Talk Rodeo

Have you ever had to reconsider the way you've performed a piece?
Oh absolutely. I actually did the show once for an audience that was about 50 percent homeless. I was performing a benefit for Bailey House, which is an AIDS hospice in New York. And I had to think, "Oh, shit I'm doing this stuff for the people who are this way. They know." And afterwards they weren't exactly coming up and slapping me on the back. It was kind of like, "Well, I enjoyed your show. There were a lot of true things." The homeless aren't thinking about the show in the same way we're thinking. The middle class indulges itself in a lot of thought. And our endless self-analyzation and discussion about guilt and homeless and this and that becomes almost a decadent exercise. It's almost more fun to talk about it than to do anything about it. And political action becomes benefits and T-shirts, and it's not really well thought through. I don't want homeless people to become an entertainment. I live in New York. I live around people who are in very sad shape. And when I let them -- when I let down my shield -- they pierce me emotionally. I really am upset by it. The thing though is that I don't know what to do. That problem stays in the forefront of my mind, and I worry about it.

Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll is being released as a book, a soundtrack, and a film, and there will certainly be a video later. Do you ever feel as if too much exposure risks diluting your work?

I have a friend who runs a record store and he likes to point to all the record bins and all the records and say, "This is not music. Music is when people come together, and somebody plays, and the sound waves go through the air, and other people hear it, and something happens that is unique to that time. This is just recordings of music." I really feel the same way about this piece. Theater is a part of human culture. In every culture there's some guy, whether he's shaking a coconut or wearing a mask. We do it in different ways, and when we can't do it the official way, through what we call The Theater, which is an overpriced boring exercise anyway, we use other methods. You go to your child's school play. Even that will give you a release.

So you think the books and soundtracks are alternate routes for the same impulse?

No. The work is the piece in the theater. The people who saw that and were there, those were the people who experienced it. If someone comes to me and says, "We want to make a book of this," or, "We want to make a record," the first thing I do is think about my own experience of records and books. Like Lenny Bruce, for instance. I've listened to and read everything he's performed, but I never saw him live. He was dead before I could. I'm happy that stuff exists. I know that's not the original experience, but I'm glad it's there. When Oliver Stone filmed Talk Radio, it wasn't the play and it couldn't be anything like it. This piece is closer, but it's still not the same.

You've said that this will be the final show that's simply a collection of character monologues, and that you're now going to concentrate on more conventional films and plays. Do you see this as an abandonment? A progression?

In a way it's all very precious to talk about these theories, but the funny thing is that what I do evolves on its own. Friends of mine I knew in high school come and see my shows when I'm in Boston. And they come backstage and say, "Oh that show was great, Eric. You haven't changed at all in, like, twenty years. You're doing the same shit you did in the back of the car." So this must be something that I need to do. There must be something essential there.

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