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Michael Gira | Interview

Spike Magazine | Jordon Leigh Bortle

Flawed Beauty - The Consumer And Other Stories

Michael R. Gira is most widely known as the driving force behind Swans, undoubtedly one of the most extreme bands to have ever graced the planet. Gira called time on Swans in 1997 after 15 years of sonic experimentation but has not been idle since. In Swans' wake followed The Angels of Light, which produced last spring's release "How I Loved You"; a haunting and beautiful body of work.

Then there is the World of Skin, Gira's solo records, his found-sound ambient project The Body Lovers (an on-going three part series) and its "companion" release The Body Haters. Yet Gira's creative output has not been strictly defined by his work within the context of sound alone. He is also a writer of fiction, most notably with his acclaimed collection The Consumer And Other Stories, a spoken word performer, an artist and designer, and has been known to do film scores in independent cinema, most notably Two Small Bodies, a film by Beth B.

Most interviews with Mr. Gira have tended to deal with his accomplishments or goings-on in his work as a musician and recording artist or performer; so I decidedly intended to turn the focus of this interview with him from his home of New York City toward his efforts and thoughts as an author, and the peripheral realms of his audio experimentation...

JLB: Greetings, Michael. And thank you for your finding the time to chat...

MG: You're welcome, and thank you for your interest...

JLB: My first question may prove to be a bit convoluted, but how do you view yourself as a writer, and where do you feel that your niche is in the world of language and literature?

MG: I don't ascribe any importance to myself whatsoever. I try to make the best work I can, and hope that someone finds it of use somehow.

JLB: In honesty, do you consider yourself pleased with the overall results of The Consumer and Other Stories?

MG: I think there are a few good stories. If I ever write a book again, I hope that it will be better. I have no idea if I'm capable of writing at the level to which I'd like to aspire, though.

JLB: Tell me a bit if you would about your formative years creatively, that is to say: at what point for you did the realization set in that you felt compelled to write prose or create music?... Which came first?

MG: I started writing first. When I was in prison in Israel ( for just three and half months in total) in 1969/70, I read a great deal, for the first time in my life. When I was kicked out of the country and repatriated back to sunny California, I started writing "poetry" - I'm sure it was puerile and awful, but I wish I still had it. Then, I gravitated to art, went to art school, but still wrote. Music was a fluke. I was experiencing some progressively disquieting bouts of nausea regarding the idea of committing my life to an artworld I found elitist and increasingly irrelevant; and then I heard the Sex Pistols, driving in my collapsing old car down the Pasadena freeway in Los Angeles in 1977/8, and it was immediately clear as to what I had to do. I wasn't particularly stuck on the "style" per se, but the fact that something this immediate and raw could infiltrate mass culture was a revelation and an inspiration...

JLB: I have to say that I found The Consumer to be a profoundly engaging book in terms of it's immediacy; of inciting a direct emotional response, For me, personally, it is one of the most distinctive and finest works I've ever read in contemporary prose. In it, there's a fairly wide margin of time between the first and second portions of the book; some written in the mid-90s, others written in the early to mid 80s. Has writing prose been a fairly consistent ritual throughout the course of your time in Swans?

MG: Thank you, but I personally feel it's incredibly flawed and undisciplined. Some pieces are good, but much of it is not as honed as it should be. In any event, I'm glad I wrote it...I've written sporadically throughout the years, but find it impossible to dedicate the necessary discipline and time to writing that the craft deserves, so at the moment nothing's happening in that regard. I'm overwhelmed with work related to the music, and now the record label, so there's just no time. Maybe at some point I'll "retire" from music and write full time, but I suspect it would take me a few years of writing 6 hours a day to reach any kind of control over the process.

JLB: In regards to drawing out the older pieces, did you find a sense of rediscovery in them? In your opinion, had they retained the intent and language as you'd originally desired? Were they still as satisfying to you in so much as to not necessitate being overhauled or re-written?

MG: I actually don't know how I did that, because I'd changed so much as a person by the time I went back into the older material. At that point, I guess that I was still able to access that part of my psyche that wrote the earlier pieces. Now, it's completely excised - there's none of that left in me. I'll need to find a new place to visit when I write prose again.

JLB: Could you please draw out the parallels and/or differences between the art of crafting a piece of narrative prose from that of the song? Does the result of either form, to you personally, generate a higher level of gratification?

MG: They're both just arduous, boring, painful, tedious, but you go through the process in hopes of reaching something you didn't expect; that leads you beyond and outside yourself...

JLB: Is there another collection in the works? And if so, do you believe it to be published by 2.13.61, or will you go with another publisher or the self-publishing route?

MG: I have several unpublished pieces, but they need extensive editing and rewriting. I have no idea who'd publish me in the future, and don't even want to think about it...

JLB: What books do you tend to read (given time) these days? What authors or artists would you care to site as being important and/or influential to you individually?

MG: I read randomly. One book suggests another, or I'll just wander through a bookstore and see what seems interesting. I'm entirely lacking in intellectual focus or purpose. I read first and foremost to "escape" into a world created by the book. I'm attracted to all kinds of writing, from Mark Twain to Jean Genet. My "influences" are so diffused and all-encompassing as to be meaningless, from the Beatles to Throbbing Gristle, from James Ellroy to de Sade, from van Eyck to Chris Burden. I just fall into someone's world for a while, subsume myself in it, then move on, coming out none-the-wiser, I'm sure! Ideas aren't really very important to me. In the end they fade into irrelevance...

JLB: Does personal experience inform your work in prose, or does it come from random inspiration?

MG: I use whatever resonates for me: whether it's memories, media circus events, base impulses, or moments of more personal transcendence. They all seem equal to me.

JLB: If you were able (and perhaps you might not be), which of your pieces would you attest as being the one you are most pleased with or fond of in its final outcome?

MG: I think "The Coward (II)" is very well written, and its content has lasting value...

JLB: In the past, I have had the opportunity to view some of your artwork. Have you ever considered doing a book collecting your artwork...possibly with brief narrative passages? Or perhaps one that would be a pleasant marriage of your prose work and illustration?

MG: I think that would be silly and self indulgent.

JLB: Any new chapbooks or stories in the works at present?

MG: Nope, just songs.

JLB: I am going to shift gears here slightly, and try to focus a bit more on the recent goings on within your musical career and other happenings in recent months, if you would be so kind...

JLB: Would you object to filling me in upon your experiences performing at the Beyond The Pale festival, and what groups you may have found fascinating, and what groups tended to get on your nerves slightly. Give those of us who missed it a little insight, please...

MG: I'm not at all a fan of heavy rock music these days, but I thought Neurosis were great. It almost made me want to make loud music again., but I've reigned myself in.

JLB: How about the Ireland performances with Dan Matz (of Windsor for the Derby)? Did they work out well?

MG: I think Dublin was terrifically satisfying, hopefully for the audience as well as me...

JLB: Talk a bit if you would, about the "What We Did" record (again, with Windsor for the Derby's Dan Matz), as well as your decision to do "solo recordings at home"...

MG: Really, I just work, work, work, in any context that seems appropriate...it's all the same to me...

JLB: Any more soundtrack offers sent into your general direction as of late...? Have you considered collaborating with an independent filmmaker in doing an experimental film?

MG: Oh, someone wants me to do the soundtrack for a film about Charles Manson...we'll see what happens. I do think I have a talent for making evocative music; that implies a space beyond itself - a skill that is appropriate for film - but that's a completely separate world than the one I live in. To break into that world requires a special kind of management, etc...with the necessary revolting "connections"...and I have none of that at my disposal - I don't have nor want a manager. If someone comes to me, fine.

JLB: And speaking of films, can we perhaps expect sometime in the future a Swans collection on VHS or DVD?

MG: Maybe at some point. But I'm really a little sick of the past, to be honest.

JLB: And sorry to bring this up again, but will there be more Swans re-issue material on the way? The work that has been done thus far has been nothing short of spectacular...

MG: I'll wring the last drop of blood out of it. I'm proud of the work (15 years of it..!), and I believe much of it; though not all of it; deserves to stay in print...

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