Dead Beat (Day 16)

Carolyn cassady

A first set back. Today I started setting up interviews. Or that was the plan…

I began by talking to Jemima KIss at The Guardian’s Technology section about her preferred methods and tech for recording interviews, live and over the phone. No point reinventing the wheel. My Live Scribe recorder is en route (Jemima’s strong recommendation from a chat we had a couple of months ago at the launch of Aleks Krotoski’s new book Untangling the Web). She gave me some very practical tips from her considerable experience, including a strong preference for conducting interviews face to face.

As we were drawing to an end, Jemima unwittingly dropped a bomb-shell. Had I seen the lovely obituary for Carolyn Cassady in The Times the other day? That was the second interview I was planning to set up. She passed away on Friday. I knew Carolyn, ex-wife of Beat protagonist Neal Cassady, was a ripe old age around 90 and at the back of my mind was a doubt as to whether she’d be fit to talk, but nonetheless I was really looking forward to meeting her (she’s been living, conveniently, in Berkshire since the early 80s) and had written a sensitive set of questions (given that people were always going to her to talk about the men in her life, not her self) in the back of my copy of her book Off The Road. Not to be. Good for her as she had been alone for half a century or more, and I hope will get to see Neal again, and he’ll be a bit wiser with old age and immateriality. Bad for me but I just had to take it on the chin and learn something about moving quickly (had I approached her as soon as I had the notion to interview her rather than doing loads of research first I might have struck lucky).

Taking the cue, I got in touch with my first planned interviewee who I’d heard loved to talk. He was a bit terse. Not quite the model of openness and generosity. But he is also quite an age and not so well. It may yet work out but I won’t hold my breath.

The rest of the day went a bit better. I was trying to pin down my Theatre case study and my number one suspect is looking good. I had a delightful phone conversation with dramatist and novelist Stella Duffy (always loved the name Stella thanks to Hal Hartley but my other half wasn’t open to it due to Northern Irish connotations, on top of which we never had a girl). Stella confirmed Joan Littlewood as a sound choice. She is currently driving a really interesting project to realise an unfulfilled vision of Joan’s – Fun Palaces where regular people could participate and collaborate in the arts and other cultural activity without having to consume and be talked at or down to.

Stella gave a great writing tip – be clear what you want people to FEEL when reading your stuff and then keep those feelings in mind as you write. I think that sounds like a very sound bit of advice which will make an impact in the writing and will apply it immediately. To some extent I think I have instinctively but can certainly up that sensibility as I push on. As I push on with resilience, with stuff upper lip, with courage mon brave…

2 comments so far

  1. […] on the board announcing the death of Carolyn Cassady, who had been a member – reminding me of my lesson from Carolyn: strike while the iron’s hot when it comes to […]

  2. […] Yesterday one young film-maker from Chicago/Berlin gave me a copy of his last documentary film which was on William Burroughs, who of course features in the opening scene of my book. [William S. Burroughs: A Man Within (2010) by Yony Leyser] I’ll have a watch as a reward some time this week. He is about to embark on a documentary about gay punk which features an interview with Laurie Anderson whom I’m thinking of pairing with Jeremy Deller in the Art chapter. That meant we were talking about Lou Reed at lunchtime, only to find out a couple of hours later that he had gone to the Great Gig in the sky on the very day. He had agreed to be interviewed for Yony’s film too. Echoes of my Carolyn Cassady set-back. […]

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