You know, I can hear you asking from here.
Why an advice column? Why “Ask Peter Tork”?
It’s simple really. He's good at it.
We now live in a world where people place high value on advice from smarter-than-us strangers. Witness, among many, the Boston Globe's "Miss Conduct" and the Miami Herald's "Answer Bitch". In England they call them "Agony Aunts" but in many places the term "advice columnist" isn't even used any longer. It's now "personal advisor". Well, who do you want for a personal advisor? Someone you've never met and couldn't identify on the street, or that cute guy from the Monkees who can play twelve instruments?
After some years of being friends with Peter, I noticed a few things: he was smart, an excellent writer and he had a knack for getting to the heart of a matter, especially when it related to that miasma of contradictions known as “the human condition.” I also took note of the times I saw Peter display endless patience with the problems of other people (people that I would have given up on in a very few minutes, not because I didn’t care, but because they needed a scope of advice I couldn’t give in any compact manner). Indeed, with some people, I wouldn’t have known where to start. I’m a conceptual thinker. Ask me about solving your boyfriend problem and I’ll likely tell that you need to spend a year in India. If you have an hour, I can tell you exactly how this will solve your boyfriend problem. This is why I don’t write an advice column.
One night in New York, Peter and I were having a late night dinner with friends when a young lady of about 20 years old blurted out her dilemma about college and considering what she wanted to study versus what her parents (who were paying the tuition of course) wanted her to study. She seemed sadly resigned to doing what her mom and dad wanted, but they obviously hadn’t counted on who she was sitting at the dinner table with at 2 a.m. on a Saturday. Peter sided with the dreams of this young girl and told her in no uncertain terms to study exactly what she wanted. He told her why. He told her how. It wasn’t so much the encouragement, she probably had friends who could be her cheerleaders, but it was the calm and exact way he spoke to her about this decision, giving it all weight and paying attention to the underlying rite of passage it actually is to go against your parent’s wishes (may I interject here and say that I would have told her to spend a year in India before making a decision). As I watched him talk to her I realized I’d seen this before with Peter, so many times. The only thing that changed was the person and the problem. That’s when I first thought he really should give a go at writing an advice column. Peter has experienced a lot – the 60s, sudden planet-wide fame, a few marriages, drug and alcohol problems (sober now for almost three decades) and most recently, cancer, and has emerged not bitter but smarter, not fearful but more encompassing, not closed but more open. There are things he knows that some of us could stand to know too, so why not ask him?
The thought I had that New York night lay fallow for about 6 years until I was driving home from Albuquerque one winter. Somewhere in Oklahoma in the middle of a very fluffy snowstorm, I thought, “Peter should write an advice column.” I called him and said, “Peter, you should write an advice column.” “Okay,” he cheerfully replied,“I’ll give it a try.” That was late 2007 and for a few years “Ask Peter Tork” lived at The Daily Panic webzine. Now it has its own home on the web, where it belongs.
Therra C. Gwyn, July 2010