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Every time I speak to Peter Kuper, the conversation invariably turns to New York — or, as is often the case, begins there. It’s my own fault. I’ve got this insatiable need to ask fellow residents, artists in particular, what keeps them in the city’s orbit. Kuper is a particularly interesting case study, having left the city — and country — in 2006, for a life in Mexico.
It was, as one might, expect, a multifaceted decision to move his entire family down to Oaxaca, in part an attempt to expose his daughter to another language and culture — and certainly leaving the country at the height of George W. Bush’s second term was seen as a net positive for the oft political cartoonist. A few years later, the Kupers found themselves back in New York, but the experience generated, amongst other things, the lovely Diario De Oaxaca, a sketchbook diary chronicling Kuper’s time in Mexico, immersed himself in the area’s stunning counter-cultural murals.
More recently, Kuper returned to the book’s publisher, PM Press, in hopes of helping to anthologize World War 3 Illustrated, the progressive comics anthology he co-founded with fellow New York cartoonist, Seth Tobocman. The process was a touch more complicated, and when we sat down to speak at the MoCCA Arts Festival back in April, the duo had recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Even outside the long-running anthology, Kuper’s career has long been both fascinating and diverse, from multiple Kafka adaptations and his 2007 semi-autobiographical Stop Forgetting To Remember to an on-going stint as Mad Magazine’s Spy Versus Spy artist. So, you know, plenty to talk about.
When we sat down in the East Village tenement apartment Hell has occupied since 1975, the conversation turned turned to writing. His aforementioned memoir pretty well covers the years beginning with his birth up through the end of his music career, and as Hell made pretty clear early on in our conversation, he’s not particularly found of being asked the same question twice.
Between last year’s I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp and all that goes on between the iconic red and white covers of Please Kill Me, there’s seemingly little about Richard Hell’s relatively short music making career that hasn’t been written.
Save for an outing with members of Sonic Youth under the banner Dim Stars, the man who played such an instrumental role in defining the aesthetics and voice of New York City punk had largely retired from the music game by the mid-80s.
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It’s a tough proposition when speaking to an artist who’s been in and out of the public eye since the mid-70s, and it’s no doubt at least part of the reason Hell seemed to balk at my initial interview request. With his latest book having just been released in paperback, however, Hell agreed to sit down and discuss his career as a writer, from his early days in poetry to the novels Go Now and Godlike and his 2013 autobiography.
Where does one go after the fake Zach Galifianakis talk show they produce books the leader of the free world? If you’re Scott Aukerman, you sit down on a gold-painted couch in the lobby of a swanky New York hotel to discuss such things with a Boing Boing podcast.
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From Between Two Ferns, we move on to the other fake talk show in Aukerman’s life, Comedy Bang! Bang!, which recently kicked off an excellent third season on IFC. We discuss how the ubiquitous format manages to offer the perfect springboard for cutting-edge comedy. And, of course, it wouldn’t be an RiYL Scott Aukerman interview if we didn’t discussing at least one of the projects that never made it.
This time out, it’s Privates, an NBC pilot about a family of detectives co-written with fellow Mr. Show alum B.J. Porter. As always, Aukerman imparts some life lessons — namely what to do when something you’ve poured your heart and soul into fails to break through, including some sage wisdom passed down to him by Louis CK.
After our interview, Ray Wylie Hubbard and I grab some coffee across the street. He asks me what new bands I’m listening to, and I rattle off a couple — for whatever reason, it’s always a tough question to answer on the spot. Hubbard’s already got his answer locked and loaded, of course: The Bright Light Social Hour. He tells me to go on YouTube and check out the song “Detroit,” the same instructions he’ll give the audience at City Winery when he takes the stage in 90 minutes.
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I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into when first walked backstage to meet Hubbard, the 67-year-old outlaw country survivor. An elder statesman of the same scene that produced the likes of Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt — one of the few who’d lived to tell the tales. What I found was a man who was more than willing to relate some of those gems, many still fresh in his mind as he puts the finishing touches on an autobiography due out next year.
The man who, most famously, penned “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” has always been a storyteller, a trait he’s been putting to good use as of late, creating some of the best music of his long career over the past two decades. And thankfully, the way he tells it, he won’t be slowing down any time in the near future.
There’s something slightly surreal in reading a book, knowing the final chapters will dovetail with your own life, if only slightly. By the end of Marc Spitz’s new memoir Poseur, the rock writer found his way into the masthead at SPIN Magazine, and for a few months during his reign as senior writer, I found myself there as well, albeit as lowly intern who’d moved across the country with dreams of one leveraging his love of the written word into New York City rent money.
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Sarah “Ultragrrrl” Lewitinn plays a major role in those final chapters, first as a coworker and then as a partner in crime. When I arrived at the magazine, hers was a rare friendly face in amongst grizzled rock journalism veterans navigating an anemic industry, inviting us plucky little interns to rock shows and club nights, once sneaking me into a Jarvis Cocker DJ set at her weekly brit-pop night.
By the time I got to New York, Ultragrrrl was everywhere, breaking bands like The Killers, managing groups like My Chemical Romance and appearing on the cover of The Village Voice in full ironic martyr mode, a Photoshopped shot of Lewitinn chained to stake as flames lapped at her designer dress.
Finishing Spitz’s book, I shot her an email, proposing an opportunity to catch up on mic after a decade or so, and Ultragrrrl jumped at the chance, inviting me over to the East Village apartment building where she’s resided for the last dozen or so years.