Maverick art critic Dave Hickey, for years a Las Vegan before moving to New Mexico, returns for a sure-to-be-raucous panel at the Vegas Valley Book Festival. We spoke to the author of the classic essay collections Air Guitar and The Invisible Dragon:
Writing, for me, is a real pleasure, I really enjoy it — and I get paid for it.
A lot for me is about using autobiographical material for some intellectual purpose other than confession, other than memoir.
The me that comes out in the books is a lot nicer than I am.
What I do as a writer, nearly always, is, I just fill up the tub. And then I don’t worry about it. What comes out is what comes out.
I don’t organize things. Because all I care about is the flow. All I care about is the music. I’m a musical writer instead of a literary writer, in the sense that I’m interested in euphony and all that kinda shit.
There’s this thing Dickens has in which, no matter how horrible the story he’s telling you, there’s this little bubble of laughter underneath it that tells you he just loves telling you this story. I would like my writing to rest on that little bubble of laughter, no matter how terrible the subject I’m writing about.
ON THE BOOK HE’S WRITING ABOUT PAGAN AMERICA
It started off with the ideas I keep hearing on TV about how Christianity should be a national religion. This is an elaborate argument about why this is not true — beginning with the idea that Christians worship death.
It’s got chapters on death, sections on couture, and about the implications of what we wear; then it’s got a long section about mentors, a section about Disney World, about Martha Stewart, Hugh Hefner, Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol and then a good one on Richard Pryor. And then a long one on New Orleans as the last true pagan city. This [Las Vegas] used to be, but it’s not anymore.
I taught The Federalist Papers twice, so it has a lot in it about the Founders, and James Madison, who’s my hero, and Alexander Hamilton, who’d have solved a lot of problems if he’d been allowed to live.
I like the Founders a lot, and what I like most about them is their paranoia.
It’s about voodoo, and it’s about Richard Pryor, and it’s about Disney World as a kind of cargo cult of paganism — and it should be pretty good. Maybe a little too hip for the room.
Pryor was the great genius of my generation. I’ve never, ever seen anybody with what I would call an almost pyschotyic level of affect. He could project himself into almost anything. He could be a table, he could be a deer — he could be anything. We were almost exact contemporaries, and I could just see my life all over everything he talked about.
ON LIFE IN AMERICA
I can’t even watch TV anymore with all the politicians — it’s like, I’ve played poker too long not to read the tells.
The problem with this culture is that everyone plays The Rolling Stones too fast and Beethoven too slow.
I’m kind of arguing for what I call a pointillist theory of America. My idea is that the Founders freed us from one another. So why are these idiots on the Internet trying to put us all back together? I don’t know why you want to belong to a group. Why? Why?
Don’t believe what you think of when you do cocaine. Anytime you think you’re smart on cocaine, you should go buy a copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk.
Never write for an editor you have fucked. They feel free to do anything.
ON THE WRITER’S LIFE
I’m not reading much. I’m used to writing an essay and reading 10 books, then writing an essay and reading some more. But when you’re writing a book, that son of a bitch is always sitting there on that machine.
I’m kind of retiring from the art world. It’s no fun anymore.
Dave Hickey and author Katie Arnoldi will appear on a Vegas Valley Book Festival panel about turning experience into writing (see schedule).