An Interview With .... David 'Treppenwitz' Bogner.
Now please enjoy this interview with David of the Treppenwitz blog.
Life-Of-Rubin: What city were you born in?
Treppenwitz: Long Beach, New York. I only lived there for a few months before we moved, though. Here are some other places I've lived:
Troy, New York
New paltz, New York
San Diego, California
Beer Sheva, Israel
New York, New York
Brooklyn, New York
LOR: Please describe for us your idea of a perfect dinner.
Tossed green salad with duck confit
Plate of toast rounds with pâté de foi gras
Snifter of Pappy Van Winkle's 23 year old bourbon
64 oz. perfectly marbled Prime Porterhouse steak (medium rare) served with bernaise sauce and sides of steamed spinach, baked potato and freshly baked bread.
A glass or two of any good 'oaky' Merlot
Crème brulee and/or orange flan with caramel sauce
A small wedge of bittersweet chocolate
Strong Turkish coffee or double espresso
A glass (or two) of good Port
Dining Companion (the most important ingredient of all):
My lovely wife Zahava.
[We've had this exact meal on more than one occasion]
LOR: Can you tell us what inspired you to become a musician?
Trep: After years of taking piano lessons I heard a trombone for the first time and fell in love with the sound. I was too young to play the instrument (my arm wasn't long enough) so I took lessons on the Bass Fiddle to become more comfortable with reading base clef. The moment I could reach 7th position (I cheated and used a rubber band to keep the slide from falling off) I switched over to trombone and never looked back.
LOR: If you could choose any three musicians to jam with anywhere in the world, which would they be? Oh and they have to be living. (Sorry - Jimmy Hendrix, Shlomo Carlebach and Beethoven are just too easy an answer.)
Trep: [I'll assume you mean other than the one's I've already had the pleasure of jamming with]
1. Bill Watrous 2. Christan Lindberg 3. Eddie Bert
(All trombonists, for those not in the know)
LOR: What (if any) Jewish Music are you listening to these days?
Trep: If by 'Jewish music' you mean music composed, arranged and/or performed by a Jew, I don't think there's much value in differentiating between that and music composed, arranged and/or performed by non-Jews. It's either good or bad.
However, if you mean music of a purely Jewish nature, I'd have to limit the list to a couple of old Benzion Shenker recordings of Modzitzer niggunim and the Carlebach Oeuvre (performed by the composer himself! If Reb Shlomo could have heard what some of these unwashed poseurs (whoops, did I say that out loud?) are doing to his innocent Jewish music he would probably have stipulated in his will that his body be wrapped in copper wire and placed inside a magnetic coffin so that he could at least supply the world with abundant free electricity as he spun rapidly in his grave).
LOR: What would your blog be like if you hadn't moved to Israel. Do you think you would even have a blog?
Trep: I doubt there would be a blog. I started treppenwitz because I am bone lazy and couldn't bear the idea of having to email my family and friends individually to keep them apprised of our goings on here in Israel. I set up the site with the idea that whenever there was anything newsworthy worth sharing or a few new pictures I'd post them. This would place the onus of checking in entirely on everyone else! What I didn't anticipate were all the other people who would inexplicably take an interest in what I had to say.
LOR: I know you've sort of addressed this on your blog - but if you could go back to the beginning WOULD YOU start off as a anonymous blogger?
Trep: I go back and forth on this issue (because time travel is such a pressing issue), but if I had it to do over again I would still probably be completely 'out'. I've found that the occasions when I've truly longed for the expressive freedom that anonymity would provide are usually the times where I want to say something really irresponsible or really hurtful. I truly believe that if I had the opportunity to do either of those things on a regular basis it would slowly blacken my soul.... and I'd end up like any of the trolls who spew their anonymous filth all over the blogosphere. Being 'out' forces me to act responsibly (most of the time, anyway).
LOR: Speaking of going back to the beginning, if you could what other name than 'the wit of the stairs' would you choose for your blog?
Trep: I've actually grown to love the name treppenwitz (along with its wonderful meaning), although I have to admit that I didn't anticipate people calling me 'Trep (or treppie). But as they say: 'Into each life some rain must fall'.
However, if I had to chose another name for my site... I'd probably choose:
'Laying the groundwork for an insanity defense since 1961'
LOR: You don't shy away from speaking from the heart on many issues. Is that hard given that you are not an anonymous blogger?
Trep: I'd have to say that my big problem (as you correctly point out) is speaking from the heart and not from the head... not the fact that I write under my own name.
LOR: Psycho Toddler, who is another blogger who uses his real name and also is a musician, has children that are now of bloggable age. In fact they are blogging. Do you think when your own kids reach that age they will also want to blog?
Trep: Mark and I go back many years and have even performed together on occasion, but I don't know his family well. In fact, I only really know them from his descriptions... and from their blogs. But my impression is that they are all quite extroverted. Both of my big kids are extroverted in their own way, but I don't know if they would feel comfortable with this particular form of public self-expression. Only time will tell. The most likely scenario is that, like Zahava, they will occasionally guest-post on treppenwitz. Who knows... maybe one of them will take it over one day.
LOR: One of the things that everybody loves about Teppenwitz is that you take the time to answer or reply to every comment. How important is something like this in maintaining a good relationship with your readers?
Trep: I would argue with the basic assumption you've made in that first sentence since I can name of plenty of people who have expressed feelings for my site (and me) ranging from dislike to disdain. But setting that aside for the moment I'll address the whole 'responding to comments' issue: If a writer makes the decision to allow comments on their site (and I can make a compelling argument for going either way on this issue), they are making a tacit agreement to engage in a dialogue with anyone who shows up and responds to what is posted.
To allow comments and then not respond to them is like inviting someone to play tennis... repeatedly showing off your fancy serve... and then refusing to return any of the volleys.
Who would stick around for that sort of nonsense?
LOR: Now that I have you here, tell us the truth, does your wife being the designer of the winners badges for the JIB's have anything to do with the fact that you win so many? :-)
Trep: I'm assuming this is a gag question, [Ed. Note, It was] but I'll play along...I've seen this particular accusation floated in the darker corners of the J-blogosphere and it's one of those things that baffles me. Just like those who ignored the open nomination process and then accused Aussie Dave of stacking the JIBs with only right-wing and/or religious blogs... anyone who would say that treppenwitz gained a meaningful edge in the JIBs voting because Zahava designed the logo is willfully ignoring the mechanics of how the voting was conducted.
A more cogent question would be whether the fact that treppenwitz is featured several times a week on the Jerusalem Post's 'Blog Central' should have disqualified it from being in the JIBs at all. The same could be asked about several others, such as the Dry Bones blog that had ammassed a tremendous amount of brand equity from having been featured for several decades in the Jerusalem Post.
I honestly don't know how I feel about this. How does one quantify enough additional exposure to qualify it as an unfair advantage. Should such additional exposure also disqualify bloggers who regularly contribute to group blogs and journalistic forums? Should it disqualify bloggers who are well known in political, journalistic or entertainment circles?
Blogging/Journaling is measured according to many criteria; One is quality. Another is popularity. It isn't enough that you are the best damned writer on the planet if nobody knows about you.
Obviously one of the main goals of the JIBs is to increase people's awareness of as may blogs as possible. But the ones that get the most votes are (in theory) the ones that have met both the quality and popularity requirements. So if a blogger/journaler has fulfilled these two requirements to such an extent that other sites start featuring them (potentially making them even more popular) should they then be handicapped, or even disqualified, for having achived that level of 'success'?
I honestly don't know the answer to that question, but if by next year there is a growing feeling that blogs/journals like mine should step aside and let some of the new writers have their moment in the sun... I'd have no problem with that whatsoever.
LOR: How does one measure if their blog is successful?
Trep: I already considered treppenwitz a success before I even published my first entry. Some people measure success in numbers... of links... of comments... or of visitors. I measured my initial success by the tingly, mildly buzzed sensation I got when I was writing down something that was important to me. I absolutely loved the feverish, almost possessed way the writing made me feel.
Most bloggers I know place almost as much value on comments/feedback as they do on traffic in terms of measuring their 'success'. Both traffic and number of comments can be helpful tools... but they are not always reliable indicators of success or failure.
For instance, you might post 20 wonderfully crafted entries about things that are deeply meaningful to you without garnering any significant traffic or comments... yet when you dash off a mindless post about something salacious or controversial you are suddenly flooded with both.
The combination of search engine users looking for specific terms and certain topics that will always garner an eager audience, has tempted many a blogger to abandon their original format and pander to the basest interests of the mob. I would strongly discourage anyone from going down that road.
Just as the class clown and the class slut quickly discover the most expedient way to attract attention to themselves... I suspect that neither one ends up entirely pleased with the long-term quality of the attention they attract.
LOR: Do you like being called a J-Blogger, would you rather just be known as a BLOGGER or maybe an I-Blogger (Israel Blogger)?
Trep: I actually prefer the term 'journaler' to 'blogger'. In my mind 'bloggers' are people who write about, and link to, all the neat stuff they encounter while surfing the web. Journalers are those that are simply keeping an online journal of their thoughts, opinions and experiences.
Obviously the border between these two terms has blurred to the point that nobody can really get upset by being saddled with one title or the other. But 'journaler' still seems to feel more 'right' for what I do. As to the addition of the hyphenated 'J' or 'I'... no thanks. My topics are just as frequently about secular topics as Jewish or Israeli ones.
LOR: What advice do you give J-Bloggers who are just starting out?
Trep: I can't over-emphasize the importance of being nice to people online. This sounds easy but it is sometimes quite difficult (just look at some of the responses I've posted on my comment board!). The online world is full of 'tards and trolls. Most of them are trying to provoke confrontations that they wouldn't dare attempt in real life. Be nice if you can... ignore them if you can't.
Being nice to other bloggers is also a simple way to get your first few readers. Not surprisingly, some of the most voracious readers of blogs are bloggers. If you find a few blogs that interest you and you take the time to occasionally leave a cogent comment, there is a a good chance that the blogger, or some of his/her readers, may wander over to your site to see who you are.
Shamelessly plugging your blog in someone else's comments section or begging other bloggers for reciprocal linking is not the way to endear yourself to anyone. You'll most likely just come off as sounding needy. The same can be said for sending impersonal, cut & paste email requests for linkage to every blogger with a visible e-mail address.
You also probably don't want to go the route of leaving deliberately provocative / inflammatory comments around the blogosphere in hopes of drawing attention to yourself and your site (can anyone guess who I'm talking about?). This kind of 'Jerry Springer' approach to blogging will get you noticed... but will probably not get you the kind of attention or reputation your were hoping for.
If you are going to set up a blog, you'd better enjoy the idea of feeding it, because it is always going to be hungry. The huge number of abandoned blogs floating around the blogosphere with only a handful of half-hearted entries is a pretty good indicator of how many people rush to adopt a virtual puppy, kitten or bunny... but have no desire to own and care for a full grown virtual dog, cat or rabbit.
Keeping up a blog is like having a 'special needs' child. It is never going to be self-sufficient and it will make demands on your time and attention that you can't even begin to imagine. This isn't to say that your efforts won't be richly rewarded... but the reward isn't always what you expected it would be.
Disclaimer: Before anyone takes anything I've said to heart... please remember that I could be completely full of sh*t. Oh, one more thing: Thank you to Chaim for inviting me to participate in this wonderful idea. I hope the idea still seems as wonderful now that I've participated. :-)
[Full Disclosure: Some of the advice on blogging I've included here was excerpted from a post I wrote a couple of years ago. You can read the whole thing here.]