When Gawker mascot Andrew Krucoff came to us and asked if he could launch a blog book tour here for his "punk rock hero," we shrugged and scratched our heads and attempted to ignore him. (But, then, that's our regular reaction to Krucoff.) Apparently this hero of Kruc's, Frank Portman, has written the MySpace generation's Catcher in the Rye, and because we're intrigued by anyone Kruc has maintained an asexual crush on since he just was a little Kruci, we thought it wouldn't hurt to grant the request. After the jump, the two talk abut the book, King Dork, their long-unrequited love, about lots of other things about rock journalism. Future Lester Bangs — or even Chuck Klostermans — of America, take note!
Frank Portman (Dr. Frank of the punk band Mr. T Experience) has written a book called King Dork that's an indictment on the Catcher In The Rye generation(s) and involves, he says, "at least half a dozen mysteries, plus dead people, naked people, fake people, teen sex, weird sex, drugs, ESP, Satanism, books, blood, bubblegum, guitars, monks, faith, love, witchcraft, the Bible, girls, a war, a secret code, a head injury, the Crusades, some crimes, mispronunciation skills, a mystery woman, a devil head, a blow job, and rock and roll." Early reviews are here and here. Welcome to his blog book tour.
Now for some Q&A:
In your back catalog of 10,000 songs there's a mocking number called "I Wrote a Book About Rock-n-Roll." That's not exactly what you've done here but it's close enough. What gives?
It is a book about rock and roll, and I am aware of the irony, obviously. That song lampoons rock critics who think they are rock stars (pretty much all of them, more or less.) But the leap from pretend rock star to pretend novelist is actually not all that great, as it turns out. So maybe I was just a bit wrong about rock journalism back then. I mean, maybe the criticism really is more important and exciting than the thing allegedly being criticized, even though the fact remains that you can't dance to rock criticism no matter how hard you try. Or maybe I was wrong about that, too.
I believe it was possible to twist-n-shout to some of Brent DiCrescenzo's Pitchfork reviews but feel free to name any rock critics you care to call out on this. And what do you think of the current state of rock journalism/-ists? Are music blogs finally achieving the great 'zine dream of championing citizen rock journalism to wipe Spin and Rolling Stone off the map completely?
Well, I guess the kids will dance to anything these days. Talking about rock music always benefits from informality, which is one reason why most people are less irritated by something goofy or pretentious on a music blog than they would be if the same thing appeared in print. You can close the browser or leave a snide comment if you want. But if it's in The New York Times, you automatically think "how much are they paying this guy?" and start to hate yourself or reach for your revolver as the case may be. That's not to say there isn't good formal rock journalism; there is. The best policy is, stop reading at the first mention of Adorno.
So much for goading you into trash-talking about Chuck Klosterman or Gina Arnold. Anyway, Tom Henderson, the book's anti-Holden, has a smart younger sister Amanda who is nothing like Phoebe Caulfied in Catcher In The Rye, but Tom points out that's because P.C. didn't have "a crazy mom, a dead father, a goofball step-father, and a King Dork brother" and didn't grow up in "blank, characterless Hillmont, CA" but rather "rich, atmosphere-laden, fancy pants Manhattan." Be that as it may, let's jump ahead years after the conclusion of the book — does Amanda Henderson eventually move to hipster Brooklyn or Oakland?
I hate to break it to you, but in later, as-yet-unwritten events, Amanda comes to a rather sticky end. A 19-year-old Amanda makes a brief appearance in the book I'm writing now (not at all a sequel, though it takes place in the same town.) Basically Amanda tries very hard to be normal, doesn't make it, and ends up overdoing the backlash. A tale as old as time.
If my calculations are correct — and I'm basing this on certain landmark dates around a '93 Geo Prizm — this story takes place in the fall of 1999. Yet, these are nerdy kids in their sophomore year of high school living in the San Franscisco Bay Area during the first dot-com boom and there is no mention of computers, the internet, or the apocalyptic fears of the Y2K bug. Not even a Prince reference of what we're gonna party like. Please reconcile or correct my confusion.
Yeah, well done: Fall of 1999.
There are two ways to answer that question, and they approach the same thing in a way. The first is that Tom is an isolated, solipsistic person who is more or less uninterested in the world around him except in the areas of rock and roll, his dead father, and girls. He never mentions the date because he doesn't care what date it is. The only dates he cares about are 1993, when his father died, and 1975 when the Sweet released Desolation Boulevard. He doesn't have a computer in his room. His stepfather has a Mac, but to get online you have to unplug the phone cord and plug it into the back of the computer. Then every time your sister tries to pick up the kitchen phone you get disconnected. Plus she yells at you and mimics your walk or something. It's not all that worth it in the end, especially if you have no friends to email anyway. Tom does have an interest in looking at dial-up usenet porn on Sam Hellerman's computer, but mostly he creates his own porn in his head. As one does.
The other way to look at it is, I as the author didn't want to get bogged down with a lot of date-specific references to technology and pop culture. So I cursed my narrator with this intense isolation and narrowly focused worldview, and with an interest in 70s rock, just to make it easier. My goal wasn't really to recreate 1999 in every detail. Authors sometimes try to do that, in order to make the story feel more true to life, but I often find that it has the opposite effect. You know the type of thing I mean:
It was 1985. "Reagan is our president," I thought to myself, as I sat down on my futon couch and switched on the news. Dan Rather, looking much younger than than his 54 years was reporting on Billy Joel who had just wed Christie Brinkley in a private ceremony. Apple had just introduced the Mac II, I realized suddenly, wondering if this whole New Coke thing was going to work out....
Tom's friend Sam Hellerman is more tech-focused and engaged with the world, and if he were narrating the story, it would be quite different. Tom doesn't mention it, and maybe doesn't even realize it, but Sam Hellerman is actually pretty Y2K obsessed, and spends a lot of time trying to convince his parents to convert their assets to Krugerrands just in case.
OK, I'll buy that, but what do you think blogs, MySpace and other social networking websites have done to the classic teen novel, or adolescene in general for that matter?
I almost hate to admit it but: myspace.com/doctorfrank. MySpace is like Usenet with pictures. As far as I can see, it beats hanging out at the mall.
One thing I have learned from the MySpace profiles of kids who have stumbled into my or my band's orbit is that quite a lot of them at least claim to spend a great deal of time reading books. That's better than most "adults," in my experience, if by "better" one means, "more likely to read my book." That is in fact how I mean it, of course.
Why do all the literary coming-of-age classics seem to have a Catholic angle but then adulthood hits and all the storylines become vaguely or overtly Jewish? (If that doesn't make sense, let me put it another way: Graham Greene vs. Woody Allen, discuss.)
You know, I think this question may actually be a bit too deep for me.
That concludes the formal Q&A. Now Frank will perform a previously unreleased song from the book, "I Wanna Ramone You" (acoustic version).