Category Archives: Books

Perfectly Broken Southern Tour!

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Hello and Happy June!

I am prepping for my Perfectly Broken mini-tour through the South. Very excited to be doing events at Malaprops in Asheville (Thursday June 16th at 7 pm) Parnassus Books in Nashville, (Friday, June 17th at 6:30) and A Cappella Books in my old stompin’ grounds, Atlanta (Sunday, June 19th, 6 pm). I’ll also be dropping in on an Atlanta book club called “Reading Between the Wines.” They’re reading Perfectly Broken, and we’ll discuss it.

I’ll be posting all press clips. Watch this space. (And/or my Facebook page.)

More reviews have been coming in. You can read a great one from The Nervous Breakdown HERE.

Remember: if you’ve read the book and want to help out, you can (and please do) write reviews on amazon and Goodreads. Or just give stars. And of course actual word of mouth is still the best. Thank you.

Wonderful North Carolina public radio station WNCW asked me to send them a one minute audio file of me reading from the book, which they will use to promote the Malaprops event. Here ’tis:


On Tuesday the 14th, I’ll be renting a car and hitting the road for my first jaunt – 14 hours, give or take, to Asheville, where my brother and his family live. I’ll be staying with friends and family in every town. I expect Atlanta to be particularly interesting, as I’ll be seeing some folks I’ve not laid eyes on in 30 years – a combo of schoolmates from Christ the King Catholic School and Northside High School, members of what I have dubbed the New Wave Queer Underground, my family and friends, plus curious strangers attracted by the press.

I intend to blog as much as I can. Stay tuned!

RBW

Indie stores with signed copies of Perfectly Broken to ship to you:

LITTLE CITY BOOKS

GOLDEN NOTEBOOK

OBLONG BOOKS & MUSIC

 

 

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Music Posts Galore in The Weeklings, George Clinton Interview, Book Reviews

Hello one and all,

I’ve been writing a lot this cold, snowbound February, covering topics as varied as the Beatles, crying, disco, and politics. I’ve also been writing more memoir, but I can’t post it because I’m submitting it to publications and that’s a no-no when you’re sending stuff around.

Also, it was my great honor to interview funk pioneer George Clinton onstage at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock. Clinton was in town to promote his new memoir, Brothers Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kind Of Hard On You?. His folks got in touch with great Woodstock indie bookstore the Golden Notebook, asking for help, and proprietor and my dear friend Jackie Kellachan asked if I’d like to interview George and moderate a Q & A with a live audience. I said YES. Here’s a version documented on Lawrence Hultberg’s smartphone.

P-Funk Maestro George Clinton Interview from Lawrence Hultberg on Vimeo.

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For a dee-luxe, edited, three-camera shoot of the event by James Orr, click HERE.

Here are some links to my pieces for The Weeklings:

TAKE A SAD SONG AND MAKE IT BETTER

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IN DEFENSE OF DISCO

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CONFESSIONS OF A CRYBABY

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And here’s my combo review of NY Senator Kirsten Gillabrand’s memoir and Zephyr Teachout’s history of political corruption in America:

OFF THE SIDELINES & CORRUPTION IN AMERICA

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2014 Writing Round-Up

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RBW by Franco Vogt, 2014

 

Happy End-of-2014 Faithful Readers,

2014 was a huge year for me, writing-wise. In addition to posting here, I finished my novel, now titled Perfectly Broken, and my agent is shopping it around. At this juncture, I daresay we’ve got a couple of nibbles, but that’s all I can say. The great Akashic Books, who brought you the hilarious “kids’ book for parents” Go the Fuck to Sleep – a worldwide hit – will publish a short excerpt on their site on January 20th, a chapter entitled The Junkie Incident.

I became music editor of The Weeklings, and that’s a great gig to keep me busy. I edited and wrote several pieces, three of which mega site Salon cross-posted (that is the parlance). My favorite published writing of 2014, however, was Southern Belles, Latchkey Kids, and Thrift Store Crossdressers, a bit of memoir for The Bitter Southerner. All of the above propelled my byline far beyond my bubble, and that was a thrill. Links to all below.

Southern Belles, Latchkey Kids, and Thrift Store Crossdressers was the start of something. With the encouragement of some dear friends, including memoirist/teacher Beverly Donofrio, I am forging ahead with more stories like that. I’ll be posting some of them here, or on a new, dedicated site.

Last year, Holly and I, along with fellow musician-writer Michael Eck, wrote liner notes for the CD Live From Caffe Lena. Earlier this year we all received an ASCAP-Deems Taylor award for excellence for our work.

I wrote a lot for arts monthly Chronogram – book and CD reviews, and an article on “empty nest syndrome.” (Links below.) I branched out to the Woodstock Times, writing about local music and the Sinterklaas festival in nearby Rhinebeck.

Thanks for being my audience and for the feedback. I really appreciate it. I turn 50 in March, and I plan to spend the next twenty years writing. Hope some of that reaches your eyes, dear reader.

Happy Holidays! – RBW

LINKS

The Weeklings (a selection)

Salon

The Bitter Southerner

Chronogram writing

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End of the Summer Writing Round-Up, From Dorky to Nirvana to Trolls

20-year-old retired huntress cat Sis, watching me work.

20-year-old retired huntress cat Sis, watching me work.

Ahoy there,

Summer isn’t officially over, but Labor Day has passed, the maples are beginning to turn, the tourists have folded up their tents, and the garden is surrendering to blight, so change is certainly afoot. As ever. Hope your season was fun.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve signed on as music editor of The Weeklings (Rogue Commentary for Now People). Every Monday or so, I either write or edit a music-oriented post. It’s been fun. More to come. (Of course you should subscribe to The Weeklings. It’s easy! And my cohorts are wonderful writers, all.)

In addition to excellent writing about culture, politics, art, and music, The Weeklings occasionally indulges in listporn, i.e. the increasingly popular subjective list – usually a “50 Greatest.” These lists draw an insane amount of attention, every day. Far and away the most trafficked Weeklings post is Samuel Sattin’s  “The 50 Greatest Superhero (And Villain) Names of All Time.” The reasons for list popularity, and especially the reasons why that list in particular is so popular, are subjects for another post on another day.

In any case, I jumped into the fray with “The 50 Dorkiest Songs You Secretly Love.” I have always had a fondness for music I’m not “supposed” to like, music the “cognoscenti” deem “bad,” and this was my chance to state my case for everything from disco to bubblegum to weepy 70s folk. “Dorky” is merely a catchall term, more lively than “uncool.” I was inspired by conversations about songs we’re not “supposed” to love; I find it fascinating how eager people are to divulge guilty pleasures in the presence of friends, and how liberated they feel upon sharing. I hoped to engender more of that with my post.

The post was very popular, and Salon re-blogged it, which, while satisfying (it got shared a lot) re-introduced me to the world of the Internet Trolls, who I hadn’t encountered since I wrote to the Kingston Freeman in support of the SAFE Act. I didn’t wade too deep into the comments section, but from what I could tell, most commenters misunderstood my idea, thinking I was putting the songs down, and, being Internet Trolls, they spoke their minds and assailed my character mercilessly. It didn’t bother me, though, in part because they were in the monority.  And, as Dolly Parton said, “People ask if I get offended by dumb blond jokes and I say, ‘No, because I know I’m not dumb. I also know I’m not blond.'”

My other post was “Razor Sadness, Wizened Eyes: Nirvana Unplugged, 20 Years On.” Since Robin Williams’ death, I’d been meaning to write about my changing feelings regarding suicide, and a viewing of Nirvana’s remarkable swan song gave me a way in.

I also wrote a post on this blog about my dad for Father’s Day. if you missed it and want to check it out, you can read it HERE.

Other summer writing included book reviews for Chronogram and finishing my novel, Feedback, about which I will post more in depth later. Suffice to say, it’s 306 pages, approximately 77 thousand words, and soon I’ll be sending it out in the world. Also upcoming: several spoken word/storytelling performances. I told the universe I wanted more of that, and she honored my request, apparently.

Thanks again for reading. Your comments, troll-like or not, are always appreciated.

sound as ever

RBW

9-2-14

 

 

A Visit With the Cloud Walker – Philippe Petit in Rhinebeck

A couple nights ago, Holly and I drove with our sixteen-year-old son, Jack, across the Hudson to Rhinebeck, NY, to see and hear the wonderful Philippe Petit at Oblong Books & Music (a great indie bookstore I recently wrote about). Philippe is the Frenchman who walked on a wire between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center forty years ago this August. I need to write that again in italics. He walked on a wire between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. At that time, the second tallest buildings in the world. And he didn’t just do it once. He strode back and forth 8 times, approximately 1400 feet above the pavement, 110 stories, jumping occasionally, and even laying down, as if to take a nap. Thinking about that, seeing photos, and most of all, standing in Philippe’s presence, never fails to spike my blood pressure, but in a good way. My sense of wonder re-ignites, and a whole vista of possibility opens inside me. In short, I feel like a kid. I will never, ever wrap my head around Philippe’s astonishing, unique feat, but that’s OK. It’s like what T. S. Eliot said about poetry: it communicates before it is understood. Philippe’s 1974 walk, and his entire life, is best viewed, I have decided, like a poem, a living work of art, communicating volumes of mostly inexpressible, yet invigorating energy. There is no “processing.”

Philippe on one of his 8 passes between the towers.

Philippe on one of his 8 passes between the towers.


I was 9 and growing up in Atlanta, Georgia when Philippe took to the Manhattan sky, but I heard and read about it, fascinated. I was too young to recall the Moon landings, so this, I assume, was like that for me, although sadly (or perhaps not) no film footage exists of Philippe’s walk among the clouds, except an indistinct, faraway helicopter video. When I moved from Georgia to Manhattan in 1985, and saw (and briefly worked in) the WTC, my amazement was refreshed. I went to the top floor of WTC 1, and thought about Philippe’s act. It made me queasy, especially when I realized the towers swayed in the wind.

Further keeping Philippe in my forebrain was my first roommate, Peter McCabe, who was studying acting at NYU. He was a big Philippe fan, and, to our landlords’ dismay, Pete constructed a walking wire in the long hall of our Avenue B tenement (he drilled supports into the floorboards). He practiced on it, honing his actorly grace. And, a la Philippe, Pete occasionally fastened a slack rope between two trees in Washington Square Park, and walked it.

So Philippe never really left my consciousness. And when the towers fell in my last year as a New Yorker, I thought of him, and knew his heart was breaking even more than mine.

***

Because Philippe is a Catskill neighbor, our family trip to Oblong was the fifth time we’ve seen him perform. I say perform because calling what he does a “lecture” or a “talk”  seems insulting. Although it was an author event for his recently published (and excellently titled) Creativity: The Perfect Crime, it was not a “reading.” It was a performance.

We almost didn’t go because Jack is in the final crunch of his sophomore year of high school and he had studying to do. (And, to be frank, I was in a tunnel-visioned bad mood.) But, as often happens in parenting, we took a calculated risk, in part because Jack knows Philippe, and really wanted to go. As parents, we want Jack to connect with extraordinary people as much as possible, to see, up close, lives lived with bravery, integrity, and joy. That sums up Philippe pretty well. I have told Jack time and again that he will go his entire life and never meet anyone like Philippe Petit. So we made the 45-minute drive, and Jack alternately napped and studied in the back seat.

My son first met Philippe via Woodstock’s Golden Notebook  (another great indie bookstore). Jack works there after school on Fridays, and helps out at author events. He assisted Philippe at a Woodstock Writers Festival event for Philippe’s 2013 book Why Knot? (Philippe is prolific) and they hit it off. Philippe even came to our tiny town of Phoenicia and gave a performance in an old church, where I rigged my decrepit amplifier for his microphone and wished with all my might I could make it sound better than it did. But Philippe didn’t complain. And he sold a ton of books.

Philippe Petit and Jack, Woodstock Writers Festival, 2013.

Philippe Petit and Jack, Woodstock Writers Festival, 2013.

At Oblong, Philippe, true to form, did not mingle with the crowd prior to his performance, as authors usually do. He was going to make an entrance. The place was packed, standing room only, almost 100 people, which is a lot for Oblong, although, as ever, I looked around and wondered why 5,000 people weren’t there, just as interested as me. Honestly, what could be cooler than this guy? What?

An assistant gave every audience member a plastic fork – no explanation – and, after a quick intro, Philippe bounded out, elfin, graceful yet powerful, like a ballet dancer, looking many years younger than 64. He sized us up with a palpable intensity, the molecules in the air shifted, and he began.

Philippe at Oblong, photo courtesy Helen Seslowsky, Oblong Books

Phiippe at Oblong, photo courtesy Helen Seslowsky, Oblong Books

His voice is musical, accented of course, his English is fluid and perfect, and he is as funny as a stand-up. The only unintentional (I think) malapropism of the night was when he explained why he sketches so much, rather than taking photos during his travels. He said, “I do not have an intelligent phone.” After saying hello to Oscar-winning local gal Melissa Leo in the front row, Philippe expressed his hatred of “books about creativity,” but his editor encouraged him to write about his creativity, so here we are. Then he invited a woman out of the audience and pretended to perform a card trick when, in fact, he removed her watch from her wrist without her – or anyone – noticing. He talked of learning magic as a kid (on a commune, it turns out) then mastering juggling, riding his unicycle everywhere, and basically teaching himself everything. The word “autodidact” never sounded so lovely. He also got kicked out of five schools.

This is all covered beautifully in the documentary Man On Wire, by the way, which you need to see if you haven’t.

 

Philippe at Oblong, Melissa Leo in baby blue sweater, front row, smiling. Photo courtesy Helen Seslowsky, Oblong Books

Philippe at Oblong, Melissa Leo in baby blue sweater, front row, smiling. Photo courtesy Helen Seslowsky, Oblong Books

Philippe finally mentioned the forks. He asked people to come up with alternate uses for the fork, i.e. be creative. He got some entertaining answers. Jack raised his hand, but we were way in the back, and he didn’t get called on. I asked my son what he would’ve suggested, and he said you could hold the fork tines up to your eye and get a sense of what it was like to be in prison, thereby broadening your perspective on life. I’m biased, of course, but no one else’s suggestion was nearly as good as that.

The only dip in the positive vibe was during the Q & A, when a guy asked how it felt for Philippe’s “pinnacle” to have been when he was 24. Very annoying. But, deft as ever, and unflappable, Philippe explained, in a roundabout, poetic way, that it wasn’t “the pinnacle” of his life, because he is still living that moment every day. The subtext: if you ever did anything as magnificent and monumental as that, you wouldn’t be asking that obnoxious question (interpretation mine). And, in fact, Philippe’s life has continued to be unusual, bountiful, and inspiring.

Around this time, Philippe noticed Jack, and called out to his friend, his “soul cousin.”  That, in a word, was the pinnacle of the night.

We bought books, and Philippe said hello, signed them (in honor of Jack’s style, he drew a top hat on his) and we headed into the night, each of us quite jazzed. For Jack in particular, the event was very encouraging, and he was buoyant into the next morning. What he said on the street was that Philippe made him feel less stressed about school, which is marvelous. His school experience is much, much more stressful than his mom’s or mine ever was, and we all endeavor to stay engaged and on track without overdoing it. It’s a challenge. Does he plan to get kicked out of school and take to death-defying antics like Philippe?  No. But it’s not about that. It’s about seeing a vibrant expression of life beyond the version of what a school kid – or anyone – knows and sees every day. An active encounter with an amazing person telling an offbeat life story, who is vital and engaged, gives more perspective than reading a book or passively watching something. It’s complimentary education. The values of art, and artist, and life are there before you, breathing, laughing, transporting fellow souls into the limitless imagination, as artists do.

The terrain where we experience wonder and possibility gets obscured by the daily grind, the news, the hammering home every day of our collective peril.  Philippe restores that imaginative-yet-very-real vista, where some important living must take place. This vista is crucial for all of us, but mostly for Jack, who, like his soul cousin, looks to the clouds and sees more than just clouds.

 

 

Alex Chilton, A Personal History

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Alex Chilton, RBW, Jack, outside Alex’s Treme, New Orleans, cottage, spring, 1998

A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton, my wife Holly George-Warren‘s biography of Alex, hits bookshelves this week. (You can keep up with events and enjoy videos and reviews at the Facebook page.) In advance of that auspicious occasion, Paper magazine commissioned me to write an essay about how Alex and his music and life impacted my family. I’ve pasted the first paragraph below, with a link to the rest of the piece. Please enjoy!

***

Technically, my wife Holly George-Warren worked on A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton for about three years, but she’d been talking about it for almost two decades. A fan since the ’70s, she met Alex when he was washing dishes in New Orleans in the early ’80s. He was in the “rags” part of his riches-to-rags-to-riches arc, scraping jambalaya off tourists’ plates to make ends meet. Holly and Alex hit it off. A couple years later, he produced her band Clambake, an early step on his winding path back to musical activity. I came on the scene in 1987, when Holly’s band Das Furlines and my band the Fleshtones shared a bill. All I knew of Alex was that he’d been the 16-year-old white singer of The Box Tops, a kid who’d sounded like a 40-year-old black man on the 1967 smash “The Letter.” I’d heard-tell of his ’70s cult band Big Star, but I’d not checked them out. I learned more — a lot more — via Holly’s stories of Alex, and her expansive record collection, which included Box Tops LPs and the Big Star oeuvre alongside Alex’s eclectic, occasionally slapdash, intentionally confounding solo work. Holly also possessed The Cramps classic debut LP, Songs the Lord Taught Us, which Alex produced. I am partial to Big Star, but Holly loves it all.

                                                                                                                         Read more HERE.

Christian Nation – a review

Christian NationChristian Nation by Frederic C. Rich

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Frederic C. Rich’s gripping novel Christian Nation straddles the line between speculative fiction and passionate indictment of today’s Christian Right. In a nonlinear narrative covering three decades, narrator Greg, a Manhattan attorney and clearly Rich’s political doppelganger, inhabits two time frames; in one, real-life Evangelicals are working to erode our democracy; in another, they have succeeded, and we’re screwed. The alternate universe takes hold in 2008, when McCain/Palin win the presidency and, mere weeks after the inauguration, Commander-In-Chief McCain dies of a brain aneurysm. Voilà: President Palin.

The novel opens in 2029, and from the first pages, we know Palin and the Christian Right have long since transformed the nation. The reeducation of the general public is a fait accompli, and America has closed its borders, real and virtual. Greg is in hiding, typing his memoir on an ancient Selectric typewriter, unhooked from the Purity Web, which monitors every keystroke of every US citizen (not unlike our modern-day NSA, it turns out). Despite painful memories, Greg hopes his readers will understand why and how the law of the land was dismantled, particularly how bystanders allowed it to transpire.

Lest this become a mere jeremiad, Rich entwines Greg’s personal story into the narrative; we travel back to 1998, when Greg was a rising corporate lawyer, entertained by the antics of Fox News and its ilk. We meet his shrewish girlfriend Emilie, and his best friend, the gorgeous Sanjay, a gay Indian Internet entrepreneur and founder of Theocracy Watch. Sanjay may as well have a target on his back.

We soon learn that Palin’s first term, albeit fraught with economic woe and global embarrassment, was a beachhead for the Christian Right. An Islamic terrorist attack that makes 9/11 look like a rehearsal ensures her second term, during which she extends martial law. It is never rescinded. The Fox network merges with the Faith & Freedom Coalition (an actual organization) to become F3, and fearmongering reigns. Palin’s adviser/puppet master Steve Jordan, intelligent and malevolent as any degenerate Caesar, takes the presidency after Palin’s two terms, and the hammer comes down in earnest. The Left finally wakes up, Holy War ensues, the government engages in escalating atrocities against gays, immigrants, and non-Evangelicals, and New York City becomes the last holdout against a liberal’s worst nightmare. Until the Siege of Manhattan, which is riveting reading.

Like his protagonist, Scenic Hudson Board Chairman Rich is an excellent attorney, impressively conversant in the intricacies of law. This expertise gives Christian Nation terrifying verisimilitude, yet he sometimes loses us when detailing just how laws can be overturned. Greg admits to being uninterested in his emotions, and while this frees him up to discourse at length on certiorari and precedents, it also renders him distant as a character, especially when both his personal world and the country are crumbling around him. The tragic accident that claims his parents and sister barely gets a mention, for instance. He mourns far more for democracy than for his loved ones.

Thankfully, Rich includes frequent quotations of poetry, Bible verse, philosophy, and literature, peppering the text with moving, multitextured language, all of which supports his thesis that we’re closer to theocracy than we care to admit. The narrative clicks into high gear toward the end, with some breathtaking, brisk passages about mental fatigue, madness, and the resilience of hope. Rich’s characters note that every empire falls, thanks in part to the storytellers. And that isn’t speculative fiction. That’s true.

View all my reviews