The Chad Faries Interview
By James Calemine
Drive Me Out of My Mind: 24 Houses in 10 Years by Chad Faries slices to the bone. It's a gritty tale of a troubled boy raised by cutthroat women that takes places mostly in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Chad Faries is also the author of two collections of poetry, The Border Will Be Soon and The Book of Knowledge.
A Fulbright Fellowship recipient, Faries currently teaches at Savannah State University in Savannah, Georgia. Faries also participated in author George Dawes Green's The Unchained Tour of Georgia. Faries also hosts a radio program at Savannah State. Music plays an intregal role in Drive Me Out of My Mind. Some chapters begins with lyrics by Tom Waits, Neil Young, Black Sabbath, Lou Reed, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Al Green, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper and others. Often albums are mentioned in the character's ornery dialogue.
This memoir contains innocent, but truthful perceptions of a young boy in a mean world beyond his control. It is not a story for the weak-hearted. This book's brutal honesty is worth its weight in gold. Faries leads the reader through dive bars, trailer parks, old neighborhoods, cemetaries and cheap hotels in this unforgettable memoir. In the end, every character--in all their faults--moves the reader's heart.
In this Swampland interview, Faries discusses Drive Me Out of My Mind, poetry, George Dawes Green, The Unchained Tour, his radio show, storytelling, his upcoming Savannah book party and his next poetry collection.
James Calemine: Drive Me Out of My Mind is a great book. Between your tenth birthday, and the book's 2003 coda...where did you go to school?
Chad Faries: Thank you, James. I actually managed my high school years in Michigan. Let's see, when I was a freshman we left Iron County, which is where a lot of the memoir takes place in Iron River and Crystal Falls. Then we went to Marquette, Michigan. I actually stayed there for four years. We moved all around the community of course because Mom could never stay in one house. That's where I did my high school years.
JC: I'm sure there's enough material to follow up on Drive Me Out of My Mind...
CF: Yeah, the idea is there will be a part two from 1981-1991. So, the next ten years basically is covered and I've already started on that. That book will be very different because the experience you have at 10 is significantly different from the ages of 10 to 20. Whereas the first one is about my mother, and my aunts and all their experiences as I watched them grow up. The next one is about me growing up. I started doing drugs and having sex--all the things I watched them do in the first part all becomes about me in the second part. It will be pretty interesting for someone who has read the first one, and then to read the second one you find out what happens to me.
JC: It's a brutally honest book. Yet, I'm sure there's a few things you left out...
CF: Oh yeah, there's things I didn't say to protect those involved.
JC: Talk about how you met author George Dawes Green and became involved with his Unchained Tour. Your book party on October 21 intersects with The Unchained Tour somewhat.
CF: It does a little bit. The local arm is now Savannah Unchained, and they are sponsoring and putting together my event so the idea is to have these little events throughout the year that draws attention to the larger tours that will happen. I met George Dawes Green one night here in Savannah at a Trivia bar--the same place I met you. We were both writers and we were interested in that and he mentioned this idea he had about The Unchained Tour.
I knew a little about The Moth, but I'd never done storytelling, so to speak, which is different. Not every writer can get up and tell a story. It's different, there's an element of performance that you absolutely must have. We never really talked about me telling stories. We just talked at the level of two writers. I told George I would help on The Unchained Tour. My help included a number of things--it might be educational things for high schools. I'm also a carpenter, so I was in charge of fixing up the bus and being the bus carpenter. I showed you the bus...
How I got on as a storyteller kind of happened as an accident. George and I went to the Decatur Book Festival about three months before the tour last fall. That was a real funny day. I may have told you this story. George was up there doing a talk about Flannery O'Connor. He wanted to tell the audience about this new project he was starting called The Unchained Tour of Georgia. At the very moment he was telling the audience about this, I was organizing one of my students to go down and pick up the bus that George was up onstage talking about and my phone is ringing off the hook. It was my student telling me, 'We're broken down on the side of the road with the bus and we have no money'. Meanwhile, the audience is applauding George for this new project he's starting, but that was funny.
It was falling apart while people were praising this new concept. The next day I had to do a poetry reading. My memoir wasn't out yet. When I do poetry readings I like to tell stories--not simply read the poems from a book people can buy. I like to tell them a story behind the poem. I told this story about this reading I'd done in Yugoslavia where I was way out of my league. They were using me as the American writer. I was in all the newspaper outlets. There's a real emotional moment in that reading when I was almost brought to tears, and the family of this girl that I was seeing at the time were sitting in the audience and they had told me you can do whatever you want, but you can't cry. If you cry you'll shame the family.
So. I'm up there and I'm reading this really powerful poem and my voice stops. The audience is looking at me like 'What's the matter with this guy?' I looked at the faces of my girlfriend and her family and they were looking me in the eye like 'Don't do it'. I just told this story, and the audience was loving it. the other two poets honestly had any more publications than me and had been around a lot longer and you know the entertainment value of what I'd done overshadowed them. That's when George came up to me and said, 'You know John Levin--one of the storytellers--got into a bicycle accident.' They needed another storyteller and he said 'We need to develop your story. You can be a storyteller.'
I think that's when George realized I had the capacity to be a storyteller because it's not something that anybody can do. You can have amazing things happen to you, but that doesn't mean you can communicate a story that's going to transform or move an audience. That was about 13 months ago. I had a month to prepare my story. So, suddenly I was being trained as a storyteller and telling George my story three times a week. We were tweaking it and talking about it quite a bit. A month later it was the first time I unleashed my story on the world.
JC: It's almost being like a comedian. There's a craft to deliver with composure a story to an audience...
CF: Yeah, that's right. Really, that's true.
JC: Talk about your radio show at Savannah State. How long have you been doing that?
CF: About a year and a half now. I started in January of 2010. How it works...well, yesterday I pre-recorded the show in the theme for what that week was War. It's a mixed bag of things. Every program you can at least count on some poetry. I'll clip an old T.S. Eliot bit or Ezra Pound. Every now and then I'll feature a student. You can count on clips from movies or television or cartoons. I'm a big fan of Bugs Bunny--'Of course, this means war'. I had a snippet from Doctor Stranglove about the bomb. I had Eisenhower and his farewell address about war and military industry complex way back then. So, there's a mixture of comic, very sarcastic soundbites and then there's this thing called the Storyline.
I have people who like to call in and just tell a story. Maybe a two-minute story that fits the theme. That's what happens beyond the music. And then, of course there's the music. What I intend to do with the music is just match the theme. Yesterday I had the obscure band Fear Itself doing a version of "The Letter". Others like P.J. Harvey, Sinead O'Connor, Isaac Hayes and a number of others were included. I usually try to include bluegrass, blues, hip-hop, classical, rock and jazz. Ultimately, it all comes together as a wild picture that supports the theme. That's why I praise independent radio. You can't do that on commercial radio. It's all formatted.
JC: That maintains the theme of The Unchained Tour supporting local bookstores.
CF: Absolutely. That's it. George wants to make sure The Unchained Tour is all about racontuering--storytelling. But, when we're not doing the door there's a looser interpretation of storytelling. You can tell stories on the radio, community gardening seminars, whatever--it's all about supporting the independents.
JC: There is an upcoming Unchained Tour, right?
CF: That's right. I think they have in mind for the next Unchained Tour is going to be in February 2012. I think they're going to introduce a new batch of storytellers so we have a larger pool. I likely won't be on that tour. So long as everything goes well in February I think the plan is to have another one in the spring. Then I may go back on tour for the one in the spring, which will take us into North and South Carolina. I know the next one goes down to Jacksonville, Florida. There will be a couple of other places in south Georgia and then we head up to Athens and Atlanta. It's like 1300 miles. The bus now has a 100,000 mile warranty on it (laughs). We'll be on the road for sure. The first stop is in your hometown of Saint Simons Island, Georgia.
JC: Any other poetry compilations coming up from you?
CF: Yeah, last night I was putting together my next compilation so I'll be getting that out there. All of the poems have to do with the manifestations of ecstacy...whether it's religious, sexual or drug-induced. I was working on a series of death poems. Everybody talks about how poetry is so heavy and everyone is ruminating about death, and that's what these poems are. My grandmother passed away, my father is terminally ill and storyteller Wanda Bullard just died. It's been a heavy year. So, I wrote a series of poems about these things. The stuff with my father is another memoir.
JC: Well, good luck out there. I hope to see you on the 21st...
CF: Yeah man, I hope so. Thanks...