amongst books

amongst books

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

interview with John Lavery, an excerpt

last summer & fall i had a wonderful on-going e-mail conversation with John Lavery about his fiction and his music. the whole interview can be found in issue 7 of

i thought you might enjoy reading this excerpt:

AE: I’m going to switch gears again and talk about another one of your creative activities, your music. At the time of this interview, you’ve been working on a CD to be released with local recording studio Bova Sound. When did you start to play music and write songs? When and why did you decide to share your music?

In your fiction, your characters express philosophies about love, death, politics etc. In your songs, there is an I or an omniscient voice that says things like “”At times, life is, you know, like tennis. Love means nothing.” Or in Ruffian and Geek: “the truth is people come and touch, but have to leave,/and leave a hole inside your head where very stupidly you grieve,”.

I’ve heard you say when you’ve performed that your songs are lies, but audiences have a tendency to take the I as the authorial I, particularly in songs. Do you find this disconcerting or comforting? Is it sometimes more comfortable to reveal a truth or a personal sentiment in fiction than it is in music or the opposite?

JL: The first song I wrote was entitled, “Won’t You Come Along With Me.” You can stop laughing now. I was 13 or 14. Walter Gordon, of “Walter and I,” still remembers it and some of the lyrics, unfortunately. The second was, “It’s Raining Round Me Now.” “It’s raining round me now/the snow is fading into sad tones of grey/the sun has disappeared/to some other land where time and jugglers play/their merry songs and to the green god bow.” As I say, I was 14.

Despite being paralytically shy when I was young, I never had much difficulty digging out my guitar and singing songs when people asked me to, which they did fairly often. Singing is a good way for me to make people disappear.

I believe I said songs were fictions, not lies. It is of the very essence of fiction, perhaps cowardly essence, that it is neither true or false. Of course lies, at times anyway, are less false true than the truth itself.

I remember reading a piece once by Auden in which he talked about being insincerely sincere. Or sincerely insincere. It is never an easy thing, to be sincere. We are linguistic animals, and language is a communicative tool like no other. It is this very fact that makes it difficult for us to accept the inexpressiveness of language, or that there seems always to be a gap between what we say, and what we mean to say. We feel we must not be expressing ourselves correctly, we try again. We try and try.
Of course it is frequently not even a good idea to be sincere. It is almost always dangerous, sometimes very. It can be humiliating, inappropriate, uninteresting, misunderstood.

In a work of fiction, the text is the text, both what is said and, we have no choice but to assume, what was meant to be said. The author is undeniably present in every word, and yet he, or she, can not actually be found anywhere in his or her own fiction. These are the only conditions under which sincerity is possible. Or safe. No money in sincerity, of course. And it takes work. Still, it's an enormous privilege, and absolutely exhilarating, to spit it out at last.

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