06/19/2013 04:51 pm ET Updated Aug 19, 2013

Stochasticism, Ambition and John Cage: A Discussion With Rick Moody

Rick Moody was born in New York City. He is an author, lecturer, musician, and columnist, his most recent novel, Four Fingers of Death. He will be guest-lecturing this summer at The Johns Hopkins University and will be the featured reader for Eckleburg's Rue de Fleurus Salon held June 27th, at Johns Hopkins. The below discussion took place in the Spring of 2013 over several weeks.

RAE BRYANT: Thank you for taking time to discuss your writing, music and most recent intermedia project, John Cage and the Question of Genre. Your schedule is a full one. That's quite a list of books, awards, publications, teaching credentials.... Would you give it all up to sing with David Bowie?

RICK MOODY: Well, uh, just looking at that bio makes me glaze over a little bit. I admire David Bowie greatly, but I actually have exactly the relationship with David Bowie that best suits me: I met him twice. Recently, he gave me 42 words about an album he recorded, and I wrote an essay about it. That is plenty! I like singing in tiny rooms where you barely need a microphone. I am best when sitting on a couch. So there is no need at all to sing with David Bowie. But, as I say, I admire him.

RB: You admire John Cage, too, apparently. How did your Third Coast Festival collaboration, John Cage and the Question of Genre, with Chris Abrahams and Sherre Delys, come to happen? You first delivered this as the Duncan Phillips Lecture at the Phillips Collection International Forum in Washington D.C., correct?

RM: All correct. Chris (who is a musician I admire tremendously--one must hear his band The Necks) and Sherre and I collaborated on a radio play eons ago. And Sherre (who's Chris's partner, and a very extraordinary sound artist) and I worked on a few radio pieces together long ago. I was approached by a certain podcast to contribute something, and so I asked Sherre and Chris if they wanted to work on it with me. They did all the heavy lifting. It was a very delightful collaboration. With lots of theoretical discussion undergirding it. Now we're trying to get another radio play off the ground. I've had one in mind for a few years, but it's maybe too ambitious. Which is often my problem.

RB: And Cageian. In John Cage and the Question of Genre, you speak of the "stochastic" and "a campus on which projecting can take place," which has a similar ring to Cage's "imaginary beauty." A seemingly 'roll with it' and reflective process. Is this a life philosophy?

RM: I suppose I take very seriously Cage's notion that "Ideas are one thing and what happens another," as you cite it above, and with that in mind I feel some terror at appearing to have complete control of the material at hand--Cage, my essay about Cage, my audio refraction of my essay about Cage. "Roll with it" is good as an analogy but colloquial in a way that doesn't fully suggest the relief that comes from letting go of the teleology of "well made" literature. The Cage essay that I wrote first ("John Cage and the Question of Genre") was structured by using, which, I should say, was a new technique for me (last time I randomly structured a piece I actually used pieces of paper and a hat). And the essay was structured according to chance precisely in order to thwart a teleological approach. I don't have an argument about John Cage and genre, I simply constructed a series of vignettes. This seems to me more than adequate, and consistent with the work of the artist in question. My essay was about flows and probabilities. It was not a rhetorical bludgeoning, which I feel so often from literature of the mainstream these days.

RB: If you had to--gun to head, saving the world, superhero sort of thing--would you rather French kiss Richard Meltzer or sing with Taylor Swift?

RM: Richard Meltzer. Hands down.

RB: Thanks so much for your time and discussion. A pleasure. And so is John Cage and the Question of Genre. Could you leave us with a few upcoming projects?

RM: Well, I am working on a new novel, kind of slowly, because of parenting and my recent divorce, and because of lots and lots of teaching. I hope to finish the draft this year. Right now it is called: ★★½. (I like the idea that it will be very difficult for people to type out the title. But I am also sure that no professional colleague of mine will think this title is anything but rash.) I have another novel going as well, but it's on the back burner for the moment. That one is half done. There is a collection of stories basically done (entitled "Stories With Advice"), which may come out at some point. I could already publish another volume of musical essays just with what I have online at The Rumpus. I want to write a full-length piece of music criticism about a certain album I am interested in (not giving it away yet). And I have an idea for a play (based on a passage in Dante's Inferno), a radio play (see above), and an album's worth of new songs, that is, a second solo album, maybe. The process-oriented "presidential poems," I need to work on them (I am just finishing the Obama sequence now). And who knows what else? Maybe I'll get back to work on the community choir project? Or the screenplay about Elliott Smith?

This was originally published in the Dr. TJ Eckleburg Review.