JUST BECAUSE THIS PUNK ROCK PUBLISHER IS NOW TRYING HIS HAND AT CARPENTRY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DESERT DOESN'T MEAN HE'S OUT OF THE POLITICAL REALM. QUITE THE OPPOSITE, IN FACT. AND THE WORD AROUND THE CAMPFIRE IS THAT HE IS READY TO MAKE A COMEBACK TO THE WORLD OF D.I.Y. PUBLISHING WITH HIS NEW VENTURE, DRENCH KISS. OUR VERY OWN D.I.Y. EDITOR/PUBLISHER, INSANE WAYNE CHINSANG, SAT DOWN WITH THE MAN KNOWN AS SANDER HICKS TO DISCUSS FORTUNATE SON AND JAMES HATFIELD, DUBYA AND GANDHI, AND A SIGN FROM THE HEAVENS.
Wayne: Start by telling me how you got involved in political and societal issues.
Sander: Well, I was conceived on a ship coming back from Africa. My parents were finishing a mission for the State Department. I was conceived on a wild night of passion between those two after their mission in Ghana. Right after Kwame Nkrumah, the Marxist, was deposed. They were a part of the capitalist clean-up crew. (laughs)
S: So my parentsí impression of Communism was the Soviets shipping Nkrumah bulldozers with heaters in them to sub-Saharan Africa. That, of course, ruined their impression of Marxism terribly. I grew up in the D.C. suburbs. My father got a job with World Bank and was there for 30 years, until just recently. So, although I donít endorse the State Department nor The World Bank, politics are sort of in my blood. This is one of the weird details of my life, but there was somebody my parents met in Africa who went on to work for the CIA. And he is this really interesting character who is a life-long statistician for the CIA, but he also has this odd and eccentric collection of radical propaganda. So when I was getting involved in peace and social justice issues and saw a book review of Anarchist Portraits by Paul Avrich, I mentioned it to him, and he gave it to me for my graduation gift. He also gave me a book by Robert Heilbroner called The Worldly Philosophers, which is more of an overview of Marxists and pre-Marx Socialist economics. So, in a lot of ways, that guy was instrumental in radicalizing me. But really what was more instrumental was the D.C. punk scene, which has politics running through its lifeís blood.
W: So how did all of that pave the way for Soft Skull Press? I know you started it up in Ď92 while working at Kinkoís, but how did all of that lead into the publishing world?
S: Ah,.. kind of sideways. From Ď92 to Ď96 it wasnít even a corporation. It was just a little project. It was just a product of working at Kinkoís, and not being able to get a job in mainstream publishing. Kinkoís was this great social network in a lot of ways, because I met people like John S. Hall from King Missile, Roger Manning-- who, at the time, was a pretty well-known radical folk singer-- and David Byrne. They all would come into the shop.
S: Yeah, it was great. So, in some ways it was a hell job because it was a swirl of stress; the wages were lousy and the work was insane. But there werenít seven Kinkoís in downtown New York. It is the only one in downtown New York, so everybody was coming in there. So, really it was this pressure cooker, and something had to happen. I really wanted to get a job that used my full potential, but capitalism was just not providing that with the baby boomers clogging up the job market. One thing led to another, then I met Stuart Bagwell-- who is a name to remember because he figures into the Drench Kiss story-- who was my boss at the time, but we became friends. He is also kind of a lefty guy who got into business. Heís also a guy that, when somebody said this should be incorporated, he would take the project from a guerrilla under-the-table project and turn it into a corporation. One day I turned around, and he said, ďI incorporated you. I had my lawyer do it. You owe me $300.Ē (laughs) And I was like, ďOh shit. Wow!Ē And from there we got investors, and it just became this company.
W: So, in the beginning you were putting out stuff like Upski Wimsattís Bomb The Suburbs. And I know that when St. Martinís dropped Fortunate Son, that you guys ended up picking that up. But how did you hook up with the author, (James) Hatfield, and how did that deal come about?
S: A big factor that people donít talk about is that it wasnít just moxie or gumption. It was the ability to raise $15,000 in 48 hours. I had raised money for Soft Skull, but I just got lucky, really. I happened to have a relative, who was actually a Republican, ironically enough, but she got it, and she was supportive of my entrepreneurship. She had already invested some money into the company, and then I got her to invest a little bit more, and then she was like, ďThis is it.Ē (laughs) I was like, ďThatís fine! Just do this, and I know that the company is going to be a rousing success because this book is controversial.Ē I had the P.T. Barnum formula in my head, that controversy sells. Of course, that didnít necessarily pan out, because P.T. Barnum is a model thatís 100 years old.
W: So, how did you end up meeting James?
S: Jim Hatfield?
S: James Howard Hatfield?
S: Well, I didnít meet him until probably six months after we signed the book; it was mostly email and phone conversations. I just got this phone call one night at Soft Skull, and he was like, ďSander? This is Jim.Ē He called me, and he was pretty grateful that we were saving the book.
W: So, when Soft Skull picked it up, were you the one to pursue it, or did they come to you?
S: No. I picked up the phone and called his agent, Richard Curtis. I said, ďMaybe youíve never heard of us, but The Village Voice recently did a piece called ĎThe Punks of Publishingí, and Iím one of the punks.Ē
S: (laughs) And he was like, ďThatís good. Iím looking for a punk.Ē (laughs)
S: He had this funny, smooth voice. But he got it. Everything just fell into place. It almost felt like providence; like nobody else existed that wanted to do it, and we did want to do it. So, everything just kind of fell into place. The money fell into place; the contacts fell into place. Now, the distributor, at first, was reservedly enthusiastic. They were like, ďWe understand that you are super enthusiastic for this, and this is what itís gonna take if you really want to rush this through.Ē And another thing that fell into place was that the deadline for the catalog for that season was a day away. So, we ordered an extra full-page in the catalog. A couple weeks later, I was at a sales conference in front of 30 sales people, and I was deliberately trying to-- (long pause) Yo! You alright? Alright, good. (TO WAYNE) Sorry. I just wanted to make sure that pick-up truck didnít hit my bike. (laughs)
S: (laughs) Itís cool. Anyway, so, at that sales conference, I had a list of titles that we already had planned, so I presented those first. But at the end I said, ďOkay. Hereís the big news. This is the big title.Ē So the distributor, almost overnight, got 30,000 advance orders for it. Which, of course, then gave us collateral to fund the printing costs. This is how you do something like this for a measly $15,000. We didnít have the $30,000 in the bank to be able to print 45,000 units, to satisfy the 30,000+ advance orders we had taken. The distributor at the time was willing to lend us money. So we did that. First they said, ďSee if you can raise the money.Ē So we tried it, and then came back to them and said, ďNo, we canít.Ē So they said, ďWeíll sell you the money at 10% interest.Ē And I was like, ďGreat!Ē
S: (laughs) Exactly. ďYeah yeah yeah yeah yeah! Great! Itís all coming together!Ē And thatís when things stopped going well. Thatís when we had books in print, thatís when we got sued, right around that time is when 60 Minutes made it clear that the corporate media was not going to understand the Soft Skull vision, but rather take a very bourgeois, prim, and defensive posture and say, ďThere is nothing worth reading in this book because of what we have been told about the author.Ē Which is a false, non-factual position based on a manufactured public opinion about Jim Hatfield that assumes to be self-evident without having to read the book. The producer of 60 Minutes who did this hatchet job on Jim never read the book. In fact, he got defensive and said, ďWe didnít have time. Thereís a lot of pressure here with all the producers of 60 Minutes.Ē So their piece ended up being slanderous.
W: And I read also that they were trying to push for an interview with Bush.
S: Yeah. Thatís correct. Thatís a good point. They were gunning to try to get ďtheĒ interview with Bush, but they never got it. 60 Minutes II got it. But I never saw that interview.
W: All for nothing.
S: You know, another little known fact, Wayne, that nobody knows is that I am acquainted with Alex Pelosi, who is the daughter of Nancy Pelosi-- the House minority whip from California. And Alex Pelosi is actually a former executive at NBC, who was on the campaign trail as an NBC media link to Bush. And she claims to have been sitting with Bush in his hotel room-- like, sitting on his bed or something-- when 60 Minutes was broadcast. So, you should call her up and find out what Bushís reaction was to watching us get fucked with a stick on CBS. (laughs)
S: Iíd love to hear what he thought about it, because they really made Jim look like a sclemeel.
W: Thatís sad. I read as much as I could on it, and it just sounded like a total hatchet job. So, I read the diaries you wrote after Hatfieldís death, and you come to the conclusion that he probably did in fact take his own life.
W: But, regardless of how it was even done, how did that subsequently affect you, and how did it result in you leaving Soft Skull?
S: Jimís death was one of five major factors that made me realize a leave of absence was timely. It wasnít a sole factor. Other factors were that the superintendent gig that I had for five years in New York came to an end. Also, there were people at Soft Skull on the board of directors that were eager to institute much more rigorous financial control over it. You know, my game plan was that Fortunate Son was going to save everything, but that turned out to be wrong. So, these guys on the board of directors wanted to take their turn at the helm. It became obvious that it was time to give them a shot. There was also this indie-rock love obsession story that went horribly wrong in my own life that made me doubt the efficacy of love in New York. So that was a personal factor that made me want to get the hell out of Dodge for a while.
W: And now youíre out in the desert?
S: (laughs) Yes. Iím in the Taos Valley, which is the high desert. Itís beautiful here. Itís not like Phoenix. Phoenix is insanely hot and arid. But Iím looking at trees right now. If people take care of them, you can have trees out here. But, for the most part itís sagebrush and what people call ďgoat headsĒ, which are crazy plants that stick to your socks. They have these little burrs. I tend to tell people that Iím in the desert because I donít want people to know exactly where I am. Iím kind of off the grid. Nobody out here has an address. They all have post office boxes. So itís cool, because nobody could find me if they wanted to find me. And itís my ex-girlfriendís post office box anyway, so...
W: (laughs) Did you end up getting the papers?
S: Yeah, I did. I liked them.
S: When I saw you had an interview with MC Paul Barman I was like, ďThis is cool.Ē
W: Great. So, youíre doing carpentry out there?
S: Yeah. Thatís something I got better at on Long Island. Before I came out here I was in Long Island for a couple years, and I went from being a super to wanting to be somebody who had serious blue-collar skills. So I learned how to do dry wall, framing, and some trim carpentry. Itís kind of cool. Like, right now Iím at the south side coffee shop. Thereís no corporate stuff out here. In Taos, there is no Starbucks. They have their own little coffee shops. And I was hanging out here when the place got renovated, so I ended up redesigning the store for them. I redesigned the interior, and really wanted to open up the space. So now people come in and say, ďGreat new floor!Ē So itís good to have these blue-collar skills, because now Iím friends with the copy shop people, and itís where all of the information and technology is. Things are good in Taos.
W: So do you see yourself staying there for awhile?
S: No. (laughs)
W: (laughs) Itís so good you have to leave.
S: Yeah. Itís good, but at the same time I want a place where itís not a huge hassle to get DSL. I had a great experience in L.A., so Iím thinking about taking the company there. Iím going to know more about this on Thursday, but there is this young guy that might be our first Angel Investor. The Drench Kiss plan is in the hands of a couple of other larger investors.
W: Letís skip to that since you brought it up. So how did the idea for Drench Kiss come up, and how will it be different from Soft Skull?
S: Well, Iíve been really seriously thinking about going to graduate school for philosophy. And thereís a political philosophy program at Princeton that Iíve been thinking about applying to, but then I suddenly got this phone call from an old investor at Soft Skull. I just casually emailed her a rough one paragraph description of Drench Kiss. The inspiration is to wage the final information war to get Bush out of office. So, she said, ďIíve got your money.Ē Itís a shame if this doesnít come together, because now this thing is incorporated based on these promises. Iím optimistic that it will come together, but I donít count my chickens anymore. It was kind of wild, because I had just had this long day of working carpentry, and the boss is this Buddhist Hindu guy who loves to smoke California hash. (laughs)
S: He loves to give you hash, and he got us so high on this incredible California hash. So Iím out looking at this used Volvo with my friend Balthazar. And I get this phone call, and she says this stuff, and my mind is completely blown. Instead of having to hustle for funds for Soft Skull, it looks like Drench Kiss is blessed by the time-space continuum; the mathematics of God loves the Drench Kiss. And it really has been quite amazing in other respects, too, with larger investors showing an interest. So, who knows? This thing could get really big. At the minimum, I want to get an investment of something in the low five-figures to get it off the ground.
W: So if anybody reading this wants to send you money, where should they send it? The desert or L.A.?
S: (laughs) They can just contact me through sanderhicks.com and get a copy of the business plan.
W: I donít think any of our readers have cash anyway.
S: (laughs) Youíd be surprised. Even rich kids want to be cool. So theyíll read a cool magazine and try and be cool that way.
W: And hopefully spend their parents' money on it. So, are you still in touch with the Soft Skull kids? Do you have any hand in it at all, or has it all fallen by the wayside?
S: They kind of have this attitude-- Iíve heard second-hand-- by which theyíre struggling to banish the aura of el Sandero. (laughs) Theyíre sick of people assuming that itís Sander Hicksí company. Thereís been some antagonism, and Iíve been kind of mystified by it. Because I feel that antagonism between friends and comrades is the last thing that I support or engender. So, to make a long story short, Iíve pitched them a couple of books over the past couple years, and the current publisher has consistently passed on them for a number of different reasons-- some of which I disagreed with so much that I was quizzical.
W: Huh. Thatís kind of weird.
S: Well, Iím biting my tongue right now. Itís bamboozled me for awhile now, because Iím the guy that acquired the book that hit the L.A. Times best seller, Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon. And Iím the guy that got us the book on the history of D.C. punk, which was on The Washington Post best seller list. And Iím the guy that did Fortunate Son. So, from a business strategy point of view, are they striking the right balance between ego and strategy? And I feel comfortable about asking that question in public, because there has been some criticisms about my performance in the past in certain media outlets. (laughs)
S: So thatís all I want to say, and I think Iíve said it in a civil way.
W: Okay. With some of the interviews youíve conducted-- like with GOP advisor David Horowitz, or with D.C. lawyer Richard Ben-Veniste-- Iíve noticed that you obviously get people riled up--
S: (laughs) Yeah. Iím glad you asked this, because I thought you were going to ask about interviews Iíve done with other media. Itís funny, the pattern between those two interviews.
S: Even though one is, technically, a high-power Democrat, and the other is a high-power Republican political consultant. But they both acted the same way. They both had that tight, anal, bourgeois paranoia.
W: They were completely similar. The question is, first, do you like getting people riled up?
S: Oh yeah. Sure. Especially right-wing bastards. (laughs)
W: (laughs) And, two, personally, I think that is more telling about the individual. Do you think so?
S: Yeah. Itís like, what are they trying to hide? What will they not address? What are they being inherently dishonest about? Especially with David Horowitz. I did a bunch of background research on him. I read his 500 page memoir called Radical Son. Itís about him making the trip from left-wing student radical to being a right-wing Republican darling. Heís the guy that invented the term ďcompassionate conservatismĒ.
W: How did you even convince him to do the interview?
S: Well, I read his book and then emailed him. I told him that I, too, had been kicked out of Socialist organizations and that people had said that maybe I am the modern incarnation of him. I told him that I felt similar to him in that way. I think it was somewhat true; I donít think I was being completely disingenuous. And he must have done some research on me, because the first question he asked me back was, ďAre you still a supporter of Mumia Abu-Jamal?Ē So I wrote him back and said, ďLook at the scientific data on that. Itís pretty obvious that he didnít kill Daniel Faulkner. From an objective point of view, canít you see that this guy did not get a free trial? The kangaroo court shackled and gagged him in court in Philly.Ē So then we ended up just going back and forth through email, like ten times, about Mumia. And, you know, Iíve been targeted by right-wing groups and the Fraternal Order of Police. They called for a boycott on Soft Skull because of my support for this political prisoner in Pennsylvania. So this was something that I knew my shit about. So when we went back and forth, I think that gave him a sense that I was not the contemporary David Horowitz. I was not becoming a right-wing strategist just because I had been kicked out of the ISO (International Socialist Organization). But I was able to connect with him, because I had also been kicked out of the ISO. That was enough of a bond, so we got the interview. You can tell from the text of the interview that the first thing I say is, ďI think I should turn on the tape now and get this on the record.Ē Because at first it was off the record and we were just talking about stuff. But he really did not make the transition very well to talking to a reporter on the record. It just felt informal. I think he thought Iíd like him more if he cussed more, but I think it really made him look uncouth. He came across as heartless as his ideology is.
W: When I read it, I remember thinking the swearing seemed out of place. It surprised me that he was talking that way, and toward the middle I totally got the feeling that he was just an old guy trying desperately to be hip.
S: Yeah! Right! He thought he was Charles Bukowski. (laughs)
W: (laughs) And it came across as if he was talking down to you, because it seemed like he was trying to talk to you in a way that he thought you would understand.
W: But it just translated into him looking like an idiot.
S: Yeah. He thought being punk was cussing a lot and being full of hate. (laughs)
S: But punk is about cussing a lot and being full of love. (laughs)
W: (laughs) Alright, so when is the first time in all of this-- in all that youíve done-- that you stopped and realized that you were stirring shit up and that people were paying attention and listening?
S: Well, certain things have happened recently that made me think that. Like, when the INN Report-- the Dish Networkís little show in prime time on Free Speech TV-- when they called me up and said, ďWe want to interview you on-air about Horns & Halos, and then weíd also like to work with you and make you part of the team,Ē that was big. So, right before I left New York I did three interviews. That was a great opportunity. I had done some public access TV, but this was a step-up with Dish Network TV. And itís kind of great to have these lefty media people say, ďYouíre in. Youíre a part of the club. This is what weíre doing, and you can be a part of it.Ē And they even paid me a little bit, too, which was nice. So that was something that was nice to be able to do. Like, to be able to show up at the 9/11 hearings in a suit with a good haircut, be clean shaven, and shake Richard Ben-Venisteís hand and say, ďIím with Free Speech TV. We do a prime time news show, and Iíd like to have you on my show to talk about the 9/11 commission.Ē And because of the superficial judgements of what he saw in my appearance, he assumed that Free Speech TV was some sort of libertarian civil liberties channel, so he agreed to do the interview. And I got to ask him some hard questions about 9/11, and he could not answer them. So that showed us a lot about what the 9/11 commission was all about. If I ever go back to New York and heís available, Iíd love to have him back on the program. Because, if youíve been following the headlines you know that the 9/11 commission has recently been locking horns publicly with Bush. Theyíve been saying, ďYouíve redacted and cited executive privilege on the famous August 6th, 2001 memo. You wonít show us this memo that is the smoking gun that says that you were probably warned explicitly about 9/11, and you did nothing.Ē So it would be really interesting to see if Ben-Veniste gets it now-- to see if he understands why I did confront him with some hard questions about the Bush/Bin Laden connection, or about Mohamed Attaís erratic behavior in Venice, Florida.
W: Yeah. I had never heard that stuff about Atta before. Like about the cocaine and all the partying.
S: Oh yeah. Itís a subject that could be a book for Drench Kiss. Itís the kind of thing that could really destabilize all of the publicly available information about 9/11. Iím in touch with a guy that is doing some interesting research on this very topic.
W: Were you in New York on September 11th?
S: This is going to sound really creepy. And I think it also hearkens back to what I was saying about the mathematics of the universe; how there is some sort of higher intelligence that we canít even begin to describe out there in the fourth dimension. Yours truly left New York City on September 10th, 2001. Eight hours before it happened, I was returning the rental truck to the city, and I took the train back to Long Island. I was reading a book by James Carville and Mary Matalin about the Ď92 campaign, when my aunt came into the backyard and said that a terrible tragedy had happened.
W: Wow. You got out just in time.
S: Yeah. I know. Itís almost unexplainable. But if you believe in God, God is merciful and protective.
W: Okay, so youíve obviously got your hand in a lot of different projects: INN, White Collar Crime, and now Drench Kiss. Have you always been a multi-tasker, and whatís your favorite thing to do?
S: (laughs) Yeah. Even in high school, I was playing varsity lacrosse my sophomore year, even though I was also a complete musician geek. I was in wind ensemble, because we had a great band program in high school. From an early age I wanted to do as much as possible. But Iíve been told by different teachers and advisors throughout the years that itís good to be a renaissance man or woman.
W: Do you think that all of the things you do are all very different, or are they all very related?
S: I think theyíre all very related, actually. And I think they inform each other, too. I think even working at Kinkoís-- at the time it seemed like a very degrading job, but it really taught me how to work in a lot of ways. It taught me some discipline, and itís kind of what I needed in life. So, seven years at Kinkoís, I feel its effects even now. Now, White Collar Crime is kind of in hiatus. Iím not even sure if the band is broken up or not; itís more or less in cold storage. And the INN Report thing is cool. They gave me a camera when I came out here. And there is a whole bunch of TV that Iíd like to do if I get back to New York. But thatís going to have to wait until-- if and when-- I get back there.
W: So, how do you think the vibe in L.A. will be once you get out there? Do you feel like youíll fit in out there?
S: Yeah. I wasnít really thinking about moving to L.A. at first; I was thinking about moving to San Francisco. But then I went to L.A. and spent this long weekend there promoting Horns & Halos, and I had such a great time. Originally, I was going to introduce the film on Friday night, but then I stayed for one more showing and Q & A. And after each showing, somebody would come up to me with this incredible information that they wanted to tell me. For instance, a guy came up to me with information about the JFK Jr. death that nobody else had, and he seemed like he had his head together. He wasnít just a wild-eyed speculator. So, I was trying to find out what job I was really here to do. And I was telling people, ďI have to go back to Taos because I have a carpentry job, and I have to start my classes.Ē But then it occurred to me that all of those things could be rescheduled and postponed. So I decided to stay in L.A. for a couple more days, because I was having a great time out there. And I think that was a really good decision because I kept on having these great experiences, and met people that I needed to meet. And I had a great experience on the radio, too, at KPFK with Jerry Quickley. His politics were great and radical, but at the same time he had this showmanship; like this street-wise, hip-hop vibe. He was ribald and rambunctious, so I just totally got off with him on his show. And then we went out to dinner and talked. So that was great. It was another sign or signal to me that L.A. might be the way.
W: Iíve been out to L.A. a couple times because my sister lives out there--
W: --and I didnít like it the first couple times. But the more I go out there, the more I like it. Iíve been lucky enough to meet a lot of really cool people that are really down to Earth. I think once you get past the plastic aspect of it, itís great.
S: Yeah. The plastic aspect of it could be interesting if you get used to it. Some people say that itís so empty or superficial, but the difference between New York and L.A. is that in New York, everything looks so damn real on the surface, but then youíre not really sure where reality is underneath, so you have to probe it. But in L.A., it seems to be that you know where reality is, and itís not necessarily what you see on the surface; reality is behind a veneer that is admittedly plastic.
W: Yeah. I like L.A., and Iím thinking about moving there.
S: Thatís what I hear. But you just moved to Milwaukee.
W: Yeah. From Ohio. We actually started the paper in my dorm room there years ago.
S: Oh cool.
W: Yeah. So we did it at school for a year, and they werenít really down with it.
W: But they were paying for it because it was a school publication.
W: So then I left and took it with me. And we did it city-wide down there for a few years.
S: Well, I was interested to see that you had the Columbus paper who was advertising the Columbus fetish shop, or the Columbus gay bookstore. I thought it was cool that you found that market; that there was support from alternative lifestyles in Columbus, Ohio. I mean, whatís the population of Columbus, Ohio?
W: I think itís around a million, actually.
S: Is it? Wow. Thatís bigger than I thought.
W: Well, a lot of people just started moving there over the last few years because Cleveland is dying, so a lot of people were moving down from there.
S: Is it? Oh, thatís too bad.
W: Yeah. So, what does your family think about what you do? Are they scared for you?
S: They donít take me seriously enough to be scared for me. Like, if you tell them that the Black Panthers were destroyed partially by efforts of the FBI through COINTELPRO, my mom and dad will both say, ďOh, we donít believe that.Ē (laughs)
S: ďWe donít think that really happened.Ē So thatís their little world that theyíre living in.
W: But theyíve got to see you being interviewed on 60 Minutes and shit like that. That must freak them out a little bit.
S: It doesnít really freak them out. My dad is actually a life-long Democrat, so he was supportive of the Bush book. My mom wasnít supportive at first; she said she had mixed feelings about it. But itís interesting to see, politically, that both she and her sister-- who are more or less Republican in their voting habits-- both are anti-war and anti-Bush now because of the war. And her sister is still back in the working classes of northeastern Pennsylvania. And that was really interesting to see; going to Pennsylvania for a visit and talking to them about the shift in consciousness. Itís the kind of thing that Bush is going to wake up to on Election Day this upcoming year.
S: Oh, you bet, man! Visualize it. Pray for it!
W: I see it. But we talk about this shit all the time here. Even though the paper is first and foremost an entertainment and humor publication, we all have very definite political views.
S: Yeah, yeah. Your paper is a political paper, even though it is not overtly political. There is enough politics in it that makes it an intelligent read; a good and nurturing read.
W: Thanks. The only thing Iím concerned with about Bush is that heíll just get in through lying and cheating, which heís very used to. Heís done it in the past. I donít know how he can win it legally, of course, but I donít even know if thatís necessary.
S: Theyíre scared, man. Theyíre scared, and theyíre raising a lot of money. They know theyíve got to pull out the stops for this, and that theyíre up against a lot. His popularity rating is sinking, and there is going to be a huge attempt to win minorities over-- manipulated information to show minorities that they have won them over, when they really havenít. Theyíll do that kind of thing again. Heís done certain things in his policies that you can read that are blatant attempts to coerce and convince minorities to vote for him. Because he knows that as this country becomes less and less white, the whole Republican agenda becomes more and more obsolete. So, itís like, ďCheck your watch, brother.Ē (laughs)
S: Your time is running out.
W: Did you hear the whole thing about the NAACP? He met with them his first month in office, but since then theyíve requested to meet with him again over a half-dozen times, and his office wonít even return their calls.
S: Yeah. In fact, I have a CIA contact-- a CIA veteran-- who is African-American, and he mentioned the same thing to me. We were talking about something that Bush had done to win black votes, and then he said, ďBut why does he refuse to meet with the NAACP?Ē Yeah. I heard that.
W: Maybe he should release a hip-hop album.
S: (laughs) Yeah.
S: Maybe I can help him with that.
W: You can give him some phat beats.
S: Yeah. Exactly. Thereís got to be a way to,.. like, MC Fat ĎNí Dubya. Like playing off of ďfat and dumbĒ or something.
W: They can just call him ďDubbyĒ.
S: Yeah. Or ďDubĒ.
S: Prince Dubya.
W: (laughs) So, I did the interview with Brian Gage, and we were talking about how heíll get emails saying heís a Communist or anti-American. And I think a lot of that rhetoric has increased post-9/11. Have you received a lot of negative feedback because of your views?
S: You know, Iíve got to say that with the exception of emails from my mother, no. (laughs)
S: No, Iím kidding. My mom is actually more supportive of Drench Kiss than my father is. That was just a joke. But, not really. Maybe itís because of the fact that of the Soft Skull gang, Iíve been the de facto corporate one. Because Soft Skull Press didnít happen to be non-profit-- it was more just the whim of Stuart Bagwell-- it can seem, on the surface, that Iím actually pursuing the capitalist model. Of course, Iím somebody that wants to get society to go beyond capitalism and greed and fear and war. I think that in my own politics Iím evolving beyond hate as a tactic. I think that if you put out less hate, you receive less hate. I just read a mind-blowing book on Gandhi. In fact, this past weekend I just wrote 25 pages of notes of stuff I want to write about for this essay Iím planning on Gandhi. Heís really mind-blowing because heís teaching me a lot, and heís also saying a lot of the things that Iím beginning to believe on my own. Like about defining God as truth, and getting away from the post-modern constructs of, ďOh, I donít know what truth is. Truth is a master narrative created by,..." (pauses) Can you hold on one second?
[SANDER SWITCHES OVER TO ANOTHER CALL.]
S: Okay, weíre swapped back to Milwaukee.
S: Hello! ďWayne in Milwaukee, youíre next on Sports Talk!Ē (laughs)
S: (laughs) ďYeah, okay, Sander. First of all I just wanted to say that I love the show.Ē
W: ďFirst time caller, longtime listener.Ē
S: (laughs) ďWhat I really need is just someone to talk to.Ē
W: (laughs) ďIím lonely, and I just really want someone to make me dinner.Ē
S: (laughs) You know, that line, ďAll I need is someone to talk to,Ē thatís actually this great song called ďDover BeachĒ by Beefeater, which is an old D.C. punk band. And I think that my first line in my essay on Gandhi is going to be how at this Fugazi show I was at 15 years ago, this guy Thomas Squip-- who was the lead singer of Beefeater-- got up on stage and said, ďI want you all to promise me one thing. Promise me that you will go home and you will find and read a book on Gandhi.Ē And so, we all nominally vowed to do that, and it took me 15 years to do it. But I finally did it, and I wish I had done it sooner. But the idea of "truth is God" is what I wanted to touch on really briefly. It ties into what Iím doing with Drench Kiss, Wayne, because I think that one of the most radical things that people can do is to reinvent notions of God. So Iíve been doing that within my own faith as a Catholic, which is how I was raised. But Gandhi also shows us that there has to be a new attitude of tolerance across religions; that at the core of Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity are the same things: this idea that truth is God. It's the idea of speaking the truth to power the tradition of prophecy, which is something Iíve been into throughout my life, even when I was atheist for ten years. And also this notion of non-violence. Going back to hatred as a tactic, it just doesnít go anywhere. Youíre talking to somebody who has tried it. This time last year, almost to the date, I was down in D.C.--
[THUNDER CRASHES IN TAOS, COMPLETELY DROWNING SANDER OUT.]
W: You okay?
S: There it is right there! Itís a signal from the Heavens! Excellent! (laughs)
S: This is great for the interview. Anyway, this time last year I was down in D.C. at the Anti-Fascist Protest. It was almost like a scene from The Outsiders. Itís like the anarchists and Socialists as the Greasers, against the Nazi skinheads as the Socs, who are just working class kids like us. (laughs) Working class kids like us who have gone horribly astray and have been told a set of lies, and are also probably atheists in the same way that anarchists and Socialists tend to be atheist, and tend to be angry at the Judeo-Christian God. Itís not like they have a finely fleshed out philosophy of negating Godís existence. Itís just an anger at the false God theyíve been raised with. So, I actually engaged in some political violence this time last year-- I punched a Nazi skinhead. At the time, I was really proud of it. I thought it was glorious and a great victory. But, a year later, I realized what an easy victory it was, and how it was an opportunity lost. Because it didnít change the Fascists or neo-Fascists; it didnít really reach them. All it did was cause them to create an anti-Sander Hicks website. (laughs) Speaking of anti-Communist people, itís so much more specific when it comes to me. Because I donít get big emails from old men who call me a Communist. There is a website out there that had all of the pictures and contact information they could find, and theyíre deliberately trying to encourage some sort of retaliatory violence. Which in some ways is laughable, and in others ways is very scary. Because thatís what violence does. If you choose that path, youíve got to expect some retaliation. And what Gandhi would say is that itís better to suffer and attempt to convert the oppressor through that suffering. Heís not into retreating from the battle, in the political sense. Heís actually very vociferous. He says that it is indeed cowardly to run from a quarrel. What we need to do is insert ourselves into the quarrel, and not choose to strike back. He proves the effectiveness of this, and so did Martin Luther King. If you actually just stay in the fight, and bleed and die if you have to, that is the complete sacrifice. That is the thing that is beyond humanity, in some ways. That is something that points toward a new definition of God. And thatís what Jesus Christ was trying to do, and thatís what Gandhi did. He died from an assassin, as did Martin Luther King. King's assassin was not one man acting alone, but one man who, within hours, said he was working for people that were most likely connected to the U.S. government.
W: Itís a sad world that kills good people.
S: Yeah. It is. The truth is a very difficult road. And that ties in to "truth is God". The right-wing thinks that God is this thing that is the source of righteousness, but righteousness is an illusion. Itís a drug. And the old straight-edge punk rocker in me wants to say, ďThatís what Ian MacKaye was railing against when he says, ĎYou pick up a Bible, and youíre gone.íĒ You pick up blinders, and theyíre really worshipping a false God.
W: Okay, tell me about Horns & Halos and how it came about, and if you feel that it did the story justice.
S: Ah,.. (laughs) Well, I canít really speak for the filmmakers. But, I think they didnít even really know what their intent was when it started; they may agree with that or disagree, I donít know. I think, at first, they were just following me around to see if this was a story or not. And,.. (pauses) eventually figured out it was. Um,.. (pauses) I guess Iíll answer what I can answer. I like the film. Itís fair. I think itís objective. Iíd probably be the last one to fairly give you an answer about its objectivity since I was in it and am, kind of, co-creator of the story. There has been a debate about objectivity with them and the editors of Oxford American, which just published a really lousy story about Jim Hatfield. In some ways it was a good story, because it found a lot of background information on Hatfield, which is relevant. But, whatís really interesting is that the story in its draft form praised Hatfieldís book. But the editor at Oxford American chose to cut out that excerpt because it didnít jive with the one-sided view of Hatfield that they chose to present. So, in the case of Mike (Galinsky) and Suki (Hawley), they really did not engage in any of this biased slandering of Hatfield that both 60 Minutes and Oxford American and a slew of other media outlets indulged in. What was interesting was that Oxford American also publishes a sidebar that kind of accuses Mike and Suki of claiming too much objectivity in their film. And Mike articulately defended himself by saying, ďWe claimed objectivity-- not a pure objectivity-- but in the context of most people expecting this to be an anti-Bush film, or a pro-Soft Skull Press film. In the pure sense, we were out to show both sides of Hicks and Hatfield, the book, and the entire experience.Ē The film is good because it has a totality to it, and nobody comes across as heroic without showing some flaws as well. So, itís a human film. Itís real. And it shows how superior documentaries can be to right-wing, militaristic Hollywood fluff.
W: Okay. The last question I have for you has nothing to do with anything weíve just talked about for the last hour--
S: Yes. Dogs have lips.
W: Thank you.
S: Because Iíve kissed many a dog when I was between girlfriends. (laughs)
W: Aww. (laughs)
S: I realized this question was coming because Iíve read four issues of the magazine. But how could people not say dogs have lips?
W: Thatís what Iím saying.
S: Yeah, man! Come on. You know, donít deny the humanity of dogs. (laughs)
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