This Is What I (Currently) Do

student-using-computerAs someone who makes a partial living through journalism, I’d like to be honest about how my bills are paid. Of late, I’ve been tossing a few rounds at the Great Dartboard of Freelance Opportunities and Funded Projects and a couple of those dart$ have stuck; others, well, those duds hit-and-bounced, but no one died in the process or got stuck in the eye. Such is the freelance experience. In the spirit of disclosure, here’s what I do and don’t do, circa November 2, 2015. The image is an accurate one of me, while slaving away at Nebula.

Tick Tock Tavern: This past weekend marked my passage from a full-time GM to one with fewer daily responsibilities. My current roles at the bar include: booking of acts and events, social media, curating our beer and spirits selections, hanging out. In short, I kept all the fun stuff, sneaky devil that I am. Which brings us to…

The Gaslight: So, yeah. I wrote a piece about The Gaslight, an in-construction recording studio and lounge, located on the edge of The Hill. When I originally wrote the piece, I did so without thinking that conversations would continue and that I’d sign on as a content provider for the business. In coming months, I’ll blog, provide a bit of social media, help book acts into the studio, offer writing services to clients and will undertake a Gaslight Square web project that’s been residing on the back-burner for a good, long while. I’ll be hosting open houses at the space each Wednesday in November, noon-4 p.m., 4916 Shaw; drop by, starting in two days.

St. Louis Magazine & It’s a joy to have editors with whom you enjoy working and I’m pleased to continue providing stories to’s Arts and Dining sections; thanks to Stefene Russell and George Mahe, respectively. I’ll also continue to write a print magazine feature each month. Journalism’s done here. A new gig, I’m writing weekly web content for the athletics department at Saint Louis University, highlighting various aspects of the SLU program; this work is done directly for SLU. A self-produced, offshoot project idea called is being mothballed until funding is found. (Thinking hoops season may provide a push here.)

Riverfront Times: After a big ol’ gap in writing for the RFT, I’ve contributed one piece to the new-look RFT and am currently working on a second. It’s pleasing to be offered an occasional byline with the outlet that started it all for me. Journalism’s done here, too. My goals in life do not include being an elected politician. Too much work! But I do maintain an interest in civics and politics and am pleased to have begun prepping a new project in support someone who works harder than most folks I know: the 20th Ward’s Alderman, Cara Spencer. This weekly blog, to be launched in January, will feature news and content relating to the progressive happenings in a South Side ward that’s undergoing a tremendous amount of change, with lots of progressive, people-friendly efforts underway.

The Schwag: You shouldn’t attempt to create a package of freelance projects without doing social media work for a Grateful Dead Experience, or so I’ve been told. Social media support‘s the gig here, along with the odd road trip report.

Mostly, I’m done throwing dart$ for the moment, but I’m always interested in project conversations. ‘Cause, you know, what I’m doing, or not doing, this week could always change. Like, next week.

Cheers and peace to all fellow freelancers. May free dental insurance and a bounty of steady checks be yours!




A Man Called Typewriter & The Artican Curse

9062149365_cff8c91935_oOn Saturday afternoon, Typewriter Tim Jordan was at The Tick Tock Tavern a little bit ahead of his normal schedule, loading up our mezzanine with artworks done by the good people who take part in projects at Artists First. That’s a Maplewood-based storefront that offers open art studio hours (along with materials and instruction) for people with disabilities; formerly, it was known as the Turner Center for the Arts. This was the third time we’d opened our doors to Artists First/TCA and we teamed up with the band Unifyah to host a CD listening party for that ska/reggae group’s latest album at the same hour, thinking the two events would dovetail nicely.

Not gonna lie, the turnout was a downer. Sure, there were plenty of reasons. A nice, beautiful Saturday; maybe too nice, too beautiful to be indoors. The Cards in the playoffs, making a mess out of everyone else’s plans. Other art events and sales were taking place around town. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Still, dudes, I was bummed.

At the end of the two-hour fundraiser, I wrote a check to Tim, a teacher at Artists First. I was sheepish in handing him a check for a such a small total, though we also bought a piece of art for the bar.

Me: “Wish it were bigger.” Tim: “Don’t we all.”

A day later, Typewriter Tim, in the guise of the performance artist Bodybagman, apparently fell off of a wall while performing at Artica. Thought he’d dislocated his hip, though he’d actually broken it. In the span of a day, he went from his usual gregarious self to an injured version; though I shouldn’t assume that he’s not upbeat today, too. He kinda just comes that way.

What’s weird is that a year ago, I doubly-broke my wrist while leaving Artica, in a cycling accident that took a toll on both body and mind. I went under the knife, as will Tim. When something like that happens, you deal with pain, first. And the awkwardness of daily activities. Plus there’s the pain. The loss of income and the outta pocket expenses. And there’s the mental push of getting right again, hard to do, what with all that pain. It sucks and it somehow sucks more when it happens at/during something you love. Tim will have a memory of his first Artica, but not one that anyone would want.

This year, I wasn’t able to attend as much of Artica as in the recent past. It’s a great place to chill and be energized, to spend multiple hours just being around. It’s a hopeful, spirited, whimsical, sort childlike environment. So, the kinda place that Tim would seemingly fit into, any day, and certainly during one pretty weekend in October.

This accident’s a drag, but you take something out of the experiences of others. This bit of badness reminds me to give a lot more, whenever possible. ‘Cause of this…

Here’s a quick anecdote from Saturday. Tim was talking about the artist Paul Stanton. I’ve never met Paul, not even during some drop-bys at Artists First. But along the way, I’ve bought three pieces of Paul’s for the bar (Miles Davis, Dizzy Dean, Redd Foxx) and one for my house (Nelly). Self-taught and then polished at Artists First, Paul’s got a recognizable style, one that you’re immediately drawn to when looking at AF  works in a group setting. Not to say the others don’t have gifts, but Paul’s obviously in possession of a unique talent. Just a couple days back, Tim was preaching to the choir of one, me, that he was going to keep working to break Paul in St. Louis and beyond; they’ve already combined to get Paul’s work into a few “important” hands. And that’s the plan for the foreseeable future: to do portraits of famous folks and to get those works into their possession.

It’s an interesting concept. One of probably 100 that Tim’s talked about doing over the past years and one that obviously means something to him. You can hear it in his voice, when he talks about Paul and the desire to see him be a working artist.

Tim and I have circled similar scenes for years. Shared a physical space more than once, usually with something interesting happening. We’ve done a good turn for each other, when possible. And today?

Today’s a day to encourage the ultimate encourager.


Billiken Extra & Backstory

billikenextra2For around a decade, I found myself in a deeply-patterned work life, splitting time between teaching appointments at a local college and freelance writing assignments. On some levels, these were worthy ways to make a living. But the lack of certainty in both fields eventually lead me to leave teaching, while continuing to write for a few local publications and sites. Turning to a completely new career (co-owning and operating a South Side tavern, The Tick Tock) ensured that I’d spend every day of the last 13-months learning something new. Freelance writing on the side’s been doable, but challenging.

My current goal is to transition from daily operations of the place within 2015, now that good business patterns and habits have been established, though I’ll still have a direct, near-daily impact on the workings of the bar, through booking events, purchasing, promotions and my marathon Tuesday shift behind the bar (4-7 p.m, donchaknow).

Freelancing through this process, though, has taken a toll, in its own way. While I enjoy some really great editors, there’s still a stress level involved in the story-to-story pitch process, let alone the pursuit of national clips. Even longer-term ideas have suffered; a project that I undertook this year, the “Ax to Table” experiment for Feast, has listed. Other ideas never found funding or a green light with editors. (And here I’ll note that Stefene Russell, culture editor at, gets my lifelong respect for her continued support of my work, in its various forms.) The idea of forming a tight circle of independent, individually-run projects has been my goal for a few months now and the first step in this direction comes with Billiken Extra, which is launching today.

The site’s live. The impish mascot, courtesy of Kevin Belford, is secured. A complementary side project, a weekly feature story for, is set begin today. And, yes, here comes the money part: the Indiegogo campaign is underway.

My hope with this is that a hunch pays off. The idea’s this: SLU sports are under-represented in local media coverage. I go to my share of SLU sports games. I write. Hey, I could write about SLU sports! While I’m not going to say “no” to anyone’s contributions, my target for contributions to this site are primarily the people who enjoy the program, but feel it could be better-presented in local media.

So. Here’s another media experiment. And another public can-shake.

The creative process is well-underway. The stories are going up, interviews are arranged and my own life is being reorganized. If you wanna help the latter go a bit more-smoothly, your tip of a dollar is welcome. I hope my hunch don’t go sideways. Thanks for reading.


A Gn’R Flashback

Last night, I spent 14-minutes on 920 AM, discussing the Guns n’ Roses riot, which is now 24 years deep in the history books. It’s a night I’ll never forget and one that I’m happy rambling out at any opportunity. After being invited to the show, I did some research, falling into an hour-long Google bender. Found some wonderful old clips and a few surprises along the way.

Links below.

The conversation on The Brian Stull Show.

A piece from the on catalyst Stump Stevenson.

Daniel Durchholz’ recollections of the event, from 1991.

A shockingly-comprehensive clip history of the night via a Gn’R bulletin board.

Today, I’m trying to live the present. Yesterday was plenty fun, though. Hope to be around in another 24 to *really* embellish things.

Hitler Reacts to the Peacock-Blitz Stadium Plan

Reposted from FB:

Okay, here’s the deal: I dedicatd most of 1-4 a.m. last night building my first “Hitler Reacts” video. Interesting experience on three levels.

One: My family fought on the wrong side of war and there’s still something inside me that says “too soon” in respect to “Hitler Reacts” videos. Feel that way about many Ken Burns’ war-porn projects and “Hitler cat” photos, too.

Two: They’re tougher to write and edit than you might expect. Tweaks here, edits there. Hours were spent. Yet I’m still missing the use of “is” in one instance, after re-uploading no less than a dozen times and proofing more seriously than I do for paid gigs.

Three: No one, if honest, puts up a video and doesn’t think, “This could go viral.” Thought it, yes, though I’m sure this one won’t. And, yet, getting a couple “Likes” on it through Facebook doesn’t satisfy. Not no way, not no how. So here you go, again.

3 Minute Record Podcast: Wow

It’s not that I necessarily want to hear myself talk for 89-minutes, but I have to say that a recent conversation with 3 Minute Record’s podcast team was maybe the most “me” thing I’ve seen/heard/read ever. Four guys, four microphones, the back room of the Tick Tock Tavern and a host of conversation topics and… hey, an interesting listen emerges. At least if you’re into hearing me talk for 89-minutes. Anyway, that’s all I have to say about that.

When Tiny Worlds Collide

A few years back, a group of students arrived at The Royale for an overnight shoot, including director Jordan Bowlin, who’d created a few memorable videos for my Intro to Media Writing class, used for years later as example. Bowlin and his large crew brought with them an arsenal of cameras, microphones, lights and everything else needed to support a pro-quality, nighttime shoot. At the time, I was teaching at Webster University and a good chunk of the now-junior-and-senior students taking part in the shoot had been in classes of mine as freshmen or sophs. As they poured into the place, just before close, they began to set up gear, even with customers still in the place and prior to the nightly cleaning. It wasn’t a little bit awkward, then, to kick all of them out of the patio to chill for a bit, as we finished the night’s operation; adding to the moment, I somehow managed to snag the mop bucket, spilling gallons of mop water all over the exterior entry. Nice.

The situation was probably a bit of unusual for them, too. After all, a year, or two, before I’d been grading their papers, trying to educate them to the world of mass communications to the degree that I could as an adjunct. As time on and more students turned 21, I ran into more of them in that bar setting, as I idled outside the building checking IDs, or ran to the cold boxes in the garage, schlepping beer boxes. I imagine a few of them wondered what the hell this was all about; had they asked, I’d have told them about the racket that is academia, how most adjuncts work second gigs to support themselves. All those nights mopping and stocking and checking on cars eventually allowed me to save enough money (just enough) to buy into my own space, the Tick Tock. It worked out, though awkward moments of my various jobs colliding were becoming more common.

(The other component, of course: students working on these projects are usually pretty certain that the world will be theirs and that the shoots they’re on will lead to future, full-time employment in the industry of their choice; for some, that works out exactly and life it good. More likely, folks wind up doing what I’ve done, which is: piecing together a life in media by doing lots of different things, with the final prize a bit elusive. That’s the kind of message you can say in class a million times, a million different ways, but it doesn’t always stick, no matter how well-intentioned or passionately-delivered. Anyway, I wish them all success and fat paychecks, too. Back to our story.)

Another shoot took place about a year back; it was during winter, that’s for sure, with the brutal cold a really memorable aspect of the night. I was asked if I wanted to stay after shift and make a nice piece of coin for watching the store as a film crew set-up and shot another short film; guess word had gotten around the Webster undergrad community that The Royale had a good nocturnal look and reasonable rates. As with the first film, this one was also helmed by another of my former students, Zach Nuernberger, who I think took two classes with me in the years prior. And now I was accepting a five-pack of $20 bills from him to watch a bar on my weekend job, as he and his crew soldiered through a long night, a seven-hour experience that took us all the way into morning drive time, the sun peeking through all those glass block windows.

As with any shoot, there were rehearsed moments, then the shoot of the scene itself, followed by countless reshoots. Cameras were moved, mics adjusted, bodies placed an inch to the left or right. At some point around 4 a.m., the dynamics changed and I was asked if I would take part in the shoot. Though I didn’t have a script or know about the storyline, really, I was given a couple of lines; amusingly, I was given a couple of obscenities and I kept thinking about more former students, watching this in campus settings, a former prof of theirs dropping f-bombs onscreen. It was fun enough and broke up the evening for me.

After asking Zach a couple weeks back if the film was online anywhere, he sent along the following clip. I scanned it on my phone, seeing myself behind the bar, without really watching or listening to “Wish You Were Here.”

I’ll post it here, watching it here.

For a long time, this is the kind of story I’d wax on about in front of a group. Don’t have that option right now, so here you go.

The Value of $19.61

A few weeks ago, I took a spill off of my bicycle, breaking my wrist for the trouble. Further back, in 2012, I wrote a column called “Second Set” for the late, re-examining the St. Louis rock music scene of the ’80s/’90s, a project that bled into 2013 with the “Encore” sub-series. I wouldn’t have sensed any connection between these experiences until I saw that bills from my surgery were landing at my doorstep. It struck me that an e-book based on those 2012/’13 writings, released as “Second Set: Encore” in November of 2013, had never resulted in a payout. Put the idea of needing money together with a tiny rivulet of cash flow, well, you see where this is going.

My guess was the e-book hadn’t sold a ton, though it’d been out for roughly a year, with a few ads running in Eleven Magazine the sum total of the non-Beacon marketing effort. (Ads worked off in writing, I might add, rather than cash.) My math went like this: I figured that around 200 e-books had sold over the year, priced at $2.99 on Amazon, and that my one-third cut per sale would mean a check of $200, or so. And this was working with a very conservative estimate of how many I’d assumed were sold. Considering some of the bands and artists and clubs and shows covered in the book, that seemed kinda-realistic.

Yeah, well.

After contacting my editor, now in the employ of 90.7 fm, I was passed along to another member of STL Public Radio’s staff. We exchanged a few bits of info. The first feedback indicated that the Beacon’s account had been closed since March, and that any payout would’ve/should’ve happened before then. My indignation chilled as we kept in touch throughout yesterday and another former Becaonite was able to pass along the codes to Amazon. Turns out that the account was live, but was essentially now in the control of the University of Missouri system, which owns KWMU, which, in turn, owns the rights to the Beacon. As someone who knows the reality of media melds, this wasn’t something to get upset about; sending an invoice to the University of Missouri or a local website doesn’t really make a difference.

And I wasn’t upset at the end result of sales, which netted me, as you might guess from the title, the grand sum of $19.61. Meaning those 200 sales were a serious pipe dream. And I have a witness to this, but my first response when getting the number was: to laugh. I mean, what else can you do when $19.61 presents itself to you like that?

Once upon a time, in the ancient days of a year ago, I thought that there could be some value in a press that specialized in local-only titles, released exclusively on digital formats. My experience with the “Second Set: Encore” project made me think that the micro-niche model of publishing was the real way to go. A book on the Spirits of St. Louis basketball team? How about an e-book? An oral history of St. Louis brewing. E-book! A look back at the clubs and restaurants of our town, from Gaslight-to-today? Gotta come as an e-book!

Screw you, e-books.

Yesterday’s experience reminded me that even in a world in which the most-specialized content can find life online, we’re also in a world in which no one wants to pay for anything, at least not in any substantial amount. (So says the guy listening to Spotify at this very second.) The project was fun, with about 70 pieces emerging from the year-and-change of writing. The experience allowed me to reconnect with a ton of people from my old tribe. It allowed for, I think, some good writing to emerge, a bunch of cool stories to be shared and allowed some old wrongs to be righted. On a personal level, “Second Set” worked for me and it was received favorably by the folks that were meant to read it.

The $19.61, well, let’s just call it a modest tip.

(The pre-book series you can read for free:

The Summer of Stop II: Jobs In, Jobs Out

Strange thing happened this week.

On Monday, I was thinking to myself that I’d missed out on certain opportunities in life, relating to music. Very specifically, I remembered declining a chance to join Judge Nothing on a short tour. Even though I was on-staff at the RFT at the time, I’d likely have been able to get a story out of the experience, making it a doubly-enriching chance to get outta town and live life. But I passed, for reasons long since forgotten. A couple other bands, over time, gave me the same offer: come on tour, drive a bit, sell shirts at gigs, hang-out, write what you wanna. The same result came with every offer: I didn’t go along.

Again, these thoughts were running through my head on Monday, just two days ago. Yesterday, on Tuesday, I met with Jimmy Tebeau, who heads up The Schwag, a group that’s rebranding itself as Grateful Dead Experience, while retooling for a big year of touring and festival play. I walked into an interview with Jimmy thinking that I’d do a journalistic side-job, writing an updated bio for the group, maybe a press release, too. The conversation, almost from jump, was heading in a different direction. Leaving 80-minutes later, I’d signed on to do the publicity duties of the group going forward: typing up releases, bios, Q/A’s and some social media stuff, fielding some interview requests, ghost-writing, what-have-you. Jimmy views The Schwag as an organization, one that takes on all the needs of a major touring act and this was a slot he saw as a need.

While not a full-time gig, by any means, it will offer a chance to make a bit of scratch, do some light travel and write some interesting pieces on a subculture that’s as strong as it’s ever been. While I didn’t grow up with Deadheads, I’m about to get pretty familiar with a whole bunch. Thinking that I’m up for the experience.

Interesting is that the opportunity to latch-on with the group came not long after walking away from some other gigs. After 17 years of adjunct work at Webster University, my last class is currently winding down; only the final’s left. And after a couple years of proofing/editing work for the OnLine Writing Center, at the same school, that side gig’s coming to a close in about 10 days. The amount of time freed up for new projects is significant. The opening up of mental space is even more important. While trying to do these jobs to my best ability, the last few months have been challenging, balancing these responsibilities with others. Writing. Opening a tavern. Exploring freelance options of various media stripes. All have been pulling at me, with stress often overriding satisfaction.

That phrase of “one door closes, another opens” ran through my head when posting a note to FB about the new Schwag arrangement. Right about the moment I thought that, an FB friend typed something almost exactly the same on that thread.

There’s something funny happening right now, as in “funny-good-kinda-funny.” I’m cool with that.