Sunday, January 3, 2010

Q&A: Writer and former mayoral candidate Zac Crain

I first met Zac when he was a music critic/editor for the Dallas Observer, during which time he'd give me one great review, then one not-so-great review, and so on. I never felt he purposely slagged me off to be mean; it always seemed he was simply writing his opinion with no hidden agenda. Whenever I've spoken to him, I've found him to be very friendly and interesting and he's always up to something, whether it be his famous bid for mayor, or his brand new book, "Black tooth grin", a bio of the famous Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell. I found him on twitter and, voila! A fabulous Q&A for your reading pleasure.

Q: most of us never experience what it's like to run for public office. Tell us about that experience. Did you face much scrutiny? Did any skeletons in your closet come back to haunt you? Was it a worthwhile experience running for mayor?

Zac: It was probably the best thing I've ever done, even though I ultimately ended up crashing that whole idea into a guardrail along the highway, essentially. The only bad thing was it was exhausting. Most of my opponents had money and time, and lots of it. I never really had either. I had to go to work every day, and I had to come home to a toddler. So there goes the time and money. So I had to hustle, and so did the friends who pitched in. I was proud of us, and I still am. For me, it made me reengage in the city, and figure out what's important to me, but also try to think about what's important for Dallas. We were a bunch of scruffy kids (at least in comparison) but I think, for a fleeting moment, we had an impact. As for skeletons: pretty much everyone already knew them. I like to have a few drinks now and then. That was not, and is not, a secret. And I was upfront about all of that.

Q: During your time as a music critic, you garnered as many enemies as friends, I daresay. How much of your criticism of bands and artists during that time was tongue-in-cheek and how much was serious dislike? Did many artists and bands perhaps take you too seriously? Do you think that local papers and magazines take an overly critical and negative approach to reviews when they could be putting much more positive and supportive energy out there?

Zac: Well, the Sack of Kittens feature wasn't necessarily tongue-in-cheek, but it was meant to be almost cartoonish in its violence toward bands. I mean, it was so over-the-top, it almost came back to the bottom. Everything else, I stand by. It was my opinion--or, at least, it was my opinion at the time. As for negativity, I think sometimes it is necessary. Maybe I, on occasion, steered too far in that direction. But I think you can be too positive, also. There needs to be a balance of salt and sugar. I think the best thing you can do for artists in any medium is to not grade on a curve. Judge them the same as you would judge a band from anywhere else. Because every band is local somewhere.

Q: While we are on that topic, the press in general seems geared towards negative stories and reporting in an attempt to gain readers and viewers through sensationalizing and scandals and leans toward misrepresenting facts many times and using terms like "allegations" and "sources" to get out of being slapped with slander and libel suits. What's your take on this, having been familiar with how journalism works on the inside? Is it mainly editors forcing reporters to write and report on things even they don't like, or reporters trying to make a name for themselves? What do we not know about the biz?

Zac: Pretty much all of that happens, and all of it happens less than people think. Reporters try to make a name of themselves. Editors have their hands tied by certain things. But everywhere I've worked, I've never known anyone to knowingly misrepresent something. The deal is, the media is still run by human beings, and human beings have flaws. Things happen, but I would suspect that you'd find the bad examples are the fault of anything other than malicious intent, and are usually the work of a few bad apples. Unless you're talking about, say, TMZ. Then f**k everything I just said.

Q: I know these questions are long. Like an essay test. What's your feelings on the way the music business has changed over the years? Do you like the changes? Why or why not?

Zac: I like that it is more immediate. You don't need a label. You don't even really need a CD. You need a computer and a fast Internet connection. On both sides. Musicians can record quickly and cheaply, usually, and get it out to the world at large the same way. Fans don't have to wait. I go out less now, but when I do, it does seem like bands don't have to wait their turns as much. That's good and bad. People get big too quickly, sometimes, but on the other hand, a good band doesn't always have to suffer through bottom of the bill slots at s****y clubs forever.

Q: You're now a published author. How do you feel about electronic books? Do you ever think they will gain a toehold? Do you agree with me that printed books hold a romance to them and a historical significance that electronic media can never really replace?

Zac: I will always be a fan of the printed word. Electronic books will never replace that for me. I love everything about actual hard copy books. That said, if electronic books get people to read more, I'm all for it.

Q: hardback or paperback, and why?

Zac: Hardbacks look better on a shelf, but paperbacks are more portable. Half the time, you can slip it into your back pocket. And, they're cheaper. Again, this goes back to: whatever makes it easier for more people to read.

Q: vinyl, cassette, reel-to-reel, CD or MP3 and why?

Zac: If I'm at home, vinyl. You can't beat the sound. Anywhere else: MP3. Can't beat the portability, and the ability to stop on a dime.

Q: What are some of your favourite artists and bands you listen to regularly? Don't be scared to drop in some guily embarrassing pleasures! we all have some!

Zac: It changes all the time, but what I've been listening to lately: early period and late era Dinosaur Jr., Destroyer, Jay-Z, Amerie ("1 Thing" is a song I haven't been able to stop listening to for years), Descendents, Otis Redding and some other Stax/Volt singers, Neutral Milk Hotel, Sugar, and maybe a few others. But for the last two or three months, what I keep coming back to is the Stone Roses. Reni is maybe the most underrated drummer ever.

Q: Why do you think American government and people in general are so resistant to mass use of solar power to generate huge amounts of energy when the technology is already here, already usable and efficient and with mass use, could change our power grid and structure almost overnight?

Zac: I think the initial cost scares some people. But everything you said is essentially correct. That was one of the things I wanted to do as mayor. Not just talk about being green. Actually roll up the sleeves, take the hit, and do it. Also, I wanted to have the most accessible free Wi-Fi in the country.

Q: What plans and dreams do you have for the future? You're consistently surprising us all with your actions and projects. Anything special you're going to spring on us?

Zac: For now, I'm focusing on my writing. I have one book project I'm really excited about, but am not quite ready to reveal. And my friend Kris and I have worked on scripts for various things. But who knows? Every idea I've ever had came together quickly, and then was happening. I'm not ruling out getting back into politics, but it will probably be a while.

Q: While many give up on Dallas, you have remained. Please explain.

Zac: Honestly, I think we have a good mix of people, and an underrated community of artists and musicians and so on. Plus, it's pretty cheap to have a good life here. I love living by the lake with all the trees.

Q: Why is Dallas the "can't do" city, and what can anyone do to change the mindset and entrenched negativity that clouds this place?

Zac: That's simple. DO SOMETHING.

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