Vol. 3, Issue #15 August 29th - Sept. 11th, 2008

Conversation Between a Bloody Ol' Mule & Charles Martin
By: Zeke Bleak

So the “editor” of NONzine calls me up and says he wants me to do a couple of interviews. “I want you to talk to Shilo from the Book Beat because his Bloody Ol’ Mule CD is coming out, and Charles Martin - a local writer - about his new book. “Man, two interviews? I dunno, you never pay me.” He acted all offended for a second and mumbled something about supporting local art, and that he never gets paid either, etc. “Okay, okay stop whining. I’ll do it, but my way.” So I did. I found out that this Charles Martin guy and Shilo are freinds, so I posted up outside of the Book Beat to wait for him to show up. When he did, I became a fly. I buzzed into the Book Beat, very wary of books but excited enough to be getting a real interview, one where the subjects don’t even know I’m there. It was like they were interviewing each other, especially after I put their first initials in bold print before every question. I’m so cool. Here is what I heard:

C-Country music’s biggest strength lies in the stories -- tell me about some of the stories on the new album.

S-The Bloody Ol’ Mule album is called “Backwood Tales of Love and Horror” and those songs are based anywhere from murder or pining over a girl or the loss of a girl.

C- You’ve got this distinctive, gruff, rough country style with the pounding porchboard and the furious strumming. How did you come up with your persona?

S-Here’s where I get in trouble. (laughs) It’s me, it’s all me. That’s what’s good about the band. It brings that down a bit. What you’re getting, its all me. There’s no persona, I don’t think I could do that. I ain’t going to go out and kill people, but at the same time, you write about that and you get it out of the way. Murder ballads have been around for a long time, “Knoxville Girl” is an old Appalachian folk song and is about killing a girl and throwing her in the river. I carry on in that tradition and it’s more my interest in those old murder ballads. “The Country Death Song” that the Violent Femmes do, that’s a murder ballad and a damn good one.
The stories that I write come from things people have told, things I’ve experienced as a voyeur. I was down at the Blue Bonnet in Norman, that beer joint on Main street. You know it?

C-Oh yeah, that’s an interesting place.

S-I was sitting at the bar and this girl came up to me and said ‘you look lonely,’ and I said ‘no, no, I’m just waiting for a friend. So, she started telling me about how it’s her birthday and how that night, she was going to go home and take a shower and when she got out, her husband would be there wearing nothing but a pink ribbon. ‘Yeah, he’ll have a pink ribbon around his dick.’ I say ‘I guess that’s a good birthday present,’ but I’m thinking ‘I just want to sit here, drink my beer.’

C-Those are wonderful moments, you get to step into this whole new world.

S-Yeah, and I went home and wrote it all down. I just couldn’t let myself forget that. She tells me, ‘all night we’ll be bumping and grinding, it’ll be pink on pink with that ribbon on. Only thing is at 8 in the morning, I’m pushing him off me because I have to got to work.’

S-So, I’ll ask you the same question you asked me, do you take on a persona when you’re writing?

C- Probably more often than not, I do write in persona. I find it interesting to create an entire world and step into a role. I’m also a character writer in that I like taking on a persona for 300 pages, that the narrator and the structure will change just as much as the story. I couldn’t be the kind of writer who had a basic template for every novel, all the elements were basically the same and only the story changed. That’s what made ‘the dominant hand’ so interesting, that I could step out into so many different roles.
My approach to writing originated with people telling me what I shouldn’t do as a writer. There are just so many rules, so many taboos and hallways you can’t go down. So when someone tells me, you can’t do this, it can’t be done well, then I’m going to go do it just to show them I can. ‘the dominant hand’ came from that, while having a conversation about how interesting I thought it’d be if to have the perspective and the voice change from one chapter to the next. The person told me no one would read it because it would be too hard to follow, guaranteeing that I would go do it just to show them I could.
So, what do you think new writers, such as myself, can do to sell books in this new market?

S-Comparing yourself to someone else is good and bad, but it helps people if they don’t know who you are. If you are up and coming, if you are trying to explain how this person writes or sings, if you can say ‘he sounds like Hank Williams Sr.’ or ‘he has that writing style like William S. Burroughs. He’s like Chuck Palahniuk, not just like him, but he’s in the same vein and definitely worth reading.’ People then go, ‘oh, I’ll check it out then.’ They’ll lean forward and pay attention.

C-I knew going into it that my biggest problem would be the crowd, the ones I sell to aren’t the kind that don’t really look out for a book signing. You can get them to book stores, but not at prescribed time and place. Whenever I do events with Nicole (Moan), Pseudodance and Simple Tree outside a book store, I do well. Once I’m in a book store, it seems to categorize me as something uninteresting to my target audience.

S-Sadly, take a look around in Oklahoma. When you see a book signing in the paper, you think ‘why the fuck would I want to go to that?’ Everybody gets categorized with that frame of mind. I don’t want to hear about this lady’s cookbook, or this guy’s book, and underground literature gets swept underneath all that. The reading you had here was a good exercise to get a feel of how this works. It’s always better to put a performance around your work.

C-When we went to the Nightingale Theatre in Tulsa, Lynna with Pseudodance had me come out in the midst of their performance to do a reading, all the while they were still performing. That was the first time I felt a crowd really get ignited by my work. I was a little worried that they weren’t listening, but just liked that it was weird. Afterwards, they all seemed to really respond though and I sold a lot of books that night. That’s a hard way to do it though, you can’t do that in a bookstore, you can’t really do it in a normal bar. The kind of venues you can get away with at are fairly limited.

S-You don’t approach it as I am just reading selections from a book, you approach it like you are a performer. I am performing this work and that is the way Robert Spencer is. It’s poetry, nobody cares about poetry books. The classics, yeah, but up-and-coming poets, nobody gives a shit about you. You have to perform it and put a twist on it.
From my experience, Robert Spencer is the only guys that can walk into a place and sell books to everyone that came to the reading. There were a lot of people at his last reading and the majority of people there weren’t writers and just like his stuff or think he’s entertaining.

C-Yeah, I heard about the show through music people, from people who usually tell me about bands playing that I should check out. ‘There’s this Robert Spencer guy who writes poetry that you should check out.’ ‘Huh, that’s interesting that I would hear that from you,’ so I went. That’s what I’m hoping to inspire within music crowds, ‘oh there’s this guy Charles from the Gazette and he wrote this book and has really entertaining readings and you should check him out. It’s not like a real reading.’

S-That’s the key, to make it interesting and sell it as something that is different. You got these guys who put out poetry books and they go read. Everyone in the crowd are also poets that are there to check out what he’s writing so they can one up them, use it as an educational book. Then, if they really like it, they come up and say ‘I really like you’re book, well I got a book too and I was hoping we could maybe swap books.’

C-Oh, I hate that. Someone says ‘I’ve got this cd I pressed for 50 cents, wanna trade for your book that cost $6 to print?’ No, not really. Sure, I have a publisher, but the process is still really expensive.
What I would love to do with my book is to have a soundtrack with it. Since the whole book revolves around a band, Shropshire Plaid, I’d love to have a fake Shropshire Plaid album.

S-That would be cool.

C- The crux of the album is exploring that line between fact and fiction, what is legend and what is true. The book reads like a non-fiction novel, so use the album to push that myth of a band where this lead singer forms a cult that might have saved the world.

C-So, do you feel there are limitations to what a one man band can do?

S-Not really, if you want to do something, you can get it done. I’ve heard people say I’m a wild motherfucker when it comes to playing music. My personality is that way too. It reflects in Bloody Ol’ Mule. The thing I like about my band is I can put these two guys behind me and it waters me down in a good way and produces that other sound I like: pure country music and Honkey Tonk. Music to drink beer and dance to.

C-Has honkey tonk gone underground?

S-Used to be mainstream, but you talk to people today, ‘ah, I hate country music.’ Well, that’s cool, but you get to talking to them, start talking about Hank Williams Sr. or Lefty Frizzell ‘Oh, I like that stuff!’ Well, that’s country music, not this poppy shit, and that poppy country music is the same as what you see on MTV. Every type of music has its mainstream and country is no different.
Real country and honkey tonk is underground. We’re all wanting to go back to doing things they way they are supposed to be done, from 1977 back. Right before that fucking ‘Urban Cowboy’ movie came out and ruined country music.

C-As a musician and owner of a book store, where do you think the underground current is running?

S-I don’t really think about it that much, I’m so busy doing my own thing. I know there are two different scenes going on, the rockabilly/country/blues scene that runs completely different then the rest of the bands here. There is a lot of talent, though.

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