He placed sixth in the 20K at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
He’s openly gay.
He proposed to his boyfriend on the beach.
But, while all those things are riveting, here’s the kicker: Tom Bosworth once ate 22 Chicken McNuggets in a single sitting—and lived to tell about it. Why? You’ll have to read below. How? You’ll have to read below. When? You’ll have to read below.
Regardless, meet the Quaz with fire behind his shoes and processed meat in his stomach.
Tom Bosworth, you are Quaz No. 292 …
JEFF PEARLMAN:Tom, I ran track at the University of Delaware back in the day, and I’ve always been riveted by race walking. Specifically, how one becomes a race walker. I mean, you don’t hear many kids screaming, “Let’s walk! Really fast!” So how did this happen for you?
TOM BOSWORTH: When I was 11 I joined my local athletic’s club, where my sister tried race walking through a friend. So I tried it as well at the age of 12. It was just another athletic’s event to me at this age, which I think if more clubs included race walking this view would become more common. Most people forget that race walking is part of Athletics …
J.P.:During the Olympics you Tweeted, “52 days on the road … and still loving every second of it. I don’t want this experience to end, end!!” Wife and I talking about this at the time, so you’re the perfect guy to ask: When one is done with his/her Olympic events, does he leave the Village? Like, do most athletes hang around until the Games are over? Hang around a few days? Bolt ASAP? Does it feel anticlimactic after your event is completed? Or is it a chance to lather in the joy?
T.B.: Some people head home, due to competitions coming up, or family they want to get back to. Most stay in the village and enjoy the Olympic Games and take the time to relax. I did! I watched some sport, partied with friends and just soaked in the atmosphere. There’s nothing like the Olympics, after all.
J.P.:So while you were at the Olympics you asked your boyfriend to marry you on a beach in Rio. Questions: How long were you planning the proposal? How nervous were you? Did you have some doubt to whether he’d say yes?
T.B.: I planned it for well over a year, I’d been looking at finding the right ring for a long time, as he was very specific over what he wanted. I finally found the right ring and asked Tiffany’s in Heathrow to reserve the ring for me to collect after I flew down from altitude training in Font Romeu in France on my way to Rio. I wasn’t nervous until that very moment and I knew he would say yes as we spoke about moving our lives on together for a while.
J.P.:Last year an American basketball star, Elena Delle Donne, came out—and the news was greeted with an indifferent shrug. You came out publicly a year ago, and you expressed how nerve-wracking it was at the time. I’m wondering: How was the news received in England? Was it what you expected?
T.B.: Here it was a bigger deal than I expected, however, it still was totally positive. A few said that, “This isn’t news,” and I agree it shouldn’t be. However, for those few days it still was in the news. So it shows out sportsmen and women are still a new thing. However, with time I’d hope to see more and more athletes just living openly rather than having to come out.
J.P.:Maybe this is dumb, but are race walkers great runners? What I mean is … could you—if you devoted all your energies to it—run a really kick-ass mile? Could you run a 2:40 marathon? Is there a direct correlation between one’s walking speed and running speed?
T.B.: I think the marathon would be more my thing than the mile. We are incredibly fit athletes, however, the body is trained for race walking so the muscles would be different but the aerobic side of things would be fine. I’d like to run a few 5ks or 10ks in my off season just to see how fast I can go,—after all I can walk 5k in 18:54!
J.P.:You placed sixth in Rio—and I am fascinated by this. Like, on the one hand, you’re an Olympian! You placed sixth among the best of the best, on the biggest stage. That’s amazing. On the other hand, you didn’t medal. And I ask—does that matter? Is the Olympics about being there, more than placing? Were you thrilled? Disappointed? Both? Neither?
T.B.: Firstly, let’s never forget that being an Olympian is the pinnacle of sport. What people don’t realize is that I was ranked 37th. So many have said, “You must be disappointed with sixth.” I said, “Are you crazy? I set a new British 20k record and finished 31 places higher than expected!” In the UK we are used to winning medals but we need to travel along the journey to get there. I’ve done that and now at future world championships and Olympics I can be competing for medals as a favorite.”
J.P.:Right now things are super weird in America with the rise of our own nutjob, Donald Trump. You’re British, and you’re surrounded right now by the world’s community. How is this whole Trump thing playing elsewhere. Because—Jesus Christ—it’s terrifying.
T.B.: It seems to have become more of a joke for many watching this man conduct himself. Not a single person takes him seriously.
J.P.:Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?
T.B.: Greatest—sixth at the Olympics with a new British record. Lowest—missing out on London 2012. I needed to walk 1:24:30 over 20k and I walked 1:24:49 in Spain in June 2012. This has since become a turning point for my career. It drove me on to become a greater walker, and since then I have walked 1:20:13 for 20k and own every British record from 3k-to-20k. I never dreamed of achieving what I have.”
J.P.:Do the Olympics meet the hype? You work four years to get there; sweat, blood, toil, etc. And then it happens. And then it ends very quickly. Is it all worth it? And why or why not?
T.B.: Yes it’s worth it. I can’t explain the buzz around it because there is nothing like it in this world. It can’t last forever because otherwise the buzz would die. I already miss every moment of it. I’m inspired by Team Great Britain’s incredible performance to go out there and smash the next four years once again.
J.P.:You ate 22 Chicken McNuggets in one night. Um … what were you thinking?
T.B.: I’m really not a fan of McDonalds, but after two years without a break or without the chance to just be a normal person and enjoy myself I treated myself to lots of McDonalds in the village, just to eat something different. After all, I knew I’d be back on my strict schedule of maximizing training, eating and sleeping soon enough.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH TOM BOSWORTH:
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Adam Sandler, Ginger Spice, iPhone 6, Kid Rock, Starbucks, 22 Chicken McNuggets, Holland, your left ear: My left ear, iPhone 6, Starbucks, Holland, Adam Sandler, 22 Chicken McNuggets, Kid Rock, Ginger Spice.
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yes. Leeds Bradford airport is placed in a very high and exposed to part of the country where winds get incredibly strong. When I looked out the window as we came into land I could see the runway out in front of me and I realized we were coming into land sideways to counter the wind. It was the only time I grabbed the front of the seat in front of me. There were plenty of sighs of relief once we had landed.
• Three memories from your first date?: 1. Being very late—the motorway was closed due to an accident meaning I was nearly 90 minutes late; 2. Pizza—asking questions about one another over a pizza; 3. The hug—at the end of the date, Harry went to shake my hand and I smiled at him and went in for the hug and gave him a kiss. He was such a shy and nervous guy when I first met him.
• Who wins in a boxing match between you and Harry from One Direction? How many rounds does it go?: Harry wins, and it wouldn’t make it past round one. I’m not a fighter at all.
•Three reasons one should make Sevenoaks his/her next vacation destination? Easy—stunning countryside, great pubs and some stunning old houses and beautiful buildings.
• One question you would ask Jay-Z were he here right now?: Can you race walk? Give it a go, this could make a hilarious video!
• Five all-time favorite athletes?: Paula Radcliffe (track/marathon), Paul Scholes (football) , Jared Tallent (50k race walker), Lizzy Yarnold (skeleton), Jenson Button (F1)
• Best joke you know?: Most of my jokes between friends are quite crude, so it’s best I leave it between me and them!
• You do freelance massage work. My lower back is destroyed by disc decay. Can you help?: I could help you to a certain point, but you’d require far more specialized support for it.
About a week ago I was resting in one of America’s, oh, six wifi-free coffee shops. It was in Newport Beach, and nearby sat a copy of OC Weekly. I picked it up, flipped around and stumbled upon a piece about Lit, the well-known, well-regarded rock band made uber-famous by its 1999 smash hit, “My Own Worst Enemy.”
Anyhow, the article concerned Lit’s recent transition to country music, and its new release, “Fast.” I’m a fan of switches and changes and transformations, so I downloaded “Fast,” and listened. And listened. And listened. And listened. I absolutely love the song, and wanted to know more. Hence, I Googled the band, found the names of the members and hit up Jeremy Popoff, the guitarist, on Twitter.
And here we are.
To be blunt, Jeremy Popoff kicks ass. Yeah, he’s an amazing guitarist. But he’s also raw, honest, real, insightful. Here, he discusses—in great detail—the path of a rock band going country, as well as how he feels about the inevitable criticism that comes with change. He also breaks down Lit’s survival, as well as what it is to age in the business.
Jeremy Popoff, lead guitarist of Stan Pearlman’s Door Lit, you are the 291st Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN:I’m gonna start with an obvious one. Lit is known—and has been known for 25 years—as a rock band. Now you have a country song, “Fast,” that’s all over the place. It’s a … weird/unusual musical move. I was trying to think of something comparable, and could only come up with Nelly doing that “Over and Over” song with Tim McGraw. So, Jeremy, how the hell did this happen? And why?
JEREMY POPOFF: Man, I don’t know where the line is any longer. More stuff that is considered country sounds like rock to me and stuff that is played on rock radio doesn’t sound like rock at all. Maybe that’s a good thing. And I don’t know that it’s an unusual musical move for us because, honestly, it’s how we write songs. We write on acoustic guitars and then we take it to the band. We’ve always had ballads and different vibes on our records. This one we left sparse because it felt good. When A.Jay and I were little kids, our dad was a radio DJ first on country stations, then he moved to Top 40. That’s when Top 40, or pop, meant the top 40 songs or most popular songs in the country. So we listened to everything.
But to your question—I started writing songs in Nashville several years ago, around 2005, shortly after we released our self-titled “Black” album. I was bored of the stuff I was hearing on the radio and was becoming disenchanted with the industry. I was also in a dark place in my life personally, between my divorce and a tragic accident that mom and step dad were in. So I was looking for inspiration and to challenge myself as a songwriter. Nashville saved my life creatively. I bought a house there in 2007. I fell in love with the community. I’ve made some lifelong friendships there and it really became my second home. I also fell in love with country music. A couple years later I started bringing my brother A.Jay, as well as [on-again, off-again Lit member] Ryan Gillmor, out there with me to write. We actually wrote most of “The View From The Bottom” record out there with some of my country songwriter buddies.
I think what finally happened is that the stuff we were writing over the last couple years just felt more like who we are today. We wanted to play them ourselves instead of just turning them in to be pitched to other artists. So we tested a few out on the road last summer and the songs went over great. The feedback was all positive and it was a seamless transition. It was never like, “OK kids, that was our old rock stuff—now bring out the banjos and cowboy hats and let’s introduce to you Lit Mach 2!” It’s really just us same dudes from Southern California playing songs about what we’re living, which is what we have always done.
We love country music and it’s not strange to us at all that it has an influence on our music. Everything that influenced us growing up still influences us today. I’ll tell you what hasn’t influenced us in a very long time is modern rock radio. My kid is 15 and my wife is 28, and they don’t listen to it either so I know it’s not just me getting old. I mean, other than Twenty One Pilots, it’s been pretty slim pickings for a while. I listen to the shit out of classic rock, but the only thing I have in common with modern rock radio anymore is that they still play our old stuff and our old friends from back in the day. I don’t know what the hell happened. Maybe that will change. I hope so. I can’t tell the song title from the band name half the time. Shit I don’t know if they would even play “My Own Worst Enemy” now if it were a brand new song today. Crazy.
I think a lot of people we grew up with, who were in high school or their early 20s when Lit came out, are now in their mid-to-late 30s and many of them listen to country. We played “Enemy” with Dustin Lynch at Stagecoach last year and 50,000 or so country fans went absolutely bananas! You can’t walk into a honky-tonk on Broadway in Nashville and not hear the band play a Lit song. Most people don’t give a shit about genres, they like what they like. A good song is a good song. That’s what I think.
Lit in action last year.
JEFF PEARLMAN: I wanna stick with this for a minute. When it comes to music, people like their comforts and met expectations. I always think about it in relation to Hall & Oates. Those two sell millions of albums. Hall does a few solo records—they sound exactly the same—but they don’t sell, because people want Oates. It’s what they’re used to; what they expect. But going country, especially after being known as a rock band, do you risk alienating/losing fans? Do you risk having people say, “Ugh, another band that sold out”? And have you felt those reactions at all?
JEREMY POPOFF.: I think that might be the first time I’ve ever heard the phrase, “People want Oates.” That’d be a great shirt idea for Hall & Oates merch.
It’s just not that easy, selling out, or everyone would be doing it. Can you imagine if all you had to do was change your format or copy an old hit and you could make way more money? That would be insane. We are playing some country festivals this year and are playing way earlier in the day for a lot less money than normal, so I don’t know how that is selling out. We have a lot of work to do. We’re lucky that we can still go out and play the rock festivals too, and honestly we have been playing the new stuff at those and nobody reacts weird—because it’s not. It wasn’t weird when I saw Kid Rock live a couple years ago. Or ZZ Top. Or when one my heroes, Elvis Costello, made a great country record a while back. Or when Robert Plant and Alison Krauss made that amazing record together 10 years ago. I love that. We took A Thousand Horses on tour with us fove years ago. We had Parmalee open for us in North Carolina a few years ago. And we brought Jamey Johnson on stage with us in Houston before anybody knew who he was as an artist, like 10 years ago, and the crowd loved him. Afterward we probably got drunk as hell and celebrated how rad it was to do what we do.
It’s just all about music and friends and life—and we love it. I think for Lit, selling out would be to try and write a bunch more of “My Own Worst Enemys” and “Miserables” or trying to go back and recreate our mindset when we were broke, single and in our 20s. We are making music that feels good to us, which is what we’ve always done. We are very grateful and feel encouraged that CMT would step up and embrace our “Fast” video, and that it would be voted in the Top 10, week after week by fans. That feels awesome.
When I see 50-yearold multi-millionaires on TV pretending to still be angry and rebellious punk rockers and pandering—that’s selling out in my opinion. I don’t want to do that. In this day and age, we risk alienating or losing fans by posting the wrong picture or Tweet. You could piss off a fan for not responding to a DM. So I mean, all we can do is what feels right for right now and hope people dig it. If a heartfelt song about life and family like “Fast” makes anybody stop listening to Lit, I don’t know what to tell them. That’s one of the best songs we’ve ever written.
JEFF PEARLMAN:Random question—you and your brother have shitloads of tattoos. I always find it interesting how the professions that most lend themselves to tatts are music and sports. Why do you think that is? When did you get your first? How many do you have? Do you have any you regret?
JEREMY POPOFF: When we were 18, it was a big deal to go below where your short sleeve would cover. If you couldn’t hide them, you couldn’t get a lot of jobs. And the neck or the hands, forget it! Those were called “job stoppers.” Nowadays there are CEOs, cops, teachers and very successful people who are pretty covered up with tattoos. And 18-year olds getting their first tattoo on their throats and knuckles. It’s crazy. I don’t even know how many I have. I only regret not getting a big-ass back piece about 15 years ago when I was way more interested in enduring that many hours and that kind of pain.
With a young Lit fan.
JEFF PEARLMAN:The song “Fast” is sorta heartbreaking, in the way it handles life moving by at the speed of light. A musical career seems that way, too. You and I are the same age, and as a writer I feel engaged in this very powerful fight to stay relevant as I get older and older. What about you? How does aging/mortality impact your approach to music, your career?
JEREMY POPOFF: “Fast” was a song that A.Jay and I wrote with Jeffrey Steele, who is one of my favorite songwriters ever. We were actually finishing a different song and were an hour late for a dinner meeting with a rep from Sony. We had this idea for “Fast” that we had talked about that morning and as I was putting my guitar in the case to pack up, Steele kinda strummed a chord progression and mumbled a lyric that ended with … Fast.
I was like, “Oh shit, it’s on!” I pulled my guitar back out and told our manager that we might not be making that dinner meeting. We just started pouring out these words which were all connected to things that had happened in our lives. A couple times the three of us got choked up while trying to sing it down. We wrote way more lyrics for that song than we ended up using and we wrote it in about 45 minutes. It was just one of those special times we live for as songwriters. I think if we’re writing what’s relevant to us, then it’s relevant, unless you’re some kind of way-out-there person that’s just into weird shit. I mean, I like things that a lot of people like. I’m pretty normal and mainstream when it comes to life. So if I’m writing a song, it’s probably going to be about something other people can relate to, because I’m just not really an obscure kind of guy.
JEFF PEARLMAN:Another totally random one—your birthday is Sept. 11, 1971. What is it, in modern America, to have Sept. 11 as a birthday? And what do you remember of 9.11.01?
JEREMY POPOFF: I was there. We were about to start the Atomic tour on my 30th birthday in New Jersey. We partied in NYC till about 3 am. I remember being woken up early in the morning by Kevin [Baldes, the Lit bassist]—he called my room to tell me to turn on the TV … that a plane just crashed into the Trade Center. I actually opened my curtains first because we were right across the river and I could see the smoke. Then I saw the second plane crash in real time. It was the most helpless feeling, being stranded and being huddled around TVs with strangers. Cell phones weren’t connecting. It was scary. My son was about to be born in a few weeks and I just remember being so worried about the world I was bringing him into and I was paranoid about my wife driving to the doctor or anywhere with me being on the other side of the country.
We obviously didn’t play that night in Jersey, but we did play the next night in DC. We went on the radio station HFS and we told people that we didn’t mean any disrespect, but we had nowhere else to go and we were gonna play our show at the 930 Club that night if anybody felt like hanging’ out, but we understood if they didn’t want to go out and that we’d come back soon regardless. The crowd was amazing. Everybody needed to blow off some steam and get away from their TVs. I remember that time as the most united I have ever felt our country. For the next few days and weeks, America was one team and it felt amazing.
JEFF PEARLMAN:You’re from Anaheim. Your mom was a hairdresser, your dad a radio DJ. Your brother, A. Jay, is Lit’s lead singer. But how did this happen for you guys? What I mean is—there are 1,000,000 aspiring kids playing guitar and singing in their garage. How did you make it?
JEREMY POPOFF: I hope you’re right about the million kids playing guitar and singing. All my kid wants to do is rap and make loops. Haha. From the time I was nine and A.Jay was seven, it’s all we wanted to do. Our dad took us to see UFO & Iron Maiden at the Long Beach Arena and it blew our minds. From the next day on, it’s all we cared about. When A.Jay, Kevin, Allen and I decided to be a band, it was literally 10 years of living, breathing, eating, sleeping and shitting the band. If we weren’t practicing or writing, we were promoting, passing out flyers and stickers. We never stopped working. We were young, naive dreamers with no back up plan. We just never gave up and I think the thing that kept us going was that we loved what we were doing so much. We would sell out these clubs and even though record labels kept passing on us, we just knew they were wrong and that we would get there eventually. Tunnel vision, work ethic, discipline and ultimately luck—that’s how we made it. Luck is how anybody makes it. Like getting a hole in one, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime shot, but you have to be able to swing a golf club.
JEFF PEARLMAN:Your band was originally “Razzle.” Then “Stain.” Then “Lit.” Two things: A. Why Lit? B. Does a band name matter when it comes to success? Do you think the image, sound, impact of a name plays a role in success/failure? Could you guys have been “The Car Keys” or “Stan Pearlman’s Door” and still have had the same run?
JEREMY POPOFF: The Car Keys, maybe. Stan Perlman’s Door, probably not.
We were teenagers as Razzle. Named after the candy that turns into gum, for some fucking reason! Haha! We actually got signed a few years later as Stain and the “Tripping The Light Fantastic” album was originally titled “Lit.” The cover had an old antique oil lamp that used to hang in our grandparents’ living room, where A.Jay and I first started learning how to play music. There was a guy, Ron Krauss, who was a director and wanted to make a video for us. He said that watching us live was like watching a bomb go off in a building. We liked that description, so we were like, Bomb=Fuse=Lit= Lit! Plus the picture of the lamp=Lit. Fucking perfect! Then we found out that some dude in Ohio had the name Stain. He wanted something like 5 grand for the rights to it and we were like, “Fuck that!” So we took Lit from the title, changed it to “Tripping The Light Fantastic,” and that was that.
JEFF PEARLMAN:Everyone on the planet knows “My Own Worst Enemy.” The riff is ubiquitous, the lyrics oft-repeated. A few things: A. How did that song come to be? B. Is it a great song, a good song, a random song that happened to hit? Like, how do you view it?
JEREMY POPOFF: “My Own Worst Enemy” was written just like all the others up to that point. We had a rented warehouse space in an industrial park in Anaheim and we turned it into a rock n’ roll man cave clubhouse. We would take turns buying 12 packs of Natural Light and we’d write and practice all night. We wrote it pretty fast. We liked it but we were unsure and kind of self conscious about it because our buddy T-Bone didn’t think it was cool. So we actually didn’t play it for a couple months live.
Then one night at the Troubadour in Hollywood, we tried it out and everybody freaked out. We felt like it was the one. But, like, three labels were there that night and passed on us. So we went in and recorded “Enemy,” “Miserable,” and “Four.” Every label said they didn’t hear a single. So at that point, we were like, Shit! What are we missing? Every show is sold out. People like what we’re doing. We like it. Then, randomly, a radio promotions guy at RCA in LA happened to see our CD on someone’s desk and recognized our manager’s name on the cover from college in Michigan. So he took the CD into his office to look her up and he put the disc in to check it out. He flipped when he heard it and ran it into Ron Fair‘s office. Ron knew of us from one of his other artists, Stacy Ferguson (aka “Fergie”), who was a Lit fan. Anyway, he took it with him and Bruce Flohr that day into a meeting with KROQ and that was that.
We were in the studio, on the radio and on the road within a few weeks, before the record deal had even been signed. We didn’t come home for almost two years. It was a long 10 years in the making—overnight success story. So, yeah, we fucking love that song! It blows us away how much it still gets played, covered, used on TV, in movies, during sports games. We are so lucky to have been in our warehouse together that night when that riff fell out of the rafters! When I think of those iconic intro riffs like “Start Me Up,” “Back In Black,” “Money For Nothing,” “Smoke On The Water,” “Walk This Way”—it’s crazy to know that we are members of that club.
JEFF PEARLMAN:Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?
JEREMY POPOFF: Man. So many “greatest” moments. Playing Woodstock. Playing Reading Festival. Madison Square Garden. Angel Stadium in 2000. First time on The Tonight Show. Our first tour bus. Handing platinum plaques to our parents and grandparents. Buying a house. Opening The Slidebar. Still doing it.
JEFF PEARLMAN:This interview is happening because I was sitting in a coffee shop yesterday. I pick up an OC Weekly because there’s no wifi and I’m bored. I read about you guys, and “Fast.” I go to Apple Music and download it. And I wonder—do you like how the music business works now more than in the 1990s? I mean, there are almost no CDs, few people download an entire album, you have to tour your asses off to get paid. So … is it good? Or awful?
JEREMY POPOFF: Yes, it is hard work to make money in this business or any other business. In the 1990s, everybody listened to the radio and bought CDs. FM radio paid. You could get checks in the mail for tens of thousands of dollars for having a song on the radio. Now everybody has satellite radio or streams from their phone, which doesn’t pay at all. As a music fan, I love having options. I like having my Pandora blaring through every room in my house on my Sonos. But I miss Tower Records. I miss artwork and the smell of a new record. I also like the freedom as an independent artist to be doing things like Pledge Music and involving our fans in the process. I like being able to get songs out to the people without necessarily having to wait for release dates and stuff. But artists will always have to get out there on the road and hustle to make any money and “The Music Business” will never pay artists what’s fair. It is what it is. The music business is still the music business. But shit, I can’t complain. Yeah, It’s good. I work my ass off but I haven’t had to punch a time clock anywhere in 20 years and I sign my own checks. That’s pretty cool.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JEREMY POPOFF:
• My daughter’s good friend shares your last name. She’s only 13. What does her future hold, as far as nicknames?: Well, hopefully A.Jay and I having some popularity over the years makes it a little cooler for her and other young Popoffs than it was when we were kids.
• This is my all-time favorite song. Your thoughts?: I love Blind Melon. I used to play Galaxy over and over and just obsess on that song when it came out. And I just watched the video three times after checking out your link. Damn, what an amazing voice!
• Ten years from now what are we saying about Jared Goff’s career?: He had a rough first year but went on to be the best in the game and took us all the way to a Rams’ Super Bowl victory!
• One question you would ask Carmen Electra were she here right now?: Um. Remember that one time in Cancun? That was awesome.
• Four memories from appearing on Cribs?: They burned a hole in my kitchen ceiling with one of the lights. I was drinking the whole time we were filming. Neighborhood kids would hang out in front of my house after it aired. Lenny Kravitz and Gene Simmons both complimented me on my style in furniture.
• In exactly 17 words, describe your feelings on crushed pineapple: I’m not really sure why we would ever need to have our pineapple crushed for any reason.
• Renée Fleming calls. She wants you to hit the road with her and play guitar in her rock opera. It’s called, “Poodles Shit on My Guitarist,” and it involves you wearing a large purple bunny suit and having poodles shit on you as you play. You have to be on the road for 360-straight days in 2018, but you’ll get paid $10 million. You in?: Absolutely!
• The world needs to know, what does Pamela Anderson’s hair smell like?: Sunshine and cinnamon.
Here’s a compliment I’ve never before paid to a Quazer: I struggled to find pictures of Reggie Williams.
That’s a rare thing in 2017, when everyone and their mothers are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat. Hell, I can dig up photos of my great grandfather; of your great grandfather; of your great grandfather’s great grandfather. But Reggie Williams, head of one of America’s top hip-hop websites? Well, the pickings were slim.
But, if you think about it, that’s an insanely cool thing. I’ve known Reggie for nearly two decades, and it’s always been about the dream, not the celebrity. His dual loves of hip-hop and entrepreneurism are the driving forces of his career, and the reason why—after lengthy stints at MTV and BET—he now runs the fantastic (and funkily named) Ambrosia for Heads.
Here, in the magical 290th Quaz, I talk with Reggie about the beauty of hip-hop and the pursuit of greatness; about a very short Phife Dawg and a very old Jay-Z and Eminem. One can visit the site here, and follow its Twitter, Facebook and Instagram existences here.
Reggie Williams, man of, oh, six images, you are the Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN:I’m gonna throw a weird one at you. So I’m a longtime Tribe Called Quest diehard. Love them, love the music, love the inventiveness. I did not, however, love the recent album. In fact, I initially hated it. Then I kept listening—over and over. Before long I couldn’t get enough. I wonder, as a guy in music, why you think this happens? And can we properly judge the greatness or shittiness of music after one listen? Is it even possible?
REGGIE WILLIAMS: I love that question. I think the answer is “Yes” and “No.” There are lots of songs that are instant hits. I felt that way about Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us Down,” a song I heard and posted 18 months before it broke, Pharrell’s “Happy,” another one that I loved several months before it caught fire, The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face,” an instant smash, and several other songs. I think the songs we instantly like tend to be more simplistic. That’s not a bad or a good thing. It’s just a thing. I’ve found that the music I go back to for years and decades, however, tends to be more complicated and does require more time to properly process. I believe, in those instances, the artists are creating work that goes against the grain of what is popular at the time, and it takes some time for the ears to adjust. One of the best examples of this, for me, is D’Angelo’s Voodoo album. His Brown Sugar album was one of my favorites of all-time, so I had incredibly high expectations when it was released. It was wildly different than what I expected when I first heard it—dirty and dissonant—and I was not enthralled, immediately. Like a fine wine, however, it opened up, and, to this day is always the first album I play when I get new speakers, headphones, etc., to test how good they are.
J.P.:You’ve worked for MTV, for BET. You’ve had a long and successful career being employed by big outfits, knowing a good check would come regularly, knowing there’d be perks and a company holiday party and flights to here and there and there and here. So why did you decide to start your own site? Was there a moment of definitiveness? And how terrifying was the move?
R.W.: I’ve been working toward having my own company since 1992. I had a picture of Russell Simmons on my dorm wall during my first year in law school, with a quote from him about owning your own business. I knew I wanted to run a multimedia business–music, film, television–and the question was whether it would be via climbing the corporate ladder to the top or starting my own. The people I admired, like Russell, David Geffen, Jay Z and Sean “Puffy” Combs all had their own, so I always suspected that would be the ultimate route. Even when I was in the corporate environment, I found myself in entrepreneurial roles, like doing MTV’s first ever digital video streaming deals and helping transform BET’s Music Programming department from videos to full lifestyle programming around music and comedy. In many ways, running my company, Ambrosia For Heads, is just the culmination of what has been a two-decade long journey. It’s been more of a progression than a specific moment of definitiveness. The move definitely requires a huge level of courage. Beyond the obvious financial sacrifices and implications, there’s the fear of public failure and the inability to recover. In time, however, you see that the difference between success and failure is often a matter of perspective.
J.P.:You started your first hip-hop site, nurules.com, right around the turn of the century. It didn’t last long. Why? What did you learn from the experience?
R.W.: They say “timing is everything.” In my case nuRules was both several years too early and some months too late. My belief back in 1999 was that the Internet would become the ultimate pipeline through which all media was delivered–audio, video and editorial. For audio and editorial, that’s already true and for video (TV, movies and short form), it’s well on its way. Back then, however, only 10 percent of US homes had broadband penetration, so it was way too early for an entire business to be built on that distribution pipeline. At the same time, a lot of the money that was invested in that digital entertainment space was funded a year or so before I got nuRules up and running that November 1999. By the time 2000 hit, the first Internet bubble was bursting and we were about to get hit with a massive crash, compounded by the attacks of 9/11. The biggest thing I learned, however, was that we have far more control over “timing” than I knew then. The key to any business is to stay up and running. Whether you do that by hook or crook, grit or guile, if you’re able to stay in business long enough and have a sound idea and strong team, you can wildly increase your chances of getting to a point where the timing aligns with you. With AFH, we’re able to do an amazing amount with an incredibly lean team and we’re currently self-sustaining. We’d like to grow and will need additional resources to do so, but we’re built for the long haul.
J.P.:I have a theory, and it comes from my observatory and participatory viewpoint as a white person in 2016. Namely, I think a large percentage of whites interact with blacks while thinking, “How am I supposed to do this? Are there things I should say to sound informed and empathetic? Is there a way I need to be? To come off?” Not all of us (I truly don’t have this in my head), but a good number. My question for you—are you aware of this? Are most of your non-white friends? When you’re talking with a white guy who’s overthinking interaction with a black guy, are you overthinking what the white guy is overthinking about what you’re thinking? (that was a fun sentence)
R.W.: I actually think we all have far more in common than we do differences. I believe the basis of any relationship is finding commonalities upon which we can build a rapport and from there the interactions can take many twists and turns. We get caught up in beliefs about groups of people, but those beliefs often fade, or are at least subordinated, when two individuals come face to face. There’s a reason why common ice breakers when people first meet are conversations about the weather, sports, kids, jobs and, sometimes politics. Those are things to which, whether we agree or disagree, many of us can relate. Maybe there’s an added layer of discomfort initially when the interaction is between members of different races, but, as long as the two people are relatively open-minded about people from other races, I don’t think the interaction is any more stilted than it would be with two strangers of the same race meeting for the first time at a cocktail party. I think that’s a roundabout way of me saying I think you’re overthinking it.
J.P.:I have a weird, untested theory, and it’s this: Hip-hop allows its artist to hang around far longer in the mainstream than pop, rock, country. I mean, Jay-Z, Eminem, Kanye, even Nelly—guys in their late-30s/early-to-mid 40s who are still commercially viable. Am I wrong? Right? And why?
R.W.: I think the people you named above are outliers. Generally, in all genres of music, most artists have a very short shelf-life. Stars have 1-2 years, if that, of being hot and then they never reach that level again. I’m immersed in hip-hop, so I see how vast the turnover is from year to year. For every Kanye West, there are a hundred artists who had a hit song or two and then are nowhere to be found. If you look at the charts from five years ago, you’d be amazed at how few of those acts charted this year. There are even less so from 10 years ago. Every genre has its titans, though. In pop, for example, there’s Rihanna, Beyonce, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, Adele, Taylor Swift and the two Justins. Even Britney Spears remains relevant 15 years later.
J.P.:How do you think hip-hop is embracing homosexuality? Can a rapper still use “faggot” or “homo” in a song and be commercially embraced?
R.W.: Like with the country overall, hip-hop’s acceptance of the LGBTQ community and understanding of related issues is layered. On the one hand, there are most certainly a number of hit songs with derogatory terms in the lyrics, and it’s disproportional. On the other hand, you have an increasing amount of gender-fluid artists like Young Thug, Young M.A. and Jaden Smith. Perhaps the greatest example of the complexities and nuances is Tyler, The Creator. He is a staunch supporter of openly gay members of his Odd Future collective, like Frank Ocean and Syd Tha Kyd. Yet, he’s also quick to drop the “F” word and say other things many would think are derogatory in his music and conversations. It’s complicated.
Reggie with, oh, someone.
J.P.:What’s your work day like, soup to nuts?
R.W.: My work day never stops. The Internet is a 24/7, 365 day cycle, so most of my waking day, I’m typically working on something AFH-related, or thinking about it. I usually wake up between 7:30 and 8, check my phone and then do a cardio workout. Even while I shower, I’m listening to hip-hop news, to get the latest and greatest. From there, my team and I have a virtual writers room where we are constantly vetting content, stories and angles throughout the day. I intermittently check emails, but I try to avoid having those control my day. I deal with way too many of our tech issues than I’d like, so that takes up a fair amount of time, and I’m constantly scouring the web, social media, YouTube, etc. for stories. Generally, I’ll have a few calls and, on a fair amount of days, I’ll have meetings, interview an artist or producer, attend a showcase or something like that. I often do a quick workout with weights in the late afternoon/early evening to clear my head and re-charge, but typically I’ll watch an interview or listen to a podcast during that time, looking for stories. At night, it’s similar, though things settle down a bit. I typically go to bed between 1 and 2 am.
J.P.:You’re closer to 50 than 40, and I always find the aging thing fascinating with people like us, who work in funky fields that often cater toward youth. Do you have any internal fight to stay young? To remain relevant? Is it increasingly hard to care about the same things, say, a 17-year-old hiphop head cares about?
R.W.: You know, I just heard a quote by Quincy Jones, as relayed by producer Terry Lewis. It goes, “You’re only as old as your ability to accept and process new things.” I fully subscribe to that. I’ve worked with some people in their 50s who would absolutely exhaust most people half their age, and I know some people in their 20s who seem ready for retirement. It may sound cliche, but I truly do believe that age is a mindset. I bet you no one under 40 ever said that…:) In terms of the music, some of my favorite artists of all-time became popular in the last five years, and I have a saying that the “Golden Age” of hip-hop is from 1978-present. I think it’s all a continuum. There’s terrible hip-hop from the 90s, great hip-hop in the 2010s and vice versa.
J.P.:Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?
R.W.: I’ve been truly fortunate to have more magical moments than I can remember. I think that’s common when you love what you do. Right now, I’m literally working the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life, and it’s for no pay to me. I feel lucky everyday though. One highlight is seeing Prince perform in a room of about 25 people and then speaking to him for a bit, after. That said, I’m hopeful the greatest moment is still yet to come. The lowest was definitely when I realized that we had to close down nuRules. That day actually led to a tattoo …
J.P.: I just watched an interview with Q-Tip on the Daily Show—and he was wearing sunglasses indoors. You’ve dealt with many celebrities. I’ve never, ever, ever understood this. Are people trying to look cool? Do most people think it is cool?
R.W.: That’s funny. I think people do it for many reasons. For some it’s a fashion statement, for others it’s shield. Sometimes people just had a rough day … I’ve learned not to read too much into it.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH REGGIE WILLIAMS:
• Number of times in your life you’ve been compared to/asked about former Clipper Reggie Williams or former Dodger Reggie Williams?: Hilarious. Only a couple of times for Clippers’ Reggie Williams. As a kid, people used to ask me often if I was related to Reggie Jackson … go figure. The best is I once attended a conference with Bengals’ Reggie Williams. That created ALL SORTS of confusion. Nice guy, though.
• Five reasons one should make Indiana his next vacation destination: 1. Donut Bank—Best donuts I’ve ever had in my life, to this day; 2. Nice is the default attitude for most people; 3. Holiday World—One of the greatest amusement parks in the world–the largest wooden coaster and the largest water slide–with the shortest lines you’ll ever experience at a park of that scale; 4. My mom and dad; 5. Did I mention Donut Bank?
• Celine Dion calls. She wants to invest $100 million into the site, but you have to change your name to Al B. Sure and get a tattoo of Gary Coleman across your forehead. You in?: What you talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?
• Rank in order (favorite to least): bluebirds, Pointer Sisters, Real Housewives of Orange County, Mookie Wilson, Bronx Zoo, Keith Van Horn, Jewish brother in laws, Amelia Earhart, Stacey Dash, Kyrie Irving, Little Shop of Horrors: I’m so excited to start with Pointer Sisters that it stops there.
• Why ‘Ambrosia’?:Ambrosia was the food for the Greek Gods. We try to serve up the best for Hip-Hop Heads and the best food for thought. Ambrosia for Heads.
• One question you would ask Vince Ferragamo were he here right now?: Does he think he’d be on Fox NFL if he’d won Super Bowl XIV instead of Terry Bradshaw?
• In exactly 19 words, make a case for the music of Carrie Underwood: After thinking about this, I don’t think I would be able to do that even if I tried hard.
• This is a song I absolutely love. Wondering what you think: I’m a bit of a Tupac purist. He’s one of my favorite MCs of all-time, so, for me, his catalog stops after Makaveli.
• Why haven’t you taken more of a public stance on the Braves signing Bartolo Colon?: Googles Bartolo Colon with the left hand* *Tweets about him with the right*
• Who was your favorite Brady kid? Why?: Sadly, I can’t remember a single episode of The Brady Bunch. What was that question about age, again?
Way back in 1989-90, I sat in front of Lou Hanner in science class.
We were both seniors at Mahopac High School, and Lou would … not … shut … up. He had opinions on the Jets, the Giants, the girl I liked, the T-shirt I wore, the T-shirt he wore. He was a wonderfully funny and sharp kid; never mean, but often a fire starter. He used to ask me (on what I recall to be a weekly basis) whether I was ready to ask out Lisa Frieman—loudly, with Lisa sitting two seats away. I later learned that Lou also urged the boys’ basketball coach to keep me on the team, an act of uncommon adolescent kindness that still touches me.
Anyhow, Lou was a phenomenal athlete, and he went on to play college soccer, then devote his life to teaching and coaching at Elwood-John H. Glenn High School on Long Island, N.Y. He was recently named the New York State Large School Soccer Coach of the Year, and I felt inspired to bring him here, to the Quaz. Yes, like all Q&A subjects, I was curious of his path. But, truly, I wanted to know how a modern coach deals with the crap-a-palooza that is today’s obsessive, parent-driven need to have Junior become the next Mike Trout, the next LeBron, the next Eli Manning.
So here’s Lou Hanner—a man I am thrilled to host as the 289th Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN:Lou, I’m gonna start with something you probably hear quite a bit—the nonstop refrain of “Kids today just don’t [fill in the blank] …” And it always ends with something like “respect authority” or “work hard” or “appreciate what they have.” You’ve been coaching and teaching for two decades. Are kids today different than when we were growing up? Or is that just something every past generation is required to whine about?
LOU HANNER: The kids are not different. What is very different is the culture we live in. When we were kids if we got in trouble in school you were less concerned about the school administration, you feared going home to your parents. Today, the parents run to the rescue of their kids as if it is not their fault, but that of the teacher or the coach. Parents hover over every aspect of the kid’s education and athletic programs. They want complete control over their grades and assignments. We have apps on our phone to get immediate feedback. We have moved away from accountability. If I had a bad game, or wasn’t performing to ability in school, I was going to hear it from my family much worse than I would from my coaches.
L.H.: Actually, that is what motivates me. This is a profession that is always changing and evolving. Every single day is a challenge and an adventure. I have had many great mentors in my life and career. One was Joe McAvoy—the longtime teacher and coach at White Plains High School. He always said, “Teaching is coaching, coaching is teaching.” I never forgot that. I get to do it every day for a living. I feel blessed because of it, and I enjoy going to work every day. Many educators don’t. They should step down and move on.
J.P.:I feel like something has changed in our national approach to kids and sports—namely, we intrude far too much. Back when you and I were growing up in Mahopac, it was a ton of games in the yard, games in the street, games on some nearby field. And now, everything seems very structured, organized, programed. A. Do you agree? B. How does this impact the athletes you receive on the high school level?
L.H.: I totally agree. Most kids today only participate in structured teams, clubs, and leagues. We coached ourselves in the neighborhood. Or our dads coached us in little league, CYO and club soccer. Now we pay a lot of money for trainers and “professional” coaches with a license to provide these services. I do as well for my own kids. It is the sports culture we live in now. However, I am proud of the fact that my kids also love playing games in the yard and neighborhood like we did as well.
That said, because so many kids are playing organized athletics today at such a young age, it has certainly raised the level of talent and ability of the high school athlete. When I began coaching here at John Glenn in 1998, a handful of kids played on a club soccer team. This year most of our starting lineup plays at a high level all year round. The three-sport athlete is a thing of the past. And honestly, because of the youth sports structure, specialization has almost become mandatory if one wishes to play most sports at the next level. This concerns me, but I am witnessing it firsthand with my own kids. The time and monetary commitment for youth sports programs has most parents handcuffed.
Hanner, No. 23, teamed up with star center Larry Glover (No. 5) as Mahopac High seniors in 1990.
J.P.:You were an excellent high school athlete; an excellent college athlete. How does that impact the way you coach kids who aren’t particularly talented? I mean, you were always skilled. Is it hard to relate with and work with those who aren’t?
L.H.: Not at all. That is what coaching is all about. I really enjoy working with the low-level skilled players. But youth sports have advanced so far since we were kids. Those who do not play club sports outside of school have a very difficult time making most varsity teams. What frustrates me most is when an athlete doesn’t work hard on the field or in the classroom.
J.P.:We just got through a very bitter, heated presidential election. I wonder how much of a topic this was among your students? Your players? And do you feel comfortable discussing politics with kids? Is that an OK role for a teacher and coach?
L.H.: The election was very interesting to observe. Never before did we see the students get very involved or engaged with a presidential election like this one. You would hear kids making comments to each other in class and even inside the locker room. I did not observe any hostility like we did on TV or social media. I think it was great to see high school students involved and concerned about our government. Discussing politics can be very touchy for a teacher and coach. Keeping the conversation healthy and not biased is imperative.
J.P.: Why did you become a teacher and coach? Like, what was your path? When did you realize it was what you wanted to do?
L.H.: If you told me in our senior year of high school in 1990 that I would one day be a teacher and coach, I would not have believed you. I was going to Oneonta State, playing soccer and studying business. In my sophomore year I realized business wasn’t what I was passionate about. I was passionate about working with kids. Our college team would put on clinics for kids and youth coaches in the community and I worked soccer camps in the summer. My mom said to me one day, “You can’t sit behind a desk. You should be a PE teacher.” The rest is history.
I transferred to Cortland State as a senior and finished my undergraduate degree while playing soccer my senior year there. I was blessed to play for two great programs and my experiences could not have been better. I was fortunate to be hired right out of Cortland as the head boys’ soccer coach and high school PE teacher at White Plains High School in 1995.
With wife, Kerry.
J.P.:I love asking this of people I grew up with—so … who were you? What I mean is, I remember you as a pretty cocky, affable, confident kid. Your nickname was Lip, you talked a lot of fun trash. But who were you, inside? Were you confident or insecure? What were you thinking about? What were your worries?
L.H.: The Lip thing was something my uncles used to call me because I was named after a great uncle and that is what they called him. Nobody in school really used it. When we grew up all we did was compete. On the fields, yards, driveways, streets, parks, woods, garages, basements. Wherever. All we wanted to do was play, play anything, anywhere.
During those times, we would all like to talk a lot of back yard banter. Challenging one another and talking trash was what we did. Looking back, that played a big part of my development and fostered my competitive nature. One that I still have today. I compete against the students and athletes in class and at practice all the time. Therefore, I would consider myself more confident than insecure. I was only thinking about playing sports.
Looking back I wish I had put more effort into school. I mean, I did OK, but it wasn’t until I went to college that I put the right amount of time into it.
J.P.:Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?
L.H.: Greatest—The relationships and bonds built with all of the kids who have played for you. Seeing them grow up into men, get married, being successful, and starting families of their own. Having many want to come back and coach on my staff has also been very special to me. Others have become teachers and coaches as well. When they come back to our annual alumni game it is always one of my favorite days of the year.
Lowest—In January 2014 we lost a player in his senior year. He was killed in a tragic sledding accident. Attending the wake and funeral with your program and coaches is horrible. Words cannot describe the hurt and sorrow you feel for the family, your players and the entire school community.
Receiving Coach of the Year honors.
J.P.:There are many clichés about the American gym teacher. You’ve heard them—mindless task, roll out a bunch of balls, blow a whistle, make kids run two laps. But does teaching phys ed rule, or is it awful? Fun or challenging? How do you deal with the kid who has no interest whatsoever?
L.H.: We live in the Game Boy Generation. When we were kids we spent every second of free time outside playing sports, riding bikes or motorcycles. Today’s kids are much less active than we were. They live on their devices. We need health and PE now more than ever. We don’t respect it whatsoever in our culture. We talk a big game but we don’t support it. Only six states in the entire country mandate PE. Most only mandate health for one semester in middle school and high school. Maybe if we were to respect it like every other subject our country would be in a much better place …
Most of the kids at John Glenn High School enjoy and respect PE. I think it is because of the culture we have created. We ask the kids to work hard within a fun learning environment. Education needs to be fun. That’s something that we have moved away from with all these standards and common core requirements. I remember genuinely enjoying going to school and class every day at Mahopac High School. Teaching health and PE is one the greatest jobs in America. I feel blessed to go to work every day and have the opportunity to influence the lives of our youth.
J.P.:I’m gonna throw a weird one at you. When we were at Mahopac High, there was a smoking section. And I remember we’d have an annual SAY NO TO SMOKING day, or something like that. And I wonder, 26 years later, is smoking even the slightest of slightest of concern with high school kids? Like, do you think most even ponder it? Hell, packs cost $10, CVS stopped selling, etc. In short, is it a dead issue?
L.H.: Dead issue. The kids today do not smoke cigarettes. They smoke pot. When I began teaching we would catch kids smoking in the locker rooms and around campus all the time. I can’t remember the last time I saw one of our students smoking. I survey my health classes every semester and they confirm this. Marijuana is the drug of choice with the kids today. The legalization has created the perception that it is not bad for you; that it’s actually healthy.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH LOU HANNER:
• In exactly 12 words, describe the emotions after being named the first, and last, Chieftain Mahopac High Athlete of the Year: Was honored, humbled, proud. Never felt comfortable wearing the jacket in public.
• One question you would ask Tom Paciorek were he here right now?: What was the guiding force in your 18-year career?
• Five reasons one should make Mahopac, N.Y. his/her next vacation destination?: Lake Mahopac, Mahopac Golf Club, Rodak’s, Mahopac Inn, Mom’s cooking
• Who are the five professional coaches you most admire?: Mike Krzyzewski, John Wooden, Sir Alex Ferguson, Bob Knight, Herman Boone.
• Three memories from the senior prom: Friends, van, and Piano Man.
• How did you propose to your wife, Kerry?: On a balcony overlooking Virginia Beach.
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you remember?: Slightly. We were about to land at Newark International airport in New Jersey. The pilot pulls us directly straight up from the runway as we are about to touch ground. We begin to circle Manhattan for what seemed forever. Nobody came on the loudspeaker to give any information. The passengers began to anxiously worry. Finally, the pilot comes on and apologizes for the aborted landing because a plane was stranded on the runway that we would have hit it had we continued.
• What happens in the third Balboa-Clubber Lang fight?: Split Decision
• Self-indulgent, what do you remember about me from high school?: Great kid, sports nut, fun to hang with, quitting varsity basketball after I convinced coach DeMarzo to keep you on the team!
For those of us who were fortunate enough to grow up reading Sports Illustrated, then write for the magazine, there’s this oft-unspoken ranking thing that happens inside our heads.
Without fail, we all have our, “Top 5 All-Time Sports Illustrated greats” lists. The names tend to vary from person to person. My Frank Deford is your Dan Jenkins is your Steve Rushin is your Rick Reilly is your Bill Nack. One person, however, who seems to cross the lines of age, gender, race, area of specialty is Alexander Wolff.
Beginning in 1980, shortly after his graduation from Princeton, Alex joined the staff of Sports Illustrated. He then spent the next three decades writing some of the most beautiful, most comprehensive, most intelligent pieces in modern sports journalism. He’s covered everything, from the Olympics to the World Series, but is best known for his devotion to chronicling basketball. Of John Wooden’s 2010 passing, for example, Alex wrote: “If death had granted him a moment to convey the sentiment, John Wooden would have declared his passing last week at age 99 a happy transit.” Of the 1982 Dallas Mavericks, he observed, “To paraphrase that great Irish hoop maven, Willie B. Yeats, things can fall apart if your center’s no good. That summarizes the prospects of the Dallas Mavericks in their third season.” Seriously, tale a moment and check out the scope of his work on the SI Vault. It’s gold.
Though he’s officially listed as retired on the scouting report, Alex still contributes to SI. He’s also the author of a wonderful new book, “The Audacity of Hoop,” on Barack Obama’s devotion to basketball.
Alexander Wolff, you are the Lancaster Gordon of writers, and the 288th of Quazes …
JEFF PEARLMAN:Alex, I’m gonna kick this off with a depressing one. Yesterday Sports Illustrated laid off more employees. Inevitably they were lay off more, and more and more. It strikes me that this can’t end well; that maybe there’s just no saving print and the magazine is a dinosaur scheduled for inevitable extinction. You worked at the magazine for decades. You were there through some glorious years. Do you have any hope? How does it all make you feel?
ALEXANDER WOLFF: I was an SI fact-checker in the Bright Lights, Big City days, and then a writer on staff into the early 2000s, when the magazine and travel budgets were fat and if you threw out a story idea you’d hear back, “When can we have it?” And then I spent the last decade or so until retirement just trying to breast the tape as bodies collapsed around me. So this is a painful subject.
But even as this agonizing transition from print to digital takes place, I have to believe there’ll still be an appetite for the mag. It may be a mag that appears less often than every week. It may be one produced with contributing rather than staff writers; some of the photographers who lost staff gigs a few years ago are now getting even more SI work as freelancers. The people who are still on staff are top-of-the-craft. Just from a hoops perspective, it doesn’t get better than Lee Jenkins and Chris Ballard on the pros, and Luke Winn and Seth Davis on the colleges. With a little help from my son, Grant Wahl has turned me into a soccer fan. Tom Verducci and Peter King are the voices of their respective sports. And guys like Tim Layden and Scott Price and Jon Wertheim and Mike Rosenberg are just absurdly versatile.
Which is why it hurts so much. No one let go over the past dozen years or so was sacrificed at the altar of anything but Forces We Can’t Control. They were universally smart, gifted, productive people. Many—I wish I could confidently say “most”—have found other places to commit journalism. That’s our loss and others’ gain, but at least the same forces threatening the SI so many people grew up with are creating all these new soapboxes in the public square that people can mount and speak from.
My hope rests in technology and new norms it may set. In 10 or 15 years we may all keep rolled up in our pocket a paper-thin device that captures and displays words and pictures instantaneously, a kind of turbo-charged iPad, and if so SI will be right there, delivering first-rate content by talented people, and the brand will endure—not because people have accommodated themselves to us, but because we’ve been nimble enough to go where the consumption is, whether it’s on a Web-enabled fruit rollup or whatever.
Just last week I had a feature in the mag about cord-cutting and “over-the-top” delivery options, and how leagues and networks are being forced to move to the platforms people choose to spend time on. The challenge facing print is pretty much the same. People will always want a good story well-told, and I’m never going to doubt SI’s ability to deliver that regardless of the platform. My fear is the same one I and many others expressed in last week’s piece, for rights holders and their broadcast partners: all the dislocation along the way.
A.W.: I’m as susceptible as you to romanticizing those days, because I was young and impressionable and just breaking in. I had a chance to take stock a few years ago while working on a piece about the demise of the Big East, and it was a stitch to collect stories like the one about God Shammgod as a freshman at Providence, walking into a religion class and, asked to introduce himself, saying, “My name is God Shammgod and I’m here to take Providence to the Promised Land.” Which led the priest teaching the class to call the college president to find out what in Jesus, Mary and Joseph was going on.
But the sport was great everywhere during the Eighties. It was growing with ESPN and worming its way into every corner of the country. For you it might have been the Big East, but I was even more smitten by the SEC of that era, maybe because the South seemed so exotic to a kid from the Northeast, and maybe because the basketball coaches had to work extra-hard to catch anyone’s attention what with the football emphasis. You had big, bad Kentucky, the team everyone was shooting for. At Auburn you had Charles Barkley, and Tennessee students delivering a pizza to him in the pregame layup line. LSU started at forward a guy named Nikita Wilson, whose middle name was Francisco, which led Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to call him “a trilateral summit conference.” And the coaches had this honor-among-thieves camaraderie. I loved the wit of Georgia’s Hugh Durham and Auburn’s Sonny Smith. Alabama’s Wimp Sanderson was, in his words, “named after a cousin who blocked a punt and died shortly thereafter.” At one SEC tournament LSU’s Dale Brown pledged not to sleep for the entirety of the four-day weekend and then phoned writers at all hours to prove that he was keeping his word. It was the cheating-est league in America. Probably still is. But in terms of pure entertainment value, every dollar was well-spent.
From a 1980 Asbury Park Press profile.
J.P.:You were the owner of the Vermont Frost Heaves of the ABA. It started as a magazine idea, then just got really interesting. I’m gonna be vague and wide open here. How did the idea begin? Why? And what did you learn/gain from the experience?
A.W.: One of my professional vices has always been a certain restlessness. By the mid-2000s the basketball beat had begun to seem a little like Groundhog Day. I heard from NBA scouting director Marty Blake about the reconstituted ABA, where franchises went for $5,000. My wife and I had just moved to Vermont, and the Web was creating this limitless place for content. So the idea of starting a team and writing about it became hard to resist. And when I saw two great old Palestra-like venues in the Vermont cities of Burlington and Barre, I got sucked deep into the vortex. The hardest part was conceiving the project—and pitching it to editors—as this light romp through the theme park of pro team ownership, and discovering very quickly that there were real people with real stakes depending on the whole experiment working out.
I learned a lot about the goodwill of my Vermont neighbors, and how quickly money can disappear, and the incredible amount of work that goes on before a sportswriter sits down courtside in front of that little welcome card with your name on it. We rented the hall and paid the entertainment and basically threw parties for more than 1,000 people 18 times a year for three years. It wasn’t a sustainable financial success, but with two ABA titles and memories that people up here still talk about, it was an artistic one. The young Vermont guy our fans picked to be the coach, Will Voigt, just led Nigeria to the Rio Olympics. And Ken Squier, the old CBS motorsports analyst who runs the Thunder Road racetrack in central Vermont, so loved our mascot that after we folded he took Bump the Moose in like a stray. Bump is now Speed Bump the Racing Moose.
I wrote up 15,000 words for the SI.com longform site about the whole experience, but have another 50,000 or so stashed away. Even if that overset never gets published, writing it all up was therapy.
A.W.: Hoop had become such a big theme during Obama’s 2008 campaign that, after his election, I asked editors at SI whether they wanted a sort of basketball biography of him to run before the inauguration. After filing the story, I asked myself whether hoop would continue to figure in his life as president. And when it did—and all these great images from White House photographer Pete Souza began surfacing that featured POTUS around the game and NBA players—I began to think there might be a book. Of course, he needed to get re-elected for it to have any chance in the marketplace. But after he was, I threw myself into the project.
There’s no way to badger the President of the United States for an interview without bringing yourself to the attention of the authorities. So I put in my request, hoped for the best, and got on with the project. A little part of me died each time he’d sit down with Bill Simmons for the umpteenth time, or make a sidetrip to Marc Maron’s garage for a podcast, and my own phone wouldn’t ring. But Obama has left a long trail of commentary about the game, none better than those pages in his memoir Dreams from My Father, so there was that to work with.
And as you know from your Favre experience, even with the hole, there’s something to the donut. Not getting your main subject forces you to work the edges that much more. And like you with Favre, I benefited from there being no active effort to keep me from doing the book. People in the Obama hoop circle spoke openly and freely. And I did feel I got cooperation from the White House to the extent that Pete Souza chased down images we were looking for. One of my favorites has POTUS dribbling toward the camera with his daughters on either side of him. He’s dribbling with his weak-ass right hand, as are Malia and Sasha, and it’s an incredibly poignant photo if you know the Obama backstory: POTUS has said that he might have been a better player if he’d had a father around to take him out to work on his off hand. I have no idea whether his girls are right- or left-handed, but here Obama is discharging his paternal duty with them both, taking care of business his own dad never tended to.
And in one respect I got the ultimate cooperation: Throughout the Obamas’ time in Washington, the White House has been loath to release photos of the girls. But Souza said he’d try to get authorization for us to use that shot, and came back with a green light. You can take it to the bank that either POTUS or FLOTUS signed off on it.
J.P.:How did this happen to you? I mean, I know you grew up in Princeton until age 12, then moved to Rochester; know you had your first byline taste in the Trenton Times, know you attended Princeton, graduated in 1979, joined SI a year later. But when did you know writing was for you? Was there a moment? An event?
A.W.: I grew up around words and just learned to love them. My grandparents were book publishers, and even my dad, an English-as-a-second-language immigrant who was 28 when he arrived from Europe, lit up when he saw a Puns & Anagrams puzzle in the New York Times. I consumed any newspaper or magazine that made it into our house. But I was indiscriminate with language, and it took a ruthless English teacher to shake some of the lassitude out of me during my sophomore year in high school.
But it was four years later, in a writing course at Princeton, that I really got excited about journalism. It’s the course that John McPhee still teaches today, though he didn’t teach it that semester because he was off working on his Alaska book, Coming Into the Country. Robert Massie, the old Newsweek and Saturday Evening Post staffer who had gone on to write Nicholas and Alexandra, took his place, and he was a great fit for a kid who was about to be a history major. The 16 of us in the class would get our one-on-one time with him, going over what we wrote, but the real value was in reading and critiquing what others produced. I went back to campus 20 years later to teach a similar course, and the magic around that seminar table—a gentle peer pressure, but of the pressure-makes-diamonds kind—was still an animating force.
Meantime I’d joined a group of campus stringers and begun filing for the Trenton Times, which was 12 miles down Route 1. Because it was so close to campus, editors would take just about anything. And because it was a p.m., I could stay up fiddling with my copy all night if I wanted, as long as I filed by the time the editors came in at 6. So I wrote a lot—some sports, but mostly news, arts and features. My stuff got professionally edited, and I could cross Nassau Street in the afternoon and pick up a copy of the paper and see exactly what had been changed. I even got a check every month. Princeton had no journalism major or school, but those opportunities were in place, and by taking advantage of them I got a glimpse of how I might make a living—and I quickly learned to like the variety and rhythm and satisfaction of it.
With Bryan Byrdlong, DeAntre Harleston and Elizabeth Ea in Nashville.
A.W.: I’m not sure I accept the premise. By the time of that ’84 cover story, Jordan was the buzz of the league. Certainly Nike had already made the bet that he was on his way.
I remember the exact moment I knew. It was in Cole Field House his junior year. Carolina was playing that Maryland team with Len Bias, nothing close to an easy out. But the Tar Heels were in control from the jump, and Jordan seemed to elevate just an inch or two higher and hang for a quarter- or half-second longer than anyone else on the floor. He did just about anything he wanted. Late in the second half some Terp threw a lazy pass to the wing, and Jordan jumped all over it and turned it into an exclamation point slam at the other end. I still remember being gathered around his locker afterward, when someone asked, “Were you trying to send a message with that dunk?”
“No messages,” he replied. He sounded all business, like an efficient secretary. That day, that’s when I knew.
I make no claim to being a great judge of talent. I thought Lancaster Gordon was can’t-miss. But from watching Jordan in college, even in that supposed straitjacket Dean Smith cloaked his guys in, I knew Jordan would have his way with the league. I even shook my head when two big guys went ahead of him in the draft.
J.P.:I have a thing in my head, and it’s this: Most Division I men’s college basketball coaches are slime. Happy to break rules, happy to use kids until they can no longer be used, much more concerned with the next job than developing men. Am I off on this? On? Are there more exceptions than I think?
A.W.: Actually, if we’re going to slander entire professions, let’s go after college football coaches. They’re imperious and self-important and even more extravagantly overpaid, with no more refined sense of loyalty than basketball coaches. At least basketball coaches know their guys—three to five in a typical class. Woody Hayes had a starting quarterback hurt in the middle of one game and famously sent in a backup whose name he didn’t know.
I don’t see how you can care about a player if you don’t have more than a nodding relationship with him. And how can you really know a kid if he’s one of a hundred, and there are layers of middle-management (this coordinator, that coordinator, outside linebackers coach, inside linebackers coach) between you and them? Yes, there are on-the-make college basketball coaches, and plenty who’ll light out for a better situation without a care for who’s left in the lurch. But the haughtiness that permeates big-time college football right now is breathtaking.
Remember Dabo Swinney on that John Oliver segment, grumbling about the “attitude of entitlement” he thinks infects kids these days? You want to see entitlement, take a look in the mirror, my man. And if Title IX or some other nefarious equity ethic steers any bowl money to the women or non-revenue men, the tantrums these guys throw. Give me John McKay, the old Southern Cal football coach. He said he only needed three platoons: an offensive team, a defensive team, and a team “to carry me off the field after we win.” A-friggin’-men.
Back in the day.
J.P.:You left Princeton after your sophomore year to spend a season playing for a third-division team in Lucerne, Switzerland. You had been merely an OK high school player. Um, how did this happen? And what do you remember from the experience?
A.W.: I was ready to “stop out” of college after two years, probably from some of the same restlessness that led to the Frost Heaves. This was back before even middle-schoolers talked about taking a “gap year,” and the concept was kind of revolutionary. A childhood friend, a Swiss-American, had played for the national junior team over there and was in college himself, in Fribourg, which happened to be where the Swiss Basketball Federation was based. The president of the federation wanted to develop hoop in the German-speaking part of the country, so my buddy passed along my name. I’d been the fifth option on my high school team, 6 feet tall and maybe 150 pounds, but I was American. When I got off the train in Lucerne, Andre, the G.M. who met me, must have been mortified. But third division club ball in Switzerland in the late Seventies was pretty crude, and I was as much a development worker as a ringer.
The club got me a nonverbal job working for an agricultural consulting firm, coloring maps to indicate soil aptitudes. I reffed rec league games around the canton and picked up a little more money that way. I read a lot. And I taught myself German, though I would have picked up a lot more if they didn’t speak that bizarre Swiss dialect.
When I returned to college the following fall I was much more mature and worldly. I’d like to say I caught a glimpse of the Euro-revolution that would remake the NBA. But mostly I was explaining to people who were conditioned to think of basketball as “not soccer” that it’s only a violation if you intentionally gain some advantage by striking the ball with your feet.
J.P.:What are the keys to reporting a great story? I know that’s a wide-open question, but … for you … what are you trying to do?
A.W.: It starts with the idea. If you have a notion for a story but struggle finding an entry point, or people to talk to, or simply what would go into a nut graf, heed those warning signs. There may be no there there. The last couple of decades I’ve done a lot of historical and issues-based pieces, and for both I’ll try to read widely before I do any interviewing—books and what I can find online, deadlines permitting. That helps with the inevitable passages where you set context, and it wins you goodwill when you go out to report because people know right away that you’ve done your homework and reached some threshold of giving a damn. For similar reasons, I try to swing by a library or historical society or archive once I’m out in the field. It’s amazing what gets stashed in those places, and how much the people who staff them know. Even if you only find one little fact, sometimes you can spin it into gold.
Another strategy that has worked well for me is to make sure to speak to the women around a male athlete or coach. It’s just the nature of things that most of our profile subjects are men, and male athletes are conditioned to put up a shield and resist being introspective or showing vulnerability. Wife, girlfriend, sister, aunt, grandmother—they’re the proxies who can speak to that stuff, the ones who kept the scrapbooks and dressed the skinned knees and remember every little setback along the way. And I think male and female readers alike kindle to something emotional, like a story out of childhood, or proof that even today’s hero was once a goat.
The test around the SI offices after someone filed a profile was simple: Does the story answer the question, “What’s he like?” Understanding that you can never flesh out someone’s whole bio in one magazine story, that’s still the test.
J.P.:I feel like all of us who do this long enough have a money story—that one thing we can tell at parties for years to come. For example, I’ve gotten tons of mileage out of the whole John Rocker saga. So what’s your money story? Craziest, weirdest, most-memorable experience from your life? Do tell …
A.W.: Actually, that Miami story might have been my Rocker moment. It hits, and all of Canes Land is in an uproar. I’m this bogeyman for Miami fans and an easy target for harassment. A drive-time radio jock cold calls my apartment early in the morning, live. I’d gotten smart enough not to pick up, but my answering machine greeting was “You’ve reached 212-blah-blah-blah. I’m sorry I’m not here to take your call . . ..” Which meant that my home number was broadcast all over South Florida, which touched off another round of abusive calls. The weirdest thing is that, in an enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend twist, years later Nevin Shapiro decides to write me from prison because he wants to dish on his adventures in unrestrained Miami boosterdom and figures I can be trusted. I really bear no ill will toward Miami. Sometimes assignments just break a certain way.
For entertainment value at a party, though, I’ll default to something that happened while covering the Bulls during a late-Nineties playoff series. I find myself in the back seat of a car leaving a downtown Chicago club at 3 in the morning. Dennis Rodman is at the wheel. Carmen Electra is riding shotgun. He patches out, backward, down three city blocks, oblivious to the lights, then hits 90 on the Dan Ryan. She’s egging him on the whole way. I’m terrified, envisioning the headline: RODMAN, ELECTRA, ONE OTHER, DEAD IN CRASH.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ALEXANDER WOLFF:
• Rank in order (most desirable to least desirable), guys you can start a team with (from their primes): Fennis Dembo, Yinka Dare, Gerry McNamara, David Wingate, Lancaster Gordon, Laron Profit, Kit Mueller, Shawn Respert, Adam Keefe, Vin Baker: Baker, Respert, Gordon, Keefe, Profit, Dembo, Wingate, Dare, McNamara, Mueller (My head’s spinning from two Lancaster Gordon refs in one Quaz).
• Why wasn’t Reggie Williams a great NBA player?: He was a stick. George Gervin was the last real bag of bones to make it big, and Ice had that one signature shot. Great NBA players all have some signature shot or move, a little film clip that plays on your frontal lobe when his name is mentioned. Reggie didn’t really have that. (That little flip from along the baseline doesn’t count.)
If Reggie had come from some compass-point school in Michigan the way Gervin did, he might have developed a signature weapon. But at Georgetown he was a cog in a machine.
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Leaving Denver on American, sitting in the back of the plane, there’s a loud pop from one of the two side rear engines just as we’ve taken off. Gulps all around the cabin, and the captain comes on, in that Chuck Yeager voice that Tom Wolfe wrote about in The Right Stuff: “Looks like we’ve had a little engine stall, so we’re going to circle back to the airport just to be on the safe side.” I’m no aeronautics whiz, but “engine stall” and “takeoff” would not seem to be an ideal combination. We make it safely back to DIA—I’ve always been grateful they didn’t name the place Denver Overseas Airport—and they subbed out the aircraft.
I do remember getting upgraded on that next flight.
• Our former SI colleague, Merrell Noden, died last year at 59. What can you tell me about him?: Merrell was an endlessly curious guy and a lovely writer who put up on a pedestal every one of the many people he counted as friends. There’s that Billy Collins line that “experience holds its graduation at the grave,” and Merrell was a great example. All the things you and I might have tried out through college, he was doing until the end. Taking piano lessons. Auditing math classes. Tutoring prisoners. Acting in a Shakespeare production. All while raising two magnificent kids and being a proud and supportive companion of his artist wife Eva.
• What’s the scouting report on Alexander Wolff, basketball player, 2016?: Can’t play without at least two days’ rest, ideally three. Only real shot is a square-up mid-range jumper. Beyond-the-arc range disappeared a dozen years ago, along with my core. Trying to backfill with “old man game,” but a guy needs more girth and better peripheral vision to really unlock OMG. Basically, more than 40 years after turning the age Janis Ian sang about inAtSeventeen, now one of “those whose names are never called/when choosing sides for basketball.”
• Christian Laettner—misunderstood lug or legitimate cocky asshole?: Legitimate cocky asshole. He’d tell you as much himself, which was a big part of his success.
• One question you would ask Soulja Boy were he here right now?: “You any relation to Arn Tellem, the Detroit Pistons executive, former player agent, and erstwhile Cheltenham (Pa.) High School classmate of ex-SI staffer Franz Lidz?”
• Elena Delle Donne as a serviceable low-level Division I shooting guard … possible? Ridiculous? Both? Neither?: I adore her game, and I’d love to see what she’d do dropped in among guys—but if you want real serviceability, probably best to try her at D-II or III.
• What are the most overused words in the Alex Wolff writing catalogue?: Maybe it’s my German heritage, but I love words that result from two other words getting scrunched together. Words like gainsay and woodsmoke and hardscrabble. Love them too much, probably.
My wife is my first reader, and she’s genuinely surprised when I write something that doesn’t have hardscrabble in it. Or hard by, as in, “a cabin that sits hard by a silo.” That’s a lot of hard. Guess you could say I take Viagra for my vocabulary.
JEFF PEARLMAN:OK, so your business genuinely fascinates me. But what fascinates me most is that—in a profession where 99 percent seem to use fake photos, hidden identities—you make your own videos, pictures, etc. Does this not concern you at all? Couldn’t it bite you in the rear? You apply for, say, a job at a law office, they Google Image you. Or, years from now, you’re a PTA mom …
JADAH CORTEZ: My entire family and friends group knows my career (yes, you heard that correctly, career) choice. When I introduce myself to people and they ask what I do for a living I tell them I am a pro-dominatrix, as it’s easier to explain than to say I am a lifestyle Goddess. The thing is, let’s say I ever do find myself wanting to go down a more mainstream path, though that is highly unlikely, I’m okay with this being a large portion of my past. Sex workers are discriminated upon so often and its highly disturbing. If a company can’t accept a previous sex worker than it is very clearly not a company I would like to work for. This is the same thought process I hold with friends and family—’If you are not okay with what I do than I am not okay with you.’ Sex work needs to stop being criminalized. Women are getting beaten trying to make a living and end up getting blamed for being a prostitute, because obviously they chose that life right? Its sad, it truly is. I’m knowledgeable enough on the topic to make someone feel idiotic at best for trying to attack this part of my life, and outspoken enough to be able to put someone in their place in any way. I love who I am, and I stand by sex workers. Hiding from it only causes the stigma to grow, and I refuse to allow that to happen. That didn’t flow all too well but my mind was running a million places at once.
J.P.:How did you become “Goddess Jadah”? Literally, what was your path from womb to now? How did it come to you as a profession? When did you start? And who are you? I know you live in Utah, but … married? Kids? College? Dog owner?
J.C.: Well, I suppose the story would have to start from childhood. I’m an only child, extremely intelligent, beautiful, and a knack for having things go my way. Growing up I had two loving parents who raised me and nurtured me to the best of their ability. It was adorable actually, there was kind of a friendly competition of who could spoil me the most. Whenever I got into an argument with one of my parents, the other would step up and take me out. My dad would take me to get ice cream or video games while my mother would take me to get new clothes and shoes. It was a win/win situation. I never lost; I guess I got used to this mentality.
However, the problem would be in my Hispanic background. My parents stepped away from the cliche Mexican ideals but my grandparents held true to them. I was always expected to get married young, have kids young, graduate high school and be a stay-at-home mom. This was not my desire and it put some stress on me, though my parents assured me I could be whatever I wanted to be. Moving forward, I excelled in school. I was an almost straight-A student and graduated high school as the head of my cross country team, a lovely 3.7 GPA, a few college courses in film writing under my belt, a full-ride education scholarship (so room and board not included) to one of hundreds of schools across the United States, and hundreds of hours of volunteer service at the local shelter. I was excelling in every aspect of my life, however I was not happy.
I feel in doing all these things I lost myself. I was in the ‘perfect’ relationship—also which must be noted. He was a star athlete, prom king, and all those other things women fawned over. He treated me like I deserve, constant letters of adoration, daily walks to and from school as his work schedule allowed, and everything else a woman could desire. I still wasn’t happy. At the time I was living in California and left to a school I had never heard of, which I later found to be a Historically Black University, in Virginia. I turned down the opportunity for a full ride at UCLA because I didn’t care. I had already decided that I didn’t want to be society’s version of perfect as that is not who I truly am. I am perfect, and being someone I am not could only taint my perfection.
I completed my first year of college, however, and got perfect marks (minus the fucking B I got second semester in calc) but I had a meltdown. I guess to truly find yourself you need to lose yourself, and that’s exactly what happened. I lost the woman I knew I was and I was scared I would never find her again. I left school and my scholarship and my then-fiance. I jumped into a new relationship with an officer in the military who I didn’t care about, but he was a safety net until I figured out my next move. He was my first experience in D/s relationships. He answered to my every call as we lived together and waited on me hand and foot. I never held his hand and rarely kissed him. I had my couch and he had his. He begged for my love and I wouldn’t give it to him. Over time I grew bored as my sexual desires grew and he was unable to satisfy me correctly due to his smaller-than-average penis. I ended up sleeping with other men, all of whom he knew about, and he seemed strangely aroused by the situation.
I researched online what was going on and found the world of cuckolding by complete accident. Somehow a few articles and clicks later I stumbled across Niteflirt, and Goddess Jadah was born. This isn’t my real name of course, but I do not fear using my real name once I know a boy and if he’s ever curious. Regardless, I am simply referred to as ‘Goddess’ or ‘Princess’. I was a bit past 18 at the time, and now a month away from 22 I can say that I am beyond happy. Here in Salt Lake City I live with my adorable doggy Lucky, my boyfriend (who is very aware of what I do and is so supportive it’s not even funny—he actually helps me with clips quite often), and that’s it. We moved here a little over a month ago because we wanted a new adventure.
Finally, as I have taken a lot of time to answer this question already, I will note that “Who are you?” is a rather hard question. I’ve answered how I got here but not who I am. I would say I’m the woman you walk by and crash into a pole due to captivation. The woman who can break you apart with a glance, but somehow always knows how to piece you together even better than before. The one who knows your weaknesses and has fun pulling at your heart strings. The woman every good boy needs in his life.
J.P.:Your Twitter tagline is, “You need me. Fate has brought you to my feet.” And I get the words from a business standpoint. But, from past Q&As I’ve conducted, it’s clear that there’s an addictive element here. Do you worry about taking advantage of one’s addictive tendencies? Are you worried about ruining relationships, hurting a marriage, etc?
J.C.: Not at all. I have never had this fear and I don’t think this is a good time to start. I understand limits. I can read a person so clearly that I know when to push and when to pull. To this day I have had two marriages end and I am so happy for it. Neither of them were a, “Leave them for me” situation but rather a truly toxic relationship that needed to end and I was the one who was able to help my customers through it. One gal was struggling with her male identity. She knew deep down she was female and also knew her wife would never agree. I was able to help her past it, her self hatred for being different. I was able to make her realize that she can be the beautiful woman she had always known she was. The other was just an unhappy marriage in general. Due to the nature I will not speak on it, but I am also glad it has ended. Beyond those two incidents I have always drawn lines of where I will not cross myself personally, and where my boys don’t want me to cross.
Addiction is real—I have a boy who’s currently in a lot of debt from his old Mistress. He felt into an endless cycle and it took a while for him to break free. It took him a long time to trust me but he does now, fully. I control his finances and am making sure every month a large chunk is set aside for debt. I could easily be selfish and only allow him to pay the minimum, or I could realize how weak he is and put him deeper in the hole, but as his Goddess it is my duty to make him the perfect good boy, and a debt free happy life is part of that.
J.C.: Amazing. It’s my main platform. The percentage they take is nothing when you realize how much money its drawn in for me. I’m one of NF’s top performers, and am very regularly in the top 1 percent on their (they give out semimonthly reports showing your bracket). I woke up this morning to a couple hundred in clip sales on there, along with a $100 amazon giftcard from a good boy who would not know of me be it for Niteflirt. They take a hefty 30 percent but if I worked a storefront I could expect similar fees.
J.P.:Why do you think there are so many pornographic/sexual sites catered toward men for every one for women? Are we simply more desperate? More pathetic?
J.C.: I think boys are weaker. Did you not hear about the guy who fucked a McChicken? Boys will fuck everything. Women have a plethora of men who would give the world to sleep with them. There have only been two guys in my entire life that I truthfully wanted to sleep with prior to the situation that resulted in sex. One was my ex-fiance, one was my now boyfriend of over two years. I wouldn’t say I pursued either of them by any means, but more so that prior to them jumping through hoops to impress me I already had it in my mind I would sleep with them. I make money off of men’s weakness. However, arousal is largely a mental stimulation more so than a physical one. Men are idiots and have a hard time differentiating which is why so many boys do things they wouldn’t do in a non-aroused state compared to an aroused state. You control their cock, you control their mind. Once you have that under your belt it’s just full mind control due to the lack of distinction in the male mind.
J.P.: I have this image of you doing a call, and a guy is jerking off, doing whatever he does, and you’re picking your toes, watching Friday Night Lights re-runs with the volume off. Is that the case? Ever? Or how do you do your calls? Where? What’s the mindset?
J.C.: I have strayed away from the sign in, get random calls, sign off. As this point its more of a preset session. I get a message we set up a time and go from their. Most of what I do are either cam calls or audio hypnosis calls. Both which require my full attention. I love what I do. Looking through some of your things you seem like a sports guy so look at it this way, would you mute the game and read a book? Of course not! You get so drawn in to the game doing anything else would have to wait until commercial break. That’s what sessions are to me.
J.P.: I’ve gotta ask: How does the family feel about your profession? Was there a moment you told them? Explained? What was that like?
J.C.: My mother is more of a don’t ask don’t tell. She knows what I do, but I am her daughter and nothing will ever change that. My father, on the other hand, finds it interesting. Whenever I joke about what he’s getting me for holidays or my birthday’s his instant response is, “But you’re rich! Tell on of you fans to get you stuff!”—to which we both laugh. Of course he still gets me stuff, but he just likes poking fun at me. He doesn’t agree with it, but he refuses to have any avenue between us unopened. If I tell him I’m busy making clips he tells me to call him after, if I tell him I’m going on a vacation he laughs and asks how much of it is covered by my ‘fans’ (all of it of course) and what not. He’s a sweetheart and I’m his one and only child. He loves me, I’m safe, and I’m not mooching off of them financially, what more could parents ask for?
J.P.: Erotic hypnosis via phone seems a bit of a stretch. Like, is it legitimate hypnosis? Are people truly hypnotized, in the traditional sense? Or is it more of a role play? And do you have any sort of hypnosis background?
J.C.: Actual qualifications I have none, though I do plan on getting some certification in 2017. I have been interested in hypnosis from a young age. Elementary school I had trouble sleeping and my mother used to play hypnosis clips for me. They were all food based to lose weight as that’s all she had on cassette. But, regardless of the topic I fell in love. It was so interesting to me getting lost in the words and the art of it all. The first time I ever experienced hypnosis was beautiful. Once I had awoken I can honestly say I had never felt so full of happiness in my life. It was something I listened to regularly and I became interested in the subconscious mind. Of course I grew up the internet became more prevalent. Life hack: If you need to read a book for school, play the audio it in your sleep on repeat for a week. I did this all through high school after being submersed in the strangeness of the subconscious mind. I got 100 percent on every single reading comprehension test without ever actually reading a word. I did hypnosis for a year as practice free of charge until I felt comfortable with my talents. At this point, if anyone questions I just refer them to my clip “Goddess of Love—Your Life’s Purpose—Hypnosis” which can be found on my Niteflirt, or any other clip site for that matter. After that file you’ll have the answer yourself.
J.P.:Best story from your career? The one that stands out in your mind …
J.C.: Oh gosh, there are so many. I will quickly name a few with little details. I’m a Goddess, you can’t put these sort of restraints on me!
• The boy who I had never spoken to but bought my MacBook pro and only messaged me to inform me.
• The boy who did a 45 minute role play all by himself. He simply wanted me to listen to him over the phone act out like four different roles in a sex scene.
• The boy who wanted to be hypnotized into feminization, and when I started producing the sensation of his chest expanding he started screaming at the top of his lungs right in my ear and saying his Hail Marys.
• A boy who called daily for months to play me a song on his guitar and sing to me.
The list could go on forever.
J.P.:I’m obsessed with death. It often consumes me—the reality that, ultimately, I will cease to exist for eternity. I’m guessing this doesn’t particularly bug you. Why? Why not?
J.C.: As an atheist I have some fear, but its minimal. I’m not worried about being forgotten, as those who have known me will take my memory to the grave. I am not worried about death as in my mind it will be equivalent to prior conception. There was nothing, there will be nothing again. I don’t recall pre-birth as being a negative experience, as I do not recall it at all. Just as I feel post death is also nothing. I don’t visualize it as a dark empty space, I literally visualize it as nothing.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JADAH CORTEZ:
• Rank in order (favorite to least) American cheese, Arian Foster, pop-up VW vans, “Jurassic Park II,” corned beef, Huey Lewis, tablecloths, Cindy Lauper, poetry, The Nutcracker: VW vans (I actually just sold my orange 82′ vanagon with the full pop up tent with all the mini kitchen in tact prior to moving here), American cheese, poetry, Cindy Lauper, corned beef, The Nutcracker, Huey Lewis, “Jurassic Park II”, tablecloths, Arian Foster (mainly because I had to look him up so he is irrelevant to my life”)
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Oh yes. Planes are actually one of my greatest fears. I was flying from Norfolk Virginia to D.C. and it was a tiny little plane as it was a connecting flight to a big airport. The turbulence was the end of me as we were in a huge storm. The over voice informed us we were landing so seat belts need to be buckled and what not. We started going down, about half way to the run way the plane immediately jerked up and we started going back up. It felt like we were going up for hours. I swear I thought the plane was hijacked. No voice came on the intercom and every one was confused, except me. I was terrified. Well, turns out they couldn’t land as the storm was screwing up visibility so we had to return to Norfolk and try again in 2 hours, which ended up fucking up my connecting flight from DC to Texas, and Texas to Oregon. I was pissed and shaken up. But they compensated by giving me a large sum of money in food vouchers, hotel stay, and limo service.
• Are big penises really so much better than small ones?: Yes.
• What’s the sexual taboo that troubles you the most?: Pedophilia. Don’t touch kids, don’t think about kids, don’t do anything. They’re innocent.
• One question you would ask Rand Paul were he here right now?: Funny enough, one of my previous submissives works with him personally. I have no questions for him as I have no interest in someone who will willingly be part of returning to the days when the only option for women was coat hangers.
• Donald Trump is president. Your emotions in exactly 17 words: That’s a sperm that should have ended up in the trash. He can’t even control his hair.
• Can you explain the longstanding popularity of pumpkin-flavored everything?: I’m unsure. Its an epidemic that has swept the nation, yet I fail to see why.
• Five reasons one should make Salt Lake City his/her home: I live here, its the safest big city in America, the economy here is booming and there’s jobs around every corner, there’s little pollution for so many people, its extremely affordable compared to the California prices I’m used to.
• Five things you always carry in your purse: Pepper spray, lipstick, my cell phone, pocket knife, and mini utensils
• Would you let your kids play tackle football? Why or why not?: Sure. Kids should be active. Always let, never force.
If you’re a fan of talent and substance over hype and nonsense, this is your Quaz.
If you’re a fan of passion over ego; of hard work over nonsense; of craftsmanship over ad-libbing—this is your Quaz.
If you’re a fan of rising stars who don’t think of themselves as rising stars, this is your Quaz.
And, lastly, if you’re a fan of the daughters of ex-Pittsburgh Steeler linebackers, well, this is your Quaz.
Margot Bingham kicks ass. That sentence just entered my skull, and it’s true. If you pay even the slightest bit of attention, you’ve seen her work on shows ranging from Boardwalk Empire to The Family to Matador. If you’re a lover of music, her voice and stylings—sultry, smooth, vivid—will blow you away. And if you simply like reading about the rise and accomplishments of genuinely decent humanoids, well, you’re in the right place.
One can follow Margot on Twitter here, and visit her website here. (if you love music in even the slightest way, make certain to check out her outstanding Feel Good Studios series on the site).
Margot Bingham, you’ve arrived. You’re the 286th Quaz Q&A …
JP:Margot, I’m going to start with a statement that morphs into a question. So people are generally captivated by celebrity and, in particular, movie and TV stars. Well, about, oh, 10 years ago I did a TV Guide story on a show called “Love Monkey.” It starred Tom Cavanagh, Jason Priestly — and the day was soooooo boring. One scene was shot over, oh, a four-hour span. When I finally sat down with Priestly I said, “This seems surprisingly dull.” And he said, “Brother, you have no idea.” Margot, I get the excitement of premiers, bright lights, award shows. But is the creative process of television an interesting and engaging day-to-day experience? Or, sister, do I have no idea?
MARGOT BINGHAM: Ha! What a great way to start this out. So, its funny you mentioned this experience because one day when my parents came to visit me on the Boardwalk Empire set, they couldn’t believe just how many takes I did for one single line. I remember my dad making a comment to my aunt over the phone, just saying how unbelievable it was that we just kept going and going.
For readers to understand from an artistic standpoint, this is essentially what our job is. Yes, the entertainment world can seem quite glamorous, although it’s more political than anything else, but my job as an actor is going into work and no matter how many takes I do of the same line or scene, I have to make it look and feel like it’s the very first time. If I am required to be, say, surprised … you best believe my ass is getting surprised about 50 times in a row. Obviously the viewer only sees me getting surprised just that once, so I need to make each one of those 50 takes count. I guess the long way to answer your question on whether or not the day-to-day is engaging, the answer is, even if it’s not, I have to make it be. Just like any job, on days you’re sick or just don’t feel like going into work, you pull yourself together and do it anyway.
J.P.:To many fans of Boardwalk Empire, you are — before anything else — Daughter Maitland — and the role scored you hugely positive reviews. I’m fascinated how this happened. I mean, soup to nuts, how did you get the gig?
M.B.: I had originally moved from Pittsburgh to New York City. I didn’t finished college. I left about two years in. After moving, my parents gave me one year to get my act together or it was back to school I would go. To be honest, I was looking into recording and audio engineering schools, just in case. I ended up going in for an open-call audition for Rent, as it was the last production before the musical closed. I was number 719 in line and I was far from the last person in line. It wrapped around avenues and blocks and took forever! But I was the only one who made it from the open-call. Pretty incredible.
Eventually, the show closed. Everyone else in the production had an agent, so I thought, being in a show and having some newfound clout, it was time I go and get one myself! I was lucky enough to have signed with a smaller agency just before the show closed, then it was back to being unemployed and hitting up more auditions.
They called me in for Boardwalk as a jazz singer, possibly for a “day player.” What that means is, I play the role whatever it may be, for one day, and then my job for that episode, possibly the season, is finished. I went in to audition nine more times. It went from having me sing the song, which was “St. Louis Blues,” to then reading a small scene, to finally doing both. I met with the producers and casting and knew a lot of the other girls who went in. For casting, it always comes down to the “type” they want, so there were plenty of other beautiful, light-skinned singers there, mostly from the Broadway community with more credits than I had.
Fortunately, I ended up getting the role. I received my first script and it was a small intro, a tiny sassy scene with Michael K. Williams, and then the practice song in the background of the club. I truly thought it would all end there, but two seasons later with a series wrap, there I was … still standing. I never could have imagined my journey with that show lasting as long as it did. Waiting weekly on the next episode, I thought for sure I’d be the next to be whacked off! But I was one of the very few who survived (spoiler alert). My storyline never existed before I got there. Now, being friends with the writers and producers, they never saw me comin’ …
J.P.:I’m going to ask something sorta odd. Do you know if a film sucks or kicks ass while you’re taping? Let’s use “Barbershop: The Next Cut” as an example. I truly enjoyed the film. But as you’re working, do you have any remote idea? Is there a terror in seeing the final product?
M.B.: Of course there’s a terror in seeing the final product. At least for me there is. I always want to see it alone before the premiere. In case my performance sucked, I want to be the first to know I sucked. It’s like owning up to the joke before others can laugh at you. Barbershop was my first comedy. Every joke that someone made, there’s not a live audience to laugh as we move along, so there’s no real way to test it. Being one of the only non-comedians in the cast, I was constantly wondering or questioning if our jokes would land, but then I reminded myself that comedy is one of the most truthful emotions we can portray. If you try to make a joke without speaking from a place of truth, the joke won’t stick. Comedy is honest and dramatic. Worrying about the outcome and not living in what we were trying to create would only hurt myself. So just like every project, you have to go into it not worrying about the outcome. As far as watching the final product, you have to remember the amazing experience you had working on it and the new family you’ve created because of it.
M.B.: Unfortunately, I missed my dad playing by a few years. He actually stopped playing the year my brother, Cori, was born. He is three years older than I am, so my dad was pretty far removed as a player by that point. I did, however, grow up with a lot of “uncles” who were former teammates of my father. Growing up around Franco Harris and Craig Woofley was pretty normal for me. Only now do I truly appreciate the support system our family had. My dad constantly jokes that my career has surpassed his. I don’t think it has anything to do with who got further with fame. The two most important lessons I’ve learned, which both of my parents always tried to instill, was for me to always stay grounded and to read everything I sign.
My family has been known to put me in check a few times if I start getting too big for my britches. Plus, I’m from Pittsburgh. It’s a blue-collar town with a hustler mentality. I’m also lucky enough to have not had my career take off until now. I think if I were younger and grew up with this lifestyle, it would be more difficult to connect with reality.
As far as reading everything I sign, my dad and his teammates learned first hand how badly you can get yourself into trouble with a contract if you don’t read it through carefully. Without realizing, you can sign your fortunes and rights away purely by lack of knowledge. My mom and dad never wanted me to get stuck. They always pushed me to learn as much as possible … and then learn more. I ended up switching my major in school to entertainment and sports Management and took a course on contractual agreements. I’m very grateful that my parents enforced knowledge above all else.
J.P.: I’m gonna follow up with something. My nephews are bi-racial and the absolute lights of my heart. The older one is 16. Recently we posed for a photo at a wedding and he SnapChatted it with the caption, “White family problems.” I was genuinely hurt, but then I thought about what surely must be the adolescent complications and confusions that came with being bi-racial. So, Margot, what are the complications and confusions?
M.B.: Woof. I could talk to you about this all week. I grew up in a predominantly white community. I was one of four black kids in my middle school and high school combined. My brother shared the other half of that ratio. There were definitely moments where I tried to either style my hair or change my clothes in the efforts to blend in with the other girls. When I entered high school, I switched to a performing arts school outside of the suburbs and into the city. It was a totally opposite experience. I may have been the only mixed freshman. Black girls didn’t get me. White girls didn’t get me. It was a very helpless feeling, knowing that neither side offered me the opportunity to fit in. Only as I’ve gotten older have I finally removed the burden of needing the approval of someone else.
While it’s difficult being a minority anywhere, the challenge of being so as a teenager can present daunting experiences. Adolescence is harrrrrrd. We’ve all been there … but we suppress it, because it wasn’t always the most pleasant of memories for anyone of us. Fitting in as an adult is difficult enough, but these kids in today’s culture now have to deal with added layers, such as cyber bullying, etc.
I’m sure that picture hurt your feelings, but I can guarantee that your nephew is just trying to navigate through his youth. I’m also sure that if he knew of the weight of his words, he would’ve thought twice about saying them. As he gets older, I’m confident he’ll be able to compartmentalize his feelings and not poke fun at the expense of others. Wanting to be accepted by your peers is always challenging. Trying to do so as a kid of any color adds a whole new layer.
With her father.
J.P.:Is fame appealing? What I mean is, I’ve known people who chase a career in Major League Baseball because they love the game but have no interest in the attention. I know others who desperately want to sign autographs and score free meals. What about you?
M.B.: I think people choose certain paths for many reasons. Entertainment was always my calling. Acting, singing and dancing were things I’ve always loved and gave me the ultimate sense of fulfillment, but with this career comes other responsibilities. I think fame, past a certain point in your career, is inevitable. But manners maketh the man. I never had any desire to be famous. I have even less now as I get older and try to understand the world and my industry. Free meals are cool, changing a person’s day because you sign an autograph is pretty incredible. But I’d personally like to make a mark with my fame in other ways. There are organizations I’d like to showcase. There are groups I’d like to finance. Kids I’d like to see get a better education. I would like to share the platform I fought to achieve with things that fulfill me inside instead of the lights and cameras. Superficial things fade, love never does.
J.P.:In 2013 you are credited as playing “Uniform #2” in the TV series, “Golden Boy.” This isn’t a question, so much as a request. Can you tell me everything you recall from the experience. And what did you do with the 12 Emmys?
M.B.: Lol, you’re crazy. Well … I actually remember a lot from that day! It was cold as shit. I had to wear a horrible cop suit. Just a side note, women having to wear cop uniforms on TV or film is never sexy. I had a tiny little room for my trailer. It was post 9/11 and the episode was about the World Trade Center going down. It was surreal. We filmed it in Brooklyn with a beautiful skyline of the city. Me, and Uniform #1, had to look over at the city skyline as if we were seeing the towers getting hit for the first time, but the wild thing was that nothing was there. No towers, so the camera operator gave us our eye line so we would both be looking in the same direction. Pretty wild.
J.P.:When did you know performing was for you? Like, not when did you first have a performance? When did you have that magical lightening bolt appear?
M.B.: When I was 12, I had vocal surgery. It was my voice teacher at the time who told my mom to bring me in to get checked. I guess it wasn’t normal for a 12-year old girl to be singing tenor bass in the choir and crushing Toni Braxton songs. I ended up having two cysts on my vocal chords, which were hindering my ability to have any sort of range in my voice. I always just sounded low and raspy. So when they were doing the surgery, they made us aware that there was a chance I’d never be able to sing again and my voice would be different forever. It was either that, or eventually, I wouldn’t have much of a voice at all. So we took the chance and I was mute for a few months post-surgery.
I had to learn how to speak again before I could learn how to sing again. I remember going back to my voice school for the vocal recital. It was still way too early for me to be singing, but I wanted to go so badly. My song was “In My Own Little Corner,” from Cinderella. I remember getting up on stage, the piano starting, opening my mouth to sing and nothing came out. I tried again, and nothing. I ran off stage and locked myself in the bathroom until everyone from the recital had left. I was so embarrassed, but when I walked out, I knew I had to make the choice to improve or quit. I walked out and chose to fight.
J.P.:Maybe an odd question, but is it at all intimidating to work with superstar veterans of the trade? You’re with Joan Allen in “The Family”; you were with Steve Buscemi in “Boardwalk Empire,” Ice Cube in Barbershop. Etc … etc. Do you see yourself as 100-percent equal peer in those circumstances? Is there any, “Holy shit! Calm down!” going through your head? If not now, in the past?
M.B.: Jeff, that “holy shit” moment is every, day. Joan Allen, whoa. What an incredible actress and I get to go head-to-head with her?! I remember going to see Room, and then thinking, “Heh, tomorrow I get to go to work and tell this woman, face to face, my thoughts on the movie and her performance!” It’s still pretty surreal, but in the scene work, I’m not myself … I’m not Margot. I have to be truthful to the character I’m playing and leave those nerves in the dressing room. If I bring my fan-girl baggage to set, it’ll affect my performance. So instead, I try to stay in the moment and learn bits and pieces from these greats. I’ve been lucky enough to build up quite the catalogue.
J.P.:You have an absolutely killer voice, so I’m gonna be weird with this. After Whitney Houston died in 2012, a well-regarded music critic lambasted her for throwing away her gift with cigarettes, drugs, etc. He called her selfish, in that she gave us this magical sound but failed to care for if. Fair? Unfair? Why?
M.B.: Both fair and unfair—here’s why. It’s unfair because the people who were obsessed with her demanded to be so “in the know” of her life. Her lack of privacy can be largely attributed to her drug use. Fans can typically feel like they are owed every ounce of insight from celebrities. They can feel like that level of access is deserving. Whitney, G_d bless her … she struggled with the fame, so she tried to escape it in the only way she could without quitting something she loved so deeply.
It’s fair because someone in her camp should’ve fought harder for her. If she were able to focus solely on herself, her family and her craft, maybe she would still be here with us. But when so many people take a piece of you, how much is left for you to survive with?
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MARGOT BINGHAM:
• Would you rather slice off your left arm with a rusty butcher’s knife or devote yourself to eating a pound of bacon a week for the rest of your life?: Definitely slice my arm off. I can probably heal better than bacon constantly clogging up my arteries!
• Celine Dion calls. She offers you $25 million a year to be her personal acting coach. You have to move to Las Vegas, work 360 days a year, shave off all your hair and change your middle name to RoseDawson. You in?: Count. Me. In! First off, love me some Celine. What a babe, inside and out. Secondly, hair grows back, plus I’ve always wanted to shave it all off! And third? I would learn so much more than what I could teach her if I were to be by her side for one full year. She’s a machine, never stops. Plus, I could save up AND feed a small country, with this newfound friendship, and have her back that same … poor … country. BOOM! World problems solved. Thanks Celine.
• Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?: “Keep Going.” I know this one is so short and obvious, but on the tough days when you don’t know if you have anything left to give or to fight for, you have to trust that you’re meant for something greater. But you can’t get there unless you keep going, keep fighting, keep pushing. Greatness wasn’t meant for the lazy. That’s why it remains so great.
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I try NOT to think about that! But in one particular case, it was hard to avoid. There were severe choppy skies. A young girl, mid-20s, was sitting next to me. The whole flight, not one peep. Then we started to dip, pretty badly, and every time we did, she’d let out a little yell. And then an, “Oh my gd!” Then a “Jesus Gd!” And then began to start crying. At this point, I kinda had to ask her if she was okay, as I was praying in my own seat but totally trying to look like the cool, seasoned flyer. I calmed her down and we came out fine, thankfully. But as I was calming her, I couldn’t help but think that I was full of shit.
• Three memories from your senior prom: 1. I wore a Halloween costume because I couldn’t find a dress or a corset to duplicate Drew Barrymore’s princess moment in Never Been Kissed; 2. My date was close to 30. I took my brother’s friend because no one asked me and I didn’t want to go Hans solo. Looking back, he was a good friend to agree to that; 3. I went to a bar instead of the high school after=party.
• The people at my gym never clean off the StairMaster after sweating all over it. Give me a creative idea how to get revenge:Ohhhhh I hate to be a lame, but I’m such a pushover. I’d just clean it off myself. If you give them your sweaty towel, then it affects everyone. And if you sweat all over the water fountain? Same thing. That’s a tricky one.
• One question you would ask Bubby Brister were he here right now: My dad said he was a pretty wild guy! There may have been a few experiences that flew under the radar. So, I would ask him to tell me his craziest story. I may be there all month.
As you read this, I am sitting inside Buzz, a coffee shop along the main drag cutting through Encinitas, California.
Two minutes ago I ordered something called “Best Drink Ever.” It’s described as “classic americano + signature creamy vanilla.” I’ve taken two sips, and it seems quite good.
But, really, it might be quite bad. I have no idea, because to my tongue and mouth, coffee is coffee. Starbucks, McDonald’s, Tea Leaf, Dunkin’ Donuts—it all pretty much tastes the same. Which, while hardly unique among humanoids, is surely sacrilege to today’s 285th Quaz Q&A.
James Hoffmann, after all, isn’t merely a guy who enjoys a nice cup o’ joe. Nope–he’s the winner of the 2007 World Barista Championship. He’s also the author of The World Atlas of Coffee, as well as the head of Square Mile Coffee Rosters and a prolific writer on all things coffee.
In short, if you aspire to know anything (and everything) about the magical drink, James is your guy.
JEFF PEARLMAN:So James, there are countless times when I’ll be standing in line at some café, and the person in front of me takes 20 minutes to make his/her mind up on some genre of a coffee drink. And I always think the same thing: “It’s just a fucking drink. Who really gives a shit?” It seems like this sentiment would really rub you wrongly. Yes? No? And why?
JAMES HOFFMANN: It doesn’t rub me the wrong way, though it speaks to one of the tensions within coffee: a cup of coffee can be a delicious way to switch on the brain in the morning, and it can be one of the myriad ways in which you define yourself and express control in your life. Coffee has been pretty deeply embedded and intertwined with culture for a long time now, and so we’ve come to add meaning to certain drinks. If you drink espresso, then you probably consider yourself someone worth defining as an “espresso drinker”, and there’s a tone of stuff that comes with that – be it the implication of intensity, or the pace at which you live.
When it comes to function vs form, neither is wrong or bad but there’s often a little friction there. So, if you’re picky about what you want to drink, then I’m on your side. However, if you’re the kind of person who waits in line for the ATM, but wait until you’re actually at the machine before you go looking for your wallet and your bank card – then I hate you.
J.P.:You’re a coffee guy. Like, a coffee coffee coffee guy. So, being American and being surrounded by them, I must ask: What are your thoughts about Starbucks?
J.H.: My feelings about Starbucks somewhat mirror my feelings about the USA. I should explain … I love the US, it is one of my favorite countries on Earth, I love visiting and spending time there. There are so many amazing things, incredible people, opportunities and institutions. However, I can’t deny that I’m horrified by a lot in the US too. The healthcare system, industrialized food and the obesity epidemic tied to it, income inequality, gun violence, workers rights (things like a lack of real maternity leave blows my mind) – all of these things upset me and I hate them. So, I both love and hate the US. I feel the same about Starbucks. I love them for all the work they do recruiting new coffee drinkers (you just don’t see anyone under 21 in a specialty coffee shop). They buy, and have bought, coffee from farms in a responsible and sometimes life-changing way. They’ve changed the general public’s expectation of what a cup of coffee should cost. I know some incredible, talented and passionate people who work in Starbucks. All very, very good things. However, there’s lots to hate: the coffee is often terrible, they could pay staff better around the world, they could pay their taxes in the countries they operate in. The uniformity of a Starbucks just makes the world a little less interesting – I don’t want a coffee shop in Moscow that is the same as one in Houston.
J.P.:What’s the difference between an absolutely breathtaking cup of coffee and a mediocre cup of coffee? I don’t simply mean taste. I mean texture, feel, background, mojo. The whole thing.
J.H.: It’s hard to talk about this stuff without sounding a little crazy. A truly breathtaking cup of coffee is primarily an intellectual thing, because it tastes very clearly of the place in which it was grown. The idea of terroir is common in wine, and is true for coffee. So firstly, you have the kind of clarity of flavor that means you can pick up different flavors and aromas that are tied to a place. As for a more objective experience – truly great coffee has a delightful natural sweetness to it, and this should be front and center. This is down to picking the coffee fruit at peak ripeness, and that sweetness carries right through. Great coffee should have pleasant acidity. Not the tart, ugly sourness that bad coffee can have. I’m thinking more the acidity of a good apple, than the acidity of lemon juice. Acidity brings the other flavors to life, and makes coffee more pleasing to drink. (Same with soda….). The bitterness should be minimal, though bitterness ends up being a pretty subjective thing. Some people like a lot, but I don’t. You can’t really get a lot of bitterness without roasting the coffee pretty dark, which mutes acidity and drives away a lot of the interesting flavors. Finally, the aftertaste has to be wonderful. Coffee flavor hangs around, espresso especially, so when you have a great coffee that leaves you with a pleasing, caramelly sweetness, life is pretty good.
J.P.:You were the 2007 World Barista Champion. I visited the website, and the rules are long and extremely dry. So, James, what did it entail? What did you have to do? And what did winning mean for you?
J.H.: Barista competitions are best described as part Iron Chef, part sommelier competition, part dog show. They’re pretty weird, but in a good way. The format is pretty simple: You make three rounds of drinks, for four judges. You have to make them each an espresso, each a milk drink and then each a custom creation called a “signature drink”. They assess the flavor of each of the drinks, in a very serious way. They also assess your presentation, looking at how well you tell the story of the coffee, how well you describe its flavor, how good your service is. Meanwhile, two judges watch your preparation work to judge your technical skills. This competition format is used around the world – I think somewhere between 50 and 60 countries each year run a competition, that feeds into the World Championship. When I won it was in Tokyo and, unsurprisingly, the Japanese get pretty obsessed about coffee. Having around 3,000 in a room watching me make espresso drinks was both weird and wonderful!
J.P.:Here’s a weird one: When I drink lots of coffee, I have to poop a ton. Is this a common side effect? And, if so, any idea why?
J.H.: This is indeed pretty common. Initially this freaked me out whenever it happened to me, because it happens so fast! There was no way the coffee itself was working its way through my digestive system in that time. Turns out darker roasted coffee triggers a hormone to be released, which in turns makes you need to grab a newspaper and head to the bathroom. Lighter roasted coffee tends to affect people less it seems.
J.P.:You operate Square Mile Coffee Roasters out of East London. How did that happen? I mean, quite literally, how does one develop his own roasting company? And is it really possible to create 100% unique coffee? I mean, there are so many coffee companies out there. Isn’t there a huge taste overlapping?
J.H.: I’d been working in coffee for a few years, and when my business partner and I started the company we wanted to open a cafe and to roast inside it. I’d been working doing a lot of training and education and she’d been doing the same, as well as working for a green (raw) coffee importing company in London.
However, just when we were about to sign the lease the financial crisis of 2008 was reaching its worst point and so we figured a big rent was a bad idea. We took a little industrial space and just started roasting, and working with a few wholesale customers. We tried to help fan the flames of great coffee in London, and since then the coffee scene has certainly exploded. London has one of the most intense coffee scenes of any city in the world now.
As for uniqueness – this is a great question. Our philosophy has been about a couple things: Traceability has always been key. We only create a couple of blends for espresso, and everything else is un-blended and sold under the name of the farm, or group, that produced. Nothing is kept secret. This means our range changes a lot, because we’re also interested in seasonality. While people get seasonality in fruit and vegetables, its role in coffee has been pretty hidden for a long time. Different countries harvest coffee at different times of the year, and once harvested the raw coffee is only really excellent for a few months. Right now is a great time to drink Central American coffees, from places like Guatemala and El Salvador, or Costa Rica. However, in six months you don’t want to be drinking them, as they’ll be flat and boring and likely taste a bit woody. So roasters now try to buy coffees freshly harvested, and use them quickly. Buying from a roaster like us works if you’re interested in exploring what coffee has to offer. It isn’t going to be the same all year, and we like that. We get that some people prefer consistency, but we figure there’s lots of companies doing that already.
J.P.:Non-coffee question: As I mentioned earlier, I live in America, and Donald Trump is our next president. How is this playing in England?
J.H.: There are raised eyebrows. Granted, our foolish decision to try to leave the EU perhaps helped validate some of his ideas, so we feel partially to blame. I think there is genuine fear. The only upside would be that his economic policies would likely weaken the US dollar, which would (as a company that buys coffee in USD) make life a little easier. While we understood that Hilary was by no means an ideal candidate, I think most here were hopeful that upon election she would have come through as the lesser of two evils.
J.P.:You’re the author of “The World Atlas of Coffee”—which delves into the origins, makeup, delight of coffee. I’m fascinated by the way books are pieced together. So why a book? How did you go about it? How much travel was involved? How do you feel about the finished product?
J.H.: Sadly, the advance for a book like this doesn’t finance a huge amount of travel! The book was a pretty brutal learning experience for me, and at the end I truly understood that writing is a job that takes time, energy and head space. Trying to do a job like this, while having a couple of other full time jobs, is not wise!
I wrote the book, primarily, because I wanted to own it. There was this weird gap in coffee, where we spent so much time talking about where it is from but there wasn’t a book you could buy that would explain what it all meant, that showed you more about where and how coffee was grown. The coffee boom in recent years has come with a lot of information about every cup of coffee served, but not much in the way of guidance for how to use that information to make better decisions, and to make coffee a little more enjoyable. A barista might tell you a coffee is a “natural process coffee”, but if you don’t really know what that means it just makes coffee complicated, intimidating and less fun.
I don’t want coffee to be something impenetrable, something you have to be “in the know” about to really enjoy. I didn’t want the Atlas to be just a reference text, all dry and serious. So hopefully the book is kind of field manual, there to help buy your next bag or maybe help with your next brew at home.
J.P.: Is there fact in the taste of coffee? What I mean is, are there factually “good” and factually “bad” coffees? If my dad loves McDonald’s coffee but hates Square Mile, is he, simply wrong? Is he of bad taste? Or do you view it differently?
J.H.: This is difficult. In terms of taste, my preferences aren’t any more right than yours, or anyone else. You like what you like. However, there is coffee is bad when considered outside of the cup. It might be the way it was grown, or picked, or roasted or brewed. There are good ways and bad, from an ethical, financial or philosophical perspective. My feelings are that, whatever you currently enjoy, there’s probably something out there you could enjoy even more. Coffee is a rich world, full of choice, diversity and fun. It’s worth at least a little exploration.
J.P.:Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?
J.H.: Greatest moment: hard to pick one! Winning the World Championships was great, of course. (I got a giant novelty cheque too, which was definitely on the bucket list!) Seeing London’s coffee culture boom and grow has been another. Building a sustainable business, supportive of its team (about 50% of people who have moved on from us now run their own companies) and its industry has been hugely rewarding.
Lowest: being so broke, as a demonstrator of domestic espresso machines in a department store, that I survived several days on milk and chocolate powder.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JAMES HOFFMANN:
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Ella Fitzgerald, Monty Python, Guns n Roses, “Rocky II” Chris Tucker, ankle-high socks, the Big Mac, your right elbow, the number 23, Michael Jordan: Monty Python (national pride), Ella Fitzgerald, Chris Tucker, the Big Mac, Guns n Roses, Rocky II, my right elbow, ankle high socks, Michael Jordan, number 23 (this means nothing to me!).
• The worst cup of coffee you ever had was?: There’s a cafe in Tokyo that serves coffee that was picked a long time ago. They had a coffee from Colombia that was picked in 1954. I could not resist ordering it. Our sense of taste evolved primarily to keep us from poisoning ourselves, and drinking this set off all sorts of alarms. Just weird, rotten, moldy, gross coffee. It was like nothing else I’ve ever had. It was hard work to make it to the end, as my hosts had paid for it and were keen to see me enjoy myself.
• The best cup of coffee you ever had was?: Possibly that same coffee from 1954. Most memorable, certainly!
• Would you rather never drink coffee again or cut off three toes from your right foot?: I’m struggling more with this question than I thought I would. It’s not that I don’t love coffee, but I feel like my toes are very useful and I like running around and doing stuff. So maybe no more coffee for me.
• In exactly 23 words, make a case for Diet Pepsi: It probably isn’t what you want, or what you ordered. It’s fine though, because it has caffeine. Just add a lot of ice.
• Three memories from your first date: Jet lag, a shy smile, the door being closed on me before I could go in for a kiss.
• One question you would ask Bob Dole were he here right now?: What is your biggest regret? (I’m always interested in learning hard lessons the easiest way possible)
• Is speed walking a sport? And why?: No, because apparently this is just something I consider to be normal walking speed. (I just like to get to a place, and I gather me being 6’4 and in a hurry isn’t much fun for the people walking next to me).
• Is it possible my dog is ignoring me on purpose?: There is definitely intent in that behavior.
So a couple of weeks ago I was soliciting new Quaz enlistees, and an alumni of this series—the super fantastic Jenni DeMilo—said, “I have the perfect person for you.” Or some words along those lines.
She told me about a colleague in the online sex industry who works as a “Jappy Princess.” Which immediately struck me as both odd and interesting—odd, because I’m Jewish and I’ve known my fair share of JAPs; interesting, because I’m Jewish and while I’ve known my fair share of JAPs, I’ve never known one who works as a phone sex conversationalist. But that’s what this week’s interviewee does and, according to Jenni, does well.
She also happens to be one of the cooler people I’ve met in nearly six years of Quazes. Although I’ll respect Jappy Princess’ requested privacy, I will say—away from the world of masturbatory avatars—she’s normal and funny and lovely and human. The obnoxiousness you might see in her Niteflirt pages? If not an act, probably a safe exaggeration of a decent person just trying to make a living in a most unique way.
Jappy Princess, take a break from the phones and enter the land of Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN:So I’ve had different people who work in myriad sex-related businesses do this Q&A, but never a “Jewish Princess”—mainly because I didn’t know such a thing existed in the phone sex world. So please, explain this fetish. What are people looking for? Why the Jewish element
JAPPY PRINCESS: When I started doing phone sex, I didn’t see anyone offering a Jewish Princess humiliation experience, and I thought that would be a really exploitable element. “Jewish” dredges up lots of weird feelings in Jews and goyim alike. I also knew that it would be important to speak knowledgeably, and I know a lot about Jews and Jewish Princess culture – it’s a part of me. My callers are looking for the stereotype they see on TV, or someone they have met in real life. I hear from a lot of them that I remind them of a girl from their youth who rejected them. They get to relive that humiliation when I reject them again. Most of my callers aren’t Jewish, but have a thing for Jewish women, and know that we tend to stick with the tribe. That’s the allure
J.P.:There’s a question I always ask people in the sex business, so I’ll ask you: What does your family think about the work? How open are you with them? Are they cool with it? Angry? Thrilled? Embarrassed? And does it come up in regular conversation?
JAPPY PRINCESS: No, my family doesn’t know. I live in Hollywood where everyone is a writer, director, actor or life coach, so it’s pretty easy to make something up that no one understands. All they really care about is that I’m making money and not soaking off of them. My mom has better things to worry about anyway, like redecorating her Palm Beach condo.
J.P.:In your bio you write, “my boyfriend is a member of the tribe.” And I wonder why you even mention a boyfriend, because I would think—probably incorrectly—that part of the appeal for men is along the lines of, “Hey, she’s hot, maybe she’ll be interested in me …” No?
JAPPY PRINCESS: What kind of loser would I be if I had no man? It really doesn’t matter, since many of them still think they have a chance anyway. They like to tell me they have more money, are better looking, etc. I love when my callers get jealous of him; it’s pretty hilarious. Others want to hear all about the “real man” who gets the woman they never could, and want to pay for our dinners and vacations. It’s a smorgasbord of neuroses.
J.P.:I have this image of phone sex professionals being on a call, the person on the other end getting all hot and horny while you’re filing your nails, half listening, watching an episode of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. No? Yes? How engaged do you have to be
JAPPY PRINCESS: I’d imagine that your vision is probably correct for many phone sex ops, but for a good call, you have to be engaged. When I get a caller that’s not engaging, I let him know he’s totally fucking boring me, and that I’m barely paying attention. The type of caller I get eats that up. That’s what’s so fun about calling me, I’m really honest and super bitchy. I also take calls while I’m hiking, shopping, on the treadmill, or getting my nails done.
J.P.:What’s your path? Like, birth to now, how did this happen for you? How did you enter the phone sex business?
JAPPY PRINCESS: I’ll get this part out of the way first: I have a great relationship with my father, Whatever any armchair psychologist might want to be true, I don’t do this because I’m looking for male attention or some shit. I do it because my chosen career was destroyed by file-sharing. Also, I’m fucking good at it, and I make more money sitting at home in my Lululemon than I would as a Senior VP at some label, which is where I would likely be right now. The other relevant thing you should know about my father is that he has a disgusting, foul mouth, and never stopped telling dirty jokes. The sharp tongue I got from him has come in handy in both my careers. My mother is an unrepentant JAP, where all my worst qualities come from, and largely why I’m good at what I do.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. summer camp, got kissed at 13, fucked at 18, blah, blah, blah. There’s nothing to note because I was a good girl, who got good grades, played the violin, and was focused and ambitious. I always wanted to be in the music business since I was young, and I was largely focused on music to the exclusion of all else through school. My parents were very supportive, but when I moved out to California, it was sink-or-swim quickly. I was persistent and lucky and soon got a job working at a major record label in radio promotions. Things were going great and I was moving up, and then Napster; then panic; then layoffs. A friend told me I should do phone sex because I was great on the phone with these loser radio program directors. (Seriously, the absolute bottom of the entertainment barrel.) Really, spending my days on the phone pimping the crappy singles at our label was not very different than what I do now except I feel cleaner at the end of the day now. At first I tried doing the regular “ooo-baby-baby” stuff, which is not for me, and I just started telling the guys how fucking disgusting they are. Then I realized that some callers like that sort of thing, and will also pay more for it. Up is down! Black is white! Day is night! Specialists are the best; they pay more and never complain.
J.P.:What’s the story of the strangest client experience you’ve ever had?
JAPPY PRINCESS: So many strange ones, I’ll just give you the most recent. A few weeks ago I had a new caller, and he ended up falling in love with me. Like, for real. He didn’t care that I had a boyfriend, and he was determined to win me over with talk of being a millionaire, and how great life would be if I were with him. He told me he was going to come to Los Angeles, and I told him he probably shouldn’t expect to hang out with me. The next thing I know, I get a call from him that he’s here at a hotel in Beverly Hills. Many callers fantasize about coming to LA to meet me, but this guy was serious and really thought I would come on down to his hotel. When I told him to settle down, he went crazy on me, sending hundreds of derogatory and threatening emails in the course of a couple of days. What I thought was especially funny was that he kept asking, “how many women get the chance to have a drink with a guy with a million dollars?” In LA? Just about all of them. What a douchebag. He ended up calling me about 20 times in a day, at $1.99 per minute, just to tell me what a bitch-ass loser I am. Of course, I listened and took his money, because JAPs take the cash, naturally. He finally stopped calling and that was that. Too bad he ruined it, I made a lot off him.
J.P.:You identify as Jewish—but this doesn’t seem like a particular spiritual or religious thing to be doing. I’m not condemning you … I’m just saying phone sex doesn’t strike me as especially Biblical. Do you care? Is it something you had to get past? Does it even matter?
JAPPY PRINCESS: Clearly you have never read the Old Testament. It is the most depraved text of all time. For example, just in the story of King David we have war, famine, plague, rape, incest, adultery, homicide, filicide, infanticide, regicide, genocide, and I’m probably leaving some stuff out. God punishes David for NOT killing everyone in a Philistine village. That’s some cold shit, God. But seriously, I never said I was a nice Jewish girl. In fact, as my URL plainly states, I am not a nice Jewish girl.
J.P.:How has Niteflirt impacted the careers of phone sex operators? In past Quazes I’ve had people complain about the service; say it’s more ripoff for people in the business than it is aide. Thoughts?
JAPPY PRINCESS: I think of Niteflirt as where I rent an office in a giant porny office building in cyberspace. Like any other business, you get out of it what you put in. If you provide a quality service and market it effectively, people will want to buy. Do I wish the site didn’t look like 1990s internet, had smartphone apps and other technologies to help us make more money? Yes, but it’s not my site so I work with what I’m given. The bottom line is that most phone sex has migrated to Niteflirt, so it’s a fact of life for all of us.
J.P.:When you’re on a call, are you truly in character. What I mean is—if it’s a guy who wants hypnosis, do you think of yourself as a seductive hypnotist? If it’s someone who wants to be brutalized, are you that person in the moment? Do you know what I mean? Like, do you need to sell yourself on the performance?
JAPPY PRINCESS: I guess you can say I’m a little like method actor that way, but not entirely. When I’m telling some piece-of-shit that he’s a piece-of-shit, I usually mean it. On the other hand, I’m no Daniel Day Lewis and I drop it once the call is done.
To your question about hypnosis calls, you should remember that this is opposite-land. I don’t do sensual stuff, I leave that to the hordes of basic bitches who can’t do what I do. My hypnosis calls generally revolve around “straight” guys, many with wives, families or girlfriends, who want to “hypnotized” into being gay, or a girl, or a sissy. To be clearer, these are generally gay men who live straight lives, and use this as an outlet. Having a woman “hypnotize” them makes it less gay and acceptable to fantasize about giant cocks, I guess. There is a lot of self-disgust mixed up in all this. Human sexuality is bizarre, what can I say?
J.P.: What’s the difference between a great phone sex operator and a shit one?
JAPPY PRINCESS: I think that’s for the caller to decide. What one person might think is great, someone else might think is shit. I don’t do the typical “oh yeah baby do it to me” phone sex. I do only fetish-oriented calls and it’s never sensual. It’s bratty, dominating and humiliating, and there’s a ton of men who think I’m the worst. What makes me great is that I’m different than the usual basic bitches that answer these lines. I’m well-traveled, educated, and I’m knowledgeable about pop culture, politics, money, and food. I can have long conversations on many topics that my callers find engaging. There is an art to reading a person’s voice and knowing what they want.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JAPPY PRINCESS:
• Seven greatest bands of all time: Beatles, Queen, T-Rex, Oasis, The Replacements, Prince and the Whatevers, The Clash
• Three most interesting people you know: My colorist. My stylist. My personal trainer.
• Rank in order (favorite to least): A Tribe Called Quest, house music, Angela Lansbury, Mike Pence, Trader Joe’s, Klay Thompson, prime rib, Twitter, skateboard parks, the San Diego Zoo: Angela Lansbury, Prime rib, A Tribe Called Quest, Klay Thompson, house music, skate parks, Trader Joe’s, San Diego Zoo, Mike Pence
• One question you would ask Buddy Holly were he here right now: Where did you get those glasses—I love them.
• Would you rather have sex with someone who has severe tuna breath or a festering zit atop his nose?: I’ll take the zit. Toss a paper bag over that face, and hope it doesn’t burst.
• Seven adjectives you’d use for Donald Trump: Sub-moronic, avaricious, monomaniacal, churlish, porny, douchey, fucking terrifying.
• What was your Bat Mitzvah like?: At Le Cirque in Manhattan. The rabbi wore leather Prada slacks, you can fill in the rest.
• Make a 16-word argument for canned soup: 17 syllables, in haiku form:
Sometimes, time is short.
Campbell’s says, “Soup is good food.”
I say, “Time for soup.”
• Three memories from your first-ever date?: His father’s chauffeur picked me up. He took me to a restaurant where his father had an account. He wanted to fuck me, so I asked him whether his father was going to do that for him as well. (No, it was not Jared Kushner. I don’t date Jersey boys)
• What’s the worst pickup line the world has ever known?: My name is Jared Kushner.