I have known John Emil Augustine for almost fifteen years which is about thirteen years before he was John Emil Augustine. I have had the privilege to see him on stage several times around the Twin Cities and Duluth, as well as having been back stage with him and his musical cronies. Heck, I’ve even been a fly on the wall in the recording studio with John.
John is funny. When I think of all my experience with him, humor comes to mind first. I enjoyed his quick wit and antics on stage in the 2000s. A lot. But with the funny also came an equal dose of darkness, and that manifested in his lyrics. There was palatable pain there.
Now that John is writing books, I am beginning to discover the reason for the pain. This juxtaposition of happy and sad plays out all too clearly in his stories. What I sensed from him all those years ago, I am finding, was fairly accurate. I sensed a survivor whose glass was half full. He has had more than his fair share of setbacks, but that hasn’t seemed to stop him from doing what he loves, and that is creating art.
John is good at it too. In the studio, I was amazed not only at his command of the music and the recording process, but also with his flexibility and creativity when it came to suggestions or creative problem solving. I don’t want to make this sound like a Linkedin endorsement, but you get the idea. In my mind, John seems to be able to do it all: create, innovate, and present his work in a highly entertaining and intriguing way.
My intrigue for John has only grown fifteen years later, so once in a while I will selfishly try to get a good interview out of him. Don’t judge me. It is always a pleasure, and he never disappoints. This time, I received some incredible news that I can’t wait for everyone to read. Here is the interview transcribed verbatim from our phone conversation.
Ok, let’s see if I am keeping up. You have two books out, yes?
And two CDs.
So, let’s tackle the music first. You have a musical output that goes back to 1992?
Yeah. ’87 actually. I’ve been trying to write songs for a while, yeah.
Trying? Any success at it yet?
Yeah. (Laughs.) Back in those days, in the 80s, I was trying. Then I figured out the secret.
And what’s that?
Just to not try. Just to let it come from somewhere other than me.
You mean God or aliens or what? A satellite?
I have no idea. But I’m definitely tuned into something. Some wavelength or signal or something, because I know quite often the thoughts are not my own.
For example, I’ll come up with, somehow, with…some perfect phrase will appear in my head and I’ll write it down but with words missing or words phonetically wrong. And I’ll have no idea what it means until I go back and realize it and make sense out of whatever rambling I wrote down. I almost hear it first without knowing what it means.
People would call that creativity.
Maybe it is. But it feels like it comes from somewhere outside of me. It’s not me being creative, I don’t think. I don’t feel like most of my output is really something I could have, by myself, sat down and come up with. Some of it is beyond my imagination. And I can’t…I can’t not do it, you know? I’m almost forced to do it. And I hate to say it like that, you know?
Like there is something cosmic about it, because I know what that sounds like.
And that is?
Um, crazy narcissist.
And you’re not a crazy narcissist?
Oh, I probably am. But that doesn’t change the fact that I feel like I am just transcribing what is sent to me. During those times, there is no me per se. I am just taking notes.
So that’s music.
And now you’ve gotten into writing books.
Yes I have.
Is that process the same?
Oh, God no.
No. And how is it different?
Well, I still get that feeling like I have to write this. Have to do it.
As you do with music?
Just the same, except with the books I know what is going to happen because I know what I’ve lived.
And you are writing a memoir.
Pretty much, yeah.
There are a lot of memoirs out there.
You see celebrities with memoirs all the time. So why you?
I never wanted to do this, that’s for sure. Never wanted to write a book, much less a memoir.
And yet here you are.
Here I am. And I don’t feel that I have a choice in it anymore.
When I started, the first book consisted of Facebook messages to a friend who was in an abusive relationship. That’s all it was. And at some point I made the decision to revise the messages and put them out there as a book.
That book is about spousal abuse.
Yes. But then I realized that I had to continue, because each book deals with an important interpersonal and intrapersonal topic.
Ok. Explain that.
Relationship with self and relationship with others. You have to work out both, and you can see how I was working it out up close and personal in the books. So you have abuse in the first book. The second has to do with what a marriage actually is. The third has to do with classism in our society. The fourth has to do with what a parent is, and the fifth will be about what it is to be a child in a divorce situation.
And these are all real stories?
It’s all one big story. That’s you, me, everybody. We all have one big story like mine, and we can learn from each other’s stories. That’s kind of the point. We think only celebrities’ stories are worthwhile. I say, with my story, that there is far more to be learned about ourselves by sharing our non-celebrity stories with each other.
I’ve always thought of you as a celebrity.
No. I’m just a regular guy.
If you say so. Ok, so what’s next?
Yeah. I plan to do a two-piece thing with me and a guitar player.
You’re kidding. Where? When?
This fall, hopefully. And wherever I can get a foot in the door. Coffee shops.
I’m really surprised.
Wow. How long has it been?
Ten years. I can’t believe it.
I’m scared to death.
But you’re still doing it.
Yeah. I have to. I want to interact with people.
This is amazing. I’m speechless. All my questions are out the window. I can’t wait.
We are working on an actual show. Not just songs, but something really substantial and entertaining. I think it’ll be really good.
That is so great. I’m just wrapping my head around it. Who are you playing with?
A guy named Richard Novy. Guitarist. A damn good one too.
And you’ll be on keys?
No, actually guitar and mandolin.
No kidding! This is really something. I’m sure you’ll do great. You have to tell me when your first gig is.
Sure. Hopefully this fall. We won’t do a lot of gigs, but we’ll try to get one in here and there. It’ll be fun.
Incredible. Let’s leave it at that. You surprised the hell out of me.
Good. More surprises to come.
I’m sure. Thank you for taking the time.
Thank you. Love and mercy.
You can find all the latest (and I encourage you to do so) at www.johnemilaugustine.com.