inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #0 of 93: David Gans (tnf) Tue 25 Nov 03 17:31
    


 Max Ludington's first novel, "Tiger in a Trance," is the story of Jason
 Burke, a young man who begins following the Grateful Dead on tour in the
 mid-80s.  But don't make the mistake of thinking this is a novel for Dead-
 heads only!  The book has been called "Lucid and powerful.. destined to be a
 kind of classic" by New York Magazine; "Riveting... a mesmerizing picaresque
 tale" by the LA Times; "Excellent... a work that transcends the Grateful
 Dead genre (four stars)" by Rolling Stone; and "Startlingly good...  fero-
 cious command of character and Americana (grade: A)" by Entertainment
 Weekly.

 Max's fiction has appeared in Tin House, Nerve, Meridian, and the KGB Bar
 Fiction Anthology, among others. He lives in New York.

 Hosting the interview is Steve Silberman.  Steve is a contributing editor of
 Wired magazine; his articles appear regularly there.  In 1993, he wrote
 "Skeleton Key: A Dictionary for Deadheads" with David Shenk.  He co-produced
 the Grateful Dead box set "So Many Roads (1965-1995)" with David Gans and
 Blair Jackson, and his writings have appeared in The New Yorker, Time,
 Salon, and many other national publications.
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #1 of 93: Steve Silberman (digaman) Wed 26 Nov 03 11:59
    
Welcome, WELL and Web readers, and welcome, Max!

It's a deeply personal pleasure to interview Max, mostly because "Tiger in
a Trance" is such a well-crafted book, and also because the weird world
surrounding the Grateful Dead and their fans has proven tough to capture
in lucid prose.  There have been many many non-fiction books written on
the subject, some excellent, but the previous attempts to render that
chaotic, messy, glorious landscape in fiction fell rather flat to me.  It
was clear, while I was reading Max's book, that he was writing it as a
Writer first, and a Deadhead second -- and in doing so, produced a book
that was truer to the experience than accounts written by authors who came
to the subject mainly as fans;  and he also produced a book that can be
read by people who don't care about the Dead's music at all, but simply
want to read a very vivid novel.

So Max, my first two questions are:

1)  What was your personal journey toward becoming a novelist -- what 
books and authors inspired you to become a writer?

2)  When you began to conceive of "Tiger in a Trance," how did you hope to
balance your approach to the subject between the hard-eyed fiction writer
inside you and the guy who was a fan?

  
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #2 of 93: David Gans (tnf) Wed 26 Nov 03 12:05
    

Off-WELL readers are invited - urged! - to participate by sending questions
and comments to  inkwell-hosts@well.com
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #3 of 93: Max Ludington (maxludington) Thu 27 Nov 03 21:22
    
Thanks Steve,

1) It took me a while to come around to actually beginning to write in
earnest--I did when I was about 27, but I always loved reading and
books, and always had the idea in the back of my mind that I might be a
writer. Then once I started writing, it was 5 years or so before I
began producing anything publishable. The witers I admired most who
influenced and inspired me directly were people like Robert Stone,
Denis Johnson, and Thomas McGuane; as well as Walt Whitman, who was
more of a talisman than an influence somehow.

2)The balance between writer and fan was eseentially this: the writer
was the one conceiving and writing the book, the fan was the one on
whom the character of the narrator was loosely based. It's probably
always a fine balance for a somewhat autobiographical novel in
first-person, but the hard-eyed writer must ultimately be in charge.
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #4 of 93: Steve Silberman (digaman) Fri 28 Nov 03 06:25
    
Thanks, Max.  Next questions:  1)  Besides the fact that "Tiger" is so
well written, why would someone who isn't a Deadhead -- or even someone
who hates the Dead's music -- care about this subculture?  What function
do you think the Deadhead subculture filled in the larger societal
context, besides being really fun for the people who were in it?

2)  What aspects of this world are you proudest of capturing in your book?  
Is there something that was missed by previous writers on the subject -- 
from Tom Wolfe's "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," which was probably most 
people's first glimpse of at least the very beginnings of the subculture, 
to later writers who tried to chronicle this world historically?

3)  In a related question, I've heard a couple of people say that, because
(without revealing too much for those who haven't read it) heroin plays a
role in your book, you chose to focus on certain "darker" aspects of what
was going on;  what do you say to people who claim that you centered on a 
particularly sleazy side of the scene?  After all, weren't there just a 
lot of squeaky-clean kids who smoked pot, maybe dabbled in a little acid 
at most, and most just treated Dead shows as a giant picnic?

4)  OK, a big question.  There has been a lot of talk over the years about 
how something spiritual was going on at Dead shows -- from the naive kids 
who believed that Jerry Garcia was somehow enlightened, to those who used 
the situation of the concerts as a kind of ad hoc peyote ritual, to sober 
Deadheads who held meetings at shows and used the music to access their 
Higher Power.  Did you experience something transcendent at shows, and if 
so, why?  What was happening that encouraged that kind of experience?

5) Do you still listen to the Dead?  Has your feeling about the music 
changed since Jerry died?  What other music do you listen to?
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #5 of 93: No hablo Greenspaņol (sd) Fri 28 Nov 03 15:30
    
Hey Max,
A wonderful book. thanks.
I'll let you get on with Steve's chunk of questions but want to say
how glad we are to have you here.

I dug that Whitman was big for Jason. The other references you mention
above seem to be real guy type writers at least on the surface.
Stone's Outerbridge Reach was a guy book with a secret female hero i
suppose.

Are you working on another project yet?
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #6 of 93: beneath the blue suburban skies (aud) Fri 28 Nov 03 18:38
    
Hi Max, hey guys.  Your book grabbed me right off, starting out at one of my
favorite times ever on the road, Richmond '85.  I'm interested ot know how
much of what you wrote came from personal experience...so much of what you
wrote was familiar to me, though I am damn glad I missed the dark side of
the tourheads...
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #7 of 93: Steve Silberman (digaman) Sat 29 Nov 03 05:21
    
Hey, sorry for that stack of questions.  I promise to keep it one at a 
time.  :)
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #8 of 93: No hablo Greenspaņol (sd) Sat 29 Nov 03 08:34
    
a born enthused interviewer is our diga.
our hope for years to come.
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #9 of 93: weird and conflicted and all resentful and shit (izzie) Sat 29 Nov 03 13:18
    

Hey there.  I picked your book up today, Max.  I'll be joining in with
question, I'm sure, soon now!
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #10 of 93: David Gans (tnf) Sat 29 Nov 03 14:22
    

Chris Willman gave "Tiger in a Trance" an "A" in his review in the 8/22-29
issue of Entertainment Weekly:



  TIGER IN A TRANCE
  Max Ludington
  Debut novel (Doubleday, $21.95)
  Deadheads will form the initial queue for this startingly good debut, a
  road book that follows a boarding school dropout-turned-Ecstasy dealer
  who intermittently joins the movable feast that trailed Jerry Garcia &
  Co. in the late '80s.  Ludington earns knowing laughs from critical
  quirks among the faithful ("Taking a piss during 'CC Rider' had become
  almost automatic for me ... I would usually be standing at a urinal
  when Bobby's lugubrious, off-key attempt at a slide solo reached me
  muffled by a cinder-block wall").  And few writers have managed more
  clearheaded descriptions of getting high - or coming down.  But it'd be
  a shame if the words "Dead" and "drugs" scared off serious-lit types,
  who might otherwise marvel at Ludington's ferocious command of
  character and Americana.
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #11 of 93: David Gans (tnf) Sat 29 Nov 03 14:23
    

A couple of my favorite passages from the book:

>  "There are two times of day on heroin: dusk and night.  Night feels more
>  comfortable, because it is what it is, there's no real change in it.  The
>  daylight hours become an eerie protracted dusk, and for the strung out,
>  true daylight ceases to exist.  A thin, smoky filter has been drawn across
>  the sky (or across the eyes -- does it matter which?), and even the
>  brightest light seems attenuated.  I became aware of this only because
>  when night did fall, halfway back to Carmel, I realized it had seemed to
>  be about to fall for hours.  This had the dual effect of an expected and
>  unexpected arrival: expected because it followed dusk, surprising because
>  after so long a dusk it might not have been coming at all."


>  "With the city of vehicles laid out around it, the Hampton Coliseum became
>  the spot, the place where it was happening.  The country was full of these
>  hollow cathedrals, kept useful by hockey and basketball games, Promise
>  Keeper rallies, golf equipment expositions.  Then we came and filled them
>  up for a night or three, made them shine.  I was reading Whitman, and
>  thinking of the whole country as holy: every unfurled prairie and oil-
>  stained filling station and filthy city, every mountain range and strip-
>  malled nowhere had its eidolon; but when we gathered for shows it seemed
>  to focus this quality, and the stadiums shimmered like mirages in the
>  rising excitement.  Any show might be one of those nights when the crowd
>  and the band got together and hammered out something powerful, joyous, and
>  deeply, if fleetingly, important.  The parking lots teemed with old-
>  timers, fledglings, saints, schoolkids, ccrazies, metalheads, jagged-eyed
>  prophets, punks, junkies, ascetics.  Why did so many people congregate
>  around a rock band?  Put their lives on hold, or make their lives on tour?
>   To have fun, yes.  To party and get high and associate with all manner of
>  freaks, sure.  But that couldn't be the crux of the biscuit, as Zappa put
>  it.  There was something the music drew from us, and from the ether, and
>  on those nights we became distilled, purified, drunk on it.  The drugs and
>  love and sex and craziness were crucial, but it was the lenslike qualiy of
>  the music that gathered and focused the inner numen of the land, drew us
>  back again and again, and created among us a vortex of expectancy, obses-
>  sion, and ritual."
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #12 of 93: weird and conflicted and all resentful and shit (izzie) Sat 29 Nov 03 19:55
    

So to the folks who've asked me if I'm reading the book yet, yes, I am
reading the book.  I'm not to the heroin, and I'm not to Hampton Coliseum
yet.  I just finished Part One.

Nice work, Max.  I'm hearing voices instead of reading words, and it already
feels like I know some of the people.  I don't read a lot of fiction
anymore, and am not used to caring about characters right off, but this is a
little different.

Have you already answered the big Why?  Why'd you write this piece?  I'll 
go back and reread these first few posts again now.
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #13 of 93: Howard Levine (hll) Sun 30 Nov 03 08:05
    
 Hi Max - I enjoyed reading your book.  I have to say, though, that I got a
little angry while reading it.  Although I knew a little about the dark side
of the tour, your story made me think of the destruction of the scene that I
had known and loved from the late '60s through the '70s.  Your reporting of
the scene around the shows, although in some ways mimicking part of what was
happening on the inside, made me sorry that this "alternate" fringe of
people got associated with the band's scene.  It is my thoguht that, just as
it led Bill Graham to close the Fillmore East, it led to the Dead losing
their "anonymity" and the laissez-faire attitude with their fans.
 On th eother hand, I really enjoyed your portrayal of the characters, most
somewhat superficially, but that's probably all that was there.
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #14 of 93: a meat-vessel, with soul poured in (wellelp) Sun 30 Nov 03 21:17
    
From <4>, <digaman>
>>After all, weren't there just a  lot of squeaky-clean kids who
smoked pot, maybe dabbled in a little acid  at most . . .

Many people would disagree that is squeaky-clean behavior.  Which
leads to a question: Were people who didn't do drugs a part of the
scene? If so, were they marginalized, or embraced? And what percentage,
best guess, were they?
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #15 of 93: weird and conflicted and all resentful and shit (izzie) Mon 1 Dec 03 06:36
    

Wharf Rats!  When did they start?
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #16 of 93: Max Ludington (maxludington) Mon 1 Dec 03 06:57
    
Hi everyone! sorry for my little absence. I had a houseguest and
family stuff this weekend. I'll try to get to everyone as today goes
on. Right now I'm going to read all the questions and think a bit
before spouting off. okay...
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #17 of 93: Max Ludington (maxludington) Mon 1 Dec 03 09:34
    
Okay, first to Steve’s questions.

1.      I think Jerry said it best in an interview when he talked about how
people in this country used to head west, or run away with the circus,
or ride the rails. The Dead filled that spot for young people seeking
adventure and experience beyond the confines of “society.” Of course
there was more to it, on different levels for different people, but
essentially that was the thing in terms of its place in the culture as
a whole I think. Plus a lot of great, completely unique music.

2.      I’m not sure there was something that was missed by earlier
writers, but the experience changed and evolved over time—not always
for the best, obviously. I empathize with Howard, who commented later,
about the anger over the deterioration of the scene on some levels. I
wasn’t around in the 60’s and 70’s, so I could only go on my own
experience—but I’ll get into that in the next question…

3.      I guess I just used my own experience as a guide. I know there were
a lot of people who had different experiences, and a different kind of
book might have been able to encompass, or show, all of them. To be
honest, among the people I knew who made their lives completely on
tour, I didn’t know many who weren’t fairly deeply entrenched in the
drug scene, at least in the 80’s. That doesn’t mean they weren’t there,
and it doesn’t mean everyone got into heroin—not by a long shot. But
drug taking was ubiquitous, and drug abuse and dealing were everywhere
too in the tour scene—at least the one I was involved in.

4.      Did I experience something transcendent at shows? In a word, Yes.
Yes. This too may have been many different things for different people,
but I think  most would say they felt something of it. The “without a
net” improvisation combined with a kind of group-mind energy, and on
the good nights it was something deeply special. I entered the Dead
scene as a non-believer in any kind of higher plane, afterlife,
whatever, and became a believer along the way. Do I claim to know
exactly what I believe in? No. But I experienced something that changed
my mind. “Something great” as Whitman said. I always feel that things
like that suffer from over-analysis, so I’ll leave it at that. And yes,
I still listen to the Dead, and love it! I also love jazz and blues,
and try to keep up with new stuff that’s good. Coldplay has grown on me
recently, and I’m listening to a lot of old Stones and Aretha Franklin
for some reason—great stuff.


Okay on to the rest. Thanks SD. And yes, I guess those are kind of
“guy” writers, though maybe not Denis Johnson so much. And Stone does
women beautifully usually. I’m reading Shirley Hazzard’s “Transit of
Venus” right now, and it is spectacular.
        Thanks Izzie. As to the big Why, I guess it was more of a personal
imperative than a societal or cultural one. As a writer I felt
compelled to write this book. Why did I feel compelled? Hmmm… I’ll
think on that some more.
        Howard, as I said earlier, I understand your feelings. Obviously I
didn’t write the book as an indictment of the scene’s destruction, but
I tried my best to give an honest portrayal and let people take it on
their own terms. 
        As to Wellelp, Yes I think people who didn’t do drugs were definitely
a part of the scene. Anyone who joined it was in their own way a part
of it. I know a lot of people who cleaned up and kept going to many
shows and having a great time, and I’m sure there were plenty who had
no need of cleaning up too. Don’t know when the Wharf Rats started.
        I don’t think the act of writing this book has made me any kind of an
expert on the Dead scene. I’m just another Deadhead who happens to be
a writer too, and like most first-novelists I drew on my own experience
to write a book. I hope the book stands as a story and character
study—a novel—first and foremost, and also that my evocation of the
scene was a true one. Okay, on we go…
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #18 of 93: weird and conflicted and all resentful and shit (izzie) Mon 1 Dec 03 10:03
    

thanks, Max!  I joined the scene in the 80's too (although I think my first
how might have been a '79), so can't say that I was there for the 60's and
70's stuff either.  And I was only on the scene for a few years - not the
whole decade.  But.  I went to the first two Further's in Denver, and was
appalled by the scene.  that's kind of what I hear Howard saying - those
damned kids!  Look what they've done to Our Scene!
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #19 of 93: didn't anybody tell them about the dumpster in back? (jonsson) Mon 1 Dec 03 12:52
    
in humbolt county where i lived for a few years, the dead related
shows were rife with shoplifters. i didn't take the shorthaired
retailer's complaints seriously until on a concert afternoon,
i saw a couple of tie-dyed non-locals kneeling before the granola bins
at the grocery store and wolfing down by the handful. 

on the otherhand i met a few deadhead in the bay area that could
pass almost for mormon missionaries. i need to read this book, to 
get a fuller picture.

lenny kayes liner notes for live/dead reflect on the dead/biker thing.
i was wondering how much of the biker/dead connection continued into
the 80's & 90's?
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #20 of 93: Adam Perry (adamice9) Mon 1 Dec 03 14:30
    
Max, first of all it was great meeting you and getting to see that
you're a great guy and not just a great writer. I am in fact a
Deadhead, but one thing that really made me love your book was that it
was not a book about the Grateful Dead, and so many previous authors
have missed that point, in my opinion. In "Tiger in a Trance, the
Grateful Dead's music was simply a character in your story and their
shows/tours a setting, while other writers have simply made themselves
characters in (their perception of) the Dead's story.

I was re-reading "Narcissus and Goldmund" at the same time I read your
book and I saw some great parallels, especially how Jason and
Narcissus both realized that pain and pleasure are essentially the same
thing and embraced the fact that words are all but unnecessary many of
life's most important moments.

One thing I was curious about, and that you may have touched on
slightly already, was how much writing you actually did during this
period of your life, the life on tour. Did you sit down years after
Garcia's death and just start writing from scratch, or did you have
notes, poems, journals, etc from your touring years to browse through?

Also, on a less serious note, what was your last Grateful Dead show
and to what extent are you still a Deadhead? Do you listen to tapes
often, do you go to see Phil and Friends, Ratdog, the "Dead," etc?

And what do you think of Phish (both their music and the mostly
evanescent culture that surrounds them)? They have been called the
heirs to the Grateful Dead's throne, but in fact their music, lyrics
and following are very different for better or worse. 

Do you think this "last American frontier" that you experienced, and
that Garcia frequently spoke of, was paved over with the disastrous
Summer '95 tour and with his death? And do you think Garcia would still
be around if the Grateful Dead had taken a 2-year hiatus (maybe after
Brent's death) the way Phish took a hiatus from 2000-2002?
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #21 of 93: Steve Silberman (digaman) Mon 1 Dec 03 14:56
    
> I was re-reading "Narcissus and Goldmund" at the same time I read your
 book and I saw some great parallels, especially how Jason and
 Narcissus both realized that pain and pleasure are essentially the same
 thing and embraced the fact that words are all but unnecessary many of
 life's most important moments.




That's a brilliant insight, and Narcissus and Goldmund is one of my 
favorite books -- my second favorite tale of homosexual mystical 
initiation, after Moby Dick.  :)

Thanks for your comments, everyone.  Keep 'em comin'!
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #22 of 93: Howard Levine (hll) Mon 1 Dec 03 18:02
    
 I'm not saying "those darn kids".  The scene in the '60s and early '70s was
not a clean scene by any stretch.  There were all kinds of freaks thrown
together in the circus.  But, it didn't seem to have the nasty edge that
emerged.  Maybe the harder drugs taking over had a big role, maybe society's
change during the '80s forced people to the road as life (not putting it
down), but something in the scene took a turn, IMO for the worse.
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #23 of 93: weird and conflicted and all resentful and shit (izzie) Mon 1 Dec 03 18:42
    

Cool, Howard.  Thanks, for my part, for clearing that up!  (I know tha might
sound snarky in ASCII, but really - it's cool.  thanks.)
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #24 of 93: Steve Silberman (digaman) Tue 2 Dec 03 07:57
    
Max, what were the hardest parts of the book to write?

Also, you've gotten some great reviews.  (In fact, have you gotten even a 
single negative one?)  But is there anything in Tiger in a Trance that you 
wish more reviewers -- or more readers -- had picked up on?  
  
inkwell.vue.202 : Max Ludington: Tiger in a Trance
permalink #25 of 93: weird and conflicted and all resentful and shit (izzie) Tue 2 Dec 03 09:51
    

got to the real heroin parts last night.  my goodness - you really nailed 
it, Max. 

I am liking the web of characters.  the coming and going of the various 
people in Jason's life.  It's coming across to me as very genuine - these 
are real people, in real events, making their way.
  

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