THE READING ROOM: Fruition’s Jay Cobb Anderson on Old-School Reading Habits
Photo by Gerry Shibayama
Fruition releases its latest album, Broken at the Break of Day, on Jan. 17, quickly following their November 2019 release of Wild as the Night. Guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist Jay Cobb Anderson took a few moments out of the band’s busy schedule to chat about books and reading, Kurt Vonnegut, and the ways that reading influences his songwriting.
What’s on your nightstand now?
I’m a huge Kurt Vonnegut fan. I’ve been trying to read through all his books over the past few years, reading three or four a year. Galapagos is my current read, but I just read Mother Night and Slaughterhouse-Five. He’s a master of melancomedy (laughs). He likes to talk about some characters that appear in more than one story or novel. I also read We Are What We Pretend to Be: The First and Last Works, which contains his earliest story and his final, unfinished, story. It was really great to see the evolution of his writing. I’ve also been reading Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur. I love reading any Kerouac, though; it’s like poetry. His writing is inspiring to me as a lyricist and a musician. Even a small phrase from Kerouac can inspire a song. I’ve been trying like hell to finish Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, but, I don’t know why, I’m having a hard time getting into it. I’ve also just finished reading Johann Hari’s Chasing the Scream: The Opposite of Addiction is Connection, which is about the drug war and how it started a system that fueled itself. I love biographies, memoirs, and fiction.
What moves you most in a book?
The language, the descriptions, the way a person describes an event. I love Steinbeck. He’s one of those dudes that’s so good at describing characters. When he describes Cathy in East of Eden, she comes across as so evil it sends shivers up my spine.
What kind of reader were you as a child?
I was a pretty light reader. Even through junior high and high school, I never got deep into it. I was a slow reader as a kid, too. I started writing songs when I was 15, so I was really into poetry. In high school, I got into reading the Romantic poets. I also dug Edgar Allan Poe. Once I got out of school ideals of having to read, I realized I enjoyed reading. When I was about 19 or 20, I really started digging into Dylan, and I was also getting into the Delta blues. I was probably about 22 when I started diving into reading.
Do you feel like you always have to finish a book once you have started it?
I will say this: I’m a pretty determined person, but there are some books I just haven’t been able to finish. The beauty of reading is that you get to do it for fun and for yourself. A good book will grab you really quickly.
What’s the best book you ever received as a gift?
Hmm; let me think. I haven’t received books as gifts very much. Well, one I loved was that novel called Life of Pi. Okay, now that I think of it, I received Charles Bukowski’s book of poetry, Sifting through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way and, also, Clapton’s autobiography, and Cash, Johnny Cash’s autobiography.
How do you read? Electronic or print? Do you have a favorite place to read?
I’ve been old-school about reading; I still read in print. I’m surrounded by tech all the time on the road, so I like being able to get away from that and hold a book in my hands when I’m reading. I read in the van a lot; on the road, there’s tons of time in the van to read. My ideal reading experience is to wake up and get coffee and sit on a couch and read. I always have a journal with me, so if anything strikes my interest I can put pen to paper.
What’s the last book that made you laugh? Cry?
The Complete Stories of Mark Twain made me laugh out loud many times. Chasing the Scream made me cry, but it also made me angry. The Bell Jar and Big Sur also made me cry.
Who’s your favorite villain? Your favorite hero?
Cathy from East of Eden. She’s such an evil, evil bitch. I like the people you love to hate. Heroes don’t seem human.
Are there any books you won’t leave home without?
There are a couple of books I always keep with me. Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, is one. You can flip through it at any time for inspiration. Another is W.B. Yeats’ The Winding Stair and Other Poems. Nathan Moore, a great friend and a great songwriter, took me to City Lights Bookstore when we were in San Francisco and bought a book for me that he thought would fit my personality type; it was a great match.
Any music books you’d recommend?
Billie Holiday’s Lady Sings the Blues; Cash, by Johnny Cash; Keith Richards’ Life; Woody Guthrie’s Bound for Glory — it’s almost more relevant than any other music book you could read these days.
If you could invite three authors, living or dead, to a dinner party, who would they be?
Steinbeck, Vonnegut, Mark Twain.
How does your reading influence your songwriting?
I’ve always been a firm believer that to be a great songwriter you have to be a reader. When I’m reading, I’ll underline passages that might be inspiring. Sometimes I’ll pick up a word or a phrase or an idea in my reading that I’ll use in a song, or as the basis for a song. My friend Taylor Kingman is super inspiring; he would underline words or phrases when he got stuck in his reading and in his songwriting. I stayed somewhere on tour once, and I chose a room that had books in it. I chose a book to read that night that just happened to have in it the name of a girl I was in love with at the time — Mary. The book is E.C. Abbott’s We Pointed Them North: Reflections of a Cowpuncher. There was line in the book — “Mary was a revelation to me” — and I wrote this song called “Revelation,” and used that line in it, on my first solo album. As a songwriter, you have at least two goals: You want to have something to say and you want to say it right. I think you can get both of these things out of great literature.