Jeff Pearlman

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Connor McGrath

Connor Read Street

Connor McGrath is funny.

I don’t mean funny in the, “Oh, chuckle chuckle” sense of the word. Nope, the Deering Center, Maine native is absolutely hilarious, and if you don’t believe me, well, watch this. And this. And this. His stuff is electric, and unsparing. And, best of all, original. Watching Connor at work actually reminds me of the early Chris Rock days, when it’d be, “Holy shit, where did that come from?”

That’s how I feel with Connor McGrath.

But there’s more. Connor is both funny and a guy with Asperger’s—which hits close to home for very personal reasons. And what I like about his work is the way it takes ownership of a syndrome many people fail to understand. Connor doesn’t tiptoe around Asperger’s, or address it mildly. Nope—it’s a part of who he is as a person and a comedian. And, I’d argue, it makes him great.

Connor is the two-time Maine Comedian of the Year (as selected by readers of the Portland Phoenix), as well as (I truly believe) a future star of the medium. You can follow him on Twitter here and Facebook here.

Connor McGrath, this isn’t the Pu$$y Bank.

It’s just the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, so Connor. You’re a stand-up comic, and you’re a stand-up comic with Asperger’s. Which has sort of become, early in your career, what you’re best known for. Yes, being funny. But being funny with this condition. And I wonder, through your eyes, if that’s a good thing? A great thing? A non-thing? How does it make you feel?

CONNOR MCGRATH: It’s something that I have gradually learned to accept as a good thing. There was a fairly lengthy period of time in my career where I didn’t mention being on the spectrum at all during my sets cause I was afraid I would be pigeon holed as the “Asperger’s Comedian”. However as I continued down the comedy path, I realized that it’s best to acknowledge the condition. I’m not the type of comedian who can craft killer absurdist one liners or has rueful observations about the state of the world. I talk about my life and it’s very hard to talk about myself without talking about being on the spectrum.

In its own very weird way, I think my stand up is educational and inspirational  Some of the proudest memories I have of doing stand up are when people on the spectrum or parents of children on the spectrum come up to me after shows to tell me how much seeing someone like me onstage meant to them. Almost anyone can get a laugh but to create a moment is something special.

J.P.: My brother has Asperger’s. Only when we were growing up it wasn’t a diagnosis. So he spent years not knowing what was wrong/different. Then, when he finally figured it out, it was a huge relief. What about you? Did you know from a young age? Was there a moment of clarity?

C.M.: I was diagnosed when I was in 5th grade. So I have lived all of my adult and almost of my adolescent life knowing that I had it. I don’t think there was a huge specific moment of clarity, for me personally but it was relieving to get the diagnosis cause it cleared up a number of questions I had.

I spent a lot of my earlier elementary school years, bouncing between regular education and special education classes. I never felt like I fit in entirely with either group. My 12 year old reaction to being diagnosed was mostly “Oh so that’s why that is.” Then I’ve spent the last 18 years trying to figure out what it all means.

Connor SF

J.P.: This might sound odd, but does having Asperger’s make you funnier? Like, is it a part of you that adds humor? Or are you a naturally funny guy who has Asperger’s?

C.M.: It’s hard for me to answer this question since I’ve never been a comedian without Asperger’s so I can’t really compare and contrast. I think a lot of the behavior patterns of people on the spectrum are conducive to writing comedy. The best stand up comedians are socially awkward people with unique takes on life that go against society’s norms. Repetition of phrases is a great way to drive home a joke. Repetition is a symptom of Asperger’s.  To me, being on the spectrum and performing comedy have always lined up. It’d be more absurd if I was on the spectrum and a theoretical physicist.

Adversity breeds humor so  I think, in a lot of ways, it does make me funnier. Now there are other aspect of being on the spectrum that make comedy more difficult than it would be if I was a neurotypical. Mostly just the difficulty I have in translating the words I have in my head into the words that I have coming out of my mouth.

J.P.: How did this happen for you? I mean, you’re this guy from Deering Center, Maine, living your life. Then–standup. How? Why? Were you the funny kid? Cracking jokes? Etc?

C.M.: I was definitely a class clown in elementary and middle school. I always wanted to make people laugh and feel good about themselves, even at my own expense. If I had a dollar, for every time my mom told me “Make sure that people are laughing with you! Not at you!”, I might have enough to move out of her house. Those words still reverberate a bit.

Anyway, I’d always loved performing in school plays and being onstage. There hasn’t been a time that I can really remember well in my life where I haven’t been performing onstage, in some capacity.

As for stand up specifically, I just slowly came to the realization one day when I was in my early 20s, that my favorite parts of being onstage were was when I was all alone, just being myself. Very slowly, I came to realization that I really enjoyed performing stand up. It started with me watching and reading a lot about stand up (my senior thesis at Marlboro College was on stand up comedy) then eventually, transitioned into performing a lot! It took me a while but I made it from the shallow part of the pond to the deep end, baby.

J.P.: You have a segment I just watched on YouTube called, “Pu$$y Bank.” It’s hilarious and original and awesome. And I would love to know how, soup to nuts, you brought it to life.

C.M.: I’ve always wanted a New York Times best seller to ask me about the writing process behind my Pussy Bank bit.

That was inspired by one of life’s dumb, little moments. I was hanging out at a BBQ, waiting for the food to be served, and one of my friends smelled something good and declared it to be the 2nd best smell in the world. When we asked him what he considered to be the best smell in the entire world, he answered resolutely “PUSSY!”

A few weeks later, I was on a tour of the Midwest with my comedy brothers Aharon Willows and Will Green, I recounted this dumb anecdote to them and they cracked up. From there, I explained my belief that in order to be the best smell in the entire world, it has to be a great smell in any situation. I yelled “I don’t want to smell pussy…at the bank!” Aharon and Will roared and the “Ah! This might be a bit!” light flashed above my head.

With that setup and jumping off point, three of us were able to workshop it from being a dumb, brief anecdote to a dumb semi lengthy comedy bit.

That joke is testament to how you’re never really done crafting bits as I’m still tinkering with it here and there. I’ve gotten some complaints recently about it being misogynistic. So I’ve made a point to emphasize (in a comedic and not preachy) fashion that I’m not anti vaginal odors, I’m just against the idea of vaginal odors being considered the best smell in the entire world.

J.P.: So you’re the back-to-back winner of Maine’s Best Comedian, as voted upon by readers of the Portland Phoenix. And I was wondering—are there, factually, great comedians and awful ones? Like, is it merely a matter of taste and opinion? Or do you feel like some folks are just, factually, funny?

C.M.: Hooo boy. This is a really good question, Jeff! I lean more towards it just being a matter of taste and opinion. Some comics are able to translate their world views to wider swaths of people but at the end of the day, I don’t think anything is guaranteed. There are crappy comics with their own TV series and there’s geniuses who are slugging away at crummy one nighters. Persistence, luck, and a certain je ne said quoi are as much determining factors for a comic’s success as actually being funny.

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J.P.: What does it feel like to completely bomb? And what’s the story of your worst experience?

C.M.: It does feel like the wind has been knocked out of you when you bomb really, really badly. Patton Oswalt describes it well as being like a swaggering gunfighter who just got his shins shot off. It can be almost like an out of body experience. Bombing is a permanent lingering threat in the back of every comics mind. When I’m on a streak of hot sets, I have a nagging fear that the next time I go on stage, I’ll eat my genitals.

On the other hand, bombing is something you have to begrudgingly accept if you want pursue comedy with any sort of seriousness. There was a great discussion on my Facebook feed the other week about bombing actually. My friend Ray Harrington, who is a terrifically underrated comedian out of Rhode Island. said “I’d rather bomb than have a 5/10 set.” A year or two ago, I would think he was insane but now I totally accept if not outright agree with it.

There are so many other  factors as to why a set bombs (venue, what’s happening in my personal life, other comedians on the show) beyond the jokes I’ve told themselves. If I bomb horribly, I can usually pinpoint what went wrong. It is actually more difficult to make sense of  one of those mediocre, 5/10 sets.

If you bomb all the time, you’re out of comedy. If you just have a bunch of 5/10 sets, then you’re stuck in comedy purgatory, doing feature sets in Kalamazoo, Michigan and Huntsville, Alabama.

Worst I’ve bombed was my one and only time performing at the late Comedy Connection in Portland, Maine. Invited my whole family out and just blew ass for 8  minutes. Briefly considered walking next door and throwing myself off of the Maine State Pier after my set.

Most uniquely terrible set though—performing stand up at intermission of a burlesque show at a community arts center that used to be my daycare center.  Just one of those nights where my mind ended up resembling a melted bowl of rocky road ice cream. I got Stalter & Waldorf’d by some grumpy gus in the balcony and it totally railroaded my set. I thought I could win the audience back by taking my shirt off and throwing it in the crowd but then I couldn’t get my shirt back. Backstage after, one of the burlesque dancers told me that you don’t throw your clothes in the crowd if you want them back.

PORTLAND, MAINE -- 05/04/17 -- Portland comedian Connor McGrath stands on the leafy street in Deering he's called home for most of his life. McGrath's Asperger's syndrome doesn't hinder his comedy, he said, "It's just like being left handed." Troy R. Bennett | BDN

J.P.: How do you know if something is funny for an audience? What I mean is, aren’t there differences between “funny inside your head” and “funny to 200 people in a room”?

C.M.: One of big determining factors is how relatable is the idea/premise. Is this an idea that can be considered humorous by a machinist in Auburn, Maine and a barista in Cambridge, MA? If someone asked me to describe what stand up comedy is in one sentence, I would say “Everyday problems addressed with unique points of view”

There’s really no way to see how a borderline funny idea plays out except onstage. And I’ve written jokes that went over like gangbusters on Facebook and Twitter  that let out a wet fart when I told them onstage.

J.P.: In an article you said school was always tough, in the way of social awkwardness. So how did you compensate? Or did you?

C.M.: I think my awkwardness in middle school, high school, and college came from trying and failing to be somebody that I wasn’t. I kind of tried to mask my autism to an extent and I don’t think I was really comfortable with being myself.

I was able to compensate by engaging in extracuricular activities (drama club in high school/college and stand up comedy in the grown up world) that allowed me to show my creative side. Over the years, I’ve been able to corral a group of lovable, rag tag misfits who accept me for I am. Them loving me allowed me to love myself.

J.P.: What’s the goal? Twenty years from now you are doing …

C.M.: In twenty years, I would love to be making a living, writing and/or performing comedy as a career. Will also just be merely happy with surviving whatever cataclysmic weather events happen in the next two decades.

Labor Priest Connor

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH CONNOR MCGRATH:

• Five all-time favorite comedians?: Richard Pryor, Mitch Hedburg, Chris Rock, Maria Bamford, and George Carlin.

• Are 9.11 jokes OK yet?: If it’s well told, well thought out, and not from a place of hatred or indifference, sure.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Cindy Blodgett, Lil Wayne, toenails, farting in private, little bags of pretzels, Tony Parker, Florida Georgia Line, Eddie Murphy: Eddie Murphy (wrote part of my senior thesis on his career. If you asked me to list top ten favorite comedians, he’d be on there), Cindy Blodgett (brought UMaine Women’s Basketball to heights unseen), Tony Parker (just terribly odd seeing him in a Charlotte Hornets uniform), little bags of  pretzels (essential part of any Concord Coachlines bus trip from Portland to Boston), farting in private, Florida Georgia Line, toenails

• One question you would ask Harrison Ford were he here right now: What enticed you to do Morning Glory? 

• In exactly 16 words, make an argue for Pink’s induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame: “Don’t Let Me Get Me” is one of my favorite inspirational pop anthems of the ’00s.

• Five reasons one should make Deering Center, Maine his/her next vacation destination?: 1. Home of Evergreen Cemetery, the final resting place of the “Father of Prohibition” Neal Dow; 2. Stevens Avenue is one if not the only block in America, where you can meet all of your educational needs. You can attend pre school, elementary school, middle school, high school, and college on the same street!; 3. During warm weather seasons, you can take your beloved to the Treehouse Cafe. It’s a lovely fine dining restaurant where the outdoor patio is like a bougey ass treehouse; 4. The Quality Shop, America’s finest corner store. It is truly a quality shop; 5. Short five-minute drive to Hadlock Field, home of the 2006 Eastern League Champion Portland Sea Dogs (Double A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox). In addition to some quality minor league baseball, the Portland Sea Dogs employ the finest mascot in sports, Slugger The Sea Dog. A truly exceptional performer. Even if he is a coward and won’t accept my challenge to a foot race.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and a one-armed Aaron Judge? How long does it go?: Aaron Judge punches my lights out in 3 or 4 rounds even in that state. My best hope, as a member of Red Sox Nation, is that MLB suspends him indefinitely after the fight for brutally assaulting an autistic boy.

• Tell us a joke: Uou were asking about 9/11 jokes earlier so I’ll tell you what’s a sick joke…

Performers working for free!

You can find me every Monday at Blue and every Thursday night at Lincoln’s in Portland, ME! And you can see if I’m coming to a town near you by liking Connor McGrath Comedy on Facebook.

• How do you feel about John Tavares leaving the Islanders after all those years?: Went to a Islanders game at Barclays Center a few years back with my brother. Hideously bad sightlines for hockey. Maybe he was tired of hearing about that. I don’t begrudge him for leaving and wish him well in Toronto.

• Can the DMV ever be funny?: Absolutely not.

“Why didn’t you write more about Donald lying under oath?”

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The other day I received an e-mail from a former USFL team owner.

He was a man I’d interviewed multiple times for “Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL,” and a guy who was very honest and real about the league. His basic take was that, yes, we should have survived, but we got greedy and selfish and self-absorbed. Later on, he surprised me by admitting that, in the 2016 election, he planned on voting for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. “I just can’t go with her,” he said. “No chance.”

I digress.

The e-mail arrived out of the blue. And it said, more or less, that while he very much enjoyed the book, he wished I went a little more into the lie Donald Trump told under oath during the 1986 trial of USFL v. NFL.

The big white lie.

See, during his testimony Trump—freshly removed from swearing to tell the truth and the whole truth—said that Pete Rozelle, the NFL’s commissioner, promised him an NFL franchise should he abandon the USFL. This not only was a direct contradiction to Rozelle’s testimony (Rozelle also presented notes from a meeting he held with Trump; Trump had none), but a shock to the other USFL owners, who A. Wondered why one of their own was arranging a private meeting with the enemy; B. Knew (absolutely knew) there was no way in hell the NFL commissioner would casually promise a franchise).

NFL owners agreed—there was a 0.000000% chance Rozelle promised Trump a team. The idea was preposterous; a far cry from the way the NFL commissioner operated, and also a violation of roughly 10,000 league bylaws and guidelines.

That’s why I received the e-mail.

The 2018 lying of Donald Trump is the 1986 lying of Donald Trump. It is done casually, ruthlessly, sans thought, sans consideration, sans a sliver of ethics.

He lies about being a Christian. He lies about protecting minority rights. He lies about Russia. He lies about Saudi ties.

He lies.

And lies.

And lies.

Just as he did, under oath, 32 years back.

Horseface

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In case you missed it, earlier this morning Donald Trump took to Twitter to refer to Stormy Daniels as “Horseface.”

Yes, “Horseface.”

Now, I’m not normally a fan of getting into the trivial. But in case you’re unaware, this is what Stormy Daniels looks like.

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And this is what Donald Trump looks like.

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And, to be clear, I’m not saying Stormy Daniels is particularly pretty or particularly ugly or particularly anything. Hell, that’s utterly insignificant. But what I am saying—and what I routinely think when these matters arise—is Donald Trump should be last person on earth to judge people based upon physical appearances. First, because … I mean, fuck. His straw-like hair is glued to the side of his skull. His doughy skin is painted neon orange. His pores are the size of manhole covers, his ears are preposterously low and his eyebrows look like untrimmed shrubs. Oh, and his chin is his neck and his neck is his chin.

But second, because he’s THE FRIGGIN’ PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. And that’s supposed to matter. It’s a position that, before 2016, called for people to rise above. To present themselves as the leader of a nation. To act with dignity, class, decency, compassion, empathy, understanding.

There was a time, oh, five years ago, when Barack Obama was ripped for wearing a beige suit. For. Wearing. A. Beige. Suit. And now, in the blink of a lid, the president is ridiculing women for their appearances.

I don’t understand how this has happened.

But I need it to end.

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The picture in the White House

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In case you missed it, this painting was hanging behind Donald Trump during his White House interview with Lesley Stahl.

It is preposterous.

That’s not a word I use lightly. But it’s appropriate. It’s the sort of image you see in a central Missouri home. It’s the sort of image you see in the mall gallery. It’s the sort of image anyone with the slightest bit of artistic taste mocks. It’s the sort of image that oozes … bullshit.

I won’t speak for Richard Nixon. But the Bush family abhors Donald Trump. Ronald Reagan—the man who took on Russia with unambiguous ferocity—would abhor Donald Trump. Teddy Roosevelt and Abe Lincoln and Ike wouldn’t even know what to make of Donald Trump.

And then there’s Gerald Ford.

Gerald Ford isn’t America’s greatest president, but he’s probably my all-time favorite. The man just oozed integrity, decency, kindness, respect. Hell, this remains a cherished example of how leaders should behave. I can only imagine Ford in the room, looking at Trump not with respect or warmth, but pure bewilderment. He wouldn’t stomach the bullying. He wouldn’t comprehend the need for mass approval. He wouldn’t tolerate the belittling of opponents.

The image you see would never happen.

Because it couldn’t.

Who the fuck is Stephen Cody?

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So a bunch of days ago I was scheduled to drive up to Los Angeles for a couple of meetings. That morning, however, my wife was sick, so I needed to cancel. I fired off an e-mail to my first appointment, and the people were very understanding.

Then I wrote a quickie to the second guy, who was slated to meet me at a coffee shop at 4 that afternoon. This is what I sent, just after noon …

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Now, I will admit (in hindsight) the note was quick and sans emotion. However, my wife was hacking up a lung, my plans were demolished, I had to schedule for my kids. Anyone with kids or a dog or infirmed parents or … a life to live knows these things happen, and on occasion you fire off the quick note saying, “Oy, sorry.”

This was the reply:

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Um, what?

This followed:

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It got a bit nastier, then ended.

But the strangest part—like, the strangest, strangest, strangest part—is I still have no real idea who this guy in. There is a Steve Cody on IMDB, but he hasn’t worked in forever. This Stephen Cody told me, in earlier messages, that his neighbor had been Burt Reynolds, that he attending acting school with a childhood friend of Roger Clemens, that he likes golf (he belongs to RV—whatever that is), has a John Oates hookup and is married to J.J. Abrams’ writing partner.

Apparently, he also doesn’t take to being stood up too well.

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Ron Sexsmith

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It’s 1995. I’m a (really) bad music writer for The Tennessean in Nashville. There’s a festival in town, and I’m told to cover it. Dozens of venues, dozens of artists from around the globe.

Go!

I have no idea what I’m doing, but I hear a ton of sounds. A guy named Willie Porter sings “Jesus on the Grill.” Jason and the Scorchers play “Golden Ball and Chain.” One band after another band, one singer after another singer. An endless barrage of jams.

One afternoon, I find myself inside a tiny loft. There are, oh, 12 people in a circle, surrounding a man with a guitar. His name is Ron Sexsmith. He’s, oh, 30. Smallish, jeans an a T-shirt, unruly brown hair. I think nothing of him—until he sings.

The sound is haunting and beautiful and mesmerizing. I’ve never experienced anything like this. In an era of excess, the man before me is striped down and raw. He plays one song, “Secret Heart,” that has us all hooked.

The years pass, and Sexsmith goes on to have a wonderful career as a singer songwriter. He releases album after album, tours regularly, has his tunes performed by everyone from Elvis Costello to Emmylou Harris. I follow from afar, thinking one day this man needs to be a Quaz.

And here we are.

One can follow Ron on Twitter here, and visit his website here. Oh, and he has a YouTube channel where he performs all sorts of covers. It’s outstanding.

Ron Sexsmith, you are the 375th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Ron, I first became acquainted with your career back in 1996, when I was a (very bad) music writer for The Tennessean and you performed in a tiny club for about, oh, 20 of us. And you were absolutely outstanding—I found your music to be haunting, compelling, detailed. Just loved it. And I’m always fascinated by singers and small venues. Is it good? Is it bad? Do you mind singing for 20 when you’ve performed for thousands? Do you have a preferred size? 

RON SEXSMITH: Do you remember the venue? At that time I would’ve been happy to play for anyone. I guess it’s not so much the size of the venue but that you hope whatever size it is … it’s full. My fave type of venue to play is a smallish theatre or a theatre/club (A club with a balcony and good sound). But I’ve had great shows in small dives as well.

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J.P.: How do you know if a song works? What I mean is, you write it, you record it. What tells you, “This is a winner!” v. “Meh”? Are there signs? Giveaways? Can a person’s comment make the difference for you?

R.S.: There’s always something about each song that I’m excited about or that makes me want to finish it. Sometimes if I’m working with a producer they’ll have certain ones that they think are “winners” and usually we’re on the same page. But not always. Every now and then there’s a song that doesn’t seem too promising at first but somewhere in the recording of it, it comes up a few notches. There have also been songs that sound to me like potential “hits” when I’m writing them but for whatever reason never turn out that way.

J.P.: When you started in the business the model was based around signing a record deal, recording, then going out and supporting said recording with a tour. I know some guys from Blind Melon, and they were a band for, oh, two months before landing a deal. That clearly doesn’t happen any longer. So … how does one make it in 2018? Is the music career model sustainable?

R.S.: I have no idea… I wouldn’t know what to do if I was starting out these days. Many young people are quite savvy with the Internet and with YouTube etc., so I’m sure there’ll be fine. I think it’s all about cultivating a devoted following and staying true to what you’re all about.

J.P.: Last year you published your first book, “Deer Life: A Fairy Tale.” The reviews were strong. And I wonder—what’s the crossover from music to books? Are you exercising the same muscles with song writing and novel writing? Does it feel drastically different? Is one easier than the other? Did you enjoy it? Hate it?

R.S.: It was very hard for me but I guess I knew that going in. I’m mostly proud that I stuck with it because many people give up. It was definitely much harder for me than writing a song and yes, drastically different. With a song you have the benefit of repetition and rhythm. With a book you’re constantly trying to move the story forward and I didn’t exactly know how to do it. Anyway, the reviews weren’t all strong but I did see quite a few glowing ones so that was a relief. I think it’s a nice story.

J.P.: You’re a truly gifted songwriter. One of the best I’ve ever seen. I mean, “God Loves Everyone” is just … off the charts. So how does it happen? What’s your process? Where do the ideas come from? When do they tend to strike you? Do you run to write them down?

R.S.: That one was triggered by the Matthew Shepard murder in Wyoming but more specifically by the Westboro Baptist Church picketing his funeral with these hate-filled signs (They actually came after me for writing that song!). But yes, I’ll get an idea or an inspiration from somewhere and my job is to recognize and or see the potential in the idea. The hard part, though, is just sticking with it until it becomes a song which can take days, weeks or months and requires a lot of craft and patience and luck.

J.P.: This is a weird question, but I’m gonna ask. Justin Bieber is the singer of my kids’ generation. And, like you, he’s Canadian and talented. And I wonder—when you see guys like Bieber, peddling pop fluff and making millions and being invited onto the Today Show, are you ever annoyed/pissed/etc? Do those emotions come into play when you see less sophisticated performers making huge dollars?

R.S.: I never get annoyed. It’s obviously connecting with a lot more people than I’ve ever been able to do so that’s perfectly valid. Musically, I don’t relate to a lot of new music but, then, I’m 54. I just don’t find it very interesting lyrically or musically. And as well I don’t find it very nutritious spiritually or intellectually.

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J.P.: You’re 54. When I saw you play you were 31. So how does age change a songwriter? Because I’ve met performers in their 40s … 50s who say they’re better than ever, and I’ve met others who say they no longer have that same passion, magic that came with being 25 and hungry. How about you?

R.S.: I feel like I’m singing much better now. I’m every bit as prolific and as passionate about songwriting, so that hasn’t changed. My main problem is trying to get in shape at my age is harder to do. I’m constantly battling with fluctuating weight loss and gain and I have trouble with my feet these days, too. Which sucks.

J.P.: You were 16 when you performed your first gig at a bar, the Lion’s Tavern. You were doing covers—a kid singing for strangers. Do you still remember that gig well? Who were you at the time? Terrified boy? Confident blooming man? Do you recall the songs you played? The audience reaction?

R.S.: I was 17 actually, but yeah, I was pretty nervous. My big brother Don set up an audition for me which I passed. Then we had to get permission from the Ontario government because I wasn’t old enough to be in a bar. But, yes, I remember that gig very well. My parents and grandparents all came out and a few friends, too. So they were all cheering me on in the front row.

I played a lot of songs by artists you’d expect—Neil Diamond, Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Lightfoot and Dylan. In terms of the audience reaction, I think because I was so young and enthusiastic I started to pack them in by my second weekend there and would go on packing them in for quite a few years. It was a great learning experience and I’d never felt popular before so that was nice.

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J.P.: You did an interview last year where, when asked about being a terrific songwriter, you replied, “I think it was a nice way of saying that I wasn’t very commercially successful.” And that sounds sorta pained. Is it?

R.S.: Well, I think you mean when they call me the “songwriters’ songwriter.” That’s when all these way more successful songwriters are saying nice things about you, yet most people haven’t even heard of you. It’s just a kind way of saying that you’re doing good work and that people should check you out. That’s all I meant.

J.P.: What’s the story behind the worst gig you’ve ever played?

R.S.: I’ve probably blocked it out … too many bad gigs to mention.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH RON SEXSMITH:

• My kids and I think there needs to be a band named “Asthmatic Cat.” You down with that?: Are you sure there isn’t one? [Writer’s note: Dammit—there is]

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Coolio, Feist’s version of “Secret Heart,” Los Angeles, legalized marijuana, Shawn Kemp, pumpkin pie, the double-stuffed Oreo Cookie, Mekhi Phifer: Feist’s Secret Heart, LA legalized pot, pumpkin pie, I don’t know any of those other people you mentioned. There’s a stuffed Oreo?

This is my all-time favorite song. What do you think?: Cool! Always liked Blind Melon.

• How do you feel about the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame?: It seems very political and I feel there’s been a lot of snobbery in terms of who gets in. But sometimes they get it right.

• Three memories from your first-ever date: A girl in my grade 4 class tried to teach me how to skate on my back pond. I remember her saying “I won’t let you fall.”

• Five reasons one should make St. Catharines, Ontario his/her next vacation destination?: It’s where Ron Sexsmith and Dallas Green come from. The butter tarts at Helen’s Delicatessen. The Grape & Wine Festival.

• What’s the greatest song ever written—in your opinion?: There’s a song called “Fallen” from my Blue Boy album that I think is up there.

• Do you think the Yankees should stick with Aaron Boone?: Is that a baseball team?

• What are two non-musical talents you have?: I’m good at cutting the grass with an unpowered mower. And making breakfast.

• On a scale of 1-to-100, how afraid of you are death?: 2

I need Craig Paquette to explain Craig Paquette’s views. Please.

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Back when I was covering baseball for Sports Illustrated in the late 1990s and early 2000s, one of the better ballplayers to speak with was Craig Paquette, a five-team, 11-year journeyman who could play all over the diamond and explain the sport’s intricacies with smarts and precision.

I didn’t know Craig personally. He was a guy I’d interview on occasion for three or four seconds. Yet I appreciated his game and his decency, and one way or another we wound up Facebook friends.

This was, eh, probably a mistake.

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And here, in a nutshell, is what I don’t get: All of it.

All.

Of.

It.

You’re Craig Paquette. Educated guy. Seemingly intelligent guy. And Donald Trump is the man you hold up as a model of patriotism? As the symbol of America? This is, of course, a man (Trump, not Paquette) who devoted five years to insisting the sitting president of the United States was a Kenyan-born Muslim (then later admitted—after saying he had people on the ground with proof—there were no people on the ground with proof). This is, of course, a man who had five military deferments during Vietnam. This is, of course, a man who not only donated $0.00 to 9.11-related causes after the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks in his own city, but lied and said he helped out with the relief efforts (he did no such thing). This is, of course, a man who lied about seeing Muslims celebrating atop rooftops in Jersey City as the Twin Towers fell.

This is, of course, a man who mocked and ridiculed John McCain—a five-year POW—as a non-hero because he was captured. This is, of course, a man who booted Vietnam veterans from the street in front of Trump Tower.

As for Judge Kavanaugh and due process and innocent until proven guilty, this is a man who called for the death penalty of the Central Park 5—even after they were deemed innocent. This is a man who is all about believing we shouldn’t just believe the charges of sexual assault by women—yet invited four of Bill Clinton’s accusers to a presidential debate. This is a man who bragged about grabbing women by the pussy—yet is of high moral character.

I can go on. And on. And on. But here are two final points I’d like to make.

• 1. I’m sure Craig Paquette is all about Donald Trump’s efforts to secure the borders. I’m sure he buys the lines that people trying to enter America need to get in line and wait their turn. But I’m wondering—where was this outrage when Major League Baseball was doing its all to add elite Cuban players? More to the point, what will Craig Paquette say next time he’s standing alongside former teammates like Edgardo Alfonzo, Carlos Baerga, Jose Offerman, Placido Polanco, Eli Marrero? Were they particularly worthy of entrance, because of the random ability to hit ball with bat? Does that make them more deserving of America’s offerings than, say, a family of four desperate to escape drug lords?

• 2. Craig Paquette spent a decade playing in the sun. His game is one of being outdoors; of clean air; of blue skies. So what does he make of his beloved president’s efforts when it comes to this? And this? And this? And, seriously, what about this? About surrendering our kids’ futures? And for what? For what?

It’s actually frustrating as all hell. Donald Trump’s history of conning and bilking Americans goes back decades. It’s been spelled out 1,000 times over, yet the Craig Paquettes of the world simply don’t care. How many unpaid contractors do you require? How many mistresses do you need to hear from? We can learn tomorrow that Trump colluded with Russia to steal an election, and they’ll merely make yet another excuse for his greatness. It’s the Libtards. It’s the #MeToo Bullshit. It’s the tree huggers.

It’s … embarrassing.

#unfriend

Hey, Dad …

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This morning my son broke my heart.

Only he doesn’t know it. And he never will.

I was making the kids french toast before driving them to school. Emmett, 11-turning-12-in-a-few-days, looked up from a book and said, “Hey, Dad, Ben invited me to a Halloween thing at his house. It’s a party, then we go trick o’ treating.”

Oh.

I was silent for a moment. No reason—just silent. Halloween has been my favorite holiday for years and years. I loved it as a kid, but love it 1,000 times more as an adult. The costumes. The candy. The religion-free adherence to awesomeness. God, I friggin’ dig Halloween, and everything that comes with it. Most of all, I’ve cherished the moments with my kids. Back in New Rochelle, we’d trick o’ treat as a neighborhood—dozens of kids sprinting home to home, then back to our house afterward for pizza and a basement haunted house. When we moved to California, the basement haunted house vanished—but the trick o’ treating continued. There are few sounds more gleeful than a child rummaging through a sack of candy, seeking out that one Mounds bar.

And now, it’s sorta over.

My daughter is a sophomore in high school, and ditched me years ago.

My son, seventh grader, is doing the same.

And here’s the thing: They’re right. It’s time to go out with friends, to be independent, to roam sans parental oversight. My best childhood Halloween memories come via walking up and down Emerald Lane with Gary and Dennis and Scott and Bal. Kids need to be kids, and they also need to discover they growing independence.

But it sucks.

Nobody understands my obsession over a bottle

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So this is a weird one.

About a week ago I was walking my dog Norma through the neighborhood, and she led me to a spot in between two houses where she likes to piss and poop. Norms was sniffing around, doing her dog-dance-before-excreting thing, and as this was going down I spotted an empty beer bottle nestled alongside some weeds.

Now, I’m a guy who always (nearly without fail) picks up garbage when I see it. I don’t care if it’s in front of my house or on a messy street in San Diego—I like the idea of people keeping the earth clean, even down to the small stuff. So I bent down, grabbed the bottle, prepared to chuck it into a recycling bin. It was pretty nasty. Not coated in dirt, but definitely stained like an object that’d been there a while. So I walked and walked and walked and walked, bottle in hand.

Then, for some odd reason, it hit me: I’m gonna paint this bottle and make it nice.

That’s what I did.

“Nice” is certainly a stretch. I’m neither artistic nor swift with brush. But sometimes I just find it so interestingly random to take an object—placed in a space for some unknown reason—and transform its future. The bottle was headed to the bin. Now it’s on my stovetop, confusing wife and children. I’ve tried explaining it: Life can be quirky, so be quirky. People say the Nets have a 1×1 million chance of winning the NBA title. Well, what were the odds this bottle would wind up painted and in our house? On and on.

Maybe I’m just a weird bird with a bottle.

I’m OK with that.