Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Lost Souls. Michael Collins in interview.

By when had this change come about?

When Sinead O'Connor tore up the picture of the pope [Editor's Note: 1992]. U2 had still had this kind of spiritual quality and it was still aligned with Ireland. A lot of Americans really identified with that: Ireland has these Catholic values and here's a band and they're not screwing girls and they're not doing dope and they're singing “I Will Follow” and “Gloria” and all these songs are really touching what Americans want: the spirituality of Christian rock. And then there was Sinead O'Connor, tearing up a picture of the Pope, which I don't think anyone in Ireland went nuts about, but in America… Even Goths and people like that were saying it was outrageous and you shouldn't do things like that. You know, you wouldn't get Father Ted on American TV.

In Ireland in the '50s and '60s society was so vicious to people who were pregnant outside of marriage and then all of a sudden 20, 30 years later you're rolling your eyes at Sinead O'Connor while in other countries it made the nightly news.

What did you think of Ireland the last time you came over?

I quite enjoyed it. When I was 17 or 18, it was just guys in long coats sipping pints. You went to England for ska music and breakout stuff. The world seemed very much dominated by older people.

Your latest books, in particular Keepers of Truth, concentrate on small, or at least smaller town America caught in industrial decline. Do you see a parallel between this world and the Ireland of your childhood years?

Definitely. When I left Ireland and went to America I thought it was going to be radically different because I had relatives in New York who were sending clothes over and had TVs in their apartments and all this type of stuff. And in fact it really was one of the worst times. Michael Moore is famous now but I remember seeing that Roger and Me documentary years ago and it was probably one of the things that made me want to be a writer. I thought he really caught that feeling of depression in Flint, Michigan. [Editor's Note: Resurrectionists is set in the general area of Michigan.]

I'd seen that kind of stuff in Ireland and now all of a sudden I'm seeing it happening in America. I think the big difference was the level of violence in America. It's not directed toward the government. There is anger that the whole society is crumbling, lives are ruined, but the belief is that “it's our fault, you know, we were getting 20 bucks an hour for screwing these screws in and the Japs are doing it cheaper. The unions screwed us over, it's every man for himself. We've got to re-tool. We can't rely on the unions and their racketeering”. People quickly blamed the unions and then of course six months later they had no jobs.

In Ireland and England there wasn't that level of disaffection because there were social programmes there and people got help. I think Americans are really good at just letting the people fight it out amongst themselves: 20,000 murders a year is a l
ot of casualties. The worst elements end up shooting themselves and their families or taking out a couple of co-workers. Anyone who's a foreigner experiences that, sees the weirdness of it. Think of Bob Geldof with “I Don't Like Mondays,” which is about a shooting. The person who did it couldn't articulate what the real problem was. Bob's smart enough to know what it was, but when asked why, the shooter just said “I don't like Mondays”. It's so understated. America had to resurrect itself, not to quote my own novel, and it did, without having social welfare programmes. It was able to discard a lot of people and not spend a lot of money on different programmes and then just start into the information age and leave people behind.

You're in the computer industry. Have you ever been tempted to write about Silicon Valley or New York rather than the rust belt?

Oh yeah, I'm kind of finished with the mid west. I got three books out of it. I'm thinking of a book called Exodus, which talks about leaving this planet. It's a futuristic book that I've been dabbling in occasionally over the last couple of years. It's about the glory days of the rise of the internet, the disaffection that comes with it and then the exodus away from it.

Bill Gates's vision is an environment where supply and demand and everything else is controlled. All needs are met, almost like a weird paradise, where you can forecast this, that and the other to within a percentage point instead of having the fluctuations we have now. The novel would discuss all that type of stuff.

That's the other nice thing about the bigness of America: I mean it's all called America, but there are radically different viewpoints and countries within America. Where I am here, Bellingham, is a really rural old logging town and there has been an exodus here of people from Microsoft. A lot of them are up here with the next generation of business applications and websites and they're all doing it from grassroots in places like this. There's enough small towns where the houses are dirt cheap and the cost of living is low so you can invest in dreams.