For the first time in the Current’s Fakebook series—a concert series pairing authors with like-minded rock bands at the Fitzgerald Theater, hosted by afternoon drive-time DJ Mary Lucia—I felt sympathy for poor Mary during her interview with Pompous Rock Crit Emeritus, Greil Marcus.
For the last couple of years, Fakebook has been the perfectly programmed series, bringing in writers who appeal to the ideal Current listener, the literate indie-rock lover. The station has booked John Hodgman, Neal Pollack, Chuck Klosterman, and Amy Sedaris. The interviews have been uniformly great, especially for what are basically book events, with the authors managing to elicit something more than the typical knowing “MPR chortle” out of the audience—people have actually laughed their asses off. But I’ve always thought the interviews have succeeded because of the level of talent they’ve brought in, that they’ve succeeded despite the interviewer, Mary Lucia.
Because as the Fakebook host, she totally bugs.
Look, The Current is the only music station that I listen to anymore. And I’ve been listening to Mary Lucia since she was on REV when I was a teenager; so in my lifetime of radio listening, I’ve heard her voice more than any other afternoon drive-time DJ’s.
There is no detracting from her local icon status. Her tone of voice is perfect for hosting an indie-rock radio program. Balanced between being a fan and being totally whatever, it’s probably the happy result of being Paul Westerberg’s sister and having been around legendary rock dudes her whole life. It serves her well, whether she’s sighing, “I love that song” after playing “Leave Without a Trace” for the millionth time, or whether she’s trying to keep Wayne Coyne on topic, or whether she’s trying to tease some interesting answers out of a road-weary rock quartet from Sydney, Australia. Mary’s our supercool older sister who’s been to all the shows and had all the dorky rock conversations with the rock stars themselves.
Basically, she has a conventional sense of humor that works great when she’s plowing through a list of questions intended to shake something novel out of a guitar player. But put her in front of an intellectual with impeccable comic timing, and Lucia comes off as rote. Like the time she asked Amy Sedaris, “If somebody put a gun to your head, what tattoo would you get?” And Sedaris answered with an are-you-kidding dismissal: “A gun?”
But in retrospect, the chemistry between Marcus-Lucia made Sedaris-Lucia look like Davis-Sarandon. Greil Marcus is given to crediting, say, a New Pornographer’s concert with, “restoring my faith in humanity.” In his most recent book, The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice , he compares Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address to Sleater-Kinney. Uh…yeah. He takes this rock stuff seriously . It’s a pretty dramatic departure from Lucia’s philosophy of “color me impressed.”
Their interview covered all the requisite ground: Greil’s comparison between British and American punk, Greil’s thoughts on Dylan going electric, Greil’s time as music editor for Rolling Stone, and Greil’s rock critic creed (“You can’t care if the artist likes you”). But the entire time there was a disconcerting rhythm to the back and forth between Lucia and Greil. It was hard to watch.
Q: Do you think Lester Bangs was writing at the perfect time? Do you think it would’ve been different if he was writing now, for Mojo or something?
Q: Do you think that back when you were editing Rolling Stone , the writers were able to write about themselves as much as they were writing about the music, and maybe that’s changed?
Q: Do you think that maybe Dylan left for awhile after his 1966 tour because he just didn’t want to get booed anymore?
Q: Do you have any strong feelings about David Bowie?
Greil expanded on each one of those “no’s,” often hilariously (with that cold, derisive hilarity of the academy). He went on a long digression about how much he loved Jakob Dylan, and he shocked the audience by asserting “Lucinda Williams is a fraud.” But as the interview went on, I started feeling for Mary Lucia, up there with her list of questions for the Great Man. I mean, maybe she hasn’t seen the Stones at Altamont, and maybe she’s not a Stanford professor who can quote D.H. Lawrence off the top of her head, but she’s been backstage at the Entry when Tommy threw a beer bottle at Bobby. She knows what punk rock is too. She just hasn’t written the book on it.
At one point, after Mary was earnestly giving Greil credit for the New Pornographer’s quote, saying she appreciated the “innocence” in it, he protested that there wasn’t anything innocent about his opinions. And then he sort of compared his critical thinking ability to Lenin’s (a quick Walter Sobchak is called for: “Shut the f*ck up, Donny! V. I. Lenin. Vladimir Illich Ulynov!”). Talking about how he keeps his critical focus, Greil referenced Lenin’s famous quote about how he couldn’t listen to Beethoven’s Apassionata because it made him “want to say sweet silly things, and pat the heads of little children.” It’s a great quote, and it really does say something about how we probably need hard-asses like Greil Marcus in the world— thinkers who are unafraid to be negative, who are unafraid to tell us the truth even if it bothers us (even if it’s only about how Rufus Wainwright probably stinks). But it also says something about how there’s something really insufferable about being the smartest guy in the room. Really, is there anything more pretentious than comparing yourself to V. I. Lenin?
We need the Mary Lucias of the world too. Maybe Fakebook works so well precisely because she’s never the smartest person in the room. She’s standing there in our place, asking the dumb questions we would ask. Charlie Rose does the same thing on his show, I suppose.
But Mary is way cooler than Charlie Rose.