Talking with Tom: An Eddy Exclusive
My Time Square Talk with Tom
Tom on the opposite coast.
Let's jump right into things. You live in New York, yeah? Where in New York? How long have you lived there? What brought you/your family to New York?
I've lived in New York my whole life, which amounts to 25 years. I've spent the entirety of those 25 years in the Bronx - a place that is largely just as people imagine. But to the surprise of most, there are a few (and I mean a few in the literal sense of the word) parts of the Bronx that are really quite nice, and I'm fortunate enough to reside in one of those areas. It's a very suburban neighborhood called Throggs Neck, in the Eastern-most part of the Bronx, right over the White Stone and Throggs Neck Bridges from Queens. We have trees and houses with yards here, and Pelham Bay Park, which is the largest park in New York City.
My family has lived in New York as long as we've been in America. I believe my great, great grandparents were the first to come to the United States, and they all settled in New York immediately. They came through Ellis Island from different parts of Italy and from Ireland, and all wound up here. Lucky me, eh? My parents actually grew up around the corner from each other. So we're basically as New York as you can get.
What do you do for a living?
I'm a publicist. I have a pretty lengthy job description, as my job entails different things for different clients on different days - and with eight clients and five days in a work week, this means I'm all over the place. But to be terse, my job is to get good press for my clients and prevent bad press.
You listen to a fair amount of metal. Favorite era of metal? A few favorite bands?
I do listen to a lot of metal. I'd say the 80s were the best era of metal. The thrash scene in the 80s - particularly the Bay Area thrash scene - was unbelievable. Of course, I wasn't old enough to enjoy it, but as a fan of metal, I have a great appreciation for that time period. Metal was king in the 80s on the West Coast. People cared a lot more about the music then. They went to shows to hear good music, not just to support their friends' bands. The scene is dead in most places these days. It's sad, really. I'm also a fan of Scandinavian melodic death, which is current. A lot of great bands have come out of Finland and Sweden. I suppose my favorite metal bands are Metallica, Pantera, Soilwork, Down and Testament, if I'm trying to keep the list short.
How long have you been listening to metal? How did it influence your developing identity?
I started listening to Metallica when I was 13, though it wasn't until a few years later that I began listening to more metal. I was probably 16 or so before metal was the main genre I listened to, and I was about 20 by the time I got to the point where I can look back now and say I approve of all the bands I listened to.
As for how it influenced my identity...I never thought I was mentally or emotionally influenced by the music I listen to. There was a time when I regularly dressed in metal attire, with the leather cuffs and wallet chains and whatnot - so it influenced me superficially for some time (people called me Heavy Metal Tom for quite a while). And when I was going through some rough times, I suppose listening to this dark music didn't help, though it certainly was not the cause. But I was never an angry person like people assume fans of metal must be. I think it's fair to say the most overt way in which my musical tastes influenced my identity is that they led me to join the band. This became a big part of who I was, for years. We had a pretty dedicated local music scene at the time, and we were a fairly popular band in the scene. So people knew who I was, and I loved acting like a rockstar, even on such a microscopic level. I fully embraced it. And really, I still maintain that being on stage, playing original music to a crowd that is visibly digging it, is the greatest feeling on earth. And I've always tried to hold onto some element of that rockstar attitude - in the least pretentious, arrogant way possible - because honestly, it's just fun...and I get bored easily...and having that attitude helps me reconcile my desire for this interesting, non-conventional life with my cookie cutter, conventional life. For a while, I held onto delusions of grandeur that are certainly not unique to me. Aspirations of actually making it big. I finally realized that wasn't going to happen, and said "Ok. I'm never going to be a rockstar. But if I'm going to be a publicist, I'm going to be a rockstar publicist." I really don't even know what that means...a rockstar publicist...but it works...it allows me to embrace what I do, so I don't question it.
When you were a kid, did you aspire to be a performer? What was the genesis of M*tt Uml**t? What are his influences in terms of stage presence and performing style?
Nooooooo way. When I was a kid, I had no thoughts of performing. I did sing in the Church choir for a few years, and I played the snare drum in the Fife & Drum for a year, but this was the product of my still-present desire to try everything, rather than a childhood aspiration to be a performer.
The genesis of M*tt Uml**t probably began when I was 14. When I started high school, I picked up the guitar. I took lessons for a few months, but I was naturally horrible and had a horrible teacher, and gave up. After that, I mainly played whatever Metallica riffs I was able to learn. When I was 19, I joined a band that was looking for a singer. I'd never sang before, but wanted to be in a band and lacked the musical talent to fulfill any other band duties...so singing it was. The thing was, while I loved (and still love) singing, I always felt like I should have been a guitarist. I didn't have the talent, but I had the moves. And when the music came on, my hands just started to play the air. They knew what to do without me having to think about it. So when I heard there was an air guitar competition, something stirred inside me. And that something was M*tt Uml**t...the guitar god that had until then resided only in my subconscious.
I like to think M*tt doesn't have influences. His style is very organic. He let's the music move him - and that is why his badassery is infinite.
The man himself.
Speaking of childhood, what was Tom the child like?
Childhood Tom was a superdork. I was tragically unpopular. I cried when I got less than, say, a 95 on a test. I was the second-shortest person in my grade, every year until high school. I had few friends. I did, however, particpate in a shitload of activities. I took gymnastics for a year, sang in the choir for a few, played in the fife & drum for a year, played little league baseball my entire childhood, took Tae Kwon Do for a few and was a cub scout, among other things. I was quiet and shy, but very friendly and polite, so...good for me?
What's your family like?
I'd like to say my family is odd, but everyone seems to say that, so I suppose that makes my family normal. My parents are divorced and my father lives in Florida with his second wife. I do not speak with either of them, and I do not recognize her as a part of the family. I have three brothers, all younger. The oldest of them lives with my father, which is sad, because this means I don't see him much. The next one goes to Northeastern in Boston, where he will probably stay after he graduates, because he decided almost immediately upon starting there that he loves Boston and hates New York. He also began loving the Red Sox almost immediately upon moving there, which is sad, because this means he can not be buried in our family plot in the cemetery. The youngest goes to school on Long Island and has not, so far, done anything to make me sad. My brothers and I have matching tattoos that say GPC, which stands for Greene Place Crew, which is a fake gang we made up to mock the many local street gangs in our part of the Bronx (Greene Place is the block where we grew up).
Weird facts about my family:
-We are homogenous. I'm one of four boys. My mom is one of four girls. My dad is one of three boys. My dad's older brother has three girls. My dad's younger brother has two boys. The only one of my mom's siblings who has any children has one son. There is no mixing.
-My brother was born in May. I was born in June. My brother was born in July. My brother was born in August.
-I'm 25. My cousin is 24. My brother is 23. My brother is 22. My cousin is 21. My brother is 19. My cousin is 18. My cousin is 17. My cousin is 16.
That’s mind boggling, really. Strange coincidences there. Random question I just thought of: do you believe there’s any importance to coincidences? Such as them being a part of some bigger overarching plan that’s beyond us?
Not particularly. If there was a significance to them, they wouldn't be coincidences. They would be acts of God...perhaps acts of fate, if that's your thing.
I take it you were and have remained very close with your mother. How would you describe your relationship with your mother?
Yes sir. My mother raised my brothers and me basically by herself, so I owe her for that. She's put up with a lot. But my gratitude certainly is not apparent in our daily interaction. I'm not sentimental at all. Not with my family, not with girlfriends, not with anyone. Unless I've had too much to drink. But I can make my mother laugh. And I can irritate the hell out of her. And I take great pleasure in doing both. That is mainly how our relationship plays out these days. I entertain her and then I bother her. She puts up with me. But there is love in all of it.
Is everyone in New York a Yankee fan? How much of that is manufactured and how much of that, would you say, is a part of being a New Yorker?
There are some misguided New Yorkers who think they're Met fans. It's sad really.
Honestly though, there really is a large number of Met fans here. Queens, where Shea Stadium is located, is full of Met fans. Brooklyn still has a lot of Met fans also, though they had many more before waves of New York transplants began making Brooklyn their home. The Bronx and Staten Island are Yankee territory. Of course, there are definitely front runners who became Yankee fans when they started winning in '96, but I was a Yankee fan long before that, when they were horrid, and I can say there was no shortage of true Yankee fans here back then either. Rooting for the home team is part of sports. The Yankees have been around for a long time, have a long tradition of winning, and a somewhat recent history of winning as well - so naturally, the Yankees have a noticeably large local fanbase.
Do you believe New York has a distinct identity? How would you describe what it means to be a New Yorker?
Absolutely. New York definitely has a distinct identity. I couldn’t tell you what it means to be a New Yorker, though. I don't believe, though, that being a New Yorker is a good thing. The things I associate with being a New Yorker are negative. I think part of being a New Yorker is being self-centered. New Yorkers believe the world revolves around them. Part of it is being ungrateful. I do believe New York is the greatest city in the world, and every one of us here takes it for granted. To some extent, it's impossible not to. I think I am one of a small percentage of New Yorkers who regularly thinks about how lucky we are to live here - but I still take it for granted. I tell people that I love everything about New York except the people. New Yorkers don't deserve New York. And yet, I couldn't live anywhere else. I am a New Yorker, which I suppose is not saying much about me, if what I've said is right. I suppose there are good things about New Yorkers. I haven't figured out what they are, though.
Where did you go to college and what did you study?
Where didn't I go to college? I've been to quite a few colleges. I spent a year and a half at Fairfield University, but left after a bout of personal problems that left me unmotivated and convinced that college was not for me. I basically gave up on myself. It was not a happy time in my life. After a completely useless bout of counseling, I lucked out. I joined the band, snagged me a girlfriend, and got a job. This was a great cure for depression. I took about a year and a half off from school. After that, I enrolled in a community college to get a respectable transcript that would get me into a respectable school. I then transferred to one such respectable college in New York's City University. I am actually still attending college while working full time. I had started as an intern at my current job, and they thought I was good enough that they offered me a full-time job despite my lack of degree, allowing me to go to school for it while working, rather than waiting until I finished school. This was pretty nice of them, I thought. That said, I'm still going to school, studying communications.
You mentioned an unsuccessful stretch of counseling, any thoughts about the practice of counseling? In what ways do you think it can be beneficial, and what would you say are its failings?
Personally, I found it useless and completely unhelpful. I would talk for a while, and then wait for some sort of guidance, or a helpful response, and get a contemplative stare. I didn't need to just talk about things. I needed someone to help me understand why I was unhappy. I didn't get that. I'm sure it can be beneficial. I do think I had a bad counselor, so I don't want to make a judgment about the entire field of psychology based on my experience. But I don't think it was necessarily the solution I needed, even if I had a more effective counselor. I think I needed exactly what eventually brought me out of my funk, which was a confluence of positive people and activities in my life.
Depression, I think, is a very common feeling in early adulthood. Were you a typically melancholic person? How do you think your period of depression changed you? How did it create the Tom we know today?
I think with the exception of that fairly short period of my life, I've always been a happy person. For whatever reason, I was just unable to be happy for some time. Ultimately though, I think it's changed me for the better. I like to think I am now depression-proof ::knock on wood:: I am always happy, even when I'm not. I still get angry and upset at specific things, but I am always happy with my life. Looking back, I realize that I had no reason to be depressed. I mean, I obviously was that way for a reason, but I shouldn't have been. I had my family, good friends, good health, etc. I realized that I have a lot to be thankful for and had no right being anything less than happy with my life...because there are people who are far worse-off than me. A couple of people in my office told me last year that I have a wonderful disposition, which I was happy to hear. It's not something that you hear people comment on very often. But I take pride in being noticeably happy most of the time.
This being the cult, I feel obliged to ask, are you a writer?
Oh jeeze. Well, yes, I am a writer. Though I suppose I'm not the same sort of writer I used to be. I've considered myself a writer for a long time. I used to write a lot of poetry, some short stories, etc. But now my writing is mostly work-related. Which I suppose you can say doesn't count, but I think it does. I write tons and tons of press releases and the like. Now the reason I count it is because I've always been more interested in the lingual aspect of writing than in the story. I'm not a good story teller and never have been. But I like crafting sentences and playing with words and polishing grammar. I used to love writing papers for English and Philosophy classes, because they didn't require hard research, but were still analytical. They allowed the greatest flexibility in terms of writing, but didn't require me to come up with any sort of narrative. During the time I spent at Fairfield, I would write papers for friends, for free. It was one of the few things I had motivation to do. One time, I was offered $500 to write a thesis for a Masters degree...which I turned down. I briefly charged money to write papers for strangers, before deciding that I don't like other people getting credit for my writing, even if I'm getting paid.
I seem to remember you saying you were working on a Southern accent. How’s that coming?
I've stopped trying to permanently acquire one, but I do still manage to use it semi-frequently. I am thoroughly enjoying it.
Speaking of the South, are you a fan of Southern fiction? Favorites?
That depends on whether you're referring to a specific genre or generally, fiction set in the south. I enjoy the Southern Gothic that I've read - like Flannery O'Connor. I also very much enjoy the few books I've read that have been set in the South, particularly Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy and No Country for Old Men. All excellent books.
Would you say you identify most with a certain genre of fiction? Or is it more author to author, book to book?
I don't pay much attention to sub-genres within the world of fiction. I couldn't really name more than a couple of genres of fiction even if I wanted to. I like what I like, I suppose on an author-to-author basis. If I read an author and enjoy the book, I get attached to the author and read as much as I can by him. I've 55 books in the last year and a half, by 28 different authors. 15 of those 28 are authors by whom I've read more than one book. The point being, I rarely read only one book by an author. In fact, a number of the authors by whom I've read only one book only have one book out...which is why there are that many authors by whom I've read only one book. I said "by whom" one too many times in that answer. But I hate ending those sort of sentences in prepositions.
You’re a big Alex Garland and Irvine Welsh fan, what about those two, seemingly disparate authors, resonates with you?
I am indeed a huge fan of Irvine Welsh. If I'm being honest with myself, I probably have to admit that Irvine Welsh is my favorite author. Sorry, Chuck. I like to think Alex Garland is a favorite also. It disappoints me that he only has three novels out, and I really don't care for Coma. But I like The Beach and The Tesseract so strongly, I think I can justify considering him a favorite.
I have no idea what about them resonates with me, though. I don't do drugs or approve of the behavior or lifestyles of the characters in Welsh's novels. I don't personally relate to the characters in his or in Garland's. I just admire their writing immensely. Trainspotting and Porno by Welsh, and The Beach by Garland, are the only books I have ever read that had me so totally engrossed that I dreaded reaching the end. I was totally sucked into the worlds depicted in those books. I've yet to find other books with that same power - though Garland's the Tesseract was pretty close. Cormac McCarthy and Dave Eggers have come close, too. But their writing is too noticeable. That's not a bad thing. Their writing is excellent...but you are conscious of the fact that you are reading with them. I think what Welsh and Garland were able to do was to write in a language that read itself. There was this visual projection that I could only compare to the Matrix, when one is able to see the computer code not as code, but as the visual image it represents - with no effort.
Cormac Mccarthy seems to be a love him or hate him author around here, what about his books sets him on the 'love him' side of the fence?
Well, I think he tells compelling stories, for one. But beyond that, he has an amazing mastery of language. His writing is beautiful. I've sat on the train reading his books and stopped just to contemplate the beauty of the writing itself. He can spend three pages describing an empty field covered in snow. And I know while I'm reading it that nothing is happening and I can skip this passage without missing anything...but I read it anyway, because he is an artist with words. How his mind devises these sentences and paragraphs, I have no idea. They amaze me.
Are you a religious person? How did/does your faith influence your life? In what ways do you keep it relevant in your daily life? What does faith mean to you?
Yes and no. I went to Catholic school my whole life, sang in the Church choir, served as an altar boy for several years and worked at the Church for about six years. I believe in God, and most of the Church teachings, but I still wouldn't consider myself religious. I don't go to church, nor do I believe doing so is necessary. I don't take the Bible literally, and luckily, the Catholic Church does not say that one should take it literally. I would say my religion helps inform my moral and ethical sensibilities. For me, faith is not something that should govern one's life, but should be one of a number of things that helps guide it. Or rather, that is the role it plays in mine...I suppose I can't say what role it should play in others' lives, since I do believe it is different for everyone.
How does it feel to be the go-to man for parody threads?
I don't know if I could say it feels any way in particular. I get bored easily...but I am also easily amused. Also, I entertain myself more than anyone else could ever entertain me. So I mainly do things like making parody threads to give myself a cheap laugh. In fact...much of what I do is for my own benefit...and if other people think it's funny too - BONUS!
Are you currently in a relationship? What was your last relationship like?
I am not. It's been quite a while since I've been in a relationship...a year and a half, to be specific. My last relationship was bizarre. It was fairly brief and highly concentrated. It only lasted about four months and strong feelings were packed into those four months. We worked together, which is how I met her, and I spent most weekends and some weeknights at her apartment...so we were together nearly 24/7. It was probably the best relationship I've been in while it lasted. But then it ended very oddly and abruptly. One weekend, she went to this rave-ish sort of thing and did a whole bunch of coke, which I guess reignited the inner cokehead that had been there all along, lying dormant. That Monday, two days before Valentine's day, she broke up with me after work...which was probably the biggest shock of my life, since I thought everything was perfect that very morning. But it was for the best, because she ended up getting back into coke and turning into an utter mess...honestly, it was an almost Spearsian trainwreck-type situation. Also, she was a pathological liar, which I had not known. So I win, in retrospect. Another fact: I joined the Cult the week we broke up.
What are your thoughts about love? Do you believe in it? Have you been in love? In what various ways has love manifested itself in your life?
I don't have many thoughts about love. I believe in love. I have been in love twice. It was lovely. I have nothing profound to contribute on that subject. I don't feel like I've been burned by love. I don't have a dependency on it. It's very nice and I enjoy being in it when I am, but I don't think it's something that's played a particularly large role in my life.
You’re a very politically conscious person, and a conservative, a seeming rarity at the cult; what does politics do for you?
I am a political junkie. I find politics fascinating. I found politics completely uninteresting until I was 18 or so, and I'm not quite sure what changed that. Politics, to me, is an ongoing struggle to define the identity of this country. I have strong convictions regarding what that identity is. I believe the Conservative ideology reflects the identity of the country, while the Liberal ideology reflects an identity its proponents would like for the country. I believe there are dozens of versions of the country Liberals would like to transform America into, while there is only one country that reflects the Conservative ideology. America is more than a name - it is an idea. The basic principles of Conservatism are synonymous with the idea that is America. If we lose these principles, America will be America in name only. This scares me, and that is why I am so politically conscious. I don't want America to become a nation like any other.
What does it do for me? It gives me a tangible manifestation of my ideals, a tangible struggle to wage, a tangible weapon to wield in that struggle and a tangible side for which to wield it.
What does america mean to you, the word, the land, the people?
Oh boy. This is like asking a philosophy junkie about the meaning of life. I'll have to take a rain check on this, because I could go on forever about this one.
Is political debate for you a bit like a runners high? When you’re knee deep in newspapers and political commentary, does that exhilarate you?
Not really. I do enjoy debating politics, but I don't get off on it. Reading 36 newspapers in a day doesn't exhilarate me, because I feel like I should know about everything that's going on in my city, my country and the world. I get really fired up about politics, but not because I have some superficial interest in it. It's because I really care deeply about these things. My mother sarcastically begs me at least once a week to find something to be passionate about. I am very opinionated and I don't debate and listen to these things because I want to, so much as I feel I have to. I can't listen to someone go on about something I strongly disagree with, without sharing my opinion. And I like to be as informed as possible, so I immerse myself in media as much as possible. I'm happy to agree to disagree with a person, but I need to let people know what I think before I can do that. And I think I'm pretty good about listening to opposing views. I get along well with Democrats, because I listen to what they have to say and concede when they make good points. I've learned that keeping an open mind and respecting people's opinions in a debate is the only way to get the other person to keep an open mind and respect my opinions.
Still any thoughts about taking a more active role in politics? Run for city council, senate, representative, school board?
Absolutely. I haven't made up my mind yet, but I am definitely considering my options. I plan on getting started in the next couple of weeks with some volunteering, and then getting involved in the next Congressional election. After that, I hope to work on the 2012 Presidential election, and down the road, I think a City Council or Congressional run may be in the cards.
Who, politically, do you look up to? Who inspires you? Current or historical or both, any names welcome.
I have a great respect for the founding fathers. This sounds cliché, but I think it is amazing how intelligent these men were. Thomas Jefferson, in particular - this was a Renaissance man...an inventor, philosopher, scientist, linguist, etc etc etc. I really believe people were much smarter 200 years ago, before technology made us lazy. More recently, I admire Reagan, of course. Right now though, I look up to Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. I think he represents the future of the Republican Party. He is brilliant, young, honest, hard working and principled. I think we need more people like him in both parties - because let's face it...there is a shortage of admirable politicians in both parties.
I have to ask because its been bothering me since you posted it: what is the number you were thinking of in that thread? I wont tell anyone, the unveiling will be this interview.
I'm not telling.
You mother fucker.