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Monday, November 12, 2018

Unknown Road

Over the final weeks of summer, I found myself watching a lot of episodes of Bar Rescue. As in, as many as I could watch on TV and online for days. I had been aware of the show for years, but I never realized how host Jon Taffer is more of a life coach than a consultant until he was a guest on a friend’s podcast.

Though I don’t have any aspirations of owning a bar someday, I struggle with anxiety and pride issues. That’s why I found Taffer’s tough love really engaging to hear. What he had to say to delusional owners rang true. It was easier to understand my hang-ups reflected in people that had even worse ones. I even bought his book, Don’t Bullshit Yourself! Crush the Excuses That Are Holding You Back, and read it in record time for my usually slow reading rate.

One episode that really stuck with me involved a California bar owner who insisted his dive bar only needed upgrades to its interior, but not any improvements that could very likely bring in more paying customers. He wanted a kitchen, but not better acoustics or a diverse drink menu. The employees knew the owner was stubborn and there was no point in challenging him.

The guy’s excuse for how he was? Punk rock pride. Not the loose idea of punk rock where you follow your own path in life. Rather, the kind where a limited view of life is because of the fear of selling out. Punk rock pride sometimes leads to punk rock guilt, leading you to wonder why you were afraid of change in the first place. But not with this guy. Apparently, through the magic of editing, he is someone who could not fathom non-punk rock fans coming into his bar. Any major changes would lead to massive failure, even though his business was already failing.

Taffer is not a stranger to punk rock. He managed the legendary bar the Troubadour in the late ’70s and dealt with bands like the Dead Kennedys and Fear. Rather than seeing punk rock through the eyes of the scriptwriters on CHiPs and Quincy, ME, Taffer saw things firsthand.

So it made sense in this episode that he brought in his friend Joe Escalante from the Vandals to give some feedback. While the bar owner recognized the band’s name, he dismissed Escalante’s criticisms because of the cardigan Escalante wore.

After trying to talk some sense into the owner, Taffer decided to not rescue the bar, which has only happened a couple of times in the show’s history. Despite it losing money each month, it’s still in business as of this writing. Certain people online say it’s because the guy came from money. If that is true, his hardline stance of keeping it strictly a money-losing punk rock dive bar is easy to have when he has a steady foundation of cash to walk on.

I’ve been in venues that pride themselves in being a dive, but also understand how to run a successful business. Whether it’s welcoming regulars as well as newbies, booking non-punk bands as well as punk bands, or selling creative mixed drinks in addition to cheap beer, the owners understand how to run a business rather than spout punk rock views they heard at a Pennywise show.

Why I related so strongly to this episode came from realizing having a purist attitude usually boxes you in throughout your life. Rather than trying something new on a relatively regular basis, you routinely fall back on what you already know. Any sort of change for the betterment of your life is treasonous.

And thus, I understood something deeper about what has held me back for many years: fearing change and admitting to making mistakes. I thought perfection could be obtained. I could be free of mistakes, full of wisdom, and be an expert on practically anything. And I didn’t have to listen to what anyone has to say because I’m smarter than everyone else.

It’s really easy to boast about your righteousness and not listen to what people have to say, especially those closest to you. But it can be hard to fathom why you have fallouts with friends, loved ones, and significant others throughout your life. You’re just being yourself. It’s always their problems and faults that drive them away from you, not the other way around.

Therein lies the nonsense you can believe for years. Even the entire rest of your life. Punk rock says to fight authority, be yourself, and not be a poseur. Well, you don’t have to agree with everything your boss or politicians say, and you don’t have to listen to trendy music, but you can’t win in the fight for its extinction. Just because you disagree with others doesn’t make you some superior being. And if you don’t want to listen to what others have to say, why should they listen to you?

If life is like living in a big house, you can either live where you’re free to walk around it or you relegate yourself to sitting in a small corner. After living in a corner for so many years, life is way more hopeful and exciting living in the whole house.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Yesterday Once More

If it weren't for Chuck Brinkman, I highly doubt I would have ended up in the traffic reporting business.

Not long after I graduated college and had worked in radio promotions for a few Infinity Radio stations, I was offered the chance to produce the afternoon show on KLUV, then an oldies station. I had known the previous producer and she did not like the job whatsoever. Eager to see what the job was really like, I took it on. 

Though I made mistakes on my first day, Chuck gave me another chance and let me come back the following day. As tough as this job was, I ended up working for Chuck for two years. 

During that time, which seems like a very short period in retrospect, I remember laughing quite often. There were things to do at all times, from answering the listener line to relaying messages to account executives. Yet there was time to hear stories about introducing and interviewing the Beatles, being around the Carpenters, and random trivia about 7-inch singles. 

Roughly a year into my time with Chuck, I asked him if there was a way my position could be full-time. For whatever reason that doesn't matter now, my position was seen by the higher-ups as what interns and part-timers did, not a full-timer. Chuck suggested I call the director of operations at the traffic reporting service we used. 

Even though my only experience with traffic reporting was watching our airborne reporter, Ben Laurie, compile his report, along with driving around the metroplex for promotional appearances, I seemed to be qualified for a weekend reporter position. So, to make ends meet, I worked at KLUV during the week and on the weekends as a traffic reporter. Months passed without a day off, but I was happy to be on my own. 

But things got to a point where I needed a full-time job. And that meant I had to leave KLUV to work full-time in the traffic reporting world. Chuck wasn't happy about me leaving, but he understood why I had to do what I needed to do. 

I continued down the road of traffic reporting, even with two layoffs. I heard from Chuck a couple of times, but the last time I saw him was at Ben Laurie's memorial service. I knew KLUV had gone in a slightly different direction, dropping the oldies moniker and going with the classic hits format. Chuck left the station after many years, working at an easy listening station and co-owning a station east of Dallas. 

Last Friday, Parkinson's took Chuck away from the earth. He was 83. Only a few days before, I got word that the traffic reporting company I work for is about close down this fall. A big coincidence, and one that's been on my mind a lot lately. 

I am not exactly sure I know what I will do next professionally, as the options in this industry are less and less. But if there was ever a perfect time to utilize my skills as a verbal communicator and writer in a field outside of broadcasting, now is the time. And I'm totally up for it. 

But if it weren't for Chuck, I'm not really sure I would be doing now. Sometimes we need people to give us a little direction and we eventually find the path we want to be on. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Why So Serious?

Last week, as I saw numerous think pieces about the impact of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight ten years after its original release, I remembered a decision I made prior to seeing it in a theater. I thought the movie was great and all that, but something sticks out to me as I walked with my friends en route on a typically hot day in late July.

The memory is more about what I didn't do and why I did what I did. It's not a regret. It's simply a reminder of the importance of how we treat people.

The movie theater is in one of the biggest malls in Dallas. Since it was a Saturday afternoon, it was understandably filled with people shopping, eating, and whatever else they wanted to do.

In the midst of all these people, I noticed a familiar-looking face. It was a radio talk show host I had reported traffic for only a couple of years prior. Since I reported from a different building, I never met the host. I knew a lot of the news writers and reporters on this station, but not him. And frankly, after having to listen to yell and scream at people who disagreed with him on the air, I thought it was good to not know him.

However, recently, the host had lost his wife after a lengthy illness. As he walked alone among the shoppers, he looked sullen and a little lost. The compassionate side of me felt drawn to go up to him, introduce myself, and say I was sorry for his loss. Then I thought about all the times he would scream at callers, all the commercials for his show that featured him declaring, "You will not out-shout me!!!" and the times he was in front of a camera ripping apart people who didn't hold his same political views.

Since me and my friends wanted to get a good seat in the days before reserved seating in a movie theater, I let the moment pass and I kept walking without stopping. I thought I should have said something, but then I thought, If this guy wants to present himself as a polarizing person, then he should be left alone. He deserved to be alone.

As cruel as that might sound, I don't regret holding back.

Others might credit karma or revenge, but I stand behind an idea that toxic people deserve all the disappointment in their lives. You might have a lot of money and/or power, but if you routinely treat others like dirt for your feet to walk on, then I don't have much or any sympathy for you when something unfortunate happens in your life. I'm definitely not one to wish ill will on anyone, but I don't want to hear any whines or complaints when life hands you a challenge that you may never get over.

Yet what's weird about media personalities is distinguishing the difference between who they are with a microphone in front of them and who they are without one. I've worked with some total divas who sounded like warm and funny gentlemen on the air. I've also worked with people who are eager to be liked by everyone at the station, yet get on the air and cast scorn on those who have the opposing stances as them.

The purpose of this is not about what your political views are. It's how you treat those who see things differently than you. Of course I'm not OK with participating in illegal matters, but I'd prefer to not be a monster towards people who voted for someone I didn't for.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Real, Real, Real

Last year, I was a part of a speaking panel focused on what it’s like to be a freelance journalist. Hosted by a local college's journalism society, it was fun to talk openly and face to face with undergrads wanting some advice and insight in the field.

A question was asked that struck me as odd at the time. With her young son in tow, squirming in his seat because he couldn’t sit still for too long, the student asked the panel on how to deal with a criticism of freelancing she had encountered.

Someone told her she wasn’t a real journalist because she was not on the full-time payroll of the publication she wrote for. Freelancing was the best way for her, between being a full-time student, wife, and mother. I said she should not believe what this person said, as many professional journalists these days are freelancers. Writers make what they want to make out of the profession, whether or not they receive a regular paycheck with a portion taken out for a 401(k) and health insurance.

I, along with the other panelists, stressed that the professional journalism field does not have a lot of full-time openings, and freelancing is the way most publications handle their content these days. The cost is less for the publication, which helps them stay in business. Freelancing gives the writer way more options and control over what he or she wants to put out there. It’s actually a great time these days, but if your idea of success is having a 401(k) and health insurance, you need to see a bigger picture.

Full-time job openings, especially writing about music and its culture, are not plentiful and haven’t been for years. Even the ones that exist don’t offer big annual incomes, as the passion for writing about music seems to overshadow the paycheck. 

Would I like to have a retirement plan and health insurance, in addition to a livable wage, from writing about music? Sure, but I have yet to be fortunate to do that in my career. I’m not sitting around waiting for that to happen. I spend 40 hours a week writing copy in the traffic reporting world, but I also spend at least a handful of hours each week devoted to writing articles and working on a book. If I can’t spend 40 hours devoted to writing about music, I sure make the most of the hours I do have. I’m grateful to spend time interviewing people I admire, write about them, and get paid something in return. Freelance checks do come in handy, especially on top of a salary.

I do what I do, and recently, what I do was called into question. I present the following as a way to show the value of freelancing and how not to sway someone with something you think is newsworthy.

Last week, I encountered someone criticizing me as a journalist because I don’t do it all the time. Easy to pass off as an anonymous troll looking to get a rise out of me, but in this case, it had been from someone I had worked extensively with on a story that ran last year. We had a friendly relationship, even though working on this story meant regular phone calls and messages from him asking about how the article was going and him telling me some of things I should put in the article. I thought it was a little annoying, but I stayed on course and wrote the article I wanted to write. He really appreciated what ran online, but I found his relentlessness to be rather out of character from the kind of publicists, bands, and promoters I work with (or hear from) on a regular basis.

After hearing nothing from him for months -- hey, we’re all busy people -- he recently hit me up about a new creative endeavor he has in development. I took what he had into consideration, but I thought there was not a strong pull for me to write about it. I’ve been told it’s obvious when I’m not totally into the person, band, or show that I’m writing about, so I opt to write about the stuff that moves me and that people might enjoy reading.

He had emailed me, messaged me, and called me multiple times, trying to get a response. When I had the time to give him a clear answer, I told him I was politely passing on writing about his project. He did not take my no -- however polite it was -- as an answer. He wanted to know why, opting to push back with reasons why I should reconsider. I told him to back off and that I do not work well with pushy people. He apologized, but I had enough of his antics. I saw him as a force that wants to use the media to make him look good in the spotlight.

In hopes he would leave me alone, I blocked him on all of my social media, blocked his email address, and tried to block his number on my phone.

When he called me a few days later from a different number I did not recognize, I was furious that he went down this route. I had previously given him an answer about why I didn’t want to write this proposed article. I did not accept his apology, as I could not forgive his actions. I was cold and aloof to him. That made him even angrier. Now he wanted an apology from me.

Since I had a relatively good working relationship with this guy, I thought writing him a lengthy email explaining my stances and views would be helpful to him. I also thought it would help him realize things about himself that people had not told him, or were afraid to tell him. He responded kindly and appreciated my email, but then went back to plugging this project.

The following day, he thought it was best to text me about the importance of working with him based on something he posted on Facebook. Telling me I “don’t know shit about passion,” I told him to stop texting me, as it had come to a harassment level. Replying “God loves you Eric” and "if you were a real 'journalist,' you would be doing it full time," I told him again to stop harassing me.

The communication came to an end. Any sort of future professional relationship ended, too.

In the times we live in, the media is seen as untrustworthy when they report about things that don’t seem right, are extremely unfair, or are outright false. It’s the media’s job to hold accountable people in check. In my case, if I don’t think it’s worth the time to write a story about it, then why should I pretend that readers want to see this online or in print?

I found it funny this guy was all about talking favorably to me on a story I wanted to write, but turned heel when I didn’t want to write about something else he was involved with. I was fooled once by him, but not again.

Being a freelancer gave me the chance to say no. I’m fortunate to be in a position where I can say what I want to write about, even if it might mean less money in my bank account for a week. People who want to doubt a freelancer’s legitimacy can do that all they want, but I think the quality of the actual writing and reporting means everything.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Forever Got Shorter

This year marks ten years since my first book, Post, came out. It was a self-released affair put out by a print-on-demand publisher. It’s never sold many copies, but according to quarterly royalty statements, several copies are sold every year in various parts of the world.

I never put the book out to make money. I wanted people outside of my inner circle to read it and find something of worth in it. If emo was a joke to many, then I wanted to show how it wasn’t.  

Last year, I had an idea to release a ten-year anniversary edition of the book. I’d update all the chapters, write a new afterword, and see if a publisher wanted to put it out. After rejection letters from publishers arrived in my inbox, I set the idea aside. Seemed like the gatekeepers thought Andy Greenwald’s superficial and error-filled look at emo was enough. But that was not a reason to quit pursuing something I wanted out there.

Only a few days after our wedding, Hope asked me if was interested in doing a new long-term creative project. She suggested a documentary based on Post. While I’m interested in doing something like that someday, I thought a book sequel to Post should happen before that.

Over the years, I had been asked about doing a sequel from a couple of people, including my friend and fellow podcaster, Jim Hanke, on his excellent Vinyl Emergency podcast. My original response was no, as someone else should write a sequel. I had kind of checked out from modern emo when Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance were considered equals to Braid, Sunny Day Real Estate, and Rites of Spring.

But after being told no to a new edition of Post, I realized I had a lot more to say and research to do, all in what has happened since 2008. There is too much to put into a new edition of a previously-released book. It’s asking a lot of people to read a 500-page tome, so why not try to put out a new book?

I made my plans for a new book known on my social media back in the middle of January this year. I’ve spent every week since interviewing people, doing research, and jotting ideas down. At the very least, I give myself the goal to interview someone every week, even if it’s interviewing the same person multiple times.

So far, it’s been wonderful to touch base with people I originally interviewed, along with people I’ve met since the first book’s release. There are many people to talk to, so I’m giving myself at least until the end of this year to interview people. No deadline is set at the moment.

Structurally, this new book -- which I plan on putting out myself and calling it Forever Got Shorter -- will be more about the people affected by emo/post-hardcore rather doing lengthy profiles of a dozen bands. Whether these are people who play in bands, put out records, or write about bands that put out records, I am aiming to answer a few questions.

Questions like, Why would you fly across the country to see a band like Jawbreaker play a reunion show or two? Why do you still like emo music when you’re in a much better place in your life? Why is emo still relevant? And, what kind of future do you see with it?

I freely admit that it can be complicated to spend all this time on a passion project that may or may not go over. Being newly married, working a full-time job, freelancing, and playing in two bands, my life is busy, but I try to balance everything properly. My life is much, much more fulfilling now -- especially because of Hope -- and I remember what life was like before. And I don’t ever want to go back to that look at life.

Along those lines, I strongly discourage any writer who thinks blocking out everything in his or hers life in order to write an Important Book. As Stephen King suggested in his On Writing memoir, writing is not a support system for life. It’s the other way around.

Moving forward, I’m very excited about doing this book. There is a lot of work to be done, and paragraphs to write before editing happens. But I’m up for it all.