The following is the first segment of the initial interview session between documentary producer James Fairhaven (JF) and documentary subject Leonard Carlson (LC).
JF: Ladies and Gentlemen, I have Leonard Carlson here with me. This is our first of hopefully many interviews with Leonard and we hope to learn more about him. Hello, Leonard.
LC: Hi, Jim.
JF: So Leonard, I guess where we should start is with your childhood. Where did you grow up?
LC: Wisconsin. I was born in a small town in Wisconsin. Mainly just fished and hunted and tried to keep my body temperature in the 80s. That’s about it.
JF: What did your parents do?
LC: I just told you, fished and hunted and tried to keep from freezing to death.
JF: How about your mother?
LC: What about her?
JF: What did she do?
LC: This is going to be a very repetitive interview, James, if you keep asking me the same question.
JF: So your parents were hunters and fishers?
LC: Yeah, pretty much.
JF: Ok, well then why-
LC: Well, my father was an inventor sort of.
JF: Really? Did he invent anything we might have heard of?
LC: James, how do I know what you’ve might or might not have heard of?
JF: Ok, fair enough, Leon-
LC: Really. How do I know wh-
JF: Let me rephrase. I’m finding out you’re very literal.
LC: OK, remember that. You said I’m literal. Soon, you’ll say I’m loose or wild and I’ll remind you that I’m literal.
JF: Did your father invent anything that was marketed?
LC: Or by “literal” do you mean concrete? Is that some kind of insult? Is this really the way you want to start this project. Remember we have a contract and you owe me whether or not we finish this.
LC: Do you want to continue?
JF: Leonard. Ok. I’m sorry that-
LC: Damn right you are.
JF: I’ll try to pick my word-
LC: I’m giving you my time and I expect some respect from you.
JF: Absolutely, Leo-
LC: You need me a lot more than I need you, you underst-
JF: Absolutely, Leonard. My apologies. You’re right. It was a judgmental thing to say.
LC: Wait! You hear that?
JF: What? No, I don’t-
LC: Just kidding, James! ( laughs) I’m just giving you a hard time! (laughs)
JF: (laughs). Leonard! You had me.
LC: I just like take people into the unfamiliar. To see how they behave. You really see who a person is when things fall apart around them. When they have nothing to resort to. No memories to save them. No scripts to follow. That’s when their essence is apparent.
JF: I see. I hate to know what you just learned about me.
LC: I could tell you but I might not see you tomorrow! (laughs)
JF: OK, we’ll have to talk about that later. So we were talking about your father.
LC: You wanted to know what he invented, right?
LC: He invented a lot of things but mostly things for hunting and fishing. Nothing that was ever marketed or patented, he didn’t believe in that. But he created a lot of things that were helpful for survival. Both he and my mom actually. My mom made some incredible devices for fishing. These..horrific fish hooks that no fish ever got off. They would just dig into the fish, deeper and deeper. Just merciless.
JF: Your mom?
LC: Oh yeah. Fish hooks and animal traps. Just demonic things. They were around the house all the time and I got caught up in them more than once.
JF: You’re kidding?!
LC: No, no, no. I’m not kidding. They were amazingly effective traps. They might have been patentable, but maybe not. So dangerous.
JF: So, how old were you when you got caught in these traps?
LC: Oh, I don’t know. Six, seven, eight. I was always getting caught in them.
JF: Do you have scars?
LC: Scars? Oh I see. You want proof? You think I’m making this up, James?
JF: Some people like to show off their scars.
LC: Yeah, well some people like to eat the brains of monkeys. You’re gonna have to take my word for it.
LC: See, Jim, I’m not here to prove anything to anybody. You said you wanted to do a bio on me, and I agreed. Not because I want to be a celebrity. I don’t want any fame. Not because I want the money. Not for any of that. I don’t care about the past. I don’t like to go back like some voyeur and peer into these memories. They don’t belong to me anymore. They’re out there in the wind. I have no attachment to memories. That’s not who I am. I’m this bag of bones and jelly sitting right here in front of you. That’s it. This is Leonard Carlson. Right here and right now and that’s all I’ll ever be. Got it. If this is what you want to do with this then I suggest you find someone else because I got nothing to prove, alright? So we can talk and get to know each other and you can do your little website and try to make your life meaningful or we can call this quits. But I’m not going to try to make myself out to be some demigod. So you let me know what you want, James.
JF: This is not another joke is it?
LC: What’s it going to be, Jimbo?
JF: I’d like to continue, Leonard, but this won’t work if I’m walking on eggshells. I have to be honest, Leonard, there are a lot of rumors about you. Personally, I wanted to know what’s true and what’s made up. I was looking for some validation, because that was a wild story. I can’t imagine a young boy stuck in a bear trap or something that his mother made. So I was looking for proof.
LC: Talk or walk?
JF: Ok, Leonard. I guess we will take you at your word.
LC: So, my parents probably could have made a lot of money with their inventions but they didn’t believe in owning something like that. They believe that each mind is part of one larger entity, call it god, call it nature, call it, shit, call it a bag of cheetos, I don’t care. But they believed the product of one mind should be shared with all minds. And I believe that too.
JF: You do?
LC: Yeah. What are you getting at? You hinting at something?
JF: Well, aren’t you living on royalties from songs you’ve written?
LC: No, I’m not. That would be a violation of what I just described to you. I’m not a hypocrite, well that’s not true. I probably am a hypocrite.
JF: But you’re not living off royalties?
LC: Not at all. I’m living off money I made from the songs. I don’t get any residuals. I realized that I’d be forever tied to those songs if I held the rights and I saw how embarrassing that got for some people. Times change and songs that were really cool and deep and become really…well, stupid, a decade or so later. I didn’t want to be attached to the songs so I just sold the rights. Besides, I’m a good investor and I figured I could make more on the lump sum than I could on years and years of royalties. Besides, I don’t know how long I’m gonna live. In the sixties, I never expected to make it to my forties. I didn’t want the record companies to keep my money, I had no family to leave the money to, so I sold them.
JF: I see. So, you have some money, but you rent an apartment. Most people would buy a house.
LC: If I were like most people you wouldn’t be interviewing me right now would you, Jimbo?
Nah, I never wanted all that. I saw some friends living it up, just burning money and then they were left with nothing. All that crap, the cars and houses and boats . Nah. I’d rather just stay free and never worry. You know, I’ve never had a job. We’ll, I’ve worked jobs here and there, but jobs I took for fun. Usually to meet someone or learn something. I have never had a real job. In fact, do you know that I haven’t known what day it is for over a year.
JF: You don’t know what day it is?
LC: Nope. I know it’s been a year because I saw the fourth of July fireworks and the last time I knew the day was the fireworks the previous year. It’s a great feeling. Someone like you would probably panic if you didn’t know the date. I love it. What day is it?
JF: It’s Saturday. How do you manage if you don’t know the day of the week. Don’t you have appointments and things?
LC: Sure, I just have people call me and tell me when to show up. I tell them to call me the day before or the day of. I had a job at this law firm sweeping up the floors. I took the job to learn about patents and shit. I was looking for loopholes because there were some things I was interested in.
JF: Oh, yeah? You were going to try your hand at inventing?
LC: But they let me come in pretty much whenever, but I couldn’t miss more than two days in a row. So I managed to have a job without ever knowing what day it was. But you, Jim, you are making me a little nervous with all your scheduling!
JF: Hey, someone has to keep track!
LC: You try to schedule weeks and weeks ahead. I can’t live like that man. Do you know how diseased you are?
JF: I know, I know, Leonard.
LC: You’re even gonna die on time, I’ll bet.
JF: Hey hey hey. Don’t talk about death. That’s my least favorite topic, especially my own.
LC: No big deal, Jimmy. It really isn’t. You know what the fear is?
JF: No, tell me.
LC: The fear is not of not living any more, but of not having ever lived!
JF: Don’t follow.
LC: Okay. We are nothing but memories, networks of memories. These memories tell us who we are. We’re producers, or librarians, or janitors and we like the color red or fish sticks or whatever. Our memories tell us everything. They tell us who we were, but more importantly, they tell us who we’ll be tomorrow. We are literally slaves to our memories. And when that network of memories dies, well, there’s no trace of us having ever existed. Gone. Poof, Vanished into thin air. That’s why we have kids.
JF: So we have someone to remember us?
LC: You got it. Someone who keeps that network alive. Someone to say, my father was a fisherman, who liked Schlitz malt liquor and the Green Bay packers and once got trapped in a bear trap or survived a plane crash. See?
JF: Very interesting.