Wednesday, August 31, 2005

song of the day: professor longhair's "ball the wall"

News reports over the past couple days suggest that the Crescent City is little more than a watery hell. And that it'll be a good long time, if at all, before New Orleans will even be recognizable again.

So here's to better days. From his New Orleans Piano) album, the incomparable Professor Longhair.

God bless the Gulf Coast.

Friday, August 26, 2005

seven days

In the past seven days I've interviewed Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters (at 6 a.m. - he was in Munich), Rivers Cuomo of Weezer (12:30 p.m. - he was in London), former major league shortstops Daryl Spencer and Don Buddin (Kansas and South Carolina respectively) and Wrecking Crew author John Albert (L.A.).

Which may explain why I'm tired.
And why I haven't had a chance to look at the Madeleine Peyroux piece (who is not only no longer missing, but alive and well and fighting her record company from New York City).

Sunday, August 21, 2005

paradise lost

Well, not actually paradise per se, but nonetheless the vacation is over.

While away, Phoenix New Times reprinted the 33 1/3 piece, I celebrated yet another birthday, finished Mary Karr's The Liar's Club, Stanley Booth's True Adventures of the Rolling Stones, John Albert's Wrecking Crew, Greil Marcus' Like A Rolling Stone and Jim Fusilli's Pet Sounds, got a little sun and learned that Madeleine Peyroux had gone missing.

I'd thought about Ms. Peyroux recently because Birthday 2004, owing to unusual family circumstances, was spent with Madeleine in Brooklyn's Prospect Park in preparation for an East Bay Express feature. Her Careless Love album was about a month away from release date. What a difference a year makes.

Though next week's schedule looks very hairy indeed (details at a later date), my intention is to look over my interview with Ms. Peyroux and get it posted in the near future.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

radio, radio

(almost) back from vacation with a full week to look forward to, including two Baseball Behind the Seams interviews on radio.
On Tuesday, August 23 I'll be on KERA FM in Dallas for thirty minutes beginning at 1:30 PM Central, and on Friday I'll be taping an interview with Orlando Magic GM Pat Williams for his Sunday morning show on 740 The Team.

Monday, August 15, 2005

a conversation with buddy miller

Last year I interviewed Buddy Miller for a Cleveland Scene feature a little more than a week before the Sweet Harmony Traveling Review – a month long tour featuring Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Patty Griffin and Buddy – played it first summer gig, and just about six weeks before the release of Buddy's Universal United House of Prayer.
I’d been a fan ever since my friend Will Blythe made a recommendation several years back. In fact, I even bought Buddy’s first four discs (Your Love and Other Lies, Poison Love, Cruel Moon and Midnight and Lonesome) with money from my own pocket – a statement as large as Lyle Lovett’s band if you know anything about the amount of free discs and equally low pay music writers receive. Each has been well worth it.
The excellent photo of the self-deprecating Mr. Miller was taken by Nashville photographer Thomas Petillo (thanks Thomas).
I spoke with Buddy Miller on August 4, 2004.

Q: It’s a pleasure to talk to you.

A: Yeah, likewise. I’m sorry. I’m just driving in the car on the way someplace, but if that’s okay with you it’s great by me.

Q: That’s fine. You’re not going to put yourself at risk, right?

A: Um, no more than usual.

Q: Okay, good. I’d just rather not do Buddy Miller’s last interview.

A: I hope I can be of some help to you on this thing. I’m not very good at the interview.

Q: Well, I read that you didn’t like talking on the phone but it seems like everybody else has gone into hiding and left you with the chore. Sorry about that.

A: Yeah, I know that people are in the studio and Dave and Gill I think are in Europe, so here I am. You’re stuck with me.

Q: Let me ask you a couple of quick questions that I haven’t heard you talk about in other interviews. You’re born when and where?

A: I was born in Fairborn, Ohio in 1952.

Q: Okay. I know you spent time in Texas and I know you spent time in New Jersey and I know you spent time in New York and California, but you grew up in Ohio.

A: No, I was born in Ohio. My father was in the Air Force, and so we moved around. I was born in Fairborn, outside of Yellow Springs, and then he moved to Annapolis and he was working at the Naval Academy, and then we moved to Pennsylvania and then to New Jersey.

Q: And New Jersey’s around the time of high school?

A: Yeah, kind of where you grow up, I guess.

Q: Do you have older siblings?

A: No, I’m the oldest.

Q: Are either of your parents musical?

A: No.

Q: So where do you learn about music? If you’re the oldest and your parents aren’t musical, where do you learn what to like?

A: Well, that’s a good question. I just think some people are just drawn to it, and I was apparently drawn to it when I was just crawling around and probably couldn’t speak. I was told that I just loved music, and I think they had a record player and there was a radio, and it’s just kind of what grabbed my attention and still does.

Q: Do you remember the first record you ever bought with your own money?

A: Um, well you know, I think I was too young to have my own money because I was a tiny little kid, but that "Flying Purple People Eaters" song. It might’ve been that or it might’ve been the Everlys. I don’t know what it was but, I mean, I was a tiny little kid and I liked that song.

Q: I think when I was five I had a copy of "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy" by the Ohio Express, so I can appreciate that a young child might have the Flying Purple People Eaters song.

A: Yeah. I mean, it actually had a pretty cool groove to it. At least it still does in my mind.

Q: First guitar?

A: Uh, the first guitar I remember, I had one little nylon string generic guitar, but then I got an electric guitar, which is what I wanted, and the first one was a Zimgar.

Q: And about how old are you?

A: Uh, nine maybe. Ten. I don’t know.

Q: Is that like a birthday present? Christmas present? Or are you just a good kid and you deserve things?

A: I think it was a birthday present. It was. My first good guitar came several years later.

Q: But you’re in a band by the time you’re 15, 16 years old?

A: I think younger than that. As soon as I could play I wanted to play with people, because it just makes more noise. And then as soon as I could get an electric guitar, which is what I wanted, I wanted to make as much noise as we could, so yeah we were in the garage and in the basement. Probably more like 12 and 13.

Q: So it only takes you 30 years of playing guitar and playing in bands to become an overnight sensation.

A: Now don’t make fun of me now.

Q: I’m not making fun of you.

A: No, I know. I’m just kidding. Yeah, I guess I just don’t have a whole lot of focus maybe. I don’t know. I moved around a whole lot. I think that doesn’t help.

Q: I also heard somebody say that you were going to end up being a star in spite of yourself, as if maybe you had added to the resistance, or hadn’t really been interested in that kind of thing.

A: Well, I just like to play. I never really had a lot of - I don’t know if you’d call it drive or whatever, but the ambition to like be a star. I just love playing, and would move around to just get into different places where there was a lot of playing. I ended up in Austin that way. That’s where I met Julie. We played in a band together.

Q: And how long did you play with Jim Lauderdale? I mean, I know you’re still working with him and stuff, but about how long were you Jim Lauderdale’s guitar player?

A: I want to think it was maybe six years. Something like that. I’m not sure. I met Jim way before that. We were good friends when we were both living in New York in like 1980. We’ve had bands and run parallel paths and played together, so I’ve known Jim for quite a while.

Q: And then like eight or nine years with Emmylou?

A: Eight, yeah.

Q: You’re likely the most visible player of Wandre guitars. Can you tell me about the sound of the Wandre and why you like it? I mean, I know that Teles sound thin and Les Pauls sound fat, but can you tell me why you like the sound of the Wandre?

A: Well, it’s actually a pretty versatile sounding guitar. It can sound a little Tele-like, a little Strat-like, but it has its own sound to it. Really, the Wandres are just a big mess. But they’re like your favorite old shirt that has too many holes in it, you know, but you’ve had for 15 years. It has the elbows, your arm’s coming through, and it just doesn’t even look good in anybody’s eye anymore, but you can’t stop wearing it. And that’s the way it is with me. I’m just so comfortable with them. I’ve got a lot of good guitars by now, you know. I didn’t used to. When I first started playing with Emmylou I pretty much just had the Wandres and one or two other things, but now I’ve got a lot of, really, what you’d think of as good guitars, but all my hand feels comfortable on are those Wandres.

Q: How’s the neck? The Fender neck is thinner than a Gibson neck. Where, on that scale, is the Wandre?

A: It’s like big and chunky and the fingerboard is flat. It’s an Italian guitar. The fingerboard is completely flat, which isn’t really that comfortable, and it’s kind of deep and the back of the neck is plastic, or plastic-covered aluminum I guess. I don’t even know. It’s a mess and it’s sort of got a lot of plastic in it, so that means it breaks a lot and you’ve got to dump some glue in it but then it’s still got that same feel of your favorite old shirt.

Q: Does it still have original pickups?

A: Oh, it’s got original everything except the strings.

Q: How does this Sweet Harmony tour come about, and what’s the format like? Is there going to be a band or is this just going to be interchangeable acoustic part for a couple hours?

A: Well, I think Patty is going to have a band. Outside of that I’m not really sure what’s going to happen. We haven’t rehearsed yet, and actually we haven’t even talked about it all together yet. And I don’t know when we’re going to. We’re supposed to rehearse like a day or two before we go out, so really I could safely say we don’t know what we’re doing. But it’s going to be great. I mean, I’d pay a lot of money just to go and listen to those three girls every night.

Q: You’re the only male who gets billing.

A: Well, there’s Dave Rawlings. I guess we get our own dressing room is how I look at it.

Q: Any idea how many people this is going to end up being? I mean, there’s five as far as front people, and if Patty brings a band that’s four more. You’ve got to have a crew. Are we talking about fifteen people on this trip?

A: That sounds about right. I don’t know. I’m not sure what all we’ve got. I mean, really we haven’t been able to get together. I know that the crew people have talked among themselves, but we’re getting together next week and we’re going to sit around and play some songs and see what happens.

Q: And figure out, All right, you do three and then I’ll do three and then we’ll do two together? That kind of logistical work.

A: That’s my guess, but who knows? And you know what? I think it’s going to be sort of an evolving. It might be something one night, and it could be something else another night. I hope.

Q: Well, that’s the way you do it. That’s the way Emmylou does it. I haven’t seen, I think those are the only two shows that I’ve seen, but ya’ll change set lists from night to night.

A: Oh yeah. And I like surprises.

Q: I read where someone called you “a country Richard Thompson.” Is that a comfortable label? Do you recognize a county Richard Thompson in the mirror when you go to shave in the morning? Or does that just feel weird.

A: I certainly take that as a compliment. And I think being called country as a compliment. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m a Richard Thompson fan. Who wouldn’t be?

Q: You’re right there. Are your parents Southern?

A: No.

Q: Where does your voice come from? And I know that’s an impossible question, but can you give it a shot?

A: I don’t know. I don’t know. When I open up my mouth that’s what it kind of sounds like. I guess just listening to the music I listen to.

Q: I know you play some blues-styled material, and I know that country’s not what country used to be, but I don’t see really how you can sing lead on a song and it not be a country song by the end. Is it all right if I feel that way?

A: I don’t necessarily think that way. I just think I’m singing a song, but I think my wife thinks that way. That’s why she doesn’t want me singing on most of her songs. She thinks it starts sounding too country, and that’s why she doesn’t let me sing that much on her records.

Q: But it’s a good country. It’s like the honky tonk wing of country.

A: Well, that’s the music I love. Or a lot of it. I love all kinds of music. I could go to a bluegrass festival one weekend and then the next weekend I went to Woodstock. And then I’d go to the Fillmore all the time. I liked it all.

Q: Is there any type of music that you’d rather not listen to? What about jazz? Classical? Is there anything that you’re not interested in musically?

A: No, I’ve got respect for most all of it. And there’s some jazz I listen to, although I’m not allowed to around the house during waking hours. Julie and I, we don’t see eye to eye on all music, but there’s a big point of intersection for us. I don’t listen to that much music. If I do it’s usually really old stuff.
I have a big collection of music, and I take that collection of music with me but I don’t keep up with much of what’s new, in almost any genre. I should a little bit more. I do hear some things that I really like.

Q: Well, if you’re like me, sometimes when you’re surrounded by musicians it’s like a full-time job just listening to the music that your friends were making. And you have a moral obligation to listen to your friends’ CD when they bring you a copy.

A: Right.

Q: And so there’s not a lot of time to listen to anything else. I would guess you’re close to being in that situation, aren’t you?

A: Yeah, and I do get to listen to all my friends’ music and that’s a lot of what I listen to. And I do try to keep up with things too. I do listen to a fair amount of music actually, and I listen to a lot on the road, but when I’m home I try to work on it.

Q: Well, tell me about the road music. Do you take a CD player? An MP3 player?

A: I’m an iPod guy.

Q: For how long?

A: Well, since they came out with them, I guess. I got that first generation.

Q: You produce, you write, you play guitar, you have your own recording career, you work with all these other people. Do you need all of that? Could you do just one thing? Could you be just Buddy Miller, guitar player? Or could you just be Buddy Miller, songwriter? Are there any of those that you could let go?

A: Well, I love playing live. That might be my favorite thing to do, but I love it all. Working in the studio, it’s a different kind of being creative. And it’s harder. And I enjoy the challenge, but just playing live usually feels so good that that’s something I want to do as long as I can get away with it.

Q: You once said that you’d play with Emmylou forever unless she fired you. Do you still feel that way?

A: Yeah, are you kidding me?

Q: I’m just asking. I was talking to David Sanborn, and he’s played with everybody it seems like. And he was talking about being onstage with Eric Clapton and Clapton’s playing Layla and just kind of having one of those moments of realization. You still get that with Emmylou, right?

A: Every night that I have that voice in my monitor. Yeah, I get that with Emmylou, and I’ll play with her as long as she wants me there.

Q: You’ve got a new record (Universal United) coming out soon. Are you excited about it?

A: Yeah, I’m actually happy with some of it. I mean, I won’t listen to it, but I feel pretty good about a lot of it. It’s got a theme to it and I think it holds up.

Q: So you’re not ready to go back and listen to it quite yet.

A: You know, I heard enough of it when I was working on it. Usually I’ll end up hearing it about a year later. And then hopefully it’s okay.

Q: Just to give yourself some distance and some objectivity.

A: Yeah, my whole goal in making a record is to make something that doesn’t make me cringe a year later.

Q: Are you still not as comfortable in the studio as a performer as you are onstage?

A: No, that’s just not what I do.

Q: What about as a session player, a musician on someone else’s record?

A: At my own place I’m fairly comfortable, but I’m not one of those guys that can have a 10, a 2 and a 6. With every note I play I feel like I’m ruining somebody’s career. And it makes me sweat too much. I’d just as soon, you know, do the things I do. I don’t think that’s one of them. There’s a lot of guys that are amazing at that.

Q: When’s the last time you had a vacation, Buddy?

A: It’s all a vacation. It’s one big vacation.

Q: Okay, let me ask this a different way. When’s the last time you didn’t touch the guitar for a week?

A: Well, I don’t know, but why would I want to do that?


Thursday, August 11, 2005

random thoughts (thursday)

lots of new interview material posted.

if the last three weekends are any indication, long about Saturday morning the New York Times will run a feature on a relatively young woman who writes about her sex life in her blog. or a relatively young woman who writes about her sex life in her blog which is read by her employer who fires the relatively young woman (ostensibly because she recognizes too much of her own past life as a relatively young, sexually active woman).
and, of course, everyone involved is on the verge of signing a book/movie deal.
because, really, all they ever wanted to be was a writer.

see what you started, Kathryn Harrison?

yep, the NYT - the official "technology" voyeur of the 2012 non-New York Olympic Games.

I am neither young (I will turn Hank Aaron's number in exactly one week) nor female. and I'm not so much an exhibitionist either.
what price fame?

here's what drives me, my blog (at least for the moment):
yesterday, one block away from the day job, waiting for the light to change, I was shat upon by a bird.
yes, I'm well aware that this is supposed to represent good luck, but I would rather not start my day scrubbing my khakis with paper towels in the men's room.
I leave for vacation in approx 16 hours. this stresses me beyond explanation.
how the hell am I supposed to know what books, clothes, computer files I'll need over the next ten days? it's not like we're driving. a backpack. maybe two.
talk about your Stranded.
I am furiously trying to finish Mary Karr's The Liar's Club (last book finished: Buzz Bissinger's Three Nights in August), not because I'm not enjoying it but because if I can get through those last few pages before tomorrow morning then that's one more new book I can find room for.
I have a message on my voice mail, but the voice mail phone number is busy. and has been since I first dialed around noon.
there is an extraordinary, unprecendented amount of wall space in my closet.
because sometime today (while I was at the day job) the rod which supports shirts, jackets, pants on hangers, crashed to the floor. broken support at closet's end.
what do you bet it'll still be that way when I return from vacation?

one new article published this week: on dinosaur jr. in East Bay Express.

33 1/3: a conversation with michaelangelo matos - part two

Q: Obviously David doesn’t want to use any of his writers twice.

A: No, of course not. I wouldn’t either. And it sucks because I would love to do another one. I’d do one a year if I could but I absolutely believe he’s doing the right thing.

Q: So this was a totally positive experience?

A: Generally, yeah, except for my one and a half star rating on Amazon, my customer rating. I think like five people have reviewed the book and everybody hates it or something. It’s kind of funny. Basically the complaint boils down to, He didn’t write about Prince. He wrote about himself. Well, yeah, I did write myself but I wrote plenty about Prince. You just didn’t read past the first twenty pages.

Q: David and I talked about the fact that you have to be either brave or naïve to write one of these, because music is so personal, the chances of making everybody happy are pretty damn slim.

A: Well, you don’t write them to make people happy. You don’t write criticism to make people happy. That’s insane. I just think that mindset is ridiculous. That’s the thing that people are really puzzled by when they read the book and it’s not all like, Prince is a genius and everything. The one thing that I’m really happy with about the book, I mean, in an overall sense, more than individual passages, is that I have never read a critical book about Prince. And I have read a lot about Prince. You get biographies and you get a lot of dirt. You get a lot of, He was this kind of tyrant in his personal life, and He treated his band like shit and all of that. That’s all fine and well and I’m certainly interested in it but . . .
I don’t know if you’ve seen the Franklin Bruno book about Armed Forces yet.

Q: Not yet.

A: Great book. Easily one of the best in the series. And I noticed something. The Armed Forces book is set up alphabetically. Like, the book is written by topic in alphabetical order, so it starts with abbreviations and Quizzling Clinic is in Q, like that. It’s a really, really good way to organize the material, especially since a lot of what he ends up writing about and a lot of what permeates the book is the Columbus incident. It’s very much about the Columbus incident as much as the record, and it works that way better than it would if he were to do it in just a straight chronological fashion because it would feel a little bit more moralistic or whatever. He doesn’t cheapen anything by it. It enhances what he’s talking about in a great way.
And I wrote him because, after I started reading the book - and it’s a great book in the sense you can just skip around - after about an hour with the book I thought, I’m going to look up these words. They have to be in here. And they weren’t. And the words are “revenge” and “guilt.” The single most quoted thing Elvis Costello ever said to an interviewer is his classic line from ’77 to Nick Kent about revenge and guilt. And Franklin was just like, he passed on that, he passed on Dancing About Architecture, he passed on Bebe Buell, because they’ve been rehashed too many times. I think that’s a major guiding force, not just with Franklin, but I think with a lot of people who are writing these books. There’s a real hunger for the people who are doing them, I think, to not state the obvious the again.

Q: And David allows you to do that.

A: Right. And that’s not every book but, you know, I think that’s the best thing about this series is they’re perspectives. It’s a series of perspectives on records. It’s not just the canon. For example, when Rolling Stone does their 100 best albums of all-time type of things, you read those and it’s just very “Here’s the canon.” “Eat your spinach.” “Here’s why these are good for you.” And “Sgt. Pepper will always be the best record ever made.” That kind of thing. Now I write for Rolling Stone occasionally and I don’t hate Rolling Stone, but that is what it is. This is just a way to really dive into these things and see what you can take out of them. Some people do it better than others, but that’s really the idea.

Q: You mentioned Franklin’s book being one of the best.

A: That one and Douglas Wolk’s.

Q: Give me a quick Why on those as your favorites.

A: Partly because Douglas is one of the handful of best music critics currently working. I mean, I’m certainly biased. Douglas writes a column for me at the Weekly, but there’s a reason he writes a column for me at the Weekly. He’s lucid, he’s funny, he does not overstate. Which is really kind of an amazing thing in a music critic. He doesn’t resort to hyperbole. When he delivers a whopper, it’s actually a whopper. Like, if he gives you a whale, it’s actually whale-size, the thing that he’s talking about. He doesn’t exaggerate that much. And that book in particular, it’s really well reported. It’s a tremendous piece of scholarship. I mean, that’s a good example of a way - a really obvious and terrific way - to write about that record that nobody’s done. Nobody has talked about the Cold War. Nobody talked about James Brown in terms of the wider world most of the time. They talk about him terms of the chitlin’ circuit, in terms of hip-hop, in terms of show biz. And those are applicable, but at the same time James Brown didn’t become probably the most influential musician of the 20th century by not having some kind of . . . . I mean, it isn’t necessarily a book about how James Brown impacted the Cold War or anything. It’s about how the Cold War impacted that performance. And I’ve never seen that anywhere.

Q: So it’s a fresh angle.

A: Yes.

Q: You said you would do this again if you could.

A: Oh yeah.

Q: What album would you do?

A: Well, actually I did a reading with Douglas, Mike McGonigal and Colin Melloy down in Portland in January, and we read from the book, we took questions, it was pretty fun. It was enjoyable, fairly low key as book readings tend to be, and pretty nice actually. And one of the things that we were talking about were the other books we wanted to do. The thing that I find kind of amazing is that I know Kim Cooper is doing In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, and sixty percent of the time when I’ve talked to other writers about what they would do – maybe not sixty percent, but a good number – at least four people have told me they wanted to do that record . That’s kind of amazing.
That’s not the record that I would do. Because one of the things that I’ve thought about is What if you could like do a sub-series of records? You know, the 33 1/3 series that nobody would buy a book about? Because Douglas Wolk told me the first one he proposed to do was Wanna Buy A Bridge? which is a Rough Trade compilation from 1980. And it’s a great record. It’s really one of the best records ever made. It’s been out of print for twenty-five years and it’s never going to be in print again.
The book I would do in a minute, if I were to have complete carte blanche, is The Avalanche’s Since I Left You. And I would do it exactly the opposite of the way I did the Prince. Basically I would dive in - Side One, Track One. I would just dive into it and I would start from the beginning of the first song and I would end at the end of the last song. And there would be tangents and there would be all kinds of other things going on. You know, I would bring everything I had to bear on that record, but I wouldn’t do it anywhere near the way I did the Prince book.

Q: Okay. David retires to an island in the Caribbean?

A: What album does he take to the desert island? Is this a Stranded question?

Q: No, David retires and you’re named series editor.

A: Well, I mean, I’ve given David want lists. I’ve told David, You’ve got to get these people to do these records. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to happen. But I’ve totally given him names.

Q: What’s the first assignment? What writer on what album?

A: I would give Dave Queen a choice of records to write about. Dave Queen is a writer from Canada that I use a fair amount. I mean, I’d let him decide, but if it were up to me I would have Dave Queen write something about Sabbath.
One thing that just occurred to me that I want to bring up. Have you ever seen Stranded, that book Greil Marcus edited in ’79?

Q: Sure.

A: You know the concept – 20 writers pick the album they’d take to a desert island. You know, I was obsessed with that book for a long time when I was a teenager because it was sort of the ultimate assignment. To get a chapter in Stranded was like everything a rock critic could dream of, or somebody who wanted to write about music could dream of. So this is sort of like super-sized Stranded. I mean, it’s really sort of the ultimate assignment.


33 1/3: a conversation with michaelangelo matos - part one

33 1/3: a conversation with michaelangelo matos

Like my interview with Joe Pernice, the conversation with Michaelangelo Matos came about in preparation for the 33 1/3 series feature. As such, it also is more concerned with process than content.
Matos' Sign O’ The Times book jacket bio reads, "Michaelangelo Matos is Music Editor at Seattle Weekly."
Readers should refrain, at least for another month, from sending Mr. Matos fan mail as Bumbershoot is once again right around the corner.
MM and I talked by phone on Monday, June 6, 2005.

Q: So how did it happen that you wrote a 33 1/3 book on Sign O’ The Times?

A: At the beginning of 2002, three years ago, I was in New York freelancing and I had come across Douglas Wolk, who also contributed to the series. He has a website and I was looking at it one day and it said something about a book he was writing. He had mentioned that he was writing a short book on James Brown’s Live at the Apollo, so I e-mailed him and asked.
About two or three months earlier I had done an e-mail interview with Yuval Taylor for a piece that never ran. He used to be at DeCapo. He’s the editor at Chicago Review Press/A Cappella now. And he told me that they were publishing four books from England about classic albums. The albums were Led Zeppelin IV, Pet Sounds, either Are You Experienced? or Electric Ladyland, and The White Album. Just basically canonical stuff, so I figured Douglas might be doing it for that series. So I e-mailed him to ask, Are you doing your book for Yuval Taylor? And he said, No, I’m doing it for David Barker at Continuum. It’s part of a series. And he basically kind of filled me in on that and I was pretty intrigued.
When Yuval Taylor had told me that, I wasn’t thinking about it in any particular way. It sounded like a cut and dried licensing deal and I didn’t even think about wanting to do one. It didn’t occur to me. But when Douglas told me they were doing that, I was kind of intrigued. You know, when you’re a freelancer you kind of hustle all the time and I was sort of thinking, I mean, gosh, I wonder if I could do one?
What happened is I got David Barker’s info from Douglas. He very generously gave me his e-mail and so I just wrote a really quick, kind of two-paragraph e-mail saying, I’ve heard about your series. I know a couple of people who are doing them. Because at that point I’d found out that Elizabeth Vincentelli was also doing one.

Q: Was she working on Blondie or was she working on Abba by then?

A: I didn’t know which. I just knew she was doing one. Douglas probably mentioned that she was doing one. I think I may’ve Googled it too and found out. Basically I knew that Elizabeth was involved and I knew that Douglas was involved. And I didn’t even think I’d have a chance. I just wanted to ask.
So I e-mailed Barker and I figured I wouldn’t hear back from him. I didn’t expect to hear back from him. I basically said, I’ve got a couple of ideas. If you’re interested, let me know. Which is kind of a vague thing to do and I should’ve been a lot more specific. It’s not the kind of thing I could get away with now.

Q: You were surprised that it worked.

A: I was surprised that it worked, but I also know that it wouldn’t work the same way now. If I were to just e-mail Barker out of the blue, not knowing the guy already, and said, Can I write one of these books for you? and not been very specific, then I wouldn’t get a book.

Q: He says he’s getting three to four pitches a day now.

A: Yeah, he told me 20 a week at one point, and I believe it. It’s the dream job every rock critic wants. Everybody who writes about music wants to do one of these. So I got lucky because I saw that on the Web really early.
But I e-mailed Barker, and, you know, you send out pitches when you’re a freelancer to new people that you don’t know and you don’t expect to hear back if you’ve been doing it for a while, and I was extremely surprised when he responded the next day. He actually responded in the morning. I think I sent the e-mail at about 2:30 in the morning and I woke up about 11 the next day and he’d sent me one.

Q: He’s a very prompt correspondent.

A: Yes, he is. Well, it turns out, as he put it in the e-mail, he and his girlfriend had been reading my blog and wondering what they might have me write about. So he’d already kind of had me earmarked in his mind to do one, or at least that’s the way he made it seem.
My favorite album of all-time is There’s A Riot Goin’ On, and there’s no way that I could write about that album because there’s nothing I could say about it that hasn’t already been said in Mystery Train. I mean, somebody needs to do a book on There’s A Riot Goin’ On, but I don’t know if anybody’s going to do anything better than what Greil (Marcus) wrote. So it was just too tall an order.
He said, What do you have in mind? And I said, Well, there are three records, and one of them is There’s A Riot Goin’ On and there’s no way I could write that, and the other two were Sign O’ The Times, which I had a pretty deep, personal attachment to, and I figured I could do that or I could do Paul’s Boutique. And I figured I could’ve done Paul’s Boutique pretty easily because it wouldn’t have been that hard. There’s one really excellent website that’s been around for about eight years or so now that is devoted entirely to the album, like explicating all of its sources and all of its samples and all of its references. And I figured I could just start from there and just kind of like riff on the album. I just figured it would be easier. I figured it would be an easier thing to do because I didn’t have anything personally invested in it.

Q: So who makes the choice?

A: David makes the choice.

Q: So David says, Sign O’ The Times.

A: Well, what happened is I told him those and it turned out that somebody else had already signed up for and abandoned Sign O’ The Times. I don’t even remember who was going to do it, but he told me somebody had the idea. Somebody was about to do it and had just let it go. So it turned out that he already wanted a book on that record. Also, the fact that I’m from Minneapolis, that Prince is certainly the single artist I’ve thought about the most, and so it just worked out that way.
And then he asked me to turn the book in. He gave me three deadlines – April 1st, July 1st and November 1st.

Q: When was the initial conversation?

A: This is February.

Q: And you’re going to write the book by April 1st?

A: No, I didn’t. I thought about doing it that fast, but I decided what I would do instead, because I was freelancing a lot, was to just do a whole shitload of work on other things. Just do a lot of freelancing and then set aside about a month and a half or two months. Basically I was going to set May and June aside entirely to write the book.

Q: You were going to make as much money as you could freelancing, and then live off that for a month and a half.

A: Pretty much. And I had moved, so by May that wasn’t going to work. I was just going to write it in June, which is fine, because the book is 25,000 words. My book is 28,000 but the word count was 25,000, which is more like a very long essay rather than a real book. And I write fairly fast so I didn’t think I would have that much of a problem turning it in in a month. And as it turns out I didn’t.
But what happened was I got the job at the (Seattle) Weekly in May. I came out here in April, talked to them, and then a month later they offered me the job. And I took it. And I took it fairly quickly, so I had to come out in June and I e-mailed David and I said, Can I extend my deadline to November? And he was like, Um, no. You can extend it to the middle of September but that’s the absolute latest you can turn it in because everybody else is really behind. I think a few other people fell behind.

Q: Your release group were procrastinators. Not that you didn’t have good reason.

A: Well, I mean, I think it was just job stuff in most cases. And I know for a fact, for example, the Loveless book was supposed to be written by David Keenan who writes for The Wire in England. And I don’t know the full story but apparently, not unlike the album itself, it got delayed and delayed and delayed and delayed, and finally Barker gave the book to Mike McGonigal who’s a friend of mine who’s written for me here in Portland. Mike was living in Seattle at the time. He wrote a couple of cover stories for me before he moved down there.
But yeah, I mean, there’s all kind of logistical stuff there that I couldn’t even comprehend. I know how difficult it is to get copy out of freelancers even if you’re just talking about a 250 word record review. I mean, I’ve been spending a lot of today chasing down pieces that are due me. And, you know, when you’re talking about a book, that’s a different thing.
But what ended up happening is I moved out here. I had to overhaul the section. They basically hired me to overhaul the music section, so I did that. I had to do a lot of revamping of the section and the calendar and I kind of got involved in the music awards that we do which I didn’t really know that much about. And they were a lot more involved than had been indicated prior, so that was just extra work. And then we had Bumbershoot, which is Labor Day weekend, and I had to put a Bumbershoot cover together. I basically came in and just got hammered for three straight months.
So I went to Bumbershoot and literally it wasn’t until after Bumbershoot that I would have any time, and Bumbershoot ended, I think, the third of September. So I sat down. Like basically I’d come into the office at like 9 or 10, work until about 4, go out for dinner and what not for a couple of hours, and come back and write the book. And I did that for two weeks.

Q: So this is a fourteen day book.

A: Yes. I came back and I wrote it at night and I wrote it on weekends. You know, like I said, I had fairly strict regimen at that point because I had to get it done. It was ridiculous. I’d come in at 9, work on the section. I think I wrote one thing for the paper in those two weeks because I just basically told my bosses, Look, I have to get this done. All of this stuff got in the way and I had this contract before I got this job. They were very understanding about it and I greatly appreciate it to this day because, you know, they basically were asking me to tighten the budget a little, and I was doing that the best I could but I basically told them for those two weeks, The budget’s going to be high and this is the reason. It’ll go back to normal after that, but I literally can’t write anything.

Q: But writing a book for this series isn’t going to do the paper any damage.

A: Well no, they understood that. They were cool with that. They were absolutely understanding. They did not have any problem with anything. It was just a matter of coming in, overhauling stuff, and there being a couple of major events that I had to produce cover packages for. I had to produce a pull out for the music awards and then we had to cover the music awards and then we had to do a cover package on them, so that’s three weeks of music awards. I mean, it’s not like I’m doing rocket science here, but it’s a little more involved than just sitting there and writing a record review or just covering who’s coming to town. It’s more than that.
I managed to come in during the busy season, and that pushed the book back. And then the only time I had, literally, between the busy season and the drop deadline was two weeks.
So yeah, it was a fourteen day book and when I sent it off I sent it off a chapter at a time. It’s four chapters. I think the first chapter took the longest. It took a week. And I had a bunch of different notes. I had taken notes on the record and what I wanted to say, I just hadn’t put it together yet. Writing about the songs themselves was the easiest part. And the ending was pretty easy. The first chapter took half of it because the first chapter was personal and I was pulling things out of my memory that I hadn’t thought about in years.

33 1/3: a conversation with michaelangelo matos - part two

Sunday, August 7, 2005

33 1/3: a conversation with joe pernice - part two

Q: You mentioned getting a headstart around Christmas by listening to Meat Is Murder, but when you’re in your closet with the computer turned on, are you playing music while you’re writing?

A: Oh no no no no no.

Q: Not even classical, mind-clearing stuff?

A: No, I need to have like a fan on, actually. I put a fan or something on where it’s just a din. I like a white noise.

Q: And would this be Christmas ’02 into March ’03?

A: Yeah. I wrote it in March of ’03. I wrote it from like the end of March until I passed in the manuscript about five weeks later and I believe it was published in October of ’03.

Q: And how is David Barker as an editor?

A: Oh, he’s great. He really is one of my best friends now. It turns out that we lived right around the corner from each other in Brooklyn, and we would get together. You know, we would hang out a lot and it had nothing to do with the books. He became really one of my closest friends.

Q: He seems like a very pleasant fellow.

A: An excellent guy. And that helps. As an editor he gave me a little guidance. I probably wrote about five thousand words and sent it to him, and I think he made a couple - they might’ve even been grammatical - changes, sent it back and said, I like it. Keep going. And then he didn’t see anything again until the end.

Q: There’s a certain power to the words “keep going” if they’re coming from the right person.

A: Yeah, you know, I was concerned because I didn’t know if I was writing anything that was any good. With music, I’ve sort of developed a bit of skin where if you take a hammering here and there, you know, and you don’t really let it get you down. But I was thinking about this book. Like all of a sudden, you know, am I immediately lumped into that kind of category of songwriters who think they can write, but they can’t? So I really wanted to write something that was pretty good. I don’t mean the greatest book of all time, but I wanted to do something that was pretty good. So I had some concerns about just getting crushed critically, and I was concerned because David had become a good friend of mine and I didn’t want him like lose his job because he put out some dog. Like, I really thought about that.

Q: Was fear of failure a motivation? Or is that taking it too far?

A: I think that might be a little too far. I did think about it, but when I got into the groove of writing I was really into it and I didn’t think of much else. But every once in a while you poke your head up and you’re thinking, What am I doing?
But luckily for me I did develop an ability to just focus. It was really an enjoyable thing. I loved it.

Q: Your book is the best seller of the series, but as a work of fiction it’s the least representative. If you were the editor of this series would you be worried, or bothered at all, that the only fiction entry is the one that has sold the best?

A: Well, I would say No, because I think the number of books I’ve sold – and it’s not an astronomical number – is above his expectation. I mean, I’m sure he wants to sell books, but if his motivation was What can I do to sell a ton of books, then none of these people would be writing books, myself included. But I think I might have gone past the expectation. As long as the other people are living up to their expectations, or to think of it in a crudely business sense, as long as everyone else is hitting their bottom line, then I think he’s successful for sure.

Q: How many books in the 33 1/3 series have you read?

A: I’ve read a couple. Not many. I’ve probably gotten Thank yous on six or eight books in this series because I’ve hooked up that many people, I think. Just said, Hey David, I know a guy who can write.

Q: Who have you made the connection for?

A: Well, I definitely got Warren Zanes hooked up. I got my cousin, Joe Harvard, hooked up. I hooked up this guy John Niven who’s from Scotland who was actually an A & R guy who signed my band. He’s writing a book on The Band. I hooked up Ric Menck who’s writing a book on The Byrds which I think is going to be really good. I think there were a couple others that aren’t coming to my head right now.

Q: Well, obviously you’re providing a kind of editorial function already, but let’s say David wins the lottery and retires and Continuum throws a lot of money at you to take over his job.

A: Oh Jesus.

Q: What writer would be next on your list?

A: There’s a guy, Gary Stewart, who was the head of A & R of Rhino for years. He produced all those box sets, and he and I are pretty good friends. And as I’m thinking of this right now I’m thinking, There’s a guy who David has to get hooked up with.

Q: And what should Gary write about?

A: Everything. His knowledge of music is colossal. If you look at any Rhino box set, any box set from the last fifteen years or how ever many years, you’ll see the name Gary Stewart and you’ll see the name Bill Inglot. Bill’s mastered like everything, or a ton of it, and Gary has produced and compiled and written the liner notes for countless things, hundreds of records. So that’s a guy. I may make a phone call.

Q: I assume you’re getting an agent’s commission.

A: Yeah, which is probably about three bucks.

Q: Well, you at least ought to get a Thank you and a cup of coffee from each of these guys.

A: Yeah, well. Like my friend Menck who’s writing his book now, he is so psyched. I wouldn’t think of him as the kind of a guy who would go out and try to put like a book proposal together and beat the carpet or beat the drum, whatever you call it, and get a deal, but his knowledge of music is outrageous. And I’ve sat with him I don’t know how many hours and heard him go on with incredible passion about records, from the most obscure to certain mainstream music. His knowledge is just huge. He’s a lover - like a real certifiable lover - of rock and roll, so I hooked him up and he’s like a pig in shit. And I’m pretty psyched about it because I get to talk to him about it and he’ll say, Oh, today I hit a stride and I really said what I wanted to say, and that’s very cool. This is just like a very fortunate situation for a lot of people.


33 1/3: a conversation with joe pernice - part one

33 1/3: a conversation with joe pernice

The bio note on the reverse of Joe Pernice’s Meat Is Murder, reads thusly: “Joe Pernice is the singer and songwriter for The Pernice Brothers. Their most recent album is called Yours, Mine & Ours. He has published a book of poetry. This is his first work of fiction.”
Since the publication of Meat Is Murder, The Pernice Brothers have recorded and released another album, Discover A Lovelier You. They are on tour even as we speak.
Pernice’s Meat Is Murder is officially the series’ fifth release and is currently not only its sole endeavor into fiction, but also its best selling. This interview, conducted as background for my 33 1/3 feature, is almost exclusively concerned with process (as opposed to content). David, of course, is series editor David Barker.
Joe and I spoke by phone on June 8, 2005.

Q: How do you get hooked up with David?

A: He just called me. He e-mailed through my label. He was a fan of my music and then, you know, he just got in touch with me and asked me if I was interested in the series.

Q: So this wasn’t because you had a book of poetry out and so therefore he knew you were a writer.

A: He had no idea, he said. He didn’t know about the book. He got the idea for the series, and he said he was looking at his shelf of albums and he went through and picked out records that he liked of people he thought might be interested. Whether he was pulling my leg or not, I don’t know.

Q: That’s quite a leap of faith – to assume that because someone can write a good song they can also write a good book.

A: I agree, but he asked if I was interested in thinking of an idea and writing up a treatment of it, so that was probably to see if I could string a sentence together. I sent him about 200 words, and my idea was to write a fiction, and to his credit he just said, Why not? I remember him saying, We don’t do fiction, but What the hell? That was exactly what he said.

Q: So your original treatment or pitch was to write a work of fiction about Meat Is Murder.

A: Yeah, he knew I liked The Smiths and he suggested The Queen Is Dead, but that wasn’t a big record for me. For me it was Meat Is Murder. And I said, I went to grad school and I just can’t write any more stuff that even approaches criticism. I have no interest in it. But what I would do is maybe write a novella that, you know, tries to place this album in the context of some freak’s life. And he said, I like it. Go ahead. It was really that simple.

Q: When he wrote you, did you jump in with both feet? Or did you have reservations?

A: Well, when he first got in touch with me, I was literally at the halfway point of recording my record, Yours, Mine & Ours. I was neck deep in it. And so I had some reservations, but on the other hand I had also seen how far we had come with recording. Like that last recording project was involved as far as logistics and making everything work, so I was feeling a bit brave. And I finally said, You know what? It’s 25,000 words. What the hell? It didn’t take me long to say yes.

Q: Was any of the novella already written? Or did you pretty much write the thing from scratch after the assignment was made?

A: I think I decided to do the book maybe around Christmas, maybe a little earlier. And I knew I wasn’t going to be able to begin it until March, and I had about five weeks from March until I was going on tour again, so I had a window of five weeks and just made sure my schedule was clear. Probably around Christmas I started relistening to Meat Is Murder, and it brought up a lot of memories. And to tell you the truth, no shit, I sat down in about five weeks and wrote it from scratch.

Q: You had five weeks and you used all five weeks.

A: I did. I had a little closet in my apartment in Brooklyn that I cleaned out. It was big enough to put like a desk in and a lamp in. When we finished recording and mastering our record, I sat down and I just started to get into a schedule. It took me a week or so just to get into the, you know, swing. Like, All right, I’ve got to work from whatever to whatever, or I need to do this many words a day. The biggest problem was just figuring out which part of the day was kind of the sweet spot for me.

Q: And what did you learn? Are you a morning guy or a night time guy? When does the fiction flow?

A: Well, I thought I was a morning guy because that’s usually when I write songs but I got up in the morning and I realized I was still writing songs and I wouldn’t even start thinking about sitting down to write fiction until about 1. Then I honed it down. I realized that probably from between 1 and 5 I was doing pretty doing good work, and then after that I just kind of faded. So that was my window. I wrote anywhere from about five to six hours a day.

33 1/3: a conversation with joe pernice - part two

Friday, August 5, 2005

system of a down in phoenix new times

A light quantity week on the publication front, though I did have this System of a Down feature appear in Phoenix New Times (thanks to Daron for his time, and Heidi (HER) for the hook up).

"buffalo bill's defunct"

I don't much favor the overly personal blog style, but today probably rates an exception as much as any - the ponytail is gone, kaput, no more, left the building, headed to Lake Worth, Florida.
Check out Locks of Love if you're of a mind to be shorn (and thanks to Koti at Salon Insitu for doing the honors).

Oh - and my new backpack arrived.

Monday, August 1, 2005

song of the day: fats domino's "blueberry hill"

Today is the anniversary of my dearest Aunt Pat's birth.
And while Aunt Pat is a fan of the country music (and I've done my best to keep her flush with recordings by The Man in Black), the first tune she ever "borrowed" from me was a 45 rpm of Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill."

(Since 45s have gone the way of the rotary phone, we're gonna hook you up with the Fats Domino Jukebox)

Happy Birthday Aunt Pat! And many, many more.