Wesley Stace, the author behind Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer, recently visited the KQED studios to record an episode of The Writers' Block, which will be released next week (listen to Wesley's reading and his episode from 2007). Until then, get to know him a little better with this Q+A, in which he talks about the most ridiculous thing that's happened to him on stage, and what a religion founded by him might look like.
For your first foray into writing, you impressively turned a 5 minute pop song into a 500 hundred page novel. Is there a recent pop song that you wouldn't mind fleshing out?
Wesley Stace: Not really and I earnestly hope never to do it again. I think it was a somewhat unique situation. However, I think there are many Decemberists and Long Winters songs that could easily be expanded to mammoth length. (I'm not saying that would be a good thing!)
Your given name comes from John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. What might a religion founded by you look like?
WS: Quakerism is the nearest I can possibly imagine, and, despite its grooviness, you're still expected to believe in God. I very much enjoy going to Quaker meetings. Also, there would be lots of music (and there's none at Quaker meeting.) So: Quakerism plus joyful music, but without God.
In addition to being a novelist, you also make music under the moniker John Wesley Harding, which was taken from the Bob Dylan's 1967 album. Why did you decide to use an alias for your musical endeavors and what went into choosing that specific one?
WS: The similarity to my own name was the key. I'd had my eye on that album ever since I was a small child and had no idea who Bob Dylan was. I took the name because I wanted to disguise myself, assuming my music career would go south very quickly.
What's the most ridiculous thing that's happened to you on stage or on the road?
WS: Wow. A double bass fell over onstage and cracked in two. We could only watch in horror. That was nasty, but not ridiculous. Ridiculous? Perhaps when we turned up in Salt Lake City and played at The Zephyr, lying on our backs on the stage. We bought the sparse audience drinks and they bought us drinks and it was a very nice night. Music was played. Actually, I don't think I've ever had a Salt Lake City gig that wasn't ridiculous. At another I had to sign a waiver saying I wouldn't insult the Mormon religion. My religion, incidentally, would be nothing like Mormonism, or at least, wouldn't include censorship.
If your life was adapted to film, who would play you?
WS: Carole Lombard.
What's one book everyone should be required to read and why?
WS: Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne -- because you will learn a lot about life, and time, and love, and death. And it will frustrate you and thrill you. And no other novel you read after that will ever do that again for you in the same way.
What song always makes it on your mix tapes and why?
WS: "I Don't Believe in Miracles" by Colin Blunstone, because it is perfect.
What was your first concert?
WS: Peter Frightens The Postman -- I've looked them up online and they don't actually seem to have ever existed. They were massively pre-internet of course. Next to my father's house (in Bradfield, Berkshire, England) was a fake Greek Amphitheatre, and a band was playing down there for the schoolkids on a Saturday afternoon, so I went to see. The volume and the jumping around -- it all made quite an impression on me. I've no idea what they were like, but in my mind they were somewhat like Curved Air, though this may only be because my stepbrother was playing a live Curved Air at the time, and I probably thought that's what all music sounded like.
You're on stage at a karaoke bar. What are you singing?
WS: Well, in Japan on the last tour, I mainly went for Bowie. The first time I ever did karaoke, in San Francisco, I did Subterranean Homesick Blues. I have to admit to not really being into karaoke. But I'm not a spoilsport.
Look for Wesley Stace's episode of The Writers' Block next Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at kqed.org/writersblock. And be sure not to miss each episode as it becomes available by subscribing to The Writers' Block podcast!