The Occasional Triumphant

The tuba steps unsteadily forward for a solo

Sexy Q&A with Rob Gordon from High Fidelity


Photo by Laura Relyea

In March 2016, I took part in a show called Transgression, which asks Atlanta writers to assume roles in a theatrical style event which reinterprets a piece of classic literature or pop culture. For this show, they put a cast of characters from all over the literary spectrum into an episode of The Dating Game. It included Christian Grey from “50 Shades of Grey,” Jane Eyre, Dorian Gray, and a bunch more. I played record-collecting, list-making curmudgeon Rob Gordon. A huge stretch for me, I know. I was being grilled by The Scarlet Letter’s Hester Prynne (her questions here written by the inimitable Lauren Traetto). Not all of my answers made the show. Here’s my entire list of responses. 


  • In my culture, the colonial Puritans, we have a lot of fun pastimes, like candlemaking, controlling young women’s sexual agency, and publicly hanging Quakers. What are your favorite pastimes?

A: First: most of that sounds like an amazing time–and I’m sensing just a touch of sarcasm that’s maybe unbecoming a straight up-and-down Puritan, so I’m gonna go out on a limb here and tell you my favorite past time is…music. Really anything having to do with it: listening to it, talking about it, shopping for it, and yes, dancing to it. Although: badly, but: not unenthusiastically, underlined. I dig the candlemaking thing, that sounds crafty and I like people who make things with their hands, so I hope the dancing thing’s not a dealbreaker.



  • I allegedly dabbled in witchcraft a little, and was nearly hanged by the neck for it. What spell would you cast on my enemies to win me over?

A: Ah. See this is kind of a problem for me since I don’t really go in for the whole revenge thing–I’m more of a quietly-suffer-and-let-quietly-suffer kind of guy.

But I mean, even that’s a form of passive-aggression, right? Just stewing and hoping your enemy feels as much self-loathing as you do? I’m tired of doing that–I’m tired of being a character in a Leonard Cohen song.

You know what? Fuck a magic spell. Bring your enemies to me, I’ll drop a window unit on their heads.


  • Society expects women quietly suffer, be strong and virtuous, and make up for everybody else’s weaknesses. How can you prove you are strong enough to be with me? Before you answer, drop and give me ten.

A: [Quite winded, because let’s be real: I’m pretty out of shape] I think I’m seeing dead kings…could you repeat the question?

Okay, yeah, so I’ll admit, I’m no superhero like these guys sitting next to me, but I think that emotional strength is important. Having a strong will and a good personality, those are important things, right?

It’s like when Glen Matlock either quit or was kicked out of the Sex Pistols because he liked the Beatles (depending on who you believe) and got replaced by arguably the worst bassist of all time Sid Vicious. Sid might not have been the strongest musician or have been able to play a note, but his force of personality made him immortal. I mean, he had to get onstage and stand next to Johnny Rotten every night, right? I mean, that’s no place to be a pushover.

So yeah, if you discount the heroin and the general cluelessness and the stabbing your girlfriend and dying young thing, yeah, emotionally I’m like the Sid Vicious of this group.

Sure. That’s what I mean to say. Sure. I’m sorry, I forget you’re Puritan. Have you even heard of the Sex Pistols?

I’ll make you a tape.


  • Supporting community members against patriarchal power structures is so sexy to me. if you were the white supremacist patriarchy, how would you dismantle yourself? You can start with your shirt.

Yeah, how do you call it quits? I mean, I suppose I could keep believing every shitty thing any of my exes have ever said about me and just keep apologizing for who I am, but I don’t want to do that, I can’t live like that.

What I can do is just walk away. Like Frank Black did. The Pixies basically gave birth to indie rock, they put out a run of unimpeachably great albums–including Trompe Le Monde, don’t even get me started. They were touring with U2 and they were set to become huge. Maybe go mainstream. Maybe take on too much. Gain too much power. Sign to a major and start putting out concept albums. Four sides of filler with no ideas. Too many drugs. A David Lovering solo album. Ye-gods.

But Frank headed all this off at the pass by breaking up the band via fax. How early-90s is that? no fanfare. Just saw the monster he was creating and decided that he needed to be the asshole and put a stop to it. “Break my body, hold my bones.”

I don’t know if that really answers your question, but yeah, I’d do it like that.


  • My husband was lost at sea for, like, forever, then came back to town and pretended to be a doctor in order to torture my secret lover for a while. Have you ever pretended to be somebody you aren’t? How do you feel about role-playing in bed?

A: I feel like in every relationship you’re in, you’re kind of playing a role. Turning up certain areas of your personality, attenuating others. Maybe this woman is kind of brassy and good with crowds, so you kind of hang back a little more, let her do the entertaining. I’ve dated women who  were kind of shy and I found myself amping up my extroverted tendencies in public, and being a lot more chill with her behind closed doors.

It’s like, you put Bowie in the studio with Toni Visconti, you get “Heroes,” you put him in there with Nile Rogers, you get Black Tie, White Noise. Both good records.

I guess what I’m saying is I’d be pretty happy to see who we both are when we’re together. If. If we’re together. And I will say this: I’ve had fun in bed. I’ve had a good time.


  • I run my own small business as HBIC of embroidering shit for my fellow Puritans. If your sexual style were an etsy shop, what would its cutsey pun name be?

My top 5, all time favorite sex puns… Nah, I’m just kidding, there’s just one:

A: Vinyl Fetish.

I guess that’s not really a pun unless you’ve seen my living room. Which…hey.


  • Demi Moore was cast to play me in a shitty movie version of my life, on account of this handsome jaw we both have. What forgotten icon of ‘90s cinema would play you in the oversexualized, under-researched movie version of your life?

You know, I have some experience with this. I thought John Cusack did a fine job.

I mean, who doesn’t love “Better Off Dead?” That Van Halen song really rocks too.


  • One of my biggest turn-ons is consensual freakfests in the woods with members of the clergy. Deliver your sexiest sermon for me. Don’t be afraid to really inspire me to see heaven.

It’s funny that you mention heaven–I mean, it’s not funny, but it’s…you know, it’s good that you mention heaven. I’m sure that my vision of what Heaven is and what your vision of what Heaven is–I’m sure those are two pretty different things. But….there’s this idea of perfection, and I think we put that up there, just out of reach, where we mortals can’t quite reach it. It’s Heaven. And the way people think about their ideal partner, the love of their life, their soul mate…those kind of things live right up there nextdoor to heaven. Like Heaven West.

And I kept my hopes and my dreams about love way up there for a long time. I kept hoping that maybe this next date, this next woman, this next relationship…would lead to that impossible place where everything is perfect and…it never did. And I used to get really disappointed about that. I wondered what was wrong with me and what was wrong with all these women, and why could I just not be happy?

But I’m pretty over thinking that way. I mean, I’ve got problems, you’ve probably got some issues, but I really dig how put together you seem and we’re both considered outcasts in our own way. I mean, I’m never going to get why people enjoy any of Coldplay’s catalog save for “Yellow,” that was a solid pop song for people who thought Radiohead got too weird after The Bends and I get that, but come on….

Relationships get close to heaven at two points…one is finding out you’re both really good in bed…but the other point is this. Right now. When it’s nothing but tense energy and potential.

Hester. I’d really like to tear down our notions about perfection together. That sounds like fun, right?


  • I’m known for upsetting the typical roles prescribed by my society. Convince me that you share my interests. Tell me about the delicate toil of your needle.

My needle toils through all kinds of grooves. First pressings, reissues, some limited editions and occasionally a foreign import…those are nice.

If it skips, that’s not a problem, just turn it over and play the B side.

Oh Christ, what am I saying?


  • A lot of people don’t know this, but the “A” I wear actually stands for “Able.” Tell me about your hidden talents.

Okay, My Top 5 Talents are:

  1. I’ve successfully run a small business for twenty years now with one guy who loves weird Japanese psychedelic stuff like Les Raliizes Denudes and another guy who loves…shitting on everyone’s tastes, so I’ve become a pretty good, if not a little passive aggressive diplomat.
  2. Any given area of the country, if we’re in the car, I can always manage to find some radio station that will at some point play some Muddy Waters. That’s helpful.
  3. My hands stay pretty warm. Like, my body temperature is generally pretty high. As a result, I’m an amazing blanket-on-the-sofa watching TV partner in the winter months.
  4. Not many people know this: but I can crochet.
  5. I’m good at keeping track of things around the apartment. cell phones, keys, that kind of thing.

I realize I probably should have put the body heat thing at the end. That was the good one.


  • Nothing really gets me in the mood like a song. Sing me your best 17th-century church hymn about my eyes and/or my contributions to society.

I try to leave the singing to the experts, but alright, I’ll bite. This should be close enough to the 17th century:

She can fly through the air

She can live underwater

She can do she can do

Just what she wanna

And I won’t live as long

And I’m not as strong

She’s a town in France

She’s a town in France

High over the city lights

And I always feel this way

And then Franz Stahl does something brilliant on the guitar, but he couldn’t make it tonight.


  • I really like to sneak into people’s houses when the shadow of death is upon them and nurse them back to health, then sneak back out before anyone knows I was there. How would you take care of me if I caught the flu?

There’s this great Chinese place near me that does an amazing hot and sour soup. That would be my first stop.


Our Greatest Challenge Is Change

The only change we have to change is change itself

“Reversal of Man” by Make Blackout Poetry

This rambling essay about breakups, The Pixies, and the dangers of settling into adulthood was written for and performed live at the launch party for Make Blackout Poetry‘s book, “Hidden Messages of Hope,” out on Deer Bear Wolf Press.



One sign of my age is my continued devotion to dead media, and I’m not talking about print. Worse: CDs. I know. I KNOW. “Just use your phone;” shut up. There is currently a stack of stuff piling up on top of my stereo, threatening to topple at any moment. This stack just happens to have my copy of The Pixies’ Doolittle that I bought in high school. It still has the slip of paper in the booklet where I wrote out the album sequence that I prefer, which puts “Monkey Gone To Heaven” at the END where it SHOULD BE. I mean, you can’t have that kind of ephemera with a bunch of mp3s, but I didn’t come here to talk about mp3s, I came here to talk about a breakup. Fucking of course that’s why I’m here.


So my freshman year — this is 1996 — I made understudy in the school’s big musical production of “The Robber Bridegroom.” Understudy makes it sound like I was in any way prepared to step into a role — I was not. Mostly I hung around backstage and helped move setpieces around. I’m pretty sure I was on the crew but someone told me I was an understudy because high school theatre students are super dramatic and they didn’t want me to, you know, DO something. We go away for a weekend to this theatre conference like hours away, I don’t remember where, and my girlfriend of like…three years? Yeah, she breaks up with me in the back of our director’s mini van ON THE WAY THERE. To a weekend where we’re gonna be in close quarters, where she will also be making out with MY BEST FRIEND. GODDAMNIT LISA. GODDAMNIT BRIAN. (I gotta stop using their real names when I tell this story). Jesus. I didn’t DO anything, I just kinda wandered around shell-shocked for two days until some adult herded me back into a car and drove us back home…but not before stopping at a mall so this pack of hormonal teenagers could fuck around for like an hour and grab some Sbarro’s.

I miss Sbarro’s. Do they still have those? I haven’t been to a mall in a while.

I wandered into a Camelot Music and started flipping through the racks of CDs filed under “P.” I’d had the Pixies in my “to buy” list for a while since I’d read all those interviews where Kurt Cobain talked about Black Francis and how “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was just a Pixies ripoff, but this was the mid-90s and there was no Spotify, no YouTube, and I was a shrimpy high schooler who had just had his fucking heart torn out of his concave chest — I hadn’t discovered college radio I think is what I’m trying to say. So yeah, I brought Doolittle up to the register and I was like…twenty cents short. The guy there scanned something, knocked like a buck off the price and sent me on my way. God bless bored suburban music store clerks.

So I suffered through another hour of breakup hell and got home and laid down in my darkened bedroom and put the album on… and I mean, y’all know how it goes, right? Kim Deal’s bass thumps in and makes way for Joey Santiago’s surprisingly pop-friendly screeching guitar and David Lovering’s expert drumming. And then Frank Black comes in SCREAMING and I was fifteen, I’d just had my very soul stomped on by another fifteen year old — how humiliating is that? Like, if your soul gets destroyed, it should be at the hands of a demon or an evil wizard, not someone who just got their learner’s permit for Christ’s sake. I was going to be alone forever, I figured, but at that precise moment — the moment I heard GOT ME A MOVIE, I WANT YOU TO KNOW — absolutely none of that mattered because I was TERRIFIED. Oh my god! This guy’s screaming about slicing up eyeballs and then shouting in some foreign language and the guy CAN’T SING but he can SCREAM like I’ve never heard anyone scream. It’s not angry, it sounds completely unhinged. IT IS AMAZING. Cut to a montage of me never shutting up about the Pixies to my disinterested friends, playing out over the Peel Session version of “Letter To Memphis.”


Okay, so that was twenty years ago. So why am I still up here bitching about a breakup that I went through in high school? One reason is that I’ve been married for ten years, so I don’t have a lot of hilarious breakup stories like a lot of my younger friends do.


You know who else has kind of a hilarious break up story? The Pixies. Yeah, so after Doolittle, the band started smoking WAY too much pot and went from being a demented surf rock band to… a surf rock band on Bossanova, which is still a damn fine record. But they were young, they had egos, and the rifts were forming between them. By the time Frank Black wrote Trompe Le Monde — which is barely a Pixies record, it’s more like Black’s first solo album featuring members of his band who all hated each other. Each member recorded their parts separately, they were never in the studio at the same time, and you can feel it in the music. It doesn’t hang together in the way Surfer Rosa did. It doesn’t sound like a band. It sounds like a project.


In 1993, Frank Black’s doing a radio interview with the BBC and he announces that the Pixies are dead. A fact that he has neglected to share with his bandmates. He later broke the news to the VIA FAX. That’s kinda funny, right? Or at least, very 1990s of him. I wonder if there was a cover letter.


One reason to look back is to assess where we are now. For instance, in 1996 if you had told me that just a couple decades later I would be ignoring a Pixies reunion complete with new albums…and would instead be waaaaaaaaay more into a solo album by that woman from Destiny’s Child, I would have laughed Right. Into. Your. Face.


My breakup with Lisa sucked. But I moved on. There were other girlfriends who destroyed me in unique new ways. And now, 35 year old me is virtually unrecognizable to my judgemental and very earnest 15 year old self and That’s Fine. I have a career I like, I’m married to a woman who makes things with her hands, I have a beautiful son, I have stacks of CDs piling up everywhere, my hair is starting to go grey, I’m gaining weight, I don’t go out as much anymore…I have found consistency in this swirling world of fluxus and chaos.


It’s the thing a million romantic comedy moms have told romantic comedy sons — find someone nice. Settle down.


So I’m going to take a quick break from talking about the Pixies to rave at you about another, far more unpleasant band. They’re called Plebeian Grandstand, they’re from Toulouse, France. They are ostensibly a combination of hardcore and black metal, but what they sound like is a brutal nightmare. Drums that sound like arms and necks breaking, a singer…”singer,” who is like an unrelenting font of hideous screams, a guitarist whose only goal in life, seemingly, is to kill absolutely everyone. There are no traditional song structures and songs tumble through riffs and breakdowns like Godzilla wantonly destroying one building, then that one, and maybe these three at once now.

I love them.


I love them so much. They are one of my favorite bands. And they were on tour! In the States, like this month. And they passed through Nashville and I was like, YES. I’m driving to Nashville and I’m going to sweat and scream along with my favorite band and I’ll probably sleep in a rest area parking lot on the way home, but it’ll be awesome and then I didn’t go because I don’t know, I was tired or something that day.


I mean, I used to drive home from the 40 Watt at like 4 in the morning swerving all over the road because who gives a damn about “tomorrow?” My wife and I once BOUGHT A FUCKING CAR so that we could get up to Washington DC to see The Dismemberment Plan tear the roof off the 9:30 Club when they reunited in 2011. We absolutely should not have done that but it was amazing! But now…the longer you stay settled, the more you view flux as a threat rather than something you can power through and sleep off.


There’s this great song on Doolittle. In the middle of this crazyass album full of wailing guitars and banshee screams, there’s this song called “Hey.” It slows shit down. It’s got this jangly do-wop guitar part and a walking bass line, it’s practically a Motown song compared to the rest of the album, only Frank Black is still yelping about whores and babies breaking. It’s fucking mad and it culminates with this lament:


We’re chained. We’re chained. We’re chained. We’re chained. We’re chained.


It’s as if the pathos in his voice alone could set him free. Not all of our songs need to sound the same. And the ones that stand out can be the ones that deliver us.


As humans, there is a part of us that resists change. Even fears it. But we do it all the time. All through my 20s, I think I moved to a new house or apartment or town nearly every year. I quit jobs, I dropped classes, I willingly threw my life into chaos and it was fine. It was even a little fun. And it got me here.


In steadfast adulthood, there is a danger of calcifying. You stick to your routine until your routine is all you have and you’re just a lone bassist, in a studio with your bandmates in your headphones and nowhere to be seen, making music you hate because it’s just kind of what you do now. You’re chained.


Our greatest challenge is change, not in beating it back, but inviting it in. Letting it remind us that our lives require dynamics — that loud-quiet-loud that makes albums like Doolittle so exciting and…a little terrifying…and vital. I want you to know.

An Easy Mortality

Honored and grateful to have this story up in gutwrench. today about adolescent camaraderie, the subtleties of the pecking order, and the hubris of tall boys. Enjoy!


By Myke Johns

It did not begin as a trudge. It started as a hike. From the very foot of the Appalachian Trail to about twelve miles in. This gaggle of boys carrying sticks, wearing backpacks, our faces expectant even at that hour. Under any other circumstances it would be inexcusable for us to be awake—not for a school day, not for church, not for Christmas morning. Yet here we were with boots on, intently listening to our Scoutmaster go over trail safety one last time.

“Troop 410,” that was us, “we do not hike alone. If you have to stop to rest, to go to the bathroom, to pass out, you buddy up.”

We all eyed each other and quietly decided who our real friends were. I was not going back into the woods with Quentin or Hunter—those two did not have my best interests at heart. I figured…

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