The Unknown: The Red Line.

Spin Magazine Interview
“Unknown Squabble: Not Fab Four, More Big Pink”
(Page 47, March 2001)

SPIN: So you’ve come out against William Gillespie’s interpretation of The Unknown as the electronic literature world’s equivalent of the Beatles.

SR: Yeah I’d say that’s 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 haven’t really had distinguishable periods.

SPIN: But aren’t there other connections between the Unknown and the Beatles?

SR: There’s four of us, sure, but other than that — I just really don’t see a strong connection. Maybe it will sell more CD-ROMs but I’m 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, there’s some vague resemblance. But then who the hell are Dirk and I? What I’m fucking Paul McCartney? I don’t think so. Frank’s Ringo? Okay, that I can buy, but Dirk’s George Harrison? Come on.

SPIN: Wouldn’t Dirk make more sense as Lennon?

SR: There’s that, yeah. I mean we did write Dirk into that sort of corner, with the assasination and all that, though William’s 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, he’s more like John Lennon as a soloist. Maybe the career Lennon would have had if he hadn’t have gotten popped. That’s 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 couldn’t use him as a role model for this decade of his life. I wonder who he’ll emulate after he turns sixty. I don’t 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. We’re 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. We’re good, but we’re not the Beatles.

SPIN: So if the Unknown aren’t the Beatles of electronic literature, then who are they?

SR: We’re 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 don’t have that. We’re more like the Band than we are like Dylan.

SPIN: So who’s Robbie Robertson?

SR: I’d say William would be the natural there. But I want to stop before we get into the intricacies of how Dirk’s poetry is a lot like Garth Hudson’s organ playing or how I’m like a young Levon Helm. That’s not the point.

SPIN: Well then what is the point of the comparison?

SR: The Band’s 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. There’s 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 they’d hand them an instrument. There wasn’t this group-in group-out bullshit. They didn’t care if they stayed a little bit obscure. You might have heard of Robbie Robertson, but most people don’t know Rich Danko from Richard Manuel. They weren’t 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 don’t 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, that’s not what this is about man.

SPIN: Do you mind if we take your picture?

SR: I’d prefer you don’t. 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.

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The Unknown at Spineless Books.