Tag Archives: ted leo


I think I’ve mentioned this before, but writing a novel is kind of hard. One the main reasons it is so hard is the time needed to complete it, time that can be spent in so many ways that don’t involve sitting at home by yourself in front of the computer screen. Not to mention that simply being at a computer screen offers so many distractions. I’m constantly worried that I’m “missing” something on Twitter; breaking news about the Mets, perhaps, which I am semi-professionally obligated to keep on top of, or perhaps a hilarious meme that cries out for my contributions.

One of the biggest enemies of novel writing is lack of focus, be it internet enabled or just the wandering of mind that tends to happen when you have to do one thing and one thing only. My biggest problem is I’m a multitasker by nature. I find it extremely difficult to work on one single thing when I have ideas for a dozen others, all of them vying for headspace. When it comes to shorter nonfiction stuff, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with working on more than one project simultaneously. But that method is deadly for fiction writing in general and novel writing in particular.

Colson Whitehead (whose novels The Intuitionist and John Henry Days are in my own person canon) wrote a great piece about this a few years back for the Times, “What To Write Next.” The intent was humorous, but even more so than the jokes, what struck me about the piece was its subtext: The writer’s fear that you’re toiling away on one thing when you can and should be working on something else, an impulse that can prevent you from doing anything at all.

An excellent way to combat this lack of focus is through music. I’m far from the first person to point this out, but I feel compelled to share my thoughts anyway, as I owe a debt to all the music I listened to while writing this book. I know I wouldn’t have been able to do it without clasping headphones to my dome and letting music push the outside world away for a while.

I found listening to albums (remember those?) helped the most. A complete album–a good one, anyway–immerses you in a universe, which helps you focus your energies and attention for the running time and hopefully beyond. The albums I listened to most often while writing Love and a Short Leash were:

  • Miles Ahead, Miles Davis
  • Double Nickels on the Dime, The Minutemen
  • Mikal Cronin S/T
  • David Comes to Life, Fucked Up
  • Under the Bushes, Under the Stars, Guided By Voices
  • Get Happy!, Elvis Costello
  • Singles 06-07, Jay Reatard
  • The Tyranny of Distance, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
  • Melted, Ty Segall
  • Murmur, R.E.M.

In addition to these records, I also got sucked into various boots of Petit Wazoo/Roxy and Elsewhere-era Mothers of Invention shows (1972-1974). I can’t quite explain why; I listened to a ton of Frank Zappa in high school and college, but only rarely since then. This was an addiction I thought I’d conquered. Whatever the reason, my desire to listen to this music again reemerged right when I was finishing up my final draft, and I’m glad it did. I found the funk-and-jazz charged jams of this era of Frank Zappa’s oeuvre to be helpful for this particular stage of my toil.

I found that commercial radio doesn’t help me all that much, with its incessant breaks and complete lack of imagination, but listening to WFMU definitely did. I did most of my work on the weekends, and the Saturday afternoon block of Michael Shelley, Fool’s Paradise with Rex, and especially Terre T’s Cherry Blossom Clinic powered me through many marathon writing sessions.

To honor this debt, I wanted to share a playlist of songs that were often drilled into my ears when writing the novel. Some have particular resonance for reasons related to novel’s plot/subject matter, some are mood setters, and some are just bitchin’ tunes. I’ve arranged them in an order that helps my own process: Get pumped up, settle in, shot of energy, scale back again, repeat. I’m not sure if this will be instructive to anyone or if it really shares anything except a glimpse into my weird headspace. But hey, you get some rad tunes, so shut your noise. Playlist available here, deets after the jump.

Continue reading Soundtracking

What’s Been Doin’

Hey! I haven’t written here in a while. Nor have I been writing all that much at Scratchbomb in calendar year 2012. One large reason is that, for the last bit and a half, I’ve been concentrating alternately on finishing my novel and working on a large-ish non-fiction thing.

As far as the novel goes, it is 98 percent done. I’ve completed a second draft, and will soon begin a third so I can dot the i’s, cross the t’s, remove superfluous adverbs, and so on. However, all the really hard work (the actual writing of stuff) is done, and very soon I will send it out to the world and onto a slush pile near you. I am close enough to completion that I feel confident enough to tell the world the following facts about this novel:

  1. The title is Love and a Short Leash.
  2. It is a spy novel that involves baseball.

Speaking of baseball, the large-ish non-fiction thing I mentioned above involves The Great American Pastime and it too has been consuming me of late. I’ve been kinda squirrely about exactly what this thing is on Twitter and elsewhere. I realize that vagueness such as this is maddening and I apologize for that. Here is what I can say about it:

  1. It is called Yells For Ourselves.
  2. It is a multi-volume ebook about the 1999/2000 Mets, or rather, about the narratives and media perceptions thereof.
  3. It will be available in a no-frills version and a souped-up version for the iPad that will include lots of extra goodies, the technical aspects of which I’ve (mostly) figured out.
  4. More details will become available upon the official launch of YellsForOurselves.com. (Nothing there right now, really, except a “watch this space” notice and one of my favorite Mets-related pics ever.)

I am pursuing traditional channels to get my novel published. (Speaking of which, if you’re involved with traditional channels, hey, hit me up, wouldja?) The non-fiction book will be self-published, more or less to prove that the souped-up version is something can be done, from a technical standpoint.

The other big reason I’ve been delinquent in my posts here is because I’ve been writing for other sites. (Scratchbomb and I have an open relationship.) I realize this has endangered my goal for Scratchbomb to be the M*A*S*H of the Internet (“where hilarity meets brooding introspection!”). However, I’m pretty proud of the stuff I’ve done elsewhere of late. Apart from my regular stuff at Amazin’ Avenue (which should ramp up now that spring training is upon us). here’s where you could have seen me so far in 2012.

  • Last Friday I eulogized Gary Carter at The Classical. The Kid was the first athlete I loved, and his death, while sadly unexpected, hit me hard. I hope did his memory justice here. On a less serious tip, I also took a look at how Ray Manzarek’s brought an otherwise fine HBO doc about John Wooden and the UCLA basketball dynasty to a screeching halt.
  • For Vice, I penned a brief assessment of the Marlins’ home run monstrosity as a sign of the impending apocalypse. If you think that take is a bit hyperbolic, I assume you have not seen this thing.
  • For Splitsider, I looked back at the Looney Tunes 50th Anniversary Special, possibly the greatest thing Bill Murray has ever done, if not humanity itself.
  • Last but certainly not least, I’ve scribbled a few things for Low Times: a review of Mitch Miller’s prog record, and an in-depth study of which exact city was built on rock and roll. And if you’re not listening to the Low Times podcast, get on the stick, fella. I have to say the Worst Lyrics discussion with Ted Leo and DC Pierson is one of the funniest things I’ve heard in many a moon.

Will I be posting here with more regularity in the near future? Possibly. What I can promise is that if I don’t, I will definitely put up another post apologizing for not posting.

Gangly Limbs Contorted, We Move Forward

A few weekends ago, I was at my mother’s house and saw 500 Days of Summer for the first time. I found it alternately enjoyable and infuriating (just a tad too twee at times for my taste, like much indie-ish film fare), but stuck with it the whole way. The one scene that stuck with me was where the main characters are at a park, and Joseph Gordon Levitt starts doodling on Zooey Deschanel’s arm with a pen. It stuck with me because the pen he was using was the exact same one my father used for his crossword puzzles. A black Pilot with a thin plastic yellow top on the cap. I realized all at once that I was once surrounded by these pens, and that I hadn’t seen one since he died, to the point that I’d thought Pilot stopped production on them because he accounted for a large percentage of their sales. (They managed to soldier along without him, it turns out.)

My father had tons of these black pens, and their red brethren. When he did a New York Times crossword puzzle, he would write a letter in each space with his black pen in this italic, almost calligraphic script, where each character would have at least one open space. For instance, a “T” would have a very wide, outlined vertical base, topped by a flat horizontal line. At some point in the puzzle completion process, he would fill in these empty spaces with the red pen.

I’m not sure why he did this, if it was something he imitated or came up with his own. I’m not sure at what point in the puzzle completion process he would fill in each black letter with red–was it when he was sure of an answer, or just when he remembered to do it? Just a few of many questions it never occurred to me to ask when I might have been able to get answers.

This is the time of year when I think about my father. It’s also the time of year when I seem to be forcibly reminded of him by random encounters. I don’t think it’s anything cosmic, really; when you’re attuned to something, you’re bound to notice it more than usual, like when you first learn a word and suddenly it seems to appear in everything you read.

Last week on a lunch break–a rare one where I actually left the office–I found myself along a stretch of Sixth Avenue where I hardly ever go anymore. On my way back to the office, I passed by the Waverly Diner. My dad loved this place, and would all but demand we eat there when we would meet for lunch while I was going to NYU. Maybe because it was the kind of old school diner that’s harder and harder to find in the city, waiters in uniforms, cramped booths with coat racks, the ability to make decent stuffed mushrooms. He also had a soft spot for the Cafe Edison off of Times Square; much for the same reasons, I imagine. It’s a diner tucked away into a hotel lobby that you could never find unless you knew it was there.

Unfortunately, when I passed the Waverly, its windows were all taped up with pale beige butcher’s paper. I thought the place was closed, and my heart sank. As it turned out, the Waverly was simply being renovated. I stole a quick peek through the half-cracked front door. There was nothing inside but large, idle tools and sheetrock dust. That was almost worse than it being gone forever. More than once over the past few years, I’ve had this thought that I should go have lunch there on my father’s behalf. Now I can’t, even when the Waverly opens, because it will not be the Waverly he loved. Realizing this filled me with a very deep sense of failure.

And almost simultaneously, I experienced another event that filled me with–well, not pride. Maybe more like Bart Simpson’s “Not-Shame” he briefly felt for Homer. A while ago, I bought the entire Monty Python series on DVD because Amazon had it on sale for a criminally cheap amount. It arrived and sat atop my cable box for months, because I realized I’d burnt myself out these shows a long time ago and had no burning desire to watch them again, which was a depressing revelation (though not nearly as depressing as it would have been if I’d paid full price).

Then, a week or two ago, The Kid (cannot call her The Baby anymore, sadly) noticed the box set and its colorful illustrations, and said out of nowhere, “I wanna watch that!” I tried to dissuade her at first. Obviously, an almost-kindergarten-aged kid isn’t going to understand the vast majority of Monty Python’s humor, and there’s some bits you’d prefer they not understand. But I wasn’t all that much older than her when I saw Monty Python for the first time, thanks to my dad’s religious watching of it on PBS. (Not that I really got most of what I saw either.)

So I made a few judicious choices. I showed her some of the Terry Gilliam cartoons, which she loved as much as I did when I was a kid. And I showed her the Ministry of Silly Walks sketch, which she has now demanded to rewatch almost every day since. Her Nerdening is nearly complete, if it wasn’t already. Seeing Monty Python with her (even in bite-sized chunks) felt a lot like taking her to a ballgame, like seeing something I love through the eyes of someone experiencing it for the first time.

And I also realized that the reason I don’t watch Monty Python anymore–other than the fact that I watched every single episode a katrillion times in high school–is that when I watch it, I hear my father imitating all the best lines. Long after my daughter had scampered out of the living room, I sat and watched the “Piranha Brothers” sketch for the first time in years, and all I could hear in my head was his mimicking of Michael Palin as an East End housewife (“Kids were different back then. They didn’t have their ‘eads filled up with all this Cartesian dualism…”) and John Cleese as Dinsdale Piranha’s paramour (“What’s more, he knew how to treat a female impersonator.”).

This morning, while waiting for the bus, I slipped in my iPod headphones and hit “shuffle.” I will swear on the holy book of your choice that the first two songs it spit out where these:

So there I’m standing at the bus stop, trying to hold it together, and I suddenly remember that my dad didn’t even like music. He owned one album of doo-wop songs; every other record in his collection was comedy, Tom Lehrer, George Carlin. He’d listen to classical music on WQXR while doing work, but it was all background to him. And I’m ready to lose it listening to an art form he didn’t even like.

It’s strange, almost unfair, to feel my father’s absence so profoundly when he took almost nothing seriously. It feels like an ironic curse, like a glutton having his mouth sewn shut. And yet, this time of year, I have this crushing weight on me of someone who was light as air. The only explanation I have for it is the way he died, and my role in that.

I wrote this last year, on the fifth anniversary of his death. Today, it’s six years, and I feel almost exactly the same way now as I did when I wrote it. I imagine I’ll feel the same way 20 years from now, 50 years from now, whenever. Which is to say, the absolute worst feeling a nerd like me can have: I know little about him and will, in all likelihood, never know more.

I can only grasp at pens and diners and hope that something of him–the best parts of him–lives on when my daughter laughs at John Cleese whipping his gangly legs down a London sidewalk. Six years later, I still feel like he looks in that sketch: Stoic, teeth gritted, barely in control of my extremities, but moving forward nonetheless.

TomThon Part Two: Nerds in Paradise

This is a friendly reminder that the second installment of TomThon takes place tonight. If you have not yet pledged some cash to keep the freeform station of the nation on the air, now is the chance. If you have pledged already, you are awesome. Maybe you can be even more awesome and dig a little deeper? Give it some thought.

Last week, I gave everyone a litany of reasons to donate funds to WFMU. I won’t repeat all of those points, though if you want some more, Julie Klausner posted her own reasons for donating at Gothamist. But I will reiterate why you may want to donate during tonight’s installment of The Best Show on WFMU. A mere $75 dollars will not only get you some great swag from the station itself, but also:

  • A Best Show poster drawn by legendary comic artist Charles Burns (Black Hole, Dog Boy)
  • The amazing Wu-Tang-esque Best Show t-shirt seen here
  • A 7″ called “Rated G.G.,” containing cleaned-up versions of G.G. Allin songs performed by Ted Leo, Fucked Up, Ben Gibbard, and many more
  • A digital download of said 7″, which also includes not only the single’s contents, but some ultra-rare material from Scharpling & Wurster, among others

For TomThon Phase One, host Tom Scharpling gave away some amazing random prizes, too, such as a Monty Python DVD boxed set signed by Terry Gilliam. If you donate this week, you will be in the running to win prizes that are just as fabulous. What could possibly be as fabulous? How about:

  • A single and LP signed by Conan O’Brien
  • A copy of I Am America signed by Stephen Colbert
  • Books signed by Chris Elliott, PLUS a copy of Daddy’s Boy signed by both Chris AND Bob Elliott

As if this wasn’t enough, there will be other fantastic giveaways autographed by tonight’s in-studio guests. That includes Mr. Leo and Carl Newman, who will stop by the studio for the second week in a row for your musical enjoyment. They will be joined by songsmith Kurt Vile and wordsmith John Hodgman, and I’m sure all of them have awesome things planned for the event.

What if you can’t actually donate during the show for some reason? Just email toms@wfmu.org with your pledge. You will be in the running for any and all prizes given away during the show. Sound good?

I did some phone slaving this weekend at the WFMU studios, and trust me when I say that every donation is welcomed. I took more than a few $15 donations, and if that’s what you can spare, it is more than appreciated. Altogether, we raised over $11,000 for Terre T’s awesome show. Every little bit helps.

Tom has also issued a challenges to see who can get the biggest celebrity to RT this event on Twitter. I’m just throwing this out there on the off chance that I have any big shots who frequent this site. Or, maybe you’re a regular schmoe reading this site who knows some big wigs yourself, in which case you could get them to RT and win said challenge. By all means, do it. That way, we all win.

And again, if you can’t spare cash, spare some time to spread the word on Twitter, Facebook, your blog, any message boards you frequent, random telephone poles, whatever. It all helps.

Tune in, turn on, and turn out (your wallets), tonight at 9pm. DON’T STOP NOW.

Tom Scharpling + New Pornographers = Video Greatness

So Tom Scharpling directed a video for the New Pornographers for their song “Moves,” and it is jam-packed with so much awesomeness, I think the sheer weight of it might affect the earth’s axis. See?

I don’t even know where to begin. Todd Barry as a harried Other Music employee. Ted Leo in drag. Jon Wurster inhabiting the role of “A.C. Newman”. Mike Lisk (aka @APMike) turning in a truly deranged performance (though I’m not sure how much of it was performing and how much was Mike being Mike). “Independent Spirit Award winner” Kevin Corrigan, looking very Kevin Corrigan-y. Horatio Sanz, Julie Klausner, Wyatt Cenac…hold on, let me catch my breath…

Plus cameos from many other comedy and musical giants, and enough Best Show-related easter eggs to delight sharp-eyed completists (like me).

Oh, and it starts with a trailer for a fake movie starring Paul Rudd and Bill Hader (Expectant Dads). If you want more than this video can give you, you must eat diamonds for breakfast, pal.

“Bottled in Cork” Video = A Fount of Awesome

I’ve already tweeted about this, and Facebooked it, and mouth-talked it. But on the off chance you have yet to see this masterpiece, here ’tis: the video for Ted Leo’s “Bottled in Cork”, directed by Tom Scharpling, starring Paul F. Tompkins, Julie Klausner, John Hodgman, and a slew of other awesome folk, as they bring Ted to the Great White Way in his musical The Brutalist Bricks! (No Refunds).

Sharp-eyed WFMU-ophiles may spot Terre T, AP Mike, Therese, and some other righteous people. Fortunately for your eyes, you can not see me.

Ya see, I volunteered to be in the crowd scene (brag), but the shoot time got moved up to 4pm, when I would have still been at work. I toyed with the idea of sneaking out early to make the scene, but my German half demanded that keep my nose to the grindstone. (My Irish half was totally down with splitting work and giving everyone the finger as I left.)

Thus, I was denied a shot at rock n’ roll immortality.* And a month later, I was let go from this job. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, though I’m not quite sure what it is.

*Actually, I may have already achieved rock n’ roll immortality, since my enormous bald head can be briefly seen in crowd shots in the following concert films: Fugazi’s Instrument, The Make-Up’s Blue Is Beautiful, and the aforementioned Mr. Leo’s Dirty Old Town. If you can find those movies and spot me in them, you win absolutely nothing.

This video is, quite obviously, a play on the trend of musicals based on a particular band’s/artist’s oeuvre–particularly ones that don’t quite gel with traditional Broadway mores. Like, oh, I don’t know, let’s just say Green Day. So I assume, anyway. Because there is no way in hell I will ever see any of these quote-unquote musicals without the aid of hard drugs and harnesses.

Especially after seeing this clip someone tweeted earlier today (forgive me for forgetting who, whoever you are), which comes from the Bob Dylan musical. Hey, remember when there was a Bob Dylan musical? No? You’re lucky.

Holiday Triumphs: Christmas Songs of Righteousness

Just to prove to everyone that I don’t hate every Christmas song in existence. Links for handy download, too (where I had ’em), in case you wanna make yourself a hot holiday mix. And if you wanna DL the whole batch in one fell swoop, click here.

The Ramones, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight)”

Slade, “Merry Xmas Everybody”

The Pogues, “Fairytale of New York”

Bonus! Ted Leo performing “Fairytale of New York”, live on WFMU, 2007 (with the dirty bits chopped out).

Bonus bonus! For you socialists out there, Billy Bragg performing “Fairytale of New York” live on the BBC.
Continue reading Holiday Triumphs: Christmas Songs of Righteousness

A Video Palate Cleanser: Ted Leo as Danzig in TV Casualty!

Okay, that’s enough haterade for one day. Enough with the negativity! Now is the time to gather together and celebrate those things that we like and think are fun!

For instance, imitating Danzig. Anyone who reads this site will know that I think Danzig is hilarious. Just the idea of him. I mean, c’mon, just look at the guy. So when Ted Leo posted pics of himself dressed as Misfits-era Danzig, I demanded more. And I got more.

I got more than pics, in fact. WE ALL DID. Because Mr. Leo was dressing as Lodi’s favorite son as part of a Halloween show down in Philadelphia, wherein he and the band TV Casualty (featuring Atom of Atom and His Package, among others) performed an entire concert of Misfits covers. Better still, some forward-thinking genius captured the whole thing on video and posted it to YouTube.

You might wonder how Ted Leo would perform as Danzig. They’re not very similar in stage presence, singing voice, or general bulk. But as part one of this video collection will attest, Ted doesn’t just imitate Misfits-era Danzig. He IS Misfits-era Danzig!

Seriously, this is one of the greatest things people have ever done. Watch this, then hie thee to the rest of the set. I particularly enjoyed their versions of “Hyrbid Moments” and “Last Caress”, but you can’t go wrong with anything in this collection, I says.

Holy Goddamn! 006: You Can’t Show Me Any Kind of Hell I Don’t Know Already

slater.jpgHoly Goddamn! is back for another action-packed episode. Sorry that this one’s a little later than usual. I’ve tried to adhere to my self-imposed every-other-week schedule, but some unforeseen issues have plagued the Scratchbomb Home Office of late–most of them not good, as chronicled here. As you’ll probably notice, these events, and my attempts to defy them, have greatly affected the song choices (as have my reflection on baseball seasons past and present).

In episode 006, I have a long chat about fantasy baseball with Skip “Wheels” Slater, a frequent Scratchbomb and Holy Goddamn! contributor. You’ll also hear some wise advice from Vin Scully, some more nostalgic sound bites, and a closing tune that’ll make you wanna run out in the street and punch somebody in the face.*

* Please don’t actually run out in the street and punch someone in the face. Unless they deserve it.

And please forgive the inclusion of a song from my old band. It just seemed to fit the flow and theme. I vow not to engage in such reflective narcissism again. Probably.

Holy Goddamn! 006 Setlist:

“Watch me paste…”/Intro
“Have you seen the schedule…”
Les Savy Fav, “The Year Before the Year 2000”, Let’s Stay Friends
Deefhoof, “Scream Team”, The Runners Four
Viva Voce, “Lesson #1”, The Heat Can Melt Your Brain
Vin Scully lectures on perspective, spring training, 1988
XTC, “No Language in Our Lungs”, Black Sea
The Pixies, “Down to the Well”, Emerson College radio, 1987
Bill Moss, “Number One”, Eccentric Soul: The Capsoul Label (v/a)
Interview with Skip “Wheels” Slater on fantasy baseball strategy
Elvis Costello, “Hand in Hand”, This Year’s Model
Jay Reatard, “I Know a Place”, Singles 06-07
The Replacements, “I’ll Buy”, Tim
“Someone’s rockin’ my dreamboat…”
Record Ignite!, “Chew You Up”, demo, 1999
“But we were winning!”
Vince Guaraldi, “Rain Rain Go Away”, The Charlie Brown Suite and Other Favorites
Ted Leo, “Rappaport’s Testament: I Never Gave Up”, Mo’ Livin’ EP

Holy Goddamn! 005: Spring Is Here, I Hear

lasorda2.jpgHoly Goddamn! celebrates the impending baseball season! I hoped to have Sean from Massapequa in studio to discuss his trip to spring training, but he bailed for various reasons that will be discussed in his online interview later today.

Fear not! There is plenty of audio goodness in this here episode! Listen as Skip “Wheels” Slater discusses guts, John Sterling honors great moments in Yankee history, and Gary Cohen and Bob Murphy call the best friggin game ever. And also, hot music. And also, karate.

An audio quality note for those who care: the last few episodes were output at lower bit- and sample rates to reduce file size, but in my humble opinion, that resulted in them sounding like they were recorded in a shark tank. So this week, I’ve upped the quality back to previous levels. The file size is bigger, of course, but I think you will appreciate the difference. And if you don’t appreciate it, do your own podcast. Jerk.

Holy Goddamn! 005 Setlist:

Monorchid, “X Marks the Spot: Something Dull Happened Here”, Who Put Out the Fire?
Ricky and the Impressionables, “Baco Walk”, Black Cherries (v/a, 2008 WFMU/Cherry Blossom Clinic Premium)
Mel Allen says play ball!
Brian Wilson, “Trying to Say to You/Baseball”
Carla Thomas, “The Next Ball Game”, Saturday Night Fish Fry (v/a)
Skip “Wheels” Slater and the importance of guts
Buzzcocks, “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays”, Singles Going Steady
“Outside, ball four, the game is tied!”
Ted Leo, “Army Bound”, Living for the Living
Elvis Costello, “King Horse”, Get Happy!
Bill Murray, “It just doesn’t matter!”
Mountain Goats, “Cubs in Five”, Nine Black Poppies
John Sterling presents Great Days in Yankee History
“And if he ever completes his trip around the bases…”
Bill Evans, “Spring Is Here”, Bill Evans at Town Hall Volume 1
Harry Caray, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”