Uno Kudo Interview: Chuck Howe

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Yo!

As I’ve mentioned, Uno Kudo: Volume 2 is out! It is an art meets lit magazine that is absolutely blindingly neon. Really, a stunning collection of stellar writing paired with some wild, out of this galaxy artwork. It was created to raise money for PEN International. You can learn more about the Uno Kudo project here, and watch a trailer over-viewing the artwork here.

I worked on Uno Kudo as an editor and got to know some really sick artists and writers that I’ve been partying like crazy with recently.

Below is an interview that I conducted with one of the writers, a guy that really killed his story in Uno Kudo … 

CH

Chuck Howe is a Hippy Shaman living in Upstate New York where can often be found telling jokes to squirrels and dandelions. He has been known to use his dark hippy magic to attract women way out of his league. Currently he is working on a book of short stories, “If I Had Wings, These Windmills Would Be Dead” due in the Spring of 2013.

Chuck’s story Einfahrt Freihalten (keep platform clear!) is a first person ‘gonzo-style’ short that takes place in Germany, focusing on a love affair gone weird and the cultural tension that arises when you send an American Deadhead to rigid-law Deutschland. It opens up with a man in dropped trousers being held at gunpoint by modern day German police officers on a train platform, and things just get worse from there.

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(an excerpt)… I stood on the platform, naked, as my train to Amsterdam pulled into the station.  Two policemen/ soldiers stood on either side of me holding on to automatic weapons sifting through my bag and my paper work.  I wondered what the inside of a German jail looked like.  I was afraid I was going to find out …

I had a chance to sit down with Howe at my neighborhood bar, Le Cheile on 181st street in Washington heights, NYC. Here’s what went down.

Bud: You first told me this story over a beer at a party — it the first time that we met. I’m glad you wound up writing it down. It cracks me up, has a lot of life in it, definitely carries a sense of odd adventure with it.

Chuck Howe: I like to do things, I don’t like to plan. That usually leads to disaster and disaster is always fun. It also seems like adventure follows me even when I just want to stay home and have a quiet night.

You seem to have done a lot of traveling here and abroad. Where have you been?

Some of my favorite trips have been absolute disaster. I write about one in Uno Kudo Volume 2 that found me getting strip searched on a train platform in Germany. That wasn’t even the craziest part of the trip.  I smoked weed standing in the middle of the North Sea at low tide.  The water was completely gone.  I was staying on an island called Langoog, and it looked like I could walk all the way to the mainland.  Once I realized how far from shore I was and that I had no idea when the water would come back, I ran full speed back to the island.

On a trip to Brazil I somehow found myself as the only straight male on an island when a cruise ship of Europeans arrived for the weekend. I had no clue it was gay pride weekend and neither did most of the tourists coming off the boat.  I saw more penises that weekend then I have seen the rest of my life combined, but I was also the only Tan, dark haired man that had any interest in the gorgeous women coming off of the boat.

My parents always made sure we took fun trips growing up. Mostly we hit different parts of America, but we  spent one Christmas in Bermuda. I always enjoyed them no matter where we went.  As an adult I did a fair amount of International Travel.  Europe and South America.  I haven’t had a good long trip in awhile though.  Mostly just weekend road trips.  It’s been a kick going to places like Burlington and Ithaca and Atlantic City.  Places I haven’t been in years, and see them through adult eyes.

You toured a lot when you were younger? Followed bands?

I am a huge fan of interesting music.  Mostly jam bands, but I love world music, Jazz, even opera.  My own music tends to draw influences from Brazillian Bossa Nova to Parisian Hot club jazz.

(here’s a link to Chuck’s music).

First. the grateful Dead and later Phish were huge favorites of mine.  I am never adverse to driving 8 hours to go see a show.  I have been to over 100 Phish shows and I am still adding to that number whenever I can.  It’s a gypsylife, but you meet such amazing people of all types, it is the perfect circus for a writer to study.  Phish shows aren’t just a concert.  The parking lot before hand is almost as much fun as the show itself.  Everyone is selling something, and trading is always encouraged.  I’ve sold shirts on tour, trading them to get tickets for shows. We’ve done bagels and cream cheese after the show.  I’ve done shit just for the fun of it too.  Sitting around playing banjo at the Gathering of the Vibes, guys on guitar wander over and join you, you have a nice little jam before the show, it’s awesome.

Who are your biggest artistic influences and why?

David Byrne is a true artist in every sense of the word.  He just sees the world in a different, better way than anyone else.  I draw influences from all of the arts, even though writing and music are my focus.  As a child I loved to read.  I read everything ever put in front of me.  I used to read Steven King and Anne Rice during my free periods at school.  Later on I got into the Russian writers.  Notes from Underground is a favorite. Lately I have been reading more written by friends, my peers.  As far as my own writing, I think Hunter S. Thompson has as much influence as anyone else, but lyricists like Tom Marshall (Phish) and Robert Hunter (grateful Dead) have as much influence on my storytelling as anyone else.

Where are you from originally?

Mount Kisco New York.  A small town tucked in between Bill Clinton’s Chappaqua and Martha Stewarts’ Bedford.

I like to complain about the area, but really I love it.  I am an hour away from the heart of NYC and can hit a deer on my way home. It was a great place to grow up.  I spent a lot of my childhood in the woods.  The schools were really good and the students came from all sorts of backgrounds.  I went to school with the children of actors and musicians and bankers, but there were also a lot of first and second generation Americans fighting to get create their own roots in the area.  In the very early 80’s, after an earthquake in Italy, there were a lot of new Italian immigrants joining family members who came here two or three generations before and then came a large wave of South and Central Americans into the area.  It’s been really interesting to see this small town change over the years.

What was your childhood like?

I had a great childhood.  I know that’s not hip to say but it’s true.  I had loving supportive parents.  My Dad was my little league coach, My Mom was a Cub Scout Den Mother, and class mother.  We didn’t have the wealth that some in the area have, but we were never starving or really left wanting of anything.  We would buy crappy houses in nice neighborhoods, spend a few years fixing them up.  Weekends with my mom up a 2 story ladder painting outside while my brother and I would help drywall the ceiling in the living room.

So you’re pretty comfortable with tools and construction? What’s the most dangerous thing that ever happened to you?

My father and I were actually putting up the cross beams on the roof of an addition we were building.  I had just turned 16, and as the fourth driver in the house I got the worst spot, right next to the Garage/master bedroom we were building.  It was the most ambitious project the family ever undertook.  My father was up a ladder hammering in the cross beams to the main beam as I was holding the other end in place against the wall.  I was holding on for dear life because if the beam fell, it would hit my car.  Right as my father was about to start hammering, a wasp landed on my elbow.  I usually keep my cool with animals and insects, but I knew the second my father started hammering, the vibrations would travel through the beam into my arm.  I told him not to hammer, as calm as I could, but we were stuck. He was holding his end up about to hammer and couldn’t come down.  The wasp showed no signs of wanting to leave.  I told him to just do it quick.  Sure enough, first smack of the hammer, the wasp stung.  I had to wait for my dad to finish his end, come down the ladder and nail my end in before I could let go and truly bust out my theatrics.  It may not have been life or death, but if I wrecked my car I might have ended up having a heart attack…

You did good in school there?

I would get away with murder with teachers and other kids parents, never with my own.  I looked innocent enough, but was always in trouble or looking to get into trouble.  I definitely lived for the moment and figured I could weasel my way out of the consequences, which I often did.

What’s the biggest thing you got away with?

I guess the statute of limitations has run out for most of it…  Nothing too serious, but I used to be the one who had to talk to the cops when they came to bust a party, or talk to the Principal when we were caught smoking on the roof.  Teachers always seemed to believe me.  I told my 12th grade math teacher that I wouldn’t be in class on Fridays all winter long because I was a professional snowboarder. She never even asked to see a note from home, I guess I just looked innocent enough to get away with it.

Where do you live now? Where have you lived?

I’m in Mount Kisco now, just a few blocks from one of the houses I lived in as a kid.  For the most part I have been in Northern Westchester.  I lived in Western New York for a little while, and Eugene, Oregon for a little while too.  I haven’t been out to Oregon in almost 20 years, so I would love to go back there again soon

Writers always seem to have some of the most interesting jobs besides writing. What kinds of jobs have you had?

People always think that my jobs in radio have been the most interesting, but I have also done a lot of carpentry and painting work, which I always loved because I could let my mind explore while I worked and then I get home and write.  I’ve started writing more stories and songs while painting a wall or digging a ditch or crawling on my back insulating a crawl space.

The jobs that I have actually enjoyed the most have been in retail.  Working as a barista was one of the most fun jobs I have ever had.  (trying to run or own a coffee shop, not so much)  The percussive elements of the espresso machine, stainless steel pitchers and spoons are a lot of fun.

A morning rush is like trying to play three straight soccer games with no half times or time outs.  The first moment you get to relax, you realize your day is almost done and it isn’t even noon.

Another great job was in a Book and Music store in Mount Kisco.  It was one of the only independent ones in the area and we had a very prestigious staff and
customers.

Like Who?

We had some great customers.  My personal favorite was John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers.  The top bluegrass band of the fifties.  He schooled me hardcore the first time he came in, I can’t remember which story I tried to tell him, I think it was something about Roscoe Holcomb.  He corrected me.  I would find out later that he was the one who first discovered and recorded Roscoe on a back road in Kentucky.  He was in the store once when Woody Guthrie’s daughter Nora was in.  I introduced the two.  The next time he came in he had a poster sized photograph of Jack Kerouac and Woody Guthrie sitting against a brick wall listening to Bob Dylan play.  “I took this picture years ago, please give this to Nora,” he said handing me one of the greatest American photographs ever taken.

Of course I had some funny exchanges.  I worked at a Sam Goodie for a little while.  One night I was in the back office when one of the high school kids rushed in and said “She’s here, Aisle 3!”  I assumed the kid meant the girl we caught shoplifting.  I ran out and went straight to aisle three and said in my loud scary voice. “Can I help you?”  She turns around and it’s Mariah Carey, looking at the Mariah Carey section of cds.

She got all pissed that we didn’t have enough of her CDs. We had one of her last few albums and four or five of her album that came out earlier in the year.  “Yeah, we try to only carry what will sell.”

Everybody always thinks they know a lot about music until your first day working in a record store.  You are humbled by a customer very early on and figure out that you can learn as much from the customers as they can learn from you.

What is the similarities between your work life and your interest in art?

My art, whether it’s stories or music, are all influenced heavily by my life, as every ones is I am sure.  I did make a conscious discussion a few years ago to get away from politics.  I was studying politics non stop for work.  All of my writing and music was political.  The things I wanted to say on air but couldn’t invaded my creativity.  It was all very angry stuff, and though there were many who liked it, I don’t like to be angry.  I got out of politics completely and have been very happy ever since.  And though I still have some political messages in my work every now and then, I try not to let it be the focus of my work.

Thanks for talking to me about your life.

Anytime.
chuck Howe

Also: There will be a release party and reading that is taking place Exley in Williamsburg, Brooklyn this Saturday December 8th, starting at 7pm … with a  big beer bash party to follow that will put everybody into a coma. SO COME ON OUT!

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12 Replies to “Uno Kudo Interview: Chuck Howe”

  1. “You are humbled by a customer very early on and figure out that you can learn as much from the customers as they can learn from you.”

    I find that is true with “student” as well as “customer.” 🙂

      1. Oh wow. That’s hard because there’s so much. Of course there are the content specific things. As a writing teacher, I get to see research papers from diverse fields. When I teach creative writing, I have students who are inspired by all different authors, so I generally become more informed on my specific class’s interests.

        Students also teach me about different cultures constantly. It’s one thing to read about different communicative conventions, but facing them real time is a whole new challenge. I’ve come to learn that in many eastern cultures, our western (and specifically American) style of getting right to the point is seen as rude. This is why some students are hesitant to comply with the writing they feel their professors want.

        I’ve learned not to assume. To give the benefit of the doubt, even when it seems like the student is late because she’s hung over. That the dark circles could be from pulling an all night shift to help support her sick mother.

        I’ve been humbled more than a few times in my career.

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