INTERVIEW: Dmitry Samarov, Part II

By Kim Bellware in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 10, 2011 7:00PM

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Samarov at a book reading for "Hack: Stories From a Chicago Cab" at Myopic Books (Photo courtesy of David Schalliol)

Read Part I of our interview with Dmitry Samarov from last Friday

For the second part of our interview with Dmitry Samarov, the focus shifted to art, his new book and baseball (Cubs fans might want to brace themselves).

CHICAGOIST: Your artwork has been up around town in places like Rainbo Club and Saki, but you also had your work published in The Beachwood Reporter. Do you have different feelings about painting versus drawing? There seems to be a higher premium on one over the other in the art world.

DMITRY SAMAROV: Yeah, I understand that. Everything I do - sketches of bands playing or oil paintings - they’re just their own thing. You have to appreciate each thing for its own qualities. I don’t go to galleries much, but I haven’t had good experiences. Years ago I had a really bad experience where I got the gallery director to admit that the way they were pricing things was pretty much based on size. So you're then, you know, you’re selling wallpaper by the yard. Or to say “an oil painting is worth more than a pencil drawing” is stupid.

I’ve had very few experiences in galleries. I’m not a participant in the art world very much because I don’t care for how it runs. Most galleries I’ve found take 50 percent of the sales, but I have yet to find a gallery that does 50 percent of the work. It’s not a sustainable system and eventually the internet will kill it.

C: Can you think of some of the most extreme reactions to your work—people either really excited by it or just totally hating it?

DS: I’ve had some very good reactions; people are very shy about negative reactions in general. People don’t have the balls to tell you that they think what you do sucks. I kind of get intrigued when it happens. It’s kind of exciting. The thing is, when you do it long enough, you don’t do it for other people. You hope that they get something out of it, but you become critic-proof after a while. I don’t care what people thing of the stuff I do, I really don’t. It’s nice when they like the stuff I do, but it’s fine if they don’t. I’m going to do it anyhow; I can’t stop doing it. If I could, I’d probably have a much more financially secure life by now!

C: Speaking of the financial aspect, how about that “If you had a million dollars, what would you do” question? If money weren’t an issue, what would you do?

DS: Well, no cab driving. Cab driving would disappear instantly. That’s probably all that would change. I don’t know how much writing I’d do. It’s kind of a hobby type thing. It’s funny when people notice me for writing--I don’t think of myself as a writer, but I think I have to now that I have a book out (laughs). The stakes are just much lower for me in writing. Maybe if I do it more it’ll start to mean more. It’s like if you were a band for 20 years and then as a joke you started a cover band of Britney Spears songs and were just fucking around...then got a number one hit record from that. That’s sort of—that’s writing in my life. I guess I’m ok at it, but it’s not my main way of interacting with the world. I don’t ever think it will be.

C: Already you're being described as a writer, in addition to painter and cab driver.

DS: Oh yeah, it’s first! That’s what [people] know me for.

C: Does that disappoint you that ultimately that’s what you might become most known for rather than your painting?

DS: If they start paying me enough money, then I’ll be fine with it (laughs). Then I’ll be able to do my painting. But I can only be so choosy about it. It’s nice to be noticed, but it doesn’t last forever.

C: What will change now that the book is out? More time or flexibility to work on art?

DS: I hope so. I won’t be able to just on book sales; nobody does, unless you’re Stephen King.

C: Barack Obama does OK on book sales

DS: Yeah, but he, uh, has another side project that he’s sorta well-known for (laughs). The book has to lead to other things for me to stop driving a cab. I worked on a TV show pilot--not writing but consulting for it. John McNaughton wrote a pilot based on my life. It's more about my life than even [my] book. He’s in L.A. right now, showing it to people, shopping it around. So if something comes of it, maybe that’s a way out.

It’s all an experiment [for me], instead of always saying “no” to things I’m saying “yes” to everything. In think there was a Seinfeld episode of that where George decides to do the opposite of everything and he ends up with the hottest girl and gets the best job all by doing the opposite of what his gut tells him.

C: Going back to the TV show, are you comfortable with being the subject and having a story told about your life?

DS: [My story] is a jumping-off point. If it ever happens, it’ll be fictionalized. But it’s odd, and I don’t anticipate being too actively involved. I’m happy to provide a little inspiration for it but I don’t really have any interest in being involved in the film and TV business myself.

C: What would you like to do with your art? What's an outcome that would make you really happy with regard to your work?

DS: Just get by. Pay my rent without having a day job. That’s about it. No grander ambitions than that. Ideally, I might even have somebody organize shows but not have to go to them (laughs). I don’t like to be the center of attention, but I have to do that right now as far as my “media whore tour of Chicago” goes (laughs). It doesn’t come naturally and there’s lots of gritting of teeth involved with it.

C: I’m feeling a little guilty now, so let’s talk about baseball again. You’re a big fan, especially of the White Sox. What’s so compelling to you about the sport?

DS: It’s such a predictable game. It’s somewhere between a play and a sport. Baseball is almost not sport sometimes with all the standing around. And there’s fat guys—fat guys! Right? And they can be good at this thing, and that’s great. Grown men in pajamas, basically. It’s an absurd game. And to me, it really represents the best of America. I’m am immigrant, I’m from elsewhere, and I was introduced to baseball when I was in 3rd or 4th grade and saw my first game at Fenway Park. I didn’t understand what was going on. I started as a Red Sox fan. Then when they won in ’04, I was free. But then they became gross; they’re like the Yankees now. If you’re not from New York, you have no business being a Yankees fan. It’s like rooting for Darth Vader. But I actually hate the Mets more than I hate the Yankees—because of the ’86 World Series.

I moved to Chicago and needed a local team to root for. I looked at the Cubs and I looked at the White Sox and nobody cared about the White Sox so that was a natural choice—root for the underdog. And they just go and do their work. They don’t whine and cry about their tradition of losing the way the Cubs fans do. They more you look at it, Cubs fans are just insufferable. They don’t understand anything about the game, they go and take pictures of each other and drink Old Style…their ball park’s a dump, though they have a good location. They should tear that thing down and rebuilt it.

C: You realize some readers are going to see a lot of fighting words in this response?

DS: (Shrugs) Sorry. That whole thing about being a “fan” of Wrigley Field? It’s their marketing—“The Wrigley Life”—what is that? Celebrating losing? I’m not happy when my team loses. The Sox sucked this year, and I went to fewer games.

C: So is it more about the culture of a team than the team itself? There are people who will choose a team based on location—

DS: Right, I’m a North Sider, I’m a South Sider…

C: Isn't it strange that the White Sox keep this underdog status? Because they've actually won a World Series in the past few years.

DS: Yeah, as a team the Sox are much more successful, but who knows. There aren’t 15,000 douche bag bars surrounding the Sox’s park. But there probably will be someday; it’s inching in that direction. I noticed that when they won there were all these new Sox fans parading up and down Michigan Avenue. And I know those were Cubs fans. I felt like, “we don’t want you! Where have you been?” They’re not going to be there next year. If by some fluke the Cubs were to get to the World Series, I wouldn’t root for them. Ever.

There are these people who say “I’m a fan of Chicago” like where you can root for both teams. No. That takes all the fun out of it. But it’s silly and fun to have these kinds of arguments. I have a couple of friends that are die-hard Cubs fans that actually know something about the game. The guy that edited my book is a season ticket holder and goes all the time. My friend at WGN who I drive around bleeds Cubbie blue.

C: As a fan of the sport, did it hit you hard when all the doping scandals came to light? Suddenly the great American sport has a black eye.

DS: I remember after the ’94 strike people talking about Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa saving baseball but I think they ruined baseball [with the home run derby]. I thought it was horrible. It turned baseball into the World Wrestling Federation. Hitting 60 homeruns isn’t baseball; baseball is 1-0 pitching duels. In the past few years, that’s finally happening again. The games are much tighter; people are scoring fewer runs…that’s real baseball. Now I wish they could just get rid of inter-league play.

Dmitry Samarov's ongoing exhibit, "Music and Baseball" is at Saki Records, 3716 W Fullerton through October