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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Ask the question

Prior to this past Saturday night, I didn't think I would ever ask Kevin Smith a question during one of his Q&A's. What kind of question hasn't been asked at his events for the past 22 years? Worse, if I thought I had a good question, I'd feel crestfallen if it had been answered thoroughly on a podcast I had not heard or an interview I had not read.

I had seen audience members boo questions in the first two An Evening With Kevin Smith DVDs. I had heard of people yelling "Summaries!" when someone asked about something that had already been answered many times before and didn't read the Summaries section of the now-defunct NewsAskew.com.

I tried to interview Kevin for the Observer, hoping to ask him questions that were more about his visits to North Texas rather than talk about his current TV, film, and podcast projects. I did get a response from his manager, but the trail went cold as Kevin was locked into filming an upcoming episode of The Flash. He's a busy dude, so I didn't take it personally that he wasn't available.

Going into the event at UNT's performing arts center, I kept thinking about a question I could ask and I thought of a potentially good one. I bounced it off of Hope, and she encouraged me to ask it. Not only did she do that, she said she would have no problem if I stepped on her foot or jumped over her to get up to the microphone when the Q&A began. I mentally mapped out a way to get up there, hoping to be near the front of the line. We were in the sixth row, and I figured there would be somebody who would be ahead of me.

After Jason Lee introduced Kevin and Kevin pointed out the two microphones on the ground level, people started to get up. I walked swiftly up and I found myself in the front of the line. This was unexpected. A handful of others were behind me and there was a handful of people at the other microphone. Kevin was on stage right, hovering above the other line, so I thought he would start with that line.

Well, he turned left and started with me. No pressure or anything, as the first question sets the tone of the night. If you have a shitty question or try to be a smarty pants or be really long-winded, it could make for a very long night.

After exchanging pleasantries and him mentioning my Star Wars shirt, I prefaced that I had a short and sweet question about his fabled comic book collection. The collection he sold to partially fund his first film, Clerks. That was the tease that interested me in Kevin's work on an episode of MTV's Week in Rock back in 1994. I had heard he bought most of the collection back when he received money from the sale of the movie to Miramax. The core of my question was, did he ever buy the rest of it back?

He responded with, "What a great question. Nobody's ever asked me that."

A warm feeling went through my body. It was a sense of relief. Basically, the answer was, he was unable to track down certain items that were very rare, especially figurines. Even with the help of higher-ups at DC Comics, they couldn't track them down. Kevin would go on and tell many tales related to his comic book collection, including meeting Walt Flanagan and going through Brett Ratner's copy of Action Comics #1, and it took almost an hour. I wasn't complaining, but I was aware of the guys behind me hoping to ask questions. I didn't want to hog all the time.

There was an interesting, impromptu moment during all of this. Kevin wanted to use a microphone stand. He could not seem to loosen it and raise it. I volunteered as I had spent many years doing this for my father's video production company, setting up stands and cameras for band and orchestra concerts. Maybe it was nerves, but I didn't pay attention to how high I put the stand. Kevin and I wound up trading it three times before he found a good height for it. It brought a lot of laughter and he shook my hand at the end of it.

As I stood there, I thought about telling Kevin about how Hope and I met through podcasting and writing, but I could not find the right spot. The moment had passed and he was ready to move on to the next person. Over a handful of other people got to ask questions before the 3.5 hour event was over. A couple got remarried with his officiating, a guy kicked a water bottle out of Kevin's hand to reprieve something he had done at a convention, and a surgeon shared funny stories about what it is like to work as a surgeon on the weekends and own a candy shop during the week.

I came away from this thinking it was better than an interview or an autograph. I got to experience something special with Hope as one of our main sources of inspiration talked to people individually, but did it in a way where the audience was included in the conversation. I certainly will not forget this, and I sure as hell am happy I got to do this with Hope. There was so much more elation and enjoyment in seeing this with someone I love, who gets this. (We shared our stories on an episode of Fanboy Radio the night after.) If the Texas Theatre Q&A inspired us and brought us together, then the Q&A UNT inspired us even more. And with the journey of life with this wonderful woman, I'm very happy with where this has come to and where it's going.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Offering Advice

Last month, I was asked to be on a panel at UNT on careers in digital media and print. Meant as a way to give college freshmen an idea of what it is like to work in the field, the coordinators asked me and four other writers to share our stories.

I had a while to think about what all I wanted to share. The attitude I kept reminding myself was, encourage rather than discourage. I don't think I'm a discouraging person, but my cynicism can easily come out and it can sound discouraging. I ran through what I wanted to say, remembering what I have found to be helpful and not helpful.

I believe the panel went well, as me and my fellow panelists (two of which I have worked with at the Observer, one I've known at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and one at the Dallas Morning News) talked to a packed room, and we chatted with a few people who wanted to ask more questions afterwards. No one on the panel came off as bitter or angry. We acknowledged how writing in digital media is more about working with a platform rather than writing for a newspaper. We talked about numbers and analytics, as well as the need for content, but overall, we stressed that good writing and finding your own voice is most important.

I freely admit talking about this to a room full of strangers got me riled up. I couldn't help be overcome with emotion, wanting to stress how important it is to write. For the past 12 years, writing about what I cared about has saved me from a life of being a jaded, unsatisfied person. I couldn't help but think about those who choose to go down that route. Even now, well after the panel has been over, I think about people who have that attitude. I see it on an almost daily basis and want to stand up and say something.

There are writers who become so disenchanted with their experiences in trying to write for a living. They think it's necessary to save others from the grief in going down a similar path. They like to go on rants on Facebook and Twitter, thinking the best advice for aspiring writers is, "Don't."

Frankly, I hate that attitude. If I've learned anything about life, you have to try something. Holding yourself back from trying something that interests you only prevents you from new experiences. And new experiences are vital in living life. Write about what you know, but if you refuse to try new things, then what do you really know? What it's like to spend a lot of time alone in silence, wanting to punch your computer screen?

For the people who want to vomit all over other people's aspirations and dreams, you're simply in the way. You're a road block. People, if they're really determined, will find a way to get around a road block. Furthermore, you don't motivate by discouraging. You don't inspire people by being an asshole. Your bitter and angry attitude is a bunch of noise. A Metal Machine Music for those looking for a Pet Sounds. A puff of smoke that's temporarily in the way. You might take pleasure in being right if somebody decides writing as a career is not for him or her. But really, how can you feel better about your life that way?

I'm not trying to tell an aspiring writer he or she will write for the New York Times or receive a six-figure amount to write a book someday. It's hard to make a living as a writer. What I'm saying is, do something that you love. If you are ever fortunate to make a large sum of money because of your writing, then there is nothing wrong with that. But that should not be why you write. Write because you want to communicate, express yourself, and tell stories.

Beyond whether or not writing is for somebody as a career, the bigger lesson is how you want to present yourself in life. If being a repugnant Negative Nancy is your way of being "honest," well, don't be surprised when not a lot of people want to be around you, contact you, or like you. You can choose to give people helpful feedback, where you acknowledge what works and what doesn't. You're not leading people astray with unrealistic ideas. You're inviting people to believe in themselves.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

At the Movies (Reprise)

There was a time when I went to movie theaters quite often. Whether with my parents or friends, it was a major part of growing up in New Orleans and later, Houston. This was combined with watching videotapes (Betamax and VHS) and movies run on TV channels. All of these movies offered a view of the world that I didn't experience first-hand.

But about fifteen years ago, I almost stopped going to a theater completely. I would go maybe a couple of times to see something I really wanted to see (the Star Wars prequels, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Matrix sequels, four of the Saw sequels). The pull of DVDs, whether purchased or rented, was so strong with top-quality picture and enlightening (most of the time) supplemental features like commentaries and documentaries. I was much more comfortable watching a DVD at home alone and occasionally, with a friend or girlfriend.

Blame it on the cost of seeing a movie in a theater or feeling very alone out in public, I decided to keep my viewing habits to myself. God forbid I hear people who have different opinions on stuff I loved. Especially as I walked out of a movie during the closing credits.

Too often, I would detect a general consensus about a movie from both people I knew in real life and what people wrote about online. There were many times where I seemed very much at odds with what people said or wrote. Defending the Star Wars prequels and praising the hell out of The Matrix Reloaded came across as out-of-touch and clueless. Free speech might be allowed with pop culture, but it seemed like if you didn't agree completely with the general attitude, you might as well find a dark corner to stand in and keep your opinions to yourself.

Slowly a tide turned in me. I realized I didn't have to get too defensive with people who didn't see things the way I saw them. I could be myself and not have to defend myself, unless it's ribbing with friends of mine I've known for years. The tide turned so much that when Hope came into my life, going back to a movie theater was as welcoming as it was when I was young. Having a partner in crime in life makes a lot of things infinitely better.

These days, I don't have to worry if somebody with a loud mouth will spew negativity all over something I enjoyed. I still get defensive, strangely. Seeing movies in a theater is much more rewarding now, especially realizing how special places like the Alamo Drafthouse and the Texas Theatre are. They're places for people who don't want to deal with massive crowds.

In the past ten months, I've seen more movies in a theater than I did in the past fifteen years, combined. A lot of praise goes to Hope, but it's not just that she's willing to see movies in a theater. It's more this idea of, you can be who you are (faults and all) and still get along with people.

I'm very thankful to return to a place I valued so much when I was younger. It's very comforting to know I can like a movie theater more now than ever.

Monday, July 18, 2016

GOAL!!! (part 2)

A self-deprecating excuse for 30 years came to an end this past Friday night. With the help of my fellow Oil Money FC teammates, I scored three of our six goals in a victory. Along with the goal I scored in our first game together, I can now say those two own goals in 1986 are in the distant past.

But what's the big deal here? I scored goals in a league where the points don't really matter and everyone gets a free beer afterwards. This is like a friendly; not the Champions League final.

I make a big deal out of a lot of things, and arrogance can come across when describing any sort of accomplishment. It's probably because I often invest a lot of emotional baggage into why I cannot competently do things in the present. In other words, I make a lot of excuses.

Scoring those goals means I don't have to let the past shackle me. Whether it's with what happened at previous jobs, in previous relationships, or previous friendships, life isn't over when the outcome is not what you hoped it would be. Life is not over as long as you keep moving forward.

I am not the best player on my team. Other players currently play and/or coach, and they know what to do. I, on the other hand, try to remember what I learned when I played as a kid, along with what I have seen in football matches played all over the world. What usually happens when I get the ball is push it down the pitch some and then pass to a fellow player who is in a much better position. I often look like I freeze up when I play. There's something to work on.

Going into the match on Friday, I didn't think about anything other than playing well and not be afraid to go for the ball. This is not aggressive football, but I have seen some people collide and have to be helped off the pitch. Accidents happen, and as long as you're playing like you want the ball (and not aiming to break your opponent's bones), you will be fine.

Opportunities presented themselves, and I was lucky to connect three times with the back of the net. I got a hug from our team leader Mark (who, along with Joel, made me feel welcomed to the Manchester City watching group in the first place), and I twirled my kit around my head after the second and third goals. Sure, it was a bit much, paying a tongue-in-cheek homage to Sergio Aguero's memorable goal in 2012 against Queens Park.

But there are times in life where you just have to celebrate. That was one of them.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Desire Lines

There are some things in life that I cannot escape. One of them is the desire to play drums in a band situation again.

Five years ago, I played a blues jam with some of Bobby Patterson's band. My rock band had recently broken up for the second (and final) time, I was single, and I was about to be laid off from my job at the time. I was up for trying something different and it was a wonderful, one-time experience. Blues music is simple to play, but is a hell of a lot of fun to do. You don't have to overthink what you're playing -- you just stay in the pocket.

That blues jam was the last time I played drums in public. After fifteen years of playing in bands, I was not sure when (or if) I would play in a band situation ever again. Too much of the business of promoting and working a band overshadowed the fun of playing music in a band. I cared about writing songs and rehearsing. I didn't care about networking for the next big show or opportunity. I only wanted to express myself through hitting drums and cymbals.

The urge to play never went away, but I would always remind myself of all the business dealings I didn't want to have. It happened in a few of my bands, and I didn't want to deal with it anymore. I figured if I worked on my abilities as a player (which had been stifled for years), I might get more mileage out of playing again. I had a wonderful time doing Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, and I believed taking lessons and working on paradiddles would actually benefit me. My focus was on playing my own material, recording drums, guitars, and vocals without any plans in playing live. I thought if I was better at playing the drums, especially working on timing, I could improve my playing of the guitar and bass.

I asked my friend Guyton if I could take lessons from him. He is one of the most in-demand drummers around the area for a good reason. No matter what style he plays, he's solid. And he's a good dude, too. I've learned so much from him, and while I haven't taken a lesson since late last year, I'd be happy to take more lessons in the future.

Throughout last year, he would occasionally mention that I would play a show again. I was very resistant to the idea, using the same excuses I had. I definitely did not entertain the idea of playing in another situation where friendship was forced after a band was formed. I only wanted to play with people I was friends with. Guyton believed in me and could see things that I couldn't at the time.

Still, I was unconvinced. Sometimes I'd run into people I would know in the scene who were interested in forming a band or looking for a drummer. I would tell them I was interested, but nothing ever came of it every time. They say the answer of no can be a gift, but the repeated lack of response would seem like justification of playing my own material in private.

Practicing would continue. When I'd watch a movie or TV show alone, I'd sit and work on my exercises. No matter what happened, this would help, I thought.

This past spring, while I nervously watched Manchester City eek out a win over Liverpool in the Capital One Cup final, a fantastic surprise came in the form of a message from an old friend of mine. Ryan wanted to play a show celebrating his 40th birthday in August, and he was curious how many of his friends would like to play the show. Since the most fun and rewarding show I played was because of him ten years ago (where we played a set filled with Rolling Stones songs), I immediately told him I would be interested.  
A few practices later, we have a set filled with covers we enjoy playing as well as an original tune to boot. Joined by our friend Nick, whom I played in the 11:30s with, I have never had this much fun practicing with a band. It's probably because these guys are my friends and I will spend time with them without instruments in front of us.

As the Fearsome Brown eyes our first show together, a random opportunity to fill in for a co-worker's band came up. Playing a couple of gigs with a band that plays blues, oldies, and country tunes, I'm excited to help out. This isn't Rush or Metallica, nor is it some party band that only plays the most familiar material ever recorded, playing with this band helps build up my chops and stamina.

I certainly have to credit Hope for helping me see a way of life that isn't constantly distracted by excuses. The attitude of "Why not?" eliminates most (or sometimes all) reasons not to do something, and that includes realizing how great certain opportunities can be. If all I did was play covers and never write new material or learn different styles of music, I'd be missing out. But if I was still making excuses about not playing with people ever again, I wouldn't be where I'm at now.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Our Own Way

My first book, Post: A Look at the Influence of Post-Hardcore 1985-2007, came out in the late summer/early fall of 2008. Only two days ago, I found a copy of it in a bookstore. Granted, the store was Half Price Books, which sells mostly used books, but still, to see something I wrote be available for someone to discover and read was a wonderful sight. I had heard of copies available in stores here and there throughout the country. Now I had visual proof.

I didn't wonder if someone bought the book, hated it, and sold it. Since Half Price Books encourages their customers to sell back books they buy there and buy more, I figured that was the case.

Back when it was published, I paid a few hundred dollars to make the book listed as "returnable." The hope was, more bookstores would carry a returnable book. I never saw it in a bookstore as a new item. Never at an indie store or a Half Price Books. Barnes & Noble stores do not have large sections for music books, so I don't blame them for keeping their selections mainly with the biggest publishers.

I knew the book continued to sell over the years, and not just because I would look at the small quarterly royalty statements when I prepared my taxes. People would find me on social media and share a pic of their copy with me. I'd be asked to be on podcasts and we'd talk about Post and When We Were the Kids. No matter how small the numbers were, I was happy to see people reading what I had to say.

I can't help but kick in with more writer advice here. If your aim is to become a famous writer and never work a "straight" job ever again, I would not recommend writing a nonfiction book about a subgenre of music. That said, if you have a story/angle on a topic you want to tell that hasn't been done before, then seriously consider writing it. Don't think about getting famous or making some (or any) money. If you have a story to tell, then write it. Don't wait for someone to consider yourself a writer. Start writing.

Recently, I interviewed a best-selling author for one of the publications I write for. A handful of years ago, his fourth novel quickly caught a lot of buzz when a very famous author praised it and the movie rights sold in the millions. I asked him what his life was really like when his book became a best-seller. All that really changed was that he could afford to send his children to college, his wife didn't have to work to help financially support the family, and he focused on writing two more books. And he bought a summer house in the north east. But his day-to-day life didn't drastically change in terms of raising his children and being the best father and husband he can be. He had a happy life before the book sold like crazy, and he isn't banking on the royalties from his books for the rest of his life.

This author's books sell more in an hour than any of mine have ever sold, but I believe I came to an understanding in why people write books. It's not really for financial gain; it's the desire to tell a story, whether it's fiction or nonfiction. If I had never written my first book, I never would have started a blog. I probably would have not written for the publications I've written for. And I'm not sure I would have ever met Hope if it weren't for this blog.

Deep down, when I wrote my first book, I wished I would be interviewed for my perspective on post-hardcore/emo someday. That has happened quite a bit in the past seven years, and I'm happy that people believe in my research and my take on the genre. It's not for fame; it's to set the record straight.

Seeing my book in a store reminded me of this important idea as a writer (or really, anyone with creative drives): Do not put a time limit on success or lack of success. If you put everything into a six-month, five-year, or ten-year plan, you're prepping yourself for life going the way you think it's supposed to go rather than the way it will go. Enjoy the ride and the small victories. If you're lucky to have a book on the NY Times Bestseller List or make your primary income from writing, then great. But don't think not reaching those lofty heights means you're a failure. If you want to express yourself for the rest of your life, express it without thinking of any attention coming from it. Just express yourself.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Meet Your Heroes

When it comes to wanting to meet people you admire, occasionally you get countered by these four words, "Never meet your heroes." Meaning, if you hold someone in high regards, you'll be disappointed if that person acts in a non-friendly way. And all those years of looking up to that person will vanish like tears in rain.

While I can understand that train of thought, I must stress these three words: MEET YOUR HEROES.

Yes, I have had unpleasant interactions with people I admire, whether through online, on the phone, or in person. But that number is incredibly small compared to the people that have been generous and kind with their time. With the ones who have been pricks, chances are very good I was not the only person he or she was a prick to. I prefer to not take things personally, focusing on the battle everyone has with themselves that has nothing to do with you.

Recently, I went to Texas Frightmare Weekend with Hope. She loves this gathering of horror fans and even interviewed its founder on her podcast. Without a doubt, her enthusiasm for it made me feel more comfortable at the thought of going to an event like this. We saw lots of people we've only seen in movies, like Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, and Adrienne King, from a distance. But if there was one person I would have liked to have met, it was George Romero.

Romero has made movies I have seen many times and I've always enjoyed what he has to say in interviews. Sure, he's made some of the best zombie movies of all time, but other movies of his, like The Crazies and Martin, had a pretty big impact on me, too. The price to get an autograph and picture with him was a little high to me at first, but with a line that was manageable (and moving at a steady pace), I figured, go for it.

Hope and I stood for about 30 minutes, talking to other people in line with anticipation. The rules were simple: pay in cash and there are no personalizations with your autograph. I picked an 8x10 for him to sign, paid my money, said hello, and shook his hand. I showed him the shirt I had on, which featured a riff on the iconic Dawn of the Dead poster with the words "Fuck Cancer" replacing "Dawn of the Dead." I asked if he had ever seen this shirt before and he laughed. He said he had not. He was jovial and friendly about it. Then I sat next to him and Hope took a couple of pics of us.

Coming away from the interaction, I'm happy I went through with it. Romero is 76 and still doing conventions, but like a lot of things in life, we shouldn't think that will always be the case. I'm glad I had the experience firsthand and have the documentation to prove it.

Why I suggest you meet your heroes comes from something Bruce Campbell wrote in his autobiography, If Chins Could Kill. No matter how many times people have told him they love his movies, he always appreciates when people take the time and say something nice to him. Expressing a nice sentiment goes a long way, no matter who you are.

Given how curious I am with musicians, filmmakers, and writers of all walks of life, I want to meet the ones I admire. If I have the chance to say something nice about how much that person's work has meant to me, then I want to take that chance.

And even with the few I've had not-so-pleasant experiences with, my appreciation of their work has not dwindled. I'd be a little hesitant to talk to that person again, though. If I never took the chance, how would I know what it would be like? I'd rather know than speculate.