John Albert: Stranger than Fiction

John Albert has played drums in the band Bad Religion and written articles for magazines like LA Weekly, Hustler and BlackBook. Albert’s memoir of his personal struggle with drugs and finding his salvation in baseball, Wrecking Crew: The Really Bad News Griffith Park Pirates, was derived from an LA Weekly article that won the Best of the West Journalism Best Sports Writing Award in 2000. It was published in 2005 to great acclaim. John currently resides in Los Angeles.

Wrecking Crew was your debut book. What compelled you to write it in the first place?

I was actually compelled because I was offered a publishing deal to write it. It started out as a cover story for the LA Weekly. The story was optioned by Paramount Pictures at the time, and my new movie agent made a deal to do a book. I thought there was no way there would be enough material for an entire book, but it was an opportunity so I took it contrary to my doubts.

I know that when you’re publishing a novel you’re forced to rewrite the rewrites and edit and rearrange the rearrangements. It’s a long and arduous process. Do you think this process differs when publishing a memoir?

I am not sure what it’s like with everybody. One of the things I did, which I can’t recommend enough, is that I joined a writers group. So before I turned in chapters I would have already read and discussed them with other people. I think my reading chapters about sex and drugs to these dear old ladies really made the work with my editor a whole lot easier.

It’s been seven years since Wrecking Crew was published. Do you think putting out such a personal story has changed the way people interact with you?

Maybe initially they were aware that everything said and observed was material for story. I have done it again periodically with short stories that detail the lives of friends. But I think people love that, they really want to be talked about. We offered to take things out of Wrecking Crew and or change people’s names. Nobody wanted that no matter how depraved their activities were.

When writing fiction I know that you’re free to take creative liberties with the story and descriptions. How faithful do you feel you have to be when you’re writing nonfiction?

This is a great question. I know quite a few people who have written high profile memoirs and confessed that they seriously embellished events. I did not. Even when it was suggested by people in my writer’s group, I stayed very true to the events. I think that came from working as a journalist. Lucky for me the truth was – to quote your dad [Brett Gurewitz], “Stranger than fiction.”

Do you think you’ll ever delve into fiction?

I have two short fiction works being published in the next month. So the answer is yes. I found the process to be freeing and requiring less homework.

I heard they might possibly making a Wrecking Crew movie? True or False? If so, would you be up for a starring role?

They are continually trying to make it into a movie. This is the fourth time. Right now the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman owns the rights. And no, I would want a big movie star to play me because I want the film to be both successful and good. I have no talent or draw as an actor.

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Visual art by Seung Min Oh.

You’re new here. You live in the blue house. With the yellow flowers on the freshly shorn lawn and white shutters. And the Japanese trees. Your mother bought it because she thought it looked like the Brady house. It doesn’t. She was wrong. You’ve watched that show a thousand times. . It looks nothing like the Brady house. You like the Brady house. You hate this house. You think it’s tacky. You think it looks like it belongs in some coloring book about the 60’s. Tacky, Tacky, Tacky.

Your room has white lacey curtains. The window looks in to Suzie Kincaid’s house. You can see her older brother’s bedroom. The walls have pictures of athletes and playboy bunnies on it. He sits there and reads things on his computer. You watch him sometimes. Just sit on your bed, on your computer, and watch him on his bed, on his computer. You never allow yourself to be naked in your room.

Your kitchen has pink and white checker tile. Your little sister crawls across it. Her fat little fingers grab at the grout. Your mother reaches down to scoop her up. She drools on her your mothers shoulder, ruining her silky blouse. Your mother pouts her large pink lips at the baby. She clicks and gurgles and makes like an idiot. You watch in disgust over your bowl of cheerios and milk. Stupid woman.

You wish you could move back. Pack up all the boxes, turn the car around and go back. You don’t like anyone here. They all have big dogs that bark at the mailmen, slobber and leave their mark on your lawn.

You don’t like the dogs or the people. They are all so obnoxious. You want to go back, you tell your mother, but she tells you this is home. No more apartment building where the third step on the third flight of stairs squeaked. No more hearing the comforting screech of police cars and ambulances outside of your window. No more having to look both ways when crossing the street, because if you didn’t it could be bloody. Now you live in a one-story house. Now the air is always heavy with silence .Now ,you could lie in the middle of the street, sleep there if you wanted to, and you wouldn’t get hit. You want to go back. This was boring you to tears. Your mother said it was what the family needed. Something stable and reliable, a place where there would always be home cooked dinner on the table and then she made another reference to the Brady’s. This is nothing like the Brady’s. You’re not blonde and there aren’t eight of you plus a maid under one roof.

The cement out front has been marked forever. You wonder who Jeremiah and Tammy were. And if they ever lasted. They probably cracked as soon as the cement did. The sidewalk has cracks and tiny weeds fighting their way up through them. They fight for sunlight and the overflow of the hose. You spoke to him once here. In this exact spot. Where the freshly mowed lawn meets Jeremiah and Tammy’s sidewalk. He was playing basketball. Tripping over his overgrown feet. He lept and threw the ball toward the hoop and its ratty net. He watched it in anticipation. His hands out stretched, hanging where the ball had left it. The ball hit the backboard. It rolled from his yard. He followed it, and noticed you. He grunted a hello, picked up his ball, started at your chest and then walked away. You said nothing. You didn’t know what to say.

You sit in the backyard on the tire swing with the cicada’s singing in the warm summer air. You kick your legs in front of you. Kick and retract, kick and retract, till you swing full force toward the suburban moon.

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Spring Oak Road

Visual art by Mai Matsubara.

I was walking upon a paved road with lots of cracks when a man approached me. He was dressed in a chartreuse suit with a large valentine tulip in his lapel. He asks me if I knew him.  I said I didn’t believe I did. He shook his head at me.  He told me he was my father. He was not my father. My father lived in a small house on a hill with a wood fire stove and rocking chair.  The man corrected me.  He said I had a sister by the name of Beatrice.  I told him I did not. He apologized, tipped his hat to me and kept walking. He walked up to the next girl and told him he was her father. I laughed out loud.

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Where I’m from:

Visual art by Yuli Kuan.

I come from funnies on the kitchen floor
And haircuts where my feet don’t touch the ground
Freshly shorn bobs
I come from swear words and electric guitar
The days where my mother’s hair was not the same as before
Soft touchable shocking blue and ghostly white
I come from little gold chains with little gold stars
Long drives into a valley soaked in smoggy heat
And diving into brightly wrapped present mountains
I come from Twin Beds
Dungeons and Dragons
20 sided die bouncing off our wooden table
I come from hot pots and butcher blocks
Bowls of steaming soups from cans, I made myself
Chocolate birthday cake with oozing marshmallow fluff
I come from twice the madness as a normal person
I guess that would explain me now.
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