One thing about taking on Ryan Adams as a biography subject, you don’t want to blow it because he’s published a couple of books himself — “Hello Sunshine” and “Infinity Blues,” both of which came out in 2009 (not quite as robust a display of productivity as his musical 2005, but pretty impressive nevertheless). And while neither book was unanimously acclaimed, they still established enough of a literary reputation for Ryan to land on a recent listicle about “10 Rockers With Serious Literary Cred.” Ryan comes in at No. 8, just behind Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo and ahead of Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz. Patti Smith, Tom Waits and Nick Cave are all further on up the list, too. And fittingly, the top dog is Leonard Cohen.
Posts Tagged With: Leonard Cohen
I must confess that I had some misgivings about how things would go for me at the Texas Book Festival. First, my presentation was at a bar — and based on past experience, book-type events in bars just don’t seem to go too well. Second, it was outdoors on the bar’s back patio on a chilly night when temperatures would dip into the 40s. And third, it wasn’t clear we’d actually be able to sell any books because there was no cash register set up at the start of the event. A TBF volunteer announced that someone had been sent to fetch one, but they were running late because…their car had struck a deer. Only in Texas.
Despite all that, it went great. I’m terrible at guessing crowd numbers, but there appeared to be about 75 people gathered at Shangri-La to hear Sylvie Simmons, Ken Caillat and me talk about our respective tomes. There was only 45 minutes for the three of us, so Sylvie had to leave her ukulele at home. But she promises to have it with her Tuesday when she’ll do a reading at Waterloo Records in Austin; and with Leonard Cohen himself scheduled to play in Austin on Wednesday, there might even be a celebrity appearance.
But back to Saturday, which was great fun. Book festivals are a very cool part of the book-publishing rodeo. You get to strut around wearing a badge, feeling as if you deserve to be there, which is an ego boost I’d recommend. Most of the TBF happens in and around the state capitol building, so I went to some other presentations during the afternoon — including a very moving one by my fellow University of Texas alumnus John Schwartz, about his family memoir “Oddly Normal.”
I also got a peek at the “Speaker’s Apartment” inside the capitol building, where the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives used to live. It’s a fairly palatial flat, and TBF had it set up as author check-in spot and hangout salon. Several of us were cooling our heels in the parlor Saturday afternoon when an older gentleman wearing a suit and Texas flag tie waltzed in and announced he’d lived there 40-some years before when he was speaker. He even had brochures about himself to pass out, and he asked if anyone wanted their pictures taken with him. It was sweet, but also a touch sad.
Out on the capitol grounds, I did some wandering about, taking the festival in and having the same experience I always do when I’m in Austin, which is kind of the world’s largest small town. And while it wasn’t surprising to bump into fellow festival author Joe Nick Patoski (there to plug his fine new book about the Dallas Cowboys), it was surprising to bump into Rush, who I’d not laid eyes on since we were in the same summer Spanish class at Austin Community College in 1983; and Laura, a pal who ran with the same show-going crowd I did back in mid-’80s Austin, and who I don’t think I’d seen in a decade. I did some networking around the festival, too, and I might have some news soon about future projects.
After a brief drop-in at the TBF cocktail party at the plush offices of Texas Monthly, it was on to dinner at El Azteca, one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in Austin. Had a nice crowd there, too, including Dean Dauphinais — a friend down visiting from Detroit, whose name you’ll find in the “acknowledgements” of “Losering.”
As for the book event, it wasn’t the usual reading. The three of us sat with moderator Raoul Hernandez and took his questions, plus a few from the audience. As usual, Sylvie was the big draw (she does have a New York Times best-seller, after all), but there was plenty of interest and attention for all three of us. And by the time we were done, the cash register was in the house and hooked up.
It’s all good.
So as I’ve mentioned the last few days, this weekend is the big Texas Book Festival in Austin, Texas (a.k.a., the South By Southwest of the book world), which I am very honored to be a part of. My bit happens at 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, at a joint in East Austin called Shangri-La, as part of the festival’s “Lit Crawl.” Sylvie Simmons (author of that fabulous Leonard Cohen bio that’s all the rage this fall), Ken Caillat (author of a scintillating Fleetwood Mac tell-all) and yours truly will discuss our respective books — and whatever else moderator Raoul Hernandez brings up. Y’all come.
When I go to a convention, I’m usually there to cover it — typically for the News & Observer but occasionally for someone else. Coming to Nashville for this week’s Americana Music Association Festival & Conference has been different because I’m here in a marketing capacity to launch “Losering.” As part of the N&O’s financial struggles, the paper’s employees have to take unpaid furlough weeks this quarter. I chose mine to coincide with AMA so I could focus on book matters. That’s been good, but it also feels weird not to be filing AMA dispatches for my work blog.
So I did my first reading the other day, on the mezzanine of the AMA conference hotel, and it went well. About 15 people came, paid attention and asked questions; and we sold into double figures on books (thanks to Nashville’s Parnassus Books). Some of the people who came, I didn’t even know. Every writer has war stories about readings they’ve done where the only attendees were friends or relatives; and as glad as you are to see them, it’s even better when strangers come because then you feel like you’re making progress. Still, we’re grateful when anybody at all shows up.
I guess you could say I’m here on behalf of UT Press, too. My American Music Series colleague Don McLeese did a reading for his Dwight Yoakam book (at the Country Music Hall of Fame, no less). So I put on my co-editor’s hat and introduced him, talking a bit about the series. I’ve connected with a few other scribes at the conference, and we’ve had some really good discussions about potential future titles. Here’s hoping they continue on-course.
Another writer who did a reading at AMA was Sylvie Simmons, whose “I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen” is just out and earning raves in all the right places. Of course I’m green with envy — this is the kind of New York Times acclaim every author dreams about, and her book is also in amazon’s top-100 — but not resentful. Simmons is much-beloved in the rock-write world, and she has definitely earned the acclaim. What I’ve read so far of “I’m Your Man” is great, and Simmons went through quite an odyssey getting the book done. At her reading, she broke out a ukulele to do a lovely rendition of Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat,” a very charming touch that made me feel awkward about the stammery reading I’d done the day before. But we endeavor to persevere.
I was proud I could give Simmons a copy of “Losering,” and she was kind enough to accept it with enthusiasm. A cool thing about participating in something like AMA is seeing your name in the event program alongside people you admire, musicians as well as other writers; it’s probably the equivalent of getting the late-season call up to the big leagues for the proverbial cup of coffee, but a thrill nevertheless. And after Simmons’ reading, as folks were standing around in clusters making plans for Friday evening’s shows, two people who hadn’t been at my reading came up to me with copies of “Losering” they wanted signed.
That was pretty danged cool. And so was this, the first local review to turn up in the Triangle. On we go…