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Windy City Media Group online interview of writer Paul Lisicky

    


Here's an interview with Paul Lisicky, yet another writer who's also a Joni fan: Paul Lisicky
by Gregg Shapiro
2003-06-25
Paul Lisicky’s astonishing memoir Famous Builder (Graywolf Press, St Paul, MN, 2002, $15) is a clear-eyed depiction of life in the suburbs. As a member of the generation of writers who have become the literary voices of suburbia, Lisicky says, “I think we’ve all come to the point in our lives where we have some distance from where we’ve been and we want to examine that phenomenon on our upbringings and our identities.” He does so with grace, in Famous Builder, constructing a personal history through his marvelous essays.
Gregg Shapiro: I was born in Chicago, but like you, I grew up in the suburbs, and I found a lot of universal suburban themes in the book. One of the things that jumped out at me was the list of department stores from your youth. One of them, E. J. Korvettes, is mentioned twice.
PL: There’s something about Korvettes, to me, that’s an emblem of a particular time and place. In a way, it’s a lost world now. A pre-K Mart, pre-Wal-Mart world feels quite distant. For my parents, E J Korvettes signified all sorts of opportunities. We would actually go there every Friday night and it was part of a ritual. I think the experience of that would be much different from the experience of a 16 or 10-year-old being taken to Wal-Mart. It’s not imbued with the same sort of significance.
GS: There is also the whole “mall generation.” When I was a kid there were “shopping centers,” not malls.
PL: Right. Now, going to the mall seems so banal. But, it was still something new and fresh then. In part, I wanted the book to put that time and place in a historical context. I think it’s very easy now to look back upon that world as tepid and shallow. There was a period in American life when middle-class style was, how to say this …
GS: There’s something romantic about it, almost.
PL: Yeah. But Vietnam changed that, the late ‘60s changed that. I think it’s all tied to Kennedy-era optimism. That, in fact, I think many Americans who had been in the (World) War (II), people who had, or whose parents had, been in the depression believed that reinvention was possible. They could transform themselves and move up the ladder of class. I think that was a significant possibility for many people.
GS: The architecture of prose would seem to be the logical progression following your early interest in the architecture of buildings. While you were drawing in those early years, were you also writing?
PL: Writing a bit. I wrote little plays and stories that were primarily meant to entertain my brothers or cousins. Most of my creative work was in music, that wasn’t part of my interest in building communities. I was writing music from the age of eight onward. I fully believed by the time I was a teenager that I would be a professional musician all my life, a professional composer. That changed obviously.
GS: Your career in music is one of the most fascinating aspects of the book. You talk about working in the realm of religious music, and it made me think of performers who have been able to make that transition into popular and secular music.
PL: Back in the ‘70s it didn’t seem to be possible that you could crossover into popular music if you were writing music for worship. The worlds of music were much more boxed in then. It was really important, I think, in the late ‘70s to be “cool.” Anything could stigmatize you. Like playing in Las Vegas. Joni Mitchell was offered (the opportunity) to play in Las Vegas, back in the ‘70s and she wouldn’t do it because it would have seemed like a sell-out gesture. I think that part of my struggle in music involved the fact that the world of music seemed to be so stratified and compartmentalized. You couldn’t stand in many worlds at once. You had to make a choice. The choice was oppressive to me. I didn’t know how to negotiate that. One of the pleasures of coming to writing was that you could fuse high and low art. You could stand in many places at once. I guess I see myself as having a complex identity. Writing allowed me to traverse boundaries in a way that felt right.
GS: A lot of gay men appear to have a history with and connection to Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro …
PL: … which I never knew until I went to the last Joni concert. It was astonishing, proportionally, how many gay men were in the audience. I think she’s probably the Judy Garland of my generation. Obviously her manner and presentation are different from Judy Garland. (But) there is that kind of identification.
GS: She’s even worked gay men into her songs. “Underneath The Streetlights” and “Two Grey Rooms,” for example.
PL: I love “Two Grey Rooms.” I think that Joni Mitchell has seen (gay performance artist) John Kelly (who performs as Mitchell in his shows) perform and my sense is that something clicked. She got who she is to a whole generation of men simply by witnessing his homage to her. He makes fun of her and loves her at once. It’s really thrilling because those two points of view are simultaneous.
GS: There is also Laura’s connection to the community, considering the fact that she was a lesbian. You write about her a lot in the book.
PL: She’s really important to me. (Big sigh) I still can’t believe that she’s not around.
GS: I can’t either. I was devastated by her death.
PL: I was too. My mom called me up—that’s how I found out about her death. I wept for two days. Part of me assumed that I would always meet her. We had friends in common and didn’t live that far apart. It seemed inevitable that one day we’d sit in the same room, and I’d be able to tell her how much she’d meant to me and continues to mean to me.
GS: In addition to writing about your family in the book, you also write about your life with (your partner) Mark (Doty). Did that present any problems because you are both such public figures?
PL: No. He’s really willing and open to being written about. I’ve been a character in many of his books. I’m in Firebird, Still Life, and Source. I think I’m going to be a major character in his next book. I know that when I am writing and his name appears in a piece of my work, I am aware that I am writing about a public figure. There is some complex negotiation going on between who Mark is for me and who I know Mark is for the people who find meaning in his work. If I ever thought that I was violating his privacy, I’d certainly talk about it with him. We’re each other’s first readers. We’re intimately involved in each other’s work.
GS: Nothing’s going to make it to the page that either of you wouldn’t approve of.
PL: No. But at the same time I think we’re sophisticated enough to know that what is on the page is a made thing. It’s a piece of art. You try your damnedest to capture the complexity of a particular moment in time when you’re writing. But you never can get all of that moment’s dimensions. It’s always one take on the moment and the fact that there’s more to say about that moment offers a strange kind of comfort to the writer. There’s no reason why, at another moment in time, it couldn’t be explored through a different lens.
GS: Lawn Boy, your first book, was a novel. Famous Builder is a work of non-fiction. In what genre will your next book be?
PL: The next book is already well under way. It’s a novel called The Gods of Luna Township. It’s about redevelopment at the Jersey Shore. The protagonist is a young woman who isn’t very pleased that half of her community is being torn down house by house to be replaced by mini-mansions. In part, I want to write about the escalation of real estate values in the last five years. To think about how that has affected community life in good and negative ways.
GS: Do you have a preference for one genre over the other?
PL: I like the idea of working in both forms, actually. I think one of the dangers of being an artist in one form is that over time you can start to repeat the same trajectory. Ideally, I would like to go back and forth between the two. I’d love to write a memoir about my life with my father. He’s a major character in Famous Builder, but there’s so much more to say about him. And I’d like to write a memoir about my life in church music (laughs) and my encounter with that world. And many, many more novels.


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Books (115 references)

» A & R by Bill Flanagan
» About a Boy by Nick Hornby
» American Purgatorio: A Novel by John Haskell
» Anything Goes by Madison Smartt Bell
» Apprentice to the Flower Poet Z: A Novel by Debra  Weinstein
» The Arrival of Fergal Flynn by Brian Kennedy
» The Association by Bentley Little
» Bang! by A Collaboration 
» Barlett's Familiar Quotations by Justin John/Kaplan Bartlett
» The Beautiful Room is Empty by Edmund White
» The Biography: Kate Bush by Rob Jovanovic
» Blackbird by Larry Duplechan
» The Body: A Novel by Hanif  Kureishi
» Both Sides Now: Ecclesiastes and the Human Condition by Peter Barnes
» Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-Three of the World's Best Poems by Camille Paglia
» Catching Heaven by Sands Hall
» Chain of Hearts by Maureen McCarthy
» City of Glass: Douglas Coupland's Vancouver by Douglas Coupland
» The Cloudspotter's Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney
» Come in from the Cold by Marsha  Qualey
» The Complaints by Ian Rankin
» Consumption: A Novel by G.S. Johnston
» Coyote by Lynn Vannucci
» The Dark-Eyed Girls by Judith Lennox
» Demonology by Rick Moody
» Dig Infinity! The Life and Art of Lord Buckley by Oliver Trager
» Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
» The Drifters by James A. Michener
» Economy of Errors: SatireWire Gives Business the Business by Andrew Marlatt
» Eight Days A Week by Larry Duplechan
» Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson
» Engleby: A Novel by Sebastian  Faulks
» Essays In Love by Alain de Botton
» Everything You Know by Zoe Heller
» Fight Club , A Novel by Chuck Palahniuk
» A Firing Offence by David  Ignatius
» The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa by Elizabeth Stuckey-French
» Flight: A Celebration of 100 Years in Art and Literature by Anne Colli Goodyear
» Forgive the Moon by Maryanne Stahl
» Fraud by David Rakoff
» Friction Shifting by Daniel   Wesolowski
» Fury: A Novel by Salman  Rushdie
» The Good People of New York by Thisbe Nissen
» The Heart Has Reasons: Holocaust Rescuers and Their Stories of Courage by Mark Klempner
» Hearts in Atlantis by Stephen King
» High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
» The Hindenburg Crashes Nightly by Greg Hrbek
» The Hissing Of The Silent Lonely Room by Paul Charles
» A Home at the End of the World  by Michael Cunningham
» Home Fires: An Intimate Portrait of One Middle-Class Family in Postwar America by Donald Katz
» The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
» How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over  by Theo Pauline Nestor
» Howl: A Collection of the Best Contemporary Dog Wit  by Bark Editors
» I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan
» Icarus by Russell Andrews
» In the City of Shy Hunters  by Tom Spanbauer
» Inconceivable by Ben Elton
» Intimate Nights: The Golden Age of New York Cabaret  by James Gavin
» IPod, Therefore I Am by Dylan M.  Jones
» Izzy and Eve by Neil Drinnan
» Kalki by Gore Vidal
» Killer Cocktail (A Molly Forrester Novel) by Sheryl J. Anderson
» Kiss the Sunset Pig by Laurie Gough
» Lawnboy by Paul Lisicky
» Looking Back by Thomas A. Becker
» Love Me by Garrison  Keillor
» Lucky You by Carl Hiaasen
» Men May Come and Men May Go, But I've Still Got My Little Pink Raincoat: Life and Love In and Out of My Wardrobe by Gigi Anders
» Mercy by Jodi Picoult
» Mothers Are Dangerous With Knives (Moeders zijn gevaarlijk met messen) by Do van Ranst
» Murder at Cleaver Stadium by Douglas Lee Gibboney
» My Life by Bill  Clinton
» My Sister from the Black Lagoon: A Novel of My Life by Laurie Fox
» The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
» No Touch Monkey! (And other travel lessons learned too late) by Ayun Halliday
» The Official Preppy Handbook by Lisa Birnbach
» On the Road with Bob Dylan: Rolling with the Thunder by Larry Sloman
» One Day by David Nicholls
» Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
» Other People's Dirt: A Housecleaner's Curious Adventures by Louise Rafkin
» Our Dumb Century: The Onion Presents 100 Years of Headlines from America's Finest News Source by Scott Dikkers and Staff of the Onion
» Paving Paradise by Craig Pittman and  Matthew Waite
» A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
» Prince: Life and Times by Jason Draper
» Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America: A Memoir by Elizabeth Wurtzel
» The Pull of the Moon by Elizabeth  Berg
» The Quality of Life Report by Meghan  Daum
» Rapunzel: A Groovy Fairy Tale by Lynn Roberts
» Rhymes with Useless by Terence Young
» The Ruins of California by Martha Sherrill
» A Salty Piece of Land by Jimmy Buffet
» Salvo el Crepúsculo by Julio Cortázar
» The Science of Discworld by Terry Pratchett, et al
» Seafood Lover's Guide by Rick Stein
» Sensing Others by Frank Tallis
» Shadow of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann,  Ray Lawrence
» Shadow Tag: A Novel by Louis Erdich
» Shanghai Baby by Wei Hui
» She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb
» The Silk Road by Jane  Summer
» Sky Full of Ribbons by Marilyn Arnold
» Spadework by Timothy Findley
» Speaking with the Angel by Various Writers
» The Stand by Stephen King
» Take Another Little Piece of My Heart: A Groupie Grows Up by Pamela Des Barres
» Tea by Stacey D'Erasmo
» The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
» A Traitor to Memory by Elizabeth George
» True Enough by Stephen McCauley
» An Unfortunate Woman: A Journey  by Richard Brautigan
» Violets Are Blue by James Patterson
» Waist-high in the World: A Life Among the Nondisabled by Nancy  Mairs
» A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks
» Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore
» The World's Room by Todd London

Films (46)

» 200 Cigarettes (1999)
» 9 1/2 Weeks (1986)
» After Hours (1985)
» Alice's Restaurant (1969)
» Almost Famous (2000)
» The Bridge (2006)
» The Brothers Bloom (2008)
» The Brothers McMullen (1995)
» Camp
» Changes (1969)
» City of Ghosts (2003)
» The Commitments (1991)
» DIVA (1981)
» Down To You (2000)
» Elizabethtown
» Fight Club (1999)
» Foxes (1980)
» Get Over It  (2000)
» Grace of My Heart (1996)
» High Fidelity (2000)
» Hustler White (1996)
» Into The Wild (2007)
» Just Wright (2010)
» The Kids Are All Right (2010)
» Laurel Canyon (2003)
» Life As a House (2001)
» Live Nude Girls (1995)
» Love, Actually (2003)
» Married to It (1991)
» Midnight Cowboy (1969)
» Out of Sight (1998)
» Practical Magic (1998)
» Songcatcher (1999)
» Starting Out in the Evening (2007)
» Still Crazy (1999)
» The Strawberry Statement (1970)
» Swing Vote (2008)
» Switch (1991)
» Tarnation (2003)
» Truly, Madly, Deeply (1991)
» Two Weeks Notice (2002)
» Under the Cherry Moon (2004)
» Vanilla Sky (2001)
» Waking the Dead (2000)
» A Walk on the Moon (1999)
» You've Got Mail (1998)

Television (97)

» The 70s (2002)
» Absolutely Fabulous
» Alias
» Alias (2002)
» Ally McBeal
» Ally McBeal (2000)
» As Told By Ginger
» The Brady Bunch
» Brothers and Sisters (2009)
» C-SPAN White House Meeting & Barangrill (2009)
» Canadian Idol (2004)
» Catterick
» Chicago Hope (1996)
» The Chris Isaac Show
» The Colbert Report (2006)
» The Colbert Report (2008)
» The Colbert Report (2008)
» Dawson's Creek
» Design by Surprise
» Dharma and Greg
» Dr. Phil
» Ellen (1997)
» Emmerdale
» ER
» ER (2002)
» Frasier
» General Hospital (2006)
» Gilmore Girls (2003)
» A Girl Thing
» Grandeur et décadence (1986)
» Guiding Light
» Hey Arnold! (2007)
» I'm Alan Partridge
» Jam and Jerusalem / Clatterford (2009)
» Jeff Buckley
» Jeopardy!
» Jeopardy!
» Just Shoot Me
» Kathy (2013)
» Late Night With Conan O'Brien (Quentin Tarantino) (2005)
» The Late Show with David Letteman
» The Late Show with David Letterman
» The Late Show with David Letterman (1986?)
» The Late Show with David Letterman (2000)
» The Late Show with David Letterman (2000)
» The Late Show with David Letterman (2000)
» The Late Show with David Letterman (2002)
» The Late Show with David Letterman (2002)
» Melrose Place
» Melrose Place
» Melrose Place
» Mercy (2010)
» My Family
» New Girl (2012)
» Nip/Tuck
» Northern Exposure
» Nurse Jackie (2010)
» Once and Again
» Oprah interviews Julia Roberts
» Providence (2002)
» Re:Covered (2002)
» Rose Parade coverage (2003)
» The Rosie O'Donnell Show  (2002)
» Saturday Night Live (2003)
» Second City TV
» Six Feet Under (2002)
» The Sopranos
» Southland (2009)
» Star Search
» Strangers with Candy
» Strangers With Candy
» The L-Word (2006)
» The Today Show (2005)
» The Wendy Williams Show (2013)
» Third Rock from the Sun
» thirtysomething (1987)
» thirtysomething (1987)
» thirtysomething (1989)
» Today Show interview with Mandy Moore
» The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (Goldie Hawn) (2002)
» The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (Louise Goffin) (2002)
» Tracey Takes On
» Two and a Half Men (2010)
» University Challenge
» The Vicar of Dibley
» Walk On By (2005)
» The Weakest Link  (2002)
» The West Wing (2004)
» When Hippies Ruled the World
» Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (2002)
» Will & Grace (2000)
» Will & Grace (2002)
» Without a Trace (2005)
» The Wonder Years
» The  Wonder Years
» The Wonder Years
» The Wonder Years (1992)

Plays (19)

Poetry (19)

» A Alejandra Pizarnik by Julio  Cortazar
» Bericht aan de reizigers by Ingmar Heytze
» For Joni by Kerry  Furber (Kezz)
» I Met A Woman In A Joni Mitchell Song by David Geary
» jammin' with joni by Terry 
» Joni Mitchell  by Joseph  Hutchinson
» Joni Mitchell Can Bite My Ass by Curtis Meyer
» Joni Mitchell, Coffee & the Rain by Carmina Gitana
» Learning the Hard Way by Jane McGuinness
» Libro de Manuel by Julio  Cortazar
» Lonely With Joni by Rebecca  Stang
» Pas de Deux from a Distance by Nora Maria Iancu
» Paved Paradise  by Heidi  Lerner
» Practical Water by Brenda Hillman
» Purr by James Servin
» Radical Sentimentality by James Sevin
» Somewhere in the Buddha Night by Lester Hirsh
» Upon hearing Joni Mitchell's Travelogue by Peter Tadd
» You Don't Know What You've Got . . . by Paula  Harris

Miscellaneous (75)

» 2nd Avenue Grill Drink  by Craig Silliphant
» Coyote Inspired Briefs & Bras by Marlies Dekkers
» My Old Man residing in Shangri-La
» A music store named Sharon in Maidstone
» Anna Quindlen column
» Ashley Judd in Reader's Digest interview
» Ben Whishaw: “I can’t write poetry. I’ve written love letters”
» A bench at Princeton
» A Bermuda tour boat narration
» Big Yellow Taxi - New Hampshire
» Big Yellow Taxi in a political column
» Bissell Commercial
» Capitol Steps Political Parody of Both Sides Now
» Cartoon in The New Yorker Magazine by Victoria  Roberts
» Celebrity Taboo - The Game Of Unspeakable Fun!
» CHUM-FM questionnaire
» Clean White Linen by Mark Aster
» Cloud Physics Course
» Coldwater Creek catalogue
» Desert Island Discs - Jack Vettriano
» Dirty Car Art
» Doonesbury by Gary  Trudeau
» Doonesbury by Gary  Trudeau
» Edie Falco in Watch! interview
» Esquire Magazine, July 2002 by Jeff Gordinier
» Extra-credit question for 5th grade students
» From a New Yorker article by Ian Frazier
» Graham Nash radio interview
» Guardian review of Partick McCabe book
» Hotel Isolabella OUR HOUSE Room - Trentino, Italy
» How Keith Richards Inspired Dr. Evil by Unknown 
» Jacksonville Transit Poster Art
» Joni mention on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Disk
» Joni mention on high rotation TV commercial
» Joni-inspired painting names by Jack Vettriano
» Ken Bruce's BBC radio show
» Lafayette Electronics & Larry
» Lorrie Moore in Reader's Digest interview
» Mermaid Café in Nantucket
» Metro interview with Adrian Edmondson
» Motorsport Journalism - Formula One Diary by Simon  Arron
» My prom date, the spy by Lisa Zeidner
» National Lampoon parody
» National Lampoon/Bernie's column
» New South Wales Higher School Certificate Exam  by Unknown 
» The Night Before Christmas by Bob Muller
» Night Ride Home by Lindsay Stamhuis
» NPR science show promo
» Obama Town Hall Webcam by Reginald  Cunningham III
» A paper from War Resisters International Triennial Conference
» Parade Magazine Article by Bruce  Feiler
» Parody of Woodstock
» Peggy Baker Dance Projects
» PhillyBaseballNews.com column by Cole Hamels
» Pop The Question: The Ultimate Pop Trivia Quiz Card Game
» Postcard for Common Good Planning Center in Rochester, NY
» Prop O poster in Paradise, California
» Radio 4 program about natural foods
» The Reptile Garden by Louise Erdrich
» A Sacrifice for Friendship, Chapter 3 by DS  Bauden
» A Sacrifice for Friendship, Chapter 5 by DS  Bauden
» Salon.com political commentary
» Spaceship "Stardust" news story
» A Spray-painted cardboard sign
» Starbucks Calendar
» Stevie Nick's Moonlight Video & Wild Things Run Fast
» Summer music and drink suggestions
» The Laura Ingraham Show
» The Times of London interview with Brian Cox
» Tori Amos radio interview by Toyah Wilcox
» Tristam Shandy, A Cock and Bull Story by Steve Coogan
» Valentine's Day Editorial
» Whole Foods ad
» Windy City Media Group online interview of writer Paul Lisicky
» The Writer's Almanac by Garrison  Keillor

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