On a warm spring night in 1992, the Rock Bottom Remainders took the stage at the Cowboy Boogie in Anaheim, Calif. With more than a dozen best-seling authors, including Dave Barry, Amy Tan, Barbara Kingsolver and Stephen King, the band rocked out, playing covers of their favorite jams to a bookish crowd.
After 20 years and one nine-city bus tour, the Rock Bottom Remainders brokeup last year. The band's founder, Kathi Kamen Goodmark, an author escort who was also Dave Barry's sister-in-law, died of breast cancer in May 2012, and the band members figured their time with the Rock Bottom Remainders was best left in the past.
Last month, the band released "Hard Listening," an interactive e-book to ceremonially cap off their time in rock 'n' roll — and to raise money to pay Goldmark's medical bills and help her husband, Sam Barry, who lost his job right before his wife's death. The e-book features videos, photo galleries, interactivequizzes and essays from band members.
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Printers Row Journal spoke by phone with Ridley Pearson and Scott Turow, who joined the band about four years in, about life as a rock star and "Hard Listening." Here is an edited version of the conversation.
Q: Are you guys really broken up? Say it ain't so!
Ridley Pearson: We're broken up about breaking up. I think there is a song in there somewhere.
Scott Turow: That is a fabulous song title.
RP: A country song, I think. We lost Warren Zevon and Frank McCourt, and then we lost Kathi Goldmark, who had put the whole thing together. I really think there came a moment when we all thought, you know, we will play together again. Certainly we will play in smaller groups because it is just too much fun, but the moment of the Rock Bottom Remainders as the Rock Bottom Remainders had passed and it had passed with Kathi.
ST: Also, it's hard to play rock 'n' roll when you're getting so old you can't hear the music.
RP: You wear earplugs, Scott!
ST: I do, but it doesn't make any difference because I sing whatever I want to sing and, as I always say, I sing in the key of H, so in my case there is no consequence. But, seriously, we are getting older. It doesn't seem to stop The Rolling Stones, but I don't think anybody is up for a bus tour anymore. Ridley is right, the big issue is there was too much loss to feel like we could really call ourselves the same band. With all that said, there is certainly going to be a reunion of sorts at the Miami Book Fair in the fall.
Q: What is a Rock Bottom Remainder?
RP: A remainder is an unsold hardcover book, so the Rock Bottom Remainders are the worst of the worst.
ST: The remainder is the bane of every author's life because you will show up at Borders, for example, and there is a stack of the books that you worked your behind off both writing and promoting and now they are being sold off at $2.99.
Q: How did you guys get together?
ST: My memory is that Kathi was an author's escort in San Francisco and a part-time musician. She met all these touring authors and would talk to them about music and eventually she got the idea to get all these people organized to play a gig. They were not the sensation of the music world, but they were the sensation of the literary world.
RP: What you have to love about Scott, in his writing and in his conversation, is that like a good attorney, he can sum it all up in the least amount of words. Kathi toured us all around individually and saw the opportunity to throw a band together. I think the surprise of it all was that this was back in the day of faxes — no email yet — and we were all queried separately via fax. I had no clue who might be in the band or whom was being asked. I got the invitation and I wrote back, sure I would love to play bass. About three weeks later, I got a fax that says I am in a band with Dave Barry, Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, Robert Fulghum and Amy Tan. I about fell out of my chair. We played that first gig at the Cowboy Boogie and, thankfully, it was a book crowd so they adored us even if we couldn't do anything right. On the way offstage, Steve (King) looked over his shoulder at me and said, (imitating Stephen King) "Ridley, we're not done here," and we weren't. We went on for 20 more years.
ST: I hear about all of this and the next time a book comes out I am with Kathi and we are driving down the Bayshore Freeway and I said to her, "You know, Kathi, every writer of our generation who was not invited to join the Rock Bottom Remainders bares a psychic wound," and she looked over at me and said, "Oh, Scott, I am so sorry, I didn't know you played an instrument," to which I responded, "I don't, I can't sing either, but I was wounded anyway." Eventually by playing injured, I was invited on stage to sing in what used to be called the "Critics Chorus" in which writers who were in attendance were invited to stand in the back of the stage and howl along. Somehow my role evolved.
RP: The thing is that if people wanted to be in the band we kind of knew there was a problem because they might have musical ability. I remember, Scott, when you came up in Miami, you were in a suit for goodness sakes, and Dave and I looked at each other and there was just this laser look between us that, within eight seconds of your starting to sing, we both thought we have to beg this guy to be in the band. We are very lucky — don't you think, Scott? — about the way it has worked out, because we all get along like best friends and brothers and sisters. It is a really great combination of people. We would rather go to Dave's house in Miami and play in his living room than get up in front of an audience. It is just that the getting up in front of an audience is what gives us the excuse to go to Dave's house and play in his living room.