David Gans (tnf) Sat 24 Jul 99 15:26
Let's welcome KATHI KAMEN GOLDMARK, Literary escort and record producer, to the Inkwell! She will be interviewed by Mary Mackey, a renowned author and poet who herself was recently the subject of an interview here.
Moist Howlette (kkg) Sat 24 Jul 99 18:46
John Henry, the (steeldrv) Sat 24 Jul 99 20:30
Mary Mackey (mm) Sun 25 Jul 99 00:26
Hello and welcome. Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Kathi Kamen Goldmark. Kathi, as you'll soon see, is a woman of many talents. She's funny; she's witty; she's kind-hearted; she's outrageous; and she can sing. She's one of the most sought-after author escorts in the country; she plays the guitar, hosts a monthly jam at a San Francisco night club, and is perhaps most famous for founding the all-author garage band The Rock Bottom Remainders (also known as the worst band that Bruce Springsteen ever sat in with). Kathi is the woman who persuaded Norman Mailer he could sing, and we're going to be talking a lot about her new CD "Stranger Than Fiction;" but before we do, I want to get the ball rolling by asking her to fill us in on what she did before she transformed Amy Tan and Stephen King into rock stars. Kathi, your bio says that you got an M.A. in Drama and Education and then went on to work as a "costume shop manager, family planning educator, media consultant to the government of Mexico, retail clerk, and very bad waitress." I understand that you showed up at the San Francisco Books By The Bay Festival last week wearing a wig that made you resemble Marge Simpson. Could you please tell us a little about your job in the costume shop, and the role costumes have played in your life?
(my|pi)thical (satyr) Sun 25 Jul 99 09:39
David Gans (tnf) Sun 25 Jul 99 10:18
I want to hear about Kathi's Leopard-print guitar!
Moist Howlette (kkg) Sun 25 Jul 99 13:21
Hi, Mary! Recently, my mother found my kindergarten report card, which says something along the lines of: "Kathi enjoys making clever costumes out of scarves and other every-day objects" so I guess I've always enjoyed the idea of dress-up and costume. I think on a deeper level, a costume can be transformational. People don't say "What are you going to dress up as for Halloween?" but "What are you going to be for Halloween?" I don't think that usage is an accident. In the Remainders, Amy Tan literally transforms herself from famous novelist to trashy rock singer with a wig and costume. She claims she can't do the role without the costume. And I have always felt that dressing up -one way or another- for performing is important. As for the wig at the Book festival...I find Amy is right about a costume and wig helping with character. I was performing as "Auntie Poo" the lead singer on our Potty Animal CD... Auntie Poo is way more glamorous in a cartoony sort of way, than I am. (Think Cinderalla's stepsisters if they were nice people...) So the wig helps me "become" the character of Auntie Poo in a way I can't really ezplain. When I worked at the Footlight Shop running the costume department, I noticed over and over again how people's physical demeanor changed when they tried on costumes. A businessman becoming a dancing tomato, for example, can be a breathtaking experience. As for the guitar...well I guess the musical world is divided into those of us who sit and practice our instruments and those of us who dress them up in little outfits. You can guess which side I'm on, there.
Libbi Lepow (paris) Sun 25 Jul 99 13:47
Waiting to hear more!
Reva Basch (reva) Sun 25 Jul 99 15:02
Me too. So glad you were able to join us, Kathi.
Moist Howlette (kkg) Sun 25 Jul 99 15:54
I'm actually kind of curious about other people's experiences with costumes and transformation. The first time I ever met (peoples), long before she WAS (peoples), was at a costume party where my boyfriend and I went in drag. He had a wonderful time flouncing and flirting. I felt uptight and futsy in my 3-piece suit and itchy mustache. (peoples), by the way, was stunning as Scarlett O'Hara...but anyway... the wonderful thing about costumes is that they provide a way of being someone else for a few hours without having to change anything permanently. You can see how it might feel to - oh, I don't know - have a different hairstyle or something. The funny thing is that I will start changing my behavior to match the costume, without even realizing this. Does this happen to you too?
canonical didactic bananahead (peoples) Sun 25 Jul 99 17:49
> The first time I ever met (peoples), long > before she WAS (peoples), was at a costume party where my boyfriend and I > went in drag. I love it that people still talk about those Halloween parties I used to throw nearly 25 years ago. Whee! I totally agree about costumes and personality shifts. There's something wonderfully seductive about being able to "become" somebody/something entirely different from one's everyday self just by donning the symbols of that other entity.
Steven Solomon (ssol) Mon 26 Jul 99 07:02
Halloween... the one night of the year when everybody taks off their mask!
Mary Mackey (mm) Mon 26 Jul 99 12:45
One of the most enjoyable times I ever had was the time Kathi persuaded me to impersonate Janis Joplin. I wore a feather boa and drank "Southern Comfort" (actually cold tea) and sang "Mercedes Benz" to an audience that I later discovered included a member of Big Brother and the Holding Company. So, Kathi, I have to say that your costumes have been a yellow brick road into fantasy for a lot of tone-deaf writers. One of the things I've always loved about you is the fertility of your imagination. How about telling us something about the very unusual way you handled your job as a family planning educator.
Linda Dyer (lin) Mon 26 Jul 99 13:36
yes, yes, stories! [kathi has a way of talking people into things they would never do, but things which are not somehow at odds w/ one's inner personality. for instance, last halloween, i showed up at Paradise Lounge as a nun, costume and finishing touches by kathi. it was...uh...a little different than the dreamy, naive fantasies i had in catechism.]
Moist Howlette (kkg) Mon 26 Jul 99 14:45
But they are still talking about "Sister Linda" at the paradise lounge... The family planning thing happened in a weird way. Right after college, I was teaching in a small private school in LA...also getting a masters degree and living with one of the original members of Steely Dan. (I should note that I wasn't allowed to teach academic subjects. I think even in the freewheeling atmosphere of a Summerhill/Rogerian based progressive school, they only trusted me with "fun" stuff...my classes were folksinging and drama. We put on elaborate musicals and less elaborate original skits. And the folksinging class's main task was writing an original song for each child on his or her 13th birthday.) Because of the Steely Dan connection and the fantasy that I could procure tickets for any show though, I guess I was invested with a little rock & roll glamour by the kids, and considered a "popular" teacher. Which is why Phyllis Fleishman (the schools' founder and director) thrust a book in my hands one day and said, "Here. You're teaching sex ed. Read this." That was the full extent of my sex education training. I started a couple of informal groups where everyone talked about questions they had. If I didn't know the answer, we looked it up together. Shortly after that, I was lured away from teaching by Phyllis' stepson, Norman Fleishman who was director of the West Coast office of a nonprofit agency called the Population Institute. Based in DC, the organization did all kinds of population and family planning education projects. My job was to come up with something (this was in 1974 or so) related to the rock & roll music industry "to raise awareness about teen pregnancy" - and that was the full extent of the job description. So once again, I was sort of catpulted into a job that no one else had, and no one knew how to do. My first official act was to award a well-publicized gift certificate for a free vasectomy to Paul Anka for his song "You're Having My Baby." Then I got various rock star friends to record public service radio spots urging teens to "Think about having a child before you make a baby" and Norman and I together came up with an annual Condom Couplet Contest (WAY before condoms were popular - this was the 70's disco era remember, and before MTV started) to raise awareness about young male responsibility. The spots were aired on 800 rock stations eventually, and might have kept exactly 3 teenagers from becoming pregnant. But somewhere along the line I was offered some grant money to go to Mexico and work with their government health agencies as a family planning media consultant. I spoke no Spanish, and knew nothing about Mexico. I was the worst possible choice for this assignment. But turn down an adventure like that? No way! I recruited a Spanish speaking buddy with a family planning education background (Angel Martinez) and together we made several trips to Mexico City and talked to various people about various concepts for media campaigns. Meanwhile, I learned a little Spanish and started recording the PSAs in Spanish as well as English for U.S. use. We ended the Rock Project when Reagan's Title 10 cuts caused funding to dry up for agencies that were providing direct services to teenagers - it became more difficult to get funding and it didn't seem right to be competing for the few dollars that were available, since we were sort of second-tier (media education as opposed to direct service). But I think the best thing to come out of our project was a lighter, teen-friendlier approach to media messages about the subject. We were light-years ahead of the standard public service communications to teens, at the time. And of course the condom thing was way ahead of its time too.
Linda Dyer (lin) Mon 26 Jul 99 15:31
oh, how much do i love the vasectomy gift certificate for Paul Anka! is your Angel Martinez the same one who is on NPR?
Mary Mackey (mm) Mon 26 Jul 99 17:03
Great stories, Kathi. We'll skip the "really bad waitress" part unless you have some great stories about dumping soup, and move on to your current career: running a famous author-escort service. How about telling us what that is (I suspect there are people reading his who may not know) and how you got into it? I'd like to know the up side and the down side. Along the way you can tell us about your worst and best clients (without mentioning any names, of course. I know you are fierce about preserving their privacy).
Moist Howlette (kkg) Mon 26 Jul 99 18:34
I don't think "my" Angel martinez is on NPR, but he's full of surprises, so perhaps. In answer to Mary's question, a Literary Escort (or Media Escort) is kind of like a babysitter for touring authors. The way book tours work these days, there is no one with the time to go out on the road with each and every author tour. Used to be the high priority authors toured with a publicist, the mid-list authors were driven around by regional sales reps in each city, and the lower-budget authors were left to fend for themselves and get around in taxis or whatever. I guess they were losing too many interviews that way, and the reps and publicists got too busy as the number of tours increased...anyway, about 20 years ago two women in Cleveland (Emily Laisy and Sally Carpenter) started the Pro-Motion Media Escort Service, and a new industry was born. I've been a Media Escort for over 15 years. The first year, I think I worked with 11 authors. The last few years, we've had close to 500 a year (usually for more than a day at a time). I got into the business because my mom (betty) on the well, went on a book tour and came back raving about the escorts saying "They use their own cars and they all look so happy!" I had wonderful media connections going back to my Rock Project days (we did all our production at KSAN in San Francisco, under the auspices of "Big Daddy" Tom Donohue) and that was crucial. So, what a media escort does is greet the author at the airport and shepherd him/her through whatever special torture the publicist has arranged. This can include book signing, radio/TV/Print interviews, a reading at the Herbst Theater, the usual author events. Or it can include photo shoots in bizarre locations, food demos at Costco, tracking down karaoke tracks so an author can sing an original song parody at a bookstore, a tour of the City Morgue, or - you name it, just about anything you can think of. I've gone antique shopping with Martha Stewart, have driven over the Bay Bridge with an illustrious NY Times journalist on the floor of my car (they never remember to tell you about phobias until it's too late), sat in Jessica Mitford's kitchen with Maya Angelou, attended the MOMA Founders dinner with the guest of honour (I had to change into "black tie" in my car cause there was no time to go home), hire a bodyguard to accompany a former white supremacist witha price on his head, walked through the Mission with Edward James Olmos, lost Norman Mailer in Chinatown, and talked about folk music with E.L. Doctorow. The thing about Media Escorting is it's kind of like getting paid for being a codependent because you have to be very flexible, think on your feet, and be totally there for the other person. The hours can be grueling, and like most "glamour jobs" the pay is low. None of us do this to get rich, believe me. The sentimental part is the wonder of basically having most of contemporary American literature (not to mention pop culture) parading through my car. For a book junkie, that part is wonderful and the business has opened my life up in some remarkable ways. The downside is dealing with the occasional psychopath author and an ever-declining degree of professionalism in many of the publicity departments at major publishing houses. It's different for everyone, of course, but personally I'd rather deal with a "difficult" author than a boring one. Probably the hardest for me these days are the first-timers. There is a very human and understandable tendancy to think the world is going to stop dead in its tracks for a first book. The palpable hopefulness and worry and disappointment and lack of perspective can be exhausting for me, even though I completely understand it. Book tours are a combination of ego-fluffing and simultaneous humiliation. They pronounce your name wrong on live TV. They ask stupid questions on live radio. They schedule your big hometown book store event during the superbowl, etc. etc. The seasoned "literary lions" approach a tour with more even-keeled perspective and professionalism, and it's always great to see an old friend again, too.
Moist Howlette (kkg) Mon 26 Jul 99 19:32
Quite a few of the Well-members who might be reading this have been on book tours. I'd welcome any insights they feel like sharing about the whole process. Also, I'm sure for every author-horror-story, there's a media-escort-horror-story. Don't be shy, now...
John Henry, the (steeldrv) Mon 26 Jul 99 19:43
>I've ... driven over the Bay Bridge with an illustrious >NY Times journalist on the floor of my car (they never >remember to tell you about phobias until it's too late)... If only you weren't sworn to secrecy!
Mary Mackey (mm) Tue 27 Jul 99 10:55
I've done several tours and in my experience the media escorts are angels. Once in Seattle, I lost one of my favorite earrings. My escort *insisted* on driving back to the radio station (after she took me about 50 miles in the other direction) to get down on her hands and knees and sift the rug. I've had no bad experiences with my escorts. In fact, I suspect authors on the whole are more difficult than their escorts. A difficult escort wouldn't last very long. Famous authors, on the other hand, are supposed to be big trouble. If they aren't (and most are quite pleasant) people always seem to feel a bit cheated. As an Irish poet who doesn't drink, I've had this experience on several occasions. I'm sure other Well writers may want to pitch in with escort stories. So go ahead folks. Have at it.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Tue 27 Jul 99 19:33
But first, I want to hear more about this tidbit: > I've gone antique shopping with Martha Stewart Where? When? What did she buy? Did she give you any home decorating tips? What was she like?
Mary Mackey (mm) Tue 27 Jul 99 22:29
I have the feeling Kathi's lips may be sealed about specifics, but I'll let her speak for herself.
Moist Howlette (kkg) Tue 27 Jul 99 22:54
Honestly I don't remember much about the shopping part with martha Stewart. She bought a whole lot of stuff...beyond that my lips are indeed sealed. Today I may have met the nicest person EVER to go on a book tour - Richie Havens! Tomorrow (Wed. 7/28) he will sing, sign and tell stories at Staceys in San Francisco at 12:30 PM. GO THERE - IT WILL BE A REAL TREAT. I knew I was gonna like him. I knew we were gonna end up knowing a bunch of the same old east coast folkies. But when he said, "Is that a KAZOO in your car? My dad used to have an act where he played the piano and had a bunch of guys doing the horn parts on kazoo cause he couldn't ever afford a horn section! I LOVE Kazoos!"...well, some of you know that I do the same thing for the same reason, on my recordings. We're talkin' magic moment, here, big-time. He has a great attitude about touring, about music, politics, life and even kazoos. It doesn't really get any better, on my endless book tour.
Mary Mackey (mm) Wed 28 Jul 99 08:50
That brings me to my very next question, Kathi: how did you get involved in music? Tell us about your first guitar, your first band, some of the other bands you formed and gigs you played before you founded Rockbottom Remainders.
Moist Howlette (kkg) Wed 28 Jul 99 17:17
I guess I started guitar lessons when I was about 14. I remember the first song I learned was "Hang Down your Head Tom Dooley" with a long pause where you're supposed to change chords so it sounded like: Hang down your head Tom Dooley Hang down your head and cry. Hang down your head Tom Dooley Poor boy your bound to die. Nothing remarkable about my playing but I sure loved figuring out chords to songs I heard. We moved right before 10th grade, and I decided that going into a new school I could sort of reinvent myself. Instead of being the shy girl eveyone had known since kindergarten, I created a new persona: the exotic poet/folksinger. This required a great deal more guitar prowess than I actually possessed so I practiced like crazy. To this day, most of what I know about the guitar is stuff I learned between the ages of 14 and 17. In the new school (10th grade in 1964 for those of you old enough to remember those times) there were performance opportunities in the form of "Hootenannies" held in various high school gyms (during the school year) and the local park in summertime. I became a regular Hootenanner as a solo guitar-vocal act, your garden variety Joan Baez wannabe. Once I hit college and realized I wasn't the only sweet-voiced folkie girl in the world, I was intimidated into quitting playing for a while. There was a lot of other interesting stuff going on. And I was never comfortable as a solo performer but there weren't that many obvious band options for girls in those days. In retrospect, I should have learned electric bass instead of guitar. But in the mid-sixties I doubt anyone would have wanted a girl bass player. Also I had this mixed-up notion that dating a musician was the same as being one, as stupid as that sounds now. So it wasn't until the 70's - after I'd had several years living the "glamorous" LA life of living with the original drummer in Steely Dan - that I picked up the guitar again and started a band. It was called "El Rancho Motel" (named after a classy joint we passed on the way to our first gig at a biker bar in San Pedro, CA) and in some ways it was the most familial band situation I've ever been in - very folkie actually cause we didn't have a drummer. We not only played gigs together but rehearsed several nights a week, went out a lot to hear music and even kind of moved to San Francisco together in 1976, where of course we almost immediately broke up. After that I joined the Perpetual Garage Band, which became the Surgeons of Sound, which became the Enchanters. The Enchanters had real gigs at places like the Stone and featured a wild-man Belushi-esque singer named Billy Quiver. It wasn't a very good band, but it was a lot of fun and we made a single that got played a lot on KUSF. I learned a whole lot about performing in high volume situations, learning to use monitors and stuff like that. So - are you totally bored yet?
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