Ain't It Cool News (www.aintitcool.com)
Movie News

Elston Gunn talks with Nile Southern and others about writer TERRY SOUTHERN

Father Geek is happy to present a great interview by Elston Gunn and friend of several people about the life, times, troubles, and triumphs of one of the greatest writers to ever pin a screenplay... TERRY SOUTHERN.

Don't know him? Well, he was a Texan who wrote for the big screen everything from DR. STRANGELOVE to the CINCINNATI KID, from the very dark and twisted THE LOVED ONE to the light satire of CASINO ROYALE, and BARBARELLA, and CANDY, and EASY RIDER. He was a writer of novels like "Flash and Filigree", articles like "Rolling Stones", and short stories. Check out Father Geek's favorite collection "Red Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes". He was also full of good advice for writers: "The effect of art should be iconoclastic--the motivation should be impulsive, natural."

This is a long, compelling story, so I'm going to step aside and let you visit with one of the truely talented minds of my generation by way of his son...

EASY WRITERS:

"The Secret Mind Behind Strangelove, Captain America and Magic Christians" by Elston Gunn and Booger Lee.

"Terry Southern is the most profoundly witty writer of our generation." - Gore Vidal

The cover of Sgt Peppers, The Stones, The New Journalism of Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, "Easy Rider", black humor, Peter Sellers, "Saturday Night Live," Terry Southern. Terry Southern? Yes, Terry Southern, a somewhat shadowy figure running through the arteries of post 1950 American Culture, whose work influenced a generation of American Screenwriters without them even knowing it. Dumb bastards! Think "Easy Rider!" Think "Strangelove!" Think "Dr. Strangelove" for God Sakes!

Southern, who passed away in 1995, has been a catch word for post modern hipsters in recent years, but whose accomplishments have slowly been fading in the consciousness of readers. However, Southern, whose literary career places him in a great tradition of writers who turned to Hollywood including Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Raymond Chandler and Nathanael West, has experienced a needed resurgence in recent months, mainly due to a biography by Lee Hill, "A Grand Guy: The Life and Art of Terry Southern," (published this month) and "Now Dig This: The Unspeakable Writings of Terry Southern, 1950-1995," edited by his son, Nile Southern, and Josh Alan Friedman (hits shelves in May). Both of these books, available this Spring, return Southern to his rightful place of resurrection.

NILE SOUTHERN

Southern was kind enough to answer a few questions about his father and the upcoming books:

**How did you decide to put out the anthology, and why now? What were the most difficult aspects of the project?

NS: I have been organizing an anthology of Terry's work since the 1980sand you could kind of group it together: early writings, screenplay excerpts, wild letters, 'tribs' to his friends--which are anecdotal portraits of people (Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman, Kubrick to name a few), stories that appeared once in some magazine and then disappeared, New Journalism pieces--both published and unpublished...A real treasure-trove, and also a great look into the life and times of our culture (or what's left of it!)

The most challenging aspect was what to omit. Luckily, I recruited a hatchet-man with razor-sharp editorial skillsso he was merciless. "only the very best!" he would say--and I would weep!

I originally proposed the book to a number of publishers while Terry was alive. No one was interested. There was a kind of sycophantic interest in his own memoir, but even that was tinged with a fearful attitude of 'Oh my god--we haven't heard from him for so long...can he still write?' He was writing every day! Terry is coming back in style, as we have been to the bottom in terms of gross-out lowest common denominator humor and slap-dash execution--now people will know where it all came from and how classy it can be.

**What different kinds of writings can be found here and how much of it has never been published?

NS: The book has: stories, letters, interviews (both by Terry and of Terry--from various periods), New Journalism, and memoir. These are loose labels which we used to organize the material. Within it you will find the most heinous, outrageous kind of writing ever! Wild urban legends about the military, crazed fantasies about capital punishment--a kind of 'Jonathan Swift' in technicolor for the New Millenium. You'll also find plenty of Terry's unique brand of storytelling--the first person narratives which are like switched on Poe--grooving at the center of scenes as varied as the 'quality lit' world of Plimpton and Mailer, to the swinging London scene where the Stones were hanging with the Beatles.

I guess the kind of writing you'll find is unique to Terry--in that no one has swam in so many different and impressive scenes and written about it with such sensitivity and accuracy. He was the conduit between the Beatles and the Beatsso the writing will invariably be unique to that singular experience of being in the center of many cultural storms--and emerging to write very funny and convincing first person accounts of it. Of course, Terry could stretch the truth on occasion--for effect. And he does so a lot in this book.

**How closely did Terry see himself in the tradition of Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg? Did he find it ridiculous just how marketed the beats became, such as Kerouac appearing in Gap Ads?

NS: Terry saw himself in the tradition of Poe and one of the French exitential writers, like Camus or Celine. But he did not glorify writing. He often said there was nothing inherently 'good' about being a writer. It was impulsive--but with him it was also very studied and disciplined. He read a lot in his early days, and was determined to transform writing and the notion of what literature could be.

Terry came from a different tradition than the beats--although he helped get Naked Lunch published, and was passionate about what Burroughs was doing in his writing to free the language of 'certain superstitions' regarding four-letter words, drug use, and his inventive use of trucated idiom.

Terry did not go for the 'first thought, best thought' trip in terms of writing praxis--he was, rather, a firm believer in rewriting. I have manuscripts where his writing comes flowing out--perfect on the first draft. This often occured when he was writing purely visual scenes--like a script he wrote for 'Saturday Night Live' after Sadat was assassinated. He wrote a short film from the point of view of the guy cleaning up the bandstand--with all those overturned chairs. The last shot is the guy, an Arab, picking up a white dove with its neck broken, and dropping it in the trash, wiping away a tear... it was really beautiful, and they shot it just like that.

Terry corresponded with Ginsberg about what Kerouac was doing--he didn't think all that much of it. But then again, Terry's model--his ideal, was Poe. Although Ginsberg was also influenced by Poe, Terry actually adopted Poe's techniques--that of creating elaborate levels of credibility, and then taking it as far out as possible. Terry combined that bedrock of execution with the surrealist impulse, and taking the Hemingway tradition into areas where Papa would have never dared venture: race relations, drugs, the contemporary scene... Terry was a natural humanist--a political being--so this is in a lot of his work. His ear for dialogue, and also for busting taboos puts him in a class of his own...

Terry wrote impulsivelybut I think his impulse was closer to Burroughs and Ginsberg--in that 95% of the time there is a social injustice, or rigged system that needs exposing.

**How do you see the role of satire in a world that is becoming much more strange? For example Gore Vidal has discussed that the modern world is very hard to satirize, because its so ridiculous. Did Terry see this as a plus?

NS: Gore knows very well that what we are seeing is satirical on its face. It is indeed hard to ridicule the totally ridiculous. The task used to be--historically speaking, say in the tradition of Thomas Nast and Shakespear or Aristotle, to reveal the depravity and corruption oozing beneath the facade of 'statesman' or 'king' or 'mayor' but now that there are no facades, and you have people like Jesse Helms who just resonate bigotry and narrow-mindedness, well, it is difficult to make things seem more ridiculous than appointing him Foreign Relations Committe Chairman--which is what our Congress did. Then you have people like John Ashcroftbut if you look at his record, he is outrageous! doing things like granting a special pardon to a KKK Klansman. Vidal's 'Live From Golgotha' is a wonderful satire on media and politics, and I believe that there will be a stronger return to satire as a way of waking people up from this dream of consumption that is pushed so heavily in this country.

Consumerism distracts us from what is really going on--which is mostly the dialogue the moneyed interests are having with themselves--these corporations which have more rights and immunities than people--and their only obligation is to the shareholders. This kind of situation is something which kept Terry writing continually.

Many of Terry's wildest notions have come true, or are about to. Shooting bikers because they had long hair seemed metaphorical for its time--but now look at Matthew Shepherd. In 'The Loved One' for instance, human remains are blasted into space for burial. I'm sure I read about this occurring somewhere--you can bet it is on the drafting boards. I think Terry saw things in large brushstrokes--he knew that the military industrial complex--with its intra-service rivalries, and its own jargon of euphemism, was the most blatant example of corruption and excess. He was aware of this absurdity from the early 50s through the cold war, Strangelove, and until the end of his life. He wrote a script for Hal Ashby and Peter Sellers about selling arms to the third-world--a portion of it is quoted in the biography--he would be so appalled today. Militarizing space is the most costly and stupid thing America can do with its (our) money. How dare they?! Terry would do something about it with his writing, so I will do something about it--by putting pieces up that he wrote that were send-ups of military officers and politicians--I'll just post it on the website as verbatim George W. whatever...

Terry believed that complacency and smugness were worth blasting--and you won't find a smugger asshole than George W. It is only through satire and exaggeration that people can begin to see the first layer of absurdity upon which the whole arbitrary system rests.

**Did Terry ever have problems with the stigma of "black humorist," especially in his later work such as "Texas Summer" which is a very surprising, Huck-Finn like, story of youth?

NS: That is a good question, because that is exactly what happened--the Washington Post, and others, were expecting the 'wild and crazy' Terry Southern--but they apparently only knew that side of him, and didn't dig deeper to discover that Terry was one of the most accomplished writers of short stories and essays. Many journalists tell me that the reason they got into 'serious' writing, was because of Terry. Terry told me that with 'Texas Summer' he was just out to write 'a good old, fashioned novel' and he was pretty bewildered by why that wasn't good enough. The book is out of print now. That was his last novel.

**What is one of the more surprising things that you would like for people to come away with from the anthology and the bio?

NS: Anthology: People will be amazed at the high level of writing and insight that pervades Terry's new anthology, and surprised at how productive he was--despite the fact that he had no films or books coming out for two decades. There is also amazing reportage (or 'New Journalism') stories which have still not been publicly exposed, such as how the FBI started the riots in Chicago 1968 outside the National Democratic Convention, or how the CIA paid and trained mercinaries in *Guatemala* for the Cuban Invasion. Also surprising is the range of expression: Whether Terry is using his perch as literary critic at The Nation to talk about how Henry Miller and Burroughs could not even be published in their own country (due to censorship), or doing extremely tongue-in-cheek mock first-person accounts of scam artists working in Hollywood, Terry's tone shifts like a chameleon--and he writes at the top of his form in each guise. This is a surprising gift--most writers develop one voice and stick with it...

Bio: I hope that people, especially young readers, look at the bio and see the arc not only of an individual artist, but the amazing arcs which happened culturally. Terry is there for all of them, and it may come as a surprise to people that things were so cool in the 50s--that life was not dominated by a corporate agenda--things were so *alive* and fresh. Of course the 60s exploded with it, and watching Terry navigate the 60s is like watching a ship captain sail the vessel while people are throwing up overboard and freaking out. A writer at the LA Weekly just told me that "Terry invented the 60s"--so, check out the book to see how...

I think anyone who knows anything about Terry will be surprised by things in the bio, because they will find themselves saying 'oh, wow! he did *that* as well!?' or 'he was with so-and-so *then*?' Things like: touring with the Rolling Stones, turning Kubrick onto 'Clockwork Orange,' forming a film company with Harry Nilsson, smoking opium with Cocteau, studying at the Sorbonne under Sartre, covering Chicago '68 for Esquire--the varied range of experience is bound to astonish many people.

And Terry as an individual is full of surprising contradictions: a Texan fluent in French, a disciplined literary writer breaking into Hollywood by way of England, publishing in Europe before America (all his novels were rejected here before they were published there), and also: although Terry was highly popular and also continued speaking truth to power--he didn't let his own mini-celebrity get to his head in terms of losing sight of what he felt were the burning issues to explore--what the purpose of art was/is...

**I read some of Terry's essays posted on your website terrysouthern.com and was intrigued by his musings on politics. How do you think he would've reacted to the recent presidential election and its current aftermath?

NS: Terry would have written dialogue much like what George W. himself said as a joke--that he would appoint his brother to be Ambassador of Chad. Terry was very good at getting into the mentality of the very powerful and very depraved. He wrote about Casey, then CIA-chief, and Bush Senior, and Ollie North talking about the 'guns in, drugs out' campaign worldwide--where the US trades guns for drugs in a perpetual cycle of exploitation and misery. I think he would have explored the fact that so many people were compromised during this election--that the system is conveniently rigged against minorities, and that most of these minorities were for Gore.

Terry was a Nader supporter, and very much wanted Nader's proposals for a high-speed rail system to happen--as is so commonplace and effective worldwide. I think Terry would have been very disappointed to see Gore become so centrist. All this talk about who gets elected to the Supreme Court was highly ironic--since these creeps like Scully were voted in by Democrats as well--and now they had their come-uppance. I think for things to get better, they will have to get worse, and I couldn't see it getting any much worse than having George W. in office. That being said, young Republican readers should know that the supremely misguided PJ O'Roarke is writing about Terry, whom he says he has been an admirer of for some time.

**Do you think that the motion picture is seducing many writers away from fiction? By that I mean, did Terry see a real difference between the two mediums? Did it bother him that many people knew him for his films, but had absolutely no clue that he was one of the strongest satirists of the 20th century?

NS: Terry felt that 'writing' per se, had to move along with the times, and catch up with what the cinema was doing. He said this in 1964. Terry wrote in many different forms--many of them highly cinematic. I think writers in general had better be thinking of innovation and breaking the mold--otherwise, what's the point? To write something just like something else? Terry was able to master a genre by making it his own--injecting some element into it that would change it forever. 'Twirling at Ole Miss' is an example, as is 'Blood of a Wig' and some of the narrratives in the new collection, like 'Heavy Put-Away' which the New York Observer called "the coldest story ever written."

Terry had a conversation with Kubrick in 1962, after 'Lolita,' in which Kubrick really put-down writing for books as being 'second best'--he used the metaphor of seeing a woman hit by a car as opposed to reading about it. From that moment on, and especially after working with Kubrick, and also after experiencing the excitement of French New Wave, Italian Neo Realism, etc., Terry pretty much stopped writing fiction and focused mostly on screenplays. He really felt that one should not write a novel that could not be 'better' as a film. He had great battles with his writer friends over this--but being a Texan, and a hipster, he would not budge, and kept sounding the death knell for people doing conventional writing in the face of all these innovations.

**The essay about "Dr. Strangelove" and "Big Stan" Kubrick will probably be of the most interest to AICN's general readers. "Easy Rider" and "Barbarella" are, of course, considered "cult classics," while "Strangelove" is generally considered one of the greatest films of all time. These films still manage to find an audience with each new generation. What makes those films stand above the rest? Which ones that Terry was involved with are your favorites, or do you feel people really need to give a chance?

NS: These films touch a nerve that runs deep in America, and with people in general--there is a great unease with the 'system' of control and manipulation. People are not able to articulate how and why they feel such disease--much of it is because consent has aggressively been manufactured by years of status quo wherein big money and corporate interests demand pay-back and involvement from the government. Terry was out to expose the inner-workings which helped to fuel the malaise. His singular contribution was three-fold:

1) humor--personalizing the outrageous

2) Credibility

3) humanism

**What do you think Terry added to Kubrick's work in general? Did he add that atomic sense of humor, or were their senses of humor very similar?

NS: Terry and Stanley shared a 'world-weary' hipster sensitivity to what was going on around them. They looked at things with the eye of a French photojournalist who sees humor in carrion pecking the eyes out of a carcass. Stanley chose Terry to transform the screenplay from melodrama to satire. Terry was the perfect choice, for not only could he write in perfect Britishism (having mentored with one of the finest British writers of the time, Henry Green), but he also could write Texan for the pilot, and he also knew the whole military parlance--as he had been a Lieutenant during WWII. The script was already loaded with military intelligence, but Terry zeroed in on their outrageous penchant for euphemism, and blew it out of the water.

What Kubrick also got from Terry was his absolute mastery over how to treat satire, and how to achieve exactly what Kubrick had in mind, which was, to quote Kubrick from Terry's own 1962 interview: 'a kafkaesque satirical comedy.' Terry had written Kafka routines, and had done a whole chilling and absurdist cold-war play--Terry's big contribution was to help Stanley at all times to keep the credibility factor absolute. Terry knew how to handle that even handedly and with deftand from setting up his audience with short stories--and in his novels. Had Terry been less talented, he could have gone for farce or a cheap laugh--instead, he ended up talking Stanley into and out of a few situations--such as when the coke machine shoots cola into Col. Bat Guano's face--Terry insisted that they start the dissolve earlier--as it was unnatural (and incredible) that the army man would keep his face there that long...

**Why do you think Terry had financial problems with some of his projects such as EASY RIDER? Did this experience in any way warp him against the collaborative process and sharing credit with other people?

NS: Terry agreed to take so little money ($5,000) for his screenplay work on 'Easy Rider,' because he had an understanding with his collaborator-friends that they were 'all in it together' and that if anything happened they would be splitting it three ways. Of course when the picture was bought, the purchasers had other ideas, and quickly convinced Den and Peter that Terry was superfluous--esp. since his interest was excised from the terms of their new contract.

Around this time Terry's high-times caught up with him. All the money he earned in Hollywood, London and Rome making movies had been spent living the high-life (and leaving his family!)--but, because of some poor advice, and his own bad business sense, he didn't pay any taxes on these earnings--I think he assumed it was being taken care of by his accountant--so by the time 'Easy Rider' came out, he was ruined financially, and never recovered--since the work never came. Of course, even *one* point of 'Easy Rider's' action, or even a bit of the soundtrack sales (it went gold) would have made Terry's debt go away rather quickly. Who knows what he would have done then. He might have become a director, which is what he really should have been doing as well. He probably would have made 'Blue Movie' himself--and convinced Jane Fonda to do it!

In some ways, the fact that Terry ushered in a new kind of ('Independent') cinema on his own solid (Hollywood) reputation, and also got screwed out of it--was a double whammy to his career: people didn't respect him or thought his 'street cred' was devalued (because he had gone from earning $100,000 per script to $5,000) and then he was resented by the power brokers for allowing these hippies to do all these radical things and change the way movies were made forever. And having Dennis and Peter continually downplay his contributions also did not help. I think it was Easy Rider, even more than Blue Movie--which was so critical and outrageously pointed against the crass Hollywood financing system--it was Easy Rider's success over his own body that did him in...

Terry was always too generous with his sharing of credit--but film is such a collaborative art--and most of these projects would come to him with these terrible scripts. He loved hanging out and working ("grooving") with these people, but invariably he would rewrite their scripts from the first line to the lastlike all his writings. Peter and Dennis are not writers, and never have been--like Terry says in an interview in Now Dig This "they can get pretty excited if they write anything heavier than a laundry list." Despite the downsides, Terry never lost his collaborative impulse--and he always followed it.

Many people sought Terry out, and just were thrilled to have the experience of working with him. Often these people had very little talenthe had no attitude of superiority--he treated everyone as having the same obligation to do the work at a certain level--and he would always try to bring it up there. Of course, he often couldn't resist putting his own cliches into them--such as pert derriers, a turn of phrase, a Southernism.... He didn't have a secretary, fax machine, computer--everything was written longhand and taken to the typist--who lived 20 miles away.

One person he nurtured was the great singer songwriter Harry Nilsson--Harry would come to him with these ideas, and Terry would put it into screenplay form. They formed a film company together in Hollywood. Much like Laurel and Hardyexcept they were both big and fat!

**The final product of MAGIC CHRISTIAN was very different than what he had hoped. Did he and Peter Sellers have a good working relationship?

NS: Sellers felt that Terry was the best dialogue writer in Hollywood. In the Casino Royale contract, it is said that Sellers asked for two things (besides the money): A white Bentley, and Terry Southern to write *only* his lines.

One of the reasons the tone of 'The Magic Christian' is a bit different than the novel is that it was made at the height of the 60s, and also, to get the film financed, they had to cast Ringo (and create a new character, Guy Grand's son), and also, while Terry was away finishing one of his movies (read the biography to find out which one!--I can't remember now) Peter would get bored and work up routines with his Goon Squad cohorts--much to Terry's disappointment--as often they had Grand doing destructive thingswhich was not in the novel.

**Hollywood rarely makes films like these, yet there seems to be quite an appetite for them. What can be done?

NS: Attention Hollywood: Do Terry Southern. Do not be afraid, young executive! Read, dream, and cash-in! Get politicised! Look at Soderbergh--'Erin Brokovich' is about toxic dumping on the disenfranchised! Wake up! There are Big Stories to tell--and they can sell!

**What are a couple of your favorite anecdotes from Terry, maybe unpublished, that you've heard with respect to some of these films?

NS: It is a great story about how slim Pickens met James Earl Jones, and Terry introduced them. I'll save the punchlines--they are in both books.

**There are numerous anecdotes about Terry and Hopper, Larry Flynt, John Lennon and others. A number of these stories revolve around illegal activities. Why do you think celebrities today seem so protective of their private lives? Would there be a stigma attached, or are celebrities in the modern age strictly uninteresting corporate puppets?

NS: The tendency is certainly to turn oneself into an uninteresting corporate puppet. Dennis Hopper, who vested so much interest on an identity level with 'Easy Rider', has completely strayed from the values which made that film so great. He backed the Gulf War and screamed 'rah, rah, rah' when we were illegally bombing Saddam, he has appeared in ads for the Lexus or something (where are Terry's clip royalties for *that*, Den?!) and here he is in Afficianado magazine, again saying that Terry didn't do anything on his movie.

Terry had a lot of fun with Dennis, and genuinely liked him. Terry even wrote a piece for Homes and Gardens in the mid 50s, profiling Dennis as a photographer, which is what he was then. Terry was always encouraging him, engaging with him, but he was very hurt at the end, and said so in-print, saying that Peter and Dennis 'couldn't write a fucking letter' between the two of them.

**There was news last year about a long-lost script by John Huston found by his son Danny, who is planning to film it sometime within the next year. Are there any unfinished Terry Southern screenplays that could or should be produced in the future?

NS: There are many scripts of Terry's that would make excellent film or television projects. Some are being shown around now, like 'Harry Crew's CAR'--which Terry adapted. Rather than give away all his plotlines, I'll wait for that call from Producer X, or Moneybags Y, and we'll see what we can hook him or her up with--as Terry used to say, there is "beauty in *every* form," here. Just a question of what you are into.

I am developing 'Flash and Filigree,' 'The Magic Christian' and 'Blue Movie'and they happen to be novels of Terry's as well....

**Why do you believe someone like Terry, who left such an undeniable imprint on the 20th century, has in many ways not received the recognition that is due to him?

NS: Terry was hard to classify. Since he wrote everything so well--every genre, it was easy for people to dismiss him as not being serious. But he was incredibly serious. And he had great passions about freeing language from stigmas and taboos--especially when talking about sexhe could reveal the basest, most common ugliness in a character, or perverse charm, simply by writing great dialogye. All this: sex, politics, drugs is quite unnerving to executives who are worried about whether or not the inclusion of a black actor, or some wayward line will affect their sponsors, or their poetntial to get a merchandizing tie-in from some multinational cancer-producer.

**Tell us a bit about altx.com. What's your goal with this site?

NS: Altx.com was founded by experimental novelist and net artist Mark Amerika in the mid 1990s. Since then, he has become a major figure in the internet art/writing scene, having appeared as a guest artist in last year's Whitney Biennial. He is in Time magazine this week (Feb 19th), as one of the most important 'Storytellers' of this new century.

Mark was a big fan of Terry's before we met at UCLA filmschool in 1979, and he even took a course at UCLA where 'Blue Movie' was required reading. The class was called 'Pornosophy'. Very cool!

Whereas Altx was kind of a laboratory for cutting edge 'avant pop' fiction, Altx is now morphing into a virtual imprint. We are publishing 7 books, including my own, in a launch this spring. I am designing the books and some of the marketing.

**Terry said art should be "impulsive" and "natural." How much did he emphasize rewriting?

NS: A lot. The impulsive part was getting the first draft down--which he did on yellow legal pad. Then this would be typed up and he would do minor revisions (if it was screenplay) or often major ones if it was a letter of prose.

**What was the best, most insightful advice your father gave you with regards to writing?

NS: Say it with less, and "credibility, son, credibility!"

**What's next for you?

NS: Well, I would love to see a breakthrough on the film front. With the strike coming up in Hollywood apparently no one wants to buy anything--because they don't want to sit on something with the clock ticking, but it might be a good time for people in the industry to take a moment and look at Terry's work--and we can start banging the gong around so to speak.

A Terry Southern anthology of shorts would be very cool to see on HBO--there are all these screenwriters and directors who would love to adapt his stories--but I've learned that the film biz can be extremely fickle.

There are a couple of audio projects in the works--one is a recently completed album by Hal Willner--who did the Burroughs and Kerouc and Kathy Acker and Poe boxed sets and is a legend producer--reinterpreting Weill and Brecht with Sting and Lou Reed--doing film scores for Wim Wenders and Altman. It was co-produced and directed by Terry's old writing partner at Saturday Night Live, Nelson Lyon. The Terry album is called "Give Me Your Hump" and is looking for a distributor who will honor the album (and the time, care and money it took to make it!).

I am putting together an album of Terry's archival recordings--which are really a hoot. I'll have a couple of tracks from this on the website soon.

Then there are Terry's audiobooks. We are looking to do a deal where all the novels are scooped up. I've begun recording the short stories from Red Dirt Marijuana and Now Dig This--George Plimpton has agreed to read 'Trib to Von.'

On the book publishing front, I have some other books lined up for Terry: collected letters, screenplay reader, a scrapbook, a book of plays, and a book about the saga of the novel Candy. As this is all coming out of my own personal investment of time and money, it is hard to 'fast-track' any one of these projects, but as Terry used to say, "We'll get the old tub through!"

JOSH ALAN FRIEDMAN

Friedman, co-editor of the anthology, was also gracious enough to answer a few questions. Visit JoshAlan.com.:

**How did you get involved in the process of the anthology? Have you respected Terry's work for a long time?

JAF: I have loved Terry's writing ever since I was 16 years old (in 1972), and wrote him a fan letter then. Got to be pals with him over the years, eventually being able to buy a few stories when I became an editor at Screw and particularly High Times mag. Got closer in his last few years, bringing him down to Dallas Museum of Art for a major reading/celebration around '93. Since I was such a huge supporter of his work, it was natural for Nile to ask me to join in editing this anthology.

**Is it harder to be a serious artist in a world that is becoming much more commercialized. i.e. the book industry-or has the internet opened up even more possibilities for writers? How did Terry see the internet as a tool for writers?

JAF: Don't know how Ter regarded internet. But it's always been a hard uphill battle for any serious writer. And yes, it is much harder now, with coporate monopoly over homoginized book/movie/magazine industry. The internet seems like a momentary equalizer at this time--until corporate control eventually spoils even the net. I hope it doesn't happen, but seems inevitable.

**What's some of the major problems that arise when dealing with so much writing? What is the key to creating a successful anthology from this amount of material?

JAF: Picking the creme of the crop is difficult--because everyone would have a different favorite choice. Terry, like any other unique, singular genius, tossed aside much material that was brilliant, but not complete or appropriate to the project at hand. I can only hope we've chosen (rescued) the right stuff. There were 40 boxes of random material to select from.

**Did you run across any major problems with the anthology, that hindered it's progress?

JAF: Atlantic/Grove Press deleted our inclusion of Terry's opening scene from 'Easy Rider' sequel. It was a favorite of mine, a mind blower. But there remains legal debate about who owns the rights to 'Easy Rider's' characters.

[Incidentally,] 'Easy Rider II'--as envisioned by Terry, who invented 'Easy Rider'--takes place in biker heaven. But another sequel to 'Easy Rider,' under stewardship of Dennis Hopper, I believe, is currently in the works.

**How much information is included on the screenplays that Terry worked on? Is there a distinct difference in styles Terry used between his screenwork and literary work?

JAF: Of course, Terry could write in many different styles (straight forward professorial lit criticism, existentialism, street dialog, social essay, high-brow Queen's English, Texas crackerese)--as if he was a whole different writer. His basic novel prose is most recognizable, uniquely his. The only common thread throughout much of his screenplay work is a brilliant ear for dialog, credibility, and his unique situations.

**Where do you see Terry's influence on motion pictures and literature as a whole?

JAF: Like the idea behind the film, It's A Wonderful Life, there's no telling what the world would be like without even one man's presence. Terry touched and influenced so many writers and events in 20th Century culture. Who knows, if Strangelove hadn't come out, alerting millions to nuclear insanity, maybe the exact events of that film would have occured in real life--instead of in fiction. Then we wouldn't be here today, wondering about Terry's influence. So perhaps, he saved the whole world. Who knows?

LEE HILL

Finally, Hill, author of Terry Southern's biography, also took the time to answer questions:

**How exactly did you choose to write about Terry Southern? Was this a project that interested you for a number of years (personal experience with Terry)? Do you work primarily in biography?

LH: I have been interested in TS and his work since the late 70s. I met TS after doing a brief interview with him for Vox, a now defunct Calgary arts mag, in 1990. Between 1990 and TS' death in 95, I developed the biography with TS' active assistance through interviews and access to his papers. This is my first full length biography. I am also the author of 'Easy Rider' for the British Film Institute's Modern Classics series.

**How do you see the biographer in the 21st century? Has the media created a situation where biography is much more difficult (email as opposed to letters and documented evidence)?

LH: Any biography written out of a deep personal interest and knowledge of the subject will always find an audience.

**How do you see the life of Terry Southern influencing the art, (as in new journalism etc.)? Do you believe there is a connection between life and art?

LH: TS philosophy was not to try too hard to consciously be a voice of one's time, but by simply trying to write well and tell a story as best as possible, one would make that connection naturally.

**Is it easier to shape a more truthful portrait of a subject after they have passed away? Do you think Terry would be pleased with the way the final bio came out? What's next for you?

LH: I think it would be interesting to write a novel about a square after writing a non-fiction book about the ultimate hipster. All kidding aside, I have lots of ideas in the works, but have decided to maintain a Kubrick-like silence about the next book.

For more information about Terry Southern, his biography and the upcoming anthology, visit terrysouthern.com. You can purchase the books through the website or at any retail bookstore.

Elston Gunn - elstongunn@hotmail.com

Booger Lee - booger_lee@hotmail.com

Booger Lee says, "Read bullymag.com."

Readers Talkback
comments powered by Disqus
    + Expand All
  • March 1, 2001, 12:42 p.m. CST

    Great, great , great bit

    by Smilin'Jack Ruby

    I am currently sending links to a whole plethora of people. Major, major kudos to Elston Gunn and Booger Lee.

  • March 1, 2001, 1:12 p.m. CST

    cool interview

    by Henry Jones Jr.

    I discovered Terry Southern's books about two years ago and found them hilarious and dark at the same time. I didn't realize he had scripted "Easy Rider" (one of my favs.) Thanks for posting this internview. I look forward to the anthology books.

  • March 1, 2001, 6:24 p.m. CST

    Alright, untie me or I'm going to call your parents.

    by Le Mu Bai

    I had to share that with you.

  • March 1, 2001, 7:32 p.m. CST

    Nice article

    by Darth TJ Mackey

    Greatly appreciated. Pretty sparse talkback tho; guess everybody's busy ranting about the Scooby Doo movie or something. (I was amused by the comment that Fred looked like Rocky from Rocky Horror; I was thinking more along the lines of a long lost Winter Brother, myself--Johnny and Edgar also being great Texans, like Mr. Southern.) Anyway, this was an unexpected and enjoyable gem! (Josh Alan is a pretty damn good singer/songwriter himself; caught him a few times around Dallas, but dunno if he's still playing out much these days.) Terry Southern was a friggin' genius. Out.

  • March 1, 2001, 9:34 p.m. CST

    We Are Indebted To Terry Southern

    by mrbeaks

    Much of what is considered Modern American Satire is derived from the writing of Terry Southern; therefore, I am overjoyed that his works will be re-introduced to a generation that has yet to experience his rogue genius. Well done, Elston!

  • March 2, 2001, 10:05 p.m. CST

    Booger Lee is Cooool!

    by scott wayne

    I tell ya, I don't know about other people but it sure is a relief reading such a great interview. People should be thankful that their are writers such as Booger Lee and Elston Gunn at Ain't It Cool to give us stuff like this. I don't know much about this Booger Lee guy, but I hope that he does a lot more. I just e-mailed him a second ago to tell him what a great interview it is. People should buy these books! Thanks Elston

  • March 4, 2001, 9:11 p.m. CST

    Excellent Stuff, Elston.

    by Buzz Maverik

    One of the most interesting things I've ever read at this site.