Spin Magazine Interview
SR: Yeah Id say thats a real stretch.
SPIN: What makes you say that?
SR: The Beatles went through a great many periods. They were once young and naive, heart-throbs for a generation of teenagers. Most teenagers are either confused by the Unknown or enthralled by its purely hedonist aspects. And the psychadelica was a distinct shift for them from the I Wanna Hold Your Hand type of stuff they first came over with. The Unknown had the psychedelic thing in the background from day one, and it periodically crops up again and again, more like flashbacks than like earnest experimentation. We havent really had distinguishable periods.
SPIN: But arent there other connections between the Unknown and the Beatles?
SR: Theres four of us, sure, but other than that I just really dont see a strong connection. Maybe it will sell more CD-ROMs but Im not sure that kind of, well, really, cultural sacrilege of juxtaposition is at all justified.
SPIN: Well why do you think Mr. Gillespie keeps pushing it?
SR: I think Gillespie wants to be John Lennon. He definitely identifies with Lennon. Sure, theres some vague resemblance. But then who the hell are Dirk and I? What Im fucking Paul McCartney? I dont think so. Franks Ringo? Okay, that I can buy, but Dirks George Harrison? Come on.
SPIN: Wouldnt Dirk make more sense as Lennon?
SR: Theres that, yeah. I mean we did write Dirk into that sort of corner, with the assasination and all that, though Williams aggressive embrace of a wide range of approaches and styles, his continuous and relentless political spokesmanship, etc. etc. etc. cause him to more naturally identify with Lennon.
SPIN: Ergo, the urge to be a Beatle.
SR: Really, hes more like John Lennon as a soloist. Maybe the career Lennon would have had if he hadnt have gotten popped. Thats another wierd thing. Why is it that William always wants to identify with a great artist who died before his time? The kid wanted to be Phil Ochs until he turned thirty. I think Ochs popped himself at thirty, so William obviously couldnt use him as a role model for this decade of his life. I wonder who hell emulate after he turns sixty. I dont know how long was Woody Guthrie alive?
SPIN: Has this disagreement over the proper rock and roll metaphor caused any discontent within the Unknown?
SR: You bet your ass it has. Were structured very much like a rock band, so we want to be careful about who we emulate. And it is fine to emulate the Beatles, to a point. But you gotta be real about it. Were good, but were not the Beatles.
SPIN: So if the Unknown arent the Beatles of electronic literature, then who are they?
SR: Were a hell of a lot more like the Band if you ask me.
SPIN: You never backed up Bob Dylan.
SR: Sort of, we sort of did. I mean, resurrecting the folk tradition of the postmodern American novel like he did the folk tradition of music. But never with his force of personality, his unique individual sound. We dont have that. Were more like the Band than we are like Dylan.
SPIN: So whos Robbie Robertson?
SR: Id say William would be the natural there. But I want to stop before we get into the intricacies of how Dirks poetry is a lot like Garth Hudsons organ playing or how Im like a young Levon Helm. Thats not the point.
SPIN: Well then what is the point of the comparison?
SR: The Bands subject matter was largely an American pastoral. They took elements of both musical and social history and adapted and integrated those elements into a new musical form that made sense for the day in which they operated. Theres that and then procedure.
SPIN: By procedure you mean?
SR: Music-making. These guys hung out together, practically lived together, and did drugs and made music. Free-form, more or less. Someone would drop by Big Pink, and theyd hand them an instrument. There wasnt this group-in group-out bullshit. They didnt care if they stayed a little bit obscure. You might have heard of Robbie Robertson, but most people dont know Rich Danko from Richard Manuel. They werent about the cult of celebrity.
SPIN: But the Unknown most definitely is.
SR: Yeah as subject matter but not as methodology. The Unknown at its best is about people hanging out and trying out instruments they dont really know how to play, but trying it out anyway, and at the end of the day, making story, making story in the same way as the Band made story, made music.
SPIN: So who is Joni Mitchell?
SR: Probably Katie Gilligan, though Cynthia is also a great candidate. But I mean, thats not what this is about man.
SPIN: Do you mind if we take your picture?
SR: Id prefer you dont. I try to keep a limit on the amount of images of myself in circulation. Just drop in a screenshot of the map of our travels.