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Adult Problems - A Conversation with Nathan Larson

People in bands shouldn’t write books. Hell, people in bands shouldn’t even read books. But Nathan Larson, formerly of SWIZ and Shudder To Think, is an exception to the rule.

by Zachary Lipez
Dec 12 2012, 10:30pm

People in bands shouldn’t write books. Hell, people in bands shouldn’t read books. I still blame Sonic Youth and their fans for JT Leroy ever having been a thing. When dudes in bands slide a little Borges or whatever into their End of The Year Lists, I want to punch South American literature in the face (I’m looking at you, dude from Girls - I’m always looking at you).

People are usually only good at one thing, and they should stick to that. As with all rules, there are exceptions, but the only three that come to mind are Sam McPheeters, Niles Rodgers (who wrote the greatest book in the history of language), and today's subject, Nathan Larson.

Larson, formerly of both SWIZ and Shudder To Think, also wrote soundtracks to a bunch of indie flicks like “Boys Don’t Cry.” He’s also a writer, a band guy who writes books that don’t offend my nature as a delicate aesthete or a horrific geek[1].

Like something out of a post-hardcore fairy tale, Larson never sought out to be an author. Johnny Temple, also former band guy that doesn’t suck and the founder of Akashic Books (full disclosure: they put out a book I co-authored), asked Larson to try his hand at writing a novel. That, in case you don’t know, never happens. Then Larson blessed us with the Dewey Decimal System series.

Now on its second volume, the Dewey Decimal series is a trilogy of dystopian near future pulp fiction books set in a post apocalypse New York. They follow the brutal misadventures of one Dewey Decimal, so named because he has no memory of his real name and is the self appointed defender of the abandoned New York Public library. Following the ever-lovable tropes of the genre, Decimal is both the actor and the acted upon. He’s tough, but larger forces are constantly setting all the horror in motion and, being a noir protagonist, he’s not much more than the shit storm’s punching bag, lucky if he can find the time to blow away a culturally insensitive caricature and not get betrayed too badly by dame du jour.

Larson isn’t trying to avoid pulp’s clichés. He revels in them and the bravado works. And the city of New York is the co-antihero. The books can be read as pure ultra-violence escapism, or as mediations on the decline and fall of NYC. Though, in the novels, the disaster that leaves New York and the world in total disarray is manmade, Larson pointed out in our conversation that if Sandy showed us anything, it showed just how fragile the ecosystem of society really is, and just how easily it can slide into chaos.

The Nervous System came out recently, but I recommend you start at the beginning. Like Ian Rankin’s Scottish “Rebus” series, which used Joy Division and Cure songs as book titles, some of the fun is in the cultural references and some of the “fun” is in watching the hero decay and fall apart before your eyes. If that doesn’t appeal to you, what can I tell you, we can still be friends. Just not ones that, you know, talk on the phone and stuff. I’ll still “like” your pictures of your cat in a Pavement shirt. Don’t worry… I’m sure the dude from Girls will eventually write a book.

I recently visited Larson at his home in Harlem to talk about his books and his time in some of the best DC hardcore bands ever. He formed SWIZ when he was such a little baby I can’t believe he was able to get little bear paws around the neck of the bass. Then he moved to New York and joined the post “Get Your Goat” Shudder To Think, one of the only bands I can think of who were both psych and glam and prog while managing to avoid all the retro clichés so much associated with those genres. These being brutal times, it’s no surprise that SWIZ is the band that currently has the greater influence, but both band’s influence is clear in Larson’s writing. That’s probably why I find the books compelling despite the fact that musicians writers suck. Both books, “The Dewey Decimal System,” and the most recently published “The Nervous System,” have the loose toughness of early hardcore and the ambition and fearlessness of an art-punk spazz.

I asked Larson to give me a list of his favorite underrated DC hardcore songs. He wasn’t interested. He wanted to talk about Go-Go. Nathan Larson really fucking loves Go-Go. Go-Go, if you’re not aware, is a brand of funk considered by many to be the finest thing to come of our nation’s capital next to a representative democracy and Ian Svenonius. DC helped give America hardcore and originated Go-Go. And since all the young bucks are already sporting finals stress sweat distressed Void shirts, I gave way when Larson insisted that I include this Go-Go starter kit: An interview with Cool “Disco” Dan and five videos of Nathan’s favorite bands. So be sure to thank him by buying his books. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to drop out of George Washington University, your sales position at Commander Salamander, or your senate page program with your head held high.


Junkyard Band
Trouble Funk
Ess Rare Essence
Northeast Groovers
Experience Unlimited

Follow Zach on Twitter - @ZacharyLipez

Previously - Your "Best of 2012" Lists Come Too Early and Leave Me Unsatisfied


[1] You’ll notice that I say “geek” instead of “nerd.” Nerds are now, as far as I can tell, models, Pokémon cosplayers, or particularly opinionated Joss Whedon fans. At some point, being smart stopped being the major part of the equation

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