Heyyyyo! Welcome back to another round of Tuesdays With Lazerbeak. The big news this week is that Soundset, the largest rap festival in the ENTIRE WORLD, just announced their 10-year anniversary 2017 lineup and our very own P.O.S is front and center on that bad boy. Check out the entire bonkers lineup below and make sure to grab your tickets right HERE for the May 28th event at the MN State Fairgrounds.
Speaking of crazy huge shows (SEGUE #1), Sims was just announced as main support for the enormous Palace Theatre grand opening in St. Paul this Friday night, performing alongside MN legends Atmosphere. Should be one for the history books. This show is officially sold out but I’m being told there will be a limited number of tickets available day-0f at the box office. Check out this sweet poster that our good friend Mike 2600 made to commemorate this monumental occasion. Can’t wait to check out the Palace in all of its newly restored glory.
Speaking of P.O.S AND Sims (SEGUE #2!), both of these dudes are on the road together bringing the Chill, dummy Tour to the West Coast and beyond. Here’s a quick photo recap of this past week’s adventures with Stef, Sims, Fundo, and Dwynell Roland. Looks like these shows have absolutely nutz. Shouts to everyone coming through and wilding out.
This week the tour rolls on through southern California and then into the Southwest and Colorado. The fellas will be in Santa Cruz tonight (3/7), Los Angeles on Thursday (3/9), San Diego on Friday (3/10), Phoenix on Saturday (3/11), and Albuquerque on Sunday (3/12). Check out all the upcoming dates below and make sure to grab your tickets right HERE and catch this show if it comes through your neck of the woods. (Sims hops off after LA to make it back for the Palace show, just an FYI)
Now for a little awesome non-music news. 2017 marks the first year that I’ve gotten into reading books since I graduated high school way back in the year 2000. I’m not totally sure what finally contributed to my change of heart, but I’ve been seriously loving reading a book before bed at night instead of scrolling down the infinite abyss of social media and email as of late. I have to give a huge shout to my literati buddy and journalist extraordinaire Steve Marsh who has been guiding me on this new quest and kicking me new authors to read at a feverish pace. I grew up pretty much idolizing Kurt Vonnegut and reading anything of his that I could get my hands on, so Steve decided to start me out with American author George Saunders as a good continuation from my Vonnegut obsession. Aaaaaaaaand he nailed it.
Saunders has been known for his absolute domination of the short story and novella format for over 25 years now. I was able to crush out three of his short story collections in the past few months and I cannot recommend them any more highly (Tenth of December is probably my fav). In a very serendipitous twist of fate, Saunders released his first ever novel this past month right as the height of my insane fandom was reaching a boiling point. It’s called Lincoln in the Bardo and it revolves around one fateful night in a graveyard after President Lincoln has laid his young son Willie to rest. It involves about 160 different ghosts that visit Willie while he toils in limbo and is also filled with all sorts of historical accounts of Lincoln and the White House during that time period. Wild stuff, man. It’s the first book I’ve ever pre-ordered and I anticipated it just as much as a new Drake or Babyface album. Without and spoilers, let’s just say Lincoln in the Bardo lives up to the hype and then take the hype and crushes it into smithereens. One of the most powerful books on life, death, love, duty, and empathy that I’ve ever read.
I was able to finish it the very morning that George Saunders was scheduled to come to Minneapolis on his promo tour, and in an even crazier twist of fate, Steve was able to secure an interview with Saunders before the book reading and allowed me to tag along and meet the man. SCORE! This was truly one of the all-time highlights of my long-legged life. George couldn’t have been kinder and it was an absolute pleasure to spend a few minutes with him and Steve inside of a really tiny old projectionist room doubling as a backstage at the Parkway Theatre. Below is the full transcript from the 10-minute interview, along with some pictures from the night. I implore you to read this til the very end (or just skip to the end if you don’t care about awesome books), as George has some absolutely astonishing news to drop on you regarding his favorite rap song of all time. You really can’t make this stuff up. Huge enormous shouts to Eric Lorberer and Rain Taxi for setting the event up and letting us hang out. I’ll never forget it.
SM: When did you get in?
GS: Noon. I’m on a tour doing 22 cities in 24 days. We’re a little more than halfway through.
SM: My friend Beak here tours all the time—he’s in a rap group called Doomtree.
Beak: I do music tours. But on a bus. Not flying.
GS: It’s coach, it’s kinda fun. For a person of a certain age, it’s a challenge in energy management. As in, “When do I take a shit?”
Beak: That’s a big part of it actually.
SM: The first question I have is: where was the library where you absorbed all of this Lincoln material? It seems like you didn’t just read Doris Kearns Goodwin. It read like you went deep.
GS: Pretty deep.
SM: So like primary sources deep? Microfiche?
GS: You know, I didn’t. I had about 300 books. And then from those, you’d see that those six are all quoting the same primary sources. It was kind of hobbyist research, but passionate hobbyist research. But then at Syracuse, William Safire has a collection of thousands of books on mostly Civil War and Lincoln. So you’d wander around in there and find some really off-the-wall shit. But I always knew what I needed. Like I knew I needed a party scene—so anywhere I went I would grab a Lincoln book and see if they have something like a party scene. And after awhile I knew I wanted to do something about his physicality, so I was kind of on the lookout for that. So it was really directed.
SM: And you faked some of your sources in the book.
GS: Alt-facts, yeah. (Smiles.)
SM: So with your anxiety of influence, were you worried more about authenticity or originality?
GS: That’s a great question. Early on I was worried about being authentic. Not only about Lincoln in history but about the Bardo and the Tibetan stuff. And then at some point, you’re on the hunt, and you’re like, wait a minute, this is much cooler if I’m over here. So then you’re sacrificing truth on a small level to get to whatever that output is that a novel does where the small mistruths add up to some greater truth by any means necessary. I felt like I turned a corner when I stopped giving a shit about what the graveyard actually looked like. The graveyard looked the way I needed it to look. How is Lincoln? The way I need him to be. So if you see it as a dramatic machine then all the questions are going to get simplified. If you think your job is to catalog then you’re going to be a little lame ass because you’re always going to err on the side of that as opposed to where the actual heat is.
BEAK: How long was that process when you first decided you were going to do this? Did you template it out, thinking I’m going to need this and this from Lincoln?
GS: No. My whole thing is, I tried to be like that when I was younger, I was an engineer so I thought if I can just figure out how to do it, I’ll do it. And I found out that for me, I gotta totally do improv all the time, on every level. Structural improv, line-to-line improv, intentional improv. And there’s improv and there’s also iteration where I go through it many many times microadjusting. So really, there wasn’t much deciding. ‘Cause I figure like, if we sat down and mapped out a book, the three of us. It would make sense—that’s not so good. Sense is not that good. But if you mapped it out on the fly and everyday for 400 days you’re making microdecisions, then that structure is going to be much more mindblowing than the one you can think of in a day. It’s kind of like if you planned out your marriage and then actually had one.
SM: So you had to live it.
GS: You had to live it. And they had to talk back not only the way you wanted them to, but sometimes you would make a little mistake and you and “oh why did he say that?” Or you figured out something about the diction and you honored it, then they moved in a different direction. So my stories all work like that. The more I control them the more they’re dead. Maybe like playing music, if you’re improv-ing, you don’t say, “I’m going to play this.” You listen. Which is cool, but it takes a lot of faith.
SM: I was going to ask about diction. Your language in your other books always seems to be set in a not too different future, like three years from now, or ten years from now.
GS: Or in the current climate, 15 minutes.
(Everybody laughs nervously)
SM: Right! The voices in this book are in the past, but they’re just as colloquial—in some cases just as proletarian—and just as weird. There is a massive diversity of voices in this one. So how many voices did you hear in your own head?
GS: You know what I figured out early on from reading Tolstoy? It’s almost like math: If you wanna do voices in extremity, you can do fewer. On the page, if you want two really extreme voices, I can maybe make two that are different and three if I’m tricky. In other words, I have a story called “Victory Lap” and they’re pretty distinct voices but three is the limit—I can’t do four. Usually, I literally hear it, and I could do it out loud. So in this book, I have 166, so actually I’m not [varying] voices as much. Sometimes it was like, ok, this guy misspells these words. Or this guy uses an ampersand at this frequency. I imagined them almost like you would have 15 voices in a room, and you just carefully place one here, just a little bit over here… To me, it’s not that voicey of a book, but the job was always to make the reader feel like it was.
SM: And you’re right, it’s not even about voice. It’s about voice through letters arranged on a page. It’s written.
GS: That’s right.
SM: So like the roman numerals and the scholarly citations, but the characters in this book, it’s more like they’re writing to each other than talking to each other.
GS: I kind of stumbled on that, and like, “That’s cool.” Especially when you’re looking at all those old letters. You see that they really did that. So it’s a little bit of a trick: they’re going to appear to speak to you in the way in which that they would’ve written to you. Like that. So that gives you a lot of room. Cuz even with Willie Lincoln he has that trope of leaving five spaces. Why? I don’t know, but you see that and you go, “Willie.”
SM: At times if reads like a Civil War era comment section.
GS: Exactly. You’re tracing it backwards. Cuz this book started with a novel way back in the day when chatlines first started. And I saw ‘em and I’m like, that is so cool looking. They’re full of very special misspellings and you ask me something and my answer only comes in three exchanges below. So tthat book was set in a graveyard and had that set up but that book didn’t work. But I always thought you see something on the page, and it looks cool and it just has energy. So that chatline thing, there were a couple moments in that book that were like that and I thought okay, someday I’ll come back to that technique.
SM: So how would Facebook have affected the Civil War?
GS: Probably sped it up. You know? Because there you would have to sit down and write an editorial or a long letter, and the letters were so articulate. There’s a great book called Patriotic Gore by Edmund Wilson. It’s kinda hard to find, and it’s very expensive but it’s a book of his essays on literary culture in the Civil War. And the people who could write they fucking wrote. But even the wrongheaded people wrote beautifully and persuasively. And then down, down, there were a lot of letters going back and forth with bad spelling. But my guess is it would’ve just sped things up, I guess, maybe? Or maybe the other thing was, then, there weren’t really northerners talking to southerners that much. Well, just like right now there’s not either.
SM: My dad is a truck driver or whatever, and I work for a magazine downtown, so I regularly hear from both sides. And there are a lot of voices in your books, a lot of characters in your books, that are from this overlooked working class—that people in the urban liberal bubble don’t really get to listen to or read about.
GS: That’s right.
SM: So where do they come from in your life?
GS: Well, I mean, I grew up on the South Side [of Chicago] and my dad owned restaurants and he worked for a coal company. And you know, I worked in a slaughterhouse. So, yeah, that’s why this Trump thing fucks me up. Probably you too. Because historically my loyalties have been with the working middle class and the way they’ve been shit on, but then all of a sudden they’re willing to shit on other people so it gets really complicated. But I think, what I’ve been saying, basically if you look at it, I think Bernie had it right. All the money went up. In maybe the 80s, it all started going up. So if America is a community living on a mountainside all the air went up to the peak at some point. And now in the middle and lower middle and lower lower, it’s an anaerobic environment. So people are going to start getting nuts.
SM: And it’s not just happening here. There was a New York Times story about France and about how the countryside sucks in France too.
GS: Or go to Nepal, they’re permanently in the anaerobic strata. So it’s sad, because the real story is so interesting and so misunderstood. I think there’s some kind of materialist, corporatist pogrom going on. I don’t know what you’d call it, but it’s very quiet it’s not intentional. It’s just what capitalism does. I went out to Amarillo, Texas, where I lived and drove though and I was like, “Wow, this place it looks the same but it’s gutted.” The only things making money are these corporate franchises on the fringe of the highway. So that’s true and that’s really interesting. And I think the progressive movement was just about to get there and this movement kinda swept in and did this. So people like us are in a tricky spot. It means you don’t get to think simple. You don’t get to have simple allegiances. That’s the pisser.
SM: So can reading help us?
GS: I know it can.
SM: It can help with radical kindness, because you can get into somebody else’s head. Just like ghosts jumping into Lincoln’s body in your book, you can find empathy by inhabiting somebody else.
GS: That’s how you did it, I bet. That’s how I did it. And actually it’s only recently that the working class didn’t know that. I mean you read Steinbeck and that was the whole thing, let’s read ourselves out of our situation and, I think, always into more kindness. Kindness not defined in that kind of wimpy way, but muscular kindness like Dos Passos and Steinbeck: they’re like, “Fuck the man, because the man is fucking us, so we’re not going to allow it.”
SM: Thank you so much for your time.
GS: Oh thanks, sorry it’s so rushed I could talk to you guys for hours.
SM: No, no, could you just sign our books while we have you?
GS: Oh of course I’m a signing machine. What’s your name again?
Beak: Could you make it out to Beak. B-E-A-K.
GS: Like “Beak”?
Beak: That’s my rap name. So we’ll just stick with our professions here.
GS: I have a rap name but it’s just “George.” (Awkward laughter.) No. But after a certain age they don’t’ give you a rap name. What’s your name again?
GS: I’d love to talk to you guys more. Rap didn’t…I was old. So my wife and I decided we’re gonna get caught up and try and figure it out. So the song I love is “I’m Fucking You Tonight.”
Beak: Yeah! By the Notorious BIG.
GS: I think I got the whole rap education in one song. [Sings the R.Kelly hook] “I’m fucking you tonight…” Someday let’s get together and talk longer. That was like speed dating. Speed intellectualizing.
BOOM! He seriously sang that song. INSANE. Here’s Har Mar and George.
Marsh and Marsh.
The real deal, baby!
George, Har Mar, and John Moe reading excerpts from Lincoln In The Bardo.
BINGO BANGO!!!!!! That concludes the first ever LAZERBOOK segment on Tuesdays With Lazerbeak. I’m diving head first into this crazy literature world, so expect more in the near future. Currently rocking back-to-back purgatory vibes by jumping right into Dante’s Inferno. So crazy.
Alright, now that we made it through all of that, how about a brand new edition of Local Rap Bonus Jams before calling it a day? The state of MN continues spew out consistent musical hot fire on the daily and I’m having a hell of a time keeping up with everything. Here’s my best attempt to cover just some of the music that’s dropped just in the past few weeks around these parts. We’ll kick things off with a new collabo from the young gunners J. PLAZA, Nazeem, and Spencer Joles with “Surprise MF’er.”
J. PLAZA, Nazeem, and Spencer Joles – “Surprise MF’er”
Metasota just got off the road with Prof and Finding Novyon and will be heading out again shortly on his first-ever headlining run. Check out the brand new video for “No Money, No Problem” off his great It’s Just Rap project.
Metasota – “No Money, No Problem”
Mike the Martyr snagged DITC legend AG and hometown hero I Self Devine on the same damn track and laced them with a phenomenal beat. Check out “Weight of My City” below.
AG & I Self Devine – “Weight Of My City” (produced by Mike the Martyr)
Guante and producer Katrah-Quey have a new project in the works and they brought along the extremely talented Jayanthi Kyle for this “Our Relationship Is A Slowly Gentrifying Neighborhood” track. Check out the video below.
Guante & Katrah-Quey ft. Jayanthi Kyle – “Our Relationship Is A Slowly Gentrifying Neighborhood”
Muja Messiah just came out of nowhere with his brand new PyrExpedtioN album. You can stream the whole thing below. Make sure to grab a digital copy on his Bandcamp too.
Muja Messiah – PyrExpeditioN
Now for something from up and comer Yung Wes, who’s been dropping a ton of new music as of late. Check out one of my favorite tracks below. Excited to hear more stuff from this dude.
Yung Wes – “It’s All Good”
I’ve definitely been sleeping on Sweetz P. Shouts to Jake Heinitz for putting me up on her. Pumped to hear more. Check out the video for “GASFACE” below.
Sweetz P – “GASFACE”
Brother Ali is back with a vengeance after a five-year break between albums, and he’s linked back up with ANT on production this time around. All The Beauty In This Whole Life is out May 5th on Rhymesayers Entertainment. Check out the first leak below.
Brother Ali – “Pen To Paper”
And lastly, Bobby Raps has been dropping hints about his upcoming Mark album for awhile now. I’d say with this new “Purgatory” video things are about to get kicked into overdrive. Can’t wait for people to hear this record. So crushing.
Bobby Raps – “Purgatory”
I’ll leave you with a handful of Baby Bonus Pics before getting out of here. We had quite the adventure this past weekend. Penny got to go to Disney On Ice with Grandma Rosemary on Sunday. Let me just say for the record that had I known the ice from this would’ve caused the cancellation of the Timberwolves/Trailblazers game last night I never would’ve allowed it. Here’s Penny in her Elsa dress and Frozen cup taking it all in.
And here she is after the show trying out a curtsy in front of the Doomtree star at First Ave. Either that or she’s a huge Mighty Mighty Bosstones fan.
Penny got home that night and the boys were so into her Elsa dress that we decided to really go for it and throw dresses on everyone. Here they all are midway through a very high energy Moana Soundtrack dance party. The song “Shiny” plays on repeat roughly 20 times a day at the Mader household.
That same day I got to take the boys over to the Mississippi River to bask in all the glory of nature. They were mostly into the fence, but still.
Crab Man Cam has discovered the wonder of selfies and my phone is now completely out of storage. Here’s a new game where I take on the form of a zombie monster that loves to eat shoulders.
Laid Back Lou rocking an extremely laid back neckline on his jammies, letting it all hang out.
Penny and Cam woke me up at 6:00am on Saturday to check out their early morning ballet rehearsal. The work ethic is on steroids with these two. Couldn’t be prouder.
And lastly, shouts to my new personal assistant (and Cam and Lou’s best friend) Baby Wesley for helping me crush out the emails yesterday morning and chip away at my never-ending to-do list. Love this guy. Couldn’t do it without you.
OK! That does it for this extremely long blog post. If you made it to the end, I applaud you. Go read Lincoln in the Bardo and catch P.O.S on tour. I’ll see you next week for another edition of Tuesdays With Lazerbeak!