Robin Grey: More Than Today [Album]

Robin Grey - More Than TodayIt has been just over 6 years since I first decided to enter the world of “music blogging”, which would later turn into simply full-fledged “blogging”.  So much has changed since then.  Our American president is well into his 2nd term, a long way from the days when we were so amped about Change We Can Believe In.  Well, a whole lot has definitely changed since then.  It almost seems that there is very little constancy in this world, which can surely be quite disheartening at times.  But, from the very earliest stage of my “career”, there is one discovery I made that has continued to stick with me, and has been a driving force that reminds me just why I love the world of music, film, art, etc. just so damn much.  That driving force is, and will always be, the absolutely lovely English human being and singer/songwriter Robin Grey.

While I’ve spent most of 2014 caught in living the American in the European world type of life or developing interviews with former television stars, there has been this wonderful little folk album sitting in my iTunes since mid-Winter.  The album is More Than Today from the aforementioned genius Robin Grey.  And as you would expect, I absolutely adore this collection of 10 (mostly) brand new tracks from one of the greatest singer/songwriters of our time.  Two years in a row, Robin Grey nabbed the #1 spot on our Top 37 1/2 Albums of the Year in a most deserving fashion.  And with his latest efforts, he could very well have snagged another year!  His beautifully yet sometimes haunting lyrical greatness plastered ever so gently over melodic acoustic guitar are something that simply can not go without notice and awe.  He has been creating such magic for oh so many years, and with no surprise at all, he has done it again with his latest efforts that is More Than Today.

As he tends to do sometimes, there are a couple of tracks on this beautiful record that his avid fans should already be well aware of at this point (somewhat redux’s of “Till Dawn” and “I Love Leonard Cohen”, the latter being the very reason I fell in love with this mans work so many moons ago).  But, Robin also tends to do, he has given us a gift of even more wonderful new tracks for us to sink our delicate teeth into.  “I’ll Give You My Heart” is a delightful little ode to love, “The Dirk of Mark Duggan” is a delightful tale of potential triumph and standing for what is right, and the title track “More Than Today” is one of the finest and catchiest tracks Robin Grey has ever made (and there are many more!).  I am not kidding.  Robin Grey

While it took me quite a while to finally get the word out, I feel as though it could never be too late to speak about this absolutely brilliant album, one of the finest folk albums to be released since, well, the last time Robin released the finest folk album to date.  I first learned of Robin when was singing about certain obsessions fading away (Ani Difranco, Weezer, REM, etc.), but he could never lose his love for the wonderful Leonard Cohen.  Well, as I look onward from the past, into the hopeful light of the future, I think I can without a doubt say this:  You might ask is anything certain these days, I would probably tell you that,…..I love Robin Grey.

Check out More Than Today and other great works from the wonderful Robin Grey right over HERE.

Kerouac In Florida: Where the Road Ends by Bob Kealing [Book]

Kerouac In Florida by Bob KealingNow we can see Jack Kerouac in a context that evokes memories of Florida’s past: sleeping in a moonlit yard with sweet aroma of orange trees all around, straining to hear the velvet whisper of the wind and his brother Gerard in the piney Orlando night, embarking on a sunrise hitchhiking journey along Orange Blossom Trail, returning with his rucksack full of manuscripts and dreams…No one can say Kerouac only came to Florida to die.



It wasn’t until 2006 that I discovered who the hell this Jack Kerouac character was.  I was 21 years old, naive to a culture that would soon become one of the most fascinating movements in history.  At the behest of a dear friend, I remember picking up a copy of The Dharma Bums and On The Road at a little book store in Rapid City, South Dakota.  I was prepping myself for my first trip to Iraq, and vowed that I would begin reading in the same manner I had years before when I was a lonely high school kid, digesting Tom Wolfe, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald.  And suddenly there were these “beat” characters who I recognized by name, but knew nothing about.  That would soon change.  Before setting off on my own journey, I completed The Dharma Bums.  I was instantly hooked.  Later in an old World War II era barracks in Nowhere, Wisconsin I banged through On The Road.  From then on there really was no stopping me.  Once in the desert, my free time was spent in the mountains of Washington in Desolation Angels, in 1920’s Massachusetts with Visions of Gerard, and so on and so on.  Kerouac’s work grew on me like nothing I had ever experienced before.  Soon, there was Burroughs, Ginsberg, Corso, etc.  But, in my one mind, it was always about Jack.  And this was only the beginning.

Jack Kerouac proved to be the model figure for a theory that I have continuously believed to be absolutely true: Some writers were brilliant, but it is their life story that is more fascinating than their work.  This theory works oh so well for so many artists.  Of course, Kerouac’s stories are more or less entirely autobiographical, but it’s not quite the same as it is when reading about him through the hands of those who were around him.  The folks who experienced his eccentricity first hand, and were only more than willing to spill all the juicy details they can about the legendary Mr. Dulouz.  The same can be said for the folks who became so obsessed with this man and his work without even meeting him, that they can literally call themselves scholars of not only Kerouac, but the beat movement that swept the country.  Basically, in the years since first discovering Jack, I have found that it is far more entertaining to read about his benzedrine fueled life than it is to read his benzedrine fueled works.

Kerouac In Florida by Bob Kealing1Bob Kealing may not exactly be one of the aforementioned “Beat Scholars”, but he is indeed a damn fine journalist, and he happen to have the ability to zone in on one aspect of Kerouac’s life that people tend to ignore.  That aspect is more of a place really, and that place is the state of Florida.  Ignorant and ill-advised Kerouac enthusiasts such as myself are under the impression that Florida was simply where Kerouac went to die at the ripe old age of 47.  The only tales I had heard from Florida were meek and saddening.  But one thorough reading of Kealing’s excellent expose Kerouac In Florida: Where the Road Ends will all but squash these thoughts.  Sure it would eventually be the place where his soul descended from his body forever, before having his physical self shipped back to Lowell, Massachusetts, but Florida meant so much more to him.

Kealing writes with such passion for the land in which he also calls home, but not in an overly biased sense.  Through tales of former neighbors, and an obviously great amount of research, Bob manages to document and describe wonderfully every trip, home, and activity Kerouac managed live in or become involved with during his stay all over Northern Cuba.  Right down to his relationship with legendary actor Paul Gleason when he was simply a minor league baseball player who didn’t stand a chance in that line of work.  Apparently Kerouac took him to see Splendor in the Grass one fine day, which lead to Gleason to look up at the actor’s on the screen and say, “Ah, hell I can do that.”  And years later he would be raiding Barry Manilow’s wardrobe and insulting an intolerable Judd Nelson.  This is simply one fascinating tale with the pages of Kerouac In Florida.  There is oh so much more to be discovered, and I certainly hope that you do.

It would be a bit much to throw Kerouac In Florida out there as a “must read” for all Kerouac enthusiasts.  I don’t claim to be a scholar in any way shape or form, but there are books out there that I would consider required reading for anyone looking to indulge themselves into the live of the King of the Beats, which you will soon he down right fucking loathed being called.  Ann Charter’s seminal biography, Kerouac, is a must read.  His former flame Joyce (Glassman) Johnson wrote a very nice book as well as published a plethora of letters of her time with Jack.  And his forgotten daughter, Jan Kerouac, turned out to be almost as talented as her father with her books Trainsong and Baby Driver.  Her story was also brilliantly told, along with others, in Jim Jones’s wonderful book Use My name: Jack Kerouac’s Forgotten Families.  These are just a few of the “must read books” I would recommend to everyone.  That being said, I do recommend Kerouac In Florida to everyone….but, only after you have developed a baseline to truly understand the characters brought up in this wonderful expose.

KerouacKerouac In Florida: Where the Road Ends is without a doubt a book I am very happy to have read.  It is no secret that ole Jack might not have been considered a man worthy of adoration beyond his writing.  But this is subjective in nature to say the least.  The truly great writers out there marched to their own drum, and to put it in modern terms that the younger audiences might understand:  They just didn’t give a fuck.  This is not entirely true, but is at the same time.  Kerouac tended to care too much.  He cared what was happening to his soul, not his liver.  He worried over the welfare of his cats, but maybe not the hidden children he managed to bear.  His relationship with his mother would have baffled Freudian thinkers everywhere.  He was a complex individual who happened to have a great talent in writing, but had a terrible time living.  But, isn’t this comparable to the womanizing of Hemingway, the self-righteousness of Fitzgerald, the tyrannical self-destructive and misogynistic ways of Bukowski, a myriad of classic novels that Stephen King can’t even remember writing, or the fact that old Fyodor only wrote books to support a gambling addiction?  True art rarely comes from a sane mind.  Perhaps this is why the likes of Kerouac will always be honored and respected in so many ways, and Mr. John Grisham will soon be worm food and leave only an expansive trust fund for the little Grishams, but no real worth in the history of American literature.

In conclusion, Kerouac In Florida is a very nice work that details many little known facts about a legendary writer that is both entertaining and enthralling….but, only if you know a thing or two about the man first.  And I guarantee that once you get sucked into the Kerouac world, this is a book that will leave you grinning like an idiot on a bus in the middle of nowhere.  That’s what it did for me, and I hope the same for you..

Thee Hobo Gobbelins [Band]

Thee Hobo GoblinsSomewhere between the talented and the estranged, between Americana folk and traditional masochistic stylings, there is an impromptu Bay Area based burning man ritual happening without the knowledge of the locals, all the while creating something absolutely lovely.  And boy are they having a damn good time!  I clearly could only be talking about the bizarre, yet super-friendly sounding batch of storytellers and weirdos Thee Hobo Goblins (that was “clear” right?  never mind.)

Thee Hobo Gobbelins is a brilliantly weird collection of avant-garde and fascinating individuals who obviously understand what it means to have a good time whilst telling a damn fine traditional story, or just ripping through some badass bluegrass melodrama.  While the group is one that is obviously meant to appeal to the weirdos and lovers out there, really it is all about the storytelling.  On their first full length album since 2009, Oddities and Entities, the listener is invited into the pastel flowered patterned haunted house that is the world in which these beautiful freaks live in day in and day out.  For the 6 or so regular Trainwreck’d Society readers: think of them as a mashup  between The Fenbi International Superstars and Bobby Joe Ebola & The Children Macnuggits.  The latter mentioned group is not only because one half of the famed BJE duo, Dan Abbott, is a the man behind the gee-tar for Thee Hobo Goblins.  It’s more of just a common trend to beautify the estranged in such a fascinating manner.  For everyone else who accidentally stumbled here, think no more, and just listen to some wonderful music and consider yourself welcomed to the weird.

And, I know I say this all the time, but this is a band that is wonderful to hear on wax, but is obviously the sort of band that obviously has a whole knapsack filled with shenanigans and good time remedies that absolutely MUST be seen live before the naked eye and brow.  Their west coast driven, Appalachian stomp sound is one that one work well in absolutely any setting.  In fact, the band’s Facebook page probably says it best of all:

Thee Hobo Gobbelins“We can play anywhere, on a rooftop or a desert, with or without a P.A. We’re all very nice, but will possibly make you uncomfortable. Book us for winery tours, carnivals, protests, eviction parties, game conventions, or any place with a large enough dimensional rift for us to pop through.”

Sometimes these thing just right themselves.  And with that being said, Thee Hobo Gobbelins are planning to pillage and entertain villages all across the southern half of the US of A.  Kicking things off in the southeast in the land of MLK and sugary carbonated laced dreams, and eventually making their way across the land back to their homeland of ghost-risen whips and beatnik book shops.  All throughout the month of October, these silly beast will be there to entertain you.  Check out the dates below:

October 9th – Atlanta, GA @Mojo’s
October 10th – Asheville, NC @ Crow & Quill
October 11th – Chattanooga, TN @ Sluggo’s North Vegetarian Cafe
October 12th – Hattiesburg, MS @ The Tavern
October 13th – New Orleans, LA @ Siberia
October 14th – Houston, TX @ Super Happy Fun Land
October 15th – Austin, TX @ Beerland
October 17th – Las Cruces, NM @ TBA
October 18th – Phoeniz, AZ @ The Lost Leaf
October 19th – Anaheim, CA @ The Doll Hut
October 20th – Los Angeles, CA @ TBA
October 21st – Pomona, CA @ VLHS
October 22nd – Santa Margarita, CA @ Porch Cafe
October 24th – Oakland, CA @ Leo’s Audio

You can pick up a copy of Oddities and Entities right over HERE.  Also be sure to stay in touch with the band on their WEBSITE and FACEBOOK page.

….And for a quick example of just exactly how great a viewing of Thee Hobo Gobbelins can truly be, here is a live performance of the classic gospel track “Whiskey & Beer” that I found on the Tubes of Yu.

Brianne Kathleen: How The Rain Goes [Album]

Brianne Kathleen - How the Rain Goes - Coming soon!There are certain artists out there we all consider their word as bond, and whoever they vouch for to be equally worth listening to or should be admired as an equal to said artist.  I know I am not alone in this thought, we are all guilty of this line of thinking.  But, is this such a bad thing?  Absolutely not, especially when it is a brilliant singer/songwriter/all around genius musician like Bradley Wik who is advertently suggesting what we should be listening to right now.  Especially when he suggest an album he played a little guitar on and co-produced entitled How the Rain Goes from the wonderful Portland based singer/songwriter Brianne Kathleen.  He really hit the nail the head with this one, and I am personally grateful he was kind enough to let us know about this brilliant artist.

Brianne Kathleen is an artist with an amazing set of vocal chords that stand out in the city of Roses, a city filled with amazing artists with amazing vocals.  And it is almost uncanny how natural it seems to Brianne to stand out amongst her peers.  She sings oh-so-sweetly, yet matter of factly enough whether she is breaking it down with a country-esque slow but steady swing on a track “Where Does Your Heart Go?”, or tossing in a bit of rockabilly meets hipster driven folk blended greatness on “So Afraid” (Note: I have not had the opportunity, but I feel like this is the track that you MUST see her perform live.  I hope to do so someday).  But, if it where indeed necessary to choose a stand out track from this, one of the finest albums of 2014, it has to be “Paper Bag Dreams”.  Much like her friend Mr. Wik, this is a lady who obviously understands the power of metaphor and the draw of lost dreams and tortured souls.  “Paper Bag Dreams” is one of those tracks you will surely find yourself listening to over and over again, simply to answer an undying question for your own mind’s sake…. Why does this seem so damn personal?

There are many artist out there who are “like” Brianne Kathleen.  So many comparisons can be drawn to this wonderful artist.  But, she is also one of those artists that you really shouldn’t care to scapegoat in such a manner.  We should simply be able to realize that Brianne Kathleen is a wonderful artist who takes very little effort to fall in love with.  With powerful lyrics, a great group of friends, and voice to pine over, How The Rain Goes is an obvious gem of an album, and a brilliant sophomore effort from Brianne.  And with that, brings the hope that we will soon have the chance to hear even more from this brilliant musician.

How the Rain Goes is available now.  Pick up a copy for yourself at her WEBSITE.

(Official music video for “Where Does Your Heart Go?”)

Grace After Midnight by Felicia “Snoop” Pearson & David Ritz [Book]

Grace After MidnightWhile Felicia is a brilliant actor in a truly chilling role, what’s most remarkable about “Snoop” is what she has overcome in her life. Snoop was born a three-pound cross-eyed crack baby in East Baltimore. Those streets are among the toughest in the world, but Snoop was tougher. The runt of the ghetto showed an early aptitude for drug slinging and violence and thrived as a baby gangsta until she landed in Jessup state penitentiary after killing a woman in self-defense. There she rebelled violently against the system, and it was only through the cosmic intervention of her mentor, Uncle Loney, that she turned her life around. A couple of years ago, Snoop was discovered in a nightclub by one of The Wire’s cast members and quickly recruited to be one of television’s most frightening and intriguing villains.



Unlike the rest of the world, I didn’t manage to come across a certain HBO show that simply changed the world, right under my ignorant nose.  The Wire went off the air over 6 years ago, but I figured it was never to late to see what all the fuss was about.  And as I mentioned in our previous interview with one of the show’s stars, Michael Kostroff, I was absolutely smitten with this delightful piece of television drama that was gritty as hell, and downright fucking nerve-racking to watch at times.  And no character truly exemplified the gritty realness and instability of the streets of Baltimore like the cold-blooded killer Snoop, who was 1/2 responsible for the couple of dozen bodies that laid slain in the abandon buildings of Baltimore using nothing more than cold ass heart and an expensive nail gun.

But, what if you were to learn that there was indeed some truth behind this fascinating character?  What if there the space between reality and fantasy wasn’t nearly as wide as you originally imagined?  It’s easy to understand that any kind of fictional television or film drama is normally based on some sort of truth.  But, what if the truth was fiction than you could ever imagine possible?  Well, if you can’t, you would do yourself a world of good to check out Felicia “Snoop” Pearson’s memoir, Grace After Midnight.

Now Real Snoop is not a cold-blooded killer who leaves bodies to rot simply because that’s “just the way it is.”  In fact, nowadays, she is about as far from something of that nature as possible.  But, Real Snoop and Fake Snoop were once very similar.  It should be evident enough that David Simon and folks behind The Wire wanted this woman with no previous acting credits, a girl straight from the streets in which they were suppose to be portraying, to not only star as a very important figure in the show, but to even keep not only her own name, but her own identity.  Felicia “Snoop” Pearson is about as close to the overall story of Baltimore that The Wire tended to portray to the world.  In fact, I would find it safe to say that Snoop IS the story of Baltimore.  Albeit a sad and disturbing one at times, but the real story.


Snoop with Michael K. Williams at SXSW 2013

In very natural and stylistic prose, Snoop (with co-author credit going to David Ritz) runs through the series of events as well as some prime examples of what it meant to live and ride in East Baltimore to kick off the book. Her matter-of-factly type prose is somewhat frightening even.  You can watch enough hood movies and episodes of The Wire, but when you hear these stories first hand, and in such a nonchalant fashion, it just might scare the shit out of you.  What is most disturbing is indeed how Snoop can describe events like being 10 years old and shooting a boy in the leg for being a bully with such ease and simplicity that it has that “agh, that was nothing” feel to it.  Or watching another man’s brains getting blown straight out the top of their head, and simply keeping a cold dark stair to the shooter mere feet from you.  If you have never experience such darkness, there is simply no way you could ever understand.  I don’t pretend to, but I am indeed fascinated.

But, with such darkness, there is always a light.  Snoops story of ending up in prison as a teenager is probably world renowned by now.  During an act of self defense, Snoop found herself spending 6 years of her life behind bars.  And it was during her time of incarceration that Snoop truly had to “see the light”, so to speak.  We aren’t talking simply about some sort of God like presence, although if that is what you choose to believe, that might just be it.  All that can be said is that this courageous young woman felt, what she called, “grace after midnight”.  After the death of the man she called Uncle, the man who always had her best intentions at heart and cared for her as family, was gunned down in a drug deal gone bad, Snoop flipped her wig, lost her consciousness and almost lost her own life.  But, something happen.  Some sort of mysterious force came to her in the middle of the night, and she felt a grave change come over her.  A change for the better.

Snoop left incarceration at the age of 20 with a whole new outlook on life.  She was going to work hard and become the best person she knew she could definitely be.  She could be the person that would make Uncle and Mama proud.  And she tried, real fucking hard.  But in a serious turn of events that represents just one example of a serious problem in our country:  we are a nation that tends to say give a big middle finger to the rehabilitated who want nothing more than to change their lives around.  Fat cat asshole employers refuse to higher convicted criminals who have “paid their debt to society” (for whatever the hell that is really worth to these savages) and bust their ass on a car assembly or in a factory moving boxes.  It is the fear of the criminally charged that leads the hopeless ex-con back to the ways that got them thrown in jail in the first place.  And then we complain that our jails are overcrowded.  It is a devilish cycle simple doesn’t seem to have an end in sight, until some assholes open their eyes and decide to be the change that needs to happen.  Stop with this bullshit “trickle down economics” tactics and try some “throw down a bit of respect” to those you employ.  But, I digress……

Snoop soon found her way back on the corner and fighting against the law once again.  But, by a stroke of “luck” or “grace” or whatever it is, she found herself in just the right place at the right time to meet The Wire star Michael K. Williams, who obviously saw something that the show needed, and brought her into the life.  And, as they say, the rest is history.  But, it’s not the ending of the story that matters when you finally finish this powerful memoir.  This is a story of perseverance, struggle, striving, failing, loving, and trying.  Ms. Pearson is a woman who had obstacles thrown at her from the day she was born.  Sometimes these obstacles were brought on by her own accord or by simply ignoring the wonderful people around her who only wanted the best for her.  Other times it was a simple cause and effect structure of living the street life.  And while her Felicia Snoop Pearsonstory has some true specificity to it, her story is by large far from uncommon.  But in the end, Snoop has won the fight against herself, the fight against her environment, and the fight against the demons that haunt us all.  She left her old ways behind after kicking at so much darkness, that it simply had to bleed light.

To sum this book up in a just a few words, Nothing could exemplify Felicia “Snoop” Pearson better than her one last words in this haunting yet beautiful memoir:

“Where does the light come from?  And what do you call it?.  You can call it God.  You call it Jesus.  These names are good names.  But I call it the miracle of love.  I call it Grace After Midnight.”

Michael Kostroff [Interview]

Michael Kostroff1

Photo by Leslie Hassler

So, a few years ago there was this little show on HBO that people seemed to be really crazy about, that I sadly just never got around to watching called, The Wire.  Ever heard of it?  Well, of course you have heard of it, every-damn-body has!  But in this day and age of binge watching television shows at one’s leisure, some shows never seem out of reach, or impossible to appreciate many years later.  And The Wire is absolutely not exception.  When I finally got around to engrossing myself in one of the greatest stories ever told on television, I learned that they hype that the show had earned was entirely justified, for this was a damn great show!  And, hands down, one of the top reasons were well written characters that were performed by just the right actors and actresses.  And of my favorite characters, as I usually seem to enjoy, was a snide little side character who seemed to sneak his pesky little self into scenes more and more as time went on.  His name was Maurice Levy, Attorney at Law.  And he was portrayed by the brilliant Michael Kostroff.

As we are prone to do here at TWS, I decided to look into a bit more about this character I truly enjoyed hating so damn much.  And just as I expected, Mr. Kostroff has turned out to be one of the nicest actors I have spoken with since I began interviewing them at random.  But, really, I find it hard to believe that anyone could be as snake like and despicable as Maurice Levy, but in all honesty I don’t really know that many lawyers so I could be wrong.  Anyway, Mr. Kostroff has turned out to be a brilliant actor of the stage, film, and more television with a career that expands far beyond his stint on The Wire.  So, of course we want to learn more about this brilliant fella, as well as maybe ask a few questions about his time on of the most highly regarded television shows of all time.  So ladies and gentlemen, Michael Kostroff!

Looking back so many years later, what was your personal experience like for you on the set of The Wire? And was there any specific time that you realized you were a major part of something pretty magical? 

The truth is, I think I was just glad to be working. Naturally, I loved the role, and found the writing engaging and intriguing, and I was inspired again and again by the outrageously skilled actors with whom I got to work. But I hadn’t an inkling that I was taking part in TV history. Really, the show’s popularity snuck up on me. Originally, Levy was only going to appear in two episodes. They seemed to like the character, and kept writing him in. Even still, until the final season, the offers came one episode at a time.So I wasn’t even around often enough to get a real sense of the show we were shooting, or its impact.

I think the turning point was when people started recognizing me out in public. I don’t remember when that started, but it continues to this day, and I’ve had many opportunities to hear first-hand how highly regarded the series is. People want to talk about it. And I love that. (I will say, though, that the fact that lawyers seem to particularly love Maury Levy is just a tad troubling.)

How does one prepare to portray a greedy and smug son of a bitch character like Maurice Levy? When you first found out about this part, what were your thoughts on Maurice?

There was one phrase in the script for my first episode that told me a whole lot about Levy. The phrase was “you people.” Now, because I grew up around a lot of black folks, I know all too well what “you people” means. It’s a phrase that leaps out to those of us who hate prejudice. It means the speaker has pre-formed opinions about a whole group and feels qualified to talk about that group right to their faces. In this case, Levy might have meant “you Barksdale gang members,” but I don’t think so. I think he’s a rich, privileged white man who works for an all-black organization, takes their money and advises them, but privately thinks of them as animals. It’s a very ugly thing to know about a character, but one that really clarifies who he is. I fed off that information for the whole five seasons.

The smugness is something that was evident in the writing as well. It’s another trait that makes us really despise the character. But I think it’s realistic. I’ve seen people like this, lawyers and politicos especially, people who don’t just want to win, but who also want to show you how cleverly they’ve done it. Levy loves the chess game. He likes to say, in essence, “See what I did there?” Ooh! What an asshole! It’s kind of making me mad thinking about it.

People who know me in real life know how different I am from Levy. And that was part of the fun. I spent the whole five seasons amazed that I was getting away with convincing viewers I was this horrible bucket of slime. Viewers hate me. And I think that’s an accomplishment.

Michael Kostroff3

still from “The Wire”

The show has been off the air for a few years now, and has entered legend status. In your personal and professional opinion, what is it about The Wire that makes it continue to be such a popular show that is surely never to be forgotten?

Well, I think there are a lot of theories on that. For me, in addition to the extraordinarily brilliant writing, there are two things that come to mind:

First, it’s the nuances in the characters. They’re not simply good guys and bad guys, and they aren’t categorized by race, social status or profession. I think, in the past, members of a drug gang were simply portrayed as “the gang,” and the police were “the cops.” On this show, we have a drug dealer who has an interest in business, and another who takes meticulous care of his tropical fish. Some are reckless; some live by strict codes. Others would like to get out of the game. We have a hero who’s an irresponsible parent who drinks too much, but who’s also truly noble in a lot of ways. We have gay characters who aren’t all about being gay. We have cops interested in the status quo, and cops interested in making things better. And we have characters who change and grow. Levy is the only recurring character I can think of who is strictly a bad guy. Most of them are multi-faceted.

The second thing I think accounts for the show’s legendary status is its compelling stories of how broken our systems are. Well-meaning characters are thwarted again and again by red tape, apathy, greed, cynicism and some people’s investments in the failure of others. I’m not sure we’ve seen that story told in that way before. At least, not since Dickens.

You seem to be portraying a whole lot of attorneys since your days on The Wire…. do you ever feel pigeonholed in this respect? How do you do it differently each time, or is a repetitive gig?

Yes and no and yes and no. I’ve certainly played a lot of attorneys since The Wire, and actually, even before The Wire. I look like what viewers think of when they imagine an attorney. While stereotyping is a very bad practice in real life, it can be a very helpful practice in visual storytelling.

Yes, I’ve sometimes been a bit pigeonholed in my TV career. But you know what that means? It means I have a TV career. And that’s a great and very lucky thing. Over the years, I’ve played a dull lawyer (King of Queens), a compassionate lawyer (Law & Order: SVU), a laughing lawyer (Liar, Liar), an upscale lawyer (Studio 60), a lovesick lawyer (Cold Case) and on and on. The stories make each one different. Still, I admit, there have been those occasional times when I felt like I was punching a clock, putting on the suit, and doing what has become for me a no-brainer role.

Two things balance that out. One is that I do theatre, where I don’t think I’ve ever played a lawyer. I’ve been a disgusting tavern owner (Les Misérables), a hapless gambler (Guys and Dolls), an unhappy comedy writer (Laughter on the 23rd Floor), and so forth. The second welcome contrast is that in the past few years, TV casting directors have started putting me in roles that are vastly different from my usual fare. The most amazing one was the Cinemax series, Banshee, in which I played a reckless, longhaired, tattooed, Southern ex-con. I smoked, I drank, I got in a fight, I snorted coke. I have no idea how they thought to cast me in that role, but it was a blast. Overall, I think I have nothing to complain about.

In the theatre world, you starred in the hugely successful hit brought to the world by the legendary Mel Brooks, The Producers. Again, how was this experience for you? Was it frantic playing a dozen different characters?

Well, I have to take issue with the word “starred.” I hardly starred. I was a proud member of the ensemble (or “chorus”), those musical theatre performers who run around changing costumes and continually showing up as different people in the story. I loved playing a dozen characters a night, from a stern judge to a swishy costume designer to a bad tenor to a cruel, demeaning boss to a Bavarian peasant and on and on. We worked, singing and dancing our asses off. I also understudied the huge, exhausting, never-leave-the-stage starring role of Max Bialystock. It’s the role that Nathan Lane won a Tony for, and one I’ve since played in various productions around the country. The job was a dream come true, my first time in a big Broadway show, albeit the touring version, and I treasured the whole adventure. I related my tales of life on the road in my book, Letters from Backstage.

Looking back on your long and extremely impressive career, when the time comes to hang up your hat, what would you say you are most proud of when you do so?

Wow. Am I retiring? Actually, having any success at all started late for me, so it doesn’t feel like it’s been a long career just yet. I feel like I’m just getting going.

So… You want a really honest answer? I’m most proud that I braved what I knew was a daunting and discouraging profession, and did so because to not do so would have been to go against my own DNA, my calling. I’m proud to be an actor. We’re a noble and embattled tribe. And I’m proud of all the tables I waited, all the temp jobs, all the growing pains, all the therapy, all the battles with my own depression and low self esteem, learning to present myself at auditions without panicking, surviving bad productions and unkind directors and somehow, miraculously, getting to the point where someone would want to interview me.

What inspired you to pen your book Letters From Backstage? What was it that you truly wished to accomplish with this book?

As I mentioned earlier, scoring a job in the touring company of The Producers was a dream come true for me. What I really wanted was to take my friends along for the ride. So that was the inspiration. For each tour stop, I wrote kind of a short story about life on the road, sharing what was happening with the show, what the city we were in was like, funny travel mishaps, weird audience encounters and so forth and e-mailed them to all my friends. They started e-mailing them to their friends. Strangers wrote to me asking to be included in the mailing list. These e-mails became the book, Letters from Backstage. My favorite comment I’ve gotten from readers is that they feel like they’re right there out on the road with me, and I couldn’t ask for a better response.

What does the future hold for you? Any other projects in the works you would like to pimp out?

I’m finishing up a book I’m excited about, based on my very popular workshop, Audition Psych. 101, which is all about the mental side of auditioning ( I’ve offered the workshop all over the country for almost a decade now and have found that actors derive tremendous benefit. The book will allow me to reach even more of my fellow thespians. I expect to have it published early next year.

Michael Kostroff2

Photo by Leslie Hassler

But next up, I’ll be doing a much-anticipated revival of Can-Can at one of my favorite theatres, The Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey, with a Broadway run expected to follow next year. This time, I’m a dry, gay, sarcastic French waiter at a scandalous can-can club. It makes a nice change from the pinstripe suit and the courtroom.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

The other day I was walking in my neighborhood when a woman stopped me. Her: “You’re that lawyer from The Wire!”
Me: “Yes, yes I am.”
Her: “Wow! Are you really a lawyer?”
Me: “No, no. I’m just an actor.”
Her: (Hugely disappointed) “Damn. I really need a lawyer.” (Then, begrudgingly) You were good on the show, though.

I smiled all the way home.