The John Sellers Interview: Just Under Twenty Questions

Hey folks: will be on vacation returning Monday, May 5. The fi-ance and I are signing on a house on Monday, moving in on Tuesday and then going to Atlanta on Wednesday to attend the wedding of a interviewee. But I'm leaving you plenty of reading material.

First, if you missed my column in RedEye yesterday, you can find it here on page 4 (it's a PDF so it takes a second to download.) I've also done a chunk of stuff for the LA you can find an interview with the girl last kicked off "America's Next Top Model" and my thoughts on "30 Rock" and "The Office".

Today I chat with the author of Perfect From Now On: How Indie Rock Saved My Life and Arcade Fever: The Fan's Guide to the Golden Age of Video Games. He is also the editor/writer of the back-page Q+A at Time Out New York and a contributor to The Believer and GQ.

What are you angry about right now?
At the moment (12:30pm on Wednesday, April 16), I'm angry that I don't own a Popemobile. I'm also ticked off (or T.O.'d, as Mom would say) about the Detroit Tigers and their ridiculous 4-10 start. Those douchewads.

When I saw you read, you selected some passages from a grade school journal, mostly for laughs. Were there any entries from that age that confirm opinions about music that you still hold to this day?
You're referring, of course, to the journal I was required to keep for my seventh-grade English class. The entry dated September 12, 1983, states that I liked "Foolin'" by Def Leppard "because it has rock and a good tune in it," and I still wholeheartedly believe that to be true. But here's an entry I'd like to share with you that is in no way music-related. It is titled "Cartoons," and was written on October 31, 1983:

"On Saturday mornings there are cartoons from about 6am to 1pm. The only cartoons I watch are the cartoons that feature characters in video games or Dungeons & Dragons or The Incredible Hulk-Spider-Man Hour or Rubik's Cube. I also watch Thundarr the Barbarian. Although I like all of these a lot, my favorite of these is Dungeons & Dragons. It is when five kids get caught in a land full of monsters and demons. They all turned into adventurers with weapons. A dungeon master helps them go through, giving them little hints. All the time they are looking for a way out of this land so they can get back to their homes. Every other week they play a rerun but that's good because I didn't see the first ones anyway. It is based on the game Dungeons & Dragons."

I found information on John Sellers the activist and John Sellers the jockey. Which would you rather be?
Given a choice between those two dudes, I'd definitely pick the jockey -- although if what I was being an activist for was "free meatballs for everyone," I might go the other way. But I'd rather be John Sellers #3, the author of the 32-page "Foxing the Witch." This is how the book is described on Amazon:

On Allhallows Eve a hungering witch and a poetical fox meet, seemingly by chance, below an old stone bridge. When the fox offers to foretell her future with a peculiar deck of cards, the luck of the witch takes a drastic turn. She is immediately plunged into a haunting quest peopled by an addicted dragon, an ardent fairy and a misogynous wizard. The witch named Mab, last of a line of witches of the same name, inhabits a world of larcenous hearts and ancient cruelties shadowed by colors of strange beauty. Her quest begins and ends with an enigmatic song: The Dragon old, the Fairy cold, Count each ancient emblem. The Turtle jailed, the Lady veiled, A witch's hand to bind them. Fate, retribution and an invitation to breakfast all entwine at journey's end, under a misty rainbow of magical cards.
Now that's one breakfast I'd kill to go to!

How do Guided by Voices' rabid fans differ from other bands'?
GBV fans drink twice as much Miller Lite as any other band's and they're as geeky as people who are obsessed with Monty Python. So we're swill-drinking dorks, which pretty much sums me up.

Who was your favorite Queer Eye guy based on your time with the guys?
I warmed to Ted Allen the most, primarily because he was the most like me, only gay. But the guy who left the biggest impression, not surprisingly, was Carson Kressley. He called me "Chauncey" and "Peaches" and "Pumpkin," and put me on a forced march through the Upper East Side wearing flared jeans and flip-flops. I still have the emotional scars to prove it.

I know you wrote about arcade games in your first book, but are there any current video games that you're into? (The last game I owned was Super Mario Brothers III and even then I co-owned it).
I'll estimate that I've wasted a good six months of my life playing the three Halo games over the past six years, and a friend of mine and I still have a vicious grudge match going on MLB 2004 for the PS2. Other than that, can anything really measure up to Robotron: 2084? No, it can't, and don't bother stepping to me with your pointless arguments about why I'm wrong, because I'm not.

Is Weird Al Yankovic as nice a guy as he seems?
Weird Al is about as weird as I am angry. He's actually pretty normal and is a genuinely nice person. But he bowls a mean game. My favorite part of that experience was running into him later that night after the MTV Video Music Awards. He was still wearing the shoes from the bowling alley. Weird Al is a klepto!

You described in another interview striking out in epic fashion while trying to pick up women with Chris Kattan--I want to know, who was the one bringing down the operation, you or Kattan?
It was totally Kattan. He insisted that we bar hop via limousine -- talk about whatever the opposite of a chick magnet is!

What have been some of your favorite assignments other than the ones mentioned above?
While it's hard to beat the Kattan assignment, the one that trumps it in terms of sheer uniqueness was my lunch with Gary Busey. I met him at a seafood shack in Malibu, and I spent most of the meal being bombarded by little pieces of crab that he inadvertently spewed in my direction. It was disgusting at the time, but now I consider it pretty sweet to have been spit on by Gary Busey.

Which type of game show questions were your favorite to write?
No game show question is fun to write. It is only fun to get paid for writing them. I take the most pride in the first question of mine to air on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: "What is the predominant color on a UPS truck?" I'm a total genius.

How are the Tigers going to do this season? I'm sure they will look back on the beginning to this season and laugh, right?
The Tigers, 4-10 as I write this, will rise from their own feces and destroy the world, or at least the American League Central. He who laughs last laughs best, and seriously, they will be cackling at all the haters come October.

Are there any bands that you used to be passionate about that you absolutely loathe now?
As revealed in Perfect From Now On, I once saw the Information Society in concert. But there wasn't much passion behind that mistake -- just the misfortune to be 18 and a moron. There are plenty of bands, though, that once captivated me that now cause almost bodily pain when I think about the amount of energy I spent on them. Here they are (in descending order of pain caused): Duran Duran, Erasure, Tears for Fears, INXS, Whitesnake, Joey Satriani, Whodini, and Juice Newton.

What are you ideal circumstances under which to listen to an album? See a concert?
I have always been a fan of listening to albums in cars, and believe that if you first hear a decent band while driving around, you're more susceptible to falling for them. Additionally, there is nothing more awesome that rocking out in a car; there is also nothing more geeky. But more often than not you have to geek out to enjoy something.

There is an inverse ratio between the size of the venue to how life-changing a particular concert will be for you. To me, a live show is about communing with the band; it's kind of hard to do that at Madison Square Garden or Coachella. So, there's a sweet spot of seeing a band early in its career when it's still playing smaller venues but far enough along that the band has enough material to provide a bit of mystery about what will be played on a given night.

But the better answer to both questions is: while drunk to the bejeezus on beer.

Who is your favorite music critic?
I'm not a big fan of music criticism. Way too often it's overly ponderous and pretentious, and you almost never learn anything from reading music reviews and discourse, other than that the person writing it is a giant douche. Simon Reynolds is the main example of this, and I'm still waiting for the program that will translate what the hell Pitchfork reviewers are saying in their reviews. I guess it comes down to this: Music critics seem to like music, sure, but they don't seem to like it in the right way. They're the guy at the concert who sits there watching a band and thinking about what to say about it later instead of being the guy who's up front getting their ass kicked by the awesomeness of the band. I know who I'd rather hang out with.

That being said, it's not like I'm a total hater. I loved Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman, if you can even consider that music criticism. And while I disagree with him sometimes, Jim DeRogatis is pretty entertaining. And I'd probably like any music critic who agrees with me that Joanna Newsom is painfully bad -- but I'm not sure one of those exists.

What are you working on now?
Besides my new gig doing the back-page Q+A at Time Out New York, I'm working on another book, this one about my weird dad and his lifelong fascination with snakes. We're about to head off to the wilds of Michigan, where I will have to stand knee-deep in a disgusting, Yoda-esque swamp in the hopes that I might catch one a copper-belly water snake. Color you jealous!

I'm stealing this from the Onion but what were the last five songs you downloaded, I'm sure legally?
I am absolutely, 100 percent against illegal downloading, except in cases where incredibly shitty music is involved. Like, anyone and everyone should be able to download Spice Girls and Bright Eyes songs and for free -- and in fact, they should be paid a stipend for the time it takes to do so. To slightly change your question, because I don't usually download individual songs, the last album I downloaded was Times New Viking's Rip It Off and it is truly awesome. I pity you if you've never heard it.

How does it feel to be the 206th person interviewed for
Awesome. Then please consider me a tribute to the number of bones in the body. I would like to be an honorary ulna. Or am I more of a coccyx?