Talking points for Ghosts and Ballyhoo
April 22, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
Since I’ve accepted that Ghosts and Ballyhoo can no longer be professionally marketed, I may as well explain what I did to try and publicize it.
The overwhelming majority of radio hosts don’t read the books that their guests have written. I had to prepare talking points so that they could fake it. Mike Albee and Lura Dold aren’t real publicists, but they pretended to market Ghosts as a memoir about life in the music industry. The synopsis—which I also wrote—explains that it’s a lot more. Readers understood; those who make their living on others’ books scrunched up their faces in confused outrage. Who the hell did I think I was, someone who matters?
I’ve gotten hundreds of e-mails from people who liked my book. Several said it changed their lives for the better. How often are publishers, publicists, and members of the media told that their work changed someone’s life? It’s humbling.
The book will remain in print for a long time, I’m betting. Here’s what I was supposed to talk about if I got myself on a radio show.
Talking Points for Ghosts and Ballyhoo
1. My voice-activated tape player kept turning off because the musician’s voice was so deep and soft. The tape was about four minutes of a rumbling “Bup… op… whup… nup… hup” and nothing else. I had to reconstruct the interview from memory.
2. I did a phoner with a legendary and legendarily bad-tempered musician; it resulted in just a high-pitched tone on the tape. He’d intimidated me so much that I didn’t remember any of the interview. I had to call him back and redo the entire interview. When I told him what’d happened, there was a moment of poisonous silence that continues to this day.
3. A famous British musician has such a thick regional accent that I couldn’t understand his answers. After the interview I called his agent and played her the tape so she could interpret. She thought the whole thing was hilarious. Imagine an irritable, massively drunk Leprechaun pirate. That’s what he sounded like.
4. I arranged to interview a musician in his manager’s office. The photographer and I were warned eight times to not be late. When I arrived at the photographer’s house, he was working on his mountain bike. He tinkered with it until exactly the moment of our appointment. We showed up half an hour late, and the manager became Robert DeNiro in Goodfellas. “What did I tell you? What did I tell you? Did I tell you to not be late? Did I?” Tim said my face was red for three days.
5. Scott Thunes agreed to an interview on the condition that I go to his house a day ahead of time so he could audition me. His beautiful wife Georgia sat next to him, protecting him, until he told her, “He’s comfortable,” and she left. I was more afraid of her than him. Thunes and I spent several hours talking, taking walks, and arguing. Finally, he said, “Come back tomorrow” and shoved me out the door.
6. I called a musician who was so stoned that the person laughed hysterically every three words. The person confessed to being a drug smuggler and pot farmer. I transcribed the entire interview, including the laughing and coughing and sent it to the publicist, who begged me near tears to not publish all the drug-stuff. Actually, I hadn’t planned on revealing it. I just wanted to get back at the publicist because her client’s phone had been busy for two hours.
7. I found out during the interview that a bassist hadn’t played on the new album. It was such a shock that I stopped the interview to ask my editor what to do. As a result I was thrown off the story. The bassist was famous for being a sexy wench; I found her completely repulsive. Scott Thunes later told me an incredible story about how she limbers up for shows. I can’t repeat it. You don’t want to know anyway.
8. At a reading of In Cold Sweat, a paranoid schizophrenic left a ghastly note for me that I found in my effects after I got home. It gave me the willies for a month because I realized that the person had sat in the audience the whole time, watching me. I may even have spoken to him or her.
9. A pigeon crapped on me at the start of my interview with Lynn Keller; I got it on tape. Keller was very suspicious of male interviewers because they always referred to her as a “female bassist.” I broke the ice by being crapped on and not getting upset when Keller involuntarily laughed. After she helped me clean up, she gave me a great interview.
10. When I interviewed Gene Simmons, I sat on the floor at his feet to ask my most combative questions. He instantly understood the symbolism and played along with me. Our interview was one endless mock-fight. He let me get away with challenging him because he understood that it was my way of letting him shine, and I wouldn’t shaft him by writing a hit piece.
11. I was in the office of the Bass Player editor when the legendary figure I wanted to interview called. He demanded the cover or nothing. The editor refused the deal and asked if the legendary figure would like to talk with me. He declined. In the end I wasn’t allowed to interview him. I wanted to have a big, theatrical fight with him during our interview, just for fun, but somebody was too afraid to let it happen. The legendary figure has no sense of humor about himself.
12. At my first punk concert, I watched a girl in the mosh pit hitting male crowd surfers as they went over her head. She expertly went for their kidneys, hitting them so stealthily that I was the only one who noticed. The crowd surfers wandered off holding their lower backs. She was like a ninja; I fell deeply in love with her.
13. After the Gene Simmons interview, for the only time in my career I asked for tickets to a show, Kiss at the Great Western Forum. My seat was five miles from the stage, and the entire crowd of middle-aged fans was getting high and vomiting up gallons of beer. I stayed for only four songs. It was the loudest sound I’ve ever heard. When I got home I threw away my T-shirt and shorts. They made my entire house reek of cigarettes, pot, puke, and farts.
14. At a concert put on by a band with a household name, I was given a pass that would get me into the after-party. The concert ended, and I was put into a closet with about a dozen other people, including a six-foot-four transvestite who hit on me. After an hour they told us to leave because the band had left half an hour ago. There was no party.
15. A photographer and I went to House of Blues to see a new band, which was horrible. The bass player looked like Joey Buttafuoco but with a tall paunch like a sack of cement. My photographer flat-out refused to do the job. “That? That?” he barked. “No. Sorry. Absolutely not. I can’t do a thing with that.” I watched celebrities cram down ten pounds of food and a gallon of booze each. A tiny, obnoxious actor yelled at me, “The best food is free food!” As I left I saw tons of fried chicken and catfish being tossed into dumpsters.
16. The bathroom of the most luxurious, trendiest hotel in West Hollywood was a hell of unflushed toilets, pee-spattered walls, and crumpled paper towels all over the floor. None of the industry big dogs washed their hands either. I sat in the lobby for three hours, waiting for my interview. During those three hours, a guy who represented several globally famous hip-hop acts shouted racists jokes at the tops of his lungs. My interview subject was the only black person in the entire building.
17. By invitation I saw an all-female band that described itself as being like Frank Zappa but funnier. It was a Second Wives’ club of bored, divorced, middle-aged women who were trying to buy their way to stardom. In my ten years as a music journalist, it was the worst act I saw. If I hadn’t known better, I would’ve sworn that it was an elaborate hoax intended to poke fun at the music industry. Every member of the band and every person in the audience was a monstrosity.
18. I had dinner with “Nicholas,” a huge TV star. We went to a Chinese restaurant. The only thing everyone could talk about was movies. A female film editor brought up a porn star with a three-foot-long member. Someone said he must’ve put it down his pants leg. Nicholas got up and hopped through the restaurant with one leg held straight out in front of him, screaming. The entire restaurant fell silent. When I recovered I said I didn’t like a certain director because he was a pig and looked like a troglodyte. Nicholas corrected me: The word was “troglyte.” His economics professor used it all the time.
19. A bassist spoke to me during the filming of a video at a firehouse next to Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport. Music played at 200 decibels, the director shouted instructions over a PA system, the station chief shouted instructions over a competing PA system, fire engines exploded out of their lairs every ninety seconds, and jet airliners roared in about three hundred feet overhead. The bassist and I had to scream at each other. Even so, the noise led to a misunderstanding that made the bassist hate me.
20. I interviewed Peter Hook of Joy Division and New Order. He arrived three hours late and gave me a fifteen-minute interview for a feature article. I wanted to kill him. We went to a kitchen where the cooks shouted in Spanish and threw around pots and pans. Hook laughed at my questions but gave me the best advice I’d ever gotten: Don’t read interviews that your heroes give.
I still believe I hear
Hidden beneath the palm trees
Her voice, tender and deep
Like the song of a dove
Oh enchanting night
Mad intoxication, sweet dream
In the clear starlight
I still believe I see her
Half drawing her long veil
To the warm night breeze
Oh enchanting night
Mad intoxication, sweet dream
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