Before we get started, are there any topics you'd rather avoid?
J: No. My life is an open sore.
B: OK, let's get this out of the way right up front: your famous
big brother, Keith, isn't half as good a musician as you, is he?
J: Have you heard any of his concerts? Even he can't
help moaning about how bad he is.
B: When you two were kids, did you ever want to beat him up?
J: Well, Keith is older, much older. Years older. I like
to think of him as antediluvian. And I'm taller and far better-looking.
But in answer to your question, when I was a kid I was too busy
inventing new masturbation techniques involving butterscotch topping
and nocturnal vermin to worry about Keith.
B: During your childhood music instruction, what was the most
outrageous thing you did to get out of practicing?
J: It really wasn't an issue. My one and only drum teacher was
an inveterate drug addict who, during my lessons, would go into
a trancelike state and spit out random phrases like, "Lemme
hear some fours on the chandelier," and "I think my
toe joints are reversed," and "What rodent?" During
one lesson, I was able to pick his pockets, put him in a crate
and ship him off to Wichita.
B: Do you continue to play the drums these days?
J: No, but I still jerk off with clocklike regularity.
B: Do you ever hear from your old band-mates?
J: I still have a few good friends from those days. As far as
the others go, every so often I receive a note from someone I
worked with back then, but my attorney assures me I can ignore
those letters unless they look official.
B: Can you compare the feeling of publishing a book to the experience
of playing music for an audience?
J: Most of the time I simply did not enjoy performing. I have
a good ear, so I was always suffering; I heard every note, and
was obsessively focused on my technique. Also, when you're playing
live, you can't go back and redo something, whereas when you publish
a book, you have the luxury of revising until it's complete gibberish.
B: What do you get from writing that you didn't get from music?
J: Sometimes I enjoy writing. That in itself is different. But
more than that, I enjoy having written. And I have an almost,
pathological, fondness, for, commas. In my twenties, I was obsessed
with colons, but a sadistic proctologist cured me of that.
B: Is there a hidden meaning in the phrase "More Towels"?
J: When you play music until two or three in the morning, and
you spend the next several hours either getting laid or trying
like hell to get laid or bemoaning the fact that you didn't get
laid, you really don't want the hotel maid to make up your room
at the crack of dawn. So when she pounds on the door and says,
"Maid Service," you just get up, fold the trampoline
and let her out. Sorry, that's an old joke. What you really say
is, "No thanks. Just more towels."
B: What subjects are covered in your book?
J: Certainly there is debauchery and violence and death and even
a sizeable helping of insanity within its pages. And then there's
the coming-of-age aspect and the life-of-a-mediocre-musician stuff.
The reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble (some of which I did
NOT write) are unanimous in their praise of the book's humor.
But I think More Towels is mostly about toxic desperation,
and the extreme measures we take in an effort to conquer it. The
material is intended to be funny, but it also expresses my awe
of how we get from here to there, and of the astonishing potential
that seems to reside in all of us. Maybe it's also about how I
came to be a writer. Many times, I could have easily wound up
in prison or dead. But somehow I ended up in New York instead.
B: Why New York?
J: I guess I just felt I hadn't suffered enough. And it's impossible
to find good butterscotch topping in Cleveland.
B: How does your wife feel about all the hanky-panky mentioned
in your book?
J: Oh my God! Maybe that's what she's so pissed off about.
B: Is she a musician or writer?
J: Joanna's naturally creative and quite talented, but she makes
her living as... Damn. I really have to ask her about that, if
and when she decides to talk to me again.
B: You recently became a father - how has that changed your outlook?
J: Now when I find myself sitting in a corner shivering and weeping,
it has much less to do with existential panic than filthy diapers.
B: Will you push your son into becoming a musician?
J: I'll encourage him to do almost anything he wants, as long
as he can support me in the fashion to which I'd like to become
accustomed by the time he's got all his teeth. Which, at the rate
he's going, should be in about twenty minutes.
B: From what I understand, he has his father's literary proclivities.
Can you give us an example?
J: My boy recently uttered his first words. If you have a baby,
or are involved in a relationship with someone from Kentucky,
you know how exciting this can be.
Over the course of the first twelve months
of a child's life, his parents exist in a state of hyper vigilance,
watching and waiting for those goos and gahs and nonsense syllables
to finally merge into a single intelligible word, "mama"
or "dada," or "incendiary." And we all want
our child to be the smartest, the fastest, the best at skinning
a live weasel with nothing but a rusty soupspoon. So we struggle
to find meaning in the endless drooling frothing garbles, the
burps and the hiccups, and yes, even the expulsion of gas through
the child's tiny anus. When our little boy was just two months
old, I was convinced he was farting the word "frappuccino."
Only when my wife reminded me he'd never actually been to a Starbucks
did I accept that this was probably just a combination of coincidence,
imagination and wishful thinking.
But last Tuesday morning, it really happened.
A lesser child, or a congressman, might merely utter a single
syllable or a brief comment on the weather. But not our little
guy. At 7:12 AM, the following dialogue took place:
Me: "Good morning little pookywookysnooky."
Me: "Honey, I think he needs to be changed."
Joanna: "That's nice."
Me: "He's talking."
Ethan: "In a rat's ass."
certainly imagine how excited we both are. Next week we're going to take
him to Starbucks, flip him upside-down, and have him place the order.
This interview first appeared at SFWP.org