SongWriter: the Rod Picott Interview

SongWriter is a podcast of stories and “answer songs” featuring Amanda Shires, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, Mary Gauthier, Roxane Gay, and Joyce Carol Oates.

Songwriter Rod Picott wrote a brand new song in response to his friend Nicholson Baker’s novel, The Anthologist for the most recent episode. Below is an edited version of the conversation Rod and I had about his and Nicholson’s work, and about the song he wrote.

Ben Arthur: How were you originally introduced to Nicholson’s work?

Rod Picott: My buddy Slaid Cleaves, who I do a lot of co-writing with, asked me if I had read this book by a writer who lived in South Berwick, Maine – which is the town that we grew up in – called House of Holes. Which is probably the most beautiful, filthy book I’ve ever read. Slaid said, “You have to read this book, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever read before.”

BA: You spoke with Nicholson about what he should read for this episode of SongWriter – what made you choose The Anthologist?

RP: I think The Anthologist is a masterpiece. I just think it’s a perfect book.

BA: Nicholson is a sometimes-songwriter, and songs and songwriters show up in lots of his books, including The Anthologist. And on your side, you do a fair bit of literary work. What have you been working on recently?

RP: I’ve published two books of poetry, one book of short stories, and I’m working on two novels.

BA: How was writing the response song to The Anthologist for you? I can imagine that since it’s one of your favorite books you might feel some pressure…

RP: It was absolutely terrifying to write something to accompany a piece of writing by Nicholson Baker, yeah. 

BA: But you found your entry eventually, and wrote “Losing Faith.” What made you take that path?

RP: Something about a relationship is the easiest thing to write about. I just thought about it, and I thought about how the relationship [in the book] is disintegrating. We’ve all been through that. There was a place in the book where he talks about Roz losing faith in him, and I know what that feels like, for me. I’ve seen it happen to people I’ve been with, losing their faith in me. That relationship, we had worked very hard at it. Obviously not hard enough. 

You can hear Nicholson Baker read an excerpt from The Anthologist and the brand new song that Rod wrote in response on the newest episode of SongWriter. You can follow Ben Arthur @MyHeart on Twitter and check out his new song, “Noughts and Vaccines.”

Jonathan Lethem + Tift Merritt SongWriter

Bestselling author Jonathan Lethem reads from his recent “dystopian pastoral” novel, The Arrest, about a farming community dealing with the worldwide collapse of technology. Jonathan also speaks about his long history of writing lyrics for bands including They Might Be Giants and the Silos. Tift Merritt performs a song called “Asylum in a Mad, Mad World” that she wrote in response to the story, but also reflecting the history of a former asylum in her hometown.
  1. Jonathan Lethem + Tift Merritt
  2. Keith Rosson + Antje Duvekot
  3. Jeremy Welch + Maia Sharp
  4. George Saunders + Ben Arthur (Part 1)
  5. George Saunders + Amanda Shires (Part 2)

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