Pulitzer Prize-Winning Novelist
1. The working title of your new novel is Telegraph Avenue. What would be the highlights of a Michael Chabon tour of Telegraph?
Michael Chabon: On and around … take in a show at the Fox Theater, dinner at Flora. Check out InterPlay, former site of the Lamp Post Tavern, the Black Panther bar, wish I was still young enough to hang at the Stork Club. Pick up a box of Melona creamsicles at Koreana Plaza, eat them. Mourn Neldam’s. Cut right on 40th to check out new/old arrivals at 1-2-3-4 Go! Records. Marvel at the Houdini-esque splendor of the locking merchandise for sale at Reed Bros. Go to Depot for Creative Reuse. Burma Superstar! Pizzaiolo, my family’s favorite restaurant, or, depending on time of day, Bakesale Betty for a chicken sandwich. Stop in at Clars Auction Gallery to see what crazy shit is for sale this week. Admire the wistful fading splendor of the skin diver on the sign of Steele’s Discount Scuba. Consider the possibility of revolution at the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library. Then leap on up to the campus end of things, to check in on Moe’s, Amoeba, and Shakespeare & Co. If my elder son is with me, Top Dog.
2. In a blog posting on theatlantic.com, you wrote of the new book: “The entire novel is just a pretext for spending as much time and money as I possibly can in used record stores.” Tell us: What’s the abiding appeal of vinyl?
In addition to its vastly preferable sound quality—warmth, presence—and inconceivably more beautiful album sleeves, I like to listen to vinyl while I work, because getting up to change sides of the records every 20 minutes is the perfect ergonomic break to help spare my wrists.
3. In the same blog item, you wrote of Berkeley’s “mania for insight,” as compared to Oakland’s “history of tough-mindedness.” As a novelist, are you working in the Berkeley mode or in the Oakland mode?
I live right on the border between the two … and so I’m walking that line.
4. Many of your books have been made into movies, and the soundtracks seem integral to the stories: Paul Westerberg, Ryan Adams, and Iron & Wine appear on Mysteries of Pittsburgh; Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Neil Young on Wonder Boys. How much input have you had on song selection, and what music would be on a soundtrack of Telegraph Avenue?
I have had no input at all, but the music supervisors for Hollywood films tend to be unsung geniuses, in my opinion.
The soundtrack I’ve been working on is weighted very heavily toward the output of CTI Records during its great 1970s heyday.
5. Do you listen to music when you write? And if so, what do you find is conducive to creativity and productivity?
Yes, I do, constantly. It must be instrumental, propulsive, and dynamically steady (i.e., no loud-quiet-loud variation).