The How I Learned Series features writers, storytellers, comedians, and other raconteurs holding forth on a different theme. It all happens every last Wednesday of the month, and sometimes more than that, which basically means you will have the best night of your life on those nights, repeatedly.

Behind The Music: How I Learned

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Hello! Last week's music themed How I Learned was delightful and bananas! We had grand ruminations, live music, funny stories, dramatic reenactments and visual aids. What more do we as a people want out of life? If you were there, THANK YOU. Here are some sweet, sweet memories for your virtual scrapbook. If you missed it, here's a roundup. It's alright to cry. There's always next month.

I'd wanted to do a music theme ever since I started this series 18 months ago. After all, not everybody knows that I was conceived in 1972 in London after a Jon Hendricks concert. I guess the vocalese orignator's live scat really made my parents want to do it. (Gross.)

Also, in case you’ve ever wondered who goes to see Johnny Mathis in concert, the answer is THIS LADY. (If you could see me right now you'd know that I am pointing to myself.) Yes, I went to see Johnny Mathis, along with my mother and her gay husband—my stepfather. In fact, I was taken to most of the concerts the adults in my family went to so that by the time I was 10 years old I’d not only seen Johnny Mathis, but also Ray Charles, Gil Scott-Heron, Tina Turner, The Pointer Sisters, Beatlemania with Marshall Crenshaw as John Lennon, Lou Rawls, Dionne Warwick and Miss Diana Ross. I was also taken to a generous amount of musicals as a child, not the least of which was the original Broadway production of Dreamgirls. I know what you’re thinking: "Is she actually a gay man?" The answer is: Most likely, yes.

I feel like the first music video I ever saw was On The Loose by Saga, thanks to my babysitter, Stacey DeMaio, and the dawn of MTV. The first LP I ever bought with my own money was 1999 by Prince. The first cassettes I bought were The Cure’s The Head on The Door, The Smiths’ Meat is Murder, and Squeeze, Singles: 45’s and Under. The first rock autograph I ever scored? Glenn Frey. (It’s okay to be jealous.) My first Led Zeppelin album? Naturally, Led Zeppelin IV. A friend who I've known since high school came over one night when I had Houses of The Holy playing. She said, “This is like when we were 16 and had sketch books.” It's true. Led Zeppelin has, like, 5 songs on the soundtrack-in-progress to my adolescence. It's a box set. And don't even get me started on The Cult.

I’ve never understood people who aren’t utterly transported by music. Similarly, I never understood people who made mixtapes without putting the song titles and the artists on the back of the cassette. I seriously doubted their commitment to The Music. June's How I Learned Music Could Change My Life was all about our commitment to The Music.

ERIN BRADLEY, getting by with a little help from her friend (sorry, I couldn't help myself!) who served as a "human film strip," read to us about an elaborate (and slightly rapey?) fantasy about Axl Rose, which she concocted when she was 14 in order to help her fall asleep at night. That girl has one vivid imagination I can really get behind.

DANIEL NESTER, truly a force to be reckoned with, shared his mega obsession with Queen by reading vignettes from his book God Save My Queen. He then introduced his friend, Gene Cawley, who wasn't afraid to totally rock out with an acoustic version of Queen's anthemic love song, "Fat Bottomed Girls."

"Get on your bikes and ride!"

Rolling Stone contributor and Love is a Mix Tape author, the great ROB SHEFFIELD, read a personal essay about being a young, impressionable fan of The Smiths. He thought Morrissey knew the answers to everything, only to feel devastatingly betrayed at the realization that he didn't. The piece was from Rob's forthcoming book (which you should obviously buy at the same time that you buy Erin's new book, Every Rose Has its Thorn, and Dan Nester's latest, How to be Inappropriate), called Talking to Girls About Duran Duran. It comes out in July.

"'You should never go to them. Let them come to you. Just like I do. Just like I do.' Jesus. Thanks A LOT, Morrissey."

Uke-toting comic, BEN LERMAN, simultaneously dirty and adorbs, relayed the life-changing night he survived a Grateful Dead concert and inadvertently came out not just on the other side, but out of the closet. Then he sang an original song--actually, a parody of an Ace of Base hit (lord, remember them?)--about being faced, literally, with a lady's labia. Yep.

Also, remember when I told you about this event before it happened, and I said that I was going to have a special guest? Well, I did! And it was Michael Hutchence! Actually, it was my friend ANDY HORWITZ, but I'm pretty sure no one could tell the difference.

Andy, a writer/performer, creator of, Performing Arts Curator for the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and star of The Promise of New York, helped me share a piece of INXS fan fiction I "crafted" in 1987 at the age of 15. Andy blew me away with his masterful interpretation of the late Michael Hutchence.

Needless to say, the story is majorly cringe-inducing and the embarrassment factor is off the charts. But, obviously, that's how committed I am to The Music.

Thank you to every single one of you who came out to support and enjoy How I Learned last week. You guys rock my world.

Please join us on July 28th for How I Learned I was Right All Along! Details coming soon.

xoxo Blaise

PS. If you haven't already, join the mailing list by dropping me a line at to get event announcements and reminders--that's only two emails per month!

How I Learned photos by: Jon Boulier

But The Baker Never Learns!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hello HIL Friends,

This Wednesday's How I Learned--How I Learned Music Could Change My Life with four fantastic folks on the bill, a special guest, and me (but don't let that very last bit deter you)--is going to be pretty excellent, I'd say. Plus, it's a Time Out Critic's Pick:
"The reading series welcomes Rob Sheffield (Love is a Mix Tape), Erin Bradley (Every Rose Has Its Thorn), Ben Lerman (Feast of Fools) and Daniel Nester (How to Be Inappropriate) to muse on the galvanizing experience of music. Don't expect an Oprahfest: All [the guests] lace their tales with comic observation."
(Although, as most of you know by now, I do love an Oprahfest.) Thank you, Time Out!

So, come out on Wednesday for the stories, and the fun, and the drinks, and leave with a song in your heart (and some free stuff too).

Meanwhile, here's a song that changed my life. Enjoy!

(By the way, is it just me or is the "7 ducks" part of this vid one of the best moments in life ever?)

The Good Times Are Killing Me

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Hello! Let's take a moment to celebrate some good-time news from the How I Learned Alumni department.

CLAUDIA COGAN killed on Last Comic Standing tonight! She was adorbs. Did you see it? Sorry I forgot to tell you sooner. Is this a spoiler? ...Boy, I hope she makes it! Two other lady comics and previous HIL performers are featured on The Frisky as ones to watch and also laugh at: CHELSEA PERETTI, GIULIA ROZZI. Meanwhile, ROSIE SCHAAP has gone dutch (that's World Cup talk) on NPR, LIAM MCENEANEY is making a live concert movie out of Tell Your Friends!, MIKE ALBO (handsomely pictured) wrote The Twinkle Takeover for New York mag, DIANA SPECHLER has a Modern Love piece in the New York Times, and there are books on the shelves right now, or coming this summer, from How I Learned readers including BEN GREENMAN (What He's Poised To Do), RACHEL SHUKERT (Everything is Going to be Great), and ERIN BRADLEY (Every Rose Has Its Thorn), who'll be back on the How I Learned stahge next freaking week!

I should probably add that I know there is even more going on out there but frankly, I can't keep up. I'm just one little me and there are only about eight or nine hours in the day, I think. However, I can assure you that I support everyone and everything they do forever even if I have no idea what they're up to.

While I'm doing that, I hope you'll plan on coming to next week's HOW I LEARNED MUSIC COULD CHANGE MY LIFE on June 23rd for giveaways, a special guest (!), and an excellent lineup of smart folks -- Rob Sheffield, Ben Lerman, Daniel Nester and, as mentioned, Erin Bradley -- musing on music in a seriously laugh-out-loud kind of way. The good times just keep coming. Weird!


Summer's here, people. So gather your tailgate party favors, your boom boxes, your backstage passes and a wad of cash for concert t-shirts because June's theme is How I Learned Music Could Change My Life. (It's probably going to change your life.)

See you at the show!


The How I Learned series presents


ROB SHEFFIELD, contributing editor at Rolling Stone and author of Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time (Random House, 2007). Rob has been a rock critic and pop culture journalist for over fifteen years, with work appearing in Blender, Spin, The Village Voice, GQ, and elsewhere. He has also appeared on various MTV and VH1 shows, and his forthcoming second book, out next month, is called Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut
ERIN BRADLEY, a writer, journalist, and two time How I Learned alum, is celebrating the release of her first book,  Every Rose Has Its Thorn. A native of East Detroit, Erin attended Michigan State University, where she earned a degree in Human Resources (don't worry, she doesn't know what that is, either.) Early success as a dating blogger led to a weekly advice column, as well as alienation for past boyfriends and pleas from her parents to tone it down. For the past 5 years, she’s been the author of "Miss Information", a sex and dating advice column for

BEN LERMAN, a twisted ukulele-playing singer-songwriter. His hilarious songs—which he has performed at festivals and theaters across the country, on Logo TV, Here TV, and Sirius Radio—come directly from the heart, though possibly the heart of a developmentally challenged baboon.
DANIEL NESTER, author of How to Be Inappropriate, a collection of humorous nonfiction, and two books on his obsession with the rock band Queen. His writing has appeared in places like The Morning News, The Daily Beast, The Rumpus, McSweeney's, and Bookslut, and collected in places like Lost and Found, Open City, Best American Poetry, and Best Creative Nonfiction. He works at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY, where he teaches this subject called creative nonfiction, the definition for which he has to explain more often than he would like.

PLUS: A Special Guest!
Created, produced, curated and hosted by 

Wednesday, June 23rd
8:00 (Doors open at 7:00)
302 Broome Street
between Forsyth + Eldridge
(It's the pink awning that says "XIE HE Health Club")
J, M, Z, F to Delancey
B, D to Grand


We Are So Grounded

wMonday, June 7th, 2010

Dear Everyone,

Thank you to all the sons and daughters (and parents!) who joined us for last month's How I Learned It's Basically All My Parents' Fault. Here's one personal fear about having kids: one day my children will grow up to be writers and storytellers (or worse--actors), and they will gather up all the myriad ways in which I fell shamefully short as a parent and they will TELL THE WORLD.

Here are some pictures, courtesy of Jon Boulier, of us selling our parents down the river:

JANICE ERLBAUM read from her forthcoming memoir, My Mother Is Crazy. I really can't say enough about how inspiring I find her to be. I'm sort of in awe of her. I mean Janice, not her mother. Although her mother, we know, is inspiring in her own special way.

TERENCE MICKEY of the great Moth storytelling series empire, shared an excerpt from his novel based on a totally different empire: his family's garbage business.

I know I'm either explaining how my mother fucked me up for life, or I'm quoting Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club, because that's pretty much what I do every day.

RACHEL SHERMAN completely captured the audience with a true tale crafted just for How I Learned. The story began with prank calling her childhood therapist. Man, I wish I'd thought of that as a kid.

RAKESH SATYAL, author of Blue Boy, read from his new novel-in-progress and then broke into a rousing a capella rendition of Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach." Yes. He. Did.

I continue to be fortunate enough to have great performers and fun crowds so my parents must have done something right. I GUESS.

Stay tuned for June 23rd's How I Learned super spectacular. Bring your ghetto blasters, your concert t-shirts, and your backstage passes for HOW I LEARNED MUSIC COULD CHANGE MY LIFE. Hope to see you there! Stay tuned...

xoxo Blaise

Photo Credit: Jon Boulier