Interview as a Self-Portrait
So … tell us about yourself.
BD: Er … uh ….
Okay, let’s start with something simple.
BD: Probably a good idea.
B.D.’s Last Refuge?
BD: The old quote. “Liberty is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” I’ve heard it in a few forms, seen it variously attributed. I should probably look it up. That’s the marvelous thing about the web. You don’t have an excuse for not finding out. Unless, of course, you’re not connected.
I always get confused though; I keep thinking I take it from an Emma Goldman essay, but it’s the wrong quote.
Which quote is that, then?
BD: It’s from “Patriotism: A Menace to Liberty”. She writes,
What, then, is patriotism? “Patriotism, sir, is the last resort of scoundrels,” said Dr. Johnson. Leo Tolstoy, the greatest anti-patriot of our times, defines patriotism as the principle that will justify the training of wholesale murderers; a trade that requires better equipment for the exercise of man-killing than the making of such necessities of life as shoes, clothing, and houses; a trade that guarantees better returns and greater glory than that of the average workingman.
Hell, I don’t even know who Dr. Johnson is. I have no excuse.
Will you be looking it up soon?
BD: Oh … probably.
BD: I suppose we could stop, and I could do it now. I’ll probably forget to do it, otherwise.
BD: Well, I’m not that good of an Anarchist. But, yes, I admire her.
And the murder attempt?
BD: Well … nobody’s perfect. She seemed to learn from the mistake. And, given the times, she’s in good company inasmuch as she did no worse than “respectable society”. Doesn’t excuse the episode, but I’m not going to harp on it any more than respectable society harps on its robber-baron heroes. We tend to let certain things in history slide. Like the Christians say, we’re all sinners. If we held everyone to the standard respectable society applies to Emma Goldman, almost no one in history would have credibility. We tend to look back at the Union Army, or the Continental Army as heroes. I don’t pretend they never committed any atrocities. But it doesn’t change what they accomplished any more than what they accomplished changes how. Wars are rough. The labor conflicts of Goldman’s day were rough. It’s why I’m not a fan of warfare. There’s no clean way to the other end.
We’re all sinners. Have anything to do with the motto?
BD: No. That’s just a line I came up with years ago. Probably not that original.
Are you religious?
BD: About certain things. Everybody is religious about certain things.
BD: I’m sure there are some atheists that are baseball fans. In fact, that’s a good example. Never, ever, when your home team is involved, make a comment about how fast the game is going by, or how good the pitcher is throwing. You can do that later, over a beer. I mean, some of it you can’t help. “Did you see that? What a pitch!” But once, in the seventh or eighth inning, I think, a friend of ours actually said something like, “This is going by quick. Surprisingly good pitching tonight.” We ended up losing the game. I mean, it’s happened more than once. That’s part of how superstitions start. But that one sticks out in my mind because the change was almost instantaneous. Can’t remember much more than that fragment. It was in the Kingdome. Been a while.
So you’re a superstitious atheist?
BD: Oh, God, no. I’m a nondescript theist.
Nondescript theist? What does that mean?
BD: I don’t pray. I don’t go to church. I don’t …. It’s easier to say there’s a definition of God that I can accept, so I can’t call myself an atheist.
What’s the definition?
BD: It’s not my place to preach. I don’t much appreciate evangelical religion. In fact, the farther it stays away from me, the better. It would be hypocritical of me to preach without being asked.
But you are being asked.
BD: And who’s asking?
BD: Doesn’t mean I don’t do it. But I need some sort of specific stimulus.
So … Emma Goldman. Any other important influences?
BD: Scads. Doonesbury, Steven Brust, Camus, Uncle Shelby, Jim Henson …. The influence of drugs. (laughs) The list goes on. Grows every day.
So you have a drug history?
BD: If we leave it at that, I won’t plead the Fifth.
Doonesbury … a little more Zonker than B.D.?
BD: Yeah. That’s a good way of putting it. Legalize. I usually have a bit to say about that.
Legalize all drugs?
BD: Yes and no. Drugs are a health issue, not a criminal one. That’s the short phrase.
What are you looking to do with the blog?
BD: I’ll figure it out as I go. You know, change the world, save humanity.
You don’t have a religion. Any sort of personal philosophy, so people know what to expect?
BD: I call myself a “Sisyphan Camusite”. And I’m about as poor a Marxist as I am an Anarchist. I’ll call myself a “communitarian” sometimes, because I’m not a Communist. Except that I am.
How does that work?
BD: It doesn’t. (laughs) I suppose I’d like to be the head of the Communist Party in the U.S., but only so I can dissolve it.
Dissolve the Communist Party?
BD: It doesn’t work right now. It’s a bit difficult for me to get along with Communism in this country. When I was in college, I had a subscription to the Workers’ Vanguard newspaper. I was not impressed when they ran an editorial ripping the New York City public schools for reassigning a NAMBLA member from a high school classroom to an administrative job. I didn’t renew.
A … NAMBLA member in the classroom?
BD: There’s a reason Marx said he wasn’t a Marxist. But that’s the point of dissolving the Party, too. It’s time to see if the people have the tools they need to build toward a proper Revolution. Society will evolve into a Marxist condition. It’s already happening. The proper Revolution won’t require bloodshed or overthrow. It will happen naturally.
And it’s already happening?
BD: When I was a kid, my father was strongly anti-Communist. One of his reasons, he explained to me, was that he didn’t want the government controlling his education, health care, retirement, and so on. But now the bourgeoisie provides those things through the companies they own. With government, you can demand fulfillment of the social contract. Government institutions are supposed to be for the best interests of the people. Corporations, on the other hand, answer to the bottom line. Their only commitment to integrity is the belief that the appearance of integrity is good for profits. Decisions are being taken out of people’s hands. Sure, we have a choice: inadequate option A, counterintuitive option B, or counterproductive option C.
Are small businesses bourgeoisie?
BD: It’s up to them. They’ll have a choice, when the Revolution comes, of where they stand. But, no. Your average small business hasn’t the proper bourgeois influence. Many small business owners are working class. Many are middle class. One of Marx’s frustrations was when the middle class bolted in 1848.
BD: Marx and Engels expected the middle class to stand with the proletariat. They panicked, ran to the bourgeoisie. It’s a different middle class, now. We’ll see where they stand.
So you’re covering politics, obviously.
BD: Oh, yes.
BD: Philosophy, including religion. Art. Some history, but I’m a poor historian. I tend to work with themes instead of details. Human beings fascinate me. What we do fascinates me.
Do you write stories?
BD: (laughs) I try.
What kind of stories?
BD: Bad ones. I start stories all the time, but I’m not good enough to finish them.
What kind of stories do you want to write?
BD: That’s part of the problem. My inspirations are drawn from all over the spectrum. Barker, Bradbury, Brust … Jack Cady, H. P. Lovecraft, Joyce Carol Oates, Tim O’Brien … and it’s not just writers that influence my writing. Music, paintings and sculpture.
And what about those?
BD: (laughs) Oh, come now. That’s an impossible question to answer. I mean, I respond to classical and jazz. I really like blues. But the pantheon of rock and roll and its derivatives is large and scattered. The list sounds strange even to me. Floater, Pink Floyd, Screaming Trees, Styx, Elton John, Peter Gabriel, Anthrax, King Diamond … you get the picture. One of my favorite paintings, though, I can tell you easily. Dürer’s “Christ as a Man of Sorrows”. The look on his face. It’s just, “Well, that didn’t go over well.” It’s about how something affects me. One of my favorite paintings never, to my knowledge, actually existed. And then I just saw a band’s new album today–I never liked their music, so … I saw the cover and I thought, “They don’t deserve that!” The image was a take on Mondrian. I mean, Mondrian evokes an emotional response from me. How can I give you a reasonably comprehensive answer?
What painting never existed?
BD: It’s possible that Vonnegut painted it before he passed. But it was a canvas painted dark green with a strip of day-glo orange tape running vertically, I think, in the left third. One of his characters created it in Breakfast of Champions.
Vonnegut an influence?
BD: I try not to think of him that way. I don’t think he would have appreciated my form of admiration. There are others. You won’t get the names out of me unless I’m drunk.
It’s getting late. I should let you get back to it. But that’s a good closing question: What’s your poison?
Do I need to get you drunk?
BD: Um … that’s creepy.
Okay. What beers? If I offered to buy you a round, what would it be?
BD: Are you offering to buy me a drink?
What would be the point of that?
BD: Well, right. Then why are you asking?
Uh … for the readers?
BD: (laughs) Oh … right. Right. This is starting to sound like an egotistical endorsement piece.
BD: It’s a varied field. Guinness is my standard. Beyond that I prefer micros from our region. Depends on my mood, but I can’t think of a time when a good IPA wouldn’t do. Hoppy as hell. I’ll tip my hat to a local IPA called Diamond Knot. Smells so green, you’d think you could smoke it.
Sounds good. I should let you get back to work. Any last words?
BD: Uhh ….
For the readers.
BD: Yeah, but I’ll pass. It’s not that the readers are stupid or anything, but it’s just an obscure joke that might not go over well.
Thus disclaimed, try it anyway.
BD: It’s not even my joke. I didn’t write it.
Then make it a piece of trivia. Five points to whoever figures it out.
BD: What do the points get them?
BD: Fair ’nuff.
And …? Any last words?
BD: You’re shit, and you know you are. You’re shit, and you know you are.
There you go, then. Thank you very much.
BD: No. Thank you. And you, and you, and you.
interesting and funny as hell. nicely done.
Very David Byrne. Well done B.D. Nice to see your pixels on the web again.
who is the author of this great blog
Hey BD, I called you the other day, did you get the message? call me.