Once a band achieves fame, it becomes fairly easy to read a variety of articles about the members, or the music. If a band’s early days gets addressed, often those details are relegated to two to three paragraphs of a profile. So a while back comics creator Cully Hamner intrigued me, when he made folks aware that Greg Renoff‘s upcoming book, Van Halen Rising: How a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal, was to be released in October 2015. Renoff’s book title makes clear part of what he sets out to reveal, but the aspect that really hooked me into learning more was the author’s decision to focus on Van Halen’s pre-1978 days (aka before they were famous and successful). To get a glimpse of Renoff’s writing style (as well as a taste of his post-1978 Van Halen knowledge) be sure to read his recent Medium piece, which also features legendary photographer Helmut Newton. If that is not enough fun for you after reading this interview, please be sure to peruse Renoff’s Van Halen Rising website.
Tim O’Shea: This book was researched partially by 230 interviews you conducted. How long did it take to conduct all of them?
Greg Renoff: I did my first interviews in 2008. When I first started, I was spurred on by curiosity about Van Halen’s early days more than the idea I’d write a book. I talked to a LA nightclub owner who’d booked Van Halen in 1976 and then to a Pasadena drummer who’d seen the Van Halen brothers perform live long before David Lee Roth joined the band. Then about a year later, I had a break from teaching and decided to dig into the topic some more by doing more interviews. After I started hearing more tales of the band members’ wild days before they were famous, I saw that there was a great story here that needed to be told in book form.
Tim O’Shea: Was it hard to track down folks that had worked on the production of his show, or are many of them still active in the industry today?
Jeremy Newberger: Finding the producers of “The Morton Downey Jr. Show” was easy. Getting them to overlook twenty years of repressed rage and therapy bills was a little trickier. Most of them are still in production on everything from theSPEED Network to “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” Show creator Bob Pittman is now CEO of a little company called Clear Channel.
Growing out of the post from earlier this week about T.V. Dinner, a former high school classmate Annette Saldana (now a successful businessperson–and the force behind The Art & Science of Making Irresistible Requests) got me thinking more about The Stein Club. I think (emphasis on “think”) I set foot in the place, which was opened from the early 1960s to 2000, once. But I know many people that loved hanging out there. Why? I think this 1985 North Dekalb Community Television/Cable 23 show, Club Scene, hosted by Brian Smith, provides a good perspective of why folks loved the place.
The video was posted on YouTube courtesy of Smith and the 880+members of the Facebook group, We Miss the Stein Club.
So Atlanta history never fails to surprise me. I remember hearing about the Agora Ballroom, the Stein Club was actually still in existence when I started going to bars, I think I set foot in the Cotton Club at least once. But back in 1982, I was either graduating from grade school or starting high school (depending on what part of the year it was). So I knew nothing about T.V. Dinner, a little club [located at 1028 Peachtree Street in Midtown Atlanta], founded by Finnean Jones and Rosa Phillips (as noted by this 1982 GSU Signal article by Glen Thrasher at a Facebook T.V. Dinner fan page) in 1982.
What recently garnered my interest about this seemingly obscure club of the early 1980s? Well I stumbled across a YouTube video of Allen Ginsberg appearing at the club. I am hoping to find out more about the club in the coming weeks (looking at the folks on the fan page, it appears that many of the folks are friends with many of my Atlanta art scene fans–so I am hoping to mine their collective knowledge). But for today, I offer the video (plus a link to the second part). Enjoy.
What really surprises me about my ignorance of this club? Less than 10 years later in the early 1990s, my then girlfriend and I rented an apartment less than a mile from the club’s former location.
In 2012, the U.S. national TV broadcast network NBC will celebrate that Today, its morning news and talk show, first went on the air 60 years ago in January of 1952. Indeed, NBC’s celebration started a little early in mid-November, with the release of From Yesterday to Today: Six Decades of America’s Favorite Morning Show, a book written by Stephen Battaglio (TV Guide‘s business editor) and published by Running Press. Battaglio, who was granted access to the TODAY show’s archives in order to fully document the rich history of the show, was kind enough to take part in a recent email interview about his 272-page book. The book features a variety of information and photos covering the show’s 60-year history as well as an introduction by current Today show host Matt Lauer.
Did NBC give you full access to its show archives?
Yes. We were able to use their photos. I was able to review past episodes of Today – a lot of fun – and interviews with the personalities that NBC News producers had done over the years. I combined that with my own research and reporting on the show done over my career as a journalist covering the TV industry. I also did a few dozen fresh interviews with the current and past Today producers and cast members.
If you have enjoyed the comedy of Mystery Science Theater 3000, or the more recent movie-mocking gang, Cinematic Titanic, you have comedian/print and radio essayist Mary Jo Pehl partially to thank. There are a few writers that have the power to bring a smile to my face, far less writers can make me laugh uncontrollably. I have grown to rely on Pehl to always be in the latter writer category. Her recently released book, Employee of the Month and Other Big Deals, features some of the comedian/essayist’s strongest (and most amusing) tales. This collection of essays partially chronicles her life as she moved from Minnesota to New York, then ultimately Texas–with all the great and funny tales in between. Upon learning of her new book, I contacted Pehl for a brief email interview about her stories, as well learning which writers entertain her…among other big deals (to clearly borrow from her title).
The blurbs in praise of this book are the who’s who of good comedy, including Trace Beaulieu who said: “Mary Jo Pehl can do what very few authors can—make me laugh out loud.” How gratifying was it to see your peers say things like this and of a similar vein?
I suppose I put them on the spot since we travel together and they’d have to face me. Still, I really respect and value their sensibilities, and so was hoping they’d think of something good to say about the book.
How cathartic was it to write the write the introduction, where you were able to discuss your other previously published “book” (a term I assume you prefer I use loosely).
A friend sent me this quote by Robert Cormier: “The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.”
So earlier today, my attention was caught (I am a guy) by the headline in the Des Moines Register, Business owner ends ties with burlesque dancers after ‘wardrobe malfunction’. After reading the piece, in which “Simple misdemeanor charges of prohibited acts were filed against Erin O’Grady, 27, of Ames and Julia Mahlstadt, 25, of Des Moines”–essentially because they accidentally exposed part of their breasts during their performance.
Given that I was curious to learn more about the folks cited, I did a search for their names. Imagine my surprise when I found that both women had been featured in the same newspaper back in mid-September, in a Style piece, Find your body’s perfect skirt.
I love the irony of the story’s opening paragraph: “If you have a less-defined waist with large breasts and narrow hips and slim legs, you have a top-heavy, apple-shaped body. Show off your womanly figure by highlighting your legs and cleavage (but not too much). ” That’s right, “but not too much.”
But once I discovered the main mission of the website: “Largehearted Boy is all about sharing the love I have for music, literature, and popular culture. A true labor of love, the site now features every day daily downloads of free and legal music as well as shorties (daily music, literature, geeky and popular culture news). ” I realized it was a site I should be visiting more frequently. And if you love pop culture as much as I do, you should visit the site as well.
I have never been to Coney Island, and now I wish I had gone there sometime in the 1980s or 1990s. There is a do-it-yourself quality (seemingly intentional toward the end) on the audio to this New York Times piece on changes for seven businesses at Coney Island.