I feel like it's rude to post something like this when the thing it's in is still "on the newsstands" as it were, but I already posted it when I thought they were over, so... ? I'm deciding to not feel bad about it.
This interview was done by Brian Nicholson, who is a cool dude that I enjoy talking to. My answers to these questions might have changed between the time I did this interview and now, when I'm posting it (or looking at it again). I guess that's obvious.
Topics discussed: CRASS, Paper Rodeo, burn out, thoughts on a Mothers News book collection, the most popular books on Earth, weird things are the norm, the blood of Christ, moms love me :)
Brian: First off, how’s it going? How are you? How is living in Providence as Winter approacheth/arriveth?
Mothers News: It’s going good. Winter in Providence can be harsh, but this year was pretty mild thus far (anything can still happen). I’ve been playing music again, which is a blessing. Drinking a lot of tea, reading.
B: In other interviews you would give a list of inspirations - Borges, Rabelais, King Cat, Crass Records - that cumulatively “add up” to an explanation or worldview. Are there any particular inspirations you want to talk more about in terms of what they mean to you?
MN: Hmmm, I don’t want to hang too heavy on any hook… but to pick one arbitrarily, maybe CRASS? CRASS was a punk band that also ran a label, they had great graphic design, a great font, good sound, good politics, and a desire to change the world. One point of interest with CRASS is that they took long enough making a Big Record that an entire war (the Falklands) broke out and ended. After that they decided it was better to get them out imperfect than to labor over them endlessly. Well, maybe it’s obvious that I appreciate those who eschew perfection, but to have a clear and practical reason to do so, that’s especially good. With the paper, there are definitely a few stupid parts, or things I wish I had finessed a little more. But in general I would opt for peristalsis rather than catharsis. It takes a long time for an oyster to produce a pearl, no one would deny that. But no one ever says “happy as an oyster”.
B: One of the inspirations for Mothers News seemed to be Paper Rodeo, which, for the length of time it ran similarly seemed to be ongoing, but then ended when Mat Brinkman’s Multi-Force strip wrapped itself up. Are there any threads (personal or narrative) that sort of “tied up” around the end of Mothers News in a way that gave you less incentive to continue?
MN: Paper Rodeo is definitely a huge inspiration, in that it was a weird publication and that it had ads that were really wild but also real (ie, people paid for the ads). Did it end when Multiforce did? Or vice versa? Did Multiforce end or did it just stop getting drawn (for now)? My understanding of the end of Paper Rodeo is that it stopped coming out because the editors were swamped with submissions that looked too similar to what they were already publishing but with the opposite feeling (window vs mirror), and this was disheartening. Or just generally, it became less fun. Buuuuuuuut to answer your question about personal or narrative threads,,, not really? Or, yes, but the threads aren’t particularly intriguing. Or like, it was less that the threads got tied up and more that the thread ran out. Or broke. I’m sorry if this makes me sound like a baby, but doing a newspaper is just an unsustainable energy draw for a single person. Though I tried to disguise this fact (partly because I thought it was bad for reader morale) it was just me doing the bulk of it- writing, design, ad sales, promotion, mailing, etc.. I’m not complaining- I brought it upon myself, but that’s a lot for one person every month. And what’s weird is that it wasn’t even that it was a lot of work, it was that it was different kinds of work that I had to do all at the same time- writing mind and promotional mind are two different minds with different motivations and desires. For me, at this moment in time, to write is to get infinitely small and vast, in a cosmos-beholding aspect, void-aware and self-abnegating. For promotion and ad sales however, I find the need to feel important- psychotically large, located and self-limiting. I don’t see anything really wrong with either of these approaches. But for me, switching gears multiple times a day between them incurs an emotional cost. I feel like there’s a car metaphor I could use here if I knew anything about cars. Anyway, the practice was not operating sustainably, which is a situation I was aware of from the beginning, and while it did get better, it never reached unity, which I was banking on. AKA I burned out.
So now I’m healing, reading, playing music, relaxing my mind, working on some more abstract projects, and thinking about how to do whatever the next thing is without the bad parts of the last thing. I’d really like to do a book collection- I think this would be a good endcap. And the way I see it, I did a good job with the paper on an insane deadline for no money- with time to proofread and someone else doing promotion / logistics, I feel like I could mop a book up.
B: How would you want to see a collection be oriented?
MN: Well, my current thinking on the subject is that a collected book would look like an almanac, reordering material by month and rewriting it to blend. So the first section would be January, and would feature collated writing and design elements from all the January issues. And so on to December, with untethered elements sprinkled without in as close to harmony as desired. The book would be mostly writing, because that’s the best part. I know that people like to think they want a book they can’t put down but I would like to make a book that you could read in small doses over a long period of time, because that’s how I tend to read, and I appreciate books made with this sort of thoughtfulness- that one has other things to do in a day than devour a tome.
B: One of the strengths of Mothers News was how the esoteric and the banal sort of bled into each other, the essential and the extraneous. A book is not a newspaper, and there aren’t (that I know of) books that just collect the entire contents of a newspaper. What do you want the takeaway to be, now that Mothers News is not a newspaper, when you want it to be a book?
MN: Yes, I can’t think of another contemporary book that is either a best seller or being avidly talked about in review circles that 100% collects writing from a newspaper. But at the same time: I can’t think of another publication like Mothers News, yet here we are talking about it- it not only exists but it is noteworthy. Just because something is unique doesn’t mean people won’t like it, that’s a classic fallacy that I’m sure anyone reading this can come up with anecdotal evidence to disprove. Also it’s a statistical error- there are a lot of situations in which unique items make up a sizable chunk of the dataset- a text analysis of this interview (for instance) would show that like 30-40% of the words we use here are only used once. Big deal. I definitely understand the evolutionary advantage of a predeliction to only eat what everyone else eats, and as far as contemporary advertising goes, this is clearly a huge factor. But I am not looking for a fragile and fearful host- I am looking to be part of a robust ecosystem. Diversity is essential to health, I hope that any publisher I could interest in this project would be aware of this simple fact.
But then am I even unique? You point out my predeliction to bleed from the banal to the esoteric– it’s incredible that you selected that verb to describe this process because literally bleeding from the banal to the esoteric (or arguably vice versa) is the plotline of one of the most popular books in the world: the Bible. People are crazy about that book! And more figuratively, there’s the Torah, the Koran, the Mathnawi, the Dictionary, the Odyssey, Ulysses, Eat Pray Love, Principia Mathematica, the Divine Comedy… the list of blockbusters that bleed from terra to yesod makes Star Wars look like a pile of mud and hay.
The desired takeaway from a Mothers News book would be something like “Wow, this is great, I love this, such a joy to read, this is helping me out in some way, lots of gems here, whatever next thing this person does is going to be great, sign me up, let’s make sure they can pay rent and keep making things like this, etc.”. Standard goals. World peace.
And just to be clear I’m not trying to write the Bible 2 (or the Odyssey 3), that was just an example of a popular book with a lot of wild and varied stuff in it.
B: The format of Mothers News was always accessible and understandable in a way that made it seem “open” to people that didn’t superficially resemble you in terms of subculture or belief, but the voice of it implicitly expected readers to “get on your level.” Did you ever see people who wouldn’t fit into the rubric of “punks” or “artists” reading it? Did you talk to many moms? Did any feel misled?
MN: Yeah, I love my readership, it’s really the best! The crazy thing about writing a publication that’s freely available in the streets is that many people absolutely do not believe that it will be good, and/or they have difficulties absorbing media unratified by commerce. In many ways this was a massive problem that I never really resolved and which led to my demise, but one result of it was that my readership, at least initially, was self-selecting for people open enough to believe that something free could be good. That was the main distinction and that’s a great crowd- people who literally stop and smell a flower. Were they all punks? Do the knowledge- we successfully distributed a couple thousand papers around Providence and select other locations every month, and how many people here go to noise shows? 50? 100? I have to assume that most of our readership was people that did not immediately identify as punks.
Never got any bad vibes. Never got any blowback from moms about being insufficiently relevant to human procreation. In fact I got a lot of messages from people along the lines of “I showed this to my mom and she loved it”. Also a lot of direct mother to mother communication. “Thank you for writing ‘Toad Church For Sulking Children’ in your all-frog issue” that’s a good example of the m2m genre. Lotta moms on the subscriber list. All moms are artists and have seen a lot of far out stuff, that’s baseline mom. Also they all have a regular spiritual practice of loving something that is at times disgusting, cruel, aggressive, confused, and counterintuitive, That is a helpful feature in a reader. :)