On Duct Tape And A Prayer

When my family first move here from New York we moved into the Fairyland community of Lookout Mountain. It was there that I first met a precocious little shit named Stacey Alexander. Stacey and his two older brothers, Clay and Rocky lived across the street from us. When we moved there I was obsessed with football. My dad being a former “taxi squad” member of the Giants, so I naturally loved the sport. The only trouble is I was painfully shy. I spent many afternoons in our yard kicked and throwing the football around. I think Stacey felt sorry for me or thought my mother was really strict but one fateful day he came over. He was a year or two older than me but he liked the sport as well and from that day forward we started getting into misadventures. Over time he introduced me to the rest of the neighborhood and as they say the rest was history. Being the little fat kid I was the brunt of a number of Stacey’s jokes along with anything else he could pick on me for. You see, back in the day if someone teased you, you didn’t run home to mommy and scream you were being bullied or even think of suicide, you fought back be I verbal or otherwise. The teasing also felt like you belonged. Stacey and I never came close to fisticuffs, if anything our teasing back and forth was our special bond. In seventh grade my family moved to the Tennessee side of the mountain and I lost touch with Stacey and his brothers until a number of years ago. Both older and wiser (depending on who you ask) we quickly bonded again and talk/text/email each other regularly. Any given day I will get a newsong that he had written and recorded under some pseudonym he comes up with – all dealing with a different style of music. I probably have dozens of his songs dating back before file sharing when he would hand me a CD to check out his latest effort. Since the time we got reacquainted I’ve known him as an entrepreneur, musician, filmmaker and most recently a published author. His newest publication, a book about buying his first airplane, “On Duct Tape and a Prayer” has literally taken off and is his best entry on Amazon to date. The story has a kind of Hunter S. Thompson “Fear And Loathing” feel to it describing the circumstances in buying the plane and having 24 hours to pick it up, driving from Chattanooga to Arizona to get it and fly back home.

Growing up you were always into one misadventure or another. You like playing music, I know. When did you start writing?

Around 2008 or so. Thanks for asking, I think.

Before we get into this book thing, what kind of music are you releasing these days?

I’ve released quiet of bit of old school surf instrumentals, under my “USA Conquerors” handle in the last couple years. I’m pretty proud of some of those tracks. I’ve got some others under different handles — testing their viability. I’ve also have a few psychedelic surf songs released under Garage Termites. The Dellbones is my go to handle for some of my classic, straight-forward Stone’s type garage stuff. The Fantastic Spasms is my more modern, new-age punk meets early beat-rock stuff handle. I have four or five more releases coming out soon for that act, ranging from a Nirvana type song to a couple of Kink’s styled songs. Just released a song called “What I’m Screaming” that has been receiving some good feedback from some of my more critical friends. I had released an EP with friend Wendell Feltman a few years back under that handle. It was just something we did quickly. But I thought some of those songs came out strong. They had an edge to them. It was time that we switched gears a little. One song, called “Something You Wanted” has a Fidler type feel to it. I’m throwing out a re release of that track soon. And I’m also putting out a few old early country type tracks out under Johnny T and the Honky Tonks. There’s a track called “Rockin’ All Night at the Puss N Boots Supper Club” which has some pretty good Chuck Berry type guitar on it. And a track called “I Love That Rock n Roll” that has some slide on it. Both have a touch of humor to them. See Dave, I’m still all over the map. Can’t stick with just one genre. I need rubber walls installed in my studio.

Why did you start writing?

To confuse some of my old teachers I had who are still alive, Dave, I found out it’s not the Valedictorian that writes an entertaining book, it’s the class clown. Think about it. I was “most likely to flop.” My mind was always somewhere else in school. I hated nearly every second of it. I loved the people, mind you — the characters especially. But when everybody else was on page 27, I was on a ship fighting pirates in the Black Sea.

I see in most of your writings there’s a comedy element. Is this something you picked up from your family while growing up?

Yes, and by living next door to characters like you. Growing up on Lookout Mountain in the ‘70s you needed to see the funny side of life. You needed thick skin, and a keen escape mechanism to deal with the abundant narcism and psychosis that plagued the neighborhood. Seriously Dave, I loved every minute of my childhood. I guess they don’t call me the “Kid” for nothing. I remember you standing across the street holding a football and watching our gang playing tackle in our front yard. Knowing your mom wouldn’t allow you to come over to play in our yard, her intuition was spot on, we would occasionally come over to your yard and play, usually after some convincing on my part, maybe we just needed another body, or I’d explained to the group that this kid would be all-time-center or whatever else we wanted. I can honestly say that you would do anything we asked. You were the most game kid I ever met. I remember you laughing on the bottom of a pile-on more than once. That’s when I knew I really loved you, man. You never cried when you probably should have. You were tough, Dave, now you know why I like humorous people. They give you the opposite of what you expect. And sometimes they keep you out of trouble. But sometimes they get you into trouble. Being dramatic in those days would get you benched quickly. These days they give out awards for being dramatic. There were more characters in our neighborhood than the back lot of Universal Studios: Hunter VonCannon, Tommy Boone, John Adamson and the Taliaferro boys, just to mention a few … I had plenty of comic material to work with sitting within three blocks of my house.

Comedy was something you always had. You used it quiet a lot in a number of songs many years ago. Was that a defense mechanism at work?

Could have been. But again… when in Rome. The half-life of a average comedy song is a week or two unless you’re Ray Stevens. Well, really a lot of country party songs have humor — some on the dark side. But some fade pretty quickly. It’s how you deliver them I guess. “Your Cheating Heart” versus “Hey Good Looking” are great examples. They’re still holding up fine. What’s funny to me is not to some. But if something is serious it’s usually serious to everyone. But there’s a time and place for both. Someone getting married doesn’t want to listen to “Your Cheating Heart.” But a book or a movie is different. You can have both elements that stand strong together. There’s time enough to develop that aspect. But it must be done delicately. A life can be full of tragedy, and comedy can form a nice defense. It’s good to mask the problem until the problem heals naturally. Sometimes the loss is just too much. You must mask it. Dig? My wife died three years ago from a stroke. So it something that has worked for me, I’m here to tell ya. Being around funny characters helped me through it all. Comedy as a defense can be effective in the face of tragedy. It’s a great equalizer against tragedy. And Dave, we’re going see some tragedy. I hope this interview is not tragic for your mag. A friend of mine, Steve Goldstein, once told me it’s, “okay to be serious. It takes both sides.” We were talking about this stuff. I’ll never forget Steve’s words, because it came from one of the funniest human beings alive. Steve had some demons, God rest his soul, but what a great guy and friend he was. A natural comedian. You know, David, you can’t force your way in to being funny like the fat lady elbowing her way into line at Ryan’s Buffet and All-You-Can-Eat Steakhouse. When I wrote this book. I had nothing. I mean the story was there. But that was not enough on the surface. I didn’t know the story was there, really – until I was nearing the end. Then, after writing the last line, I realized I had something. It’s pretty weird. But as a writer you kinda know when you stumble upon something. It’s kind of like telling a story around the campfire … you’re sipping whiskey, the coyotes are howling, and the story just comes out better than expected. Go figure. You start it and just go with it. And now to see my book being promoted by Amazon in the top 25 audio books under the aeronautical genre is a trip. Just behind Sir Richard Branson and ahead of Eric “Winkle” Brown’s book. Eric Brown was a famous ace and test pilot from World War II. Yep, there I sit with a short, cheap, six buck book, along the side of the titans and legends of the flying industry. And I just have over 200 hours flying. Oh well, it is what it is.

When did you become interested in flying?

At a very young age, my brother and I would grab two boards and nail them together and draw instrument on them and lay them in the backyard and pretend we we’re flying over the jungles of Vietnam. His toy plane was always better than mine. His instruments were more defined and better laid out. I was his wingman. 50 years later his efforts paid off. He’s one of America’s top jet-jockey captains. He flies the fastest civilian aircraft, the Falcon. He’s a freight dog. He was one of only a handful of pilots who was cleared to fly on Sept 11th 2001, flying blood into New York City. He’s still burning across the skies today at close to Mach 1.

When did you decide to buy a plane?

After getting my license down in Defuniak Springs Florida, at this damn funky flight school, I was their only student. I decided to take a much needed break after receiving my license and drive down towards South Florida with no particular place to go. About 10 miles into my trip I felt something was wrong. I was in a car and not a plane. I decided right then and there I was having it. Driving a car and dodging the cops and dealing with red lights, and other gravity-grabbing BS was not for me. That line is in the preface of my book. I presume it’s okay to steal a line from myself every once in a while.
Within a month or so I had my plane. It was going to be a Cessna 150, a great, dependable airplane and one that would fit my budget. My budget couldn’t handle a four-seater. Hell, no one would probably fly with me anyway.

So how much did the plane cost?

Not a lot to most that grew up on Lookout Mountain, but a lot to me. I took out one of those $5,000 dollar loans that you’d get in the form of a check in the mail form your credit card company. I had a little extra laying around. Anyway, I talked them down from $10,500 to $8,500 in the first minute. A straight 20 percent off the top is a given in the aircraft industry. Then he said if you can get here in 48 hours, before I have to sign a tie-down contract, you can have it for $7,500. Deal. But there was a problem, Dave. I was in Chattanooga and the plane was in Scottsdale Arizona. But a deal is a deal. I could of flown. Then I decided to call an old friend to see if he wanted to tag alone. Stephen Dyer, also known as “Doc Lock” from talk radio fame, was an old friend of mine. Lock was involved in a bad car wreck years before. He had some physical issues but was managing his life pretty well by then. I asked him and he foolishly said yes. The trip changed from the point on. I should’ve known better. Ha.

How did you guys get along on the trip?

Like a cat and a rat, some would say after reading the book. But really, we got on fine. Lock is the type guy that you blab around with for a few hours then he’d go silent for a few hours. Not a bad traveling companion. See, Lock didn’t care about dying. He had already died twice in the hospital. Fact. Unfortunately they brought him back, some would say. He had a fused knee and elbow, a slight brain injury and he had a hell of a blind spot. Yes, as he would love to proclaim … ‘I’m legally blind in the state of Alabama.’

Why just in the state of Alabama? (laughs)

I don’t know. Talk to your congressman. I wish on occasions, that he’d been declared a mute in all states. They sport talk guys would not argue with me.

How did you all get out there?

We rented a car to save on plane tickets. Alamo had a 99 dollar a day, unlimited mileage, deal with no drop off fee. They lost their ass on that contract. The engine was glowing red-hot when we arrived in Scottsdale Arizona, with four hours to spare. A little road-worn we were, but we made the deadline, bought the plane and still had enough juice that night to go clubbing into wee hours. We all know pilots and nightclubs go hand and hand, right? At least in my book of rules it does. I think I wrote that rulebook before 1980. Sold only one copy.

So how long was it after the trip that you wrote this book?

15 years.

Why did you decide to write the book?

Boredom maybe. I had written a couple of other short stories and I was fumbling around with this story for a while. Then I just did it. Took about a month.

When did you decide to make an audio book out of it?

That came about a year later. In the middle of the night, in fact. I woke up and a voice – one of many that I talk to regularly said make an audio book. It was done within six months. The book was selling pretty well and the audio book craze was hitting. It was a natural step for a guy that doesn’t know what he’s doing from one day to the next.

Why an audio book?

It’s the perfect length, I think. I knew the book would be about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours long. A perfect commute, stuck in traffic, kind of product. The audio book industry is growing rapidly but is still small compared to paperbacks and ebooks. Ebook sales have really dropped off in the last couple years. It was great while it lasted. Paperbacks and print books are coming back. My sales are pretty evenly spread out across the gamut now.

Did you make the audio book yourself?

No. I wanted someone else to do it. And I couldn’t get Dennis Hooper so I put my project up for bid on ACX. And I heard back immediately from an Amazon Insider. Dave Wright got the job. He sent a sample back within a couple days and I loved it. I’m so glad he did it. He loved the project and did a tremendous job. He had some knowledge of flying and delivered the humorous parts with perfection. He added some interesting sound effects as well. He has a great radio voice and had over 120 audio books under his belt at the time. His deft touch pushed the project quality up a notch. I will always be indebted to him. We have a 4.1 star rating on the audio book. He has a mid-western, Bob Barker, no accent type voice. I didn’t ponder more than three seconds about dropping my southern twang desires for this guy.

Would you say this is sort of a Hunter S. Thompson, Gonzo type story?

Yes. It’s got some of that. I’m proud to say.

How is the book selling?

I’m not getting rich, Dave. But it’s nice to have a little something coming in. Most writers need day jobs, just like most musicians and filmmakers; but I haven’t had to worry about the electric bill for five years, but there’s a lot of other bills to worry about. But I’m finding out more and more … having those other bills aren’t so bad, because Dave, it’s all about the trip, the ride, and the struggle … and not the destination.

– Dave Weinthal
Check out Stacey, I mean Jack’s misadventures here. https://www.audible.com/pd/On-Duct-Tape-and-a-Prayer-Audiobook/B00MWFORKA