Digital Bread Crumbs

Pretty much a third of my book intake centers on media studies and the places of convergence between tech, science, civics and mass communications. I’m a nerd; this you knew.

In a recently-read Tim Wu book, “The Attention Merchants,” his last chapter touches on the loss of readership for single-interest sites. It really struck a true note, as I used to care about some esoteric things, like PXLvision cameras or Ed Wood films or the history of the SDS. And in the early days of the web, there was a certain excitement in mining for info, finding sites that were specific to these niche interests; no matter how well they executed, it was nice to find fellow travelers in the corners of the Weird Web. In some respects, the personal blog evolved this same sense of loss, with individual citizens moving their musings, their field notes, their writing tests onto social media.

Yesterday, I was contacted by someone who I’d interviewed a time/two over the years, regarding some pretty esoteric public events that he’d thrown over the years. He’d written a piece about Artica and wanted to grab some pics from past years. In fact, he told me, the pics were already in the piece and, well, did I mind if he used them? I didn’t mind. I’m glad someone/anyone takes the time to sketch out long pieces under their own banner and if some long-forgotten pictures help the story along, great.

For me, the following was an unexpected, entertaining read. Maybe you’ll find it the same: Artica and the Essence of Wabi-Sabi by Lew Blink.

Happy web surfing, dudes.

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The 2019 Book List

January–

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore (memoir); You Think It, I’ll Say It: Stories, by Curtis Sittenfeld (short stories); The Attention Merchants: The Epic Battle to Get Inside Our Heads by Tim Wu (media studies); Digital Renaissance: What Data and Economics Tell Us About the Future of Popular Culture by Jared Waldfogel (media studies)

Some Wayne St. Wayne Vignettes

If you’ve come here after reading a remembrance of Wayne St. Wayne at the Riverfront Times site, I thank you. I hope it provided some information about his fascinating life and times. I also thank his son David Ermatinger, along with David’s wife Allison Lispki Ermatinger, for filling in some gaps.

What the piece could only hint at, within the constraints of space, was the unique personality of the man. For what felt like years, I saw Wayne on a regular basis, often at Mangia Italiano, but also at other spots around town. When going to clubs along the early Washington Avenue, for example, I can definitely remember visits to the back door of Creepy Crawl, just to say “hello” and to check-in on whatever news story he had to share. These may not be wild, but here’re a handful of quick stories…

Knew this person once. We’ll call her Chrissie, as that was her name. We dated, she moved to Chicago, we broke up. The usual people-in-their-early-20s story. At some point in about 2000, I reconnected for a short visit with her in Chicago, though nothing rekindled on that one level. I did promise her a piece of art, a Wayne St. Wayne original. Asked her what she wanted him paint and she said “corn cobs in space.” I asked Wayne for the piece and he promised to knock it out. Months passed. At least a full year passed. I lost all contact with the painting’s muse. And since 2002, I’ve owned a copy of “corn cobs in space,” which turned out very nice, the helmeted cobs shooting through the universe with fiery tails. So, yeah, a missed deadline on that one…

The flipside here is that you could always luck into a phonecall about a “fabulous deal.” Once, I picked up the phone and Wayne was offering a rent’s-due deal on a piece called “Monster Battle at the Shenandoah Theatre,” which had been hanging in a South Grand storefront for years. He offered to sell the $110 piece for $70. I declined, with hesitation. When he called back with a price of $40, I went up to the shop and paid my cash. It’s another record, a crazy awesome piece. Love it still…

Wrestling. Wayne was a wrestler. He’d tell you stories about his days touring the upper Midwest and central/western Canada. More often, he’d tell stories about Wrestling at the Chase, and all the superstars of the old NWA. He was generous in sharing those stories and, sometimes, pictures. Here’s a little something we collabroated on for thecommonspace.org

Speaking of wrestling, I can’t remember if I’ve hung up the wash, or taken down the wash, or even done the wash. You know, that today kinda stuff. But I can remember the first time I saw Wayne wrestle, under his alter-ego name of Doctor Blood. It was at Affton High School, on a weekend afternoon show that featured a former WWF/WCW star, or two, who’d play out their careers matched up against local talents. I can distinctly recall Wayne’s general act, with involved a lot of whining to the ref, feigning of injuries, complaints aimed at the crowd and lotsa cheap shots. A sweetheart in real life, Wayne was weirdly-cast as a heel, on one level. But on another, he was so committed to the sport that there’s no way he wouldn’t commit to whatever role kept him in the game. He was good at the job…

Last one. And the difficult one to write. In mid-/late-November of 2018, a friend of Wayne’s reached out to me, noted that his health had taken a bad turn and that he was open to telling some stories. Then he wasn’t well enough to chat, then communications ground down. In reality, I let a day become two, a day become a week. With mortality sort of on my periphery at an unusual amount in the last year, the thought of seeing him ill jarred me; my selfish desire to not be put in an uncomfortable moment outweighed his desire to tell some stories. He’s passed now; it’s too late to make the call. I’d love to say that this will make a great difference in my own communications with people, but I’ll likely fall back into bad habits. I do own Wayne a call, though, and always will. I hope some of these words and the words in the RFT are of use in letting some stories be known…

So that wasn’t the last note. This is. We shot a li’l Pixelvision film back in 1997, inside Mangia and his apartment’s kitchen. Feels like yesterday…

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The KDHX History Project: Making the Case

Long story short(ish): I wanted to change the way I freelance in 2018. Part of that would simply mean working a little harder; that’s controllable. What’s not as self-contained is figuring out funding, as outlets continue to cut budgets and rates; concurrent to this, our culture’s become somewhat numbed to patron-based, crowdfunding appeals, what with so many good, solid things needing that group push.

That climate be damned, I set out on a crowdfunding appeal.

It’s pretty-simply named, this idea: The KDHX History Project. The notion is to gather pre-existing items from the KDHX archives, like posters, flyers and the old Airwaves magazines, digitizing as much as possible. And then adding interviews with a wide range of folks: volunteers; (current and former) programmers; (current and ex-) staffers; musicians who’ve appeared on the station; basically any stakeholders in the station’s 30-year history. And because this is an online project, why not add the vast array of media already available and online, but possibly scattered across multiple platforms.

At the end, it’ll be something of a book and something of a website. Free for all, in the spirit of the station.

Trying to line up about that many chapters, I sketched out a few immediately: the history and context of KDNA; histories of the buildings that’ve housed KDHX (on Magnolia, Delmar/Euclid, Washington); profiles of affiliated programs and businesses (Squatter’s Cafe, Folk School); remembrances of programmers who left our airwaves (and world) too soon; reminders of the local origination/cable access programs of lore. I’d love to address bigger picture items, like the role of radio today vs. at the time of the station’s debut. It’d be fun to summarize what the St. Louis music scene was like 31-years ago. And why not check in with stations of a similar bent, like WWOZ or KEXP?

And while some folks were kind enough to kick in on the early portion of the Indiegogo campaign, I didn’t do a few things that I should’ve done prior to launch. I might’ve shared sneak peeks with more key members of the KDHX stakeholding community; planting seeds, if you will, for the later effort. I heard from other folks who encouraged the project, but I didn’t nail down specific help that they could/would offer and I’m reaching back out to them now. And, to be honest, this type of fundraising’s a little tough for a private, self-conscious person to do; I can’t help but feel that the project’s up-or-down-success-or-failure future is somewhat tied to me, as a human, not just the project. In a social media age, I imagine a lot of us have had that feeling when shaking the digital cup. It’s awkward. It kinda sucks. It also makes some projects happen. Hopefully, this one.

I wanna do this project. I have a good resource for copyediting/proofing and research, a just-departed KDHX staffer in Allison Jane Wilson. I can dedicate the time needed to pull this off in a first-class way, if given the financial support to do so; that would allow to trim back on other, short-range work. To repeat: I wanna do this project.

So it’s time to get to real work. Time to close the gap of funding with two-weeks-and-change to go. Time to show some resolve and to get past high-school-era neuroses, on a personal level. Time to make the case, as… I wanna do this project!

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A Vague Proposal of Modest-to-Major Change

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post; welcome back to 2008! In this note, I’d like to sketch out the fact that I currently make a living from two main outlets: as a freelance writer, with about 30 years experience, primarily covering arts and culture in St. Louis; and as the co-owner and operator of a reborn corner tavern in South City. After 17 years spent, oft-unhappily, as an adjunct professor, this recent, four-year run has had many positives; the fact that I’m writing this from a quaint coffeeshop in the middle of the day, with chickens crowing in the background, is an example of that. Life’s okay. Could be a lot worse.

But it could be a lot better, too. And it feels time to make some moves to that effect.

In terms of media/content production in editorial environments, the work’s seldom been tighter and pay rates have never been smaller. It’s a tougher side hustle than just a couple of years ago. And while bar management’s had some amazing moments, my legs aren’t getting younger and my nerves are fraying a bit. While I’m trying to be a better adult, I may as well as admit that I need to build up my finances, while doing work that has some built-in, social decency, if that’s at all possible. This is where I hope you, or someone like you, might be able to lead an old horse to some sweet, sweet water.

Things I’d like to do, would be open to do, or would do if the cash is correct (bolded for you shortcutters):

A couple of times, I’ve been hired to do a bit of ghostwriting. It’s weirdly fun. I’d be a ghost again, for sure. (Example of possible work: I could imagine a rich St. Louisan wanting their life story to be told/published. I could also imagine taking down their stories, shaping them, writing up a coherent summary of said life, all done under their name. Maybe this’d be a book, a site, a hybrid project. What do I know? I’m not rich!)

Akin to the above, I’ve done some research for books. I’m cool in helping others achieve their publishing goals, while staying as anonymous as a… ghost. (Example: compiling quotes or statistics, shaping content, allowing the writer to come at their text with a clearer, cleaner set of words and data. Have done it before, actually, and, no, I won’t tell you for whom/what.)

Your band is dead. Your restaurant is no more. Your dream project’s just long enough removed from existence that it escaped the digital age. It’d be super-duper fun to research, write and digitally represent such past projects, giving them a fitting online epitaph. ‘Cause right now, your baby’s digital footprint is a damned mess. (Examples: your band, your restaurant, your dream project; RIP.)

Sponsored content‘s odd, right? But it’s all over the place. While I don’t wanna live in the pocket of The Man, I’ve seen local niches where a bit of corporate sponsorship could/would go a long way. (Example: I’ve covered the comedy scene in St. Louis for the past couple of years, but stories have been waning and my beer bill at open mic’s isn’t getting smaller. For sure, I could envision a brewery, distillery or liquor distributor finding a natural tie-in to such coverage, be that for my current outlets, or for a standalone site. Ditto coverage of music.)

To switch inputs, I’ve gotten more comfortable as a bartender, even as I already feel pretty good about buying inventory and generally helping shape the look/feel/sound of a bar. I wouldn’t mind a weekly shift at a higher-volume spot, to improve on the former skill. In that kind of environment, it might actually be fun and educational to just do the job, nobody to manager but my own damned self. But… to be perfectly honest, I’d love to give another concept a shot. If there was a struggling, underperforming bar in Maplewood, central STL County or Soulard in need of a reboot, I think there’s a solution, one that wouldn’t be a passion project, but would generate some heat. (Example: no surprise, here. It’s this.)

If this note seems a bit scattered, consider that the problem with generalists, generally: we’re, uh, scattered. But interesting, creative and semi-employable. So get at me via this LinkedIn noise?

Oh, yeah, almost forgot: I’d move to New Orleans in a hot second! So you Louisiana folks, don’t feel left out of the help bubble.

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The 2018 Book List

There’s this one guy I know. He’s asked me to post a books-read list for 2018; in fact, he’s asked me more than once. I’ve said that I’d do just that. Today, procrastination gives way to action. Here’s the updated list for the year.

I read a lot, though I’d love to read more. Maybe you’ll find something in here worth your time.

January: No Big Thing by Wm. Stage (novel); The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman (novel); Alice Fantastic by Maggie Estep (novel); Salt by Mark Kurlansky (historical non-fiction); Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon (memoir); Point Omega by Don Delilio (novella); Fear of Music by Jonathan Lethem (cultural/music criticism); The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs (non-fiction and THE BEST book I’ve read in years)

February: Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Daniel Lyons (memoir/tech culture criticism); So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson (media culture criticism); The Sellout by Paul Beatty (novel); The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch by Jonathan Gottschall (sports criticism/memoir); We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates (socio-political non-fiction)

March: Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji & Anthony G. Greenwald (psychology); Hell to Pay by George Pelecanos (novel); The View From the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman (collected non-fiction); The Tao of Bob by Spike Gillespie (memoir); Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers (novel); A Bomb in Every Issue: How the Short and Unruly Life of Ramparts Magazine Changed America by Peter Richardson (media history)

April: Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop and Street Basketball, Onaje X.O. Woodbine (memoir, cultural criticism); Sputnik Sweetheart, Haruki Murakami (fiction); Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States, Bill Bryson (social history); Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff (experiential journalism); No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life, Thich Nhat Hanh (Buddhism, spirituality)

May: The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin (memoir/self-help); The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler (noir fiction); High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (my favorite novel, re-read for the third, maybe fourth time)

June: Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, Gabriella Coleman (tech/culture); The Prophet, Khalil Gibran (poetry); The Tree, John Fowles (nature/memoir); In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson (historical non-fiction)

July: Medieval Lives, Terry Jones & Alan Ereira (history); Retromania, Simon Reynolds (culture/media criticism); Dream State: Eight Generations of Swamp Lawyers, Conquistadors, Confederate Daughters, Banana Republicans, and Other Florida Wildlife, Diane Roberts (memoir/regional history)

August: The Plot Against America, Philip Roth (historical fiction); Siddharta, Herman Hesse (fiction); Flying Close to the Sun: My Life and Times as a Weatherman, Cathery Wilkerson (memoir/radical history)

September: Shoot the Piano Player, David Goodis (noir fiction); Fear, Bob Woodward (contemporary events/horror); In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan (ag studies); Talking to Girls About Duran Duran (memoir/pop culture)

October: Signifying Rappers, David Foster Wallace and Mark Costello (culture criticism)

November: Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, Michael Eric Dyson (civics/race relations)

December: You’re on an Airplane, Parker Posey (memoir); Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger (social science); They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, Hanif Abdurraqib (memoir/cultural criticism); The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood (memoir); Fox 8, George Saunders (illustrated fable); Animals Eat Each Other, Elle Nash (novel); Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (psychology/self-help)

Target for year: 52 books

Completed: 50 books (d’oh)

Enjoy your own reading in 2019, as will I.