It’s a small world. When I first encountered Rocko Jerome, something seemed familiar. Talking to him, it became pretty obvious that we were close friends a life time ago in what seems a galaxy far, far away. In the interim years, Jerome has made music, become a professional writer, and embraces without irony the things that he loves. He has a growing body of work that includes Front on This: Essays and Observations from a Pop Culture Obsessive and contributions to A Long Time Ago: Exploring the Star Wars Cinematic Universe. You can learn more about his work here and here. We caught up with Jerome to ask him about his writing, Star Wars, and jet skis!
Never Nervous: What do you do? How would you answer that if you were at a party? It’s up to you whether or not alcohol would be a factor in how you answer.
Rocko Jerome: I’m a self employed writer, but I don’t get along with my boss. It’s important that I keep social doing other things. I always say that I’m “professionally affable.” I take the Dean Martin approach to life and just pretend it’s all one big party, and I try to be the same person regardless of who I’m talking to, within palatable reason. A lot of times I’m representing something or other professionally at social events, where I like to drink just enough to maintain a buzz. All in all, I suppose that I’m a storyteller.
NN: What can you tell us about your background? How did you get into writing? Have you ever been in a band? Details please.
RJ: Yeah, I had a band. I happened to be really into old Rock & Roll right around the big Swing craze of the late 90’s, which meant that there were all these Rockabilly bands that got to tour around and play here at places like Phoenix Hill Tavern and Butchertown Pub. I was underage, but I had pretty good hustle and never got turned away. The cards would always be off, though. A local band of longhairs that was steeped in Alice In Chains or whatever would be opening for dudes with an upright bass and a Gretsch and pompadours and all that shit. I saw an opportunity there, so I talked some guys that played instruments into letting me yell over them, and we were off to the races. We opened for a bunch of acts of note, toured slightly, had a CD release. We got away with a lot. I never learned to play anything, because it seemed difficult. I never wanted to have to work very hard at anything.
“I saw an opportunity there, so I talked some guys that played instruments into letting me yell over them, and we were off to the races. We opened for a bunch of acts of note, toured slightly, had a CD release. We got away with a lot. I never learned to play anything, because it seemed difficult. I never wanted to have to work very hard at anything.”
Writing has always just come easily for me. I don’t think of it as some skill I’ve honed or have any high ideas about the process. It’s just the path of least resistance.
NN: What is your process as a writer? How do you edit? How do you know when something is complete?
RJ: Generally when I know I’m done is around the same time that I’ve hit the word count I was assigned or, if it’s mine, I have enough that I can reasonably ask someone to pay to read it without feeling cheated.
NN: Tell us a little about your work. What draws you to the subject matter that you work with?
RJ: I write like I talk, and I like to talk about things that are interesting to me. When I write about some sort of art that I like, music or film or whatever, it’s generally because I want other people to see what I see in it. I’m an enthusiast.
NN: Why the obsession with pop culture? What drew you to the sort of cultural ephemera that has become your bread and butter?
RJ: I think for every generation post Baby Boomers, Pop Culture is just our culture. It’s all we’ve got. I sometimes contemplate why certain things I grew up with mean so much more to me than they do others, or what makes me drawn to different things, and I think that basically it’s just the markers on your journey. I can look back at when, say, John Lydon meant a lot to me, and see why that influenced the way I engaged the world at an impressionable age. What you’re into says a hell of a lot about where you are in life.
“I think for every generation post Baby Boomers, Pop Culture is just our culture. It’s all we’ve got.”
NN: In the book How Music Works, David Byrne posits that the physical environments that you occupy as an artist have a psychic resonance on the material. How is that manifested in your work, both in terms of the spaces that you create, and on the broader more sociological level of growing up and living in Louisville and the Midwest in general?
RJ: I have siblings now in the familial bonds of the family I chose, but I grew up an only child, just far enough out in the country that I had no neighborhood experience. I was the baby of both sides of the family, so I got stuff that I wanted, and that stuff was my friends, because I was the only one around. Everything I am is tied up in that.
NN: Do you listen to music when you work? If so, what gets you motivated? How does that appear, if at all, in your compositions?
RJ: I listen to Jazz very frequently these days, which was something I had to grow into. I always knew that I would, but I was hung up on trying to square it and figure it out. Forest and trees kind of situation, you know that old chestnut. What did it was that there’s this page from Jim Steranko’s Nick Fury: Agent Of SHIELD where Fury and his woman are making time, and in one of the panels, there’s a picture of a record playing on the hi-fi. I’ve been lucky enough to meet and be pals with Mr. Steranko, and so I got to ask him: what’s the soundtrack? I said Sam Cooke. He said, there’s a time for talking and words, and there’s a time for just sounds. Eddie Lockjaw Davis. Sax player. He didn’t even have to think about it. Jazz is the soundtrack for action. It was like I was suddenly literate where I had not been before. So anytime I want background sound that lets me decide what’s what, it’s Jazz.
NN: Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
RJ: Now I prefer fiction. I had a point a few years ago where someone whose work I deeply admire told me that if I didn’t start selling my writing he was going to print my emails and sell them as his own. That’s the time I started actually calling myself a writer and hustling my shit. One of my first gigs that made bread was the Lemon Herberts project, I lied to the guy and told him I did a lot of fiction. I hadn’t made up any stories since grade school, and suddenly, I had to. I found it to be no big deal, and I liked that it’s mine. I call the shots.
One starts to feel like a bit of a leech if they only write about what other people are up to. Although my work is very derivative; Ben Venice is basically sixties Nick Fury with a bit more time on his hands.
NN: How do you solicit writing jobs? How do you pitch? How do you balance the type of work you’d like to do with the kind that you want to do?
RJ: I don’t write anything I don’t want to. I’ve seen what that does to people, I would unload trucks before it came to that.
“I don’t write anything I don’t want to. I’ve seen what that does to people, I would unload trucks before it came to that.”
When I write for Vintage Rock or one of those magazines, it’s pretty easy. I know all about old Rock & Roll and Blues and Soul and R&B. I’m not as academic as a Colin Escott or as visceral and self centered as a Lester Bangs (When I write about someone else, I avoid “I” or “me” as much as I can, because it’s not about me). So I have a certain novelty to my angle that I can peddle.
Things I create myself and sell, I cater to my own short attention span as well as that of everyone else. Ben Venice is written in installments designed to be read in under 5 minutes. As in, I would
actually prefer that you do it that way. That’s also how I write it.
NN: Who are your enemies and what are your plans to defeat them?
RJ: Living well is the best revenge. When you hate someone or something, you give it a certain control over you. I can’t abide that. Our most valuable resources are our time, our health, and what we choose to emotionally invest in. I got no time for people I don’t like. Love me or leave me alone.
NN: What is your relationship like with jet skis?
RJ: I think I have seen them in person before.
NN: Star Trek or Star Wars? Defend your answer.
RJ: Easily Star Wars, I always find Star Trek to be largely inaccessible. There’s certain things in there I like, but Star Wars was always around and exciting to me, even during the late 80’s and most of the 90’s when people forgot about it. I felt a great deal of the weight Star Wars held was in the fact that it was finite and controlled by an individual instead of a corporation. I have no use for any of what they’re doing with it now. I’m doing my best to just ignore it and not become sour on people that are into it, because I don’t want to be “that guy,” and it weirds me out how strongly I feel about it. It’s largely just warm nostalgia to me at this point. Growing up, it influenced a lot of my world view, that idea that friendship is everything. I wrote about that in the book A Long Time Ago that Sequart put out, you can buy that off my Amazon page.
“I felt a great deal of the weight Star Wars held was in the fact that it was finite and controlled by an individual instead of a corporation. I have no use for any of what they’re doing with it now. I’m doing my best to just ignore it and not become sour on people that are into it, because I don’t want to be “that guy,” and it weirds me out how strongly I feel about it. It’s largely just warm nostalgia to me at this point.”
NN: What have you been reading, watching, eating, or drinking lately that you’d like to share?
RJ: Guy Ritchie’s Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie is a year old this month, and I encourage anyone who is interested in the swinging sixties and/or espionage to invest an hour and a half in it. It did little at the box office, but I’m just glad it got made in the first place.
In a similar vein, Ed Brubaker just finally wrapped up Velvet, his series that’s essentially about the secret life of Bond’s Ms. Moneypenny. It’s a lot of fun, and now you don’t have to read it in 30 page installments that trickled out over several years.
If you go to the back of Mi Prefferida Mexican grocery in Eastland Center on Bardstown Road in Buechel, you can get a delicious burrito. Then, a few doors down, you’ve got Dakshin, the best Indian food in town. Around there, there’s also a Dollar General Store, a horrifying huge gun store, on the other side there’s a Tae Kwon Do studio, and a taxidermist, all under a beautiful mid-century sign that I’m always horrified they’re going to knock down.
My appreciation for these things is entirely devoid of irony.
NN: What are your top three and a half desert island albums and why?
RJ: First I’d like to point out that Greil Marcus was the guy who created that whole desert island thing. He is a great and criminally underrated writer, and everyone who loves pop music should invest some interest. Especially in his book Dead Elvis, if you’re the least bit fascinated with the subject.
I would listen to The Afghan Whigs’ 1965 to remind myself of my most vibrant days and nights, then Bryan Ferry’s In Your Mind to steady my resolve, then Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrer’s segment of The Great Shrine Auditorium Concert, so that I could get as close to the concept of God as I’ve ever been able to. I would then walk straight into the ocean and drown, because I have absolutely no interest in living on a desert island.