Courtesy James Sallis/Three Legged Dog
James Sallis, harmonicat and author.
James Sallis says a few years ago, long before Drive drew such advance praise at this year's Cannes, he was flying back from Europe with his wife after a book festival. "I was revered and I was asked very intelligent questions, and everyone treated me like I mattered," Sallis remembered. "Halfway through the flight, my wife, Karen, leans over and she says, 'You know, with every mile we go, you're getting less and less important.'" Sallis appreciates the new attention, but it's not like he was moping before Hollywood optioned Drive. He's been too busy writing. Back in the 1960s, he wrote for an edited the English sci-fi magazine New Worlds, and he can argue the roots of modern French poetry. He told me in an email that he's written "a truckload of poetry, a hundred short stories, and three volumes of musicology." Plus, he wrote the definitive biography of Chester Himes, who wrote the Harlem Detective novels and was also revered in France. As if that weren't enough, Sallis is in a band, Three Legged Dog. That's him on the right, with banjo.Sallis says Drive, starring Ryan Gosling and directed by Nicolas Winding Refen, is the best noir picture he's seen. He says the filmmakers treated his book well, making necessary changes but working to stay close to the book. Driver, the main character in the book, is a bit of a sociopath, with some humanity. Sallis says he's more violent in the movie. "The violence in the film bothered me a bit. I shouldn't say it bothered me. It affected me, and it usually doesn't." Download our special Off-Ramp podcast, and you'll also discover Sallis's connection to Off-Ramp's resident literary and arts correspondent, Marc Haefele.