Writers Talking About Anything but Writing: Esteban Rodríguez
Words By Esteban Rodríguez, Interviewed by Laura Villareal
An Interview with Esteban Rodríguez on British Crime Dramas (& Nordic Noir), Progressive Rock, and Bouldering
Writers Talking About Anything but Writing is a series of interviews in which we ask writers to take a break from trying to document the world and just kinda chill out in it for a while.
Laura Villareal (LV)
Like most people I’ve filled time at home with watching TV shows this past year, so I’m excited that you want to talk about British Crime Dramas and Nordic Noir. I’m always looking for new shows to binge watch. What shows do you recommend?
Esteban Rodríguez (ER)
Where to begin! Perhaps I will start with mine and my wife’s personal favorite, Midsomer Murders. It’s your standard crime show: crime happens, detectives are assigned the case, intrigue and laughter follow, another crime is perhaps committed, which more often than not is related to the first. And then the detective, in some random seemingly insignificant moment, discovers who the murderer is. It’s what you expect from these procedural shows, and over time you learn to predict who the killer is, or come very close. But what draws me so much to this show is the moral compass that the lead detective, DCI Tom Barnaby, has, specifically how he seems to be ahead of the times (culturally, intellectually, etc.). He always wants to do the right thing, despite outside pressures and despite how complex a case may be. Barnaby is methodical and curious, but he also enjoys the simple things in life: reading, attending village events, relaxing outside. He moves at a pace that I want to emulate (minus the detective aspect of all of this). If you watch these shows enough, you become invested in the characters, and there comes a time where the show, the plot, everything really, doesn’t feel like fiction anymore, at least for the hour that it is on.
Some of the shows within this same realm are Endeavor, Lewis, Vera, and Shetland (which is perhaps our second favorite show). Recently, we have been hooked on The Brokenwood Mysteries, which takes place in New Zealand, but definitely has the feel of the countryside British drama.
Sometimes these detectives have a quirk to them (such as in River, where DI John Rivers suffers from hallucinations), and there are others where they skirt the line between what is legal and not (Luther and Marcella). But the detectives, at their core, appear to always have the best intentions, and as a viewer, you can’t help but root for them. They are so utterly human, and there is no way not to find a connection to their lives and work. (One show that I would highly recommend but that can be slightly fantastical is Murdoch Mysteries, a Canadian show set in Toronto in the late 19th and early 20th century. There is murder, and there is definitely mystery, and the lead detective’s proclivity toward inventing new things always keeps the show humorous and fresh).
Now, shows like Marcella fall in the category of Nordic Noir (bleak landscapes, morally complex moods and themes), and if you like this show, there is no doubt you will be drawn the Bordertown, The Killing, and Hinterland. The list for Nordic Noir is quite endless as well, but like the traditional British drama, there is no way not to be invested, and after a while you might find yourself thinking like the detectives and questioning the meaning behind someone’s actions, regardless of how insignificant they appear at first.
Something I love about this series is that writers so often want to talk about the music they love. What are some of your favorite Progressive Rock bands?
There are so many great progressive bands out there, but one that I have been listening to a lot lately is The Mars Volta. When I tell people I’ve been on a binge with their music, the response is either disbelief that I have somehow not outgrown them (because in their minds The Mars Volta belongs to the high school phase of one’s musical journey, at least for my generation) or nostalgia, the type that leads to further discussion about their lyrics, the length of their songs, and even how being from the border can create such imaginative albums. I heard, but have not verified (and in a way I don’t want to verify because if it’s not true, then I like the myth more than the truth), that the lead singer, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, when seeking inspiration for his lyrics, would sit in front of multiple TV sets with the volume fully raised on each, and for however long it took, would listen and listen as random words jostled through the cacophony. Perhaps that’s part of the reason we get such great poetic lyrics in each of the albums, and the story behind the inspiration is just as intriguing.
Like any progressive rock enthusiast, I definitely love the classic bands such as King Crimson, Pink Floyd, and Supertramp, but my love of progressive rock stems from my introduction to the Swedish progressive death metal band Opeth. Over the past twenty years, they have created beautifully complex albums that have defied genres and have pushed the boundaries of progressive heavy-metal. The lead singer, Mikael Akerfeldt, has since dropped his growl and screams (which for many is one of the defining features of the genre), but the band has made many melodic and lyrically moving albums since Watershed (Pale Communion, Sorceress, In Cauda Venenum). What draws me to Opeth, and to progressive rock in general, is their willingness to move beyond the old and try something new, whether that’s going heavier or introducing inventive arrangements that weren’t used in previous albums (what is considered Opeth’s magnum opus, Blackwater Park, combines acoustic guitars, ambient soundscapes, piano solos, and symphonic melodies).
There are other progressive bands that I like quite a bit that lands on the heavier side, like Gojira, whose environmentally and socially inspired lyrics are quite moving, and Mastodon, whose concept albums can find inspiration in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (Leviathan) or center on the exploration of the ethereal world (Crack the Skye). Interestingly enough, back in my early twenties, I saw both Opeth and Mastodon in concert (they were touring together), and I remember being quite concerned that I would be pushed into a mosh pit (a thing I have never been a fan of) during Mastodon’s performance (they went on first that night). I thought I was in the clear, but after Opeth came on and played their song “Windowpane” (from their album Damnation, which, despite the name, is a rather slow-paced album), they launch into heavy riff and I found myself in the middle of twenty or thirty other sweaty and screaming men who shoved each other violently (is there any other way to shove someone?) and swung their fist with no particular target in mind. I, however, was the target of one of those fists, and my glasses flew off, landing beneath someone’s stomping foot. I lost one of the lenses, but the frame was still intact (just a minor scratch here and there), and I watched the rest of the concert with only one lens. Definitely one of my most interesting concert experiences.
Can you tell me a little more about bouldering? How long have you been bouldering? How did you get into it?
One of my best friends picked it up bouldering when he moved to Austin, and he invited me to join during the summer of 2019. For those unfamiliar with the term or sport, bouldering is a form of free climbing on artificial rocks or small rock formations. It’s usually done without a harness or a rope, which gives it an added element of danger and risk.
I went on a few occasions that fall, but I became more serious about it toward the end of that year and at the beginning of 2020. I joined Austin Bouldering Project (one of the main bouldering venues in Austin), and every weekend I would meet my friend early in the morning, climbing the various routes and trying to work my way up to harder and harder routes. I’m not sure if it is the same in every bouldering venue, but the difficulty of the routes was distinguished by color (yellow, red, green, purple, orange, black, blue, pink, white). I’ve only ever been able to comfortably complete an orange route, but I learned quickly that if I was concentrating too much about trying to reach the next level, I wasn’t having fun, and the whole point of bouldering is to have fun.
Yes, like any sport, there is a competition aspect to it, but I never saw myself participating in competition (my body no longer feels the need to define itself in that way). Bouldering is about balance, endurance, and pushing yourself beyond what you were comfortable with, and I never knew that climbing a ten-foot wall or hanging horizontally could demonstrate more about yourself than you realized. For me, it was about finding a peace I’m not sure I would have found elsewhere, about being methodical and thinking solely about my next few moves. Perhaps that is what I liked most about the bouldering, the fact that I wasn’t thinking about anything else, no work, no personal anxieties. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
I should note that I just moved out of Austin, about twenty miles south to a city called Kyle (relatively close to San Marcos for those who are somewhat familiar with central Texas geography), and I have not been bouldering since. I don’t know exactly when I will return, but I do know that the time I was either suspended from a hold or contemplating my next move was time well spent.