Friday, February 29, 2008


I've been slightly on the periphery of plans for my 20th year high school reunion. On a given day, I gravitate from not wanting to go to sort of not really wanting to go. Seriously, the temptation to be there is great. I blew off the 10th.

We've all been exchanging emails and something I've noticed is how much we all tend to revert to who we were twenty years ago. I'm a little desperate to please and to impress. Most of the people on the email exchange didn't think much of me back then. I was an annoyance and a permanent outsider.

What is strange is I am not receiving parts of the emails sent back and forth. For ever couple of notes I get in the ongoing conversation, I'm excluded in a few, then later re-included later in another response.

It feels oddly familiar, like vintage alienation.

Something else. Already groundwork is being laid for all sorts of liaisons during the reunion. A few people, naturally, want to revisit the past, maybe try a combination on a heart that didn't work the first time around. It stings a little that no one even cared to ask if I was married, which I am. What bothers me, I guess, was I was never a consideration. I wasn't cool enough then and I'm not cool enough now.

I need to stay the fuck away from these people. I need to get out of the conversation. It's messing with my head. I don't want or need to be 17 again.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


The old guy listens to the radio. A lot of old guys listen because they can't stand the noise of the television and because their eyes no longer show them the world. This particular old guy's vision went to static then to black a little more than a year ago. He's not accustom to it. In his 80s, he resents having to rely on other people to find the front door to his house.
"I listen to the radio," he said. "I listen all day long and it amazes me: parents kill their children, children kill each other. It didn't used to be that way."
I try to point out that's not really true. The media is better at reporting crime than they used to be. We hear about murders, fires and even assaults in other states now and often the same day they happen.
I told him radio stations are driven by ratings and the need to make more people listen longer to turn a buck. Tragedy sells. People listen longer when they think they might here something they need to know. It's very fear based.
He nodded.
"I'm sure that's true," he told me politely.
He was silent after that. He didn't believe me.
I considered what I might believe if I was only a blind old man who only listened to local talk radio. I would only know what was filtered down by different interests who decided for me what was important and what wasn't. The world could seem like a terrible and evil place. It might seem like the entire world had lost its way in the time when I stopped watching it and could only listen to what other people wanted me to hear.
It's hard not to be blind.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Novel update.

Yeah, like every other blogger who has ever fessed up to writing something, my novel editing and repairs is coming along fine, but slowly.

I originally intended to unleash it on the vast and disinterested publishing industry at the end of this month. As usual, I'm running behind. It will likely be another two weeks or so.

What's the hold up?

Mostly, it's been about lining up the 'set pieces' the way I want them. It was a plot issue, but in reordering things, it necessitated having to rewrite passages to conform. It's time consuming, but not a story killer.

I still have my ending, which does not change. Much of the third act remains the same, too. So... it's not a terrible thing.

Meanwhile, I've been encouraged to submit the novel (which is still not exactly named) for the West Virginia Writers competition. Apparently, I don't actually need to have a completed novel, just a couple thousand words and a treatment of what I'm doing. I might even thrown in a few recipes cards to really screw with the judges.

I'm at the point now where I have a lot of good ideas for other writing projects. I've had tons of great ideas for months, but I'm not chasing any of them.

I have decided, however, my next writing project is going to be take an old genre fiction novel I wrote and basically rewrite it. It's a horror novel I did 9 years ago I called 'The Undertaker,' about a legend from the hollers that comes to life. With a little luck, it will be fast work. After it's done, I'll see if I can get someone in the state to publish it.

Hell, who knows... it might even work out.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Yeah, Ralph Nader is ruining... I mean running for President. Fucking A. Finally, I've got somebody I can vote for.

Where do I get a God damned t-shirt and a bumpersticker?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Turning dark corners.

I have an ongoing argument about the nature of creative muses. The other day I was talking to one of the most prolific and consistent (though occasionally, seemingly restricted) musical artists of my generation.

Name dropping is bad, so you're just going to have to wonder.

She wrote a book of poems, which I liked well enough (not as much as I like her live albums, but eh...) and I noticed beneath the political rhetoric, the sly references to the complexities of lesbian love and the difficulties in loving men, a singular theme of loneliness kept cropping up.

So... I asked her. What the fuck? Why do I keep reading loneliness even in your political and social stuff?

In general terms, she told me she wrote when she was down. It was just easier to pick up the guitar or the pen when she felt bad. When she was happy, she didn't want to write or work on chords to cheer herself up. She wanted to enjoy the things that made her happy. She told me she was trying to change that a little, which might yield a few happier songs down the road.

... and it might not.

My general belief about the creative process is that good art usually involves a deliberate change in perception. You are forcing yourself one way or another to see the world from a different angle. You do this because you can't see everything at once so you just try to see more. You're limited by the nature of your own perspective.

The act of Art is arriving at truth, even if the art itself is trying to tell lies.

Being miserable is an effective way to alter your perception. It's a tried and true path -possibly the most tried and true.

Anyway, listening to her I was both relieved and saddened. I hope she's able to write a couple of songs from a happier place. My gut instinct says that's not likely.

I write from a very dark place. My best work is not when I am happy, though what I write about isn't necessarily sad or down. When I'm happy, I'd rather go have a drink, take a swim or fall in love.

I have never been in a creative place as rich as the one I am in now. The ideas come like rains during monsoon season and the need to complete them is like a valentine delivered at gunpoint.

Happiness is over rated.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

wearing the inside out

It's been a long and ragged week. I've been running on a modest amount of sleep and a pace that's not healthy. I've been walking to work to fill in at the radio station early mornings. I'm out of practice and haven't had to function like this in months. Even the coffee isn't helping any more.

On the upside, I haven't had to do this kind of thing in a while. On the downside, I still need to occasionally.

I bottomed out a couple of days ago, but I've been too worn out to really feel anything. After I rest, I will probably feel less honest again.

Some weary observations...

I think if someone cringes when you touch them, they don't want to be touched regardless of what they say to the contrary and no matter how many times they repeat it.

I think if you're called names often enough, even by an idiot, eventually it erodes your confidence just a little. Just because it's the nature of a particular creature to do hurtful things, that doesn't excuse it for doing those things. Naturally, if you know something is unpleasant and can not help but be unpleasant, why be around it? That's a question repeated in a million mirrors in the bathrooms of a million busted up trailers every Sunday morning.

The answer is elusive, but I think it's okay, at the very least, to resent being treated shabbily.

Lately, I've been reading a lot emails from old acquaintances in high school. Mostly, these have been surveys sent out to a couple of dozen people. We all (meaning some of us) fill them out, tell people what we want them to know, distribute and maybe look for some higher truth, some clue about the past we missed.

Some of them have been tiny half-baked conversations. I wanted to throw up after a couple of the women made it a point of noting they'd have been happier if they'd had more sex in high school. Yeah, sister, wouldn't we all have been a lot happier... well, some of us. Chances are, if they'd screwed around, it would have been with the usual suspects, not any of the rest of us.

I think I would have been happier in high school if I'd cut more classes and maybe experimented with huffing gas. I never did that. Of course, I'm probably too old to huff gas now and I never skip class now. Responsibility sometimes feels like a particularly cold chain.

I had a hard time getting past Valentine's Day. I'm not really meant to enjoy registered, scheduled holidays. I think I probably need to start making up my own and if Hallmark wants to invent cards to go with it, they can pay me.

In the last several weeks, I have thought about in a chronologically spiraling pattern, every woman I might have slept with, but didn't. It didn't take as long as I would have liked, but it's out of my system. I think I was working through some kind of regret, probably related to the season. Likely, I'll move on to shoes I might have worn or salad bar choices.

I'm tired. It's not a terrible thing to be tired. I just wish there was a better way to get rid of it than going to my bed.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


As has been pointed out to me (which I already knew, really), when the AP or the Daily Mail decides to pick up one of my articles, gut it and reprint it as their own, they are completely within their rights.

The Gazette is a member of the AP (standing for Associated Press) and we all kind of share. Other members of the AP can reprint without crediting anyone except the AP, which is the organization.

Basically, it ain't plagiarism, which I never said it was. I just said they reprinted it without crediting me with actually writing it. This is their right, but it would naturally tend to irritate -just the kind of guy I am.

Probably, I ought not to have yelped as it will likely discourage someone from reprinting my stories in the future. That's the karma of it, but the way I look at it. If my name isn't on something I wrote, having it reprinted isn't going to mean much to me. If I liked being anonymous, I would never have attached my real name to this here blog. I can't enjoy it, but I suppose I can work on not giving a shit about that kind of thing when it does rarely happen.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Random Music #9

Lesson number 9: Do most of your homework.

It always feels like a balancing act. You want to be able to talk intelligently with the guy or gal, want to know something of who they are and what they do, but don't want to come off as a raving fanboy. You really don't want to try to know them better than they know themselves or know so much that what they have to say is uninteresting.

For me, as has been painfully pointed out, if I'm not all that interested in who I'm talking to or the subject I writing about, it shows like a pizza stain on a white t-shirt. I'm trying to fix that. I'm working not so much on faking finding everything interesting, but broadening my horizons so more things might actually be interesting. Hell, it might even work.

Other, more well-known interviewers, don't necessarily agree on the whole only sort of knowing the other guy idea. They want you to study your subject like it's a big test. Read all the interviews. Read everything about them. Listen closely to every, single song. Go through their garbage. That's not me. While digging and digging you might be able to unearth something special out of someone, you also don't get the person you're talking to.

Presumably, that's what you want and not to reduce them to quivering tears. Let Dr. Phil or some other television preacher do that.

Most people live pretty close to the surface of who they are. Musicians particularly often force a lot of their deep issue stuff close to the surface with what they do. The weepy singer/songwriters make their living picking at their own scabs. The metal guys make their living eating them. It's there.

The only real exception to this is the manufactured pop singer. Most of the time, they're sort of artistic mercenaries. They do their one thing, usually sing, and leave the rest of the heavy lifting (writing songs, writing music, playing instruments, conceptualizing their image) up to other people.

I've talked to a few of certified pop singers (Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, Hilary Duff). They were the hardest interviews from my side of things because it's hard to see the actual surface. Their bios are also the most likely to be peppered with bullshit filler and talking points. Talking to them, at points, was a little like talking to cartoons, though I still got a sense of who they were even though what I knew about them was suspicious.

Underwood, for instance, had a remarkably well-developed ego, but was still in awe of being famous. She liked, at least at the time, the treatment from everyone and was quick to point out the sizes of her audiences numbered not in the hundreds, but in the thousands.

McBride seemed to have a growing disatisfaction for the industry that gave her the life she has. She didn't like the political correctness of country music, which she felt was personally limiting. I think she was being encouraged to conform to what is marketable, not what is necessarily representational of who she exactly is.

Duff wanted to feel normal, wanted people to think of her as normal, even though by her own casual statements that was obviously not true. Regular people, even regular rich people, don't have to close down a store in order to do recreational shopping as a break from touring.

I think if I'd focused too much on the homework, on the research about their careers and personal life, I might have let that be enough. It is easy to drown in information, but I'd have learned very little about them other than what they already wanted me to know.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Flattery is fine, but where's my check?

This doesn't happen every day, but I kind of do get a charge when somebody "borrows" directly from me. Today, it's the associated press.

Exhibit A.

Exhibit B.

I guess it's easier to condense my work rather than do any of your own. Nifty, huh?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Still in playback

For a brief period of time, I was a minor celebrity at my college. I was into my second semester of writing a column for the campus paper and had sort of been the right guy at the right time. It probably helped that I didn't have a problem writing about getting loaded, getting laid or the school administration being a bunch of dipshits.
I still stand by that.
It was a populists sort of issues column with a pretty hard comic bend. People liked it and for a while there, I was on the map in the local social scene. I got invited to a cool costume party. I'd written something particulary well-received (though I have no idea what that was) and people gravitated toward me. On this particular night, as usual, I had a bit too much to drink and was a lot more bold than usual. I danced with a girl in a vampire costume. She wore tight black pants and a long cape. On the slow songs, my hands ended up under the cape, under her tight black pants and firmly on the girl's ass.
We went on like that for probably half an hour before I was pulled away by another girl, who was primarily upset I wasn't doing that with her.
It was a pretty weird thing. Evidently, everybody had too much to drink.
By the end of the evening, I'd made out with two other women. One of them dragged me back behind a doghouse in the yard for a particularly strange romp.
The night ended, eventually. I didn't go home with anybody. This mostly had to do with the logistics of transportation and the number of drunks per vehicle.
It was a pretty good memory, but not one I dwell on. It was a particularly decent party for me, but that's about it. Well, except lately I have been thinking about it and remembering things about the girl in the vampire costume, like maybe a lot more happened than some groping on the dance floor.
The memories are pretty vivid, including details like what she was wearing under the costume, some anatomical details.
All fine and good. Yay for me.
Except, I know it didn't happen. At least, I'm pretty certain it didn't. The house the party was at and the people wouldn't have allowed that much privacy and I wasn't drunk enought to do a live show for the studio audience. There's also the time line of what I do know actually did happen, where I was at which point in the party and with who.
This all sort of fits in with a general theme lately. I've been sort of fixated on women in my past who might have represented missed opportunities. They were women who, I thought, liked me an awful lot, but for one reason or another didn't connect. The timing was bad. I was just getting over someone. I had a policy of not dating married women, the mothers of girlfriends, the sisters of close friends, etc... Really, it all sounds more interesting than it was.
I don't dwell on regrets and I don't make a habit of telling myself lies. It's strange that I seem to be starting.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Random Music... an interlude

My favorite interviews (at least in retrospect) were the ones where things didn't go so right.

Comedians are on my mind this week, so I'll start with them. Comedians are the most difficult people to get anything. Lewis Black and Aries Spears were sort of dull on the phone. (revision -I re-checked my notes and they weren't so bad) Martin Short was disappointing. He sounded slightly distracted, subdued and not particularly interested in doing the interview. Very likely, doing interviews with a small paper are pretty low on his list of fun things to do. I've never spoken to anyone in entertainment who yells, "bring on the interviews!"
Rodney Carrington was only funny by accident, because he lost his temper. While talking to him on the phone, I asked about him doing another television show. That's when he snapped.
"You give them something that you know is funny, that you know works and they come in, ruin it then want you to kiss their ass an inordinate amount for the privilege."
-Something like that. He ranted for a couple of minutes about the people who'd taken over then cancelled the show he didn't much like to begin with. It was good on a lot of levels. I wasn't trying to nail him or prod him into melting down. It was natural, funny and honest.

I got shocked by fame once. I called kd Lang and got a little overwhelmed, even had to apologize for being starstruck. What was amazing about that is I don't actually own any kd Lang albums. I like her work, but I'm not a fan. I was just caught up in her minor celebrity. I just couldn't build rapport of any kind and so the interview was me saying stupid things and her trying to answer questions that really weren't there.

Tift Merritt, country singer, wouldn't relax. We started talking and she sort of wrung herself like a dish rag, which was very strange to watch. With every question, she became a little more withdrawn. It was just weird.

I had to interview Ambrosia Parsley twice. I taped over her interview with someone else's interview on the same day. She was a trooper and gave me her answers all over again, without really altering them... and she smelled nice.

Jill Sobule was high and apparently crashed as we spoke. It was weird, one moment she was sort of there and a little bouncy. The next moment, she was curling up into a ball in her chair.

I've had to borrow pens from a variety of artists over the years. I've had to ask Mountain Stage to loan me batteries for my tape recorder and once did an interview on a series of paper towels because I left my notebook in the car.

When I called Nick Mason from Pink Floyd, I had the time wrong. He was in England and I got the zones mixed up. We ended up scrambling to get the interview time worked out and it almost failed because I had to get around Public Broadcasting's phone bureacracy. However, because of the misfires and confusion, I now have Nick Mason's personal email address, his home and cell numbers --in case I want to call him up for the holidays.

I have been turned down by Bruce Springsteen's people roughly ten times. In 2004, during the concerts, I complained about the music tour circumnavigating the state of West Virginia. I could never get a straight answer on why, except that this was decided not by the political arm, but by the artists involved. Since Bruce was the posterboy and defacto head of the artists side, I tried to get an interview and was shot down.

I have since taken a personal interest in Springsteen. His last show here was nearly 30 years ago, which irritates me. As a continuing personal mission, I send a note every couple of months to his publicist. She's always very nice when she tells me, no.

Carrie Underwood was dull and seemed like she was breathing her own gas. It's not entirely her fault, of course. By all reports, she's a fine, upstanding woman with a lot of brains and a lot of talent. She just wasn't particularly engaging. She deflected questions or gave flat, uninteresting answers.

Toby Keith's people screwed up my chances for an interview by not talking to one another. The tour manager was making press inquiries, while the publicist was denying they were doing it. That one really pissed me off at the time, but... hey, whatever.

I've asked questions about albums that were the wrong album for the wrong artist. I've been behind on the most current project a couple of times and on occasion, didn't even know what instrument the person I was talking to played. Man... that just looks bad.

It's slightly less than it used to be, but I typically ask one really stupid question per interview. I've asked so many dumb questions over the years, I've gotten in the habit of warning people that I will probably ask a few questions they've heard before, a few that might not make any sense right off and probably one or two that are outright dumb.

Call it lesson #8. Just be honest about who you are and a little laughter goes a long way.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Random Music Writing #7

Lesson #7: Keep your head on straight.

Writing about famous people, even only modestly famous people, is a goofy occupation and one whose value is open to interpretation even by the people directly effected. It all happens after you write the story.

On a bad day with a bad story (meaning one they didn't like), they want you to feel like a parasite, like you've taken from them. You're a problem, an asshole, a scumbag. You're ingrateful or a liar or cynical. They will tell you these things (meaning, their publicist will).

On a good day, you're their bestest buddy. You're a long lost relative.

You will seldom hear back when they agree or like something. You almost always hear back when they don't, and it will sort of hurt. They'll screw with your head, try to make you feel guilty and want to rewrite the series of events that led to your getting the interview and the access in the first place. They were doing you a favor. You were petty and took a cheap shot. You only looked at the negative and your article was shit, you fucking hack.

When it's good, they can make you feel great (if they care to). Lots of positive strokes. Lots of little applause and maybe a little thank-you bribe will get offered (usually tickets to the show and occasionally, "would you like to meet..."). It will feel like one more good story and you'll get invited onto a bus for a road trip involving booze, drugs and groupies who can live on a strict diet of your crotch.

Yeah, that sounds nice. It might be difficult to walk, but you'd manage.

Neither scenario is real, of course, though it is easy to get drawn into the nonsense and get stuck. From time to time I do and sometimes need a good push to get out of the mud. If I didn't get stuck from time to time, I'd have lost my soul. If I couldn't get out of the mud, I'd have lost my mind.

I keep both by remembering that in the end, I'm just writing about entertainers. Entertainment is important. It adds a little flavor, but it's not really nourishment.

(And yes, I promise by Friday, a list of some of my best interview flubs, screw-ups and moments of odd -The Indigo Girls, for instance, talking about some girl they both thought was hot right after she got off the elevator.)

Monday, February 4, 2008

Random Music Writing #6

Lesson #6: Learning to love the idiot.

Smart people do not make great interviews. Articulate people make good interviews, if they're in the mood to talk. But dumb people can be articulate, too and most of the time they're not just willing to talk, they're eager to run their mouths. The ability to speak your mind clearly and concisely is not just given to people with big brains. Idiots can make themselves understood very well, even if what they're saying is nonsense, moronic or just plain horrible.

This often means you're not getting much to advance your personal perspective of the world, but what you get will come out okay on paper.

My favorite interviews always fall into one of two categories: There is the kind where I walk away with something I get to keep, some greater understanding, some small piece of wisdom I didn't have before. For example, I ask a lot of travel questions because I'm fascinated with what the rest of the world is like. Nikki Giovanni, Bob Mould or Odetta were good ones because they told me something I didn't know or they colored in some spaces for me.

The other kind is the purely entertaining interview. Every now and again, you get someone who isn't going to tell you a whole hell of a lot, but is still charming and fun. Brad Paisley is a good example of that. I didn't learn much, except a little about William Shatner, but it was a pleasant experience. He came off as a swell guy and the time went smoothly. I enjoyed talking with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Grace wasn't wearing any underwear, which was kind of a bonus, but the band dynamic (everybody trying very hard to keep Grace from doing something stupid) was fun to observe. The guitarist from Saliva was good, too, but not because he was brilliant, but because he didn't censor his experience. He was having too good of a time and he knew it.

The idiot is a good story. At his worst, he's a cautionary tale. He's the guy who shows up to the interview stoned then talks about how much he thinks about Miley Cyrus. She's the singer/songwriter who seems more interested in finding a couple of playmates for the evening than doing the show. At their best, it's an accidental tour behind the scenes to a world you're not supposed to see.

The downside is you can't always print what you see.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Random Music Writing #5

Lesson #5: don't name drop.

There can be this urge to make things equal, to make the playing ground level. The person you're talking with has some level of celebrity. Most of the people I talk to are not in the top 100 or the top 500 of any list. A lot of them are club performers, who play regionally and will never do better than make a middle-class living.

It's easy to use what you've done as a kind of weapon, to try and force whoever you're talking to take you seriously, to coerce them with your own awesomeness. The urge is to hit them over the head with how important you are because of all the semi-famous people you've spoken with or met. This is particularly tempting when you're talking to a slightly self-important asshole who doesn't really want to say anything. He'd rather you just print the press release verbatim and tell people when to come to the show. He thinks you're a podunk writer for a podunk paper and he's way too important to do much beyond show up for the show.

Try not to laugh at him, but you don't have to impress him. Remember, it ain't about you. Dropping names can chill the interview and turn it into some kind of performance.

That said, sometimes you get asked to qualify yourself. When I spoke to John from They Might Be Giants, an interview I was particularly glad to get, he called me out on that point and actually asked me who I'd spoken to. I don't know if he was trying to gauge my value or baiting me into some sort of scenario.

I gave him two people who don't even play music, but are arguably more well known than he is. That seemed to do the trick. I have no idea what the pay off was supposed to be, but we went back to our conversation and it was a good one.

I've spoken to a lot of famous and semi-famous people. Some of them were very friendly, but none of them send me birthday cards or buy me dinner.