July 22, 2003
TWO WRITERS DRINKING, SITTING AROUND, TALKING ABOUT STUFF - PART 3
by Will Leitch (Strawberry Daquiris)
and Bob Sassone (Red Stripe Beer)
It has been a while since our last correspondence. This is the time where I'm supposed to get you up to date on all the goings-on since we last left our heroes, but I'm afraid I'm rather light in the update loafers; not much IS happening with me, Bob. We're forging forward at dangerous rates of rapidity at the Black Table -- have you seen our picture archive, Bob? Isn't that so cool? -- and I'm writing like a mad man. I also just returned from my 10th year high school reunion, which was such a miserable experience that it made me feel like a moron I had ever thought it wouldn't be.
So, I have a few conversation topics, Bob.
1. This whole Web community. You and I have been around a while, Bob, and shit seems to just keep growing. Gawker's huge, BT writers are being noticed by big shots at the Times, Morning News is making Page Six, Flak is doing a print edition. Will anyone remember you and I as the founding voices? Anyone?
2. Uh, Bob, I want you to try to explain this quote, from your last Professor Barnhardt's Journal: "I think the Foo Fighters are better than Nirvana, but not as good as pizza." You don't have to explain that quote actually; you have to explain why a rational human being such as myself could possibly carry on a conversation with a cretin the likes of which would say such a ludicrous thing.
(I like the Foo Fighters, Bob. But christ, man!)
3. Here's the big one. bob, you have a book! What's going on with that, man? We seem very, very close now, right? It has, um, been a while. When do I get my first copy? Will you sign it in pee?
OK, we're off. Now I'm gonna go home and start drinking, of course.
OK, so I come home from the supermarket (side note: what's up with the cashiers when they hand you your money and say "have a nice day" when it's 6:30 at night?), and I had four e-mails from you. One your correspondence to get this rolling, two saying you were on deadline and couldn't do it, and one not quite sure what was going on. Hopefully you are reading this in the comforts of your home, with drink in hand, and not at work in your cubicle (do you work in a cubicle?). Now, on to your topics:
I don't know where the Leitchs and Sassones will stand in the history of the web, but I do know that I've been writing on here since 1996. Holy crap! That's even before Monica did Bill, isn't it? A lot of the sites I used to write for are no longer in business (Ironminds, STIM, Morrock News, Compuserve's "Wow" mag)) or have changed dramatcially (Tripod). When I first started my web site (in Jan of '97), I thought it would just be something I updated once in a while, an afterthought you the "real world" print work I was doing. Now, the stuff I do online is about 95 % of my writing, and I update my site almost every single day. I'm online about 6 hours every day, and I don't mean that I'm at work and I have DSL and I'm always "online" even when I'm in the next room having coffee. I mean I am actually surfing and working and reading online 6 hours every single day. No wonder I don't have a girlfriend.
Oh, to answer your question, I think we should have some shrine like they do at Yankee Stadium, with our busts and a little plaque. I'd suggest they retire our numbers, but what numbers would those be? Our ISP? Our e-mail addresses?
So, Nirvana. When I wrote those words, I immediately thought of you, because you have written about them in the past with much reverence. My opinion comes not from a loathing of Nirvana, but from a love of the Foo Fighters. While you and everyone agrees that the Foo Fighters are a good band, that part of it isn't even worth discussing. But let's discuss Nirvana.
Back in the early 90s, when Nirvana was at full steam, I was publshing an alternative music mag out of my apartment with my three college roommates. To clarify, THEY were the college students; I was the guy laid off from Billboard mag who decided to move in with his best friend and his friends. I think my main job was to get them to spend a lot of money on fast food and blow off homework for sets of late-night tennis, but I digress...
Since we were publishing an alternative music mag, and got all the free CDs and concert tickets we wanted, and did all the advertising and inteviewing and writing, we really kept track of what was going on in the music industry. And you know what? I don't think the name Nirvana EVER came up in conversation. Not between me and my roommates, not from the record companies, not even with the people I dealt with at other music mags. I know this may seem hard to believe, but it's true. Now, this may have been because the "mainstreaming" of Nirvana didn't occur until a year or two later (I remember a guy at a used record store telling me in '91 that "Cobain sucks because he's selling out!" or some other nonsense), but it also meant that I was not exposed to Nirvana until later, when it became "passe" to think that they were "cool." And I put those words in quotes because they are overused and on the edge of meaningless.
I've heard many, many people say that there were "no more heroes for him to look up to" since Cobain died. Heroes? I suggest people look that term up in the dictionary. Why was the guy a hero? Even if you agree that Nirvana was the best band ever to plug their instruments into a Marshall amp (which I don't agree), what exactly made him a hero? Is it an age thing? Maybe it's because I'm much closer to 40 now than 25 that I cannot see what makes him a hero. Or someone to look up to, or someone to emulate. I think you can respect and revere the music, and even put him on Top 10 of All-Time list, but beyond that the attraction escapes me.
To answer your question with a "Foo Fighters music is better than Nirvana's music" type of explanation wouldn't do any good. You love Nirvana and I love FF, and any other way of debating it is just silly rock journalism posturing.
We're close to the book being published, yes! It's been over a year and a half since I announced it (and took money from people). That time has really been, financially, the worst I've ever experienced. I'm flat broke. So, since it's a completely self-published thing (the writing, the printing, the design of the box, the only place it's for sale is on my site, no ISBN, not on Amazon or in bookstores, etc), the date kept on getting pushed back further and further. Life intruded a few times too, but damn it damn it damn it, it's coming out next week.
I'll be happy to sign it one for you, but I think doing it in various body fluids runs afoul of federal mailing laws.
I'm hoping that this rather long response gets to you ok and you are home and not working and can respond. I'm about to click "check mail" and hope there isn't an e-mail there from you saying that we have to cancel. I need another drink right now. Tonight it's beer, Will. I know, I know, boring, right? But it's Red Stripe! From Jamaica! Have you seen those new ads on TV? Weird stuff.
Oh, and I'm not going to my 20th reunion this month. All the people I want to see and who I want to see me I already keep in touch with. Going to the reunion would be one of the worst experiences of my life. Which I guess means I should go and write about it.
But I'm not going to.
Michael Lewis' "Moneyball" came out a few months ago, and it's a groundbreaking work. Lewis is a fantastic writer and solid journalist, but if anything, he should be commended for recognizing a story that simply had to be written, before anybody else did. Essentially, the book is about how the Oakland A's have utilized sabermetrics -- dictating the way your organization is run by specifically focused statistics and proven theorums rather than just going by what scouts think when they see an 18-year-old throw a fastball -- to become one of the best teams in baseball. Sabermetrics is revolutionizing the game of baseball, for the better if you ask me, and it's only going to become more prevalent. Lewis was the first one to realize this in time to write a book about it.
It makes me feel bad for Rob Neyer, a columnist for ESPN.com. He was my first introduction to Sabermetrics, and he formerly worked for Bill James, known as the father of sabermetrics (who now works for your Red Sox). If there was anyone who should have been writing a book about sabermetrics, it's Neyer; he's a talented writer, and he was there from the beginning. But he was too busy farting around with a boring book about his search for a girlfriend (Feeding the Green Monster), and Lewis wrote his book his book in the meantime. Now no one will remember Neyer, even though he's the reason a lot of people understand the concept in the first place.
I kind of feel like that about the rise of Gawker and Morning News and the like. Weblogs are the way information is going to be processed for a long, long time, and writing on the Web is eventually going to be the way all writing is done. You and I were among the earliest dorks to be doing this. I hope it hasn't passed us by; maybe we're just not that good.
Anyway, your college roommates are morons and simply weren't paying attention. Realize, Bob, that I"m not saying people should go emulate Kurt Cobain and blast their head open with a shotgun. (Well, there are a few people who I wish would do that.) But listen to the music; the guy was blessed. I keep thinking of something Stephen King wrote about Shakespeare and Yeats and Eudora Welty, the highest-tier of writers, the ones who could do things everyone else couldn't even attempt to approach. "They are geniuses, divine accidents, gifted in a way which is beyond our abililty to understand, let alone attain. Shit, most geniuses aren't able to understand themsleves, and many of them lead miserable lives, realizing (at least on some level) that they are nothing but fortunate freaks, the intellectual version of runway models who just happen to be born with the right cheekbones and with breasts that fit the vision of an age." That was Kurt. He could just do things nobody else could. I love Dave Grohl, a lot actually, but he would be the first to tell you that Kurt was simply better than everyone else. For better or worse.
That brings up two topics I'd like to discuss.
1. Stephen King. I have to say, this new "Stephen King is a serious writer" makes me very happy. He IS a serious writer. Just because he's entertaining and writes a lot doesn't mean he's a hack. It's a shame he had to get hit by a car to make it happen, though. 2. Suicide. Kurt was as good at that as he was writing songs. Listen, people; if you want to kill yourself, take a big shotgun, point it at your face and pull the trigger. It'll do the trick, every time. Anything else, you just want attention. All you whining kids, I beg of you: Lock and load, or, please, shut up.
Why would going to your reunion be such a horrible experience? Mine was bad, but in an unexpected way: It was a true friend who ended up ruining the whole thing. Didn't see that coming. (This is all covered in my column, which you should link to here.) Why would yours be so bad?
So, the book is next week? This must be an exciting week, then. Chart the next week for me. I'm curious how such a process goes.
And congratulations. You've earned it.
So what are you drinking anyway? You're not still at work, are you?
"Moneyball" is on my list of things to read. Ever since two months ago, when I put working on my book into overdrive, I haven't really read anything. Maybe a magazine, maybe the back of a cereal box, maybe the liner notes of the Fountains of Wayne CD. I have a huge stack of books waiting to be read, but I guess a lot of people can say that.
Here's the thing about high school reunions: they can lessen the things you thought were good, and magnify the things you thought were bad. I have no desire to go to my 20th. I didn't go to my 10th, and I won't go to my 30th. Now, part of this is because I still live in the town I grew up in. I read the daily paper here, I hear stuff that's going on, and the reunion venue is close to my house. But that's not really the reason I'm not going to go. All of the people from my class that I want to talk to I talk to all the time, while there are other people from my class who I don't ever want to talk to again (if I even recognize or remember them - I've run into people I went to school with and I either don't know who they are or barely remember them). The people who I consider good friends and keep in touch with, they live out of town and aren't going either. Which I kinda like, because I feel like I live "in" this town but not "of" it. Not anymore anyway. There's a common sense time where you have to leave your town, and that time has come for me.
Two people I know ended their own lives, so it's an odd thing to talk about. But about Cobain: what made him so great? I mean, I don't sit here as someone who is going to say that rock musicians and good songwriters can't be great, they can. But what makes his death so powerful to people, on the same part as Lennon to many people? Aside from writing good songs, what else did he do? And how did he do it in a way that wasn't just "gee, that's too bad a talented guy had to die," but in a way that deserved the adulation brought to him, the mourning at his grave, the kids killing themselves when they heard the news?
I'm a guy who was completely obsessed with rock music in my teens, who was 15 when Lennon died, who wrote about music and the people who love it, but even I could not fully comprehend why Cobain's death hit so many people so hard (again, beyond the fact that they loved his music).
People who shit on Stephen King are morons. They talk about how he has too many books out, they talk about how many bad movies are made from his books, that's he's too mainstream. Whatever. The thing is, King is a really good writer (I like his short stories and non-fiction better than his novels, actually), has a passion for writing, and seems like a cool guy. Hey, he has a season pass to the Red Sox, and you can often see him in the stands with his Sox cap on, munching on popcorn, so he's at the top of my list.
As for my book, hey, that's nice of you to say. I think a lot of people are going to disappointed by the fact it doesn't look like a "real book." Or maybe that should be "real" book. Some will say it's not that great because it's not from a "real" publishing house. And to those people I say, "fuck you."
We're not that good, our whole web writing thing? What makes you say that? Where are you coming from with that line?
One of the dumbest deals I ever made myself involved my decision to follow my writing career to the very end, no matter what happens. I have been broke, homeless, starving, the whole deal. What got me through that? The belief that this is what I'm supposed to be doing. This is the only thing I"m any good at. I've given up a lot of great things for this whole dream deal, hurt some special people, made life difficult for myself at every turn, and I've loved it all.
But what happens if I DON'T make it? If it never happens? Well, it'll probably be pure luck; about 90 percent of this whole deal is luck. Some have good luck, some have bad luck, some quit before they ever find out. The key is taking advantage of your opportunites when they happen. Be good, and when your break happens, be ready for it. It might not happen, but prepare yourself.
Well, logically, I know that's the case, but I still have that nagging fear that if the break never happens, or it never turns out, it will be because I'm not very good. Do I think that's true? Not really. But that doubt will always be there. That's what I mean. I think we're both fine. I think your book will be just fine, and I'm very much looking forward to it. Don't let anybody give you any shit, though I don't think anyone will.
Resident Bob Sassone expert A.J. Daulerio wants me to ask you about your roommate. Do you have a roommate? Why didn't I know that?
By the way, do you ever check out Knot? They're a daily site for me now. I think they've gotten light years better in the last year. Plus, they have more attractive women working for them than any other site, and, frankly, it's not even that close.
Did you see the pictures of the Black Table six-month party? Those were fun. We love our little site. We still want to steal Mike Nelson from you sometime, though.
The good thing about being a writer is that you can do it as much as you want, as often as you want, as a full-time career or something you do nights and weekends after your "real" job (there it is again, real in quotes). Someone once said (maybe it was Harlan Ellison, or maybe Carrot Top) that "I write for the same reason you breathe." There's some truth to that, though I think it's overstated. You're not defined by what you do (as many people in their teens and 20s think), but who you are.
Right now I write full-time. Not because I actually get paid full-time, but because I haven't been able to find something else and also because I've been working on the book a lot. But if for some reason I decide to get some job (and those reasons would be food, rent, and health), whether it's in publishing or waiting tables, it doesn't really matter, as long as I'm still writing, of course. Support the writing until it supports you. And if it doesn't? So what? Who sayds you can't have two careers? So what if people at parties don't understand it when you say "I'm a writer." (Actually, in NYC you probably don't run into that problem, but try it here, when you say that and people ask "Really? Who do you write for?") You're right: you have to keep working at it, and be ready for the breaks when they happen.
It's easy to become a writer. It's staying one that's the hard part. (Old saying) What are your goals as a writer? Are you content with writing for free web sites and having a day job? Does that day job have to be in publishing for you to feel as if you're doing something? What's the next step, Will?
A.J. is interested in my roommate? What's up with that? Is he drinking with you? Yes, I've had the same roomie for years. First it was out of the usual reasons people become roommates (wanting to move out of my mother's place at last, friendship, the whole independence thing), but now it's because of financial necessity. He's been nice enough to let me crash on his couch.
I have not slept in a bed since 1997.
This apartment, in my hometown that's dead and literally at the end of nowhere, needs to be left. I can honestly say that I've wanted to get the hell out of here for the past 4 years, but just haven't had the money/means/job/questions, etc. But there's nothing keeping me here now. I need to move out this fall. I need to find another city to live in, another job, another place to "do my thing."
But mostly I need to find my beer. I put it down somewhere in my apartment and now I can't find it. I'll check the bathroom...
Yes, I keep forgetting to tell you what I'm drinking. I am drinking strawberry daquiris, because I'm a big fag.
No, AJ isn't here, but he is very much an expert in your work, more than anyone I know. He knew to ask. That's rather crazy news about not sleeping in a bed; that can't be good for your back, man. You do appear to be in a holding pattern over there; I still think baby steps are the way to go, however. You'll get back there. You're a good guy, and you got skillz.
What's the next step? I dunno. I like both my lives, my work one and my real one. I mean, I do write for my regular job. It might not be a topic I inherently care about it, but I have some freedom and do enjoy it. I think of it like fighting a five-points war; ideally, we'll break through on one of them. And, if not, heck, I'm still having fun.
You tired yet? I'm tired. I'm still fighting off the wretched weekend at home.
Daiquiris are fine. You go girl. Ha! As long as you don't call them "DIKE-iris," as many customers did back in my waiter/bartending days.
Unless you're on staff (heck, sometimes even if you are on staff it's not secure), or want to have a career doing corporate/business writing and editing, then a writing career has many ups and downs, money/success wise. That's great that you have something that keeps you in publishing, pays the bills, and you still write the stuff you want to write at other publications.
Not really tired, though all this beer is getting to my stomach. Sox lead the Tigers 7-3. Which reminds me, I should really write a response to that Red Sox-bashing article you had at BT a couple of months ago. Fuckers.
So did the bad weekend at home really cement things in your mind, that NYC is now your home?
"You go, girl!" You'll pay for that one, Sassone.
Well, I'll have to say, I've thought of NYC as my home for a while now, but I guess I'd always considered Mattoon my REAL home, the place where I stored my good feeling and returned the favor. It was rather shocking to have a close friend turn on me so violently, simply because of something as silly as my writing. I am not sure what issues are floating around her mind that would inspire such an attack, and I do not care to. I'm just going to stick with my people, and out of trouble. Well, not entirely, but you get my point.
I'm becoming a fan of your Red Sox ,so you know.
And my Cardinals are killing me. But I do have my pure soul.
And I'm out. These daiquiri's are making me want to change my panty hose. Let's not go so long in between this time, all right?
Oh, and I can't wait to see the book.
Hey, look at that. I'm all out of beer!
OK, let's do this again, towards the end of the summer/early fall, when I visit New York, and the Red Sox and Cardinals are well on their way to a post-season showdown.
Have a good night.
(Part one of this conversation is here. And here is part two.
Will Leitch is managing editor of The Black Table.
Bob Sassone taught Justin Timberlake all those dance moves.
Go back to Professor Barnhardt's Journal