Phawker

The Early Word: 13 Things You Aren’t  Supposed To Know About Tom Brosseau appeared on November 7th, 2007 in Phawker. Interview by staff writer Jonathon Valania.

1) When I was younger, I met author Louise Erdrich (Love Medicine, Beat Queen, Bingo Palace). Louise is from where I’m from- Minnesota/North Dakota, and came to my hometown, Grand Forks, for the University of North Dakota Writer’s Conference, 1987. I grew up going to the conference, reluctantly, at first, then joyfully, willingly, excited to hear the words, to see the author(s). There was a house gathering after the reading, and Louise was standing in the kitchen. My father brought me in, introduced me. I don’t remember seeing anyone at all but her for that moment. She asked me what studies I liked in school. I said I didn’t know, but I liked writing. “You do,” she said. “You’ll need to read and write every day”. Read and write everyday, I thought. I was reading Armstrong’s Sounder at the time, a slow moving story about a dog. “You can be an author too — like me”.

2) My Grandparents lived in Drayton, ND, always they would tape television shows — Westerns, James Bond movies, afternoon specials like Wet Gold, starring Brooke Shields and Burgess Meredith, even sitcoms, like the “Golden Girls.” Their penmanship was hard to read. I pulled down what I thought was Mary Poppins. It turned out to be an old black/white special on Marty Robbins. I watched it over and over again. I learned all of his songs — “White Sport Coat & Pink Carnation,” “Begging to You,” “Devil Woman,” and “Story of My Life.”

3) My first job was volunteering at the Humane Society.

4) Grace Lake, Minnesota. I was standing on the dock. The dock was old, of slabby, rotting wood. There are four sides to a lake: the sandy side, the marshy side, and the other two sides. I was on the sandy side, in the sun. The sky was so blue, you had to look down. The water was so clear. On the bottom swayed one patch of Crayola-green weed. The colors were so well defined: the weed, the sand, the sky, the dock. Everything had its place; everything was important and good, and everything was perfect. I lifted my head and looked a little further into the deep and clear. There was a giant black thing coming, gliding. It was a catfish. All I could do was stand and watch this, observe, as it circled the dock, the weed, and then it faded away.

5) The first tour I went on was with Juliana Hatfield, and subsequently the first time I’d been to New York. We had time before the show, at the Village Underground. I went to a record store and, as a gift, bought Mississippi John Hurt for Juliana.

6) I have had the same good pen for a while — the Parker Jotter, U.K.

7) I like the books and book covers of Black Sparrow Press, Santa Rosa, California (see Wyndham Lewis, co-founder of vorticism).

8) My mother was a painter and kept her tote downstairs in the basement. She had all colors of oils, twisted and curled, semi-emptied. I used to try her paints on a canvas. There was a certain way the paints smelled — like a workshop has a smell, or a dentist’s office, or cafeteria. Whenever orange marmalade is available at breakfast I take it because it is close to the way the paints smelled and reminds me of good things.

9) Ernest Hemingway left several unfinished/unpublished books. I have read only and all of these Hemingway books. My favorite of all posthumous Hemingway is “Under Kilimanjaro.” It is the diary of his last trip to Africa. There’s a section about when Hem draws a bead on a Cheetah. He has to aim way in front of the Cheetah because the Cheetah is on the run. He shoots.

10) I think Gregory Peck was the perfect actor to cast as Atticus Finch.

11) More people should know Pennies From Heaven, starring Steve Martin, Chris Walken.

12) Lately I’ve been listening to the solo records of John Doe. He came out with a great one called A Year in the Wilderness (Yep Roc Records). I have been listening to Meet John Doe.

13) I took Stage Fighting. Our class revolved entirely around the art of making it appear real. Our final was to perform such a feat on stage in front of an audience. Dan Maidenberg and I were assigned to fight one another. We could use anything we wanted. One kid even brought in a gun, that’s another story. He was of medium build, wore glasses, with short, bushy hair. He walked funny. He had a hunch in his back. He parked his car in the lot and dragged himself into school. A mother picking her kid up had thought he was gonna go and shoot someone. She phoned the police. The principal was notified, burst into the theatre. Poor kid. He was so excited, caught up with trying to make things look real he scared the shit out of someone’s Ma, got the principal up in arms, and all of us lectured. Anyway, Dan Maidenberg and I chose to fight with cast-iron swords. They were very dull and very heavy. We blocked it out so that dialogue came in between the clinks of the swords. It all worked out beautifully — that is, until the part we fought tracing each other up a flight of stairs. I was supposed to turn around every couple steps to say a line, to clink swords. Dan was the swifter. The grey hunk of jagged metal circled in the air, came down like fury, crashed on my middle finger. “Ouch!” I said. “You really got me.” I dropped my sword. I could feel the new air in the hurt. Dan knew right away what had happened. It wasn’t his fault. We continued. But it got to be awkward as the audience started to see the blood fill up the left side of my shirt as I held my hand under the left armpit. They thought Dan jabbed me in the ribs, pierced my heart. I fell down and played dead. The audience gasped. It was a somewhat sick and funny thing to do.