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A Late-Blooming Writer on the Complicated Business of Time and Television

Q: So what do you write when you’re inspired?

A: Well, I just finished something that is like a cable show. It’s odd and maybe the closest thing is the Coen brothers in its tone. It’s a drama but it’s got some comedy and it’s very dark. I write these things when I’m finished with a show where the work could be really intense for nine months. I finish and I go through a few weeks of being terribly depressed and thinking, “What does this all mean and why do I work so hard writing this crappy FBI show?” And then I come up with an idea, usually out of desperation for some sense of identity. And I’ll have a few months off and I’ll work on something like that until the phone rings and then there’s money at the other end of the line. And then I’ll go do that. So having that balance is a little stabilizing for me. I know lots of other writers who are perfectly happy to just do the treadmill and I know many others, god bless them, who wouldn’t get anywhere near television and just want to write what they want to write.

Q: You’ve got a family.

A: I do.

Q: And they’re –

A: Lovely.

Q: You have to provide. When you got married and had kids, did that impact your writing life?

A: Well, no. I was always straddling these two worlds and arguing that same argument as a musician. I would go and play on cruise ships and do what I had to do to make money and then on my off time I would try to do my quirky new wave band or something. I was just never comfortable just living on the fumes and not worrying about next month’s rent. And I’m not sure how much of that was the need for the recognition, and that financial compensation told me I was a success or something, you know what I mean?

Q: Well, I think there’s something to be said for the stamp of approval. If people are paying money to consume whatever it is you’re making, you’re of value. Literal value.

A: I always really respected the musicians I knew who were just, “I write what I write and I do what I do and if the world knocks on the door great. And if not, I’ll just suffer along.” That’s just not me, but I do feel like that’s a higher level of artistry. It’s just in their bones.

Q: So does having a family in a way justify that practical impulse?

A: I’ve gotten, as one does with age, hopefully, usually, more comfortable with myself in general and more comfortable with myself as an artist, as well with what I can do and what I can’t do. With what my path in life is. All those things that were much more wrenching in my 20s, like am I an artist or am I a whore? And am I terrible for playing in this Top 40 band? And does that mean I’ll never be as good as Bob Dylan or Stevie Wonder and all those things that were such important questions. You just get more…I get more accepting of myself, my strengths and my limits. I don’t expect to revolutionize television or write a great novel.

Q: Have your goals changed?

A: Yeah. A lot. I’m reminded of the Woody Allen quote, and I’ll fuck it up, but basically, “The definition of happiness is reconciling the gap between who you are and who you think you should be.” And certainly I was very ambitious as a young person. I really wanted to be famous. I wanted to be considered a great artist, a great musician. And the gap was really big between where I wanted to be and where I was. And in retrospect, that was not unfair. I wasn’t that great, but for a long time that was a very difficult realization. When I was in my early 30s I was like, “Okay, you know what? I’m really not Bob Dylan and I’m not Stevie Wonder and that’s why they are them and I am playing bass on a cruise ship.” And that was a very hard, bitter pill, but I think it was accurate. Now, the good news I guess is that I feel that gap is pretty small. I mean it would be nice if the pilot I just wrote got made. But it’s not the end of the world if it’s not, frankly. I’m proud of it and I’m happy to have written it. I think that’s a lot of it. I have a perfectly lovely wife and decent children and I’m comfortable enough in my skin that I don’t want to change my life. When I was in my 20s I felt everything around me was temporary. I was going to transcend any minute now. I wanted to put more of a gap between me and my world. And now I am very comfortable in my world and that’s a parallel to how I feel about my creativity. I’m not as invested. The world doesn’t have to come and knock on the door and pat me on the back and say you’re a genius.

Q: I’m interested in how those sources of identity and gratification shift. It sounds like approval from the world is not as vital to your sense of satisfaction in life as perhaps it once was.

A: Yeah. I think that’s true. I mean, for the last five years I’ve been playing classical guitar and it’s been very fulfilling to me, and nobody knows except my immediate family and a couple of friends and I don’t care. I have no interest in performing as a classical guitarist. But it is very ritually rewarding and in a way, part of what’s refreshing about it is it’s not a step along a path at all. It’s completely for it’s own sake. And I’ve enjoyed it as much as any musical experience I’ve had in my life.

Q: What happened five years ago that made you pick up the guitar again?

A: Well, I used to play classical guitar as a kid. And then, actually, all that happened is I went to see Vicki Cristina Barcelona. It was all classical guitar music and I used to play some of those pieces. I just was randomly reintroduced and it got me thinking about it and so I just went on the Internet and got a cheap classical guitar. At the time I was vaguely aware that this was the way guys at my age will like take up golf or fishing.

Q: Or hookers.

A: Or hookers. At least it’s cheaper and less dangerous.

Q: It’s a wholesome crisis.

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