Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 21 Aug 02 09:32
Our next guest is joining us for the second time. In her first interview, <inkwell.vue.41>, we got the first intimations of her writerly aspirations. Now, happily, they've come to fruition. Kathi Kamen Goldmark describes her first novel, And My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You, as a "love letter to honky-tonk." The story follows sexy singer-songwriter Sarah Jean Pixlie as she rides a fame-and-fortune roller coaster to the top of the country-western charts, but the real heroes of the book are the journeyman bar band musicians who provide both comic relief and earthy wisdom. Kathi has co-authored two other books (Mid-Life Confidential, and The Great Rock & Roll Joke Book); produced some quirky CDs (as president and janitor of "Don't Quit Your Day Job" Records: www.dqydj.com); founded the all-author garage band The Rock Bottom Remainders; and worked as a book publicist, bar band musician, media escort, retail clerk, consultant to the government of Mexico, paid professional hippie, family planning educator, and the world's worst waitress. She likes to think she is ready for anything. Leading the conversation is Elizabeth Churchill. Elizabeth says she was a perfectly normal horticulturist and landscape designer who was led astray by Kathi Kamen Goldmark. One night in 1998, Elizabeth claims she innocently followed Kathi's band, The Ray Price Club, into a colorful little honky-tonk in Brisbane California. Within hours her entire life was thrown into disarray by a local cowboy who showed her how to two-step. A few months later, she unsuspectingly attended a surprise birthday party for Kathi, where her doom was permanently sealed when she fell madly in love with the entire zydeco band. Before anyone could stop her, Elizabeth quit her nice respectable job and moved to Opelousas, Louisiana, the Zydeco Capital of the Universe. She now collects vintage cowboy boots, dances to all the fabulous local bands, and ekes out a living writing about her adventures. Welcome, Kathi and Elizabeth!
Moist Howlette (kkg) Wed 21 Aug 02 14:15
Elizabeth Churchill (leroy) Thu 22 Aug 02 09:18
Hey, Kathi! Let me start out by saying your book is such a kick. I mean, it's really a fine, rollicking, good-time read. I carried it around with me for three days and read favorite passages out loud to anybody who would listen. I even passed it around Miss Wanda's cafe in downtown Opelousas (I made everybody there read the part where Peaches gets arrested for having a joint in her G-string and the other strippers stand beneath her jailhouse window with the sign reading "FREE PEACHES," which nearly causes a riot because everybody in town thinks they're giving away fruit). They all just howled. But here's what I want to know: where's the sound track? I kept looking for a little pocket with a CD in the back of the book. All those hilarious lyrics sprinkled throughout the book, they *are* real songs, aren't they? Do you have any plans to record them?
Moist Howlette (kkg) Thu 22 Aug 02 17:09
Yes, they are all real songs! I've recorded all but about five of them over the last 10 years as songwriter demos, and Chronicle Books is sending out a promotional CD to reviewers, along with the book. In a week or so, they'll be ailable in MP3 format on the bok's web page: http://www.chroniclebooks.com/andmyshoes/ One of the songs, Sarah Jean's hit "Heartaches for a Guy", was actually in Stephen King's miniseries, "The Stand"--this was just about the biggest thrill I'd ever had, fueling fantasies that led to part of the storyline of the book. Instead of becoming a surprise hit, however, "Heartaches" got me yelled at by an insulted listener on David Gans ' Grateful Dead radio show on KPFA, a moment I exaggerated and included for old times'sake. And I'm delighted that you like Peaches! I liked her a lot, too.
Elizabeth Churchill (leroy) Thu 22 Aug 02 17:44
You know what else I really like is the title. It's just so perfect in so many ways. Not least because it happens to be named after my favorite song. (I know it's originally by Bob Wills, but I always preferred the Ray Price cover.) Kathi, you've probably (mercifully) forgotten this, but one night at the Paradise Lounge I made your poor band back me up while I sang lead on that song. Remember? I led an insurrection of the girl backup singers, the Fallen Angels or whatever you called us. (Kathi never turned on our mics when we sang backup, but I don't say that on my resume'.) It was a total disaster, but you didn't say a word. You just stood there humming along, with this beatific smile and a faraway glazed stare. For the next six months I wore a wig and dark glasses and called myself Tanya, and I heard you changed the name of your band to Train Wreck. But I'm sure none of this had anything to do with why you chose the title for your book, and I still love that song. I don't want to spoil things for English teachers who plan to make future generations of students write essays on the symbolism of Bobby Lee's shoes (and of course his poor boots), but could you just tell me one thing: Did you write that whole book just because you'd come up with such a great title, or did the title miraculously follow, once you'd written the story?
Moist Howlette (kkg) Thu 22 Aug 02 22:00
I always loved that song too, especially the Ray Price version, and you know what? I always felt sort of guilty for starting the song off in the wrong key that night--like I let YOU all down! It was too high, I think...or too low? I don't remember. Anyway, my memory is certain that you all would have sounded perfect in the proper key, and I blew it. The title--boy, I wish I remembered when I decided on the title--certainly after I started working on the book, and after poor Bobby Lee started losing control of his shoes. To me, the significance of the title (other than the fact that I love the song and wanted to pay tribute to an era of music) is the theme of reconnecting with important people in one's life. Although a rock critic friend of mine is convinced that the title refers to the mystery of the CD product returns...writing fiction and putting it out there for real live other actual people to read becomes a sort of rorshach test. It's fascinating to notice what others see, the connections they make for themselves.
Elizabeth Churchill (leroy) Fri 23 Aug 02 06:23
You say the book is "a love letter to honky-tonk" and you're paying tribute to that era of music. What exactly is honky-tonk? How is the music you write about different from contemporary country music? Also, are you seeing signs of a revival of the old music? A few years ago I went to a Hank Williams tribute at a club in San Francisco, and the place was packed. I think I was the only person there who was over 25. And these kids not only knew how to dance to this music, they knew the words to every damn song Hank ever wrote, even some obscure ones that were never recorded. Hank Williams died the year I was born. Do you think a younger generation is discovering this music and keeping it alive, or was that just a flash-in-the-pan fad that's already passed?
Moist Howlette (kkg) Fri 23 Aug 02 08:21
To me, "honky-tonk" refers to back-to-basics music played by bar bands: 4 sets a night, 6 nights a week, without the overproduction you hear on recordings coming out of Nashville these days: involving good playing, simple arrangements and stories told with a lot of heart. Is that the dictionary definition? (IS there a dictionary definition?) I have no idea! As for young people loving Hank Williams, and also Rockabilly, etc.: I think it's wonderful. I have no idea if this is a passing fancy, but it strikes me that: - Contemporary radio is pretty boring these days (except for stations like KPFA). -We live in a time where the entire history of popular music as available as never before, with all the CD rereleases coming out. It's easy to find old stuff, and fall in love with it. - The outfits are wonderful. - There's always a mystique to brilliant artists who die young. From the point of view of young bands playing this kind of music, it's not that hard to find inspiration, material, mentors, etc. It's accessible to both the players and the audience.
Elizabeth Churchill (leroy) Fri 23 Aug 02 09:21
Good points. I think honky-tonk music sprung up in the late 1930s following the advent of electric instruments and the invention of the juke box, and the migration of lots of rural folks to urban areas. Honky-tonk is a type of music but it's also the terminology for the establishments where such music is played. I usually think of a honky-tonk as a wild yet cozy little blue-collar beer bar where there's a great juke box but live local bands play on weekends and everybody carries on like crazy doing things they might regret come Monday morning. My first exposure to a genuine honky-tonk was when I followed your band into the legendary DeMarco's 23 Club down in Brisbane, just south of San Francisco. I felt like I was walking into a time machine! I fell in love at first sight, with the cowboys, the dancers, the band, but most of all the place itself. I've heard that a lot of significant honky-tonk history took place at the 23 Club back in its heyday of the late 40s and 50s, maybe even the early 60s. To this day it has a certain ineffable mystique about it. If I'm not mistaken, the delightful little family-run honky-tonk in your book, the Dew Drop Inn, is pretty closely modeled after DeMarco's 23 Club, though you moved it up north and at one point you changed the buffalo heads on the walls to moose heads. Was this in fact your inspiration for the setting?
David Gans (tnf) Fri 23 Aug 02 10:34
I think another important aspect of "honky tonk" today is its clarity and sincerity of expression. Not a lot of ironic detachment in those songs, you know?
Elizabeth Churchill (leroy) Fri 23 Aug 02 10:50
David Gans! He has a cameo in the book!
Moist Howlette (kkg) Fri 23 Aug 02 11:55
Yes, he does! David, did you find yourself yet? I mean, not metaphorically or anything, but on page 60? You're right, Elizabeth, about DeMarco's being the inspiration for the Dewdrop Inn, and --oh dear-- Moose Heads. That's a typo I'm afraid we didn't catch. I meant to say Buffalo heads. The Dewdrop is bigger, with inn-type rooms upstairs where people live, but anyone who's ever been to DeMarco's will recognize the Ball of Love, the dance floor, and the regulars using the back door. Great description of "honky-tonk" by the way... I had no idea that we were deflowering a virgin when you came to DeMarco's that time--you seemed like an old pro.
Call me Fishmeal (pk) Fri 23 Aug 02 12:51
The interesting thing is that Kathi clearly writes herself into two roles in this book: Sarah Jean and her mom are two versions of Kathi in different generations. There's also a real "Aunt Perle," a good friend of the family, but most of her persona is based on our own mom. I'm in the book as the second cousin who makes model of a pedal steel guitar for the top of a wedding cake - which is about as close as I've ever been to the honky-tonk music scene. It's fun trying to guess which musician is which ex-boyfriend. I read the book during a ten-day sail to Hawaii last month, so it qualifies as a "beach read." Then I passed it on to another one of the crew - a 20-something audio engineer from L.A. His comment, a couple of chapters in: "This book is written for girls, isn't it?"
Elizabeth Churchill (leroy) Fri 23 Aug 02 13:26
Oh yeah, I think I recognized lots of folks, sometimes composites. I bet everybody you ever knew is frantically buying the book and looking for themselves. (I think I might be Peaches.) Do you anticipate any, um, friction or problems with this? Were the bad guys modeled after anybody who might say, Oh shit, now she's stepped in it good?
Moist Howlette (kkg) Fri 23 Aug 02 13:51
The fun of writing fiction is that you get to make up people, taking the best (or, in somecases, the worst) qualities of folks you know, add some colorful imaginary characteristics (a penchant for peppermint schnapps?) and mush them together to create new imaginary friends. The characters in "Shoes" did come alive for me as themselves, even though many are based on people I know. Personally, I related the most to Allie, though the book is written in the first person from Sarah Jean's POV (and certain elements, such as her brilliant toddler kid are taken from my own experience.) The bad guys were fun. None of them are based on any one real person, but I have certainly met sleazy managers, coke-head lowlife wanna-be musicians, bitchy retail clerks, and egomaniacal music stars. Cindi-Lu Bender, the country diva, is a made up character. The one thing I stole from real life was a story I heard from Reba McIntyre's touring guitar player, who said he was in her band for months--maybe years--and never met her. The rest of the character, I hasten to add, is completely made up.
Elizabeth Churchill (leroy) Fri 23 Aug 02 14:02
Kathi, how did you manage to get such an insider's view of Nashville and the music business? That's a far cry from playing gigs at a west-coast honky- tonk. Have you spent a lot of time there? Did you have connections who guided you through the inner workings. regaled you with gossip, and so forth?
the System Works (dgault) Fri 23 Aug 02 14:11
Kathi, Hi! Where you been? Oh, writing a book. I have a serious question. Is there room for another TBone Burnette in the music business? I envy his success. -dg
Moist Howlette (kkg) Fri 23 Aug 02 14:34
It's a funny thing with book research--if you get a few teeny details right, people assume you know a lot more than you really do. I've been to Nashville twice--once to play with the Remainders, once as a tourist. I have been in the George Jones gift shop and the Barbara Mandrell gift shop, I once had a tour of the Ryman Auditorium, and once got to sit on the bleachers behind the stage at the Grand Ole Oprey, courtesy of a guitar player friend who lives there. This friend also provided details of the office building on 17th Avenue. The record biz stuff--well, how different could it be from the shenanigans that go on in LA, a town I'm much more familiar with? Oh--I also have a friend who has produced countless music awards shows for TV and I offered to work for her for free, as a gopher. Unfortunately, she was going on maternity leave so it didn't work out, but she gave me a few tidbits I was able to use. I asked people, I made stuff up, and I hoped for the best--I'm sure there's stuff I got wrong! Another T-Bone Burnett, eh? Wouldn't that be fun?
Moist Howlette (kkg) Fri 23 Aug 02 14:42
Oh, and yes! Peaches is DEFINITELY inspired by you, Elizabeth. After all, you're both great dancers!
Moist Howlette (kkg) Fri 23 Aug 02 14:58
By the way, for Bay Area folks who might be reading this on Friday August 23, there are events at DeMarco's 23 Club both tonight and tomorrow night--call the club for details: 415-467-7717.
Lena M. Diethelm (lendie) Fri 23 Aug 02 15:48
I, too, wondered where the CD was! All these lyrics and no music! Wah. What a fun read, Kathi. I got such a kick out of reading about Aunt Perle and wondering how your mom felt about it. I'd bet she took it all in good humor and wished she could find a way to use it to actually sell some of her books. This book seems like such a natural to be a movie. Any action on that end yet?
David Gans (tnf) Fri 23 Aug 02 16:21
> It's fun trying to guess which musician is which ex-boyfriend. Ha! > "This book is written for girls, isn't it?" Nah. dgault: do you know another T Bone Burnett? Regarding the CD, I have invited Kathi to appear on that same KPFA show that Sarah Jean appeared on, and she'll play some of the songs for y'all then. We'l announce the date here as soon as we nail it down.
Elizabeth Churchill (leroy) Fri 23 Aug 02 16:38
DeMarco's used to have a slogan that went something like "The music starts at 9, the fighting starts at 10." I never saw any real fights there myself, but I heard all the tales about the fights of yore, especially the ones where founder John DeMarco was a participant, or even instigator. Is that a necessary component of a genuine honky-tonk, that whole element of drunken lawlessness and so forth? A movie: absolutely. Do tell.
Moist Howlette (kkg) Fri 23 Aug 02 17:26
I think fights are inevitable in a freewheeling atmosphere where people are drinking, dancing, and flirting, don't you? I do think the "fighting" legend at Demarco's may be exaggerated though...but there is a story of Ray Price somehow being responsible for a guy getting shot--a gun on the wall went off 'by accident' and the bullet ricocheted and hit someone. Go down there and ask Carlos (usually found tending bar) the story. You'll get a different version every time. The important part of the story for me is that Ray Price did actually play there--as did Ernest Tubb, Johnny Cash and a bunch of other country legends. Their photos are up on the wall. And the fact that the guy who was shot all those years ago still shows up now and then (or so I've been told) in his wheelchair. About the CD--let's have a contest right here! You guys make up the rules, I'll provide 5 homemade CDs for the winners. About the movies, of course that would be grand! My agent works with a guy in LA who is supposedly shopping it around, but no takers yet. I have been entertaining myself with the "fantasy casting" game.
Daniel (dfowlkes) Fri 23 Aug 02 19:18
<scribbled by dfowlkes Tue 3 Jul 12 10:14>
Lena M. Diethelm (lendie) Fri 23 Aug 02 19:28
(Yes, it's one of the reasons I buy more books at bookstores than online. I need to see/feel 'em).
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