I’ve been writing and playing music for a long time. Half my life. The stuff I’m the most proud of is parceled up under the name The Flying Black Hats. When I was in my early twenties, my best friend Pat and I lived in the Mission in San Francisco. Neither of us wanted to play live anymore (we are old band mates). But we played and wrote music all the time. That was just what we did on weekends. We’d get some booze and write songs. We were introverted music nerds.
I don’t remember whose idea it was to buy a four track. But we did. This was over a decade ago, before Garageband was bundled into every Mac and could outdo our four track standing still. We split the two hundred some bucks to buy one. We didn’t have any money – it was a crippling decision. We recorded because it was fun. We never even really played the songs for people. We gave tapes away as Christmas presents to our friends because we were broke.
I put a bunch of songs up on last.fm years ago. All free. I didn’t really think much of it. I think my friend Max suggested it. I figured it would be nice to have a backup when we inevitably lost the tapes and CD’s. But a weird thing happened. Time passed. I got an email from a guy named Oded (in Israel) wanting to interview us. I started getting emails about when our next show was. I tried to explain to everyone that we weren’t a band. But people kept listening. And they still do. People all over the world. Literally. Some places I haven’t heard of. That is what got me to make the leap from sending stories to obscure literary journals, to writing blogs, to writing and self-publishing novels.
What got me thinking about this today is that I have an ongoing mental debate with myself about the typos in my first novel, Joe Café. There are a dozen or so minor things. Most people don’t seem to notice. There is one place where a character uses the wrong name. That one bugs me because it could be confusing. Fixing the errors would entail getting a hold of the guy who did the formatting for me. Paying him. Rereading the book. It would be a pain. I want to keep moving forward.
But here’s the other thing I don’t really tell anyone. Part of me likes that the typos are in there. With my new novel, The Biker, I paid an editor – I read it a thousand times. It is going to come out in paperback. But Joe Café is kind of like those old busted four track tapes. I published it because, well, why the hell not? But it has taken on a life of its own. It has gotten me interviewed. It is read all over the world. It got me this gig. Hell, I get royalty checks! People say really nice things about me and my book and I still think, ‘hey, I’m just a dumbass who wrote a book?!?!’
So, part of me is lazy and cheap, but part of me likes Joe Café, warts and all. I did it. DIY. Except for the formatting. I wrote it. I edited it. My wife and I made the cover. When I listen to The Flying Black Hats, I love the songs. And part of what I love are the times Pat and I screwed up. Or when one of us coughs. Or the fact that we used empty bourbon bottles and screwdrivers for percussion. You are limited in what you can do with a four track – how good it can sound – and how much can be fixed.
I will always listen to The Flying Black Hats, and I will remember Pat recording guitar tracks in our bathroom because it sounded better. I’ll remember huddling around our crappy four track with one crappy mic, two guitars, a few harmonicas, and whatever else we could come up with. It was pure creation. A lot of the songs are good in a low-fi way, don’t get me wrong. And pretty much all of them sound better to me than they would if they’d been recorded in a 30K dollar an hour studio. Whenever you ask my three year old what she wants to listen to she says, “Dadda and Pat”. I’m sure recording a million dollar album is fun. But I doubt it’s more fun. And I doubt my daughter would like it any more.
Oded’s Laughing Evergreens – a big part of the reason that my novels exist and that I am writing this today whether he knows it or not.
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