Posts Tagged With: Off The Record

Top-10’s, real-life and otherwise

OTRI’ve never had a book come anywhere near the top-10 of a best-seller list (at least not a real one, as opposed to the fun-but-ultimately inconsequential amazon specialty categories). But for one brief, shining and magical moment in early 2002, my first book “Off The Record” landed in the best top-10 list there is in my world: the “real life” one compiled by the legendary rock scribe Greil Marcus in his long-running “Real Life Rock Top Ten” column, which has been anthologized in the new book “Real Life Rock: The Complete Top Ten Columns, 1986-2014” (Yale University Press).

It’s hard to explain just how massive this was to me at the time. It wasn’t just that it remains my pinnacle experience as a reviewee. It very possibly stands as the single most validating moment of my life because Marcus was a writer I’d been reading and idolizing since my youth.

Going back to the very beginning, his very first book is still something like my personal Gutenberg Bible. That was the 1975 masterwork “Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music,” which was one of the books that made me want to become a rock critic myself way back when. And “Mystery Train” also had a lot to do with shaping my thinking about a number of artists, especially Sly & the Family Stone — whose 1971 album There’s a Riot Goin’ On will always be my go-to choice of the ultimate Desert Island Disc (which is yet another Marcus book).

Marcus’ influence was all over “Off The Record,” too. I probably would not have selected the Sex Pistols song “Holidays in the Sun” as that book’s heart of darkness had I not obsessively read and reread his Sex Pistols chapter in “The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll” enough times to memorize every word. The protagonist band’s cover of “Holidays in the Sun” serves as a pivot point in a couple of places throughout “Off The Record,” never moreso than the scene toward the end in which the band’s savant-like frontman comes unhinged for the last time and uses it to incite a stadium-full of people to riot:

GMRLRIt was an utterly bizarre way to open a supposedly triumphant breakthrough tour — the bleakest song from the bleakest band in rock history, a song about hurling oneself into a wall for no reason other than to tear down the false security it represented…

Well, I hope Marcus was flattered when he read that, or at least got a chuckle out of it. Whether it’s on the page or the stage, we all start out aping our idols.

When I published “Off The Record” in the fall of 2000, I cadged Marcus’ address from a mutual friend, sent him a copy and basically forgot all about it. I wasn’t expecting any sort of response, let alone review, given that I was just another guy with a self-published novel and he was, you know, GREIL MARCUS. But darned if a year or so later, Marcus’ “Real Life Rock Top 10” column of Jan. 7, 2002 didn’t have “Off The Record” at No. 6 — just ahead of Lesley Gore, no less. And now it’s on page 286 of the “Real Life Rock” book.

For the geeky likes of me, appearing between covers in a book by Greil Marcus is bucket-list material for sure.



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“Off The Record” gets belatedly blotted

OTRcoverA dozen long years before “Losering” was published, I put out my first book, a self-published novel called  “Off The Record.”  Despite the vanity-press taint, it actually out-performed the Ryan Adams book in terms of mainstream-press response. It picked up reviews in some big newspapers (Hartford Courant, Los Angeles Daily News) and even made Greil Marcus’ “Real Life Rock Top 10” column one week (props from one of the grand old men of rock criticism, and still very possibly the highlight of my writing career). These and other greatest hits from that book can be found at the “Off The Record” link above.

Then in May 2013, another “Off The Record” review  unexpectedly and belatedly turned up — close to 13 years after that book’s original publication date. Not bad, even if it was somewhat mixed, and I figured that was surely the last review it would ever get; wrong! The Blotter, a publication billed as “The South’s free, unique international literature and arts magazine,” was kind enough to review “Off The Record” as one of its “Books You Should Have Read” in the August 2015 issue.

The review is penned by Blotter Publisher/President/Treasurer Martin K. Smith, whose recent novel “All Tomorrow’s Parties” is also set in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill music scene. That got him to wondering about similar books out there, and mine was the only other one that turned up (on the recommendation of Ross Grady). So he wrote a very nice review that takes up a good four-page spread in the magazine. It starts on page 4 here, and below is the closing paragraph:

BlotterI’ve only skimmed the surface of all the good stuff in here. You’ll read of corporate skullduggery, insurance fraud, faked CD barcodes, sinister drug dealers, gunplay (funny how those two go together, isn’t it?); self-satisfied sexists deflated; S&M, concert riots, junkies doing faceplants into various restaurant meals, and more. When I’d finished it, after two evenings of binge-reading, I wanted to raise my lighter to it in proper rock & roll appreciation, until my husband reminded me that it was a library copy. Does it compete with my novel? Not at all. They’re two different tales, with one subject in common: a devotion to live local music. “All Tomorrow’s Parties” is an outsider/fanboy’s view, from out in the audience. “Off The Record” takes long experience from onstage and backstage, from touring van and rehearsal space and record-industry offices, and from all the human crap that can happen there, and puts it on the record. [Translation: I’m still jealous.]

I am honored and humbled, sir.

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Something I have in common with a billionaire

My alma mater Southwestern University, where I received an undergraduate English degree before going on to the University of Texas for graduate school, has an online listing of books “Authored by Alumni.” And since the list goes alpha by author, that puts my books “Losering” and “Off The Record” in the alphabetical vicinity of two tomes by my fellow Southwestern alumnus Billy Joe “Red” McCombs, a gentleman who definitely went on to make something of himself after dropping out of college in the 1940s.


McCombs was a fairly legendary figure during my wonder years growing up in San Antonio, Texas. Anyone of a certain age there probably remembers the television and radio spots for Hemphill-McCombs Ford, his first car dealership, which was one of the early building blocks of McCombs’ far-flung empire. He went on to own a series of professional sports teams, including the San Antonio Spurs of the old ABA — back when I went to the Spurs summer basketball camp as a teenager, under the delusion that I might actually be able to play the game despite being slow and not particularly tall or fleet of foot.

RedMcCombsAlong with amassing huge real-estate holdings, McCombs also co-founded the radio giant Clear Channel Communications in 1972. That and other interests add up to a personal fortune of $1.3 billion, which makes McCombs the 1,107th richest person on earth, according to Forbes magazine. Even though that ranking is down a bit from last year (when Forbes had him ranked at No. 913 worldwide), it’s still a figure that dwarfs even Ryan Adams’ net worth.

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It’s all relative…

CalebOne happy side effect of “Losering” is that it’s thrown a bit of light and attention back onto my first book, a novel called “Off The Record” that I self-published way back in September of 2000. In fact, I recently happened across a review of “Off The Record,” the first one to appear in many years, on something called Caleb’s Book Blog. That seems to be Caleb over there on the right; and if I had to guess, I’d say he’s looking askance at “Losering” — which he panned last fall with one of the worst reviews I got anywhere.

But the upside is that “Losering” inspired Caleb to pick up “Off The Record,” which he seemed to like better; although it’s hard to tell, since he damns it with faint praise while going out of his way to heap still more scorn upon poor, hapless “Losering.” Here’s a representative paragraph from Caleb’s “Off The Record” review:

OTRI enjoyed “Off the Record” quite a bit more than “Ryan Adams: Losering, A Story of Whiskeytown,” for the simple fact that David Menconi is not in the book.  Unfortunately, in the Ryan Adams book, Menconi decided to make himself a figure in the history of the band Whiskeytown. Those who read my review of that book may note that I criticized Menconi for his determination to share his opinion, reviews of records, iPod playlists, and other extraneous trivia as though it was part of the band’s story.

Well, um…thank you — I think. Glad you at least liked “Off The Record,” even if it comes across as “liked.” But you’ll have to pardon me, Mr. Caleb, if I still don’t forward this one along to loved ones.

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“My Book, The Movie”: Who should play Ryan Adams?

FilmReelAlong the lines of “The Page 99 Test,” we have “My Book, The Movie” — a blog that solicits authors to ponder who they might cast in the hypothetical big-screen version of their book. Setting the tone is a Faulkner quote about the movie business at the top of the page: Hollywood is a place where a man can get stabbed in the back while climbing a ladder. Nice.

So I took a crack at figuring out which thespian I might sign up to play young Ryan in “Losering”; and it was an interesting exercise because I had already kind of gone through the same process in reverse for another book a very long time ago. Check that out here, or at the Campaign for the American Reader. Given the filmic angle, I find it fitting that this turned up on the same day as the Academy Awards.

ADDENDUM (12/16/2014): Ryan and Johnny Depp are pretty close friends and collaborators, it turns out.

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Publishing: One way or another, you do it yourself

Except for a few essays I’ve contributed here and there, “Losering” is my first book in 12 years, since I put out a novel called “Off The Record” myself way back in the fall of 2000. Some things are different this time, and it’s certainly preferable to have a publisher involved with a book if you can swing it. But there are still a lot of similarities between DIY publishing and working with a small press, especially when it comes to scaring up publicity.

The Austin Post online paper was kind enough to have me write an essay about that, in advance of this weekend’s Texas Book Festival. If you’re in the Central Texas vicinity, come on out. My part in that happens at 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, at Shangri-La in Austin.

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No Depression in heaven, or down here

So it was the News & Observer that got me to Raleigh all those years ago; but as recounted in “Losering,” it was No Depression that led to my first direct contact with Ryan way back in 1995. No Depression was a great magazine during its 13-year run, and a wonderful thing to be  part of. I miss reading and writing for it, very much. But the swift decline of both print media and the record industry was too much of a double-whammy to overcome, and No Depression ceased publishing in 2008.

In the summer of 2005, however, the magazine was at its peak in terms of heft. That was when University of Texas Press published the second anthology of No Depression writings, “The Best of No Depression: Writing About American Music.”  My No Depression profile of Ryan from the fall of 2000 was included in the book, and I did some bookstore readings for it around the Triangle. Below is a spiel I worked up as a preamble, tracing the magazine’s history, my involvement in it and also my relationship with Ryan (and his part in inspiring a character in my 2000 novel “Off The Record”). If you’ve read “Losering,” some of this will be familiar.

Ten long years ago, a friend of mine named Peter Blackstock began talking about a music magazine he was starting. “No Depression,” they were going to call it, after “No Depression in Heaven” — a 1936 Carter Family song covered by the upstart band Uncle Tupelo. Uncle Tupelo was one of a number of young bands coming to country music by way of punk rock in the 1990s, alongside the Jayhawks, Old 97s, Freakwater and others. No Depression was going to cover these bands, as well as oldtimers like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Emmylou Harris.

It was an ambitious undertaking, and I’d like to be able to say that my response was, “Wow! What a fantastic idea!” A decade later, I am mortified to confess that I didn’t take No Depression too seriously at first. In fact, when Peter asked me to write something for the magazine’s first issue, I told him I wasn’t sure I’d have time.

Peter was an old and dear friend, and I had some familiarity with his quirks — his obsession with the songs of Jimmy Webb, for example, or his habit of driving halfway across the country for a dinner date. When I lived in Boulder, he showed up from Texas semi-unannounced more than once. Another time, I remember Peter calling from a payphone somewhere in the Texas Panhandle to ask if I could make him a cassette tape of Joe Jackson’s new live album. He had an assignment to review it, and he was going to pass through Colorado on one of his spur-of-the-moment driving trips. So he was wondering if he could come by and pick that up on the way, from a different time zone.

I’ve watched a lot of startup magazines come and go. At the time, there seemed no reason to think that No Depression would be more than another of Peter’s quixotic quests. But he was persistent. Peter wanted me to do a short feature on a Raleigh band called Whiskeytown, and he had already developed an editor’s knack for just which button to push to get me to do it. “If you can’t do it,” he wrote in an e-mail, “we can probably find someone else, but not as good a writer as you.” I like flattery as much as the next guy. So I finally said yes, even though Peter did not yet have the wherewithal to pay any of his writers. But I would not come away from this assignment empty-handed.

That summer of 1995, I was deep in the trenches of attempted literature, writing a novel about a fictional rock band. The leader of this band in my head was a self-conscious young man with some very screwed-up ideas about stardom and celebrity; a guy who was equal parts brilliant and crazy; and a person at war with himself because he desperately needed people to like him but could only express that as arrogance.

In short, this character I was struggling to bring to life was Ryan Adams, leader of the aforementioned Whiskeytown. My fictional rock star was named Tommy Aguilar. I originally envisioned him as Dexter Romweber, unhinged guitarist in another local band called Flat Duo Jets. That took care of Tommy’s crazy and unstable half. But he was still missing the boundless ambition and rock-star swagger I had in mind. For that, Ryan turned out to be the perfect model.

I went to every Whiskeytown show I could, lurked nearby whenever the opportunity presented itself and wrote about them often. Whiskeytown moved swiftly up the local and national totem pole, signing a major-label deal in 1996 and earning big plaudits for 1997’s Stranger’s Almanac — still my favorite record from Ryan’s entire catalog. Likewise, No Depression magazine was an immediate success. After paying all the contributors with a T-shirt for issue number one, Peter was able to start paying his writers actual money by the second issue. The magazine also went from quarterly to bi-monthly publication in the fall of 1996.Whiskeytown appeared on the cover of the July/August 1997 issue when Strangers Almanac came out, although Peter wrote that story himself instead of letting me do it, the no-good so-and-so. But it has been a pleasure and an honor to be associated with No Depression over the years, and to watch it grow from those modest beginnings to the very impressive magazine it is today. I believe I’ve had a byline in every single issue except one.

Meanwhile, I was still spending the wee small hours of every morning working on this novel, now called “Off The Record.” Tommy became Ryan, although there were times when it seemed like Ryan was becoming Tommy. In 1998, I was commissioned to write liner notes for a Whiskeytown record — the reissue of their first album, Faithless Street. It was an utter fiasco in which Ryan behaved so neurotically, I felt like I was being held hostage by my own fictional creation. I wrote multiple drafts, each of which was found wanting. Ultimately, the album came out with liner notes by Caitlin Cary rather than me, which was probably karmic justice.

But having Ryan as a model for Tommy Aguilar was a God-send. Like Ryan, my fictional Tommy is dark-haired, kind of pigeon-toed and sometimes wears the same thick-framed glasses favored by Brian Wilson. WWRD (What Would Ryan Do?) was a handy guide for whatever the Tommy character should say or do in a given situation. And imagining dialogue in Ryan’s voice was very useful.

Predictably, Whiskeytown fell apart after a few years, and Ryan started a solo career. His first solo album was called Heartbreaker and it came out in September of 2000, the same month No Depression published my profile of Ryan that’s in this book. And that was also the month that “Off The Record” finally came out. Early on, I tried to be circumspect about the connection between Tommy and Ryan. But enough reviews noted the similarities that I soon gave that up.

As it happened, this No Depression profile would mark the beginning of the end of whatever personal relationship I had with Ryan. I was pleased with how the story turned out, and I felt like it really captured him. But lots of people were very unhappy with it. Ryan’s ex-girlfriend, the subject of many of the songs on “Heartbreaker,” was furious about being identified by name. Ryan’s manager didn’t like the story, either, for reasons I never really understood. And Ryan himself responded with a puzzling e-mail — dated September 11, 2000, eerily enough.

“I am very angry with you but only out of love,” Ryan wrote. “I’ve discovered that you don’t know me very well. It isn’t even important. You are much more beautiful without me to consider. I’m drunk and in Seattle and I just went to see a spiritualist guide (they call him a shaman) and my life is changed. Hard changed. I hope to think about you in my meditations. Peace and cookies, R.”

(NOTE: To see this email reproduced in all the typo-ridden glory of Ryan’s original message, see the “Losering” preface.)

The last conversation I ever had with Ryan took place the following spring, in April of 2001. He called me at home one night, angry about a bad review someone else had written, to ask if I thought he should confront the writer about it. No, Ryan, I said, you should really just let it go — even though I knew he wouldn’t. And sure enough, I heard that he left a screaming rant on that other writer’s answering machine later that night.

(NOTE: “That other writer” was none other than Angie Carlson.)

We talked for a while that night. Ryan said he was working on a screenplay, a book and three different records. One of the albums was called Gold. “It’s so fuckin’ good, man,” Ryan said. “I hope you like it.” But I didn’t much like Gold when it came out a few months later, even though that was the record that made him a star and picked up multiple Grammy nominations. So what do I know?

In our last conversation, Ryan never mentioned this No Depression feature that seemed to upset him so much. He did, however, bring up “Off The Record.” He hadn’t yet read it, but he said, “I’ve been told that the lead character is like an unholy cross between myself and Dexter Romweber.” Well, Ryan, I said, you’ll just have to read it and let me know what you think. “Maybe I’ll do that,” he said.

I’ve always thought that if Ryan were to read “Off The Record,” he would claim to be pissed off. Secretly, however, he would be pleased to be a central figure in a book about rock mythology — because Ryan is nothing if not all about rock mythology. Maybe that’s what happened, maybe not. I guess I’ll never know.

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“Losering” Bit players: Angie Carlson

Something worth keeping in mind about almost everyone in the music industry: We’re all just trying to earn a living, however we can manage it. I’ve been luckier than most, in that I’ve had a fulltime job for the past 21 years (and I hope it continues, knock on wood). But if you want to keep working in music in some way, chances are you’ll wind up wearing a variety of hats over the years.

Consider Angie Carlson, who I’ve known since the mid-’90s — and who I knew about even longer ago than that, since she used to play in one of my favorite bands of the ’80s college-radio generation, Let’s Active. During the early Whiskeytown era, Angie had a pretty fantastic little punk-pop trio called Grover, whose 1996 album My Wild Life is still a favorite of mine. By the turn of the century, Angie had become music editor of The Independent, in which capacity she wrote some very kind words when I published my novel “Off The Record” in 2000.

Nowadays Angie lives up in greater New York and works in PR, so I hear from her on a fairly regular basis about various bands she’s trying to get coverage on. And one day in the spring of 2011, when I was hip deep in pulling “Losering” together, the phone rang and it was Angie pitching someone. Like I did with everyone I talked to back then, I told her I was writing a book about Ryan Adams (which elicited howls of laughter, a common response) and asked if she had any Ryan stories. Bless her heart, she had several. One excellent quote made it into the Preface, and there was another that I really wanted to use but just couldn’t find a place for. It was a remembrance of Ryan’s almost freakish musicality:

Ryan would come over to the house and I had this old Wurlitzer organ in the basement. So we’d jam. I’m better on Wurlitzer than guitar, and he was interested in it. I’ve been playing since high school so I’d show him stuff — this is major, that’s minor, here’s a ninth, a blues thing. And fuck if like in two weeks, he wasn’t writing on keyboards as if he’d played for years. He could just do that. I was talking to somebody one night who said, “He’s such an asshole, you really think he’s that good?” “Yeah,” I said, “he is. You’ve just gotta get over that. No matter what he’s like, he’s super-talented.” He’s kinda brilliant, and the human sponge. Just soaks everything up.

Yes, indeed.

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Kenny Roby rides again

The story that “Losering” tells goes back about 20 years, which is an eternity in terms of the half-lives of most bands and clubs. And yet I feel strange calling it “history” because the threads extend into the present day, and so many participants are still at it; and I’m not just talking about Ryan. Indeed, it’s still possible to see Kenny Roby, one of Ryan’s best ’90s-era peers, in clubs around the Triangle with some regularity.

Kenny gets mentioned in a couple of places in “Losering” and he’s always been one of my favorite singer-songwriters in this town, starting with his time in an early-’90s band called the Lubricators — a name I still think is stupid (and they never let me forget it after I said so in print way back when). But they did have a saying that made me giggle: Live to lube, lube to live. The Lubricators played amped-up rock with room for hooks, the guitars turned up to “roar,” and they’d moved up to Raleigh from Clemson, S.C. They set up shop in a house on Daisy Street, where Ryan would reside with their roadie/pal Tom Cushman after the band moved out.

Kenny’s next band after the Lubricators broke up was a killer, 6 String Drag. To this day, it disappoints me that 6 String Drag’s rocket-fueled country soul didn’t break big. Kenny’s vocal harmonies with bassist Rob Keller were exquisite; and after they added a horn section for live shows, pretty much no band on earth could touch them. Steve Earle signed 6 String Drag to his label and produced a spectacular album with them, 1997’s High Hat, which I asked Earle about when I interviewed him last year.

“This girl drug me to Atlanta to see Whiskeytown,” Earle said, “and 6 String Drag was opening. I signed them instead. Not that I thought Whiskeytown was bad, 6 String Drag was just more interesting to me and I wish to [expletive] they could’ve lasted. Their record was my favorite we made on that label. They were really special. Had this thing like The Band, where it’s so loose it’s tight, and I liked the way Kenny and Rob sang together. But they were doomed to come apart.”

Alas, High Hat didn’t hit and 6 String Drag dissolved before making another record. But Kenny kept at it with 1999’s Black River Sides (which he recorded with Ryan’s future Cardinals main man Neal Casal) and 2000’s Mercury’s Blues, both reviewed here. In 2000, when I published a novel called “Off The Record,” the aforementioned Holden Richards and I put together a fake fansite for the fictional band in the book. Kenny was kind enough to play along and record some tracks posing as said band, bashed out in a single well-oiled evening. All these years later, I still get a giggle out of  “Band Town” and “Dumb and Number.”

A couple of years after that, Kenny made a stunning album called Rather Not Know that, were there an ounce of justice in this world, would have set him up with a nice Randy Newman-sized career. I’ve written a fair amount about Kenny over the years, and the best story of the bunch is probably this 2003 No Depression feature that came out around the time Rather Not Know was released. Ryan was singing his praises back then, too, telling Rolling Stone that Kenny was “the best songwriter that not enough people have heard yet.” He also gave Roby’s record label a quote:

I knew Kenny in Raleigh, NC, where we both had bands, his was better than mine. We shared a few jobs, the most notably a plumbing job. I have been made to understand this record is partially inspired as the result of his father’s death. Kenny has great internal dialogue concerning his relationship to God and to the more tangible ways of man. I think it’s woven into the fabric of this record in more subtle ways than previous albums. The entire record really does more for any argument to this record’s impact as a great piece of art, but this track is the first track on the album and the one that touches me even when I think I’m not listening. Also he is quite a good dancer apparently.

Unfortunately, the acclaim didn’t turn Kenny’s commercial career into something sustainable and fulltime, leading to a few long-ish stretches of musical inactivity (in public, at least) over the past decade. But he’s back on track with an excellent new album that should be coming out before too long. Kenny has grown tremendously as a singer, and on this new album he pulls off some quiet nuances that were once beyond him; great to hear him recording with horns again, too.

Friday night, he’ll play his first full-band show in Raleigh in more than three years, at the Pour House. Funny thing, the guy running sound for that show will be Jac Cain — who played bass with Kenny in the Lubricators all those years ago.

Like I keep saying, it all connects up, past to present and beyond.

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Roll another number

I guess the most surprising thing about the actual writing of “Losering” was how fast that part went. By the time I was putting words down, I had less than six months to finish and I was genuinely worried that wouldn’t be enough time. When I wrote a novel, “Off The Record,” it took three years just to finish the first draft, followed by another three years of editing (plus an unsuccessful go-round with a book agent) before it finally felt done.

Maybe I would have finished that one faster if I’d had a deadline to meet. And of course, there’s a big difference between writing fiction where you’re making it up out of whole cloth and a work of criticism/journalism, where events dictate content to a large extent. But still, there was intense deadline pressure. To finish on time, I needed to be generating 2,000 words a week, on top of writing for the paper (and whatever other extracurricular projects came up) plus tending to home and family matters. Nothing for it but to take a deep breath, jump in and start swimming.

I tried various openings, some so bad that the memory of them still make me wince. But I figured out pretty quickly that I should start, as they say, at the very beginning: the first time I interviewed Ryan, a night that’s become a fairly legendary piece of local-music lore. Ryan was one of four singer/songwriters performing at the Berkeley Cafe in Raleigh, a venerable bar/burger joint where I still have lunch every week with my pal Scott Huler (a brilliant writer whose books you should read, if you haven’t already). A drunk dude managed to talk his way onstage with disastrous results, but the fun was just beginning. As I was attempting to interview Ryan afterward, drunk dude went nuts and declared himself armed and ready to kill. Cops summoned, standoff ensued, interview wrecked, but what a hilarious story it’s been to tell over the years.

That all made a nice hook for the Preface. From there, I backed up a few years to cover Ryan’s pre-Whiskeytown days in Jacksonville and Raleigh. That led very naturally to splitting the book into three sections — “Before,” “During” and “After.” The middle “During” part covers the Whiskeytown epoch, and it makes up the bulk of the book because that’s when I had the best view and firsthand access.

I had both an abstract goal of telling the story, and a concrete one: 50,000 words. It wouldn’t come out to exactly that many words, of course. But word count was an easy metric for measuring progress, especially with MS Word handily giving that number in the lower left corner; yes, I wrote the whole thing in a single Word file, all 300KB of it, which probably was not a great idea (although I did e-mail backups every day). With 50,000 words as my goal line, I began marking how far along I was with cryptic Facebook and Twitter updates like this one from March 28, 2011:

10,370 down, 39,630 to go…

That was a good-sized chunk, more than one-fifth of the way there in less than a month. I was able to pick up the pace in April, passing the halfway point (25,622 words) by the end of the month. By the end of May, I was almost three-quarters there (39,435 words). And by June 26, 2011, I was somehow…done.

Or rather, done with the first draft, which came in at 54,668 words. But getting all the way to the end was a massive relief, even if it wasn’t the ultimate end. And accomplishing that in four months gave me a few months to tweak it before submission. I printed out a few copies, passed those out to some friends to get feedback and didn’t touch it for a couple of weeks. In mid-July, I started tinkering based on people’s suggestions; taking one last spin through it to tighten it up here and there. It was sort of like the final mix-down and mastering stage of a recording.

One hot August night, I put up the following status update:

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