Versatile, eclectic, Andrez Bergen is an expatriate Melburnian who currently resides in Tokyo. He is an author and photographer, as well as a music, movie and anime journalist. His novel Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat is a hybrid that has received great reviews. It’s a dystopian novel about Melbourne. Andrez is currently working on a new novel. He met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about music and exile.
How does music influence your visual consciousness?
Music is hugely important to me – I make music on the side under silly aliases like Little Nobody and Nana Mouskouri’s Spectacles, and music has in many ways soundtracked my life. If I think of particular tracks or songs I can remember certain incidents or timelines. For instance ‘January’ by Pilot makes me think of hanging out at my grandparents’ place in Richmond, Melbourne, in the ’70s. When I watch movies the score is also vital – doesn’t matter how good the film is, if there’s a bad soundtrack it kills the story. While writing I often play music to inspire and/or tweak my imagination. On the train I often jack into my iPod Shuffle. But then there are the natural sounds – cicadas in summer, like I’m hearing now outside the window – which are their own form of muzak.
What does Australia mean to you?
Things like ‘Waltzing Matilda’, Vegemite, and Liza Minnelli’s ex-hubby Peter Allen singing a rousing rendition of ‘I Still Call Australia Home’…? I’m kidding, but not about the Vegemite. I love my Vegemite. What does Australia mean to me? In my wistful, nostalgic moments – I’ve been away for 11 years – I think of good fish & chips, great beaches, nice weather, and my parents and friends back in Melbourne. Other days I remember the bad TV scheduling, a culture sometimes too fixated on sports, and the difficulties we had pushing underground electronic music there in the 1990s. Then I kick myself. Melbourne is a great city, I love the multiculturalism there and the Victorian architecture, and the food rocks.
Is Japan your exile or your counter-culture?
Interesting proposition – a bit of both? I originally came here in 2001 to explore new grounds, have easier access to international travel (Tokyo is far closer to most countries than Melbourne), and satisfy a childhood yearning to indulge in all things Japanese. At the same time I was frustrated with the direction my record label IF? Records was doing in terms of releases and gigs, and I felt that Tokyo (and Japan) could be the next step up since the population here is six times Australia’s. The initial plan was for six months. I didn’t know how completely I’d fall in love with this country. The funny thing is, after three years, I kind of shelved the label in terms of live gigs – not that they didn’t work here, but I wasn’t so desperate to prove a point. As much as I cherish Melbourne, I think Tokyo has satisfied me on other levels. The two together make my world.
Have you thought of starting a new form of performance art?
Actually, I’ve been thinking about a revival of the old school flea circus – getting the little buggers to wear tiny microscopic costumes and doing things like trapeze, acrobatics, the Human Cannonball (well, we’d have to skip the human bit) and so on. You see these things in ancient Warner Bros. cartoons, and I think we’re truly missing out.
Tell us about Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat.
Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat was my first novel, published in April last year through Another Sky Press in Portland in the U.S. It’s a mixture of noir detective story with dystopian sci-fi, as much influenced by Blade Runner and Philip K. Dick as it is by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. The thing took half my life to cobble together, and I’m not kidding here. It started out as a four or five-page short story, which then developed into the first version of the book in 1991. A second version came together in 2002, and by 2007 I had the deal with Another Sky and we seriously focused on putting together a final novel. Basically it’s a book about serious issues – fascist oppressive government, big business, environmental degradation, self-indulgent plastic surgery and the economic gap – undercut by a sense of humour (I hope) and a fetishist love for cinema. And alcohol. The narrator, Floyd, is a lush.
Do you think the publishing industry has become parochial through an obsession with genre?
I don’t think just publishing, but the music industry as well. Everything needs to be categorized and slotted into a niche, which is a frustrating inclination if a musician or writer wants to draw in on several styles or set about debunking the pigeonholing system. I understand why genres are used – it gives the audience a better idea of what to expect – and as a journalist I’ve used them myself plenty of times. But separating the styles with a “never the twain shall meet” attitude is counter-productive. Genres can compliment one-another within the same book, or during the same DJ set.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have a few different projects in the mix.
Chief among these is novel #3, titled Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? It’s a superhero romp with its heart torn between 1930s/40s detective noir – with the accompanying golden years of comic books – and the more street-smart, flippant silver age pop art of Marvel in the ’60s (which I actually prefer since I grew up with this). In some ways it’s also my love letter to Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Jim Steranko and those creative types at Marvel in the ’60s. The novel brings something full circle for me, since I really wanted to be a comic writer/artist when I was in high school, and the central character is someone I created back then and actually ran by Stan Lee – who dug it, but had retired, and the newer editor-in-chief wasn’t so keen. Long story. Hopefully the novel is shorter! But I’m right into it, finished the first draft, and currently working on the second.
Another novel in the works is called The Mercury Drinkers, which is a straight crime/noir procedural set in contemporary Tokyo. I’ll be focusing on that one once I wrap Heropa. Plus I have a few short stories to do, and an anthology to finish – based on the world of Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat.
Is there a particular incident that has changed your life and influenced your writing?
As with anyone, I guess, there’ve been lots of minor, middle-road and major events that have changed the course of things – narrowly missing being run down by a tube train in London while quite inebriated, moving to Tokyo, meeting my wife Yoko. Incidents with friends and family. But I’d have to say that number one would be the birth of my daughter Cocoa in 2005. This affected me on so many levels – this tiny life that was dependent on us meant I had to stop being so damned self-centred. She’s been an amazing experience. I wouldn’t give up that ongoing journey for the world.
How do you think it all ends?
With a whimper. Or a bang. I’m not sure which – can I reserve judgment till it happens?
If you were to give advice to yourself as a younger man what would you say?
Ye gods… what a good question. I think I’d tell my younger self to get off his arse and get motivated – in my 20s I had some great ideas, especially regarding filmmaking which was my passion then, but never really followed through on anything. I gave up too easily. Part of this had to do with insecurities. I was a painfully shy teenager, and it took a long time to believe in what I was capable of doing. Even now I have a chunk of self-doubts as baggage, but the trick is to ignore these niggling buggers, or at least put them on hold temporarily. But what I did do was travel a lot, and I’m grateful I followed through in that aspect. Other advice? Hmm. Maybe to get some exercise.
Thanks Andrez for a great interview.
Andrez Bergen is Senior Writer/Editor at Impact magazine (UK)