The Big Questions Podcast Thu, 18 Dec 2014 20:50:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Biker Jason “Bulldog” Mroz on “Sons of Anarchy” and your image vs. self-perception Thu, 18 Dec 2014 20:50:11 +0000

There was a time when the image Jason “Bulldog” Mroz projected — a big, tough, tattoo-covered biker — started to separate from who he was. It started with the birth of his son, helped along by the fatigue of weekend brawling and having a lawyer on speed dial.

In this edition of The Big Questions, Bulldog talks about the culture of motorcycle clubs, TV’s “Sons of Anarchy” and what happens when your exterior doesn’t reflect your interior.

Below is an excerpt of our conversation, but you can listen to the entire podcast on iTunesYouTube and SoundCloud.

Q: Please describe yourself for people.

Mroz: I’m 6’6”, 325 lbs. and covered in tattoos. I’ve got a foot-long goatee, and two big holes in my ears. I’m the most down to earth, friendly person you could ever possibly meet. I’m in sales. I sell motorcycles. So I found a niche. My outward appearance works for me.

Q: What do people think they know about you, just by looking at you? How are they wrong?

Mroz: They assume that I’m that rough and tough guy. Yes I can be, but I am pretty much the opposite of that. I’ve got a heart the size of the rest of me and I’m out to help somebody else. You know, thoughtful, polite.

Q: But there was a transition…

Mroz: Yes, I guess that was probably in my early 20s. Did a lot of bar brawling and fighting for no good reason. There may have been more of that bad boy type person in me I guess, but I grew up.

On May 15, 2001, I had a son. And that changed the way I looked at things. I realized I had more important things to do than keep kicking the ____ out of people for no good reason on Friday and Saturday nights and waking up hung over. He really is what’s spun me around, responsibility-wise. And I’m very thankful for that.

I’m in a much better place now, than I was then. Most of my weekends are with my kid. You know, he is 13 now. And we are doing a lot more things together.

Q: Let’s talk about “Sons of Anarchy.” How is the perception of what a motorcycle club is different from the experience of being in one?

Mroz: Well, it’s definitely great TV. About the only truth to that show is that they are riding motorcycles. The rest of that is all Hollywood.

The camaraderie and the brotherhood are definitely there. I mean, that is what attracted me to the club that I am in. When it comes down to it, I’m cool without my motorcycle and a patch on my back. I didn’t do it for any sort of status. I did it for the sense of brotherhood and knowing that I have other people there that are willing to go the same distance for me that I would for them.

Because of that TV show it’s become popular to be in a bike club. And they are popping up all over the place. The family and the brotherhood and the closeness of what you have. … you can go and join and have fun and ride motorcycles and drink beer and be rowdy with each other and not cause harm to society. But there’s a difference between a motorcycle club and a riding association.

To hear about biker initiations, the role of women in motorcycle clubs and more, listen to The Big Questions on iTunesYouTube and SoundCloud.


David Alan Grier on perils of hero worship: Bill Cosby, Jimi Hendrix and more Thu, 18 Dec 2014 20:46:03 +0000
Comedian and actor David Alan Grier has always been a mix of the outrageous and thoughtfulness.

In this episode of The Big Questions, the Tony-nominated actor and alum of “In Living Color” is both when we talk about the dangers of meeting your heroes – especially when those heroes fall.

In our wide-ranging conversation, Grier talks about his time with Bill Cosby, his early love of Woody Allen and trying to reconcile an icon’s art with their behavior.

Grier is performing this weekend at the Chicago Improv. Tickets and information can be found by visiting

Q: How can we have heroes in a modern day? For example, Bill Cosby was such a pillar of middle class comedy values before multiple sexual assault allegations.

Grier: The Bill Cosby I know, he was a great mentor to me. I had one of the most incredible afternoons in my life. Damon Wayans and I had lunch with Bill Cosby and he opened his whole life to us. It was just amazing how generous and wonderful he was. So I have that as a memory and he brought me onto his show and mentored me …

So, I still have that memory and those incredible experiences. I’m as bewildered and devastated as everybody else hearing these allegations. And basically what I tell my friends is, I say, “Look, if one person tells you, ‘David Alan Grier cut my arm off,’ remember me for the person you know I am. But if 14 do, start wondering.

Q: That’s actually why I brought you here. Is there something that you can confess so I can just sort of cross you off the list?”

Grier: Nothing like that, brother. I’ll tell you something. I’ve done crazy stuff, one time. Twice, maybe. But not a hundred.

Q: But are we in a place in culture now where it is really hard to separate the artist from the art?

Grier: If you are looking for perfection, you have to not look at human beings because there is no perfect person. There are people — I doubt if we are going to find some personal skeletons in Elie Wiesel’s closet. OK, perhaps. But human beings are human beings by nature. By nature they are flawed. And so if you look for perfection, you will always be let down. You can’t control the lives of others.

Q: Is there any path for redemption?

Grier: Of course, if you actively take it. I’ve said bad things, horrible things. We all have. But there’s a difference if it is continued pattern of behavior, as opposed to I said something stupid and I want to make amends for that, and will change my life. I mean, I am about forgiveness. I am not going hold you to something that you said 50 billion years ago.

Q: But is that possible? Michael Richards — his career has never been the same. Is that possible in this media landscape?

Grier: It can be. Tracy Morgan is an example. He said some things and people took great offense to. After this whole brouhaha, and he met with GLADD, he made a really serious attempt at atoning for his misstep.

Listen to the entire podcast on SoundCloud, iTunes or YouTube.

Jonathan Eig on sex and “The Birth of the Pill” Thu, 18 Dec 2014 20:39:26 +0000

Jonathan Eig is best-known as the biographer of Al Capone, Lou Gehrig and Jackie Robinson, but his latest book breaks new ground.

In “The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution,” Eig chronicles the history of birth control pill in a book the L.A. Times calls “a deft study of revolution.”

In this edition of The Big Questions podcast, Eig talks about the development of the pill, Hugh Hefner and how birth control fundamentally changed sex.

Below is an excerpt of our conversation, but you can listen to the full episode on iTunes, SoundCloud and YouTube.

On how the pill changed sex:
Sex before the pill was very different. You might become a mother and your life is going to change dramatically. Sex after the pill … becomes something that you can really do for fun. It completely changes the nature of the act, it completely changes the relationship dynamics. It changes dating. It changes what it means to be a man and a woman and a couple and in love. What can you think of that is bigger than that? What invention can you think of that changed what it means to be in love? That’s the pill. The pill did that.

On the development of the birth control pill:
The Republicans should love this, because it is all like bootstrap stuff with no government funding. These are entrepreneurs, basically. And because birth control was illegal in much of the country, so you couldn’t say, “Hey, we’re going to run a test on this new birth control drug and we’re going to give it to women in Massachusetts”—because you would have been breaking the law. So the fact that they were operating like this, is like these guerrilla warriors. Really was the only way they could have gotten it done.

On why there isn’t a pill for men:
It was a lot easier for these male scientists to tolerate the side effects as long as they were happening to women. There was really little tolerance for male side effects.

But I should also say in their defense — Margaret Sanger and Katharine McCormick — the women who were really behind this effort to invent the birth control pill, the people who had the idea and were funding this, they said this had to be something for women, because women needed to be able to take control of their bodies.

And if it was something that they had to count on men for, it wasn’t going to work. Because men would decide when women would get pregnant, and that was not something they were willing to put up with. They absolutely insisted that this should be a pill for women; that women could take secretly if necessary, that they could stop taking when they wanted to have children again. For Margaret Sanger, the key word was control, when she talked about birth control.

On the pill, the sexual revolution and Playboy founder Hugh Hefner:
It’s not completely responsible for the sexual revolution. There were a lot of other factors involved, including LSD and Hugh Hefner and so many other things. But the pill made it possible, as one of the key ingredients.

It was approved in ’57 just for menstrual disorders, but women figured out what it really did. By 1960 it was approved as birth control. I asked Hefner, “Who is the first woman you ever slept with who was on the pill?”

And he goes, “Ah, geeze I don’t remember the first. But I know that once it was out there on the market, every women I was sleeping with was on it.” And that was the best thing that ever could have happened to him.

He likes to portray himself as an advocate for women’s power, for women’s equality, and for sex and for pleasure, obviously. But he says that he wrote editorials and columns very early on — before even a lot of feminists were picking up on this — that the birth control pill was a tool for women to gain power and to gain equality. He certainly enjoyed the fact that it spread pleasure across the land and he was the king of that movement.

On what he learned from writing the book:
As I got into it I realized: I take birth control for granted. I don’t want to have to use a condom. So what are you going to do? And what men always assume after they declare that they don’t use condoms is that the woman will take care of it. It’s her responsibility. It’s her body. She’s the one who has to get pregnant and carry the child. So, she should have to make the call here and take on that burden.

But that’s really not fair and it’s something that we need to talk about more. Like a lot of men, I didn’t have that conversation. I just let it go and figured we’d work it out somehow and it would all get taken care of. And writing this book has made me aware of the fact that I was not really carrying my end of the burden. That I wasn’t being as thoughtful as I could have been. And men and women need to talk about it. I think that is the bottom line.

Tristen on Bob Dylan, Tori Amos and her life soundtrack Thu, 18 Dec 2014 20:34:22 +0000

She’s a synth-pop alt country queen in search of even more adjectives.

Tristen Gaspadarek, who records and tours under her first name, is equal parts Paul McCartney, Tori Amos and Henry Rollins. In her short career, the songstress has crafted hooky, soaring songs (“No One’s Gonna Know,” “Baby Drugs”) that have garnered a loyal following and raves from outlets such as Rolling Stone, Spin, NPR and Vogue.

Currently touring under her second album, “C A V E S,” the follow-up to her 2011 critically-acclaimed “Charlatans at the Garden Gate,” Tristen took time to talk to the Big Questions.

Tristen grew up in south suburban Lansing, attended DePaul University and cut her teeth playing gigs at the Abbey Pub. She’s since packed her bags for Nashville, where she lives with her lead guitarist and husband Buddy Hughen.

In the excerpt below, Tristen talks about her songwriting process, her influences and being married on the road. To hear the whole interview and Tristen’s songs—as well as samples from her life soundtrack— listen to the Big Questions podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud and YouTube.

On the people in her songs:
They’re composites of people and relationships. It’s not really about one specific person. “Baby Drugs” is about a specific person, but it wasn’t my relationship. No, I get a lot out of my friends’ relationships. A lot.

On being touring with your husband:
It’s perfect. There’s nothing more sexy than a guy who’s really in his prime, creatively, in a band. I mean that is hot. That’s the dream. There is no conflict. You get to see the world together. It’s amazing.

On co-writing songs:
The reason I did it is because I wanted to get involved in my community a little bit more. Co-writing is about getting in a room, and creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable enough to share their ideas and comfortable enough to say when they don’t like something.

On the psychology of music:
I went to DePaul University for relational group and organizational theories of communication. I am really into talking love — the kind of conversation a group of girls will have about their relationships when they’re really good friends.

Tristen’s influences:
In seventh and eighth grade, No Doubt’s record “Tragic Kingdom” was very influential, I have to say. Tori Amos’ song “Jackie’s Strength” — that song is amazing. That record is amazing.

And then we have [Bob] Dylan, that was very much a college discovery and life-altering experience. And Bowie. Everybody listens to Ziggy Stardust in college, I think.

Then I moved to Nashville. I was really into Tom Petty. I got into really traditional country music, so I was obsessed with Wanda Jackson and Skeeter Davis and Loretta Lynn. On Wanda Jackson’s last record, I sang on back up.

Sal Abbinanti on art, comics and selling your childhood Thu, 18 Dec 2014 20:27:17 +0000

Sal Abbinanti is best known as a comic book artist (“Atomika”) and art dealer for fellow artists such as Alex Ross (“Kingdom Come,” “Astro City”) and Bill Sienkiewicz (“Elektra: Assassin”).

In this edition of The Big Questions, Oak Parker Abbinanti talks about comics, raising kids with pop culture, movies and selling your childhood.

Below is an excerpt of our wide-ranging conversation, but you can listen to the entire interview on our podcast “The Big Questions,” available iTunes, SoundCloud and YouTube.

On culling your collections and family photos
It’s just this awful time of your life that you know is coming. You have to do this quick rewind of your life. You have to go through old phone bills and photographs and your grade school report cards. You don’t know what to do with it. Do I throw it away, and am I heartless if I throw it away?

You find a lot of cool stuff. We’re constantly collecting pieces of our youth anyway to remind us of why we started doing this.

I’m like Tom Hanks [in “Cast Away”] on raft, letting the logs go – taking the raft apart, little by little, losing hope.

On comic book art
Most museums—even though you’ve got Basquiat and Lichtenstein, and you’ve got a lot of artists who are pop oriented—they still frown up comic book art. It’s a push, but it depends who you talk to.

Author Jen Lancaster on bucket lists, conservatism and (not) writing about sex Thu, 23 Oct 2014 18:50:05 +0000

Jen Lancaster has built a career on reinventing herself. In “Such a Pretty Fat,” she tackled weight loss. In “My Fair Lazy,” she sought high culture. In “The Tao of Martha,” she lived a life informed by Martha Stewart.

In recent years, Lancaster has also reinvented herself as a novelist, most recently with the sibling rivalry of “Twisted Sisters” and time-traveling delirium of “Here I Go Again.”

A Lake Forest transplant, Lancaster is also our guest editor for the Lake Forester this week, championing Habitat for Humanity as her charity.

Below is an excerpt of our wide-ranging conversation, which included musings on regret, “Twilight,” her bucket list and why she’ll never write a sex scene.

You can listen to the entire interview on our podcast “The Big Questions,” available on iTunes, SoundCloud and YouTube.

Q: Two years ago, while writing “The Tao of Martha” you overcame your fear of Halloween, right?

Lancaster: I had been terrified of Halloween my entire adult life. Loved it as a kid, but the minute I got out of college, there were little kids at my door demanding candy; which, No. 1, I couldn’t afford, and, No. 2, if I had candy, it would be mine. So, I started to avoid Halloween.

So, part of the whole Martha Stewart thing is: Halloween is kind of her Super Bowl. So we had to recognize Halloween. I went all out. I did costumes. I decorated the house. I put glitter on pumpkins, which was the greatest thing to ever happen to me in my entire life.

Q: Am I remembering this right? You called glitter the STD of the crafting world?

Lancaster: It is the STD of the crafting world because it never, ever goes away. If you look at the floor still, there’s glitter here from two years ago.

So I went all out and I bought — and this still makes me angry — I bought 200 full size candy bars, because I wanted to be the house that kids came to and remembered 30 years later saying, “Oh my God, that one place, gave us full size Snickers bars!” So I got all ready. I had everything set. I faced my fear of Halloween and my husband and I sat in the dining room and drank wine on Halloween night waiting for kids who never showed up. We didn’t get one trick-or-treater. Not one.

Q: So how is this Halloween going to be different?

Lancaster: Halloween, I’m not really going to do this year. I’m on deadline for another book. It’s called, “I Regret Nothing.”

Wendy McClure on orphan trains, Laura Ingalls Wilder and ‘un-remembering’ Thu, 23 Oct 2014 18:44:25 +0000

Author Wendy McClure’s writing is expansive — not only because her books cover vast geographic areas and topics, but also because she writes for both children and adults with depth and understanding.

Best known for her memoir “The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie” and her “Wanderville” series, McClure also writes a pop culture column for Bust magazine and edits The Boxcar Children books for Albert Whitman and Co.

Phil Hartman biographer Mike Thomas Thu, 23 Oct 2014 18:33:34 +0000

In this episode, we explore the life of comedian Phil Hartman (“Saturday Night Live,” “NewsRadio,” “The Simpsons”) with biographer Mike Thomas of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Below is an excerpt of our conversation, recorded live at the Book Stall in Winnetka, but to hear the full interview, listen to “The Big Questions” podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud or YouTube.

With this book, Thomas faced the biographer’s quandary of, “How close can you get to the truth of someone’s life?”

A biographer is never sure how close he gets to the truth, Thomas said.

“You can put all the facts together and express them as eloquently as you can, but you can never truly know,” Thomas said. “I didn’t really know how close I got until I started getting feedback from his brothers and his ex-wives and his friends, people who really knew him … who told me, ‘You brought him back on the page.’ ”

But Hartman’s legacy was the fearlessness he brought to roles, often the pompous blowhards he became known for.

“Phil was utterly committed to whatever he did. Jan Hooks told me, even the smallest parts, he played them for blood,” Thomas said.

But the way Hartman died overshadows his career.

Unlike fellow SNL alums John Belushi or Chris Farley, Hartman was not an icon of excess. His lifestyle was not a beacon of caution, which made his death even more shocking. In 1998, Hartman’s third wife Brynn shot him while he slept, then killed herself hours later, leaving two small children.

“Nobody truly had a grasp on his third marriage and how much discord there actually ways,” Thomas said. “So when he was killed, they were stunned. And they are stunned to this day.”

The Big Questions is part of the Sun-Times Media Podcast Network.

Joanne Zienty, author of “The Things We Save” Tue, 30 Sep 2014 17:01:11 +0000

Joanne Zienty recently won the Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author Project for her debut novel “The Things We Save.” In this episode of The Big Questions podcast — recorded in front of a live audience in Elgin’s Gail Borden Public Library — Zienty talks about how the objects we save define us, the path of the modern author and how “Jersey Shore’s” Snooki Polizzi changed her life.

“The Big Questions” is part of Sun-Times Media Local’s Podcast Network. The show is available on iTunes, YouTube and SoundCloud.


Christine Wolf on Judgement vs. Opinion Tue, 30 Sep 2014 16:57:15 +0000

Pioneer Press welcomes new columnist Christine Wolf, who talks about what she learned from a social media mistake and the nature of public apologies.

Check out her first column, about social media theft, here:…redit-youtube/