Jen Trynin: Constantness, Anti-creativity and Everything Im Cracked Up To Be
Writing the way people think and speak is an elusive talent that appears like an imaginary carrot in front of the author. I was in theatre for a few years and in rehearsal I would instantly know if the play was going to fall flat in front of an audience. If the script sounded like crap on the page, it generally read the same when performed. A bad actor may be able to interpret strong material but a good actor can’t amplify literary tone deaf notes. I was taught that a writer should also talk about the things that one normally doesn’t say in publicunspoken words can weaken the spirit and damage inner truth. In art, this social discourse is exposed for a momentary lapse of two hour reason within a play, performance or film. In books, this honesty can last from two days to two months depending upon the weight of the tome being readfrom S.E. Hinton’s classic teen angst page turner The Outsiders to Tolstoy’s banquet of humanity, War and Peace.
Everything I’m Cracked Up To Be by musician/author Jen Trynin focuses upon extreme hype as a transitory delusional state through the extraordinary inner monologue of a young woman trapped in an insincere world that promises gold but throws stones of indifference. Trynin was involved in one of the biggest record label bidding wars in 1994 when her single, “Better Than Nothing,” caught the ears of everyone within a mile of the song. Soon, the Boston musician was being thrown around the country in a wild feeding frenzy which eventually landed her at the feet of legendary music industry mogul, Danny Goldberga former Led Zeppelin publicist in the 1970s and no stranger to Olympian expectations. She signed with Goldberg at Warner Brothers but soon afterwards he left the company in a philosophical differences’ battle. Interest then slowly dropped in her album, Cockamamie, after the much more user-friendly Alanis Morissette, hit the scene and Trynin found her career in a painful downward spiral without much label support. Jambands.com interviews Trynin about her wonderfully honest book, the fine art of editing, the music industry, her friendship with Aimee Mann and the future of a life as a writer while learning from the painful lessons of a once promising musical future.RR: I’ve read some favorable reviews of Everything I’m Cracked Up To Be. You also received a rather harsh review in Spin magazine. You have a passage in your book where you said, “Fuck Spin,” in reaction to a very detailed and negative review of your album, Cockamamie. I wonder if the Spin reviewer of your book had an agenda because it seems to me that the point of Everything I’m Cracked Up To Be was totally missed.
JT: I would love it if you said that out loud because that’s kind of the way I felt about it. I also realize that it is totally fine if somebody doesn’t like a piece of someone’s work. I totally respect that but I did later realize that a writer for Spin just wrote a book about a rock band or somethingsome fiction bookand it seems like it’s not getting the greatest reviews. I don’t even know who it is and I haven’t read the book but I know it was compared to my book in a couple of different places and it said that mine was cool and his wasn’t.
RR: The reviewer compared you to a clueless parent which I found to be offensive.
JT: I agree. I forgot it even said that. It definitely sounded like somebodyit’s the old thing: too cool for school. It’s so boring.
RR: Some of their writers are classic white dorks desperately trying to appear hip. Your book begins on November 1, 1994 and ends on November 1, 2004. Is there a reason why you chose not to talk about your background prior to that era?
JT: Yes. When I first wrote the book, it was close to 800 pages and now it’s a little less than 400 . My original idea was that I wanted to write this big, fat book and the music thing did happen in there but I was trying to write the story about a young American girl with one of the new American dreams which is to become a rock star. Originally, I wrote much more about my family and tried to do an arm chair, psychoanalyzation of myself as kind of a How did a silly, little Jewish white girlcollege educated kidend up even wanting to do this’? How did I get there? Because it seemed to me an odd place to have ended up and that was my original thing.
I decided to heed the advice of a lot of people around me once I had an agent and a publisher and an editorall of these people. They thought that I should really hone the book and focus it the way you see it now. I thought maybe they’re right because I realized that I’m not Sting. Nobody really cares about me or what I think about music or art or anything because it’s not like anybody knows who I am. I redid the book. I’m not Sting, so if something smelled like the answer to a question that nobody really asked me, I’d take it out.
RR: That’s really good advice for a writer; I could use that, sometimes. (Laughter) Do you want to talk about how you began as a musician?
JT: You’re not the only person who has noticed [that her beginnings and background were left out of the book]. One of the criticisms which I take as a compliment is that people will say “how come you didn’t tell us more about you?” I wasn’t sure the character of me’ was going to be likable and, if it weren’t, you really wouldn’t care about where I came from so I’m kind of glad people felt that missing in the book because that means I did a good job of making a likable character and a relatable story.
RR: It’s not criticism from me. The fact is that you got someone as busy as me and a parent and I have all of these thingswriting and otherwisegoing on in my life to finish the book in two days because it was an interesting book that told a sharp, poignant tale. Let’s talk about the arc. Once you edited Moby Dick down to Moby, do you feel you succeeded in telling the story that you wanted to tell? Did you have a thesis that you wanted to crack open and expose that wasn’t diluted by its length?
JT: . I think that I’m very, very reasonably happy. That’s the way that I would phrase it now that I’m away from it. I finished it last summer  and I really like the way it came out and I love its streamlinedness and to-the-pointness. If you don’t get the book, it appears extremely point_less_. If you get it, the book is pointed at one lesson or something in particular.
RR: The book is funny without being smug.
JT: I hope so. The thing that makes me sad is because I took out the whole _Moby Dick_ness and just left the _Moby_nessto use your wordsI was kind of trying to draw a portrait of somebody who was more interested in getting in over her head than she was interested in being successful. That’s been a really hard lesson for me to learn in my life. I think I’m not alone in doing things like that. A lot of people become very successful and, then, destroy themselves. I’m not a psychiatrist so I don’t really know but I think there are some people that have talent and an inner drive and they think that what they want to do is to own a huge, successful company butthis sounds so stupid when you say itwhat they really want is somebody to care for them, deeply. Sometimes, I think, what happens is that people achieve a whole bunch of stuff but they don’t have the fulfillment that they thought they were going to feel. They don’t have the inner whatever it was they were looking for so they begin to self destruct to lure somebody in so they can attract somebody to give them love. You have to show your weakness in a really huge way and people do that often by getting in over their heads with success or drugs.
RR: Not to continue the Moby Dick oceanic theme but, what did the first wave of stardom feel like? Did you feel like you were drowning or barely afloat? In the book, you have this wonderfully surreal and symbolic ocean’ sequence where everything was this total blur in Anytown, Anywhere. Your writing matched your mental state as you progressed throughout the narrative. I realized as I read the book that your style would change and, suddenly, I realized why it changed.
JT: Thanks. You really did get the book, didn’t you?
RR: As a writer, I’m always trying to get an honest response from something and I was expecting to read some old, tired story about the mid-90s, post-Nirvana days. You went a step above that to portray the emotional state of what it was like for the main character, yourself, to go through that historically significant period of time.
JT: I’m not big on the historical analysis thing but, yes, that scene that you are talking about is the center point of the entire book, to be honest. As much as it hurt sometimes and as strange as my life has beenboth during that and in its aftermathI don’t regret it at all because it was such a powerful experience. For me, had I had the talent and luck to back up the opportunity I was given, I’m sure I would have looked back on that whole experience very differently. Had I sold a million records, everything would have proceeded in a way that everyone told me it would go.
What made my signing to a label different from a lot of other people is that after being ignored for years, I suddenly put out my own CD back in ’94 when people weren’t doing that. I made up my own little label and pretended that somebody was putting it out and I was subject of one of the biggest label bidding wars of 1995. I was kind of setup and told all of a sudden that I was going to be the next big thing. I wasn’t being told that by two people; I was being told that by almost every major label in the country. That’s a very, very strange position to be in and it felt great for about 48 hours.
Deciding which label to go with went on for about three to four months and talking with people about the setup of what I was supposed to be and deep inside I thought: “This just isn’t ringing true; this doesn’t make sense to me.” It was just very frightening but after a while it’s kind of hard to at least try not to believe your own press because it can only help. Rock stars generally have something in them that they are the greatest thing in the world. That’s how they can get up there and walk around like that. I tried to believe it but I never really did it well. When I was out on the road, things were falling apart very quickly. I was feeling it in strange glimpses because I was so busy. I can’t articulate in a simple sentence how it felt because had I been able to do that I wouldn’t have had to write the book.
RR: Do you look back at your younger self and think that you subconsciously sabotaged part of the process? I can tell you that there are passages where I’m pleading with you in my mind and thinking, “Oh, Jen. You blew it.”
JT: Oh, yes. In trying to transform myself into a writerdaily. practicallyI try to learn from my mistakes in music. There is the artistic process and there is interfacing with the world. I’m a big sabotager and I can feel it at work right now, today. “Oh, give up; you’re such a loser, anyway. Stop it. Why do you think you have the right to write a book or a song, anyway?” I think a lot of us feel that way. I definitely do. “I don’t know why I do it; I just do it. Shut up.” I try to take opportunities as good things instead of being so sure I’m going to fail that I kick the opportunities in the head before they can kick me in the head.
RR: You had a relationship with the bass player in your band and how much of that may have also played into the sabotage of your career?
JT: It wasn’t his fault. I thought he was a great guy and I still do although, I haven’t seen him in a long time. That was just a symptom of my not focusing, you know? (laughs) I had a lot on the line and instead of really paying attention to what I should have been paying attention to which is do this interview well, perform well tonight and all of that stuff, I was hiding from it and getting too drunk and not taking care of myself and having this heavy flirtation with this guy that was just sort of inappropriate and a little foolish and distracting.
RR: Why do you consider it inappropriate? There is no logic to physical attraction.
JT: That’s true.
RR: What does seem typical albeit strange is that the band members, including the bassist, didn’t realize that, in the end, the trip was going to be about you.
JT: I think most people that were around me totally understood that. He did a lot of the times but like any of us he’d get overtired and I’d get bitchy and he would just get sick of it. It was practically hard for the two guys that came on the road with me supporting that first record because they didn’t play on the record. I had just met them and I had been playing with the drummer for about six monthsnot even when all hell broke loose for me and I, literally, had gotten together with the bass player three weeks before everything went crazy. Everybody liked them but I think that everybody else in the music community was seeing them as pretty replaceable. I think they felt that and the drummer could accept that for some reason and the bass player at the time was having a hard time accepting that. I’ll tell you, in the same situation, I would have had a hard time accepting that. They had been playing music as long as I had been. There is some part of you that wants to get the same recognition as anybody else. It’s not rational, practically; it’s just a feeling.
RR: You were occasionally hanging out with Aimee Mann at the time. She has definitely been very successful at releasing her own work on her own labelsomething you had started doing back in the early 90s.
JT: As I say in the book, I didn’t know who she was and she just seemed like a cool-looking person to me. As I’ve slowly gotten to know her over the years, I’ve always admired her because I think she creates very beautiful, heart-wrenching art. Some of her music is some of my favorite songs ever. I really respect that and I watched her go through many years of really having a hard time in the business side of music. Then I watched her put it together. When she moved out to L.A., I was kind of bummed out because she used to live out here in Boston. She started to meet people and her music got focused upon in that movie, Magnolia, and that really gave her a great opportunity to recreate herself. Now she puts out her own music and makes more money than just about anyone I know. I respect the hell out of her and she knows that.
RR: Do you still continue making music?
JT: Not much. I didn’t play for two years after I got dropped [from the label]. I just had had it. I didn’t even really like to hear the sound of my music, at all. I got married a couple years after that to the same guy that I had been with forever. There were some friends around here [Boston] who started a new band and they told me to stop being such a wiener and come out and play guitar in this band. And so I did. I played with themthey were called Lovelessfor about four or five years until they broke up which makes me very sad. It has been about a year or so and I really haven’t been doing much music. I’ve been doing some in the last month to promote the book which has been sort of weird. I miss music a lot. I would love to play in another band.
RR: How was your book tour last month?
JT: Honestly, it was one of the best weeks of my life. I might write about it in this blog thing I’m doing. Chiefly, it was wonderful because a lot of the people that I had based characters upon or that are characters that were clearly this personif you were in the music business or around during that time, you would know exactly who that person wasI sent the book to before it came out. Everyone is just being a really good sport and seeing and reading the book in the light that it was meant. I’m not trying to get even with anybody or anything like that. I’m just telling the story.
When I did readings in New York and L.A., a lot of the people that were characters in the book came to the readings. It was one of the greatest gifts that life has ever given me. The last time I had seen these people or had contact with them, there was all of this disappointment or anger or whatever because everything had gone so poorly in my music career. And to see them again with a smile on their face and hug me and to have it all feel good was just a really wonderful thing.
RR: You probably didn’t consider that positivism when you were writing the book.
JT. If anything, I was petrified. I used pseudonyms and the only names that are real are the ones in the public domain like Danny Goldberg, Courtney Love and David Geffen.
RR: I laughed every time I read this particular word choice and you’d probably think, “Why?” You used the word “boys” quite a bit instead of “men.”
JT: Boys? Really? Huh.
RR: At the time, did you view these people as just “boys,” because it is what some people would view rock and roll asguys that are boys that haven’t grown up?
JT: That’s really interesting. I’m thinking of the times that you are citing and I’m thinking back about what I was saying and I didn’t realize I did this. (laughter) You actually caught something that is very real. [In the book] there is the first band photo and I’m just “banging around the city with a bunch of boys.” There’s another one that says “this is what helps: alcohol, cigarettes and boys.”
RR: That’s a great album title right there for you.
JT: You know what, I’m going to go back and look but I think that what you are catchingagain, I didn’t realize that
RR: It is not a criticism. I just chuckled at the word choice. [Writer’s Note: The interviewer is the notorious copy nitpicker for this site which includes the legendary and beloved Mike Greenhauswordsmith extraordinaire, 24/7 typo machine.]
JT: No. No. No. I’m not taking it as such. From the original 800-page bookand I do cover it in this book but I’m not sure if it’s as apparentthat my whole fantasy or drive about going into music in a lot of ways was this fantasy vision that I had of myself which is common for lots of people, I think. Walking around the city and being in my 20s and beautiful like a picture of Joni Mitchellbeautiful and impervious to the frailties of others and just a cool chick and I could handle myself and I was not afraid. Throughout the book there are moments, in my own way, I touched on that feeling about me. I think whenever I was having this feeling of a fake me in the future, I see all men, all males as boysthat original sexy state of boyhood. Does that make sense?
RR: Before the corruption and wrinkles set in
JT: I don’t know. Sexy men are still boys to meall still in their original state.
RR: You touched upon the hypocrisy of “Jen Who?” and then, “Oh, hi, Jen!” and the Parting of the Red Sea for you and all of that sort of stuff. Was that odd?
JT: That was very odd. It’s not hypocrisy, exactly. You can see it that way but if you peel back that first layer, it’s just the way of the worldespecially in these types of heavy network businesses. All show business is about networking and who you know and if you’re standing next to them and what table you’re sitting at, you know, like high school. If you start feeling that hypocrisy coming at you, you’re doing something right. All of a sudden, you’re in a power position.
RR: That’s a better way to state it. You’re right. In the book, there was a phone call where someone at a label was very interested in signing you, puts you on hold, comes back on the line and they don’t want you anymore.
JT: Yes. WellI did understand when it happened. I was talking to these managers who I was really into as a management team but they scared me because I had heard really scary things about them. I was just nervous about going with them even though I wanted to go with them. They were talking me up and kissing my butt for a long time. The main guy who I was talking tohe had been in the business for a long time and he felt my unassuredness much more as time went on and he got this wiggy feeling that I didn’t know what I was doing. And he was right. He said it to me and that’s why I liked him. He seemed like a really smart guy to me. It was weird because the first part of the phone call he was doing his usual kiss ass’ thing and, then, all of a sudden it just hit him. He came back from talking with somebody and he said, “You don’t know what you want. I don’t want to work with you anymore.” That was it. He never spoke with me again.
RR: It is ironic because you do appear to have a charming sense of self-assuredness. I hope the book is a success so it opens up some new ideas for you.
JT: Yeahyou and me both. I’m just hoping that this book does well enoughI don’t even know what that meansso I could have a career in writing. I’m still finding out about what I’m good at in writing so I guess I’m feeling like I’m just sort of floating there and hoping that I could write. That is really it. We’ll see. I don’t know how to do anything. I did rock and now I’ve been doing writing and if the writing thing doesn’t work, I’m a little bit screwed. (laughter)
RR: Unfortunately, we do share a little bit of that boat. It is not such a bad thingof course, I would say thisto know how to write. Everything I’m Cracked Up To Be is tight, straightforward, no nonsense, no apologies, no regrets and I think you made the wise choice by keeping the length somewhat brief. It was also refreshing and somewhat cool that you didn’t have a wide knowledge of pop culture.
JT: I always wrote my own music and maybe, because of that, I wasn’t as nearly into other people’s music as all of my teenaged friends were. They would say, “Oh, did you hear the new Bruce Springsteen record?” It’s not that I was against it; it’s just that I wasn’t as interested. I was just really into writing music. Throughout my entire life, I would have a few tapes and I would listen to them incessantly to understand song structure so I could write my own music. I just never got into that whole other thing and it never bothered me and affected my life until I got into this music world thing where I was trying to be this supposed cool personwhatever that means in this environment.
What happened was all of the other people were really into different bandsbands like Cheap Trick and Def Leppard and whomever and they would make all of these references and, at first, I would say “I don’t know who that is,” but people would look at me very strangely so I stopped doing that. I would go along with the conversation and say “Oh, yeah, sure. Of course, I know that band. I love that band,” just to kind of skate by the whole thing. Then, when I got cockywhich was during the label bidding war thing and the real major label sitch in the music worldI put it in my bio that “I don’t listen to a lot of music so please don’t embarrass me by asking me a bunch of questions about it.” I think what happened was that people that were very invested to listening to music got very offended by that. They thought I was being really callous and a jerk and really conceited. Some people would jump down my throat and say “Jennifer Trynin claims no real influence on her music” or something like that and that was totally not what I was saying. I was just trying to get out of the whole situation. I found it a little bit embarrassing that I didn’t know what they were talking about. I didn’t really know the lingo but that’s just the way it was.
RR: Did you feel that you needed to research how to pigeonhole yourself or was it the Alanis Morissette factor that came around and took over the charts?JT: Who knows? Marketing on that level to that many people is so, so difficult. Very few people market themselves in the way that they originally set out to do. I kind of can’t answer that. I did the best that I could. The fact is that if radio was a little bit different, my fate would have been a little bit different. On the radio stations that she and I were being played on simultaneously, if there had been a little bit more room for female voices, it wouldn’t have mattered that she was doing so well. I could have done O.K. too. The way things were and the way it was explained to me at the time, they were just like “listenon this particular radio format in this particular year, she’s taking up the spot.” Obviously, I was affected but so were tons of other women which was just a big fat drag.
RR: Speaking ofthis is a strange segue and I don’t mean out of big fat drag’. You were asked to go on the Lilith Fair with all of the female singer/songwriters and you refused because you had done the Wednesday through Sunday club’ female singer/songwriter gig in the past. Do you regret not going or did you say “Screw it. I’m not going on an all girl tour”?
JT: To have been part of the Lilith Fair might have helped me. To be honest, by the time that whole thing was happening, I was just moving towards the end of something within myself with what I had to offer musically. I don’t know why exactly at the time. I just didn’t want to be a part of that. It was probably a little bit immaturelike you saidI’d always said that I didn’t want to take the blows of the woman, to be unfairly treated because I was a woman. I felt like I was being taken advantage of because I was a woman by hopping on the Lilith Fair. It was kind of being a hypocrite a little bit.
RR: It’s easy to dump everyone in a pile, put a stamp on it and say, “Here you go.”
JT: Yeah, and you know, it’s not like I’m so unique. I don’t know why, I just can’t stand to be put into groups just because I’m a girl. It’s so stupid.
RR: One of the victories of the book is that you maintained your dignity and core. Do you have that sense when you look back upon the pages?
JT: I hope so. I don’t know. You can answer that question more easily than I can. Had I had more opportunity to be successful, had it gone in a more positive direction, who knows what would have happened or affected me as a person? All I know is given that situation, given what happened there, I chose to return to just being a regular person, to who I was in actual life. I definitely miss some of the excitement of that time and the activity level but there are a lot of times now where if I want a lot of activity I can create it myself by just getting involved in lots of things. I didn’t like the constantness of that life. I thought it was a little anti-creativity because there were so many people around all of the time. That wasn’t so good; even though, it makes life a little easier because it is more things to distract yourself from what is really going on.