If you’re a product of the late 1980s/early 1990s, you almost certainly know Buffalo Tom, the Boston-based alternative rock band that brought forth such tunes as Postcard and Late At Night and was a staple (musically) on the beyond-awesome TV show, “My So-Called Life.”
But as is often the case, bands tend to overshadow individuals. Buffalo Tom! Buffalo Tom! Buffalo Tom Buffalo …
Bill Janovitz, man of 1,001 tasks, welcome to The Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN:OK, Bill, so in 1986 you were one of the founding members of Buffalo Tom, a kick-ass band that’s had a helluva run. I wonder, though, what changes with musicians and bands as they age? Maybe I’m wrong here, but it seems like something becomes slightly lost. Enthusiasm? Energy? Hunger? Or am I totally wrong?
BILL JANOVITZ: Seems like a huge generalization that might be accurate in specific cases and completely inaccurate in others (most?). Most of the musicians I know my age are still playing passionate music, even to small crowds, in bars, clubs, theaters, and more. The more I think about this, the more I think it is mostly inaccurate.
J.P.:I know you’re a Huntington, N.Y. kid who went to UMass. But where did your music interest come from? Who sparked it? When did you first pick up an instrument? In short, what’s been your journey?
B.J.: From the earliest moment. Records, AM radio, trumpet in school, guitar at 12. First band at 13. All I ever wanted to do for most of my life. Moved to Massachusetts, formed some high school bands. Finally clicked with Chris and Tom at UMass.
J.P.:I don’t think I’ve ever asked a musician this, but after you create a song, then release a song, do you love your own music? Hate it? Have no interest in it? Wanna hear it all the time. I ask because, recently, I saw a Backstreet Boys video and said to the wife, “There’s no way these guys actually like this song.”
B.J.: I love most of the songs. I never listen to them unless I am brushing up on something. I don’t know of any musician who listens to their own music for their own stuff. We are obsessed with it while writing, recording, and mixing, and then that’s generally it. Buffalo Tom is always surprised at how different our recordings are from how the songs evolve over the years of live performance.
J.P.:You wrote a book in 2013, “Rocks Off,” about your all-time favorite band, the Rolling Stones—through the prism of 50 of their songs that span the band’s life. What is it about the Stones that does it for you? And how’d you come up with the idea for the project?
B.J.: The Stones are my heroes. From their raw beginnings and pure love of music, into their golden period of 1968-1973, they formed their own musical gumbo and remained loyal to each other for most of their 50 year arc. They continued to write a lot of great music past their peak. The idea stemmed from the 50th anniversary and wanting to take the same approach to their whole career as I did for their Exile on Main St. album, which I wrote about for the 33 1/3 series. I wanted to articulate why the songs work, how they were written and produced.
J.P.:On your website, you have something called, “Cover of the Week,” where you cover a different song—randomly, coolly. When the wife and I watch American Idol, the judges always talk to contestants about “making a song your own.” Of course, the songs are usually pop nonsense—but still. Bill, how does one make a cover his own? Is it possible?
B.J.: Particularly with that web project, I did not worry too much about making them my own; they were love letters to those artists who wrote and recorded them to begin with. I think a confident artist, one who is established with a sound and identity, need not worry too much; stuff comes out sounding like them. Back with Buffalo Tom, when we did covers, we really did try to make sure we were not just aping the originals; there is no point to that.
J.P.:What are the complications of being in a band? How does a band last, when most fade away? Are you best off being friends, or business partners, with bandmates? Does there need to be a leader? Followers?
B.J.: It is like a family business run by artists. You’re all in it together, thick and thin. There does not have to be a leader. A trio is a different sort of arrangement. Every band is different. It is most like having siblings. You love each other, take each other for granted, are fine with not seeing each other for long periods of time, etc.
J.P.:You do a million different things—author, musician—but your main gig is realtor. Which I 100% respect, but which also has the rock n roll sex appeal of a sheet of cardboard. How did you get into the profession? And tell me why it’s actually awesome …
B.J.: The money is awesome. It is awesome because it takes the pressure off having to stay on the road or otherwise depend on music as a living, thus making music seem that much more fun again. I specialize in Modernist houses, which is actually quite sexy to me. Dealing with lots of cool people is also fun. I took what I learned about running a biz with a band and applied it to running my own biz in real estate: no one tells you what to do; you are all feast-or-famine; you get what you put into it; marketing and self promotion; you have to deal with people; I collaborate with a partner—all very much like being in a band. I got into it when the music biz started to ignore us in the 2001 and when the band was sick of touring, and when the kids started coming.
J.P.:Kay Hanley was Quazed a year ago, and she—like you—has strong emotional ties to the Boston sports scene. It seems like many Massachusetts-based musicians actually share this—and I’m wondering why. Is there a connection that transcends sports-music?
B.J.: I am only really interested in the Red Sox. I really could not care much less about football and basketball, never mind hockey. Yes, close ties to the city, like the Cubs and Yankees.
J.P.:What are you thinking about when you’re on stage, performing? Being serious—does the mind drift? Do you need on focus on songs, or have you done this long enough that you can have a, “I wonder what’s going to happen on the Good Wife this week?” pondering?
B.J.: I am usually in the moment; in the song. The minute I am not is the minute I give up music.
J.P.: Your band played an integral part in the evolution of Claire Danes’ character on “My So-Called Life.” Which was a fun sentence to just type—but also sorta weird. What was that like for you, watching at home?
B.J.: Lots of fun. It truly gave us a big career boost.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH BILL JANOVITZ:
• Rank in order (favorite to least): San Antonio, Morgan Burkhart, Lil Jon, Lee Corso, Jet Blue, Derek Jeter, Jeff Horrigan, Costa Rica, Lou Roe, melba toast, Cinderella, Gonzo, blueberry jam, Heather Locklear, Bon Jovi: Pass.
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No.
• Hall & Oates were elected into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. What’s your take?: I love a lot of their songs. Not sure about the HOF in general. Nice place to visit, though. I gave a presentation about the Stones there last fall.
• Climate change—myth, bad-but-solvable problem or likely end of the world cause?: I wish more people cared and did not feel overwhelmed by it. Obviously serious.
• Five greatest songwriters of our lifetime?: My faves: Dylan, Lennon/Macca, Jagger/Richards, Tom Waits, Van Morrison.
• The one player you never, ever, ever want to see in a Red Sox uniform: ARod.
• Celine Dion calls. She’ll pay you $15 million to come to Las Vegas for a year and play the kazoo in her new show, “Celine’s Kazoo Circus of Love.” Conditions: You need to perform shirtless, with a tattoo across your stomach that reads ONE DIRECTION IS THE MOTHERFUCKING BOMB! You in?: Pass.
Tupac Shakur, James Madison, Shannon Hoon, Manute Bol, Charlton Heston, the girl from Poltergeist, Spuds McKenzie, Len Bias, my great grandmother—all dead.
Kel Mitchell, however, is not dead. Even though, back in 2006, an Internet hoax convinced many people of his passing. Nope. Mitchell—the former star of Nickelodeon’s “All That” and the shockingly wonderful 1997 flick, “Good Burger”—continues to work as an actor, comedian and voice guy, as well as one who believes strongly in spreading the Gospel.
Kel Mitchell, welcome to Quazland, home of the Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN:Kel, you’re a guy who had this huge run on TV, starred in a 1990s kid movie staple (Good Burger)—and is now the subject of a lot of “What the heck ever happened to …” Internet posts. It strikes me that people take a certain Sadistic pleasure in this; an odd enjoyment in seeing celebrities fade from the spotlight, then mocking the fade (or, in your case, spreading death rumors). Do you think I’m off on this? On? And how do you explain it?
KEL MITCHELL: I continued to work. I feel that people all watch different types of entertainment on television. I got into voice-over work on cartoons and guest-starred on many different live action television shows, but you have to understand that everyone does not watch the same shows. So it’s just about letting people know what you are doing to make them aware. When the death rumor started I was like, “I’m alive and well and since we are talking about me let me tell you what I am working on now.”
J.P.:I know a lot about your career, but little about your journey. Like, I know you’re from Chicago, I know you nailed an audition, I know you starred in the series Kenan & Kel from 1996–2000, but, well, how did this happen? What’s your life path from birth to show business? Were you pushed into it? Did you seek it out? What was The Breakthrough Moment all performers seem to have?
K.M.: I grew up in Chicago. I love my city—a lot of good people. I was a bit of a class clown growing up and my parents did not want me following the wrong crowd. We had good kids in my neighborhood and we also had gang violence in my neighborhood so my parents kept me in programs that were positive. They enrolled me in a summer course at a community theater and I fell in love with the art of acting. I did not look at it as a way onto television. At the time it was just something to keep me on a good path. I later started acting in plays that showcased in downtown Chicago and got discovered by a local model and talent agency. Actually, my first big gig was I got to model on the back of the Cap’n Crunch box. I remember being chased by girls in my neighborhood.
J.P.:My kids are 10 and 7, and they recently saw Good Burger for the first time. They absolutely loved it, and I kept wondering—as a performer—how in the world were you able to maintain that character for so long? I mean, the voice, the antics, the dialogue—how did you not lose your mind? And, looking back, how do you feel about the film?
K.M.: The blessing of being on a sketch comedy show like All That—which is where Good Burger was created—is that you get to play so many different characters all different and fun to play. I was never stuck playing the same role over again and even when I had to play one of the characters for a long period of time I never looked at it as I am going to lose my mind playing this role because I understood who I am off camera is not this character. It’s a job and I am thankful to have it and that people embrace it. If you are a doctor and have to get in a lab coat every day you don’t say, “I am so tired of getting in this lab coat and scrubs.” You are thinking about how happy you are that you are saving lives and making people feel better. It’s about the blessing to be able to do what you love. Complaining would be silly.
J.P.: You’re a devout Christian, which fascinates me. As we speak, the world is heating at an abnormal rate, and it looks more and more like this planet’s future is imperiled. There’s conflict everywhere. War. Famine. Murder. Slaughter. Cancer. Heart disease. Another season of the Kardashians. How do you continue to believe, when so many signs say, “We’re all completely screwed?”
K.M.: The earth has always had its conflicts but we need not stress about the problems that are going on in this world. No matter what happens your faith will keep you strong, You cannot allow fear to control you. Believing the “signs” of this world is not living in faith. I follow the word of God and what he says about me and his children. Not what the headlines say.
J.P.: You were a young star. Is show business a worthwhile pursuit? What I mean is, so many parents push their kids toward a career on stage, in film, etc. But is it a gateway to happiness? Or do the perils outweigh the bliss?
K.M.: You have to let your child know that this is a job and when they have to get their own home and have their own bills (if they continue in this profession) this job will pay for that. So stay away from wrong choices because what they do now can help or hinder this job. Look at the long run of it all. Also let them know that this is a talent that they have been blessed with by God and to not allow negative behavior to block that talent. Also, never push your child if you see that this is something they do not want to do any longer. Pray with them to help them find what other job or talents they have that they can pursue. God has blessed us all with many talents and the ability to learn new and exciting things. He is the one who knows the plans for our lives. So seek him first. A good, prayer-filled life makes every job a gateway to happiness.
K.M.: It was a shock for the first 45 minutes. I was like, “It’s sad that someone would get a kick out of spreading a rumor like that.” I did get a few phone calls from family members. It did not bother me or upset me because I am alive and well and, like I said, when people asked it was a way to promote what I was working on currently. I was not the only one this has happened to—you see Twitter feeds of hoaxes played on actors all the time and, like me, they are blessed and alive. I just pray for haters. Its all love.
J.P.: According to several Internet reports, you apparently own and operate several Wendy’s franchises outside of Biloxi, Mississippi. How the heck did that happen? Why fast food as a business endeavor? And have you ever stepped behind the counter and said, “Welcome to Wendy’s, home of Wendy’s, may I take your order?”
K.M.: I would do that if it were true but it is not. This is yet another rumor. I do not own any Wendy’s, but maybe I should look into it …
J.P.:Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?
K.M.: I learn from low moments which makes them great moments. So with that being said—every moment has been great! I am thankful foreach moment and to still be doing this after all these years and still have a fan base I think that is awesome. God is good.
J.P.:How hard is it for a guy known for comedy to be taken seriously? For example, have there been roles you’ve wanted to audition for where someone will say, “Um, no, no, no” based solely on your background? Are you pigeonholed?
K.M.: No, I am not pigeonholed. Of course you have casting directors who see you in a certain way but you have to be the one to change their perception of you. Put yourself on tape and send the audition even if they do not want to see you in person. Create roles for yourself by writing, filming or producing something on your own that will show them that you are multifaceted. The only person that can put yourself in a box is you.
J.P.:As we speak, Justin Bieber seems to be imploding. Why do so many young stars struggle with life, and the adjustment to adulthood? What makes it so difficult?
K.M.: He is a teenager. Every teen or young adult has made mistakes and done things that they are not proud of. In his case it is broadcast in media but we can not judge him. We need to pray for him that he makes better choices.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH KEL MITCHELL:
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I pray about calming the winds and God getting me home safely and it works every time. He takes away the fear.
• You’re married to the rapper Asia Lee. How did you propose?: I took her out to a romantic breakfast. Then we drove to a drive-in theater to see a double feature (something we both had been wanting to do for a while). We enjoyed watching the movie and eating in the car—we saw Bridesmaids and Hangover II. We we got home. She turned on the lights but they would not work because before we left I secretly turned off the power switch to our home. She walked around going, “Why are the lights not working?” I got on bended knee in the dark and opened up the ring box that had a light in the inside of it. I said, “I found some light” and then asked her to marry me. She said yes. One of the happiest days of my life.
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Jason Bateman, James Worthty, the 405, Topeka, Netflix, Willie Stargell, the Big Mac, Winter Olympics, Def Leppard, Eddie Murphy: Netflix, Eddie Murphy, Jason Bateman, Big Mac, James Worthy, Willie Stargell, Winter Olympics, Topeka, 405, Def Leppard.
• Your full name is Kel Johari Rice Mitchell. Where did that all come from?: Kel means yesterday, today and tomorrow. Johari means Jewl in Swahili. Rice is a family name and Mitchell is my family name.
• I’m a horrible dancer. What can I do to improve?: Practice what style you love the best then jump in dance battle circles. When you win one … congratulations! You have improved.
• One question you’d ask Natalie Wood were she here right now?: What was your favorite film that you starred in.
• In 1997 you won a Cable Ace Award. Where’s the trophy right now?: When I got a divorce from my first marriage it was left by accident at the home I no longer stay at.
• Five greatest actors of your lifetime?: Kermit the Frog, Fozzie the Bear, Ms. Piggy, Gonzo, Grover.
• Who wins in a fight between you and Elvis Costello? How many rounds does it go?: A draw. LOL—I can dream, right?
• In exactly 19 words, make a case for tomato soup: Tastes like warm ketchup in a bowl. Campbell’s creamy tomato soup on the go is only $4.99. Great value!
Wait. You probably know him as The Melker Project. Whatever the case, the Penn-educated, New York City-based DJ is a superstar in a medium that’s finally being fully appreciated. He’s remixed some of the most unlikely song pairings in modern music history, and has played gigs alongside a wide-ranging list of artists that includes Kanye West, Sheryl Crow, Gloria Estefan and Q-Tip. One can visit Scott’s site here and follow him on Twitter here. Oh, and his SoundCloud page is a must visit.
Scott Melker, welcome to the Qua-Qua-Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN:I’m a huge hip-hop guy, and an even huger Hall and Oates guy—and Ballin’ Oates truly, truly, truly rocked my world. So I have to ask: How did this idea pop into your head? What was the process? Why Hall and Oates? And did you ever hear from Daryl or John afterward?
SCOTT MELKER:Ballin’ Oates was my third EP in a series of similar projects (Skeetwood Mac, The Skeetles). H&O are arguably my favorite duo of all time, and the name (which I came up with while baking in the Turkish Sauna in New York City) was just too brilliant not to build around. The process was tedious, to say the least. I narrowed down their catalogue to around 10 songs, and began replaying all of the individual instruments on my keyboard. I used different sounds than in the originals for each part, and created entirely new drum tracks to modernize the songs. When that was finished, I went to work figuring out vocal tracks that would sound great on each song, which helped narrow it down to the five tracks that I released.
Oates and I were actually interviewed together in Billboard in advance of their induction to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. He had positive things to say about Ballin’ Oates, which was absolutely mind blowing and humbling.
J.P.:It seems like, for most of modern music history, the DJ was the dude in the background, sort of like the drummer. We knew he existed, and appreciated his contributions. But, well, he was also sort of invisible. That, clearly, has changed. My question, Scott, is how and why? And am I even right on this theory?
S.M.: This theory is only partially correct. I think it is true to the average person, but DJs have been celebrities in club and hip hop culture since the 1980s. Now it is mainstream, and much bigger than ever before.
There are a few reasons. First, technology has made “DJing” far more accessible to the masses. I put “DJing” in quotes, because basically any jackass with a laptop can now be a “DJ.” The simplicity of the technology, paired with the rise of EDM in the United States, has created the “perfect storm” for DJ culture. Almost every pop record is now basically an innocuous EDM song—and the DJs are the ones who are creating that type of music. The result is a lot of producers making a ton of money “DJing” by pushing play and watching the pretty lasers. There are, however, a ton of incredibly talented DJs who are finally getting their due.
J.P.:I know you’re from Torrance, California, know you were raised in Gainesville, Florida, know you attended Penn and know you DJed a lot in Philly while in college. But, musically speaking, what’s your life path, from womb to here? Put differently: How did this happen?
S.M.: Music has always been the centerpiece of my life. It started on the piano at 5, progressed into singing, than the saxophone, followed by the harmonica and guitar. By the time I hit college, DJing was a cooler way to play music, and subsequently flirt with girls. I fell in love with the craft, started producing, and ended up where I am today.
S.M.: I have ADD, which pretty much sums up my musical approach. My bank of ideas is endless, but only a small percentage of them make it to market. At the most basic level, the two songs have to be in the same key, at roughly the same tempo. More importantly, they just have to “feel right,” which is something that is up to the individual producer to determine. Sometimes this is a result of trial and error, but most often I search my mental music library for songs that I believe will fit—and they usually do.
I have done “commissioned” mashups for people before and made them work. Recently a client asked me to put Happy together with Mr. Blue Sky and it worked out quite well … as for Gloria, well, I would have to try. I heard she has voices in her head, calling Gloriaaaaaa.
J.P.:Along those lines, how do you do it? I’ve listened to your stuff over and over, and the technical process itself seems really … daunting. I’m naïve, admittedly, but how do you extract old verses from a song that wasn’t recorded digitally? Does everything start clunkily, and you smooth it out?
S.M.: I generally replay the instrumentals from scratch, unless I am lucky enough to dig up the stems from the original recording. If I have the stems, I usually use them as the base, and build from there with the live instrumentation. For vocals, you really have to have the separated a cappella track to be able to use a song. You can make DIY versions, but they usually sound awful—and to do it you need the instrumental track, which is usually unavailable as well.
For example, on Ballin’ Oates, I completely replayed Out Of Touch in midi, and then toyed with new sounds for each instrument. I created a fresh drum track. I was able to isolate the vocal of one line—”You’re Out Of Touch, I’m Out Of Time,” which is the only “sample” from the original H&O song on the entire track.
S.M.: Coolio is buggin’. I would kill to have Weird Al parody one of my songs. I have run into problems, but never with the actual artists. More often it is the label that complains and sends a cease and desist. I have had a lot of my work removed from the internet, which is a death sentence for a project. I post everything to Legitmix, which is an innovative platform that allows producer to legally share and sell derivative and sampled content. So even if things get taken down elsewhere, they generally stay live there.
J.P.:Is there a such thing, factually, as great music and shit music? For example, my daughter is pretty big into Z100 lately—and it melts my brain. If I have to hear one more Ke$sha song, I literally think I’ll vomit into my eyeballs. But then I play, say, old Sam Cooke or even A Tribe Called Quest, and she wants to run away. Do you have standards in this regard? Are there any?
S.M.: This is completely subjective. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. That said, A Tribe Called Quest and Sam Cooke are pretty much better than everything else. I do hold certain standards, but I believe that I can pretty much take anything and turn into something I like. I’m not a Carly Rae Jepsen fan, but I had fun chopping and screwing her vocals to make her sound like Cher had a baby with the lead singer of Nickelback.
Side note: I would pay to see someone vomit into their eyeballs.
J.P.:As a DJ, what does it feel like when you’re doing an event and e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g is clicking? The crowd’s going crazy, the acoustics are perfect, the music is flowing. Explain the high …
S.M.: You know sex? Drugs? Skydiving? All of the other rushes that people think are the “best?” Those are half as amazing as what you are describing. There is nothing better, period. Well, maybe playing the perfect gig while skydiving and having sex.
J.P.:You started playing piano at age 5—just like my daughter. Sometimes I have to drag her, she hates practicing, etc … etc. Is it worthwhile? What did playing an instrument do for you?
S.M.: You can’t force feed a child music, unfortunately. They will just end up quitting, getting a tattoo and resenting you forever. No big deal. I loved playing the piano from day one, so it was never a “chore.” It was something I wanted to do every day. I owe my career to two things—my childhood piano teacher, and my parents, who played amazing music every day in our house. I have their entire record collection, and still dip into it every day.
J.P.: Throughout your career you’ve worked as a DJ with some genuinely high-profile and disparate acts—Public Enemy and Wu Tang to Sheryl Crow and Crosby Stills and Nash. Explain to me the philosophy and approach that comes from doing, say, a hip-hop gig vs. a country-rock or folk one?
S.M.: You have to play to the crowd, but still maintain your integrity as an artist. I like to push the limits and see what I can get away with. I mean, playing Van Morrison at a hip hop concert, or Three Six Mafia at a Crosby, Stills and Nash concert are risky propositions. But it works when mixed with something that makes sense to the audience. Or you crash and burn—so there’s that possibility.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH SCOTT MELKER:
• Your name is Scott Melker, which isn’t particlarly sexy. Have you ever considered, a la Chad Ochocinco, a name change to DJ Motherfucker or DJ Bring the House Down? Something like that?: Technically, I now go by The Melker Project, which is equally unsexy. I never really considered a name change, because I have never been confident enough in a nickname that I would want it to stick. Kind of like a tattoo … I mean, my first DJ moniker was “Pookie,” which was my fraternity pledge name, after Chris Rock’s crackhead character in New Jack City (one of the best movies ever). I’m glad that didn’t stick.
• Top five 90s hip-hop songs that would still work magic in a club filled with 18-year olds today: Juicy (or Hypnotize), Hip Hop Hooray (they can wave their hands back and forth), Poison (not really hip hop, but still kills em’), Money Ain’t A Thang and Slam by Onyx, just because I love Slam by Onyx.
• Why is pot such a huge part of the entertainment world?: Because it’s awesome (apparently).
• Five genuinely nicest, most decent celebrities you’ve worked with: Justin Timberlake (we sang karaoke together in Japan), Snoop Dogg, CeeLo, Lupe Fiasco, Questlove
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I have experienced three, count em’ THREE, emergency landings in my life. I never really felt like I was going to die. The old lady next to me on one of the flights though … She really thought she was going to die.
• Celine Dion calls. She wants you to produce her upcoming 50-track CD, “Celine Sings Only About Strawberry Cupcakes.” Good news: She’ll pay $15 million for a year’s work. Bad news: You work 365-straight days, sleep in her broom closet and have to only wear pink T-shirts that read, I’M CELINE’S BITCH BOY. You in?: Absolutely. I would do it for a dollar and some envelopes. And a pack of Skittles.
I love interviewing writers from different mediums.
From my end, it feels like a country artist comparing notes with a rapper; or Julia Roberts trading acting thoughts with, oh, Sylvester Stallone. There are so many processes that go along with the profession, and they cross over traditional creative barriers. Where do you write? How do you write? Where do the ideas come from?
Hence, today’s Quaz.
Austin Winsberg is a scribe, just like I’m a scribe—and the similarities end there. He has written for Gossip Girl and Still Standing, and was the creative mind behind Jake in Progress, the TV series starring John Stamos. His biggest hit, to date, comes on Broadway, as the playwright of the runaway hit, First Date: The Musical.
Here, Austin explains how Punky Brewster and a lack of interest in snorting coke changed his life, and what it feels like to have a play—your play!—open up on Broadway. He talks actor egos and Carrie Underwood and, of course, Celine Dion.
Austin Winsberg, welcome to The Quaz: The Non-Musical …
JEFF PEARLMAN:OK, Austin, so you’re responsible for “Blind Date: The Musical,” which opened on Broadway on Aug. 8, 2013. But I’m a tad confused—to quote a bunch of places, “The show evolved from a book by Austin Winsberg.” So, eh, how the heck did this happen?
AUSTIN WINSBERG:Well, first of all, the show is called “First Date.”Blind Date was that awesome Bruce Willis/Kim Basinger movie from the 80s. So, already, this interview is going swimmingly. [JEFF’S NOTE: This is a pretty embarrassing screw-up. I guess I could have edited out. But screw-ups happen] Now, in regards to “the book.” The book in a musical is actually what they call everything that is not a song. So, in other words, the script. Or the characters and dialogue. It’s not a book like something you would buy on kindle or used to exist in something I believe was once called a book store. It’s just all the words between songs. To clarify, my writing partners on the project—Michael Weiner and Alan Zachary—and I, all sat down over several months and came up with the whole structure and idea behind the show. (The show is about a couple on a first date at a restaurant. And as they are trying to get to know each other, all of their past baggage and skeletons in the closet come to life on stage around them …) We came up with the basic framework, and funny song ideas, and who the characters were, etc. Then, I went off and wrote all the dialogue and scene description stuff and they wrote the songs. Sometimes I would write dialogue that would turn into lyrics. Or sometimes song notions would end up becoming dialogue. It was a very collaborative process between the three of us …
J.P.:So it’s Aug. 8, 2013, and your show is opening on Broadway. No, YOUR SHOW IS OPENING ON BROADWAY!!! What did that feel like? Emotions? Nerves? Were you petrified by fear? Overcome with pride? What?
A.W.: I think at that moment I mostly felt exhausted. It was all pretty surreal. We had an intense rehearsal process and then about a month of previews before the show had opened, so we had seen it with an audience about thirty times before opening. We also had done a three-month “out-of-town try-out” in Seattle. So, we were used to people seeing the show. But we were also in this intense pressure cooker of a work environment, and once you’re in that bubble, you kind of forget the enormity of it all. Which was probably good for me. Because if I stood there through rehearsals thinking, “Holy shit—we are about to open on Broadway,” I would have been paralyzed with fear and wouldn’t have been able to rewrite jokes every night during previews. As for pride—I’m a neurotic Jew who is very hard on himself and I always think I could and should be doing better. So, pride is not an emotion I normally feel. That being said, I tried very hard at a few points during the process to take a step back and enjoy the moment. Because if you don’t enjoy it—what’s the point of doing it in the first place? I remember the first time I saw the show up on the marquee—that was a good moment. The first time I heard the audience laugh at a joke I struggled for weeks to get right—that was also another good moment. Opening night, I remember sweating. And feeling very hot. And also a little emotional. I may have cried a little. Don’t judge me …
J.P.:I know you’re from L.A., I know you attended Brown, I know you have a wife and two kids. But what’s your life path? How did you get from the womb to here? And when did you know writing was your thing?
A.W.: Wow. That’s a very long and intense question … Not sure I can give you all that info in the time allotted … But let me see if I can give you the Cliff’s Notes version. (BTW—do Cliff’s notes still exist? Or did I just age myself? And why were they called Cliff’s notes? Who the hell was Cliff other than the definitive slacker? Note to self—maybe there’s a TV show idea about this “Cliff” and all his notes. Like a comedic, period piece, origin story … How one slacker came to help an entire generation NOT read the classics … Sorry, where was I?) Okay, I grew up thinking I wanted to be an actor. My parents weren’t in the business, but I always loved being the center of attention. So, at a very early age, I convinced my mother to get me an agent. And I started auditioning for commercials and TV shows when I was about seven years old. My biggest claim to fame during this part of my life was being fired from Punky Brewster. They accused me of being “disruptive on set.” This may have had to do with the fact that I was madly in love with Punky. And that I told the director where to put the camera. Did I mention I was ten? And I still think the angle I suggested was better than what she was planning.
I started reading Variety when I was twelve. And I could you tell about every single movie that was in production or what show was on what channel at any time of the day … (I was basically a walking IMDB before IMDB. Why did I need all this information? I have no idea. I think it was like other kids memorizing baseball stats or something. Only I wasn’t good at baseball. I had depth-perception problems. Which made catching fly balls very embarrassing for me. And for everyone around me…) Either way—I was just endlessly fascinated by the business. All aspects of it …
When I was 14, I went to a very famous theater camp in the Catskills called Stagedoor Manor. My best friend there was already a “playwright” and he was winning all these young playwriting contests around the country. (Yes, this is really a thing …) I always liked making people laugh and writing sort of seemed like a natural extension of that. So, while I was still trying to get the leads in school plays and the occasional bit part in shows like The Wonder Years (never happened), I also started writing some plays on the side. Mostly to compete with my camp friend and show him I was cool, too. ‘Cause nothing says “cool kid” more then “young playwright’s festival winner.” That being said, I won the Los Angeles Blank Theater Company Annual Young Playwright’s Festival five times before I was 19. And writing just became a part of what I did, while still pursuing other things.
After college, I worked at New Line Cinema for a year, thinking that I wanted to be a studio executive. But it didn’t feel creative enough for me. (That and I wasn’t comfortable around all that blow. Am I allowed to say that on here? I’m not saying where the blow came from, or that it had anything to do with the New Line organization. I’m just saying, I may have seen some blow that year. And I may not have partaked. And I may have been judged for it by those who will not be named …) So, I left New Line and decided to be a writer. (It was, after all, the one area where I had gotten the most validation up to this point. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but when you’re not getting parts in even your school plays, maybe you shouldn’t then decide to make an entire career out of being an actor. Thus, writing became my full-time job …)
I convinced that camp friend to move to Los Angeles from New York. We started writing together and got staffed on our first TV show when we were 23. We wrote on two shows together. And I left the second one when I created and executive produced a show that was on ABC for two seasons called “Jake in Progress,” starring John Stamos. I have lots of stories from that time. But since you did not ask me about that, I will move on … Having a show on the air opened the door to lots of opportunities. And by opportunities, I mean writing lots of pilots and movies that have not gotten made. That has been a big part of my career—getting massively humbled while selling and writing projects that never make it off an executive’s desk … (While also taking gigs on the occasional show like “Gossip Girl.”) Which actually brings us back to First Date … Feeling frustrated with the whole TV development process, I thought maybe it was time to go back to my theater roots. And that’s really where writing a stage musical came from. Just the desire to have fun with some friends and try writing something different than another pilot that gets passed on by a network so they can pick-up someone else’s show that gets canceled after two episodes. And I actually think there’s some sort of lesson here. When you stop writing for “them,” and instead start writing for “you,” who knows what will happen? Best case scenario—I imagined First Date would play for a few weeks in some little theater in Hollywood. And yet, somehow it ended up on Broadway …
J.P.: I’m gonna throw a weird one at you: Of all the writers, producers and directors I’ve met in New York and Los Angeles, a solid, oh, 70 percent of them have been Jewish. And yet, we make up about 3 percent of the country’s total population. How do you explain this? Do I just have a Jew magnet? Do we own the media? Somewhere in between?
A.W.: I certainly don’t think I can speak for all Jews. But I do imagine the majority of us have this “need to please” gene. And, like I mentioned before—“nothing’s ever good enough” syndrome. Maybe this comes from growing up in homes with challenging or critical parents. But I think we all desperately want to be loved. And get validated. And there’s no greater validation than being loved on the world stage. Or by having millions of people seeing your work and responding to your material. I also think we are gluttons for punishment. So some combo of wanting to be loved and needing to be persecuted at all times has driven most of us into this profession. It’s not healthy. And yes, I am in therapy. But at least I’m aware of this sickness. If the day comes when I can get most of my self-worth and happiness from something other than fleeting validation from the powers-that-be, we should throw a big party. (That I’m sure I will be judging while it’s happening. “This is really the whole party? Do I even deserve this? I don’t care if there’s three hundred people here all celebrating me. How the hell did that one person not show up?! I’m going inside. I have a stomach-ache. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten gluten.”)
A.W.: I think the idea was hugely ambitious. A live TV musical? For three hours? And are you really asking me what I thought of the final product? Here’s what I think—there are lots of challenges with having to do something live. You have to do a general lighting scheme, so everything seems super brightly lit. You have to shoot it on video so it can be broadcast to the world live. Forget about any other aspects of the show—and already—it looks like a Spanish telenovela. So, the first thing you have to overcome is just the simple visual style. And for some people that’s a hard thing to look past. Especially in HD. But there was great care taken in the creation of all aspects of the show. And I think they mounted a production that was true to the intent of the original stage piece.
As for Carrie Underwood, I think she got very unfairly maligned. Seriously. For her first acting role—to take on a three-hour live show? I thought it was incredibly brave of her. And I think people were super critical of her without praising the sheer boldness and risk-taking involved. I think “Sound of Music” is a classic. And I think it was an admirable experiment. Anything that brings theater to the masses has to be applauded. At least in my opinion. Plus, the good news (at least I take it as good news), is that since the show got so many viewers—there’s going to be even more of them. (They’ve already announced live “Peter Pan” and “Grease” musical events …) So, whether people are watching because they love the musicals or because they treat it like some sort of guilty pleasure or potential train wreck—there are still eyeballs coming to something that is quintessentially theater. And I think that’s awesome. So, to be a small part of the project that started this trend is something I am extremely proud of.
A.W.: Well, I used to work out at a gym next to a guy who was a producer on the movie. One day he told me there were lots of parts in the film for people like “writers and agents and stuff like that.” I think what he was trying to say, was, “You know, Jews like you…” He asked me if I wanted to audition. I thought it would be fun since I hadn’t done it in so many years. I went in and read some lines with the casting director. And sure enough, I got a call two months later saying I had a part. I didn’t know who KPQU Joe was, but I was really excited. Just like I was back at Stagedoor Manor. I remember the script arriving at my house, and me going through every single page looking for KPQU Joe. This was finally the big acting break I had wanted so many years earlier.
Finally, I get to page 96, and the first time KPQU Joe shows himself. And this was the description—I’m not even kidding. “In walks JOE, a balding nebbish.” This is what I had waited all those years for?! To play the balding nebbish?! This is how the universe or at least the casting Gods saw me? Apparently so … Needless to say, I did not let that deter me. And I spent three days on set reminding myself why I gave up acting in the first place. (Did I mention I’m a pretty terrible actor?)
J.P.:Why do you think we care so much about actors? Being serious, Austin. A fireman can walk by and we pay him no mind. A teacher, a police officer, an EMS worker—meh. But show me a man or woman who pretends to be someone else on a screen or stage, well, break out the confetti! Why?
A.W.: I think actors reveal the universal truths and the deep-seeded emotions that most of us are too afraid to feel or let out in public. By standing out as individuals, they are speaking for all of us. Oh, who am I kidding?! Actors are pretty people, damnit! And everyone likes looking at and being around pretty people. Plus, most of them are way more charming and funny than the rest of us. Until you spend actual time with them. And then you realize that they are bottomless wells of need and insecurity who will suck you dry with endless conversations about themselves. And their latest headshots. And whether or not they should switch agents. Or go on that yoga retreat they’ve been thinking about. Or… (Honestly, I’m exhausted even writing about this question. And I am friends with some actors. They’re not all emotional vampires…)
J.P.:Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?
A.W.: I think these moments are actually both the same. I found myself in the audience several years back at the rehearsal for a live episode of American Idol. The people I was there with were friends with one of the producers. He came over to us while we were watching the contestants perform their songs (sans judges), and asked if any of us had any funny quips or critiques that Paula Abdul could use while she was talking about any of the performances on the live show. I came up with some snappy barb in the moment and then forgot about it. I went home that night, turned on the TV, and sure enough, Paula Abdul said my joke while she was talking to one of the contestants! Watching Paula Abdul say my line on American Idol in front of 20 million people may have been the greatest moment of my career. In retrospect, the fact that I got that excited about Paula Abdul saying my one corny line on American Idol also has to qualify as one of the lowest.
J.P.:You were a consulting producer for many episodes of Gossip Girl. I’ve watched a bunch of TV shows being filmed and I’ve often thought the same thing—yaaaaaaaawn. “Let’s shoot that scene again. And again. Now from this angle. Wait, once more.” Do you enjoy working in television? If so, what’s the appeal?
A.W.: I love working in television. First and foremost, because of the pace of it. Movies and theater take years and years to happen (or not happen). With TV, it’s such a machine. It needs product. Which means, everything happens much faster. So, you know very quickly if a pilot you wrote is getting made or not. Or, if you are on a TV show, you have an entire crew and actors waiting on a set. And they have to shoot something on Thursday. There’s no going back from that. Once the thing is in motion—it stays in motion. Until cancelled by an outside force. So, there is only so much “group think” and noting that can happen. But at a certain point—they just have to shoot something. So, you actually get to see your words being shot. And that can be very gratifying. Also—TV is a collaborative medium. It’s not just you alone in a room all day, trying to force yourself to sit down at your computer. Most TV shows have writers rooms and you get to go in and bond and laugh and come up with stories and eat great lunches with a room full of supremely talented people. So, if you enjoy being social and you’re not a total hermit, you get to flex your creative muscles while also being around other people at the same time… Finally, TV is truly a writer’s medium. They say film is a director’s medium. But in TV, the writer or “showrunner” is the one in charge. So, if you get to that level, you are actually overseeing all aspects of production. Not just writing, but casting, editing, costumes, etc … It truly feels like the one place, other than being a film director, where it can be your vision up there every week. (Or at least close to it, depending on how many notes you get from the studio and network …)
J.P.:How do you write? Where do you write? When do you know if something’s great and brilliant, vs. liquid crap?
A.W.: I always start with an idea. Then I let it dance around in my head for a while. Then I get several people’s opinions on whether it’s worth pursuing. Then I second-guess it. Then I get depressed. And then if I still can’t let it go, I start writing up some form of an outline or a pitch document. Once I have a solid story and structure, and only then, will I actually start writing a script … I usually write at home. Unlike a lot of writers, I actually need silence to write. Unfortunately, that’s getting harder and harder since I have a 3-year-old who’s bedroom is literally right next door to my office. And another kid due in two weeks and counting … So, for me, the hardest thing at the moment is just shutting the door, silencing the outside noises and trying to focus. Which is made harder by the fact that all I really want to do at this point is just play with my kid … As for “great” and “brilliant”—I’m not sure those are thoughts that ever go through my head. I do go through a phase where I feel like it’s coming together and the script feels like a version of what I set out to do. For me—that’s probably the best moment in the process. Finishing a draft of something and thinking—“You know what, I don’t totally hate this …”
But, having had my heart broken so many times with projects that I thought were very good and ended up not getting made, I try at this point to not put any expectations behind it when I send it in to the powers-that-be. I always believe in putting my best foot forward. But as my therapist has reminded me numerous times, the only thing I have control over is the work, not people’s responses to it. And executives always give notes. This is their job. THEY WILL NEVER NOT GIVE NOTES. So, if the notes are light, I think the executives are brilliant and I’m pleasantly surprised. And if they have lots of notes, I instantly turn on the thing I liked just the day before and now convince myself it’s riddled with problems. Honestly, the hardest part of the whole process is remembering what it is you liked about the project in the first place. And then fighting as hard as you can to maintain those small things that initially got you excited while also being a team player and showing everyone that you can adapt and incorporate all of their thoughts into the work … without totally watering the thing down … and making it feel completely generic … which has happened to me a few times over the years while trying to be a “good guy” and make everyone happy. Which, consequently, ends up making nobody happy.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH AUSTIN WINSBERG:
• On IMDB, it lists your “alternate name” as Austin Garrett. Um … what?: This was my stage name when I was a child actor. My first agent told me Winsberg sounded “too Jewish.” True story.
• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Taylor Momsen? How many rounds do it go?: That girl would kick my ass so hard. I’d probably take it on the chin in the first round and then go home, whine to my wife and take a nap.
• Would you rather name your daughter Leighton Meester Winsberg or Blair Walforf Winsberg?: Thankfully, I have a boy with a second boy almost here. So I don’t have to answer that question. Having seen some of the Gossip Girl message boards, there’s no winning in getting involved in that fight …
• Celine Dion calls and offers you $15 million to write her new play, “Celine Dion Eats Goldfish then Worships Satan While Pooping on Stage.” You have to sit next to her every day for a year and also eat 10 pieces of her dead skin daily. You in?: I’d hate to ever consider myself a “sell-out,” but … I already have a ton of ideas for what I would do with that project … even without the $15 million. (I mean—who wouldn’t go see that show?!) The dead skin part kind of throws me a little, but these are the sacrifices we make for our art …
• My cell phone recently dropped in a toilet filled with piss. What was I supposed to do?: The same thing happened to me at the podiatrist office. In a water tub. I shudder to think about the feet that were in there before my phone dropped in. That being said, my cell phone is the fourth most important relationship in my life, right behind my wife, my child and my mother. So I dove right in to grab that thing just as if a family member was drowning. If I could have given my phone mouth-to-mouth, I totally would have. Unfortunately, we were not able to revive it. And I ended up giving my phone a proper Viking funeral.
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: That’s all I ever think when I’m on a plane. Mostly I just try to close my eyes and go to a happy place. Or take Xanax and drink lots of alcohol. In which case—I recall nothing.
• Your college roommate was John Lloyd Young, the actor. Can you tell us one thing about him that’s never been written?: He makes a mean cornbread?
• This is my all-time least favorite song. Your thoughts?: Steve Winwood is my uncle (twice-removed), so it wouldn’t really be appropriate for me to comment.
Last year, when Florida Georgia Line and Nelly blew up the charts with Cruise, one person after another seemed to praise the apparently revolutionary merging of country and hip-hop—two genres (the story goes) that never before touched.
I call complete, total bullshit.
Eleven years ago Bubba Sparxxx, the creative and wide-open rapper from LaGrange, Georgia, brought forth Deliverance, an album that was about, oh, eleven years before its time. The songs were country. The songs were hip-hop. They were inventive and explosive, and so incredibly good that the lame medium that is FM radio refused to touch it. Hence, while Deliverance is known to true hip-hop heads, it sort of vanished into the mist.
Sparxxx (real name: Warren Mathis), however, refuses to vanish. Now signed to Average Joe Entertainment, the veteran rapper recently released his latest single, Made On McCosh Mill Road. He tours all over the place, appears in songs with seemingly everyone and offers up a song that is—and always has been—uniquely Bubba.
BUBBA SPARXXX: It’s crazy, but I’m thrilled to death what’s going on. I’m actually signed to a label out of Nashville now, and I spend a lot of time up there songwriting. I just got my first country music songwriting hold with a country music singer this past year. And I mean, I’m pretty stoked about it overall. But it’s also a little comical to me—people just typically don’t associate me with the whole thing. I’m like, hands down, this is what I’m doing 10 … 12 years ago.
J.P.:It was a weird marriage. My first job was in Nashville, and I did a story in 1995 about country and rap ever emerging. And a lot of the country singers were like, ‘Rap? That’s not even gonna be around five years from now!’
B.S.: Neal McCoy is actually a pretty good friend of mine. And Neal McCoy covers rap songs at his concerts. He has at different times. Neal’s a great guy. A great guy. And his new song that’s getting some play on XM Radio is very … I’m not gonna say it’s the hip-hop influence, but it feels popish and it’s definitely not traditional country.
Neal and I went on a USO Tour to Kuwait and Iraq 10 years ago, and he always seemed open to it.
J.P.:How did you develop the idea in your mind that you could take these two foreign genres of music and merge them together?
B.S.: Working-class people just aren’t that different—period. No matter what the ethnicity. There are these invisible lines placed between the different races, but lower-middle class and down, and people are pretty much the same. The same mindsets. Their lives are pretty stressful. They deal with what they deal with on a day-to-day basis, and then when they cut loose they wanna have a good time. That’s something I knew at a young age. I just knew the people weren’t that different, because I grew up in a rural town—LaGrange, Georgia, about 60 miles southwest of Atlanta. Pretty much a 50-50 black and white community. And as far as my own story relates it to it all, I grew up in this place. There were some old South leanings where I grew up, hands down. But I grew up in this place, in this era when hip-hop music was exploding. And I guess it’s when you could say hip-hop music became mainstream; when it became popular music. And everybody was listening to it. Obviously some people more than others. And I just knew, where I grew up, white kids—quote-unquote rednecks—were riding around in jacked-up trucks, and in their CD cases they had Tim McGraw, Hank Williams, Jr., Outkast, Tupac, Nirvana. You know what I’m saying? I feel like my generation was the first generation that pretty much listened to everything.
And it really just boils down to the fact that I’m a country dude. I’m a country dude. I believe I’m pretty forward thinking, but I’m a country dude, I was raised in a rural area outside of a rural area. And I fell in love with hip-hop music. I grew up on the farm, grew up hunting and fishing and all that stuff. But I fell in love with hip-hop music. So I always just believe there are always ears for the story. I just always believed it.
J.P.: I’m like a liberal Jewish guy from New York. And there would be a perception of a kid like you, in small-town Georgia, white kid, you’d think he’d grow up with parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, who would be not happy or if he dates a black girl …
B.S.: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
J.P.:So how did you emerge out of that?
B.S.: I’ll just say, neither one of my parents ever went to school with black people. To me, there’s no excusing ignorance. But there are just certain generational stances or views or shapings that … people born before, maybe, 1960 in the South … my dad never went to school with a black person. He just never did. So natural was separate in his eyes for a long time. Now he’s come a long way the last 20 years. Especially seeing my career, and some of the things I stood for. And the fact I couldn’t have been any more different than he was. He just has kind of grown to accept it and even evolve.
I went to school with black kids. I was around black kids. My parents never were. It’s a generational thing, to a degree. So I just feel like the generation I grew up in shaped me. Now we all come to a crossroads and we all have decisions to make. We can all take the right fork or the left fork. I definitely felt, even for my generation, I took the road less traveled. Not to put myself on a pedestal, but at a young age I just kind of gravitated toward questioning things and bucking the system and debating whether what I’d been told was the way it had to be. So that was who I was. And hip-hop music and the explosion that was taking place was just kind of shaping me. It became who I was.
It’s just become even more so the case. It’s just like … when I look at Donald Sterling. It was crazy, because all this stuff happened, and I was reading about him in your book. I look at it like this—those people are just gonna die, man. You know what I’m saying? I believe very few people are all bad or all good. I believe most everybody has some good parts and some bad parts. The people of that particular mindset—they’re gonna die. And I believe at some point there won’t be very many, if any, left on the planet. I’m not saying I wish about anybody’s death. It’s just the way the world is changing and evolving.
J.P.:There’s always talk out there about the N-word in hip-hop, the N-word in sports. You’re from an interesting place. I’m sure you grew up hearing it from whites, and now there’s a lot of ‘Nobody should use that word! White or black!’
B.S.: I heard a lot of the one with the ‘e-r’ ending growing up, that’s for sure.
J.P.:Right. What do you think? To me, it’s, ‘I can tell a Jewish joke, you can’t.’ Can a black person take ownership of that word that, perhaps, you and I can’t?
B.S.: I definitely agree with that. I think that, as far as what’s happening with the use now, I just think the youth don’t give a shit. Whatever this generation is, the youth, whether it’s kids in the 1950s wanting to listen to rock and roll … whatever a generation is focused on, the youth is going to do what they want to do. So as far as the way kids today … I’m strictly speaking in terms of the word with an ‘a’ at the end, kids are just gonna do whatever they want. It doesn’t mean the same thing to kids today as it did when I was in high school. It doesn’t mean the same thing. But as far as me—I know where I come from and I know who I am, and I know the responsibility I place on myself. And it’s not something I’m going to do. Yes, I’ve had black friends and I could have said it. But it’s just not the route I choose to take. Because, once again going back to the generational thing, I don’t think it’s righteous for a man in his mid-30s to say, ‘OK, since it’s cool now I’m gonna start saying that!’ I’m not a part of this generation. If this generation is rocking that way, cool, I’m not gonna judge or fight it. But it’s just not something for me.
At the end of the day, I’m talking about black kids, white kids, Asian kids, Hispanic kids—everybody’s just saying it. Everybody’s applying it to themselves, to their friends. It is what it is, as far as the kids. But it’s never been something I felt comfortable saying, because I simply felt like, coming from where I come from, I understand the meaning of it in a deeper way.
J.P.:I love Ugly. Love it, always loved it. For all I know you hate it and never want to hear it again …
B.S.: The song I hate is Ms. New Booty. Ugly for me is—I wish more people, when we read the history books, I wish more people would focus on Ugly and Deliverance than they do Ms. New Booty. But it just is what it is.
J.P.:What’s the back story of Ugly?
B.S.: Well, it was the last song I recorded with Timbaland when I went to L.A. to record. I had put out an independent version of Dark Days, Bright Nights, and we decided we were going to keep about half of those songs for the Interscope release, for the Beat Club release. Which was Timbaland’s label. And then we were going to make the second half of the album with Tim. So we go in, and we probably do seven songs, and it’s two days before I’m supposed to leave. And I’m like, ‘Man, I just don’t really feel like I have a vintage Timbaland beat yet. I want one of those beats where, when you put it on, everyone says, ‘There’s that new Timbaland banger.’ Probably seven minutes later—this is his process. I’d be like writing to another beat over the loud speakers in the studio, and he’d have his headphones on and be playing with his keyboard or whatever. And probably seven minutes later he told the engineer to cut the beat he was working on on the big speakers. He did that and it was Ugly. And I was like, ‘That’s it! That’s it!’ That was the last song we actually did for the first album.
B.S.: I’m not going to apologize for a single that sells 3 million downloads. It’s not like I’m not grateful for it. But here’s my thing with it. Basically what you had is, I had a situation where I had the success of the first album, then we came back. Did you ever listen to Deliverance?
B.S.: Well, I felt like I had something to prove with that second album. Like, with the Ugly video, we presented these provocative visuals of rural life. We showed some real culture in there, and we also did some things for effect. It was supposed to be entertaining. But some real culture was captured in there. Tim didn’t feel like the sonics matched the visuals, and culturally who I was and where I came from. We basically just made a … it was more urban-leaning. Club bangers and that type of thing. And also we felt like a lot of people took it as a joke. So we sort of took it upon ourselves on the second album to not only make some viable music with a backbone, but to also sonically delve into bluegrass, different country-leaning instrumentation. Harmonicas. Fiddles. So on and so on. And create that sonic landscape that was Deliverance. That really backed up what the visuals of the Ugly video were. So we take this chance and have this critical darling of an album—everybody raves about it. But commercially it flopped.
It sold 400,000 albums. Nowadays they throw a parade for you. Back then you get fired. That’s basically what happened. It was kind of the beginning of addiction settling in in my life. It was the beginning of a very turbulent time. So I go through this period. It was like a bank robbery. Tim goes his separate ways from Jimmy Iovine and Interscope. Me and Tim went our separate ways. And there I was for, like, two years. I’d spoken with Big Boi from Outkast. We’d had a really cool relationship. And I knew he was looking to do another label situation somewhere, and we talked about that. But I go through these two years where I’ve accumulated all these things—a couple of houses, cars, whatever. And slowly the money is starting to dwindle. I’m slowly losing the means to facilitate this lifestyle that I’ve gotten adjusted to. And basically we then signed a very lucrative deal with Purple Ribbon, which was Big Boi’s imprint. And Virgin Records. At that particular time it was like I’d gone through this whole movement, in that I really, really believed in the country-rap thing. I really believed in what I was doing. I had a fan base. A pretty loyal fan base, loyal to what I was doing at that time.
And man, you know what? When I signed that deal with Virgin, they wanted a club banger. Ying Yang Twins were hot. I loved those guys, so grateful for those guys getting on that record with me at that time. Grateful, grateful. And like I said, it sold 3 million singles, huge hit, one of the biggest records in the world that year—but it just wasn’t in line with what I had been building. If that makes sense.
That’s my only gripe with it. I’m not going to say that it wasn’t me, because it was a component of me. But artistically, I know it threw a lot of my fans—my true fans—for a loop. So basically what you have now, for that period, what you had was … and I still don’t think it would have been such a big deal had I continued from there. But that happened to be the point when I just completely feel apart, went to rehab for the first time, just completely fell apart personally. I did just stop. But it looks like I quit. I didn’t. I just needed to deal with more important issues in my life and gain some perspective. So to a lot of people, my fan base that loved my first two albums, it sucks, and they’re pissed off that I did this big pop record that’s obviously just a trendy attempt at trying to make a record relevant to that particular era and fit into radio.
Where we struggled with Deliverance is it fell between the cracks. You didn’t have YouTube and Vevo and all these other mechanisms for reaching fans. Back then if you didn’t have radio or MTV or BET, guess what? In hip-hop, you’re not going to reach your fans. Deliverance was too urban for rock or country radio, and it was too rock and country for urban radio. It was what it was. When Virgin was like, ‘Can you make a viable record for radio?’ I did my best. But it conflicted.
Now you have these kids who look at me as this one-hit-wonder guy who did Ms. New Booty. Then you have my older sect of fans—true hip-hop heads—who know what I did earlier on. It’s just kind of … a dichotomy.
B.S.: Well, and really you hate being judged by that. You just hate for that to be viewed as your crowning achievement. And you know you’ve done so many more substance-filled songs. It’s a frustrating thing. It really is. But at the end of the day I’m not a sour grape guy. Because I had a career. I’m a kid who grew up on a farm, and I made a career in hip-hop music. I truly am just grateful for hip-hop, because I always say nothing more than religion has unified people and brought people from different walks of life together more than hip-hop and hip-hop culture. And I’m just a part of that. I’m tickled to death to be able to do 100 shows a year. I still go around, making a living. I just put out a new album in October. I know I’ll never have what I had … I’ll never go platinum again. Well, I’ll never say never, but I doubt very seriously that I’ll ever go platinum again, but I believe I can put out an album once a year, sell between 50,000 and 100,000 units, do 50 to 100 shows a year, sell some merch. I’m doing a different type of thing now, and it’s working. It took some time to get it going, but it’s going. And where country rap is heading—well, it’s exciting.
J.P.:Addiction is fascinating. Here you are—talented guy, rolling along. How do you explain the ability of addiction to fuck everything up?
B.S.: I honestly think the substance just brought it to a head for me. I can only speak for myself, and as it pertains to me, I just had some issues. As they say, I was an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. I was batshit crazy. I had a sickness in myself where I could never be satisfied. To me, it’s much deep-rooted stuff. I think I would have just went through life had I never acquired the means to do my drug of choice every day and to allow it to take a hold of my life and nearly kill me. I think I probably just would have gone through life just being miserable and not knowing why. From a young age, I had this thing that just gnawed at me. Any time I’d walk into a room I didn’t feel like I deserved to be there. This goes back to elementary school. Walking into a classroom, and if someone’s laughing I automatically think they’re laughing at me. When I pick up the drug, that soothes it—in the beginning. It was like when I first took a drink. It alleviated that edge. This underlining gnawing feeling that wouldn’t allow me to be comfortable. When we talk about the disease of addiction, they’re talking about the dis-ease. The dis-ease. That’s what it is. That’s the best way I could put it. A lot of it, I think, is growing up. I think, a lot of people, if you give them millions of dollars in their 20s … look at NBA athletes. Especially when you’re first generation of accumulating big-time money. Nobody is there to teach you how to handle it. So I think many people who get millions in their 20s fuck it up. Not to make excuses for myself. I mean God, I wish I hadn’t. But I think a lot of it is growing up. People who have success beginning in their 30s appreciate it more, and understand the realness of it all. When you’re 23 and you have that money, it feels like a lottery ticket. Sure you worked, but if you work from 20-30, I think you have more appreciation for it. And in terms of decision making in general, obviously it improves as you gain experience in life. Not that it explains addiction in full. But it’s a component of it. Sometimes you just grow up. And you learn how to live and stay out of situations.
J.P.:Ninety nine percent of society is not only riveted by fame but, to a certain extent, jealous of fame. It’s the reason we buy People and Star—because we think there’s something amazing about fame …
B.S.: Jay-Z said it—fame is the most dangerous drug known to man. And I’ll tell you, there is nothing … there is no aphrodisiac I’ve ever encountered … there’s nothing ever invented that makes people go more crazy than having seen somebody on the idiot box. I have no idea why that is. We can travel down this street for a minute—there’s something about television that seems larger than life to people. They don’t understand that it’s really just somebody standing in front of a person with a camera. A person just like you, standing there. But they think it’s really magic.
J.P.:Does fame live up to the hype? Would you rather have a kid and he goes on to be a doctor or lawyer—successful but not famous. Or do you want fame?
B.S.: At this point, I’m not gonna say I didn’t enjoy it. It was never something I really, really craved. I think I was scared to death of it, and then I went through a period where I was on tV all the time, and it was cool to talk in the mall. And people go crazy recognizing you. The first time I was ever on TRL, the same trip, when I was in New York, I’m walking in Times Square, and I literally get mobbed in Times Square. Me, from LaGrange, Georgia. From a farm—I get mobbed in Times Square. So it was all cool, but you just can’t turn it off. That’s the most frustrating aspect of it.
I always think about Little John. Me and my manager talk about this. Can you imagine how miserable it is for him to be at an airport at 6:30 in the morning, and some dumbass comes up to him, talking about, “Yeaaaaah, Ohhhhkkaaaaaay!!!!” Can you imagine? I can’t imagine having to be Little John all the time at 6:30 at an airport, with some dumbass running up and saying that. Whatever it takes for someone to have a good life, and that looks different for each person, I support. But my word of advice to my son will certainly be, ‘If you can find fulfillment in life and have a successful life and make a lot of money without that, you’ll probably be better off in the long run for it.’ Especially if you’re wired like me.
B.S.: That’s America for you. America, man. People love the ascent. They love being a part of the people’s champ, the underdog. And once you get there, and they see you do something they perceive as a change. Which means you’re really just adjusting to where you’re at now … it’s like, ‘Uh-oh, we have to drag him down.’
J.P.:It seems you have a mature approach now to your career. You don’t think you’ll have a song blow up as it once did. Can you play a room of 500 people, but it’s not sold out. The Ballroom in Brewster, N.Y. But they absolutely love the show …
B.S.: Yes! Yes, I can. One thousand percent. I appreciate it all more than ever. I literally went at one point almost two years without going to the studio one day. I had completely thrown in the white towel. I was done. This was probably 2010. I went to rehab initially in 2006, had some clean time, then had a relapse and went back in 2008. I got arrested in Tampa in 2009, and those charges ended up getting dropped. I had medication on me I was prescribed, but I didn’t have them in the container. TMZ reported all that stuff, but it wasn’t as newsworthy when the charges were dropped two weeks later. I really just had it with myself. I was still doing shows, but that’s when I started the process of surrendering in a positive way. Surrendering to the fact I really had an illness. I had tried to control it. I tried to do things on my terms. In 2009, it was the first time I said that my plan wasn’t working, and I needed someone else’s plan. So from 2009 until the beginning of 2011, I just didn’t have any use for music. I kind of had this cycle where I would get away from music and then I would have some clean time and get my act together. And then I’d go back to doing shows and recording, and I set the timer. It was just a matter of time before I started using again. I started thinking the problem was music. Or the lifestyle. And to a degree it was. But really the problem was me. A lot of people have fruitful careers in the music business and don’t use. Part of it, too, was I didn’t understand what I had to say. When music started changing, and I was in my 30s, hip-hop is becoming more of a deal—and as old as Jay-Z gets, that’s how old someone can be and stay relevant in hip-hop. If Jay-Z is 63-years old, we all can be 63 and rap.
Anyhow, around this time the guys at Average Joe Entertainment in Nashville started building this whole country-rap thing. And it was becoming a force. You have to see it. It’s the damnest thing you’ve ever seen. I’m talking about 3,000 kids, and rappers are performing … there’s black kids, white kids. This whole culture started exploding, and I was invited to be a part of it. And I realized even though I quit, and was totally removed from it, the seed I had planted had started to grow. It started to sprout. Over time it had been nurtured, and I wasn’t even aware of it. The whole thing is going crazy.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH BUBBA SPARXXX:
• Five greatest rappers of your lifetime?: Andre 3000, CeeLo, Jay-Z, Eminem, Ice Cube.
• Ever thought you were gonna die in a plane crash? If so, what do you remember?: Not an actual plane crash, but I used to have horrible nightmares about dying in a plane crash. The worst thing that ever happened to me was a really, really turbulent landing into Miami at one time. And I think a lot of people thought the plane was gonna crash. But I was pretty experience at that point. I didn’t think we were going to crash.
• Celine Dion calls, wants you to do a rap interlude in her new song for the Titanic II soundtrack. She’ll pay you $500 and a lifetime supply of Celine CDs. In?: No. Well, maybe if I get royalties. That could be a pretty big movie.
• Five reasons for one to make LaGrange, Georgia his/her next vacation stop?: 1. Because we play the best high school football arguably in the whole United States here; 2. We have a beautiful lake, West Point Lake; 3. We have a mall. 4. Um … let’s see. We have Charlie Joseph’s hamburgers. The best hamburgers you’ll ever eat. 5. And, I guess, it’s the birthplace of Bubba Sparxx.
• Meanest thing you’ve ever done to someone?: Hmm … meanest thing. Toughie. Oh, shit, my friend, Trey, he had a real hairy chest. I’d hold him down and put tape on his chest.
• Two memories from your senior prom?: I got very drunk and I had sex.
• Openly gay rappers—not a problem in the hip-hop world, or tough?: I think it’s just a matter of time. It’ll be smooth. Because that’s just where the world’s at. The person will probably be able to present it in such a fly world, people will be on board.
• What is Vanilla Ice’s legacy?: I think he was one of the first huge, huge pop stars who was a hip-hop artist. No one would have any problem today with any of the issues they had back then. He kind of knocked down the door for dancing entertainers, like what Puffy became. He wasn’t the greatest MC ever, but he was a helluva entertainer. He kind of gets a bum rap. And he’s an awesome guy. The dude sold 15 million albums. Everybody liked that song when it came out. Everybody.
• You’re driving in your car and Ugly comes on. What do you do?: I listen to it. Ms. New Booty—maybe not so much.
Yesterday afternoon, while driving back home from a visit to Cooperstown, N.Y., I asked the wife which Quaz I should run this week. I began mentioning some names, but when I reached Tracy Reiner she said, “Stop!”
“We’re coming back from the Baseball Hall of Fame!” she said. “Tracy Reiner is Betty Spaghetti! You have to do her this week! It’s timing …”
And here we are.
My 156th Quaz Q&A features Tracy Reiner, whose life is, to understate, fascinating. She’s the biological daughter of Penny Marshall. She’s the adoptive daughter of Rob Reiner. She’s been a key player in two iconic films—”A League of Their Own” and “Apollo 13″—and continues to act and direct … when she’s not focused upon her five children and/or medical software.
Tracy Reiner, there’s no crying in the Quaz! There’s no crying in the Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN:So Tracy, my kids (ages 7 and 10) love A League of Their Own. They absolutely, positively love it. So before I go into your career, let me ask: A. What’s your take of the movie, some two decades later. B. Did you know it’d be this good of a film as you were making it? C. What do you recall from the actual experience?
TRACY REINER: This film changed so many things . It mapped a new way for people to see history, baseball and female athletes. It totally changed the way men looked at us playing, and I mean not just the USC coaches but the White Sox and the Cubs also played with us at exhibitions. The guys couldn’t believe we could really play even as actors until we showed them. Charlie Hough pitched with me for 30 minutes in the bullpen when Comiskey Park was brand new and Jack McDowell coached me as well and came to practice. Ozzie Guillen sent us flowers and notes—he was very impressed with all the skirts.
What else changed? Basically, there was no way to even start a farm league for girls to play at all unless it started from both ends. After we knew we were good, we laughed at how 250-pound men were playing with little balls, diva-style, and paid millions of dollars to do so. Meanwhile, these women played double headers in skirts and went out dancing at night. Modern ball vs. old-school ball was what we see as sad now. The Silver Bullets and Justine Siegal and Baseball for All and even Sports Illustrated for Women started after the film. Also, the WNBA started and really took off.
As for the quality of the film—we all knew the historic aspect and the comedy was there but we did not know until after that it would touch so many people. I don’t just mean girl players, but Megan Cavanagh, Lori Petty, Annie Cusack and Patti Pelton and Anne Ramsey and I did the sports card shows for 10 years. And what I learned from the coaches, PE teachers, dads, moms, daughters and wives of players is that little girls all over the country wanted to play.
Most important to me, at the card shows the veterans and their wives and widows changed me deeply. I had no idea how deeply moved people would be. Screw the fact that it’s still the highest grossing sports movie of all time. People changed. People cried and felt understood. I had so many women athletes say they made their life choices after watching the film. I’ve still never seen such a reaction from a film. I am so honored to have been a part of telling their story with my family and so deeply grateful for these women keeping us all in their lives personally. The cast is as close to this day as any I’ve ever even heard of on other movies. We share all of our real-life events often to this day.
Now, I actually found out about the film when my cousin Wendy was trying out and was nervous because she works on films but isn’t an actress, per se. So I drove her with a mouth filled with wisdom teeth stitches and saw 2,000 girls trying out at USC. I was in awe, but I saw a lot of girls who I knew that I was more athletic than. So, in a jealous moment, I signed up to try out. I threw as hard as I could and did all the stations and heard Rod Dedeaux (the late USC baseball coach) say, “Damn, that girl’s got an arm!”
We got home and my mouth was a mess. I’d popped both sides of stitches and was exhausted My mom showed up shocked and said we had scored really well and my mom sat us down and asked if we wanted to do this. We said yes. So training started and some girls were hired.Then my mom decided to direct it herself and everything went nuts—eight hours a day for six days a week in training and then casting. We all switched roles and positions for a while. Then the real players showed up and our lives totally changed.
Each one of us has years of personal relationships and stories of what an amazing group of women were able to pull this off. I have spent the last 25 years sharing my life with these women. The cast and the AAGPBL Legendary Ladies of Baseball are a part of my family. That hasn’t happened on any other movie.
J.P.:So if one looks over your resume, you’ve had a very strong career—active, myriad roles, different sorts of characters. You’ve been a working actress for a long time, which ain’t something to sneeze at. And yet, your mom is Penny Marshall. You were adopted as a girl by Rob Reiner. In other words, you have big connections, a big last name. I wonder, what comes with that? More pressure? Less pressure? More opportunity? Less? Is it a blessing, or a Catch 22?
T.R.: It’s an absolute gift to be surrounded with just massively talented people. It gives you amazing insight and also it gave me, personally, the ability to choose a balance of real life and what I call simulating real life. I worked for a long time and worked production and ran a development company, then I took a long real-life break and got married. And now I am producing a film about the 100-year history of the American Legion Post 43 and Hollywood. There is no curse to having family in the business you’re in … although family will do to family what strangers would never dare. That’s in good and bad ways. It’s life.
J.P.:I’m fascinated by life paths—so, Tracy, what’s yours? I know you were born in Albuquerque, know your family background. But why did you go into acting? How did it start? When did you first feel the love?
T.R.: I wanted to raise horses and ride forever. So when did I feel the love for performing? Acting is really fun and really intense, and there are lots of people out there all doing the same thing. I love the effort and creed of film people—but show business is a cold and vain world. I lived here as a kid so I learned to say no and was protected from a lot of really fucked-up people and also had to deal with a lot of really fucked-up people.
But, like in any family, you feel totally left out if you don’t at least participate in family events. I had to learn the language my family spoke since I spent my first years in New Mexico. My family was into therapy and I was sad from my parents splitting and for me therapy was not fun. It was very serious and not really helping me be funny and laugh more. They all still think I’m really intense, and unfortunately therapy left me highly analytical and fast minded. Somewhere around then my mom sent me to improv class and Viola Spolins, then Uta Hagen, then Stella Adler and on and on. All were very nice to me and were very nurturing. I’m still not a comic. I am known for crying a lot in movies. It’s my balance, I guess. They make you laugh and I make you cry. It’s a family.
J.P.: You turn 50 this year—not old by normal standards, but—it seems—sort of antiquated in the world of female actresses. Which strikes me as really, really unfair and sucky. How hard is it for, oh, post-40 actresses to land good roles? Is there as big a double standard as I think? And did that at all influence your transition away from acting toward other endeavors?
T.R.: I didn’t want to be a woman at 40 trying to look young. I thought it was the perfect time to go off and turn into the next character in my story—mother and writer and huge business facilitator. I have helped 10 projects while raising my kids. I started doing digital business plans, then consulting the actors and filmmakers. All by introductions. Not from my family at all. They think I’m nuts for not sticking to one thing and I keep having an amazing adventure. Now I’ve done domestic cultivating—kids, pets, gardens, screenplays, etc.
And now I’m into space … macro perspectives of all this history I’ve studied. I was a history of storytelling major in college. Now I want to animate the periodic table. Not a very sitcom, action or drama topic. I home school my girls and I like it a lot more than they do so we will see about next year. It reactivated my brain after being “in service” as a parental unit. I’m ready to travel and work again and show them the world like my parents did with me. Don’t get me wrong—I will act in anything now. It’s fun. I love it. It’s great as a job—so heads up anyone reading. I’m ready to be the Colleen Dewhurst version of me. Or Glenda Jackson. Geraldine Page. Ellen Burstyn. Or a toothless homeless woman talking to the stars. It’s all now about the focus of the piece.
J.P.:You have five kids. Let me repeat that—five kids. I have two. Couldn’t even imagine the stress of having three more. How do you do it? Manage? And how has that impacted your career?
T.R.: It’s made me sane. I grew up basically an only child. I have a sister, Heather, from my father Mickey. I love to be silent and alone and having constant chaos opened up a whole new skill set. Twelve years ago I would have laughed and driven away if you said, “Guess where you will be in 2014 …” But I am better now at being me and being a parent and an artist then I ever imagined
J.P.:According to your bio, you grew up with 15 family members employed by the Atomic Energy Commission, which resulted in your interest in renewable energy , space and super luminal transport physics. Tracy, recently a crushing report on climate change came out, suggesting—more or less—we’re sorta fucked. Tracy, do you have any remote hope for humanity? Or are we just screwed?
T.R.: There is a tremendous effort being made to save the earth and a tremendous effort at still raping the earth. She will have to reconcile this battle. I am on the side of the white blood cells fighting the disease.
T.R.: There are such sad, funny stories about the series. They actually hired one of the greatest writing teams to try and launch the show, but I think they knew there was no way a period piece show that dealt with the war, politics, baseball and women’s feelings was going to excite male sponsors and general doubters. I had just had an 11-pound baby so it looked like Betty’s husband died and she ate a lot. Tom Hanks, Ted Bessel and Harvey Miller all guest directed. Monica Johnson, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel from the film wrote. That doesn’t happen. And it did. Tom Hanks laughed at me and said, “You know, if this goes you will be only the second sitcom widow on TV!” Julia in the 70s was the other.
Tracy, right, with her fellow Apollo 13 cast member, Kathleen Quinlan.
J.P.:You were awesome in Apollo 13. I really mean that—awesome. I sorta feel like the film somehow gets overlooked when we discuss great movies of the 1990s. Yet, for my dough, it’s right there. What do you recall of the experience?
T.R.: I auditioned really fast because it was at Universal and I wanted to sneak in the back lot with my son, who was 2. I said, “Bill Paxton is from Oklahoma. Do you want me to do an accent?” Um … sure. So I read really quick and showed Ron Howard my son in the video since the character had three kids. I remember the line—to Jim Lovell’s wife—was, “You’ve done this three times? You don’t even sweat or nothing?” And I was off. There were no tears in any of my lines.
I was going to do the directing program at USC and I got a call that Ron Howard wanted to see me to read in person. So I went and he said, “Thanks, goodbye.” I don’t think he even knew that I had uncle who worked at NASA and worked on Apollo 13. Just as I got all my classes settled I got a call saying I got the part. Then I researched Mary Haise, my character, and she also had a degree in Astrophysics like her husband and was a master archer and was the only NASA wife who had a shag. All the tears came when we shot the launch. It was one of the greatest sequences ever. Jim Lovell’s real wife and daughter were put in the scene standing in front of me and Kathleen Quinlan (who is another hero of mine) and the two Lovell women started to cry when they played the real launch audio of the takeoff.
There were tons of people watching a tissue go up a flag pole but when they cried we stopped and Ron came up and said to me, “You know what to do.” I looked into her eyes and knew watching your husband leave the planet, an absolute life risk, for the third time was beyond bereavement and prayer. I had reacted to death but this was something else … overwhelming and, for Mary Haise (seven months pregnant), it took all of my compassion and ability way up and in honor of them.
Originally the script said something like, “I hear in Italy 13 is a lucky number” … look to kids, blah blah blah. Now it’s crazy real. Mother Mary crying to the moon and the launch and the score … to this day people tilt their heads and look at me and smile. That film was the second best time ever. I knew many of the cast before the film which is always fun. We won Best Ensemble Cast at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. I got to meet Arthur C. Clark‘s brother (awe from a geek like me) and Arthur Projected holographically from Sri Lanka at the Arthur C. Clark awards. I got to go because of the film and then got invited to speak in Seoul at their KIPA film school on storytelling from game design to feature films with some guys from James Cameron’s Earthship TV.
So all my crazy technology buttons got pushed and I started not finding the same levels of intelligence in many of the films that followed. Or in what I was being looked at for being 35 … 36 … 37. So I was totally reality inspired and also spoiled and needed a break. I was having totally unrealistic expectations from the people in this industry . So I stopped simulating and started connecting people and ideas and now both sides of my brain feel much better. .
J.P.:In 2013, you headed a team that funded and marketed a new medical software company. Um, that’s not something you read in the bios of too many actresses/directors. Please elaborate …
T.R.: Not true. Women actresses have always been major connectors of people and ideas and money and technology. Hedy Lamarr, Jayne Mansfield— there are plenty. Google it. I love lens history and projection as well as farm and water technologies and alternative energies. The man who started the medical software was in early Animatronics special effect and other things.
J.P.:You recently said in an interview, “some of the technology that is being used in special effects and large format I find to be dangerous. And I’ve spoke with quite a few people in 3d technologies and we need to make sure that there is not just film stimulations but also conscious effort to preserve the integrity in doing this job.” What, exactly, do you mean by “dangerous”? What’s the problem here?
T.R.: I have my own very serious concerns with the stability of people’s binocular fusion of the eyes just for starters. I have seen many dysphorias come from watching 3D films and I have seen the difference of my own performance on the audience in 3D and I suggest people really seriously give a shit about a whole bunch of things about CGI and special effects. About what they watch and show their kids. I spoke on panels and I asked many people about the guidelines and I have many friends who do that job. I bug them constantly. I have been asked to say things and be a noisy brat by some of the inventors of the technologies and so I do. Just remember how much more important your food is over movie stimuli. Don’t watch crazy shit. And if you can’t help it … yes, you’re pretty much fucked.
• Five things you always carry in your purse?: Water, 1,000 cards, pens (I love black pens), Magic Mom Kit, passport, phone.
• Rank in order (favorite to least): The Deer Hunter, Starbucks, Kiss, Marvin Hagler, Howard Stern, potatoes, Kentucky, Marla Hooch, convertibles, Martin Landau, Hollywood, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Justin Bieber: Marla Hooch, Martin Landeau, convertables, potatoes. The rest are not in my life.
• Five greatest actresses of your lifetime?: I think I mentioned them.
• Ever thought you were about to die in a place crash? If so, what do you recall?: No shit—I’ve gotten off the plane twice. I just heard out loud in my head, “Get off!” They, of course, didn’t crash but it was creepy. Pissed off the people I was flying to meet. I told them I was late.
• My daughter is wrapping up fifth grade, and she really wants an iPhone 5. Thoughts?: No No and ah NO. Testing new technology on your kids is kinda fucked up. No, Daddy. Nothing personal. iPad laptop or towers are a bit safer. I like iPhones but they are bad for kids’ bodies—period.
• Celine Dion calls. She wants you to move to Las Vegas for a year to become her personal acting coach. Good news—$5 million for the year. Bad news—you can only look at her shoes, and twice a day you have to bake her banana bread. You in?: Money isn’t what’s happening. I don’t endorse shame games.
• I have an idea—A League of Their Own II—Revenge of The Ghost of Jimmy Dugan. You in?: Only if they play on the moon.
I love people who bust their asses chasing a dream.
We always throw around terms like, “Busting my ass” … but how many actually do so? How many chase a dream, even when the dream keeps taunting, teasing, proving elusive? How many are willing to sustain, even when said dream pulls back, darts off, dashes away?
Conroe Brooks is a dream chaser. He’s an actor, a singer, a dancer. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Maybe you haven’t. You’ve certainly seen him—leading famed flash mobs, starring as Sam Cooke. He’s an amazing talent who aspires to great things, while eternally experimenting in his pursuits. In short, he’s a performer. An excellent one.
JEFF PEARLMAN:So Conroe, before I get into your history and some nitty gritty—you’re the man behind many of the flash mobs that went viral. Which leads me to ask: What the hell? Some phenomenons I get, some I don’t. This one—the idea of a ton of people just starting to dance, without anyone else knowing—caught me totally (but pleasantly) off guard. How do you explain the evolution of popularity of the flash mob? How did you get involved? And does it have any remaining steam, or is it sorta 2010ish?
CONROE BROOKS: I got started doing flash mobs when Michael Jackson died. After he passed I felt like I needed to do something to celebrate him. I came across the Sweden “Beat It” flash mob and knew that’s what I wanted to do. I sent a message out to all my friends—including Staci Lawrence, who is now my business partner with Flash Mob America. She really jumped on board to help out, make this thing happen and invite people. It ended up being a major success, getting tons of news coverage. After that I really thought I was done with. I expected it to be one and done. But people kept begging for another one. So we did another MJ flash mob on his birthday. And then I honestly thought that was it. Next thing we knew Janet Jackson’s record label found us on Facebook and hired us to do one for her. Janet showed up to watch, which ended up giving us international press. It was insane. We began to get news coverage on MTV, CBS, etc. And they were naming us as the leading flash mob company. And really we were the onlyflash mob company. Lol!
So the popularity really sprung up after Michael Jackson died. People ended up doing MJ flash mobs all over the world. Next, major PR agencies began hiring us. We haven’t had a day off since. I’d say that now, almost five years later, the big major company flash mobs have decreased a lot. We are still very busy though. Now people are doing them mostly for marriage proposals, weddings, sales conferences and trade shows. There’s still plenty of steam as far as I can see.
C.B.: Hammer actually literally discovered Special Generation. I think it happen at a show. They sang for him and he told them to pack their bags, you’re coming with me tomorrow. I say ‘they’ because I joined the group later in the game. They sang background on his “U Can’t Touch This” album and then recorded their own. After a couple years things got rough and a couple members left the group. In came me. An 18-year-old bright-eyed kid. I was over the moon because I had their album and knew all their songs already. At this point though, MC Hammer wasn’t really involved. We were basically starting from scratch again. The name definitely helped us get in a few doors. We released a single and toured for a summer, but that was it. So after a few years I decided to leave the group and get back into acting.
J.P.:Being Denzel or Redford seems awesome. Being Conroe Brooks, actor, seems hard. In 2000 you played Sam Cookie in the TV movie, “Little Richard,” and since then much of what you’ve done has been small parts—“Kevin” in an episode of Will and Grace, a police officer in Heroes, a process server in The Young and the Restless. Why is it so hard to strike it big in Hollywood? And how rewarding/frustrating has your career been?
C.B.: It is definitely hard at times. But I love being an actor. It’s been a long roller coaster for me. When I first got to Los Angeles in 2000, things moved pretty quickly. I landed the role of Sam Cooke on my very first audition. There have been some great parts here and there since then, but of course I’m not famous yet. There are hundreds of thousands of actors out here. So that’s one thing that makes it tough. Also, you’ve got to be absolutely ready to handle a lot of pressure. There is an extremely small percentage of people that could actually handle carrying a movie or a TV show. That takes either being born with that it factor or somehow finding it along the way. No one can teach you that. Or else, of course, more people would be famous. It has been quite frustrating for me because I don’t get a lot of auditions. Although I book a good percentage of the auditions I go out on. But six-to-eight auditions a year won’t cut it. So that’s the most frustrating part. Getting casting directors to know you exist and bring you in. I have the chops, but only a handful of casting directors know that. The good thing that’s happen for us up-and-coming actors is that now it’s easier that ever to make your own movies, webseries, etc. And that’s really all I want to do. I’m not looking to be famous. I just wanna tell great stories and be able to make a living doing it.
J.P.:You were born and raised in San Jose, and you got your start singing in musicals. But what, exactly, was your path from birth to here? How did you decide upon entertainment as a career? What pushed you throughout your early days?
C.B.: I can tell you the exact moment when a light bulb clicked in my head that entertainment is what I wanted to do. It started when I was in sixth grade. It was recess and I walked by an open classroom door and heard a teacher call my name. I went in and he said, “I want you to audition for the school play. Here, look at this monologue for a little while and then come back in and read it for me.” I was kind of a shy kid so I’m not sure why I agreed. But the role I was reading for was a shy kid, so that worked in my favor. I came back in and read the monologue and as soon as I was finished he said, “You got the part!” That actually wasn’t the moment I knew I wanted to be an actor. I was so nervous, but also a bit excited. It was after the play that sealed the deal. It was the reaction of everyone telling me how good and funny I was. That’s when the light bulb turned on. I loved making people happy. I loved making people laugh. I was hooked.
J.P.:What is it like seeing yourself on TV? Is it still a rush or a thrill or anything? Does it get old? Are you ever horrified, or elated?
C.B.: Seeing myself on TV now doesn’t have the same thrill as it did in the beginning. Now I watch with more a critic’s eye. I’m not too hard on myself, but I watch carefully to see if I pulled it off and was believable.
J.P.:According to your IMDB bio, you were cast by Garry Marshall to help develop Happy Days the musical. I was a Happy Days fanatic as a kid—looooooved and lived for that show, but I remember nothing of a musical. What happened, Conroe? What’s the story behind the story?
C.B.: Garry Marshall did, I think, about three or four workshops trying to get a musical off the ground. I did a few of them and then my manager advised that I stop because it didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I think he only ended up running it for a short time at his little theater in Toluca Lake. So it just never got going.
J.P.:Several years ago I wrote a piece for TV Guide about a short-lived show called “Love Monkey.” Jason Priestly was a cast member, and after watching a scene filmed for the 20th time I said to him, “This seems pretty boring.” He replied, “You have no idea.” Conroe, is film/TV acting actually fun? And, if so, how/why? Because it seems like there’s a helluva lot of standing around.
C.B.: There is a lot of standing around for sure. But you get used to that. It’s still a thrill once those cameras start rolling and you have to do your best to portray real life. It’s the ultimate challenge. And when you get to do fun action stuff like shooting guns or high-speed chases, well, then the wait is worth it.
J.P.:Greatest moment of your career?
C.B.: I just released a music video for my cover ofSay Something. This is my first music I’ve done and first song as a solo artist on iTunes. The video is starting to pick up some steam and getting amazing feedback! I’m very proud of the song and I think the video is going to be something different and risky that people haven’t seen before. I think it’s going to doing something pretty big.
J.P.:Sam Cooke was friggin’ amazing and awesome and the smoothest singer I’ve ever heard. That was your first-ever TV role. What do you recall of the experience? How does one prepare himself to play a legend? And do you recall how you received word that you landed the part? What your reaction was?
C.B.: Well, Sam Cooke is my favorite singer so I was very familiar with him already. I watched anything and everything I could get my hands on to learn about him and see him in interviews and performances. My voice is already similar to his so that wasn’t a problem. My manager called me to tell me the news. I was at work waiting tables when I got the call. She actually left me a message to call her as soon as I got it. So I snuck off at a time when nobody needed anything at my tables. When she said “You got the part,” I was overjoyed. I jumped around and screamed like a crazy person. I immediately called my parents to tell them the news. Sam Cooke is also my dad’s favorite singer so I knew he would be excited.
J.P.:In the aftermath of Newtown, liberals blamed guns, and the NRA turned around and blamed—in part—violence in TV and film. I’m wondering what you think about this. Are some movies and shows too violent? Have we, as a society, crossed a line?
C.B.: I don’t think they are too violent. I watched all kind of scary movies, violent movies as a kid and I had no desire to shoot people. It’s ridiculous to blame TV and movies. They aren’t turning kids into killers. These kids are already disturbed for whatever reason and people/family aren’t taking the time to really talk to these kids about their problems. They obviously aren’t feeling loved or a part of society. There’s a disconnect with their parents somewhere.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH CONROE BROOKS:
• Not a ton of Conroes in the world. How’d you get your name?: It’s a family name. My dad is Conroe and my grandfather was Conroe as well.
• Five reasons one should make San Jose his/her next vacation destination?: Hmmm. Ummm. It’s close to San Francisco?
• Three memories from your experience playing “LAPD Officer No. 2” on 24: Meeting Kiefer Sutherland. Feeling nervous about acting like an authority figure. The feeling of wearing a cop uniform and walking around downtown LA.
• Five greatest actors of your lifetime: Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, Al Pacino and Daniel Day-Lewis.
• Rank in order (favorite to least)—Jim Rome, The DH, Whole Foods, “Clueless,” The Rock, Lindsay Hartley, New York City, Milk Duds, “Jerry Maguire,” Jose Reyes, Pete Wilson, Buddy Biancalana, Canada Dry products: New York City, Lindsay Hartley, “Jerry Maguire,”, “Clueless,” Whole Foods, The Rock, Milk Duds, Canada Dry products, Buddy Biancalana, the DH, Jim Rome, Pete Wilson, Jose Reyes, Cher.
• One question you would ask Jimmy Carter were he here right now?: What was up with that UFO incident?
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall …: Yes. But I’m a bit nervy about flying. It was really just turbulence that last longer than I could handle. I sort of let out an “Oh god!” at one point.
• Can you make an argument, in 18 words or less, for Celine Dion?: Not really. I don’t pay much attention to her. I mean I know she’s amazing. I just don’t get excited about her.
• Best joke you know: Knock knock. Who’s there? Control Freak – OKAY NOW YOU SAY CONTROL FREAK WHO!
I do. Not all the time, but—especially when a new book comes out—often enough. I guess it’s ego gone crazy, but I want to know that people are reading. I want to know that books are moving. I want to know that there’s a buzz. I want to know …
… that I play the organ.
I don’t play the organ. Or the keyboard. Or any sort of instrument. I once took guitar lessons, and wrote a song for my infant daughter called “Breast Feed, Bird Seed.” But, alas, it sucked, and my guitar now sits in the basement, gathering dust. Fortunately, just because this Jeff Pearlman doesn’t have a sliver of musical talent doesn’t mean The Jeff Pearlman also lacks skill. In fact, The Jeff Pearlman (who I discovered via Google) is a wizard; a man who has played in 1,001 bands, who loves the Dead, who is bringing the Hammond Organ toward the forefront of cool (well, sorta) and who wisely married the great singer/songwriter, Katie Pearlman.
Here, Jeff Pearlman talks life as Jeff Pearlman—minus the eternal threat of a racist relief pitcher knocking on his door with a butcher knife. He explains his love for organs and ponytails, and why Tupac’s greatest song leaves him somewhat unimpressed. One can keep track of Jeff here, and follow his latest musical projects here, here and here.
Jeff Pearlman, my brother in mediocre, uninspired naming, welcome to The Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN:Well, this is quirky. So Jeff, I’m gonna begin with an odd one. I started really thinking about names when my wife was about to give birth to our daughter. I kept pondering the way names shape people. If you name a kid Sidney, is her life much different—90 years later—than had you named her Olive? I think yes, but I’m not sure why. Or how. So, Jeff Pearlman, what do you think about your/our name? How did you get it? In 2014, are you cool with it?
JEFF PEARLMAN: I was named after my dad’s grandfather. When I was young, I was small and young for my grade, so I was bullied and made fun of a lot, and one of the things I remember happening was having my name made fun of. As a result, I couldn’t stand the sound of my name “Jeffrey”. It probably wasn’t until after high school that those wounds began to heal, I accepted myself more, and I ceased having issues with my name. Now in my life I am very happy with who I am and where I’m at, so I feel that my name as part of who I am in this life serves me just fine. The idea you postulate, that our names perhaps shape us, is an interesting one, that I think may, at least on the margin, be so. My wife, Katie, named our first daughter Emma Lynn because it sounds like the name of a Country singer, which she wouldn’t exactly mind if it came to be.
J.P.:You’re a singer and keyboardist in a bunch of different projects, bands, etc. Where did your love of music come from? When did you realize, “Hmm, this is more than just a hobby for me?” In short, what has been your path—womb to keyboard?
J.P.: This is a pretty cool story. I have always loved music. The first album I remember listening to was Meet the Beatles, which, as I recall, was purchased by my parents for my brother by mistake, as it was supposed to be a Monkees album. This led to a childhood fanaticism with The Beatles. I started singing (outside of the house) in middle school, mostly in the context of musical theater, where I acquired a taste for music of the early 20th Century. For a while I had a real good Al Jolson imitation going, and even won a contest held at the Ziegfeld Theater, which got me a performance gig, a morning television show appearance and a picture on the front cover of the second section of the Saturday edition of the NY Times. Not bad for 13! In high school, I got into singing choral music and had some good experiences in state competitions and sang in All-County Chorus (Nassau County) several times. I never played piano, though, other than some banging on our home spinet. My taste in music evolved through my school years from The Beatles, into folk music, and then into progressive rock (Genesis, Yes, ELP, etc.) in which keyboards played an integral part. It was then that I started appreciating the diversity of the keyboard, and the roles they played in that kind of music. In 1981, a friend took me to my first (of very many) Grateful Dead concerts where I found a passion for that music of the likes I had never known. Among other things, I really fell in love with the Hammond Organ and I found its sound captivating.
Many years later, at the age of 29, I was handed a copy of a local magazine called the “The Music Paper”, because it had a picture of Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart on the front cover. When I was perusing the classified ads in the back (for no actual reason), I saw a want ad for a “beginning keyboard player interested in The Dead and Bob Dylan”. I had previously acquired a basic synthesizer, because I liked to make cool sounds, so I packed it up with my minimal knowledge of the instrument and proceeded to go out and change my life. The folks I went to play with gave me great feedback, and one of the guys I met suggested that I come out and play with another group he jammed with, which was a group of pro-level players. It was an incredible and somewhat overwhelming experience, but I knew this was something that I must keep doing. This is now 23 years later, and I haven’t stopped playing for a second. It’s not, however, how I make a living (for the most part). By day, I’m a high school Earth Science/Astronomy teacher at Hewlett High School on Long Island (NY). In spite of the fact that I don’t make most of my living from it, music is certainly not a hobby. I gig as much as I can (I’ve done up to 100 shows a year in recent years), and have played far and wide around the East Coast and even as far as Arizona and Utah. I have also recorded on about 20 or so albums. I feel my late start in music has given me a unique perspective on it. I knew my life before music and since. I really feel that music essentially dropped out of the sky into my lap, and feel very blessed for it. I feel gratitude each and every time I go out to play, and it has provided me a creative and expressive outlet I could not have imagined. The feedback I’ve gotten from audiences and fellow musicians has let me know that I’m doing something right here. I’ve met most of my good friends and even my wife through playing, so it has truly transformed my life.
J.P.:I don’t want this to sound self-serving, because I know I’m not famous or even known outside of sports books. But have you ever been confused with a writer named Jeff Pearlman? (“Why the fuck did you do that to John Rocker!”) Or, perhaps, Ronald Perelman, the Revlon chairman? Or Lou Pearlman, the Backstreet Boys founder? And were you, in fact, an original Backstreet Boy?
J.P.: Ha! Don’t start any rumors. Actually, come to think of it, when the Rocker book came out, a friend did make a crack about that to me! The only “Pearlman” I have been repeatedly asked about being related to, though, is Itzhak (actually spelt “Perlman”).
J.P.:According to your bio, you were hugely influenced by the music of the Grateful Dead. Which I love—because I’ve only heard, oh, 2,000 times that being a Dead fan, “isn’t really about the music.” What’s your take on the Dead? On their influence and sound?
J.P.: What I see the Grateful Dead being all about is exploration and reflection (and plenty about the music, I must insist). From the musicians’ standpoint, a good deal of their live performance was improvisational. They would travel together as a unit through a tonal landscape that was new every time, and would do it with skill, passion, energy, imagination, and risk taking. Their lyrics were frequently metaphoric for varying aspects of our existence, and reflective story telling. From the listeners’ standpoint, we got to ride the wave that they were creating, and we used our imagination to see ourselves and the human condition through their music, while celebrating the entirety by channeling the energy through dance. It seemed that the music drove the audience which then in turn drove the band, and both the fans and the band agree that the connection between the audience and the band was an essential part of every show and they would drive each other to energy heights unattainable without that connection. Their influence on music is evident in that since the almost 20 years since Jerry Garcia’s death, the music is going strong with many groups still re-interpreting it (I spend much of my playing time in such a pursuit), and many newer bands, especially (but certainly not limited to) those that fall into the genre of “jam bands” don’t hide their Grateful Dead influence. Also, not too many groups have their own dedicated satellite radio channel, attesting to the number of die-hard fans they still have. In fact, I think the number of fans of the Dead continue to increase as new generations are exposed to their music. There is a kindred connection with many of us longtime Deadheads. It’s kind of like we all went to school together. I can meet a Deadhead I don’t know from another part of the country and have an in-depth conversation like we’re old friends that haven’t spoken in some time, on great variety of topics. Also, I essentially learned how to play by going to school on the music of the Dead. Stylistically, The Grateful Dead draw on all of the American genres such as bluegrass, country, folk, jazz, blues, and rock. This has given me a pretty solid foundation for playing a variety of music in a variety of styles.
J.P.: You’re big into the Hammond Organ. What the hell is a Hammond Organ?
J.P.: The Hammond Organ was invented in the 1930’s by Laurens Hammond. It was intended to be an alternative to a church pipe organ. It works in a similar fashion in that the sound is based on 9 bars that can be pulled out to different degrees, each bar representing a different length pipe, so the sound of any one note is really up to nine individual tones layered on top of each other. The bars can be manipulated while playing, so the sound is very dynamic and can alter the feeling of different passages of a song. The organ isn’t played through a regular amplifier, rather, it is played through rotating speakers (called a “Leslie” Speaker Cabinet – invented by Don Leslie in the 1940’s) which gives the organ a very big, pulsating sound. It has been a fixture in so many kinds of music, including gospel, jazz, blues and rock. Many of the organists that have been my greatest influence have been gospel players. Look for it in pop music, even on music television programs when a person looks like their playing a huge piece of furniture.
J.P.:Give me the story of the absolute worst musical venue you’ve ever played, and the worst experience as a musician. I love those tales …
J.P.: Oh, where to begin? So many to choose from. OK, in about 2002, I was in an original rock band that was booked to play a festival in Virginia. The festival grounds were described as being rolling hills with orchards and that there would be drum circles and many amenities. We got there after an eight hour drive, and found out that the grounds weren’t at all what were advertised. It was more like someone’s yard (albeit a large one in rural Virginia). There were no rolling hills, no orchards, no drum circles, very few people, and very little money. I don’t remember what we were promised, but we were offered a small sum if we would NOT play, and would pay us nothing if we insisted on playing. Well, we decided that it was more important for us to have our music heard by the few people there then to just turn around and drive eight hours back to NY. So we set up and played our set, the sound man fell asleep at the soundboard (and we weren’t a soft band), broke down, and I got back in the car and drove straight back to NY. Over the years, there have been many gigs cancelled or double booked that we were not informed about until we arrived at the venue. There have been times stiffed, as well. At times, playing rock music can make one feel like Rodney Dangerfield.
J.P.:Why do you think soooo many musicians drink and smoke? Being serious—they’re bad for you, they certainly don’t enhance skills. So … why?
J.P.: I think that rock and roll is still associated with a “bad boy” image. Many rock and roll musicians that serve as role models can still be seen as portraying a rebellious image that includes all sorts of reckless behavior. Actually, over the years, I see many fewer musicians that smoke cigarettes. Much of that may have to do with the fact that the venues are smoke free now. I was never a smoker, yet I used to come home from gigs with my clothes and hair reeking of smoke, and felt that I had smoked a pack myself! I can’t tell you how happy I am that smoking is no longer allowed in most places. As for the drinking, most bands play in drinking establishments and most gig compensation agreements include the covering of a bar tab, to some extent. I also know that many musicians have some sort of performance anxiety, and a drink or two may help them to relax. I also don’t see as much serious alcohol consumption as I used to. Most musicians I know take their craft very seriously, and don’t want to compromise their performance, or their health. I think, though, that especially with young players, it’s the archetypal image of the rock and roller that drives the unhealthy behavior.
J.P.:What are the complications of trying to “make it” in music? It seems like a field that can eat people alive—but also offers tremendous reward and gratification.
J.P.: You’re right on both fronts, Jeff! Since my music career began after my teaching career, I never had to worry about making ends meet, but my wife, Katie, is a full time musician, and she’s encountered the challenges of which you speak. In this day of the sharing of music among people digitally, there’s very little money in record sales. The only way to make a living, unless you’re really huge, is live performances and selling CDs and merchandise at shows. In order to do that well, and on a regional/national level, you really need managerial and promotional assistance. Everyone gets paid before the artist, and there are never any guarantees. The artist is not just competing with other musicians for the consumer’s bandwidth, but with every other entertainment medium vying for the ever decreasing amount of discretionary dollars available to most folks. That said, there is very little that I’ve encountered that compares with playing a show to an enthusiastic, packed house, or hearing rave reviews of an album of original music that you contributed to. It’s definitely a business with incredibly high peaks and very challenging valleys.
J.P.:You have a pretty long ponytail—something I’d never, ever, ever be able to pull off. What’s the story of the ol’ tail?
J.P.: Long hair has come and gone (and come again) over the years starting when I was in college. I’ve had it long for about 15 years now. I don’t know, I think, maybe, that it’s an outward representation of the freedom I feel I have in this life, and now I think most of that freedom comes directly or indirectly from music. Besides, my wife likes it (my mom hates it) and my students dig it, although I feel compelled to jacket and tie it to work every day to sort of balance out the look and make it more professionally presentable.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JEFF PEARLMAN:
•You list your favorite book as “A Gradual Awakening” by Stephen Levine. Um, where’s the love, bro?: That book has had great impact on my life. I’ve always considered myself a spiritual being (not a religious one, however), and that book helped to crystallize one of the pillars of my beliefs. I’ll try to explain. I think that humans, consciously or not kind of identify themselves (to themselves and perhaps to others as well) by the thoughts that continuously stream through their consciousness. I know that I am not my thoughts. I feel that who I am is a point of awareness, a space that thoughts show up in. They arise, they dwell, and then fade away. Through awareness fostered by meditation, one can get more in touch with the spaces between thoughts and dwell there, seeing the thoughts for just what they are. I think that this gives them less power in my life and as a result, I’m generally calmer, more at peace, happier and more empowered (but, boy, I have much to learn). That is what this book is about. Interestingly, it relates to music in a very fundamental way. The notes that one plays are really meaningless unless they are each surrounded by space or silence. The space is at least as important as the note, for without the space, there is no music.
•Rank in order (favorite to least): Patrick Stewart, Darryl Dawkins, Catherine Bach, Little River Band, watermelon, red hair, Pharrell Williams, Mr. Potato Head, Detroit Red Wings, Paradise By the Dashboard Light: OK, First, Patrick Stewart. He is my favorite actor. I’ll tell you that I’m quite the Trekkie and sci-fi geek in general. Second is Paradise. As a kid of the seventies, how could it not rank high? I think all the rest are tied for last. Now if you included the New York Mets … (Bad Guys not withstanding)
•Three memories from your Bar Mitzvah: Whisky sours! Singing “My Way” with the band! And the cool plaid tuxedo jacket I wore!
•You’re married to Katie Pearlman, a singer/songwriter/probably not my cousin. How’d you meet? How’d you propose?: Katie and I met in a band. We joined the same band at about the same time, she as a percussionist/vocalist and me as a keyboardist. It’s real cool, because the band was based out of East Rutherford, NJ, and with me being from Long Island, I almost never went to audition, and even then, almost didn’t take the gig. I proposed to Katie at a gig we were playing (a different band than we had met in) just before the end of our first set in front of a packed house! She had no clue, and neither did her mom or brother, who were in attendance. After a song, I asked her mom to the stage to ask her permission, then did the whole down on one knee thing, mic in hand, and asked her to marry me. It would have been really embarrassing if she told me no!
•Celine Dion calls. She’s looking for a kick-ass Hammond Organ player. She’ll pay $10 million next year to play the Hammond Organ in her Las Vegas show,“Celine Does Men Without Hats’ One Big Song Repeatedly For Three Hours.” You have to play “Safety Dance” repeatedly for three hours every night—wearing a diaper, with deer antlers glued to your skull. You in?: I can think of a lot worse things that someone could ask me to do for 10 mill! One year, then no strings? I’m down. That’s a small price to pay for relieving the financial burden of our entire family for possibly a couple of generations. Did you say something about musicians and drinking?
•Five greatest keyboardists of our lifetime?: Jimmy Smith (Jazz Hammond organist), McCoy Tyner (John Coltrane’s pianist), Jerry Lee Lewis, Liberace, and Rick Wakeman.
• In 25 words or less, make an argument why Katie Pearlman is better than Katie Perry …: I will preface by stating my lack of familiarity, but I did some research (now you can start my word count): Katie Pearlman plays guitar, drums AND sings great. Katie Pearlman’s songs resonate more with me and connect more on a human level. Katie Pearlman is hotter!
• Five favorite Dead songs: Terrapin Station, Weather Report Suite, Box of Rain, Ripple, and Uncle John’s Band.
• This is one of my absolute all-time favorite songs. Being serious—what do you think?: Well, I’ve never been a fan of rap, but here are my thoughts on the song (I checked out the video and looked up the lyrics). I liked the piano on the track (shocking, right?). When I first saw the video, the irony of it was striking given 2pac’s fate. When I read the lyrics, I didn’t see the connection between them and the video. I’ve heard of 2pac’s prowess as a poet, but, as I’ve encountered before in the genre, I can’t really relate to the content. I’m wondering how that becomes your favorite song? (is it my turn to interview you yet?)
• What happens after we die? And how much worry does that bring you?: It doesn’t matter what happens when we die. We won’t know at least until it happens, and the ego will try a million ways to convince itself that somehow it will survive and continue. I ain’t buying it! We’re energy and physics says that energy can’t be lost or destroyed, but that’s not all we are. No worries, just live like this is my only shot at it, because it probably is.
As the lead singer of the Verve Pipe, he helped sell more than 3 million albums, and the band’s hit single—The Freshman—landed atop the Billboard Top 40 chart in 1997. Four years later, he appeared in the Mark Wahlberg-Jennifer Anniston film, Rockstar—a movie that closed with Wahlberg lip-synching Vander Ark’s single, Colorful.
There is a good chance you don’t know Brian Vander Ark.
Despite his accomplishments, he’s remained relatively quiet and below the radar. There’s no arrest record or TMZ file; no wild antics featuring Verve Pipe members throwing crack vials out of a London skyscraper window. You won’t see him on some faded-celebrity cooking show alongside Tiffany and Vanilla Ice.
No, Vander Ark just sings, records and tours. He plays theatres—and also plays your yard. He’ll teach your kid a few tricks on the guitar, play video games, cover any Hall & Oates song he knows. Put differently, in a musical landscape often poisoned by egomaniacs and dickheads, he’s a cool dude. He’s one of us.
JEFF PEARLMAN:Brian, I’m gonna start with a weird question. I love The Freshman. I mean, I absolutely love it, and think it’s an all-time great song that gets woefully overlooked in the category of all-time great songs. But I wonder: Do you feel this way? Are you more, “That’s my best song, and it’s amazing and tremendous …” or are you sorta like, “I wrote it when I was young, it’s OK, but I’ve done better?” When you hear someone rave about it do you think, “You have a golden ear” or “You’re overrating me a bit”?
Brian Vander Ark: I don’t really feel the song is overlooked in the all-time great song listings. I’ve never felt like it’s in the same category as far as songwriting goes—it’s a bit too clumsy here and there, and if I could go back and change some of the lyrics I would. If we are talking about how people respond to it and if that comes in to play when deciding great songs, then yes, it’s overlooked.
J.P.: True story: Back in 2001 I was watching Rockstar, the film with Mark Wahlberg, and I hear this song at the end, Colorful. And I’m thinking, “I know that voice … I know that voice … I know that voice.” Bugged me for days, until I placed it as you. I’m wondering: Was it at all weird/strange to play a character in a movie, but not be the character who sings that song? And, overall, what was the Rockstar experience like for you? Did it make you want to be more involved in cinema, or less?
B.V.A.: Funny, I really enjoyed my time on the set—who wouldn’t? Two of the top starts in the world, then throw in a bunch of rockers? Awesome. As far as the character goes, I didn’t feel like it was a big enough part to have to really flush anything out. That could have been me in the 80’s, had I decided to go in the hair band direction. I didn’t think the ending worked at all with Mark lip-syncing, but I was told that people wouldn’t really care who sang the song, and it’s true—it’s believable enough to fool the masses. RCA missed a great opportunity to make something out of Colorful, but they had their sites on other things (a little show called American Idol).
J.P.:You have one of the coolest openings to a bio that I’ve ever seen, including the sentence, “Rather than blindly attempt to reclaim a throne that was ﬂeeting at best, the Michigan native struck out on his own, sold all his possessions, hit the road and released his acclaimed debut solo CD, Resurrection, in 2005.” I wonder, Brian, how hard it is/was to have massive success and not spend the next 15 … 20 years trying to commercially top it? Like, do you still have hunger pains for 3 million album sales? Do you still crave massive radio play? How have you been able to adjust, mentally, to being a fantastic singer who will never again reach those commercial heights?
B.V.A.: Well, thanks for the nice words. I pride myself in not being a bullshitter, and I can honestly say that I don’t crave those sales numbers any longer. My life is great now—that pressure of selling records is off. I have no desire to leave my home and go out for a couple of years on tour again. I hated that part of it—all of the promoting, promoting, promoting … too much. I feel very little pressure now, and I can sit back and enjoy life. As far as radio is concerned, I would have to pander heavily to them to get anything played … I wouldn’t want that. I hear the same chord changes in about every song on pop radio—no surprises. I don’t want anything to do with it.
B.V.A.: It came out of having too many bills, and not being able to pay them on club gigs that don’t pay shit, and still don’t. I played a private party, and milled around after and played cover tunes for people for fun. I thought, ‘Wow what if I did this for a living? Just went to people’s homes and played for them casually?’ Eight years later, I’ve done more than 500 all told. House concerts are my life now. You get paid, people are quiet during your performance. They offer to feed you. Then they all buy merch. As far as booking, its done very grass roots. You send in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and give some basic details of some possible dates, location of your party, etc. and someone gets back to you with options and cost. Shows outside of the Midwest are generally booked together to try and save costs for each of the hosts. You get a two-hour engagement with a split between music and social time which has been anything from just meeting all party guests to playing Guitar Hero or teaching a song on guitar to a host. Each one ends up a unique experience.
J.P.:Here’s what I know: You served in the U.S. Army. You’re a singer. But, Brian, where did the love of music come from? How did you develop from a kid who probably liked tunes to a guy who has made a career of it? In short—what’s your path?
B.V.A.: I was born in Holland, Michigan. I was in Germany in the Army. I always had a love for making up my own songs, and that guitar went with me everywhere—even got it taken away from me in my Army days, as punishment. The love of music is innate. We all have it. Those who want to perform have to have the courage to do so. And that courage comes with building confidence.
J.P.:What’s it like playing the same song 5,000 times? We can use The Freshman for example. I’m sure, early on, it held great zest and oomph to you. But how about after a year? Two years? Fifteen years? Is it agony to play it now? Can you still get a sweet feeling out of it? Is it just mechanical whatnot?
B.V.A.: I have never gotten sick of it, because for the crowd, it’s the highlight of the show. People sing along and relive their past. That will never change. And that’s a good feeling. It’s the go-to song when things on stage aren’t working. It always works, so it’s like a reset button on bad sets.
J.P.:You don’t blog very often, but when you do so it’s really interesting shit; mainly advice to other artists about travel, booking gigs, etc. What are the hardest lessons you’ve learned in the business? What are the biggest mistakes, as a musician, you’ve made?
B.V.A.: Listening to stylists was the biggest mistake. Have you seen that awful hair i had on Letterman? Seriously though—I have little regret. I’ve enjoyed the ride, and I have a catalog that I’m proud of. That’s all that matters.
J.P.: KISS was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I have many people from my hometown who think KISS is the greatest thing to ever hit rock music; that the guitar work is amazing, that Paul’s voice is dazzling, that Gene is … blah, blah. I sorta think they’re entertaining, but not especially musically adept. Brian, you toured with KISS. What was that like? And what’s your take of the band?
B.V.A.: Touring with Kiss was good and bad. It was amazing for us because we had never had a tour bus, never had catering, never played in front of 20,000 people. But the bad outweighed the good—getting booed and spit on for 30 dates took its toll. Although I’ll never fear another crowd. Musically speaking? It is what it’s supposed to be—dumb rock and roll with lyrics with very little substance, but you can’t help but cranking up. I still enjoy Destroyer very much, along with Gene’s solo album.
J.P.:Absolute greatest moment of your career? Absolute lowest?
B.V.A.: Greatest was knocking U2 off the number one spot. Lowest was the release of our followup ‘Frog’ album.
J.P.:Shit, September 11, 2001 was a weirdly awful day for you. Besides the obvious horrific tragedy (which, we both surely can admit, trumps any other things), it was the day The Verve Pipe’s album, Underneath, was released, and also the day Rockstar hit theatres. I’m wondering, professional, what that was like for you, and when you realized—as a musician—“Shit, this is awful”?
B.V.A.: It was awful for the fact that we really liked what we had done, and weren’t able to promote it. It was good, too—the fact that there was zero pressure. We could always blame the terrorists for our lack of sales. 😉
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH BRIAN VANDER ARK:
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Swamp Thing, Dalton Hilliard, The Avengers, Ma$e, Armani, Craigslist, Cat Stevens, Tootsie Pops, Jennifer Aniston, Baltimore, The Doobie Brothers: Cat Stevens, Jennifer Tootsie Pops, Swamp Thing, Doobies, Baltimore, Avengers, Ma$e, Dalton, Craigslist.
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Never—that’s the one time I give up all control.
• Celine Dion calls. She offers you $1 million to record a duet, “The Sophomore,” but you have to also get a tattoo on your left butt cheek that reads, “My heart will go on.” You in?: That’s a lose/lose. Out.
• The next president will be …: Hillary.
• Five greatest singing voices of your lifetime?: Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Elton John.
• What is the most overrated attribute of a rock band?: Drugs.
• I’m gonna be honest—every so often I used to get The Verve and The Verve Pipe confused. A. Has anyone ever done that to you? B. What’s your take on Bittersweet Symphony.: Every day. I have no problem with it—it’s a great song.
• Absolute best venue you’ve ever played? Absolute worst?: Kalamazoo State Theater in the 1990s. The Lobby, in Flint, Michigan was the worst. We had to put our own socks over the mics so that we didn’t get shocked.
• One question you would ask Larry Wilcox were he here right now?: Who are you?
• Why do so many singers smoke cigarettes when it’s so bad for the vocal chords?: Its really, really, really, really cool looking. It says fuck you—I know it’s bad for my voice, but I don’t give a shit ’cause i look cool. Rock is 90 percent visual.
So several months ago I was contemplating a book idea that related to Dwight Eisenhower. I did some preliminary research, Googled around, looked high, looked low, wrote a proposal, had the proposal semi-discarded … and, in the process, discovered Jennie Eisenhower.
The Philadelphia-based actress is the great-granddaughter of Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Philadelphia-based actress is the granddaughter of Richard M. Nixon. That’s a whole lot of history in one woman. Which, of course, makes her the ideal Quaz candidate.
Here, Jennie talks famous names (and why she doesn’t use hers for advantages), big roles, acting dreams and how one makes herself cry. Also, do yourself a favor and don’t ask her about a certain political scandal. She’s heard that one, oh, a couple of times before.
Jennie Eisenhower, f-bomb dropping future president, welcome to The Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN:OK, Jennie, so the first question is sort of obvious, but I have to ask: Your great-grandfather is Dwight Eisenhower, and Richard Nixon is your grandfather. Let me repeat that, because it felt crazy to write: Your great-grandfather is Dwight Eisenhower, your grandfather is Richard Nixon. Yet on your website, this little ol’ fact is mentioned, oh, nowhere. Literally, not once. Why? It’s sort of a big deal, no?
JENNIE EISENHOWER: I made the decision early in my career to not lead with my heritage. Basically I don’t hide who I am and if people ask I am more than happy to talk about it, but I also don’t use it to draw attention to myself. I felt that it was important for me to know that if I “made it” in the business that I made it on my own merits and not because I was using my family connections to advance things in some way. Additionally, while the fact that I am related to presidents is an interesting “fun fact” I don’t know that it really would help me in the theatre world anyway. If Liza Minnelli was my mom, for example, that would certainly be a different story! I would also probably wear a lot more sequins.
J.P.: So you’re a summa cum laude graduate of Northwestern University’s theatre program. You’ve obviously had a very strong career in acting—a gazillion plays in different markets, commercials, movie roles. I wonder, however, what the road has been like. How hard is it—“making it”? And do you feel like you have? Did you dream of Broadway superstardom, or standing alongside Denzel on the big screen? What’s satisfaction for you?
J.E.: My definition of “making it” is something that has changed and shifted over the years for me and continues to change and shift. When I first graduated from school and moved to New York I did so with dreams of Broadway superstardom. But as I began to tromp the boards in New York City I realized that the lifestyle of the New York actor didn’t really jive with the personal life I had pictured for myself. I am a creature of habit and like to more or less remain in one place save the occasional vacation. The New York actor has to be somewhat of a gypsy, going where the work takes them. In my 20s in New York I worked Off-Broadway, but I also worked in New Hampshire, Florida, Washington, DC, etc. That was fun for me but I began to wonder how a family would fit into that picture. When I found my way to Philadelphia and realized that there was a vibrant theatre scene that didn’t require me to move around, I felt things clicking into place. Suddenly I could do what I loved without having to sacrifice the lifestyle I desired. But that meant giving up the idea of “making it” as a Broadway superstar. Eventually I got over that and realized that if I am paid to do what I love and get to be surrounded by people I love I have “made it.” As for Denzel and I, I am still waiting for his people to contact my people about shooting that major motion picture in Fiji!
J.P.:You offer private acting lessons. I wonder, do you ever get students and immediately know either, “This person has absolutely no chops—and never will” or “This person is destined for stardom”? What gives either/both away? And if someone’s god-awful, will you say something? Pull the parent aside? Anything?
J.E.: Let me say, on a side note, that I love your questions! I am enjoying answering these! As to the student question, I don’t feel like it is my job to tell someone they are “good” or “not good”—art is subjective and my opinion is just one. My goal with students is to guide them and help them be the best artists they can be. Anyone can improve and grow if they have passion. If they flat out ask me “do you think I can ‘make it'” (we’re back to talking about “making it!”), I am very candid with them about my opinion and can have an honest discussion about the business of show. But if they are taking lessons to explore who they are and grow as an artist and they want me to teach them, I am game regardless of where they are in that journey.
J.P.:What’s it like having your last name? I don’t even mean people knowing who your great-grandfather is. I mean, how often do you hear, “Oh, like the president?” or—jokingly—“Are you related to Dwight?” Is it cool? Annoying? Neither?
J.E.: I occasionally get the “Oh, like the president?” line, and I just say, “Yes, like the president.” Then, if they press the issue and ask more about it, I tell them. It is actually really fun to talk about it because it happens far less often than you would think and it seems to really make people excited to hear about it. It used to annoy me when I was in my early 20’s, I think because I was trying so hard to prove that I was an individual and not defined by my family, but I have mellowed so much since then and actually look forward to talking about it with people if they ask. Being related to who I am is a true honor and I am proud of it and willing to share with people about it. And often people tell me really interesting things about their personal connections to my grandfather and great grandfather. They served in World War II, for example, or they voted for Nixon, etc.
J.P.:How did you get here? What I mean is, why acting? I know you were born in California, raised in Philadelphia; your father is a public policy fellow and Penn professor. But when did you first know this was what you wanted? How did you pursue it? What’s the journey?
J.E.: I was just a showbiz kid from the moment I could walk and talk. I always loved to sing and dance and put on plays for my family. I blame Shirley Temple, Julie Andrews and my parents for being so supportive and for encouraging me. I first knew I could do it for a living when I went to a summer acting camp called Stagedoor Manor and all I did for six weeks straight was act from the moment I woke til about 11 pm. I was 15 at the time, and I had the sense to realize that if I could do something that intense every single day and get up the next day and still be incredibly excited to do it all again, then there was something special about it. It was after that summer that I decided to major in theatre when I went to college and that is what I wound up doing. There have been times in my life where I have left the business to pursue other things full time in order to make sure this was truly what I wanted—I was a full-time public high school music theatre teacher for a school year, for example. But I keep coming back to theatre. It is in my blood. It is a part of me.
J.P.:Greatest moment as an actress? Lowest?
J.E.: I think starring in Forbidden Broadway at the Walnut Street Theatre has so far been the greatest moment for me as an actor because it was the most unfettered experience I’ve ever had. I was basically given carte blanche to be as weird and wild as I wanted to be. The bigger and more bizarre, the better. I spend a lot of time toning down my natural tendency to be incredibly over the top so to not have to worry about that in the slightest was very freeing. And it was a well received show as well and it was thrilling to have people enjoy my weirdness! I won a Barrymore Award for my work in that (which is the Philadelphia equivalent of a Tony) and though awards shouldn’t mean anything because that isn’t why I do this, it definitely made me feel fancy!
As for the lowest … ooh, lord. Well, I was in a show once that will remain nameless where I literally sucked. I was so bad in it. And the director started to notice I was bad during rehearsals and he gave me a thousand notes. And the more notes I got, the worse I got. Then, because I was so nervous, I started falling onstage for no reason. It was like I couldn’t walk. I would make an entrance and fall on my face. I think I fell seven times or something in course of the show. I guess I was paralyzed with fear or something! It got to the point where the rest of the cast didn’t want to hang out with me. Like I was the dying animal that the herd has to shun in order to survive. I hated going to work just to suck in front of hundreds of people every night. It was hell. Being miscast is the worst because you’re stuck. But I survived, the show closed, I moved on with my life and I like to pretend it never happened.
J.P.:You appeared in the 2011 remake of Arthur—a film that received universally awful reviews. I’m asking you this because I’ve always wanted to ask an actor this: When you’re in a film—even in a small-ish way—do you know whether it’ll be good or bad? Can you get a true feel before it’s completed? And what do you recall from that experience?
J.E.: I thought Arthur would do well. There was a great atmosphere on set and the director (Jason Winer) was fun and relaxed and not at all stressed out. Russel Brand was doing really funny and specific work. And then it didn’t do well! I was shocked. On the other hand, I was an extra on The Stepford Wives (the remake) and that one was a movie I could tell had troubles. The producers were hovering nervously the whole time and writers were thrusting rewrites at the actors. And they were way off schedule and obviously over budget. And everyone seemed super stressed out. I just ate a lot of cookies at the craft services table and watched it all go down. It was definitely interesting.
J.P.:I’m not sure if this constitutes a touchy question, but your grandfather, obviously, holds a controversial-yet-fascinating place in American history. Has that made your life … weird? Are there questions people ask you that, normally, wouldn’t be asked? Do you know what I mean?
J.E.: Totally. Sometimes people even have the audacity to say negative things about my grandfather to my face. It’s like they don’t comprehend that he is someone I love and care for and am related to. It used to really make me enraged but now I just see that kind of behavior as a flaw in that person and not something I should feel upset about. I know who my grandfather is to me and how I feel about him. If I see a negative article or a negative show or movie, I look the other way and don’t pay attention to it. That attitude has definitely made things easier for me. As the saying goes, “what other people think of me is none of my business”—I am a big believer in that and it definitely extends to my family.
J.P.:Serious question that eludes me: How does one make herself cry?
J.E.: Ha! If you’re super invested in the stakes of a scene and really living in the moment of the character and you have a fabulous scene partner, it will happen on its own. If these circumstances are not present, you have to recall really horrible things that happened to you in real life until it makes you cry—like, loved ones dying, etc. That’s the desperate and really awful plan B. And if you’re in a not-so-good show with a not-so-good scene partner, you have to do that every single performance. So it can be very unhealthy. Now, I understand that if you have to cry in an on-camera scene in a movie they can put some stingy drops in your eyes. I thank that is awesome.
J.P.:Chelsea Clinton is all over the news here in New York—sorta plotting future runs. Have you ever even considered politics as a career? Why or why not?
J.E.: I never felt compelled to run for office while in my twenties but now that I have a child and have a greater sense of civic duty and a greater concern for the future of our country I have started to reconsider. Both Ike and Nixon were Republicans and I feel an allegiance to the party but I have been so disillusioned by the direction the party has taken in the last decade or so. I registered as a Democrat several years ago. But I feel like if I were to run it would be with the goal of getting the Republican Party back on track. I am socially liberal and fiscally conservative and I think there is a place for me as a moderate republican. It used to be an incredible party. I would love to be able to rejoin it or help revamp it. But then I would probably have to stop swearing and start wearing suits and I am just not sure that I am ready for all that yet. Ask me again in 10 years. I may be there.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JENNIE EISENHOWER:
• Rank in order (favorite to least): James Franco, Entourage, Northwestern, ZZ Top, Pac-Man, the number 18, Ishtar, “The Descendants,” Peter Criss, Burger King, french fries, Robert Kennedy, snowy days, fake Christmas trees, Elvis Costello, seltzer: Seltzer (OBSESSED), Northwestern, Entourage, snowy days, Pac-Man, James Franco, fake Christmas trees, Robert Kennedy, french fries, Burger King, Ishtar, Peter Criss (had to Google him), The Descendants (haven’t seen it yet and probably won’t get around to it even though I have the free screener from SAG–just not interested)
• Oh, my—I just watched thisinsanely adorable video of you singing to your baby girl, Chloe. Awesome, awesome, awesome.You’re a new mom. How have you been able to manage the performer/director/mom balancing act?: So far, the performing has been going really well. I went back to a theatre job (starring in the musical “Parade” at the Arden Theatre) when Chloe was 2 months old. I had family support – my husband watched her in the evenings and my mom and sister helped with day times and the whole rehearsal process. And I still taught at Temple University this semester and that went well. The thing that has suffered a bit is my private voice/coaching studio which has always been the thing I do in my spare time or in addition to the acting and college teaching. Because I was always creating my own schedule week to week with a lesson here or there whenever I could fit them in and whenever students were free it was really flexible for me. But now, in order to do anything, structure is required because I have to line up help. So it has made private teaching very difficult. I am still trying to figure out how to resolve this issue so hopefully by the time this interview gets out into the world I’ll have a solution. But Chloe is worth slowing down operation a bit! She is incredible.
• Five greatest actors of your lifetime: Julie Andrews, Vivien Leigh, Audrey Hepburn, Natalie Portman, Kate Winslet. I listed the ladies who inspire me.
• Celine Dion calls and offers you $5 million to work 365-straight days teaching her how to act. You also have to change your name to John Rambo and only speak French. You in?: I’m a total Francophile so the speaking-only-in-French clause works for me. And I’m all about the $5 million as I assume at some point she’ll either become a good actor and no longer need me or give up at acting and fire me. And then I can open my own theatre company. Can I renegotiate the John Rambo portion of the agreement? How about Jean Rambeau? More French and a little prettier to pronounce.
• Do you think Tim Raines belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame?: I grew up on baseball (my father is a huge baseball fan) so I am embarrassed to say I had to Google this one. Didn’t know about Tim Raines or the controversy. I’m just glad Mike Schmidt is in there. I was a huge fan of his when I was a kid.
• Five things you always have in your purse?: Cell phone, hand sanitizer, wallet, keys, pepper spray
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: My husband, my baby, my mom, my dad, my sister, my brother, my extended family, my friends, etc. etc. I am all about the people in my life—they are my life.
• Kanye West is really starting to irk me. What should I do about this?: Kidnap North West. Hold her for ransom. Your price for her life: his silence.
• The greatest movie line of all time is …: “Don’t fuck with me fellas. This ain’t my first time at the rodeo.” (from Mommie Dearest). Do you see why I can’t run for politics yet? I love the f-bomb too much.
• In 22 words, make an argument on behalf of Hall & Oates’ “Maneater” …: It’s a public service announcement, really. How else are we going to know to “watch out” for her? Thanks Hall & Oates!