Who: Joe Shriner
What: DJ, radio producer and Engineer
Artist’s Chosen Location for Interview: First Cup Café (3146 Calhoun Street)
Q: What’s an incident from traveling on a train that you’ll never forget?
A: It wasn’t on a train, but it was at a train station. After I graduated from DePaul I quit my job, which I shouldn’t have done, and I went on this trip from Chicago to L.A. and then L.A. up to Seattle. Then I traveled back.
Before I left town, my very good friend Travis Bird—who has traveled a lot—told me, ‘Realize that you’re going to mess up. Something is going to go wrong. That happens no matter what when you go on a trip by yourself.’
I was distracted when I purchased a ticket from St. Louis, Missouri to Lawrence, Kansas. After I bought the ticket and was wandering around St. Louis waiting for the train, I realized that I bought only a ticket halfway between St. Louis and Lawrence. Medina, or something. I can’t remember, but I remember that the city begins with a ‘M.’
A lot of times stations are in a city, but it’s kind of on the outskirts. I just assumed that was the small area in Lawrence, Kansas where the train station was.
So I called my friend who was going to pick me up, and I said, ‘Oh, I’m actually arriving in this Medina city outside of Lawrence.’
He said, ‘That’s, like hours, away. I’m not driving all the way out there to go get you.’ Then I started thinking about how I should have looked at a map, and how I should have planned this better. Then I remembered what Travis said.
I ultimately ended up buying a bus ticket. I had to say goodbye to those $35 dollars from the train ticket and take the bus, but I remembered those words. And, you know, the bus trip was fine.
Q: Would you rather make an excuse for your behavior or challenge a person’s un-acceptance of the behavior?
A: Oh, context is really important here. If I say something stupid or offensive, I’m definitely going to say I’m sorry. I’m not going to say, [puffs up chest] ‘No, you’re wrong.’
I guess the only time I really challenge people’s behavior is when they’re convinced their right, but I know they’re wrong. That becomes very frustrating. In that sense, the challenge isn’t really a challenge because the person isn’t really listening.
Q: What dead composer would make the worst ghost?
A: You’re going to have to give me minute on that one. My mind is jumping from century to century. There’re some composers whose work I find really boring, but they themselves lived fascinating lives.
Probably Robert Schumann. He’d make a pretty bad ghost. He’s so moody, so he’d be kind of a drag to hang around. He definitely wouldn’t be my top choice for dead composers to be haunted by. He’d just kind of shuffle around and be melancholic. Say ‘woe is me,’ and bang on the piano.
If I could choose one, I’d choose John Cage. His version of haunting would be laughing all the time. He’d be so happy and start sentences with the phrase, [impersonating John Cage] “Well, although I am a ghost…”
He’d turn the tables around by making me think that I was the ghost. You’d never know with him.
Q: What is a dance move in a song that you’ve never understood or discovered what it is?
A: I don’t know what the ‘Monkey Time’ is. You know the Major Lance song? I know what the ‘Monkey’ is, but is the ‘Monkey Time’ different? Are they the same? I guess they must be the same.
And I don’t know what the ‘Watusi’ is. Or the ‘Flop.’ Actually, I’m realizing that I don’t know any of these dances.
I know the Twist, and I know the Waltz. Although, I don’t know any dance songs that are in ¾, and I’m guessing that if the song was in ¾ time they wouldn’t have to call out that people should do the Waltz. In the late 19th century maybe they’d yell out, ‘Everybody do the Waltz,’ and the music would start.
What about the ‘Mashed Potato’?
These are sounding less like questions and more like judgments [laughing].
Q: Have you ever had a happy dream, and what was it about?
A: Most of my dreams are nightmares, but every once in a while I’ll have a happy dream. I probably wrote it down somewhere.
Anytime I have dreams where I’m a kid and back home in the Midwest at our old lake house, it’s a happy one. The lake house is this 130 year-old fishing lodge that was on the lake without air-conditioning. Anytime I’m there in a dream, I’m usually really delighted. That’s partially because it doesn’t exist anymore. The person who bought the place burned it down and put up two houses on it.
That lake house was where my three brothers and I would go in the summertime. The house became this place to create art. Of course we didn’t realize it at the time. We thought it was boring as hell. We would make movies, we’d draw, and we eventually played music there. We turned the living room into our recording studio. I had my drums set-up, and my brothers had their keyboards and guitars, so we’d write songs and record them. Well, they’d write the songs, and I’d sometimes help record them. I’m the only brother who can’t write songs.
Tom, Jack and Abe, though, were all super prolific. All three of them would write hundreds of songs. Well, maybe that’s hyperbolic. But every summer they were always working on some album. Some of those songs wouldn’t be completed, and they’d come back to them the next summer.
It’s funny, but having three brothers who were extremely creative made me want to capture what they were doing. I would make documentaries of them working. I remember when Tom and Jack were creating an album, and I interviewed them with my camcorder.
I guess that carried over into 20th Century Classics and what I do with Louisiana Eats. I love to cultivate artist’s work and interview people about what they’re doing and thinking.
You can hear Joe Shriner (aka DJ Pennebaker) on 20th Century Classics, which is celebrating its 30th year on WTUL 91.5 FM. The program airs every Sunday night from 8 pm to midnight. To catch his production work on Louisiana Eats, tune into WWNO 89.9 FM on Saturdays at 11:00 AM and Wednesdays at 1:00 PM. You can also stream Louisiana Eats from it’sneworleans.com.