The Burning Chrome EXCLUSIVE "Gibson/Barker" interview
Recorded December 13, 1997 at 3:30 pm (PST)
Hosted by Charlie Athanas and assisted by Stephanie Ferrell
Engineered by Jim Currie at the Evanston Technology Innovation Center
A FOUR PART SERIES
On December 13, 1997, Clive Barker conducted an interview with William Gibson. Hosted by Next Theatre's Burning Chrome dramaturg, Charlie Athanas, this lengthy conversation is presented here as a series. Lasting well over an hour, they discuss such topics as the theater, the effects of the internet on both their lives, rare collections, pornography and their current projects. With regards to their projects, Mr. Gibson has completed an X-File episode and is working on the "third" installment of the Virtual Light/Idoru novels and Mr. Barker has several children's book projects and a huge family saga of one human family and one not-so-human. There's much laughter and several common interests, including a mutual fondness for David Cronenberg's Videodrome. Bookmark this page for all parts of this fascinating, rare, first time discussion between these two greats of contemporary popular culture.
Clive = Clive Barker
Bill = William Gibson
Charlie = Charlie Athanas
- PART ONE -
Clive: Bill, I'm gonna ask a bunch of really dumb questions at the opening of this.
Bill: Okay. I'm used to that.
Clive: I know you are. By the way I just read an interview with you in Future Sex. An old issue of Future Sex.
Bill: Oh, yes. Yes.
Clive: That's a cool interview.
Bill: Yeah, it was good. It was sort of threatening to get out of hand actually.
Clive: In a good way?
Bill: Yeah. More or less.
Clive: Well, let's hope this one doesn't. The obvious question, firstly, is how did these guys approach you with the idea of doing Burning Chrome on stage?
Bill: Well, you know I had met Charlie (Athanas) years ago at Art Futura and Charlie brought the possibility of Burning Chrome on stage in Chicago to my attention, and because it was Charlie doing the bringing (Clive laughs) I entertained it a little more seriously than I would a small theater group in Melbourne. Although I've frequently allowed small theater groups in Melbourne to mount tiny productions based on my short stories.
Clive: Well, that was my next question. How regularly has this material, not specifically this story, but the short stories or indeed the novels, found their way onto the stage.
Bill: Well, you know, I think this is probably a first in terms of a professional stage production.
Bill: Everything up till now has been kind of in the student zone. Probably hasn't been documented very well. All I've ever had has been word of mouth. (laughter all around) A rumor over the years.
Clive: Are you a theater goer?
Bill: I'm an occasional theater goer here in Vancouver.
Bill: I love the form, but I'm lazy. (laughter)
Clive: Okay, there you go.
Bill: I need a determined companion to get me there.
Clive: Now, you perhaps know from Charlie that these guys (Steve Pickering and Charley Sherman) have already adapted two of my pieces.
Clive: And one of the things that I was forcibly struck by was that they seem to choose really difficult things. And I think the obvious thing that comes out is ... I just rereadBurning Chrome ... it doesn't seem a very easy piece to adapt for theater. Would you agree with that?
Bill: Yes, I'd agree. It's not something I would want to have to do myself.
Clive: It presents all kinds of technological problems, I guess. Charlie - you are designing?
Charlie: Yeah. In fact it's my responsibility for some of the most impossible bits with all the "cyber" tech stuff.
Clive: Well, okay, can we jump just momentarily to that?
Clive: What are you giving us here? (laughter all around)
Charlie: When we first started, much like when Steve took on your books and said, "No blood."
Charlie: We said "no blood on stage" and that made the approach quite different.
Charlie: We're doing the same thing with Bill's work and saying, "No computers. No video. No video projections. No slides."
Clive: Well, this isn't sort of Robert Wilson style.
Charlie: Not in the least. This is going to be very much about the story and the characters and letting the humans tell the story that's being presented in the text.
Clive: Right. Right. Which, actually, that part of the story - Jack's story, obviously most strongly - is easy to follow how that's going to work on stage. It's all the technological stuff which seems very challenging.
Charlie: Well, Steve has actually accepted the challenge. Steve Pickering and Charley Sherman, the adaptors, are going to stick with the narrative format that Bill has used in the story itself where the story jumps with the retelling throughout the story of cyberspace. Which is gonna make things very interesting.
Clive: Yeah, well, particularly with all the things you're denying yourself.
Charlie: Yes, denial. That's what we're good at. (laughter)
Clive: Yes, self-denial. So now the next obvious question, Bill, is here you are having sort of invented some of the terminology, having cornered the market in a certain kind of vision of the future. Are you over it now? Are you, like, "Oh, that's old news?"
Bill: Well, I think I'm living in it now.
Clive: Ooh, there's a nightmare. (laughter)
Bill: I've arrived at ... the rest of the world has now arrived in some slipshod fashion in the reality I described in 1981. It's not quite the same, but there's a little bit of it on everybody's desktop.
Clive: It's not just that though. You mention in the story, vasopresin ...
Clive: ...which I guess is used for senile dementia. You point that out in the story.
Bill: Um hmm.
Clive: A friend of mine is a huge fan of vasopresin as a recreational entertainment, I guess, in some form or other and you say something like, "The street makes use of things which are usually used for other purposes."
Clive: And when you wrote that, was vasopresin ... I'd only heard of vasopresin last year ... I mean, where do you catch up with all these things? Some of them you're obviously inventing or at least coining, but some of this stuff ... how are you finding all this stuff?
Bill: I don't know, it's a talent I developed early on. I've learned to scan to huge ... shallow (laughter all around) .. huge shallow reaches of popular and scientific information. And identify those odd nodal points from which change of some kind seems, not emerging, but emergent. It's almost there. And I don't actually recall how vasopresin found its way into the story, but the idea ... I think I'd run across a reference for it being used for Alzheimer's patients. And the idea of a recreational drug that heightened and improved memory ...
Bill: ... had such brilliant sexual possibilities ...
Bill: ... that I thought it was a natural.
Clive: You actually use it in this story as a source of melancholia in fact, right?
Clive: Because he's ... I think, I forget. Is he doing alcohol and vasopresin? Is that what he's doing?
Bill: Yes, he's going in two directions at once.
Clive: At the same time.
Bill: The combination is, in one sense, enjoyable and, you know, in another it's giving him a whole new level of problems.
Clive: Which then brings me to the melancholia, which seems to mark a lot of your work. A sort of sense, a noirish sense. You're probably tired of that too, but it does seem in some ways appropriate. A noirish sense that these people are all horribly wounded by life and circumstance and they're only holding onto their sanity with the combination of will, drugs and, sort of, fatalism. Is that something that as you're ... how old are you now? Are you of my age? I'm forty-five.
Bill: I'm forty-nine. So I'm ahead of you.
Clive: Ah, not much. Here we are in middle age. Are you finding that your attitude to ... I guess, is a kind of melancholia which earlier in your life you kind of almost indulge, almost kind of wallow in? Because it seems okay now. Because it's sort of caught up with me as a life condition. (laughter) Do you find your attitude to the kind of dark undertow of your earlier material has changed at all?
Bill: Well, I look at it now and it's all bit like Joy Division. (laughter all around) And it was all very, very heavily influenced by Joy Division and old Velvet Undergroundrecords. But, you know, I was almost thirty when I wrote that story and it was really sort of the first really effective piece of fiction I managed to write. And I think that I was at that peculiar pre-thirty point where you really feel that it's all over.
Clive: Oh god, yes.
Bill: Yeah, this is ...
Clive: The long road down. (laughter all around)
Bill: Yeah, you know, it's not much fun after this. We might as well get it all out on the table. You know, that noir thing is funny. In my more recent work it tends to be inverted and turned inside out and become oddly cheerful. (laughter)
Clive: Right. But the fatalism remains in place, right? The sort of sense that the world is too enormous to really make any significant changes upon. Somehow your characters always seem ... this is one of the things I like about it ... sort of, not at sea, but certainly fighting. You said before you described yourself as living in that world. The world you've been describing in '81.
Bill: Uh hmm.
Clive: The sort of sense in which we're kind of victims in that world now. I mean, we can't move for it. I mean, I'm sitting here at a desk without a piece of technology except for this telephone that I'm speaking on and so I feel like I'm holding that stuff at bay as much as I possibly can. Not just the technology, but the sort of sense of detachment from the world that comes with that.
Bill: Hmm. Yes.
Clive: I know they talk about all this stuff being really a way to make a global village or connect us with pieces of information we didn't know we needed or whatever the hell else. (laughter all around) But actually, am I wrong now? Am I just being a technophobe or is there a certain soullessness with all this?
Bill: No. I don't know. I'm sitting here looking at a webpage put up by a girl named Ana somewhere in the American Midwest and she's sitting naked in her young artist's living room ... (laughter all around) ... looking really rather striking. This was at, I think, eleven fifty-two Midwestern time, earlier today. You know, I check in on her occasionally. Her site is free. (laughter all around)
Clive: So there's nothing to complain about. (laughter all around) Is that the inference here?
Bill: Well, I don't find this stuff inherently alienating, but it's very hard to know. I think that something really big is happening to us again. It's something like what happened when we started doing cities.
Bill: We're doing something like that and we just have no way of knowing all of the myriad things that will come out of it. It won't be any sort of approved, legislated future. It never is.
END OF PART ONE