Saturday, March 07, 2009

Daughtry's Drummer

Chris Daughtry may not have taken his old band along with him on his post-Idol career, but he did hook one homeboy the hell up. Joey Barnes, a charismatic young drummer from around these parts flew all the way to L.A. to audition for his old rival's band. Needless to say, he got the gig. I first met him in 2007, hours before Daughtry took the stage at a free concert in downtown Greensboro. Belligerent women roved Hamburger Square in packs that day; Joey risked being ripped to shreds by them when he popped out of the tour bus for an on-camera chat. It was a righteous thing to do and I vowed to return the favor should he ever need someone to spit-clean his tambourines. THAT opportunity never materialized, which is why Shannon Smith and I were so stoked to rendezvous with him a few weeks ago at a top secret location....

Actually it was an anonymous house in Summerfield that just happened to have a recording studio where the car-hole usually goes. If that weren't odd enough, Joey actually showed up on-time (okay, he was an hour late, but if I just came off a whirlwind global tour, I might keep the locals waiting too). Anyway, when he did roll in, Shannon and I cornered him with cameras and questions: How did it feel to play stages the world over? Was Oprah cool or all 'suh-diddy'? What color M&M's did he and the fellas in the band simply not tolerate? Joey answered 'em all, before steering the conversation toward the reason for our visit: His new CD. That's right, this hometown boy is keeping busy between Daughtry albums by crafting a solo effort of his own. Best of all, he's doing it all right here in the Piedmont. The tracks he and producer Josh Seawell played for us were indeed diverse; each showcasing an urbane verve one might not expect from a drummer who favors kilts and kabuki masks behind the kit.

But I'm no critic. Hell, I'm barely a cameraman! So Shannon and I did what we did with Bucky Covington and what she and Weaver did with Daughtry's first recording session: we rolled on everything 'til they kicked us out! That way, we had plenty to choose from when it came time to sit down and slice: a stilted series of edit sessions plagued with all kinds of interruptions. Oh well, who wanted to concentrate like that, anyway? We still managed to plug Joey's upcoming album repeatedly, all while supplying the region with their recommended monthly allowance of swaggering bald rock-star news. Hey, if assisting musicians on their way to immortality is my special purpose, someone get Phil Spector on the phone - I got some doo-wap I wanna record! So while I warm up my throat, check out this profile of a thoroughly engaging young man who happens to have the world by the tail. I just hope the new music garners him some female attention. Must get awful lonely out there on the road....

Friday, March 06, 2009

Screech of a Leach

Innoucuous Apartment FireHow is an apartment fire like a garden party? It’s not, really – but when you’ve kibbitzed near as many hulking remains as I have, the wine and cheese crowd seems a little stuffy. Perhaps I’m not giving these afernoon soirees enough credit; I’m sure you’ll find lovely people there. I just prefer my small talk with something smoldering in the background. Those who crash calamity with deadlines in mind know what I mean. Or maybe they don’t. Truth is, this silly gig has skewed whatever social norms I once embraced. Whereas once I marveled at that plume of smoke in the distance, I now curse it for delaying my edit plans, my lunchbreak, my afternoon interludes of quiet reflection. It’s kind of negative, I know – but at least I still know how to behave around the freshly bereft. For every huddled clump of hollow-eyed homeowners I’ve put on the tee-vee, there’s a hundred others I’ve left the eff alone. See, I’m a photog, not a complete KNOB. It ain’t always easy, but I’m doing my best to live the difference. Take the other day for example (please!): I didn’t put that skeevy guy in the blue blanket on the news and it wasn’t JUST because he was flashing me gang-signs. I’m not totally sure what he meant, but I have a feeling he wasn’t inviting me for a sit-down. A BEAT-down, perhaps...

So, now that we’ve established I’m a master of apathy with a penchant for distance, allow me assure you I ain’t alone. There are countless lenslingers in the news crew nation, rugged if not rumpled individuals who wouldn’t think of getting in your business - if the logo in their lives didn’t pretty much demand it. We’d much rather keep to ourselves… out there by the ditchbank, clustered just off the breakdown lane, bathing in the rejuvenating exhaust of a dozen haphazardly parked fire engines -You don’t think we’re discussing journalism out there, do you? Most likely the topic centers around some workaday abomination: the threat of furloughs, a competitor’s infideility, that rug the weekend sports goob has started to sport... you know, important stuff. Okay, not so important stuff, too. Like cinema hitmen chewing over minutia outside their victim’s door, journalists and first responders have the oddest conversations at the edge of other people’s darkest hours. C’mom, I can’t be the only schlub who’s had to dub in the sound of an idling firetruck over a particular piece of footage in which I questioned the efforts of some self-appointed TV genius... can I?

On second thought, keep your opinions to yourself. Just know that I’m more than willing to stand behind the bulk of my statements, should Saint Peter meet me in front of the pearly gates with a rolling transcript of my crime tape commentary. Sure, that crack about scanner code junkies and sheet metal enthusiasts was a little crass, but not once did I storm the porch of a new widow with details designed to ensure the procurement of tears. Trust me, those people are out there (or at least they were) but the vast majority of journalists I know would rather take a kick to the kidneys than grill the hapless or the bereaved. So much like the veteran traffic cop who cringes at the sound of breaking glass, most newsgatherers out there are all too human. We just have weird jobs; occasionally exciting occcupations that once felt revolutionary but now smack of laborious futility. Or maybe that’s just how I see it. Whichever the case, it’s a safe bet you’ll find me far more entertaining at the train wreck than at some stuffy, cheese-tray get-together. Trust me, I’ll understand completely if the invite never arrives.

Besides, I look lousy in a sun-dress...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Schadenfreude at 11

So, there’s a nasty catfight among media factions in Oklahoma and, were it no so moronic, it might be kind of entertaining. But we’ll pass judgement later. For now, let’s do the math:

When KOKH-TV wanted to produce a weeklong series on the demise of newsprint, they sure didnt look very far. (I know what you’re thinking: Who produces weeklong series anymore? Answer: About five more people than actually watch them.) Why should they – when just down the road the local paper proved such an easy target? Like lots of paid publications, The Oklahoman is losing readers, hemorrhaging relevancy and (gulp!) raising their prices! Remember, every time a newspaper goes under, a twenty-something news producer who only reads Facebook gets their wings. Is it any wonder what happens next?
Disclosure: I’m totally bereft of any insider information on this matter. Sure, I helped commandeer a certain costume shop in nearby Norman, traded shots with fellow photogs and scratched my head at all those standing ovations - but aside from some NPPA Workshop schwag, I don’t know squat about media machinations in Oklahoma City. However, I do know a thing or three about the acidic relationship between TV stations and their closest newspaper friends. Friendly, it ain’t. You’re more likely to get that creepy Burger King dude to cough up something he likes about Mayor McCheese than hear a broadcaster point out anything positive about those ink-stained wretches down the road. Likewise, print folk will glady lambast the efforts of their nearest affiliate – often with words we TV dweebs don’t even understand. So when I say I’m fair and balanced in the following reportage, well, you never really believed that hooey, did ya?
Now,I don’t know if reporter Nick Winkler wanted to do this story, but he certainly gave it his all. College professors, ex-readers, newspaper delivery boys all growed-up: dude talked to everybody! Of course the folks at The Oklahoman declined to speak on-camera, but you can damn sure believe they caught every frame of a five part series that pretty much celebrated their impending extinction. You stay classy, Fox 25! Of course by local TV standards, the stories were pretty even handed, though you can almost hear the high-fives being traded back at KOKH. I’m not saying their information was anything less than accurate, but if I crafted that a smarmfest like that, I’d have to go home at lunch just to shower. Worse yet, The Oklahoman followed the station’s playbook by cranking out a shrill set of ads questioning the broadcast outlet’s intent. “Hey, I got an idea! Let’s heap some publicity on that ten minutes of television where they say we suck! Who’s with me?”

I’m not – even though FOX 25 did further dirty the waters by putting together a sixth piece, in which they sought out the reasoned opinion of (shudder) some bug-eyed radio hack. What’s next, some clown in the park wanna pantomime his displeasure with the glaring lack of floppy shoes for sale in the classified ads? I’m all for nuanced analysis of the Fourth Estate, but easy on the self-congratulatory crosstalk, people. Before any of us know exactly what’s happening, the death of local television will be documented too. But it won’t appear in any musty old newspaper. It’ll be twittered, in 140 characters or less. TTFN!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Templates of Adventure

C'mon now, really. What OTHER job lets a man stick his nose into someone else's cinders - without first putting on turnout gear? What OTHER gig allows an individual with a shabby wardrobe and limited social skills be on first name basis with every mover and shaker in town? Name one OTHER occupation where a fellow can spend the morning socializing in a police evidence room and the afternoon making new undercover camera friends at an open-air drug market? I'm sure such a profession exists outside the Fourth Estate, but from where I sit here in the cheap seats, I really can't think of any. Still, I didn't log in to compare notes with dog catchers and the like. I came to riff on the access. Nearly twenty years in, it's the one part of The Job that still makes my needles jump.

See, I could give a rip about fighting City Hall. I'm not big on consumer advocacy either - as there are enough gasbags on both sides of that microphone to make me wonder who the true hack really is. Nor is the cameras that get me all juiced. Sure, I dig the science of documentation, but if I could do it with one of those skinny print reporter notebooks, I probably would. No, the thing that keeps me coming back to El Ocho (besides that whole 'must have sustenance' thing) is quite simply, The Access. No matter how many times I sidle up to some breaking calamity, I still get a kick out of my unobstructed view. It's not that I don't think I have a right to be there; I just keep expecting someone to insist I render assistance. My CPR's a wee rusty officer, but if snarky remarks and purple prose are what it's gonna take to revive that hobo, then You Sir, have volunteered the right photog...

Hmmm? No? That's cool. I was afraid to leave my gear alone anyway. Not that my cohorts would take anything. They might hide something - say a camera battery, a tripod, my finely-tuned sense of purpose... Whatever they might abscond with, know that they'd pay me back with an endless stream of lies and hyperbole. Understand, even if we TV news photogs haven't SEEN IT ALL, we kinda feel like it. Hey, YOU shovel tripe and tragedy into the gaping maw of local television for more years than you can remember; you'd polish your chops, too. So while I hang back with the chattering class, trading notes on the repuations we've so assiduously inflated, know there's no other place I'd rather be. Sure, some coffee shop would be awfully cozy right about now, but do they serve lifer's alibi along with their four dollar java?

I think not.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Falcon and the Snowman

Yes Virginia, it snowed in the Carolinas. You know what that means: bedlam in the checkout aisle, a rash of bent sheet metal, flash-frozen lens-meat in matching logowear. Why, it's enough to make one swear off the icy overpass. In fact, that's exactly what I did today: forego my role in the continuous team smotherage by shooting a franchise piece instead. Trouble was, I wasn't 100% sure my scheduled expert would be in his office when I arrived. So I did what any crusty news shooter would do: I prepared for the weather. Boots, a couple pair of socks, thermal underwear above and below the Mason-Dixon line. By the time I waddled out of my house, I looked more like the Michelin Man than the dashing lenslinger I so pretend to be.

Of course, all this sartorial layering could only mean one thing: My guy was where he said he would be: ensconsed in his lawyerly lair, a fourth story perch he was apparently trying to burn down with a thermostat set on 'Smother'. You ever interviewed a bankruptcy attorney while dressed like an icebound lumberjack? It's a special kind of hell usually reserved for those greasy drifter types who specialize in tri-state crime sprees. I'll spare you the details, but about three questions in I was sweatin' like a high-dollar housewife with a credit-card fetish. As for the counselor in question, he didn't miss a beat; launching into a dissertation on foreclosures while fighting the urge to make me empty my pockets - assuming I could reach them.

But while I sat and squirmed, another photog roamed the local tundra. Chris Weaver, Chief Engineer of Lenslinger Labs, assumed a position I know all too well: hunched over the steering wheel of a moving news unit with suburbia streaking by. You know those obligatory shots of kids sledding in the snow you see on the news? They don't come with engraved invites. No, some plucky photog has to go out and score some of that hillside revelry. Sure, it's never too hard to find, unless you're under deadline - which, of course, Weaver was. He fumbled about at first, but once he realized a photog summit was taking place at a certain Mexican restaurant, he came upon a kid-infested cul-de-sac. Forty five minutes and one taco special later, the Mighty Weave delivered.

Then he returned to the office, snapped the above photo of El Ocho's sat farm and captured a rare shot of my pick-up... Perhaps I should have sprung for lunch.