Jason P. Woodbury and Becky Bartkowski on Writing Stories for Bar Flies: "The Desert Is a Mix Tape"

New Times and The Senators are collaborating on a special edition of Bar Flies that takes place Friday, May 27, at the Musical Instrument Museum. Part concert and part reading, the event's theme is "The Desert is a Mix Tape." The evening will feature live music by The Senators presented alongside stories from Katie Johnson, R. Brad Snyder, Lauren Gilger, Jason P. Woodbury, and Becky Bartkowski. 

Leading up to the event, Bartkowski, who's the culture editor at New Times, and Woodbury, her husband and a music journalist who formerly worked as music editor at New Times, sat down to discuss how they interpreted the theme, what inspired their pieces, and their Bar Flies writing processes. 

Becky: So with the theme "The Desert is a Mix Tape," where did your mind go first?
Jason: My mind went a lot of places. I thought specifically about playing desert shows when I was in high school. Grew up in a really small town with no venues to speak of, so someone would get a generator and we'd play out on someone's ranch or whatever. And of course I thought about long drives in the desert, and the stuff I tend to listen to in the car (though as of late it's mostly podcasts). Ultimately ended up going with something less literal. How about you?

I spent a while thinking about Rob Sheffield's book, Love Is a Mix Tape, and a few of my favorite parts from it — descriptions of his late wife, little things like how she made her own bike shorts, and how he wished he could've shared major pop-culture moments with her, like the Spice Girls.

Then I thought about time I'd spent with particular albums in the desert, which brought me to Katy Perry and Teenage Dream — something I listened to on repeat during solo road trips a few years back. Which, for me, strikes a similar sort of blend of super sugary pop music and sadness. After you chose a direction, how did you dig into the writing of the piece?
Well, I said I went a less literal direction, but I kinda went a more literal direction: I wrote specifically about listening to the desert at night the night I hurt myself pretty bad on a camping trip. I just sorta let my mind drift back to that night and free-wrote about what I remember thinking and hearing. One of my favorite things about Sheffield's book — and his writing in general, he's one of my absolute favorites — is the way he drifts into really personal places when describing the sound he hears. I wanted to do a little of that, too.

Yeah, I also thought about how being a music snob is bullshit.
People so often call me a music snob as a compliment, but I much prefer "enthusiast" or something.

People are the worst. So what was the actual writing of the piece like for you? We've both read at separate Bar Flies before, but we tend to work by ourselves.
Yeah, it's not typically very collaborative once the actual writing starts, but we usually toss ideas at each other beforehand. The actual writing came pretty easy this time, as opposed to others. I guess the adrenaline and fear I felt helped make those memories fairly vivid. I just sat down with my notes and jotted it all out in one sitting, and then refined and reworked from there. How was writing it for you?

Hmm, I started writing little things I remembered from those road trips, then sitting around and thinking about other things that were happening in my life around that time and writing those down, too. Lots of thinking about things. Writing is very exciting, clearly. Though I did enjoy doing some gossip mag research to flesh out the story. But hey, no spoilers.
The next Bar Flies should flip the formula. Instead of dynamic onstage readings, you'll just watch all the authors sit on stage with a laptop, writing their piece in real time. And then they'll go home and read them out loud in the room where they write.

Ooh, or each attendee could take the piece home and read it to themselves. I think this is what they call "high concept." 
This edition is already a little more conceptual than usual than usual, with Americana band The Senators playing live during the event. I'm super curious to see how having a live band plays out. Usually, we have a musical director, but incorporating a whole live component should be interesting.

And we've seen so many good shows at the MIM — Nick Lowe, Through and Through Gospel Review. Remember the time Joel [Marquard] smashed that glass panel onstage and kinda got in trouble?
I saw Nels Cline and Julian Lage there — and it's just one of the best rooms in all of Phoenix.

Yeah, so no pressure, but like all the pressure.

Bar Flies featuring The Senators takes place at 7:30 p.m. at the MIM on Friday, May 27. Tickets range in price from $18.50 to $25.50 and are available through the Musical Instrument Museum's website.

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Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski
Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.