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PENultimate Collides with Rick Moody and Wesley Stace

BROOKLYN: The American novelist defines lit rock, gets a little help from Sufjan Stevens and John Wesley Harding.

Not to be lost in the holiday shuffle, author (and member of musicgroup the Wingdale Community Singers) Rick Moody joined musiciansSufjan Stevens and John Wesley Harding (who publishes novels under hisreal name Wesley Stace), Monday, December 17 to discuss the”cross-pollination” of music and literature. PENultimate Lit, the second in a series of events put on by PEN,an international human rights and literary organization, the evening,hosted at Southpaw in Brooklyn, took the form of both an intensediscussion of the subject and performances by the musicians. Prior tothe event, Moody and Stace spoke with SPIN.com about this mixing ofform and the ways in which music influences them.

What is the aim of the PENultimate Lit event?

Rick Moody:I think what PEN is trying to do with this series is define ways tomake contemporary literature sort of collide with popular art forms.Tonight’s event is the event in which literature and indie rock orcontemporary music collide with on another. I think that there are alegitimate spots where these two mutually influence each other. Thereare a lot of bands that are using writers to write the lyrics — likeOne Ring Zero — and then there’s a band like the Decemberists that’sclearly very literary and the singer’s sister is a novelist.

Wesley Stace: And Jonathan Lethem just wrote all the lyrics on the new Silos record.

RM:So that’s the idea — that these two media are having a renaissance ofinfluencing each other, and we’re going to try and map out how itworks. I think indie rock is so far out of the mainstream as it wereand literature, especially at this moment, is not at the top of theladder in terms of popular arts. So we’re two idioms that feel like theglare of the public lights are not upon us and it’s easy to want tomake a common cause of such a moment.

For someone who writes both literature and music, do you think they come from the same part of your brain?

WS:I didn’t go to writing school, although I do think there’s a goodschool in writing 20 years of song lyrics — taught me how to trustwords on the page and let my mind go free — but ultimately I feel thatmy lyrics have always been subject to criticism and praise for beingliterary. In rock music, especially when I started out making it, thatwas criminal. People didn’t want to hear that. I do have say that forme, though, they do come from a very different place. I couldn’t dothem at the same time. They are so different. It’s different mechanics.Although this is coming from the person who turned one of his songsinto a 600-page novel.

Do you listen to music while you’re writing?

RM: I do, although often music without lyrics. I find if the music has lyrics that it’s intrusive.

WS:I barely can listen to at all while writing and the thought oflistening to music with lyrics is explosive to my mind. Maybe a littleclassical music, but generally nothing.

RM: I used tofind that the best thing for first drafts was Big Black or Hüsker Dü,but now I’m getting too old for that. This morning I was listening toMcCoy Tyner playing John Coltrane compositions. Jazz and classical, orsuper avant guard stuff like Sun Ra.

How do you find out about new music?

RM:The last thing I do in the mornings when I get the paper is read thebook reviews. Instead I go to the music reviews section and I read itlike it’s a religious text. I’m always up for what anybody says is thenew interesting act.

WS: I don’t read music stuff, butI am incredibly good at taking advice from people on what to listen to.Rick just told me to listen to the Battles record today.

What was your favorite record of 2007?

WS: My favorite record of the year was the Robert Wyatt album.

RM: We both like that record. I think that album is awesome. I like the Animal Collective album too, I think that’s really good.

What are both of you currently working on?

WS:I just finished an album with the Minus Five and that will come out inthe New Year. And I’m in the middle of my third novel. It’s about musicthough, oddly.

RM: A new novel. You will maybe see it in 2009. It’s not done.