Jeff Pearlman

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Category Archives: QUAZ

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Katie Nolan

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 1.18.11 AMWorking in TV isn’t as easy as one would think. Sure, there’s fame and attention and glamor and (at many levels) money. But there’s also stuff like this. And, well, show cancellations.

Just ask Katie Nolan.

Until a couple of months ago, Katie was one of the hosts of Crowd Goes Wild, FS1′s attempt to reincarnate the spirit of the old Best Damned Sports Show. And you know what? It was good. Flawed? Sure. Inconsistent? A bit. But, more often than not, the program featured an intriguing panel (One word: Regis) and some cool guests (One word: Nas). I appeared on Crowd Goes Wild while promoting Showtime, and the experience was terrific. Again, did it need some tinkering? Yes. But what new endeavor doesn’t?

Then, before FS1 gave it a real chance to succeed, the program was killed.

What didn’t die (I’m convinced) is the rise of Nolan, a smart, savvy, informed personality who knows her stuff. I brought Katie into Quazland because her rise fascinates me—how does someone in her mid-20s jump from obscurity to minor web fame to major web fame to a pretty sweet TV gig? The answers follow.

Still under contract with Fox, Katie hosts a regular web series, No Filter, that’s one of my favorites. She’s also a prolific Tweeter and one helluva interview.

Katie Nolan, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Katie, two seconds ago I Googled your name—and the fourth listed etry was something from, listing you as No. 3 on its hot 50. I wonder how—as an up-and-coming sports media personality—that makes you feel? Annoyed? Flattered? Pissed? Do you think women on sports television can ever escape having looks be part of the overall judging pattern?

KATIE NOLAN: “Pissed” would be irrational, right? At the end of the day, being the “hottest” is a compliment. Is it what I want people to take away from what I do? Not at all. But I can’t be angry if someone wants to tell me they think I’m pretty. I guess I’d say I’m flattered and then I move on from it. The real danger in that stuff is when you start to believe it defines your worth.

I think women are always going to be judged, at least in part, by the way we look. Is it annoying that there aren’t lists that rank male sports personalities by their hotness? Sure. But it would be a waste of energy to crusade against people who want to talk about “hotness.” Sports media is an industry that predominantly caters to a male audience, and when you put a woman in front of a group of men, it’s instinctual for them to ask “would I procreate with her?” That’s human-nature-caveman stuff; you can’t control that. But if that’s where their thought process stops, then I pity them. There are a lot of women in sports media doing some incredible things right now. If all you see is a hot chick, then you’re that little kid from ‘The Polar Express’ who thinks his bell is broken.

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J.P.: You were on a FS1 show—Crowd Goes Wild—that recently got cancelled. Maybe this is an obvious question, but how did you feel when word officially came down? Who told you? And what do you think went wrong?

K.N.: We (the panel) found out after our last show of the week. We walked off set and our three producers were sitting in our dressing rooms, and we just knew. It had been talked about for a few weeks that it was a possibility, so no one fell to their knees and cursed the television gods, but it was sad. Mainly because it meant we only had two weeks left together instead of the two months until the end of the season that we thought we had. That was the toughest part.

I think we all went into CGW with the mindset that we were trying something crazy and it could either go well or go horribly. We were a brand new concept on a brand new network, and where we could have benefited from some wiggle room or time to grow, there just wasn’t any. It felt like going through puberty with a shot clock—”Here are all these new and crazy things that don’t make any sense to you yet, and if you don’t figure them out RIGHT NOW you’ll lose your chance forever.” There were days we wrapped and looked at each other like, “Wow … What was that?” But there were others where we felt like we made something really unique.

We also had every possible variable present, which made it hard some days. Sports meets entertainment, with a legendary host in his 80s, plus five panelists from all over the place (three of whom have no TV experience), with a live studio audience, and games, and humor, but also sometimes a news agenda, and you’re on at 5 pm (2 pm pacific). Change or remove any one of those challenges and you’ve still got a tough task on your hands. But ultimately, just when we started to figure out what was working and what wasn’t, it was too late.

Crowd Goes Wild may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but I still strongly believe there’s a need for a show like it. People might not realize it yet, but they will when they see it. We’re getting so caught up in taking sports so seriously. People call anything happening in an athlete’s life other than their sport a “distraction.” A distraction? Like life is interfering with a game they play for money. Sports are fun. Yes, they’re intense and we love them for that, but let’s not forget that fell in love with them because of the fun.

J.P.: I hope this doesn’t offend you, but I feel like the phrasing “overnight sensation” sort of applies here—in a very good way. You were recording YouTube clips for Guyism one minute, you’re working for Fox Sports 1 the next. Katie, how did this happen? Or, put different, what was your path from womb to here? Is this always what you wanted to do?

K.N.: Consciously? No. I had no idea I could do this, so I sort of ruled that out really early. But when I got the gig, everyone close to me said “this is what you were meant to do.”

I went to school to study public relations. People always ask me why, and the sad truth is that I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I took a “What Should I Major In?” quiz on and that’s what it said. I never even considered anything else. How stupid is that? I went and I got my degree and I worked internship after internship and I graduated Cum Laude and I tried to get a job … and nothing. No one was hiring. And if they were, the job was in New York City and paid $25,000 a year and I wasn’t that confident in my ability to live in a cardboard box.

So I moved back home and started bartending at a place close to BU, and after a few months of dealing with drunk college kids I swear I could feel my brain cells packing up their shit to leave. So I started a blog with one of my friends to keep myself (and my brain) occupied during the day. I took it way too seriously. I updated it 12 times a day even when only three people were reading it, and eventually one of those people ended up being someone in a position to help me. One of the founders of asked me to write for them, so I did that for a while, and then they came to me with this idea of doing a daily video of news headlines and jokes. Originally I told them absolutely not because I was so uncomfortable on camera and had a tendency to over act and I knew I’d be awful. But they had me do it anyway … and found out I was right. But then I just worked and worked at it, and the show evolved from a shoddy little thing on a web cam with awful jokes and no comedic timing to a full-fledged green screen production with pictures and lower thirds and awful jokes and a little bit of comedic timing. And after two years of that, someone at Fox Sports Digital contacted my boss to let them know they were launching a new network and thought I’d be a good fit, and the rest is history.

The timing of it all was incredibly lucky and I will always feel a little guilty when someone tells me I didn’t “pay my dues.” But then I remember waking up at 5 am to research, write, film, edit and produce a show, all alone, five days a week for two years, and I tell people who say I had this opportunity “handed to me” to lock it up.

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J.P.: Your Twitter battle with (and, ultimately, takedown of) Kevin Connolly was dazzling, awesome, fantastic, killer. I’m fascinated—what in your brain said, “I’m not just letting this shit go”? What do you think of the guy now? And why does celebrity have such a warping impact on so many?

K.N.: I cringe a little when I talk about this story, mainly because I was young and stupid when it happened, and I know I’m not completely devoid of guilt in the situation. I can see now why posting a private message he sent me to an audience of people was a pretty dick move. I was starstruck that a celebrity had contacted me, and thought my “fans” (I think my fan page had less than 1,000 likes at the time of the post) would think I was cooler because of it. That being said, he has actually apologized since. I’ll still drop a Kevin Connolly joke into something I’m doing every now and then as a sort of wink at the fans who were around for all of that, but we have laid the issue to rest. He said he was out of line and asked for forgiveness, and I respect that.

As for why I didn’t just let it go at the time, I’m a protective person. I have this small group of fans that have been with me since day one, and I felt responsible for them. I wanted them to know I wouldn’t let someone attack them just because he was famous. It felt like the right thing to do.

I’m starting to see the other side of things now, even just as a person on a show that barely anyone watched. You get poked and prodded a lot when you’re a “public figure.” I’ve lashed out at some people on Twitter before. It’s hard to constantly grin and bear it on the internet, when any sane human would defend themselves in real life. “Don’t feed the trolls” goes against our instincts.

I’ve met some people during CGW’s short life who taught me how dangerous it is to become accustomed to the star treatment. You see it with athletes sometimes; they’re worshiped by so many for so long, and it’s hard to adapt to a life where someone tells you no. Celebrity is scary and does awful things to people. I still have so much to learn, but right now the way I see it is if you treat it like part of the job, you’re much better off than treating it like the reason for the job.

J.P.: I worked with Rick Reilly at SI for many years. I can’t say we’re friends, but we’re certainly friendly colleagues—so I found your epic beatdown of him both painful and invigorating. It got me thinking about something, and that is—in 2014, with media the way it is—how do people like Rick (fuck, and me) survive and thrive? You’re young, you’re multi-media, you’re relatable. But what if you’re an aging writer with a receding hairline? What are we supposed to do now?

K.N.: I’m going to be honest, here: I had never really put that much thought into how scary that must be, to watch a profession you mastered change into something you don’t know much about, until you just asked that question. Obviously everyone talks about journalism as a “dying industry” (which is bullshit, btw) and the “constantly evolving blogosphere” and all those awful buzzwords, but to actually put myself in the shoes of someone who is amazing at their job and then awful at what their job becomes, by no fault of their own, is really eye-opening. And I think that’s the case with Rick Reilly. I used to be a huge fan of his. I think a lot of people were. And a lot of times you see someone’s popularity reach a tipping point and people turn on them, but I don’t think that’s what happened. He just doesn’t appear to have a willingness to adapt. But that explains so much when you look at it that way. Like when he ordered Stuart Scott to credit him for having it first on Twitter. That’s a journalist projecting old-school journalism on a new-school medium instead of actually trying to understand the new-school medium.

I’m in no position to provide any kind of advice for incredibly talented writers and journalists on how to adapt to the insanity of this new era of media. I actually wish I could, so they wouldn’t disdain my existence. The only thing I know you can’t do is ignore that changes are happening around you and keep doing what you’re doing and expect people to listen.

J.P.: When Fox Sports 1 started, there was tons of talk about directly fighting ESPN. Am I wrong in thinking that’s never really going to happen? Why or why not?

K.N.: I may be hopelessly optimistic here, but I can’t give up yet on the fact that it will happen. I think it’s obviously going to take some time; ESPN has been doing this relatively unchallenged for years. They’ve worked out the kinks and can pretty much churn out content like a machine. It isn’t a bad thing; it’s impressive. But no one benefits from a lack of competition, especially not the people consuming your product. Was it a little premature to come out of the gate boasting that FS1 would go head to head with The Mothership? Maybe. But I kinda love that. I think a network that embraces the fact that it probably doesn’t have a chance in hell but takes it anyway will eventually win people over. There’s a market out there for something other than ESPN. It exists. People want an alternative. I think Fox Sports 1 needs to put its head down and focus on being the best Fox Sports 1 it can be, and by the time it looks up it’ll be that much closer to competing with the worldwide leader. And really, who loves an underdog more than sports fans?

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J.P.: I’ve been on television a lot over the years, and while I enjoy it, I don’t love it. What do you love about the medium? Is it the rush? The buzz? And how do the time constraints (“We’ve gotta wrap this in 30 seconds!”) not drive you crazy?

K.N.: To answer that last part first … yes. I have no other type of TV to compare it to, but live TV is hard. Sometimes on the show we’d be in the middle of a heated conversation, and I’d be ready to make a point, and we’d have to go to commercial. Or I’d spend the day working on a segment that ends up getting cut because our guest gave a couple long-winded answers in the C block and now we’re running heavy on time. That took a lot of getting used to. For me, it helped to put the integrity of the show before my own desire to contribute. If you focus on the fact that the guest is telling an incredibly interesting story and everyone watching is enthralled, you feel silly being frustrated with the fact that the audience won’t get to hear that joke you wrote about Richie Incognito.

As for what I love about TV, I’d say it’s the opportunity to make people laugh. You can tell a joke at a bar with your friends and make four people laugh. You can tell a joke at a comedy club and make 20 people laugh (I can’t, but maybe you can). But on TV, you can tell that joke once and people hear it across the country. For that reason I would actually say I don’t love TV as much as I love TV paired with the internet. I can’t imagine back in Regis’ day, when you could say something on TV and go home and make yourself a nice steak and go to bed. Unless it was something incredibly newsworthy or offensive enough to make people pick up their phones, you never had to hear about it or think about it again. Some days I think that would be awesome. But I also think it’s awesome that I can go on Twitter after a show and see that people laughed. I can see on the blogs that people enjoyed something we did. We aren’t just submitting things into a void; we can tell pretty much right away if we entertained people. It’s a blessing and a curse, but it certainly keeps you on your toes.

J.P.: Do you feel like—knowledge-wise—male sports fans have low expectations for women? Do they think you’ll only know surface material? Or is that generational?

K.N.: Yes and no. I feel like, overall, fans have irrationally high standards for all sports reporters. Look, if you’re a baseball reporter on NESN and you don’t know the Red Sox starting lineup, you should probably be fired. But if you’re on a national sports show that covers every sport and you screw up the year that the Pirates drafted Andrew McCutchen, it’s OK. Sports fans are amazing in that they’re fiercely loyal to their teams and they know every stat and every piece of history, but I wish sometimes they’d put down the pitchforks and remember that, beside their team, there are 29 other teams in major league baseball, three other “major” sports in the country, and two producers yelling in our earpiece about buying time because the guest is late.

To do a better job of answering your original question, I’d say I don’t notice or mind peoples’ expectations for my sports knowledge. I think we, as humans, try to simplify everything we experience into categories that are easier for our brains to process. When a woman is categorized as attractive, most people won’t expect her to also be knowledgeable. So a person’s expectations for me don’t bother me so much as when a person confuses their expectations with the truth. Take, for example, a comment on one of my YouTube videos that Fox Sports shared on Facebook: “Fox Sports hires ANOTHER dumb bimbo. No thanks, I won’t be watching!!” Makes sense; he won’t watch because I’m dumb, and he knows I’m dumb because … oh wait, that actually makes no sense. Double exclamation points!!

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J.P.: You Tweet A LOT about hockey—a sport that interests me as much as senior golf. Question: Why do you think the NHL has never gained the mass appeal of the three big team sports? Is the league doing something wrong? Are we just lame?

K.N.: Blaming people who don’t take an interest your sport is not an effective way to prove your sport is worth taking an interest in (right, soccer fans?). So no, you aren’t lame. For me, hockey was the sport I grew up around. My brother played, and was pretty good at it, so I spent a lot of time in hockey rinks. Actually, I’d say most hockey fans I know either played when they were younger or grew up with someone who did. And, coming from a family that would have had two hockey players in it if we could afford it, I can tell you it’s pretty expensive to play. I’m not saying youth participation is entirely responsible for adult fandom, but it’s certainly a factor worth considering.

It’s also worth considering that Americans tend to love things that belong to them. Baseball is our nation’s pastime. NASCAR is actually more American than apple pie at this point. The sport we call “football” is called “American Football” everywhere else because we changed the sport into something completely different but couldn’t be bothered to change the name. Hockey, though, is still perceived as Canadian. Canadian hockey players have never comprised less than 50 percent of the NHL, and most Americans just don’t feel that national connection to the athletes or the sport. That’s why I think Olympic hockey is so important to the growth of the NHL’s appeal; it’s hockey that America can feel comfortable getting behind. (Which is why I think it’s a huge mistake that some NHL owners are starting to talk about banning their players from participating in the Olympics, but that’s eight more paragraphs I won’t bore you with.)

I honestly do think people are starting to come around to it. Last month I heard multiple people say, on SportsCenter of all places, that the NHL playoffs are the best postseason in sport. The secret is out. Plenty of room for you on the bandwagon, Jeff! At least until the next lockout.

J.P.: You worked with Regis on Crowd Goes Wild. I heard mixed things—nice guy, not so dedicated to the show, giving, big ego. What was your experience like? What do we need to know about the man?

K.N.: My grandmother is 87-years old. She lives in my old room at my parents’ house and my mother’s full-time job is taking care of her. If my nana, a kind and loving woman, was on live television for an hour every day, people who work with her might say she’s “not so dedicated to the show.” And they would have every right to say that because they have to be on set hours before her, and they have to help her when she forgets things, and it’s their job to make sure she doesn’t look bad. But at the end of the day, she’s 80-FUCKING-7, and the fact that she got out of bed and put on real shoes is downright commendable.

Now imagine my grandmother is a television legend who has earned the right to do whatever she damn well pleases, and you’ll see how it’s hard to actually complain about working with Regis Philbin.

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Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I was 10 and flying to Georgia for the Junior Olympics with my rhythmic gymnastics team, and they told us there was a problem with the wing so we had to make an emergency landing, and we were in no actual danger but I was 10 and dramatic so I told all my friends we almost died.

• Would you rather eat 200 living maggots or have the nails on both your thumbs torn off?: Have the nails on both my thumbs torn off, any day of the week and twice on Sunday. I don’t trust that all those maggots are gonna die and not eat me from the inside out unless I chew each and every one, and that isn’t happening.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Mark Messier, Slam Magazine, blueberry pie, cursing, Ed Sheeran, Bobby Jindal, Rocky II, Austin Mahone, Sha Na Na, Ron Howard, Hangover II: Cursing, Mark Messier, blueberry pie, Rocky II, Ron Howard, Slam Magazine, Ed Sheeran, Sha Na Na, Hangover II, Austin Mahone, Bobby Jindal.

• I sorta love Demi Lovato’s music. I’m 42. How weird does that make me?: The “‘s music” makes it not weird at all. I’m 27 and listen to “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch on my way to work every morning.

• Celine Dion calls. She wants you to MC her next show. She’ll pay $5 million for five hours of work, but you have to shave off your hair, get a nose ring, call yourself “Motherfucker Motherfucker IV” the entire time (without laughing) and, at night’s end, lick the entire 200’x300’ floor. You in? You seriously had me right up until that part about licking the floor. The $5 million will barely cover those medical bills and you know it.

• Three memories from your senior prom? 1. It 2. Was 3. Boring

• Five all-time favorite athletes: Kong Linghui, Sergey Morozov, Peter Gade, Rune Kristiansen, Bobby Fischer

• In your mind, what are the odds of some sort of afterlife?: High enough that it’s possible, low enough that I’m gonna enjoy the one life I’m sure of right now just in case.

• Climate change–hoax or scary-as-shit problem?: Problem. People who think climate change is a hoax? Scary-as-shit problem.

• One question you would ask Carrot Top were he here right now?: Celine Dion calls. She wants you to MC her next show. She’ll pay $5 million for 5 hours of work, but you have to shave off all your hair, get a nose ring, call yourself “Motherfucker Motherfucker IV” the entire time (without laughing) and, at night’s end, like the entire 200′x300′ floor. How much of your $5 million will you spend on your face?

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Scott Melker

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 1.50.57 AMA couple of months ago someone e-mailed me this: “You need to hear Ballin’ Oates right now.”

So I Googled “Ballin’ Oates”—and found this amazing, dazzling, mind-blowing creation of five Hall & Oates-mixed-with-hip hop jams.

The music—insane.

The creativity—remarkable.

The genius—Scott Melker.

Wait. You probably know him as The Melker Project. Whatever the case, the Penn-educated, New York City-based DJ is a superstar in a medium that’s finally being fully appreciated. He’s remixed some of the most unlikely song pairings in modern music history, and has played gigs alongside a wide-ranging list of artists that includes Kanye West, Sheryl Crow, Gloria Estefan and Q-Tip. One can visit Scott’s site here and follow him on Twitter here. Oh, and his SoundCloud page is a must visit.

Scott Melker, welcome to the Qua-Qua-Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: I’m a huge hip-hop guy, and an even huger Hall and Oates guy—and Ballin’ Oates truly, truly, truly rocked my world. So I have to ask: How did this idea pop into your head? What was the process? Why Hall and Oates? And did you ever hear from Daryl or John afterward?

SCOTT MELKER: Ballin’ Oates was my third EP in a series of similar projects (Skeetwood Mac, The Skeetles). H&O are arguably my favorite duo of all time, and the name (which I came up with while baking in the Turkish Sauna in New York City) was just too brilliant not to build around. The process was tedious, to say the least. I narrowed down their catalogue to around 10 songs, and began replaying all of the individual instruments on my keyboard. I used different sounds than in the originals for each part, and created entirely new drum tracks to modernize the songs. When that was finished, I went to work figuring out vocal tracks that would sound great on each song, which helped narrow it down to the five tracks that I released.

Oates and I were actually interviewed together in Billboard in advance of their induction to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. He had positive things to say about Ballin’ Oates, which was absolutely mind blowing and humbling.

J.P.: It seems like, for most of modern music history, the DJ was the dude in the background, sort of like the drummer. We knew he existed, and appreciated his contributions. But, well, he was also sort of invisible. That, clearly, has changed. My question, Scott, is how and why? And am I even right on this theory?

S.M.: This theory is only partially correct. I think it is true to the average person, but DJs have been celebrities in club and hip hop culture since the 1980s. Now it is mainstream, and much bigger than ever before.

There are a few reasons. First, technology has made “DJing” far more accessible to the masses. I put “DJing” in quotes, because basically any jackass with a laptop can now be a “DJ.” The simplicity of the technology, paired with the rise of EDM in the United States, has created the “perfect storm” for DJ culture. Almost every pop record is now basically an innocuous EDM song—and the DJs are the ones who are creating that type of music. The result is a lot of producers making a ton of money “DJing” by pushing play and watching the pretty lasers. There are, however, a ton of incredibly talented DJs who are finally getting their due.

J.P.: I know you’re from Torrance, California, know you were raised in Gainesville, Florida, know you attended Penn and know you DJed a lot in Philly while in college. But, musically speaking, what’s your life path, from womb to here? Put differently: How did this happen?

S.M.: Music has always been the centerpiece of my life. It started on the piano at 5, progressed into singing, than the saxophone, followed by the harmonica and guitar. By the time I hit college, DJing was a cooler way to play music, and subsequently flirt with girls. I fell in love with the craft, started producing, and ended up where I am today.

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J.P.: I’m fascinated by your remixes and, specifically, the thought process. I mean, how does a guy think to himself, “You know what’ll be great? Nas and Phil Collins!”? or “Let’s mash up Twista and Hall and Oates!”? Where do the ideas come from? What makes two songs compatible for one another? If I say, randomly, Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” and “Exhibit C” by Jay Electronica, could you make it work? Or are there certain timing, style, lyrical elements that have to mesh?

S.M.: I have ADD, which pretty much sums up my musical approach. My bank of ideas is endless, but only a small percentage of them make it to market. At the most basic level, the two songs have to be in the same key, at roughly the same tempo. More importantly, they just have to “feel right,” which is something that is up to the individual producer to determine. Sometimes this is a result of trial and error, but most often I search my mental music library for songs that I believe will fit—and they usually do.

I have done “commissioned” mashups for people before and made them work. Recently a client asked me to put Happy together with Mr. Blue Sky and it worked out quite well … as for Gloria, well, I would have to try. I heard she has voices in her head, calling Gloriaaaaaa.

J.P.: Along those lines, how do you do it? I’ve listened to your stuff over and over, and the technical process itself seems really … daunting. I’m naïve, admittedly, but how do you extract old verses from a song that wasn’t recorded digitally? Does everything start clunkily, and you smooth it out?

S.M.: I generally replay the instrumentals from scratch, unless I am lucky enough to dig up the stems from the original recording. If I have the stems, I usually use them as the base, and build from there with the live instrumentation. For vocals, you really have to have the separated a cappella track to be able to use a song. You can make DIY versions, but they usually sound awful—and to do it you need the instrumental track, which is usually unavailable as well.

For example, on Ballin’ Oates, I completely replayed Out Of Touch in midi, and then toyed with new sounds for each instrument. I created a fresh drum track. I was able to isolate the vocal of one line—”You’re Out Of Touch, I’m Out Of Time,” which is the only “sample” from the original H&O song on the entire track.

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J.P.: I remember, years ago, Coolio wanting to Kill Weird Al when he turned “Gangsta’s Paradise” into a parody. Have you run into any problems with artists? Do you ever get people saying, “Don’t touch my shit”?

S.M.: Coolio is buggin’. I would kill to have Weird Al parody one of my songs. I have run into problems, but never with the actual artists. More often it is the label that complains and sends a cease and desist. I have had a lot of my work removed from the internet, which is a death sentence for a project. I post everything to Legitmix, which is an innovative platform that allows producer to legally share and sell derivative and sampled content. So even if things get taken down elsewhere, they generally stay live there.

J.P.: Is there a such thing, factually, as great music and shit music? For example, my daughter is pretty big into Z100 lately—and it melts my brain. If I have to hear one more Ke$sha song, I literally think I’ll vomit into my eyeballs. But then I play, say, old Sam Cooke or even A Tribe Called Quest, and she wants to run away. Do you have standards in this regard? Are there any?

S.M.: This is completely subjective. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. That said, A Tribe Called Quest and Sam Cooke are pretty much better than everything else. I do hold certain standards, but I believe that I can pretty much take anything and turn into something I like. I’m not a Carly Rae Jepsen fan, but I had fun chopping and screwing her vocals to make her sound like Cher had a baby with the lead singer of Nickelback.

Side note: I would pay to see someone vomit into their eyeballs.

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J.P.: As a DJ, what does it feel like when you’re doing an event and e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g is clicking? The crowd’s going crazy, the acoustics are perfect, the music is flowing. Explain the high …

S.M.: You know sex? Drugs? Skydiving? All of the other rushes that people think are the “best?” Those are half as amazing as what you are describing. There is nothing better, period. Well, maybe playing the perfect gig while skydiving and having sex.

J.P.: You started playing piano at age 5—just like my daughter. Sometimes I have to drag her, she hates practicing, etc … etc. Is it worthwhile? What did playing an instrument do for you?

S.M.: You can’t force feed a child music, unfortunately. They will just end up quitting, getting a tattoo and resenting you forever. No big deal. I loved playing the piano from day one, so it was never a “chore.” It was something I wanted to do every day. I owe my career to two things—my childhood piano teacher, and my parents, who played amazing music every day in our house. I have their entire record collection, and still dip into it every day.

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J.P.: Throughout your career you’ve worked as a DJ with some genuinely high-profile and disparate acts—Public Enemy and Wu Tang to Sheryl Crow and Crosby Stills and Nash. Explain to me the philosophy and approach that comes from doing, say, a hip-hop gig vs. a country-rock or folk one?

S.M.: You have to play to the crowd, but still maintain your integrity as an artist. I like to push the limits and see what I can get away with. I mean, playing Van Morrison at a hip hop concert, or Three Six Mafia at a Crosby, Stills and Nash concert are risky propositions. But it works when mixed with something that makes sense to the audience. Or you crash and burn—so there’s that possibility.

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• Your name is Scott Melker, which isn’t particlarly sexy. Have you ever considered, a la Chad Ochocinco, a name change to DJ Motherfucker or DJ Bring the House Down? Something like that?: Technically, I now go by The Melker Project, which is equally unsexy. I never really considered a name change, because I have never been confident enough in a nickname that I would want it to stick. Kind of like a tattoo … I mean, my first DJ moniker was “Pookie,” which was my fraternity pledge name, after Chris Rock’s crackhead character in New Jack City (one of the best movies ever). I’m glad that didn’t stick.

• Top five 90s hip-hop songs that would still work magic in a club filled with 18-year olds today: Juicy (or Hypnotize), Hip Hop Hooray (they can wave their hands back and forth), Poison (not really hip hop, but still kills em’), Money Ain’t A Thang and Slam by Onyx, just because I love Slam by Onyx.

• Rank in order (favorite to least)—Jeb Bush, House of Pain, male-pattern baldness, Peabo Bryson, Pete Rock, “Remains of the Day,” Cherry Coca-Cola, Converse All-Stars, Slam Magazine, U.S. Postal Service, beauty marks, Drake, Rubik’s Cube, salmon: Pete Rock, Rubik’s Cube, House Of Pain, Salmon, Peabo Bryson, Converse All Stars, Slam Magazine, Cherry Coca-Cola, Remains Of The Day, U.S. Postal Service, Beauty Marks, Male-Pattern Baldness, Drake, Jeb Bush

• Do you think Tupac would have approved of the Ghetto Gospel remaking with Elton John that was put out on a posthumous CD?: Yes, because he would have gotten paid.

• In 20 words or less, can you make an argument for Young MC?: I can do it in seven words. Don’t Just Stand There, Bust A Move.

• Best and worst venues you’ve ever worked?: Best—Red Rocks in Colorado. Worst—Tenjune in New York City. F#ck that place, seriously.

• Why is pot such a huge part of the entertainment world?: Because it’s awesome (apparently).

• Five genuinely nicest, most decent celebrities you’ve worked with: Justin Timberlake (we sang karaoke together in Japan), Snoop Dogg, CeeLo, Lupe Fiasco, Questlove

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I have experienced three, count em’ THREE, emergency landings in my life. I never really felt like I was going to die. The old lady next to me on one of the flights though … She really thought she was going to die.

• Celine Dion calls. She wants you to produce her upcoming 50-track CD, “Celine Sings Only About Strawberry Cupcakes.” Good news: She’ll pay $15 million for a year’s work. Bad news: You work 365-straight days, sleep in her broom closet and have to only wear pink T-shirts that read, I’M CELINE’S BITCH BOY. You in?: Absolutely. I would do it for a dollar and some envelopes. And a pack of Skittles.

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Jojo Moyes

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So one of the big problems with writing biographies is you rarely get to read stuff for fun. In the course of researching Sweetness, for example, I probably went through, oh, 50 Chicago Bears-related books.

That takes a helluva lot of time.

Hence, when the wife recently raved about an “amazing” book she was recently reading about some dude in a wheelchair, I nodded, sighed and—to be honest—pretty much ignored her. Wheelchair? Who had time for a wheelchair book? I’m deep in research.

Then, however, I had a flight. A long flight. So I opened up the ol’ Nook and started reading “Me Before You,” by Joj Moyes. I read and read and read and read and read—and could not put the dang thing down. Narrative—amazing. Dialogue—terrific. Character development—tremendous. This wasn’t just a book. No, it was an experience. One that left me both wanting more, but completely fulfilled.

When I was done, I located Jojo on Twitter and, it turns out, we spoke once before, for an article she wrote several years ago. Small world.

Anyhow, I’m thrilled to bring you Jojo Moyes, Essex, England resident and this week’s Quaz. Her new book, One Plus One, was released in the U.S. on July 1, and she’ll be touring the States beginning July 5. You can see her full schedule here, follow her on Twitter here, and visit her website here. She has no idea who Ariana Grande is. But, hey. No one’s perfect.

Jojo Moyes, dreams come true. You’ve been Quazed …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Jojo, I just read “Me Before You” and loved it. Absolutely, positively loved it. As did my wife and, apparently, shitloads of people. Which leads me to ask this: What—if anything—don’t you love about it? Now that the book is done, out, digested—are there parts you don’t feel amazing about? Word choices you regret? Any writer’s remorse whatsoever? Because lord knows, I always have tons of the stuff …

J.M.: Okay—this may be an annoying answer, but I’m going to be honest. This is the only book I’ve ever written (and I’ve written 11) that I didn’t hate afterwards. There’s actually not much I would change about it at all. I did find a few small things when I was adapting it as a script, but I can’t remember what they were, so they can’t have been major. It’s actually the only book I’ve written that I can read and re-read, too. Mostly once I’m done, I don’t look at a book again, except to read from it in public. I’m too busy thinking about the next one, and all I can see is what I want to change.

My husband is my first reader. Mostly he reads a book, makes lots of really frank suggestions, and I don’t talk to him for two days, admit he’s probably right, and then set to rewriting. This was the first of my books where he just sat back and went: “Yup. I like that.”

J.P.: Today, I sat in a coffee shop with my laptop and tried to churn shit out. I’ll be back at it tonight, probably in the nearby diner, after my kids go to sleep. Jojo, how do you write? Where do you write? Do you churn out 5,000 words at a time? Do you slave over 50? How does it work for you?

J.M.: It’s a constant struggle to find the time not just to write, but the time to think about what I’m going to write. I probably spend 70 percent thinking time to 30 percent writing. I used to write after my kids went to bed, but two of them are teenagers now and frequently go to bed after I do, so I’ve taken to starting at 6 am before everyone else gets up. I try to write 5,000 words a week, in a mixture of bed, coffee shops (although other people talking makes me really crabby) and my little office, above a hairdressers. Some weeks I manage more, mostly I manage less.

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J.P.: How did you get the idea for “Me Before You”? I mean, I get nonfiction ideas, especially in sports. There’s this great quarterback, no one’s ever done a book on him, he’s quite popular—bam! But, with fiction, where does the concept derive from? And what makes you think, pre-anything, it’ll both work as a narrative, and ultimately sell?

J.M.: Most of my books come from snippets of things: news stories I’ve read, or heard, or bits of conversations I’ve thought about afterwards. The best ideas for fiction, I’ve found, are when a story you’ve heard just won’t leave your head. That’s when I start trying to work out how to turn it into fiction. “Me Before You” came from a news story I heard in 2008 about a young sportsman who was left quadriplegic and persuaded his parents to help him commit suicide. I was so shocked by it, and I couldn’t rationalize it, and that’s why I needed to explore it further.

I never know what is going to sell. I don’t think you can anticipate the market like that, or it comes across as calculating. When I wrote “Me Before You,” I would describe the outline to publishers and you could see them actually recoil a little bit. Like: “It’s about a quadriplegic who wants to DIE? Who’s going to want to read that?” But I just had a really clear idea of the story in my head, and faith that I could write it. Luckily, it turned out okay.

J.P.: You spent a decade working as a journalist—nine of those years at The Independent covering news and entertainment. What was the challenge of sliding over from reporter to novelist? Is it a natural transition? Do you report fiction, as far as background, details, etc?

J.M.: I think it has advantages and disadvantages. The advantages of being a journalist first are numerous—as you probably know. You have the ability to ‘see’ stories everywhere. You learn to listen (a surprisingly rare skill). You learn to write, and to do it to a deadline (also surprisingly rare). You can research swiftly and accurately. The downside, weirdly, is that nine years in news kind of batters out of you the ability to write much other than really factual language. It took me ages to relax and to let myself get a little more colourful.

J.P.: Your book has sold 3 million copies. Let me repeat that: 3 million copies. Which makes me say two things: A. Bite me; B. When did you first know you had a hit? Not a hit, like I’ve be lucky enough to experience (best-seller list, 80,000 sold), but a full-throttle, ass-kicking mega-hit that makes you a pretty big superstar? Was there a moment?

J.M.: Hahaha! I’m not sure there has been ‘a’ moment, more a series of moments. When it first went big in Britain, back in 2012, I was just massively grateful, as I’d had a few books that had not done too well, and I was just desperate to be able to carry on writing. But then it charted, and then the following year it sold big in the US, and then it sold big in Germany, and then suddenly, two years later, you get odd bits of news like: “Oh you’re Number One in the hardback and paperback charts in Norway.” And nobody even told you.

There have been a few moments though. One was flying to MGM in LA to talk to them about adapting it. Walking into that reception, with all those Oscars on the wall, was completely surreal. Another was turning up late to an event in Chicago and discovering that there was an actual round-the-block queue of people waiting to have books signed. I feel weird even saying this stuff, because in England it’s considered a little boastful. But I have a friend, Ol, a scriptwriter, who said to me: “You’ve written one of those books.” And that really hit me. Because we all know ‘those’ books. And it’s so far beyond what I dreamt of that I still have trouble accepting this isn’t actually a dream and someone’s going to tap me on the shoulder and I’ll be back to just chugging away, hoping I don’t’ have to take in a lodger …

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J.P.: I know you’re 45, know you’re from London. But when did you first get the writing bug? What made you want to do this for a living? And was there a moment when you know, “Hey, I’m not so bad …”?

J.M.: 44! Ahem! (at least for another few weeks). And I’ve written since I was a child. I was an only child, and a massive bookworm, and it’s just how I’ve always processed the world. But I didn’t think I could be ‘a writer’ until I’d been a journalist for many years. To me, a writer was someone very cool, intellectual, possibly living in a garret in Paris.

And no, I haven’t had that “Hey, I’m not so bad’ moment yet. Occasionally I write things that I’m quite proud of, but mostly I’m just annoyed with myself that the book in my head is always better than what I manage to get onto the page.

J.P.: I read your book on a Nook (that was fun to write, actually). Are you cool with that? Do you prefer people purchase print copies? And, Jojo, what sort of adjustment do you think we need to make, here in the book world, to the digital era? Can we survive and thrive?

J.M.: I’m happy with however people read. My two boys were not big book readers, and then we bought an e-reader and it actually started them reading everything. I also love traveling with an e-reader as they’re so much lighter than six or seven books in your suitcase. And I think we are in a period of huge change, but humans are infinitely adaptable, and it’s interesting seeing writers working out how to put their own stuff out there, publishers finding new media.

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J.P.: Your books have received wonderful reviews, almost across the board. On Amazon, for example, 4,417 customers have reviewed “Me Before You,” and 3,284 gave you five stars. Awesome, great, awesome. Then I stumbled upon this review: “Speaking as person in a wheelchair, with a job, a life, a passport full of stamps from interesting trips and not nearly enough free time to do half the things on my list, this book makes me want to smack my head into a wall for the stupid damage that it does to the public perception of people in wheelchairs. Ugh. And, yes, you can of course, say that this book is not about people in wheelchairs, it is about a particular character in his particular wheelchair, but seriously, where are the books about people in wheelchairs living interesting, not horrible lives, that rack up thousands of reviews on Amazon? (There’s Moving Violations – great book, nowhere near as popular as this wretched thing.) And, how many movies can you think of where the person in a wheelchair is either the villain or the subject of pity? Now, how many where they’re a regular character? How many where they’re the hero? … And this book gets so many rave reviews. To reiterate, ugh.”

As a fellow writer, I wonder two things: A. Do bad reviews hurt you—as they almost always hurt me? Like, is your skin thick enough to worry little; to move on without a second’s thought? And B. Were you at all concerned about how quadriplegics would react to the book?

J.M.: I hadn’t seen that. I’m not entirely sure what to say. Nobody likes to think that their book is going to actively upset people.

But as the writer says, this was not a book about all wheelchair users, just one. I was concerned before I wrote it—I didn’t want people reading it and thinking that was a future I advocated for anyone disabled (especially as I have a disabled child myself). I actually wanted to discuss the issue of autonomy and personal choice—even when it flies against what we are comfortable with—and I’ve actually had so much positive feedback from both quads and their carers that I am reassured that generally people have just enjoyed reading about a wheelchair user who was three-dimensional, and smart, annoying, sexy. I wanted the wheelchair not to be the thing that you thought of when you thought about him.

A lot of people just contact me to say it has opened their eyes to a lot of the issues quads face, which I”m glad of. The head of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation contacted me a while back to say he wanted to support the book for exactly that reason. That’s good enough for me.

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J.P.: You’re insanely good with dialogue. I mean that—as good as they come. As a writer, what’s the key to this? Do you pay attention to how folks talk? Do you try and hone in on conversations? What?

J.M.: Very kind of you to say so. Yes, I really do pay attention to how people talk (this is a polite way of saying I’m really nosy and spend a lot of time eavesdropping). I think that it’s easy as a writer to write dialogue that is quite stylised, and expresses how people would like their fictional characters to talk. Real life conversations tend to be far messier and (in our house, anyway) have a lot of dark humour. Basically I just try to write how people I know actually talk to each other.

J.P.: A couple of years ago you interviewed me for a piece on Internet bullying. With your increased notoriety and book success, have you experienced some of this? Thugs? Assholes? Etc?

J.M.: I did! And you were a great interviewee. (I still love the story of what you did to that troll). And the answer is—without wanting to bring it all down on my head—surprisingly few. I try very hard not to answer any trolls back though. Just block and move on, that’s the way. Life is too short to sit there messing up your blood pressure because of some armchair warrior.

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• You have the happiest first name of all time. What’s the story behind it?: I am named after a Beatles song—Get Back. My parents were huge fans. I’m a little concerned that Jojo was a man, but …

• Three memories from your first date: Hah! With my husband? Um … whisky, an ambulance, and I can’t tell you any more!

• Celine Dion calls. She wants you to co-author her autobiography, titled, “Celine: I’m Amazing.” She’ll pay $25 million, but you have to live with her in Las Vegas for a year, sleep in her (admittedly king size) bed with her, paint her toenails every morning and live on a diet of tuna, Dr. Pepper and stale rye bread. You in?: Totally, if my kids can have visitation rights. But not for the money. It would be absolutely fascinating. Oh hang on, I just read the bit about the sleeping in bed. Hmm.

• Five greatest novelists of your lifetime?: John UpdikeNora Ephron. AM Homes. Kate Atkinson. George RR Martin.

• How do you come up with the names of your characters?: I just stare at my bookshelves and pull out whatever names on spines I haven’t used yet.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Traveling Wilburys, The Telegraph, Paris, Woody Allen movies, former Cincinnati Red first baseman Dan Driessen, Ariana Grande, A Streetcar Named Desire, Lionel Messi, Kitty Kelly, glue sticks: Is this like some weird Rorschach test?. Paris, A Streetcar Named Desire, Lionel Messi, The Telegraph, Woody Allen movies, Glue Sticks, The Traveling Wilburys, Kitty Kelly, Dan Driessen, No idea who Ariana Grande is. Sorry!

• How’d you meet your husband?: At work, when I was a journalist. Neither of us got out much.

• How do you respond to the, “I have a great book idea and I’d love to talk to you about it …” e-mail?: I use the Stephen King defence: I’m so sorry but my lawyer has advised me not to read anybody else’s work, in case I unconsciously steal your ideas.

• Would you rather live for eternity or die at 90?: Having had three loved relatives in care homes, I do not want to live for either eternity, or 90. I’d like to live for just as long as I am lucid and independent.

• Grossest thing you’ve ever seen?: If I answered this truthfully, your blog would drop 50 percent of its readers.

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Austin Winsberg

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I love interviewing writers from different mediums.

From my end, it feels like a country artist comparing notes with a rapper; or Julia Roberts trading acting thoughts with, oh, Sylvester Stallone. There are so many processes that go along with the profession, and they cross over traditional creative barriers. Where do you write? How do you write? Where do the ideas come from?

Hence, today’s Quaz.

Austin Winsberg is a scribe, just like I’m a scribe—and the similarities end there. He has written for Gossip Girl and Still Standing, and was the creative mind behind  Jake in Progress, the TV series starring John Stamos. His biggest hit, to date, comes on Broadway, as the playwright of the runaway hit, First Date: The Musical.

Here, Austin explains how Punky Brewster and a lack of interest in snorting coke changed his life, and what it feels like to have a play—your play!—open up on Broadway. He talks actor egos and Carrie Underwood and, of course, Celine Dion.

Austin Winsberg, welcome to The Quaz: The Non-Musical …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Austin, so you’re responsible for “Blind Date: The Musical,” which opened on Broadway on Aug. 8, 2013. But I’m a tad confused—to quote a bunch of places, “The show evolved from a book by Austin Winsberg.” So, eh, how the heck did this happen?

AUSTIN WINSBERG: Well, first of all, the show is called “First Date.” Blind Date was that awesome Bruce Willis/Kim Basinger movie from the 80s. So, already, this interview is going swimmingly. [JEFF'S NOTE: This is a pretty embarrassing screw-up. I guess I could have edited out. But screw-ups happen]  Now, in regards to “the book.” The book in a musical is actually what they call everything that is not a song. So, in other words, the script. Or the characters and dialogue. It’s not a book like something you would buy on kindle or used to exist in something I believe was once called a book store. It’s just all the words between songs. To clarify, my writing partners on the project—Michael Weiner and Alan Zachary—and I, all sat down over several months and came up with the whole structure and idea behind the show. (The show is about a couple on a first date at a restaurant. And as they are trying to get to know each other, all of their past baggage and skeletons in the closet come to life on stage around them …) We came up with the basic framework, and funny song ideas, and who the characters were, etc. Then, I went off and wrote all the dialogue and scene description stuff and they wrote the songs. Sometimes I would write dialogue that would turn into lyrics. Or sometimes song notions would end up becoming dialogue. It was a very collaborative process between the three of us …

J.P.: So it’s Aug. 8, 2013, and your show is opening on Broadway. No, YOUR SHOW IS OPENING ON BROADWAY!!! What did that feel like? Emotions? Nerves? Were you petrified by fear? Overcome with pride? What?

A.W.: I think at that moment I mostly felt exhausted. It was all pretty surreal. We had an intense rehearsal process and then about a month of previews before the show had opened, so we had seen it with an audience about thirty times before opening. We also had done a three-month “out-of-town try-out” in Seattle. So, we were used to people seeing the show. But we were also in this intense pressure cooker of a work environment, and once you’re in that bubble, you kind of forget the enormity of it all. Which was probably good for me. Because if I stood there through rehearsals thinking, “Holy shit—we are about to open on Broadway,” I would have been paralyzed with fear and wouldn’t have been able to rewrite jokes every night during previews. As for pride—I’m a neurotic Jew who is very hard on himself and I always think I could and should be doing better. So, pride is not an emotion I normally feel. That being said, I tried very hard at a few points during the process to take a step back and enjoy the moment. Because if you don’t enjoy it—what’s the point of doing it in the first place? I remember the first time I saw the show up on the marquee—that was a good moment. The first time I heard the audience laugh at a joke I struggled for weeks to get right—that was also another good moment. Opening night, I remember sweating. And feeling very hot. And also a little emotional. I may have cried a little. Don’t judge me …

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J.P.: I know you’re from L.A., I know you attended Brown, I know you have a wife and two kids. But what’s your life path? How did you get from the womb to here? And when did you know writing was your thing?

A.W.: Wow. That’s a very long and intense question … Not sure I can give you all that info in the time allotted … But let me see if I can give you the Cliff’s Notes version. (BTW—do Cliff’s notes still exist? Or did I just age myself? And why were they called Cliff’s notes? Who the hell was Cliff other than the definitive slacker? Note to self—maybe there’s a TV show idea about this “Cliff” and all his notes. Like a comedic, period piece, origin story … How one slacker came to help an entire generation NOT read the classics … Sorry, where was I?) Okay, I grew up thinking I wanted to be an actor. My parents weren’t in the business, but I always loved being the center of attention. So, at a very early age, I convinced my mother to get me an agent. And I started auditioning for commercials and TV shows when I was about seven years old. My biggest claim to fame during this part of my life was being fired from Punky Brewster. They accused me of being “disruptive on set.” This may have had to do with the fact that I was madly in love with Punky. And that I told the director where to put the camera. Did I mention I was ten? And I still think the angle I suggested was better than what she was planning.

I started reading Variety when I was twelve. And I could you tell about every single movie that was in production or what show was on what channel at any time of the day … (I was basically a walking IMDB before IMDB. Why did I need all this information? I have no idea. I think it was like other kids memorizing baseball stats or something. Only I wasn’t good at baseball. I had depth-perception problems. Which made catching fly balls very embarrassing for me. And for everyone around me…) Either way—I was just endlessly fascinated by the business. All aspects of it …

When I was 14, I went to a very famous theater camp in the Catskills called Stagedoor Manor. My best friend there was already a “playwright” and he was winning all these young playwriting contests around the country. (Yes, this is really a thing …) I always liked making people laugh and writing sort of seemed like a natural extension of that. So, while I was still trying to get the leads in school plays and the occasional bit part in shows like The Wonder Years (never happened), I also started writing some plays on the side. Mostly to compete with my camp friend and show him I was cool, too. ‘Cause nothing says “cool kid” more then “young playwright’s festival winner.” That being said, I won the Los Angeles Blank Theater Company Annual Young Playwright’s Festival five times before I was 19. And writing just became a part of what I did, while still pursuing other things.

After college, I worked at New Line Cinema for a year, thinking that I wanted to be a studio executive. But it didn’t feel creative enough for me. (That and I wasn’t comfortable around all that blow. Am I allowed to say that on here? I’m not saying where the blow came from, or that it had anything to do with the New Line organization. I’m just saying, I may have seen some blow that year. And I may not have partaked. And I may have been judged for it by those who will not be named …) So, I left New Line and decided to be a writer. (It was, after all, the one area where I had gotten the most validation up to this point. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but when you’re not getting parts in even your school plays, maybe you shouldn’t then decide to make an entire career out of being an actor. Thus, writing became my full-time job …)

I convinced that camp friend to move to Los Angeles from New York. We started writing together and got staffed on our first TV show when we were 23. We wrote on two shows together. And I left the second one when I created and executive produced a show that was on ABC for two seasons called “Jake in Progress,” starring John Stamos. I have lots of stories from that time. But since you did not ask me about that, I will move on … Having a show on the air opened the door to lots of opportunities. And by opportunities, I mean writing lots of pilots and movies that have not gotten made. That has been a big part of my career—getting massively humbled while selling and writing projects that never make it off an executive’s desk … (While also taking gigs on the occasional show like “Gossip Girl.”) Which actually brings us back to First Date … Feeling frustrated with the whole TV development process, I thought maybe it was time to go back to my theater roots. And that’s really where writing a stage musical came from. Just the desire to have fun with some friends and try writing something different than another pilot that gets passed on by a network so they can pick-up someone else’s show that gets canceled after two episodes. And I actually think there’s some sort of lesson here. When you stop writing for “them,” and instead start writing for “you,” who knows what will happen? Best case scenario—I imagined First Date would play for a few weeks in some little theater in Hollywood. And yet, somehow it ended up on Broadway …

J.P.: I’m gonna throw a weird one at you: Of all the writers, producers and directors I’ve met in New York and Los Angeles, a solid, oh, 70 percent of them have been Jewish. And yet, we make up about 3 percent of the country’s total population. How do you explain this? Do I just have a Jew magnet? Do we own the media? Somewhere in between?

A.W.: I certainly don’t think I can speak for all Jews. But I do imagine the majority of us have this “need to please” gene. And, like I mentioned before—“nothing’s ever good enough” syndrome. Maybe this comes from growing up in homes with challenging or critical parents. But I think we all desperately want to be loved. And get validated. And there’s no greater validation than being loved on the world stage. Or by having millions of people seeing your work and responding to your material. I also think we are gluttons for punishment. So some combo of wanting to be loved and needing to be persecuted at all times has driven most of us into this profession. It’s not healthy. And yes, I am in therapy. But at least I’m aware of this sickness. If the day comes when I can get most of my self-worth and happiness from something other than fleeting validation from the powers-that-be, we should throw a big party. (That I’m sure I will be judging while it’s happening. “This is really the whole party? Do I even deserve this? I don’t care if there’s three hundred people here all celebrating me. How the hell did that one person not show up?! I’m going inside. I have a stomach-ache. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten gluten.”)

J.P.: You were a writer on The Sound of Music Live!—the recent recreation of one of the all-time classic plays/movies. What was this experience like? How ambitious was the idea? What did you think of the ultimate product? And how many times did you think, “Fuck—Carrie Underwood ain’t no Julie Andrews …”

A.W.: I think the idea was hugely ambitious. A live TV musical? For three hours? And are you really asking me what I thought of the final product? Here’s what I think—there are lots of challenges with having to do something live. You have to do a general lighting scheme, so everything seems super brightly lit. You have to shoot it on video so it can be broadcast to the world live. Forget about any other aspects of the show—and already—it looks like a Spanish telenovela. So, the first thing you have to overcome is just the simple visual style. And for some people that’s a hard thing to look past. Especially in HD. But there was great care taken in the creation of all aspects of the show. And I think they mounted a production that was true to the intent of the original stage piece.

As for Carrie Underwood, I think she got very unfairly maligned. Seriously. For her first acting role—to take on a three-hour live show? I thought it was incredibly brave of her. And I think people were super critical of her without praising the sheer boldness and risk-taking involved. I think “Sound of Music” is a classic. And I think it was an admirable experiment. Anything that brings theater to the masses has to be applauded. At least in my opinion. Plus, the good news (at least I take it as good news), is that since the show got so many viewers—there’s going to be even more of them. (They’ve already announced live “Peter Pan” and “Grease” musical events …) So, whether people are watching because they love the musicals or because they treat it like some sort of guilty pleasure or potential train wreck—there are still eyeballs coming to something that is quintessentially theater. And I think that’s awesome. So, to be a small part of the project that started this trend is something I am extremely proud of.

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J.P.: According to your IMDB page, you have one acting credit, as “KPQU Joe” in “The Ugly Truth”—the Katherine Heigl-Gerard Butler non-classic from 2009. There has to be a story here. Please explain …

A.W.: Well, I used to work out at a gym next to a guy who was a producer on the movie. One day he told me there were lots of parts in the film for people like “writers and agents and stuff like that.” I think what he was trying to say, was, “You know, Jews like you…” He asked me if I wanted to audition. I thought it would be fun since I hadn’t done it in so many years. I went in and read some lines with the casting director. And sure enough, I got a call two months later saying I had a part. I didn’t know who KPQU Joe was, but I was really excited. Just like I was back at Stagedoor Manor. I remember the script arriving at my house, and me going through every single page looking for KPQU Joe. This was finally the big acting break I had wanted so many years earlier.

Finally, I get to page 96, and the first time KPQU Joe shows himself. And this was the description—I’m not even kidding. “In walks JOE, a balding nebbish.” This is what I had waited all those years for?! To play the balding nebbish?! This is how the universe or at least the casting Gods saw me? Apparently so … Needless to say, I did not let that deter me. And I spent three days on set reminding myself why I gave up acting in the first place. (Did I mention I’m a pretty terrible actor?)

J.P.: Why do you think we care so much about actors? Being serious, Austin. A fireman can walk by and we pay him no mind. A teacher, a police officer, an EMS worker—meh. But show me a man or woman who pretends to be someone else on a screen or stage, well, break out the confetti! Why?

A.W.: I think actors reveal the universal truths and the deep-seeded emotions that most of us are too afraid to feel or let out in public. By standing out as individuals, they are speaking for all of us. Oh, who am I kidding?! Actors are pretty people, damnit! And everyone likes looking at and being around pretty people. Plus, most of them are way more charming and funny than the rest of us. Until you spend actual time with them. And then you realize that they are bottomless wells of need and insecurity who will suck you dry with endless conversations about themselves. And their latest headshots. And whether or not they should switch agents. Or go on that yoga retreat they’ve been thinking about. Or… (Honestly, I’m exhausted even writing about this question. And I am friends with some actors. They’re not all emotional vampires…)

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

A.W.: I think these moments are actually both the same. I found myself in the audience several years back at the rehearsal for a live episode of American Idol. The people I was there with were friends with one of the producers. He came over to us while we were watching the contestants perform their songs (sans judges), and asked if any of us had any funny quips or critiques that Paula Abdul could use while she was talking about any of the performances on the live show. I came up with some snappy barb in the moment and then forgot about it. I went home that night, turned on the TV, and sure enough, Paula Abdul said my joke while she was talking to one of the contestants! Watching Paula Abdul say my line on American Idol in front of 20 million people may have been the greatest moment of my career. In retrospect, the fact that I got that excited about Paula Abdul saying my one corny line on American Idol also has to qualify as one of the lowest.

J.P.: You were a consulting producer for many episodes of Gossip Girl. I’ve watched a bunch of TV shows being filmed and I’ve often thought the same thing—yaaaaaaaawn. “Let’s shoot that scene again. And again. Now from this angle. Wait, once more.” Do you enjoy working in television? If so, what’s the appeal?

A.W.: I love working in television. First and foremost, because of the pace of it. Movies and theater take years and years to happen (or not happen). With TV, it’s such a machine. It needs product. Which means, everything happens much faster. So, you know very quickly if a pilot you wrote is getting made or not. Or, if you are on a TV show, you have an entire crew and actors waiting on a set. And they have to shoot something on Thursday. There’s no going back from that. Once the thing is in motion—it stays in motion. Until cancelled by an outside force. So, there is only so much “group think” and noting that can happen. But at a certain point—they just have to shoot something. So, you actually get to see your words being shot. And that can be very gratifying. Also—TV is a collaborative medium. It’s not just you alone in a room all day, trying to force yourself to sit down at your computer. Most TV shows have writers rooms and you get to go in and bond and laugh and come up with stories and eat great lunches with a room full of supremely talented people. So, if you enjoy being social and you’re not a total hermit, you get to flex your creative muscles while also being around other people at the same time… Finally, TV is truly a writer’s medium. They say film is a director’s medium. But in TV, the writer or “showrunner” is the one in charge. So, if you get to that level, you are actually overseeing all aspects of production. Not just writing, but casting, editing, costumes, etc … It truly feels like the one place, other than being a film director, where it can be your vision up there every week. (Or at least close to it, depending on how many notes you get from the studio and network …)

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J.P.: How do you write? Where do you write? When do you know if something’s great and brilliant, vs. liquid crap?

A.W.: I always start with an idea. Then I let it dance around in my head for a while. Then I get several people’s opinions on whether it’s worth pursuing. Then I second-guess it. Then I get depressed. And then if I still can’t let it go, I start writing up some form of an outline or a pitch document. Once I have a solid story and structure, and only then, will I actually start writing a script … I usually write at home. Unlike a lot of writers, I actually need silence to write. Unfortunately, that’s getting harder and harder since I have a 3-year-old who’s bedroom is literally right next door to my office. And another kid due in two weeks and counting … So, for me, the hardest thing at the moment is just shutting the door, silencing the outside noises and trying to focus. Which is made harder by the fact that all I really want to do at this point is just play with my kid … As for “great” and “brilliant”—I’m not sure those are thoughts that ever go through my head. I do go through a phase where I feel like it’s coming together and the script feels like a version of what I set out to do. For me—that’s probably the best moment in the process. Finishing a draft of something and thinking—“You know what, I don’t totally hate this …”

But, having had my heart broken so many times with projects that I thought were very good and ended up not getting made, I try at this point to not put any expectations behind it when I send it in to the powers-that-be. I always believe in putting my best foot forward. But as my therapist has reminded me numerous times, the only thing I have control over is the work, not people’s responses to it. And executives always give notes. This is their job. THEY WILL NEVER NOT GIVE NOTES. So, if the notes are light, I think the executives are brilliant and I’m pleasantly surprised. And if they have lots of notes, I instantly turn on the thing I liked just the day before and now convince myself it’s riddled with problems. Honestly, the hardest part of the whole process is remembering what it is you liked about the project in the first place. And then fighting as hard as you can to maintain those small things that initially got you excited while also being a team player and showing everyone that you can adapt and incorporate all of their thoughts into the work … without totally watering the thing down … and making it feel completely generic … which has happened to me a few times over the years while trying to be a “good guy” and make everyone happy. Which, consequently, ends up making nobody happy.

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• On IMDB, it lists your “alternate name” as Austin Garrett. Um … what?: This was my stage name when I was a child actor. My first agent told me Winsberg sounded “too Jewish.” True story.

Rank in order (favorite to least): Book of Mormon, Joe Montana, The Greatest American Hero, napkins, cake pops, Joan Rivers, Peter Criss, veggie burger, “Holding Out for a Hero,” hiking, Brian Cashman, Easter Sunday: The Greatest American Hero, Book of Mormon, cake pops, “Holding out for a Hero,” Joan Rivers, hiking, Easter Sunday, napkins, veggie burgers, Peter Criss, Joe Montana, Brian Cashman. (Did I mention I don’t really follow sports? And yes, I had to look up Brian Cashman. But not Joe Montana. So at least give me a little credit for that.)

• Five favorite movies of all-time?: The Shawshank Redemption, Parenthood, Groundhog Day, Defending Your Life, Annie Hall.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Taylor Momsen? How many rounds do it go?: That girl would kick my ass so hard. I’d probably take it on the chin in the first round and then go home, whine to my wife and take a nap.

• Would you rather name your daughter Leighton Meester Winsberg or Blair Walforf Winsberg?: Thankfully, I have a boy with a second boy almost here. So I don’t have to answer that question. Having seen some of the Gossip Girl message boards, there’s no winning in getting involved in that fight …

• Celine Dion calls and offers you $15 million to write her new play, “Celine Dion Eats Goldfish then Worships Satan While Pooping on Stage.” You have to sit next to her every day for a year and also eat 10 pieces of her dead skin daily. You in?: I’d hate to ever consider myself a “sell-out,” but … I already have a ton of ideas for what I would do with that project … even without the $15 million. (I mean—who wouldn’t go see that show?!) The dead skin part kind of throws me a little, but these are the sacrifices we make for our art …

• My cell phone recently dropped in a toilet filled with piss. What was I supposed to do?: The same thing happened to me at the podiatrist office. In a water tub. I shudder to think about the feet that were in there before my phone dropped in. That being said, my cell phone is the fourth most important relationship in my life, right behind my wife, my child and my mother. So I dove right in to grab that thing just as if a family member was drowning. If I could have given my phone mouth-to-mouth, I totally would have. Unfortunately, we were not able to revive it. And I ended up giving my phone a proper Viking funeral.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: That’s all I ever think when I’m on a plane. Mostly I just try to close my eyes and go to a happy place. Or take Xanax and drink lots of alcohol. In which case—I recall nothing.

• Your college roommate was John Lloyd Young, the actor. Can you tell us one thing about him that’s never been written?: He makes a mean cornbread?

• This is my all-time least favorite song. Your thoughts?: Steve Winwood is my uncle (twice-removed), so it wouldn’t really be appropriate for me to comment.

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Bob Ley

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Not unlike most people who work in sports media, I have mixed and scattered opinions about ESPN. On the one hand, I’ve probably spent, oh, 12 percent of my lifetime television viewing time watching the network. The coverage has been unparalleled and, in relation to broadcast journalism, medium-defining. Some of the shows are absolutely dazzling; some of the employees beyond elite.

And yet, ESPN can also drive a guy to drink. It’s non-stop. It’s (at times) brain melting. There’s often a blurring of the line between reporting and entertaining, and if I never have to hear that damned SportsCenter theme song again … well … um … yeah.

I digress: As much as I sometimes growl toward the network, I always—always—love the work of Bob Ley, ESPN’s longest tenured employee and the definition of a professional. Bob is not a guy with gimmicks and tricks and irksome catchphrases. He reminds me of the sportscasters I grew up watching—Len Berman, Jerry Girard, Sal Marciano. He lets the action speaks, and uses his voice and words as guides, not soundtracks.

As you read this, Bob, along with Alexi Lalas, is anchoring ESPN’s World Cup coverage from the network’s studio in Rio de Janeiro. He still hosts SportsCenter on occasion, but does his primary lifting as the host of the top-shelf investigative program, Outside the Lines.

Here, Bob looks back at the day he accepted $25,000 to join a network nobody had yet heard of; he talks TV egos and good vs. bad programming. He loves Pretzel M&Ms and the Soprano’s, can do without Superman II and Tweets regularly (and entertainingly) here.

Bob Ley, welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Bob, so I’m gonna start with an odd one. Years ago I left Sports Illustrated because I just got really bored covering sports. It started to hit me as repetitive—same uniforms, different names. I couldn’t take it. You’ve now been at ESPN for 35 years. That’s a lot of sports. How haven’t you lost interest?

BOB LEY: Those of us who go back a ways here in Bristol have a phrase that deals with the never-ending tide of highlights, scores, trades and contract stories—Cavs/Mavs/Jazz. Say that to an old-timer, and they get it immediately. Another (hopefully not generic) highlight, of another game, from another season. I anchor SportsCenters only on Sunday mornings for about half the year, so my Cavs/Mavs/Jazz quotient is not trending toward the immobilizing, but I get your point. There are times when you’re doing highlights with one side of your brain while the other is marveling that you can still summon the energy to sound interested.

J.P.: It won’t shock you to hear me say that I’ve seen m-a-n-y TV people with enormous egos. They think they’re important; they love the airport recognition; love signing autographs and hearing, “Hey, I love your work!” I’ve never heard anyone say a thing about your ego, arrogance, strut, cockiness. Literally, all I hear—repeatedly—is, “Good guy, real pro.” A. Do you disagree with my take on the field? And B. Why no crowing?

B.L.: Well, there is something I call Red Light Fever (borrowing from the old country and western “White Line Fever” written by David Allen Coe) and there is an intoxicating quotient about the attention and immediate feedback of doing this for a living. But at the end of a day, dude, this is just a job. The same as the folks operating the cameras in my studio, the same as the producers in my ear, and the same as the guy who gets up at 3 am to deliver my Sunday paper. A producer buddy of mine once said that getting a bunch of TV talent ( yes, the industrial term for ‘meat puppets’) together is akin to gathering a group of dogs in the park. They all get busy metaphorically sniffing each other, in sensitive areas, and sizing each other up. That’s inevitable. Perhaps part of my approach is that playing to the crowd, which I distinctly differentiate from being polite to folks who approach you, can be a bit of a waste of time. We got plenty on our ‘to do’ list. Maybe twice a month you’ll really nail a show, get a great interview, or illustrate a story ahead of the curve, and the show meetings after a program such as that are filled with the quiet satisfaction of doing what no one else has done that day, and doing it freaking well. OK, meeting’s over, time to go home … and then come back in tomorrow and do it again. And try to do it better. That will keep your chest thumping to a minimum. That, and reading Twitter, which vacillates between a revolutionary digital resource, and vivid proof that Darwin was right, and opposable thumbs can do some really stupid things.

J.P.: You’re from the mean streets of Bloomfield, N.J., you attended Seton Hall. But what’s your path? Like, when did you know, “TV—this is what I want to do!” And when did you figure you had a talent for it?

B.L.: I recall being 6-years old and standing in the announcer booth (rickety as it was) at the Langhorne Raceway in Pennsylvania, and watching a Wide World of Sports announcer (can’t recall exactly who) work a demolition derby. (You know, where cars take the track with the sole purpose of crashing into each other; last car running wins) My uncle was an assistant director at ABC, and an early age he introduced me to the magic of the business. I mean, that was 53 years ago, and I can still recall the gee-whiz factor, and how neat that all looked. Growing up in Jersey, outside of New York City, like so many kids in the late 60s and early 70s, I listened incessantly to Marv Albert announce Knick and Ranger games, and called games myself into cassette and reel-to-reel recorders; eventually, on a quite illegal pirate FM station a buddy had set up. Broadcasting was the sole reason I applied to Seton Hall, having listened to their basketball broadcasts on the student station WSOU (which covers the entire New York metropolitan area). And shortly after I graduated from school in 1976, a buddy I had written sports with at The Herald-News in Passaic told me that he heard a local cable system was setting up its own channel to broadcast sports. I had radio tapes, and they were paying $50 a game. How could you say no?

Three ESPN originals—Tom Mees, Chris Berman and Bob Ley (from left to right)

Three ESPN originals—Tom Mees, Chris Berman and Bob Ley (from left to right)

J.P.: You arrived at ESPN in 1979—when nobody knew what the damn thing was, and the idea of an all-sports network seemed preposterous. What do you recall from those early days? Did you guys are share in the vision? Was there doubt it’d last? And why did you even take the job?

B.L.: Grasshopper, you’ve asked me to write a book here. And some have. There were early visions and philosophies of how this place would sign on, prosper and grow. And the men who hired Chris, Tommy and me—Chet Simmons and Scotty Connal, both now gone—were in charge of managing that to fruition. Now, I did join ESPN when it started, but I actually had two job offers in hand. Exactly two weeks to the day before the network signed on, I drove from New Jersey to Plainville, Connecticut to meet with Scotty, having already sent a resume tape ahead. By the time I walked to the door with him at the conclusion of our meeting, he was offering me a job, doubling my local cable salary and promising to pay me the outrageous sum of $25,000 a year. This was late August, 1979. Scotty was sketching out a marvelous future. Of course, ESPN’s studio wasn’t yet finished, the building was a shell, and this interview was taking place in a rented, unfinished loft. I stopped poor Scotty in his tracks when I told him I had another job interview the next day, so I needed time to consider his offer. New Jersey Public Television, the next morning, offered me the No. 2 job in their sports department. Their building was constructed, they had plumbing, and the job meant anchoring on weekends in New York and Philly on the PBS stations, and reporting during the week. The money was virtually identical. I had about 18 hours to make up my mind. As I was coming out of a startup at a local cable system in Jersey, I saw the value of writing your own job description and taking charge of a blank canvas. But it wasn’t a clear-cut call. At least then.

J.P.: I’m a University of Delaware grad, and one of our famous alums—and a guy we all looked up to—was Tom Mees. I don’t mean to be overly depressing or dramatic, but what do you recall of Tom? And do you remember finding out about his death? How did that impact you?

B.L.: The words that inevitably spring to mind when I think of Tom are ‘irrepressible’ and ‘genuine.’ He did not possess an ounce of guile. Tom had a thorough and genuine love for the games, for reporting on them, and for his role at ESPN from the first month in 1979. He died August 14, 1996. I had just returned from a reporting trip to Cleveland on a story (which never did pan out) and I will always remember the phone conversations I had that afternoon with Chris LaPlaca and Howard Katz. We were all numb. The shared foxhole experiences of the early years, doing shows together at all hours and against all odds, in some of those times, frankly, when it was anything but certain that this enterprise was going to survive … you can’t appreciate the bonding and brotherhood of that unless you’ve experienced it. We would do a Sunday morning show together, and Tom would come over to our house (this was before he met Michele and was married) and my wife would cook us brunch, and we’d sit there having omelets and Bloody Mary’s, and wonder if just maybe this little network might work out. The picture displayed at his wake said it all. It was a casual shot of Tom, rinkside, at an NHL arena, with the broadest smile on his face. He was doing what he loved. Hockey was his passion, being from greater Philly, and pull out the videotapes; he was beyond excellent as a hockey play-by-play guy. All who knew him, think of him, especially around network anniversaries and the like.

Perhaps my favorite Tommy story is one he would never tell himself. It was after one of the Oilers’ Stanley Cup Championships, and Tom was doing the live interviews for SportsCenter with the winning players. SportsCenter was in a commercial break, and Wayne Gretzky skated over to talk with Tom. “Wayne, it’s gonna be a couple o’ minutes because we’re in a break. Sorry to make you wait.” And the greatest player in the history of the game said, “Tom, for you, anything. No worries.” We only heard that story after he died. He would never ever think of talking about himself like that.

Lee hosts the 1985 Grand Final of Aussie Rules with former Carlton skipper Mike Fitzpatrick.

Ley hosts coverage of the 1985 Grand Final of Aussie Rules with former Carlton skipper Mike Fitzpatrick.

J.P.: You broke the news of Pete Rose’s lifetime banishment back in 1989. How breathtaking and shocking was that? Did it have the magnitude of, say, Magic’s HIV announcement, or the OJ chase? And, years later, do you think Rose belongs in the Hall?

B.L.: Nothing will ever top Magic’s announcement for the sheer shock and breathtaking humanity. Remember, Pat Riley led the Madison Square Garden crowd in prayer that night. We all assumed Earvin would die. Rose’s ban was not unexpected by the end of August, 1989. We had developed multiple independent sources that summer as to the nature of his gambling on baseball. Over the years I sat down several times with Pete, before he came clean, and listened to his spin. Damn, what a ballplayer and American original he was, and is. Does he belong in the Hall? It’s academic, because he’ll never get in, but even if that weren’t the case, it pains me to say that his banishment should stand.

J.P.: You’re a big soccer dude, dating back to your stint as the New York Cosmos play by play man. Do you see a day when soccer is a legitimately big sport in the U.S.—right there with baseball, football and hoops? And why do you think it hasn’t happened already?

B.L.: The changing demographics of this country, the drip drip drip of soccer highlights into the daily highlight diet, the attention on the U.S. national teams (both men and women), the sterling job NBCSN is doing with the English Premier League, and the attendance figures for Major League Soccer all tell me that soccer, in 2014—and across the board—is already as big as hockey. This will honk off soccer-haters to an unfathomable degree but it’s a measure of how the sport has progressed that the once-fashionable disdain for the sport is loathe to slither out of its lowly hole, for fear of being beaten back by facts,and passionate disagreement. This summer in Brazil, we’re hoping to replicate the authentic and intelligent coverage of the World Cup we were proud to produce in 2010 in South Africa. Damn, that was quite something. We trusted the audience’s intelligence, and they came along for the ride. There are other floors in the television mansion that could learn from that.

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J.P.: I hate watching broadcasters scream at one another—Bark! Bark! Bark! And yet, it seems to be a big thing at your network, at other networks. This whole debate-for-the-sake-of debate thing. How do you feel about it? And am I even right?

B.L.: Our brand is actually a big tent, with many shows, platforms, web pages, and files. Sports, more than anything, is about opinions, and exchanging those opinions plays to the heart of this entire enterprise. Now, are there times that the same issue is sliced eight ways from Sunday on any given day on our various platforms? Surely. We’re even guilty of that occasionally on “Outside the Lines.” It’s easy to criticize both the volume and passion of some presentations. But I’d suggest that, more often than not, having learned about this Talk Thing through the years, we attempt to present Informed Opinion. Where we invite the perception that it’s ‘all too much’ is in the fact that we have so many platforms. But we also have OTL, e:60, The Sports Reporters, smart conversations and interviews, unparalleled story telling, Grantland, and other similar pieces of the brand. You hold the power, Obi Wan. You have the remote. Find another channel.

J.P.: Greatest mistake you ever made on air?

B.L.: Well, there was that night about 23 years ago when I’m doing the 11 pm SportsCenter with Dan Patrick, it’s the middle of the summer, Claritin has not yet been invented, my hay fever is at Defcon 3, and I am medicated to the max. Opening theme, dissolve to the two shot, my turn to open the show …”Good evening and welcome again to SportsCenter, along with Bob Ley, I’m Dan Patrick…….wait…..that’s not right.” That lives forever on a blooper reel. In a serious sense, I remember filing a story during the 1985 Final Four in Lexington, Kentucky, when the University of Kentucky was about to replace Joe B. Hall as basketball coach. Dick Vitale and I had a source telling us emphatically (I forget if he said he was in the room or not) that Arizona coach Lute Olsen had a contract in front of him from UK, and he would be the new Kentucky coach. We ordered up a satellite (not something rashly or easily done in the days of Fred and Barney technology). and reported that Olsen would be the next Kentucky coach. Well, he may have had that contract in front of him, and, every intention of signing it … but he never did. Basic error, and huge lesson learned.

Lee with Robin Roberts, his former ESPN colleague.

Ley with Robin Roberts, his former ESPN colleague.

J.P.: What separates a great broadcaster from a so-so one? Voice? Oomph? Knowledge? None of the above?

B.L: You don’t need a voice, you need a mind and a heart; the ability to observe, to write, to synthesize quickly and to tell stories. It helps to have a solid baseline of knowledge beyond sports, so you can explain why these buildings that are your backdrop in Dresden, Germany still have burn marks on them, and why the main street in Soweto is named after Chris Hani, and how tonight’s match is being played in the most dangerous city in the world (San Pedro Sula, Honduras, if you’re scoring at home). Understand that it’s not about you, it’s about the game, or the facts, or the news, or the empathetic story you’re trying to tell. Talk to the audience, not at them, and trust their ability to follow a story. That’s the once advantage we have with decades of credibility. If we tell our audience something is important, they’ll give us the benefit of the doubt. But then we have to deliver.

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 3.45.06 PMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH BOB LEY:

• Would you rather listen to the SportsCenter theme song eternally, on an endless loop, or chop off three of your toes?: I could probably learn to re-balance my center of gravity and walk properly even with a 5 and 2 toe distribution. Actually some of the earlier SportsCenter themes are a gas to listen to.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Louis Orr, guinea pigs, Pretzel M&Ms, Sally Jenkins, Oklahoma Outlaws helmets, sushi rolls, Pat Benatar, David Foster, Superman II, Real Housewives of New Jersey, Vince Evans, potholes, Disney World: Pretzel M&M’s (like Cheezits, an essential food group), Louis Orr (a classy coach in his time at Seton Hall), Real Housewives of New Jersey ( I keep watching for old girlfriends), Pat Benatar (classically trained voice, did you know?), Sally Jenkins (so smart, and with her dad’s DNA), Oklahoma Outlaw helmets (beyond cool), Vince Evans (looked so good in silver and black), David Foster (six degrees of separation with everyone in music, it seems), Superman II (sequels, like second terms, always suck), Disney World (our kids are grown, so it’s been a while, but we have our Cast Member Silver passes), Guinea Pigs (mine ran away when I was a kid), potholes (assuming you mean roadways and not hiding places for your stash; “Dave’s not here, man.”), Sushi (not on a bet)

• Five greatest broadcasters of your lifetime?: In no order, and recognizing I’m omitting so many fine people I admire: Red Barber (actually spoke to him once on the phone, and listened to him call Yankee games as I was growing up); Brent Musberger (has anyone done both the studio and play by play so effortlessly, and at the peak of the industry, for so long?); Jim McKay (words matter, and his were remarkable; his work at Munich stands alone in our profession); Marv Albert (learned from another idol, Marty Glickman, and is simply, the best); Jim Simpson (left NBC to join ESPN in 1979 ; I learned so much from watching him, and he is a gentleman of the highest order).

• Celine Dion calls. She’ll pay $50 million for you to spend the next year MCing her Las Vegas show, “Celine and Bobby Meacham Dance the Tango.” Only catch—you have to move to Vegas, paint you hair neon green and adopt the catch phrase, “What up, motherfuckers! Who brought the mustard?” You in?: Is that paint latex or oil based?

• Hardest sports name you’ve ever had to pronounce?: Djamolidine Abdoujaparov. When his name showed up on Tour de France shot sheets, my palms would glisten, my knees buckle.

• Are there rivalries in sports media? Like, you run into the Real Sports crew, is there any awkwardness or beef?: Where do you think those “Anchorman” rumbles originated? Though I’ve never killed anyone with a trident. Flesh wound, though.

• How do you explain the continued popularity of the Kardashians on TV?: Now you know how some people feel about soccer.

• Five all-the favorite non-sports TV shows?: Soprano’s—Final scene shot 3 blocks from my boyhood home, in an ice cream shop I haunted as a kid; The Wire—Nuanced, human, infuriatingly complex, and trusting its audience. (and it’ older cousin, Homicide: Life On The Streets); Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In—Inflection point for humor; The Monkees—The re-runs hold up, the music does too, and it was 15 years ahead of MTV; Mad Men—Learned on “The Actor’s Studio” that they do not rehearse. Think about that. Only a table read, and then they shoot. Astonishing.

• When I was in college I had a crush on Linda Cohn. Think you can snag me an autographed photo?: Get in line, bunky.

• Five reasons one should make Bristol, Conn. his/her next vacation destination?: Lake Compounce Amusement Park; ESPN Café (even if under year-long renovations); Mum Festival Parade (build your September around it); Relaxed pace of life; The holy waters.

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Amy Fabry

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In many parts of the country, people find the 2014 stay-at-home mother to be a perplexing thing.

Why would you stay at home? Don’t you want to work? Aren’t you bored? Do you just play tennis all day? Is Days of Our Lives still on? Blah, blah, blah, blah …

Enter: Amy Fabry—proud stay-at-home mother of three kids.

I’ve known Amy forever. We’re both survivors of the mean streets of Mahopac, N.Y.; both attended the same high school; both remain in New York. Her husband, Michael, owns two excellent restaurants—The Rye Grill and Bar in Rye and The Lexington Square Cafe in Mount Kisco. Here, she stands up for her life’s work and explains why picking up the kids beats crunching numbers or making stock trades.

Amy Fabry, welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Amy, you’re a self-anointed, proud stay-at-home mom. Which makes me wonder—what sort of stigma is attached to being in your shoes? Do you still get comments like, “So you don’t work …” and, “Don’t you ever want to do something?”

AMY FABRY: To be honest, I’m sure there are people who think that way but I’ve never had anyone say it to my face. I feel extremely fortunate that I have the choice to stay home. I love being home and being a “housewife.” I have three children—ages 10, 8 and 5. When they were younger it was much harder but it’s so much easier now that they are older. The youngest will start full-day kindergarten in the fall and I will have the entire day to myself which I’ve never had. I think working mothers and fathers have it so much harder than stay-at-home parents (I’m probably going to catch some slack for saying that) but I say to myself on a regular basis, “I don’t’ know how they do it.” The stress of getting everything done (homework, cooking, cleaning, activities, play dates, etc) and working? I raise my glass to them because I would be a basket case.

J.P.: Blunt question: Why not get an away-from home job?

A.F.: I have no desire to work away from home but that is probably because I never had a career. I graduated college with an English degree and, at the time, I was waitressing and making more money than other jobs could offer me. Once I got married I got a job as an executive assistant at a real estate company in New York City. The money was OK but, again, it was by no means a career for me. I knew that once I had children I would stay home. If I had a career that I loved to go back to—maybe? But I am honestly extremely happy and satisfied and fulfilled being home. And I appreciate it—I really try to not complain.  My husband and I joke that our lives would be different if I worked (not necessarily better, but that renovation we’ve wanted for years would come much faster!). But for now—having me home with the kids works for our family. My 8-year old has asked me why can’t he go to the local Boys and Girls Club after school with his friends and I explained that there isn’t a need for it because I’m home. He asked me to go to work :)

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J.P.: I remember when my daughter was born and my mother in law and I got in a heated debate over whether a dad can be as close to his child as the mom … whether he can serve a similar role and meet the same needs. What do you think?

A.F.: I think that is 100 percent up to the dad. I do think a father can be as close to a child as a mother—maybe even closer in some cases. I think it depends on the parent. I joke all of the time that I think my kids would step over my bleeding body to get to their father. I know that they love me and when push comes to shove and someone is hurt or upset—they usually come to me. But I think that’s only because I’m the one who is always around. But I also think that my husband is fully capable of meeting the needs of all three. Maybe not all of the time but I can’t do that either. Sometimes only Mommy will do and sometimes it’s only Daddy.

J.P.: What’s your bad day like?

A.F.: Again, I really try not to complain—I will say that the evening hours of 4 until 7 are ridiculous and stressful but that’s the case in every household with children. Carpooling kids to activities and making dinner and helping with homework that I don’t understand while dealing with cranky, tired kids isn’t fun. If you ask my kids what makes me angrier than anything? All 3 will tell you “fighting, crying and whining.” So any day that has an abundance of those three things is a bad day.

J.P.: What’s your great day like?

A.F.: Sunday is my favorite day of the week because my husband is home (he works in the restaurant business and has a crazy schedule). He takes the kids in the morning—I get to the gym by myself. We usually have friends or family over for dinner—it’s usually just a chill, do-nothing day—and I love those. No carpooling or homework.

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Amy, center, during her days as a Mahopac High School cheerleader.

J.P.: I know you grew up in Mahopac, N.Y., know you attended Iona. But what was your path from graduation to here? When did you decide this course? Did you ever come close to becoming a career woman?

A.F.: There were actually a few stops before I graduated Iona. I started at SUNY Cobleskill and from there went to SUNY Oneonta for a semester. When I was asked to “take a semester off” from Oneonta (I basically failed out—my grades were horrible) I moved in with my aunt and uncle in New Rochelle and started at Iona.  I began waitressing to make money and fell into the trap that so many do—the money I was making was great and I worked when I wanted to work and took off when I wanted to take off. I loved the freedom of the lifestyle. When I got married and got tired of it I went into the city and worked there for a few years until I had my first child. I said before—I did take a few graduate classes after Emma was born with the intention of possibly teaching once I was done having kids. But then I had No. 2 and No. 3 and here I am. I have no desire to go back to school for anything.

J.P.: I’m fascinated my the nanny-mom-child triangle. I’ve spoken with many nannies about it, and particularly about the awkwardness that comes when the nanny understands the kids better than the mother. Do you see this a lot? And do you see complications in the relationship.

A.F.: I don’t know anyone personally who has a nanny so I don’t really have an opinion either way. Living in Westchester, though, I see lots of kids with nannies. I can say this—If I did work full time and had the need for a nanny, I would think that I would want someone who loved my children and understood them and cared for them just as I would. I was at a 50th birthday party recently for an old friend of mine who was a nanny for a family when she came over here from England. She started working for them when the children were babies and stayed with them until she had her own children. They’re all grown now and they were at her party—it was very sweet to see how close they still were. It was a very special relationship.

J.P.: Your husband Michael is a restaurateur. I’ve heard 1,001 times that the restaurant business in thankless, hard, awful, endless, etc. True? Not true? And how does his career impact your schedule and role as a mom?

A.F.: He genuinely loves the business—I cannot imagine him doing anything else. Mike and I met at a restaurant when we were in our 20s. He was the manager and I was waitressing. I don’t think our relationship would work if I didn’t understand the business. He owns two places now so he’s busy, but he can make the schedule any way he wants to, so when I need him home during the day or ask him to take a night off for something specific—he can do it. He opened up his second place a few weeks after our third child was born—that was hard. He worked nonstop for a few months straight but we did it. We knew that if we made it through those few months that we could survive anything.

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J.P.: I feel like, when we were growing up, our parents trusted the school system. They weren’t always complaining about teachers, second guessing assignments, etc … etc. Has that changed at all? Has it changed in you? And—why?

A.F.: I’ve been really lucky so far in that my kids have had great experiences in school so far. I love our district and they’ve had great teachers. I don’t understand most of the math homework that comes home (for my second and fifth graders) but I trust the system until I have reason not to. I think there is this want to try and protect our kids from everything—especially failure.  I personally think that we should let them make mistakes and screw up and fail, then be there for them to help pick up the pieces. That doesn’t really answer your question, does it?

J.P.: You and I both grew up in Mahopac, N.Y.—which, sadly, has become famous lately for a crazy racial incident involving the basketball team. What’s your take? Do you consider our old hood narrowminded? Is it just a few people? A problem of a larger scale?

A.F.: The whole thing is sad. I was especially heartbroken for Kevin. I think racism is everywhere—in every town. I don’t know what Mahopac is like today but I don’t think it’s fair to judge an entire town on the actions of a few. What those kids did was stupid and narrow-minded. Hopefully, if nothing else it can be the starting point to open up a conversation about racism in the schools. I used it as a conversation starter with my 10-year old about racism and the evils of social media.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): The Chieftain, Sears, Curtis Granderson, Rye Grill and Bar, “Dance Moms,” Datsun 510, Dave Fleming, Ratt, Rocky III, apple Danish: The Rye Grill and Bar, Dave Fleming, The Chieftain, Apple Danish, Sears, Datsun 510, Rocky III, Ratt, Dance Moms, Curtis Granderson (I think he’s a New York Yankee? I’m an angry Met fan and Yankee hater)

• Celine Dion calls. She offers $50 million for you and the family to move to Las Vegas for a year. You have to work 360 days as her personal dog groomer. You also have to change your name to Corinne Lee and only eat pumpkin-related foods. You in?: Not a chance!

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Never, but I am a nervous flyer now that I’m a parent so my worst fear when flying is not seeing my kids again.

• How did you meet your husband?: The Rye Grill and Bar—he was the manager and I was a waitress. We were great friends—I fell first. It took him some time to feel the same way but he finally came around.

• Three memories from the Mahopac Senior Prom, please: Mitch Jacobs was my date.  We took a party bus to the Jersey Shore afterwards. We saw Billy Joel in concert on our way home.

• If someone offered you the car of your choice in exchange for eating five maggots, would you?: No way! I love my car.

• Four must-eat offerings at your husband’s restaurant?: 4 Layer Dip, Crabcake sliders, Farfalle Pasta, Double Chocolate Cake.

• Was 1980s high school cheerleading a sport or an activity? Why?: LOL—it was totally an activity! Now its a sport! Once we graduated they really took it to the next level but we had so much fun!

• Five things you always have in your purse?: iPhone, sunglasses, Chapstick, baby wipes, gum.

• One of my children just farted very loudly. Should I laugh or be grossed out?: Always laugh! They’re kids.


Bubba Sparxxx


Last year, when Florida Georgia Line and Nelly blew up the charts with Cruise, one person after another seemed to praise the apparently revolutionary merging of country and hip-hop—two genres (the story goes) that never before touched.

I call complete, total bullshit.

Eleven years ago Bubba Sparxxx, the creative and wide-open rapper from LaGrange, Georgia, brought forth Deliverance, an album that was about, oh, eleven years before its time. The songs were country. The songs were hip-hop. They were inventive and explosive, and so incredibly good that the lame medium that is FM radio refused to touch it. Hence, while Deliverance is known to true hip-hop heads, it sort of vanished into the mist.

Sparxxx (real name: Warren Mathis), however, refuses to vanish. Now signed to Average Joe Entertainment, the veteran rapper recently released his latest single, Made On McCosh Mill Road. He tours all over the place, appears in songs with seemingly everyone and offers up a song that is—and always has been—uniquely Bubba.

One can visit Bubba’s website here, his Facebook page here and follow him on Twitter here.

Bubba Sparxxx, welcome to LaQuaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Last year Florida Georgia Line and Nelly generated a ton of attention for their country-hip-hop merging … something you first went with in 2003, when you released Deliverance. Did all the attention they received Irk you at all? It seems people forget that you were ahead of your time And did you always think country and hip-hop as a marriage made sense?

BUBBA SPARXXX: It’s crazy, but I’m thrilled to death what’s going on. I’m actually signed to a label out of Nashville now, and I spend a lot of time up there songwriting. I just got my first country music songwriting hold with a country music singer this past year. And I mean, I’m pretty stoked about it overall. But it’s also a little comical to me—people just typically don’t associate me with the whole thing. I’m like, hands down, this is what I’m doing 10 … 12 years ago.

J.P.: It was a weird marriage. My first job was in Nashville, and I did a story in 1995 about country and rap ever emerging. And a lot of the country singers were like, ‘Rap? That’s not even gonna be around five years from now!’

B.S.: Hahahahaha …

J.P.: There was one guy in particular, Neal McCoy, who thought rap would be gone in a second.

B.S.: Neal McCoy is actually a pretty good friend of mine. And Neal McCoy covers rap songs at his concerts. He has at different times. Neal’s a great guy. A great guy. And his new song that’s getting some play on XM Radio is very … I’m not gonna say it’s the hip-hop influence, but it feels popish and it’s definitely not traditional country.

Neal and I went on a USO Tour to Kuwait and Iraq 10 years ago, and he always seemed open to it.

J.P.: How did you develop the idea in your mind that you could take these two foreign genres of music and merge them together?

B.S.: Working-class people just aren’t that different—period. No matter what the ethnicity. There are these invisible lines placed between the different races, but lower-middle class and down, and people are pretty much the same. The same mindsets. Their lives are pretty stressful. They deal with what they deal with on a day-to-day basis, and then when they cut loose they wanna have a good time. That’s something I knew at a young age. I just knew the people weren’t that different, because I grew up in a rural town—LaGrange, Georgia, about 60 miles southwest of Atlanta. Pretty much a 50-50 black and white community. And as far as my own story relates it to it all, I grew up in this place. There were some old South leanings where I grew up, hands down. But I grew up in this place, in this era when hip-hop music was exploding. And I guess it’s when you could say hip-hop music became mainstream; when it became popular music. And everybody was listening to it. Obviously some people more than others. And I just knew, where I grew up, white kids—quote-unquote rednecks—were riding around in jacked-up trucks, and in their CD cases they had Tim McGraw, Hank Williams, Jr., Outkast, Tupac, Nirvana. You know what I’m saying? I feel like my generation was the first generation that pretty much listened to everything.

And it really just boils down to the fact that I’m a country dude. I’m a country dude. I believe I’m pretty forward thinking, but I’m a country dude, I was raised in a rural area outside of a rural area. And I fell in love with hip-hop music. I grew up on the farm, grew up hunting and fishing and all that stuff. But I fell in love with hip-hop music. So I always just believe there are always ears for the story. I just always believed it.

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J.P.: I’m like a liberal Jewish guy from New York. And there would be a perception of a kid like you, in small-town Georgia, white kid, you’d think he’d grow up with parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, who would be not happy or if he dates a black girl …

B.S.: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

J.P.: So how did you emerge out of that?

B.S.: I’ll just say, neither one of my parents ever went to school with black people. To me, there’s no excusing ignorance. But there are just certain generational stances or views or shapings that … people born before, maybe, 1960 in the South … my dad never went to school with a black person. He just never did. So natural was separate in his eyes for a long time. Now he’s come a long way the last 20 years. Especially seeing my career, and some of the things I stood for. And the fact I couldn’t have been any more different than he was. He just has kind of grown to accept it and even evolve.

I went to school with black kids. I was around black kids. My parents never were. It’s a generational thing, to a degree. So I just feel like the generation I grew up in shaped me. Now we all come to a crossroads and we all have decisions to make. We can all take the right fork or the left fork. I definitely felt, even for my generation, I took the road less traveled. Not to put myself on a pedestal, but at a young age I just kind of gravitated toward questioning things and bucking the system and debating whether what I’d been told was the way it had to be. So that was who I was. And hip-hop music and the explosion that was taking place was just kind of shaping me. It became who I was.

It’s just become even more so the case. It’s just like … when I look at Donald Sterling. It was crazy, because all this stuff happened, and I was reading about him in your book. I look at it like this—those people are just gonna die, man. You know what I’m saying? I believe very few people are all bad or all good. I believe most everybody has some good parts and some bad parts. The people of that particular mindset—they’re gonna die. And I believe at some point there won’t be very many, if any, left on the planet. I’m not saying I wish about anybody’s death. It’s just the way the world is changing and evolving.

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J.P.: There’s always talk out there about the N-word in hip-hop, the N-word in sports. You’re from an interesting place. I’m sure you grew up hearing it from whites, and now there’s a lot of ‘Nobody should use that word! White or black!’

B.S.: I heard a lot of the one with the ‘e-r’ ending growing up, that’s for sure.

J.P.: Right. What do you think? To me, it’s, ‘I can tell a Jewish joke, you can’t.’ Can a black person take ownership of that word that, perhaps, you and I can’t?

B.S.: I definitely agree with that. I think that, as far as what’s happening with the use now, I just think the youth don’t give a shit. Whatever this generation is, the youth, whether it’s kids in the 1950s wanting to listen to rock and roll … whatever a generation is focused on, the youth is going to do what they want to do. So as far as the way kids today … I’m strictly speaking in terms of the word with an ‘a’ at the end, kids are just gonna do whatever they want. It doesn’t mean the same thing to kids today as it did when I was in high school. It doesn’t mean the same thing. But as far as me—I know where I come from and I know who I am, and I know the responsibility I place on myself. And it’s not something I’m going to do. Yes, I’ve had black friends and I could have said it. But it’s just not the route I choose to take. Because, once again going back to the generational thing, I don’t think it’s righteous for a man in his mid-30s to say, ‘OK, since it’s cool now I’m gonna start saying that!’ I’m not a part of this generation. If this generation is rocking that way, cool, I’m not gonna judge or fight it. But it’s just not something for me.

At the end of the day, I’m talking about black kids, white kids, Asian kids, Hispanic kids—everybody’s just saying it. Everybody’s applying it to themselves, to their friends. It is what it is, as far as the kids. But it’s never been something I felt comfortable saying, because I simply felt like, coming from where I come from, I understand the meaning of it in a deeper way.

J.P.: I love Ugly. Love it, always loved it. For all I know you hate it and never want to hear it again …

B.S.: The song I hate is Ms. New Booty. Ugly for me is—I wish more people, when we read the history books, I wish more people would focus on Ugly and Deliverance than they do Ms. New Booty. But it just is what it is.

J.P.: What’s the back story of Ugly?

B.S.: Well, it was the last song I recorded with Timbaland when I went to L.A. to record. I had put out an independent version of Dark Days, Bright Nights, and we decided we were going to keep about half of those songs for the Interscope release, for the Beat Club release. Which was Timbaland’s label. And then we were going to make the second half of the album with Tim. So we go in, and we probably do seven songs, and it’s two days before I’m supposed to leave. And I’m like, ‘Man, I just don’t really feel like I have a vintage Timbaland beat yet. I want one of those beats where, when you put it on, everyone says, ‘There’s that new Timbaland banger.’ Probably seven minutes later—this is his process. I’d be like writing to another beat over the loud speakers in the studio, and he’d have his headphones on and be playing with his keyboard or whatever. And probably seven minutes later he told the engineer to cut the beat he was working on on the big speakers. He did that and it was Ugly. And I was like, ‘That’s it! That’s it!’ That was the last song we actually did for the first album.

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J.P.: I find it interesting when artists—I’ve heard Eminem do this to his Relapse album; Mandy Moore hates her biggest song. What’s your beef with Ms. New Booty?

B.S.: I’m not going to apologize for a single that sells 3 million downloads. It’s not like I’m not grateful for it. But here’s my thing with it. Basically what you had is, I had a situation where I had the success of the first album, then we came back. Did you ever listen to Deliverance?

J.P.: Of course.

B.S.: Well, I felt like I had something to prove with that second album. Like, with the Ugly video, we presented these provocative visuals of rural life. We showed some real culture in there, and we also did some things for effect. It was supposed to be entertaining. But some real culture was captured in there. Tim didn’t feel like the sonics matched the visuals, and culturally who I was and where I came from. We basically just made a … it was more urban-leaning. Club bangers and that type of thing. And also we felt like a lot of people took it as a joke. So we sort of took it upon ourselves on the second album to not only make some viable music with a backbone, but to also sonically delve into bluegrass, different country-leaning instrumentation. Harmonicas. Fiddles. So on and so on. And create that sonic landscape that was Deliverance. That really backed up what the visuals of the Ugly video were. So we take this chance and have this critical darling of an album—everybody raves about it. But commercially it flopped.

It sold 400,000 albums. Nowadays they throw a parade for you. Back then you get fired. That’s basically what happened. It was kind of the beginning of addiction settling in in my life. It was the beginning of a very turbulent time. So I go through this period. It was like a bank robbery. Tim goes his separate ways from Jimmy Iovine and Interscope. Me and Tim went our separate ways. And there I was for, like, two years. I’d spoken with Big Boi from Outkast. We’d had a really cool relationship. And I knew he was looking to do another label situation somewhere, and we talked about that. But I go through these two years where I’ve accumulated all these things—a couple of houses, cars, whatever. And slowly the money is starting to dwindle. I’m slowly losing the means to facilitate this lifestyle that I’ve gotten adjusted to. And basically we then signed a very lucrative deal with Purple Ribbon, which was Big Boi’s imprint. And Virgin Records. At that particular time it was like I’d gone through this whole movement, in that I really, really believed in the country-rap thing. I really believed in what I was doing. I had a fan base. A pretty loyal fan base, loyal to what I was doing at that time.

And man, you know what? When I signed that deal with Virgin, they wanted a club banger. Ying Yang Twins were hot. I loved those guys, so grateful for those guys getting on that record with me at that time. Grateful, grateful. And like I said, it sold 3 million singles, huge hit, one of the biggest records in the world that year—but it just wasn’t in line with what I had been building. If that makes sense.

That’s my only gripe with it. I’m not going to say that it wasn’t me, because it was a component of me. But artistically, I know it threw a lot of my fans—my true fans—for a loop. So basically what you have now, for that period, what you had was … and I still don’t think it would have been such a big deal had I continued from there. But that happened to be the point when I just completely feel apart, went to rehab for the first time, just completely fell apart personally. I did just stop. But it looks like I quit. I didn’t. I just needed to deal with more important issues in my life and gain some perspective. So to a lot of people, my fan base that loved my first two albums, it sucks, and they’re pissed off that I did this big pop record that’s obviously just a trendy attempt at trying to make a record relevant to that particular era and fit into radio.

Where we struggled with Deliverance is it fell between the cracks. You didn’t have YouTube and Vevo and all these other mechanisms for reaching fans. Back then if you didn’t have radio or MTV or BET, guess what? In hip-hop, you’re not going to reach your fans. Deliverance was too urban for rock or country radio, and it was too rock and country for urban radio. It was what it was. When Virgin was like, ‘Can you make a viable record for radio?’ I did my best. But it conflicted.

Now you have these kids who look at me as this one-hit-wonder guy who did Ms. New Booty. Then you have my older sect of fans—true hip-hop heads—who know what I did earlier on. It’s just kind of … a dichotomy.

J.P.: I’ve spoken with guys from Blind Melon, and they don’t exactly love No Rain. And they have the frustration that comes with knowing you’ve done 800 better songs. Is that something you know and understand?

B.S.: Well, and really you hate being judged by that. You just hate for that to be viewed as your crowning achievement. And you know you’ve done so many more substance-filled songs. It’s a frustrating thing. It really is. But at the end of the day I’m not a sour grape guy. Because I had a career. I’m a kid who grew up on a farm, and I made a career in hip-hop music. I truly am just grateful for hip-hop, because I always say nothing more than religion has unified people and brought people from different walks of life together more than hip-hop and hip-hop culture. And I’m just a part of that. I’m tickled to death to be able to do 100 shows a year. I still go around, making a living. I just put out a new album in October. I know I’ll never have what I had … I’ll never go platinum again. Well, I’ll never say never, but I doubt very seriously that I’ll ever go platinum again, but I believe I can put out an album once a year, sell between 50,000 and 100,000 units, do 50 to 100 shows a year, sell some merch. I’m doing a different type of thing now, and it’s working. It took some time to get it going, but it’s going. And where country rap is heading—well, it’s exciting.

J.P.: Addiction is fascinating. Here you are—talented guy, rolling along. How do you explain the ability of addiction to fuck everything up?

B.S.: I honestly think the substance just brought it to a head for me. I can only speak for myself, and as it pertains to me, I just had some issues. As they say, I was an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. I was batshit crazy. I had a sickness in myself where I could never be satisfied. To me, it’s much deep-rooted stuff. I think I would have just went through life had I never acquired the means to do my drug of choice every day and to allow it to take a hold of my life and nearly kill me. I think I probably just would have gone through life just being miserable and not knowing why. From a young age, I had this thing that just gnawed at me. Any time I’d walk into a room I didn’t feel like I deserved to be there. This goes back to elementary school. Walking into a classroom, and if someone’s laughing I automatically think they’re laughing at me. When I pick up the drug, that soothes it—in the beginning. It was like when I first took a drink. It alleviated that edge. This underlining gnawing feeling that wouldn’t allow me to be comfortable. When we talk about the disease of addiction, they’re talking about the dis-ease. The dis-ease. That’s what it is. That’s the best way I could put it. A lot of it, I think, is growing up. I think, a lot of people, if you give them millions of dollars in their 20s … look at NBA athletes. Especially when you’re first generation of accumulating big-time money. Nobody is there to teach you how to handle it. So I think many people who get millions in their 20s fuck it up. Not to make excuses for myself. I mean God, I wish I hadn’t. But I think a lot of it is growing up. People who have success beginning in their 30s appreciate it more, and understand the realness of it all. When you’re 23 and you have that money, it feels like a lottery ticket. Sure you worked, but if you work from 20-30, I think you have more appreciation for it. And in terms of decision making in general, obviously it improves as you gain experience in life. Not that it explains addiction in full. But it’s a component of it. Sometimes you just grow up. And you learn how to live and stay out of situations.

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J.P.: Ninety nine percent of society is not only riveted by fame but, to a certain extent, jealous of fame. It’s the reason we buy People and Star—because we think there’s something amazing about fame …

B.S.: Jay-Z said it—fame is the most dangerous drug known to man. And I’ll tell you, there is nothing … there is no aphrodisiac I’ve ever encountered … there’s nothing ever invented that makes people go more crazy than having seen somebody on the idiot box. I have no idea why that is. We can travel down this street for a minute—there’s something about television that seems larger than life to people. They don’t understand that it’s really just somebody standing in front of a person with a camera. A person just like you, standing there. But they think it’s really magic.

J.P.: Does fame live up to the hype? Would you rather have a kid and he goes on to be a doctor or lawyer—successful but not famous. Or do you want fame?

B.S.: At this point, I’m not gonna say I didn’t enjoy it. It was never something I really, really craved. I think I was scared to death of it, and then I went through a period where I was on tV all the time, and it was cool to talk in the mall. And people go crazy recognizing you. The first time I was ever on TRL, the same trip, when I was in New York, I’m walking in Times Square, and I literally get mobbed in Times Square. Me, from LaGrange, Georgia. From a farm—I get mobbed in Times Square. So it was all cool, but you just can’t turn it off. That’s the most frustrating aspect of it.

I always think about Little John. Me and my manager talk about this. Can you imagine how miserable it is for him to be at an airport at 6:30 in the morning, and some dumbass comes up to him, talking about, “Yeaaaaah, Ohhhhkkaaaaaay!!!!” Can you imagine? I can’t imagine having to be Little John all the time at 6:30 at an airport, with some dumbass running up and saying that. Whatever it takes for someone to have a good life, and that looks different for each person, I support. But my word of advice to my son will certainly be, ‘If you can find fulfillment in life and have a successful life and make a lot of money without that, you’ll probably be better off in the long run for it.’ Especially if you’re wired like me.

J.P.: Justin Bieber is fascinating. Because as much as the 13-year-old girls loved his rise, people really enjoy his fall.

B.S.: That’s America for you. America, man. People love the ascent. They love being a part of the people’s champ, the underdog. And once you get there, and they see you do something they perceive as a change. Which means you’re really just adjusting to where you’re at now … it’s like, ‘Uh-oh, we have to drag him down.’

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J.P.: It seems you have a mature approach now to your career. You don’t think you’ll have a song blow up as it once did. Can you play a room of 500 people, but it’s not sold out. The Ballroom in Brewster, N.Y. But they absolutely love the show …

B.S.: Yes! Yes, I can. One thousand percent. I appreciate it all more than ever. I literally went at one point almost two years without going to the studio one day. I had completely thrown in the white towel. I was done. This was probably 2010. I went to rehab initially in 2006, had some clean time, then had a relapse and went back in 2008. I got arrested in Tampa in 2009, and those charges ended up getting dropped. I had medication on me I was prescribed, but I didn’t have them in the container. TMZ reported all that stuff, but it wasn’t as newsworthy when the charges were dropped two weeks later. I really just had it with myself. I was still doing shows, but that’s when I started the process of surrendering in a positive way. Surrendering to the fact I really had an illness. I had tried to control it. I tried to do things on my terms. In 2009, it was the first time I said that my plan wasn’t working, and I needed someone else’s plan. So from 2009 until the beginning of 2011, I just didn’t have any use for music. I kind of had this cycle where I would get away from music and then I would have some clean time and get my act together. And then I’d go back to doing shows and recording, and I set the timer. It was just a matter of time before I started using again. I started thinking the problem was music. Or the lifestyle. And to a degree it was. But really the problem was me. A lot of people have fruitful careers in the music business and don’t use. Part of it, too, was I didn’t understand what I had to say. When music started changing, and I was in my 30s, hip-hop is becoming more of a deal—and as old as Jay-Z gets, that’s how old someone can be and stay relevant in hip-hop. If Jay-Z is 63-years old, we all can be 63 and rap.

Anyhow, around this time the guys at Average Joe Entertainment in Nashville started building this whole country-rap thing. And it was becoming a force. You have to see it. It’s the damnest thing you’ve ever seen. I’m talking about 3,000 kids, and rappers are performing … there’s black kids, white kids. This whole culture started exploding, and I was invited to be a part of it. And I realized even though I quit, and was totally removed from it, the seed I had planted had started to grow. It started to sprout. Over time it had been nurtured, and I wasn’t even aware of it. The whole thing is going crazy.

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• Five greatest rappers of your lifetime?: Andre 3000, CeeLo, Jay-Z, Eminem, Ice Cube.

• Ever thought you were gonna die in a plane crash? If so, what do you remember?: Not an actual plane crash, but I used to have horrible nightmares about dying in a plane crash. The worst thing that ever happened to me was a really, really turbulent landing into Miami at one time. And I think a lot of people thought the plane was gonna crash. But I was pretty experience at that point. I didn’t think we were going to crash.

• Celine Dion calls, wants you to do a rap interlude in her new song for the Titanic II soundtrack. She’ll pay you $500 and a lifetime supply of Celine CDs. In?: No. Well, maybe if I get royalties. That could be a pretty big movie.

• Five reasons for one to make LaGrange, Georgia his/her next vacation stop?: 1. Because we play the best high school football arguably in the whole United States here; 2. We have a beautiful lake, West Point Lake; 3. We have a mall. 4. Um … let’s see. We have Charlie Joseph’s hamburgers. The best hamburgers you’ll ever eat. 5. And, I guess, it’s the birthplace of Bubba Sparxx.

• Meanest thing you’ve ever done to someone?: Hmm … meanest thing. Toughie. Oh, shit, my friend, Trey, he had a real hairy chest. I’d hold him down and put tape on his chest.

• Two memories from your senior prom?: I got very drunk and I had sex.

• Openly gay rappers—not a problem in the hip-hop world, or tough?: I think it’s just a matter of time. It’ll be smooth. Because that’s just where the world’s at. The person will probably be able to present it in such a fly world, people will be on board.

• Worst and best songs you’ve released?: The best song I ever released is Nowhere, which is off the Deliverance album with Kiley Dean. And the worst song would be a song called Regardless off my first album.

• What is Vanilla Ice’s legacy?: I think he was one of the first huge, huge pop stars who was a hip-hop artist. No one would have any problem today with any of the issues they had back then. He kind of knocked down the door for dancing entertainers, like what Puffy became. He wasn’t the greatest MC ever, but he was a helluva entertainer. He kind of gets a bum rap. And he’s an awesome guy. The dude sold 15 million albums. Everybody liked that song when it came out. Everybody.

• You’re driving in your car and Ugly comes on. What do you do?: I listen to it. Ms. New Booty—maybe not so much.

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Tracy Reiner

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Yesterday afternoon, while driving back home from a visit to Cooperstown, N.Y., I asked the wife which Quaz I should run this week. I began mentioning some names, but when I reached Tracy Reiner she said, “Stop!”


“We’re coming back from the Baseball Hall of Fame!” she said. “Tracy Reiner is Betty Spaghetti! You have to do her this week! It’s timing …”

And here we are.

My 156th Quaz Q&A features Tracy Reiner, whose life is, to understate, fascinating. She’s the biological daughter of Penny Marshall. She’s the adoptive daughter of Rob Reiner. She’s been a key player in two iconic films—”A League of Their Own” and “Apollo 13″—and continues to act and direct … when she’s not focused upon her five children and/or medical software.

One can visit Tracy’s website here, and follow her on Facebook here.

Tracy Reiner, there’s no crying in the Quaz! There’s no crying in the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Tracy, my kids (ages 7 and 10) love A League of Their Own. They absolutely, positively love it. So before I go into your career, let me ask: A. What’s your take of the movie, some two decades later. B. Did you know it’d be this good of a film as you were making it? C. What do you recall from the actual experience?

TRACY REINER: This film changed so many things . It mapped a new way for people to see history, baseball and female athletes. It totally changed the way men looked at us playing, and I mean not just the USC coaches but the White Sox and the Cubs also played with us at exhibitions. The guys couldn’t believe we could really play even as actors until we showed them. Charlie Hough pitched with me for 30 minutes in the bullpen when Comiskey Park was brand new and Jack McDowell coached me as well and came to practice. Ozzie Guillen sent us flowers and notes—he was very impressed with all the skirts.

What else changed? Basically, there was no way to even start a farm league for girls to play at all unless it started from both ends. After we knew we were good, we laughed at how 250-pound men were playing with little balls, diva-style, and paid millions of dollars to do so. Meanwhile, these women played double headers in skirts and went out dancing at night. Modern ball vs. old-school ball was what we see as sad now. The Silver Bullets and Justine Siegal and Baseball for All and even Sports Illustrated for Women started after the film. Also, the WNBA started and really took off.

As for the quality of the film—we all knew the historic aspect and the comedy was there but we did not know until after that it would touch so many people. I don’t just mean girl players, but Megan Cavanagh, Lori Petty, Annie Cusack and Patti Pelton and Anne Ramsey and I did the sports card shows for 10 years. And what I learned from the coaches, PE teachers, dads, moms, daughters and wives of players is that little girls all over the country wanted to play.

Most important to me, at the card shows the veterans and their wives and widows changed me deeply. I had no idea how deeply moved people would be. Screw the fact that it’s still the highest grossing sports movie of all time. People changed. People cried and felt understood. I had so many women athletes say they made their life choices after watching the film. I’ve still never seen such a reaction from a film. I am so honored to have been a part of telling their story with my family and so deeply grateful for these women keeping us all in their lives personally. The cast is as close to this day as any I’ve ever even heard of on other movies. We share all of our real-life events often to this day.

Now, I actually found out about the film when my cousin Wendy was trying out and was nervous because she works on films but isn’t an actress, per se. So I drove her with a mouth filled with wisdom teeth stitches and saw 2,000 girls trying out at USC. I was in awe, but I saw a lot of girls who I knew that I was more athletic than. So, in a jealous moment, I signed up to try out. I threw as hard as I could and did all the stations and heard Rod Dedeaux (the late USC baseball coach) say, “Damn, that girl’s got an arm!”

We got home and my mouth was a mess. I’d popped both sides of stitches and was exhausted My mom showed up shocked and said we had scored really well and my mom sat us down and asked if we wanted to do this. We said yes. So training started and some girls were hired.Then my mom decided to direct it herself and everything went nuts—eight hours a day for six days a week in training and then casting. We all switched roles and positions for a while. Then the real players showed up and our lives totally changed.

Each one of us has years of personal relationships and stories of what an amazing group of women were able to pull this off. I have spent the last 25 years sharing my life with these women. The cast and the AAGPBL Legendary Ladies of Baseball are a part of my family. That hasn’t happened on any other movie.

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J.P.: So if one looks over your resume, you’ve had a very strong career—active, myriad roles, different sorts of characters. You’ve been a working actress for a long time, which ain’t something to sneeze at. And yet, your mom is Penny Marshall. You were adopted as a girl by Rob Reiner. In other words, you have big connections, a big last name. I wonder, what comes with that? More pressure? Less pressure? More opportunity? Less? Is it a blessing, or a Catch 22?

T.R.: It’s an absolute gift to be surrounded with just massively talented people. It gives you amazing insight and also it gave me, personally, the ability to choose a balance of real life and what I call simulating real life. I worked for a long time and worked production and ran a development company, then I took a long real-life break and got married. And now I am producing a film about the 100-year history of the American Legion Post 43 and Hollywood. There is no curse to having family in the business you’re in … although family will do to family what strangers would never dare. That’s in good and bad ways. It’s life.

J.P.: I’m fascinated by life paths—so, Tracy, what’s yours? I know you were born in Albuquerque, know your family background. But why did you go into acting? How did it start? When did you first feel the love?

T.R.: I wanted to raise horses and ride forever. So when did I feel the love for performing? Acting is really fun and really intense, and there are lots of people out there all doing the same thing. I love the effort and creed of film people—but show business is a cold and vain world. I lived here as a kid so I learned to say no and was protected from a lot of really fucked-up people and also had to deal with a lot of really fucked-up people.

But, like in any family, you feel totally left out if you don’t at least participate in family events. I had to learn the language my family spoke since I spent my first years in New Mexico. My family was into therapy and I was sad from my parents splitting and for me therapy was not fun. It was very serious and not really helping me be funny and laugh more. They all still think I’m really intense, and unfortunately therapy left me highly analytical and fast minded. Somewhere around then my mom sent me to improv class and Viola Spolins, then Uta Hagen, then Stella Adler and on and on. All were very nice to me and were very nurturing. I’m still not a comic. I am known for crying a lot in movies. It’s my balance, I guess. They make you laugh and I make you cry. It’s a family.

J.P.: You turn 50 this year—not old by normal standards, but—it seems—sort of antiquated in the world of female actresses. Which strikes me as really, really unfair and sucky. How hard is it for, oh, post-40 actresses to land good roles? Is there as big a double standard as I think? And did that at all influence your transition away from acting toward other endeavors?

T.R.: I didn’t want to be a woman at 40 trying to look young. I thought it was the perfect time to go off and turn into the next character in my story—mother and writer and huge business facilitator. I have helped 10 projects while raising my kids. I started doing digital business plans, then consulting the actors and filmmakers. All by introductions. Not from my family at all. They think I’m nuts for not sticking to one thing and I keep having an amazing adventure. Now I’ve done domestic cultivating—kids, pets, gardens, screenplays, etc.

And now I’m into space … macro perspectives of all this history I’ve studied. I was a history of storytelling major in college. Now I want to animate the periodic table. Not a very sitcom, action or drama topic. I home school my girls and I like it a lot more than they do so we will see about next year. It reactivated my brain after being “in service” as a parental unit. I’m ready to travel and work again and show them the world like my parents did with me. Don’t get me wrong—I will act in anything now. It’s fun. I love it. It’s great as a job—so heads up anyone reading. I’m ready to be the Colleen Dewhurst version of me. Or Glenda Jackson. Geraldine PageEllen Burstyn. Or a toothless homeless woman talking to the stars. It’s all now about the focus of the piece.

J.P.: You have five kids. Let me repeat that—five kids. I have two. Couldn’t even imagine the stress of having three more. How do you do it? Manage? And how has that impacted your career?

T.R.: It’s made me sane. I grew up basically an only child. I have a sister, Heather, from my father Mickey. I love to be silent and alone and having constant chaos opened up a whole new skill set. Twelve years ago I would have laughed and driven away if you said, “Guess where you will be in 2014 …” But I am better now at being me and being a parent and an artist then I ever imagined

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J.P.: According to your bio, you grew up with 15 family members employed by the Atomic Energy Commission, which resulted in your interest in renewable energy , space and super luminal transport physics. Tracy, recently a crushing report on climate change came out, suggesting—more or less—we’re sorta fucked. Tracy, do you have any remote hope for humanity? Or are we just screwed?

T.R.: There is a tremendous effort being made to save the earth and a tremendous effort at still raping the earth. She will have to reconcile this battle. I am on the side of the white blood cells fighting the disease.

J.P.: In 1993, “A League of Their Own” became a relatively short-lived TV series, and you played Betty Horn in all six episodes. Did you think the series would take off? Did you know it wouldn’t? And what is it like to have a series cancelled?

T.R.: There are such sad, funny stories about the series. They actually hired one of the greatest writing teams to try and launch the show, but I think they knew there was no way a period piece show that dealt with the war, politics, baseball and women’s feelings was going to excite male sponsors and general doubters. I had just had an 11-pound baby so it looked like Betty’s husband died and she ate a lot. Tom Hanks, Ted Bessel and Harvey Miller all guest directed. Monica Johnson, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel from the film wrote. That doesn’t happen. And it did. Tom Hanks laughed at me and said, “You know, if this goes you will be only the second sitcom widow on TV!” Julia in the 70s was the other.

And then we got the script. The famous TV script where a monkey is in the show. When there’s a monkey you’re cancelled.

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Tracy, right, with her fellow Apollo 13 cast member, Kathleen Quinlan.

J.P.: You were awesome in Apollo 13. I really mean that—awesome. I sorta feel like the film somehow gets overlooked when we discuss great movies of the 1990s. Yet, for my dough, it’s right there. What do you recall of the experience?

T.R.: I auditioned really fast because it was at Universal and I wanted to sneak in the back lot with my son, who was 2. I said, “Bill Paxton is from Oklahoma. Do you want me to do an accent?” Um …  sure. So I read really quick and showed Ron Howard my son in the video since the character had three kids. I remember the line—to Jim Lovell’s wife—was, “You’ve done this three times? You don’t even sweat or nothing?” And I was off. There were no tears in any of my lines.

I was going to do the directing program at USC and I got a call that Ron Howard wanted to see me to read in person. So I went and he said, “Thanks, goodbye.” I don’t think he even knew that I had uncle who worked at NASA and worked on Apollo 13. Just as I got all my classes settled I got a call saying I got the part. Then I researched Mary Haise, my character, and she also had a degree in Astrophysics like her husband and was a master archer and was the only NASA wife who had a shag. All the tears came when we shot the launch. It was one of the greatest sequences ever. Jim Lovell’s real wife and daughter were put in the scene standing in front of me and Kathleen Quinlan (who is another hero of mine) and the two Lovell women started to cry when they played the real launch audio of the takeoff.

There were tons of people watching a tissue go up a flag pole but when they cried we stopped and Ron came up and said to me, “You know what to do.” I looked into her eyes and knew watching your husband leave the planet, an absolute life risk, for the third time was beyond bereavement and prayer. I had reacted to death but this was something else … overwhelming and, for Mary Haise (seven months pregnant), it took all of my compassion and ability way up and in honor of them.

Originally the script said something like, “I hear in Italy 13 is a lucky number” … look to kids, blah blah blah. Now it’s crazy real. Mother Mary crying to the moon and the launch and the score … to this day people tilt their heads and look at me and smile. That film was the second best time ever. I knew many of the cast before the film which is always fun. We won Best Ensemble Cast at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. I got to meet Arthur C. Clark‘s brother (awe from a geek like me) and Arthur Projected holographically from Sri Lanka at the Arthur C. Clark awards. I got to go because of the film and then got invited to speak in Seoul at their KIPA film school on storytelling from game design to feature films with some guys from James Cameron’s Earthship TV.

So all my crazy technology buttons got pushed and I started not finding the same levels of intelligence in many of the films that followed. Or in what I was being looked at for being 35 … 36 … 37. So I was totally reality inspired and also spoiled and needed a break. I was having totally unrealistic expectations from the people in this industry . So I stopped simulating and started connecting people and ideas and now both sides of my brain feel much better. .

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J.P.: In 2013, you headed a team that funded and marketed a new medical software company. Um, that’s not something you read in the bios of too many actresses/directors. Please elaborate …

T.R.: Not true. Women actresses have always been major connectors of people and ideas and money and technology. Hedy Lamarr, Jayne Mansfield— there are plenty. Google it. I love lens history and projection as well as farm and water technologies and alternative energies. The man who started the medical software was in early Animatronics special effect and other things.

J.P.: You recently said in an interview, “some of the technology that is being used  in special effects and large format I find  to be dangerous. And I’ve spoke with quite a few people in 3d technologies and we need to make sure that there is not just film stimulations but also conscious effort to preserve the integrity in doing this job.” What, exactly, do you mean by “dangerous”? What’s the problem here?

T.R.: I have my own very serious concerns with the stability of people’s binocular fusion of the eyes just for starters. I have seen many dysphorias come from watching 3D films and I have seen the difference of my own performance on the audience in 3D and I suggest people really seriously give a shit about a whole bunch of things about CGI and special effects. About what they watch and show their kids. I spoke on panels and I asked many people about the guidelines and I have many friends who do that job. I bug them constantly. I have been asked to say things and be a noisy brat by some of the inventors of the technologies and so I do. Just remember how much more important your food is over movie stimuli.  Don’t watch crazy shit. And if you can’t help it … yes, you’re pretty much fucked.

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• The wife and I debate this all the time—does Dottie Hinson intentionally drop the ball?: Seriously? Whatever you believe, you make true.

• Five things you always carry in your purse?: Water, 1,000 cards, pens (I love black pens), Magic Mom Kit, passport, phone.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): The Deer Hunter, Starbucks, Kiss, Marvin Hagler, Howard Stern, potatoes, Kentucky, Marla Hooch, convertibles, Martin Landau, Hollywood, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Justin Bieber: Marla Hooch, Martin Landeau, convertables, potatoes. The rest are not in my life.

• Five greatest actresses of your lifetime?: I think I mentioned them.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a place crash? If so, what do you recall?: No shit—I’ve gotten off the plane twice. I just heard out loud in my head, “Get off!” They, of course, didn’t crash but it was creepy. Pissed off the people I was flying to meet. I told them I was late.

• Number of times a year someone says to you, “There’s no crying in baseball. There’s no crying in baseball.”: It used to be a lot, then only at amusement parks. Now only when we all hang out and with Bitty Schram … I just signed another release for the clip of that to be used all these years later.

• My daughter is wrapping up fifth grade, and she really wants an iPhone 5. Thoughts?: No No and ah NO. Testing new technology on your kids is kinda fucked up. No, Daddy. Nothing personal. iPad laptop or towers are a bit safer. I like iPhones but they are bad for kids’ bodies—period.

• Celine Dion calls. She wants you to move to Las Vegas for a year to become her personal acting coach. Good news—$5 million for the year. Bad news—you can only look at her shoes, and twice a day you have to bake her banana bread. You in?: Money isn’t what’s happening. I don’t endorse shame games.

• I have an idea—A League of Their Own II—Revenge of The Ghost of Jimmy Dugan. You in?:  Only if they play on the moon.

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Dave Zirin

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There is a lot of bullshit in sports media.

It’s true, and it’s worse than ever before. Few people dig, probe, look for the truth behind the glitz. Most of us are simply satisfied with access. If an athlete calls a reporter by his first name, nine out of 10 times a positive profile follows. Or—even better—a glowing Tweet.

We are simple and stupid. We aspire to be Skip Bayless and Michael Wilbon (wanna-be celebrities) instead of Red Smith or Frank Deford (craftsmen). We’d rather be recognized walking through an airport than recognized for exemplary work. It sucks, it sucks, it sucks—and it depresses the hell out of me.

Thank goodness for Dave Zirin.

I’ve known Dave for a long time now, and he is—without much debate—one of the most important and bad-ass voices of our time. He tackles issues others tiptoe around. He chases injustice, whereas others merely nod its way. He is the sports editor of The Nation, hosts Edge of Sports Radio on Sirius and writes some truly dazzling books. His newest release, Brazil’s Dance With the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics and the Fight for Democracy, is a powerful and haunting look at what’s happening behind the scenes (oft-tragically) in a nation hosting both the World Cup and the Olympics. It’s strong work.

You can visit Dave at his website, and follow him on Twitter.

Dave Zirin, welcome to Quazville. Population: You.

JEFF PEARLMAN: Dave, I’m gonna start with a completely random question, because you seem like a good guy to ask. I fear death. Sometimes, I’m consumed by this fear–by the inevitability of non-existence, and how we somehow seem to forget (or don’t mind) that we’re all on an airplane that’s heading toward the ground. I ask folks, “Doesn’t this bother you?”—and 95% say No. Dave, what do you think about the concept of eternal nothingness? Does it concern you? Bother you? Are you good with it? In denial? None of the above?

DAVE ZIRIN: Was going to give a snarky answer to this. But then I thought that honesty might be the better way to go even if it’s a buzz kill. I had a couple of very close friends die before their 24th birthday. I’ve also spent the last 20 years doing a lot of work to abolish the death penalty and gotten to know a lot of people who live on death row and a lot of the victims’ families who are against capital punishment. In other words, I’ve been around some death, so I’m just grateful for the years I’ve had because a lot of folks have had far less.

J.P.: You have a new book that comes out in June. It’s called, Brazil’s Dance With the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics and the Fight for Democracy. I’ve loved what I’ve read thus far—powerful shit, important issue. While reading it, I found myself thinking that you must be a truly frustrated man. You have this issue of corruption in Brazil—and most people either don’t know or don’t care. Are we just a bunch of lazy fucks consumed by the Kardashians? Do we lack general empathy? Is it all too much work?

D.Z.: Thanks Jeff. I loved Showtime and The Bad Guys Won. Getting dap from authors you respect is, for me, a sustaining part of this gig. I wrote the book in part to raise awareness about what’s happening in Brazil. We can’t fault people for not caring about issues that receive next to zero mainstream attention in the U.S. And also the people who really matter here are the 200 million people in Brazil. They are protesting and raising hell about displacement, corruption, and police brutality so I know they care and I hope the book can shed some light on what they are going through, the movements they are building and the obstacles they face. Thrilled the book has a Brazilian publisher putting out a Portuguese version so folks in Brazil can read it.

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J.P.: Along those lines, what inspired you to write the book? Where’d the idea come from? How much time did you spend in Brazil? What was the process like?

D.Z.: Honestly, the book started as a simplistic no-brainer: “Brazil is going to host the World Cup and the Olympics? Holy crap. That’s a book.” Then I went down to Brazil, started crash reading about Brazil and realized that I was in way over my head. So I changed the focus of it to trying to explain in very elementary terms to a US audience why Brazil matters, why knowing its history matters, and why the World Cup and the Olympics (more specifically why FIFA and why the IOC) are such parasitic institutions. When I was there, I hooked up with a remarkable NGO called Catalytic Communities that brings academics and journalists into the Favelas so people can tell their stories. Thanks to them, every day there was a treasure trove.

J.P.: You’ve always been something of a defender of Barry Bonds, in that you think the hatred and animosity is more about race than PED. I generally find myself agreeing with your stances—but here I don’t. I think he’s an asshole who treated people awfully, and when you treat people awfully—and cheat—it comes back to bite you. Why am I wrong?

D.Z.: I guess it starts by my thinking that the “weight” of the PED era has fallen on the individual shoulders of a few players while Major League Baseball’s owners and players have gotten off with nary a scratch. Far more outrageous to me than Barry Bonds is the fact that Bud Selig gets to be the commissioner of the PED era and the commissioner who “cleaned up the game.” It’s galling to me that Brian Sabean was the only baseball team executive who had to testify in front of Congress. Hell, it bothers me that the House Oversight Committee went from investigating the cover-up around Pat Tillman’s death to steroids as if these are in any way comparable. I’ve always thought that discussions about Barry Bonds’ demeanor gets us off track from focusing on how PED get into locker rooms in the first place, why they’re criminalized, and who benefits from the whole drug war hysteria that engulfs this discussion and turns sports radio jocks into pharmacological experts. As for race and Barry Bonds, I just spoke to too many people whose hatred of Bonds was drenched in such thinly veiled racial animus, that “cheater” was just a substitute for a more volatile word. Of course I’m sure many people dislike Bonds because he’s like a thorny rose without the petals. But for some, other reasons lurk in plain sight.

J.P.: I know loads about your career and almost nothing about your life path? Womb to now, how did this journalism thing happen for you? Who was the first to inspire you to write? To say, “Here’s a path …” And when did you realize it just might work?

D.Z.: Has it worked? It’s working but it’s a day-in-day-out grind just to keep the family in frozen dinners. I was always a nuts sports fan, but never thought sports writing could be something magical and a craft worth pursuing until I read James Baldwin’s 1960 essay about Sonny Liston. I was inspired but also knew I was no James Baldwin. Then I read Mike Marqusee’s book about Muhammad Ali called Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the 1960s. Brilliant book. Unlike Baldwin, which made me feel—correctly—like, “I could never write this well,” Marqusee’s prose was more grounded and inspired me to want to do that kind of sports/political writing for myself.

J.P.: This whole recent Donald Sterling thing fascinates me, in that we’re all so outraged by his words … so willing to damn the man to hell—meanwhile, sports owners everywhere donate to causes that go directly against the interests of poor minorities, fight for causes that have killed income equality, etc … etc. Is this laziness on our part? On the part of players? Do you think athletes—before choosing teams—should look deeper into the business dealings of the owners?

D.Z.: Yes, there are a ton of sports owners who are ickier than whatever’s underneath a teenager’s mattress: people who actually harm thousands of people in their day-to-day lives. Hell, Donald Sterling, as a slumlord, was one of those people but that’s not of course what finally got him. In this case, we learned, yet again, in the power of audio media to trump the written word. People in mainstream publications have been writing about Donald Sterling’s racist activities for years. But much of this evidence was contained in court documents and the testimony of people whose words tend to be ignored. This time there was audio of the man himself and he insulted Magic Johnson—who people feel like they know—so the dynamics were different on every conceivable level.

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J.P.: You co-authored John Carlos’ autobiography. It doesn’t seem like it sold particularly well (no offense. I’ve been there). I wonder if you feel like, in 2014, people have grown ignorance to the Carlos-Smith moment? Or if they somehow don’t grasp the impact? Along those lines, what was he like to partner with?

D.Z.: Oh, I disagree. I don’t know the sales numbers but doing that book was an all-time life highlight. We toured the country together and the audiences were huge. We also toured during the height of Occupy and spoke at Occupy encampments in every city we were in. The audiences were very young and the energy was off the page. Speaking with him in London on the eve of the Olympics actually got a little scary because people were mobbing him so much. The book was a great validation that his actions live on and resonate. As for John Carlos the human being, I say with complete candor that he’s perhaps the finest human being I’ve had the privilege to know. And man, can he tell a story.

J.P.: I remember seeing one of your books and reading the front-cover quote, from Robert Lipsyte, “Dave Zirin is the best young sportswriter in America.” You and I are about the same age—can we still use quotes like that? And how do you think aging has impacted your skills as a journalist?

D.Z.: Bob—to my eternal gratitude—wrote that about me when I was 30. I stopped using it when I hit 35. At that point, it felt too much, in the words of Chris Rock, like “the old guy at the club,” especially when there are a ton of great young writers out there, writing for sites like Sports on Earth and The Classical, whose laptop I can’t carry.

With John Carlos.

With John Carlos.

J.P.: You ask hard questions, and you don’t seem to take any shit. So how do you prepare for interviews? How to you approach a subject you know will be hostile? And what’s the most heated exchange you’ve had in the course of a Q&A?

D.Z.: It’s just sports. No one is really that intimidating to interview … except for Jim Brown.

J.P.: I see Skip Bayless and I want to vomit. I just don’t get his popularity. Dave, please explain …

D.Z.: He has an enchanting musk.

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• Celine Dion calls. She offers $20 million for you to spend a year hosting “Edge of Celine radio”—12 hours a day, 365 days a year of coverage solely of her career and greatness. You in?: I once watched all five Rockys in a row as part of a radio contest in high school. The prize was a fake gold chain with a boxing glove on the end. If I could do that shit for a piece of jewelry that turned my neck green, then damn right I could do Edge of Celine radio.

• You wrote the Muhammad Ali Handbook. Is Ali’s place as a sort of God-like figure in American-sports culture righteous, or somewhat exaggerated?: It’s altogether ridiculous because what makes Muhammad Ali so awesome is his humanity, his flaws, and the fact that in spite of those, he stood tall when a lot of people needed someone like him to do just that. When we “godify” Muhammad Ali, we create distance between what he did and what any one of us could do: i.e. stand on political principal even if you pay a price.

• What are your three favorite love songs?: I Love You by Mary J. Blige; Blind Alley by The Emotions; How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore? by Prince.

• You’re the sports editor of The Nation. How much longer does print have in this country?: What time is it right now?

• Five all-time favorite sports names?: 1) Razor Shines; 2) God Shammgod; 3) Dick Tidrow (better than Dick Trickle and the name of a great band); 4) Vladamir Guerrero; 5) World B. Free.

• What’s the outcome of a fistfight between you and Garry Templeton?: Didn’t he hit 30 triples one year? I could knock him out early, but if it goes into the later rounds, I’m toast.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Willie McGee, The Band Perry, Eric Carr, sleet, boxer-briefs, Target, “The Empire Strikes Back,” Kool G Rap, Geraldine Ferraro, Trident Layers Sugar Free Gum, Moses, wet farts: (leaving off ones I don’t know or had to look up)—Kool G. Rap, Empire Strikes Back, boxer-briefs, Moses, Willie McGee, Geraldine Ferraro, wet farts. Trident Layers Sugar Free Gum, Target, sleet.

• One question you’d ask Stephen Pearcy were he here right now?: Did you ever party with Milton Berle?

• I love this song. Your thoughts?: Without the girl in the bumblebee costume, I couldn’t say focused on the music.

• I’m 42. Were I single, what’s the youngest woman I could date without being pathetic?: Age is a ridiculous and artificial construct that denies the fact that two people can just have a connection regardless of  the happenstance of when they were born into this crazy world … Oh, it’s 34.