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Solid forms dissolve

October 21, 2008

As I mentioned in my last post, I didn’t end up interviewing anyone on Saturday night, at least not on the record. Instead, I introduced myself to a few folks I had already spoken with via e-mail and telephone and gave my book pitch to a few more I had never met (one or two of whom had already heard a little about me and my idea, which was rather promising).

Anyway, each one basically went like this: I introduced myself, thanked the person for the great show, and then told him my book idea and asked if I had their blessing. In all cases but one, I was met with approval and sometimes even legitimate excitement, at which point I asked for an e-mail address to set up some level of correspondence in the future. I don’t mind doing actual interviews over the phone, and as this has progressed it seems like that will be a common thing, but making live, personal contact with at least a few of these people is really important. The most important thing for me to do right now is to build trust, and meeting up in person goes a long way in that regard.

One meeting, however, was a bit different.

From the moment I saw Jeff Mangum walking around outside before the show began, I thought about what I might say to him if I had the chance to meet him. Honestly, it’s something that I’ve had on the back of my mind since pretty much the first time I listened to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to come up with much beyond “Thank you. I’m not sure there’s anything I could say to you that a million other people haven’t said already, but I really wanted to say ‘Thanks,’ for tonight and for so much of what you’ve done. You’ve been a huge inspiration for me.”

Knowing full well that he must get this all the time, I was impressed by the cordiality Mangum showed me, smiling and thanking me genuinely for the comment. But if there’s anything else I know about him, it’s that it’s been an awful long time since he’s given any interviews, so I had no intention of asking him for any contact information or anything like that. I know I have to build trust with all of these guys, and for Mangum this is especially true.

Instead, I figured I would just let him know I was planning to write a book about the Elephant Six and see what his reaction was.

His response, paraphrased, was that he didn’t want to give me a categorical “yes” or “no” based solely on what I had told him, as both are very extreme answers and neither seemed appropriate based on how abstract and sudden my comment was. “I’m writing a book about you guys” can mean a whole lot of different things and, given the circumstances, it’s way too much for anyone to take in right away.

Not unexpectedly, Jeff Mangum puts a lot of thought into everything he says. This can be (and, in this case, was) very disarming as it forces you to think equally about what you’re saying to him, as you’re conversing and well after the fact. While I was talking to him, I totally understood where he was coming from by being noncommittal, given how little I was actually telling him, but after thinking about it for a little after the fact, I’ve come to realize just how tenuous of a plan I actually have.

Basically, I know I want to write a book about the Elephant Six Recording Company, and that’s about it. I have a loose idea of what aspects I want to cover, but as far as form and structure and thesis and topics and all that, I don’t have much. Part of this is because I don’t want to set anything in stone so early in the process, but I have to also admit that part of it is because, at this point, I haven’t given this aspect as much consideration as it requires.

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