By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
I knew Dylan a little, and he came to see me when he heard that I was doing a film on Billy the Kid, and he said, “Oh, man, you know what? I always thought I was the reincarnation of Billy the Kid.” I said, “I’m sure you are.” And he said, “Well, if there’s any way I can be in it ...” So then we went down and met Sam, and he turned to Bob and said, “You know, I’m a big fan of Roger Miller.” I thought, “Oh, no, this might be it.” But Bob fell in love. He was a confrontationist too, so he understood.
It seems like Hollywood was such a different animal then.
Totally different. There was always a certain war with the powers that be, but it was fun. ... It was like the outlaws against the big landowner. My connections to Hollywood in those days were all very personal and spontaneous and pretty much off the margins of the studio system. It felt very free to me. I thought, “Wow, this is a way I can have a livelihood and still write my wacky novels.” And for a while, that was true. Then it changed. Now films are worked out in a room before the shooting starts, with about five sales people and three studio people and a director terrified that he’s gonna make a flop. And the poor scribbler is just trying to survive, saying, “Yeah, whatever you want!” A lot of those old directors would have trouble getting work now — guys like Peckinpah, Hal Ashby.
Are you done with screenwriting?
I’m pretty much off the celluloid trail, I hope. But you never know. If somebody calls me up and says, “Hey, saddle up big guy ...”
You talk about Two-Lane Blacktop being a journey to nowhere, and that seems to be the theme in Drop Edge, too.
I’ve always been obsessed with episodic journeys, and trying to get lost in the presence of the journey. Each time you take a journey, you separate from what you’ve left behind, and you hopefully burn out all the false attachments and beliefs about who you are, the “me.” When you’ve dissolved all the conditions that you’ve been born into, it’s often very brutal, but that’s what it means to be free.
Your novel fuses these Eastern concepts with our Western notions of freedom: the Old West, outlaws, living as an individual.
Sure, you could say the frontier is a metaphor for freedom. It’s about all these wackos who rushed out there for the gold rush, and how that fueled the whole capitalist system. It’s about greed, desire, ambition, and in this sense, Drop Edge is about how the big empty was filled up and what people did with that emptiness, and how they used and arranged it to feel safe, or make their coin or whatever.
That transition sounds similar to what you were saying about L.A.’s transition from a more wild and woolly place to —
Los Angeles went from being a frontier town to becoming a monocultural corporate town. I see that in America as a whole. I see it everywhere.
Is there still a role for your kind of writing in today’s literary world? Is there even a counterculture at all anymore?
Not like the ’60s, but I think there will be, as the noose tightens, as people become more and more stretched and afraid, and the structure becomes more dysfunctional. There will have to be some kind of alternative, or no one will survive. My heart goes out to young writers — it’s a very perilous path. Look at all the writers around who are in desperate straits, psychologically, emotionally, financially. Magazines, newspapers are going down. Film business has gone into TV land in terms of writing. Novels are on their way out.
Your book is being published by Two Dollar Radio, a small start-up printing press.
They have purity, they love books, they have no idea what they’re doing [laughs], and I’ve never had so much fun! I didn’t need a big advance, and the thought of going up to 57th Street and having one of these publishing lunches — I couldn’t do it anymore. I just thought, Fuck it, I’ll try something different. It’s like the old Grove Press or the Barney Rosset days in Paris. Like-minded common-ground people, and they’re not talking about sales, they’re talking about books. How strange. How radical. It’s like this little secret cabal of book lovers. Soon they’ll have us all arrested.
What was your writing process with Drop Edge?
Well, you write because you’re exploring, you’re trying to figure out what you think, you’re trying to articulate where your shadow world lives, and what your journey is. Life is not a conceptual arrangement, life is movement. Writing is a kind of ritual for me, and you don’t know where it’s going to go, or if anyone’s going to read it, or even if it’s going to get published. You gotta give yourself permission to get lost. If you’re not lost, you can’t be found. If you don’t have a wound, you can’t transcend the wound with a healing.