Saturday, May 31, 2008

Click -update.

Time is almost up. Because I'm engaged in the new story, I'm not going to get back to the last story until the 18th of June. That's when I do the "final" edit --not really final, since rationally speaking, if anyone I send the thing to actually decides to publish, they're going to ask for changes and adjustments.

With whatever notes I am provided by my friendly readers, I plan to work the 18th through mid month in July to make adjustments, punch it up and clean it up. 30 days ought to be enough, barring any serious problems.

If anyone has any ideas about friendly publishers, agents and the like, feel free to send me details.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Doing my part...

Just so nobody thinks I've mellowed on the whole screw Obama thing. A kid was out on Capitol Street with a clipboard, asking people to sign a petition to let Ralph Nader on the November ballot.

Of course, I signed it.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Echo... and the bunnymen

I'm still not going to the reunion. I got the rsvp in the mail last week and one of my old friend's from high school sent some pictures. The pictures is from my friend in California: Krista.

Krista used to talk me into doing things I really wanted to do, but on some level didn't think was "cool." Cool is relative. At the end of high school, I was a recovering band geek, a proud member of both the chess club and the soccer team, and a dungeons and dragons addict. I wasn't just a player. I was a dungeon master.

Krista wanted to act. She wanted to be on a stage. She liked the attention. She liked to be part of different worlds and to entertain. I wasn't that different. I just wasn't as comfortable with wanting it.

So, first she sort of talked me into signing up for drama class. It seemed like a better fit for me than another year of repeating French, but I expected to loaf. Next, she talked me into participating. I was in three plays that year, including, of all things, a musical --no, Uncle Bill did not sing. Uncle Bill only sings to his children, and they tell him to shut up.

Anyway, the pictures she sent me yesterday were from something else she talked me into. It was from a drama club float I was part of for homecoming. I wasn't actually a member of the drama club. You had to pay to join the drama club and I wouldn't do that.

So, Krista talked me into getting on the back of a moving pick-up truck, wear black clothes and put on whiteface makeup. She talked me into miming. In certain portions of the U.S. participating in a miming is considered grounds for a stoning and not the good kind. Inciting someone to mime should also be a crime, but I went along with it. The two of us stood in the back of the moving truck and did a mirror thing. I simply repeated her movements. It impressed somebody, we got second prize.

But the pictures were cool. I had a lot more hair in those days. Well, at least I had more hair on my head. I was thinner, had bigger biceps, but the shoulders are the same. The chest is pretty much the same, though probably not as firm. I was really into weights back then, could run a mile if need be and was as strong as an ox.

The photos were me without a lot of mileage. Things were about to rapidly change. I was five months from my first cigarette and four months from the first time I was ever really mindlessly drunk. It was three months before I got my young heart broke for the last time by a high school sweetheart. It was only two months before I got my first CD player and my first CD, Pink Floyd's "Momentary Lapse of Reason" and only a couple of weeks before I dated my last blond.

A lot of miles have passed since. I was maybe in the best shape in my life back then, something I've often dreamed about getting back, but seems as unrealistic as me doing practically anything else I've ever done. I was also in the worst shape of my life. I was fragile emotionally, moody (damn you, Jay. Damn you to hell), but not in the sort of useless middle-aged weary way, but the confused, frightened childish way. I was scared of growing up, of being alone, of women, of responsibility, of myself.

Anyway, looking at the kid in the picture, looking at him in a different way, as a father might look at his own son, I was sort of proud of him. He got in the back of a pickup truck and took a chance on making a fool out of himself. He was afraid of being made fun of, of being laughed at, but he decided he could take that. For a second or two, everyone he passed would look at him. It was just another baby step forward, to growing up, to not being so afraid to take chances. It worked out.

These days I jump into swimming pools in freezing cold temperatures. I hang out with cancer patients. I give crack heads rides downtown, but never give them money. I'll defend my autistic daughter from strangers and bureaucrats, but don't have a problem telling her to shut it when she starts channeling one of her cartoon characters. I speak my mind. The list of things I'm afraid of is pretty short.

Krista, my Krazy friend in Kalifornia, has always been great to give me a nudge when I needed it. Over the years, her occasional appearances in my life have been an impartial force, pushing me in the right direction, sometimes helping me course correct when I've lost my bearings. She wouldn't know that. She just wants me to do something, but she often seems to show up when I need things to get a little weird.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


I have sort of a suspicion that I am the product of a government science experiment. Probably Ted Elden and the truth seekers have a book about it somewhere. Pretty obviously, I'm a clone. I am forever being told I remind someone of someone else. Everybody has a friend from the old neighborhood, from high school or college I remind them of... They have a relative (who is always distant) who looks just like me. Maybe it's somebody they used to work with or their wife used to work with, but I'm everywhere. There's probably a factory somewhere, maybe in New Mexico, under one of the mesas. They release a couple of new models every year. For all I know, I'm not even the original --actually, I'd bet on it.

Seriously, though, I have one of those faces. I blend. It has always been this way.

I went to Daytona Beach for Spring Break one year when I was still in college. As could be expected, we spent an afternoon shopping for crap to take back. We went into some Cuban-owned tourist shop. I was looking at a nice selection of ponchos, along with a couple of friends and the owner of the place, walked up to me, clapped me on the back, shook my hand and told me how good it was to see me again. I smiled, shook his hand and tried to not look stunned.

He gave me half off on whatever I bought.

My friends looked at me and asked me, "who was that guy?"

I had no idea. I bought a poncho from him, however, but I was going to do that anyway.

The latest edition to my ever growing body of stories about how I was most likely part of a cloning project in the late 60s comes from my friend Shelly. Shelly's daughter and my son, Emmett, go to the same daycare. She and her daughter were at Graziano's last week when Shelly spotted someone who looked a lot like me, having lunch with a 10 year-old, who was probably the man's son. Shelly says the resemblance was remarkable, but she was pretty sure it wasn't me. At least, she was sure enough not to come over and strike up a conversation.

Her daughter, however, wasn't convinced. As Shelly and her daughter were leaving, she said, "Emmett's dad!"

It's just a little thing, but I'm hoping the new models of me come with the kung fu grip and the bionic eye thing. Both could come in handy.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What it's worth.

In case you don't happen to be a regular reader of The Gazz or The Charleston Gazette, here's that little interview I did with that Beatles guy. As is the case with all conversations, you don't always get something out of it. I did this time.

Life is now, not fifty years ago when you got kicked out of a rock band.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

1:15 p.m.

There are a lot of homeless people on the street right now. In a twenty minutes walk, I saw down on their heels folk gathered over at Slack Plaza, sitting under the awning of emptied buildings and killing time over at the library. They aren't hard to spot. Every year, I think I see a few more. Every year, the people I see look a little worse for wear than the previous year.

I'd just watched a woman get sugared up by a guy in a set of clothes that were barely rags. She was smoking a cigarette. He liked her. On his route, he'd stopped to say that he did. She listened, nodded, but politely declined the opportunity for dinner and dancing. He didn't seem to take offense, but moved along. Plenty of fish in the sea, I suppose. They say love is a numbers game. You just have to keep asking.

Makes sense to me. If you read Cosmo or Maxim or even Playboy, they sort of confirm that. It's like commission sales and that means phone calls, banging on doors, negotiating, but unlike sales, hoping you'll get screwed. Love is kind of tedious. The point of it seems to be to wear the other person down until they agree to something. In the end, it doesn't even seem like what they agree to matters.

I smiled at the woman as the homeless man went on his way and almost missed the other guy coming around corner. He'd just been turned down for a couple of bucks. He had a plastic sack in his hands. The woman he was communicating with had her hands up, was trying to peel away from his presence. He turned and looked at me. I apologized. I didn't have any cash on me. Usually, I'm good for a buck or two. I was looking for a place to eat as well, but just didn't have anything to give.

He nodded his head. He reached over and with his soft fist, tapped the center of my chest.

"As long as you have love for the black man in your heart, it is all right."

I nodded. Well, thanks.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

No working title yet

I crossed 20K over the weekend with the new story. As promised, here's one of my cards. This is not from the opening, but from a later chapter. The first chapter needs some work. The tone isn't quite right. It's not as appalling or as funny as it needs to be, which is tough given that it involves a live sex show.

Anyway, the new one involves four primary characters over three time periods. Something bad happens. Something weird happens. It's all related. The following scene is from the earliest time period and doesn't actually introduce any of the main characters, though it introduces two very important secondary character.

Please excuse the mess. This thing still has a long ways to go.

(EDIT) 1982

There was a terse, tense conversation beginning in the station manager’s office. The door was closed and beyond it, on the rest of the floor, the phones weren’t being answered except to pick up the receiver and hang up abruptly to stop the damned ringing. Ed Gaines had his door closed and he wasn’t alone. Any second now, the screaming was going to start. They knew it was coming. Rumors had been going around for a couple of days now, for much longer though no one was going to admit that, not if they wanted to keep their job. Finally it had all come to a head yesterday afternoon with a strange visit from a woman and her five year-old son.

The boy, who everybody now knew as Kyle, had been unleashed on the unsuspecting office just before lunch. Kyle was a vibrant and energetic child. He was hungry, too. In the brief three hours he spent in the kind but frightened care of the television station, he nearly knocked over the water cooler, discovered that a good stapler will dig into metal very nicely and that cigarette butts are edible –at least, in a sense. While six people tried to keep young Kyle entertained and alive, behind Ed Gaines’s closed door, his mother intermittently spoke nervously, screamed and wept.

Everybody walked away a little shell shocked.

Officially, the shit had hit the fan. Shit, in fact, was still being fed into the whirring blades. The only real question was how much of it was going to get on the rest of them.

While the fluorescent bulbs radiated its cancerous light, the man in the full body Armadillo suit was told to sign the short, typed paper on the desk in front of him.

“We want this to happen quietly, you understand?” Gaines told the Armadillo. “We want this to be your idea.”

Champ Robinson, the man in the Pete the Pecadillo costume frowned. He'd had some idea of the trouble he was in, but didn't think it had come to this. He wanted a chance to talk this out, if not explain his side of the story, which, in fact, was almost exactly their side of the story. He believed he should be at least allowed to say he was sorry and promise not to do it again. Everybody deserves a second chance. Sometimes they deserve third and fourth chances. If he could easily sit down in the costume, he’d have slouched and dug in to quietly protest his firing, but the massive tail he dragged behind him made that almost impossible. Pete the Pecadillo didn't not sit.

Champ leaned over and looked at the paper. He read it. There wasn't much to it. The wording was very tight and very specific.

“Nice,” he said. “So, I’m moving on to do more local theater? I want to explore opportunities to write and direct?”

Champ laughed. It was laughable. Men who wore Armadillo suits did not get to direct. There were no great playwrights who came from the minor leagues of playing with puppets and dancing jigs in front of screaming brats. Arthur Miller surely didn't.

The letter simply said he was leaving his position with the station, that he was moving on to pursue other long-held artistic passions, but that he would dearly miss everyone he'd worked with here, particularly the children.

“And if I don’t go quietly,” Champ asked. “What then?”

“Well,” Ed nodded. “We have a problem. You can fight with us and there will be a scandal. A couple of those young mothers you’ve been entertaining, they want to sue. They’re going to sue us and they’re going to sue you. You’ll wreck the station. It will cost us thousands, and we’ll have to lay off who knows, how many.”

Champ shrugged. That wasn’t his problem. He wasn’t blameless, and he knew better than to play like he was, but worse things had happened, he was sure. He couldn't specifically think of any, at least none that were worse than the things he was being called out on.

“Of course, as much as this hurts us, it’s going to hurt you. We’ll make sure that everybody knows you’re being fired for this. We’ve talked with Legal and they say that’ll cover our ass some. Sure, we still take a big hit. Sure, I will probably lose my job. I'll be done with television, but so will you. The owner will have my head on a stick and it will be in the papers, but when it’s all said and done, every dime they take from us, they’ll also take from you.”

Champ looked at him. Ed was really angry about this.

“And one way or another, you’ll never work in television ever again.”

Champ looked at the paper again. So, this was the end of “Play time with Pete,” the kid’s show he’d been hosting for WPTV, channel 11, for the last five years. He shook his head. Well, so what if it was? He'd had a good run. The show was number one in the market, number one for daytime and number one for its time slot. That was something he could take to the bank. If channel 11 didn't want him, he could always take his show across the street.

“And if I decide to go along with this? If I go ahead and step down, what do I get out of this?”

Ed looked up at him.

“You get to stay out of court. We’ll cover the loss. We’ll offer those women you took advantage of a settlement. It will be generous enough to get them off our back. Everyone, not surprisingly, seems interested in money. You know how to pick them, Champ.”

Champ managed a smile. Sure, there were a lot of single, down-on-their-luck women around. A kid with a rosy complexion and a good smile could be useful. Toothpaste, fast food and toy commercials paid real good. Local television exposure didn’t guarantee anything, but it helped build up that portfolio, if the kid's mom had hopes for their son or daughter to break into the real television world.

It all sounded so much sleazier than it actually was. His kind of show tended to attract a certain kind of parent. They were predators. They were climbers. They wanted to use his show for their advantage. So sure, he’d come to an arrangement with a few of them. He got what he wanted. They got their kids on the show. Nobody got hurt. It seemed like a pretty good deal: better than they’d get anywhere else without going to New York or Chicago or some other big city. Of course, some of them just wanted their kids to get a chance to win a bike. Whatever. Everybody has needs. So, Champ decided he was going, but it wasn’t going to be that easy or that cheap.

“Yeah, that’s great,” Champ said. “I really appreciate you looking out for me like that. How much you offering them?”

Ed leaned back in his chair and studied the Armadillo man.

“That’s none of your business. We’ll take care of it. You just sign the form and be on your way.”

“Aw come on,” Champ said. “You’re kicking me out on my ear. The least you can do is tell me how much you’re paying out to these ‘poor, mistreated women’.”

It was virtually impossible for Ed to take a man dressed like an armadillo serious.

“Five grand each. We’re going to offer them three and go up to five, if they turn it down.”

Five grand was substantial. It was more than most of these people saw in a month or three. It was more than he saw in a month and he was the star of the show.

“Then you pay me, too.” Champ told him. “You pay me twice what you’re paying any one of them. I get that in cash and I’ll go. I’ll sign this letter and I’m out of your hair.”

Ed shook his head. No.

"Then you're stuck with me."

"No, I'll fire you and have you ejected from the building. If you give me any trouble, I'll call the cops and I'll have our own news department run the story. Nobody will love me for that, but you won't be able to bum change without someone wanting to kick your ass." Ed shook his head. "Do you have any idea who some of these women are?"

Champ shrugged. Like, he could care.

"The names alone should be a dead giveaway." He rattled a few of them off. "O'Malley, Patrick, Dooley. Fuck, do you even know where you live?"

Champ stared dully at him. They were just names.

"Did you ever think that maybe some of these women might have boyfriends or brothers or father or cousins or who-the-fuck-knows guys who are in tight with the local mob? The God damned Irish mob? You're lucky you still have your balls as it is."

He actually hadn't thought about that. It had never occurred to him. He'd heard about the Irish mob in Philadelphia, but he was from Kansas. He didn't even know how to spot an Irish mobster on the street, if such a thing could even be done.

“Give me ten and I’ll leave town. After this I’m dead here, anyway, right? You give me ten and write me a glowing recommendation.”

“Oh, fuck you,” Ed said, but he was already thinking about it. “You’re staying out of jail probably. Who knows what kind of laws you violated? The FCC might even want a piece of you for this.”

Champ nodded his head, considered quickly. This was his only shot at this, he knew.

“Alright, you give me eight and the letter.”

Ed Gaines had been in television since the early fifties and he’d certainly seen his share of crummy things in almost thirty years of dealing with ‘artistic types.’ Champ Robinson wasn’t the first television personality dismissed for hanky panky behind the scenes, but he might be the first to have done the hanky panky while dressed like a six-foot armadillo. Ed had gotten into local television because he wanted to get away from all of the crazy politics of Big Television. So far, that hadn’t been the case.

“You get five,” he told him finally. “And I’ll write you a God damned letter. I’ll do better and if you do manage to land on your feet somewhere, I swear to tell them about your numbers.”

Champ smiled ridiculously. His numbers were good. He had a lock on the 4 o’clock hour. The kids loved him, even if their mothers only faked it.

He stuck his oversized paw across the desk.

“I believe we have a deal, Ed.”

Ed looked at the armored paw like it was the authentic, dead article. Reluctantly, he shook it.

“Now, fucking sign.”

Champ signed the paper, then bounced out of the office. With the big tail drawn behind him, it was next to impossible for him to naturally stroll. The suit required him to skip. The rest of the room watched him depart almost as gaily as he’d gone in, which was the only way he could be. He bopped down the hall to his dressing room, shivered off the suit and was gone.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Let it be.

I was talking to one of my cancer patients. It was my first patient, actually. He called me up a couple of days ago and invited me to lunch. He's doing fine. So far, his treatments have worked out, though now he's got something wrong with his kidney.

"Old age," he told me. "It's always something."

He reminded me again, not to get old. I told him, I wasn't planning on it.

We were talking about Pete Best. I told him I was supposed to talk to Best later in the week. My cancer patient asks me about what I do. Mostly, I talk to musicians, but he's in his 80s and not much of a rock and roll fan. The names usually go right over his head, but he's always game to listen.

Pete Best was the original drummer for The Beatles. Right around the time they were really about to take off, the lads from Liverpool kicked him out and replaced him with Ringo Starr. It's a pretty complicated story and heart breaking. You can read up just a little about him and figure that John, Paul and maybe George were ace sons of bitches long before they were music Icons.

Anyway, Pete could have started another band. According to stories, he was well-liked by the fans and there was an offer on the table to build a band around him. He might have done that, might have gone right back into music, but he didn't. He was more than a little overwhelmed by the situation and so, became a civil servant. Pretty weird, huh? He did that for twenty some years. He retired from it.

A few years ago, The Beatles released another retrospective, another collection of songs. This time around, for whatever reason, they decided to include some of the very early recordings which also featured Pete on drums. He got a check for a boatload of money, several million dollars. Part of me would like to think that the remaining Beatles maybe felt like they'd fucked the poor guy just a little. All of them are richer than Midas, what would it hurt to give the guy some share of it?

Anyway, at 65 or so, he's back out on the road with a band.

So, the cancer patient and I talked about how you can end up doing things you never meant to do. My cancer patient was an engineer. He worked on ships and at chemical plants. He was born in England, but came to America and stayed. He's lived a fairly interesting life, traveled the world, though he only lets the interesting places drop in conversation by accident. He asked me if I'd ever really wanted to be anything else? I said, not really. As soon as I knew you could make a life as a writer, it was what I wanted. How about you, I asked. He laughed. He grew up in a small village two hundred miles from London. There was just one radio in the village. About every other day or so, a truck or two would pass through, not really stopping on its way to the city.

"It was only two hundred miles away," he laughed. "It seemed like forever."

All he wanted, he said, growing up, was to be a truck driver. He was glad it didn't work out that way, he told me, but he would have been okay.

I thought about Pete Best, who was kicked out of the band by his friends, who maybe knew what he wanted, but thought he wasn't worthy because it was his friends who told him he wasn't good enough. He gave up what he thought he was meant to do and did something else. God knows what he would have felt watching his former band mates go from relative obscurity to worldwide prominence.

My cancer patient friend, who no longer has cancer, found his calling around 20. That was sixty plus years ago. After a long time in the dark and coming close to writing, I found my way to a writing life not that long ago. I can't say for sure whether Pete found his calling then lost it. It seems like that to me, but here he is again. Pete is in his 60s and he's got himself a band. He's never going to have a hit single. He's never going to get the screaming fans or be in any of those stupid sixties music movies, but he gets to play. People will come see him because who he could have been. To be willing to do that, he has to love what he does more than any man I can think of.

Speaking to Pete will be a let down. It can't help but be less than I hope, but it's still kind of a privilege.

Update: And every now again, it's nice to be wrong. Best told me about John, Paul, George and Stuart Sutcliffe. He remembered John best and that Stuart was a better player than people gave him credit.
Turns out he'd been asked for years to play again, but was talked into it in 1988 during a Beatles festival in England. His mother and wife convinced him to give it another go. He's been touring pretty much ever since. He sounded happy.
Article in next week's Gazz.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Screw you Obama

I'm registered to vote. When I replaced my driver's license a few weeks back, they asked me if I wanted to register. I said, "sure," but I had little intention of voting in the primary. In the past I've endorsed everyone from Sylar to Ralph Nader to Rocket J. Squirrel. I'm not a believer and haven't been since 2004. Bruce Springsteen broke my heart and I didn't recover.

I haven't forgotten Bruce. I haven't forgotten that you and your merry band at navigated around the state of West Virginia, that you threw your little shows to support Kerry in all the states bordering West Virginia. Everybody else was a swing state that year, except West Virginia. I remember that none of your people wanted to explain their reasoning. Yeah, I ain't letting that one go.

Over the last week and a half, it's been kind of a perfect storm. Because of the usual fun and games over at The 5th column over Mike Garrison, I've had the opportunity to look at some other blogs, bigger blogs in other states. Invariably, because of the political season, the conversation on these sites has turned to the primary and Clinton's completely predictable win here. According to the comments, it was the usual stuff. Because West Virginia supported Clinton, West Virginia was stupid. We're dumb. We're inbred hicks, not fit to deserve the right to vote because one of our senators was in the KKK fifty years ago.

Clinton winning had nothing to do with Obama ignoring the state, of course. Damn, I've complained non-stop about the stupid e-mail blasts from the Clinton camp. I've been sent updates for when she goes to the bathroom. It's been really annoying.

Obama spent six hours in the state on Monday. Six hours... Other than one other appearance, I don't think he's been anywhere near the state in a year. Clinton's people were all over the place. Hell, they sent the former president Bubba to Bluefield and that place is a hole. The Clintons came to town, they shook hands and let people get a look at them.

That, by the way, is how you win West Virginia. Maybe we are a bit backward, but the way Bush won in 2000 and 2004 was both he and his people were here all the damned time. Not just that, after he got elected, he kept showing up here. Both times, if the state had gone the other way, if West Virginia had voted for Gore or Kerry, Bush would be back in Crawford. Neither Kerry or Gore bothered to do more than token campaigning in West Virginia.

Oh sure, other states might say the same thing, but not all of them are states that have historically identified as a Democrat state -and yes, I know there's a disconnect in these parts with what people say they are and how they vote. Governor Smokin' Joe is proof of that. He's more of a moderate republican, interested in business, likes reducing state services and is not so interested in the plight of the poor.

Anyway, I'm moving off topic. During my usual repetitive reading of the news, I found this on Yahoo news. It was the Obama campaign's response to yesterday's primary.

"At Obama's Chicago headquarters, advisers said there was no reason to worry — West Virginia was demographically suited to Clinton and won't be part of their general election plans."

So, that's it. The great uniter doesn't care about the poorest of us. We are one of the worst states in the nation. Our quality of living is lousy. As a state, we're poor, less educated and aging. Our prospects are dim and our future uncertain. We' live in a corrupt banana republic of a state that could probably use a couple of good, high profile Federal investigations. But we're not part of "their general election plans." They know all they need to know about us and our participation is irrelevant to the election of the likely democratic candidate. We don't count. And if we're not part of the general election plans of the candidate, is there any reason to believe we'll be part of the national dialog after it's over, if the democrats win?

We have been publicly discarded. Is there any other way to read that line?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The spoken word

"Shut up. I have to listen to his Beatles crap."

Sometimes there are no explanations, but everything is summed up in the space filled between breaths.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Random music #12

Music writing #12: publicists

I've covered some of this, but with music writing, you deal with a lot of publicists. Publicists are a pretty unreliable and often loopy bunch. While some of them are highly professional but personable people, who are busy managing a variety of needs for their entertainer clients. Others are lying dip shits who shouldn't be trusted to operate a toothbrush by themselves.

You never know what you're going to get and just because the musician is well-to-do doesn't mean his/her publicist is worth a damn. Their actual abilities vary from artist to artist. Some are very powerful and have input into their client's career. Others are little more than secretaries. What the publicist can do is only relevant in what they can promise and actually deliver. Most can either submit interview requests or can schedule interview time based on a pre-set calendar of available time. Some can help acquire show tickets. Some can even help arrange backstage passes. Many can do these things and be completely overruled by the road manager, the agent or whoever simply says so.

Part of the job of the publicist is to apologize when they've promised something that someone else has decided at the last minute they're not going to deliver on.

What you can count on:

When writing about their client, it is pretty common for them to offer to send materials like a bio of the artist, a couple of pictures and maybe some other press clippings. Some musicians come pre-packaged with an agenda, a topic that's supposed to be a hot button for them. Usually, this is whatever album they've just completed -which makes sense, they're on the road to get paid, not because they like living on a bus. Occasionally, there's a bit more. For instance, Grammy winner Mark Cohn's hot button was getting shot in the head, which very literally broke his writer's block.

These are things they'd like to talk about or the record company wants them to talk about. Hot buttons are sort of tricky because while they might be able to give you something interesting, chances are it is the same thing they gave the last ten people who spoke to them. This is not always a bad thing. The point is not to write to be unique to the artist, but write to be unique to your reader. Still, if the particular topic has been covered extensively, I tend to creep around it and go for something else. Mark Cohn, again, was willing to talk about getting shot and had been talking about it for a month or so before he got to me. What was more interesting was while he'd been okay with talking about it in the beginning, to use it as a marketing trick, the shtick of delving into a very terrifying experience over and over was eating at him again. He wanted to stop, but he was aware he really couldn't.

The bio, by the way, is automatically suspect. Don't trust anything printed on the paper, not the musician's age, not where he's from, not how he got into music, not that he even writes his own lyrics. The facts are finessed to suit the image and the present. It's not all lies, but it's probably not all true either. Entertainment is not interested in truth for truth's sake. The truth is less entertaining than illusion. The bio is still useful, just not absolutely accurate.

Aside from the bio and the pictures, often the publicist offers a copy of the latest album. Up until very recently, the prevailing thought is artists perform to support the sale of the recording. That may be reversing with the album being used as a means to promote shows. If they offer to send the album, accept, but don't count on it actually showing up. Often it does, but a lot of times, you never see it in the mail.

If I had to buy every album for every band I ever interviewed, I'd be living under a bridge. While, it is standard practice to listen to the album before you talk to the musician, I've fudged on occasion. There have been times when I haven't heard a single note someone has ever played, but been stuck with doing the interview anyway.

Publicists promise and will tell you they sent it Priority Mail or Fed Ex. They will never remember what the tracking number was. It's the equivalent of them saying the dog ate their homework. They flaked out, forgot or decided it wasn't worth the postage. Realistically speaking, if the post office lost so many packages per person as were supposed to make it to me and didn't, there would be a congressional investigation.

In the end, publicists can be useful, but don't rely on them. You're still very likely mostly on your own.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Choke on the frosting

I've said this before, but I'll go ahead and say it again. Big name acts who blow through town and collect the check without making nice with the people who can't cough up 70 bucks for a shitty seat or 200 bucks for a nicer, scalped seat are assholes. They are carpetbaggers. The folks who can't cough up the 70 bucks (and let's be honest, even at 70 it's really 140. Who goes to a concert by themselves?) are the same people who keep turning on country radio, who keep buying the CDs, the t-shirts and whatever other crap these guys are shilling.

As a guy who covers music for the local paper, let me mention this. I seldom have any problem with the indie bands who come through on Mountain Stage. Most of them are glad to talk. Hell, coming to town isn't even the main reason they're here. It's entirely for the radio exposure, but they still take the time to speak with the locals a little, let them get to know them. It doesn't hurt to give a little when they're getting a lot more back by simply being here.

I don't get guys like Kenny Chesney or Keith Urban (and now, apparently, Brad Paisley) who comes to town, collects many thousand of bucks directly and a bit more indirectly, but can't talk to a writer from the local paper. They say otherwise, but they're really not that busy. Really, their jobs are a whole lot of waiting around and trying not to get fat.

But that's okay. I've got nothing but time. They don't.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Battle of Waterloo

Most of my friends and family know I have developed an aversion to my own birthday. It started when I was very young. Birthdays, which seemed often be memorable events for other people, were usually disasters for me. Maybe it's just the timing of the day in the summer, June 18th, but it just sucks.

Over the years I've noticed a pattern. I will have one decent birthday then a bunch of bad ones. A few years ago, it was great. I woke up, got some really nice gifts from my wife. My kid brother, my son and my Dad were visiting for the day. I got a call from an editor telling me I was good enough to get paid for writing finally. There was some good food. Hell, even the sun was shining.

By no means was this spectacular. There was no drunken orgy, no wild spree through the town, no loud rock and roll kind of day, but it was really nice. It was also the best birthday I've ever had. Before it was over, I knew I needed to remember it because it was the rare exception.

The pattern is one good birthday in about seven lousy ones. The remaining six vary from sad to plain awful. Some of my favorite bad birthdays have had me alone most of they day, hungry because of no groceries, overdrawn at the bank, working a triple shift and accidentally initiating a fight with my girlfriend -all within the same 24 hours.

My second marriage is different in many aspects. We're actually less financially secure than the first marriage and the daily struggle is more difficult in a lot of ways. The second wife has tried very hard to fight the tide of doom and gloom that usually falls on the 18th of June, but it's usually well beyond her ability to hold back the tidal wave of bad things coming.

I have tried, unsuccessfully, to ignore the entire thing, to let it be just a day. It's kind of like Christmas for the Grinch. Regardless, it comes. It rears its ugly head and I am forced to deal with it. As much as I don't want to, I'm already starting to deal with it.

This year, the fix is already in.

I'm also looking at spending part of the day in court, dealing with my wife's cretinous ex-husband. Win or lose, the whole day will be shot with her worrying before the hearing then dealing with anger, angst or irritation about what happened in court the rest of the day. Nobody is going to be in much of a mood to celebrate anything. So, we're bumping it a few days, which is not exactly the same as a complete rain out, but still not much to look forward to.

I get some fair criticism for being a bit mopey sometimes (Damn you, Jay... Damn you to hell). I go negative every now and again, particularly when it comes to my home life. Also for a Buddhist, I seem awfully quick to jump on a cross over what is just another rising and setting of the sun. I guess, I put too much into the day because on some level, I want one guaranteed good day just for me out of the entire year. It's pretty selfish and requires more from the entire universe than is remotely reasonable. I still want it and it bugs me that I can't have it.