August 25, 2003

you can make a beautiful painting out of your dilemmas, but your dilemmas are still there

Robert Stone interview.

an excerpt:

RB: That crossed my mind. I share your view that the '70s were a terrible and ugly period but haven't been able to articulate the reasons.

Robert Stone: First of all, the mass-culture authorities didn't understand what had happened in the '60s. The moguls were still running Hollywood and they were clueless. All they knew was that were…what they knew in Hollywood was two things. There had been all these hitchhikers on Sunset Boulevard, and they had never seen anything like that before. And Roman Polanski's wife and his friends had been murdered. And that was basically what they knew about the '60s.

RB: [laughs]

RS: And they were scared and they didn't understand. This is when they started edging over to Nixon. They didn't understand what was going on. The whole, everything began to go—their sense of privilege, their leftist orthodoxy as left wingers. They began to feel the cold wind of oblivion. And they couldn't—really couldn't understand— the art form. Creatures like Andy Warhol were able to take hold of the arts, "You see you don't know what you like. You don't really know what you like. You can't tell this from that." Terrible political corruption ran through the country, a loss of idealism. The military was, for example, really corrupt. People would get mugged in barracks. When I was in, boy, that would never happen, to get robbed on your own ship. Just never ever happen.

RB: Was that the beginning of the professional army?

RS: It was supposed to be the beginning of the professional army. I regarded myself as being in the professional Navy back in the '60s, but we didn't have draftees back then. But you would never get robbed in your barracks. That was unthinkable. The '70s were a low point in just about everything you can think of. The worst movies, the worst army, we subsequently almost lost a war in Grenada. Ollie North, the Napoleon of the Caribbean, almost lost that war. Everything was low quality, everything was lousy. What is that decade in painting? The Sesquigenta, after the 15th century was really not that great and then 17th century which is really not that good at all. It's really imitative and derivative.

RB: Of course, American culture has rebounded.

RS: Yes, America is tremendously viable. I don't know about this rule-the-world shit. [chuckles]

RB: No, huh? [both laugh] It would be comic if it wasn't so tragic. George Bush burns a lot of money to take a jet to a ship that is close to docking anyway. This is very cynical. That was sort of a question, what do you think?

RS: Well, I think there it is, while he was dodging the draft and pretending—dodging his National Guard duties, even. Jesus I wouldn't have dreamed of not doing the military stuff I was supposed to do. I was just a petty officer in the Navy. But I would never have dreamed of trying to get out of it even under any circumstances I could imagine. I happen to resent George Bush being flown onto a carrier all dressed up like a pilot. But the people who go for that, God they have it coming, except we are all in the same boat. These are a bunch of triumphalist babbits who suddenly think that their way of seeing the world and their way of operating is so superior that the rest of the world is going to fall down before them. And they are going renegotiate, as it were, the Sykes-Picot Treaty in the Middle East and start it all over again. I think it's really a terrible mistake. Of course, they don't have the imperial style. If they had any style at all [both laugh] but they have no imperial style, they are just babbits.

RB: It's frightening that ostensibly, Americans seem to be eating this stuff up. How about the move to time the Republican convention closer to Sept 11? That's really cynicism.

RS: I find that cynical I don't know why…in the world outside the United States, I don't think the United States is going to find too many friends.

RB: Iceland.

RS: I don't think there is too much we can do about that. Which is too bad. But you only have one country, what can you do? The stuff that they are getting away with is awful. I suppose Bush will be reelected if nothing goes too terribly wrong. I'm caught in a way. I want to see the plans of these idiots come to disaster, but I dread the plans of these idiots coming to disaster because it's my disaster as much as anybody else's.

The first chapter of Stone's newest book, "Bay of Souls," can be read here.

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