Oy, do I feel awful now
Confession: Um, I can be a real dick sometimes.
Just last week, a friend sent me a tip to follow the tweets of FakeBobLefsetz, which satirize the pontifications of the real Bob Lefsetz, a Santa Monica attorney and music-business opinionist. The real Lefsetz has published a newsletter since the late 1980s, much of it first-person observations centering around his obsession with singer-songwriters and the intimate personal connection they forge with their fans, along with a healthy collection of rants about how the music business is a crippled airliner in its death spiral, but if those assholes would smarten up and put Bob in the cockpit, that baby would be flying high again.
Sometimes Bob was right. Other times, he was wildly off the mark. Of course, aren’t we all.
Anyway, I have a long history with Bob, going back to my days as senior editor and columnist at the old Tower Records free music monthly, Pulse! Bob had sent several examples of his newsletter that found their way to the desk of our publisher and editor in chief, who decided that 1) Bob would make a great columnist and 2) I would be the perfect sap to edit his stuff.
Aside from thinking at the time that Bob’s opinion was more or less full of shit, my principal problem with him was technical; his copy, typographically speaking, employed the Herbert W. Armstrong school of editorial emphasis, with a liberal smattering of italics, boldface, boldfaced italics, capitals, italicized capitals, boldfaced capitals and boldfaced italic capitals. If there was a way to make the letters all sparkly with purple glitter flying off them, he probably would have done that, too.
My other technical bitch with Bob was his excessive use of the hard return, where entire paragraphs consisted of two or three words. In the age of Internet blogs, this does not present a problem, but when you’ve got a limited editorial well with fixed column inches, you don’t have the luxury of hitting the hard return every time you finish typing a word.
Which should have been negotiable, but apparently it wasn’t. And when the editor presents a solution (use normal typography and conventional paragraph form) and the writer not only balks, but said balking escalates into a screaming match over the phone, with rapid-fire fuck yous from both sides punctuating sundry death threats and descriptions of impromptu surgeries performed with broken wine bottles, said conversations do not make for a promising editor-writer relationship.
So Bob and I kinda got off on the wrong foot, and later, after the relationship became utterly unworkable — which we tried to do at the boss’ insistence, until Bob mixed it up with one of my coworkers and she claimed he threatened her and the boss was forced to step in and make a judgment call — we snarled at each other on at least one Internet message board. And I would go out of my way to insult him there.
But history is typically told in the narrative frame of the victor, and if there was a war between Bob and me, he won it a long time ago. He got himself pegged as an industry gadfly, and was able to develop his newsletter into something large enough to support life in Santa Monica, with a sphere of influence that included the very executives he dumped on in his rants. He occasionally hitched rides on Gulfstream jets with music-group CEOs to rather posh ski resorts, where he would enthrall said executives with his ideas on how to solve the music business’ problems. He even wrote a column for Rhino Records’ website on music. Oh, yeah, he had his detractors, but there were plenty of people who mentioned his opining in glowing terms.
As for me, I left Pulse! around the time Tower began to lurch into its death spiral, when the “turnaround specialists” from the banks, guys with such illustrious companies as Montgomery Ward, Packard Bell and Breuners in their résumés, started sniffing around the building. I took a job at the weekly Sacramento News & Review, and spent four and a half years there championing local music, until life under the thumb of an editor — who treated his job like a goddamn dog-obedience school where we were the dogs — became unbearable, or at least it brought out any latent homicidal tendencies I might have been harboring.
So then I jumped to a partially baked digital-music startup that might have worked as the screenplay for a dark comedy, but as a moneymaking concern went the way of the Pet Rock and hula hoop rather quickly. I’d returned to the SN&R as a columnist during that time, but that ended after nearly three years. Then I wrote freelance for a while, until my downward professional — and personal — trajectory caught up with me and I, seemingly, lost the ability to even grind out minor articles, the kind of stuff I could do in my sleep when I’d been firing on all cylinders.
Now I don’t even go out to music shows half the time, like last night’s Cake gig at the Blue Lamp, because I’m kind of embarrassed at how far down the slope I’ve fallen: “Hey Jackson, whaddaya been up to?” “Hi, John. Oh, not much. Not really writing for anybody, just playing a little guitar and working on some tunes, couch surfing, trying to keep the weight on so my pants don’t fall off.”
So Bob won, and this guy, an autodidact who used to think he was, if not hot shit, then at the very least semi-justified because he’d interviewed Johnny Cash and a bunch of other artists and got drunk with the Replacements and a bunch of other bands and played in a couple of pathetic combos with the comically inebriated drummer from Pavement, who once enjoyed talking music on the phone with record company presidents, vanished into that obscure world where self-canonized legends go when their stream of bullshit runs out.
Boo fuckin’ hoo.
Okay, so here it is the end of 2009, and I’ve committed to writing something every day, like my goddamn life depends upon it because the only thing I know how to do, other than bang on the guitar and wheeze like a fucked-up Leonard Cohen wannabe, is write. And maybe if I can get in the habit of writing every day, I’ll pull my metaphorical DeSoto Fireflite out of this metaphorical ditch where I drove it and get rumbling back down that road.
But even while spinning wheels in a metaphorical ditch, a man’s gotta enjoy a few laughs sometimes, and the schadenfreude of the doomed is still schadenfreude. Which is to say that FakeBobLefsetz, whoever that is, really made me laugh. Naturally, parody is worthless unless it’s dead on the mark, and whoever it was who was doing it had ol’ Bob’s shtick down cold. So I started recommending it to a few people.
At one place where I’d pasted the link, the next post was somebody with the news: Oh, you do know that Bob just got diagnosed with leukemia, don’t you?
Ever get that feeling where you suddenly know you’re lower than whale excrement?
I clicked on the link that contained Bob’s whole post and read it. Damn.
Okay, I must admit here that I have a begrudging respect for Bob and what he’s accomplished. And part of that accomplishment has to do with getting people to read the stuff he writes, intensely personal stuff, that laces the mundane joys and vicissitudes of life with an intense love for music. Yes, there was a hint of envy, or jealousy, that fueled my dislike for Bob. Why him, and not me? Well, basically, because he got off his ass and made his thing happen, and I didn’t. Or else I didn’t get back up after I got knocked down. He has.
As they say in those inscrutable I Ching readings: Perseverance furthers.
Of course, even if somebody contracts a potentially fatal disease, it doesn’t make him any less of an asshole. No. But what it does, at least for me, is take a look at how much of the asshole was him, and how much of it was me. Probably a bit of both, methinx.
The other part of the equation is that, in the past few years, I’ve gotten more “spiritual” than I used to be. By that, I mean I’ve practiced vipassana (Buddhist insight meditation), and metta (Buddhist lovingkindness affirmations) daily for a couple of years now, and intermittently I read dharma material, along with the texts from a certain recovery group, and I try to put that stuff to work — with variable success — in my life. Given my personal losses after my marriage went to shit and I lost my most recent full-time job, having a spiritual practice has helped take the edge off things, at least getting me outside of that funhouse hall of mirrors in my head long enough to connect with other people. Not sure how much it has helped, but it has.
Still, having a spiritual practice is worthless if you make the choice to entertain and indulge in resentments. As a good teacher will remind us, even Dick Cheney has a Buddha nature, and even the person we find most loathsome is capable of awakening, and is a beloved child of whatever unifying spiritual force exists in the universe, at least as much as you or I are.
So, well, not sure where I’m going with this, except to say that I wish Bob Lefsetz radiant health and happiness, and I hope that his recovery is speedy and painless.
Because this world needs more music lovers, not less. —Jackson Griffith