Woebegone Me

The Rake: You are on 536 stations every week, with more than three million listeners. Doesn’t that make you a celebrity?

Taylor: Is that pretty good?

The Rake: Rush and Brancaccio have higher weekly totals.

Taylor: Minnesotans aren’t comfortable with first place. First place creates unreasonable expectations. First place is not a solid Lutheran value. Norway has the highest standard of living in the world. The Norwegians who came here saw that coming and knew they didn’t deserve it. They are conservative, and loved Ronald Reagan, but they knew they could not take their place alongside such a clear winner, so they voted for Mondale even though they hated his liberal politics. They had no patience for his hand-holding mealy-mouthed advocacy for every victimized group that finds the time to complain to itself over a background of tasteful acoustic guitar on public radio. That’s how I browbeat the St. Paul City Council into shelling out 3.3 million for my new office, and to close Ninth Street, for icing on the cake. Public radio talk shows have made them feel like victims for years. I told them they are second-rate and should feel lucky to have me sitting downtown to tell them so.(5) I rolled those hayseeds like a five-cornered square and they gave me the keys to the kingdom. They don’t even know I’m moving my office out of downtown,(6) the dumb clucks. Just like the time I got them to renovate the World Theater—they never learn. I could move MPR to Wisconsin Dells and still keep them eating out of my hand. My new office is going to have a twenty thousand dollar wine rack made from the last teak left in Uganda. I’m going to name a row for each member of the city council. Next time Pohlad goes begging for a stadium, I’ll show him how it’s done.

The Rake: That puts one in mind of concealing rudeness with shyness. You pull it off better than Bob Dylan.

Taylor: It’s one of my favorite tricks, the shy thing. Minnesota is really just a five-million-member support group for douche bags.(7) When you get them feeling lucky they even know you, you can get away with just about anything. I wear red socks so they can recognize me without having to gaze upon the face of a god.(8) Ancient Greeks were often reduced to cinders for just that mistake.

The Rake: I don’t recall your face being described as god-like before now.

Taylor: Many gods choose non-human forms when they appear to mortals. Zeus appeared to his human lovers as a swan, as a bull, as all kinds of things—even a repulsive old beggar woman. I have made myself comfortable in a froglike form.(9) Zeus changed one of his human lovers into a cow, attempting to conceal her from his wife. I have done the same thing to Minnesota. Minnesota is my white cow.(10) Will B. King and I milk her four times a year. She gives a pure, warm stream of cash every time. We had another cow and named her “Greensprig.” She was not so easy to hide. Dayton’s bought her for 120 million Samolians. How much of that is mine you will never know.(11)

The Rake: What are your earnings from public radio?

Taylor: Almost enough.(12) What are you earning by writing all this down?

The Rake: Not even close.(13)

Taylor: You might earn more if you had more shame. Writers ought to have some shame because they constantly judge the world and therefore live in fear of judgment. Lutherans fear judgment, which explains their perfect lawns and their constant use of the conditional.

The Rake: People say you are difficult to work for. The stress of working for you has actually made some performers throw up every Saturday. Does that bother you?

Taylor: People don’t work for me. I make people, and the people I make do what I want. I made Butch and Peter. Did the Snopeses complain to Bill Faulkner about the dreadful stuff he had them doing all over Yoknapatawpha County? When you are in a work of genius you do what you are told. When I am done with a person, he vanishes, and I mail him a copy of my book.

The Rake: Some of your associates were offended when you had your attorneys mail them letters to prevent them from talking to me. In fact, none of them would speak on the record, off the record, on deep background, or even confirm their own existence. Why is everyone so afraid of you?

Taylor: Simple. I hold the copyrights to all those people. They are in my stories, my show, not the other way around. I’ve copyrighted all my families and girlfriends, too. If you print one iota about them I will have Will King shovel so much legal letterhead on you, you will never dig your way to sunlight.

The Rake: You’ve written some rather unpleasant things about your family—especially the family you had with Bella. If you are going to savage them, what exactly does your insistence on privacy protect them from?(14)

Taylor: When they are savaged, I will savage them myself, at my expense and for my profit.

The Rake: Speaking of profit, you had quite a run in the mid-80s. In 1985 your book was a best seller and you made the cover of Time, in ‘86 you were one of the sexiest men in America, and in ‘87 you signed the show with Disney. What went wrong after that? Why did you leave in such a bitter mood 15 years ago, with all that luck coming your way?

Taylor: Nick Coleman drove me out of St. Paul. He put my address in the paper and urinated on my roses.(15) My wife and I had a passionate and innocent romance and were amazed at the gift of sweet love(16) and he put us in the paper like a pair of commoners.

The Rake: You’ve been saying that for years, but Nick Coleman didn’t even work for the Pioneer Press when they published your address in St. Paul.(17)

Taylor: My address in Lake Obegone. He went there and tried to talk to them and get a story on me. Lake Obegone is a patented fund-raising asset for Minnesota Pedantic Radio and the DNC.(18)

The Rake: So you sued him.

Taylor: He’s still got marks on his back where Will King and I ran over him. It takes cash money to keep a town like that going. Where would they end up if just any scribbler could walk into Lake Obegone and start asking nosey questions? The decades cannot improve them. But they have some pride, and have nominated MPR to speak for them. If they let Nick Coleman in, he would drink Bushmill’s and urinate on their peonies. I admire their tomatoes and drink Pouilly-Fuissé. And I have gently copyrighted them.

The Rake: You left just because of a newspaper? Or did the rapid onset of wealth just make it easier to dispose of your obligations and do whatever you pleased?

Taylor: You can’t be the prodigal son unless you leave.

The Rake: So you went to… Denmark.

Taylor: You may not write about Denmark. I have copyrighted Denmark.

The Rake: I beg your pardon?

Taylor: I purchased the copyright to Denmark when I wrote about it for National Geographic. It was a good deal for them because their literary output is very low, even with the Internet, which they recently acquired. The Danes have only produced three writers of any substance in the last three hundred years, and the only novelist of the three had to go to Africa to find decent material. America has produced so much more—Mailer, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Conrad, Vonnegut, Stine . . .

The Rake: Gertrude Stein?

Taylor: R.L. Stine. Gertrude Stein was a shovel-faced Sappho. Anyway, I have contracted with the nation of Denmark to provide them with their next fifty years’ worth of literary output. There shouldn’t be much to it, considering where they’re stuck right now. I’ll do a biography of farmer Peter Jensen, who fertilized his potato field exclusively with the power of his own bowels. It should keep them happy until it’s translated into Danish, or gets published on Salon, whichever comes first.

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