Pynchon In Profile

by Jessie Roberts

Boris Kachka assembles a brief, detailed biography of the famously reclusive Thomas Pynchon:

There’s an apparent randomness to his public excursions, but mostly they hinge on ordinary personal connections. Take his decision to write liner notes for—and then do an Esquire interview with—a pretty good indie-rock band called Lotion.

Around the time his father died, in 1995, Pynchon went on an alumni tour of his old high school. He and Rob Youngberg, Lotion’s drummer, happened to be visiting the same music teacher. Dr. Luckenbill had taught them 25 years apart. Then Pynchon ran into Youngberg’s mother in an Oyster Bay bank, and she pressed Lotion’s new album on him. Pynchon dug it, and soon he was in their recording studio, taking notes and ­rattling off obscure facts about ribbon microphones.

“I just remember being amazed at how fluidly funny he was,” says Youngberg. His bandmate Bill Ferguson was copy chief at Esquire; the magazine pitched an interview, and, to everyone’s surprise, he agreed. The Q&A ran beneath text so strange Pynchon must have written it: “The reclusive novelist loves rock and roll, and its name is, well, Lotion. He wanted to play ukulele, so the band gave him an interview.” Ferguson was impressed by Pynchon’s knowledge, humor, and intensity—but also the skittish, mercurial quality of the interaction: “He’s somebody who just—you see him and he sees you. The thing I have in my head is Robert De Niro in Brazil. He knows the truth but he’s got to get out of here now: ‘Keep doing what you’re doing, I won’t be here long.'”