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Lessons learned

October 23, 2009

Separate from my review below, I’d like to discuss how Kim Cooper’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea informs my research process going forward.

As should be obvious, Cooper’s goal was different than what mine is: she sought to write a 100(-or-so)-page book about one album in particular (and provided context by talking about the Elephant Six stuff that led to it and came from it), while I want to write a book with whatever page length necessary to talk about all of that context she sort of glossed over (using that one particular album as a narrative touchstone). Simply, my scope is much broader than hers was.

Still, while I do think her book was more good than bad, it offers a lot of warning of what not to do.

Most salient is her interview process. In general, she didn’t talk to enough people, and she didn’t talk to people enough. Specifically, of the four biggest E6 players, she only spoke to one on the record (Robert Schneider), and she gave more play to Lance Bangs (whose relation to the topic could be described as peripheral at best) than pretty much anyone else. The glaring omission is Jeff Mangum himself, whose absence casts a funereal haze on the whole book.

As I’ve said before, I intend to interview a whole lot of people. This includes the periphery — people like Bangs, as well as fans, music critics, other musicians, music industry folks, et al — as well as E6 bigwigs. This means, in addition to probably dozens of other people: Robert Schneider, Bill Doss, Will Hart, and yes, Jeff Mangum.

Just as important as whom I interview is how I interview them. This is why I’m moving to Athens in the first place. In all likelihood, I could slap together a few phone interviews and put together a fairly compelling book, but to get to the depth I want, I will need to do a lot of interviews (and follow-up interviews), many of them in person. I will need to have a lot of background information going in. Most importantly, I will need trust. This takes time and work and a lot of other intangible little things I won’t even know about until they happen.

Slightly unrelated: I’ve also heard back about the inaccuracy claims, but for now that stuff is all off the record. Sorry.

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