Sunday, June 26, 2005

belle & sebastian's stevie jackson talks about his first - part three

Though B&S’s most recent album, October 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress, has returned the group to both commercial and critical acclaim (the top ten in British sales and numerous year’s best lists across the world), Jackson’s heart still belongs to the band’s initial release.

“It’s kind of hard to see past Tigermilk,” he says. “I just think it’s a great sounding record. Maybe I’m just nostalgic towards it. I mean, if I had to pick a favorite record I’d pick Tigermilk.

“It’s like first love or something. In a sense I don’t think it’s the best album in many ways. I mean, the playing’s not great on it, but there’s something naively brilliant about it. I like the sound of it and I like the songs on it, even though I don’t think it’s the best collection of songs. Just the overall feeling of it just does it for me.”

For Dear Catastrophe Waitress, the band sought the production services of British music veteran Trevor Horn. A former member of The Buggles (“Video Killed The Radio Star”) and Yes, Horn carries an extensive list of studio credits, including The Art of Noise, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Grace Jones, Malcolm McLaren, Mike Oldfield, Pet Shop Boys, Seal, Spandau Ballet, Simple Minds, and Rod Stewart.

“It’s just so refreshing to have a boss or a gaffer,” Jackson says of Horn’s hiring. “It’s hard for me and Stuart to actually boss folk around or tell them what to do. It’s actually kind of difficult, so it was great just having a kind of father figure guy or, you know, a guy that everyone liked and respected to just be in charge, just to hold the reins. It made it much more enjoyable for everybody.

“I think the best sounding record we ever made probably was Dear Catastrophe Waitress, especially for a band’s that been around eight years. There’s a lot going against you. You don’t have the surprise of being new or the freshness of being new, or have the buzz of being a new band. And that’s the trouble with us. That’s what every band has to face, you know.”

To be sure, growing pains are not uncommon for a group of Belle & Sebastian’s stature, but the situation was complicated by the fact that most members were brought in by Murdoch who, though universally regarded as the band’s leader and primary songwriter, decided at some point that he’d rather be a part of a band than lead one.

“We were just thrown together,” Jackson says of his bandmates. “It was like Stuart was Yul Brynner and we were the Magnificent Seven, you know what I mean? It’s a good analogy and it’s quite an honest one because, like, we didn’t know each other as individuals. Stuart was just handpicking these men and women to back him up, so there was just this period where nothing seemed to work, you know. But thankfully we’ve been on an upswing for the last couple of years and I think we’ve actually learned to play a lot better.

“We’re a band now. It took years to get there but there’s no question about it. The last album especially, it really is a band effort. It’s kind of ironic in that I think a lot of the reviews said that we’d gotten rid of democracy and Stuart has reasserted control, but ironically it’s the absolute opposite. It’s probably the most democratic album we ever made.”

belle & sebastian's stevie jackson - part one
belle & sebastian's stevie jackson - part two

belle & sebastian's stevie jackson talks about his first - part two

That the recording of Tigermilk, Belle & Sebastian’s first album, “went well” is a bit of an understatement. A thousand vinyl copies were pressed and, after just a wee bit of radio airplay, snapped up in short order. The record has since been re-issued on CD but original discs, when found, go for the equivalent of a small mortgage payment.

The release party for Tigermilk was the first indication, for Jackson at least, that Belle & Sebastian could draw an audience.

“You know,” he says, “usually people just turn up to drink free booze, but people were kind of interested. There was a pile of records on the wall, you know, and I just remember everybody grabbing one. You know, people making a mad rush for them. And that kind of gave me a feeling, well, people kind of like this record.”

Which is not to say that Belle & Sebastian’s seemingly meteoric rise has, in fact, been meteoric, or that the band has always played to large crowds. There have always been crowds, but many times it’s been relative to how small a venue the band played. Like a friend’s bedroom for the group’s very first performance.

“Everybody piled in there,” Jackson says, “and, you know, it was a small audience obviously but it was pretty captive. And it was great, you know.”

Next came gigs outside of Glasgow.

“Our first London show was the place called the Borderline. It’s quite a good venue. It’s the kind of place where old country bands would play, you know, coming from America. It’s a fair-sized place, maybe a few hundred or whatever. I remember turning up there, and you couldn’t move. It was really jam-packed, you know. That was amazing.”

Named after a French children’s television show about a boy and his dog, the likewise nectareous Belle & Sebastian was formed in early 1996 by two the Stuarts – Murdoch who still leads the group, and David who left sometime between the band’s fourth album, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant, and the fifth, Storytelling.

Those records, for obvious reasons, are not among Jackson’s favorites.

“I think by the time we got to Boy with the Arab Strap and Fold Your Hands Child,” Jackson says, “we were in disarray and unfocused and just a mess. A lot of like personal problems, you know, in our band relations. I think after the initial buzz there was a realization that we didn’t actually know each other and we had to learn how to play together and all that kind of stuff.”

belle & sebastian's stevie jackson - part one
belle & sebastian's stevie jackson - part three

belle & sebastian's stevie jackson talks about his first

In April of 2004 I spoke by phone with guitarist Stevie Jackson of Belle & Sebastian. The group’s current release, the compilation Push Barman To Open Old Wounds, was but a twinkle in the band’s eye. In the spring of ’04 Belle & Sebastian were in front of a short series of West Coast dates, and I’d been assigned a feature by San Diego CityBeat. Unbeknownst to me, CityBeat and their local rival, the San Diego Reader, were a-fussin’ and a-fightin’ and a-feudin’ over some nonsense and, long story short, my piece got scrapped in favor of some kind of Point-Counterpoint rebuttal. So here ‘tis, the world premiere of a previously unpublished Belle & Sebastian feature.

Belle & Sebastian’s Stevie Jackson Talks About His First

On the phone, Stevie Jackson is about what you would expect from the guitarist of an iconic twee pop band from Glasgow. He’s charming, self-deprecating and polite (even going out of his way to say it was “really great” to chat before he has to move on to another waiting interviewer). His Scottish accent is heavy but not indecipherable. To be fair, Jackson probably has equal difficulty with my Deep South inflection, but we find a middle ground. I don’t mention football or grits, and he doesn’t bring up kilts or castles. So when he says, “I was absolutely gobsmacked,” it takes me a second to make sure we’re not talking about sex.

Jackson began playing with Belle & Sebastian band leader Stuart Murdoch just before they entered the studio as a project for a local college music business course. The guitarist had recently called it quits with the Chicago blues-influenced Moondials and was considering a career in occupational therapy. But it wasn’t the radical switch in musical style that led him to turn down Murdoch’s first, and only, invitation to join the band.

“It was purely being tired of being in a group,” Jackson says. “But as it turned out it was a totally different experience to what being in a group normally means, which is like four or five guys living in each other’s pockets in a small van driving about. I wanted to give that a rest.”

“I think he’d asked me to join his band a few months before, but I refused,” Jackson says of Murdoch’s offer. “But he’d written me a letter saying, Will you do this record? This one record? So I’d done that and that kind of went so well, and there was almost immediately the chance to make another one, so I guess I joined the band without even officially joining it. I think it was just kind of unsaid after that, you know.”

belle & sebastian's stevie jackson - part two
belle & sebastian's stevie jackson - part three

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

song of the day: tarbox rambler's "last month of the year"

The Tarbox Ramblers played a fine show (early) last Friday night at the Knitting Factory here in New York. A highlight was the unreservedly percussive rendition of "Last Month of the Year" from their A Fix Back East album, still one of my favorites from 2004.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

graham parker interview - part three

Q: When’s a song finished for you? Do you have to record it? Do you have to play a song live a certain number of times for it to be finished in your head? Or can a song be done when you hit that last chord in the living room the first time through?

A: It can be, yeah. I mean, I sometimes write three different sets of lyrics, but you know those are the difficult songs. With the ones that just fly out while you’re in the flow, the whole thing can come and it’s pretty much there. I just tinker with the words here and there. I’m not a perfectionist in some ways, but when it comes to lyrics I’m pretty much a perfectionist. Every word has to just flow for me. You know, there are a few things I’m disappointed with occasionally because I couldn’t get them to flow properly, but very rarely. Usually everything is right. And so it’s finished and I go into the studio and I’m often singing almost exactly the same way as I’m singing when I did the demo. Only when you take it on the road do you start singing differently, usually to preserve your voice.
Also, the song stretches over time and you find different ways of singing songs. The solo act has helped me do that a lot, you know. Because when I started that solo thing in ’89 - Live! Alone in America was the album – I was singing and playing things almost like they were the original versions. And it wasn’t very good, I don’t think. I know a lot of people liked that record but I’ve done better live solo albums since then because I’ve learned to sing the songs differently - slow them down, you know, open them up. There’s quite a lot you can do.

Q: But that’s just experience, right?

A: Yeah, that’s experience really, because you have to remember, when I started I got a record deal. I was 24, it was 1975, and I wasn’t one of these guys who was playing endlessly in different bands in clubs. That wasn’t me. You know, this mythology about me being some pub rocker is entirely wrong. I was at home. I mean, I’d traveled around in Morocco and done the whole hippie thing and all that, but that’s what I was, a hippie, laying around doing very little. And I came back to my parents in my early 20s and said, Okay, the next time I travel I’m going to get paid for it. And I started writing and writing hundreds of songs until I came up with good ones. And though I had a little band when I was 13 and one when I was 15, we weren’t serious. I mean, I couldn’t even play properly. I mean, I’m a very slow study. It took me a while, so I didn’t have this experience at playing live. I just had no idea. I had never seen a monitor system until I walked on the stage with this incredible band The Rumour behind me. So I’m still learning, but maybe that’s a good thing.

Q: Otherwise it gets boring.

A: Yeah, I could’ve learned my craft and been finished after five albums. It’d be like, Okay, that’s it. Where am I going now? But I’m still going places with it, you know.

Q: Since you mentioned The Rumour, let me ask a larger, broader question. I’m looking at these press notes and it says you and The Rumour have two albums in the Rolling Stone Top 100, but I’m not finding that. I’m finding Squeezing Out Sparks at 335.

A: That’s right. What happened was back in the 80s – and I found a copy of it the other day in my attic – Rolling Stone had the 100 best records of the last 20 years. And that was out in the 80s, and they had Squeezing Out Sparks and Howlin' Wind.

Q: Because Howlin' Wind is what’s missing here.

A: Yeah, that’s right. So now that it’s gone to the 500, Howlin' Wind’s disappeared somewhere in the shuffle.

Q: It obviously doesn’t hurt sales any to be on such a critical favorite list. I’m not saying it makes you a millionaire, but any attention’s got to help sales.

A: It means it just goes on and on and on. You don’t really get forgotten. It may be peripheral, but that always keeps the profile there, doesn’t it.

Q: Does it mean anything other than the keeping your profile up? Is it special to you to have one of your albums selected as one of the top 500 albums in history of rock?

A: It’s better than nothing. I think it meant more when it was the top 100 of the last 20 years because there were two albums in there. And Sparks was fairly high up there, like 40-something or other. And Howlin' Wind was in the 50s. I mean, that really meant something.

Q: Is Sparks even your best album?

A: Uh, it’d be hard to top it, let’s put it that way. It’s very special. If people want to think that, that’s great. You know, I’m not going to argue with it. It is a pretty special record.

Q: Let me ask you one last big question – who’s the greatest songwriter alive?

A: (much laughter) Well, you know, I don’t think anyone is completely and utterly that great that I would put them in that bag. A few years ago I’d say one of my favorites, and definitely one of the best was and still is Lucinda Williams. A friend of mine who played on the Your Country album, Tom Freund, who’s pretty much ignored everywhere, I’ve often said he’s the best songwriter operating now. You know, I think he’s absolutely great but that doesn’t always mean anything these days. You know, I mean, people always say, Your career’s been dulled by record companies, but I always tell them, I’m pretty lucky because I had three major album deals in a row. That’s four albums and four albums and four albums, and you don’t get that now unless you sell pretty big straight off the bat, you know what I’m saying?

Q: Rock and roll isn’t known for its longevity.

A: Yeah, I know. You could be the greatest writer operating now and remain on an indie label or be selling them on the Web on your own site, you know. It’s a different world in that respect.


graham parker interview - part one
graham parker interview - part two

graham parker interview - part two

Q: Where did you record Songs of No Consequence?

A: It was recorded up in Pennsylvania, in a place called Bryn Mawr. It’s near King of Prussia, not far from Philly. The bass player, Pete Donnelly, runs a studio there and it just seemed to be a good idea to use him as the main producer. I mean, I’m usually the producer of my records these days, but this time I said, Okay, you call yourself the producer and just sit there and deal with that and I’ll be the co-producer. He just knows the studio inside out, and it’s a good room and it’s got a lot of analog gear there that everything was fed through to give you a good, fairly warm sound on the old ProTools, you know. So I stayed a hotel there and got up every day and went down to the studio and we cut four or five tracks and do a few overdubs and then we’d have the keyboard player in and it was a good situation. The last album I made in LA so I’m kind of branching out, doing things in different places.

Q: You mentioned mapping out the demos of the songs. Is there anything on the new record that didn’t come out pretty damn close to the sound you had in your head before you went into the studio?

A: Ah, that’s a good question. Let me think. Um, well, no, not really. It all came out pretty much as I thought. I mean, I’ve got it that together these days so I can do that. The variety of the album, as a whole, surprised me. For some reason, I thought doing it with The Figgs, and doing a very opposing album to that last one which had a very country bend to it, I thought it would be much more zany in a way somehow. And I don’t know why I thought that because looking back at the songs, they’re all very varied. They’re eclectic, really, so that kind of surprised me.
It was also very pleasing to see how The Figgs managed to tackle different styles, one after the other, you know. The funk of “Chloroform” to the kind of elegiac - is that word - “She Swallows It,” the big fat ballad sound. You know, we got that on there. “Ambivalent,” as well. And then the Stonesy groove of “Bad Chardonnay” and “Suck ‘n’ Blow.” They came out pretty much as I’d hoped. I’d just sort of forgotten exactly how varied the songs were and that may be due to the fact that five or six of them I’d had for a while. I had them before or during the period I wrote Your Country. I just left them there and thought, These have got to wait for a more pop/rock album, you know. I wasn’t going to confuse the stew by throwing them into the country thing, you know. So I just wrote seven more songs, fairly quickly, to go with it. I guess “Bad Chardonnay,” “Dislocated Life,” “Vanity Press,” they’re new ones, and I kind of thought that I was fitting them all together so it would be one cohesive thing, and it is cohesive but sonically cohesive. But the songs are quite varied, I think, and hopefully it’s entertaining.

Q: Can you take me through the process of one particular song?

A: Uh, let’s see. One particular song.

Q: Whatever’s foremost in your memory. Or if everything’s fresh, maybe “Dislocated Life.” Tell me how that song goes from your head to a finished product, if you don’t mind.

A: Right. Well, from writing it, it’s one of those mystery songs that’s suddenly there in front of you. It really is.
Songs of No Consequence kind of fit with the idea of a song like “Bad Chardonnay,” which is about, you know, bad wine and cigarettes. There’s more in there that that, of course, if you know my writing, but it’s not much more than that and “Local Boys” is kind of a flippant kind of idea, you know, like the flip side of “Local Girls,” one of the songs from way back, so you’ve got that. So I’ve got songs like this and suddenly “Dislocated Life” is in front of me and all I know is that I started playing the D and G riff, which reminded me a bit of one of my older songs, “Don’t Let It Break You Down” which is on the Mona Lisa's Sister album. It’s the same thing, but there is an added note to the G chord, and I’m not technical enough to know what that G chord would be called, that added note, but it makes a whole lot of difference.
But I did a similar kind of trick, or device, on the chorus part, the refrain. It could’ve been very dull if I’d just stayed with the major chords, so I found myself descending from A major to A minor, and to G minor. Not G major to G minor, but straight to G minor, which is very unusual. And this all came very naturally and organically, but I think it’s because I wrote that song, “Don’t Let It Break You Down,” all those years ago, a song that I struggled with for years and years before, before I realized, before I suddenly hit on it that I could put the chorus in D minor. So the song was in D major and then suddenly the chorus is in D minor. That’s what you have to find sometimes to make a song really great. And so that happened with “Dislocated Life,” and suddenly it was in front of me. There it was and all these lyrics, I have no idea where they came from.

Q: They just shot out.

A: They just shot out. I have no idea who that relates to or what, but there it is, you know. I guess it’s a sign of the times. “Dislocated Life,” you know.

Q: Was repeating the word “dislocated” in the chorus a conscious decision? Obviously we’ve got a rhythm that we’re filling out here. We’ve got a line that we’ve got to fill, and repeating that one word in the chorus is an odd choice but it works. Did that just come to you or was it a conscious decision?

A: It just came out. You know, there are rock and roll words, and you’d never think that “dislocated” would be one of them, but it is. It really sounds great and it’s cool to sing it. You know, I’m always pleased with my songwriting when I come up with something that is patently rock and roll but it has a word like “dislocated” in it. So that’s a buzz, you know. And it comes and you just sort of say, Thank you God. Where the hell did that come from?

Q: Yeah. That’s a word that shouldn’t work. Like if you’re writing poetry you want to avoid words like “rock” and “frog” and “bark” because they’re not going to sound right. But this works, and the repetition in the chorus actually fits the theme of the song, too.

A: It fits the theme of the song, and it’s good you picked that one because you were talking about the recording process from when I wrote it. When I wrote it I knew it was a sit up and beg winner. The guitar sat there as fat as a hog. And when we got into the studio, it was the same thing really. I just said, Give a big kind of U2 kind of thing. Springsteenesque. It could have that kind of feel. Born in the USA kind of power to it, you know. So they just started playing like that, with that big, fat loping bass line and the big open drum kit and, you know, we probably got it in the first take or the second take. We probably did half of it and stopped. I think that was the usual way. You’d say, There’s something wrong here, and then you start talking. You know, Try this on the drums when you get to the bridge leading into the chorus. And try this and that, and blah blah blah. And then, boom, we did it and there it was. And that’s how we recorded most of the songs, really. Halfway through, stop, a quick chat, and then we’re back into it and recording it.
And I had the rough mix of it which I would take to my hotel every night, take some mixes and listen at night and then listen the next day and listen driving in and it sounded really great, and then we went to mix it and Pete started doing different things, and I took that mix back with me and listened and it was no good. One of the guitars was just slightly too loud, which actually took away the fatness of it. So I said to Pete, I said, The original rough mix is the mix. We don’t even have to tinker with it. I’m sure of it. Put it up. So we played it and I said, Yeah, that’s it. Everything was great. Everything. So that’s Pete doing a good job of getting good sounds on the tape as it were, on the virtual tape, in the first place, so that you could get what’s called a rough mix and it turns out to be the mix.

graham parker interview - part one
graham parker interview - part three

graham parker interview


In late May 2005, just days before the release of his latest record, Songs of No Consequence, Graham Parker was kind enough to spend some phone time discussing songwriting, performing, his new record and the hills and valleys of a musical life. This summer will find the long-term rocker crossing the U.S. with the much more than capable backing of The Figgs.
My thanks to the fine folks at Bloodshot Records for providing the connection.

Q: I know there’s more to you than just being a musician, but in terms of musicianship, is it fair to break it down to three parts of writing, recording and performing?

A: Uh, that’s pretty much it, yeah. That’s musicianship, yeah.

Q: Which one of those three is your strong suit?

A: (laughs) Um, I think you’ve got to have a bit of each, you know. The writing thing, it’s always a mysterious process. You’re never quite sure what’s going to come out of it. I sit there with a guitar and thrash away, and usually very bad things come out at first, which I put aside and keep working. And then you get into a pure flow if you’re lucky, and start writing good stuff. That’s the idea anyway. So, you know, it’s kind of hard work because you have to face the fact that you might be, you know, every time I start into a writing spree, as it were, you’ve got to face the fact that maybe you haven’t got it anymore, you know what I’m saying? So it’s a kind of scary thing.

Q: Is it one of those “when it rains it pours” things? Like if you’re in a groove you might get maybe three good songs in a week, and then maybe a month’ll go by and everything’s crap?

A: Yes, it could be. I mean, what I usually do is start off with ideas that maybe I’ve scribbled down, which are basically just ideas to get me to actually sit down with a guitar, and when I start singing the phrases I realize they’re bad, they’re subpar. But they start me off somewhere. And it’s nearly always that way. Occasionally there’ll be a phrase or a song title that pops up which just takes my fancy, and that actually works and becomes a song. But it doesn’t usually become the song I thought it was going to be.
You know, you often think, Oh, this is a ballad, this is going to be an aching kind of love thing, and it turns out to be something else entirely. And once you’ve got there, then other ideas start springing up. It’s true. Sometimes it’s, Wow, where did those three songs come from. Boom. And then I’ll be struggling with one for a long time, with a riff or an idea that I’m just hammering away at, and sometimes it will actually turn into a song months and months later, and sometimes it will just lead to something else.
So the writing part is that, and the recording part is, that’s always a bit scary as well, because you’re going in there wondering if the songs will hold up. Will there be some terrible thing that the musicians are trying to play, and they don’t come out like anything? But luckily that’s never really happened. It happens with a few songs over the course of a career, but for the most part these days I have the songs that I’ve written pretty much down to a final draft by the time I get into the studio.
I like to do demos. I go to a small studio and record with me and a guitar and do some overdubs and I often have a few guitar parts, like lead guitar parts, keyboard parts, even bass parts, drum ideas, so I have that for the musicians and so it’s a very quick process for me, recording these days. The new album, Songs of No Consequence, that took nine days to record and mix. With the ProTools, the mixing is speeded up because if you’re doing it right you’re kind of mixing as you go along, and because it’s in a computer you don’t have to go back the next day and fiddle with all these knobs on the board, wondering what you had and why it isn’t as good. There’s drawbacks, because I think the computerized sound isn’t as good as tape. It hasn’t got what tape has got, but you know, as I say, we ain’t going back to vinyl any time soon, so you’ve got to kind of get with the program. And it certainly made this record go pretty quickly, I think.

Q: ProTools is certainly more efficient.

A: Yeah, it is pretty amazing what you can do. And The Figgs, the backing band on the record, they like to work fast. They recently released their own double album. And they know about not having a big budget and working quickly, because I come from the sort of school where you take two or three months to do albums. But it’s been a long time since I’ve done that. It’s unnecessary and the money isn’t around anymore, you know. That was back in the old days with the huge budgets that were basically a waste of money. But you only realize that in hindsight.
So there’s that part and performing. I do a lot of solo work these days which is very expansive for my material. I can have a large set list and just pick and choose, and if something isn’t going right and I go, Okay, better throw in an old favorite or a rocker here, you know. So that’s good. The flexibility of that is good.
We’re doing a larger tour with The Figgs and that’s always great as well, to promote a record with a band. Get out there and rock it a bit, you know. So it’s all got it’s aspects to it that are necessary, I think.

graham parker interview - part two
graham parker interview - part three

Friday, June 17, 2005

song of the day: the sadies' "loved on look"

In honor of their performance last night at New York's Pussycat Lounge, today's song of the day is The Sadies' "Loved On Look" from their 2001 Bloodshot album, Tremendous Effects.

Great set, guys.

Monday, June 13, 2005

wild bill cody

At work today someone said that, with my hair down, I looked like Wild Bill Cody.
I took it as a compliment.

Friday, June 10, 2005

book signings - 6/14 and 6/16

For those of you who reside in the tri-state area, I will be signing copies of The Catcher and The Starting Pitcher at Bloomingdale's next Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 2-4.

Tuesday, June 14
Hackensack, NJ

Thursday, June 16
White Plains, NY

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

james atkins - part five

Q: What did you do after you quit?

A: I went into the insurance business with Metropolitan. I did that for twenty years.

Q: Was that satisfying? Did you ever miss baseball?

A: Well, in 1958 I went down to Bessemer and pitched down there. I think the old boy gave me a $500 bonus to play amateur ball. And then they gave me $25 a game.

Q: Is this just a couple of days a week?

A: Just Sundays. When I quit down there, well then I was commissioner of Pony Leagues and fooled with Little Leagues and that kind of stuff. I spent all my time then, the next eight or ten years, fooling with Little Leagues and Pony Leagues.

But one Sunday I went down to Bessemer and we were playing Pleasant Grove, I believe it was. Had a bunch of young fellows on it. Pretty good ballplayers. And I pitched a doubleheader and both games got beat 20 something to 2 or 3. Well, it was getting towards the end of the year and we were going to the playoffs. We were going to play them for the championship. And they were yelling, Oh you old has-been, and this and that. And I said, Okay now. We’ll play this game according to old Jim. Went down on Sunday and beat them 5-1. We were tied 1-1 in the ninth inning and I hit a grand slam home run. I worked in the insurance business with one or two of the fellows and they never had anything to say about it anymore. I told them, We’re going to play this game according to old Jim. And I’d have them bent over and I’d knock them back and then I’d pitch it outside.

Q: Now were you superstitious at all when you were a ballplayer?

A: I think everybody is some. I wouldn’t say a lot.

Q: Did you have a good luck charm?

A: No, I think what I thought about just about every day was putting my left shoe on first. And even now I put my left shoe on first. It’s like in the winter time, when I’d come back and work for Reynolds Aluminum, and those old boys down there, they used to say, You can tell Mister Jim’s a Marine. He always leads off with the left foot.

Q: The Red Sox didn’t integrate until 1957 so you played on an all-white ballclub. Boston was the last team in the Majors to integrate.

A: It seems to me like that Piper Davis – a black fellow that worked out at Acipco and played ball out at Acipco when I was a kid – it seems to me like Piper Davis was signed by the Red Sox in the early fifties.

Q: That’s right, but they didn’t bring him up to the Majors. But how does Piper Davis come to play ball for Acipco?

A: Well, there was a black team and a white team. They had the black industrial league and the white industrial league.

Q: Was the Piper Davis team as good as the white industrial team?

A: Oh yeah. They had Artie Wilson, Piper and Sam Hairston.

Q: Did you ever go see the Black Barons play out at Rickwood?

A: Oh yeah. I liked to go because they had some showmanship to it. I went to go see the New Orleans team play when I was in New Orleans more than I went here in Birmingham. I used to like to go see the teams play, even at Acipco. They had their own ballfield, and when we went out there they had a white section and you’d go down there and sit in that white section, and really enjoy it.

Q: Do you have any regrets about your baseball career?

A: No. I had a no-hitter in the Coast League, pitched a doubleheader in the Texas League and had 10 2/3 innings of hitless relief at Birmingham in 1957 and led the American Association in wins in 1951 and had a .400 batting average in the big leagues. Somebody wanted an autograph and they were putting all about my pitching there – won none and lost one – and I wrote on the card, Why didn’t you say something about my .400 batting average?

Q: Do you watch much baseball on television now?

A: There are certain pitchers that I want to see pitch.

Q: Who do you like to watch?

A: Maddux, but the game is so dadburned slow. Now then, I pitched that doubleheader in the Texas League. The game started at 6:30 and at 9:41 those people were going out of the ballpark. I think one of them was an hour and a half and one of them was an hour and 29 minutes.

Q: Who else do you like to watch besides Maddux?

A: Johnson, and that big boy for the Yankees, Clemens. There are several of them that I like to see, but that’s about all I watch it for. I used to go out and see the Birmingham team play but I’d get so dadburn critical. I would go out there and the first game I watched the outfielders threw behind the runners three times and you know, just all that kind of stuff, and I just get so critical that I just can’t enjoy it.

Q: Do you talk to the television when you watch it?

A: No. I have my hopes for something to happen but I don’t talk to it. The only ones I holler at are my boys.


james atkins - part one
james atkins - part two
james atkins - part three
james atkins - part four

james atkins - part four

Q: Had you ever been to Boston before you joined the Red Sox?

A: No, I hadn’t. What it was – there was a woman who had a big old three or four story house and in the summertime she rented to ballplayers. In the wintertime she had the hockey players. Dropo and several of us ballplayers lived there so that made it fine. You didn’t have to spend a lot of time by yourself and you always had somebody with you to go eat.

Q: How long were you up that year to only get in one game?

A: We went into Philadelphia and I was supposed to pitch the second game of a doubleheader and we had rain for four or five days. But I honestly believe that in 1951 the Red Sox sent me out in a hurry. I went to Louisville and won 18 ballgames. And if I’m not mistaken, I had 17 complete games. I think that that year I could’ve won 10 or 12 for the Red Sox.

Q: Did you not have a good spring?

A: I don’t know what it was. But in 1952, when Boudreau came in, they were supposed to start the youth movement then and here I am 31 years old with no more experience than I have.

Q: Where did you start the season in 1952?

A: I went north with the team from Spring Training and started off the season.

Q: And you pitched in three games.

A: Two in Fenway and one in Yankee Stadium.

Q: And that was all at the beginning of the season. You started one game.

A: Against Washington.

Q: You had a good ERA. Why’d they send you down?

A: You’d have to tell me. Whenever I got sent out, right after pitching in Yankee Stadium, one of the writers from Boston wrote that it looked like Big Jim’s made a place for himself on the ballclub. Said I had the best earned run average and the best batting average. I was two for three in hitting. It came out in Sunday’s paper and the next day I was sent down. They told me I was going to Baltimore.

Q: That’s a strange thing. You pitched well.

A: Del Wilbur was the catcher that they got from the Phillies. I imagine that they had three or four ballplayers that the Phillies had a chance to get and if you’ve got a pitcher than won 18 ballgames in Triple A and you’ve got a chance to get him why then you say, Get me Atkins. I just figured that that’s what it was. That the Phillies had a chance to pick up some pitching and since I had won 18 games in 1951 then they took me.

Q: How did you find out you’d been traded?

A: Boudreau told me. I was in the hotel. It was in the morning before we even went to the ballpark.

Q: Were you upset?

A: Well, you’d be kindly perturbed, because we had that Walt Masterson, and when they sent me out, he faced 17 straight hitters and either walked them or they got a base hit off him.

Q: When did you know that your last Major League game is your last Major League game?

A: That night or the next morning.

Q: That soon? Didn’t you think that you’d get back to the big leagues?

A: Well, no. Because when I got back to Boston and talked with Cronin – he was the general manager – he never did say that they were going to bring me back or whatever, but then he never did say, Well, you’re going to be gone.

Q: Was this because of their supposed youth movement?

A: Well now, what it was – Boudreau started out with the young ballplayers, and they played pretty good ball. Then, whenever they started losing, then he wanted to start using Pesky and Stephens and Dropo and Birdie Tebbetts and all of those older ballplayers. Well, they hadn’t been playing so they were out of shape so they never got a chance to reach their peak at that time.

Q: So you were pretty sure that when you were sent down that that would be your last Major League game.

A: I didn’t give it too much thought but I didn’t think too much about going back because whenever they tell you that your contract’s been sold then you know you’re not on their roster anyway.

Q: How many more years did you play pro ball?

A: I quit at the end of 1957.

Q: Was the money good enough that baseball was your job and you could set a little aside?

A: I played as long as I was making the same money playing ball as I would at skilled labor. Now when I quit in 1957 – I forget what my salary was – I was 14 and 5.

Q: So you were still throwing well.

A: Well, I was second in winning percentage and second in earned runs.

Q: Where was this?

A: I was in Birmingham. And that was the year I had the 10 2/3 innings of hitless ball. I was a relief pitcher and Pesky was the manager and they were always asking Pesky when I was going to get to start, and he said, Well, probably never, because I was too valuable as a relief pitcher. I believe, in 1957, I had 192 innings pitched. That was mostly as a relief pitcher.

Q: You must have gone into almost every game.

A: Well, just about. I was the long relief man. Harry Nicholas was the short man and I was the set-up man, or whatever you want to call it, but he very seldom relieved me. I usually stuck out the ballgame when I went in. I just believe, with me the long man and Harry the short man, that that was probably as good or better relief pitching that the Southern League has ever seen.

Q: So what made you retire? Did you think you could make more money outside baseball?

A: No, Jimmy, my oldest son, was 10 and my other son was 4 or 5 and I just figured that with them getting that age, and one thing and another, that I needed to be around. So I just quit.

james atkins - part one
james atkins - part two
james atkins - part three
james atkins - part five

james atkins - part three

Q: And after you’re discharged, which way do you go then?

A: Well, I got my old job back at Stockham for a while, and I talked with them about changing me from the job I had. You could walk in off of the street and in thirty-five or forty minutes do it as well as I did. See, then, being skilled labor, being an electrician or a machinist, was the future. And they had an apprenticeship program. So I kindly gave them an ultimatum that if they didn’t change my job in a week or two – I forget now what it was – well, then I was going to leave. Then this one Friday, just a minute or two before we left, the foreman came by me. His name was Gag Merrill. He was a fine fellow, a good man. And I said, Gag, have you heard anything about them changing my job? He said, No, but I’ll run up and see. And he came back in two or three minutes and he said, No, Bud. Everybody who knew me around Birmingham called me Buddy or Bud. He came back and said, No, Bud. They haven’t heard anything. And I took the machine there that I was running, and I said, Now, Gag. I’m not being disrespectful or anything else, but do you think this is a good job? He said, Yeah, Bud. This is a good job. You can make money. I said, Well, if you think it’s a good job then take it and stick it somewhere. And at four minutes after eleven I hit the clock.

Q: If you hadn’t quit that job, would you have ever played pro ball?

A: If they had given me the apprenticeship then I would’ve stayed there.

Q: What makes you want to stay there instead of going to Spring Training with the White Sox?

A: Well, I was past twenty-five. And back then, by thirty or thirty-five everybody was quitting. And I just figured that it wouldn’t work out.

Mr. Dick Stockham called me at my mother and daddy’s house and told me that if I’d come back then they’d change my job and give me an apprenticeship, but I said, No, Mr. Stockham, I’ve quit. But I would like to make one request, and he said, What’s that? And I said, I would like to pitch for you until we play Acipco. I’d like to beat Acipco, and then I’ll quit. He said, You can stay as long as you want and pitch as much as you can.

I pitched against Acipco on a Saturday, seven or eight innings, and beat them, and the next Wednesday, I believe it was, I got a call from south Alabama. And it was a fellow who had quit Stockham and had started selling and south Alabama was his territory. I forget now what he was selling. But he called and told me that Geneva, Alabama had a ballclub and why I didn’t come down there and try out. This was in the Alabama State League. He said, Come on down. They’ll pay your way. Well, I put all my fishing equipment in, put the boat motor in the car, and took off down there expecting them to pay my expenses and I figured I’d just drive on to Florida and do some fishing. And I got down there and they were playing ball in Greenville and the vice president of the club and his wife took me over there. Well, the next morning they worked out so I went out and threw about four or five pitches for batting practice, and the manager called time and came in there and said, Are you ready to sign? He asked me what I wanted. And I told him. He said, Well, let me go talk to New Orleans, so they signed me and that night I relief pitched four innings of hitless ball.

Anyway, I signed June the 3rd and the season was over September the 1st and I had twenty wins and five losses. And I told the manager, Chuck Holly, I said, Now Chuck, I’ve been in the Marine Corps four years and I’m grown man. Now if you want me to pitch, just ask me, and if I think I’m able I’ll pitch.

Everybody else was singing those dirty songs on the bus but Chuck would sing “The Lord’s Prayer” and one thing and another. He lived in Boston. After I got to the Red Sox, Chuck came by and got me one time and took me out to his place and said, Jim, I want to thank you. And I said, For what? He said, Well, I got a job with the Braves scouting, and I used you as an example of who I’d signed, and with the money they paid me I went to law school. I’ve never seen anybody be so grateful.

Q: So where do you go after Geneva?

A: New Orleans.

Q: And how long do you play for New Orleans?

A: 1947, 1948 and part of 1949. In 1949 they traded me and Red Mathis, a catcher, to Birmingham for Pete Modica.

Q: Are you happy to be back in Birmingham?

A: Oh yeah.

Q: Are the Barons affiliated with a Major League club at the time?

A: Yeah, the Red Sox.

Q: So the Red Sox got first dibs on you since that was the Barons’ affiliation.

A: And they bought me from Birmingham. I was under contract to Birmingham and they bought me from Birmingham.

Q: When they buy your contract from Birmingham, you get a raise for becoming a big league player but do you get any kind of bonus when your contract is sold?

A: Oh yeah, you get a big league contract. I had it when I signed that I get so much a month and, I believe, it was 20% of my sales price.

Q: Is it the end of the season when you go to Boston? You pitch one game for the Red Sox in 1950.

A: Yeah. I went in in relief and faced Hal Keller. Do you know King Kong Keller of the Yankees? It was his brother, Hal. I had two strikes on him and usually a left-handed hitter won’t hit a high pitch but I threw one up over his head and he tomahawked that thing for a home run.

Q: That was the only home run you ever gave up in the Major Leagues. Did he hit it over the wall at Fenway?

A: No, he hit it in the bullpen out there in right center. You don’t think about a left-hander being a highball hitter. They might be a highball drinker but you look for them to be a lowball hitter.

Q: What else did you throw besides a fastball?

A: Well, I had a knuckleball. The last pitch that I threw in the Major Leagues was a knuckleball to Yogi Berra and he popped it out to the shortstop. I use that as my chief claim to fame.

Q: Did you throw anything else?

A: A little piece of a curve. I threw a screwball but that was later in my career.

Q: Now who taught you the knuckleball?

A: Me.

Q: Could you control it at all? You walked eleven guys in the Majors and only struck out two. That sounds like you might’ve been throwing the knuckler.

A: Well, I didn’t realize I was all that wild but I guess I was.

Q: You’re older than the average rookie when you get there. Did they treat you like a rookie?

A: You couldn’t get treated any better. Dom DiMaggio, Stephens, Pesky and Bobby Doerr, Mel Parnell and Ellis Kinder. They’d go out to eat and say, Hey Jim, come go with us, and all like that. No, you couldn’t beat them for being friends.

Q: Since you are a little older than most rookies, and you’ve already played with Ted Williams, do you feel like you belong there when you get into the clubhouse for the first time or are you still a little bit in awe?

A: Well, I don’t think anybody could walk in there and say, I belong. Steve O’Neill was the manager and I didn’t know whether to call him Mr. O’Neill or whatever. But I don’t believe anybody could just walk in and say, I’m really part of the ballclub.

james atkins - part one
james atkins - part two
james atkins - part four
james atkins - part five

james atkins - part two

Q: So you actually had a scout look at you when you were thirteen. Did you listen to pro ballgames on the radio?

A: Back at that time they didn’t have radio broadcasts. Back then when they only had sixteen teams you knew about all the ballplayers, their batting averages, win-loss percentage and everything else.

Q: Did you find out from the newspaper?

A: I did then but I don’t take the paper now so I don’t keep up with it too good.

Q: Did you have a favorite team or a favorite player?

A: No, not that I can remember. Just all of it, like I say. You just noticed it.

Q: You had a scout look at you when you were thirteen and you were obviously too young. When do the scouts start looking at you again?

A: Well, in 1941. I talked to them all along but in 1941 a scout for Detroit by the name of Eddie Goosetree – he was out at Stockham; I was working and playing for Stockham then – and one day the shortstop didn’t show up so I talked to the manager and told him to let me play it and it was one of those days where everything I did worked out. I went over in the hole and threw them out and got three or four hits and all like that. And that night Eddie Goosetree talked me into getting on a train the next day and going to Detroit for a tryout. I was at Detroit when they signed Dick Wakefield. Jack Zeller, the general manager, told me, Well, you can’t make it at shortstop, which I knew, but Zeller signed me as a pitcher.

Anyway, then Zeller asked me what I wanted to sign. I told him I wanted a new car and his hat. Well, he gave me the hat and told me to go to Texarkana and if I stayed down there for thirty days or so he’d send me the money for a car.

Well, I got down there and I had a girlfriend back home and I was in love and all like that and not old enough to sign a contract and my dad didn’t sign it so I came on back home. I had one win and one loss and two hits in six at-bats, one of them a home run. But, anyway, I came back and went in the service.

Q: Tell me about your dad not signing the contract. Why wouldn’t he sign it?

A: What he didn’t particularly care about was me having to stay for thirty days to get the money. But the way things worked out, I think I might’ve called him and told him not to sign it because one of the lesser people in the organization told me they had a check for me in the office and the man in the office said, No, we don’t have anything, so that’s when I called my dad and told him. Back then Detroit had 95 or 100 ballplayers with improper signings and so I told him not to and I came on home.

Q: So you played for Detroit’s farm team but you never signed with them.

A: That’s right.

Q: And then you went in the service. What year was that?

A: 1942.

Q: Did you sign up or were you drafted?

A: I signed. I was in the Marine Corps. I didn’t get to play ball. When I was stationed on Guam there was ten or twelve of us who got together – no uniforms, no catcher’s equipment, maybe two or three bats and not many gloves – and we started playing the different teams around. And we’d go there and they’d lend us catcher’s equipment and gloves and a bat or two. Well, one of the men there with us was coming home and he went through Honolulu. Pearl Harbor was down there and he told them that he thought I was a pretty good ballplayer. The Army had moved out and the Navy was moving in with ballclubs. Joe August was the fellow’s name and he told them he thought I was a good ballplayer and could help.

And it just so happened that I had a big party arranged on Sunday morning. I’d managed to get beer and whiskey and had about twenty or twenty-five men from Birmingham coming up. I had six stripes. I was a sergeant. And I had the NCO Club all set up and the people started coming in about 11:30 and about that time an MP showed up and said, Hey, Jim. Sergeant Major wants to see you. And I said, Tell him I’ll be over there after while. No, he said, he wants to see you now. So I went over there and he said, Well, I don’t know what it is, Jim, but they want me to put you on a plane at 1:30 and send you to Honolulu.

Well, I was engineering chief in a C-47 out there and they were phasing them out and letting China have them and I said, Oh heck, here it is. I’m going to China. But I got down there and went into the airport and everybody was all starched and everything and I had my old combat shoes on, you know, and old dungarees and my shirt hadn’t seen an iron in eighteen or twenty months, but they told me when I got down there to find a Marine MP and tell him who I was, so I ran up on one and told him who I was, and he jumped up, Yes, Sergeant. We’ve been waiting on you. And there again, I thought, Here it comes. China. Anyway, they had a jeep waiting for me, and ran me out to the Ewa airfield about thirty miles away, and when we got to the main building I told them who I was and they said, Yeah, Sergeant. We’ve been waiting on you.

They had another jeep there and so they took me down to the mess hall and they had tomatoes, milk, sandwiches. And they had mayonnaise for them, you know. I hadn’t seen any of this in fifteen or eighteen months. Anyway, they made me a couple of sandwiches and took me across the street, put me in a barracks that had hot water which I hadn’t seen in some time and I must’ve stayed in the shower forty-five minutes. But I went in and went to sleep and the next morning somebody was shaking me gently. Sergeant? You ready to go eat? And I still have China in the back of my mind. I said, Yeah, so we went across the street to the mess hall and they had eggs and bacon and ham. And it was all just like they were having something to really sell me on going somewhere, you know?

Anyway, I ate and the driver, the fellow that took me down to the main office down there, was a Marine gunner. That was the highest office that an enlisted man could get to. His name was Barry. Gunner Barry. I got down there and he said, Jim, welcome to Honolulu. So I said, Sir, my time was up down south. I’m ready to go back to the States. He said, Well, we’re getting up a ballclub. And if you’ll stay, you can go home anytime you say. So I said, Okay, and I stayed there about five or six months. One night they said the war was over and the next morning I was over in his office and that afternoon I was onboard a ship coming back to the States.

Q: How was the quality of baseball in the service?

A: I’d say it’d be A or Double A. Gosh, on our ballclub we had Bob Kennedy and Ted Williams. Ted Lyons was our manager and pitched a little bit.

Q: So you were on a team with Ted Williams before you got to the Red Sox.

A: Yeah. Across the whole league you had Pesky and Dee Miles and all of the fellows that were in the Navy out there. I know there were two or three fellows from Birmingham. Luman Harris was out there. They knew I’d been down south and wouldn’t have to go back. It made me feel bad because Dee Miles and Luman and all those fellows that I knew back in Birmingham were just scared to death that they were going to be shipped down south. I really felt sorry for them because I knew that I wouldn’t have to go back. It was a good league. We played two or three times a week, but the difference would be being in shape. In pro ball you try to stay in shape a little better.

Q: So you get discharged when the war is over.

A: December the 10th is when I got discharged. I had played ball for Ted Lyons out there and Ted was offering me to get a contract with the White Sox. As a matter of fact, I got a Christmas card where he sent the terms and everything, but when I was home on leave I met the woman who would be my wife. And I was in love again. I was planning on getting discharged out there on the West Coast and going to Spring Training with the White Sox.

Q: Do you come all the way home?

A: Well, I went to North Carolina to get discharged.

james atkins - part one
james atkins - part three
james atkins - part four
james atkins - part five

james atkins - boston red sox - 1950, 1952

October 16, 2001

Cullman, Alabama

James Atkins pitched 4 2/3 innings in 1950 and another 10 1/3 in 1952 for the Boston Red Sox for a total of 15 career Major League innings. In those 15 innings he gave up 15 hits, walking 11 while striking out two. His record was 0-1 over 4 games with a career ERA of 3.60.

Q: Tell me where you grew up and when you first started playing baseball.

A: I grew up in Acipco and we played Y ball. I guess I was nine or ten years old, and I played there until I got sixteen and at sixteen I started playing in the men’s league there in Birmingham, with Ball Paley Grocery in North Birmingham.

Q: Where’s Acipco?

A: It’s still there where it was to start with. It’s a big plant there on the north side of Birmingham as you’re coming up I-65.

Q: Did your father work for Acipco?

A: No, he was a railroad man. There used to be the Acipco School, but there’s a vacant lot there now.

Q: But if they had an Acipco School then most of your classmates’ fathers worked for that plant.

A: Most of them, yeah.

Q: When you’re nine or ten years old and you’re playing Y ball, are you the best player on the team?

A: Well, now we had several good ballplayers. I guess I was one of the best. We had Tom Hutto, a catcher that played pro ball, then we had a boy in the outfield, Jack Wayne, and he played some pro ball. There were three or four fellows on there that played pro ball.

Q: So I imagine your team won a lot.

A: Oh yeah. When I started out with them I was a third baseman, then the boy that pitched the games for us broke his arm and I took over and started pitching. I doubt that I lost more than three games the whole time. Back then we’d go out there and play scrub ball until the game started, then we’d play the game, and then start back in scrub ball. The plant at Acipco – of course they had a senior team and a junior team and then we were put out there – they kept the ballfield, and I guess they had a regular crew that worked the tennis courts and the senior ball diamond and the junior ball diamond, and I imagine that they did the work on the fields as well as they had out at Rickwood. We would go out there and play and it was all lined off and everything, then when we’d get through playing we’d have a locker at the Y. We’d go down there and they’d give us a towel and a bar of soap and furnish all the bats and balls and all like that and, of course back then, during the Depression, not many of us had shoes to wear. We’d play barefoot and all like that.

Q: When you’re a kid, are you playing other sports in addition to baseball?

A: Basketball.

Q: You’re a tall man.

A: I was then. I was the center. I was 6’ 3”. I’ve got a clipping over there where we beat a team 70-1.

Q: Were you as good at basketball as you were at baseball?

A: Well, I scored pretty good. We had one fellow that was usually the high scorer but I’d be in there about the second or third scorer in every ball game.

Q: Did you like baseball better than basketball?

A: Oh yeah. Well, I tell you the truth. I was thirteen and the man that managed our ballclub, his brother was Clay Bryant that pitched in the high minors. In 1938 he was with the Cubs and won twenty ballgames. Now our manager was supposed to have been a better ballplayer but he threw his arm out. But he got in touch with Bruce Hayes in New Orleans, and we went over to the ballfield at Acipco, and I was just going to warm up, so to speak, and the guard came out there and chased us off so we went over to the schoolground to try to throw some, and the principal of the school came out there and chased us off and so the man found out then that I was thirteen, and he said, Well, I’ll come back and see you when you’re sixteen.

james atkins - part two
james atkins - part three
james atkins - part four
james atkins - part five

Monday, June 6, 2005

one more cup of coffee

Between October 2001 and the summer of 2002 I travelled the country - Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin - interviewing former pitchers whose entire major league career lasted less than 50 innings.
I doubt that any writing project will provide as much pleasure as visiting with these men and listening to their stories.

Eighteen of these interviews were collected in Cup of Coffee: The Very Short Careers of Eighteen Major League Pitchers

But over that period of time I interviewed over 30 short-term major leaguers.
The tales left out of Cup of Coffee were as compelling as those that were included, but eighteen was more than enough for a book, and I wanted to touch on as many generations, experiences, and teams as space would allow.
It is my intention to post many of the remaining unpublished Cup of Coffee interviews here.

First out of the chute will be James Atkins.
Mr Atkins pitched a total of 15 innings for the Boston Red Sox in 1950 and 1952 (for those wanting more specific statistical information on Mr Atkins' major league career, I'm including a link to his page at the wonderful website

Sunday, June 5, 2005

wasted days and wasted nights

All hail the prescient Freddy Fender who turned 68 on Saturday, June 4, 2005.
Born Baldemar Huerta to a family of migrant laborers, Fender, who adopted his surname from the headstock of his guitar, had two consecutive number one country singles, "Before The Next Teardrop Falls" and "Wasted Days And Wasted Nights" in 1975.

This past Wednesday, while I was interviewing 33 1/3 Series editor David Barker (check the home page for a link to David's 33 1/3 blog) in the Continuum Books conference room overlooking Madison Square Park, and pretty soon after I had taken great pains to extol the virtues of recording interviews with an iPod (with a Griffin iTalk), David noticed that the iPod screen was static.
"Hm," I said, and once again pressed Record.
For some unknown reason the iPod would only operate in two minute intervals. Somewhere around 00:02:03 on the counter, the machine would simply stop.
I kept a watchful eye for the rest of the proceedings and David did his best to answer my questions in under 120 seconds.

The iPod worked fine on my subway ride home. I listened to some Led Zeppelin IV (I was reading the 33 1/3 effort on that album at the time) followed by a bootleg of Paul Westerberg and His Only Friends in Louisville.
Then, right before I reached my stop, the iPod quit again.
I thought it might be a faulty recording of the live show, so I pulled up a studio album, The Smiths' Meat Is Murder, hit Select, and began to panic when absolutely nothing happened.

Things got worse at home. iTunes wouldn't recognize my iPod after I locked it in its cradle. Then the computer began acting up, refusing to even load properly (no desktop icons).
The New York Stock Exchange was forced to close four minutes early on Wednesday because of a technical malfunction in the computer bank, and I held out hope that the moon and stars were out of alignment, or perhaps some worldwide, one-day-only computer virus had launched an attack.

I took in pages upon pages of Help instructions from the iPod manual and website. I Reset the iPod. I made promises I knew I wouldn't keep if only the little machine would come back to life.
No luck.

My Beloved wanted to attend the pre-opening of the Lee Friedlander exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. We went. I maneuvered through crowds, soaked in photography, and tried not to think about my iPod, how screwed I would be if the thing refused to resurrect itself.

When we returned home from the Friedlander show I was sorely disappointed to see that little iPod elves (distant cousins of the little shoemaker elves of lore) had not visited in our absence.
The iPod screen alternated between the Reset Apple icon and the devastatingly abrupt Folder with Exclamation Point.
In the throes of desperation I followed instructions to Restore, effectively wiping out the hard drive (including that day's interview) and attempted to begin my iPod life again.

Around 2:30 Thursday morning my playlist finished its update. I ejected the iPod and tested the Record function. The counter reached 00:02:23 before I concluded that all was well again in my little iPod World.

Later that morning, after the sun was up, David Barker graciously offered another interview. That afternoon I went to Shea Stadium to research a music/baseball piece on the Arizona Diamondbacks. I interviewed Lance Cormier, Chris Snyder and Matt Kata. I listened to Pearl Jam's Ten on the 7 train out to Willets Point and Dylan's Blood On The Tracks on the ride back. The iPod worked fine.

Back at home the computer loaded, iTunes launched and my clubhouse interviews with the Diamondbacks (tucked away in Voice Memos) were successfully sucked out of my iPod. I renamed the files.
And then everything went to hell one more time.

Long story short: once again the computer refused to recognize my iPod. By Saturday morning, despite spending the night in the docking station, the iPod had completely lost its charge. The screen was blank. So after wrestling with it for hours on Wednesday night, followed by a repeat performance Thursday night, I spent Saturday morning trying to avoid the warranty sales pitch that occurs when you call the iPod service center.
I now wait for an Apple-approved shipping container to arrive so I might return the cause of my sleepless anxiety.