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Hey there, Jamie Blaine, Nervous Breakdown.  *  Ellen?

…I can hear you but then when I say something there’s a lag and it’s like you’re — huh.

 

There’s this curse with interviews where something always goes screwy with the equipment.

We will battle through!

 

Cool, so how are you doing these days?

Good.  It’s really been great how Marbles has been received.  I worked hard and felt good about putting it out there.  Having it resonate with so many people has been deeply satisfying.

 

The book is about discovering you have Bipolar Disorder – and the fear that if you treat it you’ll lose your creative spark.   What is the link between creativity and mental illness?

     

It is easier to figure out cold fusion than it is to discuss rock and roll journalism without mentioning Mick Wall. He is to music writing what Keith Richards is to the guitar — he didn’t invent it, but he sure as hell made it his own.

Mick Wall began his career writing for a weekly music paper in the late Seventies and a few years later he jumped into a grass roots heavy metal magazine called Kerrang!. He quickly became its most popular writer and now thirty years later, Kerrang! is the biggest music periodical in circulation in the UK, with its own television and radio stations, branded tours, and massive annual awards ceremony.

Like Kerrang!, Mick Wall has also exploded as a force in the arena of rock journalism. He has penned nearly twenty music biographies, tackling a diverse range of subjects from immortal record producer John Peel to the howling tornado that is Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose. Rose was so unsettled by Wall’s book that he called him out by name in the song, “Get in the Ring,” from the Use Your Illusion II album.

I am freaking right out.

The news is coming at me from so many directions, I can hardly absorb any of it. It’s like drinking water from a fire hose. As soon as one story runs, three more update, clarify, and supplement it.

And no, the subject is very likely not who you think it is.

It’s Christina Aguilera.

You see, she had too much to drink.

Please explain what just happened.

The people of Egypt revolted against an entrenched dictator with a horrible civil rights record and won their freedom.Oh, and some priceless shit was stolen from their museum as well.

 

What is your earliest memory?

Rolling around on the grass in front of a Kingdom Hall when my family were all Jehovah’s Witnesses.My father was speaking to the congregation that day.It was sunny, about 70 degrees.

If you weren’t a writer/director, what other profession would you choose?

I dunno,something else with a slash in it.I like slashes.Probably a bouncer/bartender or a dishwasher/cook.

I can feel your anxiety from here.

Christmas is just over two weeks away and you’ve still got shopping to do.  You opted for the “lots of little presents” route, instead of the “one big enchilada” route, and now you find yourself a few gifts short of a stocking.  Worse, you’ve got one or more rockers on your list, and they’re such ungrateful snobs that you’re afraid to get them anything having to do with music for fear of the inevitable snarky comment ending with the word “lame.”

What’s an elf to do?

Relax- I’ve got you covered.

Sometime during the summer I turned thirteen, my neighbor, who was about three years older, began wearing corduroy pants with little flying ducks embroidered on them.

When a friend strikes out in a bold new direction like this, it can be a scary ordeal for everyone around him.  It can also present a number of opportunities.  Realizing that the onset of the mallard-inspired cords would likely usher in the obsolescence of all things non-preppy, I petitioned for and became the grateful beneficiary of a number of his now-unwanted possessions.  Specifically, his copy of The Grateful Dead’s American Beauty.  And most importantly, his copy of the Jim Morrison biography No One Here Gets Out Alive by Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugarman.

My life hasn’t been the same since.

The Supergroup.  That mythical entity that carries such soaring expectations that it is remarkable that any of the bands ever make it into the studio.  It’s like the Honors Society kid who letters in three sports, dates a cheerleader, and is a top flight boxer- how can he fail, right?  Until it’s ten years later and the sheriff is tucking the eviction notice into the pocket of his work shirt while he’s passed out on the trailer floor with a needle in his arm.

What’s a Supergroup?  A gaggle of well-known musicians from different bands (and often different genres) who come together to form a new musical entity.

Just like the Honors kids, Supergroups start out with great pedigrees, lots of breaks, and doors swinging widely before them, but that doesn’t always mean that these advantages translate into something memorable.  But when they do click it can be one of the most exciting spectacles in music.

Supergroups are the embodiment of our musical fantasies come true.  “What if?” becomes reality.  This is the stuff that even casual music fans stop to ponder.  Die hard musos can come to blows over them.  Somewhere in the world right now, there is an intense, late night, cocaine-fueled debate raging about the ultimate Supergroup.

Growing up in my family, food was the thing that emerged from the microwave, steaming and soggy. A rubbery omelette. A desiccated matzo ball in watery broth. But my mother treated our crap with ceremony. It was with bad food that we dealt with tragedy or comedy or mediocrity. For my birthday, microwaved hamburgers with iceberg lettuce; for my father’s, microwaved lamb shanks. It was always something that once had a bone or an entire skeleton. We loved meat. In my family, to die young and full was expected. We gracefully upheld the pillars of heart disease and diabetes. Saturated fat and clogged arteries kept us warm through the winter. In my family, enjoying food meant overeating. I became a fat teenager.

The winter of 1986, I tried so hard to be cool. This was my first year in high school, Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” had just come out, and the December temperatures in suburban Chicago were way above average. You could see the sidewalks through the ice. Girls would come to class in shorts or skirts and teachers would scold them for their weatherly indiscretion. I tried so hard, but Bon Jovi was this foreign thing—this upsweep of mislabeled heavy metal, rooted in AquaNet hairspray.

My father had brought me up on classic rock—Chicago’s 105.9 WCKG and the rough sexy DJ voices of Patty Hays and Kitty Lowie. The way they talked about Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull, their voices gruff and throaty, carrying the mysteries of age and cigarette, was enough to make a male high school freshman dismiss Bon Jovi, and, in turn, his coolness, as sonically trivial.

When driving together, my father and I would pick up McDonalds (he would remove the buns from his two Big Macs and press the four patties into his mouth, one hand twisting the steering wheel), and listen to Simon and Garfunkel and the Eagles. We dissected “I am a Rock” for its metaphor and contexts, and “Witchy Woman,” tying the allure of the invisible Patty and Kitty to the windblown black of Stevie Nicks.

But this wasn’t cool. Not in 1986. I knew damned well that if I couldn’t quote Bon Jovi with some study-hall regularity, I’d never make it to the upper echelon of Adlai E. Stevenson High. The song that year was “You Give Love a Bad Name,”—Shot through the heart! and I soon would be, by a rosemary sprig. But I hadn’t yet found food, my hopeful catalyst into coolness and, at the time, I had to rest with Zeppelin, my thirteen-year-old feelings uncontrived and implacable, hidden in the folds of those short winter skirts.

As I grew older, I began to wonder: what was the matter with fruits and vegetables? Somehow, I didn’t anymore want to be part of a familial food culture that made of the tomato the devil’s candy. If I couldn’t get into Bon Jovi, perhaps I could get into the four food groups and a little exercise.

I began running, slowly, around the block twice a week. I read cookbooks, revising my approach to edibles. In the bathroom, I would thumb through the back of Chicago magazine’s dining guide, circling the interesting places in red pen—the ethnic haunts, the then-nebulous four-star establishments granted the clandestine designation of fine dining. I began to check them off.

When the Food Network was launched, I watched it voraciously, taking notes. When I left for college, I left my most expensive graduation gift behind—the microwave. I began cooking—fucking up, almost succeeding, fucking up. I got serious, reading Chef Thomas Keller’s treatise on trussing a chicken, Charlie Trotter’s manifesto on the potato. I waited for Ferran Adriá’s “El Bulli” cookbook to drop below a hundred bucks on Amazon.com. When it never did, I read all the free articles about it.

My friends got into cooking. My male friends grew their hair long, my female friends shaved their heads. We told ourselves we were these rebel chefs, self-important culinary militants who were mediocre line cooks at best. At worst, we were over-seasoners. A handful of salt. A liter of cumin. We made up jailhouse stories for each other, though none of us had seen the interior of a cell. We drew prison tattoos on each other’s forearms with Papermate pens.

I took restaurant jobs—dishwasher, prep cook, server, garde manger, grill, stockboy for the wine. Watching the other chefs work the line, I realized my militancy was an illusion. These people were for real. In the restaurant kitchen, the hierarchy trumped the collegial. I was tired of being yelled at. I would never really be a chef—didn’t have the calloused tear ducts for it—and began to wonder: Could tasting be a talent?


My boyfriend and I were driving home from the movies the other night. Which movie is not the point, but for the sake of setting the mood, it was a comedy and we laughed and we laughed.

The point is he’s got satellite radio in his car and he was flipping around to find something decent for us to listen to.

We tend toward a channel called Deep Tracks (AKA excuse to play understandably forgotten Emerson, Lake, and Palmer tunes) or Top Tracks (AKA excuse to play “Won’t Get Fooled Again” again, but with the benefit of really crisp acoustics.)

One can also find some decent comedy from time to time. And a hardcore rap show hosted by Ludacris. He and his partner swear and everything. We never listen to indie rock on satellite. I don’t know why.

Sometimes Mark turns to Hank’s Place, a channel that usually plays fine and classic country tunes. This time around, we found ourselves in the midst of a ditty with lyrics about getting old, and likening the aging dilemma to having the value of a precious, antique violin.

For reason that are probably apparent, Mark kept hitting the satellite radio remote, scrolling through our many other options to see what else we might find.

We came upon a jazz channel called High Standards.

Tony Bennett was singing.

I’m sorry to say that the name of the song he was singing now escapes me. Whatever the song was, it was quite good and not one I was familiar with.

A factoid emerged from my brain.

 

 

Tony Bennett is known to have been a fan of the marijuana. He went so far as to document it in his autobiography. Apparently it became a problem, but I prefer to think of him as a groovy velvety-smooth-voiced, cannabis-smoking man who lit up way before it became associated with hippies and lazy people. His whole crowd probably did it. You know the jazzbos — they were cutting edge, did dark things on the down low.

Anyway, I’m listening to Tony Bennett and I start thinking about his digging grass and it suddenly hits me, “Damn, I bet it would be really cool to get high to Tony Bennett.”

I don’t get high anymore.

I have an unfortunately sensitive disposition. Afflicted with a tendency for over-thinking, and the old cliche of fear and loathing whilst under the influence of most artificial substances (though thankfully not sugar or wine), I had to stop all forms of partaking in my early-20s.



I was instantaneously saddened at the thought that, in all likelihood, I would never smoke a joint, or load a pipe — fashioned from a Coke can or otherwise — with marijuana and have the experience enhanced by the dulcet sound of Tony Bennett’s voice.

My single-minded concentration on hard rock during my most prolific and potent smoking years started to seem really short-sighted. Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin both opened and blew my mind for sure. But clearly not enough. Not enough for Tony Bennett to enter my consciousness.



I considered that if my grandmother had played a more influential role in my life during my teenagehood, perhaps then I might have had my time with Tony Bennett. Or, conversely, ridden a real bummer in the form of the soundtrack to YentyI thought about the people I know who still smoke. And how the world was still their oyster. As it applied to the possibility of hearing Tony Bennett while altered.

I thought about my dad and how he surely listed to Tony Bennett. While drinking. Which is different. If my dad had ever smoked, I imagine he would have put on The Band or Leon Redbone.

Then I wondered what my mother might put on while she was smoking.

It felt like I was onto a new smoking game. “What Would So-And-So Listen To?”

Thinking about all the fun I was most likely never going to have made me tired.



Songs with the word “tired” came into my head.

I thought of The Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting.”

And of The Beatles’ “I’m So Tired.”

Current artists didn’t seem to be writing songs about being tired. Or they didn’t seem to be writing songs that will stand the test of time about being tired. Maybe it has something to do with ecstasy and cocaine.

Getting high makes you tired.

I often have bouts of insomnia.

Getting high to Tony Bennett and then falling asleep sounded like heaven.

I wished that could be my plan.

It occurred to me that my desire to get high to Tony Bennett represented something else. A desire to be carefree. Relaxed. Spontaneous. Unafraid. All worthy aims. All goals I’ve been working on from different angles.

They say the shortest distance between two points is a straight line…

Anyway, satellite radio has some real hidden gems. I highly recommend it.