2019, among other things, marks the 100th anniversary of the infamous Chicago Black Sox scandal, wherein the White Sox deliberately threw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds for the benefit of gamblers and six or seven of the players (depending on who you ask). As a longtime student of the affair, I believe that Shoeless "Joe" Jackson did not take the gamblers' money and did nothing to negatively affect the outcome of the Series yet was banned anyway. Third baseman Buck Weaver, it is agreed, did not take part in the scandal but was banned from the game along with the rest of the malefactors for knowing about the fix and keeping his damned mouth shut which was just plain good sense in Chicago
then as now.
I have long been a part of a lobby to have both Jackson and Weaver posthumously reinstated to baseball so that Shoeless Joe can take his rightful place among the immortals in Cooperstown and Buck can have the stain removed from his good name. To that end, I have written every commissioner of Major League Baseball since Peter Ueberroth on behalf of the two players. Finally, in 2015, newly appointed commissioner Rob Manfred replied personally to my letter, albeit not to my satisfaction. The upside of the letter was that he would be willing to consider the case if a formal petition for reinstatement were to be filed. Jackson and Weaver remain in a sort of perpetual limbo (not that kind, the other kind).
All of which has absolutely nothing at all to do with Our Music.
Amid all the other things of which 2019 marks the anniversary, there is the not-inconsiderable fact that it marks eighteen years of Your Own Personal Genius at All About Jazz. Eighteen years. As a man of many and varied interests, and possibly Adult ADD, there is very little in my life to which I've been willing to devote that kind of time. I only have 14 years of formal schooling. I played the euphonium and trombone seriously for a mere six years. My marriage to the Former Mrs. Genius lasted a scant four years (it just seemed longer). As big a part as wrestling has played in my life (the high school kind, not the WWE kind), I just did it for three years. And though Mars Hill University feels like a physical part of me, I was only there for one year. On the other hand, it took me the first twenty-five years of my life to develop my peculiar writing style and, as has been mentioned in this column before, I have been both a guitarist and a partisan of the Atlanta Braves for over thirty years. I've been a partisan of the Carolina Panthers since they came into the league in 1995. I started cooking when I was five. I've been crushing on songstress Lisa Loeb since 1994. I began collecting CDs in 1986, and DVDs in 1998. My car is a 2001 Mercedes Benz C320 that still runs like a top even with 190,000 miles on her. I wish I were in as good a shape; but then, I'm a 1967 model.
It was the spring of 2001. I approached Commodore Ricci
with the idea for a Jazz humor column, something that heretofore had only been considered in the fevered dreams of the most out-there of Jazz fans. Ricci, for his part, said that he had been looking for the 'Dave Barry of Jazz.' What he found was the man who would become the Dean of American Jazz Humorists®, compiling a body of work that stands as a testament to just how far one man is willing to go for a gag. Steeped in the work of the great humorists of a bygone eraRing Lardner, Robert Benchley and Will Cuppy chief among themand fervently adhering to Benchley's dictum that "Sheer madness is the highest brow of humor," it could be stated in Jazz terms that Mike went looking for Cannonball Adderley
and found Ornette Coleman
. If I flatter myself with that comparison, please keep in mind that it's my damned column and I do what I want.
I could, were I a lesser writer, fill the rest of this piece with a chronological overview of the nearly 100 articles
I have contributed during my tenure. I could offer a treatise on my feelings about Jazz, writing in general, and writing humor specifically. I could lament how the world has changed since 2001, particularly since September 11. But none of that is my job. My job is to write funny things about Our Music in an effort to save it from the deadly sin of taking itself too seriously, a task itself that I take as seriously as anything that's dear to me (Jazz, Barbecue, baseball, and the lion's share of actress Tatiana Maslany). Which is to say, I'm pretty damned serious about being silly. But not too serious, because that's kind of the point.
I was having a nice Harvey Wallbanger down at the union hall (Brotherhood of Humorists, Smartasses and Wiseacres, Local 1264) when one of my fellow wags asked me, "What's a typical day for you?" Believe it or not, that's the first time I'd really given it any thought. The short answer is, there is no typical day for me. I am not a creature of habit, I like every day to be measurably different from the one before. But there are certain similarities that persist one day to the next. I'm generally an early riser, usually up and at my computer around 6:00-ish. I make myself a cup of coffee, earning my Keurig coffeemaker the GeniusDome Employee of the Month award for May 2019, and settle down to work. After, of course, I check to make sure the Internet is still there. I do a cursory check of Facebook, e-mail, and several different news sources to get myself up to speed for the new day.
Author James Clavell used to write ten pages and edit 100 pages per day, Ray Bradbury wrote from 9-5 every day, and I maintain the same pace I've kept since I wrote my first novel at the age of twelve: three words a day, like clockwork. Which is to say, my work evolves during the editing process as much or more so than in the writing itself. Ask Monsignor Ricci and he'll tell you that I continually edit even up until the moment the piece goes live. And even then, I'm never completely satisfied. I'm like the creator of Star Wars
, who's still tweaking the canonical trilogy after all these decades. There's an old joke that George Lucas ate a sandwich last week and is still swallowing mayonnaise and salt trying to improve it.
I then usually bring up the things I'm currently working on, and decide which pieces need my attention. With that decided, I commence the day's writing. At any given time, I've got two or three AAJ pieces in various stages of completion, plus eight to ten other pieces on various topics from food to religion. I've also got several screenplays, everywhere from rough treatments to almost ready to send out into the world should the opportunity ever present itself. Or, more to the fact, should I ever make an opportunity for myself. I believe in the old Appalachian mountain saying, "Them that don't ask don't get."
Long about noonish, my butler brings me my first meal of the day which consists mostly of Southern breakfast foods like grits, Neese's country sausage, and farm-fresh eggs. He's not really my butler, he's a local meth-head who's watched every episode of Downton Abbey
and thinks this is a TV show. He enjoys long walks, panhandling, and swatting at invisible bees in his free time.
Back to work.
One of my biggest influences, Will Cuppy, used to exhaustively research every piece he wrote. Each fact he discovered, he'd write down on a 3x5 index card and diligently catalog. These were the days before the Internet. I do my research on the fly as I'm writing the piece. Facts get folded into the work like Julia Child folded cheese into egg whites for a soufflé. Wait, that line was supposed to go into one of my articles on food. It's one of the hazards of working on multiple pieces at the same time. Still, I try not to get too bogged down with facts; this is a humor column, not Wikipedia. Too much cheese, and the soufflé won't rise.
If I'm writing about Jazz, it generally helps to listen to Jazz as I work. If I'm writing about a particular artist, I will stream their work to keep myself in the mood and the moment. If I'm writing about Our Music in general, I will listen to some of my favorites or fire up the DVD player and watch/listen to a Jazz-related movie, like Ken Burns' Jazz
documentary or the excellent little film Jazz in the Present Tense
. Or, depending on my mood, I might just plug in something relatively brainless just to occupy the part of my mind that agonizes over every comma, so I can just write. I have a collection of over 400 DVDs and, even though I'm a board-certified Genius, not all of them are the Criterion Collection of Akira Kurosawa's Sanjuro
. I also own the unrated BluRay of Showgirls
and the Eighties classic Valley Girl
. Don't judge me.
I've been writing almost since I learned how to write in grade school. I wrote everything in longhand, even my first novel, until I started using an Olympia portable typewriter in high school. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, so to speak, my parents bought me an early version of a word processor when I was in college. I got my first real word processor, a Brother with a real 3.5" floppy drive when I was in my mid-Twenties, around the same time I found my voice as a humorist. I got my first computer in 1995, a steam-driven Packard Bell, which began my long relationship with Microsoft Word that continues to this day. But for as long as I've been using a keyboard of some sort and a word processing program, I still always do my 'final' edits by hand.
Generally, I like to print out the piece and do any major revisions before I upload it. For this, I like to take myself out to dinner and do my work over a nice meal. My favorite place to edit is Mama Maria's Italian restaurant in nearby Salem, VA. With a dish of eggplant Sorrentino (like eggplant parmesan, but with a layer of lasagna-like ricotta filling between layers of eggplant) and a glass of Chianti in front of me, I take an old-fashioned ink pen to the piece as mercilessly as Michael Corleone did when he shot Sollozzo and McCluskey. Sorry, that was also intended for another piece; but it ties in nicely with the Italian food theme, so I'll let it go.