David Gans (tnf) Wed 26 Feb 03 12:18
Veteran journalist, lyricist, novelist, humorist, essayist, columnist, editor, music historian, and record producer Bruce Pollock is the author of eight books on music, including Working Musicians, The Rock Song Index, Hipper Than Our Kids, When Rock Was Young, When the Music Mattered, and In Their Own Words, as well as three novels. He is the founding co-Editor in Chief of GUITAR: For The Practicing Musician and was the editor of 17 Volumes of Popular Music: An Annotated Index of American Popular Songs (1983-1999). He is currently a record producer in New York City. "WORKING MUSICIANS: Riffs on Craft from 112 Journeymen, Sideman & Superstars" contains over a hundred interviews spanning thirty years. "I see it as a kind of 6-cd boxed set compilation of my career as a rock and roll interviewer," Pollock notes. "I have tried to highlight those moments when it seemed the musicians were moving beyond their usual PR-speak into some revealing truth about whatever aspect of their craft they were discussing. As an interviewer, you always know when these moments are occurring, when you're no longer doing an interview, but instead are having a conversation. My template, in that regard, was Studs Terkel's landmark book 'Working.' "The musicians included here cover a wide variety of instruments, genres and levels of success," Pollock adds. "In setting up the book I have paid special attention to the segues, trying to emphasize the similarities of experience that unite all musicians into a community." "I guess for the purpose of this interview it might be appropriate to call me a hardly-working musician," jokes interviewer Gary Lambert. "Although I've been a guitarist and bassist for more than 30 years, much of my professional life has been occupied in working behind the scenes in the music biz: helping to promote and produce shows for Bill Graham Presents in the '80s and early '90s; working since 1991 for Grateful Dead Productions (and writing and editing the Dead's official newsletter, the Grateful Dead Almanac since '93); and, since 1998, co-managing one of the greatest bands on the planet, the one and only NRBQ (while continuing my chores for the Dead)."
Bruce Pollock (bruce-pollock) Wed 26 Feb 03 18:33
I've finally made it to this page and boy am I happy to be here.
David Gans (tnf) Wed 26 Feb 03 20:53
Gary Lambert (almanac) Thu 27 Feb 03 11:37
Great to have you here, Bruce. Make yourself at home! As an incorrigible music-business lifer myself, I am quite enthralled with your book, and find that the stories told by your 100-plus expert witnesses ring a lot of familiar bells in me -- there's a sense of kinship and community between musicians that you manage to convey quite beautifully, even though the speakers here come from a widely disparate range of musical genres, degrees of renown and economic circumstances. The tedium and frustrations of the musician's job is given no less weight than the moments of glory and transcendence, and in this sense, the book has a kind of universality of outlook that should appeal to anyone who has ever worked at any job, not just to music geeks like me. I was delighted to see your reference to Studs Terkel's "Working" in your introductory remarks -- not only is it a book that I have long cherished, but it is one that I thought of immediately when I started leafing through "Working Musicians" -- so much so that I went out and bought myself a brand new copy of the Terkel book in part of my preparation for our little online shmooze. And as I thought they would, the books have a lot in common -- they both paint compelling portraits, full of hard-earned insights, of the working life, whether the workers in question are coal miners, CEOs or rock stars. But to get back to the kind of work you depict in your book: I guess a good place to open the questioning would be to ask you about the genesis of this project: just what inspired you to take it on, and the process you used to distill three decades of dialogues with musicians into the small gems of insight and epiphany to be found in the pages in "Working Musicians." And I can't think of a better takeoff point than the very first line of your introduction to the book: "It all started the day I saw Jerry Garcia in a laundromat in Santa Fe, New Mexico."
Bruce Pollock (bruce-pollock) Thu 27 Feb 03 12:14
Thanks for the wonderful critique, Gary. This book is obviously a labor of love, on my part as well as on the part of the subjects I talked to. In some sense, I've been putting together the book for the length of my writing/interviewing career, as a few of the pieces date back to the mid-70s. A handful of them emanate from the magazine I co-founded and edited, GUITAR For the Practicing Musician (now defunct). It was there that I developed an interviewing style that allowed the musicians to speak at length about particular aspects of their craft; ie. performing, songwriting, in the studio, etc. Not only were these nuggets more filling than the usual gossip of the fan magazines (while at the same time being less tedious than the technical jargon of the trade magazines), but they were usually the times when the interviews really took off and the subjects opened up. I could talk to Neil Peart on songwriting for an hour, and really learn what he was all about as an artist. Then it became a process of finding those moments in interviews I'd done and carving them out of longer pieces. About 50 of the interviews are brand new. As far as the Jerry Garcia reference (he was dead four years at the time), that actually led to a novel I never did finish, to be entitled Channeling Dead Rock Stars. I invented for the main character of that book "the oldest continuously publishing rock journalist in America" two previous books, one called Working Musicians. When I abandoned the novel, I decided to put together Working Musicians myself. Now I'm working on the other one.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 27 Feb 03 14:07
I was at RECORD when you started Guitar for the Practicing Musician. Al- though you were "competition," I always appreciated your approach. This is how I've always done music journalism, and my book "Conversations with the Dead" is all full-length interviews with musicians talking about how they make music. So: great work! I'm gonna start posting great quotes from your text, which is just bursting with 'em.
Bruce Pollock (bruce-pollock) Thu 27 Feb 03 14:30
Conversations with the Dead sounds eerily like my aborted novel Channeling Dead Rock Stars.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 27 Feb 03 15:31
Gary Lambert (almanac) Fri 28 Feb 03 12:30
Re #4: Here's an interesting extra-curricular question: who *is* the oldest continuously-publishing rock journalist in America, anyway? Christgau is a good possibility, I suppose... or Paul Williams, even though the "continuously publishing" part may need an asterisk there... But putting that aside... I'm intrigued by this, a couple of posts north of that: >...I developed an interviewing style that allowed the musicians to >speak at length about particular aspects of their craft I was wondering if you could elaborate on the nature of that interviewing style a bit, because whatever you're doing, it works! One of the distinguishing characteristics of the book is the fullness and thoughtful nature of so many of the responses. Indeed, they stand so well as statements in their own right that you were able to abandon a standard Q&A interview format for the book, removing your own voice entirely save for the introductory material. Were there certain questions or subjects that you found particularly effective in getting these musicians to speak in such an expansive, unguarded fashion?
Life Is Easy When Considered From Another Point Of View (dam) Fri 28 Feb 03 13:17
I have enjoyed it from a history perspective. It is always a good read when you get away from the star aspect and discuss the real life aspect of a musicians life. I have played guitar for over 30 years and I always wonder what my life would have been like if I hit the music road rather than going to college all those many years ago.
Bruce Pollock (bruce-pollock) Fri 28 Feb 03 13:43
Gary, Actually, I think I have an answer (maybe not THE answer) to the first part of your question. At least, when I came up with the idea of the character for the book, the person I was thinking of was some lady who wrote for a newspaper in Cleveland; I don't remember her name. It might have been Jane. Maybe somebody does. She had covered rock from the days of Alan Freed all the way through Heavy Metal, Sludge, New Wave, Old Wave, Grunge, and whatever came after that. As far as my own interviewing technique goes, I think setting up an interview totally on one topic is the best strategy. You come up with dozens of questions about playing live, for instance, or just about rehearsing. This frees you from having to cover many different areas on a surface level and allows you to go very deep. It's also almost impossible for the subject to come up with his usual scripted responses--almost. Since musicians care most deeply about playing music, they are usually able to get very detailed about it. Then,I collect all these details at the end of an hour and throw them into the computer and try to reassemble the comments into a kind of personal statement, so it reads like a hip commencement address. In a context like that, I think inserting my own questions would just break the flow. Sometimes in a Q&A interview, there simply is no flow. Often the interviewer is just trying to show how well informed he is, or clever, or somehow, as spaced out as the subject. Questions come and go, without adding up to anything.
Bruce Pollock (bruce-pollock) Fri 28 Feb 03 14:17
Dan, What I think would be really interesting is if you could get an in depth interview with a superstar about the "superstar" experience. But usually these people are so surrounded by managers and publicists and so concerned with maintaining their image and their status, that an honest, detailed conversation is probably beyond their ability...and certainly their desires.
Life Is Easy When Considered From Another Point Of View (dam) Fri 28 Feb 03 14:44
Oh, I so agree.
devious and sincere (kurtr) Fri 28 Feb 03 19:34
Hi. I've read about two-thirds of the book, and one thing I would have liked to see is the date of the interview. THey seem to span a fairly wide period of time - I'm guessing at elast some of the interviews are from the mid to late 1980s or very early 90s, while others are more recent. I really liked the comment by one of the interviewees who learned they had to get the satisfaction from doing the music, rather than from record sales, etc. It sounds naive, simplostic, or maybe just obvious, but I think it's a really important point that's often overlooked.
Jim Brennan (jimbrennan) Fri 28 Feb 03 20:35
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I am usually reading about a half-dozen or so at once, so I appreciated the format. I liked that I could put it down at the end of a chapter, and not have to worry about any difficulty in getting back into it. But these were more than sound bytes. With very few exceptions, I was intrigued with every musician in the book. Even the ones whose work I don't appreciate. Your interviewing style has already been discussed, so I will just try and put a new twist on that. The impression that I got was that you let each person talk about what *they* wanted to talk about. I don't know if that's what you did, but as the reader, I got the feeling that they were all a bit jazzed about passing on whatever it was that they were saying. I have seen and read many interviews where it was obvious to me that the subject was answering questions that they either didn't want to answer, or had no interest in. That usually makes for a less than enjoyable reading. People light up when they talk about what's important to them. It appears that you let them do just that. I too also enjoyed the variety of subjects; their musical style, age, experience, level of success, etc. I doubt anyone would get through this book and not find quite a few comments and people that they could relate to. I started dog-earing the pages where I wanted to come back and re-read certain comments that I thought were particularly insightful, or related to my personal experience. When I was done, I had dog-eared most of the book. If I had a criticism, it would be that there was no interview with Ian Anderson (sigh) and I think dates on the interviews would have benefitted me as well. I've already recommended it to others, and will continue to do so. Thanks for the opportunity to participate.
"bright sun 250th @ f8" or "deep shade 125th @ f4" (chrys) Fri 28 Feb 03 21:02
It is interesting how this topic already seems like a literary version of the Henry Diltz topic (ie. your approach to 'allowing' the musician to reveal themselves.) I'm with Kurt regarding the wish for understanding the timeframe in which the interview occurred. Another thing I wished for was a bit more objective bio information on each artist. I often couldn't tell if I didn't recognize an artist because I live a far too cloistered life, or if the performer was simply a regional musician who I would never have heard about anyway. It isn't their relative 'fame' I cared about - more a context in which to read the interview. Milt Jacoby, for instance, is an example where you provided just enough distinction for me. Lita Ford, on the other hand, was an example where I struggled to identify a context for the interview. That said, interviews like Brenda Kahn's gave a wonderful glimpse into a particular life of a musician. "If you want to get money, then you have to be a business person. If you want to get famous, that's a whole industry networking game. But if you want to be a musician, you get to play music."
Jim Brennan (jimbrennan) Fri 28 Feb 03 21:06
Ohhhh, Lita Ford.... Had a few posters of her in my adolescence...hmmmmmmm...where was I? Oh yea. I agree that some context would have been helpful. I know I am cloistered musically, so even a few lines containing more details would have been good. But still, a monor quibble.
a monor quibble (chrys) Fri 28 Feb 03 21:17
tftp Jim! Yes it is minor, or monor, whatever. So who is Lita Ford?
Jim Brennan (jimbrennan) Fri 28 Feb 03 21:35
sorry 'bout the spelling. What does 'tftp' mean? Pardon my ignorance Lita Ford was a guitarist in a manufactured girl group called The Runaways in the late 70's, early 80's. The band also featured Joan Jett. She went on to a heavy metal career in th eighties, mostly know for a duet with Ozzy called "If I close My Eyes Forever" or something like that. I liked her older stuff though. She is a more than competent guitarist, with a decent voice, and looked mighty good to my catholic schoolboy eyes in all that black leather.
Jim Brennan (jimbrennan) Fri 28 Feb 03 21:36
thanks for the pseud? Is that it? I LOVE a mystery!
a monor quibble (chrys) Fri 28 Feb 03 21:39
Ok, no wonder she never hit my radar. And yes, tftp = thanks for the pseud. Mystery solved. Spelling errors are a great source of pseud material. Keep 'em coming.
Jim Brennan (jimbrennan) Fri 28 Feb 03 21:55
That is a very deep well in my case.
Bruce Pollock (bruce-pollock) Sat 1 Mar 03 07:28
Good morning everyone. Sorry for missing so much of this chat by sleeping through the night. I would like to address the two main issues that have come up, the lack of dates on the interviews and the lack of sufficient biographical information. The truth is, whether the devices work or not, those were both intentional decisions. My aim was to make all the pieces in the book as timeless and as universal as possible. I was hoping that the statements would not be tied into a specific musical period, album release, hairstyle or attitude. In some cases it was impossible to remove timely references, but still, when Paul Simon talks about Graceland, the idea was that if he was talking a day after making it or ten years after making it, the truth of the comment wouldn't be altered. When I first talked to Randy Newman about writer's block, he was hilarious and eloquent. Now, that was in 1975. He's won at least one Oscar and one Grammy since then. He's no longer making albums with the same deadlines as he had for WB in the 70s. But I would hope that the essence of what he feels about writer's block is still true. Randy, if you're reading this, drop me a line. As far as identifying information, that was a tough choice. With 112 interviews, I certainly could have added 112 pages to the book. My feeling was all or nothing. A paragraph or a page about Bruce Springsteen you can find in any rock reference book. I decided to go with "Rock Performer" and let his words do the identifying. If you're talking about Milt Jacoby, for instance, who has been playing weddings and Bar Mitzvahs in my area for 30 years, what can you put in a bio that would make him known to people in Kansas City? I think when you start to hear him talk, he soon becomes Every Wedding Band guy, which is the point.
a monor quibble (chrys) Sat 1 Mar 03 08:08
Sorry Bruce, I guess I wasn't clear - I brought up Milt as an example of an instance in which I thought your bio info was exactly on the mark and entirely adequate.
Jim Brennan: Pseud Monkey (jimbrennan) Sat 1 Mar 03 09:07
Well, they weren't reall the "two main issues". They were the only two suggestions. I think the main issue was that it was a very good book. I do, however, appreciate you explaining the reasons for your decisions.
David Gans (tnf) Sat 1 Mar 03 10:31
Well, my questions for the morning have been answered already. The Henry Diltz interview <chrys> referred to is <inkwell.vue.163>, just a click away. Off-WELL readers who would like to askk a question or make a comment are invited to send email to email@example.com -- we'll post it here.
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