Sunday, June 14, 2009
COMMUNISM IS GRAND--- ELECTRONIC PRESS KIT
AIN’T COMMUNISM GRAND? -
A LOOK INSIDE THE MIND OF RICH MILLETT- A preachinlove.com exclusive!
Having just released his epic Present, which by all accounts took an arduous 10 months to write, one would have figured Rich Millett might settle down and take the summer off. Think again- FLUXLIFE INC.’s main man is already back with a defiantly obscure new book, Communism Is Grand. I recently met up with Rich in the lobby of Chicago’s historic Drake Hotel to discuss his newest creation, as well as any and all topics on his mind. I found him to be in rude health, looking slimmer than he has in years, and much more optimistic than the alternately vicious and despairing Present would indicate. Indeed, he was quick-witted and warm, always ready with either a provocative insight, or a puzzlingly entertaining non sequitur (though his more caustic nature was never far from the surface). I came away from our conversation with the impression that Rich is secure in his creative abilities, excited by new ideas and projects, and will not suffer fools lightly. This is what he had to say to preachinlove.com…
When did you start writing?
I wrote my first poem in 1990. My grandmother had a glass top coffee table. I opened the drapes and sat in front of the big picture windows. It was very overcast that day. I got a piece of paper, and a pencil, popped one of the glass panels out of the top of the table, and sat down on the floor Indian style, balancing the glass on my lap, so I'd have something to write on. The poem I wrote was maybe 8 or 9 lines. It had something in it about a female being nude. I showed the poem to my friend, and he made fun of it saying something like "Rich wants to see naked girls" (laughs). I was so upset by his response I threw the poem out. I didn't start again until spring of the next year. When I started again, I wrote every day for a while. I really enjoyed it.
Why did you start writing?
I used to go on these long walks by myself, early in the morning, or I would sneak out of the house and go walking at 1am. On these walks, my mind would be moving very quickly. I would think about different ideas, invent characters, think of houses and rooms I had never been in, see how fast I could go from very happy to very upset- all sorts of things. I would really just let my mind go. Eventually it occurred to me that I was always thinking of new things, and that it seemed as if thoughts and feelings which were only days old had now been abandoned. I didn't like the way that sat with me. I decided I needed to catalog my thoughts and feelings, to somehow document these things because I did not want them to die. I was really afraid that one day I would wake up and be “normal” or “fixed” and wouldn’t be able to think of things on command. Later in life, I heard the phrase "a feeling not expressed is a feeling wasted"—very true. I also gravitated to writing because I already knew how to physically write. I did not have to buy equipment, or take any sort of training. Teachers had already told me in very straightforward terms that I had no talent for drawing or painting. Writing just seemed so natural. I could hit the ground running, writing is mobile, you can write anywhere, you don't have to lug around anything, you aren’t reliant on technology. Plus, you can get out of somewhere quick if you have to. I should also add, I was very discouraged by people's responses to my guitar playing. I wanted to see what sounds I could make. I loved creating feedback. For me, the guitar was a sound generator as opposed to something you "played". But all I got was disapproving "that's not music" type comments. I had a guitar teacher who refused to even teach me barre chords, because those were used in rock n roll, which he disliked because he felt it was "straight out of the jungle". He wanted to teach me "proper chords". Turns out the Beatles used "proper" chords all the time, as well as barre chords. So when I wanted to learn their songs, the B7 was no problem. That's a big lesson—learn all the tools, all the approaches, because you can use what you've learned to get done what you need to get done. Fuck people and their stupid attitudes, learn what you can, and use it back at them. Psychic revenge! I had this one teacher yell at me and tell me I had mental problems in front of the entire class. She was screaming and spitting, hitting herself in the head, telling me I'm crazy. I'm sitting there, quiet and composed. She tried to humiliate me, break my spirit. But I took those emotions, studied the situation, and used all of that in my art. She totally wasted her time, and I gained something from observing her display of histrionics and repressive mindset. There was a girl named Hilda—she was from Egypt—and she would walk the same route home from school as me, but across the street. She would duck in and out of alleys, like she was playing hide and go seek by herself. I would watch her, and think about the Doors song "My Eyes Have Seen You". There was a lot of really exciting, pure, electrical energy in my brain. I really loved the way it felt. I felt like I had vast vistas before me to explore. I loved watching Hilda walking so elegantly, she was totally confident and free. I was really young, and really open, and not afraid of getting beaten up anymore. I felt like I had some kind of psychic strength that the jock guys didn’t have. I would smile a lot at people. It would weird out bullies. I could smile really well, and I could scowl. Different emotions, same energy, same intensity. That's why I started writing—the power of ideas, the beauty of nature, communication, and the transmutation of energy into all sorts of forms. As I might say it now, all things as all things.
Tell me about your new book.
What do you want to know?
Well, I found it curious that you just released Present, and you are already putting out new material.
That was part of the idea from the beginning. For one thing, ever since Radar/Grain, the next book or two or three has either been already planned out, or partially completed before whatever book I'm working on at the time is done. Apparently, I'm an artist, and not a machine press, so I don’t hit the "off" button. My ideas and my techniques have continuity. I can go easily from one idea into the next, sometimes even combine them just to see what happens. I have continuity even when I lack continuity. Circles and triangles, you know?
I guess what I'm driving at is how did you find space to write a book, when Present, by your own admission, took so much time and effort?
Time is relative. Novelists can spend years and years on a chapter, but when Orson Welles tried making Don Quixote, film people moaned he was taking too long. I could write 9 poems a day, every day if I wanted to. When I did Radar/Grain, which was over the course of 7 months, I wrote 150 poems in that time; ten made it into the book. I formulated what would become Tracing The Dim Signal, Live + Nude + Helpless, Scatter, Splish!, and Present in that time. Or I can do nothing, hang out with my wife, watch Millionaire Matchmaker, eat carrots, and stare at the walls after everyone else goes to sleep. I make my own schedule.
Right, I'm sure you do. But how do you not lose focus? You don't seem the "prolific-for-the-sake-of-it" type.
I’ll put it like this...Present was based on writing where was Communism Is Grand is based more on editing. Like…one is guitar, and the other is piano. Little of Communism Is Grand was done in the past year. A lot of the actual writing dates from 2003 and 2004. I picked out the material in Fall 2008. I edited and shaped all the material about a month ago. That was a great experience.
Did it require a lot of creative energy?
No way, it was like plugging into a socket. I just had a stack of paper, a file folder of PDFs, and I just went to work. Knocked them all down one by one. Took a few hours. No breaks, it was like transcribing sonar, or making a documentary about ocean waves. Or it was like a good three-hour drive where it's raining so much it's basically a whiteout condition. Has that ever happened to you? It happened to me once on my way to Rockford. Then I did the sequence, which was easy...had the first two, the last two, and the rest filled itself in. Communism Is Grand is a fully integrated art project.
What do you mean?
Look at the artwork, front relates to back, the center relates to its surrounding content. The picture of Deanna is an image about image. The picture of Ray is documenting the worker. One correlates to the other, one conceptually, one realistically. Intellectual vs. actual, open vs. closed, information vs. assumption—what is and what should be. Or maybe not should be, circles and triangles. And then you have the writing itself. It's an experiment in submerging—cohesion, and changing states of identity, on both a large and small scale. Like, one day I was snarling and sweating, then the next day I looked around walked through a window and I was a guy named Harold. Really tight and disciplined, talked when he had to, and had all new friends. You know, young married types. He didn't even have to complete his sentences or like, chew his food. Bought slacks at Kohl's. Look, the title of the book is insane. Communism is not grand, by its own definition. Grand means decadent, worshipping the work of one’s own hand. It's a willfully ignorant statement. Read the content, observe the artwork, think about the title, note it's relation to the release of Present. You know, it's like...figure it out. The first half of Present is called “All Of The Possibilities” for a reason. The second half is called “The Pugilists” for a reason. Figure it out.
Do you think you'd ever want to seek a larger audience?
Eventually, when all of this writing is done, I'm going to sell it to the highest bidder, based only on the notion that they don't chop it up, censor anything, and present it all as one piece of work. Here it is, this big box...THWAM landing right on some motherfucker's desk. Here, you deal with it. I wrote it and lived it. But until then, no, the audience I have is amazing. Why fuck that up? I'm not in an industry and I don’t have to pretend to be in the know. I don’t give a shit what some scene of dorm room dorks is dictating. I was around before them, and I'll be around after them. But yeah, when it's all done it’ll go out as one piece. A polite gesture. This isn't a lifestyle, or some personality signifier; I really, really don't care. Check this out--every single book of mine could easily be 5,000 pages. Easily. They contain a vast amount of ideas, information, emotions, and everything else. I give you the condensed version. I fold it all down, and it goes by really quick. Someone at Cambridge or Harvard needs to take 5 years and study it all and write a thesis on it. They need to extrapolate all the characters, shifts in scenery, ideas, use and types of language, and so on. Separate form and content. Understand the concepts. I can't do that, you know; I refuse. Seriously, someone needs to get into this stuff and not have a life and just spell it all out for people.
Do people need it spelled out for them?
Evidently…do you live in contemporary American society? Do you read Time magazine? It's not my fault, and it's not my problem. The Gallup poll is depressing. Corporate media is depressing. People not thinking is depressing. People trying to wipe away contradictions and aberrations, while refusing to observe their own contradictions is depressing. So yeah, some guy doing sign language and speaking…very…slowly, punctuated with some goo goo gah gah, I guess it’ll have to be that way. Sad, isn’t’ it?
Extremely. Is the book a heavy political statement?
It's no kind of statement at all. It expects nothing—nothing at all from the audience. Expects nothing and assumes nothing. It's as political as anything else I've done, but no, it doesn't come with some sort of agenda. I can't say this enough, I don't have an agenda, and there are no standards for the audience, or for me as the creative artist. This is free and open communication. Some of what I do is easy to read, cleanly typed and spell checked, and sometimes you get smeared ink written on purple newspaper. That's not my fault, and it's not your problem. I can write however I want. Or I cannot write at all. Likewise, the audience can absorb the work however they want. They can read it all in one sitting every day, read one page every week. Read only even numbered pages. Read it aloud into a tape recorder, then load it into their iPod, clarify things they don't understand or agree with, and mail it back to me...whatever you want. As long as my work isn't used for advertising, as a lifestyle accessory, or by the police, Army, or Fox-fucking-News and their ilk, I just don't fucking care.
Given that, how would you classify this book?
File it under "art".
No, what I mean is, let's say you're working at Barnes & Noble, what section would you place this book in?
Oh, I see...it's a dance book.
A dance book?
Yeah, hold it open and dance around while reading. Let a chainsaw vibrate on the floor. There's your beat. Leap over it while reading. Leap over chairs. My books are environment books, fit for full submerging.
This is the second time you've mentioned "full submerging." What do you mean by that?
I mean, simply, the conscious choice of the artist to obscure any evidence of the artist's hand in the work. I don't point and shoot, so to speak. You take the picture, and then manipulate the film, okay? There are a range of creative decisions at all stages of making something up, and one can assume any identity, or create things that do not reflect their own aesthetics. This isn't to say Communism Is Grand is antithetical to my own thoughts or feelings, just that I'm not afraid to invert everything if I have to. And sometimes, you can invert something so much; you almost can't tell the difference. The thing about this book is, it's fully integrated- each piece relates to the one before and after, the second piece of the first half relates to the second piece of the second half and so on. Every photo -front and back cover, etc.- is a cross-reference and comment on each other. The book creates and sustains its own interior dialogue plus the dialogue with the reader. This is something I strive for in all my work. I go further than that though, in that all the books, films, musical performances, etc. from 2002 onwards all intersect and build on each other.
What was Liz's role in the new book?
Well she did the artwork, took the photos. Everything except the cover, which Earl Todteman did, he also did the cover for It Went Red and Splish! a few years ago. He works with us on all these different projects. That being said, Liz did format Earl's painting for the cover, so it actually looks good when you see it. Had Earl done the formatting, it would have been a pixilated mess (laughs). I talked a second ago about full integration, here's more on that...some of the writing in this book is several years old, some is brand new, some concepts were realized a few years ago, but not acted upon till recently...same thing with the artwork. The picture Liz took of Deanna is a few years old, the painting Earl did dates from around the time Liz and I moved to Oak Park in 2003, the photo of the worker is new, as is the back cover photo Liz took, but the idea for the back cover photo was hatched probably a year or two ago. So the process of the artwork mirrors the process of the writing.
So, do you and Liz just store things you don't use?
Well, "store" isn't the word. We create a lot of things, and just because you don't immediately use it doesn't mean it's never going to be realized. We just kind of point at things we do, and think "okay maybe not this time around, but certainly in the future..." Circles and triangles, right?
I notice Liz has a writing credit...
Yeah, we worked on a piece together. She did the majority of the work, so it's really hers. She says so in one of the commercials we shot for the book, and I totally agree. Earl did a little bit on it at the end, so we all three have credit, but basically, it's hers. She took what I had done initially, we talked about it for a few minutes, and then called me back over to see the finished work when she was done. Took her about 30-40 minutes.
The book is dedicated to George Tiller. Why?
According the latest Gallup poll, the majority of Americans are pro-life. A month later, one of the most prominent abortion doctors is savagely murdered. They had tried to kill him for years. Bombed him, shot him, slandered him in the press, whatever they could dream up. Do an image search on George Tiller and see what you get, cartoons of bloody knives, fetuses in garbage cans, etc. The perception of these people is beyond flawed. The mentality of the right wing produces and ultimately approves of the actions of the murderers, though publicly, of course they condemn it. I bet every conservative in this country was thrilled that pro-lifers protested in front of Dr. Tiller’s funeral. Basically, it's way beyond "women's rights" or anything like that. The legality of abortion is a boogieman the right wing periodically foists on the public consciousness, and it sends everybody into panic. They know exactly what they are doing. It's the ultimate in population control. The fact they use religion as a prop, and by the way it's totally complicit with Rome...the Pope is pro-life so his minions can continue to be child rapists. As far as I'm concerned, when it comes to pro-life people, especially in the face of the murder of Dr. Tiller, you are staring evil right in its eye. They don't care one way or the other about women's rights, to reproduce or anything else, because the power structure, the corporate structure, the religious structure, basically hates women and disrespects them on all levels, it is so overwhelmingly obvious. Basically I think any woman who is pro-life is no different than a Jew who supports Hitler; it’s that level of delusion. It’s like…feminism isn’t the freedom to fight on the front lines in Iraq, right? Convincing the establishment you can help with their dirty work is not feminist. Or at least I certainly don’t think so. But anyway, the establishment doesn't care about men too much either, but since the power structure is built on hierarchies, men become the de facto pattern setters in society. It gives men something to do in between Dane Cook specials and bar hopping. Basically, we're looking at a nation of victims who have no idea how tight their leashes are. They are self indulgent, self-obsessive and suspicious of everyone except of those who they should be most suspicious of: the ones giving them all their dull treats. So anyway, Dr. Tiller was one the bravest men on the planet, and needs to be remembered and honored. It's very simple.
I completely agree. Are there any upcoming projects we should be looking for from you?
Yes, Liz and I are getting married in October. That will be a great event for everyone invited. We love great events, and haven't done one in a while. I have a bunch of "short books" coming out soon, and Liz and I are thinking about her first book. Some of it, she’s already written. Illegal Books is planning its first publication since 2001. That will be amazing. Beyond that stuff, I'm finishing a bunch of movies I've been working on the last few years. Tim and I will be making a bunch of new movies together, hopefully starting in a couple of weeks. I think we have a lot of work to do together. It will be fun and really creative, so I'm looking forward to that. Liz and I want to play more music together. I don't know… there's no agenda or schedule. We just work really hard. You'll see it when the time is right.
You mentioned commercials for Communism Is Grand. Why?
Well, all the work we do is for free. And the commercials are going up on YouTube and a couple of different weblogs. So, it’s just to let the people who like our work know we have something out instead of just putting up an announcement on MySpace or something. Trust me, they are one take commercials with zero production values; we did six of them in about fifteen minutes. We just wanted to announce our work with some style, our style in this case being totally non-style. Plus, I plan on putting as much of the FLUXFILM archive up on YouTube as I can get away with, and so this was a dry run for figuring it out. I can be pretty lame in regards to figuring out technology, you see.
So is it a hectic time for you?
No. Tim is putting out his album…I’m putting out this new book…and after that we’ll go one by one through the things we want to do. Liz and I always talk things out and we don’t bother with an idea if we don’t think we can add dimensions to it and create it properly. That doesn’t mean we don’t use certain ideas, we just wait till we can best express it.
Makes perfect sense. Thank you for talking to us.
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