V.Vale is the founder and publisher of Re/Search, a mainstay of underground publishing for over thirty years. Both Re/Search and the fanzine that predated it, Search and Destroy, are characterized by an incisive, demanding interview style; Vale dug furiously at his subjects, extracting choice quotes or stimulating titillating lines of inquiry. In early March, I decided to interview Vale. We spoke over the course of two and a half hours in his North Beach apartment, discussing Michael Crichton, drone warfare, punk rock, Art Brut, and more. Marian Wallace, his long-partner, was also in the room. – Kevin Laird
THE BELIEVER: I’m sure it’s occurred to you before that the differences between marketing, propaganda and certain kinds of art can be pretty slim.
V. VALE: Amen! I remember there was a book that came out ages ago, in the 90s, when the internet was in a more… potential stage. When did we get email?
MARIAN WALLACE: ’96.
VV: That’s late! I knew people who were using email in eighty-six. I met this techy guy who had some romance going with a girl in Australia and he’d type out some long letter on his primitive computer and wake up the next morning and have a long-letter response from her. And I said, “Wow, and that’s free?”
BLVR: I think the internet is great for romance.
VV: I don’t think so!
BLVR: I use it that way all the time. I send love letters to my girlfriend every twenty minutes.
VV: Yeah, but how many girlfriends have you had in the last ten years? It’s so easy come, easy go. Everything is so disposable now, all your relationships, all your communications, it bothers me. It’s too easy. Anyway, in this book from 1997 or ‘98, Resisting the Virtual Life – it was published by City Lights – some woman tried to see the future and wrote about it. I think you could write an update on it with your concepts! The marketed life! I think we’ve all been forced to become marketers–of ourselves, our art, our publishing… everything has to be marketed, and the bar has been raised, because every time someone does some little livingroom concert in their house, they put out this really slick poster. My god! I’m amazed how slick everyone’s poster is for their little home events! The bar has definitely been raised, and everyone seems to know how to steal a graphic from here and type from here… Everyone’s become a graphic designer. It’s all surprisingly sophisticated. The bar has been raised for what you might call visual communication, visual language.
MW: The bar hasn’t been raised; It’s been lowered.
VV: Thank you, Marian Wallace! Lowered! Thank you. The bar’s been lowered.
BLVR: I wonder if you have any insight into San Francisco’s future.
VV: Well, I’m a pessimist. The future of the planet is in the hands of realtors and developers. They bribe all the politicians, they hire ad agencies to do spins, they have massive amounts of money. They’re propagandists, they’re one-percenters. They think differently than us, they’re more global. Realtor and developer-types, they don’t give a damn about San Francisco. Most of ‘em don’t even live here. They bring in their money and make bribes and create huge marketing campaigns and just diminish the city. All these buildings that have been built, these skyscrapers downtown, are horrifically ugly. Can’t anyone see it?
BLVR: Nobody can do anything about it!
VV: Nobody knows how. They do all these things that should be illegal, like build cheap crappy housing they call “Live/Work Lofts” and they sell these lofts for millions, and they get all these tax breaks. Like, often if you live in one, you don’t have to pay any taxes for education! It’s criminal! These are massive white collar criminals on the level of investment bankers and stockbrokers. Remember, what dominates the stock market now is what’s called High-frequency trading. But guess what? You’re definitely a member of the One Percent if you’re able to do this, because if you’re just some poor schmoe on your laptop in the Haight, you’re gonna get creamed! You gotta be set right next to where the major High-frequency trading servers are… thousandths of a second make a difference. You gotta have your servers next to their servers, and who can afford this crap? There’s been a movement to try outlaw it, but forget it. It’s not gonna happen. There’s too much money being made, and no one understands how it works.
VV: What concerns me the most is the power of the internet. I’m not any stronger than anyone else, or wiser, or anything, and I could be a candidate for Facebook Users Anonymous. I admit that I am powerless against Facebook! I am a Facebook addict! I want to check my Facebook several times a day and see if anyone sent me some funny things. These kinds of emotional reactions are what I read about twenty years ago in Amusing Ourselves to Death, though at the time it was about television. I wish they’d write an updated version about how powerful Facebook is. My daughter is addicted to Tumbler. You just share images. Everyone becomes like a DJ, or VJ, or curator, and all you’re ever doing is finding stuff and passing it on. But I don’t think it’s creative.
BLVR: It’s also a huge amount of work.
VV: Yeah, and it’s addicting, and you’re just asserting your status inside this little group – who can send the coolest stuff. But what are you doing? That’s the thing. I think it’s harder than ever to get anything done that you’re going to be proud of on your deathbed. That’s the standard: what are you gonna be proud of on your deathbed? You’re probably not going to be proud of all those Facebook posts you forwarded!
BLVR: Laurie Anderson had a routine about being a content provider, but now instead of providing content we’re rearranging content.
VV: The only solution is not one that most people want to face, which is to become lovers of solitude and silence. If you identify anything as an addiction, which is how I consider Facebook and texting and iphones and all of this convenience, they’re all addictions, and how do you control addictions? Buckminster Fuller said, “Don’t try to change man… change environment.” So you can go the AA route and say yes, I am an addict of Facebook and Tumblr. I’m addicted to the pleasurable flow of images. It’s something William Burroughs pointed out to me, years ago in 1969: I need to see a film once in a while! And I’m sort of addicted to music! Since I play it, I rarely listen to it. If we had more time, we’d listen to the music you brought; I prefer to do that with artists, give them my real reactions. And the spectator completes the work of art! So where do we go from here? One thing I don’t like about our internet-dominated, 24/7 communication culture is, someone made a phrase: “We’re All Alone Together.” What was that phrase, Marian? Everyone’s sitting alone at a computer but they think they’re socially networking? Anyway.
BLVR: I think she has headphones on.
VV: Like I said, I love to spend time alone in my room, and in my ideal world the first hour of every day would be in bed, writing down thoughts, harvesting dreams, before anyone phones or you have any internet access. I write on paper, cause if you write on a laptop, it’s too tempting to go online. You look up a word and then an hour later you remember why you went on… I think the new heroin addiction is connectivity. It’s a milder, but just as insidious, form of addiction. I see people coming over, and they sit where you’re sitting, but they’re constantly checking their iPhone under the table, as though I can’t see them!
BLVR: Yeah. We haven’t had the technology long enough to work out good etiquette.
VV: I should have asked you to take off your shoes at the door – you know, Japanese style – and put your iPhone in your shoes! And turn it off, so it doesn’t ring. Someday maybe this’ll happen, but it’s not guaranteed to make someone like me very popular.