip-radio location sound. And what better location sound than papers rustling for a book show?
"...big-picture, end-of-the-world fear-mongering, let's talk about the destruction of freedom kind of politics..."
After two years behind the lines at the Wall Street Journal, Thomas Frank's last column showed up last month. When you think of his observations and his style of reportage and commentary, it's an amazing run, and truly a brave stint. He's authored some remarkable work there, and I gave him a ring to talk about his time there, and about his visions of the present media and political landscape.
Frank is quite interested in the fate of printed media, and he has good reason to be. As an editor and publisher of The Baffler, he put out a new issue in July, a nice piece of printed reporting and commentary. But the import of the print media has been permanently damaged. Frank talked quite eloquently about the power of the press since the era of Richard Nixon. There are solutions; despair is not required, but preparing for despair is in this age always a good idea.
We also talked about the power of the televised image, and in particular, Glen Beck, who knows how to wield that power expertly. The difference in how we apprehend televised image and the reading experience are precisely why Frank prefers to stick with the latter to comment about the former.
"That was something I never understood until I saw a 70 foot wave."
Susan Casey packs all the power of her 25, 40, 70, 120-foot waves not just into her book, 'The Wave,' but into any conversation she enters. I arrived at KQED to speak with her early in the afternoon, and within minutes we were locked into an intense back-and-forth about one of my favorite Fortean phenomena — the "rogue wave." It surely wasn't the outcome I expected when the book first arrived in the mail.
I'm no longer riveted by best-of-the-year lists, but were I to make them, I'm certain that 'The Wave' would end up on my list. It was a book that I at first thought might be mildly interesting. I'm not a big fan of sports reporting, and this book clearly spent a lot of time with surfers. The Fortean aspect did interest me, of course, but that alone was not enough. It was Casey's lucid writing, and her incredibly skilled non-fiction architecture that won me over. 'The Wave' was a grand and engaging reading experience — as was my conversation with Casey.
Given Casey's extensive research — she spent five years writing the book, and moved to Hawaii to do so — I was pretty sure that she's have some interesting stories to tell. Having enjoyed the book so much, I suppose I should have expected that in person, she'd have all the energy of her prose, but I was immersed in the book, and focused on content and creative work that had brought it about.
When I sat down to talk with Casey, she had a can of Red Bull, but she clearly did not need it. She's a bundled wire of energy, with an precise command of her subject and of her own interest in the subject. And she's really charged to talk about the book, because several times along the way in the interview, she suggests that parts of the book could be the subjects of whole books themselves.
That's what makes listening to Casey so much fun. She's endlessly enthusiastic not just about what is in the book, but also about what surrounds the book. And that covers a huge range, from the secrets of tow surfing giant waves in tiny, hidden breaks to global climate change. You can hear Susan Casey talk about the characters of surfers and the waves they ride — and the ones that destroy two cargo ships per month — by following this link to the MP3 audio file.