The Writings of John Wenz

Philadelphia-based freelance writer for The Awl, Popular Mechanics, Mental Floss, Hear Nebraska and other publications.

You can reach me at

I’m watching “Cosmos” with orbital-decay and we were thinking that, when the original came out, we didn’t know Pluto had four moons or a group of bodies just like it out there in the Kuiper Belt. We didn’t know there were other planets beyond our solar system yet. We didn’t know that there might be life on Europa, Enceladus or Ceres. We didn’t know the extent of water on Mars. We had never had a Hubble telescope.

By the time this “Cosmos” wraps up, we will still have more news out of the Kepler data, five to ten instances of the next earth like planet yet. A series of massive land based telescopes will give us unprecedented views of other stars and let us directly image exoplanets, something we’ve done fewer than a dozen times. James Webb Telescope will put Hubble to shame.

Basically, if we revisit “Cosmos” in 30+ years again, our understanding will have drastically changed again. If we even bother to still use TV at that point.

How the Flaming Lips Lost a Drummer Over Native American Appropriation

I hate finding out what a waste Wayne Coyne has (publicly) become. I mean, the Erykah Badu thing, was step one in finding out about his awfulness, and here’s another chapter in that. It’s so strange to read about considering the role the Flaming Lips played during college for me. Hearing he laughed at protestors is disheartening to me. 

How to Resurrect a 35-Year-Old Spacecraft

My latest for popmech on the ISEE-3 Reboot Project.

The "GOP Hipster" Is a Pampered Babbling Sack of Horse Hockey

I couldn’t help but notice something in this article. When they posted a picture of Mr. Cool DC Bro here with musician Dan Deacon, Dan Deacon (probably rightly) asked them to clarify that despite the looks of the picture, he was not, nor had he ever been, friends with Scott Greenberg, the new face of GOP astroturfing by appealing to the hip, young, edgy crowd. Which in and of itself reminds me of the joke on The Simpsons about cartoons trying to appeal to Gen-Xers, or maybe something closer to poochy.

But I digress. In Deacon’s clarification, via his manager Susan Busch, is this tidbit at the end: 

Scott had Dan listed, with many many other bands he’s interviewed, as a client on his CV but removed his name upon request.

Now, there are a lot of ways to interpret “client.” As a freelancer, most of the time I go with “people I have written articles or other copy for” or occasionally, other projects I take on. Website migration, database research. Because that’s what most people would do, theoretically. 

Now, I’ll try to give Greenberg a benefit of the doubt, as he appears to have some PR experience. However, there’s a difference between, say, having a consistent band or artist you work with on a contract basis creating press materials for, and someone you interviewed for Paste Magazine. The difference is huge.

Because an interviewee is not a client, and an article is not an endorsement. When I write about space technology for Popular Mechanics, I don’t think of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a client suddenly. Because I’m not reporting for them. I’m reporting about them. In no way has this created a client-contractor relationship. While lines between media coverage and PR may have been blurred with the rise of online media, surely it hasn’t obscured that far. I interviewed Ian MacKaye for Hear Nebraska. A 45 minute call talking about Fugazi playing in Lincoln 20 years ago didn’t suddenly create a rapport with him, nor constitute him being a client for me. 

Let’s say, at some point, that Greenberg actually DID write a press release for Deacon, in fact creating that kind of relationship. 1) It was likely through the intermediary of a firm he was working for, and 2) if he was providing that same client with both press coverage and press promotion, that’s a big red conflict of interest flag. 

So either he’s crappy at recognizing what does and does not constitute a client relationship, or he’s crappy at recognizing the line between journalism and PR. Either way, this is idiotic. 


—Why Can't I Touch It


Buzzcocks - Why Can’t I Touch It

In 2003, I went to a Buzzcocks concert to review it for my campus newspaper. I asked the manager if I could interview them, he shut me down. Somehow, I got to talking to their then-bass player (Tony Barber, far from the original) and he was really awesome and said yes to the interview, whereupon he invited me to talk on the bus where it was quieter. 

An interview with a non-original member of a band I love turned into an interview with the entire band, Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle included. As a bright-eyed 19 year old, the end of my for-the-age professional interview became my squeaking fandom moment. This is a bit of paraphrasing, because this is 11 years ago. 

"So, umm, as a fan, I just have to ask: are you guys going to play ‘Why Can’t I Touch It?’"

Pete Shelley laughed, saying that they can’t play it anymore because he just can’t hit those notes. So I was a little disappointed, but who can blame the guy?

The band takes the stage of Omaha’s Ranch Bowl, a bowling alley backroom. They play a pretty fantastic set. They come back for an encore. The last song  (I probably have the set-list buried somewhere in an old notebook, but don’t remember the song at the moment) slows down into a jam as the band sort of plays their way off the stage.

Then, the last few notes were the rhythm lines of “Why Can’t I Touch It?”

I grinned ear to ear. 

(via abloodymess)

Gravity, the Sequel: Why the Real Story Would Be on the Ground


I recently tried my hand at expounding the many ways that our lives are bound up in space, with a little bit of cinematic imagination.

The Atlantic agreed to publish it.

Take a minute to think about the satellites you’ve used today.

I didn’t write this, but my partner certainly did and it’s fantastic. Give it a read.