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A Q&A with Jason Buhrmester

As a teen, Jason Buhrmester created skateboard and punk rock zines with names like “Slappy” and “Mullethead Illustrated” as a way of escaping the confines of his small hometown in rustbelt Illinois. Today, the journalist, editor and novelist is adding screenwriter to his resume by transforming his book “Black Dogs: The Possibly True Story of Classic Rock’s Greatest Robbery” into a film. It’s a fictionalized account of a real life robbery in which Led Zeppelin lost $203,000 in cash while on tour in 1973, just a month after Buhrmester was born.


Your hometown of Kankakee, Illinois was rated the worst place to live by “The Places Rated Almanac”. Was it really that bad?
I hated it the minute I was born. You couldn’t keep me there. If I could get to the train or get hold of a car –even illegally– I was going. I actually drove to Chicago at fourteen in a friend’s brother’s car. I felt like I was meant to born somewhere else. I never bought yearbook, went to prom, or joined a club. I thought, “Why make friends? You’re leaving here and never coming back. Don’t even bother meeting these people.”

How did growing up in such an awful town influence you?
I wanted to be connected to something outside of Kankakee. I had friends in Chicago who were into the same kind of punk rock music that I was. So every weekend I was there skateboarding, going to shows, and meeting girls.

But I was a high school kid and there were times I had to be home. I think that’s what influenced my desire to get into journalism. I would buy mail order records from small punk rock bands. They would send it to me with a note and I’d write them back.  I was interviewing bands from the time I was 16 or 17. There was no publicist–it was me going up to them and asking if I could get an interview. I would write scene reports and record reviews for punk rock magazines and they’d send me the magazines. I was isolated but there were other people out there and I could reach them somehow.

Why did you gravitate toward writing instead of forming your own band?
It was really all I had to offer. I couldn’t draw. I could play guitar a little bit but there was no one in my town to form a band with and no one that was into the stuff I was. What could I do?  The only thing I had that I had any sort of natural ability was writing.

You were a successful editor of Inked Magazine, so why quit to write a book?
I remember being at a dinner and a guy said, “I just wrote a novel and it was optioned for a movie.” I was so angry with myself. Why hadn’t I done that? This guy was my age! I have connections, and I work with publicists and publishers. I wasted so much time playing fucking video games! It was like someone had beaten me to discovering America. I quit my job maybe three months after that and started writing. I was that pissed off about it.

Did you have a movie in mind then?
Not really. I thought it would be fun to see what would happen. Even if it just sits in a drawer, I wrote a book. I wanted to see if I could finish it. I knew the idea was at least good, so why not?

Did it get lonely after working in buzzing magazine offices for so long?
I only have hobbies that seem to isolate me. I love playing guitar by myself. I love boxing; I can do that by myself. I love skateboarding; I do that by myself. I have no coach. There’s no team; there’s no uniform. Either I do it or I don’t do it. I think all my pursuits in life involve me sitting alone, so I don’t have to listen to somebody else. And when I’m writing, I’m sitting alone.

How does your wife feel about that?
She’s used to it–and she’s into her own things. We’re one of those couples who can be in two separate rooms of the apartment for a day and not talk. She’s used to the ebb and flow where I’ll be really panicked and work seven days a week and cancel any plans. You guys go have fun and have a picnic in the park. I’ll be at home trying the best I can. Then there’ll be a week where I finally crack and get cabin fever and am just going out drinking every night and not even looking at a computer.

Writing the book must have been a true labor of love. How did you make the switch from journalist and editor to fiction writer?
Several literary agents told me I had a great idea, but nobody would represent me until the book was finished. I guess the book companies learned if somebody gets a check based on an idea, they just fucking disappear. So it became my job to make enough money so I could focus on finishing it. I had the idea but didn’t have the time, so I switched to freelance writing. I’d save enough money so I didn’t have to worry about paying rent for three months. For two months I did nothing but work on my book. That was my 9 to 5 job. I’d get up, sit at the desk and try to write something.  When my bank account started going down again, I’d go out and hustle for freelance work and build my savings a bit.

You must have had a pretty rad book tour?
If you thought there’s no money in magazines, there is no money in books. Unless you’re a huge author, there is no book tour. In fact, there is no book launch party! The publishers don’t do anything for you. I saved some freelance checks and quickly realized that my meager little budget was bigger than theirs. I fell back on my punk rock DIY roots: “I’ll do this myself.” I did my own publicity, shot a book trailer to post on YouTube, set up readings, threw a launch party, everything. People are pretty receptive especially if you kick at their door.  It’s simple logic like weightlifting. Pick up the weight or don’t.

The publisher would call me and say, “Hey, the book’s doing really well!” Yeah, because my wife and I were killing ourselves!

How do you feel about reviews?
I’ve interviewed a billion musicians and they bitch about the negative reviews but don’t complain abut the good reviews. My logic has always been that you can’t pick and choose. Either reviews have validity totally or they have no validity. Which is it? So I just didn’t care. A good review to me has about the same weight as a negative one which is none.  You just gotta do your thing.

What if the movie flops?
I’ll just write something else. I’m like a cockroach; I’ll just keep coming back.


Kambri

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