The Ice Storm Song

Email exchange with ‘The Ice Storm’ author/musician Rick Moody

The Ice Storm Song

At a Dec. 6 benefit for Austin Bat Cave, a tutoring center for kids, Rick Moody appeared at the Blanton Museum of Art for a screening of The Ice Storm, Ang Lee's faithful adaptation of his second novel. A South by Southwest Music panel was already in the works given that Mychael Danna's haunting score to the film has nothing on the music in Moody's book.

Now, “What Happened to the Big Idea in Music Technology,” as moderated by Gang of Four bassist Dave Allen, is slated for Wednesday, March 14, at the Convention Center. As part of this week's forthcoming SXSW panel preview, I emailed Moody because common sense dictates getting a writer to write rather than pick up a phone.

“I don't really know what Dave Allen wants to talk about on the panel, but I will do my best,” Moody wrote back to my initial inquiry. “I think I am going to be the curmudgeon on this round table.”

Here's our complete back-and-forth, with the exception of the exchange in this week's paper:

Austin Chronicle: You're a curmudgeon? And also a tech head? Please explain.

Rick Moody: Not a tech head at all! In fact, while I'm not a Luddite, while I feel that suppressing technology requires just as much technology as working with technology, I am, generally speaking, attracted to the organic – and I know that's a loaded word – and often find that tech inhibits the organic.

So, for example, I find drum machines extremely irritating, and even excessive amounts of drum sampling. In fact, I have a book of music essays coming out next month (On Celestial Music), and it contains a long argument against the drum machine. Like 75 pages of argument against the drum machine. I am, therefore, a curmudgeon in this way. I don't think the newest, hottest gadget is going to save my life. I kind of resist the Apple Corporation. And so on.

Austin Chronicle: How do you know Dave Allen? I've always been terribly impressed by the Gang of Four and saw a mind-blowing reunion show once, but don't know the group's music well.

Rick Moody: I don't know him well. I interviewed him last year, and we both had a really great time doing it. (It was an e-mail back and forth that lasted a couple of months.) I think I was invited by him to talk because we enjoyed the intellectual sparring a bit. However: I love Gang of Four deeply, and by Gang of Four I mean the original lineup. I listened to them incessantly in college, especially around the time of Solid Gold, their second album, and the EPs of that similar vintage. Dave is an extremely brilliant bass player. And also a very convincing and well-informed purveyor of web-related discourses.

Austin Chronicle: When we met last year I believe you said you had a band currently and I suggested bringing them to SXSW. I don't suppose you are? Have you always played in bands?

Rick Moody: I play in a very minimalist acoustic band (as befits my remarks above) that is mostly about singing. I sing some of the time in that band. And write a bit. We are called the Wingdale Community Singers. We don't tour. And no one has invited us to play at SXSW, so I am attending the festival as a writer and thinker, I suppose. (Maybe some other time the band will come.) I have not always played in bands, to answer your question, but I have almost always written songs, for at least the last 30 years or so.

Austin Chronicle: You obviously grew up in a musical era before iPods. Is the Cloud/Spotify good and why does new vinyl cost so much now?

Rick Moody: I am not interested in Spotify at all. I am slightly irritated whenever someone whips out their phone and tries to impress me with the obviousness of their popular music interests on Spotify. I like owning music, and by owning it I mean being able to stroll across the room and look at the package, and remove the little musical object from the sleeve and carry it back to the playback device.

I like albums. (And I think vinyl is expensive now because the prints runs are small.) I still love vinyl, but I don't like vinyl fetishism. It is too collector-oriented. Collectors are suspect, according to the psychoanalytic argument which is well-traveled at this point. The only argument for iTunes that I can come up with is that it is how regular people play music now, and that's worth bearing in mind. It's good to know what the people like.

Austin Chronicle: At the Blanton Museum you mentioned The Ice Storm having a specific soundtrack and you making tapes for Tobey Maguire. You also said you were working on a new book you felt circled back to The Ice Storm in some ways. What's the soundtrack for this new work?

Rick Moody: Well, the truth is that I have grown old since I finished The Ice Storm (that was 1992, or 20 years ago), and so I actually listen to less music while writing than I used to do. But I will say that after a search of some 10 years, I finally came into a copy of La Monte Young's piece called The Well-Tuned Piano, which is a five-hour improvisation for piano in just intonation. I saw a copy in person one time, in Greenwich Village, maybe 15 years ago, and didn't buy it, and ever since have been beating up on myself for not having paid for it. At last, through other means, I obtained a copy, and I have been playing it for months now. Sometimes while writing the new novel.

Austin Chronicle: You mention The Ice Storm having been a long time ago. Because it became such an iconic film – Criterion DVD, no less – that's the work of yours many people identify you by. Now Joan Jett wrote a lot of killer songs, but her short bio is No. 1 smash “I Love Rock & Roll,” which she didn't even write. She's not a “one-hit wonder” (Freaks & Geeks theme “Bad Reputation”!), but I wonder if she's sick of that ID. A lot of musicians/actors/writers in the same boat will say, “I'm flattered to be identified any way I can,” where others will bristle and simply not perform “Stairway to Heaven.” Where do you fall in regards to The Ice Storm?

Rick Moody: I think The Ice Storm is an immature work. It's me trying to figure out how to write a novel, which I had done only once before, and even less successfully in that first case. No one who gives a s--- about literature could honestly find The Ice Storm pleasing. But I'm happy about the movie. As you know, I have watched it recently – for the first time in many years. And I found a lot to enjoy in it. If it were a song, I would play it live, I think. But maybe in a new arrangement with amplified cello and prepared piano and two drummers.

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Rick Moody, Ang Lee, Dave Allen, Gang of Four, Wingdale Community Singers, La Monte Young, Joan Jett

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