Or, I shook Johnny Cash’s hand.

Jeff Spevak spoken word

Photo: Aaron Winters

Yeah, I shook the hand of Johnny Cash. He was a big man. I did a shot of whiskey with Bo Diddley and sang with Tina Turner for about 11 seconds. A Cleveland-area native, I’ve also lived in Texas, Idaho and New York.

I spent four decades wrapped up in newspapers like a market-fresh red snapper. For the last 27 years of that, I was the music critic and entertainment writer at the daily newspaper in Rochester, NY, and in the last decade of that reign collected seven first-place finishes in the New York State Associated Press Association Features Writing Contest. I was published in High Times and Musician magazines. A friend, Scott Regan, published a collection of his drawings of musicians performing at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival, and supplemented them with haikus I wrote at those shows. The book is called Jazz Lines.

My involvement in the arts became more personal. I created a competition barbecue team, The Smokin’ Dopes, that actually won trophies and ribbons. After having never been on a stage for the first four decades of my life, I began performing at tributes to Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and Johnny Cash. I wrote spoken-word pieces and read them to the accompaniment of avant-garde jazz music.

But in September of 2017, I found myself unemployed, laid off in a nationwide defenestration of arts writers.

It is a bad time for the noble calling of newspapers. I wish them all well.

And how did I feel about my career coming to an end? Relief. It was time to move on.

I’d been writing for myself for a few years anyway. The pile of manuscripts on my desk includes short stories, essays, a non-fiction book on the Boston Red Sox and two novels. And I’m writing a third novel. You’ll find excerpts from many of them on this site, under “Works.” The two lines on the paper in the vintage typewriter at the top of this site are the opening words to one of those novels, A Bottle of Mezcal: “On this world, the dead outnumber the living 10 to 1. We’ll never catch up.”

And there is Chasing the Wind: The Humble, Epic Century of a Sailor. My biography of a 93-year-old veteran. During World War II his ship, Vincennes, was sunk during the Battle of Savo Island, the worst open-sea defeat in the history of the United States Navy. Ernie Coleman spent the rest of his life fleeing the horror of that moment by sailing the waters of Lake Ontario. Ernie’s family and I self-published the book in April of 2012. It sold about 1,200 copies, not bad for a little regional effort.

Then Lyons Press bought an extensively re-written version of the book. It will be published, in hardcover and under a different name, in April of 2019. “Provocative books for intelligent readers” is how Lyons was once describing itself. I like that.

Loch Ness Monster? No. An alien spaceship crash at Roswell, N.M.? No. Ghosts? No. A hollow Earth populated by a secretive race of sentient beings? No. Bigfoot? Yes.

“He’s very intelligent and funny too!”

– Lucinda Williams, Grammy-winning singer/songwriter and heartbreaker