Interview with Christopher Sorrentino
by Alexander Laurence
Christopher Sorrentino's first novel, Sound On Sound (Dalkey
Archive), is all-out attack on the music industry, filtered
through the stylistic auspices of Modernist writing. It is an
ambitious debut as a novelist. He was born in New York City.
Since 1985, he has lived in San Francisco. In the Mission, he is
known as "The Great Giuseppe." He is the son of
novelist Gilbert Sorrentino, so along with Martin Amis, they are
beginning a new movement in writing.
- Alexander Laurence:
- Could you talk about that wonderful time when you first
thought about writing Sound On Sound?
- Christopher Sorrentino:
- I took some notes outlining its structure, etc., basic
conceptual stuff, back in 1982. Then I stopped writing
altogether until I was about 25, and after writing rotten
short stories for a year or so, I unearthed the Sound On
Sound project, which seemed like a sufficiently ambitious
way of avoiding the bildungsroman I'm sure I would have
wasted my time on otherwise. That was in April 1990; I
finished the book Chrismas Eve 1992.
- Are you worried about the fact that some people may
recognize themselves in these characters?
- Any of the models for the characters in the book who
might recognize that and become insulted are probably too
fucking stupid to read the book.
- Let's talk about the technique? The layering of one
chapter over another creates tension, meaning, and
- I've always liked books, and other art, that worked like
that--Sound and the Fury, Rashomon kinds of things. I
tried to take all those modernist techniques I'd been
ogling for years and push them until they fell on top of
each other, and I wanted to let the book's structure
determine its content as much as possible, and what I
ended up with was a self-disruptive stack. I guess what
you could call its narrative inconsistencies are balanced
pretty much by its thematic and formal harmony, and even
in the midst of the inconsistencies readers will find
motifs and refrains that pop up throughout the book's
- Why is placing this novel at the beginning of Reagan's
presidency; how does that relate to the 4/4 beat of the
- Aside from the fact that the parts of my own life I drew
from for material took place at that time, when I
realized while writing the book that one of the things I
was doing was conducting a running commentary on popular
culture, I figured the Reagan parallel fit perfectly. The
eighties were really an era of subtle destruction, at
least on the home front--I won't talk about the more
overt forms of destruction that occurred in, say, Central
America--a lot of demonstrably good things were destroyed
or co-opted, and the transformations were accomplished in
part through the manipulation of a lot of easy-listening,
slick-as-snot images and icons; like Ronald Reagan and
his prophet, pop culture, like an idea of rock and roll
as the theme ditty of rebellion so powerful and pervasive
that the form can be used to score a Nazi movie like Top
Gun. To me, rock and roll is simply another agent of
- Any favorite groups worth mentioning? Or did you write
this novel under pharmaceutical influence and/or sonic
- The only group which has consistently held my interest
over the past twenty-five years or more has been The
Beatles; they sound like everybody who came before them
and everybody who came after them sounds like them, a
kind of perfect post-modern continuum, even more so
because it's rarely acknowledged except as if all parties
are conscious of what they're doing. I can't write on
drugs, except maybe pseudophedrine, and I can't write if
there's anything more alluring, like music, going on in
- Some writers have forged their way by combining the
subject of rock music with the art of writing; they end
up leaving out the art. How did you achieve this balance?
- I was really interested in technique, and I think it's
silly to get tripped up by your own subject. I'm not the
kind of writer who runs down to the library to check
stuff out on microfiche or does months of fieldwork in
the Tundra: you could get eyestrain, you could get
frostbite. I'll dump verisimilitude and factual accuracy
for fiction every time, and so in this case the idea of
articulating some kind of reasoned "judgment"
about rock and roll went out the window right away: I
started from the premise that it's another pile of shit
from the Lite Entertainment brigade and went on from
there. I'll leave the analysis to the rock critics.
- You are going on a world tour to promote this novel.
Could you say something about your "Sound On Sound
Tour 95?" How do you think it will go?
- My publisher's a little concerned that I'll be hitting
the road slighty before publication date; I guess they're
worried that books won't be available for the thousands
of fans who'll be hurdling the police barricades, tearing
out their hair, and screaming hysterically. They're also
balking at the idea of concert t-shirts, which I'm
frankly pissed off at, and the action figure prototypes
haven't arrived yet from Hasbro, so it looks like Kay Bee
is going to be cancelling all the bookings at its
franchises. Other than that, it should go pretty well.
- What do you think about the future sound of America?
- A Noel Coward character remarks somewhere:
"Extraordinary how potent cheap music is," and
I would imagine that this could serve very well as a
timeless motto for the popular music industry.