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A few words about Lonnie Wheeler, one of the most beautiful writers I’ve ever read

One of my favorite books as a kid was Hank Aaron’s autobiography, I Had a Hammer. I loved baseball. I lived in Atlanta, and to me, Aaron was all that was good about sports.

For all Aaron had been through in pursuit of Babe Ruth’s home run record, a Black man playing baseball in a southern city during the Civil Rights era, he was a hero. He was a great player with a great story to tell, and I loved reading it. The co-author of I Had a Hammer was Lonnie Wheeler. Whenever I read Lonnie’s tome on Aaron as a young teen, I never analyzed the quality of the writing. I didn’t think about the reporting and interviewing skills of the author. I didn’t think about how the book was laid out and how it was put together. I didn’t think about how Wheeler was tasked to write the book in such a way that it would sound exactly like Aaron was the one speaking it.

The technical aspects of the book flew over my head. I just know that I liked reading it over and over again.

About a dozen years later, I got to work with Lonnie when I was hired at the Cincinnati Post. I met him in 2004, and we went down with the ship together when the newspaper closed at the end of 2007. So many of those days in those three years, I got to see him pound away at his keyboard. The next day, I’d get to read the results of his late-night sessions. It was then that I could truly appreciate his skills, with his interviewing and his writing and the way he laid out his columns. I appreciated Wheeler’s work when I was a kid without comprehending why. I appreciated him even more when I truly understood his technique and his talent.

He wasn’t a hellraiser by nature, and his columns weren’t usually controversial. But they were always such a pleasure to read. Just like I Had a Hammer.

In some ways, the strange schedule of the Post—we were an afternoon newspaper, meaning copy editors stayed up until 5 a.m. or so putting the next day’s edition to bed—was a good setup for Lonnie. He could tap out his words, delete and edit as needed, and he could ride his deadline until well after midnight. If you worked at the Post and had the inclination, you could take your time and churn out a quality piece. Lonnie always did.

I always thought Lonnie would’ve been brilliant at a magazine like Sports Illustrated or Sport or The Sporting News. There, he could have waxed magnificently for 5,000 words about baseball or college basketball or, who knows, equestrian. And you would have wanted to read it over and over again simply because Lonnie wrote it, the same way people wanted to read Gary Smith in SI because Gary Smith was the one who had written it.

Lonnie was born in 1952, and he died on June 9, 2020. He was just about finished with his final book, a biography on Cool Papa Bell. It’ll be a fantastic work, because Lonnie was a fantastic writer.

But he was even better as a person. He was a good friend, the kind of guy who would give you advice, who would try to find ways for you to succeed. He was a jokester too. He fired out one of the sickest, yet most subtle burns I’ve ever heard when he and my friend Trent Rosecrans were covering the Flying Pig marathon.

I hadn’t spoken to Lonnie much in the decade or so after I left Cincinnati, but in the past few years, I’ve loved reading Lonnie’s Facebook posts. Much of the time, he was waxing poetic on the birds who flittered outside the window of his home.

In one of his final Facebook posts, written in May, he declared, “For several days, we were visited by what appeared to be a somewhat larger sparrow that we couldn’t identify. It was close to a white-throated sparrow but not quite. Yesterday, the annual rose-breasted grosbeak came pleasantly calling. This morning, two RBGs (I call them Ginsburg) showed up at the same time, which prompted us to check whether the females look the same as the males. They do not.”

And that’s how I like to imagine Lonnie now. Sitting inside his home office, tapping out gorgeous words onto his computer for his latest book, looking outside every now and again to see if the birds had stopped by for a quick chat.

The most important teacher of my life, the late, great Conrad Fink, talked about wordsmiths and how some writers just have a knack for turning in magnificent prose. Lonnie was a wordsmith, one of the most beautiful writers I’ve ever read.

A real scribe, Lonnie was. In Lonnie’s case, though, he was an even better human. In the lingo of Cincinnati sports writers—who mourn Lonnie today in Twitter threads, Facebook postings, and text messages—he would have been known as a “sheer delight.”

We’ve lost Lonnie, our friend and mentor. But we still have our memories of him. We can still remember his talent. And we still have all of his beautiful words to read over and over again.


365 Days of Mike Patton: “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies,” Faith No More (1995)

Whenever it’s my birthday or his, one of my best friends, Chris, and I text each other the following: “Don’t you look so surprised/Happy birthday, fucker!” We’re both big Faith No More fans—he actually flew from Atlanta to Austin in 2015 to see FNM in concert with me—and we pay tribute to the band (and to our birthdays) with those funky lyrics from “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies.”

It’s one of my favorite songs off 1995’s King For a Day, Fool For a Lifetime album. It’s filed with chunky guitar, a moody bass line, and Patton switching off between his almost spoken word to the angry spitting of lyrics and then on to pure singing.

It’s Patton encapsulated—with all the innuendo you could ever want.

And that pure Patton-ness makes sense because—according to keyboardist Roddy Bottum in a 1994 interview with the Italian magazine Rockerilla that featured Bottum, bassist Billy Gould and temporary guitarist Trey Spruance—Patton wrote the song (though Gould and drummer Mike Bordin are also credited).

Consequence of Sound called it, “Half Danzig, half Biafra,” and there’s little doubt that “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies” is one of the heaviest songs in the FNM catalog. There wasn’t even much for Bottum to do.

“Angst-­ridden,” Bottum said describing the song. “Good punctuation. Good definition and instruments for me. No keyboards.”

“So,” the interviewer asked, “what’d you do on the song?”

“Just danced around. Moral support.”

Responded Spruance, “He wrote choreography for the rest of us as well.”

Though I’ve seen Bottum playing guitar on other songs that don’t involve his keyboard, it looks like he simply danced himself off-stage during this live performance in 1997.

And the same in 2015.

But the song is all Patton. He sings, he screams, he paces, he rages, he makes it his own. And every year on my birthday, I get to be reminded of it in a bond that ties one of my best friends and me together forever.

Previously from King For a Day:

 To follow along on the 365 days of Patton, click here for a list of each day’s post.

The beautiful ballet of social distancing

I’ve been keeping a journal of my family’s adventures during the coronavirus pandemic. And by adventures, I mean I write about how we’re all coping with this new (and hopefully, temporary) reality while we stay at home. Here’s what happened on Day 44 of our self-quarantine.

Whenever the family and I take Ruby the dog for a walk in the evenings, the beautiful ballet that takes place on the sidewalks and streets of our neighborhood begins anew.

With everybody aware of the six feet of social distancing, people who are taking a stroll go out of their way to make way for those who are passing them. If we’re on the sidewalk and see somebody coming the opposite direction, we move into the bike lane. Somebody running the same way who’s already in the bike lane might move a few feet onto the street. Somebody might cross the street entirely up ahead to make room. You might make a half-circle into the road if somebody has stopped to chat with a neighbor.  Everybody moves separately but moves as one to keep themselves as safe as possible.

People with small kids and babies and those with dogs seem to get the right of way. As in, they can stay where they are while others make room by moving to a different area. Just about everybody is accommodating and waves hello, and every night, it’s a graceful dance to stay safe and sane.

On Sunday morning, I took the kids hiking on a local trail, and quite a few other people had the same idea. It wasn’t a beautiful ballet on those hilly trails. To keep at least six feet away from other hikers, we oftentimes had to step off the trail, where vines rubbed against our shoulders and branches scratched our legs. We were less than graceful as we tried to keep our balance on the uneven terrain while stepping on tree roots and avoiding spiderwebs as strangers walked on by.

Everybody, though, was generally happy. We saw a few dogs—one golden retriever named Charlie, who was leading a group of six people down a trail, came up to us and wanted to be petted—and a few babies. And more than a few smiles from those who were just happy to get out of the house and into the sunny 70-degree weather.

For the kids, it was the first time they had been out of the house, aside from those evening walks, since school ended in mid-March. The air was fresh. The scenery was pretty. It was just a nice day to be outside.

But it wasn’t perfect. As Charlie the dog broke off from his group and sauntered over to ours, looking for some affection  I felt a twinge of sadness that we couldn’t kneel down and give him some love. I’m sure he’s a good boy, but we couldn’t pet him to let him know.

“He’s a friendly dog,” one of the group members said to us as they passed us from about eight feet away. “I’m sure he is,” I said. “And normally we’d be all over him. But now …”

They understood, and they walked off. We hopped back on the path and began walking up the hill. The dance of social distancing was done for the moment, and we moved on until we’d have to do it again.

365 Days of Mike Patton: “Browning,” Patton/Jean-Claude Vannier (2019)

Mike Patton is just like the rest of us. He’s stuck at home, trying to be productive while having to be reclusive as the pandemic affects just about every waking moment of our lives. He’s working on new music, and he’s listening to old songs. And just like everybody else, he’s just trying to survive until all of this passes.

Rolling Stone recently caught up with Patton to ask him a few quarantine questions via email.

When asked how he was going about his day these days, he said, “Writing. Writing. Writing. Working on several records at once, which isn’t abnormal for me, but it is somehow refreshing to not have other distractions interfering. However, the gravity of this situation does make things feel … uh, different.

“Although I am lucky enough to hopefully survive this, I have had an entire year of tours canceled, between different bands, and that certainly does weigh on me, the bands I’m working with, and obviously the fans who may or may not have purchased tickets! So … basically, it sucks.”

(I’m supposed to see Faith No More in August, and though that show hasn’t yet been canceled, I’m assuming it will be at some point.)

“But personally, this lockdown lifestyle is not terribly different from my normal routine, as I’m quite hermetic and private. But sometimes it does resonate deeper—like, when you want to hit a restaurant with family or friends. No. What do we do? We adapt or die.”

He was also asked what music he’s leaned on during his isolation, and one of his answers was Jean-Claude Vannier, the same French composer and musician who Patton teamed up with to release an album in 2019 called Corpse Flower.

As I wrote about last May, Vannier “has a ton of credits that I know absolutely nothing about (mostly because it’s all music from France). Anyway, Patton said the two share a love of Serge Gainsbourg, a French singer, composer and songwriter who (again) I know virtually nothing about. But considering All Music called Gainsbourg ‘the dirty old man of popular music’ who had a ‘scandalous, taboo-shattering output,’ he certainly sounds like a guy Patton would appreciate.”

Patton said he was listening to deep tracks from old Vannier albums, and “all are transformative, groovy, and completely innovative.”

The same could be said for “Browning,” the fifth song on the Corpse Flower album.

Not unlike Chansons D’Amour, there’s a strong “RV” vibe that emanates throughout the song, where Patton is singing in almost a spoken word, but then the song transforms into a poppy, almost dance-like number which gives off a nice contrast to the lyrical content (Consequence of Sound called it a “danceable lounge tune.”).

Like the first two songs I heard from the Corpse Flower album created by Patton and Vannier, it’s fun and interesting and a nice departure from what we usually hear from Patton.

It’s a song (and an album) that is a pleasure to lesson to—especially if you’re in the middle of a pandemic with not much else to do.

Previously from Patton/Jean-Claude Vannier:

 To follow along on the 365 days of Patton, click here for a list of each day’s post.

365 Days of Mike Patton: “Superhero,” Faith No More (2015)

The first time I heard “Superhero” live, I was decidedly unimpressed. On the Tonight Show, Faith No More was playing the second single from Sol Invictus, its first album in 18 years, and it just … I don’t know … left me underwhelmed. In retrospect, it’s my least favorite song on an album I enjoy very much. But the song has grown on me slightly.

But only slightly (mostly because I really dig Roddy Bottum’s piano playing and Jon Hudson’s soaring guitar work in the middle of the song).

Appropriately, the song first premiered on, because bassist Billy Gould is such a big Marvel Comics fan and because, according to him at least, the song has a superhero vibe. Gould said that idea was always immersed in the tune’s DNA and that it was called “Superhero” before Patton even wrote the lyrics.

“’Superhero’ actually just started from the sound of the song, where it has these pounding drums and it has like this throbbing kind of pulse, and we just called it the ‘Superhero” song,’” Gould said, via Song Facts. “Because, a lot of the ways we write we visualize things.

“Actually this is kind of interesting because we’re probably a unique band in a way. While we write music we’re talking about chord changes and different things like that. What we do is we describe scenes together, and we can visualize the scene and the music kind of comes. We kind of make movie scenes for movies that don’t exist.”

Hey, I’m not a comic book guy, so maybe the vibe of the song and I just don’t get along. Either way, here’s that Tonight Show appearance.

In hindsight, I still don’t love it, and it’s not the song I would have chosen to try to sell myself and my new album to a national audience. But the performance was impressively intense nonetheless.

Previously from Sol Invictus:

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365 Days of Mike Patton: “Sex (I’m A),” Lovage (2001)

Teaming up with producer Dan the Automator and singer Jennifer Charles, Mike Patton helped put together an album of faux (or maybe they were real) love songs that were sexy and breathless and kind of funny on a record called, appropriately enough, Songs To Make Love To Your Old Lady By.

“Sex (I’m A)” mostly features the vocal skills of Charles, probably best known as the singer of the “noir rock” band Elysian Fields. And this tune happens to be an erotic version of what had been an upbeat dance number that had been released nearly 20 years earlier.

“Sex (I’m A)” is sultry at its finest, especially when Charles and Patton duet the lines.

I’m a man
I’m a goddess
I’m a man
I’m a virgin
I’m a man
I’m a blue movie
I’m a man
I’m a bitch
I’m a man
I’m a geisha
I’m a man
I’m a little girl
I’m a man
And we’ll make love together

There’s plenty of heavy breathing and moaning on this song, and if a tune could sound almost exactly like sex and all the emotions that can go into it (desire, anger, sadness, etc.), this is a pretty good representation.

When the band performed it live, Patton played his part, as described in this Decibel magazine story, via Faith No More Followers.

Patton is onstage wearing a hairnet and a silk smoking jacket. He has a snifter of brandy and an electric toothbrush. The former Faith No More frontman is brushing audience members’ teeth, dipping the brush in the snifter to disinfect between mouths. A tall, handsome and hirsute future Decibel scribe is on the side of the stage taking photographs for a publication that shall remain nameless. Patton turns to him and says, “What about you, hippie?”

In the spirit of me learning something new every day for the 365 Days of Mike Patton, I never knew, even though I’ve heard this song maybe 50 times in my life, that this is a cover of a Berlin song from 1983. You might remember Berlin from the Top Gun soundtrack classic “Take My Breath Away” or my personal favorite, “The Metro.” Apparently, Berlin’s version was inspired by the 1977 Donna Summer No. 1 hit, “I Feel Love,” but Berlin’s lyrics were enough to get the band in trouble.

Particularly when singer Terri Nunn (and then Charles 18 years later) sang, “I’m a bi.”

“The entire song received such a strong reaction,” Nunn told Out Smart magazine in 2019. “We were banned in certain states. A couple of states in the South wouldn’t play the record or [allow] us to play live there. They thought it was awful and blasphemous, and we were the devil’s children. I actually heard that said. Now you look at that and it’s nothing … At the time, that had never been said in a song. I think people were up in arms because they’d never heard a woman talk that way, even though women talk that way to each other all the time—about our fantasies, about how we feel, about how guys are, and all that. But it had never been put to music.”

That legacy lives in on the Lovage cover, along with others who have also recreated the song.

“It’s just a script that different actors are taking on and interpreting. And I love that,” Nunn said in 2011, via Easy Reader News.

Here’s Berlin’s upbeat version. It doesn’t feel quite as naughty as Lovage’s cover (but boy does it feel 1980s-tastic).

Previously from Lovage:

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365 Days of Mike Patton: “From Out of Nowhere,” Faith No More (1989)

Though The Real Thing album, Mike Patton’s first outing with Faith No More, is best known for the smash hit “Epic”—the song that propelled the record to reach No. 11 on the U.S. Billboard chart—the first single to be released was actually “From Out of Nowhere.”

The video that was released features Patton head-banging and moving around like a man who hasn’t figured out how best to stretch the itches on his skin. The tune is fast-paced with plenty of synthy keyboards and a funky bass line, and it’s Patton at his nasally best (if you like that sort of thing). His dancing in the video also slightly reminds me of the way Emilio Estevez’s character, Andrew, showcased his moves in The Breakfast Club. And no, that’s not necessarily a compliment.

In the YouTube comments, some people wondered if Patton was mocking the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis or Guns N’ Roses’ Axl Rose with those dance moves? Considering Patton had feuds with both singers, it’s not a bad theory. But I tend to doubt it. It looks like Patton is just experimenting with how he should act as a frontman for the band he just joined.

Is the video cheesy? Oh hell yes. Is the song still pretty great? I’d say so.

(For comparison’s sake, here’s Estevez kicking some ass in the library during that infamous Saturday detention.)

In reality, Patton wasn’t around when the song was created, since it was created before he was even in the band.

“Billy (Gould), Mike Bordin and I wrote that song together at our rehearsal space in Hunter’s Point,” keyboardist Roddy Bottum told Louder Sound in 2019. “It was among the first batch of songs that we wrote after Chuck (Mosley, the original singer) left the band. Typically, the three of us would get the skeleton of a song going on, and then get Jim Martin to put his guitar part on. Sometimes, Billy would write [Martin’s] guitar part for him, but I think in the case of ‘From Out Of Nowhere,’ he wrote his own part.”

After Patton joined, he wrote the lyrics and the melody. Patton said he doesn’t remember even recording the song, and its meaning is unclear. Bottum said it’s “about a chance meeting and how chance plays a role in interaction,” but Patton claimed it’s about “Jello shots, hermetic philosophy, Ptolemaic cosmology… you know, your average commie/junkie jibber-jabber.”

What wasn’t in question was that FNM thought the tempo of the song was the perfect set opener when the band went on tour in support of the album (it was also the second song FNM played on its visit to Saturday Night Live).

“That song was so good because most of our stuff was mid-tempo that the set was always in danger of dragging,” Gould, the band’s bassist, said. “With that one we could at least start things on a high note, and hopefully this spark would keep the rest of the set alive. There’s nothing worse than being on stage for 80 minutes or so when things are not working correctly. Generally it seemed to work out well, and we stuck with it as an opener until with hated it so much we scrapped it from the set altogether.”

It certainly was a staple in the band’s sets from the late 1980s into the early 1990s but on its 1995 tour, it was only played a handful of times, and in 1997, the band only showcased it twice. according to Apparently in the three times I’ve seen the band live, I’ve never heard “From Out of Nowhere.”

But when the band reunited for shows in 2010, “From Out of Nowhere” returned to the setlist, and yeah, it still sounded good with a harder edge.

To me, the song sounds better today than it did in its original form 30 years ago. Probably because Patton is no longer trying to find himself as a frontman.

Previously from The Real Thing:

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365 Days of Mike Patton: “Human Fly,” Zeus! (2020)

On Tuesday, we told you about a new release for the Mike Patton/Anthony Pateras collaboration tētēma, so let’s keep the new Patton music train rolling down the track (so maybe the Patton from 1991 (and his Bungle buddies) can try to hop it).

Plus, Mr. Bungle is re-recording its 1986 death metal demo “The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny,” and Tomahawk reportedly is back in the studio to create its first album in seven years.

It’s a Patton-copia of new music during these tough times! And that includes Patton’s guest starring appearance on Zeus!’ cover of “Human Fly,” originally recorded by the Cramps in 1983.

Considering I’ve never heard the Cramp’s version of this song, this is an interesting tune. On this newest version, there are bits where it sounds a little like Fantomas, a little like Mr. Bungle, and a little like Tomahawk. But more than anything it’s just a fairly standard rock song with Patton singing about being an insect (though the song itself actually sounds a little more interesting (and a little more punk) to me than the Cramps’ version from 37 years ago).

Here’s what the original sounds like.

Revolver said Patton’s version took “the already freakishly fun song to depraved new heights.” But for me, I don’t love it. I don’t hate it. It’s just fine.

In fact, I kind of like the way it was originally sung by Lux Interior and the way he buzzed. Which just goes to show that even though Patton is masterful in the vast majority of his covers, sometimes the original is hard to beat.

Previous Patton collaborations:

To follow along on the 365 days of Patton, click here for a list of each day’s post.

365 Days of Mike Patton: “Soliloquy,” tētēma (2020)

About a month ago, I had never heard of tētēma. I didn’t know who was in tētēma (nor did I really care). I didn’t know what a tētēma was. And I didn’t know what kind of music I should expect from a band called tētēma.

Turns out it’s a Mike Patton collaboration with Anthony Pateras, an avant-garde musician from Australia, and according to Ipecac, Patton’s record label, it plays “modernist electro-acoustic rock.” Whatever that is. There are actually four people in the band, and its second album will be released in April (the fact Patton had a band I’d never heard of until recently that had already released an album, like, five years ago kind of disappoints me but also doesn’t surprise me).

As for what it sounds like, Ipecac’s press release states, “this record continues to employ the wayward orchestrations and arresting physicality of their 2014 debut Geocidal, yet is renewed by a melodic language which grounds its multi-colored twists and turns in hallucinatory lyricism.”

Okie doke.

Let’s give it a listen, then.

So, that was interesting. Or as Pateras said, “No other band would combine microtonal buchla with hyperactive drumming to serenade Paganini and Leonard Cohen passed out in a hot tub. This track is like pressing fast forward on both a [Giacinto] Sclesi and Yasunao Tone CD on different systems pointed at each other, except it’s performed live. Quite possibly the only track in the world to refer to Deleuze as ‘chichi.’”

I have no idea what any of that means.

But to me, the music sounds like electronica fused with Patton’s screaming and shouting (with maybe hints of a little bit of prog rock?). That’s something I’ve never heard from Patton before. I didn’t love it, and I didn’t hate it. I also probably wouldn’t mind listening to it again.

Previous Patton collaborations:


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365 Days of Mike Patton: “Mescal Rite 2,” Tomahawk (2007)

Just because I’m a big fan of Mike Patton, that doesn’t mean I know everything about his music or his life or his motivations. Or even the song titles on the albums he helps create.

It wasn’t until last week when I was writing about “Mescal Rite 1” that I even realized that there was a “Mescal Rite 2” that appears on the same damn album. The album is Anonymous, and, as I document every time I write about one of its songs, it was motivated by guitarist Duane Denison when he went on a tour of Native American reservations with Hank Williams III.

It’s an album dedicated to Native American music with a twist of Patton sprinkled in the mix. But not all the reviewers of this album loved Patton’s contributions. For “Mescal Rite 2,” Pop Matters wrote “Denison might want to look into the release of an instrumental version of Anonymous; compelling as it is, it falls just short of doing his vision justice.”

Personally, I don’t like “Mescal Rite 2” nearly as much as “Mescal Rite 1.” I liked the fast tempo of the first song and Patton’s emotive chanting. “Mescal Rite 2” is dreamier and just kind of meanders through your speakers for nearly six minutes, and Pop Matter comments on Patton’s “decision to turn the extended middle section … into one of his now trademarked hip-hop moments.”


The section from 4:54 to 5:11 of the video could give you chills, but it’s only a short snippet in what seems like a bloated tune. Listen, the song is fine, but given the choice between “Mescal Rite 1” and “Mescal Rite 2,” I’ll go No. 1 all day.

Previously from Anonymous:

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