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LAist Interview: James Greer

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Music journalist James Greer has influenced a generation of music fans via his work in "Spin" magazine.

A novelist, musician, and screenwriter, James is the author of "Guided by Voices: A Brief History: Twenty-One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock 'n' Roll."
His latest novel,"Artificial Light," covers the alternative rock scene of the 1990s, the mythos of Kurt Cobain, Orville Wright's legacy and Midwestern indie rock in a book-within-a-book structure.

James has two readings in L.A. this week: he will read his work in tandem with novelist Les Claypool at Skylight Books 1818 N. Vermont Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90027 on Wednesday August 9th at 7:30 PM. The duo will also read at the Santa Monica Barnes & Noble at the Third St. Promenade on Thursday, Aug. 10th at 7:30 PM. Once he finishes his book tour he will return to screenwriting duties. Currently, he is writing a rock opera based on the life of Egyptian queen Cleopatra for director Steven Soderbergh.

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Age and Occupation:
36, writer

How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and which neighborhood do you live in?
I live in the Fairfax District. I've lived here for about five years.

Why do you live in Los Angeles?

I moved here from Dayton, Ohio because it was time to leave, so I headed west and stopped when I got to the ocean. Which would logically put me in San Francisco, but if I was the sort of person who used logic I wouldn't have written an impenetrably dense novel that purports to contain the secret of life. Then I got tossed into the gently eddying vortex of the movie business. Most recently, I wrote a script about Cleopatra for Steven Soderbergh. He says that Catherine Zeta-Jones is going to play Cleo. I don't know if he's told her that yet.

What inspired you to write "Artificial Light"?
I think the best answer, besides "I have no idea," would be the 100th anniversary, in 2003, of the Wright Brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk. (Orville and Wilbur were from Dayton and did most of their research and experimentation in their bicycle shop there.)

How closely does Courtney Love's biography influence your protagonist's experiences?
Fiat Lux and Courtney are entirely and emphatically unrelated in any way. I should probably point out that the "Kurt C--" in Artificial Light is in no way, except very superficially, related to Kurt Cobain. There is no character in the novel based on or remotely akin to Courtney Love, who is a very nice person but not someone I would be interested in writing about. Fiat isn't based on anyone I've ever known or heard about or met, in fact. She's a librarian. I don't know any librarians. (Yet.)

What does your book say about the role of women as muses in contemporary music?
I don't think anything. In general, most of the rock-related women I've known have been musicians rather than muses. I'm not really sure what a muse is, though. I know a girl who was in a group called "Throwing Muses." Maybe that counts?

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Do you consider this book a rock and roll novel? Why or why not?
Definitely not, for two reasons: 1) what's a rock and roll novel? 2) what's rock and roll? 3) the novel is mostly about a freakishly literate young woman who discovers the secret of life. In a book. In other words, it's a book about books. In that sense, it would be accurate to call it a "novel novel," or alternatively a "book book." Also, I'm not good at math.

How does Los Angeles influence the construction, tone, or plot of "Artificial Light"?
I wrote the book in Los Angeles. Other than that, I can't think of any way. Even though I'm from the East Coast, I'd say if anything the book is decidedly Midwestern in construction, tone, and plot. Either Midwestern or Mid-Western European. Probably a little of both.

What is your opinion of the LA music scene right now? Do you have any favorite LA bands?
This is going to sound really, really pathetic, so I apologize in advance, but I pretty much only listen to old jazz records right now. I'm sure it's just a phase. I do have one favorite Los Angeles-based songwriter. Her name is Stephanie Sayers. But she doesn't play out, ever, and right now I think she's in London or Lyons. She's amazing.

Where in LA do you like to go to listen to live music?
Can I say my living room? Sometimes I strum my guitar and hum Ronnie Lane songs. I can do "The Poacher."

What phrase or adjective is overused to describe or explain our city?

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What is a story about Los Angeles that you are longing to tell or remains untold?
That one time I did that thing at that place. But no one would ever believe me.

What's your favorite movie(s) or TV show(s) that are based in LA?
Movie: "Ellie Parker." A hilarious comic portrait of a young woman's struggle for integrity, happiness and a Hollywood acting career.

TV show: "The Streets of San Francisco." A hilarious comic portrait of a young woman's struggle for integrity, happiness and a Hollywood acting career.

Best LA-themed book(s)?
A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu, Marcel Proust, Le Temps retrouvé, Vol. 4, Editions: Gallimard (1988)

What is the "center" of LA to you?
Ryan Seacrest

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If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA, where/which would you choose?
Maybe one of those self-storage places. I always imagine they would be very quiet and I would be very hard to find, which are two of my aspirational housing goals.

People stereotype Los Angeles as a hard place to find personal connections and make friends. Do you agree with that assessment? Do find it challenging to make new friends here?
No, not at all. It's really easy to make friends here. Especially if you're a drunk. Having said that, I don't drink and I don't have any friends. But that has nothing to do with Los Angeles.

What is the city's greatest secret?
The Gays!

What do you have to say to East Coast supremacists?
Welcome! We have Gays!

Do you find the threat of earthquakes preferable to the threat of hurricanes and long winters?
I find all threats fascinating and tiresome in equal measure. Sometimes I think I would like more threats, and then I change my mind and decide I want fewer threats. The best threats, obviously, are "Minor Threat(s)." Especially that one album.

Where do you want to be when the Big One hits?
In the produce aisle.