"Try to go beyond it."

Photograph by Mark Mawston

An Interview with Stephen John Kalinich

Stephen John Kalinich is a prolific poet and songwriter who wears eye catching hats and the color orange on an almost daily basis. He is warm and nurturing to almost everyone in his life, including people he meets in restaurants and on the street. He is also an amazing friend, and it so happens that his friends, Brian and Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys, were also his collaborators. It is not coincidental that two of the songs he wrote with Dennis, “LittleBird” and “Be Still”, are featured on The Beach Boys’ 1969 album, Friends. Kalinich has written for Paul McCartney, Randy Crawford, Mary Wilson, and is currently working with legendary Nashville musician/producer Jon Tiven (who’s worked previously with Alex Chilton, Frank Black, Don Covay) under the name Yo MaMa. They put out the gloriously primitive Stones-meets-Stooges opus Symptomology, which Andrew Loog Oldham lauded as one of the best albums of 2012. A practitioner of Transcendental Meditation for many years, Stevie has also contributed to David Lynch’s Transcendental Radio.  

Light in the Attic Records will be releasing Stevie’s 1968 collaboration with Brian Wilson, A World of Peace Must Comeon vinyl this April. There’s been much speculation on the genesis of this project, and for many years people wondered if it was real at all. Stevie and I sat down in my living room to talk about his beginnings and to sort out the mysteries of A World of Peace Must Come. 

—Tracy Landecker

I.  GANGSTER CHILD POET

STEVIE KALINICH: My mother, every Sunday, would take us for walks in nature in Binghamton, New York, in the hills above where we lived. There was a lot of wilderness, and we walked around creeks. There were bulls behind fences, and my mother would say, “Don’t go in there. “ We would find skeletons. Once we found what we thought was the skeleton of a dead baby in a creek. We loved all the different colors of the leaves. We used to go tobogganing on the hill that had trees, and one time I went head first into a tree and I don’t know if I ever recovered. [Laughs

I had this sense of walks in nature but I don’t think I felt it as anything other than how life was. But as I look back, that’s when my first poems started coming. I didn’t know what they were. I was five, six, seven years old. They weren’t very good, but I remember one of them and I’ve spoken it before.

At night I saw the stars above

A sign of hope and peace and love

The stars that shine above my eyes

That make me know

God is in the skies

THE BELIEVER: And these poems were the seeds that you tilled, as it were, for A World of Peace Must Come.

SK: Yes. But at that point as a child, whatever concept I had of God, which was very vague, was of something out there, outside of myself.  As I’ve grown, I don’t think I would change that poem, except I would say that what I thought was out there is within consciousness, rather than outside of it. But we all project our beliefs and our systems.

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"We knew we were not liberated and were never going to be liberated. But we knew what liberation was."

Illustration by Rebecca Fishow

An Interview with Vivian Gornick

The following is an excerpt from an online exclusive interview with Vivian Gornick. Read the full piece on Believermag.com.

I. AN UNANSWERABLE QUESTION

THE BELIEVER: I wanted to start with a moment you often return to in your writing: your involvement in the feminist movement. How did it come about?

VIVIAN GORNICK: I guess what happened was: it must have been 1970. I wasn’t in the New Left, but I was alive and feeling its consequences. And suddenly I saw the same thing that everyone else saw. I went to work for the Village Voice. One of the first assignments [the paper] gave me was to go out and investigate these “liberationist chicks” who were gathering on Bleecker Street. So I went out to investigate these liberationist chicks, and I came back a feminist.

We all saw something slightly different. The thing I saw was that we had been raised not to take our brains seriously. That was the single sentence in my head. Here I am forty years later, and I don’t think very much differently than that. [Laughs] That became the mother lode: We had been raised not to take our brains seriously. And from that all else followed. I was never an activist, in the sense that I didn’t really join a lot of organizations. I wasn’t out in the streets. But what I did become was a writer. My activism was in writing.

BLVR: Did feminism give you a new language?

VG: Feminism gave me a way to see myself in culture, in society, in history, and that was very important. Then psychoanalysis showed me that I might be neurotic because I was a girl but, as Chekhov might have put it, I alone had to squeeze the slave out of myself, drop by drop. So between Freud and women’s rights—to use those two brilliant perspectives was to gain a vantage point from which, as we used to say, I could see myself both personally and politically. And yes, that gave me language.

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"I now find myself on the other side of the curtain."

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Installation view Jacqueline Humphries, Sterling Ruby,  Dona Nelson, Pam Lins and Amy Sillman and Pam Lins. Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 7- May 25, 2014. Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins

An Interview with Michelle Grabner 

Michelle Grabner is the first artist to curate the Whitney Biennial. A painter, she also teaches and writes. Her first mid-career retrospective, “I Work From Home,” opened in November at MoCA Cleveland, and she doesn’t live (or work) in New York but in Oak Park, Illinois, where she appropriates the language of the middle: middle class, Midwest, the mid-sized car, even middle age. In her official portrait for the Whitney, she wears a gray sweatshirt. Her screensaver is the Green Bay Packers, and she says “fine” like fawn, with those flattened accents of her native territories. There in the middle, she and her husband, painter Brad Killam, also run two art spaces. One is in their garage, The Suburban, and the other, The Poor Farm, on a former poor farm in rural Wisconsin, where they’ve shown Matthew Higgs, Andrew Zittel and Luc Tuymans. We talk here about putting together the Biennial. This year’s has three curators, none from New York City (though one recently moved there), and they each got one floor. I wanted to know how you approach something as mythic as the Biennial, particularly with the added meaning of this being the last installment in the old Breuer building before the museum moves downtown next year.

—Jennifer Kabat

THE BELIEVER: Can we start at the beginning? A biennial takes ages to plan, right?

MICHELLE GRABNER: I received a long, detailed email from Elisabeth Sussman and Jay Sanders in August of 2012.

BLVR: What did they say? And were you surprised?

MG: Yeah, we’d had a Suburban opening, and I was dropping an artist off downtown. Going home at a stoplight, I looked at my phone. It was a Sunday—getting this on a Sunday was also weird—and yeah, one shouldn’t check mail while driving. I kept glancing down at the email and “Whitney Biennial” and “curating” kept popping out. At home I said to my husband, “Brad, read this to me. I can’t understand what they’re asking.” As an artist I’ve had visits by Whitney curators over the years but never made it into the show, and here they’re asking me to consider curating it? I never saw that coming. Being included in the exhibition was something I always hoped for, but curating it was something I never considered.

BLVR: That’s almost funny, you’ve never been included in the show you end up curating.

MG: It’s a bit like being department chair at a school that wouldn’t let me into its MFA program.

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