Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Common Questions for Nick Dybek

From June, 2012. When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man now available in paperback!

CGB: You've said that one theme of your book is how idealized images of things and people can be hard to reconcile with the reality of that thing or person. You're also an avid record collector. Who, if anyone, has totally foundered your expectations in live concert?

ND: Unfortunately, there are many occasions when seeing a band live has zapped the magic from the albums—in performance the artist doesn’t always conform with the picture you had in your head. It’s a bit like seeing a film version of your favorite novel where the characters don’t look or act anything like you pictured them.  But why focus on that?

I drove up to Detroit during the fall of my freshman year in college to see Modest Mouse.  I’d been listening to Lonesome Crowded West on repeat for three months, though I knew next to nothing about the band: no one really did back then. The album painted such a vivid portrait of an America full of deserted truck stops, trailer parks, drunk cowboys, junkfood, and long rides on the seedy public transportation. But the lyrics were so thoughtful and poetic that part of me didn’t quite buy it.  I expected the singer, Isaac Brock, to look like a Swarthmore grad, a disdainful intellectual in thick-rimmed glasses.  

The man that took the stage at the Magic Stick that night was overweight, side-burned, flannel-shirted and drunk out of his mind. He sang through the pickup on his guitar.  He charged into the crowd, not affectionately. At one point he bent down to whisper in the ear of a heckler in the front row. The man turned white and immediately headed for the exit. A few songs later Brock emptied what looked like a water bottle onto the stage, lit a match, and dropped it. The stage erupted in flame until a roadie came with a fire extinguisher.  Incidentally, he also played the absolute hell out of the songs. Now that I’m past 30 I’ve pretty much abandoned my old rock dreams. Except this one.

Besides records, objects in general seem to play a part in your thinking and writing about people, in terms of how things help us visualize ourselves. Say it's your birthday and you're given an oversized American League jersey from a not terribly close friend. Do you consider integrating it into your wardrobe or move confidently in the direction of an adult male?

I’m a big sports fan. Reading about Michigan Football, and the Chicago Bulls and Cubs, is my go-to procrastination. And while trying to write, I procrastinate a lot. Any interest in an analysis of the Wolverine’s 2012 recruiting class? Care to know more about the Cub’s top minor league prospects? We should talk. So maybe it’s hypocritical to fully accept some parts of the culture of American sports fandom while rejecting others. But as to the jersey question: salvation army, pronto.

One reviewer noted, after reading Captain Flint, they had to stop themselves from "crying in public." Which I imagine must feel great. If that same person though was sitting next to you on the subway, book in hand, obviously struggling to keep it together, would you be more likely to sit back and enjoy the ride, so to speak, or pretend to be wearing headphones?

I became a writer because it got boring bringing only my friends and family to tears. I thought I could do so much more.  But if there is one thing I’ve learned about the New York Subway in the brief time I’ve lived there: always pretend to be wearing headphones.

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