The Guardian 4/5/16
One stormy night in the summer of 1992, I walked down the basement steps of my parents’ house to await the apocalypse. The Iowa air was thick with humidity, the ominous green sky prophesying a tornado. My 10-year-old hands trembled as I laid out my inventory: animal crackers, juice boxes, a Bible, and every sharp knife in the kitchen.
My parents were home late and my first thought was that they’d been raptured up to heaven. I was a sinner who had been left behind to face the Earth’s destruction.
Growing up in the tiny hamlet of Clear Lake, Iowa (population 7500), there weren’t many opportunities for me to encounter my heroes of music, film, and literature. Tom Robbins, P.T. Anderson, Stuart Murdoch (of Belle & Sebastian): They all existed inside the Mount Olympus of British rock magazines and imported DVDs with special feature interviews. I absorbed their work with a feverish intensity, but for years I’d never even visited the cities in which they lived, let alone shaken their hands.
So you’d think I’d be as thrilled as a puppy in a box of packing peanuts when I moved to Denver, Colorado, and began work as an A&E journalist, a job that regularly put me in contact with my favorite musicians, writers, and stand-up comedians. But I soon found out that interviewing a person was a million miles from meeting them; and that when it comes to heroes, actually meeting them has the potential to destroy every reason you loved them in the first place.
Despite watching many hours of Fox News each week, I rarely find myself agreeing with the network’s outrage cheerleaders. But last month when Charles Krauthammer appeared on The O’Reilly Factor and referred to President Obama’s gum chewing during a summit in China as disrespectful, I found myself nodding in feverish approval. I’ve said similar things myself, though my remarks are usually met with, “He’s chewing Nicorette gum. Would you rather he smoked?” Yes. Yes, I would, because I think chewing gum is the most disgusting thing you can possibly do with your face.
Records and Girls: How My Two Favorite Addictions Stripped Me Of All Reality
As far back as my pre-school years I was showing signs of an unhealthy obsession with both girls and music—behaviors that remain with me today at age 32. Before I learned to write, I asked my mother to transcribe love letters to my day-care crushes. Before my brain developed the coordination to run down stairs without falling, I learned how to place a turntable needle into the groove of a record for a specific song—and thus learned how to escape the dark trials of reality and mentally dissolve into a fantasy world of sound.
A few years ago I was diagnosed as a love addict, my therapist explaining that music was my trigger for addictive behavior. But as I began looking into the neuropsychology of listening to music, I found that the experience often mirrors that of love addiction, leading me to wonder: Can I be straight-up addicted to music?
In his new memoir, Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life, novelist Tom Robbins writes, “Not one word of my oeuvre, not one, has been written while in an artificially altered state. Unlike many authors, I don’t even drink coffee when I write. No coffee, no cola, no cigarettes.”
Despite being hailed as the man who introduced hippies to literature—this ginger-journalist who refers to his first LSD trip as “the most important day of my life,” the correspondent of the kaleidoscopic who gives his books such vivid titles as Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas and Wild Ducks Flying Backward—it came as no surprise to me that Tom Robbins has been as sober as baby Jesus while writing his stories.
How to Quit Smoking With the Help of Unlit Cigarettes and Pop Culture
I’ve hardly left my room in three days, and I’m beginning to smell the poison making its way out my pours. Both sweat and snot drip from my face like a leaky faucet as I manically perform one ab crunch after another, eyes half shut and breath heaving. Cigarettes are strategically placed around the room, some in packs like a collage of pop art, others scattered about individually like bleached finger bones. There is nowhere to look that doesn’t contain a cigarette. Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.
It’s dark despite the noon hour, the only light coming from my video projector, playing an episode of Mad Men across one wall. Don Draper is savoring one beautiful cigarette after another. The pleasure centers of my brain light up like a teenage boy watching pornography. “You are free to be a smoker,” says a firm British voice coming from my stereo.
Comedy festivals are the perfect antidote to a nasty breakup. Not only because laughing activates several different sections of the brain, strengthening neurons that lead to insight and emotional balance, but because so many comedians love to bitch about heartbreak. Like Morrissey records or the films of Charlie Kaufman, a standup comic unloading his self-loathing is a comforting thing to watch when you’re feeling like an unlovable jackass.
I was a few weeks into my own singledom when I flew to Chicago for the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival, so I was long past the Netflix and THC cookie dough binge phase of a breakup, yet still in the oxytocin (love hormone) withdrawal period that leaves you feeling pathetic and unhinged. Though a week of thinking and giggling with Bill Maher, Seth Meyers, Russell Brand and Denver’s Ben Roy (who did a staggering eight shows in three days) revived me into feeling like a considerably less desperate member of society.