A Bitch Magnet for Dudes

It’s strange that something that you did in your early twenties can shape your entire life, but such is reality for criminals and rock bands. Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Rock’s Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear) is Bitch Magnet’s guitarist Jon Fine’s take on how the resurrection of his college band gave him incendiary joy as a 40-something. The memoir is alternately good, bad and ugly, much like the math rock throbbings of Bitch Magnet. Click the link above for my LA Times review.

Long, long ago in a time now known as the early ’80s, long before Pandora, file sharing and even compact discs, to find new music you trudged to a record store and sifted through bins of LPs. If you lived in the suburbs, your options were limited to a few national chains that sold only the latest corporate-approved offerings from commercial radio. Jon Fine grew up in just such a musical wasteland in New Jersey, but a fortuitous summer camp encounter with the Dead Kennedys and Sex Pistols shoved Fine into the punk-indie-alternative music wormhole…

The Noble Hustle: a Review

I just reviewed Colson’s Whitehead’s THE NOBLE HUSTLE: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death for the LA Times. While it ran long for a contemporary book review, I still needed space to really develop my arguments. Whitehead is immensely talented, but there’s a flaw running through the book that I think extends to many of the premiere novelists of his generation. When I get a head of steam going, I’ll write that piece. Maῆana, maῆana, maῆana.

Everything Rises…

My friend and former editor Paul Elie has been blogging daily at Everything that Rises. Literature, Italy, the papacy, are some of his main topics but he ranges widely. It’s now part of my my morning reveille and well worth a read. I don’t know how he stays so consistent but I haven’t seen a weak post yet. Check it out.
The title of his blog connects to his deep concerns – the Catholic Church, spirituality, the state of literature and the arts, and many things Italian. Paul published a book THE LIFE YOU SAVE MAY BE YOUR OWN: An American Pilgrimage, about four important mid-century American Catholic figures – O’Connor, Merton, Dorothy Day and Walker Percy. His newest book, REINVENTING BACH, provides a look at the great composer through the lens of a new millennium.

The Hidden Valleys of the Andean Jungle

My new feature for Pacific Standard just came out. Last August and September I trekked into the Peruvian cloud forest to an Andean valley that only a handful of humans (or none) have traversed in the last five hundred years. In the 21st Century it’s remarkable that these places still exist, but in Peru they do. Alas, it’s only a matter of time until chain saws and flame sweep them away.

Pro Wrestling, Squared

I got to go fairly long in my LA Times review of David Shoemaker’s The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling. Shoemaker has successfully transferred, for the most part, the insouciance of his Deadspin column, ‘Dead Wrestler of the Week’ to the printed page. The Masked Man shows his face. Click and read on.

Warriors of the Waves

I just returned to the U.S. after a long stint in the Andean rainforest. I’ve been back for 48 hours but I’m still very grateful for hot showers and the complete absence of bee swarms trying to drain the salt from my body. While I was gone Red Bull’s magazine, Red Bulletin, published this article of mine about the Olamau Outrigger Canoe Race, a three-day ‘open’ race that features the best outrigger canoe teams on the planet. A really interesting event, with fantastic photos.

The Last Bohemia: or a Nine-Month Tour of Hell

The Farrar, Straus and Giroux newsletter just published a short essay of mine about writing my latest book, THE LAST BOHEMIA: Scenes from the life of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

For me, the two books I’ve done with FSG, ten years apart, mark the transformation of publishing between centuries twenty and twenty-one. For the first book, the official line was, ‘Take all the time you need. All we care about is that it’s good.’ For the second it was, ‘if you can’t do it in nine months, forget about it.’ In the time I wrote this book, my beloved editor left the business. His replacement told me that he was excited about the book and would call me in a week: sixteen months later, I’m still waiting for that call.

The world changes and we adapt, or find another line of work. The sentences of The Last Bohemia didn’t quite end up where I wanted them – there’s a final coat of varnish missing. But having to churn out the manuscript in nine months showed me that I could, and there’s a cohesion to work written in a single push.

Most people start writing because they love books. They want to add their voices to a conversation that’s been going on since the gods played a dirty trick on Gilgamesh. It’s nice to get paid to do what you love though, and for the second half of the Twentieth Century, there were a lot of opportunities to make a living with the pen. That changed more quickly and drastically than anyone imagined. Here’s the first paragraph of the piece, also produced on a tight deadline.

At the exact hour on February 12, 2012 that I was supposed to be ferrying the manuscript for The Last Bohemia to the FSG offices, I was puking into the toilet of my Greenpoint sublet. Dubious Chinese and sleep deprivation were to blame. After peeling my hands off the tile, I scrubbed my teeth, got dressed, and made my way to the subway. I felt like a human bruise.

Vegas, Baby!

A friend of mine was in Vegas last weekend. She noticed a bunch of drunk girls staggering around her hotel lobby in high heels and dresses cut so short, she ‘could see their vaginas.’ Later, as she walked to her room, she saw one of the girls, heels slung over a shoulder, making out with her own reflection in a hall mirror. A few seconds later, the girl burst into tears.