For the past 19 years, I’ve kept diaries. All 15 or 16 of them are locked inside one of my desk drawers, and they’re probably my most valuable physical possessions.
Why? Because they’re my life story in full detail. There are memories and triumphs and lows. The time my Grandma Herz died. The time I was hired by Sports Illustrated. Being dumped by a girlfriend. The days after 9.11. Having my children. Moving to California. Nashville loneliness. On and on.
Generally, the diaries sit in their own space, yellowing and gathering dust. Sometimes, though, when I’m bored or intrigued, I’ll break one out and look back. It’s usually either very funny or insanely cringe worthy. Oftentimes both.
For example … 2/12/98 …
Went out with my future wife last night. Seriously [blank name] is absolutely beautiful. We just met at a coffee shop for about 2.5 hours, but there’s definitely something about her. She’s very quiet, but in a cool way. She obviously lacks confidence, but is so sweet—you can just tell. This sounds like total cheese, but she looks like an angel—just soft and gentle and all.
A few thoughts:
C. Looks like an angel? Really?
D. My future wife and I went on three more dates. On the second, I asked to kiss her by a train station—and she said No. That was probably an ominous sign …
E. We always hear these stories about love at first sight and meeting the person of your dreams. But what we never hear are the stories of love at first sight actually not being love at first sight. I’ve gotta think the non-romantic versions outnumber the romantic ones by a solid 100,000:1 ratio.
When asked by a license-seeking gay man to cite whose authority she was acting under, Davis said, “God’s authority.”
Which, again, is breathtakingly fantastic.
I suppose this blog post could be about gay rights. Or Kentucky. Or Phil Simms no longer being the most famous thing to come out of Moorehead. Instead, however, I’d like to devote a moment to people who seem convinced they are acting on God’s authority.
To be blunt, you are not acting on God’s authority. Why? Because either: A. There is no God, and this is all a bunch of nonsense (the most likely scenario) or B. There is a God, and He’s got bigger fish to fry.
Let’s go with B. Right now, across the globe, there’s some crazy shit going down. ISIS is executing people. The world is heating up at staggering rates. African girls are being kidnapped and raped. Dictators are silencing people; killing people. I mean, there are 100 million awful, terrible, brutal scenarios playing out. Things that would make one’s head explode. If there is a God, and He/She is involved in the game, there’s no friggin’ way gay marriage is on the radar. I mean, c’mon. Do people like Kim Davis genuinely believe Big Guy’s watching from a cloud, thinking, “Ugh, Sal and Steve wanna wed? We must put a stop to this. Where’s Kim?” Does Kim Davis genuinely believe, of all the world’s ills, this is the one worth addressing? That’s she’s God’s personal anti-gay marriage soldier of heterosexual love?
Shit, you live in a state that’s poisoned by coal residue. Where’s Kim Davis on that one? You live in a state where gun violence is at an all-time high? Any stance on firearm licenses? You live in a state where public education is putrid. Kim?
More important, when did you, Kim Davis, become the interpreter of God’s authority? Seriously. You’re 100-percent certain He/She opposes gay marriage? Because of fleeting mentions in an ancient book etched by man via God’s supposed words? That’s your basis for this? That’s the reason you break the law and turn people away?
I would suggest Kim Davis is crazy, nuts, insane. Which, I’m quite certain, she is.
In other words, she’ll be on Fox News by night’s end. Hailed as a hero.
What I mean is, I love stumbling upon things, whether it’s a $12 Los Angeles Rams T-shirt at TJ Maxx or the best ice cream float on the streets of Austin. It’s cool and fun and serendipitous, and it also offers the opportunity for some darn good braggin’. You know—”Dude, there’s this [FILL IN THE BLANK] I found, and it’s awesome!”
Which leads me to the 222nd Quaz Q&A.
Several months ago, the wife and I were attending a farmer’s market here in Orange County. It was one of those things with a bunch of tents, some food trucks, overpriced iced coffee. Beautiful day, nice family time … and a fantastic musician, sorta hanging in the background. His name was Eric Kufs. He had a guitar, a beard and oodles upon oodles of talent. I’m not sure who to compare him to—I guess, gun to head, I go Paul Simon meets Ted Hawkins meets Dave Matthews meets Sam Cooke. But that’s an odd combination, so I’ll simply say he sounded terrific, and I wanted to scream at every loudmouth attendee, “Stop eating your damn burger and listen to this guy, because he’s fantastic!”
Instead, I tracked Eric down and asked him to do a Quaz.
And here we are.
Eric is based out of Southern California, and has a story to tell. About his band. About his solo career. And the loneliness of musicianship and the joys of musicianship; about trying to catch a break and grab your ear.
JEFF PEARLMAN:OK, Eric, first question: You’ve had this really interesting musical career, with lots of highs and experiences. And yet, I first heard you playing at a farmer’s market in Orange County, with a small amp under a small tent with some people listening and some people not listening on a hot day with a half-filled tip jar of singles. And I wondered, “Why? Why do a gig like that? Money? Fun? And is it hard to stay focused and excited when the crowd is distracted and kids and running left and right? Do you even think, “What the fuck am I doing here?”
ERIC KUFS: Well Jeff, the first reason is that I love to play and I consider any gig an opportunity to improve as a performer. Sure I’ve put in my 10,000 hours and then some, but I like to keep pushing myself.
The truth is that when I first moved from L.A. when I was 20, I spent some time working day jobs. Any time my band booked a tour, I’d have to quit whatever gig I had. As you probably know, clubs don’t pay artists very well and when you factor in the cost of travel, the road leaves you with very little. If you’re lucky, when you get back home, you have enough to barely get by as you search for another day job, usually at a coffee shop or whatever. As fun as the road could be, I began to dread coming home broke.
So in order to quell my anxiety about my finances, and keep focusing on my passion for music , I began to perform out on the streets of Los Angeles. For seven years, when I wasn’t on the road, I was a busker. Some of my fellow musicians and songwriters might have thought a little less of me for it at the time, but in my mind I was doing what I love for a living. To be honest I think most musicians would find it difficult to make the good living I made doing it. There were times it was challenging. Getting people walking past with their face in their phones to stop, listen and buy your CD or at the very least leave a tip is not easy. You have to be unique in your delivery and remain true to yourself in order to find ways to appeal to all types of people. This makes it rewarding, especially when you’re in a club and people are there to see you. You are instantly captivating and even an off night is better than another singer’s best.
So how do I end up playing a farmer’s market? Well, after years of playing on the street I have made enough friends and connections to sustain myself performing private events as well as touring (whether I’m backing up another songwriter or I’m promoting my own music). Occasionally I like to do farmer’s markets or street fairs that pay well enough. They help me keep my chops up and try new material. They’re also good for promotion and often lead to other bookings.
J.P.: I have a disease—“When I see a person performing and not many people listening and/or acknowledging said performer, I feel the need to approach performer and make him/her feel better with either compliments (if they’re sincere) or small talk.” Eric, is this dumb? Like, are most performers in those situations OK, or are they heartbroken and sad? Because I’m sure you’ve been there (hell, I’ve been there. Book signings with three attendees—and it’s awful for me).
E.K.: Most times these performers are sad. There have been many times when I played on the street in the drizzling rain hoping someone would take pity on me and drop a few hundred bucks in my tip jar. I’ve played in theaters for thousands of people completely enthralled with whatever I was doing and I might’ve been more concerned with how they were perceiving me than when I’m forced to close my eyes and focus on singing the song for myself. Sometimes there’s no other option but to use the sadness to create something beautiful even if you’re the only one to hear it. But I’ve played in clubs in Nashville for three, maybe five people, and that’s just depressing … no way around it.
As for your disease, I welcome the interaction of appreciative listeners in those situations but I’d like to speak for all of the professional musicians who have or have had any ambition or aspirations for a more fruitful career when I tell you this: “Do not say anything like, ‘Man what are you doing here?!’”
First of all, it’s a line from “Piano Man” and second of all it only reinforces the sadness of the situation. You can certainly compliment a performer as much as you’d like and even elaborate on how much of a treat it is to see them wherever it is you run across them, but don’t ask incredulously why they are there. (I mean, like why are any of us anywhere anyway dude, bro, man? Like really …) But seriously, it makes them feel like they’ve failed when the truth is that music is a difficult business and there are many different paths to success. The business has changed since when I was a kid and now more than ever it’s on the artists to be their own business manager, publicist, recording engineer, producer, and in some cases their own booking agent.
Jamming on the sax as a boy.
J.P.:Soup to nuts, what’s your writing process? I mean, you’ve written more than 1,000 songs. How? How do you start? Finish? And when do you know when a song is complete and ready?
E.K.: My writing process has changed a lot over time. Back when I was starting out I would write a poem, while sitting in math ignoring the teacher, and then I’d go home and instead of doing my math homework I’d find a melody for the poem on guitar. Now I seem to do more humming over chord patterns, or a few words will come to me that naturally fit and I’ll go from there. Every now and then a song will pour out fully formed but mostly I just sort of recognize interesting ideas or hear melodic hooks in your day to day.
There was a time when I took writing songs very seriously and I forced myself to record a song every day. Sometimes it was just a verse chorus idea or a tone poem kind of thing. This work helped me build up a muscle, so to speak. Now I can write a song quickly if someone needs one. Sometimes I’m hired to write a tune for a film or TV submission. But for my own recordings, I tend to let those songs come to me slowly over time. I begin playing them at shows and I let the performance dictate how the song evolves. Sometimes the melody and lyrics change. The song is done when I settle into a comfortable space with it on stage.
J.P.:While watching you perform I actually turned to the wife and said, “How is a guy like Jonathan Mayer making millions and playing Madison Square Garden and a guy like Eric Kufs playing the farmer’s market?” And, Eric, I don’t mean that as an insult to either of you. You’re both excellent. But have you figured out the music business at all? Like, what it takes to be rich and famous and secure? And is that even your ultimate goal?
E.K.: Jon Mayer wrote a lot of accessible pop songs. Combined with his great guitar playing and boyish look a record company had very little trouble selling him as a product to a wide range of people, young and old.
I never had aspirations to write that kind of music and I’ve always stayed true to my own sensibilities and interests as an artist. This fact and my deficiency in the art of self-promotion have made it difficult to attain that level of financial success. That said, within those parameters I always felt like there was room for success in one way or another. The music business is wide open. It only takes one song to be a hit on YouTube or wherever and this can lead you to something like a career. As in anything there’s always a bit of timing and luck involved.
J.P.: I know you’re from East Meadow, N.Y., I know you live in LA. But what’s your musical path? Like, birth to now, how did you get here? First instrument? First musical love?
E.K.: After playing New York City clubs for a few years in my teens, I came out to Los Angeles with my band from high school, Common Rotation. We lived in a house in LA not far from where I live now and recorded an album with the band They Might Be Giants. We toured for a few years with them promoting that album. The band evolved from a more pop rock type outfit into a folkier indie singer/songwriter group. After a while we began to record with acts like the Indigo Girls and Dan Bern.
When the band wasn’t touring, I started street performing as I mentioned before. This eventually led to me performing more often as a solo act. Common Rotation are my best friends from when I was a kid and we do shows when we can but right now we’re all happily supporting each other’s projects.
Currently I have two records I am recording with different producers. Both should be finished by the end of this year or early 2016. One will be a full-on soul band arrangement of tunes and the other will be a more acoustic Americana tinged album with a collection of short stories.
J.P.:In 2005, you released an album of original songs recorded on the streets of Santa Monica. Um … how does one record songs on the streets on Santa Monica? Like, literally …
E.K.: My old friend Brian Speiser, producer of many Common Rotation records and currently the sound engineer for Tedeschi/Trucks band, rented some microphones and we used a laptop and a portable pre/amp. He followed me around Santa Monica as I played folksy Woody Guthrie type originals.
I have to make that available online someday.
J.P.: I love this shit—you have a 2004 IMDB credit for playing “Guy in Cafeteria” in the TV series, “The Jury.” OK, Eric, do tell what happened, what you remember, how you landed the part. And what was your theatrical motivation behind, “Guy in Cafeteria”?
E.K.: My friend Adam Busch from Common Rotation was an actor on the show and he got me the gig. My motivation was something like … “Don’t fuck this up, don’t drop the lunch tray.”
J.P.:Greatest moment of your musical career? Lowest?
E.K.: Years ago I traveled to the upper Yukon in the dead of winter to play for two Eskimo fishing villages. In school gym we led the entire village in a sing-along of “All I Have to Do is Dream” by The Everly Brothers.
The lowest? Any time I play in Costa Mesa. It all blurs into one bad experience.
J.P.:Eric, random question—I’ve lived in Southern California for a year, and I’m freaking out the state is going to go completely dry. Nobody around me in the OC seems to give a shit. Do I need to chill? And what the hell is wrong with people?
E.K.: No please don’t chill. Keep freaking out. Someone should. I think there’s a denial being fueled by the hopeless reality of this frightening situation. Pray for rain. Pray for rain.
J.P.:So … you’re also a member of Common Rotation, a band you’ve been with for many years. Two questions—how have you guys survived for so long, and what can you tell me about covering a Twisted Sister tune?
E.K.: We don’t live together anymore and we don’t do long tours so that helps us keep working together. Twisted Sister: Classic Long Island band. Strong Island represent, word. “We’re Not Gonna Take It”: It’s a protest song.
• How do you feel about American Idol and The Voice?: I don’t like Karaoke contests. I think music and art competitions are not in anyone’s interest accept for those who profit most from them which are not usually the artists.
• Where’s somewhere cool in LA I need to take my wife for a night out?:Bestia … great food. Orange Creamsicle cake
• I have an ongoing debate with my friend—who has a better voice, Daryl Hall or Johnny Gill?: Daryl Hall was great but I think Johnny Gill’s is holding up better.
• One question you would ask Emmanuel Lewis were he here right now?: What was it like to meet Ronald Reagan?
• Why did you stop blogging? You’re an excellent writer.: I’m in grad school. Takes up a lot of writing time. Also I’ve been writing short stories for new album. People prefer Tweets anyway … but I’m terrible at that type of writing.
By “well stocked,” Kaye surely meant, “three guys are available.” Which, technically, would define well stocked in a football inventory sense. The New Orleans Saints had three men listed as quarterbacks on the roster, none were injured, they possessed all their fingers and toes, they knew how to properly pick up and grip a football. So, yes, well stocked.
But find me a worse trio in NFL history. I dare you …
The Saints acquired Todd from the New York Jets before the 1984 season. They surrendered a first-round pick for the veteran, which was insane, because anyone who grew up watching Todd (Jeff’s note: guilty!) knew the man had no ability to protect the ball or throw to hands or grasp the concept of my-uniform-is-green-his-uniform-is-white. He had one of the best wide receivers in the game (Wesley Walker), one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the game (Mickey Shuler) and an all-everything tailback (Freeman McNeil), but Todd routinely tossed bad passes to the wrong people. That the Saints wanted him was, from New York’s standpoint, an absolute blessing (of course, the Jets—being the Jets—used the pick to select Ron Faurot). Especially because we already had a young Ken O’Brien ready to go.
So the Saints got Todd and, of course, he was brutal: Fourteen starts, 11 touchdowns, 19 interceptions for a team predicted to win the NFC West (but that went 7-9). Ultimately, Coach Bum Phillips replaced him in the lineup with Dave Wilson, the backup from the University of Illinois. And (gasp!) Wilson actually played somewhat mediocre football, tossing seven touchdowns and four interceptions. He was, therefore, named the 1985 starter—and proceeded to toss 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, followed by an ’86 season (10 touchdowns, 17 interceptions) that can be listed among the worst of the decade.
My favorite of the trio, however, is Guido Merkins. I’m not quite sure why Kaye felt compelled to mention Merkins, but maybe the boss at NFL Films attended Sam Houston State, or perhaps his son’s uncle’s cousin was named Guido, or it could be he simply had a fondness for undersized bearded free agents with last names that rhymed with Perkins.
Guido Merkins’ claim to fame is actually sort of a cool one: He played quarterback, wide receiver, punter and defensive back in the NFL—none of them even remotely well. In 1981, his best season (by far), he caught 29 Archie Manning passes for 458 yards, which far surpasses anything he ever did as a QB.
So earlier tonight the wife and I—along with a friend—attended the Daryl Hall and John Oates concert at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre here in Southern California.
It was, I believe, the seventh time I’ve seen H&O—my all time, all time, all time favorite band. To say I love Hall and Oates is no exaggeration. I love Hall and Oates to the point where, when CDs mattered, I owned about 50 of their various releases and bootlegs. Great voices, great musicianship, underrated material that holds up through the decades. Hall and Oates were inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame last year, and it was long overdue. They’re musical pioneers and legends.
That being said …
Tonight’s concert sucked. First, it lasted for approximately 1 hour, 20 minutes—far too short for anyone, but faaaaaar too short for a band with a gazillion hits. Second, the set list was flat and lame. Here, take a look …
Of the first 10 songs, six were predictable (Maneater, Out of Touch, Say it isn’t So, She’s Gone, Sara Smile, I Can’t Go for That), two were thrilling (Did it in a Minute, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’) and two were obscure and excruciatingly meandering (Las Vegas Turnaround, Do What You Want, Be What You Are).
Third, the show could have been in Cleveland. Or Tulsa. Or Miami, San Diego, Atlanta, Nashville. There was no effort to interact with the crowd or one another. It was song—boom. Next song—boom. Next song—boom. It felt like they were playing for a paycheck. Which is no crime—they are playing for paychecks. But they could have pretended to be playing for us; to be interested and present. I know the 854,322nd singing of Maneater can’t be thrilling.
The Drain Wig is an amazing device. You place it in your shower/bathtub drain, and it catches the hair. And … and … and … eh, that’s about it.
But wait! There’s more! The best part isn’t the catching—it’s the extraction. After a certain point, one removes the Drain Wig from its place and—voila!—he is gifted with his very own hair plant. Which is cool, because while all this talk about dying species and extinct species of both animals and non-animals is moving and alarming, what the world truly needs is an influx of beautiful hair plants. Now, for just $19.95! (exclamation mark intentionally included), you can start your very own hair plant harvesting colony …
But wait! There’s more! According to the commercial, the Drain Wig is your future best friend …
But wait! There’s more! Do you tire of yanking hair from your drain?
But wait! There’s more! Do you love fishing?
But wait! There’s more! Do you have your hair done at the salon right before extracting especially long and unwieldy pubes from your drain?
But wait! There’s more! Do your hair clumps look like tadpoles?
But wait! There’s more! Is Cousin It living in your house?
But wait! There’s more! Do you dredge?
But wait! There’s um … not even sure what to say here.
But wait! There’s more! Are you a housewife from 1954?
Buy the Drain Wig! All your dreams will come true.
I started the morning working at J.C. Beans, my favorite Southern California coffee shop.
If one were to make a checklist of quality cafes, J.C. Beans meets ‘em all. Clean. Cozy. Temperature controlled. Indoor-outdoor seating. Cool music. Cool music that’s not too loud. Excellent drinks. Healthy food.
And I was happy. And productive. Drinking, writing. Writing, drinking.
And then, a barista showed up to start his shift.
And he began to whistle.
It was painfully annoying. Nails on a chalkboard. A broken house alarm at 3 am. Fran Drescher singing Laura Branigan. He whistled and whistled and whistled, and he looked so happy doing so. But … it was the worst. And I wanted to ask him to refrain from whistling. But who asks a happy guy to refrain from whistling? I mean, save for punching a flower salesman, you couldn’t do a more dickish thing on a sunny Friday afternoon.
I played about seven years of Little League baseball.
I hit one home run.
It came when I was probably 11 or 12. I was the third baseman/catcher for Bill Bloomer Painting in the Mahopac Sports Association. I was, at best, an OK player. Sound glove, mediocre bat. Were I a Major Leaguer, I’d be, like, Tim Foli with less of everything he had.
Anyhow, we were playing a team with white uniforms. They had a kid pitching, named Rocco. At one point and time, Rocco was the hottest arm in town. You know how it works—grew big fast, threw hard, intimidated kids. But as we caught up, Rocco diminished. He still pitched, but not as effectively. Most teams lit him up. He’d last a few innings, then be switched to a base.
I stepped up to the plate. Rocco threw what was probably a bad fastball. I swung late, as I often did, but the ball flew over the rightfield fence at Lakeview Elementary’s smallest field. I’d played in past games where a poke over that particular fence was a double, so I stopped at second, satisfied. The two pimply faced umpires conferred for a moment, however, and agreed it was a home run.
I trotted the bases. No, I floated around the bases. Upon reaching home, P.J. and Lance and Brian and the others slapped my helmet, screamed out, “Pearl! Pearl!”
Working on about 4 1/2 hours of sleep, feet dragging, brain slow and slower and s-l-o-w-e-r.
Showed up this morning at my favorite local coffee shop, J.C. Beans in Dana Point. Approach the counter, young woman with dyed blonde hair and a pierced nose says, “What would you like?”
“I’ll have the vanilla roast.”
I know, mug isn’t a size. It’s a thing. But it’s a beautiful thing, and should be a size. And shape. And state of being. People who go to coffee shops, then drink from paper or plastic, are missing a huge part of the joyful coffee shop experience. You can be enjoying a coffee, a tea, a hot chocolate—but if you’re not drinking from a mug, you’re making an enormous mistake.
Mugs are warm. Mugs are hearty. Mugs have weight to them—physically and socially. To hold a mug in one’s hand is to say, “Have a seat. Relax. Stay a while.” Some mugs have words. Some mugs have pictures. Many mugs tell stories. Places, people, moments. The mug I’m using right now (pictured above) features a lovely etching of the J.C. Beans exterior. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s cool and cozy.
I’m not sure when mugs stopped being a big thing in America, but I’m presuming (and assuming) it coincides with the rise of Starbucks and the chain’s devotion to wasting as many resources as humanly possible. Or, put different, all their products come in disposable cups.
Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.