During his 17 years as editor of Creative Loafing, John Grooms was a man of many moods, a couple of them not fit for a PG-13 rating. But even when he was lighthearted, Grooms was passionately engaged in the politics and culture of Charlotte -- with strong interests and opinions that extended nationally and globally.
In recent years, Grooms has been able to channel more of his ferocious energies into his writing. Wary co-workers, quaking underlings, and loyal Loaf readers all have good reasons to rejoice. Unleashed upon the page, Grooms' many moods, passions and interests are pure joy. If you read his Boomer With Attitude columns regularly, you know the constant fire that burns within -- whether the outcome is warm memories of his Gaffney childhood, beaming adulation directed at his culture heroes, or the hot fury and corrosive satire Grooms reserves for a hapless weasel of the week.
So you're likely pre-sold on Grooms's new book, Deliver Us from Weasels, which collects the best of the Boomers and features written since 2005, along with a few choice golden oldies from the 1990s.
Creative Loafing: There was a hiatus between the time you stepped away from your editorial chores and the time you settled into your current routine: weekly op-eds as Boomer With Attitude, regular book reviews, and the occasional feature. What went through your mind as you shaped your Loaf afterlife?
John Grooms: It wasn't that long a hiatus, as there was a period of six months when I was writing the column while still on staff. After leaving CL, it took about a month or so to get going on the column again. At the time, three things were going through my mind: 1. This columnist thing isn't going to earn as much money as the editor gig, 2. Woo-hoo! No more corporate meetings!, and 3. Simple delight, as I realized I could now spend a lot more time writing and catching up on the non-desk-job part of life I'd been missing.
It's apparent in Weasels that there's a natural synergy between what you're reading and what you're writing about -- not only the issues and topics you choose but the viewpoints and the erudition you bring to discussing them. Do you normally have a long list of topics that you're itching to get to, or do you find that you're constantly rifling through books, newspapers, magazines, and Web sites in quest of golden new topics?
I keep files of articles and commentaries and quotes about specific topics or areas of interest, which are a big help in remembering background info when it comes time to put a column together. Usually, I'm thinking of at least two or three different topics for a column. So I'll often pick the issue that I feel is being poorly explained, or more often, explained in a shallow, trivializing way by the media, and have a go at bringing another perspective to bear on it. Sometimes I like to treat the issues through satire, or at other times, I'll dump the issues and produce a memoir piece -- those always get good reader reactions.
You weren't exactly editing a bunch of lunkheads all those years before you broke out with your own regular columns, but there had to be a sense of liberation once you could isolate yourself and concentrate so much more on your own writing. Can you describe how transformative this all was in your daily life and your personality?
No, there weren't many lunkhead writers at CL, and if one showed up, he or she didn't last long. I was always looking to raise the bar in terms of the paper's writers, and we had good success doing that -- particularly after the paper got on its feet and budgets grew. When I left, I didn't feel liberated so much as disoriented. I missed some of the people I'd worked with, and it wasn't easy getting used to not going to the office each day. But I finally got the hang of working at home, setting up a work schedule and so forth -- and meeting old work friends for lunch now and then -- and I found my stride. Consequently, the writing keeps improving, I think. Personality-wise, I can only think of one change, but it's a pretty big one. I'm calmer these days, or, to put it another, more blunt way, I don't turn into a grouchy asshole at the drop of a hat anymore. That's something people I haven't talked to in a couple of years will probably be glad to know.
Was choosing your best and organizing it a daunting task with lots of editorial wrangling or relatively carefree?
Well, I don't think I've ever been called carefree, but there was no wrangling, because I picked all the stories, re-edited them, and that was that. One thing I wish I could have done was to include some of the longer features I wrote in the first few years of CL's existence in Charlotte, particularly a very detailed story comparing how the local news stations covered the events of one specific day; and a piece on Charlotte water quality. Those were ditched from the book, largely as a matter of time and convenience -- they weren't available electronically and would've had to have been keyed in again. Looking back, though, some of the best work we produced were group efforts. I'm thinking specifically of the week the Final Four was in Charlotte, and we mocked the Uptown honchos' pretensions about the city, including the "Welcome To Charlotte!" cover with its photo of the New York City skyline. Or the fortified-wine tasting committee. Or when Jerry Garcia and Mickey Mantle died within days of each other and we rushed to have a panel discussion of which one was cooler. The improvisational nature of those stories, and the energy of working on group projects is something I still miss now and then; that was what I liked best about working for CL -- that those kinds of things were encouraged.
A little past halfway through your collection, my faves are "Crackers of the World, Unite!" [on the N word] for its introspection, "Disconnected and Dangerous" [comparing Dubya with Ahmadinejad] for its analysis, "The Last Hero" for its narrative, "Let Celebrities Do Your Voting" for its zaniness, and skipping ahead to a piece I remember so well, "Jesse [Helms] the Gracious Bigot," for correcting the tendency of mass media to wildly eulogize public figures when they die instead of soberly evaluating their lives. Which are the pieces you're proudest of, the ones that unquestionably had to be in this collection?
I like the Ali piece, "The Last Hero," so it's good to hear that it did something for someone else, too. One of my other favorites is the Dusty Springfield story ["Stay Awhile"]. I thought she was a criminally underrated singer, and so, after she died, I probably put more soul into the writing of that piece than I realized at the time. I'm also fond of "Overkill? What Overkill?" where I concocted a kind of script to satirize the over-the-top glut of coverage by local media after two police officers were shot to death. I also really like the "Rock & Roll Nativity" piece, even though I know it's pretty weird. I'm fascinated by regional accents and syntax, and by Presley's place in our cultural history, and I'm just glad I had the idea to combine those into an alternate-universe take on the Christian nativity story. Writers' minds work in interesting ways at times.