Michael Chabon feels the flow

By CLEA SIMON  |  September 28, 2012

LET’S TALK ABOUT NOSTALGIA AND ITS ROLE IN YOUR BOOKS.
I’ve come to the conclusion that what I’m interested in is not really nostalgia at all. I have experienced nostalgia  – it’s a universal human emotion – but what really interests me is not nostalgia – the belief that things used to be better than they are now. I don’t subscribe to that view. Things have always sucked, and there have always been moments of grace and transcendence. But what I’m interested in and what my characters seem to be interested in is the survival of the past into the present, the evidence of the past that exists in the present – the pleasure that comes when you get a physical, visceral sense of the past – a song, an old movie coming on television when people are dressing for dinner. Looking out my hotel window on the Bowery there’s a fading sign that says “YMCA, Men Welcome, Lodging, Meals, Employment.” Looking at the typography, the way it’s painted on the wall. . . . I’m not nostalgic for that. I’m amazed it’s still there – this sense of wonder that some things do survive and that they can connect you so immediately either to your own past or to an imagined past that you did not directly experience. I think everybody has experienced that to one degree or another.

YOU’RE VERY GENTLE WITH YOUR CHARACTERS – EVEN THOUGH SOME OF THEM, NOTABLY ARCHY, DO SHITTY THINGS.
The problem with Archy is that he’s given himself a little bit of a pass, behaviorally, and it’s getting to be time for him to take himself in hand. He has hurt people.

I come to love my characters in the course of working on these novels, even the ones who are supposed to be the bad guys. I give them more credit than I even meant to when I was first creating them. I don’t have a pitiless vision of the world. I think I’m much more inclined to feel pity even to the most flawed — to the more flawed, I feel more pity, in some larger sense of the word, more empathy, fellow feeling.

SO YOU RELATE TO THEM?
I made them up. I hope I relate to them.

IN ROLLING STONE, YOU TALK ABOUT HOW THE DISCOVERY OF SOUL JAZZ PLAYED A KEY ROLE IN THE WRITING OF THIS BOOK. BUT DO YOU REALLY LIKE IT? ARE YOU STILL LISTENING TO IT?
Oh my God, I have not stopped since finishing the book — it was a relatively unheralded but brilliant period in American popular music. You had great musicians playing great music.

WHAT’S ON YOUR IPOD RIGHT NOW?
I’ve been listening to the new release by the band xx. Also a lot to an old favorites of mine, Marquee Moon.

BECAUSE YOU’RE NEAR THE OLD CBGB’S?
That and I was reading about it in 33 1/3.  I love that 33 1/3 series, so it completely rekindled my interest.

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