So a couple of years ago, while preparing to appear on Jim Rome’s daily TV show, I was told that there would be a substitute host for the afternoon. “It’ll be Roger Lodge,” a producer said. “Do you know Roger?”
Did I know Roger? Did I know Roger! Well, no, I didn’t know Roger. But I sure as hell knew of Roger, the former host of one of the staple shows of the late 1990s/early 2000s—”Blind Date.” It just so happens Roger has appeared in 1,001 TV shows, movies, game shows, sitcoms. He’s been anywhere and everywhere, and now is also known out here in Southern California for hosting The SportsLODGE every weekday afternoon. Roger happens to be one of the true good guys of the business—friendly, likable, open, smart. I know many people in this game, and nobody ever seems to have a bad word about the man.
Anyhow, one can follow Roger on Twitter here. He’s been on two soap operas and hosted the coolest dating show of all time. But now, at long last, Roger Lodge has made it.
He’s Quaz No. 227 …
JEFF PEARLMAN:Roger, it’s clear any interview with you must start with one question, and I feel compelled to ask it. What can you tell us about your memories of appearing on That’s So Raven, and have any ensuing accomplishments been mere gravy?
ROGER LODGE: I have been fortunate to experience some pretty amazing l things in my life. I was once on stage with the Beach Boys at the old Yankee Stadium. I played a charity basketball game at the old Boston Garden. The birth of my children … Wilt Chamberlain once hit on my girlfriend right in front of me. On and on and on …
But to actually star on That’s So Raven, as a dating show host, that was the pinnacle. Kind of my walk-off. My Joe Carter; my Bill Mazeroski if you will.
J.P.: When we first met my immediate reaction was an excited, “Blind Date!” Roger, I loved loved loved “Blind Date.” Funny, quirky, weird, terrific television. So I ask, A. How did you land that gig? B. What was it like? C. How do you feel about the show being your calling card? Are you comfortable with that? Were you hoping for The Godfather or Terms of Endearment?
R.L.: I was in the middle of a two-week hosting run on E! Entertainment’s Talk Soup, when my agent called with an audition for a new dating show called Blind Date. I walked into a room of about 300 people—men, women, little people. They had no idea what they wanted.
But there was a note on the board in the casting office that read, “We are looking for a Talk Soup-type mentality for this show.” Since I was in the middle of my run on Talk Soup, I left the audition without even auditioning, called my agent and said, “Just tell them to watch Talk Soup over the weekend.” Which they did, and they offered me Blind Date. Timing is everything! So to this day I’m grateful to E!, and it just goes to show you, in this town you never know who’s watching. Which is why you can never disrespect the craft and phone it in. George Karl, the Sacramento Kings coach, always tells his players, “Never disrespect the game!” It’s the same in showbiz. Plus, everybody needs a door opener. Blind Date was mine.
Oh, and I have no problem whatsoever with that show being my calling card. Sure, some of those dates got wild and crazy, but I never bought into the inappropriateness. I just saw it as joke opportunities. A dater running around naked in a restaurant was kind of like a 2-0 fastball down the middle to Mike Trout. I never set out to be a dating show host, but it just kind of worked out that way, so I ran with it.
J.P.: I know you’re from Fontana, Cal., I know you played hoops at Cerritos High, then at Whittier College. But how did this happen for you? Like, when did you get the acting bug? Why? When were you like, “I know what I want to do!”?
As far back as I can remember I was always interviewing people one way or another—whether it was at my little talk show desk as a kid, or in the dugout or locker room in high school or down in the bullpen at Whittier College. I was always doing my little make-believe shows.
I used to go to Hollywood Blvd. and interview tourists, or go to the old Forum, Dodger Stadium or the Coliseum and interview fans walking into game. I just always loved talking to people and getting reaction to the latest and hottest topics. When my parents would go out to dinner, I would write out a little sports report and put it on my step-dad’s pillow so he could read it when he got home. Needless to say, I got the performer bug at a really young age.
J.P.:According to IMDB, your first noteworthy acting appearances came as “Albert Andrews” on Days of Our Lives and “James” on General Hospital. What’s it like acting on a soap? Like, do actors bring their A games, or is a filter of cheesiness that needs to be applied? A sorta wink-wink, “We know this is silly” nod to the viewer?
R.L.: Working on a soap is amazing training for any actor. My goodness, you have anywhere from 10 to 40 pages of dialogue to learn a day, you’re on a set every day, learning the nuts and bolts of your craft.
It’s the things like hitting your mark, knowing your lighting working off other actors. As long as you focus on the craft and don’t get seduced by the whole “being a soap star” thing, it is incredibly beneficial to any performer’s process. There is no way to recreate performing on an actual working set. I compare it to hitting live Big League pitching—you can do all your work in the cage, or down in the minors, but there is nothing like standing in a Major League batter’s box. Same thing in Hollywood. You can do all those scenes in acting class or in a play somewhere, but something happens when you are standing under all those lights and there are a bunch of crew members staring at you while you have to know your lines and bring it.
Ultimately, working as James the maître d’ at the Port Charles Grill on General Hospital was one of my favorite gigs ever. Nothing teaches you discipline like a lot of dialogue. You either respect the craft or look like a fool in front of your entire cast and crew.
With wife, Pamela.
J.P.: I had a talk with Jim Rome about this, and it really interests me. Namely, hanging on in Hollywood. It seems what came along in the 20s and 30s is significantly more elusive in the 40s and 50s. True? Not true? Is there a fight/battle to maintain relevancy? To keep your name in front of people who matter in the casting world? Do you even care?
R.L.: I would be lying if I said I never think about how long can I keep this going. I admit I color my gray … I think about my kids and say to myself, “Well, my oldest son is good, but my little ones are only 11 and 9 so I have to keep this rolling for another … what? Ten years at least …”
But I guess showbiz is like any other profession where the suits are always looking for someone younger and cheaper. But I hit it so hard, I rarely have time to think about that. And that’s all you can do. Just work hard, do what you do and don’t waste time and energy worrying about things you can’t control. Everybody has a last day. I just hope mine isn’t for a while. And, I have to say, once you start trying to do things just to get or keep your name out there, you’re in trouble.
I end my radio show everyday with, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift from God—go make the best of it!” I try to live by that because when you think about it, all we really have is today. So go make it great.
J.P.: I know you’re pals with John Stamos. How did that friendship come to be? And since we’re on it, it seems—whether people admit this or not—“Full House” somehow managed to stick in the psyches of viewers. Like, people mock it, but love it. Agree? Disagree? And how’d you end up on the show?
R.L.: Johnny and I grew up in the same neighborhood in Southern California, down near Orange County. We didn’t really start hanging out until we were late teens/early 20s when he was a teen idol onGeneral Hospital. Then we got an apartment together and stayed roommates for 11 years. He is an absolutely amazing cat and the best friend you could ever ask for.
It’s so funny when you see guys like Justin Bieber and, in sports, guys like Johnny Manziel … all they attention they get. But when John was doing Full House, we couldn’t go down the street for breakfast without him having a crowd of people around. It was craziest thing you’ve ever seen. And he was—and still is—cool to everyone who approaches him. I learned a lot about show business from him. Most important, I learned how to treat people with respect.
As for Full House—that was his calling card, and it is amazing how that show has remained so popular. But it’s one of the few shows that kids can watch without their parents having to worry about it. It’s good clean fun, with a message every episode. Call it corny, but it works. And as far as how I ended up on Full House, well, I had to audition like everybody else. But, just being honest, being Kato to Uncle Jesse didn’t hurt …
Rocking out with Uncle Jesse and The Rippers during Full House dominance.
J.P.:Back when I was in elementary school a classmate named Larry Brown one day just showed up as Larry Glover. It was always this great unspoken mystery, and I never dare asked about it. You were born Roger Chavez, then changed your last name after your mom married Robert Lodge. Perhaps a dumb question—but why? When? And do you remember it being an awkward or difficult or cumbersome experience?
R.L.: I was born Roger Chavez. When I was 3-years old, my real father went to work one day and never came back, walking out on my mom and four kids. Never to return. No contact. Nothing. Crickets.
My stepdad came along when I was about 5 and he was amazing to me in so many ways. He came to all my games, taught me how to shoot a jumper, came to all the plays I did, was always there for me and my two brothers and my sister. I was the youngest of the four and really don’t remember my real father. In fact, the only two memories I have of him are not good: One was walking in on him smacking my mother—my beautiful mother—around; the other was the fact that he a deserted us. (Wow, I’ve never, ever told anybody that),
I grew very close to my stepfather, who was amazingly loving and supportive. So, to honor him, I took on his name, Lodge, to honor our relationship. He was the true father figure in my life and one of my best friends.
We lost him two years ago and I miss him every day. There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t use the principles and ethics he taught me about business and life.
J.P.:So you’re the host of The SportsLODGE every afternoon out here in Southern Cal. I’ve done a ton of sports radio … it’s a medium that fascinates me. I wonder, how do you tolerate the morons? I’m being serious—the, “The Angels should trade their backup second baseman to the Mets for Matt Harvey and Daniel Murphy! Obviously!” Because you know they’re coming … every … single … day.
R.L.: I honestly enjoy every call I take. There is no such thing as a bad call or a bad guest. If they are bad, that’s on me as a host. I really feel that way.
There’s always something I can do to make a phone call interesting or entertaining. But if you call my show to rip somebody, you better have a reason why you are ripping him. You can’t just call and say, “That manager sucks! He should be fired!” Give me a reason or I will rip into you. Bad phone calls are like bad singers on American Idol. But they’re bad in an entertaining way, and it’s up to me to make it entertaining in some way.
Plus, if a caller calls to suggest the Angels should trade Albert Pujols for Clayton Kershaw, I will actually take the time to explain why that would never happen, because there are folks who aren’t fully versed on contracts and there are kids who listen who aren’t aware of the intricacies of sports business. So I explain andmove on to the next,”First time caller, long time listener …”
One more thing: Why would I, as a host, want to make anyone feel bad about themselves for not knowing something? It’s hard enough growing an audience these days with all the other ways of gathering information.
With Billy Eppler, the new Angels’ general manager.
R.L.: I have so much respect and admiration for my wife Pammy. The girl leaves Perry Hall, Maryland for L.A., works her tail off, meets a buffoon like me, we have two kids together and she is now the most incredible, loving, nurturing mother our children could ever ask for. As far as her in bikinis … she did all that stuff in her teens and 20s. She traveled the world, experienced amazing things, met some incredible folks in the process.
Sure, I know there are a lot of guys who love to look at her stuff, but I also know that when we put the kids down after a long hard day, we are together. And she is a wonderful person with a kind and loving soul. I absolutely out-punted my coverage with her.
J.P.:So you spent some time hosting The Price Is Right Live! stage productions in Las Vegas. Which sounds … I’m not sure. Fun? Maddening? Electric? Exhausting? I don’t know. What was it like? And how’d you land the gig?
R.L.: I had to audition, and I hosted the show in New Jersey, Las Vegas and at Foxwoods in Connecticut. I love, love, love, game shows, have hosted game shows and my partner and I just sold a game show to Sony called Pure Luck! Hosting Price Live was fun, electric and the most energy I have ever felt from an audience. Plus, I got to meet Bob Barker. Now that’s a plus.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ROGER LODGE:
• Six adjectives to describe your socks at the end of a pickup basketball game: sweaty, stinky, salty, tired, floppy (like Pistol Pete’s) and often victorious!
• One question you would ask Gabriela Sabatini were she here right now?: Sabatini? What kind of conditioner do you use?
• The next president will be …: Anyone but Trump. He’s a joke, a clown and a complete and utter boob, who has never said anything remotely interesting or compelling.
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I used to fly into New Mexico to shoot a late-night show for ReelzChannel that nobody watched. I must have flown through 15 thunderstorms. One particular time in lightening and thunderstorm our little United Express plane was bouncing around everywhere. People were screaming and praying. If I remember correctly, when I asked for a ginger ale, the stewardess who brought it to me was wearing a parachute. I’ve never been so happy to sit in traffic on the 405 in my life …
• Celine Dion calls. She offers $100 million for you to spend one year starring as Bitch Boy 6 in her new Las Vegas production of “Bitch Boy: The Musical.” Your job is the walk around the stage naked while repeatedly muttering, “I love apple sauce, but only if it’s grape.” You in?: Celine? I’d do it for $10 million.
• What do you remember from your first date?: My first date? How I didn’t have enough money for the check and having to explain to my date and the waiter that I couldn’t leave a tip because of religious reasons.
• Why do you think the world repeatedly rejects leftover sushi?: Because even the first time around, sushi is dangerous!
It’s all we parents seem to be about these days. Winning. Skill development. Extra practice. Extra coaching. Being the best. Being a champion. Making it in college. Making it in the pros. Big contract, shoe deal, cereal box. It’s everything.
And it’s insane.
We’ve gone too far, and I see it every weekend when my son plays baseball and my daughter water polo. Most of the adults are sane. But there’s always one or two (or 10) pushing, prodding, demanding, berating.
Enter: Sean McEvoy.
I first came across Sean on Twitter about a year ago, and I knew I wanted him to be Quazed. Why? Because I have a real problem with private sport tutors, taking kids and turning them into single-sport specialists, so focused upon one task that they forget stuff like, well, fun. Via his Tweets and his ID, Sean came to represent the very thing I hated. He was The Quarterback Whisperer.
Then, however, he sat for a Quaz. And he was reasoned. And smart. And, clearly, filled with both knowledge and good intentions. One can visit the website for Premier Quarterback Training here, and follow him on Twitter here. Sean lives in Georgia with his wife and kids, and currently tutors more than a dozen up-and-coming quarterbacks. Maybe, one day, a McEvoy student will reach the NFL. Maybe not. Either way, he seems to be looking to educate and assist.
Not sure anything’s wrong with that.
Sean McEvoy, drop back. You’re the new Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN:Sean, I’m gonna start negatively, but don’t hate me too much …
So I recently moved to Southern California, where baseball is king and parents are insane. And many, many, many dads and moms hire personal coaches to teach their kids to throw harder, faster; to hit the ball farther, into gaps. And, truly, it pisses me off, because I feel like it takes what should be a fun youthful pastime and turns it into something serious and adult. As a private quarterback coach, you do this same job—only in football. And I feel the same way. So … am I wrong? Do you feel like I’m misunderstanding something? Why can’t kids just play on teams and learn without extra sessions?
SEAN MCEVOY: Haha, I completely get that. Sports have undoubtedly become more competitive than ever and I also am concerned with the effect of putting too much pressure too early on kids. It is imperative that kids are able to have fun, try different sports, learn in a nurturing environment and decide what interests them. The key is finding a balance where private coaching can complement and enhance this environment instead of being mutually exclusive.
So let’s start by separating the high school/college athlete from the youth athlete. The high school (and, more so, college) quarterback with whom I work competes, for better or worse, in a serious and adult world. The reality of the position is that only one quarterback is on the field at a time, and this player seeks private training to ensure that he plays at a high enough level to earn that privilege. He is willing to devote the necessary time and effort to get better to serve his teammates. But this isn’t the “kid” you are concerned with.
The majority of youth quarterbacks that I train are relatively new to football and new to the quarterback position. More often than not, he has received very little position-specific training and is fairly raw when it comes to throwing a football or even taking a snap. What he knows is he likes “the idea” of playing quarterback and wants to learn how to play the position well. His parents are very supportive, want their child to be happy, and are willing to invest in providing their son the best opportunity to be successful. I will introduce and teach proper form and mechanics to build a foundation for his development, while providing encouragement and fostering a passion for the game. The result is a confident player who is enjoying playing the sport more because he feels like he knows what he is doing and is playing the position he wants to play. Not exactly evil, right?
To your last question, the beauty is that kids can just play on teams and learn without extra sessions! The vast majority of kids have a blast year-round going from football to basketball to baseball to lacrosse, etc. and learning how to play them all from dedicated volunteer parents. Others compete in middle school and high school for knowledgeable coaches who are able to teach and develop the necessary skills that enable them to succeed and even earn athletic scholarships and play in college. For those that desire a more personalized approach or better position-specific training, we private coaches are out here, too.
Sean quarterbacking at age 4.
J.P.:Along those lines, I sorta think—knowing what we know about injuries—a parent has to be on crack to let his/her kid play tackle football, what with all the safer sport options. I’m guessing you disagree. Why?
S.M.: This is probably the toughest football-related question out there these days. I have two sons, ages 4 and 3, and I honestly have no idea what my wife and I will decide if/when they desire to play football. I like to think that at least now we are more aware of the potential injuries and consequences of the sport. I believe that the game my sons will play will therefore be a safer game than the one played 10 years ago or even now. I love what USA Football is doing with its Heads Up Program and coaches across the country at all levels are becoming more knowledgeable about safer ways to practice and minimize contact. Add to this the technological advances in safer helmets and better mouthpieces, and I certainly lean toward being comfortable with my boys playing. I would, however, be cautious as to how early they are exposed to serious contact. I like the option of playing flag football until maybe middle school.
J.P.:Two of my all-time favorite quarterbacks are Doug Flutie and Brett Favre, both of whom never had private coaching, but of whom were instinctive and funky and unique. I kinda feel like, had they been guided by a quarterback coach, some of that instinctive brilliance would have been lost. So are there players who should avoid personal coaching? And are there times when you, as a coach, see a player and think, “Eh, doesn’t need me”?
S.M.: One of the goals of quarterback training is developing proper form and mechanics, along with decision-making processes, that become habitual and ingrained in the player—thus becoming instinctual. Darin Slack and Dub Maddox, two experts in Quarterback Development, write about the differences in explicit and implicit learning. Basically, the explicit learner tries to process everything and “thinks too much,” thus becoming mechanical and tentative under pressure. The implicit learner “knows too little” and is impulsive, which causes him to panic and make poor decisions under pressure. The key is the ability to find balance between both methods and train the athlete to “think without thinking.”
While Doug Flutie and Brett Favre may not have had “private coaching,” they certainly both had high-level quarterback instruction throughout their careers. The ability to instinctively make good decisions and be consistently accurate in high-pressure situations is a testament to that. All players can only get better by working on their development, fine-tuning mechanics, and increasing consistency. I have never met the perfect quarterback.
J.P.:I hire you to coach my 13-year-old son. I think he’s the next Joe Montana. After 20 minutes you conclude he has zero quarterback skills whatsoever. Where do we go from there?
S.M.: First and foremost, I am honest in my evaluation of the quarterbacks that I work with and ensure that both the player and the parents are realistic about expectations. While I work with quarterbacks who play FBS/FCS football and top high school recruits with scholarship potential, I also work with many players who simply want to be the best they can be for their high school team on Friday nights or help their middle school team win more games. If willing to work hard and commit to being better, I can work with your son to maximize his talent to play at his best. We can ensure he learns the basic skills of the position—proper stance and grip, how to take a snap, footwork, throwing mechanics, run game, etc. Until he is able to do things the right way, it is difficult to determine what potential he may have. Then we can formulate a plan to realize that potential. If you/he do not believe the effort is worth it unless he will play in the NFL, then we go our separate ways. If it is worth it to your son to have a shot to try out for the freshman team at quarterback and/or continue to develop to maybe earn the starting spot by his junior/senior year, then we get to work!
Unionville High’s quarterback in 1999.
J.P.:I know you have a pretty long coaching resume, but how did this happen for you? Like, what was your life path from womb to here in football? Why do this?
S.M.: My father played college football at Villanova University in the late 70s (Division I-A at the time), so that influence was there from the time I was born. I did not play tackle football until fifth grade—and I happened to be placed at quarterback from the beginning. I played through middle school and high school as a fairly average player, but believed in working hard and playing my best. I played well enough to be a captain and starting quarterback of my high school team my senior year. Knowing that my gridiron dreams would end here, I savored that season and loved every minute of it. Additionally, I was fortunate to play for great coaches and great men who developed my passion for the sport. During college, one of my old high school coaches gave me the opportunity to join his high school staff as a volunteer coach on the ninth grade football team. I continued to coach quarterbacks and defensive backs at two different schools for the next nine seasons. During this time I was blessed to work with great quarterbacks who challenged me to be a better coach, and sought out as much information and expertise as I could in order to better serve them. My first quarterback went on to play at Temple University, my second at Northeastern University (both started games as a freshman) and I felt that I had the opportunity to be good at this.
During this time I had gotten married and had two kids, and less and less availability to commit to the demands of coaching high school football. I began exclusively doing private quarterback training, relishing the opportunity to continue to coach football as well as work around my own schedule. My family and I relocated to Georgia in 2013 and I was able to quickly gain new clients and grow my private coaching business. In the beginning of this year, I founded Premier Quarterback Training, began working with National Football Academies as a certifying quarterback coach, and currently work with 15 quarterbacks throughout north Georgia.
J.P.:So my kid is a solid quarterback. I bring him to you for private sessions. What do you work on? How can you improve him?
S.M.: In short we will work on everything—from ensuring proper stance, center exchange, grip on the football, footwork, run game mechanics, throwing mechanics, pass drops, defensive recognition, read progression, etc. I will take the time to evaluate all aspects of playing the position and address any flaws that will detract from being efficient and consistent. I will teach and fine tune his throwing mechanics to ensure that he is bio-mechanically sound to generate maximum power while minimizing stress on his joints. Using video analysis, I will ensure that your son both understands the why and the how of the throwing motion, thus being able to consistently repeat the motion and more importantly identify the error in a poor throw and fix it.
I mentioned National Football Academies earlier, and the “Quarterback Self-Correct System” created by Darin Slack is the process through which I train; in my opinion there is nothing better out there. Along with the throwing mechanics, we will ensure your son understands the proper steps in his pass drops to enable him to be in a position to throw accurately and quickly in sync with the receiver’s routes. As we progress we will work to develop his decision-making process, enabling him to recognize the defensive alignment/coverage and progress through run/pass reads. What we will improve is his ability to be consistently accurate in all his throws, to make sound decisions under pressure, and to be confident every time he steps on the field.
With wife, Katie
J.P.:You never played quarterback in college or the pros. I wonder if that at all hurts your cred? And what can you tell people to assure them that you’re legit? That you know your shit?
S.M.: I have never thought about that much, but I’m sure it does a little. Probably more so for the parent who thinks his/her son is the next Joe Montana. I do have a current NFL player whose son I train, so I must have some cred out there. My coaching resume certainly helps, the fact that I have been training and developing quarterbacks for 13 years lets people know I am legit. I have been fortunate to acquire a glowing list of reviews and testimonials from current and former players and their parents which help me stand out. As Premier Quarterback Training continues to grow, the word of mouth and referrals have started to be a key piece. I encourage any prospective athletes to do an initial session with me and then decide if they want to invest in a training package; I am happy to have my work speak for itself. Certainly now working with NFA and becoming a certified quarterback coach will continue to add credibility and enable me to keep growing.
J.P.:Back when I was growing up, nobody hired personal youth coaches for sports. You played in your yard, on a team—and that was that. So why has this become a thing? And do you think it ever goes too far? Do we, perhaps, take sports too seriously?
S.M.: I am not sure why sport has become more competitive over the years, but it certainly has. The chances of earning an athletic scholarship to college or playing professionally has only gotten slimmer, but it seems more athletes than ever are hoping to defy those odds. Due to the high-profile nature of playing quarterback, and the fact that there is only one on each team, quarterbacks working with private coaches have gotten younger and younger. I don’t know that I have an issue with people setting a goal and working hard to chase a dream. As long as we can all keep things in perspective!
Working with the future greats.
J.P.:Greatest and lowest moment from your career?
S.M.: Greatest moment was my first year coaching at Unionville High School in 2005. The team was coming off a 5-5 season, and we had an undefeated 10-win regular season and made the state playoffs. I had never been a part of something like that, and there is something special about winning every game on your schedule.
Lowest moment in my career was the previous year at Avon Grove High School. We had just started the season when one of our team managers passed away suddenly over Labor Day weekend. The next few days and weeks were as difficult as I have ever experienced, and playing football became the least important thing we did as a team.
J.P.:How do you feel about girls wanting to play organized football?
S.M.: I am all for it. We were fortunate to have an outstanding female athlete approach the team about wanting to be a kicker her senior season one year at Unionville High School. All she did was outwork almost everyone on the team, prove everyone wrong who doubted her and won the starting kicking job. She could not have been a better addition to the team, and was as consistent and accurate on extra points as anyone I have ever been around.
• Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco were selected in the same draft. Who has had the better career, and who do you take with one big game to win?: I mentioned my Villanova connection earlier, so I hate to pick a Delaware guy … but Joe Flacco
• Three memories from your first date: We teach quarterbacks to have a short memory (forget about interceptions and move on). In that vein I have more than likely repressed any memories of that disaster.
• How did you propose to your wife?: We were down in Wildwood, N.J. for the week, staying at her family’s beach house. Her grandfather had built the house, and Katie had grown up spending summers down the beach with her parents and grandparents. As both of Katie’s grandparents had recently passed away, the house had even greater meaning. Right before we left to go home after a great week, I talked her into a picture in front of the beach house. Immediately after the picture, I knelt down and proposed.
• Do you aggressively pop zits or sorta let them chill?: Pop them
• The next president of the United States will be …: Ah—now we get political and I lose half my clients. But probably Hillary
If you’re a fan of sports names, today’s Quaz Q&A is for you.
After being selected by Golden State in the first round of the 1987 NBA Draft, Tellis Frank spent five years knocking around, averaging 6.5 points and 3.9 rebounds as a forward for three franchises before going on to a stellar decade of European stardom. He was, in the NBA, good and solid, but seldom spectacular. A nice guy to have as your 10th or 11th man, but rarely considered a potential All-Star. Why? “Because,” he admits, “I didn’t work hard enough.”
Be that as it may, Frank boasts an all-time, all-time, all-time great NBA name. Hell, there have been multiple Michaels, multiple Larrys, multiple Scotties and Johns and Karls. But in the history of American professional sports, Tellis Frank is the lone Tellis.
He also happens to be a great guy with a phenomenal plight—a rise from Gary, Indiana, unlikely stardom at Western Kentucky, NBA hardship followed by international glory. These days, Tellis serves as an assistant coach with the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream. Which is appropriate, because the 225th Quaz insists, after myriad ups and downs, he’s living his dream.
J.P.:Exactly. So how does one make it out of Gary, and if you’re talking to a kid today in Gary, “You have to go to college and do this …” maybe you, having grown there, have a better understanding. How do you tell a kid how to get out of Gary, Indiana?
T.F.: Well, Jeff, first thing. When I was coming up out of Gary, Indiana, it was a totally different city compared to where it is now. We had a thriving school system, our main source of income was the steel mills, so everybody had good jobs. It was a good, middleclass city. As time went on, things started moving. The steel mill closed down to where 75 percent of the jobs were gone. So kids kind of went … the school system went in another direction and they started closing schools. So the opportunity to get out was kind of shrinking. So kids, where there used to be sports and neighborhood associations to turn to, now they started turning to drugs and gangs. So my advice to kids today, when you come to that fork in the road, you’ve gotta make decisions. You have to grow up early when you’re in an environment like Gary, Indiana, because there are a lot of negative things around. You have to choose to do the right thing. And I know you’re thinking, “Well, how can a kid choose to do the right thing?” In this day and age, kids are much smarter and they knew right from wrong. I tell the kids, keep it simple. First thing you’ve gotta do is get up and go to school every day. And every day you’ve gotta do something positive to help your life—whether it be sports, getting your education and trying to move out. That’s my advice—start from the basic and everything else will come with you. If you do right, good’s gonna go. You do wrong, wrong’s gonna come.
J.P.:Does it break your heart?
T.F.: It breaks my heart because I’m from there, and I know there are still good people there. I go back there and I know what the city was and I see where the city is at now. And, of course, it’s not a good feeling for myself. But it’s where I’m from. I still claim Gary, Indiana. And any time I have a chance to talk to kids or talk to the newspapers, I always try to stay positive about the city, and I insist there’s a way out. I made it, you can make it.
J.P.:Western Kentucky seems like a very random place for a kid from Gary, Indiana to go to college. How’d you end up going there, of all places?
T.F.: Well, I liked Coach (Clem) Haskins. I got offers from a lot of different schools. I took my five visits. I visited Iowa State, I visited Bradley, I visited Purdue, I visited Illinois. I went to Minnesota. And I visited Western Kentucky, and Coach Haskins was what I was looking for. If I went Big 10 I had to gain weight, they wanted me to play the center position. I felt like I wasn’t a center. I felt like I was a power forward/small forward. I could face up, I could shoot it. I didn’t want to go to a setup position. I wanted to be a racehorse up and down the court. So it was either him or I was gonna go to Tulsa with Coach Nolan Richardson.
J.P.:So you’re this 18-year-old kid and all of a sudden you’re moving to Kentucky. Is that weird?
T.F.: Well, your life is about to change. You’re 18, you’re leaving your family and you’re going off to a whole new environment. And you’re just hoping in your heart that you can survive.
J.P.:Was survival hard?
T.F.: It was an easy transition for me. Because I knew what I wanted, I knew what I had to do, I knew what I wanted to do. So I just put my head down and stayed focused, and Coach Haskins was a good mentor.
J.P.:When you were drafted … you’re drafted, first round, great college career. Do you assume you’re going to go to the NBA and be a star, or is the goal to survive?
T.F.: Well, as the 14th pick I kind of assumed I’d be a star. That’s a lottery pick. I assumed I had the pro game. But I really can’t blame anybody but myself, because I really think I got lazy. I didn’t put the work into it to be a starter in the NBA. Looking back at my career. Now that I have a son, I can kind of relay to him what it takes if you’re really trying to sustain and get to that star/superstar level.
J.P.:What does that mean? You’re Tellis Frank, you’re 22 … 23, you’re in the NBA, you’re living the dream, big money, good city. What’s the difference between the way you were working and the way someone worked who wanted to reach a higher level?
T.F.: I’m just gonna give you Chris Mullin as an example. That’s who I was around. He went to a rehab center my rookie year, and when he came out he was just a total workout, basketball, gym junkie. Mullie would go to the gym and spend eight hours in the gym. Getting up thousands and thousands of shots, running sprints. Even before he started playing. Then he would go play for two, three hours. There’s a correlation between somebody trying to be an NBA star and work ethic, versus someone just wanting to be in the NBA.
J.P.: So why didn’t you have that same drive?
T.F.: Well, you know, like I said, it was all on me. I thought I was having a good rookie year, and I just seemed like when Coach (Don) Nelson took over he wanted me to be a rookie again, instead of me working hard to do what I need to do to be better. Instead of me taking his words and actions as someone trying to push me, I took it as someone trying to push me out by not giving me playing time. Because I thought I was doing what I needed to do to be a good player. He would try to make me be a great player, and I was rebelling against that. It was all on me. And I just think a successful person has to check themselves, and that’s what I did as I moved on. It wasn’t Coach Nelson, it was all me. Instead of having an attitude I should have worked harder, I should have dedicated myself more. Because like they say, when a coach stops talking to you it means he doesn’t care about you anymore. And Coach Nelson was constantly talking to me, but I just felt like I had played for George Karl, I went through my rookie year. Check the numbers—I averaged eight points and five or six rebounds. Coming back into my second year it was a shock to me when, even after a good training camp, he wasn’t giving me any playing time. But he would say, “You’re a rook to me,” and I didn’t understand that. It was all on me.
J.P.:Do you look back with regret, or is it merely a life learning experience?
T.F.: I look back with regret, because I really felt I had the game where I could have been a 10-, 15-year NBA player. And it’s regret because what Coach Nelson was telling me was true. “Keep your weight right, understand the game, be true to yourself, look yourself in the mirror and check yourself and challenge yourself and tell yourself what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong.” I didn’t take what he was telling me to heart. So I look back with regret, but I also look back at it as a great time in my life. Because I had the opportunity to play basketball at a place a lot of people dream about. I was there and I lived that dream. And I lived that dream where I went overseas and played. So I’m not mad at the situation, but like I said, I can pass my knowledge on to other kids.
J.P.:You play 5 ½ seasons in the NBA—above average. Then you play in Europe for years in some cools cities and countries, you win a title. Can the argument be made that, from a life standpoint, you were better off having the NBA taste and then playing in Europe? That you’ve experienced more by having that? Or no? Would you rather have the 15 years in the NBA.
T.F.: You know, I’d say I’d rather have the 15 years in the NBA because it’s America and that’s every kid’s dream to be in the NBA. And you lose out on a lot of things when you leave your country. But on the other hand, I went to a whole different world. I became a major star. My nickname they gave me in Europle was “Professore.” That meant, “The professor.” So i had a great time. I played in great cities. I was in Italy, I was in Spain, I played a year in France, I made great money, I lived in nice homes, I drove nice Italian cars, I met nice people. It was, for me, I didn’t appreciate it because i really wanted to NBA. When you’re young, you don’t know until you’re out of it and you look back over your career. But I’ve gotta say, damn, Europle was great for me. It was basketball … I just got to go places I’d have never been were it not for the orange pill.
J.P.:What’s your craziest outside-the-U.S. basketball story?
T.F.:When I won the Italian championship. We beat Milan and we got on the plane, and we flew back down to Napoli. The whole city was sitting outside the airport. I’m talking as far as you could see—people. And they were just cheering our names, they were trying to get a piece of us. That was my wildest experience. And when i won the championship in Spain—we won the King’s Cup, which was like winning the Spanish Cup. We beat Barcelona. And I get on the plane, people everywhere, and we get to the city and the bus could hardly move. There were people just everywhere. So, I have to say, it was a hell of an experience just to stand atop the hill, and nobody is better than you on that day.
J.P.: Am I wrong in thinking that you played for the Harlem Globetrotters?
T.F.: I never played for the Globetrotters. I toured with them, then I came back to coach. Because Mr. (Manny) Jackson told me they were gonna try and turn the Globetrotters toward a serious team. So I coached a year with them. And it was a great experience. You grow up watching the Harlem Globetrotters, and now you’re a part of the Harlem Globetrotters. It was just amazing seeing old people, young people … we’d go from the Boston Garden to a high school in Utah to Madison Square Garden to a gym in North Dakota. We were just all over the world every day doing that show.
J.P.:So you didn’t play?
T.F.: I played … I played five or six games where they called me and they were like, “We need some players” and I got up off my couch and went and just sat on the bench. I did like six games with them, made a little money, they paid me like $1,000 a game. I don’t consideri t playing, because i went from my couch to their bench. I enjoyed it more when i came back as a coach.
J.P.:Did you learn any tricks? Like, can you do anything funky with the ball because of your time with the Globetrotters?
T.F.: I can do a few things with the basketball. Yeah.
T.F.: That was a serious quote. But you have to understand i was in Italy in 1990. As we know, everything has changed and i was just using it as, “Man, in America any time of day or night i can walk outside and get a Slurpee.” Europe, can’t do it. They close three hours for lunch. Eight, nine o’clock comes, it’s closed. There’s nothing to do. So that was the toughest thing.
T.F.: Yeah, I like Slurpees a lot. I live in Sherman Oaks, Cal., and it gets real hot there. It’s nothing but sugar, so I really try to drink them in the summertime.
J.P.:What’s your flavor? The Coke one?
T.F.: Nah. I like banana.
J.P.:Yeah, that is good.
T.F.: The Coke—good.
Frank (right), with Dream coach Michael Cooper and assistant Karleen Thompson.
J.P.:You coached high school at Harlem Westlake High. You were the freshman coach for two years, then the varsity coach for a bunch more. Is it hard, being you, and coaching some kid with no athleticism, no instincts? Can you relate? When you were an NBA player …
T.F.: Well, I look at it like this: My whole mindset changed when I decided to become a coach. My mindset is I’m trying to coach each kid the same way no matter what your ability is. I’m looking at your heart and your effort. Give me all the effort, all your heart, all your passion—I’m gonna try to help you. Basketball, or anything you do, you have to have passion for it. You can’t be a successful writer if you don’t work at the craft. The same with basketball. It has to be a passion. I really wanna be a great coach. I don’t turn down jobs. I started a team, the California Cobras, in 2010. I coached 8U, 9U teams. I just worked on my craft, because the only way you get better at anything is repetition. You have to do stuff over and over and articulate it to the kids. I always try to bring the game down as if I’m talking to a 4-year old or 5-year old. Simple, we’re gonna do the simple stuff. And if you have passion and you’re willing to listen and understand what you’re doing and work hard, it’s no problem for me. I always try to stay humble. If you stay humble, you get blessings. I was never flashy. I work on humility. You want people to say, “Tellis Frank, maybe he wasn’t the best NBA player. But he’s a good person.” I think, at the end of the day, I want to be a great person more than a great basketball player.
J.P.:When you meet with a team of kids for the first time, do you introduce yourself and tell them your resume?
T.F.: A lot of kids, when I was coaching high school I didn’t put it out there. But they’d find it on the Internet and say, “I saw when you were drafted.” The computer makes this world small. You can’t lie to them, because they’ll just Google you. “Hey coach, they called you ‘The Professore’ in Europe. Does that mean you’re a professor?” Yes, that means when I tell you something you should listen, because I know what I’m talking about. I don’t boast, but I’ll tell them a little fat kid from Gary, Indiana because the 14th pick in the NBA Draft—and if that can happen, you can accomplish anything.
TF.: Coach Cooper—I saw Coach Cooper at a travel ball tournament, we were talking, he said he was looking for a coach, I said, “Lemme throw my name in the hat … my resume.” He said he was gonna take his time making his decision. I think that was November, and he said he’d be making it in December. The person I am, the personality, I have, I sent my resume, called every couple of days. I just pursued the job. That’s who I am, that’s what I do. I come from Gary, Indiana. I’m a grinder. I can get in there and get out. I stayed on it, and he gave me the opportunity.
J.P.:Did you know anything about the WNBA?:
T.F.: I watch basketball, so I watched it. I didn’t know the ins and outs, but I knew it was good basketball. They’re pros—they’re the top of their game. The highest form of ladies basketball. So it was easy to adapt to.
J.P.:Is there a difference, coaching women vs. men?
T.F.: Well, the only difference is women play below the rim, men play above. The IQ is just as good. You have some players smarter than others, some faster. It’s all the same. The execution, the passing, the understanding is all the same. It’s basketball.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH TELLIS FRANK:
• How’d you get the name Tellis?: From my mom and dad. My dad’s name is Tellis. I’m Tellis, Jr.
• Nicest and ugliest uniforms in the NBA: The nicest are Golden State. The ugliest uniforms are the Milwaukee Bucks.
• How good is Elena Della Donne?: On a 1 to 10, she’s a 10. She scores, she’s a grinder, she gets it done. She defends, she rebounds, she puts it in the hoop. She’s a winner.
• Best place to eat in Atlanta:Mary Mac’s Tea Room. They have the Southern cuisine. Great fried chicken, great mac and cheese. Nice cornbread, good vegetables. Mary Mac’s. Yes.
• Grossest injury you ever had as a player?: When I got my shoulder snatched out of place. It was painful. I was playing at Western Kentucky, Clarence Martin—bless his soul, he’s passed away now—we were both went up for a rebound and he was about 260, I was about 215. He just pulled my shoulder straight out of the socket.
• What do you remember from your high school senior prom?: I didn’t go to my senior prom. I went to the movies. I took my girlfriend to the movies.
• Your greatest moment from the NBA: Getting drafted into the NBA. When they called my name, I was sitting there thinking I was gonna go before the 14th pick. I wasn’t nervous that day, on the way to the arena, but then my heart started beating fast, hands sweating. Then the names starting going and I turned to my agent and said, “Was it a mistake coming here?” He said, “Calm down.” When they called my name, I can’t explain the feeling. A kid from Gary, Indiana is the 14th pick in the NBA Draft. And now I’m about to make good money.
So a few weeks ago I was watching Back to The Future with my nephews, and it occurred to me that the story concerns a guy, Marty McFly, who travels back in time a whopping 30 years, from 1985 to 1955 … as we were watching 30 years after the movie’s release.
Trippy, right? But not nearly as trippy as the existence of today’s Quaz, and his relationship with time’s eternal ticking clock.
Back in 1988, when he was 13, David Moscow made his cinematic debut in “Big,” portraying a 12-year-old boy (Josh Baskin) who wishes to be big, then wakes up as 32-year-old Tom Hanks. Well—in a twist that makes my head spin—Moscow is now eight years older than Hanks was at the time. He’s fully big.
He also happens to be fully fascinating. David has lived a rich theatrical life, appearing in such wide-ranging vehicles as “Kate and Allie,” “Newsies” and “Seinfeld.” He starred on Broadway; tracked wolves in Arizona and New Mexico; talked surfing with Uma Thurman; dated Kerry Washington; voted for Ralph Nader. On and on and on. As you read this, he’s hoping a clever, funny Kickstarter campaign can help his directorial debut, Desolation, reach audiences sooner than later. He’s one of the few Quazes I’ve met over lunch, and I could have stayed another three hours. Riveting dude.
David Moscow, you are the only man to have ever played “Jimmy Wiggen” in The Wizard of Loneliness. And now you are the only man to ever be the 224th Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN:So David, my first book was about the 1986 Mets. It came out 12 years ago. And people sometimes say, “Oh, I loved that book!” And I feel like it was another part of my life; like it wasn’t even me. And here you are, three decades removed from the biggest role of your life. When people are like, “Oh, I love ‘Big‘!” Do you still have a connection, or are you like, “Um, I was 13”?
DAVID MOSCOW: It’s such just a part of my life that you don’t even think about it. People come up to me … I can tell, if we were just sitting here and someone was about to come up to me in five minutes, I could see already that whispers were gonna happen and I could probably tell you what movie they were going to say I like you for. The big three are Big, Newsies and Honey. By far those are the big three.
J.P.:Is ‘Big’ a huge frontrunner?
D.M.: No, because it was wasn’t the latest. At this point Honey and Newsies. Newsies is just one of those cult films. But it’s just part of my existence.
J.P.:You have no beef with it?
D.M.: No beef at all. I go around the world and people smile at me and are happy to see me. That’s phenomenal to have that. There was a period of time … I was a child actor, then stopped for two years. Went to college for two years. I went to Hampshire, then Columbia. That didn’t work. I dropped out of Hampshire, then went and tracked wolves in Arizona and New Mexico for Arizona Fish and Game. Because they were reintroducing captive bred wolves, and they needed to know if there was a viable population that was still there. So I lived out in forest service cabins for eight, nine months. And I did botanical surveys and tracked wolves. And tracking wolves was literally, you had headphones and a headset and you would go HOOOOOWWWWWWL! and then you’d wait and hear in the distance HOOOOOWWWWWWL! Then you would walk and try and find it. You’d find tracks.
J.P.:Um, was it scary?
D.M.: No. It was amazing. The only scary thing was one night a buddy of mine had gone out … you pack your bags, and you’re with eight people and you tell them, “OK, we’re going to check out this district in the park.” It’d take you a week to walk. And we’d always find out where there were hot springs, and we’d be like, “That’s where we’re going to check out!” So we went out to the hot springs and we’re laying out one night. It’s me and a guy named Rich, who was also in the program. And we had a fire and we heard a crash in the brush, around the bend of the river. We were startled, but then we went back to bed. And when we woke up in the morning we see at the edge of the fire light where a mountain lion had bedded down and basically sat there and watched us all night. And we went around the bend and found the deer that had been killed was covered. So obviously a cat had been following us. And the cats follow you when you’re in there. That was the only time it was scary …
J.P.:“David Moscow, the boy best known for his role as a young Tom Hanks in the film Big, was found …”
D.M.: That’s right. That’s right. I was flying to Sundance this one time, and coming over into Utah there’s always terrible turbulence because of the mountains. And Nick Nolte was on the flight. The turbulence was so bad everyone was screaming, freaking out. And all I kept thinking was, “Nick Nolte … and others died on this flight …”
J.P.:Well, you’re an “other.”
From his breakout role in ‘Big.’
J.P.:So, to the beginning. Why become an actor?
D.M.: I was 11, and I was a rambunctious child. In today’s world I probably would have been all doped up. But I was just running around like crazy. It was guitar lessons, science—just trying to find things to keep me occupied. And my fifth grade teacher put me in the class play.
J.P.:Do you remember her name?
D.M.: Mrs. Cannon. And Mr. Herb Bernstein, my sixth grade teacher, got me in the next year’s play. It was called A Tale of Two Detectives. There were two stories, two one acts, two detectives solving the case in two different plays. It was a cool idea. Then Mr. Bernstein put a clipping that was a film called Five Corners with Jodie Foster and Jon Leguizano. They were looking for 10-year-old white kids from the Bronx. So I went down on my bike with some friends. We all auditioned and they liked me.
J.P.:Do you remember it well?
D.M.: I don’t remember any of the lines. But I remember the room. It’s a memory of a memory, kind of. I remember the room and them saying goodbye to me. It was at Lehman College. They called and wanted me for the part, but my parents had been saving money for me to visit my aunt in Spain in the summer, so we turned down the role. And I went to Europe.
J.P.:Were you heartbroken?
D.M.: We didn’t have a TV, so I didn’t really know. I’d maybe seen two movies at that point my entire life.
D.M.: My aunt took me to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. And I saw Fantasia. I remember it was Fantasia because when we got back from Fantasia my house had been robbed. That’s probably why we didn’t go to any movies; we were afraid our house would be robbed. Those were the two movies I’d seen. So when I got back from Spain the casting directors had given my name to an agent who called. It was the big New York youth agent at the time—J. Michael Bloom was the agency, I met with a woman named Heidi, and she liked me. And then I auditioned for Kate and Allie. I did that show. That was my first audition.
J.P.:What do you remember of Kate and Allie?
D.M.: I did two episodes. It was a lot of fun. The audience laughing was like the coolest thing ever. And I loved Jane Curtain—we got along really well. It was a blast. Again, everyone was sort of happy to see you. And my second audition was for Big, but that was with Robert De Niro and Penny Marshall, not Hanks. I auditioned with Penny. I went into a room with 10 kids and Penny just talked to us. She’d be like, “You? Where you from? What are you doing?” I think I got a callback to play the best friend, and then when Hanks got it … she’s from the Bronx, and she’s like, “Where’s that kid from the Bronx? He looks like Tom.” And that was it.
J.P.:Is that as enormous a life changer as it seems?
D.M.: I mean, when I first started acting I was very lucky or successful. Or maybe both. I booked the first four things I auditioned for. I think that’s because I was new and I was this weird kid who had these radical parents and had no boundaries and was loud and chatty. And it was, “Oh, that’s interesting.” I was very precocious. Which, in school, is very annoying. But in an audition it’s exactly the type of kid they want.
With Jessica Alba in Honey.
J.P.:Where’d you grow up?
D.M.: I’m from New York. I mean, we moved around a lot. Grand Concourse, Preston Avenue, Kings Bridge, Davidson Avenue, um, and we ended up Van Cortland Park. And moving around as a kid anyway is tough, especially as a guy. But moving around in the Bronx is something else.
J.P.:What’d your parents do? Why so many moves?
D.M.: My mom, Patricia, was a nurse … studying to be a nurse. My dad, Jon, was a community activist. Like a radical. He loves my Bernie Sanders shirt.
J.P.:What does that mean—’like a radical’?
D.M.: To go back even further, my parents were both radicals in the 1960s and 70s, and still through today. There was a certain point where my dad was considered armed and dangerous by the FBI. What’s wild is now it’s the kind of stuff that’s largely considered normal today. Civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, labor laws, pre-labor, social services, the safety net. He worked with the Black Panthers in Portland, Oregon …
J.P.:Wait. Aren’t you Jewish?
D.M.: Half. My dad is Jewish, my mom is Mormon. I was raised neither. Non-religious, but culturally, I guess, both. We did all the holidays. We did Passover and Christmas with her family. And my parents met in Portland. My dad was going to Reed College. He grew up on Long Island, and at 13 he joined Core (Congress of Racial Equality), which was a civil rights organization. He became chair of the housing committee of Long Island CORE when he was 15. And he graduated from high school early and went to Reed to get as far away from his parents as possible. And the first time my mom saw him he was getting arrested at a demonstration in Oregon, and she thought he was cute. He was cursing a cop outside the Frye roofing company. I think Nixon was coming to a factory, and they were demonstrating the Nixon visit. And Pat came up to him as he was cursing the cop. My dad had to subpoena my mom because she saw his arrest. She thought he was cute And in his big seduction move he invited her to a meeting and when they got to the meeting there was nobody else there. And he said, “Oh, I guess I got the date wrong. You wanna just go out to a movie?”
He worked with Kent Ford, who was the head of the Panthers in Oregon. My dad also became this guy—they were building health clinics and dental clinics there. Something a lot of people don’t know is California became the first state to do breakfast programs and lunch programs at schools and it was because the Panthers in Oregon were giving out free breakfast and lunch, and the state was like, “Oh, my God. They’re accruing lots of power. We have to do this!” They were sort of doing the same thing but with health care up in Oregon. And my dad came on and fund-raised, made connections to doctors, dealt with the city …
J.P.:So how did they pay the bills?
D.M.: It was sketchy. My dad delivered a radical newspaper called the Willamette Bridge. And he wrote. It was a whole group of people. And in New York, for a period of time, he did typesetting for Penthouse and High Times to make a little cash on the side, while writing radical newsletters and stuff like that. And he did computer stuff for Y&R, a big advertising company. There was a period of time where he and my mom—we were on welfare. I mean, it wasn’t pretty. But we also lived six, seven people in the house. I have a younger brother, Lev, he’s a teacher in New York. But a whole bunch of radicals all lived in the same house, shared the bills.
With his wife, Karen.
J.P.:Random question—how many times in your life have you watched ‘Big’ start to finish?
D.M.: In that? No. I’m good … I’m OK. But kid actors today are 10 times better than kid actors were expected to be back then. Be charming, smile and look cute. And then people hand you checks. But today—this kid from Sixth Sense was Academy Award-worthy. These kids are touching places within themselves that I didn’t really discover until I was, like, 19-years old.
J.P.:So you didn’t have a motivation in ‘Big’? Like, what’s your motivation in this scene?
D.M.: Nah. Penny in that one would be like, “Much sadder.” You know? Without any training. And because I never watched films as a kid I was a clean slate. Which was good, I think. But I started to run into problems was when I got to about 17 or 18, where you start getting kids who have been raised on film; kids who have been going to school and are hyper-talented and have tools. And I was still just smiling and, you know, I had gotten two or three big things young. You can ride that for a little bit even if you’re not particularly good. That’s why I stopped. I was starting to go into auditions and it was hard. Like, you’d have to cry.
J.P.:Could you cry on demand?
D.M.: At that time, no.
J.P.:Can you make yourself cry now?
D.M.: Yeah. But the big change that occurred was … so I stopped tracking the wolves, went to Columbia, and got a Broadway show while at Columbia. It was called What’s Wrong With This Picture? So this was 1994. Donald Margulies wrote it and Joe Mantello directed. Faith Prince, who had just won the Tony for Guys and Dolls, was in it. And I was the lead and I was not very good. So the story is about, my mother died, my dad and I can’t connect, so she comes back from the dead to help us bond. And at the end I have to turn to her and say, “How can I ever miss you if you never leave?” So she walks out the door, and I’m supposed to turn around and bawl. And it wasn’t happening—all through previews.
J.P.:You could not cry?
D.M.: I was on stage being like … I was the lead in the show, and I was sitting there thinking, “I’m gonna have Greek food tonight. I’ll call up Earnest.” And then it’d be my line and I’d say my line, and then when it was done I’d go right back to thinking about Greek food. So I’d get to the end, and I’d be standing there, and … nothing. So the producers sat me down and they said, “You have to cry! The blue hairs in the front row need to have this emotional thing. Can we put pictures on the table and you walk down from the door and sit down and look at the pictures. Will that help you?” I’ll try—but nothing. So it’s a week to go in previews, and I’m like, holy shit. This is terrifying. And now there are all these rumors how Sean Penn is a character from the moment he wakes up all the way through a whole shoot. He never leaves character. What would that be like? I’m gonna try it. So I got up and I was Peter every day, all the way through to opening night. And I think the third day I tried it, I say, “How can I ever miss you if you never leave?” and I close the door and I turn around and—whoosh! Tears. I didn’t have to go down and look at any photos. The old ladies in front were clapping, the audience was clapping. And I was like, “Oh, this shit is good. I like that. Whatever that is, I want more of that.”
So I joined a theater company with some friends. It was very small, so we all sort of ran it together. It was called A Theater Co., and it was in the basement of these lofts in West Chelsea. Back then it was like you rode on your bike and transsexual hookers would step out of the doorway. But what was cool about the space was there was a 200 seater we could do, a 50 seater, and the lobby was good for art stuff. There were two days out of the year where we’d do a full day of three plays, back to back to back.
And I got real snotty about acting, about being an artist. People would come up to me about “Big,” and I’d be like, “I’m beyond that.” But I also got better. We would change plays every two weeks. You’d get a call at 3 o’clock in the morning—“I wanna do 4-H Club. Tomorrow we’ll build a set.” You could see it in the auditions I was doing at the same time. Whenever I talk to young people here who wanna start, I say, “Find a theater company where you can work a lot, and just put yourself up there. You will soon realize if you belong in this business. The audience will tell you and your cast members will tell you. If you keep getting hired to do work you’re doing something good. And you should stick around.”
So from that I started getting indie movies. I had a small part in a film called Hurricane Streetswhich ended up winning Sundance that year. And then I had a role in two films the following year—Restaurant and River Red. They both went to Sundance.
The Playbill from, ‘What’s Wrong With This Picture?’
J.P.:Does Sundance matter to you?
D.M.: It’s fun. Yeah, it’s fun. Especially during that period of time. I was such the snob, I was like, “I’m at Sundance!” Now I’ve been there a bunch and it’s a fun time and you see a bunch of friends; the same people you see here but you get to see them there. And my Mormon side is all in Utah so I party with my cousins.
J.P.:Do you go out drinking with your Mormon cousins?
D.M.: I do. The Jack Mormons—the ones who have fallen off. But the other ones ski and snowboard. So I go snowboarding with those guys.
J.P.: Do you feel like it’s a rite of passage for young actors to come up and go through a douche baggy stage where you’re arrogant and overrate your importance?
D.M.: You know, to the outside world it may ring douchey. But it’s important to the craft. It’s like being a grad student. There’s a great line in 30 Rock. He’s the second worst person in the world. And she asks, “Who’s the worst person in the world?” And he goes, “Grad students.” It’s a great line. You have to get intense about something and care about something. You have to in order to stand up and give a thesis or deliver a line. Because people are going to attack what you have to say. So you have to maybe put up this omnipotent front that says, “I own this place.” So I think it’s good.
J.P.:Did you have dreams of being the next De Niro, the next Robert Redford …
D.M.: Yeah. Particularly during that period of time I probably felt like I was the best actor in New York. But I also had the fire for that. I was drinking and doing drugs and out until the wee hours of the morning for the experiences. Nothing was more important than that. De Niro was going to direct a movie about the beginning of the porn industry, and he got all of his friends to come do a reading. They were looking for a kid to do the reading and play a young Sean Penn. And they called me up and I was like, “I’ve made it!” And of course, it never works out how you think. I did the reading, it was phenomenal, I was going surfing later that day. It was John Turturro, Sean Penn, Chaz Palminteri, Uma Thurman. Just great. And this kid who was playing the young Turturro was sitting at another table with me. We’re sitting at this table talking surfing, because I was going to go out to Montauk to surf. And Sean Penn came over and sat down and said, “Really?” He started talking surfing with us. Because Penn was there, Uma Thurman comes over. Then Chaz Palminteri comes over. And pretty soon the whole table is around us. Holy smokes, this is magic!
D.M.: No. No. If it was De Niro and Sean Penn and I hadn’t gotten the part, sure.
J.P.:What do you want in your life now?
D.M.: I enjoy the theater company. I’ve started a production company that sort of does that but for film. I have a band of people and investors.
J.P.:So I’ve sold a couple of my books for movie rights. First time it happens—amazing! Movie! And they tell you who they’re looking at, the director. And the last time it happened, I had zero excitement because I had no faith. And I don’t know how anyone lives in this world. Because they tell you everything is great, they love everything, we know who’s gonna do this and this. I don’t get excited anymore. Is it all bullshit? Do you have to get used to people feeding you bullshit?
D.M.: No, no. Because now I’m on the other side.
J.P.:You’re the feeder?
D.M.: But it’s not bullshit. What happens is you read something and you think it’s fucking great. And it is great. And then the journey is so huge that it’s a fucking crapshoot. What you hope to gain is a champion. If you have a champion these guys will work their ass off, because they don’t want to waste their time. But it’s not bullshit. It’s both great and terrible. Like, you go into meetings … we have the life rights to this Mexican singer named Chalino Sanchez. Incredible story. He was huge. He created this kind of music called narco-corrido—he sings about cartels. And cartels would hire him and he would sing about them. And then another cartel would sweep in and hire him away. And the other cartel would try and kill him.
So literally he’s on stage in front of 15,000 people, someone pulls out a gun trying to kill him, he pulls out his gun to protect himself. He was a bandito wild man. And then he ended up going back to Sinaloa, his hometown. It was the first time he’d been there in, like, 30 years; at 13 he shot the local cartel leader because the guy raped his sister, and he escaped to LA. He’s like, “I’m going back down.” Everyone tells him not to go. There’s a documentary on YouTube, “The Dangerous Life of Chalino Sanchez.” He’s singing away, and someone hands him a note. And his face collapses. The note says, “You’re gonna die.” He’s found dead an hour later on the side of the road. I bought the life rights from his wife. And then at the funeral the band is playing, no one is singing because he’s in the casket. And the son gets up, puts on his dad’s cowboy boots, cowboy hat, starts singing his dad’s songs. He starts touring with the band. Eight years later he starts introducing rap into his dad’s music. He becomes the biggest Mexican singer, he decides to return to his dad’s hometown, and he’s found dead in an accident.
So we have that, and it’s wow. It’s fucking wow! Right? We have the life rights, we’re gonna make the movie, the wife-mom is excited. And then you go and try to make a Mexican-American story in the United States today and try and find funding. And it’s just the grind.
J.P.: Do you know if you’re in a movie that’s shit?
J.P.:How do you know?
D.M.: The script. It’s painful.
J.P.: But have you ever been in something where the script is good but it’s heading …
D.M.: No. Never. Not where the script was good and then they didn’t do a good job. I’ve been places where the script was mediocre and the directors were good enough to elevate it to good.
D.M.: Yes. Going in I was like, “I’m gonna try and do the best I can with a type of character that a lot of times people butcher, because they, like, overplay it.” Yo! Yo! Yo! I knew these guys from New York. I’ll just be those guys. So I wanted to do the method and be this character from beginning to end and do my best work. For what they wanted to do, it was exactly it. It was exactly what it should have been.
J.P.: A solid, enjoyable movie?
D.M.: Yeah. It’s fun. People loved that movie. People come up to me and are ecstatic about that movie. “They’re like, ‘Yo! You were that asshole!’” And I say, “Why was I that asshole? If she would have just slept with me, there wouldn’t have been a problem.” They love when I say that. “Yeah! You’re the man!” So it’s fun. I’m an actor. I get paid to act. I don’t control the rest of that stuff. When I wanted more control, I turned to directing. So now I’m directing my first film. As an actor, you talk to the director and say, “This doesn’t work right here” and the director is like, “That’s what really happened.” So you have to go do that.
J.P.:Have you ever had a real, true, hardcore conflict with a director?
D.M.: So I got a movie called Nearing Grace. And the first day on that film the director and I had a big blowout over whether I was going to wear a hat. I wanted a hat, and I wanted a hat for a number of reasons. One was, it’s sort of complicated. The character had extensions and I had long hair, and they had tried to dye the long hair. It was synthetic and they didn’t know it, so when they tried to dye it it stripped the color. So it was gray, and I was like 24-years old. I just looked freaky. It wasn’t gray like normal gray. It was metallic. And I was a hippie so I went looking all over Portland, Oregon, where we were shooting, and I found a straw hat, and it was cool for my character. I put it on, and it was also to help the makeup people. So first the producer leans her head in and she said, “Hey, how you doing?” And she saw the hat and I could tell she wasn’t thrilled and she walked away. An hour later the director walked in and he said, “Hey, I hear you’ve got a hat!” I was like, “What the fuck is this?” I was like, “Yeah! You like it?” He said, “No, I think you should take it off.” I was like, “Think about it. I really like it.” He said, “I have been thinking about it—for five years as I’ve been making this movie.” I was like, “Fine, I won’t wear the hat.” He goes, “Fine.” Bam! He slams the door. I found out later they had a discussion about firing me because they didn’t like my attitude. So I went into it without the hat, and the next day I went in and I had a heavy-duty crying scene. It’s one of my favorite films I’ve ever done, and the director and I became very good friends. The next day he saw he didn’t have to worry about me—I was in it. And so I wore the hat the rest of the shoot. I was living this guy, I was in Oregon, which is like hippie central. So fun.
And I would drive up into the mountains, take all my clothes off and swim in lakes. I remember I was swimming in this one lake and these Girl Scouts came around in a canoe and they were like, “Aggghhh!” and I was like, “Aggghhh!” I found my clothes, jumped in the car, ran away. But I was just this dude … very different than my Bronx kind of guy. It was fun.
J.P.:Because usually when you break up with someone, that’s the end …
D.M.: They’re ghosts. They disappear. Is it weird? You have to come to terms with it. You know, we’re on relatively good terms so it’s not terrible. I’m not sure my wife enjoys it; she Googles me and my past shows up. But Kerry is smart, she’s pretty, she’s bad-ass. She should be on the cover of magazines. The only time it’s negative is I get phone calls from people who wanna stir the pot kind of stuff. Page 6—what do you think about this?
J.P.: They want you to be angry?
D.M.: Yeah. And I wish her the best.
J.P.: “He snidely said …”
D.M.: Yes! And you have to watch for that. You get people who interview you, and you think it’s a friendly thing, and I’m pretty open, and you come back and read something and you’re like, “What is this?”
J.P.: That won’t happen here.
D.M.: Thank you. Look, I’m extremely happily married. When Kerry and I were together, I was not good in relationships at all. So, like, I learned a lot from that relationship and the breakup of that relationship on how to be in a relationship and be good in a relationship and a good partner. Which I was not that person then. So she took one for the team basically, and Karen got the fruits of Kerry’s labor. Karen is a phenomenal woman. Smart, bad-ass, gorgeous, great personality. I’m just lucky I found another one who was just wonderful.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH DAVID MOSCOW:
• How did you meet your wife?: Three times. Once on a red carpet. She was PR, but we just said hello. She did PR when she just graduated college. Two, I hit on her at a bar and got her number, texted her ridiculous stuff like, “Do you cook? Do you clean? Do you read?” I thought I was being witty. I wasn’t. That was seven or eight years ago. And lastly she came to a party at my house. That was 5 ½ years ago.
• Has Obama been a disappointment for you?: I have mixed feelings. I wrote an article for Huffington Post the day after the election that was basically like, He’s a centrist—liberals shouldn’t get very excited. The best thing that will happen to him is the left will be more free to do stuff; you won’t be under attack as much. And I think that’s the case. Particularly with the gay marriage stuff that just happened. I think Obamacare isn’t going to be real until there’s a public option. The droning and the going after whistleblowers and this last trade thing they did—terrible. But in general, he’s a centrist Democrat, and the country is moving to the left a lot. And that couldn’t have happened under a Romney.
• Five favorite athletes from your lifetime:Joe Morris—he was a Giant when I started liking football; Don Mattingly, Patrick Ewing, Jorge Posada. I really like Charles Oakley. And now it’s LeBron. First of all I hate Jordan. Everything I read about him sounds like he’s really evil. So I would like LeBron to be the greatest of all time. I think he’s great.
• The next president will be …:Hillary, I think. She’ll run against Marco Rubio. I think demographics are so leaning to the left, and Rubio will be on the wrong side of things that have already been determined. That time has passed.
• I’m gonna give you my least favorite line of any movie you’ve been in, and tell me why I’m wrong. The last scene of “Big” you say to your mom, “I missed you oh so much.” It just doesn’t sound like something a kid would say. Am I wrong?: No, it’s totally a movie line. It’s a movie line. It was ADRed—it was the first time I ever ADRed anything. The movie is done, you’re watching the movie and they say, “Say something here.” And they give you 20 lines and you just spit them out and they pick whichever they like best. I’ve already run inside, and it’s just Mercedes Ruehl and I talking inside the house. So I’m literally just like—they’re telling me to say this line, then another line, then another line. Then they pick one.
• Have you ever said to someone, “I miss you oh so much”?: No. But I can’t believe that’s the line. It’s from probably the best movie I’ve been in. It’s a great movie.
• Three memories from your appearance on Seinfeld: Oh, my gosh. That was cool. So the Broadway show I did, the guy who played my grandfather was Jerry Stiller. He happened to be on that episode, and his soon-to-be daughter-in-law was also on the episode. So my first memory was the audition process. I had flown out to LA, and my agents were like, “While you’re here, just audition and you’ll write it off on your taxes?” OK. Then they said, “You wanna do Seinfeld?” I was freaking out—Seinfeld’s my favorite show. I called my brother. He was like, “Dude, no way!” So I go in and what was cool was in New York, it’s such a small actor community you know everybody, and then someone disappears and you think, “I haven’t seen What’s His Name around.” And it’s, “Oh, he moved to LA.” So I went to visit, and it was the first time I auditioned out here, and I saw so many people at the audition. I was auditioning for two people—the gang leader who seduces Kramer, and for one of the guys who George is interviewing. So I go in and I’m nervous and they’re laughing and laughing. And I started to realize they weren’t laughing at my performance. They were laughing at the lines—they loved their own jokes they were writing. Jerry was in there, I shook his hand. I got home that night and I got the call I was gonna go in on Tuesday. I called my brother, he flipped out. Then I went in on Tuesday. The coolest thing was, most shows you table read Monday morning, then rehearse Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Thursday night you perform before the live audience. With this, you did Tuesday half day, Wednesday full day, Thursday just in front of the audience. It was the shortest week. So the first day Tuesday I heard Jerry Stiller talking and he and his wife found me in my dressing room and were so warm. I became part of the legit team, and that was great.
And then, during the time when Jerry was getting a new deal from NBC, something like $1 million an episode, and the rest of the cast was negotiating. Some of the cast wanted to negotiate by themselves and the others wanted to negotiate as a team so they’d all get equal pay. There was dissension, who was going to do what. I was walking back from the green room toward the stage, and I got caught by the bleachers, and Jason Alexander and Michael Richards were behind the bleachers yelling at each other, and it was about the money. I couldn’t really move anywhere because they would see me, so I hung there three minuets in the dark as these two giants yelled at each other. And then I went on my way. Wild moment.
• Rank in order, favorite to least—Dave Winfield, kettle corn, Jessica Alba, The Avengers, Laguardia Airport, California Pizza Kitchen, Selena, outlet malls, “White Lines” (the song), clam chowder.: Clam chowder, Jessica Alba, White Lines, Laguardia, The Avengers, kettle corn, Winfield, outlet malls, Selena, CPK (because it isnt pizza!).
• Favorite book: That’s really hard. What was the last great book? This is such a strange book, but there’s a great book, “Guns, Germs and Steel”—the history of civilization and basically that civilization was environmentally determined.
• Ten years from now is California heading to water apocalypse?: No. People survive. Do I think … if I were in charge I’d just start making rules. I’d be like, “Any new buildings have to have gray water systems, have to have the ability to catch water.” Los Angeles wouldn’t be in a drought if 1/10 of the buildings caught their own water. That’s it. But in the long run, people shouldn’t be living in deserts and you shouldn’t be growing things in deserts. We’re going to have to find that equilibrium where we’re able to survive. They’re starting to recognize there are problems.
When I was first promoted to staff writer at Sports Illustrated back in the late-1990s, a singular moment suggested I had made it.
Every Christmas, the magazine would fly in all the staff and senior writers for a big state-of-the-magazine meeting. We’d sit in a room, chat, then head out for fancy lunches with the top editors. I remember, quite vividly, my head spinning. I was Christian Laettner on the Dream Team. I mean, there was Rick Reilly! And Steve Rushin! And E.M. Swift! And Gary Smith! And Michael Bamberger! And Phil Taylor!
And … Michael Farber!
Man—Michael friggin’ Farber! The best of the best. A writer whose stuff I’d admired for years. And not only were we in the same room … we were at the same lunch. Sitting alongside one another, eating bread and stuff. And he knew who I was! By name!
Why the excitement? Because Michael, truly, is an all-time elite sportswriter; a guy who can make the least-interested hockey non-fan want to read a lengthy profile of the Islanders backup goaltender.
JEFF PEARLMAN: I’m gonna start this with a random one, but something I’m happy to ask: So back in 1989, when I was writing for my high school newspaper, I interviewed Joe Bucchino, who lived locally and worked as the assistant general manager for the New York Rangers. I asked Joe specifically about the lack of blacks in hockey, and he told me blacks lacked the leg strength to be high-level players. Knowing nothing, I included that somewhere in the body of my article, some glowing profile read by 20 people. But I’ve never forgotten it, and I wonder, Mike, whether back in the day hockey had a legitimate problem with racism, stereotyping, etc. Or if this was simply one dumb guy spouting off his ignorance?
MICHAEL FARBER: I’d never heard any management person say anything quite that far out there, but certainly stereotyping was around then, and it hasn’t gone too far away. Maybe the stats revolution eventually will eradicate it forever, and one day a person will not be judged by his country on his passport—roll the stirring music in here—but by his Corsi or whatever.
Until then, some teams will shy away from Euros because they consider them “soft” or Russians because they are difficult, or enigmatic, as Churchill put it, or even young American players, who sometimes are considered entitled—at least by Canadians. A few years ago a Canadian assistant GM of an American-based NHL team told me he thought a forward we were discussing was “a typical American,” meaning the player had some skills but was not to be trusted in a crunch situation. Brian Burke, the Calgary Flames president and a man I consider a fried, used to refer to Sami Pahlson, who figured prominently on the Ducks checking line when Anaheim won the Stanley Cup in 2007, as a Swede who could have been born in Red Deer. This is more a compliment for western Canada than it is for the Tre Kronor.
You brought up black players specifically. Well, until the rise of the skilled black forwards in the late 1990s—think Anson Carter and especially Jarome Iginla, whose mother is white—many blacks in the NHL were either goalies like Grant Fuhr and Pokey Reddick or tough guys like Peter Worrell and Donald Brashear. The game has changed, personified by Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban. Whether you like him or not, Gary Bettman deserves at least a modicum of credit for a more open NHL. The commissioner has been the moving force in the league’s diversity program. Maybe someone else would have moved the infrastructure in that direction, but it would have been a long-time coming.
J.P.:In 2011 you were diagnosed with stage three mouth and throat cancer. 1. How did you find out? Were you experiencing difficulties eating, breathing? Was it out of the blue? 2. How did you process the information? 3. You’ve been given a clean bill of health—what has the battle been like? Highs? Lows? Realizations?
M.F.: In December of 2010, I was in Belfast, working on an SI story and also visiting my son, who was getting a master’s degree in the high-paying field of cultural anthropology and Irish music at Queen’s University there. I felt a lump in my neck on the left side. I made an appointment with an ENT in Montreal about six weeks later. I was seeing him on a Tuesday. On that Sunday morning, after brunch before the NHL All-Star game in Raleigh, I had a dear old friend, a doctor who lives in Winston-Salem, feel the lump. I got the “hmmmmmmm,” which pretty much was the clue that this wasn’t likely a cyst. After biopsies, CT scans and the like, I was diagnosed in mid-March.
Now this next part is critical. In early April at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, I had a salivary gland transfer operation, a procedure that was developed in Edmonton around 2003, I think. This surgery moves one of the glands out of the path of radiation and preserves saliva, which is a key lifestyle move. I know people who have had the cancer, been cured and then are miserable because they can barely eat or enjoy food. A woman I know lives on Ensure and ice cream. The procedure still is done infrequently in Canada and rarely in the States, if my Montreal docs are correct. That’s a shame. If anyone needs to go through this, ask about the possibility or availability of a salivary gland transfer.
Anyway—I’ll yada, yada, yada through some of it—I had a feeding tube installed, went through six chemo sessions and six weeks of radiation and came out the other side. The treatment was Hobbesian—nasty, brutish and fortunately short. My treatments finished June 6, 2011, and I remain cancer free with a good prognosis. Feeling great. I haven’t had any alcohol since my diagnosis—alcohol and throat cancer are not a good mix—and I have trouble with peppery or spicy food, but I couldn’t be better.
Thanks for asking. I used to get asked if cancer had changed my perspective on life. Nah, I think my priorities were in order before my cancer. Anyway, in May 2014, I was honored by the Jewish General Hospital, for living, I assume, and we raised almost $600,000 in a fundraiser. Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson and some other hockey folks were there. The Hockey Hall of Fame sent the Stanley Cup for the evening. If any Quaz reader wants to write a check to the McGill Head and Neck Cancer Fund, I’d be grateful.
J.P.:Magazines aren’t what they were. Not when I started at SI in 1996, not when you started there in 1994. So, I ask, what was Sports Illustrated when you started there? What I mean is, what did it mean to you to work there? Did it feel glamorous? Meaningful? What was the buzz? The perks? And do you feel like, with the death of print, that sort of thing is forever gone?
M.F.: Actually, I turned down SI the first time it asked me, in August 1989. This was weird. Within three days, I had calls from Frank Deford, then at The National, and Mark Mulvoy, at Sports Illustrated, about coming aboard. The job at The National, basically as a hockey info guy, didn’t interest me, but SI did. But ultimately the timing didn’t seem right. SI had been through a ton of hockey writers after Ed Swift started doing some other things and none had lasted. So I passed.
But SI was starting SI Canada—I moved here in 1979 to work at The Montreal Gazette—and asked if I would do some freelance stuff. My first piece for the magazine—Gary Payton on the cover—was why no baseball players wanted to play in Montreal and no hockey players wanted to play in Quebec City. October 1989, I think. Then in 1990 the Canadian edition started and I did a few SI Canada stories a year. I was covering the World Series in Philly in 1993 for The Gazette when Mulvoy asked if I could come to New York immediately. I had been on the road for almost a month and told him I needed to get home after the Series ended, but I’d be down right after. I flew down in late October, shot the breeze in his office for 10 minutes and then flew home. That was my SI WTF moment. No offer. Nothing. Then six weeks later, I get another call from Mark asking me if I could fly down. I mumbled something about just having been there six weeks ago, but he said, no, no, I gotta to talk to you. Well, OK. I have no idea what happened then and what changed in the interim, and I have never asked. But this time he made an offer, and I took it.
My situation had changed. My mother and grandmother had died that year, and I had some heart issues during the 1993 Stanley Cup final and again at the Series. I needed a change, which included the “leisurely” magazine life. And compared to a newspaper column, it was leisurely—at least for a few years. I don’t know if 1994 was still the golden time at the magazine, but SI hired the fabulous S.L. Price, the invaluable Tim Layden and the talented Gerry Callahan in the following months, so that was a pretty good class to be part of. That’s the best part of the SI experience: the people you get to work with.
The secret of journalism is good stories, well told. Always was. Always will be. Now we’re just sorting out the delivery systems. But I will say this, and I suspect you feel that way too: when your name is in the masthead with the likes of Leigh Montville and Bill Nack and Steve Rushin and Tom Verducci and Jack McCallum and Rick Hoffer and Lee Jenkins on and on, that’s pretty good, no?
J.P.: I’ve long considered you one of the great sports writers of our era, and I’m fascinated by the process. Your process. For example, there’s a young player you’ve been assigned to profile. You have a week or so. What’s the approach? How do you go about it?
M.F.: I am a pretty fast writer, a holdover from my newspaper days, but a really slow thinker. So I will do all the background stuff that anyone does when he is assigned a story: calling his junior coach, his parents, old teammates, whomever. Basic homework. But while I’m checking off the boxes, I’m thinking about words or phrases or thoughts and polishing them in my mind and thinking where they might fit in the structure of the 2,000 words.
When I started at SI, I wrote too many “scene” leads, probably because I had read so many in the magazine. A scene lead isn’t necessarily bad way to go, but after a few years I started dropping more idea leads onto the editors. Bam. Just start the piece. Also after my healthy issues—I had a quadruple bypass in 2002—I also gave myself a little more time to do the actual writing. I can rush, but I hate doing it. My only real quirk, I suppose, came in my newspaper days when we wrote on typewriters and used carbon paper. After finishing a story, I would physically move to another desk in the office to edit it. I thought it would give me a different perspective. What an idiot.
J.P.:So I know you’re from Bayonne, N.J., know you were fantastic as a reporter and columnist at the Montreal Gazette, a killer writer at SI. But … how did this happen to you? When did you know you wanted to be a journalist? What was the spark? Who was the inspiration? And why hockey?
M.F.: I stumbled into hockey, really. In fact, when I moved to Montreal in 1979, when the Expos were coming into in their prime, I was sort of a baseball guy. Of course growing up near a city like New York, you follow all the sports. So the Rangers were the winter thing—I liked the Celtics, not the Knicks—and I was always comfortable around the sport even if I never played anything other than street hockey. In fact I covered the Rangers the year of the Phil Esposito trade for The Record in Bergen County. But when you move to Montreal, you’d better be prepared to become a hockey guy. Fortunately I had a heritage franchise to write about, one filled with smart and often loquacious players—a little like the Islanders team of the late 1970s and early 80s. I knew sportswriting was something that I wanted to do since my freshman year at Rutgers, where I worked in the Sports Information office. Hockey turned out to be a happy accident.
J.P.: I hate to be clichéd, but I’ll be clichéd: Hockey isn’t huge in the U.S., the way football and basketball and baseball are huge. And I don’t get it, because the sport is ridiculously exciting, the players tend to be agreeable and accessible, the uniforms are cool, the ice arenas are splendid. So … why hasn’t it fully caught on? What’s wrong with us?
M.F.: It’s funny because the Rangers have been around since 1926 and yet even some editors down 20 blocks in midtown in the SI view hockey as somehow exotic. This is especially odd because Mark Mulvoy had been the hockey writer, current top editor Paul Fichtenbaum was my first hockey editor and Chris Stone, who runs the mag on a daily basis, was a hockey reporter.
Some of hockey’s problems are the stuff we’ve all heard—can’t see the puck, etc.—but consider this: LeBron James plays maybe 40 minutes a game and has the ball in his hands almost every possession. In hockey, Sidney Crosby might play 20 or so minutes, his head covered with a helmet and his face obscured by a shield, and the puck will be on his stick for less than a minute. Tough to build a sport around stars, especially in an era when offense has returned to old, historic averages and no one can put up Gretzky-Lemieux-Nintendo numbers any more.
I also think the sports opinion makers in the States—Kornheiser and Simmons and those folks—are less comfortable or knowledgeable about the sport and therefore, wisely, in my opinion, talk about it occasionally. Other than Tim Colishaw and Jeff Schultz, how many top newspaper columnists came out of the hockey beat? Dave Anderson did. Bob Verdi did. I’m sure I’m missing someone. Anyway, this reinforces the notion that hockey just doesn’t matter. ESPN will be airing the 2016 World Cup, and I noticed it beefed up its coverage last spring. In SI I once referred to hockey as the NASCAR of the north, a niche sport, but at the time NASCAR was drawing bigger TV numbers. Now if you toss out the border and examine hockey’s appeal across the U.S. and Canada, then the discussion tilts, at least a little.
J.P.:Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?
M.F.: I’m not sure what the greatest moment is. Being honored by the Hockey Hall of Fame with the Elmer Ferguson Award in 2003 for hockey writing? Dunno.
I can tell you the lowest. Between the fall of 1984 and February 1988, I was writing a city column five days a week for The Gazette. The column was a disaster, in my opinion, in part because my French was really weak and in part because it was a column that was neither fish nor fowl, not courts nor lifestyle nor much of anything really. In almost four years I wrote only a handful of Grade-A stuff, including one piece on “a bleeding” religious statue. I also wrote what should have been a nice story on a diabetic doctor who continued to treat patients after she lost her eyesight. And I spelled her name wrong. Can you believe that? I’m still not over it.
J.P.:I read an article about you from 2014, and you said, “I’m pretty optimistic about everything. I wake up every day and I almost never think of my cancer.” So this is sort of random, but I think about death pretty much every day. The inevitability. The eternal nothingness. It haunts me in unhealthy ways … and I haven’t been diagnosed with anything. So how have you been able to put cancer out of your mind? Does mortality and the fleetingness of life not scare you? Is it a matter of faith? Of contentment? Because, whatever you have, I envy …
M.F.: I have a great wife, two really interesting and, in different ways, accomplished children. (My son is getting his doctorate while teaching history at Dawson College in Montreal, and my trilingual daughter is a journalist working on the English side of Agence France Presse’s Moscow bureau.) I have two grandkids. This quasi-retirement thing is going pretty well; I’m doing some typing for SI and some television in Canada and a little consulting on NBC’s hockey rivalry shows.
I mention my Carolina doctor friend again. When SI was offering buyouts in 2012, I called him and asked what he thought. I was not quite 61 at the time. He said, “Well, what do you plan to do with the last 10 years of your life?” That really hit me. After another WTF moment, he calmly explained that given my family history, I could expect to live a pretty good and active life until 70 but then some sliding was probable if not inevitable. Right. So I decided I didn’t want to spend one weekend in Dallas, the next in Detroit, etc. I checked out of the full-time job. Look, my father died at 29. His father died at 29. Heart stuff. I turn 64 this month and I’m still here. Unless I’ve been misinformed, you get only one shot at life. So Jeff, kindly cheer the fuck up.
J.P.:Have sports gone too far? The merchandising, the loud music at all times, the me-me-me reaction to scoring a goal, the sports parents thinking their 3rd grader is the next Nick Foles? Do you think athletics have crossed a line of self-indulgence, or over importance? Or am I just a cranky old man?
M.F.: Funny, my daughter had never been to an NBA game so one Sunday I flew her from Ottawa, where she was going to university, to Toronto for a Raptors game. She is a sports kid, a decent soccer player who knows her hockey, but she was left cold by the game because, she said, “it’s more like a show than a sport.” She meant the music playing while a team was coming up court and the dance teams and such. I used to like the halftimes at Celtics games at Boston Garden where I was perfectly content to talk to a buddy while the organ played and the players came back on the parquet with four minutes to shoot before the second half tipoff.
The self-celebration grates on my sensibility—these songs of myself have long past an expiration date—but then when I first started writing, stringing Rutgers football for UPI in 1970, I actually typed my copy and drove it to the Western Union office in New Brunswick. I think the most damaging part of all of this is the specialization by kids. Wayne Gretzky played sports according to the season. So did Paul Kariya. Let kids be kids. Of course if my daughter had had Mia Hamm talent instead of being undersized goalkeeper who sat on the bench in university, maybe I would have felt differently.
J.P.:What are the keys to reporting an event when 800 other reporters are covering the same event? How can one get unique information, fresh material?
M.F.: I’m not sure I ever found the key to covering an event, on a magazine deadline, and finding the one little nugget that eluded everyone else and that would still remain uncovered four days later when SI appeared. Maybe a snippet of institutional knowledge helped or having a contact because I’ve become a familiar face around NHL rinks, but frankly I’m just not that good of a reporter. I think the key is seeing something that is hiding in plain sight. Making a connection that someone else might not. Maybe it’s an idea I have. Or maybe it’s typing the story a little better than the other guy. I used to think I could outwork people but the writers who grew up in the Internet Age work harder than I ever did.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MICHAEL FARBER:
• Four memories from your Bar Mitzvah: Don’t remember much about my Bar Mitzvah. I did get through the Haftorah without my voice breaking, so that was good. Also there was a little luncheon at the synagogue after the ceremony. Pretty low key.
• Most embarrassing moment of your journalism career: The doctor’s name.
• In exactly 22 words, break down Michael Farber’s hockey skills: Zero, zip, nada. The last time I was on skates was 1985, skating with Orr at the Forum in a charity event.
• Would you rather permanently change your name to Asshole Seven or have Shea Weber shoot a puck at your privates from 5 yards away?: Shea Weber. I’ll be wearing a cup.
• Who is the most underrated NHL player during your career?: Sergei Zubov.
• Best joke you know: A well-dressed man is walking down the street. A beggar stops him and asks to borrow a quarter for a cup of coffee. The well-dressed man says. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be … William Shakespeare.” The beggar replies, “Fuck you … David Mamet.”
• How do you feel about Twitter?: I enjoy Twitter, not because I tweet much but because it alerts me to breaking news or stories I might otherwise miss.
• You need to interview an athlete. He’s intimidating and a known asshole. How do you approach?: Are you sure I’m not an intimidating asshole?
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.
Brian Hickey is one of my all-time favorite people.
We’ve been friends since the early 1990s, when we worked together at The Review, the University of Delaware’s student newspaper. In many ways, a young Hickey was everything I wasn’t. He was hardened and tough; he smoked cigarette after cigarette; drank profusely, partied fiercely. I, on the other hand, was relatively straight laced. Rarely imbibed. Smoked pot twice. Just different, and not nearly as fun.
One thing we shared is a true love of reporting; of writing; of digging into a subject and—sometimes serendipitously—uncovering gold. From Delaware to his first gig in South Carolina to multiple jobs in Philly, Hickey has long been a reporter’s reporter. He doesn’t take shit. He demands the truth.
On Nov. 28, 2008, Hickey (I’ve never called him “Brian”) was crossing a street late at night when a car slammed into him, then mercilessly drove off, leaving my friend to die (he wrote an amazing piece about the experience for Philly Magazine). His brain swelled to dangerous levels. Two pieces of his skull had to be extracted. His odds of survival: Not very good.
And here we are.
Hickey has survived. And thrived. He’s a husband. A father. His Twitter bio reads, “Writer. Tougher than a speeding car”—and it’s true. These days, Hickey works as the Northwest Philadelphia editor at Newsworks, and blogs regularly at brianphickey.com. You can also follow him on Twitter here.
Brian Hickey, to hell with speeding cars. You’re the 221st Quaz, punk …
BRIAN HICKEY: Well, I really don’t know. Here’s what I remember: Listening to The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside,” and then leaving the bar where I’d met up at with some high school friends for a Thanksgiving weekend reunion of sorts.
I crossed the street, heading back to the PATCO Speedline, which is a commuter train between South Jersey and Philly. So, I was heading back to Philly around 10:15 p.m. on Black Friday. Next thing I know, it’s Christmas.
Turns out I’d gotten struck by a car less than five minutes after leaving the Collmont. The car took off, leaving me bloodied and confused in the street. A barking dog from a nearby house alerted someone who lived nearby that something was going on. He came outside and there I was, face down on the street, moaning, bleeding from the ear and back of the head, he said.
The medics came, scooped me up and ferried me off to Cooper Hospital in neighboring Camden, N.J. I’m told I was awake—and ornery at that—by the paramedics who I later met up with (when I was writing a story about it) but I don’t remember any of that.
I passed out a couple hours later in the trauma unit. Lost consciousness; in really bad shape. The police couldn’t track my wife Angie down until the next morning. So, she’s freaking out not knowing what the hell happened to me or where the hell I am. Nobody did, until a high school friend who worked at the hospital pieced it together.
So there I am, unconscious, brain swelling to dangerous levels. They had to cut two pieces of my skull out to prevent my brain bursting, for lack of a better term.
My cousin, a doctor herself, gave me about a 10 percent chance to live. I think nine of those were just to make my family feel better as they were waiting in the hospital, where my mom died three years earlier, almost to the date.
I was in a medically induced coma for about two weeks; though I didn’t really “wake up” for a couple weeks after that. But once I was stabilized enough to clear an ICU bed, I was transferred to Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philly. That was a couple days before Christmas.
I gradually came back to the land of the living and recovered at an inexplicably quick pace to the point where I finally got home on Jan. 17.
J.P.:What’s it like, knowing there’s someone out there—eating, sleeping, working, enjoying life, etc—who smashed his car into you and simply drove off? Are you still angry? Livid? At peace?
B.H.: I try not to think about it all that much, but that’s somewhat of an impossibility since I’m still tracking unsolved hit-and-runs across the country on my site. When I do think about it, though, sometimes it’s in anger, on account of someone so clearly devaluing my life in the name of getting away with their crime. I presume that’s something that survivors of all sorts of crime grapple with.
I guess if I’m at peace with it it’s because I’ve been able to talk with other victims, and their families, in the context of what they can expect from their recovery. I mean, every victim’s path is different, but if my recovery can give them some sort of hope, it’s all worth it. That probably sounds a bit cliched, but it holds true.
J.P.:You’ve devoted much of your life to writing about hit-and-run cases. It’s a huge part of your site. Why? I mean, I understand your background. But I could also see wanting to have nothing to do with the subject; with distancing yourself as much as possible.
B.H.: The way I see it is this: Before I got hit, I barely noticed these stories. That goes back to when I was covering police and fire full-time for the Press of Atlantic City. Hit-and-runs didn’t register as much as they should have. And when I recovered, I didn’t see these stories getting much more attention than one-day hits in the papers and on the local TV news. So, I committed myself to bring as much attention to them as possible.
I’ve never been the type of person who distanced myself from painful memories. I mean, when my mom died of brain cancer in 2005, the first thing I did after crying myself to sleep was wake up and write a column about her. Nothing good ever comes out of hiding from pain. And from my efforts in the hit-and-run awareness realm, I’ve heard from countless people that I’m the reason they pay attention to the cases.
J.P.:How did that experience change you, long term? Are you freaked out crossing streets? How about as a father? Are there lingering trauma flashes? Flashbacks? Etc?
B.H.: Truth be told, having a child had more of a lasting impact on my life than getting hit by the car and almost dying.
Louden was born about a year and a half later. I was pretty much all the way back at that point, from a brain-recovery standpoint. I’ll sometimes get nervous when I hear a car speeding up the street, but it’s more about making sure my son’s safe than myself. I haven’t pulled the “Louden, look at these pics of daddy’s head without skull flaps” scare tactic or anything like that, but we make it patently clear that he is to be careful when about to cross the street. I’m sure most parents are the same way, though. And I’m sure I’d be too, even without having been through what I went through.
J.P.: You and I came up together at the University of Delaware. Student newspaper editors, a love of reporting and writing. So, I wonder, gazing back 20 years—was it worth it? Is a life in media what you thought/hoped it’d be? Would you advise a college kid now to go for it?
B.H.: Oh, it was absolutely worth it. I’d probably answer that a little different if I hadn’t had the foresight to give up my love of print journalism and see that you could do the same thing—and even do it better—online.
While I used to bitch and moan if an editor wanted me to take a picture with a story—saw it as beneath a reporter to have to do both—now I’m beyond happy to take a multimedia approach to all stories I report. Instead of just 12-14 inches of copy, I can report a story, livetweet it with snippets and photos when I’m out there, and put together a full package of coverage.
We never learned how to do that; hell, nobody would have known you’d have to do that when I graduated in 1995, just a year after getting my first email account. But the whole process of relearning a trade has been exhilarating and gotten my stories out to a much wider audience than working at a lone newspaper could.
Now, would I tell someone to get into media now? If that’s what they see their life path as, and for good reasons, sure. But I’m actively planting seeds to make sure Louden follows in his mom’s more lucrative health-and-science path (or to become America’s version of Lionel Messi without needing growth hormones). Either/or would be A-OK with me.
As a cub reporter in South Carolina
J.P.:What’s your life path? I mean, I know you’re an East Coast guy who went to Delaware. But when did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Why? And how’d you get from there to here?
B.H.: I first got steered toward writing by a high school teacher by the name of Paul Steltz. I never had Steltz as a teacher, but he was the Haddon Township High School student newspaper advisor.
I reckon he got word from my teachers that I was a decent writer. And I also reckon he got word that I was a bit of a nuisance in class. So, they figured the way to focus my talents—instead of blurting out one liners in class because I’d already read and understood the assignments, so boredom developed—was to get me into the paper.
By the time I was picking colleges, having a quality journalism department was a non-starter. If the school didn’t have one, I didn’t consider it a viable option. There was really never a moment when I entertained being anything but a writer from my early teens on. This, even though I was markedly better at math.
J.P.: In 2008 you briefly left journalism to work as the campaign manager for John Dougherty, who ran—and lost—in the Democratic primary race for the Pennsylvania First District State Senate campaign. A. Why? B. What was the experience like? C. When did you realize you weren’t going to win? And what does it feel like to fall short in an election?
B.H.: Well, I’d gotten a bit bored at my job at the time. Being the managing editor of an alt-weekly is very cool, but I was five years in and was eager for a change.
I’d known Dougherty from covering politics in Philly for several years, and liked him (though not to the point where it impacted my coverage of him). He mentioned that he was thinking about running for the seat and, at the time, he would have run against a fellow named Vince Fumo, a cocky-as-fuck guy who always trumpeted his Mensa membership to the point where I went and took the genius test explicitly to pass and then use as fodder for my weekly column any time he brought it up.
Well, Fumo has a heart attack amid a corruption scandal. Drops out of the race. Which sucked, because a Fumo/Dougherty race from the inside would have been book- and/or documentary-worthy afterwards. That was the shiny object that convinced me it was OK to take a chance at having to leave journalism forever (or at least for a while).
A lot, lot, lot of hours go into working on a campaign staff. I didn’t fully understand how much went into campaigns, even while covering them as a journalist. The experience has helped me while covering campaigns now that I’m back on the journalism side of things, too.
I didn’t realize John wasn’t going to win until about an hour after polls closed. He’d been polling well and we saw good turnout that day. I blame Hillary Clinton for winning a primary that meant the Pennsylvania primary was contested to the point where quote-unquote progressives would be flocking to the polls in the sections of the city less inclined to vote for a boisterous union boss.
With Angela on their wedding day
J.P.:You started your career in 1995 at the Florence Morning News in Florence, S.C.—a town I’ve visited, and don’t need to visit again. What was the gig like? How’d you land it? And what’s your most memorable experience from those 13 months?
B.H.: Oh, it’s like any other gig when you start at a 35K-circulation paper. You’re working a lot of hours for very little money, always seeking the story that you can use to write your way out to a bigger paper.
I started as the business reporter, oddly enough.
I landed that job after having sent out about 200 resumes and clips packets across the country while at Delaware. Drove down for an interview and found out a couple weeks later that I got the job. So, I went to a weekend of Grateful Dead shows at RFK with college friends, went home, packed up the car and moved to a part of the country where I’d only been once before: That being for the job interview.
I loved the idea of living somewhere new, though. And it helped burst the bubble that all northeasterners have: There are people in other parts of the country, and their stories are no less important because of where they live.
The most memorable experience from those 16 months had to be interviewing Luther Campbell in advance of a show he was putting on at the Florence Civic County Convention Center (or something like that; all I remember is that it was near the Waffle House). It was a phone interview, but he made sure to set aside a couple backstage passes. Me and my co-worker Bailey went. And we were hanging out in the loading dock doing recreational inhaling when Biggie Smalls and crew pulls up. He was the opening act. I had no idea who he was at the time, other than being the type of gentleman who will invite strangers into his recreational-inhaling circle.
J.P.:Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?
B.H.: I’m not one who puts a lot of stock in journalism awards, but winning Best Weekly Columnist in Pa., and second place for distinguished writing once or twice, was pretty cool.
Also pretty cool was breaking stories in 1996 that tied KKK wannabes to a series of African-American church arsons. Yeah, that was way cooler than winning any awards, as was writing a column about the need to take the Confederate flag down at the South Carolina statehouse. The column drew death threats, but I will misguidedly claim that it helped start the process that saw the flag come down two decades later.
The lowest point was covering a gruesome sexual assault trial where information that I’d unknowingly included in my copy led friends of the victims to figure out who they were. I still live with that. And it really, really sucks.
B.H.: I think I’d have a better answer for that if I went to a shrink.
Part of the reality-TV blogging comes from re-learning how to write after getting hit-and-ran. It was a way to get back into the flow while still essentially confined to home. But, I do love it still; I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the people I write about on these shows often get in touch after the fact to either laugh alone or threaten me with legal action that will never see the light of day.
• Three memories from this video: 1. How happy I was not to be a virgin at that point in my life; 2. How happy I was knowing that this segment would be something the world could collectively lord over you beyond the foreseeable future; 3. How cool it was to make a cameo on a local-news show that people at home (in South Jersey) would see.
• One question you would ask Imelda Marcos were she here right now?: Which pair of shoes did you always want but never got?
• How did you propose to your wife?: At Love Park in Philadelphia, en route to her work’s Christmas party. (She knew it was coming some point in the near future since we’d looked at rings together, but not that it was happening that night.)
Second, why she’s here: Because Mashaw McGuinnis is named Mashaw McGuinnis. Because Mashaw McGuinnis teamed up with Betty White on The New $25,000 Pyramid. Because Mashaw McGuinnis nearly died of Lyme Disease. Because Mashaw McGuinnis has this insanely riveting family background that includes guns and shooting and such.
MASHAW MCGUINNIS: Many years ago, I rescued a mama dog from life on a chain and her seven puppies. After a weeks of awkward/tense interactions with her tweaker owners and lots of stressing out about where I could find a home for them, I connected with a woman who connected me to a local rescue group specifically for abused animals.
During the grueling process, I wrote a story about the experience from the sad dog’s perspective and added photos to show how desperate they were before the rescue. Their situation was horrific. I was able to eventually get them into a shelter, thanks to the impact of those photos and story. The place was already crowded but they made room in a barn stall because they were so moved by the pictures.
The story and pics also helped me and raise money through friends’ donations (to pay a portion towards their spaying/neutering/feeding, etc.). After they went into the shelter I went back to my normal life and thinking, “My work here is done.” And I lost contact.
Seven years later, I was searching for a used card table on Craigslist and called a number. When the woman on the other end of the line heard my name she started crying. “You said your name was MASHAW?! I can’t believe it! You must be the one who rescued my Sadie!”
She told me when she adopted Sadie (the mama dog) the rescue shelter had given her a copy of the story and photos. (They may have given those to the other adopters—I don’t know.)
When I went over to get the card table there was this beautiful, round-bellied dog who had been skin and bones all those years before and living on a chain. She bounced in and out through the open back door with a second dog, their tails were wagging and thumping and they had an enormous dog bed in the middle of the living room floor, surrounded by dog toys. A completely opposite environment of what the mama dog had lived in when I found her.
Sadie’s “mom” unfolded a wrinkled sheet of paper and showed it to me. It was that same story, and I could tell it had been folded and refolded hundreds of times over the years. She said, “I always prayed that I would find the kind person who gave Sadie a second chance at life.” She was crying and I was crying. Makes me tear up even now all these years later as I remember it. I mean, Jeff what are the odds?! I’m working on getting that story published somewhere.
J.P.:You’ve suffered through Lyme Disease—so much so that you call it a “monster.” This fascinates me, because—naivety as my guide—I’ve never thought much about it. So how did you get Lyme Disease? What’s the experience like? And why, “monster”?
M.M.: My husband and I lived near a marsh and our cats were coming and going and brought in ticks with them. Neither one of us found the tick on us, or found evidence of a bite. No bull’s-eye rash, nothing. I had mysterious, horrible symptoms for two years that no doctor could explain.
I got so sick I could hardly walk but I had no idea what was wrong with me. I saw specialist after specialist and no one could tell me what was wrong. I had X-rays, ultrasound, blood tests, nerve conduction tests, etc. It went on for two years until I found a doctor who knew what it was. By then it had progressed and I was on disability. (The Lyme bacteria is called a “spirochete” and is a distant cousin to syphilis. Imagine what that disease could do if you had it and it went undiagnosed for two years!) Many Lyme sufferers are misdiagnosed as having Parkinsons, M.S. and even A.L.S.
I was so weak I couldn’t stand up in the shower long enough to wash my hair. I was in constant pain and didn’t care if I lived any more. I had to go on antibiotics for three years (yes, that’s right, it’s not a typo) plus an IV antibiotic for about four months and now I am finishing up with really strong herbal tinctures. I was a strong, vibrant massage therapist and I can never return to that occupation. After a few years I started writing to try and reinvent myself so I wouldn’t have to stay on disability. There aren’t many occupations you can do from your bed but I thought I could try writing. That led to my Betty White story.
J.P.:So in 1983 you appeared with Betty White on The New $25,000 Pyramid. Which is, truly, awesome and insane. What do you remember? Why’d you do the show? Was it terrifying? Electrifying? Both? Neither?
M.M.: There are a lot more details than what was covered in my story. I needed the money so I could escape from my mother. That is why I did it. It was terrifying and amazing and surreal. Like it all happened in slow motion. I remember it like it was yesterday. All of those details I wrote about in my piece were from memory. The part about the “secret” of the top clue often being a verb was totally true. I discovered that and it turned out to be what helped me in the end. The longer version of the story (which has a much better story arc and a more evocative ending) was published by Shebooks in an anthology titled, Every Mother has a Story. Vol. II.
J.P.:Um, according to your bio you won “five game shows” in the 1980s. I’m riveted. Please explain, and spare no detail, how one lands on five game shows? And what are your most profound memories?
M.M.: I am writing a book-length memoir about that eight-year period of my life right now. I researched all the shows to find out which ones gave away what I wanted (cash) and which ones matched my skills. I have never been good at rote learning (I barely squeaked by in high school subjects except for English) so I chose word games and communication games. That research served me well. I won on The Pyramid, as well as Scrabble, (three-day champ), a show called Fantasy on NBC, and two cable shows: Sweethearts and Straight to the Heart. I reached my limit because the networks have laws about how many you can go on in a decade so after I was forced to “retire” I went to work for Goodson/Toddman, one of the most famous game show companies in the world. Not surprisingly, i wound up working in (of course) the contestant department.
J.P.:You never went to college. So, um, how did this happen for you? What’s your life path to becoming a writer?
M.M.: Ironically, I went to college in my 40s and was working on a B.A. in English and that was when I was struck down with Lyme Disease. I had to drop out about halfway through. I was too weak to walk across the parking lot, let alone sit in class for 90 minutes at a time and do work. The rest of the answer is in the second paragraph under “what was your highest/lowest point” question below.
J.P.:Are game shows bullshit? I guess what I mean is, is it sorta like a really big display of Christmas lights, where behind the glow is just a bunch of bulbs? Is there a magic to them? Or merely from afar?
M.M.: They are for real and the production companies as well as the networks take them very seriously. All of the shows have researchers and writers and the networks have strict guidelines about keeping the contestants in the studio in a secluded space so no one can claim their competitors somehow had access to answers later on and demand a repeat.
That being said, there are not many game shows still on today. Television styles, like everything else, ebbs and flows. After my heyday in the 80s the trend went to daytime talk shows, then it was reality shows and now it seems to be “Dancing with the Stars” and singing competition type shows. I predict game shows will return at some point and be just as popular as before. And when they do I may just try out for one.
J.P.:Greatest moment of your life? Lowest?
M.M.: The lowest point: Hands down it is getting Lyme Disease. No comparison in my life even comes close.
Highest? I can’t say it is any one thing but the day I got the e-mail from Good Housekeeping (I mean they are a big, major magazine with millions of subscribers) saying they wanted to buy my story, well, I felt like I had taken speed. I couldn’t sleep for days. Imagine being as sick as I described above, then being told your productive years are completely over and you’re only 45. Imagine you have no college degree and no chance of completing the one that was in progress. Imagine you were expected to live on disability for the rest of your life.
Then you try a completely new thing you never tried (writing) and after a few years you suddenly sell a personal story to a major Hearst publication! To go from the depths of disease and face permanent disability to an achievement like that was like being touched by the divine.
I don’t know much about your background, Jeff. I know you’re a sports writer and you have several books. You’ve been published in some really big magazines. But I’m guessing you went to college. You got a degree. Maybe you came from a family where that’s what people did. I came from a tough, blue-collar family and many of my family members have been in and out of jail and on and off welfare. Most didn’t even graduate high school.
You worked at your occupation for a long time and achieved those things over time, right? And you had not been told by doctors you could possibly be in bed for the rest of your life. Just imagine coming from where I came from and getting deathly ill, giving up hope and then getting an e-mail from Good Housekeeping saying you have achieved professional writer status, you’re being published in a national magazine. It was an enormously pivotal (as well as validating) point for me. That event opened the door of hope and made me believe I could still achieve something worthwhile. Like I was still a human being. And I have something to offer others.
J.P.:What’s your writing process? You have a piece due on [fill in the blank] in [fill in the blank] weeks. Soup to nuts, what’s the process?
M.M.: Depends on how my health is and if I have energy. I am freelance so it’s not like I have a weekly deadline. I am still learning. I go to as many writing workshops as I can afford and I buy as many books on writing as I can. I submit to magazines. I spend most of my time working on the first two chapters of the book about my eight years of game shows while completing my book proposal. The game show stories will be juxtaposed with my family’s incarcerations and scandals during those years similarly to the way my rocky relationship with my mother was juxtaposed with my Pyramid experience. And in case you know of an interested literary agent, here’s my elevator pitch:
”Winner’s Circle: Competing to win a Normal Family” is about a plucky 19-year-old who is short on life experience and poise, but long on grit, with a mouthful of braces to somehow pay for and a scrappy family of delinquents to escape from.
She sets out to pay her bills becoming a serial game show winner, only to discover her method could also erase the stigma of her working class roots. But the journey forces her to come to grips with something she cannot erase: her true feelings about people she loves. It’s “The Glass Castle” meets “Slumdog Millionaire”
Mashaw with her mother.
J.P.:According to something you wrote, your mom was a suicidal drug addict who went to jail after shooting three neighbors. Um … what? Please elaborate about your mother, if you don’t mind.
M.M.: Actually my biological mother was the drug addict. I was legally adopted by her mother (my grandmother) and she was the one who shot three neighbors.
It happened in July of 1969 and it was during a drunken brawl in our front yard. The neighbors across the street were having a loud party with a lot of drinking and came over and started beating up my dad. There were about a dozen men surrounding my dad in the front yard and they were beating him with bicycle tire chains. My mom (grandma) called the police (this was decades before 911) and she came out with a handgun they kept in case of emergencies and shot three of them. No one was killed (thank god!) A lengthy civil suit went on for years and we won, but it broke my parents in court costs and we had to sell the house. They were already into their mid 50s with four kids, so they were never able to buy property again. You’ll have to wait for my book for the full story, haha.
J.P.:You worked as a correctional facility guard and a Disney elf. What are your most profound memories from the gigs?
M.M.: It was a juvenile correctional facility and I remember working graveyard shifts and I’d get so sleepy that to stay awake I would go get the inmates’ files and read through them. They were all so horrible and tragic. Even more so than my family. They were just kids. Some of their parents had prostituted them, forced them to sell drugs, etc. I had nightmares a lot when I worked there and always said someday I would write a book about the experience.
The Disney elf job was my best paying job up until that time. I was an intermittently employed actor when i landed that gig: $175 per day and I only worked for 10 minutes every two hours, five times a day. We did a live musical Christmas extravaganza on stage before the movie screened. Our portion was only 10 minutes and once the film started we could leave the theater and go home or walk around Hollywood for two hours!
The film that played there when I was an elf was “The Three Muskateers.” The theater was called The El Capitan and it was right on Hollywood Blvd. it has been remodeled and I think it’s called something different now. I loved that job and one reason I was cast instead of the hundreds of other actors who wanted the job was was because I am 5-foot-3 and 3/4-inches tall. If I’d been 1/4 inch taller they would never have cast me.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MARSHAW MCGUINNES:
• You’re the first Mashaw I know. What’s the story behind your name?: It’s pronounced “mash” like the verb plus “shaw” like rickshaw. It was my family name while growing up. I liked it better than my given first name which was Sue. I legally changed it when I was 25.
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Thankfully no, I haven’t flown much in my life so i haven’t had that experience. I’m not crazy about the idea of flying.
• The five greatest writers of your lifetime?: Does my lifetime mean they were alive when I was growing up? I was a huge Stephen King fan and still am, but I just can’t read his books because they give me nightmares. Literally. But he is incredibly talented. Steinbeck is my all time favorite modern lit writer, (though we only shared the planet for five years so I’m not sure he qualifies as my lifetime).
• Best sentence you’ve ever written?: I almost answered, but it is part of a story that has not yet published. It’s a description of the dilapidated fence that surrounded the property where I discovered that undernourished mama dog.
• One question you would ask Manute Bol were he here right now?: I would have to ask, “Who are you?” since I don’t know his/her name. I’m guessing he/she plays sports because you are a sports writer. OK, I just Googled him. He’s tall! I would not ask him something about basketball or his height. Instead I’d ask him what his favorite book is.
• What does Chuck Woolery’s breath smell like?: Ha! You are funny. I cannot recall, since we stood close more than 20 years ago. I do remember though that he drove a Maserati and had a parking spot at NBC with his name on it.
• What’s the easiest giveaway that someone’s an asshole?: If he/she does anything intentionally harmful to an animal or child. No more evidence is needed.
• In exactly 24 words, can you make a case for Madonna being more talented than Albert Einstein?: I don’t care for Madonna’s style but talent is subjective. She probably has some kind which even Einstein lacks, and Einstein would probably agree.
• I think male bodies are gross. Why do so many women seem to like us?: Simply put: Because they are different than the ones we see in the mirror every day.
So this is sorta weird, but when I initially sent Genny Sokoli these questions, I figured she was, oh, 25, 26. Maybe even 30.
She’s eh, 16.
Which again, might sound weird. Like, why is a 43-year-old writer Quazing a 16-year-old kid. But this only means you need to hear her voice, and some of the songs she’s written. Because, age be damned, Genny Sokoli—the latest Quaz musical discovery—can straight up bring it. Hell, take a listen here. And here. And here. Big voice, fantastic poise, potentially huge future. Lord knows when she’s opening for Taylor Swift two years from now she won’t have time to do a Q&A with an old sportswriter. So … why not now?
Plus, there’s the story: Imagine being a parent, having a 16-year-old kid, and letting her move to Nashville to follow her dream—without you. How would you feel? Could you even fathom such a scenario?
Genny Sokoli, congrats on being the youngest Quaz. Remember us when you blow up …
JEFF PEARLMAN:OK, Genny, if you happened to read any of the other Quazes, you’ll know I lean toward the unconventional. So here I go: In your bio, you (or someone) write: “A little girl with a big dream is what they said…today, it is a young woman with a big responsibility. A responsibility? Yeah. Dreams are great and all, but it is our duty to run them to the ends of the universe to be the best we can be.” So … I’m not entirely sure what this means. Millions of kids dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees; of singing a duet with Taylor Swift; of becoming an astronaut—and 99 percent fall short. So does this mean they have failed their duty? What are you trying to say?
GENNY SOKOLI: When I was a little girl all I ever wanted to do was become an artist; I didn’t imagine myself doing anything else. I don’t think that people who fall short in making their dreams a reality are failing; I think that people who do not try are. I am a firm believer that we are obliged to not just give our dreams a shot, but rather truly try to make them a reality. You look at young kids and so many of them have this vision perfectly planned in their heads of what they want to do with their lives. Somewhere along the road, many young people lose that imagination and youthful eagerness.
I never let myself believe that I couldn’t be everything I wanted to be and more. I want to set an example for people, especially my generation, that it is not merely a dream … it is a responsibility to live your talents and passions to your fullest ability. If that kid wants to be a shortstop on the Yankees he better be on that field every single day fighting to be that shortstop. If a young girl or boy wants to be an astronaut, they better study hard to be one. Don’t let society or life get in the way of your heart. I was given an amazing opportunity to pursue my dream at a young age; it would have been very irresponsible had I not taken it. That’s why I listed it as my responsibility.
J.P.:So I’m no singer, which might make this question sound naïve. But I just watched a video of you singing Florida Georgia Line’s “Never Let Her Go,” (beautifully, I must say), and your facial expressions and body/hand gestures suggest you’re truly feeling something as you sing; feeling the emotions of the song. But are you? Is it sort of feeling, sort of acting? Neither? Both? And how—especially if you didn’t write a song—can one feel emotion from another’s lyrics?
G.S.: Thank you very much! That song is absolutely one of my favorites. Being only 16, many people have been curious about how I can relate to a lot of the songs that I write and sing. I always tell them that I feel them. The art is not in the sound or the words; it is in the communication. I am a very, very empathetic person. I write and sing about that. I never had my husband of 20 years leave me out of the blue. I never had someone close to me die. I never had to choose between two men who I loved. I’m 16; I can’t say I went through any of that. What I can say, though, is that I have seen people go through it. I have felt their pain; I stayed up nights crying for them … with them. So yes, it is my emotions that you were seeing, but I had to “become” that person in order to find them.
J.P.: So you recently moved to Nashville to pursue your dreams. Which is what many singers do. So, Genny, how do you go about this from here? Like, you’re one of thousands blessed with a great voice and pretty looks to try and make it in the music world. But how does one do it? What’s your plan?
G.S.: Coming to Nashville was the best decision my family ever let me make. This town is filled with phenomenally talented artists, musicians and writers. I have seen a lot of people get discouraged by knowing that. I am not. I welcome the challenge to better my craft. I can sing, I can write, I can dance, etc. … but none of that means anything unless I constantly better myself for the people who believe in me. That is what I am working on, the art. My main goal right now is to get to my fans, and I don’t mean just physically. I mean really get to them. If my song or my message can help one person cry through a breakup listening to a song on her phone, or get over a dilemma by coming out to a show, than I am the happiest I can be. Right now, I am taking it person by person, song by song and feeling by feeling. The goal is to be able to reach the masses, but you have to start one by one.
J.P.: OK, so I know you were born in New York and raised in Michigan; I know you moved 13 times. But what’s been your life path? Like, when did you first know you wanted to sing? What was your first performance? Your first WOW! moment?
G.S.: My life path has certainly been interesting in these short 16 years. My mother and father always chased opportunities to better our lives, and I truly was blessed even though things got tough sometimes. Moving so many times, within such a short amount of time, was really stressful, but it was a blessing in disguise. Every time I would go to a new town and a new school I had to build a new life. New friends, new culture, new experiences. Doing this has helped me so much in connecting with people. I know how to relate to a whole lot of them! My mom and dad are still out in New York City; my brother is going to college in three weeks, and me and my 21-year-old sister, Ilirjana, are taking on Nashville!
My mom and dad are both artists, so art has been a huge part in our lives. My father was a professional musician so we would always be around music, and the “behind the scenes” stuff that would go on, and my mother always instilled in us this passionate love for music. Music is all I ever wanted to do. My mom jokes around all the time, that I came into this world singing. I have a million home videos being in a “band” with my siblings and cousins, starting when I was as young as two. It’s great! My first performance was when I was eight in front of about 1,200 people whp were at a party my father threw for New Year’s Eve. It was the craziest! My absolute most memorable moment so far was when I sang to two of my favorite artists, Stephen Barker Liles and Eric Gunderson (Love and Theft). My sister took me out to their show in New York City and I got the opportunity to sing in front of DJ Du, his family and his team. Then I got up and performed to their fans after the show as they were waiting for a meet and greet. I can’t explain the feeling, but it was crazy hearing everyone quiet down to listen to me, and that wasn’t even the highlight of the night! We ended up meeting the guys, and I sang to them as well. Their reactions were priceless to me. Since moving here, I’ve gotten a chance to talk to them, and they truly are some of the greatest people. My sister tells me that night was the night she decided to move us down to Nashville. It was that special.
J.P.:How, at 16, was the decision made that you’d move with your sister away from home? How do your folks feel? What about high school? Friends? Etc?
G.S.: Moving away at 16 was probably the hardest decision my parents ever had to make, but in a way the decision was pretty simple. I had an amazing opportunity to work with some awesome people in this town. Once we got the ball rolling it was apparent that the only way to really do it was move here. Unfortunately my dad couldn’t leave his job, and my brother was finishing his senior year of high school so no one else could come down with us. My folks are extremely supportive, but I can only imagine the hurt. My sister is probably the most responsible person ever so they really trust her. And my mom is actually visiting for a little bit now.
The biggest challenge moving here was high school. I have such a busy and unconventional schedule that I have to be home schooled. Ilirjana is home schooling me for now! She rocks as a teacher, but, I’m not going to lie, she is a lot tougher than a lot of my other teachers. She doesn’t miss the opportunity to teach me everything and anything. It’s all critical thinking, too. For example, when we were on the lesson of the Constitution, she wouldn’t move on from the lesson until she could give me any modern law and I had to trace it back to the Constitution; explaining its significance in an essay. At school, you had some multiple choice questions and it was done. I love learning, so it truly has been great. Not being able to have a regular high school experience isn’t always easy. I’m not going to lie, sometimes I miss it, but nothing worth having comes easily.
I have a ton of friends here. Most of them are significantly older, but I feel like I learn so much from all of them. Moving here has been a huge sacrifice for everyone in my family, but it’s been such an amazing ride so far and it isn’t even the beginning. I am very blessed.
J.P.:I actually started my career in Nashville, as a Tennessean music writer. The year was 1994, and the goal for all artists was to land a record deal. There was no YouTube, no Twitter, no instant fame via the Internet. It was record deal or bust. You, however, are in the midst of a business now sorta guided by social media. So how can you use all the different web mediums to carve out a career? To make it big? Or are you, like those singers in 1994, itching for the record deal route, too?
G.S.: Ah I love this question so much! I am not at all rushing to get a record deal, or any deal for that matter. Right now I am chasing opportunities to connect to people. Social media is a big part of that. I know that in some ways it has made society less social, but at the same time we are more connected than ever. I love going on Instagram and making someone’s day by saying they are beautiful, or acknowledging them … even if they are 1,000 miles away. I love having a platform that I can share my love, music, and message out to so many people instantaneously. I love being able to connect with peers and you, Jeff! Social media is a great way to get to fans, listen to them and learn from them. They are the reason any artist is who they are; it is a blessing to be able to connect to them more personally at any time.
G.S.: That debate is certainly an eternal one. I have to agree with both you and your wife, Jeff. I don’t think it takes away from an artist if they do not write their own material; writing and performing are different arts. As an artist you have this message you want to give out to your fans, you know what it is and your heart can feel it. How you get that across shouldn’t be judged as wrong or right. If you want to write it, sing it, play it, draw it, sculpt, or paint it. Whether or not an artist is connecting to his/her fans is where the debate should lie. To me, writing my material adds a more personal note to my music. Personally, I want to connect with people using both platforms—writing and performing.
J.P.:Lowest moment of your career thus far? Highest?:
G.S.: Oh boy. Well the lowest point in my career was working with someone who didn’t capture my ideas, and losing quite a bit of money in the process. The height of my career so far has been people and other artists around town taking me seriously. I’m not some 16-year-old kid trying to get an easy break to the top. With the support of our family, my sister and I have worked very hard for every opportunity we have gotten. It’s so nice having your peers respect that.
J.P.:You write that you’re working with Malcolm Springer, who produced bands like Collective Soul, Matchbox 20, Fear Factory, Full Devil Jacket, and Greenwheel. So … how did this happen? How’d you hook up? What’s he like to work with? Is it intimidating? Hard? Cool? And what are you, specifically, working on?
G.S.: Oh Malcolm Springer—he is a musical genius, and a good friend of mine. About two years ago, my sister bought me my first little USB Microphone from the Guitar Center in Paramus, N.J. The guy who sold it to her was an engineer who worked with Mal in the past. He loved my voice, and really believed in me. We got connected through him. Knowing Mal worked with some huge rock bands was kind of intimidating at first, but that feeling went away real quick and got replaced with awe. The first place I ever recorded was at the House of Blues Studios in Nashville, the same studio Elvis, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles sang in. I still get butterflies in my stomach thinking about it. My experience working with Malcolm has been a very educational one. Right now we aren’t working on any project together.
J.P.:Your sister is your manager. I say this with all due respect, but is that the best idea? It seems like the roads are littered with family management interests gone bad. What does your sis know about the business? Why her? Is it hard keeping business divided from personal?
G.S.: I really like this question, too. My sister has always been the brains behind me since day one. I have heard many disaster stories about familial conflicts as well, but our relationship is a bit different. When it comes to business, she is all logic. When it comes to me, she is my big sister and best friend. We are a package deal. We even write songs together. The music industry is like the Wild West—there are no rules. We are building them together, creating our own normal. She teaches me every day about art, love, business, communicating and even modeling for pictures. The way I was raised made the relationships with my siblings so concrete; it’s us against the world. No career, no money, no conflict ever gets between that. Ilirjana was the one who made my dream my responsibility. She was going to school full time, and working full time at an awesome job in finance in Manhattan. She dropped it all for this. It’s our career, not my career. There is no Genny Sokoli without her.
J.P.:When I was your age, and I saw other writers having huge success, I was certainly jealous. I’m not saying I wished them bad, but, well, I probably sorta did. What about you? Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, etc … etc. Do you ever hear singers with a gazillion downloads and think, “Crap, I’m better than her” or “Why is it so easy for her, and harder for me?”
G.S.: I absolutely understand where you are coming from. I don’t think its jealousy. Envy, jealousy and hatred are all very negative words to let into my head about other artists. I do hear other artists sometimes and go, “How in the world did they get there”—but not in a jealous way. I am in awe of it. I use that as fuel; a healthy dose of competitiveness is needed to be successful in anything.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH GENNY SOKOLI:
• The world needs to know—what’s so great about the Tin Roof?: The world absolutely needs to know that the Tin Roof on Demonbreun Street is one of the best places in Nashville. I have met so many friends there; they have the best chicken tenders, the best sweet tea and the most awesome staff ever.
• In exactly 16 words, why does/does not Barry Bonds belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame?: He doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame until he clears that he didn’t use steroids.
• One question you would ask Aaron Carter were he here right now?: Aaron, are you really all about me?
• Would you let your kids play tackle football? Why or why not?: If that is what they love, then I absolutely will! I wouldn’t stop my kids from following their passions, or learning some lessons. I would be a stickler for safety precautions, though.
• Why are you named Genny with a G?: My parents thought they would get creative. Just kidding. They thought Jenny was spelled with a G.
• How do you feel country music will respond to openly gay performers?: It honestly could go either way. People could be absolutely fascinated by idea of it, or they will absolutely not agree at all. It would be a game changer either way.
• Three memories from your first date: I actually haven’t been on an official first date! I do remember my first kiss being in the back of my sister’s car after a show. The guy was actually taken, and I didn’t know. Needless to say, he’s the topic of a few songs. Haha.