Monday, January 30, 2012

The Tub

You don't have to be a genius to look at the Stuck Outside of Phoenix the Movie Kickstarter campaign and realize that things are getting a little itchy.

With about $2,200 gathered to date (big thanks for all your donations), we still need $12,500-ish in the next week or we get nothing.

It's clearly time to break out The Tub.

"What's The Tub?" you ask?

Well, The Tub is where, in 1998, when Kel and I were packing up our lives in Phoenix and moving to San Francisco, I stored all of my Refreshments collectibles. The Tub is about four feet long, blue, and it probably holds the best collection of Refreshments memorabilia the world knows.

It's Mecca for Refreshments collectors.

As you might imagine, I don't spend a lot of time digging through The Tub. It's sat in storage for most of its life, where no one bothers it. Still, there was one time in recent memory when I dug deep into The Tub. It was in 2003, and I was in the process of publishing my first novel, Stuck Outside of Phoenix. Kel and I had just moved to Ashland, Oregon, and I was having trouble scraping together enough money to publish and promote my novel. So, I got into The Tub, found twenty-eight items I felt I could part with, and sold them on Ebay. This gave me the necessary funds to bring Stuck the book to life. The Tub saved the day.

So, here we are in 2012, and once again I'm trying to help bring Stuck to life, albeit in a completely different way, and the funds are not yet there to make it happen. Sounds like a job for The Tub.

At this link, you will find eleven Ebay events, all for Refreshments-related items, up for auction or straight sale. This is some very unique stuff, including Wheelie promotional posters from 1994, the gig poster from the SXSW show when the Refreshments secured their record deal with Mercury Records, a handmade Refreshments belt buckle from a set of four given to each band member in 1996, and lots lots more. I bet even the largest Refreshments collectors will find something they didn't know existed.

And here's the great news. Every penny I make (minus fees and shipping) from the sale of these items will go to the Kickstarter campaign for Stuck Outside of Phoenix the Movie! Yes, you can buy at will and know that your money is going to help put this thing over the top.

So, if you're into Refreshments memorabilia--and I know some of you are--bid like the wind, and let's make it happen!

Thanks for all you do.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Why Crowdsourcing Stuck Outside of Phoenix the Movie is so Important

Something I touched on in my last blog that really needs to be hammered home is the necessity of crowdsourcing Stuck Outside of Phoenix the Movie.

In the eighties and nineties, bands often made their own LPs. It usually meant setting money aside from every gig, but having a record of your own was worth it. I've been in bands that put away twenty percent of all gig money until enough was saved to make a record. The Refreshments made a indie record in 1994 called Wheelie, recording it late at night at the Saltmine recording studio in Mesa. Wheelie cost about $1,000 to make. I was very proud of it then, and I still am.

When I became a novelist in 1997, I brought the DIY attitude of rock music with me. I never had a problem with the idea of self-publishing my work, but I had writer friends who couldn't fathom the idea. I thought they were crazy, and in 2003 I self-published my first novel Stuck Outside of Phoenix. At the time, print-on-demand publishing was revolutionizing the game, making it more affordable for authors to do it themselves. I self-published the first editon of Stuck for $450.

$1,000, $450. No small chunks of change but, thankfully, attainable.

Now let's talk about the movie producer. By contrast, movies are almost always very expensive to make. Most of the ones we watch cost millions. Still, there are many examples of great movies that were made for comparatively little. Swingers was made for a quarter of a million. The Blair Witch Project was made for something like $50,000. The all-time winner is Clerks, which was made for $7,500. Even at these less expensive levels, producers need lots of money to get a movie made, or at least a lot more than writers and musicians.

So, where does a movie producer get the dough? He could try to get it funded by a big studio, like the ones that bring us summer blockbusters. As you might guess, the odds are largely against this working out. Moreover, you can bet a big studio is going to have its hand in every creative decision: the script, the actors, the locations, the accompanying music. Nico Holthaus, the producer of Stuck Outside of Phoenix the Movie, told me that major studios read scripts while referring to a checklist of twenty-two attributes. If your script doesn't have at least seventeen of those attributes, then the studio won't make the movie. (Ever wonder why so many movies are so similar? There you go.) I don't know what those attributes are, but you can guess, can't you? Car chase, sex scene, happy ending, it doesn't take a genius.

When I wrote the novel Stuck Outside of Phoenix, and the script for Stuck Outside of Phoenix the Movie, my goal was to write about a kid struggling to get out of his hometown, with the early nineties Tempe music scene as a backdrop. I wasn't focused on car chases or sex scenes or happy endings. (That doesn't mean they aren't in the book, or won't be in the movie.) I was focused on fulfilling my vision, bringing forward this character and this world in a clear, resonate way.

It's fair to assume major studios would have no interest my script. Moreover, I'm not sure I'd want them messing with it. Can you imagine some movie exec demanding we take out a Dead Hot Workshop song during a scene and replace it with a Hootie and the Blowfish song? Did you just have a heart attack? So did I. The instant you sign these people on, it's not your movie anymore. They bought it from you. The folks working on Stuck want to make these decisions themselves because that way the movie will reflect the visions of the movie makers, not some shareholder somewhere who only cares about return on investment.

So, big studios are out. What other options are there to raise funds? Crowdsourcing!

If you step forward with a donation to Stuck Outside of Phoenix the Movie's Kickstarter campaign, you can help fulfill this vision. With your contribution, and hundreds of other folks doing the same, we can make a great movie about the Tempe music scene in the early nineties. Luckily, we don't need anywhere near a million bucks to get it done--not even close--but we do need a substantial sum. (It's an amount somewhere between Clerks and The Blair Witch Project.) Nico and I know the world of the struggling musician in Tempe in the nineties, and with your help--and the help and talents of hundreds of others--we can create something everyone can be proud of. You think this movie would ever get made if it were up to major studios? And how good could it be? They don't know this world. They're not us.

So please give to the Kickstarter campaign, and share the link at your blog, Facebook page, and anywhere else you think interested people might happen upon it. All the folks involved want to make a great movie, and with your help, we can.

Donate now.

Thanks for all you do.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Call-Up

I'm old, which means I wonder about kids these days.

I actually don't wonder so much about kids as much as I do about musician kids.

I remember myself as a teenager in Moline, Illinois in the 1980s, sitting on a stool in our basement, playing the bass lick during the solo section of Rush's “Tom Sawyer.” You know the lick.

Dee-do-de-do-de-do, Dee-do-de-do-de-do.

I quit trying to play it with the record because there was no way I'd ever play it as fast as Rush's bass player, Geddy Lee, so I played it by myself over and over again, stumbling through the fingering, driving everyone in my house crazy.

I loved this song, and this music--Moving Pictures is one of my all-time favorite albums--but I liked other things about Rush too. I liked that they had this gangly bass player with a big schnoz who walked around the stage like he owned it, playing these impossibly complicated bass lines, some of which I could never imagine replicating. (“Tom Sawyer” was maybe in my league. “YYZ”? Forget it.) I liked that the band was from Canada. (Any foreign clime was exotic to me, even Canada.) I liked that the trio's image was carefully cultivated to make this Midwestern corn husk fantasize about one day being just like them: smart, amazing at my instrument, strutting around the stage like the Prince of Sudan. As a teenager, I was also a kind of gangly bass player with a big schnoz. Who was to say it couldn't happen?

After I moved to Arizona in 1990, these two worlds―the world of normal me and the world of big time rock--collided. I'd moved to the area because I had a friend who'd moved to Phoenix the year before who would let me share his room if I split the rent. I didn't know much about Phoenix, but I knew it had 2.5 million people, and a college with 40,000 students in nearby Tempe. There must be some kind of music scene there, where I could play original music in a band while finishing my degree.

My hunch was right. There were rock clubs in Tempe like Long Wong's on Mill, and the Sun Club, and Chuy's, where local bands played and acted like rock stars as much as the scene would let them. Most of these bands could draw enough to cover their beer tabs, and a few were genuinely popular, like the Gin Blossoms, who could fill any of these clubs on any night of the week. People actually danced when the Gins played--like, guys with girls dancing; not some random chaos where people hold their hands in the air and jump up and down. The tunes were great, the beer flowing, the sexual energy palpable. I couldn't imagine being anywhere else.

Cue collision.

The Gods of the Major Labels descended upon our little town the same year I arrived, and the Gin Blossoms inked a record deal with A&M Records, the first band out of our scene to get signed. A&M Records was the real deal. The Police had been on A&M. Styx. Squeeze. Tempe was being smiled upon, and suddenly, almost overnight, there was a conceivable path from my everyday life as a twenty-year-old musician to the national music scene. I could seriously entertain visions of becoming some facsimile of Geddy Lee. I'd never really felt that way before the Gins got signed.

And these feelings were validated to an even greater extent in 1991 when bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam broke through to the mainstream from their own sleepy musical enclave of Seattle. There was something happening in the zeitgeist, something started by bands like REM and Hüsker Dü a decade earlier and now carried forward into grunge, something that would allow folks like us to occupy the top of the musical charts. There was no reason why the band you saw on Friday night at your local club couldn't be the band you saw the next year on MTV.

I used to call this phenomena “The Golden Ticket”--you're just a normal schmo walking around town and then, suddenly, you're ordained--but now I find that metaphor inaccurate. A Golden Ticket, á la Willy Wonka, implies too much dumb luck: you buy a chocolate bar, and you either get a ticket or you don't. There's always been plenty of luck involved in landing a major label record deal, but luck wasn't the word that came to mind when bands started getting signed out of Tempe. It was more a reward for talent and work, like the call-up of a hot hitter from AAA to the major leagues. It was your soul and work ethic giving you a shot at your dreams. In those early years of the Tempe scene, 1990-1993, the only two bands to get signed were the Gin Blossoms and Dead Hot Workshop. They were also my two favorite bands.

The Gins subsequent success nationally over the next few years greased the Tempe skids even more, and in 1995 my band the Refreshments signed with Mercury Records. Mercury was the label of Kiss, John Mellencamp, and not so long ago, a Canadian trio called Rush. My band would make two albums for the same label that had released Moving Pictures fifteen years earlier. 


At the time in Tempe, there was a lot of talk of the Refreshments becoming the next Gin Blossoms, and our achievements along those lines are noteworthy. We had a hit single in 1996 called “Banditos.” We played “Banditos” live on the all-new Late Night with Conan O'Brien. We wrote and recorded the theme song for the Fox television series King of the Hill. There's plenty to brag about, but the success of my band isn't really what I think of when I think of the Tempe music scene. That all happened post-Blossoms, which was a different game. When I think of the scene, I think of those early years of hanging out--inside and outside--Long Wong's, watching the Gin Blossoms and Dead Hot, wondering how to get into a band as good as those two. I loved this time so much so that, when I set aside music in 1998 to write my first novel, I decided to focus on these early years. That novel, published in 2003, is Stuck Outside of Phoenix.

Flash forward to 2008. I'm at home watching Mill Avenue Inc., a documentary about the gentrification of the Mill Avenue area of Tempe, where much of the fun happened back in the day. Nico Holthaus, the director of Mill Ave. Inc., had contacted me about a year earlier to interview me for the film, and I was watching it for the first time. In 2003, Long Wong's--because of economic pressures placed on it by the systematic gentrification of the area--had been forced out of business, and as the last of the great Tempe clubs to go under, it represented the final nail in the coffin of what had been our music scene. This gentrification happened so quickly and seamlessly it was a little scary. All our shared history, gone. Many griped about this, but it was Nico who got film rolling, organized everything, focused the message. The result was a film that was entertaining, informative, empowering. A brief phone interview with me appears toward the end, and I'm proud to have had anything to do with it.

The message of that documentary--that gentrification doesn't have to happen; we let it happen--is an important one, but what I enjoyed most about Mill Ave. Inc. were the glimpses into the scene back in the day. Nico compiled film and photos of my cohorts and heroes, like the Gins lead singer Robin Wilson working at a record store in 1989 and gushing about his band's soon-to-be-released local album; and Sara Cina, manager of Long Wong's, shedding a tear as she talks about the last days of the club. It felt great to be connected with Tempe again. The clubs were gone, many of the bands broken up, but Mill Ave. Inc.--in a visual, visceral way--kept the scene alive. I learned from it that film had the power to put us right back there in a way nothing else can.

I emailed Nico in 2010 with the idea of him making a movie version of Stuck Outside of Phoenix. I didn't know him well--we'd met face-to-face exactly once--and I had no idea how he'd react. I knew we were both Uncle Tupelo fans from Illinois who'd moved to Arizona in the early nineties and fallen in love with the Tempe scene. I got a reply from Nico in a matter of minutes, nothing but “YEEHAW” written in bold caps.

I wrote the screenplay for the movie in 2011, focusing on bringing back that palpable sense of a music scene on the brink of discovery. Nico is producing the film, and he has a director and film editor and many of the other necessities lined up. He could start rolling as soon as next month.

So, back to kids these days, and me being old.

When a teenage musician of today sits in his room and plays along with his equivalent of “Tom Sawyer,” what is he thinking about? More to the point, what is he dreaming about? Is he dreaming that someday he might play in a band and maybe that band will get signed? Is he dreaming that someday he might get tapped on the shoulder by some person from a record label, who will be smiling ear to ear? I don't think so. I don't think kids see bands on major labels in 2012 and think, “Wouldn't that be cool.” And if they do, they probably shouldn't, because the landscape of the music business has changed so drastically since I played in the Refreshments, winning the game for them is an entirely different enterprise. They need to embrace DIY and make a name for themselves in their communities and on the Internet. As an artistically viable force, major labels don't have much to offer them anymore.

And hey, that's exactly as it should be. The Internet and digital technology have taken the game out of big corporations' hands and given it to each and every one of us. You can make and distribute a record, set up a rock tour, film a video--everything the Refreshments thought we needed a record deal for--in your bedroom. It's the fruition of everything Ian MacKaye and Mike Watt ever dreamed of. You control your destiny, not shareholders. In 2012, making sure shareholders have someone to mess with is Justin Bieber's job. You're making art. So do it yourself, jam econo, and show us old folks how we should've been doing it all along.

But even though things are better now, that doesn't mean we didn't give something up. Yes, we lost something when we screwed The Man. I think the main thing we lost was the dream of The Call-Up, the sense that our talents, if we work hard, could lead to someone important tapping us on the shoulder and saying, “Boy, have we got a deal for you.” It's how it happened for Elvis and the Beatles and Kiss and Led Zeppelin and Van Halen and U2 and Nirvana and Green Day. Look at that list. Rage against the machine all you want, but it's kind of hard to hate the system entirely that brought all of them to most of us.

More than anything Stuck Outside of Phoenix the Movie should emphasize the sense back then that you could be a normal schmo in a band, in a scene, and that scene could get hot, and bands could get signed, and you could wind up on MTV with your face next to Jimi Hendrix's and Bono's and Kurt Cobain's.

Unfortunately, movie-making is a little different from running a rock band out of your bedroom. Many of the same kinds of DIY tools apply, and many don't. For one, movie-making involves a lot more people, and those people need to get (very nominally) paid. In other words, if Stuck Outside of Phoenix the Movie is going to happen, funds need to be raised.

Luckily, the 21st Century has its own mechanism for these kind of things called Kickstarter. Click on this link to learn more about Stuck Outside of Phoenix the Movie, and please consider donating to its Kickstarter campaign. And don't forget to take a look at the very unique incentives for donating. As I learned when watching Mill Ave. Inc., film can bring back memories like nothing else. It's called movie magic. Thank goodness there's still some magic out there.

I'm going to be writing more about this project over the next week or three at this blog, and I have a few surprises in store, especially if you're a Refreshments fan. Please keep tabs on me here every Monday as I unveil more events in the name of this effort. For now, give to the Kickstarter campaign, and thanks for all you do.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Stuck Outside of Phoenix the Movie Kickstarter Campaign!!!

And here's the 21st Century way of funding a film! It's called Kickstarter, and it allows folks like you to donate money to a great movie project like, for example, Stuck Outside of Phoenix the Movie! Think of it as PBS fundraising for movie producers.

So, why should you give? Great question. First of all, check out the incentives, which are on the right-hand side of the page. There's some very unique stuff there, and they can be yours if you donate.

Second, you'd be helping insure that Stuck the Movie gets it shot. Everyone wants it to happen, and everyone on board is willing to work as hard as possible to make it happen, but there are some things that can't be accomplished with blood, sweat and tears. Some things require money.

Third, you'll be part of Tempe music and rock pic history! What's not to love about that?

Thanks for all you do.

Kickstarter Campaign

Yours in laying down the law,


Try Ghost Notes, the award-winning novel, in print form for just $5.

Try Ghost Notes the Audio Book as an unabridged digital download for just $4.99.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Stuck Outside of Phoenix the Movie Trailer!!!

Big news.

Here's the trailer for Stuck Outside of Phoenix the Movie, produced by Nico Holthaus and put together with the help of myriad other folks.

If you haven't, check out the SOOP Movie Website, and please like the SOOP Movie Facebook Fan Page.

There's going to be lots more to say about this over the next month or two, so keep your eyes peeled every Monday morning here for the latest. There will be more info on the movie itself, and opportunities to be more involved. This is kind of my big 2012 thing, so I'll be keeping you apprised.

For now, see if you can watch this trailer more times than I have. Good luck.

Yours in laying down the law,


Try Ghost Notes, the award-winning novel, in print form for just $5.

Try Ghost Notes the Audio Book as an unabridged digital download for just $4.99.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ten Thousand Saints

For my first post of 2012, I offer you my last rock lit review of 2011, this one of Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson. New York Times named it one of the ten best books of 2011. Do I agree? Come find out at JMWW.

Yours in laying down the law,


Try Ghost Notes, the award-winning novel, in print form for just $5.

Try Ghost Notes the Audio Book as an unabridged digital download for just $4.99.