Lever action

Many’s the swab who dreams of being the cap’n, arr.

There was something of a “these kids today” thing happening on Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast this week, and go figure — it struck a chord with me.

Maron was getting deep into the comedy weeds with fellow comic Mark Normand, talking about their backgrounds, their neuroses, how they became comics, standups they’ve worked with and admired, differences in style, the mechanics of jokes, lines and the crossing thereof, and whether the crossing is worth the caterwauling from a vocal subset of the audience getting their knickers in a twist over the outrage du jour.

They both agreed with Harry Shearer, who once told Maron, “The reason people do comedy is to control why people are laughing at them.” They both bitched about the gatekeepers with the God complexes who had the power to decide whether they would get any stage time Back in the Day.

And they both seemed astonished that anyone might think there’s a magical short cut to where they’ve gotten by dint of hard labor, some high-speed bypass that skirts the long and winding road.

Maron said it was his podcast that saved him in his mid-40s, at what seemed to be “the end of the line,” when he had no clue about what he might do next with his hard-won skill set.

And the idea that “we live in this world where it’s like all of a sudden everyone thinks they can do this” is “fucking annoying,” he added.

“We will all be immortalized as content.” — Marc Maron, “Too Real.”

“Give me where to stand, and I will move the earth,” said Archimedes, speaking of the lever. A lot of us feel the same way. With the right tool, we think, we can do anything.

Mmm … maybe not.

In my racket — and in Maron’s, too — it was the trickling down of technology from Olympus that led to delusions of grandeur here on earth. A MacBook Pro and Microsoft Office don’t make you a writer. A smartphone camera doesn’t make you a photographer. A microphone and a Libsyn account don’t make you a podcaster. The TikTok app doesn’t make you … well, to be honest, I have no idea what TikTok does to you. But whatever it is, it can’t be good.

Some of us who came to bike magazines through newspaper work used to give the old hee, and also the haw, to what we called “fans with laptops,” wanna-bes who thought devotion to cycling and/or the sport’s celebrities outweighed the craft of asking smart questions, remaining skeptical, and writing clean copy on deadline.

All you need is love? Not even The Beatles believed that shit.

“Podcasts are like babies. They’re too easy to make, and not everybody should have one.“ — Mark Normand on “WTF,” with Marc Maron

It’s one thing to play. We have all these cool toys now. We can blog, shoot videos, record podcasts, self-publish books, and broadcast email newsletters, all with a few keystrokes. Damn the gatekeepers, full speed ahead! Hold my beer and watch this! Slap it all up on the Innertubes, the modern equivalent of Mom’s refrigerator, the gallery for all your childhood scribbles.

But gigging is something else. Chops make a difference if you want to turn pro.

What annoyed me about fans with laptops — and what probably bugs Maron and Normand about amateur comics and podcasters — is that too many of them try to skip the whole boring learning-the-trade thing and step right to the pay window.

Sorry, man. No cuts. Maron got there ahead of you. And he ‘s not about to step out of line and go back to his day job. This is his day job.

“What am I prepared to do outside of show business? Nothing!” Maron said.

Preach, brother. Preach.

• Editor’s note: Incidentally, Mark Normand is a funny dude. He has a podcast or two, and you can catch his 2020 special “Out to Lunch” on YouTube.

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28 Responses to “Lever action”

  1. khal spencer Says:

    Well said, Sir. Nowadays, everyone thinks they are something special.

    My LCI rider-coach, Preston Tyree, once quipped that too many people think they learned everything they needed to know about how to ride a bike by the fourth grade. Buy a plastic fantastic bikey-bike and you are a pro. Read some bullshit on the internet and learn to write a comment or three and you are a scientist. Fire up a blog and you are a journalist.

    Bullshit. Those of us who proved our chops the old fashioned way know the difference. Thing is, the longer you work at a trade the more you recognize your shortcomings. I’ve been wearing this Mr. Science hat for over forty years and know I’m full of shit half the time and the other half I’m sweating it.

    Nice thing about the Maddogmeda blog is that it is written by a pro. Who happens to be funny as hell.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Thanks, Hoss. I like your note about being aware of your own shortcomings. There’s nothing better for this than having a body of work you can revisit in shame.

      “Oh, Christ, did I actually write/draw/edit that?”

  2. Pat O'Brien Says:

    Ain’t that the truth! It especially applies to social media, the perfect home for worst kind of amateurs, deviates, fakers, and freds. The audience these days should have better skills for separating the noise from real ideas, opinions, and stories, carefully crafted.

  3. katholoch Says:

    Is that you in that photo?

    • khal spencer Says:

      You should see some of the other pictures of the Mad Dog in his youth. Unless he has obtained and burned them all…

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      It is. Foreground, with the hair and Long John Silver’s hat. That’s the copy desk at The Arizona Daily Star in 1980. Dig those crazy CRTs we worked on. I only lasted nine months because the desk was run by fascist assholes and the newsroom was infested with Young Republicans.

      Here’s another shot, snapped outside the building. We were probably headed out for an adult beverage or a smoke break.

      Smoke em if ya got em

      Click here for a larger image.

  4. khal spencer Says:

    That CRT reminds me of the stuff I worked on at about the same time at Stony Brook. And, of course, this song.

  5. SAO' Says:

    The gatekeepers dilemma is a double edged sword. I used to blame the Internet for this, that the Internet rewards enthusiasm over competence. And the Internet definitely makes things worse, but we’ve been going in this direction for a while.

    Music might be the easiest place to see this. In the 40s, if you wanted to have a band, you had to play three instruments and understand musical theory. I caught this last month, on Fresh Air, a rerun of Terry talking to one of her heroes, Stephen Sondheim, and discussing popular music of his day, he casually dropped this:

    “ ‘All The Things You Are’ has a remarkable harmonic structure in it, which, among other things, consists of the fact that the tonic chord isn’t played until the end of the song. And it goes through a circle of fifths and then breaks the circle of fifths with a tritone, which echoes itself not only in the melody but also in the bass and defines both the key that the song is written in and the key to which it’s going …”

    If you took the last thousand contestants on the American idol type shows, could any of them have described their favorite song that way?

    Listen to Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin live recordings, and it’s the same thing. “Hey Joe, let’s do Fly Me to the Moon, but transpose it into G.”

    So music had gate keepers, and they kept out the riffraff. Then came rock ‘n’ roll and the 3 1/2 minutes single, and it was, Katy bar the door.

    Good or bad? I mean, it’s kind of obvious, the last 50 years of musical exploration blow away the previous 5000 years. And yet, 90% of it is torture.

    Cooking is another little example. Everybody and their mother has a cooking blog. But America’s Test Kitchen is pretty much the only outlet that will explain that their muffins have 3/4 of a teaspoon of baking powder because they calculated the overall pH and at the end of the day, cooking is chemistry and physics.

    Gate keeping, however, has a huge cost. The majority of American jobs do not require a unique skill set, or maybe, more precisely, they do not require the skill set that recruiters, hiring managers, and corporate leadership have determined to be the be all, end all. Adam Grant and Malcolm Gladwell have been covering the productivity game for a while, and there’s a lot of evidence that if you water down the job requirements just a little bit and then randomly pick applicants, you’ll get the same results. And what you won’t get is five middle-age white guys picking another middle-age white guy for the job every single time.

    So we are definitely in this weird place. We both need more and fewer key keepers. We need more ways for uniquely talented people to get through the door, while also reducing the outlets where every Rando can smear his feces on the wall and call it art.

    • Pat O'Brien Says:

      Supposedly, Duke Ellington said, “If it sounds good, it is good.” Hubert Sumlin said, I don’t care how fast you are, or how many notes you can play, it ain’t nothing it it doesn’t have soul.” I believe they are right. Musicians are like cyclists in one way. They chase that flow state.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        Writers seem to differ on flow state. Some say it’s only good when the story is writing itself; others that it’s not worth a damn unless every sentence is like a breech birth.

        I’ll confess that I like it when the stuff just seems to bubble up out of nowhere, like some mystery spring. Can’t always tap into that bad boy, though. Sometimes a fella just has to drill.

        Speaking of drilling down, Ken “Desert Oracle” Layne has some thoughts on story time and our need for same.

        • Pat O’Brien Says:

          I wouldn’t know about writing. I gives if you get into writing a piece and are surprised when you finish, you are flowing. Then the editing starts. I have practiced a few songs, two Prine songs in particular, so the chord changes come easily, and I remember the lyrics. You have to play them many, many times to make that happen. Plus, for me anyway, you have to have lived or observed the story it tells.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      A weird place, for sure. I like that the doors to the arts have been flung wide open. Everybody should try everything, just ’cause. You never know what might stick with you. Maybe it’s a career; maybe a pasatiempo.

      I do think that aspirants should be challenged more, and not simply by anonymous commenters, trolls, and bots. The gatekeepers in my racket were called “editors,” and some of them were brutal, like Gunny Hartman hellbent on weeding out all non-hackers who did not pack the gear to serve in their beloved corps.

      My first go-round in college an advisor told me how few professional editorial cartoonists there were, and suggested I have some sort of fallback option. Later on an editor said that I was a better writer than a cartoonist. In the end I probably made most of my money as an editor. So it goes.

      Sometimes that shit gets personal, though, and you find gatekeepers who will only give their buddies and other known quantities a pass. I benefited from this over and over again. A guy I worked with at the Colorado Springs Sun gave me an in at the Gazette; another Sun alum got me on at The Arizona Daily Star; and a Gazette graduate hired me at The Pueblo Chieftain. Working for VeloNews led to Bicycle Retailer, which led to Adventure Cyclist, and to any number of other mags along the way.

      This old-boy network gave me some chances I didn’t deserve. But it also beat some skills into my thick skull. As a consequence I became that rare freelancer who had regular paychecks, at least two and occasionally more.

      Hal, on the other hand, found himself constantly having to pitch and pitch and pitch, which will take the wind out of anyone’s sails. The gates didn’t swing open as readily for him, though we have similar professional backgrounds and many of the same skills.

      Interestingly, we both wound up posting a lot of stuff on the Innertubes, that vast, globe-spanning Montessori school where everyone is a winner. Hal self-publishes books via Amazon and distributes a Substack newsletter; I blog regularly and bang out a video or a podcast as the spirit moves, which lately is not often.

      The Work is not always great. Sometimes it’s not even good. Mostly the audience doesn’t get to see the bad stuff. Because after three-four decades of practice and criticism we know the difference between good and bad, and we smother that bad shit in its crib.

      • khal spencer Says:

        Heh. I was more than a little bit of the Gunny Hartman type when I ran the analytical chemistry mass spec lab. Learned it from my advisor and my U of Hawaii mentor, both of whom learned it from pretty tough taskmasters. No one wants to do shit mass spec work and the field is competitive as hell.

        We did good work, but I was not everyone’s favorite. Fortunately, no one gave me the business end of an M-14 in the Wing 5 shitter, but after we won an award and the lab people took our picture for the award ceremony, someone took a knife or razor and cut my smiling face out of it.

        Irony was that award led to a contract with a three letter agency that provided paychecks for the team for a good number of years. Can’t have it both ways.

        • JD Says:

          Khal: Re “after we won an award and the lab people took our picture for the award ceremony, someone took a knife or razor and cut my smiling face out of it.” So, the woke/cancel phenomenon isn’t new then?? 🙂 And at a US institution of higher learning where intellectual curiosity/rigor, academic freedom, and mature tenured profs reside? Say it wasn’t/isn’t so! 🙂

          Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself; but it often rhymes.”

      • Shawn Says:

        I like to believe that it is good for everyone that desires to, to be creative and throw some paint, music, literature, writing, etc. It’s good for the soul. The “Art” is the creation of something from your thoughts and imagination. In most cases this art may be considered by you or others as not be any good. No problem. The point was being artful. But to produce art that is acceptable to others is a completely different beast. Unfortunately it is confused with the creation of art and because of this, many people refrain from being creative because they feel it will not be acceptable.

        I believe that our technology has allowed us to experience the creation art on an extremely large scale. A portion of this created art may momentarily be appreciated as grand, but turns out to fail when compared with past masterpieces. Time is the judge of good art. Over time real masterpieces bubble to the top. Unfortunately art created in current times that may in the future be considered masterpieces, is not easily seen amongst the confusion of detritus that makes up what could be considered a “created art stew”.

        An important point is for those with a real talent for the art of their interest, is to continue to pluck out those chords (I’m not musical so perhaps a person “strums out chords”?), tap out those words, apply that paint, etc.. That masterpiece art will eventually filter to the top. There are those who which to read it, to hear it, to sit on a museum bench on a sunny afternoon and appreciate it. They will be the ones that it is created for. Do not stop. We are here and we want it. Without it we are nothing.

        Now if you’ll hand me that ladle I’ll scoop up this slop and toss it into the sink.

        • Patrick O'Grady Says:

          I think everybody is creative right from the gun. It just gets beaten out of us.

          “You can’t do it that way. Do it this way. There are two ways: My way and the wrong way.” Etc. And the ever-popular, “Why are you wasting your time with that [insert your artistic endeavor here]? Go do your math homework.”

          But give a pack of kids some chalk and a sidewalk and watch ’em get weird with it. Don’t say anything; just let ’em play.

          And yeah, the old gag — “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” — is no joke. Practice, practice, practice. That’s why I try to write something for the blog every day, even if it’s not particularly sexy. It’s the equivalent of playing scales on the piano.

          I used to doodle all the time, too, but hardly ever just play with pen and paper anymore. I think it’s hurt me as a cartoonist. Funny thing is, cartooning is half writing, so I can still craft the gag — I just don’t execute it as well.

      • SAO' Says:

        // I like that the doors to the arts have been flung wide open. Everybody should try everything, just ’cause. You never know what might stick with you. Maybe it’s a career; maybe a pasatiempo. //

        Quoting this guy a lot lately for some reason: “Everybody is talented. It’s just that some people get it developed and some don’t.”
        ~ Sondheim again

  6. redrockmtb Says:

    there’s a great story from alain de botton about a little girl painting a picture and her father asks her what it is and she says ‘it’s a picture of god’. he replies ‘on one knows what god looks like” and she says ‘they will in a minute’.

  7. Herb from Michigan Says:

    I’ve had trouble with that newsroom picture from the git go. First you look a lot like Richard Brautigan the creator of Trout Fishing in America. Fine writing indeed. Second you and the other guy have adopted the “bad back” slouch which eventually catches up with us guys later. And finally, the two of you are smiling like you both know who stole the kiszka and perhaps had a hand in eating it too.

    I took a film class in college to avoid having to do any real learning. But I did learn from the prof who was a polio victim that he felt “lucky” because while he couldn’t create art himself, he had the ability to deeply appreciate it. Being able to be touched by music or writing or visual arts IS as important as being the creator of such. In today’s sound bite-tweet world the fabric of civilization is being torn by snap like/dislike judgements from those who have lost abilities to stand back a few steps and consider the whole picture. With that sermon under my belt, I’ll confess I still hate rap “music”.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      A newsroom is no place to develop healthy habits. I’ll spare you the gory details. But just imagine Delta House publishing the Faber College paper. I shall say no more.

      Short Attention Span Theatre isn’t doing any of us any favors, that’s for sure. Just as you sink your teefers into something they snatch it away and stuff something else into your piehole. Tapas are fine, but f’chrissakes can’t we all sit down to a proper meal now and again? Relax and appreciate. Burp if you must (but save the farts for later, please).

      And yeah, as an official Old White Guy®, I can’t appreciate rap either. But then my old man didn’t care for The Temptations, either.

      How’s business lately? I see there is still money being made, despite a dearth of product at retail. Chains seem to be in particularly short supply. Maybe the rappers got ’em all.

      • khal spencer Says:

        REI has some chains up here, which is how I found out I also need a chainring and a cassette.Chainring should be here in a few days.

        I liked the early hip hop and some of the rap stuff. Still love Motown. One of my compatriots in the Isotope Lab at Stony Brook, another honky, brought in some Run-DMC tapes (or whatever they would have been back in the eighties. Wire recorder? Tape? Early CD? Semaphore?). We used to rock those puppies in the laboratory at o-dark thirty when sane people were fast asleep, all the faculty and undergrads had left, and we grad students were putting up pressurized acid bombs/pressure vessels in the chemistry lab, shining laboratory lasers across campus to freak people out, stowing beer and wine in the chem lab refrigerator, running the mass specs almost 24/7 (since back in those days, the instruments were sloooow and primitive so we ran shifts) and yes, getting some good work done. Needless to say, graduate school doesn’t always help one develop healthy habits either. Although I did take up that bad habit of excessive bicycling during that halcyon period.

  8. Pat O’Brien Says:

    Since hip hop or rap wasn’t created for me, I don’t get it or like it. But, millions do get it and like it. Dark and depressing stories with no melody are not my cup of tea. Many people are stuck, through no fault of their own, in a dark place. My experience, as another “official old white guy” and theirs is vastly different.

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