Monday, April 12, 2010

Interview transcript: Thomas Steinbeck (Part 2)

Part two of my interview with Thomas Steinbeck:

How long have you been living in Santa Barbara?
Now, going on six years. I was living in Oxnard by the sea because I love to sail, they have two great harbors. But unfortunately, the agricultural chemicals did not agree with my system and I had to move. Because every time they plowed something in Oxnard, I got welts, so I had to leave.
But I love Santa Barbara. It's a very proactive town, unlike Monterey. Every thing's sort of a team effort here. I get that sensation sometimes. I don't know why.
I actually live in Montecito, which is a separate township just to the south edge of Santa Barbara. Actually, Oprah's my neighbor across the street. And the way this town is built, all the big estates are on one side of the street, where I live, and all of the homes of the servants are on the other side of the streets. I live in a homes where the servants live. I live in a house that was built in 1910, and all the chauffeurs, the maids, everyone lives on this side of the road. And all the Morton estates and the Spreckles estates and all of those are on the other side of the road. In this case, Oprah got the 40 acres and I got the mule.
I just find it amusing. Oprah's my neighbor and everyone assumes I live on an estate. I live in a worker's house. The woman who owned the house, I lease it from owners who have owned it for generations, the mother of the man who rebuilt and refurbished this house was the hairdresser for all the maids that worked at the estates across the road. and at the corner we have a garage that's been there since the turn of the century, because in the old days, chauffeurs had to be mechanics, and they had to go someplace to go work on the cars. So we have a little garage here. It's been there forever.
It's really quite quaint, despite the wealthy neighborhood. We're the quaint side. We're the colorful ones.

Are there any whispers of your father's influence or tone in this book?
Only in terms of cultural interest. He and I don't write the same. My father never used a five dollar word if a nickel one would do. I, on the other hand, feel I'm wide open to use a 12 dollar word if it pleases me, because I like words. I like to write. My father was writing a particular style. We don't even remotely write the same way, at all. And the things I focus on wouldn't necessarily be the things he would focus on. But he taught me to love the same things. I love the multiculturalism (of California). I love the area. I'm California born and bred. Good, bad or indifferent. The idea of living anyplace else is just impossible. And we've been evacuated twice because of fires form this house. So there's a penalty to be paid anywhere in California that you live.
My father's influence, is a matter of focal interest. Minorities, languages, diversity, history — very much history. My father was a big history buff. Which is why I wrote the book that's coming out, because it has as much to do with cultural history in California, but it's done in a very subtle way. I don't lecture people about things. I slip things into dialogue and text for my reader to think about, because you can't lecture people. It just puts you down. But if you voice an opinion (through) one of your characters, if one of your characters voices an opinion, to whatever degree that all writing is autobiographical, which it is, by the way. Even press corps is autobiographical, because it's filtered through you. All it's being filtered through me, so whatever I'm saying has to do with me. And If I'm positive about it, because I'm personally positive about it, but in this particular case, if I want to get a point across and still entertain my audience, I better make it part of my dialogue, so that the audience can decide whether they like that guy or not. Because somebody may read it and say “Oh, he's a real ass hole, but he fits into the plot.” You know what I mean? As long as they don't think it's me that's stupid, I'm fine with that (laughs).

Are you at liberty to speak about any of the legal haggling over your father's work?
Not really, because at this point, it's just getting so boring. It's just what a lot of people are facing. Corporate interests trying to take over private property. That's pretty much what it all comes down to. It's publishers trying to take control of property that rightfully and legally belongs to others, and control what they do with it. And in that particular sense, its' a lot bigger than what I'm doing.
A lot of people out there are in this particular position. Basically, they don't inherit houses, they don't inherit stock, they inherit copyright. And that copyright is protected, and only blood heirs can have copyright. And we've got publishers and agents who are acting as if they own the copyright. And they got away with it for a while and now they feel it's their right. That's what this is all about.
This goes back to the music industry, you know. In the old days, when basically, you wanted to make a record, the record producer owned the copyright, and for the length of the copyright. You basically sold out your song. This is what happened to Motown. All these people were all like “What happened to all of your money?” (and the artist said) “What money? He gave me $600 for the album, and he made 12 million.” And that kind of greed, that corporate greed, which is now institutionalized in this country, has jumped into the publishing business. It's like we want to own the cow and the milk.
And that' what we're fighting right now, is contracts and the idea that basically the law says that my father's granddaughter owns the copyright,and they're saying no she doesn't, and we're saying yes she does. She's a blood heir. It's still her copyright.
So that's all that i want to say about it, only in so far in that we just seem to be the tip of the iceberg, because we're constantly getting contacts — from the Hemingway family and from lots of people who have owned copyright from well known ancestors who basically are under the gun as well. We have a lot of support, and a lot of deals and unions as well have come on board.
We have problems with the courts in NYC because they didn't understand the law, literally. They eventually didn't understand copyright law. One of the things we're trying to fight for is that there is no universal copyright law in this country. Or is there a universal law when it comes to celebrity, and the way you can use celebrity? whether you can use my father's image? You can't, not without permission. You can use a cartoon of it if you want, but you can't use a published photo.
It's a matter of giving the power back to the people who have the most to lose. Ultimately, especially in the entertainment industry, all you really own is your reputation. Every movie you do is a work for hire, unless you produced it and you own it. So all you really have is your celebrity, your face, your likeness. That's all you have. That's what celebrity is. I try to stay away from it because mines' worthless, and I don't want the general public to know that.
That's what it's all about. It's really not personal. It's personal so much in that they owe me a great deal of money and the courts have got to determine what the national law is. We were going to go to the Supreme Court, and we may still go to the Supreme Court, but not because we're going to profit from it. Quite the opposite. I could have bought this house with the money I spent on lawyers. And I'm never going to see any of that back.
So the point is, my wife and I started to take a stance, not just for ourselves, but we saw a lot of other people in similar situations. And what we have to do is make precedent law. And we've been at it for seven years now. It's almost too late to quit. My god, you're up to your ass in shit, and it's not as if you can walk out and pretend as if you weren't. “Oh, I didn't mean that. Let's all forget about it.” I've got to write just to pay lawyers.
But everybody's got a drama. Mines not particularly anymore interesting than anyone else's.

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