August 09, 2011
TNB Contributor Art Edwards is best known around these parts for his top-notch interviews with some of writing’s most noted voices, as well as with people who aren’t associated with music at all. He, too, contributes interesting and thoughtful original essays to TNB, many of which focus on (and reveal his love for) music, though others reveal his love for more pedestrian interests. In any case, until recently, Art was known to the TNB community as a writer – and most assuredly one with a particular aptitude for music. Art’s three novels – Ghost Notes, Stuck Outside of Phoenix, and Badge, his newest (and as of yet unpublished) – each integrate music in its own way.
However, it wasn’t until recently that Art revealed to our community that he was co-founder, co-songwriter, and bass player with The Refreshments. Best known for the song “Banditos” from their 1996 album Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy, and for “Yahoos and Triangles,” the theme music to the animated series King of the Hill, The Refreshments, as Art puts it, “were kind of a big deal.”
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Art in person on several occasions and once even read out loud to a room full of people with him. The Art I met is a shy, affable, even-keeled man – one who doesn’t present at all as a Rock Star. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Art and once and for all clearing up the question, “Who is Art Edwards really?”
Gloria Harrison:Hey, Art! You ready or do you need a few minutes?
Art Edwards: Ready, Santa.
I can’t help but notice that you’ve shown up to this interview a bit late. Is it safe to assume you’re drunk?
Ha! I wish. I was busy with vitally important matters, I assure you.
Just giving you a hard time. In the comment section of your DeWitt interview, Joe Daly had advised you to show up late and drunk and demand that the interview still proceed.
That’s right! He’s right! I’m the one running this friggin’ show. Get me a cup of tea!
And only the green M & Ms?
No God damn green M & M’s! *Throws table over*
See, now, this brings up an interesting question and one that I wanted to start out with anyway, which is this: am I interviewing Art Edwards, the erstwhile musician of the band The Refreshments? Or am I interviewing Art Edwards the quiet, somewhat shy, somewhat prolific author? Which Art are you?
Ha! You tell me.
Dude… if you don’t know…
It’s interesting. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure that out. It seems like the only healthy approach is to admit both, so that’s what I’ll do and hope for the best. As much as I’m shy, I was a shy rocker too.
I’ll bet – which is weird ’cause you, like, headlined shows and stuff. That must have caused pit sweat and the need to rock yourself in the corner.
It’s funny, but it was sort of a Pandora’s Box. Once I was out, oh boy.
How is it that you became a rocker, who is shy?
Music to me was always kind of intensely private. Its spell on me seemed so particular to me as a high school student and such. Sure, I could look at my friends and sort of nod and smile while Van Halen was playing, but the way it cooked inside of me…it never seemed like a contradiction to me to be a rock music fan and to myself. This love of music eventually combined with the need to make music, which meant the need to make music with and for people, so I sort of had to get used to letting it out. After a while, I got better and better at it, and by the time I was in the Refreshments, I’d learned to love performing. It was therapeutic. How far out there can I get? I think folks like Michael Stipe go through the same thing every show.
I was just reading your article over on The Writer magazine where you talk about memoirand writing memoir and how you sort of lament that when you were a rock star, you never really quote-unquote partied like a rock star. I guess what I’m wondering is what about you or the lifestyle or whatever kept you from tipping over to the dark side? Was it your natural shyness? Did you have particularly well adjusted band mates? Is it just not a part of your character? Did you not have the opportunity?
Right. Well, I was quite the partier early on, but I went cold-turkey about eight months into gigging with The Refreshments. By the time we were signed, I was the guy in the bus always with a novel under my arm, stowing away in my bunk. I guess I was aware that the band wasn’t some kind of long term answer for me. I was focused on my own creative vision by the time the band making its second record.
Basically, I saw the guy in Aerosmith, who were still doing it, and I saw those spandex pants and said, “No, I don’t think so.”
Good for Aerosmith, not good for me.
I just found the part in the article I was thinking of. You wrote: And can I honestly claim innocence to the crime of manipulating one’s life for the sake of one’s work? Didn’t I live my life in rock ’n’ roll with one eye toward my future writing life? Of course I did. I always knew that those goings-on might make good material someday, and I kept my eyes open. I can even remember one of my band mates asking, “Well, if you’re going to be a writer, are you going to write about us?” I responded, only half-jokingly, “Hey, anything you guys say or do from here on out is fair game.” So, you are a writer that plays music, then,it seems.
See, even that early on, I had my eye set on what I’m doing now. Yes, definitely a writer who plays music.
Do you miss it? The band – the road – the life – the whatever? Because, you know, being a writer isn’t exactly sitting on a tour bus and psyching yourself up to rock hard in front of seven thousand fans. It’s more like psyching yourself up to religiously sit down and write in a quiet space with few distractions.
I once made a spreadsheet of every job I’ve ever had. There were 26 of them, and I gave each job a grade. (Keeping jobs has been an ongoing problem for me, one that at times has required spreadsheets.) When I came to The Refreshments, I had no idea what to put. So I put A+/F-.
And what do you give to writing?
Like Fonzie? Excellent. Can you turn a jukebox on just by hitting it?
Yes! And I can turn the world on with my smile.
Do you live in a garage above a family and only hang out with high school boys?You don’t have to answer that.
Sure do, Miss. H.
But yes, I miss the band, and no, I don’t miss it.
So, I see on artedwards.com that you keep yourself busy with writing.
You’ve written three novels and have a memoir in the works is that accurate?
Yes! The third novel is unpublished and looking for a home. It’s a finalist in the 2011 literary contest at the PNWA conference, which is in August.
Oh, man good luck.
I’m going to the “Awards Celebration.” I keep telling people about the “Awards Celebration.”
Is that where you find out if you’ve won?
Do you do air quotes when you tell people face to face?
I do! “Do.”
“Excellent.”You also teach a writing about music class, correct?
I have taught, yes. I love teaching writing. I taught with fellow TNB compatriot James Bernard Frost at the Basement Writing Workshop, and I jabber about self-publishing whenever someone wants me to.
Also, you wrote songs for Ghost Notes, right? What I think is interesting is that you tend to merge music with your writing as if the two are married together somehow. Do you think that’s true?
I don’t know. They’re married together in me, and I like to make them marry each other in the outside world sometimes. I feel like there are people who can relate to both loving rock music and loving reading and writing, and having grown up with “your chocolate in my peanut butter” commercials, I figure it’s worth a go. I keep trying to find ways they can complement each other, and hopefully create something that did not exist before. My wife and I did this “musical rendering” of one of my novels. I read and played solo acoustic, she triggered sound effects. I think this kind of stuff is fun, and perhaps qualifies as some sort of “litertainment.”
Your wife, Raquel, correct? Is she a musician, too?
Yes, Raquel. Not a musician, but an artist. We’re sort of each other’s assistants. I made her do it, but she loved it and was great.
How long have you been married?
16 Years. Just celebrated number 16 a week or two ago.
Wow! Congratulations! So you two were together during your not so wild days as a rock star?
Yes, and before.
Interesting. Do you think that affected your choices about excess and celebrity? About not over indulging and going wild?
Absolutely. I wanted and want to be a good husband. And a band at that level is a marriage. I heard that all the guys in Metallica divorced their wives in the same year. No idea if that’s true, but I can’t help but see the subtext in that. If it is fiction, it’s fiction that speaks to the truth that being in a band at that level…big commitment.
No way! Wow. Right. You’re a super decent dude. But wait – - how the hell old are you?
I’d better get us back on track. Part of this, for me, is just getting to chit chat with Art from TNB. But I’m a professional! I’m doing an interview!
No, you were talking about how thoroughly decent and what a great guy I am.
I really want to hear about Badge, your third novel, especially because it doesn’t have a publisher yet.
Maybe you should say stuff about it. What’s it about? Music?Life on the road? Being a good husband? Alberta VO5 shampoo?
All three, yes! I’m billing Badge as A Visit from the Goon Squad meets Crazy Heart. Badge is 38, a whiz at guitar but an alcoholic who can’t seem to keep the music separate from the more destructive temptations of rock life. A stroke of luck finds him in a practice room in L.A. with Betty, a 21-year-old punk diva in training who’s going to rock the world come hell or high water. The novel is set in the year 2000, when Lars Ulrich was freaking out about Napster and the industry was just starting to change into what it is today. Badge essentially asks the question, “When is it time to hang up the dream?”
What are your thoughts on that? On hanging up the dream?
NEVER!Ha! But many do, and for all the right reasons. It’s a conflict that runs through anybody’s life who aspires to any kind of creative endeavor, and there seems to be no right answer for those afflicted.
Do you see yourself in a band again someday?
I tried to quit being a musician right after The Refreshments.Six years off.Didn’t work.
Oh, I just tried to forget it’s part of me. It was also necessary to try and put The Refreshments behind me. I eventually got the idea to promote my first novel by playing solo acoustic shows, and I was off to the races again!
Do you play daily still?
Nope. But it’s there. Someone once asked me what “rock lit” was–or maybe they didn’t and I imagined someone asking me–and I came up with this response: Rock lit is about any character who once owned a guitar. That guitar can be in the closet. It can be at the pawn shop. It can be in the character’s mom’s basement, but it’s always there. It comes to symbolize the dream, forever hiding in the cracks and crevices of our psyches, making itself known at the weirdest times. So many at TNB seem to have that dream, which is one of the reasons I relate to the folks on this site so much.
I sort of give the same answer when people ask me what chick lit is. Only, instead of guitars, it’s a strong central female character.
And she can have a guitar too!
But, I mean, there’s a theme for a lot of writers, I think. Richard Cox publishes mostly science fiction novels, for instance. Rock lit is genre fiction, right?And you just write what you know. And of course she can have a guitar!
I think so. There are a set of rock lit conventions that I think are forming right now, which is why it’s so exciting to be part of these days. Tyler McMahon’s How the Mistakes were Made is coming out this October. There’s the whole Goon Squad phenomenon. Eleanor Henderson and Dana Spiotta, two literary writers, both just released rock lit-type novels this summer. Sean Beaudoin has a rock novel coming out in 2012, I believe.
I have an idea: you, Sean, and Joe write a book together. It would make my nerdy head explode
Excellent! Let’s see what we can get done.
I think we’d make a pretty good band, too.
I know! Do you have any idea how many fake TNB bands have formed?
I can only imagine.
Tawni (Freeland) and I have formed about two dozen over the years. Oh! Oh! Oh! You, Joe, Sean, and TAWNI! Oh my gosh! I’ll be the band manager! I can’t play an instrument and you don’t want to hear me sing, but I can manage the shit out of things!
What would we be called?
Well, I’ve always been partial to John Candy is Deadbecause I think that’s an excellent band name.
But what about when we (inevitably) break up for “creative differences” (drug addiction)? “John Candy is Dead is dead.”
Well, Tawni is a stay at home mom who is asleep before 8:00 every night, you’re super shy and obviously the poster child for Perfect Husband, and Sean and Joe don’t drink (I don’t think…) it’s foolproof!
We’ll do afternoon gigs!
At the VFW!
At the church!
Or the local buffet!
Denny’s! We’ll cover all of the senior discount joints.
We’ll be bigger than Hedwig, and we won’t be transvestites!
Not that there’s anything wrong with that… Okay this interview has devolved; I think we can be done. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Yes, I just told my wife you think I’m the poster child for the perfect husband. Now she can’t stop laughing.
Well, everything looks perfect in two dimensions… Okay, then. It’s been great. Thank you so, so much.
Very good, thanks. I had much fun. ‘Night!