A Strange Reality

So who the Hell is Paul Salfen? Photo Courtesy: Jonathan Zizzo
So who the Hell is Paul Salfen? Photo Courtesy: Jonathan Zizzo

By Mateeka Lanee

Paul Salfen bursts through a random side door at Cedars Social in downtown Dallas, and immediately notices me sitting at the bar. He doesn’t carry the aura of a man who takes pleasure in name-dropping, although he could. He doesn’t even carry the scent of a man living out of suitcases, although he kind of, sort of, is. Rather, Paul Salfen, our declared Coolest Guy in Dallas, is the epitome of the rocker high school kid, all grown up and living the dream, while most of us are stuck in an endless sea of cubicles with the highlight of our day being that our favorite Doritos are finally restocked in the break room vending machine.

Perhaps best known for his role as co-host and resident lifestyle guru on Fox Sports’ The Drew Pearson Show, Salfen is a writer, editor, TV personality, business consultant, and respected interviewer. His entire life is a well-orchestrated balance of business and pleasure, where even the most serious of work is play.

“Everything I love – music, movies, and travel – I’ve turned into work,” he said as if in awe of that fact himself.

He couldn’t be more right. In college, Salfen put his natural gift of conversation to use by interviewing bands performing at the music store he managed. He eventually started one of the first online music magazines, DallasMusicGuide.com, launched into cyberspace to fill a void in good online content, and helped put Salfen and the city of Dallas on the map as go-to sources for great new music. His exclusive interviews featured big-name stars he jokes that “we had no business” talking to, and opened the doorway to opportunities to write full-time.

“That’s kind of everyone’s dream,” I tell him, to which he nods.

“…and I do it,” he smiled. “I don’t know if I do it well, but I do it.”

There are, in fact, many things that Paul Salfen does, and from the looks of things, he does them all with excellence. On this Tuesday evening, he’s just returned from a trip to St. Lucia, where he covered the island’s jazz and arts festival. As a travel writer with Scoreboard Monthly, he has opportunities to visit international locations, eat at the finest restaurants, and enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery in the world while working. It’s an opportunity that came to him at first through a random offer to visit the Riviera Maya resort in Mexico, while he served as Editor-in-Chief at Envy Magazine.

“That’s kind of been my whole career, really,” he said. “Stumbling into things, and being in the right place at the right time, meeting the right people.”

Since high school, Salfen has been steamrolling his way into meeting all the right sorts of people. When asked who some of his most memorable interviewing experiences are, he ponders for a moment before naming Presidents Carter, Clinton and Bush – “W” as he’s sure to point out – plus Tom Cruise.

“I interviewed him twice, and the second time I saw him he goes ‘I’ve seen you before’ like he knew,” Salfen said.

That doesn’t seem far-fetched at all; leaving an impression appears to be a job requirement for Salfen. To his credit, he’s had opportunities to interview a lineup that includes Angelina Jolie, John Travolta, and Sir Anthony Hopkins. A direct byproduct of his often-glitzy work life is the acquisition of personal and professional acquaintances of various power and influence. The man is a perpetual handshaker having to be prepared at a moment’s notice to give a kind inviting smile or a familiar “how’s it been?” In this business no one can be a stranger.

At one point, he pauses to shake the hand of the owner of Cedars Social whom he knows by name. The apparent  distraction was second nature to him, almost effortless. No train of thought derailment or awkward moments, just a front row seat to observe the mastery of the art of multitasking people while each person involved feels as though they are the only one in the room.

It’s not hard to see why he has so many friends. Even sitting on couches in a darkened corner of the restaurant where real books line decorative shelves, Salfen’s whole demeanor is the essence of comfort and chill. His openness, perhaps molded by years of doing interviews himself, is inviting, making him easy to talk to. He states more than once that he  could comfortably start conversation with just about anyone that he meets.

“I can sit on the plane next to anybody and talk about what I do and chances are there’s something that strikes a cord,” he said.

His confidence seems to come from a place of deep appreciation for what he‘s achieved as a writer, especially given that all of it has come not from education or connections, but from a dogged determination to do what makes him happy.

“I have to do what I love or I’m going to fail miserably,” he said. “So, I’m doing what I love and hopefully not failing miserably.”

Salfen looks back at his early days working in the corporate world, struggling to leap into writing full-time, and remembers a moment of clarity:

“I was on the elevator, and I saw a sign with a picture of this older lady celebrating 40 years working there,” he said. “I was like, I can’t imagine walking into this building every day for 40 years. I can’t even imagine doing it for four years and I think it’s those kind of things that make you realize you only have so much tolerance” for doing something you don’t  care about.

“There’s no passion in it. There’s no love in it. I’m just not built for that. I have to do something I love or I’ll crumble.”

Salfen was approached during this time by an investor looking to expand DallasMusicGuide.com, then in its early stages, to 10 cities, and remove him from his 9-to-5 status.

“We go to lunch and he asks me ‘how much would it take for you to quit your job and do this full time?’ “ he said. “I gave him a number and he wrote me a check right there.”

Soon after, the website was brought to the attention of Microsoft, who sought to make a deal but were blocked by technology crashes. However, all was not lost. With DallasMusicGuide.com’s expansion, the Dallas Morning News took notice and hired Salfen as part of the Quick entertainment guide. He served as a gopher, making trips out of state for interviews the newspaper employees were unavailable to do.

Even while making his scheduled interviews, Salfen was surprised at how much good raw material had to be trashed due to lack of necessity at Quick. Rather than sitting on exclusive interviews, he began selling his writing to other markets, and was eventually taken on as the Editor-in-Chief at Envy Magazine, the first of many times he’s played such a role.

As a music and film buff, Salfen immersed himself in the world of entertainment from a young age, transcending his love for rock and roll into an opportunity to meet artists and experience life through their eyes. It has been his wandering spirit that’s led him to an array of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. It’s also helped him become the engaging  communicator he is as he lounges at the restaurant. He describes the strokes of wonderful luck, chance, blessing, or whatever you want to call it as being the result of, to put it simply, asking the right questions.

When asked how he landed the opportunity to work alongside Drew Pearson, he tells of his time as an interviewer on producer Tom Stokes’ show Rock Out the Red Carpet.

“I don’t even know how far that footage went,” he said with a smile, “but (Stokes) told me about this Drew Pearson Show he was going to start doing and I was like ‘hey, if you’d like an ugly white guy to come in and do (something involving) entertainment, I’d be happy to’ and he said ‘yeah, actually, that’d be great.’ ”

Good communication and a lack of fear are both positive traits in any person, and particularly necessary in the entertainment world. Even with big names under his belt, Salfen explains that interviewing isn’t a task he fears these days, and breaks down his process with something of a metaphor. The formula for a good interview, he said, involves “a certain something, a mutual respect. It’s like they agree to do the interview and you agree to write a decent story, and you pair it up.”

The arsenal of interviews he’s done in the 13 years of his professional career has influenced him even to write a book.

“At some point, that would be kind of cool, to leave behind as my legacy,” he said. “Like, mom, I wrote a book, it’s floating around out there somewhere.”

Since he’s already living his dream, the only thing left for Salfen to do is something bigger and better. If you’re going to write, why not write a book? His topic of choice?

“I thought about doing something along the lines of ‘Everything I’ve Learned, I’ve Learned from Interviews,’ “ he said. “All the good advice I’ve gotten through the years. I feel like I could write a book with a lot of wonderful inside quotes from people.”

Communication, even life in general, is simple enough for Salfen. Still, his personal and professional lives are something of an odd couple. He’s quick to admit that maintaining a personal life is hard. And how could it not be? Jet setting comes with its far share of relationship layovers.

“Sometimes, it’s a little bit of a strange reality,” he said behind a Dennis the Menace-type grin. “I was in St. Lucia and missed Mother’s Day. It was kind of this bizarre thing; I’m at an R. Kelly concert, on Mother’s Day instead of being with my mom. There’s something not right in the universe about that.”

His universe is one characterized by unplanned flights, unexpected invites and late hours. A world that would bring we mere mortals to the very brink of exhaustion, but as the time rolls on it becomes apparent that the calm rocker kid sitting across from me is no mere mortal. You couldn’t be The Coolest Guy in Dallas if you were.

In his professional life, everything Salfen loves has translated into professional success. He is considered a guru in all media areas, and consults for several city clubs. It seems everything he takes a chance on, he does exceptionally well. He believes that this is a result of being passionate about what he does.

“I spend all day and night talking about it, looking at it, researching it, you know I spend every waking hour looking at this stuff so you acquire this vast amount of knowledge about things just because you love it,” he said.

It’s this passion that has allowed him to land some of his most coveted gigs.

“That kind of interest and passion causes me to get more work because people see it…sometimes they don’t even know what they want me for, they just know that they want me involved with them,” he said.

No matter what he’s doing – interviewing, writing, or just being a gentleman during what always has the potential to be an awkward interview experience – Salfen does with class and humility. It’s not something that you could notice from a resume or a Wikipedia page, but is what makes him truly the coolest guy in the city. Of course, when asked how he feels about such a title he errs on the side of self-deprecating modesty.

“It’s nice that anybody would think that,” he said. “I mean I don’t really think so and maybe that’s not a good thing to say, but I guess that’s because I have to live with myself every day.

“I do think that I have the coolest life professionally of anyone in town,” because he chooses his own hours, serves as his own boss, and meets interesting people for a living.

“It might not be the most lucrative thing in the world, but I think as far as life experiences go, it’s very rich in that sense. I’ve made some incredible friendships with some of the most amazing people you could ever meet.”

It’s these human experiences that define him, and make even unexpected events worth traveling the distance from family and friends. Still, living the dream has its challenges.

“People always say ‘man, you have the best life,’ because they’re looking at me on Facebook. That’s like my highlights reel.”

Even when work is play, some work really is work, and Salfen said he spends much of his time waiting around in airports, and staying up late pounding out stories on his computer.

With professional success in the bag, it’s unusual to hear Salfen say that his personal life is slacking. He smiles, describing his dilemma.

“I think most people I know are happy for me and proud that I’m out there and doing it, but sometimes relationships can get caught in the fog of a random work schedule.

“Friends have asked ‘oh, what celebrity are you going to be with instead of hanging out with us on Saturday?’ That’s not what I’m going for.”

Even with these challenges, Salfen finds it hard to say no when opportunity knocks. He talks about the new TV show he’s working on, a spin-off of The Drew Pearson Show called The Weekender.

“You know, (Dallas is) a Top 5 market, and there’s so much cool stuff going on, but nobody died, nobody got hurt, so they’re not sending a news crew out, so…we’ll do it,” he said.

With Salfen’s presence Pearson covers the city’s plays, arts, music, and more, giving insight into the exciting but  unrecognized aspects of what Dallas has to offer. He even speaks of another opportunity on TV.

“I was just approached by a network that wants to capture everything that I do: the travel, music, movies, you know, everything fun that I do, along with the behind-the-scenes stuff too,” he said.

That includes showing whatever unexciting parts there may be in Paul Salfen’s life. He shrugs.

“It could be worse and it has been worse,” he said. “Sometimes I have to sit back and think ‘wow, I’m actually doing it.”

Perhaps that’s the best part.