Wired scribe


From USA Weekend (June 30, 1996)

by Richard Vega

An e-mail chat with Gen X author Douglas Coupland, who is launching a new book and Web site

Don't even think about using the "X" phrase around Douglas Coupland. Although his 1991 book, Generation X, made him a household name, it also branded twentysomethings with a moniker neither he nor they want to be saddled with.

Today Coupland, 34, is on to other things. For starters, he has a new book out. This one, the wistful Polaroids From the Dead (ReganBooks, $18), takes on popular culture in the form of essays and short stories about everything from Grateful Dead shows to Brentwood (O.J. Simpson' s Los Angeles neighborhood).

And, in true '90s style, he has just launched his own World Wide Web page, where users can download Coupland audio and video clips. So it seemed fitting to chat with him by sending e-mail to his Macintosh Centris 610 (he calls it "a real woodburner") at his home in Vancouver, British Columbia. Ironically, his computer can't access the Web. "I'm almost medically unable to read about myself or hear my voice on tape," Coupland says, "so the last thing I want to do is get closer to something that puts me in that situation!"

Excerpts from a cyber-conversation that took place over a period of several weeks:

Q: Did you ever have to change your e-mail address because it had gotten out on the Internet?

Surprisingly, no. By the way, do you ever get e-mail chain letters? You're allowed to erase them with no karmic damage. It's the rule.

Q: What are your best and worst e-mail experiences?

That's like asking, "What's the best phone call you've ever had?" - which, unless Ed McMahon called you with $10 million, is a stumper. I like e-mail because it comes only from people I like, so there's a good probability of finding happiness after my machine says, "You' ve got mail."

Q: Several stories in your new book are centered around a Grateful Dead show. The baby boomers and younger Deadheads can't stand each other. What's up with this generational bickering?

I was trying to focus on the shift in perception toward 1960s culture from people who were actually there, as opposed to younger people who see the 1960s as a theme park of style and codified behavior.

Q: You officially terminated the "Generation X" label in a magazine article last summer. Was it a relief, or more like doing root canal surgery on yourself?

I refuse to discuss it any more.

Q: A Web search reveals several sites dedicated to you. Do fan sites like "The Coupland File" embarrass or scare you?

Neither. It's just another database. In the future, everybody will have a Web page. I mean everybody on Earth.

Q: Both Kiss and the Sex Pistols are on summer reunion tours. If you could see only one of those bands in concert, which would you choose?

I saw Kiss live in the 1970s, makeup and all, and it was AWESOME, but I never saw the Sex Pistols. I mean, Sid's dead, so who are they going to replace him with? Let me know.

Q: I've come down with my first cold of the year. A nasty one, too.

There's this big Unacold going around this year. People are fine one moment, the next, BOOM, they become raving phlegm monsters. Not that many flus this year, I notice. Flus don't seem very '90s. At dinner last night, guests were trying to differentiate between the '80s and the '90s, and I figured the '90s are just like the '80s, except there' s no money and cars are rounder.

Q: Did you ever hear from Bill Gates about your last book, Microserfs [a fictional account of young Microsoft employees]?

Yeah. The Washington Post asked him, and he said he thought it was funny. Which is cool.

Q: You do your own take on the Simpson trial in Polaroids. Why do you focus on Brentwood?

I first saw Brentwood maybe 10 years ago and flipped over the place. An analogy might be that it was a huge chemical laboratory with beakers filled with explosive and corrosive chemicals, and it was only a matter of time before somebody knocked things over and the lab went critical. And it did. I wanted to do a magazine piece on Brentwood - pre-O.J. - but back then it was like, "Huh? Brentwood? Who cares?"

Q: Did you really once have a Peter Frampton hairdo?

Yes, and somewhere [on the Web] someone has put a high school yearbook picture with all its glorious shame for everybody to see! It was pretty darn groovy at the time.

'The '90s are just like the '80s, except there's no money and cars are rounder.'