Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Hott Bobby C

I met Bobby Carlson at some mutual friends' apartment in August of 1997 in Phoenix. He had recently returned from a short stint living in Baltimore, where I live now. We attended college together and I can say with little doubt that Bobby's left-leaning sensibilities and —paradoxically enough— his pragmatism have been a major model for my own thinking since we met. He is an excellent sounding-board and a patient man.

We have known each other since 1997. That’s ten years now. So a lot of these questions will focus on that.

What would you say is the biggest thing to change over the past ten years on a global level? A personal level for you? What do you think has changed most about me over the past ten years?

I didn’t really get exposed to the internet in a big way until I came to college in December of ‘97. I learned to type in high school on an electric typewriter. I was in the last class before they got computers. So I grew up pre-internet, playing video games on Commodore 64s and nerding out on Nintendo. I can’t imagine growing up and having the information, never mind the porn available to anyone with a third grade education. I don’t think it makes the world any better or worse, but it’s certainly different and a lot more could be said about it, though I don’t think I’d have anything interesting to say.

On a personal level, I’ve played loud drunk music for the last ten years, been writing largely unpublished fodder for ten years, been in a relationship for eight years, and having sex, never mind regular sex is pretty good. I’ve graduated college twice and learned more by working in the trades these last few months.

You’ve been sued, you’ve lived on the West Coast, the Midwest and the East Coast. You’ve quit more jobs than most people have in twenty years, called me perhaps a hundred times drunk, and said the word, “Duuuuuuude,” eight hundred thousand times —a conservative estimate.

You lived in Baltimore briefly. At 29th and Calvert, if I remember your telling it correctly. In late 1996/early 1997, I believe. Describe your impression of Baltimore from that time.

I think it was 97/98, but I could be mistaken. I lived in a three bedroom apartment (it was very nice) with six other people and paid 100$ a month for rent, which I did so with high school graduation money. (I had about $1000 saved up, and it lasted about four months. Besides rent, I bought ramen and vinyl.) I feel like my memories have been skewed a bit by watching four seasons of the Wire. However, I would walk everywhere, as I didn’t know how to drive and would walk downtown almost everyday. I was pretty amazed by anything East Coast or that was different than Phoenix. And was really amazed by how un-segregated it all was, especially in terms of class. There weren’t poor neighborhoods and middle class neighborhoods. It was more like there’s a block of nice brownstones, followed by a completely run down, tore-up block, followed by a pretty sketchy gas station on North Avenue, followed by a couple more random blocks, followed by a few nice commercial blocks with like bookstores and camera stores or whatever. I always liked that. I also remember the sparechangers being completely different than most other places I’ve ever been, just totally in your face and even mean after you gave them money. I gravitated toward Normals Bookstore, but I don’t think I fully appreciated the weirdos that worked there and owned it. I went to a lot of shows, but half of them were in DC, and it didn’t seem like there was a whole lot going on. Then again, I was new to town and, again, pre-internet. I do very much regret, not getting into Lungfish while I lived there.

Since that time, you've lived in Phoenix, Flagstaff, Tucson and then Flagstaff again. What is it that makes Arizona your base besides proximity to family and familiarity? In the past you've expressed a desire to move to Northern California. Do you still want to? Why or why not?

It was either a giant mistake or a happy accident to not move out of Arizona after I graduated college. In a way, I never moved out of Flagstaff, since I was in a band that stayed together in Flagstaff. So, for example, I’d drive up four hours to practice, play a show, have the most amazing weekend ever, and then drive back down to Tucson to go to work. It made Flagstaff blossom into this fantasy in my head, and as soon as my wife and I could, we moved back. And of course those fantasies quickly shattered. But it was still Flagstaff.

Right now, we pay a mortgage on a super awesome house, made possible by her parents investing in it. So we’ll be here a few more years at least. But then, we either buy them out, or sell the house. Then, Northern California, or maybe anywhere in the Northwest might become an option. I don’t know if a big city is ever an option again. Maybe the bay area…

I do really love the Southwest that is not Southern California and not Texas. It’s beautiful, and weird, and just has that everyday cinematic appeal that the Germans seem to go crazy for. Flagstaff is definitely home.

As an outside observer, Flagstaff has retained a vibrance of culture (in the "scene," to use the parlance of our times) that rivals that of many towns I've lived in/visited since 1999 when I left. Is it just me being nostalgic or are important things really happening in our sleepy little mountain town? Why do you think there are so many people seemingly cohesively involved with artistic pursuits in a town that —when we first lived there together anyway— was pretty dead in terms of bands and activities aside from the bars? Do you think this sort of thing is likely to continue, or will people eventually move on in search of "real" jobs and "adult pursuits" like babies and homeownership? Why isn't Flag, or some one/group from Flag totally blown up all over MTV 2 yet?

That’s a lot of questions. To answer the last couple first, there is a big emigration rate, for sure, not just by college graduates, but people that just don’t want to live here anymore, that think the big city might be better, perhaps, maybe for those reasons you listed, (though I think Flag is a pretty good place to raise a kid.) And I think that’s why a lot of rad shit hasn’t been as documented as it should. What Flagstaff needs, I think, more than anything is a record label like K or Dischord or Sub Pop, or rather, a regional label that does well and grows into a label with the stature of those labels, and whether it stays regional, like Dischord, or not, at that point, wouldn’t really matter. Or, you had an idea, that always stuck with me, of the big outdoor music fest, but thus far attempts have been too half-assed and local for anyone to really notice. I think if an Arthur writer ever witnessed a good Flag show… that particular publication seems very like-minded.

However, I don’t think Flag was ever ‘dead.’ When I moved here, the punk scene was pretty stale, for sure, but the electronic music scene was pretty vibrant and I found myself attaching to that for a certain extent. Then most of those folks moved out of town. Really though, I think the all ages weirdo music scene (punk or whatever) was just in a lull. There’ve been crazy bands from Flagstaff since the early 80s at least.

Since you moved, there have been some really good bands going, usually two or three at a time, continually, breaking up and forming in some other way… Some of the bands, I think have been somewhat influential, at least in Arizona. House shows have been very important in a place that just doesn’t seem big enough to support a long term all ages type venue. Or perhaps, it’s not size, but the mainstream culture is so lame and as you mentioned, bar oriented, and really kind of corporate; I guess the best word for it, is just ‘mainstream.’ But it creates a very real sense of ‘us versus them’ that I think is really important and keeps things really exciting. Now that I’m older and, for example, a friend of mine books the only decent bar in town (the Monte V) those lines blur a little. But the bar is still only interested in the bottom line and despite my friend’s best efforts, supporting art or music doesn’t enter in at all. So those lines are still there, to a large extent.

Is the era of "the next big thing" over?

I’m assuming you mean like music or literary trends. And I don’t feel qualified to say, regardless of what you mean. I can say that for the young (hearted) person, that era is never over. When a young person discovers some form of like-mindedness and a light switch clicks in their brain, for one to say, oh, well, been there, done that is pretty culturally destructive.

Can you be part of the system (see the immediately above) and still be revolutionary? How? Is location a big factor in the possibility?

I guess it depends how one defines ‘revolutionary.’ I’m not sure it’s possible outside of a personal level. Sure, we can kick the managers out of the office and hire new ones, and we can put the workers in charge and see what happens. In the past, they’ve just become asshole managers. I’m not saying that’s inevitable, like some might, but I don’t know if humans are capable of getting out of the office. The best we can do is make it a nice office. Well lit. Available resources. If that makes any sense at all. I guess to say it more plainly: I don’t think being separate from the system is at all an option. I don’t think there is such a thing.

Which is why location is very important. It’s one of the reasons I like Flagstaff so much. It’s a fairly urban, big place, but you don’t need a car to live here. (In the Southwest, that’s very rare.) There’s a big push by development to turn Flagstaff into an Aspen/Phoenix hybrid and there’s a big unorganized resistance movement to that. There’s strip malls filled with faceless corporate whateverness, but there’s still some really vibrant community minded local business really worth supporting. In other words, or in less words, the bad guys haven’t totally won here yet. Terms and definitions are still very much contested. Other places, besides the well-known exceptions, one often gets the sense that the battle against corporate profit-worship hegemony is already lost.

What's on your plate for the next ten years of our mutual relationship?

Getting to hang out once would be numero uno. After that, the sky’s the limit, to end this installment with a cliché.

Clarifying my "next big thing" question a bit… I suppose what I meant by that was more the idea that it seems harder for the media/mainstream public to find and propel the kinds of previously underground phenomena they did when we were younger. It doesn't seem to have happened in a long time. Do you agree with that assessment? Is underground art better or worse off for this?

I think my previous answer addresses what you mean to a large degree. To repeat, I think for the young explorer, none of this is very relevant. The kid today discovers Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr. the way I discovered Led Zeppelin and Thin Lizzy. I do think it’s actually easier to propel the next big thing, the cycles, or the ‘hunger for the new’ has just grown exponentially. To answer more fully, as an older dude, I’m not so sure there is underground anymore, if there ever was. And I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad. Reading that book, Rip It Up and Start Again it seems like that gap was bridged in the early eighties. I feel like Myspace, and like technologies have really leveled the playing field to a very large degree, as far as getting your ‘art’ out there, for people to see or hear it. Again, this is good and bad. In many ways, there’s just too much, and most of it is mediocre at best. But any joker can get a show anywhere, if they present themselves the right way on a Myspace page. It makes the whole Black Flag oeuvre of recording and touring constantly somewhat obsolete in my opinion. In that when Black Flag was doing it, there was no one else doing it. Now, an entire generation is doing it. For a weekend warrior like myself, this is fantastic. I play where I’m wanted. Again, these trends are neither good nor bad, they just change the landscape, and folks just update their maps or they don’t. I think it’s fantastic there are so many bands. I wish they were different bands, but that’s my problem.

How do you find new music/art/lit, etc? What have you found lately?

What ruined my life forever was discovering skateboarding in fourth grade. Since then it’s guided my tastes to a very large degree.

In my crusty old age, I still try to remain sponge-like and absorb whatever I can. I might even be more malleable than when I was younger, as I’m not so elitist in my tastes in that I can really get something out of a Jerry Bruckheimer production these days, especially if that movie stars a reckless Nicolas Cage.

With new music it’s hard and not hard to find good new stuff for reasons explained earlier. I generally only have time to check out bands that have asked me for a show in Flagstaff. I probably heard maybe 10 new artists in 2006. Most of which were sent to me as promos. I still find myself generally keeping up with Phoenix and Tucson bands to a small extent at least, and LA has a really great scene as well. I try to keep up with mainstream hip hop, but just don’t have the time. Picking up Skyscraper Magazine and Mojo Magazine periodically have helped me stay in the loop at least peripherally.

For movies, I’ll check imdb.com every so often. And with authors, I’ll go with suggestions from friends, and also, every year, McSweeney’s puts out The Best Nonrequired Reading of [that year] and I’ve read all of them, and it’s all fantastic and has led to finding several new favorite writers.

As I’ve mentioned, in my opinion, The Wire is the best show on television. I do watch a lot of TV on DVD.

I generally find out about new rad art shit from my friend Brendan who puts out ANP Quarterly. Picking up Thrasher as often as I can also makes poop time wonderful.

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