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

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