Storyteller and podcaster Lance Anderson uses Paper.li to “narrow-cast” (as opposed to broadcast) on various niche topics, from Bob Dylan to ultrarunning. This is the first part of a two-part interview.
I met Lance Anderson about five years ago when cooking breakfast in the Coffee Gallery in Altadena, CA. It was a one-man operation I called the Beat Kitchen, being a drummer and in tribute to Jack Kerouac, whose work we both hold in high esteem. Another shared connection is to Bob Dylan.
Being a man on the verge, this quote is apt in referring both to Lance Anderson and to Bob Dylan, the subject of one of his Paper.li editions.
Becoming is superior to Being.
– Paul Klee
What is your passion?
I guess in many ways my passion is telling stories, and there are different ways in which stories are told. I started telling stories on stage, live, back in around 1990 in Los Angeles, when there really wasn’t a storytelling scene at all. I was going to open-mic situations where there were musicians, comedians and everything else and I was trying to tell these stories. I had done stand-up comedy in 1988-89 but early on I realized that, for me, comedy was very limiting, I couldn’t really express myself fully, I had to gear everything towards making a joke and … not everything is a joke. I was doing kind of an absurdist comedy thing, very influenced by Woody Allen and Steven Wright, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. In the interim, since I first started doing comedy, up until now, this thing called ‘alternative comedy’ developed, which is a storytelling-based comedy where you could get away from the traditional set-up and punch. In a weird way what I am doing is a cousin of alternative comedy. Lucky for me, I’m totally out of the loop, ironically.
The people that have influenced me as a writer would be people like Spalding Gray, Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Bukowski and, of course, Bob Dylan. The very first place I performed stand-up comedy was a place called the Humboldt Brewery, where I went to college at Humboldt State. I had this funny little story I wrote, inspired by something I was reading by Woody Allen. It was a story, but it was basically one-liners in a story form. I was dating a woman at the time who was a little bit older than I was, more worldly than I was, and she said “that kind of reminded me of Bob Dylan,” which was a mystical thing.
This was before you were really into Dylan?
I knew who he was…
But you didn’t own any of his albums…
I wasn’t a fan really at all. Later, I had a friend, who was a comedian, who was really into music and he made all these tapes of Bob Dylan and I really got into him then. Drifted away for a little bit and then I’d say, in the last five years got back into Dylan, especially reading his book ‘Chronicles’ and seeing the Martin Scorcese film ‘No Direction Home.’
What I got, especially about his book ‘Chronicles,’ was that here’s a person who’s arguably the greatest songwriter of certainly the second-half of the twentieth century, maybe the greatest American songwriter, who lost his voice, who wasn’t able to write anymore, who wasn’t even able to sing anymore, and found his way back. As I found myself in a similar dry spell, hearing someone so prolific talk about his own struggles was very inspiring. It was that part of Dylan that opened me back up.
Tell us about your Paper.li ‘Verge of Bob Dylan.’
One of the things that I saw with Paper.li that I thought would be the way to go, from my early background in podcasting, was a term called ‘narrow-casting.’ People that had a very specific subject matter tended to have very popular shows because, although there’s a narrow focus on the group they’re talking to, that group was underserved.
If not the largest cross-section being served, then at least maybe the most fervent followers.
Right, exactly. I was aware of the power of narrow-casting from my podcasting days so when I saw Paper.li coming about, it was obvious to me that you wouldn’t want to do a general paper, as if it was the LA Times, because you’re not going to be able to compete against them. But if you gave yourself a specific focus you could get inside it and build a following, based on other people who are into the same thing.
Now, admittedly a Paper.li that is about Bob Dylan is about as narrow as you can get. One of the things that I think is a signal that you’re doing the right thing with Paper.li is when the paper becomes a useful tool for yourself. It aggregates these stories in such a way that you catch something you would have missed otherwise, which translates itself into being useful to other people who would pick up on it.
One thing that Dylan says in ‘No Direction Home’ is that an artist should always be in a state of becoming, always searching, always changing and not stuck in any mold that somebody else wants you in. His radio show, ‘Theme-Time Radio Hour’, was a huge influence on me, helping to expose me to a bunch of music that I wouldn’t even know about; but also he throws in his philosophy. He talks about how dangerous it is for artists to get pigeon-holed because they then can’t break out of it. Because the audience expects them to do the same thing they’ve been doing all along, that the audience liked. One thing that Dylan did was, basically, do what he wanted to do. That goes straight with the Kerouac quote you tweeted recently.
Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.
– Jack Kerouac
You were born and raised in Los Angeles?
Born in Burbank. Both my parents were raised in Burbank, my mom was born in New Mexico but in her early childhood moved to Burbank. So I definitely have deep LA roots. Really proud to be from Los Angeles, grew up a big Dodger fan.
The thing that I like about Los Angeles that is different than most places is: you can show up in LA and be here a half an hour and you can say you’re from Los Angeles and be accepted, there’s a place for you here.
What else do you do?
I’ve been involved in podcasting since March of 2005 and do a podcast called ‘Verge of the Fringe’. It’s evolved, I’ve gone my own way with it. If I’d played it safe, I’d have a bigger audience. I chose not to but to do the things that felt right to me at the time and it has morphed recently into something I call ‘Verge of the Dude’ on the Verge of the Fringe site, where I place phone calls to this anonymous dude, you don’t know exactly who the person is, and leave these rambling voice-messages. I record it on my iPhone as if I was making a phone call and it’s certainly not for all tastes but for the people who are into it, they love it.
We’re here in my leather workshop where for the last year or so my partner Marisol and I have been making leather goods and a line of belts. In fact, I’m probably going to do a Paper.li about leather. We have a small business in Altadena and I would love to be able to put ads for California Bohemian Leather on the paper.
One of the Paper.lis I put out is #UltraRunning. Marisol is a runner and I hope to have her more involved in the paper. The people who run in the 100-mile races receive a buckle as a prize but they don’t receive a belt! So I think we could run the #UltraRunning paper through California Bohemian Leather, that it would be a smart way to go in combining those ideas.
I think there is also real value in doing a Paper.li as a weekly or a monthly. It would also be a nice option to shut a paper down for a period of time, so that it doesn’t publish, and turn it back on. This is all new and I am sympathetic to where Small Rivers is in the process of trying to figure it all out, they’re looking for that thing to take them to the next level. They’re on the verge, too.
Read on: part II, Verge of Niche and Paper.li.