Monday, November 26, 2007

Welcome to Barbour County, Alabama

I went South to my uncle Bob’s this Thanksgiving. We had sort of a family reunion, with my brother and me, my uncle Big Bob (my father’s little brother) and a bunch of cousins and cousins-in-law. Snake, Willie, Leroy, and Jeb. Traditional southerners, not Yankee transplants. Cigarettes and whiskey, sweet potato pie, black eye peas, and grits. Lots of meat. And dogs under the table to keep the floor clean.

I drove from Atlanta, figuring to arrive about ten in the morning on Thanksgiving Day. I made it all the way through Eufaula, Alabama, down highway 95, and onto county road 97 when it happened.

I had to pee.

I was way out in the country, on an empty two lane road, with nothing at the end but a bunch of rednecks in boats at a place called Baker’s Landing on Lake Eufaula. And even that was a few miles off. So I pulled over and walked around the side of the car, and peed in the ditch.

Most every country road in Alabama has a ditch at the edge. They give people a place to pee, and they trap cars that run off the road. Ditches and trees are two of the reasons those Alabama highways have more white crosses alongside them than a mountain road in Mexico. That, and the white lightning they make in the back country. My own great grandfather had a still behind the Lawrenceville house back before I was born. But I digress.

In the midst of my pee, a sheriff’s car rolled up, and the blue lights came on. I zipped my pants and walked over.

“Watcha doin?” He said. Wasn’t it obvious? I guess not.

“I was peeing.”

“Have you been drinking?” He asked this with barely disguised anticipation.

“No. I just had to pee. I don’t generally drink liquor, and never at nine in the morning.”

“I can’t believe this,” he said. “You didn’t try and hide from me or nuthin!”

“Hide? Why should I hide? I was peeing by the side of the road, and you drove up.”

“Do you want to spend Thanksgiving in jail?” Is this guy nuts, I wondered? But it got worse.

“Did you know I could write you up for indecent exposure, and you’d have to register as a SEX OFFENDER?” He asked this with some glee.

“Are you sure you haven’t been drinking?” He asked again, and stepped closer to sniff me, whereupon I caught a whiff of something on HIS breath.

“That sounds a little extreme for peeing in a ditch on a country road,” I said. “I don’t see how peeing in a ditch makes me a sex offender.”

Now, I was fully sober, respectable looking, and more articulate than most folks. I even grew up in the south. It was immediately obvious to me that this sheriff would have had a fight on his hands, if I’d been two drunk college boys instead of one middle aged author.

He didn’t know I was an author, but he’d figured out by then I wasn’t a drunk and I was too old to be a college boy. With a little more back and forth, he let me go.

It seems to me there’s a fundamental problem when Alabama sheriffs can turn a guy peeing in a ditch in the country into a sex offender with a $25 nuisance ticket. Don’t our cops have more important things to do?

“Welcome to Barbour County, Alabama” my cousin David said, when I arrived at the house.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully.

And in other news . . . .

I have a polite request. After almost getting arrested once, I know better than to be rude.

Some of you in the blogosphere have read my book, and some of you readers liked it. Those of you who liked it the most . . . I need your help. Follow this link:

http://www.amazon.ca/Look-Me-Eye-Life-Aspergers/dp/0307395987

It goes to my book on Amazon Canada. After all this time, not one person has reviewed my book up there. I don’t know why, but it’s true. Tonight, I hope one of you will be the first to write a review. But only if you have good things to say. And if there are more of you with good things to say, pile on . . . .

And there’s more . . . .

This Sunday, December 2, I will be appearing at The Elms College in Chicopee. This appearance is special, because I’ll be part of a panel talking about autism and Asperger’s. It’s called Hope and Acceptance: Inspiration for families of children with autism spectrum conditions.”

http://www.elms.edu/

I’ll be there with bloggers Kim Stagliano and Michael Wilcox, the college staff, and some champion moms. It’s free and it will be fun. Come by if you’re around. Two to four PM, in the auditorium.

http://kimstagliano.blogspot.com/ A mom to three girls with autism
http://www.mfw.us/ A successful and interesting Aspergian

And before I go . . .

I broke down and ordered one of those Kindles from Amazon. My nice letter asking for a free one had gone unanswered, I’m afraid. So it’s due Wednesday, loaded with Books to Test Read it. I’ll report back soon . . . I will tell you this in advance, though: The bar for acceptable performance is now a hell of a lot higher, at $399 out of pocket, than it would have been if they’d sent me the thing for nothing.

I’ve also got one of the new Nikon D300 cameras coming tomorrow, thanks to Bill and Melissa at Nikon Professional Services. I had to pay for it too, but luckily I sold my D200 and got back most of the cost. Are there any photographers out there? Should I write about cameras and photography on the blog? Let’s hear from you. . .

I took up picture-taking about ten years ago, when my brother worked in advertising and had the Nikon account. He got me a free camera, and I liked it so much I kept it up, even though I had to buy all the subsequent cameras and lenses.

Like my book writing, my pictures are pretty much PG rated, but some people think they’re interesting anyway. You can see some here:

http://www.pbase.com/robisonphoto

And while are on the subject of back stories, did I tell you how I came to write Look Me in the Eye? Read about it here: http://mjroseblog.typepad.com/backstory/2007/11/im-often-asked.html

But we weren’t on back stories at all! See? I knew it all along. But being Aspergian, I still change the topic, just like that, every now and then.

And that’s all for this rainy Monday night.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Some thoughts on empathy

I’ve written about empathy in Look Me in the Eye, and I’ve discussed it at my appearances. Tonight, in response to a reader’s letter, I present a question on empathy for all of you:

In my book, I suggest that humans are pack animals, and as such, our empathy is primarily directed at other pack members – our family, close friends, or co-workers. With billions of people in the world, people dying every minute, and horrible news everywhere. . . how could we truly have empathy for a larger circle?

I even suggest that we might feel relief when someone dies, if they are not part of our pack. Why? Because we know that death is inevitable, and it’s a relief it struck outside our pack, and not within.

In comparison, if death or serious injury occurs within our pack, we are overcome with sadness, grief, and a sense of loss.

It’s obvious that (for example) a mother must concentrate most emotional energy on her kids, if she is to be a successful parent. In light of that, my suggestion that we care mostly for our “pack mates” seems sensible.

I’ve even questioned the true feelings of some people who exhibit exaggerated shows of emotion upon hearing of some faraway disaster. While it’s not possible for me to know those people’s feelings with certainty, it’s clear that they would be on a constant emotional roller coaster if they truly experienced news of faraway disaster in the same way they experienced, say, the death of a grandparent of “pack mate.”

Yesterday, I received a letter from a reader. She said, “I’ve always been very sensitive to the suffering of others. Not to sound like a saint, but since becoming a parent I’ve had a hard time discussing news stories that involve children dying in a fire or other fluke accidents. My first realization as a young adult that wars still rage in many countries and that worldly powers-that-be can do nothing to fully protect innocent people from being tortured in horrid ways devastated me. I can’t stand to watch violent anything; I buckled over in pain when the Twin Towers fell; I still cry my eyes out over what to many are typical news stories.”

The above is from an unsolicited letter, written (to the best of my knowledge) honestly and in good faith. What does it mean in light of the ideas I expressed?

I don’t cry my eyes out over news stories. When I reflect upon that, I can’t see how I (or anyone else) could get through the day if I reacted that way, because similar bad news is everywhere. I’ve thought a lot about empathy, and I think my response represents a human evolutionary strategy. . . limiting the grief we experience and concentrating our caring and empathy on those we have the greatest stake in protecting.

Comparing my feelings to hers, I thought back to the day the Twin Towers were attacked. I remember a vague but strong unease, worry about war, worry about my brother in New York (a pack mate.) The word I keep coming back to is “worry.” The news of that disaster made me worry, and it made me scared. Is my brother OK? How would it affect me? How would it affect our country? How would it affect the families?

To me, that seems honest and fundamentally different from what I felt when my father died. On that day, I remember crushing grief, sadness, the realization that he would never again encourage me, or talk to me, or listen to me, or indeed do anything at all. He was gone. I missed him terribly, and I was sad.

I was not worried at all, nor was I scared.

Those are very different responses to death, one outside my pack, the other within. Indifferent as I may seem to news of faraway disaster, I have an immediate and visceral reaction to bad news about my pack; my family or friends.

I suggested in my book that the feelings expressed in the letter I received today come from a different place in our brain than the feelings we’d have for an immediate family member. As such, I called that “learned” or “social” empathy. I think humans evolved that response to encourage socialization over larger areas. I suggested there must be several types of “empathy.”

I think “social empathy” evolved as the human population spread, in order to encourage different groups to connect with one another. I think it’s a different feeling, and it serves a different purpose in society. Social empathy bonds us as fellow humans via a different set of feelings, as I noted.

I also suggested that some people are hypocrites, because I’ve seen people put on great shows of emotion and then, a few moments later, joke or make light of the whole thing. Such a flip flop is consistent with play acting, not genuine feeling. Why do some people do that? To get attention? I don’t know.

I’m sure many of you have observed the same things at various points in life.

So this is tonight’s question: Do you think there is more than one kind of empathy, and if so, what and why?

* * *

On a lighter note, it was Turkey Day at work. I used to get turkeys for everyone at Robison Service, but people started grumbling. They wanted variety. Variation in Thanksgiving fare. I decided to give them what they wanted. Within reason.

When Bobby (our resident Gentleman and half-outlaw biker) came back from the store, this is what he passed out in response to the staff's requests:

1 Turkey, fresh
2 Bottles, Johnnie Walker Black
12 Cases, Sam Adams beer
2 Cases, Corona beer
Some sausages, 1.5 inch diameter
Crackers

And one bottle of wine.

As you can see, turkey is fast fading from the scene when it comes to Turkey Day fare.

What did you get for Thanksgiving? What did you give?

Monday, November 19, 2007

I'm a Kindle bestseller today.

What's that, you ask?

The Kindle is Amazon's new electronic book reader.
http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/nov2007/tc20071119_359441.htm?chan=top+news_top+news+index_businessweek+exclusives

Look Me in the Eye is currently #91 on Amazon's Kindle bestseller list, #8 in memoirs.
http://www.amazon.com/Look-Me-Eye-Life-Aspergers/dp/B000W91562/ref=kinw_dp_ke/103-3814665-7334265

I wonder what it will mean for printed books. I suspect I'll continue to prefer the look and feel of a traditional book, but what about the younger generation? Some of todays kids have grown up doing 99% of their reading on a computer screen. There have been several electronic books so far. . . one of them is going to take off. Is this the one? We'll see.

If you decide to buy one, be sure and test it by ordering my book first.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Our future is in the hands of the young Aspergians, and today you'll hear from one . . . in his own words * And a reminder about tomorrow's appearance

Yesterday, I wrote about the young Aspergians who graced my Tattered Cover appearance. One of them, at least, has a family blog, which I encourage all of you to visit.

When I arrived at the TC, there were two moms with Aspergian kids waiting in the front row. Alex is eight, Brice is 10. Alex blogs here:
http://www.youbelong.net/pages/htmlos/3764.1.988421257014413439

Both kids have the Aspergian look that I've come to recognize. I'll write more on that in the future; for now I'll just say I could have picked both out of a crowd.

Alex is a smart young fellow, a student of history in general and ancient Egypt in particular. We talked about some of my own childhood interests (which were the same as his), and I suggested Alex learn more about the wonderful temple complex at Abu Simbel, which was dismantled and moved block by block to protect it from flooding when Nasser built the Aswan High Dam. Interestingly enough, the temple was moved back in the 1960s, when I was the age Alex is today.

Here's a link for Abu Simbel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Simbel

This is the Aswan High Dam http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aswan_High_Dam

I hope all of you will welcome young Alex and his family to our community. The Tattered Cover staff took some photos of the event, and I'll put them up as soon as I get them so you can see the whole spectacle.

* * *

Prior to arrival, Alex's mom was discouraged from attending my event because other moms thought there might be inappropriate content. Don't be scared away . . . I am a PG rated writer and speaker.

I get more kids with every speaking engagement. Bring 'em on. I'm good with kids, and if I'm not, I have a small folding Kid Cage in my book bag.

I'll certainly concede that Look Me in the Eye contains some pranks and antics that will make moms cringe, but consider this: In those pranks, I found an essentially harmless outlet for the frustrations of being a young Aspergian - the torment, ridicule, and bullying. That stands in sharp contrast to the violence we see in schools today.

There is some "four letter" language in my book too, but just enough to capture the reality of certain scenes. There is no graphic sex, and no gratuitous violence. The real world is considerably rougher than my writing.

I encourage any of you with children to bring them to my talks. . . it's great for kids to see Aspergians like themselves, grown up and successful. Don't worry, I won't act too bizarre. Just bizarre enough to be interesting.

* * *

And with that said, all of you in driving distance of Hadley, MA; Holyoke, MA; and Enfield CT should come see me tomorrow as I talk and sign books at Barnes and Noble stores as part of Public Television's book fair. Read more at http://www.wgby.org/

* * *

Short answers to questions the world ponders: Alex's mom asked why I call myself an Aspergian, and not an Aspie. The answer is simple. The sound of the word Aspie kind of grates on me, and it makes me think of poisionous snakes. Not good.

Aspergian, on the other hand, sounds urbane, and cultured.

I hope the difference is as obvious to you as it is to me, now that I've pointed it out. Feel free to use Aspie in your own life, but it's Free Range Aspergians Forever for me.


* * *

And in closing . . . I've said this before but it bears repeating. Just as I recognized Brice and Alex as young Aspergians they surely see themselves in me, though they may be too young to articulate it. That's why I encourage moms with young Aspergians to get my abridged audio book. I read it, and many kids find my voice familiar. And moms . . . if you don't like certain parts, you can skip them on the CD player.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A night at the Tattered Cover

Those of you who follow my blog know I appeared tonight at the Tattered Cover in Denver. I spent the first 40 years of my life largely bereft of friends, but I’m sure making up for it now!

I had dinner tonight with publicity consultant Bella Stander and her husband, and literary agent Kristin Nelson. We were a bit late getting started and I had to dash off to the event, but they followed along a few minutes later and seized the last couple of seats in the reading room.

This evening’s event was special for several reasons, all of which were unknown to my audience until they occurred.

I had two surprise assistants, young Aspergians, eight and ten years of age, respectively. I introduced my little helpers, one of whom was driven all the way from Colorado Springs. But mere introduction was not enough. They wanted more. So I brought them up to the stage, and ensconced them upon the two thrones immediately behind my podium.

They took the microphone, and we did the introductions. After that, the younger one - Alex - was content to reign over the room, while his older sidekick - Bryce - assisted me.

For the first time, at the Tattered Cover, I introduced a guest reader. Ten-year-old Bryce read the first paragraph of Look Me in the Eye to acclaim from the crowd, after which I finished the story while he stood beside me and acted out all the gestures.

Later in my talk, Bryce quietly arose from his throne and went to the desk, which the Tattered Cover staff had thoughtfully stocked with Velcro, any young Aspergian’s best friend. As I spoke and Alex gazed placidly at the crowd, Bryce velcroed everything in sight, out of sight of the crowd, in plain sight of everyone.

It was truly a magical evening. The unexpected addition of two young free range Aspergians was great. The questions from the audience were the best part of the night.

And the people from the blog world . . . Sex Scenes From Starbucks was there http://sexscenesatstarbucks.blogspot.com/ , and she was younger, blonder, and better looking than I’d been led to expect from the name. Woof. Lisa Kenney from Eudeamonia http://eudaemoniaforall.blogspot.com/ couldn’t make it, but her friend Karen came down with a book for me to sign.

I talked more about what it means to be an Aspergian, and how parents and young people should focus on their Aspergian gifts as opposed to the weaknesses, because it’s our gifts that the world needs. The world needs more geeks.

I talked about the need for compassion and understanding, and the great things we can accomplish together. And my Aspergian assistant spoke briefly of his fascination with ancient Egypt and his ability to name all the presidents, forward and backward, in order.

It was another fun night. I wish I’d made plans to stay a few more days, but I’m back home first thing in the morning.

Before I go, I have to mention one more thing . . . Denver is full of trains. Light Rail. Trolley cars, like I rode as a child in Philadelphia, updated for the 21st century. Buses too. It was such a refreshing alternative to taxis and congestion I've encountered elsewhere.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

And now, the news from Denver

I flew in to Denver yesterday. Boy, was that a long flight! As is often the case on those four and five hour confinements, everything started well but things fell apart over Kansas. People began pacing the aisles, raving, and doing unspeakable things in the rest rooms. One left the plane in shackles, with spots in the aisle to mark his progress.

Drunks, babies, and certain kinds of entertainers. . . all can have trouble on commercial aircraft. And that is why the jet charter industry is booming.

When we landed the media escort was all bright and cheery, and the law had their eyes focused elsewhere as we slipped out of the airport and onto the road to Denver. We drove directly to NBC Channel 9, where I did a lunchtime interview that will air today (Thursday.)

I also gave a long interview to 88.5 Community Radio. After that, I did a really good 1-hour program with Colorado Public Television, Channel 12. I believe that will air on a Wednesday in mid December and we'll have it online as well.

I'm staying in the Brown Palace Hotel, which is famous for hosting livestock in the lobby. To my great disappointment there were no cattle here when I arrived. I did admire the broad and gentle staircases ascedting to the ninth floor atrium roof, but it would have been so much better if there'd been horsemen riding the stairs. I guess I arrived too late.

This morning I've done a program for the Clear Channel radio stations in Colorado, and I'll be on the mid-day news on Channel 7.

I hope all of you in driving distance of Denver will come to my appearance at the Lodo Tattered Cover tonight at 7:30. I'll be heading home Friday morning.

Back in New England, I'll be appearing Sunday at Barnes & Noble stores in Hadley (MA), Holyoke (MA) and Enfield (CT) as part of WGBY's Public Television Book Fair. Read more at www.wgby.org

Sunday, November 11, 2007

And now, some words from the Australians

The Australian Broadcasting Company has been kind enough to put this webcast of my recent interview online for your listening pleasure:

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/lifematters/stories/2007/2083912.htm

And for those of you in Denver (American Denver, that is, not Denver, Australia) . . . watch for me Wednesday on KDBI Colorado Public Television, Studio 12 at 8:00 PM.

Everyone else . . . check the schedule on the right for some new dates and details

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tomorrow . . . a blog contest to win a copy of Look Me in the Eye and a night with John Sebastian and Ernie and the Automatics

I've got a contest going on tonight . . . Stop by Church Lady's blog and check it out:

http://abenchpress.blogspot.com/2007/11/lets-party-with-john-elder-robison.html

And in other news . . .

My friend Charley Burke is one of the organizers of the Northampton Independent Film Festival http://www.niff.org/2007/ He invited me to the Academy of Music tonight, to hear Ernie and the Automatics and John Sebastian.

The scene backstage is timeless. Whenever I go, I could be 18 again, standing there watching some of my first equipment. I didn't have any equipment out there last night; I just took pictures. But the feelings are the same.

John played alone, and the audience was captivated as he told us stories about his songs. He'd play a riff of some hit he heard and show how he turned it into a hit of his own. I so enjoyed his show because I too rememberd those hits and the songs that inspired them.

In the dark behind the stage, an older couple danced hand in hand while everyone else watched John, entranced. I stood at the corner of the stage and took photos. I felt self conscious because I could hear the click of my Leica shutter, quiet as it is, but I know from experience no one else in the audience heard it. When there's only one performer and a respectful crowd, the quiet parts are really quiet.

Ernie's show was much higher energy, something I'd have seen back at the Shaboo or the Rusty Nail back in the 1970s (Both clubs burned down about 1982) I've done a lot of music like that over the years, too.

Here are some images from the show












Thursday, November 8, 2007

News flash!

Amazon picked Look Me in the Eye as one of the best books of 2007! Click here to check it out.

Thanks, Amazon!

Woof!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

My next book, and Making Records from Phil Ramone, and a TV interview

I’ve read that it’s bad luck for a writer to tell people about the book he’s writing at that moment. I’m not sure why that might be; it’s often impossible to figure out the origin of arcane superstitions like that. I’m not a big believer in superstition, though I have made some harmless concessions to the idea. For example, I no longer carry my bull whip, I do not seek out fresh cat, nor will I eat cat if it’s offered to me. And I do exercise greater care when crossing streets, especially on Sundays.

In any case, at this moment, I do not need to be concerned because I am not telling you about my next book. Rather, I am asking YOUR opinion. So if anyone should be superstitious here, it is you.

I’ve talked before how the response to Look Me in the Eye was (and is) far beyond anything I expected. And it’s clear that readers want more. I’ll certainly write more, but what’s important in the next book? This is the chance for you to be heard.

I’ve been asked if I’ll write more funny stories. I suppose I will. I’ll be offering more insights into Asperger’s too. What are some of your specific suggestions and wishes? What do you wish there was “more of” in Look Me in the Eye? Now that you’ve read it, what would you want to read next? What questions remain unanswered?

Do you wonder what happened to the Montagoonians? . . . Where Cubby is now? . . . If Unit 3 really did get abducted by aliens?

Or do you just want to read my secret tricks for holding a conversation or catching trout with bread crumbs and a stick?

It’s going to take a while to write the next book, so the time to speak up is now. And on the topic of “it’s going to take a while” . . . .

It was eleven months ago today that my agent, Christopher Schelling, read the manuscript for Look Me in the Eye. In those eleven months, we showed the book to publishers, gave it to Crown, Rachel Klayman and I completed the edits and rewrites, we got it produced, and it became a bestseller.

It seemed slow when it was happening but it sure seems fast, looking back.

* * * * *

This weekend I read an interesting book – Making Records, by Phil Ramone.

Phil is a very talented producer who’s made countless records over the past 50 years.

The book was interesting to me because I too love music production, and most of all because the writing is very Aspergian. What makes me say that, you ask?

First of all, Making Records is essentially a book about machines and processes. It’s about the mechanical aspects of making records. How to set the studio up, selecting equipment, placing people . . . all the things a producer must do.

I can see that he toned down the technical details, but despite that, much of his book remains very technical, and there is little of no emotion in the story. As I said . . . classic Aspergian writing.

He’s presented making records in much the same way that I presented the stories of my time in the music world in Look Me in the Eye, but he did far more, for far longer.

But the emotion, the feelings . . . 300 pages and there is not one page of wife, son, or any “from the heart” stories. Some people would write about how they and those close to them felt about the work he did, but it’s not in this book. Very Aspergian indeed.

And yet it’s clear that Phil loves the music, and the people he’s made it with. He’s done so much, and for all he’s accomplished, the story is humbly told. He’s truly one of the greats in music production.

One thing that I found particularly fascinating was the way in which he seems to have an instinct for providing what other people need. He talks about “listening to the musicians,” and many other small things he did to find what his clients or bosses needed. Once he know what people wanted, he set about to provide it. Simple as that sounds, few people see and live it. I think that instinct is one of the keys to his success. Dr. Kathy Dyer, who teaches with my book in the Elms College autism program, remarked on seeing the same instinct in me. Both Phil and I portray that in similar ways through our writing, and it’s rare.

I can’t tell if Phil has a touch of Asperger’s, or the fellow who co-wrote the book, or both. But whichever it is, I’m proud to welcome them to the community! I hope a few more of my Aspergian blog readers will pick up Phil’s story and tell me what they (you) think . . . .

Making Records is a very technical story. If you loved my music stories, you’ll love this book. I liked it a lot.

* * * *

And in other news . . .

Here’s an interview I did a while back on a Midwest TV show. I've posted it here because folks in the blogosphere enjoyed it and brought it to my attention so I now offer it to you:

http://www.themorningblend.com/NewsArticle/tabid/1474/xmid/15000/Default.aspx

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Paragliders over Mount Tom

















I try and hike on Sundays to stay in shape. I have not been able to do much of that lately, with all the publicity and touring for Look Me in the Eye. I decided to walk up Mt. Tom because it's steep and very good exercise, and it's nearby.
When I got to the top, I found a crew of enthusiasts getting ready to launch their paragliders. The top images show West Springfield resident Barry Kriger helping John Gallagher launch from the cliff edge. John drove all the way from Boston for this, and they carried the paraglider rigs up the mountain on their backs.
The images below show Stephan Pfammatter launching a few minutes later.
















I watched them for almost two hours. During that time, three of them launched and they seemed to hover effortlessly. I had to leave after two hours - the leaves in the yard were waiting. It looked like a lot of fun. For someone else. As I said to Barry, "I would not want to jump from those cliffs, even with a paraglider."
"We don't say jump," Barry corrected me. "We're a little more positive. We say launch."
I don't want to launch either, but I'll happily watch them. Luckily, I had my camera.





Saturday, November 3, 2007

Ace Frehley playing one of my KISS guitars



For you KISS fans, here's a picture of Ace Frehley playing my lit guitar on the 1979 Dynasty tour.

This particular guitar started life as a Gibson Les Paul. My friend Jim Boughton cut the face off with a router, and we installed a circuit board and 700 halogen lamps.

The lamps were run by a circuit board embedded in the back, and powered by a Frezzolini battery pack under the tailpiece.

Read more about the KISS guitars and me starting on page 134 of Look Me in the Eye.

My time in the music business was the best.

Childhood pictures and a reading in Lowell



Before I begin, I’ve added something new - a slideshow of my early childhood: http://www.pbase.com/robisonphoto/childhood&view=slideshow

Any of you who wondered what I looked like as a lost kid . . . . it’s all there. And best of all . . . it’s free.

My brother and I appeared together at Umass Lowell last night. Our joint appearances are always different and unique, and this one was no exception.

Our last joint appearance was New York’s Union Square, on September 25. That was a very elaborate setup, with a backdrop, fancy furniture, sound absorbent padding and even TV cameras. Last night’s show was the opposite – it was a minimalist production. We had a great big totally empty stage, thirty-six feet of polished hardwood to pace back and forth. Absolutely nothing obstructed the audience’s view of us as we walked and talked for an hour.


Luckily, our all-weather clothes held up and we were not compromised. The advantage of a big stage and a large hall is that it’s very hard for the audience to hit you with objects. There’s room to move. When I was starting out in the music business, we sometimes played smaller stages, and when we did shows in those “intimate” settings, we sometimes needed protective screens of chicken wire placed between us and the adoring fans.

My brother had not been to Lowell before, even though we live less than 90 miles away. As I pointed out, Lowell is famed as the Gateway To Billerica, which is itself renowned for three things:

1) Outlaw bikers who rode to my music shows in Boston in the 1970s,
2) The Operation Center for the Springfield Terminal Railway,
3) And most of all – the Copart Salvage Auction, where insurance companies from all over New England bring wrecks to be sold to junkyards, recyclers, and the occasional edgy used car dealer who’ll make one car out of three.

Seeing a talkative crowd, we moved quickly to take questions and comments from the audience. One person asked about descriptive phrases in literature. She cited this example, which I paraphrase roughly:

Hearing a gunshot in the night, he cast off the sheet so he could hear with his whole body.

My brother agreed that was a very descriptive and wonderful phrase. Not me. I thought the writer was imaginative, but ignorant of the hard reality of armed marauders.

I said, That was obviously written by someone who has never come under fire at night. I would throw off the sheet and reach under the bed, for the shotgun.

That just shows that not all writers think alike. Some will listen closely, and others will shoot back. A few will use high powered lasers, and some would dismiss the whole thing as a bad acid trip.

We had a few moms in the audience with Aspergian kids. I was pleased to pass on the name of the Asperger’s Association – http://www.aane.org/ I certainly hope we proved inspirational to them.

We had some teachers in the audience too, which we sort of expected, being in a college auditorium. Seeing that, a question flashed into my mind: In a crowd of teachers and students, where both are asking questions . . . . are the questions from the teachers smarter or more insightful? Should they be?

I don’t know. How do you tell them apart? It’s very hard from 100 feet. I’m going to pay close attention to this at future school events.

At the end of each event we (or I) sit at a table to sign books and meet readers. Last night’s line was an hour long, over 100 people. I wish we could go faster. That’s a lot of books to sign. I commend all who endured the line while retaining good humor. There was only one scuffle, which was quelled as soon as it began. My brother and I autographed an eight-year-old, also. Actually, we autographed the eight-year-old’s shirt, while affixed to the eight-year-old.


















Here we are signing books. The line behind us is still pretty long. Photo by Rick Colson


Our attendees get younger every day. And if I may just have a word about that . . . any aspiring author would be wise to cultivate the eight-year-old crowd, as we are obviously successfully doing. Why? Because they will be reading (statistically speaking) longer than my brother or me will be writing.





In contrast, my brother and I will probably outlast the seventy-year-old readers. Don’t get me wrong . . . they’re welcome to attend our events, but we encourage them to bring grandchildren.

Professionals call that strategy Reader Development.