Community Interview: Alum Charles Baxter

By Noah Boswell

Charles Baxter ‘69 sat with Noah Boswell ‘13 and discussed modern music. The Minneapolis native is the author of five novels, seven collections of short stories, three books of poetry, finalist for the National Book Award for his novel The Feast of Love, current Edelstein-Keller Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Minnesota, and professor of creative writing at Warren Wilson College. TMW: So, Charlie, how do you come across new music? Baxter: It’s complicated –I’ll be listening to the radio and hear a good song but they won’t say who it is right after. They keep going and don’t tell you until you’re already at the dentist. No, I depend on mixes. Is there something specifically pleasing about mixes? The ability to sample so many new groups is great. I wish it were possible to sample writing the same way, like making a mix CD of great current writers. The Best American series is probably the closest thing. And what have you been listening to most recently? A lot of things, Beirut is good. Florence + The Machine. Jens Lekman. Everyone likes Arcade Fire. Indie pop mostly, then? Mostly, yeah. It’s hard to listen to hardcore metal, et cetera. It’s all a wall of sound. At my age, I don’t feel it anymore. Indie pop gets to me. What do you think about the sentimentality that sort of floods that genre? That’s true, sentimentality is cheap. I used to like Postal Service. Now they’re creepy and sentimental. That’s how I feel about Bright Eyes, too cheesy. I saw Bright Eyes at Cleveland. And yeah, too whiney. There’s no doubt he [Conor Oberst] is talented, but his sound is bad. I used to love Magnetic Fields, too, but I can’t listen to them anymore. So emotional, it puts you through a ringer. It’s like middle school poetry: “Something hurt me a little.” Right. I want to say to them, “I get it; it’s hard to be young, people s*** all over you. Now move on.” Yeah, this may not be a problem so much at Mac, but I feel like a lot of people settle for bad music that’s just easier to access. Right. I don’t have all the time in the world. If they start whining, I turn it off. I don’t have time for this. I know what a bad group sounds like; it’s not a novelty. So, who else are you listening to? I like Guster, they’re like a 21st century The Lovin’ Spoonful. Hidden Cameras. Foxtrot. Broken Bells have a good sound, there’s something interesting going on with them. You said you saw Bright Eyes in Cleveland. Was that the last concert you went to? No, Richard Thompson at 1st Avenue was the last concert I went to, which was great. Bright Eyes were playing a “Rock The Vote” thing. R.E.M. and Bruce Springsteen were there, too –all talented. Do you have a playlist for Mac Students, or maybe some songs you’re currently obsessed with? Sure: Hidden Cameras’ “Awoo,” Gorillaz’ “On Melancholy Hill,” and anything by Beirut, really.