New York writer Scott Laudati talks millennials, drugs and books
Scott Laudati is a young American writer, author of the collection of poems "Hawaiian Shirts in the Electric Chair" and the novel "Play the Devil". Born in New York thirty years ago, Laudati gives voice to Millennials. In this interview Laudati tells Cafebabel about his work and influences, as well as his own perception of European values and culture.
Cafébabel: How did you become a writer?
Scott Laudati: It was actually the sister of Jack Antonoff [NB. American singer from band
Bleachers ] that made me start writing. I used to work for a record label he was on. We’d
all go out to eat and his sister Rachel and I would be at the end of the table so the
label/band could discuss business. She was older and I immediately had a crush on her.
She told me once she wanted to be a writer. I was 15 I think, and right there I just said
to myself “you have to be a writer”. She went on to be a major fashion designer and I
never saw her again after that but she changed the course of my life.
Cafébabel: You’ve referred to yourself in the past as a “Jim Carroll kind of guy”. Can you
tell us more about yourself, and which writers have influenced your work?
Scott Laudati: I grew up as a Catholic kid in an Italian section of New York. It was like one of those mafia movies. We played stickball with the priests. Grandma spent all Sunday making pasta sauce for dinner after Mass. Everything was tied to the church. But as I got older I really started to question religion, especially my own. This skepticism alienated me from everything I had known, my parents included, who never questioned the church. My grandfather, my father and I were all baptized by the same priest. The devotion ran deep.
I found Jim Carroll around the time I was really having trouble with faith, thinking there was something wrong with me for not having any. Carroll grew up in New York and wrote about falling out with the Catholic church. But his style was just as important as his themes. Carroll took what the Beats were doing a little further. He simplified their poetry; brought it away from Whitman and jazz, and did the whole punk rock thing. It was easy to read, but still decorated. I feel like there’s something lacking in the poets that came after Carroll. They’ve figured out how to simplify, but in doing so they lose all the substance. My other biggest influence is probably Conor Oberst and his lyrics. Anytime I think I’ve written something perfectly, I listen to one of his songs and I realize he’s already said it better – and usually with a lot less words.
Cafébabel: Your novel Play the Devil is set right after the Great Recession, in which the
protagonist moves back home after graduating from college – in debt and unemployed.
Is this a reflection of a greater reality in Europe and the U.S. for millennials?
Scott Laudati: I was just writing about life as it was happening, and the whole world happened to go insane. Overnight, my government sucked two trillion out of the economy and handed it to the banks. Greece fell apart. Russell Brand was marching through the streets of London. It seemed like the workers of Europe had finally had enough and I was getting very frustrated with my country, because no one seemed to care at all. It looks like the future for millennials is pretty bleak, on both sides of the ocean. We’ve paid way too much to become overeducated in a society that is running out of jobs. I don’t know what these parents and teachers are thinking when they make all the kids go to college. The world needs plumbers and electricians. These will be the high paying jobs of the future, because [as it stands] no one knows how to do anything… Parents don’t seem to have any problem voluntarily turning their kids into debt machines. I try to make my anger at the older generation apparent in Play the Devil, for scamming all of us millennials. The only way I can see this being resolved is a massive bailout for students, or a basic living wage as the jobs head to robots. Otherwise, there will be four generations living together under one roof.
Cafébabel: Are unqualified jobs and manual labour very common amongst American youth? What are the differences you see with regards to Europe?
Scott Laudati: They are very common now in America. I think the difference between the
generations is that now it’s young people with college degrees who are roofing your houses, or, in the case of Play The Devil, cleaning your pools. We leave college and take these manual jobs until we can find something closer to our “career paths”. However, you need to start immediatly paying off a massive loan, so people get trapped in these cycles of continuous paycheck to paycheck living. And the debts are so large you’re only ever paying off the growing interest. While college is much more affordable in Europe the price tag is always getting higher. University is big business, and a few election cycles of Conservative wins will drastically change the system. But without a looming debt-sentence European youth can experiment more, and hopefully not get locked into a career they’ve taken only out of necessity.
Cafébabel: You mentioned the recent terrorist attacks in the UK and France. How has the
perception of Europe in the US changed since then?
“Saturday night and London blows up.
France took a bye this week.
New Jersey sleeps tight
and i tell my father it’s only a matter of time
before the halal truck with Haliburton stamps
runs down three Chinese tourists
and a white girl from Indiana.
they’ve done it before
they print money and
from the ground floor
Baby Boomers (false flags)
Scott Laudati: I went to Western Europe in 2003 and again in 2007. What I saw was country after country, so rich and alive with culture and art I couldn’t believe there had ever been a time when an ancestor of mine thought there could be something better on the other side of the ocean. There was a sense of freedom in Europe I’d never felt in the US. I say all of this because the perception in America is Europe has completely been taken over by Islamic terrorists. Americans think Europe isn’t free anymore, that everyone lives in a perpetual state of fear, and so, the terrorists have won. I don’t think there’s any way Europe could ever “lose it’s identity”, with a culture and history that runs so deep. But terrorist attacks in Europe were part of what got Donald Trump elected. Trump promised to ban Muslims to keep America safe, and continually used the phrase “look what’s happening in Europe” to push this new agenda of racism.
Cafébabel: What about your personal perception of Europe?
Scott Laudati: I went to western Europe once on a tour with bands and I backpacked a few
years later. I love Europe. I’d move over tomorrow if I could find a job there. The first time I went I was amazed at how much I had been lied to. I’d always been told America was the greatest and we were better at everything. In Europe, the social services like subways, trains, etc. were so efficient. In America nothing works and our infrastructure is totally crumbling. Most of our cities were built after the automobile so there is basically no public transportation.
I saw my first ever protest in England. They had just raised tuition and there were hundreds of students in the streets. I didn’t even know protests for policy existed before that. In a hostel in Austria a Swiss economics instructor explained to me that patriotism should mean helping your poorest citizens, not just rallying around the flag at a football game.
When I hear things like the new French president encouraging scientists, or Sweden’s efficiency at taking care of garbage, it makes me very jealous. I’d like to live in country that didn’t only excel at war. When Geert Widers and Le Pen both lost I was very relieved. I hope Europe continues to use America’s spiral towards intolerance and fascism as an example of what happens when you vote for hate and fear. There are a lot of American’s who feel like me about Europe, just not nearly enough.
Cafébabel: The malaise of suburban millennials you describe often includes drug use.
Why do you think our generation has a renewed addiction to heroin?
“and i thought
about all the friends
i’ve had that
or went to jail
and the reason was always
the same: Heroin.”
(Give A Lozenge To The Voice Of The Archangel)
Scott Laudati: I guess the circumstances aren’t so different as they were back in the 70’s when heroin became an epidemic. We are a nation without any heroes. The education system has failed. Religion has failed. The US is once again involved in wars it won’t and doesn’t want to win. And just like Vietnam (when the government was flying Golden Triangle heroin back into the US in body bags) we have been at war for almost twenty years with the country who now produces the most opium. And of course, photos are always surfacing of the US military guarding the poppy fields. Heroin was almost non existent on our streets pre-Afghan war. Now it’s everywhere. I’d imagine the same circumstances have given rise to heroin use in Europe. There are so many countries following the US around in these drug zones, obviously the heroin is going to end up in Europe. And I think an overall dissatisfaction with the present and future have added the perfect amount of nihilism to already explosive powder-keg. The answer is obvious, but no one wants to ask these questions.
Cafébabel: In much of your writing the future appears quite gloomy. In your
opinion, how has the election of Donald Trump influenced future perspectives
for young Americans?
“there’s no escape in my forever now,
our bones can grow soft in peace.
and that future we always talked about
can’t come soon enough”
(My First Night Back)
Scott Laudati: It’s been a real disappointment to everyone younger than the Baby
Boomers. It’s sad to realize the majority of your country doesn’t share any of your
beliefs. Morality, science, compassion, these are words that don’t exist in a
Republicans vocabulary. Trump’s election will end up setting the US back so far
the rest of the world will leave us behind. When we look at Europe we see leaders
who understand everyone should be able to go to the doctor. Who support climate
change research. US leaders won’t even acknowledge these things are happening.
It’s really sad, and all of that bad energy definitely is reflected in my writing. I
don’t see a light at the end of America’s tunnel.
Cafébabel: Do you think addiction influences sentimental relationships among millennials and if yes, how?
“what is that?” “cocaine” “I don’t want any cocaine. Why am I looking at cocaine ” “What says I love you like our noses sharing a dollar bill?”
(Take the Path for Cocaine and Plath)
Scott Laudati: I don’t think we do any more drugs than our parents. There’s a
reason people have been doing them forever. Drugs are fun. And they will make
the beginning of a relationship more exciting and intimate. And yes, all that
exploring will build you a bond, but drugs also ruin everything. When
relationships are built on drugs they stop being fun and become an addiction. I’m
just writing about what I’ve seen, they’ve influenced my relationships in both
good and bad ways.
Cafébabel: The relationships in your poems are often toxic, violent and
destructive. They also break the cliché of the violent man beating a harmless
woman and describe fiend-like girls aggressing the partner. ( My back hurt
all the time for the grind / My face hurt all the time from her fists / When she
got bored she left / When she got angry she hit). What’s your opinion on the
relation between love and violence?
Scott Laudati : I think you get one or two real loves in a lifetime if you’re lucky. And sometimes they come when you’re immature, or insecure, and all those new feelings manifest in different ways. It can be perfect harmony or totally explosive. I was writing about the first girl I loved. We were too young and too immature but we were expected to act like adults. Our backgrounds were completely different and we were in a world we didn’t understand yet. Fear and frustration led us. I wish I hadn’t written some of the things I have about her. It was just as confusing and scary for her and I didn’t show that at all.Violence is always wrong, from either men or women, but we can’t pretend it doesn’t happen. All of our passion resulted in complete craziness. But I’m glad I had the experience once. I just never want it again.
Cafébabel: You now live in New York. How is your life like there?
Scott Laudati: As corporate and sanitized as New York has become I still think it’s the best city in the world. In the words of my uncle, “it’s the best we’ve done. Only Paris comes close”.Somehow New York maintains a certain level of grime and creativity I haven’t found anywhere else. Everything is so compact it’s like walking different cities neighborhood to neighborhood. You can get the best slice of pizza and a perfect Bahn Mi within a few blocks. New York is the best muse there is. If you’re ever stuck while trying to write you can just go outside. Something magical or terrifying is happening on every street. It’s nice to be proud of your city, too. At least in American terms, New York City is progressive. And New Yorkers get out in the streets and fight when politicians try and slow down that progress.