Even Better with a Partner

When I thanked Jeff Pike in the acknowledgements to a book I self-published last year, I said “He should be doing this instead of me.” (“They,” actually--I included Steven Rubio in that.) People who put out collections of their writing are, or at least should be, people who write all the time. I don’t; Jeff does, at least once or twice a week on the site he’s been maintaining for the past decade, “Can’t Explain”. He actually writes, seemingly just for the fun of it. Another thing Jeff does that I don’t--not anymore--is he continues to write candidly about his life. I stopped doing that. I did a lot of it 20 years ago, used everything up, then my life got boring. The past decade, I’ve turned into George Costanza’s description of Jerry’s stand-up act: “What, you do a lot of that ‘Did you ever notice’ stuff, right?” This was really brought home to me as I read through Jeff’s examinations of his divorce, drug-taking, life without children, and other very personal matters in Index: Essays, Fragments, and Liberal Arts Homework, a self-published collection of his writing cover- ing over 20 years. And Strat-O-Matic baseball; it takes a lot of courage to share your tabletop-baseball obsession with the rest of the world. My familiarity with Jeff’s writing goes back to when he put out my second-favourite fan- zine ever, Tapeworm, kind of an early blueprint for the song-at-a-time way that people experience music nowadays. You’d make a mix-tape for Jeff, then send along some comments on the songs you picked along with the tape. The earliest pieces in Index, beginning with a lengthy argument with Joe Carducci’s Rock and the Pop Narcotic--I guess Jeff thought it would be silly to mail himself a mix-tape, so he’d write about other stuff-- date back to the Tapeworm days. Loved Tapeworm; still have all my copies, and used some of my own contributions when assembling Interrupting My Train of Thought. I’d say about half of Index concerns itself with music, and the other half is split be- tween movies and books. In terms of music and movies, Jeff and I more or less come from the same place: Husker Du and the Beatles (great piece on Rubber Soul), the Pet Shop Boys and Carole King (ditto Tapestry, “the first album cover I ever spent lots of time staring at”), Scorsese and Coppola and Highway 61. (I think--as per the book’s title, Index is organized alphabetically rather than chronologically or thematically, with ruminations on all 26 letters--“Z” is the only section without an actual entry; wish Jeff’s thoughts on Zodiac were in here...) With books, I again skulk off into the corner and defer to Jeff. He writes about made-up stories...chapter books...“novels” they’re called. I remember them from university: Faulkner, Austen, Henry James, that whole crew. A couple of years ago, when I made a personal pledge to start reading them again, I excitedly e-mailed Jeff in search of approval, encouragement, something. I got 100 pages into Joseph Heller’s Something Happened, put it aside (it was fine, but the concentration just wasn’t there), and I’m now back to my usual mix of biographies, politics, and what- ever non-fiction manages to grab my attention. What am I trying to say? I genuinely admire that Jeff continues to engage with and write thoughtfully about (and, clearly, enjoy) something I left behind long ago and am too lazy to revisit. Index bounces back and forth from one to the other to the third, and it’s always Jeff’s voice wherever he lands. I don’t envy Jeff the next few months: trying to stir up interest in a self-published book isn’t easy, even less so if you sit around waiting for the world to magically stir itself into being interested. I wish him luck, and really hope Index finds its way to as many readers as possible.

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