An interesting bit from a David Foster Wallace reading circa Infinite Jest:

I would go to halfway houses and just sit there. I lurked a lot. Nice thing about halfway houses is they are real run-down and real sloppy and you can just sit around. And the more you sit around looking uncomfortable and out of place, the more it looks like you belong there. Some of the people knew this [breaking and entering] stuff very well and they loved to talk about it. And nobody is as talkative as a drug addict who just had his drugs taken away.

It’s paired with a decent interview where he predicts the rise of curators and filters in internetland, and also mentions how important an editor is…

I, of course, get all wrapped up. ”I know. I’ll have an allusion to a Russian thing that’s half true and only people who speak Russian will know.” Great, you are now talking to exactly one person on the planet earth.

The last bit from a 1993 interview with David Foster Wallace [pdf] in Whiskey Island Magazine, some advice for young writers:

This is a long haul. Writing is a long haul. I’m hoping that none of the stuff that I’ve done so far is anywhere close to the best stuff I can do. Let’s hope we’re not fifty-five and doing the same thing. I’d say avoid burning out. You can burn out by struggling in privation and neglect for many years, but you can also bum out if you’re given a’ little bit of attention. People come to your hotel room and think you have interesting things to say. You can allow that to make you start to think that you can’t say anything unless it’s interesting. For me, 50% of the stuff I do is bad, and that’s just going to be the way it is, and if I can’t accept that then I’m not cut out for this. The trick is to know what’s bad and not let other people see it.

In an otherwise unremarkable interview with its inventor, I learned that Lenin played the Theremin:

I brought my apparatus and set it up in his large office in the Kremlin. He was not yet there because he was in a meeting. I waited with Fotiva, his secretary, who was a good pianist, a graduate of the conservatory. She said that a little piano would be brought into the office, and that she would accompany me on the music that I would play. So we prepared, and about an hour and a half later Vladimir Il’yich Lenin came with those people with whom he had been in conference in the Kremlin. He was very gracious; I was very pleased to meet him, and then I showed him the signaling system of my instrument, which I played by moving my hands in the air, and which was called at that time the thereminvox. I played a piece [of music].

After I played the piece they applauded, including Vladimir Il’yich [Lenin], who had been watching very attentively during my playing. I played Glinka’s “Skylark”, which he loved very much, and Vladimir Il’yich said, after all this applause, that I should show him, and he would try himself to play it. He stood up, moved to the instrument, stretched his hands out, left and right: right to the pitch and left to the volume. I took his hands from behind and helped him. He started to play “Skylark”. He had a very good ear, and he felt where to move his hands to get the sound: to lower them or to raise them. In the middle of this piece I thought that he could himself, independently, move his hands. So I took my hands off of his, and he completed the whole thing independently, by himself, with great success and with great applause following. He was very happy that he could play on this instrument all by himself.

From an interview with Jimmy Carter:

Q: You’ve written memoirs, a historical novel, a children’s book, poetry—all while running the Carter Center. How many cups of coffee do you drink a day?

A: Well, I get up early. (Laughs.) I’m a farmer, still. I get up around 5 o’clock in the morning when I’m home, so I have three hours of good time to think and write before the normal events start happening in Atlanta at the Carter Center.

Miles on Miles (review: 4/5)

You don’t know how to play better just because you’ve suffered. The blues don’t come from picking cotton.

I’ve never read anything quite like Miles on Miles: Interviews and Encounters with Miles Davis. The book collects about four decades’ worth of his life, broken up across a couple dozen interviews that were published in small jazz magazines all the way up to big serials like Newsweek and Rolling Stone. Some were with notable music journalists, a few with overmatched college radio station DJs.

The interviews start up in the late 1950s, about 10 years after he got his start with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and a couple years after he kicked his heroin habit. The general consensus, even back then: he was bleeping brilliant, charismatic, deeply flawed. Behind the gruff, badass facade was a sensitive, needy man. As the book goes on, it’s cool to see how the different interviewers sum up the career to date, through the shifting bands, radical changes in style, divorces, illness, new addictions. At some points in his life, he’s gregarious, absurdly fit from boxing, full of ideas. Later, for several years, he pretty much didn’t do much aside from drugs, rarely even leaving his house.

I don’t like to lay back. I don’t like to relax. Show me a motherfucker that’s relaxed, and I’ll show you a motherfucker that’s afraid of success.

You might have to like Miles to make it through his harangues. There weren’t a whole lot of brilliant comments or analysis of music. He usually avoided commenting on his own music, insistent that the past is dead, and I didn’t see a whole lot of criticism of other artists.

I usually don’t buy jazz records. They make me tired and depressed.

But I loved seeing how he phrased things, how he responds to similar questions over the years, and how he remembers and retells things differently. And there are occasional asides that I never would have expected:

I don’t know where I want to live. But the best time I ever had in my life, other than playing trumpet, was when I was out in the country riding horses.

Miles Davis on drawing as therapy:

Yeah, you know, I stopped for a while. I really started to sketch again after I married Cicely. Because she takes so long. You know how actresses are. They take so long to get ready for anything, you know. Rather than scream at her, I just started sketching.

From an interview with Anthony Bourdain, a passage on those beautiful moments and how they feel kind of sucky at the same time:

I‚Äôve talked elsewhere about there are times in your life… I‚Äôll use the example of you‚Äôre standing alone in the desert, and you see the most incredible sunset you‚Äôve ever seen and your first instinct is to turn to your left or right and say, ‚ÄúWow, do you see that?‚Äù Okay, there‚Äôs no one there, what do you do? Next, where‚Äôs the camera? Look through the viewfinder and you realize you know, what you see through that little box is not what you‚Äôre experiencing. There comes this terrible moment when you realize well, this is for me. There is no sharing this. Worse: if you try to share it with old friends or someone you love it‚Äôs almost an insult. “How was your day?” “Well, we did three hundred covers tonight, somebody sent back a steak…” “Well, in the Sahara there was this sunset and you wouldn‚Äôt believe it.” You know?