C&C: Which came first – songs or stories? And is there really a difference, for you?
Songs. My first attempts were Weird Al-like parodies of others, merely swapping out lyrics and forcing rhymes and testing the depths of my adolescent depravity. Then my favorite teacher gave me a journal for graduation, her inscription directing that I jot down song lyrics and such in it. Which I did, filling it throughout college, refining the depravity in faux-angsty, melodramatic rebellion against the invisible. They sucked pretty consistently. But I do quite like most of the songs I’ve written in the most recent ten years or so. By songs, I really mean lyrics, as only a percentage of them actually get recorded or performed.
Short stories are a latter-day activity for me. But you’re right, they’re the same thing. They occupy the same headspace, fire the same synapses, and take me about the same level of effort. And are stories in themselves, just usually more ambiguous in meaning. I’m hoping to focus more on shorts these next couple years now that I’ve gotten my three-years-in-the-making novel Flashover out there. And back to more music-making. Just working on my short game in general, I guess.
C&C: What do you have in your pockets?
“This is agent Pat Downing of the TSA. I can confirm that passenger Highland has cleared security with pockets emptied.”
I’m responding to these questions at 455 mph 39,000 feet over, I dunno, Arizona or Utah maybe. There’s a cute New Zealander (“kiwi” as she says) seated next to me reading about Kanye West. She has a lovely French manicure and stretch marks under her arms. (Strange, the snippets and extremities we focus on when we don’t want to engage the awkward full-head-turn.)
C&C: Do you wear shoes in the house? Why or why not?
I have no rules about such behavior. If I’m not going anywhere within the hour-ish, they’re off. And being one who prefers not to go anywhere, that means most of the time.
C&C: Tell me about Lady Gaga….
Like many, for a long time I assumed she was a tranny, because anyone who calls themselves “Lady” doth protest too much, methinks. Such monikers are usually reserved for drag queens. Plus she had that androgynous Marilyn Manson vibe going on. Not that I care much. I admit she’s far more talented than I first gave her credit for, and I respect how hard she’s worked to get where she is, but I just don’t like overproduced, formulaic pop music in general, and certainly loathe peacocking flamboyance. David Lee Roth excepted.
C&C: What were your favorite toys when you were little?
Legos, especially the space kind (they were smaller and thus more grown-up). They helped spur my creativity, building an outhouse for Cobra Commander or a moon buggy for Boba Fett. I was your typical child of the ’80s, I think. Digging back further, let’s see … I remember having a Stretch Armstrong (jelly-filled though he was), an Evel Knievel cycle jump powered by a ripcord. I had Pong. Then when I was maybe 11, finally got my hands on a few shuriken (ninja throwing stars), which now seems so very Napoleon frigging Dynamite, throwing those things against trees with the kind of velocity and accuracy that should’ve been applied to baseballs.
C&C: If you could pick five songs to be the soundtrack to your life thus far, what would they be? And conversely, if you could pick 5 songs to be the soundtrack to your IDEAL life, what ould THOSE be?
“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” – U2
“Dance to the Music” – Sly & the Family Stone
“One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces” – Ben Folds Five
“Be in My Video” – Frank Zappa
“Soulshine” – The Allman Brothers
“Fix You” – Coldplay
“I Write the Songs” – Barry Manilow
“Come Sail Away” – Styx
“It’s a Miracle” – Roger Waters
C&C: What was the first instrument you learned how to play?
1984 or ’85, my parents bought me one of those little Casio keyboards. Not the micro-tiny kind, but small. Had a molded plastic case for it, too, because it was such a big deal. It ran on batteries, and sometimes I’d take it down to the neighborhood pool (where I lived all summer) and play it on one of those concrete tables. The lifeguard showed me four chords and the scale that united them, and I ran with it from there. Picked up the guitar a couple years later, and now I have a home studio for making the magic. Never had any lessons for either, which is especially evident on piano, where I still feel like I’m just plinking about.
C&C: Do you remember your dreams? Tell me the last vivid dream you remember.
Rarely. Sometimes on the weekend, allowed to sleep without an alarm, I can remember briefly. Until getting out of the shower, which acts as a mental etch-a-sketch. Usually they involve a familiar cast in juxtaposed locations. Sometimes even people I’ve never met, where I know what they look like but not the sound of their voice, so I’m projecting one onto them, or through them. Weird. Okay, here’s one. And I only remember it because I felt compelled to send the person an out-of-the-blue message about it afterward to see if she was okay, like some kind of premonition. Anyway, an old friend I haven’t seen in over ten years, we had met somewhere to catch up (in the dream), but there were all these nearby protesters in the streets. A militia group came in to try to corral them, which snowballed us into this massive hostage situation with religious extremists (a la Red State), and she and I got separated and I was all paranoid. (Postscript: she’s fine.)
C&C: Have you ever used really bad pick-up lines?
Not in the usual cheesedick way, but . . . two variations on the same line do come to mind. In high school I’d gone four-wheeling with this girl, both of us covered in mud, after which she asked if I’d like to take a shower. “Sure, if you want,” I said. No humiliation, though, because it was such a longshot—one of those conveniences where it’s a joke if she shoots me down, but sincere if she accepts. It turned out to be a joke. Fast-forward years later, I was staying at a friend’s house for the weekend with a bunch of others. She had this gorgeous friend who I’d been told was quite granola, and late one morning it was just her and me in the house. She tells me she’s gonna take a shower but leave the door open because of the mirror fogging or whatever, and after the wah-wah guitars in my head settled, I said, “We really oughta shower together and conserve water, dontcha think?” Strike two with that line (though a compromise of sorts was reached, which I won’t detail). Rejection stings, so I try not to put myself in many pass/fail situations, opting to get to know them better instead.
C&C: Give me one interesting AWP 2012 anecdote….
Here’s one you won’t get from anyone else. My last night in Chicago, everyone had split town but I was still feeling restless, so I wandered the streets a bit. Coming up to a crosswalk, I heard a gaggle of voices behind me, and this girl catches up to me and says, “You’re probably wondering what a bunch of prostitutes are doing following you . . . Gordon.” (Took me a moment to realize I was still wearing my damned conference lanyard.) I was indeed wondering—especially given how competitive and territorial their profession can be—and told them so in the least-insulting way I could manage. They actually looked like caricatures of hookers—certainly wearing the uniform—with their fishnets and tube-tops and corsets and ultra-teased ’80s hair. In what I presumed was an ironic manner, they were acting all flirty, playing off each other, then they started chatting me up about writing and whatnot (seriously). I’m an easy mark, apparently, but was still trying to suss out their agenda, as there’s no way I could handle the most obvious endgame, much less afford it even if I could. Finally, one of them let me off the hook (pun intended), revealing that they were all there attending a hairdresser convention. I never did ask what that had to do with dressing up like extras from a Motley Crüe video.