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The Department of Tangents Podcast


Years ago, playing a sort of improv game with friends in which we all picked super powers based on our personalities, I dubbed myself “Tangent Lad.” I was not a very strong superhero, and I could not defeat a super villain on my own, but I could distract them with Monty Python quotes and football trivia. I have many times since apologized to an interview subject in my capacity as a journalist by saying, “I am either very good or very bad at tangents, depending on how you feel about tangents.”

I had a rough time coming up with the concept and naming this blog/podcast. I knew I wanted to create a place where I could address things I’m passionate about – comedy, music, and horror. Finding a name that communicated all three of those things proved a bit impossible. I bugged my friends, and they all tried to help. To no avail. Then I thought, maybe I’m approaching this from the wrong angle. Maybe my lack of focus should be the focus.

As a journalist, I have written for The Boston Globe since 2000, starting out writing CD reviews and then writing a regular column on comedy for seven and a half years. I still contribute there, and to Kirkus Reviews, and other publications. I’m also a musician, and released my debut full-length album, Blue Skies and Broken Arrows, in March of 2015. And I’ve been publishing short horror fiction for a couple of years.

I like to climb into things I love and see how they operate. That’s what the Department of Tangents is for. I’ll be writing regular features, essays, and news bits about the big three – comedy, music, and horror – and offering clips from people I’ve taped interviews with over the past nearly twenty years of writing. Some of the best parts of the interviews I’ve done have been completely off-point and inappropriate for print. I’ll get to explore more of that here. I’m also hoping to convince some friends to tell me about the things they love that I might not even know about, and pass that along to you.

The DoT podcast might be short or long, depending on where the conversation leads. You cant purposefully create an interesting tangent in conversation – it has to happen naturally. But I can confidently forecast that there will be moments in the individual podcasts where things veer off wonderfully.

The main thing here is love. To write about the things that make I’ve loved forever, and some new things that might stand the test and be around, at least for me, for decades to come. I’ve had to be critical in my writing at times, and it might not all be nonstop roses here, but in the end, what I really want to talk about is the good stuff. That’s why I will regularly write about things I think are “Perfect,” even if someone can demonstrate empirically that they are flawed. Still perfect to me.

Also, fish.

I hope you, dear anonymous surfer person, will come to expect only the highest-quality, free-range, grass-fed tangents. And I hope some of you love the same things I do and find it useful. Or at least a welcome distraction until the others get here.

Aug 17, 2018

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Rhode Island for NECON 38, the 38th edition of Northeastern Writers Conference. It’s also known as Camp NECON, and it is attended mostly by horror writers, aspiring horror writers like myself, and fans. It was my first time at the conference, but it didn’t feel that way. It is a professional conference, with a full slate of panels on writing and horror-related art, but it is also very social. The regulars think of themselves as family, and that is very much the spirit of the event. I felt very welcomed in this group of misfits who have chosen a demanding vocation, and one that outsiders might have a hard time understanding. There’s an immediate bond amongst these people, and I will surely be back for future editions. 

This is the backdrop for my interview with David Wellington, who writes horror like the Monster Island/Monster Nation/Monster Planet zombie series, his vampire series which includes 13 Bullets and 99 Coffins, and his latest zombie novel, Positive. He has also written a science fiction series which includes the books Forsaken Skies, Forgotten Worlds, and Forbidden Suns under the name C. Nolan Clark. It only occurred to me after the interview, as I was putting this episode together, that Wellington is partly responsible for me being there in the first place. I have always enjoyed horror, but it wasn’t until around 2005 or so that I really fell in love with it while researching a story on zombie culture for a magazine. I read Wellington’s insanely inventive Monster series, as well many other zombie books and graphic novels, including books by another NECON attendee, Brian Keene. I had planned to interview Wellington back then, but the piece never materialized. I was left with an appreciation for the genre, and Wellington’s work in particular, and started writing some of my own horror. 

So it was great to finally sit down with him, face to face, during the conference and talk about his career trajectory, which has been amazing. I learned he was working at the U.N. while he was writing the Monster series, which turned out to be incredibly fortuitous timing for Wellington. His first love was science fiction, but horror was a fun diversion, and it’s what gave him his first success. Wellington has now written about zombies, werewolves, and vampires, so we talk about which was more fun to create, and finally getting to write those sci-fi books. We also make a diversion into Hannah Gadsby’s latest stand-up comedy special, Nanette, which Wellington brought up. It has been amazing to watch that spread, and how it has made people who maybe never thought about the mechanics of stand-up comedy dive deep into the topic. 

You can find out more about David Wellington at www.DavidWellington.net and follow him on Twitter at @LastTrilobite.

The featured track this week is “Cousins” by Beanpole from the album All My Kin, out August 31 on Chimera Music. These songs were recorded in the late 80s and early 90s as a collaboration between Claypool and Larry LaLonde from Primus and Derek Greenberg and Adam Gates of The Spent Poets. Some of the music on this album sounds less like a Primus album than it does Claypool’s theme song from South Park. If there were some demented network full of shows for which Claypool exclusively wrote the theme songs, this would be the collected works. I think I would enjoy “Beanpole,” “Chicken Boy,” “Sponge Boy,” and “Monkey Boy” in an evening line-up. 

Claypool is often the dominant voice in any project, but that’s less true here. He is very present on All My Kin, but more in the spirit of the lyrics and the tone than anything else. There are no bass pyrotechnics in these songs. Claypool might not have even played bass on some of the tracks. During the sessions, people were encouraged to play instruments other than their main instrument and not to think too much about what they were doing. The result is predictably strange and spontaneous. 

The story goes that when Claypool proposed releasing these recording on his Prawn Song imprint, not only did his distributor decline, they dropped the label. That seems short-sighted to say the least, but thankfully Sean Lennon knew better. He heard the tapes on tour with The Claypool Lennon Delirium, and decided to release the album on his Chimera Music label.