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Friday, 12 September 2008 10:00

Larry Beinhart and Salvation Boulevard

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BuzzFlash:? I?m talking with Larry Beinhart, author of Salvation Boulevard, which just came out.? We last interviewed Larry in July of 2007.? And Larry, before we get into your book, which has gotten some incredible reviews and ___ quite well.? Let me ask you something.? We interviewed you at the time you wrote Fog Facts[?], which was commentary.?

Larry Beinhart:? Right.?

BuzzFlash:? And generally you write fiction.? And we told you how much we admire your book, American Hero, which was reissued with the name of the movie that was made out of it, Wag the Dog, which is, along with The Candidate, are our two favorite ? my two favorite political films probably ? American political films ? certainly in the last fifty years.? Wag the Dog and your book that preceded, The American Hero, deal very much ? and your commentary, Fog Facts ? deal very much with the issue of truth versus image, truth versus repetition of lies that then is perceived as truth, truth versus personality.? All that said, we?re sure you?re aware that a couple of weeks ago, McCain?s campaign director said this campaign will be about image, not issues.? And then we saw the emergence of Sarah Palin, who is pretty much a 100% image candidate.? The McCain campaign is doing everything to suppress a discussion of the issues surrounding her ? the fog facts they?re trying to create around her ? that she?s a maverick, that she, you know, was always opposed to the bridge to nowhere, and things of this nature.? And they?re repeating, for instance, the bridge to nowhere line, even though that?s been disproven ? that she only became an opponent after the federal funding was cut off and she didn?t want to actually have her state pay for it.? She wanted _____ the taxpayers.? But they keep repeating it.? My question to you is, you know, given that this is an issue of image versus reality, and in certainly in American Hero and Wag the Dog, the creation of an alternative narrative that?s based on PR and repetition of things that aren?t true, appeal to emotions, pageantry.? What do you think about the McCain campaign so brazenly saying the campaign is about image, not issues.? And then we?ve seen in the last week they?re actually succeeding at this point, and making the case that image is going to triumph not only issues but over facts by the creation of fog facts.? What?s your reaction to what?s happening right now??

Larry Beinhart:? Well, going back to Wag the Dog, you know, it?s reissued.? It had a new introduction to it.? And, you know, what the ? and I go back to read the book for the first time, you know, in ten years.? And, I mean, two things that stood ? one is first the book, even more so than the movie ? we put this cynical manipulation of media and images right out front on everybody?s consciousness so much that ________ titled it ? other people really deserve credit for it ? became a byword for foreign wars or foreign adventures committed for domestic political purposes. ? And presumably that made everybody a little more cynical, able to see through things.? And then the next time they did it in Gulf war II, it was even more brazen and even more dishonest.? And everybody bought it.? And ______ Don Shumacker[?] ______.?

BuzzFlash:? Being in the Iraq war. ?

Larry Beinhart:? Yeah, Gulf War I, Gulf War II, Iraq war _________ -- however you want to describe it.? You know, I?m sitting here at home in _______ in New York getting my, you know, regular news ? the newspaper, the radio, having a cup of coffee at the coffee shop.? And I knew perfectly well that there were no weapons of mass destruction.? And it was perfectly obvious that Saddam Hussein would not have a relationship with al-Qaida.? They?re theologically mortal enemies, and al-Qaida was more dangerous to him, I?m sure in his own mind, than the United States.? He was wrong about that, but that would have been his position.? It would have taken a miracle for him to work with al-Qaida and Saddam _____________ bin Laden ________.? And why this was being apparently invisible to ABC, CNN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the CIA ? I don?t know.? It is because his ? the ? and I think what it points to, I think what it has to point to, is that our thinking is being done on a completely other levels.? And _________ comparison that I use in Fog Facts is ___________.? If we, through evolution, are constructed to have certain buttons that are pushed because evolution didn?t know we were going to end up rational, so it gave us these quick shortcut buttons.? And I don?t know in terms of _________________, certain smells.? So people were going to McDonald?s and buy food that?s not particularly nutritious, that will in fact make them mentally and physically ill, as we saw in Supersize Me.? And keep going back to it.? So what we?re getting here is we ? Gulf War II ____________ which is pairing the McCain campaign, his triumph of corporate marketers who, in their urge to win, will sacrifice the health of the body politic, the health of this ___, the rational choices, and go for the button pushing.?

BuzzFlash:? Now let me ask you ? and then we?ll get ? not at all, but one follow-up, and then we?ll get to Salvation Boulevard.? You know, we were absolutely intrigued, and I just thought ________ just wonderful, because I just want to go back to this one point I mentioned earlier.? Again, Rumsfeld did this, and Cheney was excellent in it, and Bush, to a certain degree, but Cheney and Rumsfeld are masters to if you say a lie five times, it becomes the truth.? What we?re seeing happening now is what we?ve seen before.? And it?s interesting because Karl Rove didn?t talk openly about this ? the McCain campaign is actually bragging about doing this ? which is they aren?t going to stop for the truth.? They?re going to keep repeating the lie, figuring that in time, the media, which likes ? the mainstream media, which says they won?t establish the truth, they?ll just discuss competing claims.? So if ? let?s take on this bridge to nowhere issue, which has got some nuances.? But basically does not reinforce the concept, when you look at the truth, that Sarah Palin is any sort of reformer or anti-earmark.? She just ? she was for the project and only dumped the project ??

Larry Beinhart:? Right.?

BuzzFlash:? -- when the federal taxpayers weren?t going to pay for it.? And she didn?t want Alaskan payers to pay for it.? So she really just said if you?re not going to give us the welfare from the federal funding that the other 49 states ? residents of the other 49 states will pay for it, I don?t want my people to pay for it. I want you to pay for it.? That?s when she finally dropped it.? But the McCain campaign is going to keep saying ? indicating that she?s ? and she?s still saying.? I saw something last night that ??

Larry Beinhart:? Right.?

BuzzFlash:? -- kind of picked through how many times she said it.? Yesterday, even though this has been revealed that actually the true story revealed is a counter to the claim that she?s making ? that the McCain campaign is making ??

Larry Beinhart:? You know, Mark, okay, what I think you have to do is to regard the media, if you ? as a playing field.? And like any other field, it?s essentially neutral.? It has no opinions.? It has no standards _______.? And two teams come out and they put on whatever plays they can.? And if one side wants to play lies and the other side wants to play truth, they have to keep looking at the scoreboard and see what?s winning.? And if lies are winning over truth, the people playing truth have got to figure out what to put on that playing field to alter it, to counter the lies.? The field is not going to do it for you.? And the reason __________ is that the way objective journalism is taught and practiced ? and I know this because I took Journalism 101 when I was in college _______ -- is that what you?re supposed to do is you go out and get quotes from a member of team A, and a member of team B.? And then you go A, B, A, B, A, B.? And if you yourself decide that team A is lying, you as a reporter have no authority to say so.? The most you can do is go out and find a member of team? B to say that team A is lying, or that there is a difference _______ with team A.? And reading the not quite mainstream media today, one can ____ notice ? and I don?t know if it?s happening, but I think what?s happening is people _________ picking up cell phones.? And they?re calling people in the mainstream media and saying:? you know what?? You sons of bitches are lying.? Here?s where they?re lying.? And if you want to be a responsible journalist, it?s up to you to point that out.? Now there?s discussion a couple of days ago that you can?t play that way.? But I think that?s how they?re playing it.? And I seem to see some effect of it.? I mean, Joe Klein[?] in Time magazine, and Joe Mack[?] calling McCain sleazy.? And a bunch of others doing it, okay?? And from what I know of journalism, they?re not really capable of doing that themselves.? It?s everybody?s business, and I think that?s the way the Obama team is playing it.? Now I have no direct evidence of that, but I?m only, you know, imagining events from what I see on the surface.?

BuzzFlash:? But they ??

Larry Beinhart:? You know, I think you?ve got to expect if they can?t win with the truth, they win with lies.? You can?t ? or, you know, they?re going to run with whatever they think is going to win.? ?

BuzzFlash:? But based on what you said, your really wonderful analogy of the playing field, it ? particularly the television media may not be ? and they are the media that really molds the electorate ? they may not be able institutionally structured and corporately cautious, to referee this.? In other words, the Obama campaign can call and say they?re lying, but the mainstream media on television.?

Larry Beinhart:? [voices overlap; inaudible] got to come up with something else.?

BuzzFlash:? Well, they have to get ? in essence, they aren?t going to win with the truth, but they?re going to win with putting McCain on the defensive in some way.? But calling him ??

Larry Beinhart:? [voices overlap; inaudible] point out they have to, you know, just like the McCain campaign essentially has turned the Obama campaign inside out, all right?? _________ candidates for change, which should be a joke.? But they say _________ enthusiasm.? They present themselves as populists, people of the people.? Stylistically they are.? I think it?s genuinely a ________ person.? And if John McCain would __________, he?d be a WalMart[?] person.?

BuzzFlash:? He?d probably be greeting at WalMart.?

Larry Beinhart:? Huh??

BuzzFlash:? He?d probably be greeting at WalMart.?

Larry Beinhart:? _________ But in any case, they took over this change thing. They took over the _______ thing.? They took over the let?s get a non-white male into a position of almost political power, you know, by bringing in a woman, hoping ? well, I think they were really hoping _______________.? But they got a hell of a lot more out of that.? But I mean, so Obama has got to come up with something to change their campaign to start out or regains the advantage.? And he?s got a tough road to hoe because he?s got to overcome the, you know, 5-10-15% -- whatever that thing is -- ________ vote against him because he?s African American, which is something else we?re pretending to ignore__________ that.? So, yeah, to expect truth to speak for itself and to separate itself out of untruth and wrongs all by itself is ridiculous in the real world.?

BuzzFlash:? Let?s move on to Salvation Boulevard.? First of all, I think that, in prepping for this interview, and even though I?ve interviewed you before and read your stuff, I didn?t realize that your first time out, you got a ? in the first book you wrote, and Edgar award.?

Larry Beinhart:? Yeah.?

BuzzFlash:? Which is the most prestigious award for mystery writers.? But what attracts you to the mystery genre?? When I was in college, we studied mysteries in ? one of the things I recall that a professor said was one of the attractions of mysteries has ? and I don?t think it?s any great insight ? I think most people realize it ? is that in the end, there?s a conclusion and things wrap up, unlike life, which is constantly renewing itself and constantly amorphous and, until you die, without end.? The stories never finish until you die.? It?s always another page to write.? Mysteries have a conclusion.? Things are resolved.? Things have a resolution.? What attracted you to the mystery genre??

Larry Beinhart:? I enjoyed it.? I used to read a whole lot of it.? And so when I started writing ? two things __________.? Number one, _______ I read two mysteries in the same day.? They were both really dreadful.? And I had a revelation.? The revelation was that if I wrote a book ________ as bad as those were, I could get paid for it.? And I needed money at the time, so I said, hey, I can do that.? And secondly _______ that _____ a really fun thing about a mystery is that you can write about anything you want to.? That if you kill somebody on the first page and tell the reader that on the last page, you can tell them who done it, they?re saying, okay, I?ll take that trip with you.? And then you can go anywhere you want.? You can go horseracing.? You can go to ancient Rome.? You can go behind the Iron Curtain.? You can go into a megachurch.? You can go with pirates in the Caribbean.? So between those two things ? needing money and understanding that this was a vehicle that I could use to write about anything that interested me at the moment ? and the third thing is I really enjoyed mysteries ? is why I chose it.?

BuzzFlash:? Now your ? you?ve got a wonderful way to bring ________ mysteries.? Often the best ones hook you from the beginning.? And your first two sentences to do.? Achmat[?] looked like hell.? He also looked like a kid.? You know, very, very good hook.? In addition to Salvation Boulevard? being a mystery, and clearly this is something you excel in, it?s a mystery that involves protagonists who each represent a major religion.? How did you come to the idea to do that?? Obviously the title, Salvation Boulevard ? well, when you read mystery books, you don?t quite know where the title is going.? But knowing you, you know, and reading about the book, and when you talk about the book, you know, you?ve got protagonists who each represent a major religion.? How did you decide to do that??

Larry Beinhart:? You know, actually this is my second pass at this book.? I?d written it once before.? And it didn?t really work.? And it didn?t really work because the main character, the detective, was a neutral observer watching ________ other people?s issues about religion, other people?s care[?] about religion, other people?s anger at religion, other people?s arguments about religion.? And at some point, I realized that in order to make it work, that I had to do was put a person of faith at the center of the book.? The narrator of the book is a born-again Christian and he is somebody who?s experienced that moment where he gives himself to Jesus.? And that moment saves him from a life of despair and self-destruction and excess.? And he feels that he owes this to what he?s ________ pastor is the kind of person __________ secularists ___________.? Because to me, the mystery is about that ? what does it mean?? Why do people have it?? Why would people kill and die for it?? It is also ________.? Does faith make you a better person?? You know, we have lots and lots of testimony that faith makes you a better person.? And at the same time, we have lots and lots of scandals among people who are religious leaders that turn out to be _______.? They sleep with their parishioners and _________ and on and on and on.? And we also have even more dramatically and more significantly, I think, people who ________ with religious faith are willing to kill themselves just for the opportunity to kill people of another faith.? And then you have people like our President who apparently actually says that God spoke to him.? Called him George, and said:? George, go invade Afghanistan.? And God is apparently so happy with that He called him again and said:? George, go liberate Iraq.? You know, and this last one, and the second one in particular, if you look at the facts of the case, you have to say either God was a terrible tactician or the President was a lunatic.?

BuzzFlash:? Now you have the person who is noted as an atheist.?

Larry Beinhart:? Right.

BuzzFlash:? The defendant is [voices overlap; inaudible] Islamic faith, and the defense attorney ??

Larry Beinhart:? Is a Jew.?

BuzzFlash:? Is a Jew.? So, I mean, when you ? you?re thinking about putting this together ? so you?ve got all the basic elements of the mystery right there.? I mean, it could be Scott Turow.? It could be John Grisham.? You?ve got all the basic protag ? the dynamics of the basic mystery.? But here, you attach your ? you know, a religion to each of them.? What?s a ? you?ve got to be extremely skillful to pull that off.? You do, but that takes a lot of courage because it could easily just collapse like a souffl? because of the very ambitious notion.?

Larry Beinhart:? Well, I mean, the thing happens on two levels, right?? There?s an intellectual and theological level, and then there?s a dramatic narrative level.? And I spent a long time on the intellectual and theological stuff, long before I actually, you know, wrote this book ? certainly before I wrote this version of the book.? And ? but then when you sit down to write the book, you know, it?s kind of like there are imperatives of the craft that you have to respect, and you have to say ? and you have to deal with these things in terms of how does faith and religion affect these people?s world view in such a way that it determines then how they act?? You know, you can?t make them cardboard cutouts.? You know, and you can?t just paste things together.? You?ve got to sit there and you?ve got to work through, okay, I?m a 21-year-old kid who was raised kind of lackadaisical Islam.? And, you know, I _________ the American University, and there?s cheap blondes here, and I really want to be an American kid _______ cute blondes, and suddenly I get arrested as an Islamic terrorist.? Who am I?? What am I going to do?? I?m a Jew who happens to be a hack defense attorney with a case for doing pro bono criminal cases because, you know, part of me is saying the obscene amount of money I make defending drug dealers and gangsters is not ? does not satisfy my moral appetite.? So I?m looking for something to work out the balance.? And there has to be some level in which the superstructure of your world view, which in ? to many places, is religion ? to many people, is religion ? makes you do that, makes you that person who is going to behave in those kinds of ways.? And, you know, and again, but putting this ? you know, I don?t know if I did this consciously, but it kind of evolved.? There are really two stories here.? One story is the mystery tale about the case ? that somebody?s accused.? Did he really do it?? If he didn?t do it, who really did?? How are we going to find out?? When we find out, what are we going to do about it?? Okay, that?s one story that?s the main superstructure.? The other story is almost Biblical in the sense that we have two people ? the atheist who happens to be dead, but he?s left a book.? He?s left his words behind him.? One thing we can learn from the Bible is that the words left behind by dead people have a great deal of power.? ?

[end of audiotape side A;? begin side B]?

Larry Beinhart:? _______________ political and financial powerhouse.? And ____________.? And in the book, they?re really fighting over one soul.? ________ is the detective, the narrator.? And __________ each in their own way, sometimes through other people, sometimes through events.? And they?re battling.? Who is going to win the soul of this one guy?? And he thinks he?s off in the first story.? He?s just trying to solve this murder case.? __________ what?s happening is he?s being drawn into what I regard as the great mysteries.? Does God exist?? Why do we believe?? Why will people kill and die over this business of belief?? And ultimately, you know, what does it mean to be human in relation to these ideas of God?? And so the book really is about his journey through this ? and it?s a spiritual journey.?

BuzzFlash:? Now let me ask you.? There?s an interesting parallel here.? You said when you wrote it the first time around that Karl[?] is not a believer.? He?s an observer, which is not an uncommon narrative technique.? You yourself are a self-said cultural Jew, not a practicing believer.? I mean, aren?t you similar to the way you have Karl in the first book?? I mean, you?re certainly an observer to outside of you??

Larry Beinhart:? ____________________ atheist.? That was me killing myself.? __________ the first draft exposed somehow that that was me assassinating myself.?

BuzzFlash:? Or committing suicide, I guess.?

Larry Beinhart:? Yeah, killing one aspect of myself.?

BuzzFlash:? So I guess what I?m saying is you?re ? I mean, we?re in this age of where religion is playing a very prominent role in our national political life.?

Larry Beinhart:? In the world?s political life.? ___________ in a war against Islam of fascism.? There is in reality a theological state ________.? The ________ is run on sheria law.? There are major political parties ? major, you know, Islamic-based political parties.? And __________ Islamic regions that are not yet theocratic states.? So we?re ? you know, this is the 21st Century is like a bad acid flashback of the 12th Century ? you know, crusades ________.? Heretics, civil wars between Shia and Suni.? I was in the land recently, and one of the most striking things that was visceral is the visceral hatred of Sunis among Shia.? So yeah, I mean, this is the major political event of the 21st Century __________.?

BuzzFlash:? And do you ? I mean, again mystery ? and we don?t want to give away any of your book.? But, you know, mystery involves ? are appealing in a way because they do have a sense of form and a sense of however skillfully they?re told that they?re leading toward a resolution.? I mean, faith, particularly absolute faith, whether it be Islam, Christian, Orthodox Judaism, is a way of dealing with the uncertainty of the world.? I mean, we live in an age ? I really meant to ask you this question.? I?m glad it came back to me.? When you and I were growing up, I mean, at least I thought, and there was much social thinking, that we were moving toward an age of less religion, of more ? that technology, in a way, would reduce the need for religious belief.? But in some ways, it seems the more technologically advanced we?ve come out, we have a certain group of people that have become more secular, less believing.? On the other hand, there?s another group of people who have become more even entrenched religiously because in an uncertain world, absolute religion provides a refuge from uncertainty.?

Larry Beinhart:? The short answer is yes.? The long answer _____________.?

BuzzFlash:? Yeah.?

Larry Beinhart:? The long answer is this.? _________ science, two things happen.? One is the truth claims _________ demolished one by one.? You know, you look at where God is supposed to be in heaven and find out there was no heaven there.? There is just vast amounts of space, empty space, Woodstock, you know?? God was supposed to have created everything in seven days.? And we started doing geology, and we started looking at how long it takes to carve the Grand Canyon.? And He said _______________.? And then you find these levels ________ in the sediment.? And say these couldn?t happen in seven days.? Then he came up with the theory of evolution.? And he said, you know, ________ species separately.? _________________.? So on one level, the truth claims were discredited, and truth claims were demolished, and religion became discredited in time.? Science creates ____________ technology for tools started allowing human beings to master their world and where there was uncertainty, now there were new certainties, including being able to feed yourself next week.? Science progresses and you go from the certainty in particular, Newtonian physics, and suddenly what was supposed to be a solid ? the smallest solid building blocks of the universe, the atom, which was considered back in Greek times ? they considered was solid __________.? Suddenly, that was __________ into space and there was subatomic particles.? _________________.? ___________ start getting weird.? You get into quantum weirdness.? And get ________________.? You?ve got ___________________.? It?s impossible.? You get things like what is the position of an electron?? Well, it?s best described as a probability way, you know?? And________________ this concept of relativity where nothing was fixed except in relation to something else.? And suddenly what happens is ________ is to know what it means in relation to ourselves.? And suddenly science said the world doesn?t mean anything in relationship to you.? The universe is so vast that it almost must be said ________ indifferent to you.? The world is operating on principles _______ imaginary ____________.? ______ metaphors break down or it just stops meaning anything to you.? So science passed the point where they were supplying the meaning point.? And so there was an intellectual and emotional reaction to that.? And so yeah, there was a ________ return to religion.?

BuzzFlash:? Larry, again, this is a wonderful book, another great accomplishment.? There aren?t many writers that we come across that can handle what is a conventional form ? I don?t mean to ??

Larry Beinhart:? _____________?

BuzzFlash:? -- in any other way except to say we have different forms of literature, and mystery is a conventional form.? And yet you manage to include such large themes without taking away from the thrill of the conventional form.? That is to say that a mystery is really a self-indulgence on all of our parts.? It?s a world we enter where we go for some semblance of order, for surprise, for curiosity, trying to figure out what?s going on _______ one step ahead of us.? And yet you?re also able to handle these enormous themes without it becoming didactic or awkward or clumsy.? It?s got a sense of style that pulls the reader through the conventional mystery, but still weaves in these rather ______, particularly when you have characters representing major religions and issues of faith.? And I think that?s a ? takes tremendous skill to do because in most hands, the effort would collapse.? But it doesn?t in your case.? I mean, you have a record to show for it.? And in concluding, I just want to congratulate you because in doing some background research in the book, I see that you?ve got it optioned as a film.?

Larry Beinhart:? Yeah, that?s true.?

BuzzFlash:? And, you know, I hope it?s as successful as Wag the Dog was.? I think there was tremendous acting in it.? I mean, they certainly did credit to your book because it was ? I mean, I think Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman and others just did an incredible jobs in that film.? And we recommend to anyone who wants to learn about why we?re at in terms of modern politics that depends upon narrative and imagery and alternative reality, and Madison Avenue sales techniques, read what?s now Wag the Dog, but originally was the American Hero.? And see the movie after reading the book, but read the book first.? And read your other books, and certainly Fog Facts, and now Salvation Boulevard, taking on the issue of religion, but never loses suspense.? It is a mystery and mystery readers will deeply enjoy it.? So thank you again.?

Larry Beinhart:? Thank you.? I want to say I love BuzzFlash.? I really do.? I mean __________.?

BuzzFlash:? Thank you, Larry.? So long.?
Read 2267 times Last modified on Friday, 12 September 2008 10:00