Thomas Wictor

Ghosts and Ballyhoo book trailer

The official Ghosts and Ballyhoo book trailer, created by Rick Glasby.

Rick combined three bass pieces that Scott Thunes recorded for me. Very seamless job.

The maxims are from the chapter titled “Lessons Learned” in Ghosts. Interestingly enough, Steven Menasche did the same thing for the Ghosts and Ballyhoo album. He used the chapter subtitles as song titles.

My first publicist took my money and then told me that I had to create my own campaign, which would be a pitch to radio stations and publications. The pitch had to be a list of talking points. I tried twice and then in desperation sent in the chapter subtitles from “Lessons Learned.”

The publicist rejected them because they were just “hackneyed clichés.”

I did not know that “Recognize the pig” and “Lost lemurs should keep moving” were clichés. At any rate, they’re in the official book trailer.

Enjoy the photo of my mother in 1958, which I’ve placed under the video. Since she didn’t get to see the book trailer, I decided to tie her to it in perpetuity.

Look at you, Mom, all sassy and rebellious. I had no idea that you invented the duck-lips pose for girls.

Chasing the Last Whale Book Trailer

The official Chasing the Last Whale book trailer, created by Rick Glasby.

All the questions are taken from the novel’s synopsis.

“Can almost any subject be made funny?” was left out because it didn’t fit in with the overall feel. But that was one of the reasons I wrote Whale. It was an exercise in applying humor to a tragic story.

Not all subjects can be made funny. Nor should they be. And the humor in Chasing the Last Whale isn’t meant to diminish the impact of the non-funny parts. It’s just that in real life, humor has a way of creeping in when you least expect it. Laughing helps you endure what you thought would kill you.

There’s a comedienne who keeps insisting that her jokes about ethnic minorities, rape victims, and gays are actually making fun of racists, rapists, and gay bashers.

To me, if you have to explain your humor, that’s pretty much a giant, flashing, neon sign that it isn’t funny.

Chasing the Last Whale doesn’t mock others’ suffering. I can promise you that. Though I make people laugh at my own tribulations, I’m laughing too. At me and with me.

Hallucinabulia book trailer

The official Hallucinabulia book trailer, created by Rick Glasby.

Four days after Mom died, I dreamed that she and I went on a tour bus trip. She was only about twenty-five, and when we stopped to eat at a restaurant, she said she had to wash her hands. There was a huge Catholic holy water font right inside the front door; it was made of red granite and had a white-tiled interior. Mom climbed in and submerged herself up to her neck, vigorously rubbing her hands together. There was algae at the bottom of the font, beautiful bright green tendrils swaying gently as though in a cold mountain stream.

When she got out, she was instantly dry. A waiter seated us, and we ordered mackerel tempura, which she ate with gusto. Mom hated mackerel. The Catholic nuns at the boarding school forced her to sit at the table for hours when she was five, not allowing her to leave until she’d eaten her mackerel. That’s why eighty years later, she made herself anorexic and died. Without knowing it she was furious at the way the nuns treated her, so she wouldn’t cooperate with us. She killed herself to avenge the child she once was.

In my dream I was ecstatically thankful that she now chose to eat mackerel, and she enjoyed it.

In Cold Sweat Book Trailer

The official In Cold Sweat book trailer, created by Rick Glasby.

I decided to have a book trailer made thirteen years after the book was first published. Why? Because I could. I heard a great piece of music by Eduardo Kustra, with Scott Thunes on bass, and I felt it was time to honor my little book with a trailer. You can see that In Cold Sweat garnered tons of rejection notices. The few personalized ones said that the book couldn’t be a success.

Well, being in print since 2001 is pretty successful. In Cold Sweat has outlived bookstore chains, publishers, literary agencies, and individual literary agents, some of whom rejected it. I always knew that the right people would appreciate it.

One of them was my mother Cecilia Elizabeth Lower Wictor, who was Scott Thunes’s greatest fan. She read In Cold Sweat at least twenty times, usually the Thunes section. What she liked about him was humor, his unique speaking style, and his refusal to compromise his principles in the name of his art. Mom also dreamed of telling people to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.

Somewhere, she’s probably doing just that. But in a demure, humane sort of way.

“Ode to Bill Laswell and Pino Palladino.”

Once I’d finally admitted to myself that I’d never play the bass again, I threw away all of the tapes I’d made of bass lines I hoped to someday turn into songs. There were dozens of them. This recording escaped the Great Purge of 2002, because it was hidden in my box of interview tapes. I called it “Ode to Bill Laswell and Pino Palladino,” two of my favorite bassists. It wasn’t a real song, just a showcase of techniques I used during twenty years of playing. I recorded it all in one take, playing the drum machine through my bass amp and holding the pick in my mouth until I needed it.

I’d forgotten what it was like to play at this level. The tape brought it all back. I therefore decided to make a video for aspiring bassists, demonstrating the techniques with still photos. I mimed the techniques myself, which was nearly impossible. Just holding a bass hurts now.

Watching this video I feel not only pride that I was once capable of playing like this, I also regret junking all those tapes. I wish I could listen to them again. This recording, one other, and the “Mobile” video are the only audio evidence left that I was a bassist. It’s an object lesson in not being rash and histrionic. I also threw away nearly all the photos I had of Carmen, another action I deeply regret. Take it from me: No matter how badly you feel about a loss, someday you’ll think of it in terms of how lucky you were to have had whatever or whomever is now gone. You’ll want to see or listen to the departed again.

If you’ve destroyed all traces of that which has vanished, you’ll have only yourself to blame if you finally become strong enough to revisit the past, only to find that there’s nothing left of it.

Many thanks to Alex Golden for remixing the tape.

Gentle Giant’s “Mobile.”

One of my favorite songs of all time. I recorded this in 2002, when it became clear that soon I wouldn’t be able to play the bass anymore because of osteoarthritis in both thumbs. It took about twenty takes to get it 98 percent right. I keep looking at my fingers in the video because of the blisters. Ignore the baggy clothes; I had body dysmorphic issues.

About two months after I made this tape, I stopped playing. I didn’t watch the tape or listen to music for ten years because it was simply too painful. Music represented nothing but loss: Carmen, the woman who gave me the bass I used in this video; my failed career in music journalism; and finally my ability to play the instrument I loved.

Today, I can look at the video and marvel at what I could once do. It’s not painful in the least. All I feel is gratitude that there was actually a time in which I was able to keep up with the master, Ray Shulman, one of the greatest bass guitarists in history.

On page 283 of Ghosts and Ballyhoo, you can read what another master, Scott Thunes, said about my take on “Mobile.”

This video is dedicated to Ray, in thanks for the happiness his music brings me.

Interview about Ghosts and Ballyhoo

Tim and I filmed my interview at Dad’s desk in Mom’s house. The room spun because of all the bending over to pick up, bending over to plug in and unplug, and bending over to shift chairs around. We finished it without me spraying Tim like a fire hose. I hide it well in the video.

Dad was in love with stunningly harsh overhead lights. When we had dinner together, we all looked like this and ended up with flaming-red eyes that felt bruised, as though they’d been kicked. Mom and Dad’s house was as dark as the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, except with arc lights that blinded you and cooked you like microwaves.

In the first take of the interview, my head appeared to be made of chrome. Even my hair. We had to spend well over an hour fiddling until Tim came up with the brilliant idea of setting up an umbrella on the dining-room table to block out the horrible, mummifying, eyeball-kicking lights that Dad favored. I leaned back a couple times, so you can see how glaring the light was. It’s like the scene in the movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, when James Mason opens the door to the Nautilus’s nuclear reactor.

By sheer luck Tim’s sore throat made him sound like William Hickey.

Thanks to Scott Thunes for playing my bass for me.