Friday, September 14, 2012

'A Past That Wasn't Even My Past'

Two of the main characters in Michael Chabon's latest novel, Telegraph Avenue, own a used record store in a land that modern retail forgot near Berkeley. Talking to host Tom Ashbrook on WBUR's On Point, Chabon explained that the novel emerged in part from his own chronic nostalgia -- a lifelong struggle he said began during his childhood in suburban Maryland.

The author speaks in the kind of sprawling sentences he is famous for writing, editing himself a little along the way. So the remarks below were edited slightly to take out the stray words he crossed out while he was talking:

"Speaking for myself, and I think it's true for my characters too, what I experience is a kind of ongoing sense of loss.... But that is something that has affected me my whole life, in the sense that the past is slipping away from us. Something, a feeling, an emotion I became aware of as a kid -- maybe...when a building gets torn down in a city, and suddenly on the adjacent building, covered up for many years by the building that was just torn down, a huge painted advertisement appears for some shop or product or service, long vanished, with a telephone number that has two letters first for the telephone exchange -- a 'KLondike 5' kind of thing. And seeing that as a kid, as an 8-year-old, 9-year-old kid, I was already overcome by a sense of loss. And it was the loss of something I had never actually even experienced or had.... 
"I'm not a technophobe.  I am not a Luddite at all. I embrace the present and I anticipate the future. But at the same time, I just feel like I've gone through this lifelong process of having things that were pretty great, pretty amazing, that were just as good as they could be kind of vanish and pass away.... 
"That's just how I'm wired. And just to bring the subject back to vinyl a little bit: The first record that I was allowed to put on to the family record player, and to operate the record player myself, to turn on the switch, lower the needle and all the series of sacred steps involved in the rural of playing a record -- that record was a record called 'Themes Like Old Times,' which was a collection on vinyl of the themes and introductions from several dozen classic radio shows of the 1930s and '40s. So my first encounter on vinyl that I was controlling myself was with all this popular material from a past that wasn't even my past. And I can remember when I was listening to an intro to a show like The Whistler or The Shadow or Henry Aldrich [The Aldrich Family] or one of those radio programs, and just having this crazy, irrational sense of having lost it all, and it was never mine to begin with."
Photo above by Travis Smith (tsautoart) via iStock.

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