JOHN ALBERT
Interview by Vinnie Baggadonuts

IF YOU LIKE BASEBALL, THIS IS THE PERFECT BOOK FOR YOU. AND IF YOU DONíT LIKE BASEBALL, THIS IS THE PERFECT BOOK FOR YOU, TOO. JOHN ALBERT'S WRECKING CREW IS NEITHER, AND ITíS BOTH-- A BOOK ABOUT HUMAN BEINGS OVERCOMING PERSONAL DEMONS THROUGH AMERICAíS NATIONAL PASTIME. THANKS TO HELLO WENDY AND A GRUELING DAY OF JURY DUTY SELECTION, I FOUND MY FAVORITE BOOK OF THE YEAR.

Vinnie Baggadonuts: The book has only been out a day, so I canít ask you how the feedbackís been. You havenít gotten a lot of feedback yet, have you?

John Albert: Well, Iíve gotten some reviews. I think we got five so far. Some of those are industry reviews, and then, of all places, Maxim.

Both: (laugh)

JA: I got four out of five stars in Maxim.

VB: Nice!

JA: And itís running right next to a spread of Nikki Hilton in a bikini.

VB: So everyoneís going to read this review then.

Both: (laugh)

JA: I donít know that their audience is so literate. Unless guys whack off and then read the book reviews.

VB: Yeah, man. Itís like, "Shit, that was awesome. Now I need to get a book."

JA: (laughs)

VB: At least itíll be your book.

JA: Right. Well, itís sort of frightening that that might be my demographic.

VB: You inadvertently wound up getting all the Hilton fans who read Maxim. Then again, yours might be their first book. They might learn to read on Wrecking Crew.

JA: I believe thatís true! Thereís a guy that works for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and I had Flea do a blurb. Well, the guy comes to me and says, "This is the greatest book Iíve ever read. But the last book I read was Evil Knievel's Dog or something, which was out back in the Seventies."

Both: (laugh)

VB: Well, I didnít mention it when I reviewed it, but I read your entire book on my birthday while I was serving jury duty.

JA: Oh, wow.

VB: So I will never forget this book as long as I live.

Both: (laugh)

JA: Were you actually on a court case?

VB: No. Man, that would have been funnier if I was sitting in on a case, just reading your book. I just had to sit and wait to get called up, which I never did.

JA: Awww....

VB: That aside, though, it was a really good book. I just plowed through it.

JA: Thatís good, man. You never know. I sort of wrote the thing late one night while I was jacked up on a lot of sports drinks, and I didnít give it to anybody. Then I sent it in, and my feeling was they were going to send me what they owed me in the last of the paltry advance and not put it out.

Both: (laugh)

JA: I was sort of surprised at Scribner [publisher]-- number one that they liked it, and that they put it out and didnít have any sort of moral objections to anything.

VB: Well, what would make you think someone wouldn't like the book?

JA: Self-loathing.

Both: (laugh)

VB: Okay. Beyond that.

JA: Well, I knew that people liked the initial story, because when the magazine article came out I immediately got offers from movie studios and all sorts of things. So I knew people liked the general concept, but I didnít know if I could sustain it into a book. Itís one thing to write a short piece, which is this emotionally exhausting thing. But as I was writing the book, sometimes I was near tears, and other times I was just trying to make a word count.

Both: (laugh)

JA: But I think thatís just part of the process. Itís such a long ordeal, writing a book.

VB: Well, this story is probably the only time in my life Iíll ever have given a shit about whatís happening to people on a sports team. Iíd be reading it, and it would come to some part where Iíd yell, "Aw, shit! What are they going to do now? They have a game tomorrow!" Then Iíd stop and think, "Listen to yourself, man!" I never cared about baseball so much.

JA: Itís strange, because I liked baseball as a kid. Kinda. But for people like us, it was almost more rebellious for us to start a baseball team-- because it is the most wholesome of sports-- than getting a mohawk or getting a tattoo on your face. Especially in the area I live and the subculture Iím in.

VB: That is about as punk rock as you could get.

JA: Right. And putting on actual uniforms and caring about it. If we had done it as some ironic conceptual art piece, people would have understood us. But the fact that we gave a shit and cared, it was really strange.

VB: So, do you still play?

JA: It is the same team, but itís been a number of years, so itís about half the people that were on the original team and some new people we could tolerate from other teams. People wanted to join our team because we werenít jock dicks. We have fun. We havenít won a single game this year, but we still go out there and have fun and make fun of each other. The other teams, they give up one run and theyíre destroying their dugout. We play against a lot of cops.

Both: (laugh)

VB: Thatís got to be funny, too.

JA: Itís weird. Theyíre always just the enemy.

VB: I donít remember reading actual years in the book, but how long ago did it take place? You got the award for the article in 2000.

JA: Iíd say that season was '98 to '99. It was a while ago.

VB: So, you need to write a sequel and catch me up.

JA: Well, at the end, what I put about what everyone is doing is actually what theyíre doing now. And I see them still. Even the guys that arenít on the team anymore.

VB: Have you heard from any of them about the book?

JA: Thatís just starting now. Generally, they really love it. You know, I hadnít seen Dino in a while. And when he told me about that whole sock sniffing/jacking off thing, he was getting progressively drunker. So, yesterday, he read it while we were having dinner, and he loved it. He told me he actually got caught doing that again by another girlfriend.

Both: (laugh)

VB: Dino and Musashi seemed like the Kramers to your Seinfeld clan.

JA: Yeah, definitely. Musashi is actually into full-contact karate now, so he sort of acts in these half-Japanese, half-English Shakespearean plays. Heís also a waiter at a restaurant on the Sunset Strip where they serve all these famous people.

VB: Wow. See, you pretty much immortalized everyone in the book. I canít imagine anyone would have a problem with what you wrote.

JA: Right. I guess in the end what I told myself is, these are all people I love and care about in a really sincere way. In the end, no matter what I put in there, I hoped that would come across. And I would try and out myself and put stuff in about me to even it up.

VB: What made you decide to write a story about this chapter in your life, as opposed to some of the other things youíve done? Because youíve done some pretty interesting things.

JA: Itís all just a fluke. What happened was, nothing was going on in my life, and a friend of mine said, "Theyíre doing the 'Best Of' edition of L.A. Weekly. Why donít you send in something?" This would typically be "The Best Chicken Restaurant" or something. But for some reason, I decided to scribble down a paragraph about me and my baseball team, and I sent it in. The person who was editing that issue emailed me back and said, "Well, this isnít the best of anything, but Iím forwarding this to our features department." I thought Iíd never hear back from them. Whatever. They literally called me up and asked if Iíd write it up into a cover story. So I did, and it got optioned by Paramount and I won an award. Ever since then, Iíve had this career as a legitimate journalist.

Both: (laugh)

VB: Now are you going to have a career as a legitimate novelist?

JA: Well-- hmmm... I donít know. Maybe.

VB: You said you got some great industry reviews and were optioned by Paramount. Have there been other things going on?

JA: Yeah. Since then, the Paramount option expired. The book is now optioned by the people who did Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind--

VB: What are they called? Propaganda Films?

JA: They used to be Propaganda. Now theyíre Anonymous Films. Itís the same people. Thereís also a friend of mine whoís a really successful screenwriter. He wrote a screenplay for a movie called The Machinist, and actually made a lot of money on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Amityville Horror remakes. I donít think he thinks theyíre great pieces of art, but he got a house.

Both: (laugh)

JA: But heís writing the screenplay for my book. And thatís great because heís a guy I grew up with in the punk scene, and heís battled with drugs and various sordid sexual addictions, so heís perfect with it. Paramount would have made it a movie starring Tom Arnold with no drugs.

VB: Well, if it had Tom Arnold in it there would be drugs.

JA: Right. Just not on screen. Paramount had a good writer on it. It was some guy from Six Feet Under. But he just didnít get it. He didnít know the difference between Black Flag or MŲtley CrŁe, really. We were all riding around on choppers, smoking joints or something like that.

Both: (laugh)

VB: Was there ever any consideration of you doing the screen treatment?

JA: You know, people had suggested that, but I just wanted it to get done. And in Hollywood, if you have someone thatís already successful doing it, just let them do it. Iím fine with that. Because itís so structurally oriented, it becomes a math equation to me. Iíd rather it just get made. Not just strictly for financial reasons, but it would be cool to my friends.

VB: Oh, yeah. Imagine how cool it would be to see yourself on screen.

JA: Heck yeah. But I guess your first question was about doing another book. I turned in a book, and I believe thereís an audience for it. Now I believe that. The initial industry reviews, which are usually pretty tough because theyíre intellectually vindictive, were actually pretty good. So I did my part, and now itís up to people to find out about it.

VB: Well, the weird thing about it, and itís a good weird thing, is that sports fans can appreciate it, and people who donít like sports at all can appreciate it. I walked away from it having more of an appreciation for baseball. I wonder if people who walk away from it already liking sports will appreciate--

JA: Cross-dressing?

VB: (laughs) Yeah! That, to me, is so great. Youíre mixing two counter-cultures that have clashed since high school!

JA: I was thinking about that. When I was growing up, the guys in the neighborhood who were older than me liked sports, but they also liked good music. They would listen to David Bowie and Lou Reed, but also get drunk and watch the [Los Angeles] Lakers. So I always knew those two things could coexist. But when I got older and went to high school we, as punks, were always getting into fights with the jocks. But you know, I think most of the people who will get this book arenít your typical sports fans. But I can see the machine that is Simon & Schuster seeing a baseball glove on the cover and funneling copies of this out to every butthead sports site.

VB: But you know what? I think thereís a lot of actual appeal in this book to those people. Like my dad. He likes baseball. Iím not sure how crazy heíll be about the cross-dressing, but heíll still get the story. People will love the sheer fact that you went out and made this team and played hard! You have a universal appeal with it.

JA: I hope so. I definitely get what youíre saying. And no one ever thinks theyíre the butthead jock. Everyone identifies with the underdog. And there are actually people who like sports and are literate.

Both: (laugh)

JA: I mean, your dad-- my dadís the same way. Heís extremely educated, loves sports, reads a lot... I donít know how much he knows about cross-dressing.

Both: (laugh)

VB: Do you feel like your life is better now?

JA: Oh, yeah. Well, itís strange in that itís not a particularly sexy thing to say, but as I get older I get happier. I was not a happy young person. I was a clinically-depressed child, became an out-of-control teenager, and settled into a morose early adulthood. But Iím really happy now. My life is pretty good. The baseball team helped me grow up in a way, and I feel like an adult now. Whereas before I felt like an aging teenager.

VB: Man, youíd make the best guidance counselor.

Both: (laugh)

VB: Or even if you could just give lectures about your life and what youíve learned.

JA: You know, I had this experience when I went through this recovery home. I thought I was really old back then, but I was probably actually only 21. I had legal problems and health problems. But this place helped us and cleaned us up, and then they took us around to high schools like we were sacrificial lambs. We were supposed to be like, "If you smoke weed, this will happen to you." It was me and a couple of 40-year-old convicts.

Both: (laugh)

JA: I donít know if the kids listened or not, but that was my only experience doing something like that. I would think a book would be more entertaining than a lecture, though. I know the singer from The Adolescents is a teacher.

VB: You could do it, man.

JA: Well, it is sort of a cautionary tale. I just hope people survive that stuff if they go through it.

VB: Have you thought about becoming commissioner of Major League Baseball?

Both: (laugh)

JA: You know, I donít think itís going to get better. Iím a real cynic about that. I just think itís money.

VB: I think thatís what was good about how you guys would just go out there and play and have fun. Thatís what I remembered liking about it when I was little, because thatís all you see when youíre little. You donít see things like merchandising and corporate sponsorship.

JA: Right. As long as you donít have those typical baseball parents who are out there screaming at you, it is sort of fun. Those are the things I remember. Baseball was sort of the last thing for most of us before things went haywire. It definitely was the last period of innocence and simplicity in my life. And the strange thing is, we got that back. That feeling was there when we started playing again.