Jeff Pearlman

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Category Archives: QUAZ

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Bill Janovitz

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If you’re a product of the late 1980s/early 1990s, you almost certainly know Buffalo Tom, the Boston-based alternative rock band that brought forth such tunes as Postcard and Late At Night and was a staple (musically) on the beyond-awesome TV show, “My So-Called Life.”

But as is often the case, bands tend to overshadow individuals. Buffalo Tom! Buffalo Tom! Buffalo Tom Buffalo …

Bill Janovitz!

Bill is the lead singer of Buffalo Tom. He’s also a dynamic solo artist. He’s also a prolific writer who recently authored Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell The Story of the Rolling Stones. His blog, Part Time Man of Rock, features a Cover of the Week project that offers his renditions of various pieces that have impacted his life. Hell, he’s even a real estate agent.

Bill Janovitz, man of 1,001 tasks, welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Bill, so in 1986 you were one of the founding members of Buffalo Tom, a kick-ass band that’s had a helluva run. I wonder, though, what changes with musicians and bands as they age? Maybe I’m wrong here, but it seems like something becomes slightly lost. Enthusiasm? Energy? Hunger? Or am I totally wrong?

BILL JANOVITZ: Seems like a huge generalization that might be accurate in specific cases and completely inaccurate in others (most?). Most of the musicians I know my age are still playing passionate music, even to small crowds, in bars, clubs, theaters, and more. The more I think about this, the more I think it is mostly inaccurate.

J.P.: I know you’re a Huntington, N.Y. kid who went to UMass. But where did your music interest come from? Who sparked it? When did you first pick up an instrument? In short, what’s been your journey?

B.J.: From the earliest moment. Records, AM radio, trumpet in school, guitar at 12. First band at 13. All I ever wanted to do for most of my life. Moved to Massachusetts, formed some high school bands. Finally clicked with Chris and Tom at UMass.

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J.P.: I don’t think I’ve ever asked a musician this, but after you create a song, then release a song, do you love your own music? Hate it? Have no interest in it? Wanna hear it all the time. I ask because, recently, I saw a Backstreet Boys video and said to the wife, “There’s no way these guys actually like this song.”

B.J.: I love most of the songs. I never listen to them unless I am brushing up on something. I don’t know of any musician who listens to their own music for their own stuff. We are obsessed with it while writing, recording, and mixing, and then that’s generally it. Buffalo Tom is always surprised at how different our recordings are from how the songs evolve over the years of live performance.

J.P.: You wrote a book in 2013, “Rocks Off,” about your all-time favorite band, the Rolling Stones—through the prism of 50 of their songs that span the band’s life. What is it about the Stones that does it for you? And how’d you come up with the idea for the project?

B.J.: The Stones are my heroes. From their raw beginnings and pure love of music, into their golden period of 1968-1973, they formed their own musical gumbo and remained loyal to each other for most of their 50 year arc. They continued to write a lot of great music past their peak. The idea stemmed from the 50th anniversary and wanting to take the same approach to their whole career as I did for their Exile on Main St. album, which I wrote about for the 33 1/3 series. I wanted to articulate why the songs work, how they were written and produced.

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J.P.: On your website, you have something called, “Cover of the Week,” where you cover a different song—randomly, coolly. When the wife and I watch American Idol, the judges always talk to contestants about “making a song your own.” Of course, the songs are usually pop nonsense—but still. Bill, how does one make a cover his own? Is it possible?

B.J.: Particularly with that web project, I did not worry too much about making them my own; they were love letters to those artists who wrote and recorded them to begin with. I think a confident artist, one who is established with a sound and identity, need not worry too much; stuff comes out sounding like them. Back with Buffalo Tom, when we did covers, we really did try to make sure we were not just aping the originals; there is no point to that.

J.P.: What are the complications of being in a band? How does a band last, when most fade away? Are you best off being friends, or business partners, with bandmates? Does there need to be a leader? Followers?

B.J.: It is like a family business run by artists. You’re all in it together, thick and thin. There does not have to be a leader. A trio is a different sort of arrangement. Every band is different. It is most like having siblings. You love each other, take each other for granted, are fine with not seeing each other for long periods of time, etc.

J.P.: You do a million different things—author, musician—but your main gig is realtor. Which I 100% respect, but which also has the rock n roll sex appeal of a sheet of cardboard. How did you get into the profession? And tell me why it’s actually awesome …

B.J.: The money is awesome. It is awesome because it takes the pressure off having to stay on the road or otherwise depend on music as a living, thus making music seem that much more fun again. I specialize in Modernist houses, which is actually quite sexy to me. Dealing with lots of cool people is also fun. I took what I learned about running a biz with a band and applied it to running my own biz in real estate: no one tells you what to do; you are all feast-or-famine; you get what you put into it; marketing and self promotion; you have to deal with people; I collaborate with a partner—all very much like being in a band. I got into it when the music biz started to ignore us in the 2001 and when the band was sick of touring, and when the kids started coming.

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J.P.: Kay Hanley was Quazed a year ago, and she—like you—has strong emotional ties to the Boston sports scene. It seems like many Massachusetts-based musicians actually share this—and I’m wondering why. Is there a connection that transcends sports-music?

B.J.: I am only really interested in the Red Sox. I really could not care much less about football and basketball, never mind hockey. Yes, close ties to the city, like the Cubs and Yankees.

J.P.: What are you thinking about when you’re on stage, performing? Being serious—does the mind drift? Do you need on focus on songs, or have you done this long enough that you can have a, “I wonder what’s going to happen on the Good Wife this week?” pondering?

B.J.: I am usually in the moment; in the song. The minute I am not is the minute I give up music.

J.P.: Your band played an integral part in the evolution of Claire Danes’ character on “My So-Called Life.” Which was a fun sentence to just type—but also sorta weird. What was that like for you, watching at home?

B.J.: Lots of fun. It truly gave us a big career boost.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): San Antonio, Morgan Burkhart, Lil Jon, Lee Corso, Jet Blue, Derek Jeter, Jeff Horrigan, Costa Rica, Lou Roe, melba toast, Cinderella, Gonzo, blueberry jam, Heather Locklear, Bon Jovi: Pass.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No.

• Hall & Oates were elected into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. What’s your take?: I love a lot of their songs. Not sure about the HOF in general. Nice place to visit, though. I gave a presentation about the Stones there last fall.

• Climate change—myth, bad-but-solvable problem or likely end of the world cause?: I wish more people cared and did not feel overwhelmed by it. Obviously serious.

• Five greatest songwriters of our lifetime?: My faves: Dylan, Lennon/Macca, Jagger/Richards, Tom Waits, Van Morrison.

• The one player you never, ever, ever want to see in a Red Sox uniform: ARod.

• Celine Dion calls. She’ll pay you $15 million to come to Las Vegas for a year and play the kazoo in her new show, “Celine’s Kazoo Circus of Love.” Conditions: You need to perform shirtless, with a tattoo across your stomach that reads ONE DIRECTION IS THE MOTHERFUCKING BOMB! You in?: Pass.

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Kevin Broughton

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Arrived home from writing earlier today. A package greeted me near the front door.

Man, do I love packages!

Seeing them!

Feeling them!

Opening them!

So I saw, and felt, and opened. And inside the yellow envelope was a T-shirt. This T-shirt …

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 12.07.10 AMYes, it’s a Tea Party T-shirt, straight from the Mississippi home of Kevin Broughton, national communications director for the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund. We’d made a trade a couple of months ago—a signed copy of Showtime in exchange for the shirt. I received what I asked for.

So why the swap? Because it was fun. And also because—even though we share absolutely nothing in common politically—I consider Kevin a friend. Which is weird. Because he’s against everything I’m for, and I’m for everything he’s against. He thinks George W. Bush was a fine president. I don’t. He thinks Barack Obama is a miserable president. I don’t. He likes Rand Paul and Ted Cruz and all those guys. I … eh … well, no. Just no.

But, as I’ve long maintained, this is the beauty of the Quaz. For me, it’s not about agreeing or disagreeing. It’s about learning. Opening up. Trying to understand.

One can follow Kevin Broughton on Twitter here, and visit his organization’s website here. Kevin, feel free to bring a little Tea Party craziness magic to The Quaz. It’s all yours …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Kevin, you’re a Mississippi Tea Party guy, and you were heavily involved in Chris McDaniel’s bid to unseat Thad Cochran for the U.S. Senate. From afar, after the totals were counted and Cochran was declared the winner, it sorta seemed like the Tea Party was a bunch of sore losers, complaing about fraud and more fraud. But, again, that was from afar. Tell me why I’m wrong. And, at this point, do you consider Cochran the legitimate winner of that election?

KEVIN BROUGHTON: I think it’s important to differentiate between our organization and the McDaniel campaign. We supported Chris independently, with no coordination with his campaign at all, as required by law. After the runoff, we sent volunteers—I was one—into all 82 counties to examine ballots and other election materials. We gave detailed reports to the campaign, and our position has always been that we’d let things be worked out in the court system. Because we love the Constitution, we respect the Court’s decision. So, sore losers? No.

Yes, Senator Cochran is the legal winner. The legit beef conservatives have is with the tactics the Cochran camp and the Barbour family used to win the runoff: funneling money to groups who compared Tea Party people to the Klan, funding ads that said “The Tea Party wants to prevent blacks from voting.” It was a vicious race-smear, and anything but conservative. You don’t play the race card against fellow Republicans. Not in the South. And there will be long-term repercussions from it, I assure you.

J.P.: You know how I feel about politics, so I’ll just be blunt: The Tea Party feels pretty marginal to me. I don’t mean that because you’re conservative—I’d say the same about a far, far left liberal group. It just seems that your reach is limited by your arch conservative stance, and that you’ll never really be able to do much beyond the most conservative of states. Tell me why I’m wrong, or right …

K.B.: I think this will be the first of several times I reject the premise of your question, lest we get a bunch of straw men up in here. What we “feel” to you is beyond our reach. What we stand for is personal freedom, economic freedom and a debt-free future for the next generation. We think spending is out of control. A lot of us think this country is headed toward European-style socialism, and that’s scary. See, e.g., Greece.

Our “stance” is letting Jeff Pearlman keep more of the money he earns. Maybe even pass on his wealth to his kids without the government taking half of it. We want the government less involved in people’s lives, and to stop incurring unsustainable debt.

I just don’t see how that’s radical.

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J.P.: I’ve heard the 1,001 Tea Party slams of Obama, so I won’t ask you to recite them again. I am, however, interested in your take on the George W. Bush presidency—which isn’t evoked very often by the Tea Party. Do you view him as a success? A failure? Neither? Both?

K.B.: Generally, yes, I view him as a success. There were several times where he wasn’t conservative enough for my taste. But he’s a good an honorable man, and was by far the right guy to hold the office during those eight years.

J.P.: I know you’re a Mississippi guy, I know you’ve acted. But what’s your life path, leading up to this position? In short, how did you get here?

K.B.: I graduated from Auburn University with a journalism degree in 1988. While in college I joined the National Guard and earned a commission through officer candidate school. Did some small time writing, editing nad PR work before going to DC in 1991. I worked for guys who kept retiring or getting beat. Or being jerks. So in 1994 I moved to Mississippi to go to law school. Until relocating to the Atlanta burbs in May to take this gig, I’d lived there longer than anywhere else. Practicing criminal defense law and out of politics other than helping out friends at the county level. Two old friends from my DC days—20 years ago—reached out to me about six months ago, out of the blue.

Along the way I’ve hung out with Bibi Netanyahu, donated bone marrow, and become a better than average bass fisherman. Got some screen time with James Franco in a film he directed. I play a little guitar. I think we’re up to date now.

J.P.: Um … what?

K.B.: One of my oldest and dearest friends is a Jew from metro Atlanta — whose father was liberated from Auschwitz as a child. He and I worked on that campaign in Ohio together. I left DC, he stayed in politics. Being fluent in Hebrew, he was detailed to work Bibi’s re-election campaign against Ehud Barrak (sp?) in 1999.

Bibi lost, but he and George bonded and George ended up taking dual US/Israeli citizenship and staying on with Netanyahu. I had always wanted to go to Israel, so with George living in Jerusalem, I had a free place to stay.

James Franco’s a very literary guy, so when he decided to do an adaptation of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, he was gonna film it in Mississippi, natch. They cast all the minor roles locally, so I and a bunch of my friends in the relatively tight Mississippi acting circle got a little screen time. I play the guy from the state “nervous hospital” who comes to arrest Darl Bundren—Franco’s character—at the very end of the film.

They did a “portrait” of each of us from a digital photo; pretty cool rendering.

Fun fact you’ll enjoy about that shoot: Tim Blake Nelson, a wonderfully talented character actor, plays Anse Bundren, the no-good, shiftless patriarch. Just a repulsive character. Tim got WAY into the method acting thing for this shoot, and never broke character except during lunch and after wrapping.

During a break but before we wrapped, my shirt had to be dried and re-pressed. (It’s about 98 degrees of Mississippi heat going on.) So I’m stripped to the waist, and “Anse” walks up and in character, reads the three different Hebrew script tattoos I have on my torso. Then walks away.

At the wrap party I asked if he went to Hebrew school. “Eight years,” he said. “Tulsa, Oklahoma.”

Taken at the King David Hotel in January 2000. Bibi had just smoked a Zino cigar from the box Kevin had given him.

Kevin and Bibi at the King David Hotel in January 2000. Bibi had just smoked a Zino cigar Kevin had given him.

J.P.: It seems like, to the Tea Party, compromising with liberals is a HUGE no-no, and anyone who dares talk with Obama is up for poison darts. Why is negotiating and compromising with the other side so awful? Isn’t it the only way we get things done?

K.B.: You’re doing it again. Let me help.

Remember the “Republican” shutdown last fall? Here are the salient facts. Republican House passes a spending bill with no funding for Obamacare. Reid won’t take it up. The House begins sending over bills with concessions: Fund it, but delay the individual mandate; Reid won’t let the Senate vote on it. Fund it, but delay the employer mandate; No vote. Medical device tax repeal. No vote. The government shuts down.

Tell me again who wouldn’t negotiate? Who wasn’t willing to compromise? These are objective facts. Incidentally, Obama—in violation of the law—later delayed the employer mandate, without Congressional approval.

J.P.: Climate change is, for me, the No. 1 issue facing society—yet the Tea Party never seems to address it. Do you guys have a stance? Do you, Kevin, still maintain it’s more fiction than fact? Does it worry you at all? And why wouldn’t the Tea Party jump aboard this one?

K.B.: TPPCF doesn’t take a position. We don’t take a position on much besides taxes/spending/Obamacare/debt and amnesty.

Personally, yeah. I think it’s a sham. The original prophet of the global-warming cult told us five years ago the ice caps would be gone. But since Al Gore is a stupid clown, we get distracted and miss the fact that they’re actually growing.

J.P.: You’re very pro-gun owners’ rights. I’m not. I just don’t see why citizens need some of the high-caliber weaponry that is out there and, thanks to the NRA and its supporters, very legal. I also thought, post-Newtown, we’d all be able to agree on some weapon cutbacks. What’s your beef with taking some guns off the table?

K.B.: Again, this is an area where we don’t take an official position, but we’re pro-Bill of Rights, and the Second Amendment is a huge part of it. Politically, Democrats—the ones who can momentarily detach themselves from emotion and think rationally—know gun control is a losing proposition. That’s the reality of it. And I won’t be disarmed. Molon labe.

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J.P.: Fuck it, I’ve changed my mind. Why do you so hate Obama? And do you give him credit for anything at all? Being serious—has he done anything well (as in, benefits the country) in your opinion?

K.B.: Hate is a strong word.

He released five bloodthirsty Muslims in exchange for a man who dropped his weapon and abandoned his comrades. A deserter. He has weakened the Republic in the eyes of the world, to the point that world leaders and adversaries defy us with impunity. He never misses an opportunity to stir up racial tensions when he could defuse them. American citizens are butchered like hogs on video, and he goes to the golf course. Later, he admits he has no strategy. He has welcomed a human wave of crime and disease by throwing open our borders.

That’s since June.

What’s he done well? Bin Laden’s dead.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your political career? Lowest?

K.B.: The first campaign I worked on, a Congressional in Ohio, was a tough loss. We lost by 1,500 votes in a district Bush 41 carried by 5,000. I went back to DC with no job, along with 6,000 newly unemployed Bush folks.

Greatest? Meh. Best memory I have of DC was the last week I was there.

I had been working for the Biggest Jerk in Congress, a now-forgotten prick from Wisconsin. I got tired of it, and when he dog-cussed me one time too many, I told a U.S. Congressman exactly what he could do to himself, packed my stuff and walked. I filled out—impulsively, in retrospect—law school applications that day.

So I had about four months to burn before moving and no job. A friend from church—God rest your soul, Mary Jo—was a scheduler for Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa. She got me a temp gig, and I ended up writing some speeches for him and bonding a pretty good bit. My last day, he took me to the Senate dining room for lunch, and made a point of introducing me to a half-dozen of his colleagues. He didn’t have to. It’s a testament to his kind nature, and the country needs more men like Chuck Grassley.

J.P.: You’re from Mississppi—a state with an awful record when it comes to education, poverty, life span, etc. I mean, you guys rank near the bottom in tons of shit categories. Isn’t that, in and of itself, an argument for Democratic office holders? Because, lord knows, you haven’t had a big one in forever …

K.B.: Jeff, the first Republican Governor of Mississippi since Reconstruction was elected in 1991. Republicans didn’t take control of the legislature until 2011. Get behind me with your straw men.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): San Francisco, Ross Perot, Martin Sheen, Shakira, Teen Beach Movie, Skittles, Roberto Duran, Kid n Play, Skid Row, McDonald’s, Jackson State, David Duke, Sarah Palin: Lord …

Roberto Duran, Ross Perot, Sarah Palin, Jackson State, Martin Sheen, Skittles, San Francisco (never been), Skid Row, McDonald’s, Teen Beach Movie, Kid n Play, Shakira, David Duke.

• Who are your top 5 all-time political figures?: 1. George Washington; 2. Ronald Reagan; 3. Winston Churchill; 4. James K. Polk; 5. Aaron Burr.

• One question you would ask Sherman Hemsley were he here right now?: “I distinctly remember an episode when you referred to the mixed-race couple (white dude and Lenny Kravitz’s mom) as ‘zebras.’ Don’t you think you should apologize to our president, and for that matter, Lenny Kravitz?”

• Better president—JFK or Lyndon Johnson? And, in 24 words, why?: John F. Kennedy. Both were overrated. But the sex addict who stole the ’60 election in Cook County did get us to the moon.

• What’s the Tea Party’s beef with John McCain?: Other than his support for amnesty and his various assaults on the First Amendment, not much.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, details …: Thankfully, no.

• Celine Dion calls. She offers you $30 million to be her campaign manager for Las Vegas mayor. She’s very liberal, insists you only wear pink and change your name to Alvaro Espinoza. You in?: Yes, and I’ll tell you why. I’d get one concession: I don’t have to listen to any of her music. In fact, her theme song when she takes the stage at a rally will be Lucero’s “Just That Kind of Girl.” It would also give me a chance to go to Vegas, and what do I care about getting some caterwauling Cannuck installed in Harry Reid’s hometown?

• The next president will be …: Way too early. If forced to pick, Rand Paul.

• If you’re an NFL GM, and you need a lineman, would you feel comfortable giving Michael Sam a shot?: You mean if I need a 4.9- 40 DT who couldn’t make the club in St. Louis, and would bring a pile of media attention and distractions? I’ll take it under advisement.

• I’m always fucking angry about something. What should I do?: “Hear, O, Israel! The Lord our God. The Lord is One.”

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Peter Carry

thinking man

Back when I started at Sports Illustrated in 1996, the payoff for a well-done story wasn’t bonus money or a pat on the back or a special mention in a Letter from the Editor. No, it was a typed note from Peter Carry, the veteran executive editor who, quite frankly, intimidated the hell out of me.

Peter was a legendary Sports Illustrated figure who started at the magazine in 1964. He’d edited the best of the best—from Deford to Jenkins to Nack to Reilly to Smith to Rushin—and you knew (you just friggin’ knew) in order for a piece to reach the final pages, it had to pass through Peter’s red pen. Sometimes, this could be painless. A few marks here, a few comments there. Other times, however, it was brutal—you could feel great upon submission, then be told the lede sucked, the transitions were cliched and, um, what the fuck was the point?


Just when you found yourself ready to seek out a gig at the Putnam County News, however, a note would arrive at your desk. One like, well, this …

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 12.22.13 PMAnd you’d fly. And soar. And jump. And leap. Those notes—rarely more than three or four sentences in length—could make a writer’s day. Week. Month. They convinced me I could succeed at Sports Illustrated; write with the best; hold my own.

In short, they meant everything. That’s why, in my old SI photo albums, I’ve kept every one Peter sent my way. They’re priceless.

Peter left the magazine more than a decade ago, but his legacy as a fierce, hard-nosed editor remains. He also served as executive editor of Discover, a science monthly that was published by Time Inc (Both magazines won the National Magazine Award for General Excellence during his time). In retirement, he’s done a ton of charity work. He and his wife Virginia have two children and two grandchildren. They live in Harlem.

Here, Peter talks of the heyday of print journalism; of what the medium has become and what, perhaps, it can be.

Peter Carry, my editor, welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Peter, so you were at Sports Illustrated during what has to be considered the golden age. The magazine was the voice in sports journalism. Print was the medium. The best writers in the country wanted to write for SI. I’m wondering, more than a decade removed, how you feel when you see SI now. I don’t mean, “Oh, the writing sucks or is great” or anything like that. I mean—it just can’t possibly be what it was, can it?

PETER CARRY: I feel a mixture of pride and melancholy. Pride because I was involved for 35 years in putting out the superb magazine you described in your question. I’m proud that SI brought real journalism to the reporting of sports—and to related subjects like racism and the environment during various times—and I’m just as proud of the quality of the prose that appeared on its pages. I’m melancholy to a small extent that I’m no longer involved in that world—the standard retired guy’s lament—but much more because of what is happening to magazines specifically and journalism in general. SI is doing better both editorially and, I gather, financially than the majority of publications, some of which have sold out and become gossipy rags, joining the gossipy rags that were already there, and many more of which have disappeared or seem likely to do so soon.

I don’t mean to sound like the guy who bemoaned the demise of the buggy whip by decrying the advent of the automobile. The electronic means of communication we have are marvels, but we must find some way to bend their use to thoughtful and significant journalism that might be a bit slower in arriving before our eyes but will so much better nourish our brains. It’s essential to our world, our country and ourselves that we have well-informed citizens. This is a human problem, not a technical problem. I couldn’t care less if SI exists as an entity on paper 10 years from now, but I care immensely that the spirit of the magazine as you and I knew it lives on in whatever form SI and other publications with high standards might appear then. I’ll add here that I’m delighted that the current editors of the magazine have rededicated considerable space to the sort of long-form pieces that made SI’s reputation.

J.P.: I knew you as an editor at SI, but I know little of your path to the spot. So, eh, Peter, what was your path? Why journalism? What was it about the medium? And why SI?

P.C.: In the fourth grade at P.S. 13 in Valley Stream, N.Y., I was the editor of the Corona Avenue Gazette, as the mimeographed school paper was grandly called, so I guess this stuff has been in my blood pretty much all along. I remember seeing Dwight Eisenhower, then running for his first term as President, ride past the school in a motorcade and then writing a story about it. It was fun. It was exciting. It seemed important. What’s not to like? What really clinched the deal for me was when Time Inc. recruited me for its paid—I’d say well-paid, unlike those terrible unpaid summer jobs these days—internship program between my junior and senior years in college. I accepted even before I knew what publication I’d be assigned to, but because I was the sports editor of The Daily Princetonian, I wasn’t too surprised when I ended up at SI. By the end of that summer, the magazine had offered me a permanent job. I joined the staff upon graduation in June 1964 and then five months later left for three years in the U.S. Navy (the magazine graciously granted me a leave of absence, though it had no legal obligation to do so, so I didn’t have to worry about a civilian job during my 21 months in the Vietnam combat zone). I returned in time to help cover the Year of the Pitcher in 1968 and really begin my career at the magazine. I was blessed to have a large number of powerful examples to try to emulate and two terrific editors who generously mentored me, Jerry Tax and Gil Rogin.

Peter with his wife Virginia on a trip to the Grand Canyon.

Peter with his wife Virginia on a trip to the Grand Canyon.

J.P.: I’m gonna ask a weird question, and I hope I phrase it correctly. You were a power player at SI. A big editor in a big job when the magazine was all powerful. Then, one day, it ended. People always talk about the transitions athletes make when they retire, but what was it like for you? No more magazine? No more executive assistant, power lunches, name on the masthead? How did you adjust?

P.C.: Well, I didn’t tell the guy who paid me a lot of money to leave this, but I was pretty much planning to depart within two years of when I did. At that point I had been an editor at some level or another for about 30 years—that’s 1,500 late Sunday nights in the office, a goodly number of them all-nighters. I think I was pretty much gassed. It didn’t hurt that for the subsequent two winters I worked as a temporary editor at The International Herald Tribune, which you probably know is based in Paris. Along with my wife, Virginia, I got to live in the 5th Arrondissement, eat and drink in some pretty good restaurants and work on mon français. It wasn’t a bad way to wind down. I might add that SI’s Thursday-to-Monday work week and the crazy hours on the weekends were tough on the families of the staffers. Virginia handled this difficult situation with amazing aplomb, while also bringing up our two kids without a whole lot of help from yours truly.

J.P.: I’ve always hated the Swimsuit Issue. I mean, really, really hate it. I think it’s a sexist, treat-women-as-objects piece of garbage. Just being honest. Tell me why I’m wrong. Or right.

P.C.: Mr. Pearlman, you’re usually right—well, maybe—but you’ve never been righter than you are about the swimsuit issue. I thought and think it was/is boring and sexist and had/has nothing to do with the magazine’s mission. I don’t agree that it is garbage because I know the people who put it together do so with great care and creativity. That said, I must acknowledge that it was probably the swimsuit issue, which during my later years at SI represented some place between 15 percent and 20 percent of the magazine’s revenues and in that period SI had the second-highest revenues in the magazine business, that paid my kids’ tuitions at one of the most expensive damn universities in the world.

Peter alongside his wife Virginia near their home in France.

Peter alongside his wife Virginia near their home in France.

J.P.: What was your approach to editing a story? Did you look to make changes? Was the goal to make as few as possible? And did you worry about maintaining a writer’s voice? Or does that even matter?

P.C.: Well, depends on the writer, If it was one of your pieces, I’d throw the manuscript in the shit can, pull up the keyboard (né typewriter) and start pressing the keys. But if the author was Deford or Verducci or Price or Smith … Ah, just kidding, I think. The most important work was done before the story was written, even before it was even assigned. Rule 1: The best ideas come from the guys in the field (and Lord knows whatever other sources outside your office), so listen. Refine. Combine. Bad ideas result in bad stories, no matter who’s doing the writing. Rule 2: Listen and talk to the writer. Don’t nag, don’t hang over her shoulder. But do have a discourse. Challenge. Help the writer refine the idea. Rule 3: Read the damn story all the way through before you lay a pencil or a cursor on it. This seems like a simple matter, like medical personnel always washing their hands before they touch a patient, but you’d be surprised how often patients and stories get prematurely handled. Rule 4: Be gentle but be firm. Editing is a deep element of Time Inc. culture. There were guys from Time and Life magazines who used to say to writers, “Give me the bricks, I’ll build the story.”  Thank goodness, that was never the rule at SI, though plenty of stories were thoroughly rewritten. When I was first at the magazine, the pieces of some writers, including one of the magazine’s most famous guys, were routinely and completely redone. But extensive rewriting was never the rule, and it became less frequent as the years passed and the depth of writing talent on the magazine increased. Stories written on deadline are also edited on deadline, and when the flawed story arrives on deadline there’s not much that the editor can do but have at it. There should be no need to do that on a non-deadline story, on which the writer and editor should be collaborators. I would say that a good editor can turn a weak story into a serviceable one but rarely, if ever, an excellent one. Conversely, a judicious editor (and a rigorous fact-checker) can mildly enhance a story that’s already good. And, yes, with the good and true story the editor should diligently try to preserve the writer’s voice, to retain the individuality of the piece. However, all this discussion of word-editing becomes moot when good writers are paired with good ideas. That means that hiring talented writers who are also tough reporters and then applying Rules 1, 2 and 3 will render Rule 4 irrelevant.

Peter with his son, Will, and grandson, Sully.

Peter with his son, Will, and grandson, Sully.

J.P.: Here’s something I’ve been dying to ask for years. When I got to SI, everyone spoke of the “Princeton pipeline.” I was asked, repeatedly, “How did a guy from Delaware get here?” And people would point out, “Look—this guy, that guy, that guy–all Princeton.” So … Peter, proud Tiger alum. Was there a leaning toward Princeton grads?

P.C.: Well, there was certainly once an Ivy League pipeline. The company was founded by two Yalies in the 1920s, and as late as my arrival there was clearly a penchant for hiring Ivy Leaguers, especially from the so-called Big Three. I recall that there were 12 other young men in the internship group with me in the summer of 1962, and, if memory serves, all of them came from Harvard, Princeton or Yale. Thank God, neither the “men” nor the “Big Three” part of that survived much longer. Certainly over the years Princeton was disproportionately represented on the editorial staff at SI. When I got to the magazine, I believe Frank Deford was the only Princetonian, but over the years the number increased until, I’d guess, that at one time in the 1990s there must have been eight or nine of us. As far as I know, this was not by design. Who wouldn’t have hired Frank or Alex Wolff or Ed Swift or Grant Wahl (and perhaps others whose names my aging brain can’t conjure up at this moment), who among them have written a significant number of the best articles to appear in SI. Bill Colson was a superb editor, as, I gather, Hank Hersh is now. I can’t recall ever hiring a Princetonian—the majority were brought in by chiefs of research who went to schools like Mount Holyoke and Michigan—though once they proved their worth, I was certainly eager that they be promoted, but I was no more eager for them to ascend the masthead than many, many more men and women from a lot of other schools whose roles were as central to SI’s success.

J.P.: I’ve long believed that diversity is important in sports journalism—because we’re covering such a diverse population. Yet SI has long been a place dominated by white males. I’m wondering, back in the day, whether that was a concern? Does it not matter, when the writing/reporting caliber is as strong as it was? Was it something you thought about?

P.C.: Damn right, I thought about it, and the company evinced concern. And it remains a frustration that we didn’t do better at diversifying the SI staff. As you suggest, diversity is important when you’re covering sports. I’d add that diversity is important, period. There may have been some mitigating factors here, but the bottom line is that we didn’t get the job done.

Peter, right, with a college pal—shot at a hotel next to (the hysterically named) Lake Titticaca in Peru.

Peter, right, with a college pal—shot at a hotel next to (the hysterically named) Lake Titticaca in Peru.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your journalism career? Lowest?

P.C.: The lowest is easy: When I wasn’t selected to be managing editor in 1984. There were a lot of high moments, some personal and most collaborative, but oddly the one I remember best occurred during the couple of years I left SI to be executive editor of Discover, the science magazine Time Inc. started in the early 1980s. The company made wholesale changes on the edit and publishing sides of the magazine in 1984-85 because Discover was both losing a fair amount of money and not very good editorially. In 1987 the magazine won the National Magazine Award for General Excellence, and I remember the managing editor, Gil Rogin, going to the podium to accept the plaque and saying something like, “Boy, we needed that.” Truth was, we merited the award. We’d turned the damn thing around.

J.P.: Do you think a print magazine can still matter, in the way print magazines once did? Can anything be done, or—a decade from now—is print dead?

P.C.: See my answer to your first question.

J.P.: If you can answer this one in the best detail possible—what was it like working at SI at its peak? I mean, what was the atmosphere? The mood? The feeling? Because I sorta fantasize about this place that, perhaps, I never fully knew …

P.C.: Do you watch Mad Men? Well, Don sits in what looks exactly like an assistant managing editor’s office from back in the 1960s, and Peggy has a senior writer’s office. There were bottles of booze in plain view on people’s desks and cigarettes in all 67 ashtrays on the conference room table during editorial meetings; there was a fair amount of fornicatin’ between members of the staff, and everybody knew who was screwing whom; you could buy a bag of really good shit, man, from the mail boy; on the weekends there was a fridge full of cans of Bud, just serve yourself; there was a bookie who arrived on the floor every Monday to collect debts; there was a poker game—a lot of seven-card high-low, a terrible game—in the TV room that started around nine Sunday night and often ended at dawn Monday that essentially financed Virginia’s and my social life; etc. For the younger staffers especially—the ones who didn’t have kids, who lived in Manhattan—the Thursday-to-Monday work week meant that SIers were sort of forced to become close friends, often best friends. The quality of the writing and photography was always a matter of serious discussion, and there was a clear, if unofficial, hierarchy among the writers and photographs; when I came to the magazine people bowed to writers like Jack Olsen and shooters like John Zimmerman, and throughout my time that sort of admiration for our fellows who were the best persisted. That says a lot about the general seriousness of the enterprise.

In those days there was a sort of intimacy on the staff that declined over the years. Until well after I joined SI, all the writers and most of the photographers lived in New York and came to the office on days when they didn’t have assignments. Each writer had a office on the 20th floor of the Time and Life Building, and until an uppity young writer started posting a note on his door saying, “Frank Deford is working at home,” most stories were written in office, no counting those deadline jobs that were wrought in hotel rooms, press center or bordellos and sent to the office via Western Union. Clearly the superficial aspects of the culture have greatly changed, and I think that’s largely for the better. Without the managing editorship of Andre Laguerre there would probably be no SI now. When he took over around 1960, SI had never made money and was of so little moment that a lot of people of Time Inc. thought the company should just fold the damn thing, which was then a mélange of Sport, Town and Country, and Betty Crocker. Andre and the guys he listened to (SI staffers, not the corporate higher-ups) understood the attraction of spectator sports and realized that sport’s popularity was soaring because of TV, which was then the bogeyman of the magazine business. In effect, Andre allied SI to its supposed enemy. The big events and big sports stars on TV became the games and people that SI featured in-depth, and the magazine, which already had a coterie of excellent writers and photographers, took off in terms of both prestige and loot. I had no role in this transformation. When I was working at the magazine in the summers of 1963 and 1964, Laguerre was a rather forbidding Gallic presence who wore a black suit, black tie and white shirt to work every day and silently strode the halls in shirtsleeves carrying a 3-foot-long stick with which he tapped the walls. He was revered in the office then (as he still should be today, for many reasons, not the least of which was his unbending dedication to maintaining editorial independence). When I returned from the service, the magazine’s transformation was essentially complete, but the triumphant Laguerre was a much less imposing man. His alcoholism now rendered him almost useless in the afternoon following his liquid midday repast; I can’t tell you how many times I heard an editor or layout artist say something like, “We’ve gotta get this to Andre before lunch, or it’s never gonna get done.” Andre was fired a couple of years later and died much too young. He was the most prominent and perhaps most tragic victim of the office culture of the time. I don’t know when the SI “peak” you mentioned occurred. When we started to make tons of money in the 1980s? When we won two National Magazine Awards for General Excellence during Mark Mulvoy’s dynamic tenure as managing editor. When guys like Deford, Rick Reilly and Gary Smith seemed to win the best writer awards every year? For me, the peak was when Andre and his staff went against the conventional wisdom of their time and showed themselves and us today that it could be done.

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• Five greatest sports journalists of your lifetime: I’m a wimp. I want to keep my friends. I take the fifth on the five.

• How often do you read Sports Illustrated in 2014?: I at least glance at it three weeks out of four.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Spencer Haywood, Illinois State, Los Angeles Times, Instagram, Ray Combs, Elena Delle Donne, Connect Four, Yale, bottled water, clam chowder, Elijah Wood: I can’t rank these disparate items, but I can tell you what I think of them. I prefer to drink wine if my beverage has to come out of a bottle. New England clam chowder, yes; Manhattan clam chowder, no. I knew Spencer Deadwood pretty well, and Pete Vescey had him pegged right. I’ve read the L.A. Times, but probably not since the great Jim Murray died. I’ve not read a word of or watched a second of Lord of the Rings. I know that Ray Combs is no Richard Dawson. I have never sent or, I suspect, received an Instagram, except perhaps a retrospective shot of Doug Collins playing at Illinois State. Elena Delle Donne could shoot the J better than Collins or Deadwood. I learned one thing for sure at Princeton: Yale Sucks!

• Celine Dion calls. She wants you to serve as editor of her new magazine, “Celine Life.” You’ll make $30 million next year, but you have to move to Las Vegas, wear Gene Simmons’ face paint every day and watch Titanic three times per day. You in?: Is any of this negotiable?

• The most overused word in writing is?: I change the question to overused/misused. Sportswriting: “Great.” Writing: I’ve got a million pet peeves, but let’s try this: any present participle used to start a dependent clause: “Thinking he was the next Marcel Proust, he began to write his own remarkably tedious novel.”

• The biggest jerk athlete you ever interviewed was …: I refuse to slam the dead.

• Are you aware that, when we were called into your office to be edited, we stared at the photo of your beautiful daughter placed on your desk?: No, but I understand why. You oughta see her now. She has had twins, but she’s more of a knockout than ever.

• Three words you’d use to sum up your feelings for reality television?: Don’t watch it.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: About 1998, I’m flying out of Detroit on an early plane back to New York to get to work on a Sunday morning after having gone to a family celebration at my brother’s house. Starboard engine goes up in a puff of smoke about 15 second after lift-off. Some of that puff of smoke passes through the cabin. I fear fire, which I know, because my father was in the aviation business, is the worst thing that can happen on a plane. But the smoke dissipates. There is no fire. People keen like mourners at an Irish funeral, I see rosary beads for the first time in years, but I’m pretty sure we’re OK. I know that the plane can make it to New York on one engine if it has too, and I can already feel the aircraft banking into a turn back to Detroit Metro. After waiting way too long—I’d guess three minutes—pilot announces what I’d already figured out. Weeping and shrieking don’t stop, however. I feel calm, until we hit the runway and I see our escort of what looks like around 100 yellow fire engines, red lights flashing, tearing down a parallel runway. We taxi back to the terminal. I get on the next flight. I arrive at the office a couple of hours late. I red pencil a story by Pearlman. That’s two scary incidents in one day.

• Why was Jimmy Carter such a meh president?: Actually he wasn’t so bad, but his nervous tic of a smile made everyone think he was out of touch, as in, “XXX of our people were taken captive in Iran today” [nervous smile]. He was smart as hell, but he was our only nerd president. However, he was perhaps our greatest ex-president. Nobel Prize-worthy.

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Bill May

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 1.41.04 AMI’ve long been a fan of Bill May—one of the best athletes many readers have likely never heard of.

Back in the late 1990s, when I was an up-and-comer at Sports Illustrated, Bill made for great copy. He was a young athlete who competed in synchronized swimming—a sport normally reserved for women. And he was extraordinary. Bill was named the U.S. Synchronized Swimming Athlete of the Year in 1998 and 1999. However, he also battled and battled and battled for respect and admittance into events. Sometimes he won these fights (he was allowed to participate in the Goodwill Games). Often (like his efforts to compete in the 2004 Summer Olympics) he lost. However, throughout his career, he carried himself with remarkable dignity and grace.

Plus, he was an absolutely amazing jock.

These days, Bill lives in Las Vegas, where he performs in Cirque du Soleil‘s spectacular water-based show, O.

Bill May, to hell with Olympic glory. You’ve been Quazed …

JEFF PEARLMAN: You’re the best male synchronized swimmer I ever covered. You’re the only male synchronized swimmer I ever covered. I’m wondering, a decade removed from the hubbub and fuss and craziness over your involvement in the sport, can you understand the arguments and concerns of those against your participation in an otherwise all-female sport? Or are you more dumbfounded?

BILL MAY: I think being removed from competition and having even a broader spectrum of life in general makes me question even more the limitations of men in synchronized swimming. Synchronized swimming often gets a bad reputation for being all beauty and no athleticism. Some people still have the vision of Esther Williams’ movies in their head. (However, if  you watch the Esther Williams movies, she is always accompanied by a male partner). I think limiting any sport’s growth, limits awareness and numbers, and without growth the sport will die. Men add a certain partnership and masculinity to the sport that cannot be achieved with two women. “If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always got.”

J.P.: How did this happen? How does a guy become a synchronized swimmer? What was your path from womb to pool?

B.M.: I never chose to make an uproar in synchronized swimming. I, like every kid who starts out doing a sport, was drawn to this particular sport for the pure love of it. It just happened, on accident, that it was a female dominated sport. The first day Michael Phelps began swimming, he didn’t do so with the knowledge or even the coherence  that he would one day be the most recognized athlete of all time … he loved to swim and that’s what made him who he is.

I was a gymnast and thought I would, one day, go to the Olympics for that. I would do anything to go. However …

One day my sister wanted to try this strange sport of synchronized swimming. I knew nothing about it, but I thought I would give it a try. It was a recreational program at a community poo . From the time I was 9-weeks old I was in the pool, so I already knew I loved the water. Also, there were other guys doing it, so instead of sitting and watching, I thought I would give it a try. I thought It would be just for the summer and I would go back to gymnastics and soon the Olympics. At the end of the summer a local coach asked if any of us would like to join her competitive team. I agreed, even though I was the worst of the bunch, but still wasn’t too serious. I was only 10 and I didn’t realize there were not guys all over doing it, but I enjoyed it and could still do that and gymnastics at the same time. It was a win win situation.  Over time I just became more and more serious about the sport and eventually had to choose between synchronized swimming and gymnastics, and I chose to swim.

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J.P.: Why would it have been fair to let a man swim against women in the Olympics? Aren’t there physical advantages you’d have?

B.M.: I think it is fair, at the present time, because there is not another category for men to compete separately in the Olympics, or other major international competitions. Synchronized swimming consists of a lot of physical strength and endurance, but also combines other aspects that one could argue would be an advantage to women—such as flexibility or floatability. I believe that people’s energy would be better spent not worrying about their own prejudice and misconceptions, but rather be proactive in creating an atmosphere for the growth of the sport.

J.P.: What is the joy of synchronized swimming? What I mean is—what’s the appeal? The jolt? The buzz? What did it do for you?

B.M.: Synchronized swimming is about pushing every single muscle in your body to its limits. It combines so many aspects of multiple sports that it’s a constant challenge. You have to have the grace and flexibility of a dancer, the agility of a gymnast, the aerobic capacity of a runner, and the efficiency of a swimmer. These must all be combined to perfection with out air and in an unstable, ever changing medium of water.

I also love the creation and performance aspects. You are constantly creating athletic performances to transform yourself into whatever you can imagine, to share your visions with your spectators. I have been a spider, a deconstructed human body, a storm, an exploration in the psychiatric mind, an angel and demon, and the list goes on. It’s a constant exploration of your own imagination and actually lets you show off the countless hours of hard work you have been doing.

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J.P.: You’ve worked with Cirque du Soleil since Jan. 1, 2005. This fascinates me—how’d you hear of the gig? Land the gig? And does it fill the void left when you stopped competitive swimming?

B.M.: I was actually contacted by Cirque. I work for Cirque Du Soleil’s O, which is a water show in Las Vegas. The show was created with two of the few male synchronized swimmers at the time, so when a spot opened I was fortunate enough to fit the requirements. That was actually an advantage of being a male in synchronized swimming. Due to the fact that there weren’t many male synchronized swimmers, it was gave me an amazing opportunity to be the only male in one of the most renowned shows in the world.

However, oddly enough, I only do two synchronized swimming routines in the show. The rest of the show, I spend my time moving about the stage as what could be described as a moving shoulder contortionist character called the “Waiter.” Each Cirque Du Soleil show has a core of characters that appear throughout the show and oddly bind the show together. One of them is me.

J.P.: You perform 476 shows per year—which seems the equivalent of Hall and Oates playing Maneater 476 times per year. How does it not ultimately bore the shit out of you? Doesn’t it get dull and painfully repetitive?

B.M.: At first glance, 476 shows a year seems overwhelming, but considering all the variables changes the entire outlook. Each night there is just as much of a show back stage as there is on stage. Everyone is talking about their daily life, which in the circus, is very entertaining. Also each and every show has a different audience with creates a different show or energy. We are like snowflakes … from a distance the show may look the same, but in reality, each and every show is beautiful and unique from the one before.

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J.P.: You’re approaching age 35. I’m wondering how, as a swimmer, this impacts you. Where do you feel age the most, physically? Emotionally? Does aging bother you at all? The inevitability of gray and wrinkles and card games at the senior living facility?

B.M.: I think the older I get the more experienced I get. I’m training just as hard as I ever have.  Presently, along with training for the shows, I am training for a 10K swim race, so some days I will swim more than 10k in one workout. The last 10k race I did, I became the USMS National Champion. So there is no slowing down for me.

Age doesn’t bother me, nor do I think there is an age cap for anything. I may have a few more wrinkles, but those come from sun damage, doing what I love to do … spending my days training in a pool! I train every day in flexibility, core strength, technique and physical conditioning. I believe if you continue a regime, there is no stopping the momentum, no matter your age.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

B.M.: I have so many incredible moments from my career, but I think one very special moment was my opportunity to compete at the last Goodwill Games that involved synchronized swimming. It was the only international competition on the Olympic level in which I could compete. I did a duet with one of the best synchronized swimmers of all time, Kristina Lum. It was the first time a “Mixed Pair” performed and competed on the world’s stage.

Another moment happened at a competition in Germany. There was a federation from a different country who petitioned against me swimming. The organizing committee simply told them that I was welcomed to compete, and if they didn’t like that, they could leave. It was a powerful moment because I truly felt welcomed as an athlete, rather than a “man in a women’s sport”, and that there is respect for male synchronized swimmers. This gave me hope for the future of the involvement of men in synchronized swimming.

One of the lowest moments of my career was the opportunity to go to the Pan American Games, which are like the Olympics of North, Central and South America. There was a voting whether or not to allow me (men) to compete, because there were no prior limitations, and they voted against it. There were not many men competing at that level at the time, so it was a very personal decision against my career that could have easily been voted in favor of my involvement.

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J.P.: I have to ask—gimme the grossest pool story of your lifetime …

B.M.: One of the grossest stories of all time was a day at training in Southern California. I was at the side of the pool at one moment and I saw something on the bottom. I wasn’t doing anything at the time and thought it was a rock and I would pick it up and throw it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a rock, but a “floater,” a “chocolate log,” a “snickers bar” … yup, a big piece of poop. We all had to clear the pool, and they had to shock the pool to sanitize it with enough chemicals to burn the hair off our head. However, unfortunately we had an exhibition of routines that night so we had to swim because it was also a fundraiser. We also had a road trip planned to Vegas that night after the show. Our eyes were in so much pain and so bloodshot and clouded over, I think we were driving Braile. We couldn’t see anything for two days!

J.P.: Can anyone be great at swimming? Being serious—my daughter, for example, is pretty unathletic, with limited endurance. Does she have a shot in the pool? What about overweight kids? Etc …

B.M.: I am a complete optimist, so I think if anyone works hard enough they can achieve anything. If you’re overweight or underweight, swimming is a good source of exercise to tone and or add muscle in a very healthy form of physical fitness.

I work hours a day on my flexibility. If I were slow, I would work more to increase my speed. If I didn’t move well or fluidly, I would take a dance class to improve. I look at shortcomings as a challenge that people overcome.

There is no guarantee that anyone who begins a sport will be Olympic champion, but until you give your all, you will never know. There are athletes everywhere who begin their career for the love of the sport with no guarantees. The love and hard work is what creates champions, not an Olympic Gold Medal. People become great at something because they choose to be great and work hard at achieving greatness.  So yes, I believe anyone can be amazing, at any sport.

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• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? What do you recall?: Nah … not really. For some reason, the second I sit in my seat, I fall asleep. I would be in Heaven, or the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory before I realized we crashed

• Who wins in a hold-your-breath-underwater battle between you and Michael Phelps? And how long can you last?: I already know I would win. Synchronized swimmers could rock any swimmer. The longest I have held my breath was 3:30, but if it was a win or lose situation, I’m not coming up!

• Explain how Aquaman could possibly beat Superman in a fight?: Well, Superman is pretty incredible, so Aquaman would have to drag him to the bottom of the ocean and strap him down with Kryptonite. Or he could challenge him to a synchronized swimming routine.

• Rank in order (favorite to least):  Donna Summer, Mark Spitz, High School Musical II, lava lamps, Darth Vader, Burt Reynolds, Pete Rose, elephants, Denzel Washington, Jim Boeheim, steak: Mark Spitz, Donna Summer, Jim Boeheim, Elephants, Lava Lamps, Darth Vader, Steak, Denzel Washington, Burt Reynolds, High School Musical II, Pete Rose.

• Dry, heat, gambling, middle of nowhere—Las Vegas seems like a brutally awful place to live. Tell me why I’m wrong (or right): Cirque Du Soleil’s “O.”  Duh….

• Celine Dion calls. She offers you $20 million next year to move onto her estate and teach her pet guinea pig to swim. The catch—You sleep in a dog house and eat everything out of a dog dish. You in?: Heck yes!!! I have done way worse for way less!

• Five favorite movies: Titanic, Lion King, Frozen, Breakfast Club, Legend. Oops… and No. 6 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—Gene Wilder’s version.

• Your name is pretty boring. If you could change “Bill May” to anything, what would you take?: My “porn” name: Aaron Torchwood

• What happens when we die?: We go to Heaven/Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory

• One question you would ask James Garfield were he here right now?: Shouldn’t you be in Heaven/ Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory????

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Joseph Nicolosi

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 6.46.44 PMWhat I love most about the Quaz is the chance to understand those I don’t understand.

Yeah, I dig having the sagas of journalists fill this space. But I get journalism, just as I get baseball players and sports agents. The best Quazes tend to be folks I neither grasp nor appreciate. People like Rocky Suhayda and Linda Ensor. I want to understand who they are; what serves as motivation; how and when certain ideas entered their heads.

The same goes for this week’s Quaz, Dr. Joseph Nicolosi—a man who tries to help homosexuals become straight.

I want to make this clear—I disagree, strongly, with Dr. Nicolosi’s beliefs. I don’t think homosexuality is a choice, I don’t think homosexuality is sinful and I certainly don’t think it’s curable. However, as I watched various YouTube clips of Dr. Nicolosi’s appearances, I found myself cringing. Instead of trying to understand the dude, most reporters seem to go after him with bullshit questions and underhanded motives. They were more interested in landing a jab than comprehending a perspective.

That’s not what the Quaz is about. Hence, I promised Dr. Nicolosi an open ear, if not a fully open mind. It’s important to give folks a chance to speak—even folks we don’t agree with. So, with that, I welcome Dr. Joseph Nicolosi to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So I’m reading through your website, and I’ve come to an interesting realization. It doesn’t seem like you’re saying, “If you’re gay, you need to stop being gay.” You’re saying, “If you’re gay, and you don’t want to be gay, maybe I can help.” Am I wrong on that distinction? And do you feel like people often accuse you of promoting something you don’t actually promote?

JOSEPH NICOLOSI: I certainly do not say, “If you’re gay, stop being gay,” But I do say more than, “If you’re gay, and you don’t want to be gay, maybe I can help.” What I actually say is this:

On a deeper level, here is no such thing as “gay” … “gay” is a popular cultural mythology. Except in very rare medical cases, our bodies have been designed for the opposite sex. This means everyone is designed for heterosexuality. But some heterosexuals have a homosexual problem. Given the fact that you are a heterosexual with a homosexual problem, it’s your choice if you want to participate in the popular cultural myth that you are “gay.” If that’s your wish, I wouldn’t interfere with your lifestyle, nor would I be disrespectful of your right to your own view.  But here, I would remind people who disagree with what I say: “Diversity includes me.”

J.P.: The opening question being said, there are many, many, many people who believe one is born gay, and that you can change that when you start changing a person’s skin color, or nation of origin. They believe gay isn’t a choice–it’s who a person is. To be honest, I agree with this. Tell me why I’m wrong.

J.N.: You’re wrong because scientists know that as complex a behavioral pattern as sexual preference cannot be explained by just a gene. A gene explains one’s characteristics like hair color or height. But claiming that there is a gay gene would be like saying there is a “violin virtuoso gene.” To be a great violin player requires many genes, some for eye-hand coordination, finger dexterity, pitch discrimination, rhythm and discipline to study; and it requires a certain kind of environment and life experiences that foster this skill, as well as a whole cascade of personal attitudes and choices along the way. You believe it is solely a matter of genetics, not because you studied the evidence, but because were told this myth repeatedly by the popular media. Gay-activist groups have conducted many studies that show the general public is more accepting of homosexuality if they believe it is biologically determined.

I don’t believe people choose to have homosexual feelings. It is, instead, something they gradually discover within themselves. But some people can choose to reduce their unwanted homosexuality and develop their heterosexual potential. And so, while the gay gene myth serves the purpose of social acceptance, it censors information for those who want to work toward some degree of change. The ex-gay movement attempts to convey the message that people can and do change; one such network of ministries, which are Christian-based, is Restored Hope Network.

There is a strong body of evidence—dating back many years, because it is not politically acceptable to do such research any more—leading to the conclusion that male homosexuality is strongly rooted in the family environment. Over and over we see an intrusive mother and an emotionally distant, uninvolved father who, as a couple, interfere (of course, quite unintentially) with the boy’s masculine identity development. There are varying versions of this scenario, of course. But if people were born with a gay gene, and that’s the end of that—“done!”–then why do they have such similar family dynamics? We are not supposed to talk about such things.

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J.P.: In 2002 you wrote a book titled, “A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality.” The thesis, in a sense, seems to be: “We are gay because of disruptions in relationships with our same-sex parent, which causes a gender dysphoria and incomplete sense of maleness/femaleness.” I have two young children. Should I so desire, what are the beginning steps I can take to make sure they’re not gay.

J.N.: If you believe, as you say, that people are born gay, then there is nothing you can do. Kick back and watch what happens. But evidence shows that the parent-child relationship is the primary determinant of the child’s gender identity, and gender identity greatly influences adult sexual orientation. A meta-analyis, which is a statistical average of all studies, shows about a 75% correlation between gender identity disorder and adulthood homosexuality, bisexuality or transgenderism. Parents are not being told this sort of information because of the powerful gay activist agenda.

To assure your son becomes straight, be sure you establish and maintain a secure emotional bond with him, from which he will identify with your masculinity. As we say, a bit simplistically of course, but with a lot of truth: “Hug your son, or another man will.” If your child is a girl, you will want your wife to bond firmly with your daughter but not to interfere with her individuation, as some narcissistic mothers unintentionally do; this can lead to lesbianism . You want your daughter to internalize a secure sense of her femininity.

J.P.: Why wouldn’t I want my kids to be gay? Serious question that fascinates me. Is it because being gay is a more difficult existence? Because it’s sinful? Both? Neither? Because, to be totally honest, I don’t care if they’re gay or straight. Literally doesn’t concern me.

J.N.: Assuming you don’t believe we were designed for heterosexuality and you have no traditional religious beliefs (what you are saying implies this is true), then I would speak to you from a practical point of view. The fact is that this is a heterosexual world. Most parents would rather have their children grow up to live a heterosexual lifestyle. These parents are not “homophobic,” but they know that it is easier to be with 98 percent of the population versus being part of 2 percent of the population. (The percentage of homosexuality is not 10 percent, as gays have been telling America for 50 years. ) As one father said to me: “Living as a heterosexual is hard enough.”

And there are significantly higher levels of mental-health disturbance and addiction in the gay population. Many studies show that there is greater stress and dysfunction among homosexuals compared to heterosexuals including greater drug and alcohol abuse, more depression, suicide attempts, promiscuity (mainly among gay males), failed relationships, sado-masochism and other “exotic” sexual practices, etc.

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J.P.: I know you graduated from the New School for Social Research (M.A.) and received your Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology, Los Angeles. But how did this path happen for you? As in, womb to now, how did you become a therapist, and one who assists gays become un-gay?

J.N.: I never thought much about the subject. During my eight years of training toward a Ph.D. in clinical psychology there was never a word spoken about the causes and treatment of homosexuality. It was not P.C. to even ask the question in graduate training. So I was unprepared, as I began my private practice, to help some clients with unwanted same sex attraction. So like any good therapist, I just listened and empathized. But as I listened to their stories, I began to hear common themes of childhood hurtful relations. For the male clients, it was a deep disappointment with an emotionally detached father and an excessively close but frustrating relationship with an intrusive mother. If there was an older brother, it was a feared, hostile relationship. That is exactly what Freud observed, over 100 years ago, but no one was talking about it. As I began to look in to the old psychoanalytic literature, this family pattern was repeatedly reported up until the gay rights movement of the 70’s. Then suddenly all psychological investigation stopped. Suddenly everyone was told it was a gay gene and you were a hating homophobe is you dared question the gay gene myth. If you were an unhappy homosexual, you were told, “You have no choice, celebrate your gayness.” Fortunately today there is greater visibility of the ex-gay movement.

J.P.: How do you know when someone is cured? Is there a moment? A breakthrough? Are there many relapses? Like alcoholism, do you view this as a lifelong battle?

J.N.: Treatment is a slow and difficult process, and there is a certain degree of lifelong maintenance necessary, as with treatment for any deep-seated condition (drug, alcohol and eating disorders fall into the same category). I’ll not pretend there is any “quick fix.” But some unhappy homosexually oriented people are willing to do the hard work and they should be allowed to do so. Unfortunately, some clients will be unsuccessful in changing no matter how hard they try, but most will experience a significant reduction in their same-sex attractions and some will experience an increase in their opposite-sex attraction. In most cases, some same-sex attractions recur under periods of stress, but they will be manageable. In a few cases there will be absolutely no homosexual attractions remaining at all.

J.P.: I think you’d agree that the gay rights movement has moved at a pretty phenomenal pace the past decade or so. Legally, socially. How has this impacted your work? Your practice?

J.N.: There continues to be a population of men and woman who feel a deep dissatisfaction with their homosexual behavior, not just out of religious guilt or social pressure, but because it just doesn’t feel right for themselves. A gay lifestyle doesn’t work for them. No amount of gay-pride rhetoric will change their deepest desire for conventional marriage and family.

J.P.: You’ve been branded a homophobe myriad times. What do you say to people who think, “This guy clearly hates gays”?

J.N.: Accusations of “hate” shut down discussion. Today, facts and philosophical discussion mean nothing. Identity politics and personal stories trump science. So whoever is the most offended wins the argument. The consequence is that people are deprived of making an informed choice about how they can live their lives.

By the way, get ready for the nasty letters. You too will be called a “hating homophobe” just for allowing this interview.

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J.P.: What is an early therapy session like? What I mean is—I’m gay, I don’t want to be gay, I make an appointment. How does it go from there? What’s the process?

J.N.: Each session begins with the therapist asking: “What do you want to work on today?” and each session should end with: “What did you learn about yourself today?” What happens in-between is the outcome of a collaborative relationship. The therapeutic alliance, which is the foundation of treatment, is when the therapist and client work together toward goals and objectives defined by the client. The client must always feel in control of the session. The therapist asks questions and offers interpretation for the client to consider.

As treatment progresses, the client and the therapist find links between childhood shame events—what we call “shame trauma”—and present-day same-sex attractions.  For the male, these “shame traumas” typically involve painful rejection from father, brothers or peers and include emotional, physical or sexual abuse. The result of these shame traumas is the client’s taking upon himself negative self-labels communicated to him in those moments. These negative self-labels typically involving male identity: “I am not male enough.” “I am not good enough to be accepted by other males.”

The client begins to see the connection between these moments of rejection and his present-day desire for what we call “The Three A’s”—attention, affection and approval, which are the emotional foundations of sexual attractions. He begins to understand that sexual contact is a substitute for authentic male affirmation.

Along with this we encourage close male friendships with straight guys. The client will often discover that if he becomes friends with a guy he is attracted to, the sexual attraction disappears. If the client reports sexual feelings for another guy, I will encourage him to make friends with him. He will often discover that friendship cancels out sexual feelings. I remember a teenage boy in his first session reporting that he was sexually attracted to a guy on the football team. I suggested he make friends with him. “No,” he said, “if I do, then I’ll lose the attraction.” He never read Freud, but he knew.

This might explain why gay male relationships don’t last, or if they do, they almost inevitably become open relationships. The familiarity diminishes the mystique. There is no heterosexual equivalent, since the opposite sex is always mysterious.

J.P.: It seems like there’s a very close tie between the anti-homosexuality movement and devout Christianity. How much of your work is based upon your own religious upbringing? And what role does faith play in your therapy? Can an agnostic Satan worshiper come to you for assistance?

J.N.: While I am a Catholic and cannot deny how my faith has shaped my worldview, the therapy is science-based. Here, theology and psychology are compatible. The therapy is psychodynamic and while the majority of our clients are religious, quite a few are not. Besides, this therapy is not anti-anything. It’s about choice.

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• You’ve appeared on Dr. Drew’s Show. My wife and I talk about him all the time. How can you diagnose a celebrity’s problem with a TV studio 2,000 miles away? Doesn’t that violate some professional code?: Actually, I found Dr. Drew to be very fair and open minded. He respectfully gave me the opportunity to express my views. He seemed particularly interested in the idea that homosexuality is trauma-based. I wish I could say the same for other TV hosts.

• Five reasons one should make Encino, California his/her next vacation destination?: Encino has a wonderful cultural mix. Where else can you find so many sushi-deli’s?

• Rank in order (favorite to least): chai tea latte, Disney Land, Rock Hudson, Jimmy Fallon, Alonzo Mourning, Batman, Ice Cube, Saved By the Bell, Michele Bachmann, The Rock, John Stamos: I don’t recognize most of these names. I’m totally out of the popular culture. I don’t listen to any music written after 1924, the year Puccini died. Maybe Sinatra, if I’m feeling edgy.

• Five all-time favorite movies: Anything directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne.

• Thoughts on Michael Sam as an openly gay NFL player? OK with it? Should he not be allowed?: Much ado about nothing. It’s his life, let him live it. But he may want to consider looking at his childhood traumas.

• Why do you think pay phones still exist?: It’s the only place where you can pretend to be talking to someone as an excuse to have a little time alone.

• Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant shit to me. What do you think of him?: You must be desperate for questions.

• The best advice you ever received was …: If you are not sure what to do as a therapist, listen to your client.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Dr. Phil? What’s the result?: He actually was very gracious when I was on his show. My mother loves Dr. Phil and watches him every day. She once said to me: “Joseph, you should watch Dr. Phil, you could learn a lot.”

• I met a guy yesterday who said he doesn’t drink soda because of the health risks—but then went out to smoke a cigarette. Am I morally allowed to punch him in the head?: The down side of a democracy is that people are allowed to self-destruct.

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Amanda Lucci

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 5.46.56 PMI hate celebrity.

I hate, hate, hate, hate it. I hate red carpets, I hate big event gift bags, I hate autograph hounds and sunglasses indoors and bodyguards for the sake of bodyguards.

I. Fucking. Hate. It.

But I love discussing this hate, and why we—as a people—are all about the famous who lord above us. Hence, I sought out the lovely Amanda Lucci for this week’s Quaz. Amanda covers famous folks for the Daily Mail, and her Tweets are often fired off like rounds from a Glock. Bieber—BAM! Gaga—BAM! Kardashian—BAM! Pitt—BAM! On the one hand, I wonder how her brain hasn’t melted. On the other hand, well, she’s damn good at her job. One can follow Amanda on Twitter here, and catch her website here.

Amanda Lucci, welcome to the magical land of Quaziwood …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Amanda, your job is to cover celebrity. My question is—why do we give a shit? I don’t mean that snidely, or as some holier-than-thou ordinance. But, really, why do we give a shit who Jared Lito is dating, or what Taylor Swift did with her hair? Are we that bored? Are our lives lame? Is there something more?

AMANDA LUCCI: An interest in something trivial doesn’t always mean that we’re bored or lame. I think a lot of people read celebrity gossip because it’s an escape from whatever is going on in their probably very fulfilling if sometimes complicated lives. It’s the same reason people binge watch stuff on Netflix. I mean you might be bored, or lame, but you also gotta give your brain a break sometimes.

I think people also care, at least today, because celebrities are so accessible now. Even for casual fans, something as simple as following an actor or musician you like on social media gives you a completely different insight into who they are that you never used to get. So if it comes out that that person broke up with the girl they were posting selfies with every day, you want to know why.

Anyways, there’s a million more scientific reasons why people are drawn to celebrity but I think most of us just like celebrity gossip because it’s a guilty pleasure. It’s fun, easy to understand, and basic knowledge of pop culture and common interests in the world of entertainment helps us connect with other people.

With Wiz Khalifa. He's the one in the hat.

With Wiz Khalifa. He’s the one in the hat.

J.P.: I’m looking at your website, and the entry that greets me is a photo of Kendall Jenner with a pimple, beneath the headline KENDALL JENNER HAS A PIMPLE. The kid is 18. I know it’s just tongue and cheek and blah, blah, blah, but do you ever think, “This might be somewhat mean?” Or is celebrity celebrity, and this is what comes with it?

A.L.: You know that ‘Kendall Jenner has a pimple’ was trending on Twitter like all day on Saturday? I definitely think that as a celebrity (and especially as a Kardashian), when you put your life out there and sometimes are quite literally asking people to show up and photograph you doing everyday mundane things, you subject yourself to that kind of scrutiny. At the same time, I think it’s nice that a Kardashian/Jenner was photographed with a giant pimple on her face. There’s so many stories from the Kardashian PR machine about Kendall Jenner modeling for Chanel at Paris Fashion Week and drinking champagne at the Cannes Film Festival and running around Coachella with Will Smith’s kids that sometimes you forget that Kendall Jenner is still a teen and even teens who walk in Fashion Week get pimples. It humanizes them a little. That’s not to say I don’t think celebrity gossip can be overly brutal and mean sometimes, but I also don’t have a problem with calling someone out for being normal.

J.P.: Would you want to be famous? Why or why not?

A.L.: No way. I mean it sounds fun in theory, but it has to get old. Like every time Taylor Swift leaves her apartment in New York City there’s photos of it, and she always looks impeccable with high heels on and red lips and a smile. It’s like she never has an off day. I read a story literally five minutes ago where she was wearing a dress and heels just to walk to the car to go to the gym. It honestly sounds horrible. Sometimes I just want to go next door to the bodega to get toilet paper and I want to wear my pajamas and not brush my hair. When celebrities do that the headlines are like, ‘Everyone Come See This Person Not Wearing Makeup!!!!’ So yeah I am very content being the unknown person that draws attention to all the famous people.

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J.P.: I know you’re from Pittsburgh, I know you’re an Ohio University journalism school grad. But what’s your path? How did you get from womb to here? And what’s the ultimate goal?

A.L.: Well, I was the kid with 900 Harriet the Spy notebooks pretending to be a reporter. When I finally got to J-school I went to the student paper and tried everything, and I ended up writing about art and music a lot because it was more creative and fun for me than breaking news. I eventually got to interview all the bands that would come to town and stuff like that, and I was going backstage and meeting some of my favorite artists and having the MOST fun and I wanted to do it forever. Then I moved to New York City three days after graduating and learned that that was not so easy to do in the real world. So I went to work for a group of trade magazines and manage all the digital stuff for them, which is where I discovered how much I like working with social media. I was lucky enough to get this job at the Daily Mail where I get to combine my interests in social media and entertainment, so it couldn’t have worked out any better.

As for ultimate goal, that’s TBD. I’m still learning and trying to grow with the industry. I don’t think I’m going to be a ‘social media editor’ forever but I’m also enjoying where I’m at right now. I have a lot of fun things I want to accomplish here first.

J.P.: I don’t understand the Kardashians. Put differently, how the fuck are they still here? In the spotlight? Didn’t their 15 minutes expire three years ago?

A.L.: The Kardashians don’t really have jobs other than to stay relevant, and they’re really good at it. Nothing they do is an accident. Every time you think, ‘Hey, I haven’t heard about a Kardashian in three hours,’ there’s a baby, divorce, wedding, scandal, half-naked Instagram, sideboob, pimple etc. ready to go. Hardcore Kardashian truthers will tell you that pretty much every story you see about them has been manipulated by Kris Jenner in some way to benefit their show’s ratings. They took one sex tape and turned it into an empire worth millions and millions, that is kind of incredible. And I love it. I find it easier to embrace their shamelessness than hate them for it.

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J.P.: You attended journalism school, presumably, to be a journalist. I’m 42, so maybe I have an old man’s view, but when I think of “journalism,” I think of covering elections, or wars, or the World Series. Not Justin Bieber’s pants and whether Jay-Z is cheating on B. Again, I DON’T mean this as even remotely snarky. But do you consider what you do in this endeavor to be journalism? Is it a form of new journalism? Entertainment writing?

A.L.: I’m not going to sit here and tell you that reporting on Bieber is the most important journalism in the world, but it’s news to some people. In my current job, Bieber getting arrested is considered breaking news. When I worked for trade magazines, if the president of a major organization within one of those trades stepped down, that was breaking news. When I was in fifth grade and I was the editor of our class newsletter, pizza day in the cafeteria was breaking news. But I would still consider all the work I’ve done journalism. It’s getting the information out to the people who care about it, regardless of what or who it is.

J.P.: Do you believe celebrities actually have (as a whole) more interesting lives than the rest of us? Why or why not?

A.L.: This question was kind of hard for me to answer because it’s all relative. I don’t necessarily think their lives are more interesting than ours, but the idea of it is. They have the money and opportunity to do a lot of exciting things, but that doesn’t mean they always do or that they enjoy it. You always hear, for example, celebs who say they’re said they missed their prom because they were on tour or at an audition or whatever, or how they wish they could be home for more than a week at a time instead of traveling from city to city and being away from their family. The jetset celebrity life sounds interesting in theory but for them it’s just, you know, traveling a lot for work and maybe occasionally wishing they had more of a routine.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 5.46.07 PMJ.P.: Weird question. On May 16 you Tweeted: “I shouldn’t admit this but I honestly didn’t know minnie driver was british until about 5 minutes ago.” Um, how the heck is that possible? She’s been in 100 movies and she speaks with a British accent in 98 of them?

A.L.: See I knew I shouldn’t have admitted that. But I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen a Minnie Driver movie. I’ve never seen ‘Good Will Hunting.’ How messed is that? But you’ll see below where I tell you my favorite movies why this is, probably.

J.P.: You seemed particularly horrified by the Michael Jackson hologram at the recent Billboard Music Awards. I actually thought the Tupac hologram was pretty cool and original. So what’s your beef?

A.L.: I just thought it looked real creepy. It was like if you made a Michael Jackson character on the Sims. But I get why they did it, because if you have real people doing a tribute, you’ll have fans with torches and pitchforks saying that so-and-so can’t sing or dance like Michael (which is always going to be true). And also Justin Timberlake is on tour and was therefore unavailable. So as unnatural as it seemed to me I get it. It says a lot that you can put a computer projection with a backing track on a music show and it’s the most talked-about performance of the night, but really the only person who can do a proper Michael Jackson tribute is Michael Jackson, in any form.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

A.L.: I’m only 25, so I’m holding out hope that I haven’t had my greatest moment yet. Lowest is probably the beginning, when I was job hunting my senior year of college. It’s really easy to feel like your career is over before it even starts.

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• Five famous people who aren’t celebrities?: Carter, Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2, Obama. Does that count?

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Cleveland Browns, pulled pork, Raisin Bran Crunch, J-14 Magazine, Lea Michele, John Smoltz, George Michael, public bathrooms, crutches, math: Andrew Carnegie. Raisin Bran Crunch (actually my favorite cereal), Andrew Carnegie, J-14 Magazine, George Michael, Lea Michele, John Smoltz, crutches, math, public bathrooms, Cleveland Browns

• Who’s a bigger celebrity: Paulina Gretzky or Wayne Gretzky?: Wayne. Paulina wishes

• Three memories of your senior prom?: 1. There was so much hairspray in my hair. SO MUCH. 2. My friends and I emptied our piggy banks to rent a Hummer limo and thought we were so badass. 3. My prom went until 5 a.m. and they made you stay the whole time so you couldn’t leave and go drink in someone’s basement or something. This was horrible BUT there was a breakfast buffet.

• Celine Dion calls. She’ll pay you $15.8 million next year to be her personal publicist. However, you have to work 365 days, get a tattoo of her face on your left butt cheek and eat one nugget of dog feces per week. You in?: Celine Dion is worth like $400 million so I’d probably ask her to pay me more than that. And I would demand unlimited access to the private waterpark at her house.

• Can Nickelback make a comeback?: Nickelback has sold something like 50 million albums so I am fully confident in their triumphant return. The question is should they, and they should not.

• Do you ever actually meet celebs? Or is it all from afar?: It’s mostly from afar now but I got to interview a lot of really cool people when I was a reporter.

• My lower back is absolutely killing me. What should I do?: Heat and like a handful of ibuprofen.

• This is kind of awkward, but my friend Greg Orlando is single, and a really nice guy. He’s 20 years your senior and is really into video games. You up for a date?: I have a boyfriend who will definitely be reading this so I’m going to have to say no.

• Five favorite films?: Airplane!, Meet the Parents, Anchorman, The Jerk, Eurotrip. I have a type.

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Jasha Balcom

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 10.25.28 AMAlthough there’s, oh, a 96.5 percent chance you’ve never heard of Jasha Balcom, there’s a 95 percent chance you’ve seen him—either in the film, 42, or in a commercial for the film, 42.

That’s because Balcom, a 32-year-old Georgia native, is Jackie Robinson.

OK … OK—Jasha didn’t play the legendary Brooklyn Dodger. But he was the stunt double for actor Chadwick Boseman. Which means whenever you saw a hard slide into second, a charge up the first base line, a mighty swing, a dive into the gap—well, that was almost always Balcom. Which makes perfect sense, considering Jasha’s background as a minor league ballplayer who reached Class A with the Chicago Cubs before spending a fascinating year with Wally Backman and the independent South Georgia Peanuts.

Here, Jasha explains how he went from 42 (the round he was selected in the 2000 June amateur draft) to 42. He talks baseball dreams and baseball nightmares, the art of hitting and why he probably won’t emerge again as Celine Dion’s cinematic understudy.

Jasha Balcom, step up to the plate. You’ve been Quazed …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Jasha, so your modern-day claim to fame comes in having played the stunt double as Jackie Robinson in the film “42.” I’ll ask two things: 1. How did this come to be? 2. Why did Chadwick Boseman need a stunt double? What were the complexities and difficulties that came with being the physical reincarnation of Jackie Robinson?

JASHA BALCOM: It came about from a phone call one day from a buddy from the Cubs I played with. He was tasked with assisting the second unit director in finding local baseball talent. So he called me originally asking if I would be interested in appearing in the Negro Leagues scenes from the first part the movie. I said, “Of course! Man, are you kidding me? Absolutely.” I sent him my information, baseball pictures etc. … and I ended up getting called immediately by Alan Graf, the stunt director. He said that I resembled and had a similar build as Chad and asked if I could come and try out for the part. I went to the training camp, and performed the athletic plays for the audition and won the spot.

Chad had the mannerisms of Jackie down. But for some of real action athletic baseball scenes—fielding, diving and catching—I had to help him out. He did well, though. He worked with a baseball coach for several months before filming. But I can tell you it was hard enough for me with those 1942 two-and-three finger pancake gloves those guys used in that time period. Baseball is a tough sport with regular equipment. Also you can’t have your star getting too many strawberry burns on his ass from sliding take after take.

Some of the challenges were really trying to bring out the power and quickness of Jackie. His running style was very unique. I watched lots of footage of him before we started shooting. That helped me out a ton.

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J.P.: You were selected by the Cubs out of the University of Georgia in the 33rd round of the 2003 Draft, reached Class A Peoria but left in 2005. I’m sure it all began with Major League dreams—so what happened? Why did you stop? And what was the difference—physically, mentally, whatever—between you and a Major Leaguer? What did you lack?

J.B.: Yes, I started my career after Georgia with the Cubs and after putting up great numbers with them I was released and quickly picked up by the Cardinals. In 2005 I walked away to cope with a personal tragedy. I lost my father Charles Balcom to cancer. At that time I simply asked for my release and I wanted to worry about baseball later.

There wasn’t much difference, talent-wise, I played in Big League spring training games. I was young but needed the at-bats. Now, being older and more mature, I know there definitely is a mental difference between the Major Leagues and the minors. Major Leaguers don’t make a lot of mistakes fundamentally. They’re very consistent. Mentally, those guys know what their job is and how to get it done every day. Since I have been teaching hitting for so long I know what adjustments have to be made.

I lacked a little bit of size, I guess. Teams are more interested if you have projectable numbers and a body type that gets you a little bit more time on the farm.

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J.P.: You played briefly for the South Georgia Peanuts of the South Coast League. I saw a fascinating documentary about the team (managed by Wally Backman) and the league. What was that experience like? How unstable were things? What sort of crowds came?

J.B.: That experience was a fun time in my life. After being out of baseball for two years, working in a corporate 9-to-5 desk job, putting on the uniform again was truly a freeing and happy time in my life. It was good to be back in the clubhouse again. Wally Backman is one of the best managers I have every played for. It was wild. Every day brought something different.

Things were normal according to pro baseball life, clubhouse pranks and not-safe-for-work locker-room conversations. Wally’s personality and his eruptions on the umps made it fun coming to the park every day. You had no idea what was going to happen.

As a Peanut.

As a Peanut in 2007.

J.P.: What’s it like when you play baseball your whole life, and you realize, “This isn’t going to happen?” When was that moment for you? How did you handle it? Accept it?

J.B.: Jeff, man, to be honest man It really sucked. My entire self identity was as a professional player. I had no clue what I was supposed to do or what I was good at. I felt I belonged on the diamond.

I still haven’t accepted it yet Jeff. I’m going to be in the Majors one day. I’m still living the dream, possibly as Big League hitting coach. Mark my words! I’m not done yet.

J.P.: I know you’re from Dublin, Georgia, I know you played at the University of Georgia. But what was your path from womb to baseball? Like, who got you into the game? Where did the love come from? Was there a moment when you realized, “I’m pretty special at this?”

J.B.: My path started in the Dublin County Rec Department at Springdale Park. My father worked maintenance for the park, so thanks to some fees being cut I got to start organized baseball when I was 4. That’s very early.

Growing up in a small town, sports were all there was to do. That was my outlet. I didn’t really want to be like “Mike”—I wanted to be like Ken Griffey, Jr. So much so that, when I was 7, I taught myself to hit left handed just like he did. I actually forgot how to hit righty later on in my career.

That love was always there, from hitting rocks with my bat outside, learning how to throw by drilling our mailbox with rocks. I got pretty consistent with the ol’ rocks. My mom could tell you that. There were no training facilities, no coaches to help me. All I had was visualization and a dream.

J.P.: I hope this isn’t awkward, but I didn’t love-love-love 42. I thought it was good, but a little too Disney, if that makes sense. What’s your take on the film? And could you tell, while working on it, how it would turn out?

J.B.: No, definitely. I think 42 could have shed some more light on his life. I think many of the true historians and people who grew up watching him play probably came away wanting more. There were a lot of scenes cut out that did show some more of Jackie’s personality and more of the tension in his life.

As we were shooting I was unsure at first until I saw how Chad nailed the emotional broken bat dugout scene. When I watched that I I felt, “OK, this is going to be something. It’s going to have an impact.”

J.P.: You started and run HittersBox, a player development and baseball training service. This fascinates me on two levels: A. How frustrating is it dealing with the parents who think their kids are the next Griffeys. B. It seems like the best baseball teachers aren’t the Tony Gwynns and Wade Boggs, but guys who struggled, chipped away, fought to survive. Agree? Disagree? And why?

J.B.: I consider myself as a professional swing coach and part-time baseball family counselor. Haha. Parents just want the best for their kids and want to give them the best opportunities.

One of challenges is how much do you push a kid. It can be a problem when parents go overboard projecting images of their own personal desire for what “they” want their kid to be like or perform and sometimes the kid doesn’t view himself in the same manner. Maybe he doesn’t even like baseball. I have to work with the parents to understand sometimes how their behaviors can be negative toward development. You don’t want that ride in the car home to mean death.

I think being a professional player alone doesn’t make you a great hitting coach. It’s taking your experiences from playing, other approaches that you’ve learned and developing a proper method to teaching. Really, it’s the the ability to transfer knowledge. Dealing with professionals all the way down to kids you first have develop a rapport, get them the trust and understand the art of the swing and how to process information. Fundamentals are the same, but you have to adapt.

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J.P.: You played Jackie Robinson, you played professional baseball. We recently had Michael Sam come out of the closet in football. How ready do you think baseball would be for an openly gay player? How would you, personally, feel about/deal with it?

J.B.: I personally would have no issue with it. Being in the Big Leagues is a dream! Everybody should go for his/her dream and have an opportunity. I think Major League Baseball could have an openly gay player without issue. Baseball is a mental game, and you have to make it through the minors first by proving yourself. So if you are good and you have paid your dues on the buses, put up numbers and you earn a 25-man roster spot, you belong. Nobody cares what you do in your private life. Everybody cares how you perform over 162 games. That’s what matters.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your life? Lowest?

J.B.: The greatest was witnessing the birth of my beautiful daughter. The lowest was when my father passed.

J.P.: When you quit baseball, you worked for a spell as a stockbroker. This sounds absolutely awful. Was it? What’s your best story from the experience?

J.B.: It was fun, and stressful. I Loved learning about the markets and placing trades for clients.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Budweiser Clydesdales, the smell of rosin, Captain Kirk, John Steinbeck, Ichiro, Big Daddy Kane, rye bread, “Silence of the Lambs,” Howie Mandel, Fleetwood Mac: Ichiro, Budweiser Clydesdales, Howie Mandel, Fleetwood Mac, “Silence of the Lambs,” rye bread, the smell of rosin, Captain Kirk, Big Daddy Kane, John Steinbeck.

• The world needs to know: What was it like playing for manager Tom Beyers on the 2004 Boise Hawks?: Tom Beyers was an  easy-going player’s manager. We all respected Tom. We won the championship that year. He was one of the coaches who knew how to pull you over to the side and tell what you did wrong, and how to fix. I really enjoyed playing for Tommy

• Five reasons to make Dublin, Georgia one’s next vacation destination?: Great hunting and fishing; Great Saint Patrick’s Day festivals.

• Celine Dion calls—she offers you $5 million to play her stunt double in the made-for-TV movie, “Celine: I’m Amazing and You Smell Like Festering Oysters.” You have to work every day for a year, change your first name to Celino and eat six worms per day. You in?: Totally out!

• We give you 500 Major League at-bats right now. What’s your statistical line?: What did Andrew McCutchen hit?

• I’m pretty fearful that climate change is going to destroy earth and give my kids no future. Do you think I’m exaggerating this? Do I need to chill?: Common sense says, man, something is going here. You put stuff that is not supposed to be in the air.

• Have you ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall? Nope.

• Four best baseball-related films of all time?: Major League, 42, Field of Dreams, Bull Durham

• Why is Batman a superhero? Has no superior powers, not immortal. What the hell?: He is rich and good looking! Closet thing we have to superpowers.

Ray in front of an iceberg in coastal waters of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Raymond Najjar

Ray in front of an iceberg in coastal waters of the Antarctic Peninsula.

It’s taken me 165 Quazes to finally delve into climate change. Which is sort of strange, in that climate change—and the future of our planet as a sustainable living place—consumes me. Simply put, I want my kid and their kids and their kids to be as happy and comfortable as I am. If the earth is 97 percent water, this seems unlikely.

Hence, today’s guest is Dr. Raymond Najjar, a professor of oceanography at Penn State University who focuses upon the impact of climate change on coastal regions. Here, Dr. Najjar explains his optimism in the face of mounting bad news, as well as his thoughts on what humanity must do to survive and thrive.

Dr. Najjar, welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Dr. Najjar, first question is one I’ve been wanting to ask an expert on climate change for a long time. In short, how are you not curled up in a ball right now, depressed over the seemingly inevitable decline of our planet? I’m sort of being serious—whenever I read about climate change, and another thing melting, another record high temperature, I feel like all’s lost and my kids are (to be blunt) fucked. Am I wrong to feel so hopeless? Do you feel this way?

R.N.: I am optimistic because we have faced imminent environmental catastrophes before and overcome them. The crazy thing is how fast we forget how much progress we have made on a whole slew of environmental problems, such as smog, acid rain, spectacularly polluted rivers and lakes, and the ozone hole, to name a few. How’d we do it? We had good science and people (including politicians) who really cared and were willing to fight against industry and other groups philosophically opposed to regulation of any kind.

What’s remarkable is that in the end we came out on top economically, so even without the ethical arguments—which should be enough to carry the day—it makes sense to clean up the environment. The Clean Air Act is a shining example: we reduced emissions of nitrogen and sulfur oxides, the acidity of rain declined, electricity rates were stable, the economy grew, and we ended up saving money as a result of fewer sick days and hospital visits.

The other thing to keep in mind is how fast public opinion can shift. Take our views on gay marriage, for example. This gives me hope that people want to do the right thing and will ultimately come around if we keep talking and listening to each other.

J.P.: Most of your work, in regards to climate, details the impact of climate change on coastal regions. So let me ask bluntly, and plainly: What is—and will be—the impact of climate change on coastal regions?

R.N.: More flooding is going to be the main impact to humans and ecosystems along the coast. Sea level is rising now on average by more than an inch per decade and the rate is increasing. It doesn’t sound like much but by the end of this century we are looking at an additional few feet, which will have a big effect, especially on low-lying areas. Direct effects of warming are also a concern. If we continue the current trend in greenhouse gas emissions, a coastal region like the New York City Tri-State area will experience summers by the end of this century similar to summers now in southern South Carolina. That’s a huge change for people and ecosystems to handle.

J.P.: There are shitloads of people in this country who insist either: A. Climate change has nothing to do with man’s activities; B. Climate change is a liberal hoax. Is there anything you can say to these folks to prove them wrong? Because they seem pretty insistent.

R.N.: I don’t waste my time with the 5 percent on the lunatic fringe. There are others who are genuinely skeptical about the science because the media tends to weigh opposing views evenly and because it challenges their world view (see below); with those, I am patient but persistent, and have seen some minds changed. We all ultimately care about the same thing, which is providing a better future for our children.

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J.P.: You’re a professor of oceanography at Penn State. You have a BE in Mechanical Engineering, an MA and PhD from Princeton. But, womb to now, what has been your path? Where were you born? When did you first find yourself fascinated by oceanography? Why are you here?

R.N.: I was born and grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. My folks would say I was drawn to the seashore as young boy vacationing on Cape Cod, but I fell into oceanography by accident. In engineering school, I enjoyed classes on fluid mechanics, but I also wanted to save the world so I looked for graduate programs in environmental fluids, which meant meteorology and oceanography. I was a homebody, Princeton was nearby, I made the cut, and the rest fell into place. I worked hard but I also was lucky to find really great people to work with and interesting problems to work on.

J.P.: Serious question: Is there any hope for us? I mean this. Like, is there a chance the earth will naturally even itself out? Is there a chance science, engineering … something can fix our problems?

R.N.: I love the book “Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think,” by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. People are problem solvers. Our ingenuity is breathtaking. We are faced with the wonders of technology and improved lifestyle daily even though we get mostly bad news from the media. Yes, there is a lot of misery in the world, but there is less than there used to be, in part as a result of technological progress and the desire for people to make things better.

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J.P.: In your opinion, if we continue on this path, what does the world look like in 50 years? In 100 years?

R.N.: It will be hotter and there will be more floods and droughts. It’s going to be rough, particularly for the poor, and we will have to adapt. How much more severe the climate gets depends on much more carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere. We are likely to a rise of at least 3 degrees F, but maybe as much as 10 degrees F if we stay on the current path.

J.P.: What is it that we—the average, non-scientific Americans—don’t grasp about carbon dioxide, oxygen, carbon monoxide, carbonyl sulfide and dimethyl sulfide and their roles in the sustainability of the earth?

R.N.: Okay, you plunked that off my web site. I like studying gases in seawater.

Carbon dioxide gets a bad rap. It’s natural and without it the earth would probably be ice-covered. The problem is that we now have too much of a good thing. It’s not only causing the rapid warming we are experiencing but is also responsible for making the oceans more acidic, which has mostly negative ecological consequences.

Oxygen in seawater is important because fish and other fauna need it to breath. One of the big water pollution problems we have is hypoxia (really low oxygen), which is caused by dumping too much sewage and fertilizer into our waterways. Hypoxic regions, also called dead zones, are present throughout many of the world’s developed coasts. We’ve made huge progress on this problem by cleaning up our sewage treatment plants, which has benefitted many estuaries, including the Delaware Bay and Hudson River. We still need to reduce the amount of agricultural fertilizers getting into our natural waters so we can eliminate other dead zones, like those in the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Dimethyl sulfide is cool because that’s what you smell when you are getting a breeze off the ocean. It’s made in seawater by phytoplankton, gets released into the air, and forms particles that cloud droplets grow on. So, in pristine areas of the ocean, phytoplankton may regulate cloudiness.

Carbon monoxide and carbonyl sulfide are quite esoteric. I don’t think we fully understand their function in seawater and the rest of the earth system, but we study them because they are there!

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J.P.: I’m almost certainly not as intelligent as you, yet I often think to myself, “Jesus Christ, we are so fucking stupid. We have this problem, but—because it’s not 100-percent, black-and-white right in front of us, we do nothing.” Has your work in climate change at all impacted your opinion on the intellect of America?

R.N.: I don’t like the way you started off your question. I’ll grant you that my scientific intelligence is higher than yours but there are so many types of intelligence (artistic, emotional, social, literary, etc.) that a simple ranking is not tenable. Anyhow, it’s a good question and what I have learned so very clearly over the last few years is how much an individual’s world view colors their interpretation of the facts. It’s really disheartening and somewhat puzzling that, for example, Republicans and Democrats can look at the same data on just about anything and come to vastly different conclusions. What’s even more remarkable is that the more educated those two groups are, the more their views diverge. So it’s like the “smarter” we are, the more we are able to find arguments to fit our world view. It’s depressing and not obvious on how one deals with this.

J.P.: I feel helpless. I drive a Prius, I try and unplug things, etc … etc. But, honestly, is there anything I can do to impact climate change? People like to say, “One person can make a difference …” but I’m really starting to not believe it.

R.N.: Global warming is a tougher problem than most environmental problems because it is truly a global problem. Because carbon dioxide lasts so long in the atmosphere, it doesn’t matter where it is emitted from. So everybody—the whole world, not just those in your community, state, or country—has to be on board with emissions reductions for them to be effective. This is the really tough aspect of the problem. But the ozone hole was similar (because chlorofluorcarbons last long in the atmosphere, too), so I think we can do it. But everyone has to do their share, which is what you are doing by being more thoughtful about your energy usage, and it’s what Obama and the EPA are proposing by curbing emissions from power plants.

In 2012 Wei-Jun Cai (University of Georgia) Marjy Friedrichs (Virginia Institute of Marine Science), and Najjar organized the US East Coast Carbon Cycle Synthesis Workshop.

In 2012 Wei-Jun Cai (University of Georgia) Marjy Friedrichs (Virginia Institute of Marine Science), and Najjar organized the US East Coast Carbon Cycle Synthesis Workshop.

J.P.: A lot of climate change doubters I know say the warming of the earth is cyclical, and this is merely another cycle. Any truth to that idea?

R.N.: No. While there are natural cycles, like the ice ages coming and going, we can’t explain the current warming based on them. In fact, if anything, we would be going through a cooling period right now if it weren’t for increases in greenhouse gases. Prior to 1800, we were on a long-term cooling trend for thousands of years, but as soon as carbon dioxide started to rise due to industrialization and forest clearing, the earth began to warm. The amount of warming that’s occurred since then is about what we expect from the amount of carbon dioxide released.

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• Joe Paterno statue—should it have remained on campus, or was the school right to remove?: I don’t know. Good arguments either way. Joe said it best: I wish I had done more.

• Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?: Practice.

• Five reasons one should make State College, Pa. his/her home?: Nice people, low stress, beautiful, safe, Penn State.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Mike Holmgren, your high school yearbook, Shakira, skiing, Kansas City, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Art & Science, Diet Sprite, mud wrestling, peanut butter, The Black Crowes, elephants: Elephants, peanut butter, Cooper Union, Kansas City, skiing, yearbook, mud wrestling, Diet Sprite. Others: no rating

• What happens when we die?: We go to live on another planet as an alien life form. In this way, two great mysteries are solved at once when we die: The question you asked and “Are we alone?”

• Sean Hannity calls. He wants you to appear on his show to debate climate change. You in?: No—there’s nothing to debate. Would be happy to answer his questions, however.

• Out of 100 times, how often does someone leave a J out of your last name?: One.

• Three memories from your first date?: I can’t even remember who my first date was with, never mind what happened on it.

• If someone said you can put an end to climate change right now, but you’d have to take off 20 years from the end of your life, would you do so?: Yes, if it was done in some benign way. There are some crazy geoengineering solutions that I would not be in favor of.

• One question you would ask Huey Lewis were he here right now?: I love that chromatic horn line during the outro of “The Heart of Rock and Roll.” How did you come up with it?

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Kel Mitchell


George Washington is dead.

Mike Darr is dead.

Edward Koch is dead.

Tupac Shakur, James Madison, Shannon Hoon, Manute Bol, Charlton Heston, the girl from Poltergeist, Spuds McKenzie, Len Bias, my great grandmother—all dead.

Kel Mitchell, however, is not dead. Even though, back in 2006, an Internet hoax convinced many people of his passing. Nope. Mitchell—the former star of Nickelodeon’s “All That” and the shockingly wonderful 1997 flick, “Good Burger”—continues to work as an actor, comedian and voice guy, as well as one who believes strongly in spreading the Gospel.

Here, Kel speaks to death rumors, proposal rumors and Bieber rumors. You can visit his website here, and follow him on Twitter here.

Kel Mitchell, welcome to Quazland, home of the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Kel, you’re a guy who had this huge run on TV, starred in a 1990s kid movie staple (Good Burger)—and is now the subject of a lot of “What the heck ever happened to …” Internet posts. It strikes me that people take a certain Sadistic pleasure in this; an odd enjoyment in seeing celebrities fade from the spotlight, then mocking the fade (or, in your case, spreading death rumors). Do you think I’m off on this? On? And how do you explain it?

KEL MITCHELL: I continued to work. I feel that people all watch different types of entertainment on television. I got into voice-over work on cartoons and guest-starred on many different live action television shows, but you have to understand that everyone does not watch the same shows. So it’s just about letting people know what you are doing to make them aware. When the death rumor started I was like, “I’m alive and well and since we are talking about me let me tell you what I am working on now.”

J.P.: I know a lot about your career, but little about your journey. Like, I know you’re from Chicago, I know you nailed an audition, I know you starred in the series Kenan & Kel from 1996–2000, but, well, how did this happen? What’s your life path from birth to show business? Were you pushed into it? Did you seek it out? What was The Breakthrough Moment all performers seem to have?

K.M.: I grew up in Chicago. I love my city—a lot of good people. I was a bit of a class clown growing up and my parents did not want me following the wrong crowd. We had good kids in my neighborhood and we also had gang violence in my neighborhood so my parents kept me in programs that were positive. They enrolled me in a summer course at a community theater and I fell in love with the art of acting. I did not look at it as a way onto television. At the time it was just something to keep me on a good path. I later started acting in plays that showcased in downtown Chicago and got discovered by a local model and talent agency. Actually, my first big gig was I got to model on the back of the Cap’n Crunch box. I remember being chased by girls in my neighborhood.

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J.P.: My kids are 10 and 7, and they recently saw Good Burger for the first time. They absolutely loved it, and I kept wondering—as a performer—how in the world were you able to maintain that character for so long? I mean, the voice, the antics, the dialogue—how did you not lose your mind? And, looking back, how do you feel about the film?

K.M.: The blessing of being on a sketch comedy show like All That—which is where Good Burger was created—is that you get to play so many different characters all different and fun to play. I was never stuck playing the same role over again and even when I had to play one of the characters for a long period of time I never looked at it as I am going to lose my mind playing this role because I understood who I am off camera is not this character. It’s a job and I am thankful to have it and that people embrace it.  If you are a doctor and have to get in a lab coat every day you don’t say, “I am so tired of getting in this lab coat and scrubs.” You are thinking about how happy you are that you are saving lives and making people feel better. It’s about the blessing to be able to do what you love. Complaining would be silly.

J.P.: You’re a devout Christian, which fascinates me. As we speak, the world is heating at an abnormal rate, and it looks more and more like this planet’s future is imperiled. There’s conflict everywhere. War. Famine. Murder. Slaughter. Cancer. Heart disease. Another season of the Kardashians. How do you continue to believe, when so many signs say, “We’re all completely screwed?”

K.M.: The earth has always had its conflicts but we need not stress about the problems that are going on in this world. No matter what happens your faith will keep you strong, You cannot allow fear to control you. Believing the “signs” of this world is not living in faith. I follow the word of God and what he says about me and his children. Not what the headlines say.

J.P.: You were a young star. Is show business a worthwhile pursuit? What I mean is, so many parents push their kids toward a career on stage, in film, etc. But is it a gateway to happiness? Or do the perils outweigh the bliss?

K.M.: You have to let your child know that this is a job and when they have to get their own home and have their own bills (if they continue in this profession) this job will pay for that. So stay away from wrong choices because what they do now can help or hinder this job. Look at the long run of it all. Also let them know that this is a talent that they have been blessed with by God and to not allow negative behavior to block that talent. Also, never push your child if you see that this is something they do not want to do any longer. Pray with them to help them find what other job or talents they have that they can pursue. God has blessed us all with many talents and the ability to learn new and exciting things. He is the one who knows the plans for our lives. So seek him first. A good, prayer-filled life makes every job a gateway to happiness.

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J.P.: I touched on this, but in 2006 you were the subject of a death hoax that spread all over MySpace. What was your initial reaction to this? How did it impact you? Did your family receive actual sympathy calls?

K.M.: It was a shock for the first 45 minutes. I was like, “It’s sad that someone would get a kick out of spreading a rumor like that.” I did get a few phone calls from family members. It did not bother me or upset me because I am alive and well and, like I said, when people asked it was a way to promote what I was working on currently. I was not the only one this has happened to—you see Twitter feeds of hoaxes played on actors all the time and, like me, they are blessed and alive. I just pray for haters. Its all love.

J.P.: According to several Internet reports, you apparently own and operate several Wendy’s franchises outside of Biloxi, Mississippi. How the heck did that happen? Why fast food as a business endeavor? And have you ever stepped behind the counter and said, “Welcome to Wendy’s, home of Wendy’s, may I take your order?”

K.M.: I would do that if it were true but it is not. This is yet another rumor. I do not own any Wendy’s, but maybe I should look into it …

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J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

K.M.: I learn from low moments which makes them great moments. So with that being said—every moment has been great! I am thankful foreach moment and to still be doing this after all these years and still have a fan base I think that is awesome. God is good.

J.P.: How hard is it for a guy known for comedy to be taken seriously? For example, have there been roles you’ve wanted to audition for where someone will say, “Um, no, no, no” based solely on your background? Are you pigeonholed?

K.M.: No, I am not pigeonholed. Of course you have casting directors who see you in a certain way but you have to be the one to change their perception of you. Put yourself on tape and send the audition even if they do not want to see you in person. Create roles for yourself by writing, filming or producing something on your own that will show them that you are multifaceted. The only person that can put yourself in a box is you.

J.P.: As we speak, Justin Bieber seems to be imploding. Why do so many young stars struggle with life, and the adjustment to adulthood? What makes it so difficult?

K.M.: He is a teenager. Every teen or young adult has made mistakes and done things that they are not proud of. In his case it is broadcast in media but we can not judge him. We need to pray for him that he makes better choices.

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• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I pray about calming the winds and God getting me home safely and it works every time. He takes away the fear.

• You’re married to the rapper Asia Lee. How did you propose?: I took her out to a romantic breakfast. Then we drove to a drive-in theater to see a double feature (something we both had been wanting to do for a while). We enjoyed watching the movie and eating in the car—we saw Bridesmaids and Hangover II. We we got home. She turned on the lights but they would not work because before we left I secretly turned off the power switch to our home. She walked around going, “Why are the lights not working?” I got on bended knee in the dark and opened up the ring box that had a light in the inside of it. I said, “I found some light” and then asked her to marry me. She said yes. One of the happiest days of my life.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Jason Bateman, James Worthty, the 405, Topeka, Netflix, Willie Stargell, the Big Mac, Winter Olympics, Def Leppard, Eddie Murphy: Netflix, Eddie Murphy, Jason Bateman, Big Mac, James Worthy, Willie Stargell, Winter Olympics, Topeka, 405, Def Leppard.

• Your full name is Kel Johari Rice Mitchell. Where did that all come from?: Kel means yesterday, today and tomorrow.  Johari means Jewl in Swahili. Rice is a family name and Mitchell is my family name.

• I’m a horrible dancer. What can I do to improve?: Practice what style you love the best then jump in dance battle circles. When you win one … congratulations! You have improved.

• One question you’d ask Natalie Wood were she here right now?: What was your favorite film that you starred in.

• In 1997 you won a Cable Ace Award. Where’s the trophy right now?: When I got a divorce from my first marriage it was left by accident at the home I no longer stay at.

• Five greatest actors of your lifetime?: Kermit the Frog, Fozzie the Bear, Ms. Piggy, Gonzo, Grover.

• Who wins in a fight between you and Elvis Costello? How many rounds does it go?: A draw. LOL—I can dream, right?

• In exactly 19 words, make a case for tomato soup: Tastes like warm ketchup in a bowl. Campbell’s creamy tomato soup on the go is only $4.99. Great value!