Found Magazine - Tales from the unexpected
Mark Edmundson grills Peter Rothbart on the fun of finding
What’s the best thing you’ve found?
There’s a note I found in our hometown, I think I just found it next to my bike one day. It’s a pretty handsome looking flyer, and it says, ‘Please Lock This Door. It will prevent unauthorised people from entering the building and defecating in the washing machine. Many thanks.’
Do you have a favourite submission?
The greatest find of all time was this cassette tape found in the street and all it said on it was Booty Tape. On it were ten, absolutely ridiculous, homemade booty-rap anthems. There are songs like ‘Wave Your Booty in the Air’ and ‘Taste That Booty Flava’, just amazing minute-long songs that a kid had put together with his Casio keyboard and a four-track. That’s a real gem.
What are the oddest forms that finds have taken?
The magazine is unfortunately fairly confined to two-dimensional objects, so most of what goes in is stuff you can read or look at like drawings or pictures, notes or letters. We do get a number of other bizarre things. I think probably the weirdest was a mason jar filled with formaldehyde, with a baby eel in it. On the jar was a post-it note that said ‘flaky and self-conscious’. How that came to be was completely inexplicable to me.
Do you ever receive any seemingly phony finds?
I have a number of thoughts on this. First of all, what’s the reward? If you wanted to send something in you’d have to first of all come up with something interesting enough, then you’d have to beat it up to make it look like it had been lost. You send it in to the magazine and wait at least a year or maybe more, and if it did get in you wouldn’t get any credit. I also think that people respect the integrity of the project and wouldn’t be interested in sending in something that was fabricated. And then I just think that truth is stranger than fiction. The things we find and the things people send to us are just so real that you couldn’t conceive them. If someone did send in something fake and it made it into the magazine, and it still offered some insight into other people’s humanity then fine, it’s okay. No harm done.
Have you had people get in touch with the back-story to found items?
We’ve had that happen a couple of times, people coming back and saying ‘Hi, that’s my note in your magazine’ and we weren’t really sure how people were going to react to that. We found that most people are baffled as to why the love note they wrote ten years ago is of such interest to us. We’ve even had a few people be really honoured.
How can you best describe the effect these finds have on the finder and reader?
There are little lessons in life you pick up from all kinds of sources, maybe your favourite lines from a movie, that stick with you and teach you something small about certain circumstances in life. These found notes are rife with such things. There are all kinds of little sayings and expressions that I pick up from these found items and say all the time without really thinking about where they come from. In many small ways it has helped shape who I am.
To what extent does the project have anthropological merit?
You can read into it as much as you want. We don’t make any claims about Found being historically notable – we certainly aren’t the first to do something with found material. I think it’s up to the reader to take whatever they like out of each item that’s sent in and learn from it whatever they can. Or just enjoy it.
It’s hard to imagine what form a related live event might take, what could you possibly do on stage?
People often say that and then once they see the show they get it and remark on how perfect it is. Not to toot our own horn, I think we have a great live show. What we basically do is read some of our favourite finds. Some of the funniest and saddest and weirdest finds that have ever been sent in to us we share with people and try to give them life. Then I perform songs I’ve written based on some of the found notes. There’s a four-page play that was found, but only pages one, two and four, so we often have audience members come up and perform that play for the rest of the audience. We definitely encourage people to bring their own finds. Also we’ll have our friend Bret Laudermilk who is a sword swallower, fire breather, light bulb eater and just a general freak show. We sort of abducted him in West Virginia last year, he’s a great showman and he’ll be opening for us on our UK dates.
What role does the live touring play in the Found bigger picture?
The reason we do the live show is really just to make people aware of the project. We get an amazing number of finds from people while we’re on tour, we also see a huge surge in the number of submissions and that’s what it’s all about. We’re really excited about this tour especially because we hope to start getting finds from places that we’ve never had them from before. That’s the real reward for us, just getting to see all the cool stuff people send in.