Ask The A.V. Club - March 7, 2008
And We Were All Like Huh?
Hi! I have a question about how you edit your featured interviews. First, in what format do they generally take place? I've often assumed that they've probably recorded phone conversations. However, from transcribing interviews I've had to do for classes or projects, I know that there is no way that the interviews your post are literal transcriptions—they're missing all the "likes" and "uhs" and awkward wording that happen in normal conversation. So I guess my question is, how do you decide what your subjects really meant to say? And what's to say that the (flawed) way we naturally say things shouldn't be heard, or isn't meaningful in its own sense? Are the interviews edited in a way to simply fit the intended finished format of your site, or to make the subjects seem less pedestrian, and more intelligent?
Keith Phipps likes looking intelligent:
It's nice to get a question that doesn't require me to rack my brain for 20-year-old memories! To answer the first part first, we prefer to do our interviews in person, but because most of the writers you read on this site work out of the Midwest, that isn't always possible. Sometimes our interview subjects do some publicity here in Chicago, but even touring musicians are easier to catch during press days in New York and L.A. So we end up doing a lot of phone interviews, with the very occasional e-mail interview. (Even more rarely, two of our interviews were conducted entirely by fax machine.) And you're right, you aren't reading word-for-word transcriptions most of the time. We edit out the "likes" and "uhs" and false starts and grammatical problems with abandon. But beyond that, we don't really do any burnishing or try to make our subjects sound better than they are. This is called editing for clarity, and we employ it minimally, largely because we don't have to do more. We tend to talk to people capable of expressing themselves easily, in part because it's a professional requirement. On the few occasions I've been interviewed, I've gained a new respect for those who can do it well.
The failures usually take place on our end. Rolling Stone writer Anthony DeCurtis published a book a few years back called Rocking My Life Away that closed with a chapter called "The Naked Transcript," which contains an excerpt from a difficult interview with Peter Gabriel, in which DeCurtis attempted to draw conclusions about Gabriel's music without making much sense. We've all had those moments. I remember interviewing Robyn Hitchcock and attempting to draw out an interpretation of a song by offering my own, only to have him stop me cold and just tell me what he thought the song was about. I think I left that part in, but false starts on our part do get cut as well. So does the occasional unproductive, confusing, or uninteresting exchange. When publishing these things, we assume our readers want the meat, not the chewy fat and gristle surrounding it.
Inch By Inch, Roar By Roar
I'm trying to remember what I think was a series of stories from my middle-school years. They were tall tales (and possibly used as an example of the genre in the Adventures In Reading textbook) about a family that had incredibly rich soil on their farm. Their neighbor was always trying to cheat them out of it with outrageous bets. In one of them, they win the bet by causing crops to grow overnight by trapping lighting bugs in jars and using that to light the ground.
As children, my siblings and I received many picture books from my grandmother, a retired librarian with boxes of discarded books. Amongst The Lonely Doll and others that have been easier to locate the history of online was a book called LION! This picture book told the story of angels creating animals. They would sit at drafting boards and sketch the new animals. The protagonist is going to create lion, and his animal goes through several permeations, with feathers, a tiny body, and other divergences so amusing for little kids to see. Through most of the book, he is dead set on Lion saying "Peep peep," and only includes a ROAR once presenting to the master creator, or some such final arbiter. Without an author's name, it is just about impossible to find this thing online, as "lion" is much too generic a name, and the details are too common in other books. It was a discarded book by the early '80s when we read it, and I would guess it was published in the '50s or '60s. The illustrations were really gorgeous with great detail. I would really like to tie up this childhood loose end. Any help?
Tasha Robinson, on the other hand, likes 20-year-old memories:
These two questions had a few things in common: They were maybe a little too easy to answer, I was able to track down the answers with some determined Googling and they brought back great memories of childhood books I'd forgotten. So while I'd normally just answer Bill and Dustin privately, lest we be mocked for punting, I'm sharing their questions here so I can point people toward a couple of books I loved when I was a kid, and clearly need to go look up again.
Bill, I'm almost positive you're talking about Sid Fleischman's Josh McBroom stories, a series of tall tales starting with McBroom's Wonderful One-Acre Farm. The idea is that a rube buys 80 acres of what's supposed to be prime Iowa farmland, only to learn that those 80 acres are "stacked up on top of each other." But as a result, they're phenomenally rich and abundant, so much so that an acorn planted at noon is a shade-providing oak by 3 p.m., and nickels planted in the ground quickly grow into quarters. It's a kids' book, obviously, illustrated by the prolific Quentin Blake, perhaps best known to kids as the guy who does the weird, sketchy pictures for Roald Dahl books like The Witches, The BFG, and Matilda. Fleischman is pretty prolific himself; you'll find a list of his many kids' books at his website, including several more McBroom books that follow that first and best-known collection.
Dustin, your question was easier to answer. Yes, looking up "lion book" or elaborate word combinations like "lion book angels design feathers" etc. got me nowhere fast, given that angels and lions are both common Christian signifiers, and there are a ton of books out there about their relative symbolism. But just browsing the Chicago Public Library system for books with the title Lion narrowed the search down considerably, and as soon as I saw the book cover for William Pene du Bois' Lion (no exclamation point), I knew that was the one you were looking for. It's a 1956 book and a Caldecott Award-winner, illustrated by du Bois himself, like another popular (and childhood memory-stirring) book of his, Bear Party. I hope you guys enjoy rediscovering these books as much as I plan to.
Hoes Got To Eat Too
When I was growing up in the '70s (I was born in 1969), my mom got me an album called (I think) Here, There And Everywhere. It was a sort of folk album, with one guy and two women on the cover. The songs included "Three Little Tiddlywinks," "Snake Baked A Ho Cake," and "Whenever Hettie Has A Green Dress On." All my Googling has come to naught. I'm hoping one of your staff may have had this folkie album, too.Gillian Cornelius
Noel Murray never had the album, but he has superior Googling skills:
Gillian, if you go to the website "maraisandmiranda.com" and click on the discography, you'll find a picture of Here, There And Everywhere, a children's record the folk duo Marais & Miranda made with '70s TV personality Carol Merrill (best known as the model on Let's Make A Deal). Click on the duo's "song list," and you'll see that they recorded all the songs you mentioned. So even though the cover on that site doesn't look quite as you described, I'm betting that's your record.
As to where you can find it, well, nothing of Marais & Miranda's copious output appears to be in print at the moment, but if you're willing to haunt eBay—and pay up to a hundred bucks—you can sometimes find some of their old records on vinyl. Happy hunting!
Girls In Space!
So I'm pretty sure I caught this on the SCI FI Channel, like, 10 years ago, back when most people were still calling anime "Japanimation." The movie featured an all-female crew on a spaceship that had landed on a strange planet. One of the chicks got swallowed by a blob that produced essentially a male clone of her- and the chicks were all weirded out by it, because somehow, they'd never seen a dude before.
I don't remember much other than this, except that maybe there was a hoverbike chase scene, and the very end of the movie featured shots of present-day people going about their business, implying that this spaceship and her intrepid crew somehow formed the origin for all human life on earth.
If I were bigger into the anime scene, I'd probably already know what this movie is, but do you think you guys could give me a little help?
Tasha Robinson lives to help:
Sure thing, Sean. You're remembering 1986's Gall Force: Eternal Story, a big cosmic anime space opera that's been repeatedly sequelized, even though it effectively ended by jumping into the future all the way up to the present day. The storyline has the all-female, humanoid Solnoid race battling the buggish Paranoid race in a series of epic space battles, as the Solnoids try to establish a new home on a world called Chaos. One Solnoid ship, the Star Leaf, is damaged in battle, leaving only six crew members and a stranded pilot alive. Due to a plot between Paranoid and Solnoid leaders who are trying to end the combat by forming a "third race," one of the female Solnoids is cloned, and a male version of her is produced. Various depressing, melodramatic adventures ensue, as the crew realizes they've basically been isolated as an experiment, to see how the third race will work out. And it ends pretty much as you recall, with a leap into the modern day, when men and women wandering around on a normal afternoon on modern-day Earth are presumably the offspring and end result of one Solnoid crew member and the male clone.
The whole film is available on YouTube, though the subtitles are difficult to read and the visuals, which aren't that great to begin with, aren't particularly well-served; if you want to see it again, you're better off with the DVD box set, which packages Eternal Story with Gall Force 2 and Gall Force 3, which jump back in time to deal with a Star Leaf survivor and the ongoing Solnoid/Paranoid war, and Rhea Gall Force, which takes place in the 21st century, among reincarnated/rebooted/re-envisioned versions of the original characters. Then again, that's an awful lot of Gall Force. I watched it all back in the '80s when it was really hard to lay hand on translated anime, but even so, none of it ever impressed me much. Eternal Story at least has ambition and plot novelty on its side, but it's pretty plodding and muted, and the follow-up series feel pretty much like cookie-cutter space-opera anime.
Next week: Humanity, animality, and The Onion Movie. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.