Two weeks ago, 27-year-old New York author Tao Lin made his Toronto debut, reading from his latest novel Richard Yates at Type Books, a book in which a depressed 22-year-old named Haley Joel Osment embarks on a demoralizing relationship with a severely depressed 16-year-old met over the internet, named Dakota Fanning, reportedly modeled on his own experience. The reading was strained and clipped, with a group of local scenesters circling in on the increasingly curt Lin, who answered local writer Kyle Buckley’s questions in short, brusque sentences.
I watched Lin eat a big salad and several orders of onion rings at local vegetarian restaurant Fresh afterwards, after which, Lin agreed to meet with this reporter to conduct an interview that he suggested would be better if he ingested MDMA beforehand, given to him by a fan. Lin seemed tired from taking the Mega Bus that day but insistent that he wanted ‘something exciting to happen’ that night. Sequestered in the fan’s basement apartment on Bathurst Street, sitting on a bean bag chair, while manically Googling himself (Carles pops up on his Gmail chat, disproving the ‘Tao Lin is Hipster Runoff’ theory forever), here is Lin on his writing goals, his 60 year old gay stalker and why carbohydrates are worse for you than heroin. Please note that this is a full transcript of the Lin/Levack interview, sure to be a pivotal juncture in the enigmatic internet presence of Tao Lin, and surely one of the few where a writer has openly agreed to be interviewed on a drug commonly associated with house music.
Chandler Levack: So how are you feeling right now?
Tao Lin: Did you start? I’m just feeling it.
What – you started?
CL: Yeah, is that okay? I don’t have to include that.
TL: I’m ready. Just include anything you want.
CL: Okay. So you were talking about how lately you’ve been doing readings on drugs because it makes you feel more comfortable.
CL: Why is that?
TL: Um, actually I just think it’s just more fun. I’ve done so many readings it just seems like I need to do something to make it more fun. And it does seem…more fun.
CL: Is it more fun for you, or more fun for the people who are there?
TL: In my view it’s more fun for everyone.
CL: ‘Cause you’re less inhibited?
CL: So when you did that reading in San Francisco a few weeks ago on mushrooms…you stopped reading after two minutes.
TL: Two minutes?
CL: Yeah. Is that what happened?
TL: What reading?
CL: Oh, I don’t know…it was a few weeks ago.
TL: The Booksmith?
CL: Yeah in San Francisco.
TL: Actually I read and I felt like I wasn’t able…I was like, seeing like tribal patterns on the paper, because I was staring at the paper on mushrooms. And I felt like I was sweating or something, and I kept thinking, ‘Hunter S. Thompson.’
TL: And I felt like I couldn’t go on anymore. Like I was preparing to say, ‘I’m having a bad drug experience. I need to go home.’ And then like, leaving. So I stopped and looked up, and when I looked up I gained control again and then it was fine.
Did you see that video?
Guy on MDMA: I did. I loved it.
Guy on MDMA: It made me want to do mushrooms with you.
TL: Oh cool.
CL: What kind of people do you think like your books?
TL: People who aren’t as judgmental as the average person.
CL: Yes, because I feel like your critics don’t have the same sensibilities as what you’re writing about. Or they’re ‘too old,’ or they ‘don’t get it.’ But your readers aren’t like that.
TL: People who make less grand pronouncements about things, I think will like my writing.
CL: Right, because a lot of people feel like your writing doesn’t say what they want it to say about contemporary culture.
TL: And people who when talking to other people, would rather hear stories about the other person than like, argue about what the best book is.
CL: Do you think you are trying to say something about contemporary culture?
TL: Definitely not.
TL: No, definitely, definitely not. No. I’m just writing about human beings. Time period, culture, technology – that’s just like secondary. Or just a necessary, like something has to be there. Like the nouns. And it just happens to be like, ‘Gmail,’ or whatever. But it could be ‘horse drawn carriage.’ And I honestly feel like I would like the writing, my writing as much, if it was ‘horse drawn carriage’ or ‘Gmail.’ I would experience the exact same way. Like if I took Shoplifting from American Apparel and replaced it as Shoplifting from King George’s Castle and had the characters instead of Gmail chat using carrier pigeons…
CL: Or telegrams.
TL: Yeah and then like, instead of meeting ‘Moby’ the character meets ‘King George.’ And instead of going to a punk festival they go to a jousting match – I definitely, honestly feel like I would experience and like the book the exact same way as I experience the book now.
CL: So it doesn’t matter what the context is – the characters feel the same way, no matter what age they’re in.
TL: Um… (there is 10 second pause, as Rilo Kiley is heard from Tao Lin’s laptop) yeah. But I can’t stress that enough, that I’m not writing about contemporary culture or ‘our generation’ or whatever.
CL: But I guess when you call a book Shoplifting from American Apparel people are going to assume you’re saying something about the zeitgeist.
TL: Yeah, yeah. I think all that stuff about ‘our generation’ and stuff, it comes from like, journalism school.
CL: From you having gone to journalism school?
TL: From everyone in media having gone through journalism school. Like you learn that you must have an angle and it must be newsworthy, or you can’t write about it.
TL: That has a big part of why every single article is like ‘our generation,’ how it’s different and stuff.
CL: So you kind of see your work as a line of kind of like… Because in your new book Richard Yates…it’s all about relationships between two characters. It’s almost like Victorian or something.
TL: Yeah like Siddhartha was written in like whatever, 1920, and I like that in the same manner that I like Lorrie Moore, or whatever. And that’s what I try to write. Like Kafka…yeah, I’m definitely not writing about contemporary culture in my books.
You should ask me about stuff like…drug stuff. Stuff where I’ll be able to say weird shit.
CL: (Laughing) Okay.
TL: Instead of like, serious stuff. Or, you’ve written so many articles you can figure out what’s newsworthy.
CL: You could slag somebody off?
CL: I don’t know… You could denounce a writer.
TL: No, I don’t want to do that… Jesus.
CL: Would you rather be rich or famous…what are you trying to be right now?
TL: Oh. Would I rather be rich or famous? (Long pause) R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-rich.
CL: That’s what you want to be, right?
Guy on MDMA: Can I ask a question?
TL: Because I just want to be able to fly places whenever I want. And stay in $500 hotels.
CL: Instead of riding the Mega Bus.
TL: Yeah, yeah. Jesus. I heard about that story about the Mega Bus…like 20 people dying five times in the last few days.
CL: Are you worried it’s going to be you next?
TL: No. I don’t care if I die.
CL: (Laughing) Um…
TL: I feel like I honestly don’t care if I die. It would just be over, it’s fine.
CL: Really? You’re not worried about dying?
TL: Not at all, I think.
TL: Yeah, I’m ready to die whenever.
CL: ‘Cause you’ve written enough books – you feel like you’ve secured your legacy?
TL: No, no. I never think about my legacy. I’m just ready to die. Life just seems like so…
(Voice quavering) It’s fine if I die.
TL: Yeah. Once I’m dead, I’m dead.
Guy on MDMA: But in an interview you talk about eating healthy and not smoking because you’ll be more productive.
TL: Yeah that’s all in service in feeling more pleasure.
CL: That makes sense.
TL: Like if I’m extremely healthy and I drink a ton of coffee, I’ll feel great. But if I’m extremely unhealthy and I drink a ton of coffee I won’t feel as great. It’s all in service of feeling good.
CL: Like maximizing the bad stuff.
TL: The bad stuff?
CL: Like if you’re super healthy and you stay out really late, you’ll have a better time than if you’re already exhausted.
TL: Yeah. Some people are like, ‘Why would you take drugs if you’re concerned about your health?’ To me, that doesn’t make sense. It’s all in service of feeling good. And both make me feel good.
CL: That’s super smart. That makes sense.
TL: And some stuff about…um, you can go on.
Guy on MDMA: So you said that you’ve sold the rights to two of your films. What’s the deal with those people making films of your books?
TL: One’s a librarian, he already made the film – it’s hilarious. I haven’t seen it yet but the trailer’s hilarious – for Eeeee Eee Eeee. The other guy is some guy, I don’t know…
CL: Oh yeah, he just bought the rights.
Guy on MDMA: For Shoplifting?
TL: Yeah, he’s going to make it. He’s really motivated.
Guy on MDMA: Cool. I want to see these. Is Eeeee Eee Eeee already out?
TL: Yeah, it’s finished. It got rejected from every film festival – according to that guy’s Tumblr.
CL: Oh no!
TL: Yeah he’s actually having his own film festival in his apartment.
CL: Are you gonna go?
TL: Maybe. I haven’t responded to his last three emails.
Guy on MDMA: Is he in New York City?
TL: Yeah, Queens.
Guy on MDMA: You have to go then! Ha, it got rejected.
TL: I think I have some insightful things to say about drugs. I’ve been saving them.
CL: Oh good. Tell me! Did you do drugs in high school?
CL: So when did you start doing them?
TL: Just like, after college.
CL: Oh really? So fairly recently. Do you like the way drugs make you feel? Do you feel like your brain is better on them, or off them?
TL: Better on them, or off them…
Guy on MDMA: I feel like…
TL: Just different. Jesus.
Guy on MDMA: I was the same with drugs, and I feel like drugs access a catalyst to make your life more interesting.
Guy on MDMA: Right? Like doing MDMA for the first time last summer (note: this was at Burning Man 2010) made me much happier and made me more open to the concept of love with people.
CL: (Laughing) Wow. Do you think that’s true?
TL: Jesus. I think like…um, Jesus.
So you have like a tiny circle and say like after you took mushrooms or something. And before you take mushrooms, you would never like, know – feel anything outside of that. But after, you would experience like a larger circle. And that stays with you even when you’re not on drugs.
CL: Yeah like you were saying how you remember what you were like when you were on drugs, and how you were like open to whatever… And then afterwards, when you’re not on them, you can take what you’ve learned and kind of apply it to your life? You can remember that state of being?
TL: No, I don’t learn anything. Just like…if I’ve never been so uninhibited to the degree when I’m on like, whatever, MDMA… Oh my god I don’t make any sense. Just like – oh my god. Jesus.
(Long pause, Tao Lin mutters “Jesus” four times, softly to himself.)
You should ask me questions where I can just speak non-stop, so I don’t have to think analytically. It’s hard to think analytically.
CL: Oh okay. So…
CL: What is like being famous on the internet?
TL: Oh my God. You should definitely include when I say ‘Oh my god.’ ‘How does it feel being famous on the internet?’ Jesus.
CL: Yeah, or what does that mean?
TL: It just seems like I have a constant source of interesting shit to look at whenever I want to look at it.
CL: Yeah. It’s like I’ve never seen someone Google themselves so much.
CL: It’s crazy.
TL: Jesus. Yeah, well if I’m ever bored, all I have to do is go to a computer and Google myself and see endless entertaining shit, that I also am able to influence by just typing something into Twitter. It seems, just sweet. Really fun.
CL: Especially for a new writer who needs press, right?
TL: Yeah. It’s just really fun.
CL: ‘Cause people…you know, I guess it makes you interesting. People are like, what is this person up to? And you’re very accessible, too.
TL: Yeah, writers are always talking about wanting to be original. But it seems like they’re stuck into certain things outside of their writing.
CL: And they don’t realize that there’s great tool outside at their disposal?
TL: I don’t know, I don’t want to shit talk anyone. I’m not thinking anything right now. I’m just thinking, like, it’s just really fun.
CL: The best thing is like…I love that you’ll retweet someone’s blog post, you’ll retweet The New York Times. There’s no distinction between what one person says on the internet versus what the media says about you.
CL: It’s all relevant.
TL: Yeah I realize that if I never want to…if I like something, I don’t want to say like; I don’t want to qualify it. Like people if they like something that isn’t cool to like, they’ll be like ‘yeah I like this…’ And then like, um…do you know what I’m talking about? Can you phrase this better?
Oh my god. Just let me think for a second.
(A 15 second pause ensues.) I’m still thinking.
(More Rilo Kiley is heard from Lin’s computer.)
TL: Oh my god – is that my computer? Oh my god, I’m trying to figure out this shit.
CL: Do you have to take any medication usually?