Wednesday, October 31, 2007

there are several interesting things

about transferring your iTunes library from a PC to a Mac. but I'm going to have to tell you about them later because I want to see the Sex Pistols on The Tonight Show (is that surreal? ironic? just plain odd?).

I do, however, want to point out today's Possibly 4th Street posting of former Dream Syndicate leader Steve Wynn performing within Dog Run 105 in Riverside (I actually typed Roverside at first) Park.
it was a great location and performance, and good enough audio (don't miss the mp3 of "Bruises"), video (two of 'em) and accompanying prose. definitely my favorite of the 4th Street posts thus far.
thanks Steve.

Monday, October 29, 2007

porter wagoner 1927-2007

porter wagoner passed away yesterday at the age of 80.

playing right now: The Wagonmaster

yet another baseball season ends with a whimper instead of a bang

unless you count Scott Boras' attempt to upstage the World Series with the "look at me" exploits of a single player a bang.

(2007: Red Sox over the Rockies in four
2006: Cardinals over the Tigers in five
2005: White Sox over the Astros in four
2004: Red Sox over the Cardinals in four)

the reasoning for A-Rod's declared free agency?
according to Yahoo, "Boras said during a telephone interview that Rodriguez made his choice because he was uncertain whether Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte would return to the Yankees. Boras said it became clear that the others wouldn't make a decision by Rodriguez's deadline to opt out -- 10 days after the World Series.
"'Alex's decision was one based on not knowing what his closer, his catcher and one of his statured (?) pitchers was going to do," Boras said. 'He really didn't want to make any decisions until he knew what they were doing.'"

"his closer" and "his catcher," etc.

yeah, I'm sure that was the reason.

and the timing of the announcement (Boras couldn't reach Yankee GM Brian Cashman on the phone, so he left him a voice mail before alerting the media) couldn't wait either.

I really don't see more than the Angels, Red Sox and Mets making serious bids for A-Rod's services. and if the Red Sox re-sign Mike Lowell, that'd only leave two (though A-Rod could obviously move back to shortstop; goodbye Julio Lugo). and where would A-Rod play on the Mets with David Wright at third and Jose Reyes at short? if the Angels are the only team willing to part with $30 million a year on a long-term deal, that won't make much of a bidding war.

though I have no problem with A-Rod leaving the Yankees, I really hope the free agency route ends up costing him money (can you tell?).

an excerpt from Scott Plagenhoef's If You're Feeling Sinister (33 1/3), a.k.a the last book I ever read:

"With the loss of need for listeners to follow a narrative slowly over time comes a resistance to having previously learned and banked knowledge challenged. So, too, with consensus opinions on records catalogued and archived on sites across the internet there is less willingness for young fans to approach a group with fresh ears - every response and reaction to a band's artistic output can't help but be filtered through the opinions of others. Hearing a band for the first time without an idea of how one is meant to react to it and where it fits in the pantheon and lineage of rock history is difficult, if not impossible."

(feels particularly relevant after the recent post-mortems on this most recent CMJ, eh?)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

your entertainment tax dollars at work, cont'd

(and yes, I realized that Game 7 of the American League Championship Series is still on, but I find Cleveland's collapse more than a little disheartening. in any case, I'll be root root rooting for the Rockies once the Series starts.
speaking of, Rockies World Series tickets go on sale in approx. 12 hours and fifty minutes (call it noon Eastern))

an enjoyable Bloodshot Records party at Union Pool on Saturday (we caught sets by The Silos, hahatonka and Centro-Matic, plus a couple of fresh grilled cheeseburgers), the Auburn-LSU game a little less so. yeah, it was a tight, hard fought game and we could nitpick more than a couple of officials' calls and spots, but I thought both teams played well and, yeah, LSU's probably the better team.
but what gripes my ass (and what I'm sure will continue to gripe my ass for some time to come) is the unbelievably irresponsible time management and play calling by Les Miles and staff in the last twenty seconds of the game.
and the fact that they got away with it.

Auburn, by the way, is the only three loss team currently ranked in any of the major Top 25 polls (somewhere around 22, 23 in most)

the last movies I ever saw:

The Passion of the Christ - yeah, it was brutal as hell and the major players spoke Aramaic. but then what?
2 stars out of five

The Black Dahlia - not that Aaron Eckhart or Josh Hartnett were any great shakes in this one, but I never thought I'd see a movie in which Hilary Swank annoyed me as much as Scarlett Johansen. believe me, it was a close call.
2 stars

The Fabulous Baker Boys - the ratio of attractive reformed/recovering prostitutes in the movies versus attractive reformed/recovering prostitutes in real life: about a 1,000,000 to one.
two and a half stars

Thursday, October 18, 2007

your entertainment tax dollars at work

okay, so possibly I'm having Sopranos withdrawals.

for those of you keeping score at home, we watched Season Three, then Season Four. and then there was some confusion with the library and Blockbuster and yet we still managed to circle back to Season One, then Two (and this was the exact moment when we began our Netflix membership).
and then Season Five and Season Six (both 6A and 6B).

and then it was over.

but after a couple days off (mourning?) we moved onto An Inconvenient Truth (and I checked out Sopranos: The Book from the library), actually watching on the day that the former Vice President's Nobel win was announced.
and I was reminded of those educational filmstrips (filmstrips) we were shown in elementary school immediately following lunch which magically (if memory serves) created an unscheduled naptime out of thin (or more likely thick) air.
so perhaps I should say (it would be more accurate) that we started watching An Inconvenient Truth on the day of Gore's Nobel win. I didn't make it all the way through until the following day.

and then there was Hollywoodland, which I'm pretty sure we watched because it was about to depart HBO On Demand).
which is kind of like eating the apple that's been on the counter for nearly a week (rather than placing it in the compost pile we don't have because we live in an apartment building) just because you don't want to be wasteful.
(if you're actually hungry for a week-old apple, then fine. be my guest)

and somewhere in the mix we saw Albert Brooks' Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (which may be - at least offhand, without giving the matter any thought at all - my least favorite Albert Brooks movie ever), and then Fur, the "imaginary" Diane Arbus movie starring Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr (which wasn't nearly as bad as I'd been led to believe. actually enjoyable).

more you say?

last book I ever read: Ben Ratliff's Coltrane: The Story of a Sound (which was kind of the opposite of Fur in that my high expectations weren't quite justified)

and I may well be the only writer in New York City who receives so much as a whiff of payment for musical discourse who has not been out and about (and out and about and out) in the numerous bars hosting (too) numerous bands (both night and day) for what we call CMJ Week.
but don't cry for me, Argentina).
while CMJ does bring an excess number of bands to the city, CMJ brings an excess number of bands to the city (and you can only see one at a time). and it's not like we don't get, you know, good bands on pretty much a nightly basis. but CMJ also brings hundreds if not thousands of college radio types. and while I have nothing against them individually, and am more than happy for them to come to NYC to spend their hard-borrowed money, collectively they tend to jam up the works.
yep, there's so, so many more potential audience members for these excess bands, that it's harder to gain list access, bigger crowds at the venues, making this, for a claustrophobic misanthrope such as myself, not a bad week to stay home.
which I've done.
including skipping Springsteen at Madison Square Garden last night (Jon Stewart didn't) and tonight (Rob Harvilla didn't). but that's okay, I've seen him before. and even before that (and yet I'm still, several days later, near stunned by Arcade Fire's appearance onstage at the Boss' show in Ottawa last Sunday).

(I'll break my streak of homeboundedness tomorrow afternoon, and most likely again on Saturday afternoon (but rest assured I will be back at the residence in time for the 9 p.m. (EST) kickoff of Auburn at LSU) War Eagle)

Friday, October 12, 2007

more free stuffs to read and see

so, after much preparation and planning and discussion (up until the last minute with all of those actually), we began posting episodes (?) of Possibly 4th Street this week.

a walking tour with Matthew Friedberger of the Fiery Furnaces posted on Tuesday (and linked back to my original Voice print piece) and our (first ever) busking trip with Rachel Cox and Patrick Sullivan of Oakley Hall posted early this morning. and while we're proud of these two starts, the series will only get better (we've already recorded another five with folks like Steve Wynn, Jim Lauderdale, Black Lips, Phosphorescent and Michelle Shocked (speaking of, our new iMac (yep, a new iMac) is currently anchored down in Anchorage. we're hoping for Monday delivery)).

also, I took the photograph of the Mekons' Tom Greenhalgh that ran alongside Rob Harvilla's column in this week's Voice, and more Mekons pics are up at last concert I ever saw (really? new pics at last concert I ever saw ? yes).

in sporting news, we'll be cheering for the Indians and the Rockies in their respective League Championship Series (and for the Rockies to win it all; how cool was it of them to vote Mike Coolbaugh's widow a post-season share? (very cool, very cool indeed)), but tomorrow night we'll be watching, intently, as Arkansas hosts Auburn. though given last year's result when we blogged the game, we will refrain from doing so this season.

album to commute home by at the end of the week: John Prine's Pink Cadillac (and I bet I'm the only person in the whole New York City subway system that that was true for)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

want to see the moz in nyc?

unfortunately (for Morrissey (who, in the photo above, looks like he's smelling rancid meat (or maybe, in Morrissey's case, just meat))) it doesn't look like it'll be that tough to grab a ticket.

back in the summer the man cancelled several northeast dates (including Madison Square Garden, PNC Bank Arts Center (somewhere in the swamps of Jersey) and Atlantic City) due to a pesky illness (swollen throat and glands, I believe) that just wouldn't go away.
it probably wasn't a coincidence that Moz's lack of recuperation coincided with near pitiful ticket sales (especially for the MSG show; his show at the Alabama Theater in Birmingham was close to a sell-out. of course, it's a hell of a lot smaller than MSG).

so back on the road we go this fall, but already two dates in his 10-show LA stand (a very strong market for Morrissey usually) have been cancelled. a broken water main was blamed, but ticketholders, rather than being offered refunds up front, were offered substitute tickets for another night. and early shows were reportedly only about half full.

so on to New York.
five shows, from October 22 to October 28, are scheduled for Hammerstein Ballroom, and special five show packages are being offered at $200 per. but already those hardcore Moz fans may be getting ripped off for their loyalty.
on Tuesday, a special ticket drop (in more ways than one) took place for the Tuesday, October 23rd show.
how about $22 tickets (still available) versus the regular $65 price ($70 day of show)?
and now it's been announced that, starting tomorrow at noon, tickets for the Monday, October 22nd show (opening night, as it were) will be marked down to $30 per (follow this link)

Ringleader of the Tormentors is a full year and a half (and six days) old now, so maybe Morrissey, like Springsteen and the Mekons (find the reference about halfway down), should've released another album so he'd have an excuse to tour.

well, off to watch South Park.

Monday, October 8, 2007

sorry I'm late; the highway was jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive

I can't possibly express the exhilaration of sleeping late and staying at home on a Monday morning. the day seems full of possibilities. and likely none of those possiblities will become reality (I'm exhilarated, not energetic), but being at home on a "school day" is enough.

happy Columbus Day.

suggested viewing: "Christopher"

but back to the Springsteen theme.
I received an e-mail from a friend, a longtime Bruce fanatic, shortly after five p.m. which let me know that the setlist for last night's show in Philly was already circulating.
how does a setlist circulate three hours before showtime?
it's like the starting lineup for a baseball game or sumpin' (am I the only one who's more than tired of hearing Yankees announcers bitch about the bugs in Cleveland? "if it wasn't for the bugs we would've won." "we'll just say one more thing about the bugs in Cleveland on Friday night, and then we'll let it go" (jeez, I wish). you've got the largest payroll in baseball, and have for years, and you want to complain about what's fair? grow up already).
but she was right.
"Incident on 57th Street" at number 12.

and while all that was going on in Philamadelphia, 60 Minutes broadcast a Springsteen segment.
Bruce's comments seemed cogent, but correspondent Scott Pelley was all over the place, trying to not only show off his E Street knowledge but to push the ratings envelope with several stabs at pinning Magic as a "controversial" album (I guess Pelley hasn't heard "American Skin (41 Shots)" off the Live in New York City set (ugliest Bruce cover? I think so).

my favorite Bruce: Darkness on the Edge of Town (but you don't want to be around me while I'm listening to it)

Friday, October 5, 2007

lack of daytime access

to personal e-mail accounts (insert curse word here) does take some adjustment, as well as extra hours once I'm finally home (he wrote at 1:41 a.m.), but there's all sorts of technological tomfoolery going on too. the cell phone died (and was resurrected) three times in the past 24 hours, and now the external hard drive on the home computer is refusing to accept the download of an interview I conducted this afternoon. says it's full. and despite a couple hours of effort I haven't had much luck creating space.

the camera, however (and knock wood), seems to be functioning as well as one could hope. last night I photographed the Mekons show at Gramercy Theater to run alongside a Voice column next week (extras will eventually land at the recently neglected last concert I ever saw). and next week (most likely) I'll also have two blog entries in the Voice's Sound of the City section as the super secret project is already about half unveiled (not trying to be mysterious; it's just late and not a particularly quick explanation) with a piece on the songwriting predilections of the Fiery Furnaces' Matthew Friedberger.

other good stuff to read (assuming my Furnaces work is good to read): Mark Jacobson's article on the man convicted of murdering Malcolm X (call it a jealousy piece; as in, 'damn, I wish I'd have thought to write about that').
I'm thinking about posting a long interview I did with Mark about a year and a half back because the original publication died and departed for magazine heaven so I'm pretty sure it's no longer on the Internet.

last album I listened to for no reason at all: Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy

Thursday, October 4, 2007

(danbert nobacon) impressionism (21)

danbert nobacon (opening for the mekons)
gramercy (blender) theater
new york city

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

A Conversation with Mark Jacobson

A Conversation with Mark Jacobson

Mark Jacobson is one of those we call “a writer’s writer.” He has edited books, penned screenplays, authored two novels and a family memoir/travelogue in addition to contributing non-fiction features to seemingly every New York magazine – Rolling Stone, Maxim, Esquire, Village Voice and New York – in print over the past three decades.
The overarching subject of this interview is his latest work, Teenage Hipster in the Modern World, a broad sampling of his journalism career, including interviews with Al Sharpton, Yoko Ono, the Dalai Lama and Chuck Berry, as well as the article on which the television show Taxi, starring Judd Hirsch, Danny DeVito and the late Andy Kaufman, was based.
We spoke by phone on December 19, 2005.

Teenage Hipster is a collection of your magazine work over the last thirty years. That’s quite a long time.

Well, I like it. Unfortunately, you know, it’s a seriously neglected form and it’s going out of business absolutely. And will be out of business in the near future because nobody wants to read a long magazine piece on the Internet. People just don’t want to do it, you know, so therefore, when print media finally dies, you’ll have the end of this thing too. And that’s too bad.

So are you exactly the right age?

I’m the right age in respect to being able to work for magazines when working for magazines was the cool thing to do. You know, when I first started out there were like twenty places that you might be kind of proud to have a byline in, and now there just aren’t very many. But like the Village Voice in 1977 was like, you know, the fucking shit. You wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. You weren’t making that much money but you didn’t need that much money, and also it was just the right place at the right time. You compare that to working at a place like that now. I mean, it’s hideous. I mean, I stay at New York magazine basically because they give me a health plan.

Obviously you’ve included a lot of recent material from New York, but I was struck by the concentration of the Village Voice pieces. Those were heady days, I’m guessing.

Well, it was like a great time to work. I was hot. I felt I had complete leave to do whatever I wanted to do. The world was an interesting place. New York City was a fantastically interesting place because it was pre-gentrification. Look at the cultural situation of New York in 1978, 1977 and the cultural situation of New York City now. For a journalist of my particular bent, 1977 was better. I mean, which would you choose? So I wanted to make sure that I put in a lot of the newer ones because I felt the quality’s close, and it’s just a different time, you know. The thing is like you just want to stay in there, man.

But if there are good old days for a journalist of your ilk, then late 70s, New York City, the Village Voice, then those are the good old days?

I wouldn’t deny it, no. I couldn’t argue with that.

Even though you’re rarely the topic of these pieces, we learn some things about you: you’re a father of three, previously married, raised in Queens, live in the East Village, once drove a taxi and attended both Cal-Berkeley and Wisconsin. Is that right?

That is right. I just graduated from Berkeley last year.

Really? Congratulations.

At age 56 I was the oldest fucking graduate in the class. They gave me a big cheer when I went up there with my little cap and gown on.

Did you write about the experience?

No. It’s embarrassing. You know, I was thinking about writing a piece about it, but it’s not really a particularly interesting piece. I mean, the only reason that I graduated that late is because when I was going to Berkeley I must have been stoned. I didn’t realize I was only four credits short of graduating, you know. So when I went by there, like maybe five, six years ago – I went to visit a friend of mine – I went to the registrar on a whim, you know, to find out how far I was from graduating. It occurred to me that maybe I might like to graduate. And they said, All you need is four credits. I said, Wow. Fantastic, man. I don’t have to come take the classes? And they said, No, you can just test out of them. So I took this test about the Reconstruction. It was fucking hard, too, man. I barely passed. So ask me anything about the Reconstruction. Anyhow, I passed. They gave me my degree.

But you felt like it was important enough to go out there and get the piece of paper.

Well, once they said I could graduate, how could I miss the opportunity to wear a cap and gown for the first time in my life?

One thing we don’t learn is how you become a writer.


Well, I read the book and I didn’t see it.

You know Will (Blythe)’s book, Why I Write? It’s in there.
But it turns me on to find out that you knew shit all the time. If I find something new, it makes my day. I don’t want to sound pompous about it, but it’s true.

When did you decide that writing is what you wanted to do?

I was already like a reporter for my high school newspaper. So, I mean, how I became a writer basically was because of ninth grade English. I was really a fuck-up student. Anyway, I was in this class and this teacher, he just loved all the girls and The Catcher in the Rye was really the cat’s pajamas, you know, and he hated all the boys and he hated me in particular for some reason. And then he asked us to write these compositions on something we did that day. I wrote about going to the Met game. It was the year that they lost 120 games. I guess he must have been a closet baseball fan because he wrote on the paper, Finally, something you can do. And I thought, I hate this guy, but he’s probably right, so I just kept doing it. It was like a blessing to be good at something, like to better at something than most people without really doing anything, you know. You just had to get just a little better and then you could actually make money at it. I never made a fucking penny doing anything else. Since 1975 when I quit being a cab driver, and I raised three kids doing that shit.

The two earliest pieces in the book are dated 1975. What’s the first piece that let you know you were on your way to a career?

I was driving around, driving a taxi. I kept on taking these gay guys. They wanted to go to the extreme West Side. I didn’t know what the fuck they were doing and I didn’t care, but they kept saying like, Hey, this is great. You should come in, because there’s this big dance hall in there. And I said, Well, that’s not my thing, baby. So finally I went in. It was like disco before disco, the invention of disco. I thought it was fantastic. There was like white people and black people in the same room, and they actually looked like they were having fun. There was gay people and street people. It was like this New York underground bohemian club. I thought, This is really cool. I had perfect access because I knew where all the places were because I was driving the people to them. So I started going to them and I wrote this piece about underground New York City disco, like five years before, many years before Nik Cohn and all that other Saturday Night Fever shit.
So at the time they had a paper called the Soho Weekly News and they were the bottom. They were below the Village Voice. They were like the New York Press of now, you know. And I figured, This is the bottom. I’ve got to start at the bottom. So there was a guy named Michael Goldstein there who was the editor, and I brought it over. I had my whole article and he just looked at it and said, This really sucks. Nobody cares about this shit. So I walked out. I thought, Wow, this is really depressing.
So I was taking a class in playwriting at City College with Israel Horovitz, the guy that wrote The Indian Wants the Bronx and a few other things, and there was a journalism professor there named Richard Goldstein who was like Richard Goldstein, the guy from the Village Voice. So I said, Would you read this and tell me if you think it’s bad? So he said, I kind of like this. So he gave it to his editor at New York magazine where he was working at the time, and a couple days later the telephone rang and it was Clay Felker and he said, Hey, we liked your article. We’re going to use it. I said, Wow. They gave me a thousand dollars and the Soho Weekly News paid like ten dollars. Exactly the same fucking article was worth 100 times more, you know. I learned a valuable lesson: the less they pay you, the worse they treat you, number one. And number two, you know, the same article, don’t give up because just because one asshole doesn’t like it doesn’t mean the next asshole won’t. But that was it. That was a lot of fucking money for me in that day.

Is that basically the same article as “Night Shifting for the Hip Fleet”?

No, no, no. The article about the discotheques doesn’t mention that I was a cab driver. It was just a reported job. After Felker found out I was a cab driver he was like so amazed that he actually had somebody on his staff that had actually driven a cab, and was still driving a cab, he demanded that I write that article. So I did, which I didn’t want to do. Of course, he turned out to be right because they made that TV show out of it.

Did you get paid for creating Taxi or did they steal your idea?

No, they gave me some money in the beginning. I was able to go around the world with the money they gave me. Obviously I didn’t get the best deal possible, but it was okay. And it’s like my relatives think it’s great that I’m such a big shot, that I created Taxi. They don’t know that I had very little to do with it after I sold them the story.

If it was your big break, why not include the pre-disco piece in Hipster?

It wasn’t that good an article. You know, I mean, I looked them all over and I tried to figure out which ones I thought were actually good – they’re not all good, of course – and also which ones I thought would fit together in a kind of like coherent way. I mean, I could do a whole other book just like that, of almost similar quality, you know, because I’ve been doing this for such a long time and I’ve done so many magazine pieces. You know, there’s this whole genre of my work that doesn’t appear in there at all. All this foreign correspondence shit, I just didn’t put that in at all. I mean, I’ve done like twenty pieces all around the world about dwindling natural resources, you know, and they just didn’t seem to fit in that book so I didn’t use any of them. Some of those pieces are good.

So how does Teenage Hipster happen? Is it your idea? Is it the publisher’s idea? Do you get approached? Do you approach them?

Well, Morgan Entrekin, I’ve published with him for a long time and, you know, he’s always been a fan of my journalism, so we were actually going to do this book several years ago. He published a couple books of mine recently, so I said, Well, how about publishing this collection? And he said, Oh, okay. That’s great. It was really easy, actually, because he was into the idea.

How was it going through all of your work to put this together? I know that every time I try to clean the apartment I run across old books or old letters and I end up stopping and reading and I never get any cleaning done.

Well, I mean, I had been thinking about it for a while, so it wasn’t as random. And my mother, God bless her soul, had kept a lot of these articles that I didn’t even remember I wrote.

That’s what moms do.

I didn’t even know she was clipping them. And even the magazines like Maxim and shit like that. I don’t even know how she found these things. So I had them all, or the vast majority of them. But really one of the key things about what got into the book and what didn’t get into the book was the ones that they were willing to electronically transcribe, because a lot of them were written before computers and I didn’t have them electronically. I wanted them to put them on a disc, so I gave them a whole stack and they did about half of them. So the ones that they transferred, those are the ones that got in the book. I mean, it seems pretty wacky.

I’m sure the idea of a collection had been with you for a while. Was there an article or two that you always had in your mind, If I ever get to do this kind of greatest hits book, they’re definitely going in?

Well, yeah, like the one about the Chinese gangsters. I mean, a lot of these choices were based on articles that were well-liked by people, you know. Like that one about that guy Harold Conrad. A lot of people liked that article. I don’t know if it was such a great article or not, but it had like a very loyal following so I felt obligated to republish it, you know. So, I mean, that was a major criteria - articles that I felt were well-received when they came out, that people liked and they might want to read them again or read them for the first time because it seemed like somehow they struck a chord. Like that one about my mother selling our house. I got like thousands of letters about that. That seemed to be an important article for people, you know. Like the story I’m doing now, I’m trying to do the best I can but I can’t really tell whether it’s that fabulous or not, but if people like it that makes it kind of worthwhile.

Outside of other people’s feedback, is there one piece in this collection that you can hold up and say, This is what it’s about? This is about as good as I can do?

I mean, all of them are about as good as I can do. I’m not trying to be too modest here, but there are different topics. There are ones that I felt were like difficult to do that didn’t really come out that great, but I really felt that I did the best I possibly could, that nobody else could’ve written a better article about this particular thing than me even though it’s not a great masterpiece. Like the one about that guy Terence McKenna. You know, he’s been written about a lot, but nobody ever approaches that, you know, to really kind of take him head on. It’s just kind of like sixties or seventies mocker of like New Age shit, and his kind of like weird, reckless advocacy of psychedelic drugs to people who really maybe shouldn’t be taking them. This guy, I mean, everybody thinks he’s a horror show or a guru, right. I mean, I like that kind of topic. Like the Dalai Lama piece. That was the first time anybody had written anything negative about the Dalai Lama, outside of the Chinese government, you know. I actually went to the place. I liked him. He was fine. But the people in the town where he lived were not that crazy about him, and that’s part of the story, you know.

To write about Yoko Ono in the Dakota twilight, your expense budget is only subway fare there and back. In order to write a piece on the Dalai Lama where you actually go and visit him, somebody’s got to think that’s a really good idea. Does somebody at Esquire come up with this idea? Or do you go into the office one day and say, I need ten thousand dollars to fly across the world?

Well, that’s a classic case of magazine journalism politics. I mean, that piece was commissioned by (Esquire editor) Terry McDonnell, then while I’m in fucking India he gets fired, right? And the new editor, this complete piece of shit, this guy Ed Kosner, the lowest of all lows – I mean, I worked for a lot of people in this business. I mean, dozens and dozens of bosses. By far the stupidest person I ever worked for, and I don’t even mind saying that. The only reason he’d call you into his office was to put his feet up on the desk and show you the bottom of his shoe. He gives me back the piece saying, Not my cup of tea. You know, like, Fuck you, man. Then it eventually got published like when he was distracted or something like that, like he was about to get fired. That was the only way. But I mean, you know, it wouldn’t have got run. If it was up to him they never would’ve run the fucking piece.

Isn’t it human nature for Kosner to not like anything that McDonnell assigned? Or anyone McDonnell hired?

If that was an isolated incident, yeah, I could maybe agree with you. But the guy was just an idiot. He was a fool.

I’m not trying to stick up for Kosner, but it seems like when there’s a regime change the new boss is likely to recreate in their own image. Like Omar Minaya has completely remade the Mets since he took over as general manager, and several of his moves appear to be little more than change for the sake of change.

Well, that’s true. And that shit has happened to me before, but it also happens on the other side where like the new guy comes in and happens to be a friend of yours and all those other people that have been working there and probably been doing a decent job, they’re disgruntled.
But professional sports. Like I won’t do another piece about professional sports.
I don’t like the whole process of just being there. I used to love to write about basketball, but now it’s like such a drag. They don’t tell you anything and you can’t get any time. I mean, I did that piece about Julius Erving in there. This is like Julius Erving, man. He’s the biggest fucking star in the whole game. He’s Dr. J. He used to come drive to pick me up at the station. I was the guy from Esquire and he didn’t even give a shit. I don’t think he ever read the article, but it was just common courtesy as far as he was concerned. Like, you know, it’s just a different world. Even Charles Barkley, you know, he was supposed to be at a certain appointment. If I did a piece about him for Esquire he would be there, man. And if he wasn’t there he would be fucking very apologetic about the whole thing. And then now, these guys are just ten, twelve years, however long since then, it’s just a sea change of complete abuse.

You get to the clubhouse, you wait around for two and a half hours, there’s no place to sit and you end with a ten minute interview on the dugout bench. Good luck with that.

If you’re lucky. That job is for a 23 year old guy who thinks it’s fantastic to get into the baseball game for free. I mean, other than that, I’m just not interested. And I’m a sports fan. It’s too bad. Some of those guys used to be kind of fascinating but now they’re not because they’re just all over the box. That’s the thing. Things have changed in this business, and a lot of it has to do with the PR thing. You can’t operate. I mean, I like to do stories with what I consider to be my particular point of view. I’m going to be able to follow that idea.
Like I did this recent piece about hookers. I mean, there was no buffer, you know. It was just me and the topic. Then I could work. Then you can work. You can do what you can do. You want to talk about being able to do your best work and feel proud of what you did? As opposed to feeling like, This is the best I could do under the fucking circumstances which weren’t that great. You know, I just try to stay away from those pieces where there are any kinds of like buffer zones or barrier reefs involved. I just don’t want to do them. I’m too old for that shit. It’s no good. I mean, I did a piece about ODB. It was only because he was like so fucked up. He didn’t give a shit who you were, because he didn’t care. So you could actually meet the guy on his own terms, and your own terms.

You’ve got a great line here in your introduction: “It is an enduring rush to be able to say to myself, Look where I am.”

I always feel that way.

And I completely empathize, but have there been moments when the rush turns into a basket of nerves?

That’s what I take Xanax for, man. No, really. I did this piece one time on apartheid. I was in South Africa. I had really lobbied to get these people to send me to South Africa, so I went to South Africa and I’m there, you know. And I realize, Now I’m in this continent. There’s people throwing bombs outside, all kinds of shit like that, you know, and it’s like tense and I’m surrounded by black people and I’m this white guy and I’ve got to explain that I’m not one of them. When I first got there – and it’s a long, long flight – I was thinking, I don’t know about this. So I popped a half of one of those little pills, man, and all of a sudden I was like, Isn’t this fantastic, man? What a great opportunity! These foreign correspondent pieces are often fraught with like some kind of trepidation, especially if there’s like bad shit going on outside. But I don’t know. After a while you just sort of get into it.

Have you gone past the rush though? Like, I hope I don’t screw this up, when Dr. J’s picking you up at the train station or you’re walking into the Dakota to interview Yoko?

All of them. There’s usually once in the reporting process and once in the writing process, at least, sometimes more than once, there’s this moment where you feel like, Man, I really can’t do this. This is way over my head. And I’m talking like even now. To do the smallest little thing and, you know, I’ve been published like hundreds and hundreds of times, there’s always this moment when you go like, I don’t know, man. This is really hard. Or that bad feeling when you walk out of the interview and you realize you forgot to ask that one question that you really wanted to ask. That happens all the time because, I mean, you’re kind of like in a situation where you’re interviewing somebody and, I don’t know, you want to make them like you because you want to get them to trust you, you know. I mean, some of that Janet Malcolm stuff is actually true. I don’t agree with that whole idea of her characterization of the journalist, you know, because I feel that like basically, in the scope of the universe, what we do is a net plus, you know. That’s why that Capote movie was really good. It’s one of the few movies I’d ever seen about actual writing where it kind of confronted the idea about what a shithead the writer has to be to get his story. You know, if need be. All his different motives about shit, you know. He was an extreme case, but there’s stuff in there that I can relate to completely, you know.

Do you have to go that direction very often? I’m thinking in this book you’re a little rough on Legs McNeil, but I don’t know that I see any other indication.

I’ve got to tell you, I don’t like to write about people I don’t like. I mean, I’m not really that interested in that kind of shit. I mean, I’d rather write about somebody that I find to be interesting that has kind of negative qualities, like that guy Frank Lucas, you know. I got along fine with Frank. He knew that I knew that he was a fucking killer, and he knew that I understood that I couldn’t turn my back on him for five seconds and he was still a dangerous guy because he’s got all these people over there in Newark who remember him. But he was a significant historical figure in a lot of ways. But nobody would ever take him as a significant historical figure because those kind of people are so demonized.

Is it risky to write pieces on people that you really like? Have you ever been in a situation where you liked the person going in and thought they were a complete jerk going out?

Some people. I like to write about characters, people who have a theatrical sense of themselves, so basically they’re all egomaniacs to begin with, you know.

Al Sharpton, Frank Lucas, Chuck Berry.

All of them. Most of the people in that book, from that maniac Myron, the guy who owned the magazines, on to whoever, you know. I mean, they’re all very ego intensive people and like it’s sort of how they maneuver their persona. And if it’s not entertaining, you know, mania gets kind of dark really fast. Some people are worse than others. I wrote a piece about Jackie Mason. I kind of liked him in the beginning and at the end I couldn’t wait to get away from him. He was such a horrible guy. And his people were all horrible. It was just fucking horrible. And it came out in the piece that I felt that way. That’s why I wouldn’t include that piece. But I understand. That’s in the category of “life is too short,” going around hatcheting people.
Do you know this French film magazine Cahiers du Cinema? They had a rating system. Like four was a masterpiece, three was like, you know, fantastic. And they had one category that was “see if necessary,” two stars. That means like if you’re such a movie nut and you have to go to the movies, you could possibly get away with seeing this thing. And the worst thing you could get was a dot. That was antipathy. But they never gave antipathy because like their theory was, If it’s lousy, why write about it? Why waste the space? I feel like there’s so much shit in this society. I mean, I go through this with my kids all the time. It’s just like the popular culture which used to be our friend is now obviously the enemy of society, right. There’s so much garbage. I’m kind of vaguely, vicariously interested in reading things like Gawker and that kind of shit, just because of the tone that they have and the way they write about shit I usually know about, like some kind of media people or shit like that. But I don’t like that. I think it’s awful, that snarky kind of approach to things. I feel like, What’s the point? You’re just knocking something that blows anyhow, so what the fuck?

Why give it the space?

Not so much why give it the space, but why fixate on that, you know? But I mean, look at the stories that are in there. There aren’t that many stories about the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center or that kind of thing. I’m not interested in doing these kinds of nice, namby pamby articles. I’m just looking for the good and the bad, man. That’s what I’m looking for. I’m looking for the bad and the good. I basically have an open mind about the people I write about. I really do. If they’re interesting, that’s the best thing.

In the “Teenage Frankenstein piece” where you take your daughter to the gun club after Columbine, there’s a line about Eric Harris’ plan to hijack a plane and crash it into midtown Manhattan. And it happens two years later.

Well, he’s not the first guy that had this idea. The piece I’m doing right now is about 9/11 conspiracy theorists. It’s fascinating, man. It’s fascinating. I mean, the thing that makes it even more fascinating is, are you really going to believe that 19 guys that grew up in a cave with a couple of boxcutters were able to hijack four planes at exactly the same time and fly them into those buildings? What’s more believable, that or Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone? I don’t know what really happened, but once you get into the realm of the mythic those two towers are like Jungian fucking monoliths flying around in outer space like in 2001, you know. The Illuminati is never far behind, man. But actually, you know, it makes a little bit of sense if you think about these kind of like overarching, mythic things, because the Illuminati or the Knights Templar, and the Knights Templar were created for The Crusades. Most of these secret societies that these people are always talking about were created during The Crusades, and like you could make a case that The Crusades just took about a seven or eight hundred year hiatus and now they’re back on, you know. You could say that. And I totally will. I mean, this is the kind of stuff I like. Like that Dylan piece? I enjoyed doing that.

“Tangled Up in Bob.”

Yeah, the long one about the Dylanology thing, because you know I love when people become obsessed with everything. That’s like endlessly fascinating to me. And the creativity they show in their paranoid fantasies. To me, that’s one of the heights of the human experience.

Are you an obsessive?

No. I’m completely not an obsessive. I’m interested in these people. Like, I could smoke cigarettes for a couple of years and the next day stop. I actually have done that. Maybe I don’t have that chip, you know. In a way, I’m a perfect match for these people because I just sit there and listen to them talk. And I can carry on a conversation because I’ve done enough research to know what they’re talking about. They can talk about 9/11. Like, if you happen to know what the white van theory is. Do you know about the white van theory?


The white van theory’s great, man. Apparently there were these five guys that were filming the World Trade Center before the planes hit. This may be true. I’m not saying it is true, but there seems to be some documentation. These five guys were filming the World Trade Center and they filmed the first plane hitting into the building. They filmed it. And this woman who worked in a coffee shop across the street saw them doing it, and when the plane hit the building they were like going, Yeah. All right. And they got in the van and they drove away, but the woman wrote down their license plate and they were stopped later on the New Jersey Turnpike and they turned out to be five Israeli guys. So if you happen to know something about it, they just talk more, you know.

Would it be fair to characterize Teenage Hipster as a kind of greatest hits collection?

Well, as I told you, there are better pieces that aren’t in there, just because of the nature of my demented editing choices. I mean, there are pieces that are not in there that I like better than the ones that are in there. But yeah, there are a lot of hits in there. Some of the Greatest Hits. How about that?