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Life lessons from ‘Goodfellas’ - An interview with author D.X. Ferris

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Author D.X. Ferris describes himself as a “metal-thrashing dad” with chronic insomnia. A Pittsburgh native currently based in Ohio, Ferris has penned two books on the metal band Slayer and he recently collaborated with musician Donnie Iris and his band-mates in The Cruisers to write the definitive history of that beloved Pittsburgh musical institution.

Ferris’s latest book draws inspiration from a cultural touchstone. “Good Advice From Goodfellas: Positive Life Lessons From the Best Mob Movie” cites more than 130 teachable moments from one of the most quotable films of all time.

“For someone like me that’s been a fan of popular culture all my life, ‘Goodfellas’ has been a touchstone,” Ferris said. “You can watch it anytime and take away something different.”

The classic 1990 Martin Scorsese-directed “Goodfellas” starred Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta and was based on the 1985 nonfiction book “Wiseguy” by crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi, who collaborated with Scorsese on the film.

Among the life lessons contained in Ferris’s book: how to make yourself indispensable; the folly of multitasking; the value of stoicism; optics; strategic thinking; goal-setting and customer service.

“In this day and age, we all know what we have to do but I think we’re losing sight of what we should do,” Ferris said, drawing a parallel between lessons gleaned from the movie and applying them to real-life.

“This book demonstrates different ways to be a better parent, a better employee or a better teammate,” he added. “Things that will make people want to deal with you more often. It’s a buyer’s market out there. Why should people choose you?”

Ferris, a teacher, says he spent part of last summer studying corporate culture. One organization Ferris worked with staged what he terms “a very public show” about making a decision that was designed to save everyone six dollars while simultaneously inconveniencing a lot of folks.

“The kind of organization that will look at a couple of dozen employees and say, ‘You are literally not worth an extra dime to us,’” he said. “At night, ‘Goodfellas’ was in rotation on cable. You’d see them staging heists and robberies and they would share the money. If you bring a big account to Jimmy Conway (played by De Niro) he will share the money with you.”

Ferris has been writing professionally for 20 years, with pieces published in Rolling Stone, the A.V. Club, the Village Voice, Decibel, Metal Sucks and other publications. His comic strip “Suburban Metal Dad” appears twice weekly at Popdose.com.

“Lately I’ve become obsessed with the idea of short chapters,” Ferris told me. “I hate it when I pick up a book about a band like The Who or Metallica full of 40-page chapters. It’s hard to wade through that. Like a lot of people, I’m busy. I’m a parent. I want to pick up a book, open it and get something from it – not read a 40-page chapter. This book has over 145 chapters. You can pick it up, get something useful from it and move on. That’s what I pride myself in: Writing useful books.”

Ferris stresses that his book, like the movie that inspired it, is not a glorification of the gangster lifestyle.

“Martin Scorsese is a guy who studied for a while to be a priest,” he said. “When he puts things out there that some might perceive as negative, I think there’s a larger moral lesson we can draw from. I think the most powerful takeaway from the movie is that you can be successful but be smart about it. Don’t be selfish and pay attention to what you’re doing.”

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