I can trace the beginning of “Losering” to a specific occasion, a round of golf back in October of 2009. It was at Lakeshore Golf Course in Durham, NC, with my buddy Peter Blackstock, founding co-editor of the late great music magazine No Depression (moment of silence, please…Okay? Okay). After the magazine’s final issue in May 2008, the No Depression brand had continued on with a couple of “Bookazines” published by University of Texas Press. That deal was winding down by the fall of 2009, so I asked Peter what would be next. A book series, he said.
I don’t know why, but I still remember the exact location: the fourth hole, a short par-three. As we were walking down a hill toward the green — which we’d both reached with our tee shots, on the way to a pair of routine pars — Peter explained that the books would be short-ish (50,000 words), about the sort of “Alternative Country (Whatever That Is)” artists that the magazine used to cover.
Since the books were for a university press, advances would be small-ish. Nevertheless, I wanted in. I’m not even sure why, just that I did. A lot. Maybe it was because the newspaper had done a fairly radical staff-downsizing that year and everyone in the newsroom was wondering who might be next. In the interim, I needed an extracurricular project to take my mind off the axe hanging over my head at work. A book seemed like just the thing.
I had just the subject in mind, too, a well-known singer-songwriter I probably should not name here. Let’s call him Artiste X. While I can’t go into details, I can say that Artiste X was perfect for the series — critically acclaimed, commercially popular and someone I actually had a history with, having interviewed and reviewed him repeatedly over the years. The whole thing kind of seemed like fate. Peter enthusiastically endorsed the idea, and a deal was put in motion.
I approached Artiste X the next time he came through my part of the world, to tell him about the book, give him some UT Press literature about the series and make my pitch to interview him. This happened right outside his tour bus, and I was one of several dozen people crowded around trying to get a moment of his time. Not surprisingly, Artiste X was noncommittal and told me to call his manager.
A few months later, when I finally got Artiste X’s manager on the phone, he wasn’t noncommittal at all. The conversation began with him declaring that he hoped I’d give up on the idea of writing a book about his client. And just in case I didn’t get his point, he proceeded to drop a bomb on it, strafing the wreckage and survivors afterward for good measure. That didn’t leave me with much of a hand, but I still played every card I had. I cited both my own and No Depression’s long history with Artiste X; pledged that I would focus on the music rather than gossip; and assured him this would require very little of Artiste X — nothing more than a couple of interviews, and maybe being allowed to hang around backstage at a show or two.
To my enduring disappointment, the manager was unmoved. He explained that Artiste X would someday do a book of his own for a tidy sum. Until then, they’d make sure no one else wrote any books about him by refusing to cooperate and asking everyone in his circle not to, either.
The money quote I most remember: “Why would [Artiste X] cooperate on something he wasn’t being paid for?”
Welcome to showbiz. I was crushed, and back to square one…