“You open the door of a theater, and if you’re lucky…” (interview excerpt, 2004)

People will say to me, “How can you make so much of a song? Aw, come on, it’s just for fun.” I’ve heard that all my life. It always means the same thing: Stop thinking.

I go over stuff that I’ve written, and sometimes I’m shocked by the pomposity, the stiffness, the plumminess. When I have that reaction, it means I wasn’t engaged. I was just throwing out a judgment, getting something over with. When I read stuff and it works, I don’t think, This is well done. I do have a great sense of event. I want to feel that writing something can open something for whoever is reading it. You don’t start with a judgment but rather with a feeling that something is going on here. That becomes an event in itself.

Sometimes, as you’re writing, you discover what you know. Sometimes you find out that you didn’t have a clue. The task for me is to make that into drama. I’m not very good at analyzing, but I like to dramatize. You open the door of a theater, and if you’re lucky, someone comes in. It speaks to them. It’s so far beyond suspension of belief, it’s suspension of identity. It’s like going to see a great production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night—you totally forget who you are and what you know.

In college, I never wrote a paper that wasn’t an all-nighter. I would clutch it in my hands, bring it in to class, feel absolutely heroic. I wrote a lot of Lipstick Traces in a state of ecstasy and delirium. I felt I was the first person to feel what was special about all this—that it was a wild horse, and I was riding it.

It goes back to Pauline Kael. When I read I Lost It at the Movies, I couldn’t believe how alive this person felt when she wrote it. I wanted to know how it felt to be engaged that way. In a way, I’ve yet to find out.

Yagoda cover

From The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing, edited by Ben Yagoda, HarperCollins, 2004

One thought on ““You open the door of a theater, and if you’re lucky…” (interview excerpt, 2004)

  1. how powerful this excerpt is …..the cliched complaint G.M. obliterates also fails to take into account what an honor it is for the performer/songwriter to have a first -rate mind and critical sensibility grapple with what they have produced and to discover meanings and implications in their work they may have been unaware of…

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