BILL CARTER – FOOLS RUSH IN INTERVIEW (FROM THE FUNKY MOFO ARCHIVES)
What is all that about? A story taking place in Sarajevo in the 90’s whilst the city is besieged.
The book ended in my hands after Jo kept hammering me about that guy and, you know, those U2 live satellite link-ups during the Zoo Tour… Yeah, I remember vaguely, a sense of total lack of information and a certain guilt combined with helplessness. A war in Europe, nah, don’t believe you, we’d know about it, we’d be informed about the tragedy going on at our doorsteps or… would we?
Anyway, we got in touch with Bill as we heard the book was being released in the UK and he accepted to talk to us straight away. One obstacle appeared though: we could not find “Fools Rush In” anywhere as the first edition sold out almost instantly! We finally got hold of it and after a very intense reading, we called Bill in the U.S for a chat, before another one of his promo appointments.
Céline: You went to Sarajevo in 1993, you didn’t know what to expect really, obviously due to the circumstances that took you to Yugoslavia, I don’t know how to call it… Do you call it Bosnia or…
Bill Carter: I call it… well most people call it ex-Yugoslavia for the whole region, Yugoslavia is dead and gone…
Well, I didn’t know what I was doing!
C: (laughs) Yes I’ve got that right! The main thing is you lost someone who you loved very much, it sounded like the surplus of love you had that you couldn’t release towards that person just drew you there. It seems you found so many other different ways of loving once you got there. There was an instance in the book when someone was seemingly losing hope but then all around people were still holding onto something a lot stronger, I don’t know whether it was Life or Love of Life. It seemed it was the main thing for people to stay there and just carry on the way they were carrying on if there’s any such thing as being able to carry on..
BC:That’s right, I think you got it right. It’s very funny how language works. Your idea about the surplus of love, it’s the best way I’ve ever heard it put. It is, you know. Someone goes away, it doesn’t mean… er… what do you do with the person you’re in love with, what do you do with the energy you had going? It’s been flowing out of you and all of a sudden that person is gone and you’ve got to figure out a way to… (he’s looking for words)
C: Release it or share it or whatever it may be.
BC: A really good love is Giving. That energy was really strong, not that I knew all these thoughts going in, it was just kind of who I was, I was very “present-moment-person”, that’s who I was, it wasn’t like I was sitting around thinking about it.
C: There’s no point sometimes just sitting and thinking too much about things, otherwise you just drive yourself crazy. You say towards the end of the book, you had settled in Arizona and some mornings it sounded you were struggling just to get yourself out of bed just to get a loaf of bread but at the same time you could not stop, you had to carry on.
BC:Have you heard of Raymond Carver? He’s an American writer, the film “Short Cuts” is actually many of his short stories put together. The thing I love about Raymond Carver, which kind of relates to Sarajevo, is that he’d write about extremely ordinary people, he doesn’t really write about extraordinary people. He writes about what we do in the morning, what we do at night, how we get along with our lovers, the way we smoke a cigarette. I found that a very appealing thing about life. In Sarajevo, the people I hung around weren’t saints or devils, there just were people trying to do what they do.
C: It’s almost extraordinary seeing the setting where they were in whilst doing those ordinary things, it was like an “extra” ordinary time and they were still ordinary people. In Sarajevo, all the various communities were living side by side, it doesn’t seem like any other place in the world manage just that. Wherever you are, be it France, England or the U.S, wherever there’s a lot of different cultural communities, people don’t interact as much, they shelter themselves, staying with their own people. In Sarajevo that didn’t matter…
BC:I just got back from there, it’s a very interesting place in the world. It’s a little bit different today because the war has affected it and how they act towards each other. In ‘Sarajevo Proper’ which is kind of an invisible line today, what they mean about “Sarajevo Proper” is kind of like the urban city people, it doesn’t really matter, nobody really gives a shit whether you’re Serb or Croat or Muslim. As a matter of fact it would be a very annoying question if you ask it because they fought way too long to hold on to the idea of being Bosnian. It’s a very cool thing that they get along so well. It’s very strange, nobody won the war technically speaking.
C: I was wondering, even though they seem to get on together, whether there’d still any lingering tension?
BC: Oh yeah, there’s a tension that exists and I would say it’s more based on class, like urban and rural…
C: Rather than the background, the nationality.
BC :“You’re Hip and you’re cool”. I’ve always tried to explain that to people. It’s as if all the city people are all mixed up and all of a sudden everybody from the country starts to attack the city for mixed marriages and what not, and people in the city just don’t give a shit about what you’re fighting for, they just don’t care. In America it’s kind of like the recent thing with Bush and Gay marriage, but nobody I know personally cares. I just don’t give a shit why people marry, whether they’re Gay or not.
C: Then you could apply that to Religion or any other thing really.
BC: I think what you have in Sarajevo is an urban kind of Hip population. But it’s very strange, if you go across in the area called Lukavica, it was a very strong Bosnian/Serb army headquarters, a lot of people who did the damage to Sarajevo were in Lukavica, you can drive there, there’s no borders, no nothing, I can jump in a cab and go to Lukavica, but man, the difference between Lukavica and Sarajevo is unbelievable! It’s like going to the West Bank in Jerusalem, they have everything that everybody else has, buses, trains, but they don’t have any desire ever to go to Sarajevo.
C: Would you compare that situation to Berlin as it was before the wall where the West was very progressive and the East was still very behind times?
BC: The Serbian culture right now, everybody gets very offended whenever you talk about this.There’s a very weird thing that runs through the Balkans, a weird mood that exists all the time, a lot of it has to do with blaming everybody else for all the problem. The Serbs do it, the Bosnians do it, everybody does it, all the time, which is one of the problems. I have this argument with my friends in Bosnia every time I go there because they want to keep complaining about this and this and I’m like “You don’t like it, you have got to deal with it, you have got to change it, you can’t keep blaming everybody else”. The city itself is in extreme post-traumatic stress. One of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress is that you don’t always know it, you’re not always aware that’s what making you act like the way you act. It’s like when you go above 25,000 feet mountain-climbing, you think you’re making good decisions and you’re about to walk off a cliff. In this last trip, a lot of people were whispering this, they wouldn’t want to say it publicly, but they think that maybe they had it better in the war, meaning in the war things that mattered to you were very, very, very basic.
C: It’s explained in the book. People have small needs, they’re contenting themselves with what they can have, they don’t ask for more.
BC: The simplicity of life can be very satisfying… Sarajevans miss the day when a bowl of food, a glass of water and laughing with friends was enough.
C: It’s a reaction that happens more than often when your regular supplies stop coming, then eventually comes back to you then you can’t get enough of it. Hopefully that will settle down and balance out.
BC: It’s a normal reaction but it’s a strange phenomenon. During the war, it was one of the greatest things, the fact that we shared everything. It was a very simple thing going on there. It feels like I like war, I don’t. I don’t want to go back.
C: During my research I came across a lot of accounts from war journalists and it seemed to me like they didn’t depict what was really happening, like they were ever there.
BC:Some were out there to win a small prize and things like that. Some of them are really good reportage but I don’t think “Fools Rush In” has anything to do with that kind of angle.
C: Well, there was a lot of trouble in finding it in bookstores, it wasn’t under Novel, it wasn’t under Autobiography, it was actually under Travel!! Which is not that illogical as you describe yourself as a traveller rather than a war journalist. Those events took place some 10 years ago, when did you start writing?
BC:When I came back I didn’t have a very good grasp of my own life. Losing Corinna was still a problem, then the war, then meeting U2 which was like getting a big voice to talk to the world, then you go home to your place and you have no voice. All of those things combined made for life a bit tricky when I got back to America. I started writing the book around 1999 and it took me three years to write it. As a writer you have to write for two months, then you have to work to make money, then you write again, all that stuff. The writing process for the book was very long. The first time I sat down and wrote a couple of hundred pages, it was very raw. I had a lot of stuff on my mind, I didn’t want a diary, I didn’t want an autobiography.
C: It sounded like a storytelling, it was very fluid, it speaks to you at the same time. I had been reading the book everywhere, and at times I’d be sitting on the bus making abstraction of the world around me, I was there, in Sarajevo, with you!
BC:The pages with Corinna which aren’t very much…
C: But her presence is strongly felt in the story…
BC:Those were the hardest pages to write, they were the last ones.
C: It’s a nice tribute you’ve paid to her. I’m tempted to ask, like Amra, have you found a woman yet?
BC: (flustered) it kinda… I find it all very… I mean (laughs) I’m guilty of falling in love everyday! I’m one of these people! I love women. It’s hard to connect in the way that I want to sometimes, which is all the way, big connections.
C: I think it’s the same problem with most people.
BC:Oh yeah! I’m not unique in that. We’re all looking for that kind of deep connections, when you can laugh the loudest and cry the loudest. Your life changes and how things affect you, what you want out of life changes, I’m not too sure where I’m at with all that.
C: Now it seems you’ve gone from an endless chain of changes, although some of these changes would’ve been unlikely to occur. That particular evening you spent in Split with your friend Jason being a good example. He mentioned very casually going to a U2 concert and what about you going too, you brushed the idea aside as your life at that time was full of uncertainty. But the seed was planted.
BC: It was indeed, wasn’t it?
C: Then you had a flash and thought “Yeah, what about using that sort of angle to things?” and before you knew it you were dragged into making a documentary!
BC: I’ll tell you, even when it was happening, and more so after, but when it was happening, I felt, and it has something to do with Corinna I think, it’s kind of a mystical thing, I felt like I could do anything. The whole reason U2 is in the book, it’s not to be “I’m cool, I know U2”, it’s because there’s an incredible story! When I go to colleges and talk to young people, I listen to them, I hear them aching to find something to do in Life, they’re learning, they’re studying but they really want to do something, they don’t know what it is yet. All I can say is “That’s ok, I didn’t know, I don’t know what I want to do but you can do something if you really deeply believe in it!”.
C: You just have to reach in order to grab your dream…
BC: I tried many times to actually not write U2 in the story, I didn’t want it to be a distraction, then I thought “I can’t!”. It’s so fantastic that is has to be in it, it’s part of the magic of it all. Bono and myself have talked many times about the interview (for those who aren’t aware of it, it features in Bill’s film “Miss Sarajevo”, for which U2 wrote a song… it’s available from Bill Carter’s website and is worth your money).
C: There’s also a comment you threw to a NATO officer at the Sarajevo concert U2 played when the conflict “ended”, when he was quite amazed by the number of people united by the musical event “I guess that music cross borders”. Music and Love are so present throughout the book : the underground disco, Vlado’s band, Gordana the Military girl at the checkpoint…
BC:When I started working with U2 I just felt like it was part of the exact moment of magic that supposed to happen, it was kind of nuts, it was quite of unbelievable, very intense, very powerful. Music is a very important part in people I hung out with in Sarajevo and I think there’s a reason, music is kind of a form of Love if it’s very fluid. Wherever I go in the world, if I’m not able to communicate with someone, I put a certain music tape : we’re communicating better than any words we’ve ever spoken. That concert in Sarajevo was the example of how we busted that shit right open! I was just in Sarajevo to talk about the book and people still talk about that concert, in a really amazing way, like it was the beginning of the end of the war because it was the first time they all were together. It was a phenomenal moment. It was pretty beautiful for everybody.
C: Now, you finished the book, it’s out, you’ve done a lot of promotion already, aren’t you tired of talking about it?
BC: When I got back and I was just flat out… I’d really like to not talk for about a week (laughs), yeah I’m tired! But if that exchange is real, it feeds me, it doesn’t drain me. I’ve got other projects though… I’m trying to do something about the US/Mexican border, I’m very fascinated by it, again it’s all because the stories are so normal but so fantastic, so I’m trying to figure out a way to get some fundings to do a documentary.
I’m editing some work for Giant Sand. As long as I’m enjoying what I’m doing I can do anything.
Right, by now I think you’d all rushed to the nearest bookshop to get a copy (or two) of “Fools Rush In” and if you still need one more reason as to why you should read it, there’s a good one : you’d be missing one of the most interesting, inspiring and human account on Life and Love, so incredible it is that’s it needs telling or not. An account in all accounts if you ask me. So whoever you are : a U2 fan, a student in politics or more simply human, get yourself a good read.
“Fools Rush In” is not just a war account. Bill Carter’s reason to go to Sarajevo becomes apparent as we join him in the short memory of childhood and young adulthood. Some events can be so unexpectedly happening and embarking you into a direction you would not have even dreamt of. What would you have done if, say, you’d find yourself severed from your most vital supply, whatever it may be? Sit and cry? Bill Carter didn’t but instead landed in a city that was suffering from the same grief. The experience would shake even the toughest of man. It drove Carter to action, directed by simple values and a desire for Life and he took the city of Sarajevo with him.
I could go on talking about Bill, ”Fools Rush In” and “Miss Sarajevo and this ordinary life story forever, instead I’d advise you to see for yourself and then, we could talk together!