Coming down and talking
Roles are reversed and the microphone is turned on me. This time I'm interviewed by my never-born (dead?) son, Michael David. I don't get to see him at all, so it was great to sit back, relax and chat.
First question, why are you such an asshole?
Michael Roth: Some things are just a mystery.
What life choices did you make to become the talentless hack you are today?
MR: I was training to be a scientist or a chemist. Unfortunately, the advanced math killed that avenue. I probably should have stuck with it. I’m actually not artistically inclined at all. I’ve always had friends who were, and, perhaps, their enthusiasm rubbed off on me. So I thought maybe I could do that too. You know, write, act, play music, draw.
But you cannot do any of those things. Sure, you’ve done them, but you cannot do them. Those friends are talented and committed. You are not.
MR:I have tried to work at it. Like anything else, it’s really a matter of plugging away and working hard.
How is that working out for you? Seriously, what have you accomplished?
MR: I’ve done some smaller projects, which I think were groovy; things like chapbooks, some art and comics, some recordings. Very early on, after working with a literary journal, I realized that I did not want to be part of the “Establishment”, so to speak. I would just do my own stuff, on my own. Of course, this meant that anything I do is read or seen by very few people, but I am cool with that.
Sounds to me like a rationalization for being a failure. And some of your reviews might confirm it. Your first reviews came in the creative writing class, where most said your work was boring. Then after your reading on Co-op Radio, someone commented that it sounds like you have just discovered your dick (or, to be clear, your material never rises beyond playing with yourself.) And do you remember the other reviews: "I don't like it", “Seems like it’s trying too hard to be different", and my favorite "It just annoys me". Not exactly ringing endorsements, are they?
MR: I realize my work is not for everyone. It’s not that others do not understand what I’m doing. I just know that there is a limited audience for what I do. My main thing is that there is a reaction to the work. It does not matter if it is negative or positive; at least there was an opinion. That indicates to me that the piece worked. It’s worse if there is no reaction and they forget about it a minute after viewing or reading it. That’s a failed piece, in my opinion.
What’s interesting is that people ignore your work, much like they ignore you. They don’t actively dislike you. They just passively dislike you.
MR: People will think what they will, I guess. I know I’m not popular or well liked. And, as I said, I know my work is not for everyone. That’s the way it is.
Do you remember that time when your grandmother returned the picture of you that you had given her? She didn’t want it up on the wall anymore. You know she thought that you were a horrid person, an ungrateful snob.
MR: To be fair, they were moving and needed the space.
Here’s another one. I remember one instance where you wrote an article as a favor for an acquaintance’s magazine and the readers and your friends politely ignored it. Then a couple of weeks later, someone else wrote a similar article for the same magazine. This article was lauded and praised by the editor and these same friends and followers. My conclusion, you are an annoying mongoloid that others will tolerate until someone better comes around.
MR: Honestly, I cannot write nonfiction. It’s a real weak spot. This other article was just better.
No doubt. And they certainly let you know. There are so many other examples I could bring up, but let’s move things on a bit. You have also done a number of reviews and interviews. It’s interesting most people say that you do not have an understanding of the subjects that you write about; that you work mediocre and uninformed.
MR: As I said, nonfiction is not a strong point. Some people can articulate an argument concisely and intelligently. It’s funny but it’s not a skill I’ve ever had. It’s also interesting how many very good fiction writers are weak with their nonfiction. Two examples would be a couple of favorites of mine – Philip K. Dick and William S. Burroughs.
The reviews for your fiction and poetry are not much better.
MR: Again, this work is not for everyone. I know only a small percentage of people will actually groove it. That’s the nature of doing more experimental work. Also, it’s not an elitist thing. It’s not that they do not like it because they are not smart enough to understand it. That’s just the nature of the work. Some will like it, many will not.
Isn’t the term “experimental work” really just another word for terrible, at least for those unwilling to admit it to themselves?
MR: Perhaps. Let’s be clear, I am not a Writer, with a capital “W”, nor do I pretend to be. I’m a hobbyist, a tourist, so to speak. More so, I enjoy other people’s art and writing. And I really pull for them.
But deep down, you know that you are a failure. A failed artist. A friend of yours put it succinctly in relation to the character Jack from The Shining: Jack was someone who believed he was more talented than he actually was. That describes you perfectly. You found out too late but at least you found out. That’s an accomplishment, at least. But it is too late for you to do anything else in your life. How would you describe the feeling you have waking up every morning knowing that you are a failure?
MR: You sound like a sociopathic psychiatrist.
You can’t fool me. Remember, I know you all too well.
MR: All right. Sure, I’ve had that epiphany. That moment when I realized that I had no talent and no skills and it was too late to switch paths. I do know what it is like to look in the mirror and see a wasted life. So what. Do I just give up? Carry on as usual? Kill myself? Is this good enough for you?
I know what you will do, and, if it’s any consolation, it’s the right thing to do. Let’s jump into things. How do you write to an audience when you know that there is no audience?
MR: That’s true, very few people have read or are even aware of my writing. Two or three people read what I write. Maybe. Most ignore my stuff, including friends and acquaintances. Really, nobody cares. And why would they when there are so many great artists and writers working out there. At least that gives me the freedom to write what I want. I don’t have to worry about how people will react to my work.
Seriously? What work? Let’s not fool ourselves here. What have you produced in over 28 years of trying? Let’s pull the curtain back on some of this. First, you have been delusional since your teens. This delusion allowed you to escape reality and live inside a dream world where you mattered. But you woke up and saw how this dream world kept you from getting on with an actual life. You had nothing to show from it – no friends, no contacts, no work, no respect, no legacy. Remember, when you thought that was important?
MR: Sure, any artist can get caught up with leaving a body of work for posterity. Of course, it’s a trap. Really, all of this is meaningless. That’s what I realized when a friend of mine passed away. He spent much of his life devoted to literature, and when he died, it all disappeared with him. After seeing this, I realized that every artistic gesture is essentially meaningless. You can do it for yourself, but don’t delude yourself into believing that you are doing it for an audience or for the future. You will not be recognized. You will not be respected. You will not be noticed. Even if you are, in a short time your work will be forgotten. This goes for well-known writers as well. Just look at one of my favorites, Robert Anton Wilson. Even he is not on people’s radar as he once was. So you need to just do it for yourself, that’s what it comes down to. If other people find like it, then that’s a bonus. How’s that for you?
Not to flog a dead horse but you just need to remind yourself that when you die, you will be forgotten. It will be as if you were never alive. No one will care. And with that, we have a breakthrough. Don’t worry; it’s too late for you now. You’re old and showing signs of early dementia. So I guess we can sum you up as a charlatan who fooled himself with nothing to show for his con.
MR: Any more questions?
Let’s get a little more personal. You were never really a father to me.
MR: Is that a question or a statement? You know, I was never given a chance
You were scared. You wanted girls because you were scared about raising a boy. How do you think that made me feel?
MR: Of course I was scared. I knew I was not a good role model. I would have tried my best. But my wife, she is better at raising kids, navigating life for them.
Do you admit that you are a bad father?
MR: I am an imperfect person, a deeply flawed person. I am not a good father, but I try. I would have tried with you. You know that.
You were relieved.
MR: I cried. I cried for a long time. I was happy and overjoyed that my daughter was alive. Only later did we realize or hypothesize that there was probably a twin. That was one of the saddest moments of my life. We thought our unborn daughter would die that night. That she would come and we would hold her until she died. I’m happy every day she is here with us. I’m so proud of both of them.
MR: I did not know about you until later, when I guessed. I’m sorry. You are important to me, too. I miss you every day.
No you don’t. You blamed us for your failure.
MR: That was all me. It’s strange but early on I modeled my life on ‘down on their luck’ losers. Guys like Kolchak and Rockford. And it imprinted on how I went on to lead my life. I know that I am not a good person. I don’t pretend anymore. I know I am not a good parent either. But I cannot blame a child for my own failings in life.
Remember, I know you.
MR: Do you have a question?
I am glad we have our mother because if we just had you, well, I know what that path looks like and it’s not a pretty sight.
MR: Listen, I try my best and I would have tried my best with you. I never got the chance.
You are insufferable when you play the victim. That’s enough of this tripe. We’ll continue this later. Ok, pops?