Curiosity Quills author, and Grammy Award winning composer, A.W. Hill recently wrote a very thought provoking political article on Medium. It resonated so much so that CQ CEO Alisa, who is also active in the political field, just had to sit down with A.W. Hill to ask him some questions on the current political climate, how that effects his writing, and his hopes for his son’s future.
1) You are a composer, and author. And a dad - a damn cool one, I’m guessing, if your teen doesn’t mind collaborating with you on a major project, which is no little feat, I can tell, as mom to a pre-teen. Now you are jumping into politics. Is this a new development? Or have you always considered yourself an activist?
My earliest political memory is of being taken by my mother to a John F. Kennedy rally in a Chicago suburb. It was in a high school gym. There was a lot of love in the room, but also a lot of hate. I wanted to understand the hate. It was both horrifying and fascinating. In those days, there were “John Birchers” around. I suspect that some of my friends’ fathers were sympathetic, if not card-carrying. Many of them, in their shadow selves, would have wished Kennedy dead. Why? What was so threatening? I was too young to make any rational sense of it, but a couple years later, when my mom called me into the livingroom to witness black children being water-hosed and beaten in Birmingman, two things happened in my brain, one a purely emotional jolt, the other more like a new wrinkle. The cruelty was the jolt. It came from the hatred, and the hatred was painted bright red on the black and white TV on the scowling faces of the white brutalizers. But the hatred was only possible because the brutalizers didn’t see the others as being “like themselves.” And as I say in the Medium piece, we favor our own kind. I’m sure that this “racial awareness” colored my visceral anger about the Vietnam War. I carried it in my belly for ten years. Once again, we were making war on the stranger. I felt a young man’s fury in those days, and within about six weeks of arriving at Knox College in the cornfields of western Illinois, I’d converted every one of my Republican’s son dormmates to opposition. It wasn’t just my rhetorical skills. I also got them high. And when they were high, I made them see their own death in the jungle, while listening to The Beatles Revolution #9 spun backwards on a turntable. I’m a little embarrassed to say that on the night we announced the unified opposition of the Drew House Men’s Dormitory to the War in Vietnam—a night when the snow fell heavy and wet and made perfect iceballs—we also broke every window in the building. So, yeah, the political feelings have always been there, but my expression of them at a scale beyond my own circle is something new, and that’s only possible because of the Internet.
2) President Trump has won on a platform of “making America great again”. Do you think his presidency can really achieve that, if only by making people come together, awaken politically, find courage to speak up in the face of adversity? In fact, is any true socio-economic growth possible without major political upheavals?
People, including myself, gave Susan Sarandon a lot of grief for saying America might get to where it needed to go faster if Trump, not Clinton, were elected. But it’s true that authoritarian regimes have always inspired rebellion and creativity, and occasionally, an Enlightenment. Eventually. But in the meantime, people get crushed. Many of them just disappear off the face of the earth. They can’t survive what happens when all the money and power gets moved up to the head of the snake. So it’s a kind of accelerated Darwinian purge, a passive genocide. On a very primal, pre-rational level, I think that’s what the people around Trump are aiming for. That’s not what they see, of course. They see a shining city on a hill, hard steel glinting on Hyperborean ice, and the friendly faces of those like themselves. Isn’t that what “anti-globalism” and “neo-nationalism” really mean: erecting the fortress walls and huddling with our tribe in the castle keep. Then, inevitably, a Resistance forms, but not quite the way it does in Game Of Thrones or The Hunger Games. It can take years of suffering. So, all in all, despite the excitement and frisson of watching that resistance take shape, I’d have rather seen people fed and borders broadened under eight boring years of Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel than count the weeks before the next war begins.
3) To come back to the article. I know it must have taken you days if not weeks to get all the reference material together. Where do you see this being used? And do you intend to produce more of those deeper think-pieces?
It took a while, but not weeks. I work very fast when I’m motivated by both intellectual curiosity and unemployment. But yes, there were lots of puzzle pieces, and if you’re going to make a case, you have to put them together. “Where do you see this being used?” Man, if that isn’t the question that dogs my every step. Through five novels, two screenplays, hundreds of songs and homemade productions, those nearest and dearest to me have asked, “So what are you gonna do with this thing?” I never know. I am possibly the least entrepreneurial person in my universe of friends and workmates. I really, truly, sincerely and ’literally’ do this stuff because I have to. I would love for people to read it. I would love for as many people to read my words as read Trump’s idiotic tweets. I’m not a true Bohemian. I do write to make a living. But I write about what interests me and I long ago let go the of expectation of immediate reward. As to writing more think pieces, it’s probably inescapable. There are quite a few up on my authors site at http://www.awhill.net/blog.htm and http://www.awhill.net/disc.htm. It isn’t just politics. I like to write about music and sex, too. Ultimately, all writers follow desire—not just their own but that of the readers. If enough people express desire for A.W. Hill think pieces, then that’s what I’ll write.
4) Medium, your blogging platform on which your piece is actually published in full, has become a handy portal for politics, science, economics. Do you see such sites as Medium or Breitbart replacing traditional journalism now, or in the foreseeable future?
I hope not, because if journalism unmotivated by profit ever disappears completely, we will be truly screwed. It’s never been pure, of course, There was always a need to sell papers and air time. But there was a time when journalism received kind of a tacit subsidy from media organizations, a bit more like what happens with the BBC. That was the journalism that took down Richard Nixon. Open blogging sites like Medium are great public squares—an opportunity to nail your bill of grievances to the church doors—and if a piece happens to go viral, it can make a difference. But I’ve given up most faith in the transcendent power of the Internet. Now, maybe if a highly respected institution (and there are few), like Stanford University, set up its own “Medium,” using endowment funds and not advertising dollars, and it came to be widely cited and quoted in mainstream journalism, we’d see it having something like the effect that public intellectuals used to have, especially in Europe. But for now, uninformed, unmoderated opinion rules. Trump really sets the paradigm for that, with his one hundred-forty character squawks about things he thought of thirty seconds earlier. It’s a firefight, and if we disagree, we have no choice but to pick up a flamethrower. I just hope the opposition never becomes as reckless and shrill as the Trump people are.
5) Speaking of your co-author, what does Nathanael think of all this? Are he and his peers now finding themselves more involved in the “grown-up affairs”? Did he participate in the writing of the article? Do his friends see themselves now getting involved in activism, not unlike the youth of the 60’s and 70’s has been so instrumental in the influx of progressivism into the reactionary, anti-Communist climate of the 50’s?
Nathanael didn’t have a hand in writing it, but we’ve talked about all of its subjects, and he’s beginning to find his own voice. He just did a paper for his APUSH class comparing the pre-Depression 1930’s to the Reagan 1980’s—both eras pushing money to the top and then watching it fall—and I was surprised by the conviction behind his words. Yes, I think that as long as young Millennials (and whatever the next generation is called) don’t fall into either dogmatism or apathy, and avoid fashionable nihilism like the plague, they could be the current that overcomes the reactionary tide.
6) To bring this back to a more literary topic - are there any fiction books you would recommend modern youth had added to their curriculum that it does not study now, as a precautionary measure? How about non-fiction? Do you ever feel yourself thinking / feeling, “well, in my day, we used to study this, but now…” Or do you feel the current education standards cover adequately cover what you want your son to be aware of / internalize at his age?
Well, they all seem to be reading 1984 these days, and that can’t hurt. A dose of Kurt Vonnegut and R.D. Laing —maybe even Carlos Castaneda—for good measure. But mostly, I would wish for my son and the children of others to read books that are empathy-inducing. Not necessarily political. The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, for example. I have no doubt that books like that are out there right now, but with the demise of authoritative weekly book reviews, many of us never hear about them. They got a good start with the Harry Potter books. Those were far more subversive than we realized (the reactionary Right knows this—that’s why they burn them!) It’s also good to go back to sources, like Plato and Rousseau and Gandhi. To see where ideas come from. Until I sat down to write this Medium piece, I’d never really understood what “classic conservative” theorists like Edmund Burke and Thomas Carlyle espoused. This debate has been going on for a very long time.
7) Last question: Switch has been written in the pre-Trump era. Will the outcome of the last presidential election, with which clearly you are nowhere close to satisfied, influence the content / direction of the sequel? Why or why not? Do you believe young adult fiction has a role to unobtrusively serve as sort of a primer on ethical adult behavior, or would adhering to such a standard unnecessarily, and unavoidably, limit the author’s creativity and tunnel their vision?
There’s a passage in The Switch where Gordon, who is the most experienced of the multiverse-hoppers, speculates that whoever has installed the switches wants to make a new kind of human. One who can find a home in any universe, with any set of contingencies, within any culture. It’s not so different from the idea of the “warrior as peacemaker” idea that’s found in a lot of very ancient mythology. I don’t think that fiction should ever be overtly about ethics, and I understand why some conservatives bristled at the politically correct bedtime stories of the 80’s and 90’s. But we can use the tried and true methods of allegory, satire, and fable to create models of both good and bad (which, for me, is basically empathetic v. sociopathic) behavior. Fiction has always done that, and I don’t see that obligation as limiting. Within just the last year, young people hves felt the life of the world—the life outside their own bubbles—suddenly take on a real urgency. I expect that the next time Jacobus Rose and his cohort pull the switch, it will be with deliberateness and with a fairly urgent mission to perform. Maybe even a rescue.
Excerpts from the Article
“If you want to understand a political movement, look to its fringes. That’s where its most committed ideologues huddle: the true believers, the people willing to suffer scorn for its sake.”
“What the thinkers who constellate the Alt-Right/Anti-Globalist universe seem to have in common is a disdain — no, let’s call it what it is: contempt — for the ideal of egalitarianism and its political expression as democracy.”
“There is much confusion about political labels these days. What may clear the air a bit is to remind ourselves of the historical origins of the terms “right wing” and “left wing.”“
About A.W. Hill
A.W. Hill is a classic late bloomer. He began his writing career in 1995, under the influence of California—a place that makes one believe that crazy things are possible. Until then, he was (and still is) involved professionally in one aspect or another of the music business. He was a rocker, playing the circuit until he turned 31. His last band was called TigerTiger, after the William Blake poem, which may indicate that his literary aspirations were already germinating. In 1995, when he began work on what would become his first novel, ENOCH’S PORTAL, he had just left a 9-year stint as Vice President of Music Production for Walt Disney Studios.
(PORTAL, in a textbook instance of beginner’s luck, was optioned by Paramount Pictures and slated for production as a $60mil movie, only to crash into turnaround when the producers, director and studio couldn’t agree on a script)
That was 2000. That same year, he won a Grammy Award, which ought to have made it his favorite year, except that it was also the one in which he reported the lowest adjusted gross income ever to Internal Revenue Service, consisting in part of my meager earnings as a pseudonymous writer of women’s erotica.
He wrote two more books with the same protagonist as in PORTAL—THE LAST DAYS OF MADAME REY and NOWHERE-LAND, published, respectively, by Carroll & Graf in 2004, and Counterpoint Press in 2010.
The fourth year of the new century was also the one in which he first had short works of literary erotica published under his own name, in Susie Bright’s BEST AMERICAN EROTICA and in an esoteric journal called Absinthe Literary Review, the latter of which awarded him its Eros/Thanatos Award for short fiction.
Along the way, he was introduced by his literary agent, Dorris Halsey, longtime agent to Aldous Huxley, to an Indian physicist in need of a ghostwriter. Together, they dove deeply in quantum physics and the mysteries of the cosmos. He allows that his experience in editing two books on these subjects is perhaps the only thing that gave him the confidence to undertake THE SWITCH. Between 2012-2015, he spent four years teaching film composers in Europe, and along the way, produced an independent album, Another Country, for iTunes .