Bob Gaulke Interview

What are the most noticeable differences between America and Brazil?

Well, at the risk of sounding like an apologist for slavery or something, I would say what struck me and many visitors to Brazil is the niceness/happiness of the people.

It seems that when there are no illusions about how screwed you are in your lowly socio-economic status, any pretense of keeping up appearances quickly vanishes. In the place of a stressful arrogance I think what you see many times is a very humane kind of solidarity.

Charles de Gaulle I think was once quoted as saying, "Brazil is not a serious country", and you know, although there can be some paralyzing consequences with that, (poorly engineered infrastructure, incompetent bureaucracy, etc..), there also are some refreshing implications.

With the globalization of everything, maybe the world can have whole zones of non-seriousness....Yemen might join Brazil and Thailand and form a non-serious trading block that doesn't do anything.

In what way would you say the countries are the same?

Well, Brazil is the largest nation in South America, so there's some parallel in size with the U.S..

Before I left, I read that Brazil had one of the worst income distributions in the whole world. Coincidentally, the middle class in the U.S. seemed to dissolve faster than the ice caps during the decades of my lifetime.

I partially wanted to see what a future would feel like with a majority of people left to their own devices with no help from their government and any idea of a "public good" extinct.

There's a huge American cultural presence in Brazil. It was very interesting to see how people inevitably had to deal with America in some way.

I think it's something people who haven't travelled outside of the U.S. might not realize, but kids around the world are also playing the latest video games, wearing Nikes, eating at McDonald's and watching "Friends". The rest of the world isn't too far behind us in consumer culture, just the means of acquiring it.

Did the Brazilian people think you were weird just coming up to them and interviewing them?

No, everyone's media saavy and, living in a tourist city, locals encounter Americans, Europeans, and Israelis as these pasty-white ugly targets that are plump with money. They can't wait to tell you what they think.

Do you plan on doing more travel writing?

Yeah, if anyone wants to become a writer but can't put two thoughts together, travel writing is an easier way to go than say, writing song lyrics.

Teaching English around the world is one of the few things that I'm instantly qualified to do and as there seem to be more people out there who can't get divorce their couch for various reasons, teaching English and travel writing might be an easy way for me to make some money.

What are the things that make you most nervous?

My body.

Living in a body culture after living most of your life in a mental one can be a difficult transition. But a necesary one.

Also, I knew I was going to the blackest city outside of Africa and it wouldn't exactly be the same thing as being a black man in Portland, but I wanted the extreme outsider experience, even if a part of me (my sweat glands, for example) wasn't prepared for the emotional shock.

You feel incredibly privleged and a little sick walking around Salvador with a credit card. The middle class there is really small and hangs out just along the beach front (the orla). The sense of economic apartheid is very striking. I don't think anybody's totally used to it there either, but beer and sun and beautiful people can go a long way to paper over the differences.

Tell us more about your rock-roll career.

I did a band called Hypermarket for 8 years with Eric Gregory, who now leads the Crack City Rockers.

In retrospect, I think it was a Master's program in Rock and Roll as we were driven to do anything we could to further the cause of a song. Of course, we never had any money so it didn't get that far. You can't do Steely Dan without at least a few million dollars I guess.

We ditched entire records, blended hip hop beats and sampling a few years before Beck, and experimented with non-traditional rock instrumentation. We wrote rock operas. We mercilessly fired our friends.

And, oh yeah, and we did a cable television thing with Kevin Sampsell and our friend Alena. That was supposed to be a three-way improvisation between dancers, writers, and musicians for an improv festival in the late nineties. The results were mixed. Ah, Portland.

Who are your favorite writers?

I try to read anything.

With satire, I would say that Flann O'Brien made an impression on me and the English school (Spike Milligan through the Comic Strip generation)

As a teenager of I had Pynchon, Vonnegut, and Brautigan making birthdays interesting.

I'm currently trying to track down the works of a guy named Fausto Fawcett, a writer/journalist based in Rio de Janeiro who creates these hilarious hi-brow/low brow concoctions with a lot of pornography and socio-politcal commentary. He also writes these tremendously funky songs that read like surrealist news bulletins.

Do you think it's easier to get a job teaching English in another country than it is to do the same in the US?

Yeah, you're instantly qualified as a native speaker. There's definitely a novel, if not a screenplay to write about the scene. People need English outside the U.S. the way we need driver's licenses. There are a lot of shady operators out there...

Will you wear a sunga at your readings?

I unfortunately left my tight Brazilian bathing suit in Phoenix. It's really not that revealing. It just looks bad against white skin.


To read some of Bob’s man-on-the-street interviews with Brazilains, go here: