The following is an interview we did with friend and journalist Doug Mesner about a year ago. It was never released, we are unsure why, but since we were proud of our answers, and our openness with our friend, we have decided to post it here. Certainly his article would have been better, but we don’t know exactly what he was crafting, so we print the full interview here for those who might be interested in learning more about our project, before or after delving into a 532 page book and a 90 minute movie.
You had everybody from famed artists to a pig farmer, yet every interview was thought provoking — how did you come to choose which interviews you would film?
shane: oh shit, well, lack of coin and circumstance. no joke. we had zero money to film endless, and no money to travel to subjects we really wanted to film… the trip was originally sponsored so, we had a plan to hit a ton of great locations and high thinkers. when the sponsor went away and that plan didn’t happen, we worked tirelessly in any location we ended up, we didn’t sleep much, we’d search and search until we found that gem of a person and then we wouldn’t turn the camera on until we had the conversation flowing… so there isn’t a lot of filler in any of our footage, quite literally, we could put together 4 more movies, one on each of the primary subjects we address, politics, art, religion and revolution, and still have leftover footage that is amazing, and I generally don’t give myself or stuff like this such high praise, but the hardest part of editing this stuff down was cutting so much great footage… so yea, back to your question, we wouldn’t roll the camera until the person we were talking to was comfortable, the rig/stabilizer bar I built had a lot to do with it as well as my interview style… I heard more than once on the road that people just felt comfortable and trusting talking with me, amy summed it up to my lack of pretense. I would also say that we tried to stay away from friends or folks we knew, we reached out to strangers via craigslist and, like I said tirelessly searched them out when we had a moment to stop in one location, whether it was a parking lot where we semi-slept in the truck or a host who would show us around, we struggled to find folks who had something to say and are passionate about saying it.
Amy: Due to the dire straits we were in, most if not all of the time on the road trip, the people we ran across were nearly all by accident and happenstance, it seemed mystical at times. We would interview someone, Shane would ask a question and they would bring some example up in their response, then we would interview someone completely different a week later and they would expand on that same example without knowing anything about the previous interview. Some people we sought out, others responded to ads on craigslist, others like the pig farmer came from a walk Shane took around a neighborhood in rural Kentucky that a lady who responded to our craigslist ad. It was incredible the wisdom, intellect and candidness these people shared with us. Of course we ran into some people who we chose not to film, but they were rare, very rare actually, so the people in the book and the movie are basically an accurate timeline of our trip.
I decided eventually that if you trust in the road, the road provides, and quite often it did– offers to stay with people, work, food, out of the blue help, and incredible, honest conversations with wise men and women from all corners of the nation. When we worried too much, or got out of the groove of the road, the road backlashed. It was truly a mystical journey.
So you started out with a sponsor, but the sponsor pulled out and left you on the road with nothing? Can you elaborate on that?
Shane: Sure, ex – MTV video DJ Adam Curry and his 23 million dollar media company originally agreed to give us a car, help with P.R. and make sure we were in gas/bio-diesel. It’s well documented here: http://adamcurryisadouchbag.blogspot.com/ we have posted the audio from the promises Curry made on his podcast as well as our side of things… us setting up that site was so, well, as far as justice goes, it shows how empowering the internet has been for us and can be for others… we didn’t need a lawyer, just the court of public opinion… the site was launched right after we hit the road. the site also helped in the downfall of his 23 million dollar media company, so that was nice to help out with… making the adamcurryisadouchebag site was as close as you can get to an even playing field when it comes to having no money and fighting a multi million dollar company… ultimately they burned us because they wanted to steal the idea combined with the fact that we were not the kind of idiots that they could control.
Amy: We pitched our idea to Adam Curry and he went for it immediately, offering us a biodiesel car and money to cover costs, we talked to him on the phone, and he assured us he would make it worth our while. We were so excited. Then, things started to get weird, and by the time our trip began, he was supposed to deliver the car to our kick off party in Chicago and he didn’t show, a week later he sent us a BS contract saying they owned the idea and all of the content.
Shane got a call from someone inside his organization who confided they were going to get us to sign the contract, steal the concept and the plan and send one of their under contract podcasters that were less “dangerous” out on the road. They unsuccessfully tried to do it with “Geek Brief” who could not raise the $20,000 they wanted to buy a nice RV, and then I think they tried with another couple, but that didn’t go anywhere either. It was really disheartening, especially after all we’d been through just before that – all the things that led us to this trip, namely the shunning.
That is why we pooled what little money we had, which ended up being $180, and went on the road anyway. We figured come what may, we were going for it. It was terrifying. And, had we known we wouldn’t have a sponsor we would have saved money and earned extra money and what not instead of working so hard on content, much of which went out the window once we were doing this with nothing.
In the book Shane states the South gets a bad rap relative to the Midwest — can you elaborate?
shane: sure, the south has a culture to turn to, the midwest is void of that culture… it seems like the midwest is oppressive, ignorant and cruel by design, factory workers might have pride if they had a cultural unity…. the midwest is farmers and factory workers and, anyone who is creative and smart now resides on one of the coasts… I used to hear that the midwest was the flyover area of the USA, and now I get it, either the west or the east coast is full of creative and high thinkers… the south, is full of culture… some good, some bad, but it’s that culture that gives those areas a strength, a bond amongst the zip codes – the midwest just does not have that bond.
with a true culture comes some sort of civility, the midwest can hardly keep the mask of civility on its fat face… even within the bible belt, their beliefs, for them, were true, and they were strong in those beliefs, the midwesterners follow out of pure fear, the midwesterners rape and beat their children and are forgiven, not saying that doesn’t happen in the south… it does and it happens in every zip code across the usa, there is just a lower evolved person in the midwest, like I said, they have a harder time keeping the mask of civility on and express nothing but total guilt when their animal shows.
I don’t know, maybe the grass is always greener on the other side, I really want to see it all in an honest way and I really do try to be objective and questioning of everything, including my own theories, and maybe it’s because I’ve spent a majority of time in the midwest, but when folks would tell us, skip the south and fear the south, I’ve just never experienced anything but southern hospitality and in the midwest that’s a very rare thing, it’s more dog eat dog, but again, maybe it’s just my personal experiences coloring my view.
Amy: This question was pointed to Shane, and his thoughts on the matter, so I will leave it to him. I will say though, it was interesting to see the great historic architecture in the south, in fact, many southern states have laws that buildings over a certain age cannot be torn down and must be restored to certain specifications. In the midwest, or specifically in Chicago, they tear down all of the historic buildings, I heard one demolition guy on the news one time talk about how hard a building was to demolish because it was so well built. In the midwest they seem to have no appreciation or understanding of the importance of history and historic buildings. Of course, historic buildings are a bit of an obsession for me.
Actually, I think the appreciation and understanding of history and historic buildings — an appreciation for the architecture of the environment in general — has a direct effect upon the attitudes that Shane describes. Like you, I grew up in the midwest, moved to civilization, and now have nothing but contempt and loathing for the depravity and ignorance of the general masses of midwestern subhumans. I think that at least some of their deficiency can be accounted for by Urban Sprawl. Outside of Detroit, you’ll find nothing but a gridwork of stripmalls filled with the exact same nation-wide or international chain, mile after monotonous mile. It depersonalizes the entire region. There is certainly nothing resembling a “community” anywhere. One needs to get in a car to cross the street. It’s an inhuman, overcrowded, yet isolating environment. Is that your perception also? Did you stop in any of these suburban wastelands — any places where it was difficult to find any subjects at all?
Shane: well, the trip started in chicago, but our “base” was in Elgin, IL an older city turned suburban hell… the wetlands replaced with suburban sprawl. we would walk to the local coffee shop, a chain of course, and the sidewalks would end once we were leaving the subdivision, so, walking to the coffee house was a chore and almost forced you to drive what would be 5 to 10 min walk, I grew up in a new suburb (think early 80’s cult film OVER THE EDGE) and witnessed farmers being displaced, selling their farms because their children had no interest in farming and their farmland land had a greater value to developers, so I’d watch farms being burned down or bulldozed… or they’d become a meet up for stoners to party… so I’m quite familiar with the suburban wasteland, it feels like I’ve been running from it my entire life.
as far as subjects – if I have the time to get to know a person I can usually find something of interest, so if we didn’t find a subject I’d blame it more on the time we had… also, for me, filming individuals like I did on this trip was very intimate, there was an unspoken exchange of trust and emotions… so, sometimes I was just too drained or tired, I can’t think of too many people I was not into filming for any specific reason other than I didn’t feel like it. it was me, not them.. hehehehe.
Amy: We started from one of the worst suburban sprawl hellholes I have ever seen, Elgin, Illinois. We spent a few months staying with Shane’s mother and stepfather, they lived in a cul de sac where every house was exactly the same oversized box in varying shades of beige. Aluminum sided monstrosities, over 4000 square feet and stacked right next to each other, with nary a walkway between. The streets had names for trees and wildlife that no longer exist there, and even though the houses are right on top of each other no one knows their neighbors.
I watched the big machines come and bulldoze the last of the woods in order to build more of these hideous McMansions. They filled in the wetlands, because of course who needs those ugly wetlands after all?
I remember we walked the few blocks to Menards one time and the city planning was not setup to accommodate pedestrians whatsoever, we almost got killed crossing the street. It seemed like people just wanted to run us over for daring to attempt to walk somewhere, like when assholes speed up to run over cats or turtles or opossums crossing the road. “You dare to step out of line, or oppose the norm, I will kill you!”
Even here in the Pacific Northwest, we live in what was is pretty rural, forested area, and in just the last few years one town has destroyed most of its natural beauty to create an Anywhere USA of strip malls and garbage. There is a herd of elk that have passed through the region for 1,000 years, to make an annual trip to the ocean, soon they won’t even be able to reach the ocean through the sprawl of asphalt and box stores.
Part of the honesty of the book & film, I think, is that it obviously doesn’t try to paint some prescribed portrait of America that you were looking for and, in looking for it, conveniently found. You include all of the conflicting opposites — people reaching and helping, people mindless and heartlessly looting post-Katrina New Orleans — How has your own perception of humanity changed, or been reinforced, by this cross-American road trip?
shane: well, the trip, for me, truly was a listening tour, it was, part of it anyway, was a way for me to test my philosophical beliefs, and I found that that people are, for lack of a better word, good… that puzzled me being from crime filled chicago and coming from very abusive parents and an ignorant family… as the trip went on, people continued to be decent, they may or may not be dependable or desperate, but the intent was there and it was always good. I’ve come to the conclusion that cooperation and compassion must be added to the might is right, survival of the fittest philosophy I hold dear, and of course, we the human race could have never evolved the way we have with out, not only tooth and claw but the ability to love and learn and cooperate. neighbors aren’t kind out of a sense of liking their neighbor, they are kind because they may need the neighbors help, they want the neighbor to keep an eye out just in case, it’s a natural and binding union, much like a clan or tribal mentality. so, the trip solidified as well as added to and evolved a great deal of my philosophical pursuits.
Amy: Believe me, we started with preconceived notions, plenty of them! After Adam Curry fucked us over, no one came to the kick off event, and then Shane’s mother and stepfather, who we were staying with before the trip, lost faith in the project before we even left, telling us basically we could never do this and we should just get jobs, and then my own mother who claimed to be so happy to see us after a year or more, allowing us to be thrown out of her house after two days because my sister nearly flipped her car while driving drunk with us in it – Don’t even try to find logic in that one. We were pretty much devastated right from the start — that was the first week! So we were ready to go down in a ball of flames and take America with us, and I think we expected to. I mean talk about standing at the precipice!
Then the morning after we got the boot from my mother’s house we went to a sketchy neighborhood on the Southwest Side of Chicago to see the house where Fred Hampton was assassinated by the government in 1971, the guy next door was BBQing chicken, and he’s like “Ya’ll here for the Hampton house? I was here when that happened, I was just a small fry, but my uncle was here, come in and talk to him.”
Next thing we knew, we are in the foyer of this house talking to Joe Murphy who was living in this very house when that shooting happened – a bullet actually went through his washing machine – and he was telling us his story, honestly and probably for the first time to anyone outside his family and close friends. At that moment, everything changed for us. This man took time to talk to us about such a terrible incident, and even more about the state of America, and his sister talked to us about the system being rigged, he said at one point that the neighborhood used to be much worse and there was a time when they would just “take our camera”. The experience was really reaffirming, and I believe it was that interview that gave us the determination to go through with the trip and carry on.
Throughout the trip this is what happened, we would stumble onto these amazing people and stories, so many didn’t even make it into the book or the movie. So for me, finding the people of America to be so good, honest, and intelligent – no matter their level of education, it was a realization that the worst, and our preconception of how bad America was and people were came a lot from our own families and our experiences with them.
The media – news, TV and movies portray Americans as only a few kinds of people, uptight suburban, upper middle class people; stupid, poor trash living in trailers and ghettos; and religious kooks, I realized that these are probably a very small percentage of what America actually is, we saw very little of this black and white kind of person. We talked to very religious people that were not kooks they were thoughtful and sincere, and we talked to very poor people who were smart and kind, and well to do people who were brilliant and understanding. It was not what we see on TV, it is not what is portrayed in news clips, I mean sure those people exist but ironically we did not run across very many of them at all, of course we may have fallen into another dimension, I don’t know for certain. I can say I have a totally renewed sense of people as being good and smart, and I did not have that view before the trip. Pre-trip I had a lot of feeling of people being out to get me, or being untrustworthy, but that was based on the experiences I had had, often at the hands of my own family.
In your interview with him, Atheist lawyer Edwin Kagin stated, “Ignorance is a form of terrorism.” This statement really stuck with me. Do you agree with this statement and, by this definition, would you refer to the US as a Terrorist State?
shane: I agree to a point. I think our populace is ignorant by design, not thru being lazy or crazy… to have to submit, go thru a bank or be good and/or submissive to gain an education isn’t really going to produce anything but a well trained slave, education should be in an evolutionary state, rather than teaching all kids the same over and over for generations. education should also be free flowing and accessible to all… then we could truly sort the clowns from the kings and hell, we always need clowns, just not as many as we have today. I see the problem, the terror, coming from the wealthy catering to the wealthy.. when the rich father pays for the rich son to carry on, yes, nepotism is a terror to the evolution of the human species, it makes our growth so fucking slow… ignorance, well, we really wouldn’t know who the truly ignorant are as most are not allowed to run the race. I imagine a day when we not only have basketball scouts trolling the ghetto for the next great ball player but I see a day where we have scouts trolling the grade schools and lifting those children with potential up and out… or maybe a day when any and all can run for the gold/education.
Amy: For me I can see that as a true statement, absolutely. America is a terrorist state, not due to it’s people necessarily but by our government and their actions. Our nation is run by terrorists, they bomb people in foreign lands, they trick their own people constantly by manipulating news and media, they have turned us into a nation of debtors. A civilized society, as I understood it from even elementary school is a place where education and the arts are a major part of life. People are cultured, and healthy, and helped if they need help, that is civilization. Civilized cultures valued all people to be the best that they could at the trades or jobs they were good at, they valued the arts being part of everyone’s lives, and learning was vital. Now, instead of going through an educational system in which the power of your brain can take you as far as you can go, it is the power of the wallet that determines your educational opportunities. A civilized society works in harmony. By all measures we are no longer a civilized society.
When I have studied ancient civilizations, the ones who were barbaric are the ones always at war, who don’t care for their own people, the ones who rape the land, who have deep inequality, who are ignorant, and that seems to be what the United States government is striving for. Consumerism is becoming our only form of culture. Instead of public art, music halls and higher learning facilities, we are sent to shopping malls and Walmart, and for what? To spend money we have not even earned yet, to be in debt and to be slaves, people then go into the military because there are no other jobs, this to me is barbarianism.
If only “keeping up with the Jones” was qualified in the books we read instead of the cars we drove, but that is not what our government wants of it’s people today.
And with these wars we are in, the people don’t agree with them, but they say “well you have to support the troops”, and the troops are people who don’t believe in the war but needed the work and the money, that in a nutshell is barbarianism. Fighting not for something you believe in but for a promised pay and to further the empire, that is barbarianism and in turn is terrorism. It is anti-civilized. So we are all feeding into this terrorist system, except for a very few who are striving to live in a civilized manner, and more and more people are trying to do this, but they don’t make it easy.
In the questions to your interview subjects regarding the topic of Revolution, I was actually rather surprised how many have reconciled themselves to capitalism as a viable, sustainable system that they nonetheless felt needed to be managed and regulated. Do you feel this is a failure, or an evolution, of the revolutionary spirit?
shane: I’m not sure I see it as a failure of the revolutionary spirit… I’m not sure I see one having to do with the other, or this moment having to be a fail or win, it might just be how it is, period. I see the interview subjects as having no other option than capitalism, the system is pretty solid in respect to paying your light bill, so my feeling was folks would consider an alternative if presented with an alternative, and one that wouldn’t jeopardize their heat being turned off. beyond fear, there is also a logic to wanting something for your hard work and those who produce more than others wanting more than others. until a viable alternative is presented, I can’t see that want/need changing.
as far as revolution, I don’t recall too many subjects being against revolution, so, maybe folks want a change, any change, just change, but not chump-change… with a new system in place one could dream of a freedom to collect something of value in exchange for work others see as valuable without the regulations. or one can dream large and dream of a day where you can have access to the tools you need to be the most productive person you can be, that would include education, and education is itself a form of managing and regulating oneself, one’s mind and actions, so I see the human in even the smallest way as having a need to be managed and regulated, or as I like to say, we all need to be dominant or submissive at one time or another, sometimes both at the same moment… dominance and submission is a need that will never escape our animal, dominance and submission by choice makes our animal a bit more evolved than the lion. so, until we can create a system that gives the human animal everything it craves while fulfilling the struggle to continue to evolve our species, the human race will continues to go along with the system as it stands… today capitalism is seen as the easiest of ways - learn, submit, earn, eat tacos, drink beer, watch t.v. - evolution is slow, this is for sure.
Amy: As Craig Newmark said, “Capitalism means different things to different people”, and he adds that “not all of the definitions are benign”. I think that sums it up. Today, we are measured only by what we consume, and Consumerism is not Capitalism. With many of our subjects, I think they are thinking people who have thought things through, and see the good as well as the flaws of “capitalism”.
Also, when looking at existing alternatives they don’t appear to be much better, most people look at communist systems and they only see the censorship and the control, they don’t have an understanding of the theory of communism or any other system. I remember as a kid when Russia was communist still and the news would talk about rationing food and how people never had enough to eat or had to go without toilet paper. Whether this was truth or propaganda, I don’t know, I wasn’t there. But, it made a mark on the people of America that communism was bad and capitalism was freedom. We see the same thing happening with anti-socialist propaganda related to health care – your health care will be rationed they tell us. But in America today we are no longer capitalists, we are living in a feudal system of the power and the serfs.
Today, we are monitored worse than most communist nations. I remember my mother telling me when she was a girl the cold war was raging and they would tell them at school that the reason Russia was so bad was because they all spied on their neighbors, and everyone worked so the children were all raised by strangers in these cold and ugly facilities — But look at where we are today — That is America! Children are raised by minimum wage workers, sometimes not even being able to discern who the parent is or feel true parental love and bonding. Since 9/11 we have all been told over and over again to watch our neighbors and if things don’t look right, call the authorities.
Capitalism by definition could work, and I think most of the people we spoke with agreed that people should have the freedom to create and sell those creations, but it doesn’t mean it needs to be cutthroat, or that we need huge multinational corporations, that to me is a terrible mutation of capitalism.
Why does manufacturing have to be these huge operations that destroy the land? Why can’t a coat maker be 5 or 10 women with sewing machines making high quality coats that last forever, sold for a good price and they earn a good wage, as a nation we could thrive as craftsmen, even better than as factory workers. We would not have areas of blight like Detroit or the rust belt because an area would not have only one huge industry, it would be small producers creating everything that community needs from honey to meat to clothes and more, right within the community. I guess some would call that idea anarchy, but that too is a bad word in America today as they have been portrayed to us as mad mobs, wearing black, who want everyone dead.
I should mention here our project – A Year At The Wheel – was before the tea party or the occupy movement, I believe some of the stuff we did may have influenced both of those disenfranchisement movements. People do want a better world, they want change, but we can’t always see how to do it, we can’t see light at the end of the tunnel.
Speaking of the income disparity and Occupy, your road trip took place in 2008, but a lot of the questions you asked, and a lot of the answers you recorded seemed to indicate the then-nascent Occupy Movement. What was, or is, your position on Occupy? Were you involved? Do you think it changed anything? Do you have hope that the Occupy Movement might yet inspire change?
Shane: that’s true, we really felt and still do, that we captured something that no one else was looking for at the time, we really feel we were the only ones getting this general disappointment for the powers that be from such a wide range of americans… I feel 50 years from now folks will look back on our video footage and book and it’ll be at that time our work will get the credit it deserves… I believe we really did capture something, we were lucky… I think the decision we made to not visit colleges or areas a presidential candidate was and always does visit, and instead we chose to visit the forgotten zip codes – that was a wise choice on our part.
as far as my involvement or interest in the occupy movement, I was interested… until I made it to the first gathering in portland to film and witness the same old same old, college educated careerists in charge and holding power over the lower classes… it was a joke to most there, something to do, due to boredom, while the folks who should have been represented, those who are slaving away and too busy, working 3 jobs to feed their kids to pay attention to politics, were ignored for minor grabs for power and fame. to sum it up, occupy was 90% poseurs and 10% folks with pure intent.
do think occupy changes anything? it was an exciting moment and yes, it changed things, for instance, locally, a fella who was heavily invested in occupy ran for the local city council and WON, that was a big deal in such a small town… but, evolution is slow and the fact that we most likely will not live long enough to see our influence, influence or our change, change is a brutal reality most of our microwave culture cannot handle.
Amy: I was really excited when the Occupy Movement began, same with the Tea Party, I had great optimism about them, but both quickly devolved.
The Tea Party started with some powerful “No taxation without representation” ideas, and became a circus of religious kooks who apparently hate the poor and want them to starve in the streets, at least that’s how it looks when you see the candidates they have put forward.
The Occupy Movement began with such high hopes to make real change, but turned into liberal nazis – don’t disagree, don’t voice a differing opinion or have an opinion on subjects they didn’t want to have opinions on. The whole “mic check” thing seemed like a mind control exercise. When you organize for equality and then say you have no agenda, and then say you won’t put forth any leaders, you have lost any power you had.
A guy showed us a video where John Lewis, the senator and former Freedom Rider, friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., came to one of the parks Occupy had taken over, and the crowd could not come up with a consensus as to whether he could address the group since he wasn’t on the schedule. He left dumbfounded. That does not bode well for getting anything done in reality. Maybe in theory the collective is good, but for a revolutionary movement as they were trying to be, you really need to put some representatives forward.
You talked to many different people of radically different philosophies — from atheists to occultists to Christian ministers — all the while, you had just come from literally being run out of town for being “Satanists”. Can you talk about the label of “Satanist”? Is something you refer to yourself as now? And what of the Christian ministers, Creationists, and Occultists? Do you feel you feel you have more common ground with them after this project, or less?
shane: I’ve always seen Satanism, as defined by Anton LaVey, in a political and artistic sense and have never seen it as a religion or belief. For me, being involved in the Church of Satan was a creative way to push my atheistic beliefs, nothing more… when I first learned of LaVey and the Church of Satan I considered them to be on the world stage and part of the theater of the absurd. what creative wouldn’t want a part of dancing and creating to such an audience? they, the Church of Satan were very similar to the Black Panthers, the Yippies, the American Indian Movement and other theatrical, strong and motivated political groups… it was fun and I was young. When we moved to that small minnesota town, I was growing out of the anti-religous era of my creative expression. I choose to move to ely, mn to help amy’s father who had just had a stroke, we had just sold our home and we were planning to move to NY. I had an offer to work for a person in the film & publishing business, so my creative career was evolving and I no longer needed or wanted to dance on the world stage in such an absurd way. it was fun, but I was getting older and an offer to do what I did, which was publishing, to do that a bit above ground while not selling out, well, that sounded great. and, the people making me the offer didn’t seem to be shocked by what I was doing, they found it of interest and at the same time, not for them – sounded like a creative utopia… when amy’s dad had the stroke, I felt that taking care of my wife as she cared for her father was more important than the pursuit of a career or fortune… it was probably the first non-selfish act I had ever done. Amy had given me so much, selfless at times, I owed her, and I owed her because she didn’t expect me to pay her back, it was an odd decision for me… but I gave in and decided we’d scratch the move to NY and give it our all helping her father. when we hit ely, mn. I came up with the idea to make a soda-pop to sell to the tourists. that was a very pop-ular idea, and probably the one thing I’ve created I still harbor guilt over… it was something that was contrary to my Church of Satan dance, I had stopped dealing in the satanic stuff, sold off most of the true crime and satanic collectibles I once owned and tried to make a living and help support my wife and my father in-law in a creative way, without the politics or religion… I guess I’m getting off track a bit, so as far as my thoughts on satanism, I see it as a political, philosophical and artistic movement, I also think philosophies aren’t to be practiced, once you practice a philosophy it turns into a religion. Philosophies are to be studied and added to, to become your INDIVIDUAL will.
as far as the question, I have never seriously referred to myself as a satanist, I will if you’re a christian asking for a problem and yea, I probably still would if an idiot christian asked, why not? they had it in their thick skull to care and then to ask, that to me means they were looking for a weakness, a chink in the armor, and so fuck them, I’ll present the satanist badge as a strength knowing they fear that word, that word being satan… even when I owned a satanic radio station (radio free satan) and had a radio show on that station (three ring radio), I would yell at satanists who would call in and infer I was a satanist, I’d yell, “I’M NOT A SATANIST” – so, true to the political/artistic interest I had/have in the Church of Satan I would say, if you’re a christian and ask if I’m a satanist, I am. if you’re a satanist and ask if I’m a satanist, I am not. if you’re a human being and we’re talking about spirituality and belief I would say, for lack of a better word, I’m an aggressive atheist with an appreciation for the question mark of life, what does that mean, well, I guess it means I’m an agnostic who thinks science just might save us all.
for your third question jumbled into one question… do I feel I have a common ground with the “Christian ministers, Creationists, and Occultists” – depends on what you mean by common ground, as far as belief systems in general, probably not, but as individual human beings, yes, there are certain things in each of them I can relate to, maybe it’s their love of bourbon or technology, I’ve found that if you try, if you listen, you can find common ground with most folks… I found I could like a christian and my like of those individuals made me think about belief systems and how I could help them shake their silly and simple belief, a belief system that has been ingrained their family for generations, how could I get thru to them… but if I try to get thru to them, I too am preaching the word of no-god, and is that any different than preaching the word of god? I don’t think so… I think each and every person has to seek these answers all on their own, no guide and no guidance.
Amy: I have had a different experience than 99% of America, I was raised an atheist by intelligent parents who did not believe in organized religion. I was encouraged to read about all world religions. Being the youngest kid on my block, neighbor kids read me bible stories from a children’s bible a couple of times because they all went to catholic church and were probably trying to save my soul, but even before I entered kindergarten I felt certain that those stories were preposterous and a few were just awful monster movie type stuff. I read quite a bit about Hinduism and Buddhism and Judaism, I found them all interesting and liked bits of them, but they always had this crazy other side or angle that I could not get behind. I really enjoyed reading about the Norsemen, Greek mythology, and pre-christian faiths much more. When I was 13 I read the Satanic Bible, and I felt that finally someone was speaking my language. Anton LaVey was saying the things that I had always believed, so it was really refreshing to me, and I felt a lot less alone. That is until I left the house and declared myself a satanist, which in the mid to late 1980s was a dangerous admission. Luckily I suppose, I lived in a really poor community that had enough real problems, had I lived in a middle class suburb, I’d probably have been locked away.
I was called a witch, and treated with contempt by some of my peers, but I was used to that I guess. I was always an outsider, my whole family was. Eventually the catholic kids on our block stopped associating with us because we were “going to hell”, so I got okay with that whole weird trip early on.
Satanism is a philosophy that says, I don’t know what will happen when I die, heaven sounds nice but highly unlikely, so I am going to live my life the best I can, make myself happy, do what I want, as long as I am not hurting others, and go from there. My values came from wanting to be able to look myself in the face, I didn’t need to be threatened with a vengeful god or a trip to hell. Sure I did some bad things in my life, some very bad, but I think that is a natural part of growing up and learning beyond just right from wrong, but why it matters to know one from the other. I took it all as learning experiences and I learned I did not want to be that kind of person. I wanted to be helpful and kind, and I don’t see that at all as being non-satanic.
In addition, Shane and I had a devoutly religious christian neighbor for three years when we lived in Hammond, and we got along great, she was one of the most wonderful people I have ever known, so I guess that brought down my guard.
Of course all that put me at a great disadvantage when the shunning in Ely began. I was used to being an outsider because of my upbringing, so people ignoring me or calling me a devil worshipper was just par for the course, and having been with Shane for some years by then, death threats came in somewhat regularly for the books we published and such, so I brushed those off too. When the Baptist pastor called because he got the “Scarlet Letter” that was sent out anonymously to every church and business in town, we went to go meet with him, and Shane firmly told me to keep my mouth shut during the meeting, I was a bit miffed at that – Until the pastor started talking! WOW! He believed in the devil and jesus and all this stuff. I was blown away, it was like a MAD TV skit. I was so far removed from it, I understood why I should not speak.
By the time I was in my early 20s I had read so many other non-religious philosophical works and other occult writings, I had let the whole Satanic tag fall away. Not that I didn’t believe what was written in the Satanic Bible anymore, but philosophers like the existentialists were saying basically the same things, but not tacking religion on it which I really liked. When we met with Anton LaVey in 1997 and he told us we could act as representatives for him, I felt obligated to take the title back for a while. Of course, since LaVey’s passing the organization known as the Church of Satan has become little more than a religious cult to me, as all these people quote and misquote LaVey to fit whatever behavior they are pushing. They think being a satanist is shaving your head and growing a goatee or for girls it’s all about poorly applied red lipstick, it’s about so much more than dressing a part. It also seems to have become a refuge for converts from other faiths now, especially christians, and they bring all that guilt and sexism and stuff to their “new faith”. I see it today as a scary group that I would not want to be associated with. They are all dogma and posing, much like christians who claim to believe in the teachings of jesus and then do all these terrible things in his name. I read once that the least trustworthy people in the world are religious converts, and my experiences have led me to stand by that.
The West Memphis 3 case seemed to be an excellent convergence point for all of the issues you seem to hold dear. Did you feel a personal attachment to the issue following your experiences in Ely?
shane: for sure, while in ely, as the shunning started and very strange things happened, as the death threats poured in, as kitchen knives ended up missing from our kitchen, we certainly related with many satanic panic and true crime cases, the wm3 being the most popular and relevant at the time… it was a scary thought that a belief could get you hurt and or jailed for the rest of your life… ely was a place that had a history of vigilante justice and settling scores with an ax, so, that was in the back of our mind, but after researching, after talking to the local indian tribe who was thinking about buying the soda business from us, after talking to locals in the know we found out the real reason behind the shunning was our success with not only the soda-pop, but we also started an arts and entertainment paper, a paper that gave space to some of the american indian artists in ely, and that was an unwritten no-no and not liked at all, the tribe was buying the town up with their casino money, so us befriending natives, us being successful with a soda and a media company, us doing the first podcasting out of the area, it must of seemed like real witchcraft to those folks… so, long story short, while we took the WM3 issue as a warning, the real reason we were run out of town as told to us by many trusted town folk, the reason we were shunned was because we stepped on too many toe at once.
I have researched the satanic panic phenom and found the satanic panic game to be a smoke screen for underhanded business moves and I couldn’t help but want to highlight the WM3 case within our story, the irony of a couple of shunned satanists covering the WM3 case or trying to raise money for the WM3 was something I found fun and interesting and strange. I really felt drawn to the case for many reason, one of those being safety in numbers and justice and revenge and help… we were looking for any of those things anyway we could find it.
Amy: The West Memphis 3 case is what made me take our shunning seriously, we had had issues with the authorities in Chicago for certain events we’d put on, so having issues in a town surrounded by at least 70 miles of woods in every direction was a bit terrifying. I can totally imagine how those kids felt. In Ely we had a magnetic strip in our kitchen where all of our knives hung, one day Shane and I came home from an outing and they were all gone. At first I thought, they were just in the dirty dishes, but they weren’t, and I had to tell Shane they were missing. We sat on the sofa and talked about all the possible scenarios that it could be, and the West Memphis 3 is what kept us from brushing it off as a random action. Of course watching the Lars Von Trier movie Dogville a while before that didn’t help either. Not saying we were paranoid, but we were acutely aware of how bad it could get.
We recently re-watched the first ‘Paradise Lost’ movie, and there is a striking part where they are talking to a very young Jason Baldwin in jail before the trial, and he’s talking about how he can’t wait for it all to be over because he wants to go home, and then he says something about, “unless we are found guilty, but that just couldn’t happen”, he looks incredulous at the prospect. I can totally relate to that feeling.
Those kids were convicted based on t-shirts and journal drawings, Shane and I have a whole history of being very outspoken, Shane especially, so we had the knowledge that we would not even get a benefit of the doubt if one of our knives wound up in the belly of some tourist, we would be lucky to even see a court date.
Plus, I wasn’t in Ely for the fresh air and the snowshoeing, I was there to care for my father after a stroke, this added a different level of concern to the situation. In Minnesota they have something called a vulnerable adult law, that says anyone can make a complaint over the way a sick elder is being cared for and the state will come in and arrest and imprison the caregiver, and throw the vulnerable adult into a state nursing home, confiscate all of their assets and sell them off to pay for the elders’ care. So all it would take is one complaint and my father would be in an institution, which was the last thing I wanted, we were there to offer him quality of life in his own home which he loved. He would die in a nursing home, probably immediately. We were there to help not hurt so we had to go to protect my dad’s well being, which was so hard, because leaving him was not much better of a prospect.
Somewhat tangentially, you mentioned how a lack-of-pretense made it easier for people to talk to Shane, and how you set out to find one story and came away with another. It seems sickeningly obvious to me that a large number of uninspired documentarians don”t approach their topics with any similar degree of honesty. On the one hand, I’m glad that documentary films are enjoying wider appeal, that low-budget films with potentially educational value can possibly find their way into mainstream venues… however, I’m often quite put off by the lack of creativity, lack of genuine mission that many documentaries present. What are your thoughts?
Amy: Tangentially? How dare you!
I was surprised to learn most documentaries are scripted out before they even start filming, so they are not documenting anything, no matter how it is presented, because to truly document something would be to actually EXPLORE a subject and let it go where it goes and not force or push it in your own objectives direction.
We will often watch documentaries and Shane will get so mad that they are really propaganda films. They are trying to make a certain point, and anyone outside of that point is ignored or even made to appear foolish, there is nothing “documenting” about that.
They manipulate footage and audio to keep the script of the documentary going, objectivity is gone with most of these movies. It must all be black and white, no one wants grey areas to actually make people think. Is it that scary to show an opposing point of view and let people make up their own minds? If we did that we might actually come up with sensible solutions to the world’s problems.
Then again, I read once that a study found that university research studies almost ALWAYS produce the exact result the study is trying to prove.
Shane: for me, todays docs aren’t really documentaries, they’re infomercials and propaganda pieces for one side of the coin or the other, it’s rare you’ll find a doc of true discovery, like the west memphis three documentaries… where they really do try to explore all sides of the story.
I think the art of the documentary has been over-run with disingenuous corporate controlled dolts looking for fame and fortune, not answers and a great story… the creative, the artist needs to take it back… not that they’ve ever quit, maybe I should say, the artists time is here and you can find great doc if you look… but you’ll seldom find them on cable t.v. or whereever you rent videos… true and great art is always underground and the lover of that genuine inquisitive expression just has to seek it out… occult knowledge doesn’t come to you, you must find it.
There are a lot of mixed feelings about family in this book. Shane’s own mother auctioned his belongings while he was away, Amy reminisces about some horrible early experiences, but there’s a lot of love for siblings. What does “family” mean to you now?
shane: family? well, it means I better find a new family, I think family is important if you can have and hold it. for me, I found my family to be criminal and so dumbed down that me attempting to be a part of that mess was pointless and always upsetting, I’m too old to be so upset like I am when I talk to my blood family, as well as not wanting to participate in their pointless drama. no matter if they are family or not, life is too short.
funny, thinking about family, thinking about hanging with them I start to think, life is too long… the memories of abuse and the lack of trust I have for them… in social situations, when folks ask about family and I tell them I no longer talk to any of them, it’s seen as a character flaw. I have to explain why I do not speak to family, I have to explain that of course I would love to have the love and attention and affection from my mother and father and siblings, and it breaks my heart that I do not, that my parents and family have been so cruel, and worse, criminal. the criminal and cold ways of my family is exactly what drove me from my family… their ignorance helps keep me away too.
I find my own family now, I also find the love I need in many things, from my wife to the warm touch of the motherly person helping at the local thrift store, the ladies and gals who can see and feel me and know I just need a hug and a kind word. now, I take that, all the love and attention and affection I can get, whereas, before my realization that I can find the love I need outside of family, I built a wall and would be cold to those warm moments… now, those moments are something I live for.
Amy: My family is my husband, my dog and my turtle and certain people we have met over the years that rank as family to me now. Most of my worst experiences in life were at the hands of family, so I have little use for blood relatives for whom the only reason I even know is because of our shared DNA. My father is deceased now, he was all that is left of my family.
What film would have you made with unlimited funds (or would you have put the funds aside and hit the road in exactly the same manner that you did)?
shane: well, the project would have been different all together if we had a backer… and we did have a backer. the project would have been a job with the weighing responsibility of making that money back… so, as hard as it was, I’m glad we did not have any backing or money. the project became a purely artistic exploration, and that helped us find answers to deep questions that otherwise would have been ignored… and to be clear, if we had been offered the money, we would have taken it, and hell, let’s face it, we did make a pitch. the deal was struck and we did agree to accept the money, and that meant taking direction from others, and that was fine, we would hope to get 30% of our vision into the finished project, but as you’ve read in the book, that didn’t work out so we left with $180, and no safety net what so ever… on the trip, there were times we were so hungry and broke we were brought to tears, so I would have jumped at the money… but, at the half way point, when we left the santa sangre mountains after working at a ranch and earning a decent amount of money, we had a feeling of freedom, like we could do anything, it was euphoric, it was incredible, we achieved magic, and we would have never reached the plateau we reached by having it easy and having a sponsor or an unlimited production budget. we achieved that level of consciousness thru hard work and our creative mind… love and art and being creative are as close as you’ll get to true magic. we manifested a reality that was pure bliss at that moment and I was reminded of the importance of the creative mind. 10 years prior to our trip I cut my long hair off and forgot about my true creative self for survivals sake, I exchanged my creative self for my business sense and became out of balance, you can be creative and business, but having to choose one over the other lacks balance… funny thing is, as survival, as pure fucking survival goes, my business only trip didn’t offer up any happiness, it merely paid the bills. I found out the business arena is of the man made and semi-fake society most of us exist and/or dabble in, but the creative mind is animal, it is a mind where you can manifest alternative realities, it is magic, it, and as I mentioned earlier and feel is part of the survival of the fittest philosophy often forgotten, cooperation… so yea, creativity and cooperation are two minds I had suppressed and I was glad money or a sponsorship didn’t keep them suppressed. now, you ask, what kind of film was I planning on making… well, money or not, I wanted to paint america as horrid and ugly… a damning document so bad I’d leave and never come back… but after many miles and a lot of strangers who became friends, I just couldn’t paint that ugly document… I just didn’t see that ugly in humanity, our societal structures, yes – humans, not as much as I had once thought… and trust me, amy & I thrust ourselves into some odd and scary situations, ghettos of all kinds and folks in those zip codes were cool and kind. I started the trip with zero trust for anyone and maybe 1oz. of trust for amy, my wife… the gold brick I earned on our trip, trust, to trust my fellow man until they give me reason not to trust them… that doesn’t mean blind trust or ignorance or not questioning people I meet… what it means is trust, as in being able to listen, feel and experience fully until I have good goddamned reason to feel a bit off about trusting you, trust to me means not jumping to paranoid conclusions but feeling it out, trust to me doesn’t only mean trusting you, it also means trusting me. I’m a skeptic for life… but now I’m a somewhat trusting and semi-loving skeptic.
Amy: Our plan in the beginning included a lot of environmental issues as well as social issues, this is what was important to me when we began, but due to our situation nearly all of that was pushed aside. We did not see mountaintop removal or the toxic lake in Montana, so that was a disappointment. It is hard to say what would have been different because that just wasn’t what happened. All in all things worked out really well, aside from losing everything we owned and having Shane’s mother stealing what little money we raised while we were on the road. I don’t know, I think perhaps without our desperation maybe our experience would not have been so real and so sincere.
What project or cause would you take up now with a multimillion dollar budget?
shane: that’s a hard one as I’d like to give up on the human perspective and dive into the air, tree, water and animals perspective… if I’m going to give my time, why not to the true alpha, the true dominant force in our lives, the predator that feeds off of us… the human is food for trees, so if I have to serve, why not serve the highest of all? saying that, the general population of people seem to be so fucking ignorant they seem consume more than is sustainable and without remorse or thought… over population, responsible actions and care for future generations are issues I believe in. the only way to get any of the issues I bring up here thru to the public at large is education, free education for all who want it… and then find ways to educate or deal with those who do not want to take advantage of that education…. I side with creative education, and if I had the money I’d want to help trailer trash and kids from the forgotten zip codes so they might have access to art supplies, creative educators to help guide the impoverished and the abused youth, I’d especially reach out to the kids who communicate differently and are on the outside of the outside because of their special brand of communication… . hehehee… I’m gonna need a billion bux doug.
Amy: A multimillion dollar budget might make us exactly the biased, one sided, make the funders happy kind of documentarians I was just complaining about. I know our own project would have been completely different had we had to bow to advertisers, it was bad enough having to worry about people finding out we’d been run out of a town for being “devil worshippers”. But if I could go out and cover things I was interested in it would involve ecological or environmental studies, such as the toxic lake in Butte, Montana, or the destruction of our natural resources, but how do you tell those stories without it being biased. Or maybe biographies of people that made huge contributions to society that are forgotten by history. For example in the women’s suffrage movement, Susan B. Anthony gets all the credit, but she was one of many important figures, and perhaps one of the least progressive, so therefore the safest to promote, whereas women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton were attacking religion and the the entire gender bias as the root of the problem.
At the end of the book you urge that we “get to work and make America a wonderful place that we all believe in.” This was 2008. How has America delivered, or failed to deliver, so far?
shane: who’s this ‘you’ that is quoted? amy or myself… I don’t think we co-wrote any piece in the book and I don’t recall saying that… not sure I’d say ‘believe in’ or even ‘wonderful’ – as far as how america has delivered… today, unlike when we hit the road, more folks are using mobile recording devices like “smart” phone cameras, the transparent society is exciting to me, I think having something to hide is having a weakness. now, in my dreams, I also imagine the evolution of the mind, where people are more accepting of ideas and more forgiving of ideas that don’t work and more understanding of pure hate for hate’s sake, a world, not just a country, but a world that isn’t so wrapped up in trying to pound the weaker person into a flesh covered robot but to build the individual to be the strongest, happiest and best person they can be in order to serve the whole… ok, I should wake up from my dream… today, folks are more aware of behind the curtain bullshit and propaganda, so that’s a great thing, but that makes those same people show their true colors, the colors of fear and accepted repression, and when I think about the fearful yet joyfully repressed I feel like dreaming again, dreaming of a day where words like satan & god aren’t that powerful, where folks don’t hear those words and react, but rather, they question and think.
I also dream of getting an opportunity to leave this country and study humanity outside of the US of A, I’d like to see just how savage or civil south america really is. I’d like to visit and maybe live in Ecuador… ecuador sounds ok.
Amy: That came more from all of the hoopla surrounding the first election of Barack Obama, he was being touted as the savior that was going to come in and fix everything, but he is part of the same machine as the rest of Washington DC, so how could that happen? It is up to ‘We The People’ to make change, to force the hands of our elected officials, but we just don’t see that. Everyone casts their vote for someone that they all readily admit does not really represent them, and then they walk away. They walk away without demanding campaign reform, or voting reform or better representation of other political parties.
There was a journal entry I had that I think was cut from the book. At the time of the inauguration was working at a little public golf course making sandwiches and such, I came in on inauguration day and the specials sign advertised the “inauguration burger”, which was the exact same burger with the exact same toppings that we served every day. That pretty much sums it all up.
One thing I did say to several people on the trip was that it should not matter who our president is, or what party he represents, history shows that the leaders will bend to the will of the people if they demand it. I think we just are not so good at demanding things today, we are all too beaten down and in debt, and the young people today don’t really even know what freedom is.
Do you feel that Obama has generally gotten a pass from the more liberal elements in regards to his horrendous record against Civil Liberties and his open war on journalism because of the polarized and paralyzing fear that it is either between him or a religious lunatic from the increasingly ridiculous Republican Party? Do you feel some level of that fear yourselves?
shane: no and no. I think we’re in such an interesting moment where new media, alt. media, social media, whatever you and you and you are calling it, and so much media has sprung up that you can’t really blame the liberal media… I think old school, mainstream media is a joke overall… and they serve their advertisers, fox talks to their own as does the other side – it’s all about preaching to the choir… I think obama gets a break from his own cheerleaders because that’s what cheerleaders do, they cheer… and defend and make excuses for their team… I can’t see the republican party as any more or less ridiculous than the democratic party. I watched both conventions before his first nomination and the riots and security and overuse of security, the private, militaristic security were the same at both events… I think the last true democrat was jimmy carter and the last republican, reagan, after that it’s two sides of the same coin… do I feel a level of fear? at times, but not really… I mean, I’m only expressing myself, I see no harm in that and there is no law against it – YET… and if there were a day that that was harmful or there was a law against it, I would just start planting trees or tomatoes and live my life the same as I do today, with conviction and effort to make the pendulum swing the way I believe is better for all mankind, for the world, for the dogs, the cats the elephants and the trees.
Amy: He got a pass for the first term because he is a black man, or half anyway, and people are afraid to criticize him. Whites can’t or they will be termed racist, and blacks won’t because they don’t want to be seen as self loathing. Our fake politically correct, translation heavily censored, society keep us all afraid to say what’s on our mind.
The problem really isn’t the two guys that the two parties put forward that don’t represent anyone they represent, it is really that no one is demanding another choice. The third party candidate got no media play in this last election, and if they did they were treated as kooks. It is impossible in some states to get an alternate to the two party choices even on the ballot. The real problem in America is our voting and election systems, they desperately need changing, but our elected officials will never let that happen. If every candidate receives the same airtime and funding, and not a penny more, the landscape of American politics would change considerably. Hell, look at how even Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich were treated by the establishment of parties they are actually in because they speak their mind and don’t tow the party lines, or perhaps they actually do tow what are supposed to be the party philosophies but have been so twisted by big business.
I feel a lot less fear than I used to before our trip. If things get so bad that we have another red scare or worse, which is very possible, then I will accept my lumps. Maybe they will torture me, maybe they will drop me from a helicopter into the sea, I am not afraid. Of course, it makes me sad if I think too much about the state of things right now, it can be hopeless and overwhelming, but I still have hope for the future, and I will not be quiet on the things I feel strongly about.