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Far From Flatbush

Adventures in Fact Checking

 

I've been proofreading the galleys for Bobby in Naziland: A Tale of Flatbush, which Headpress will publish in the coming months. Part of the proofreading process involves fact checking—veryifying every name and date that it's possible to verify.

 

Mostly it's straightforward; a Google search provides the answer. But Bobby in Naziland, set in Flatbush in the 1950s and 60s, often defies Google. Checking the weather for a particular day in 1952, for example, involves digging through newspaper archives. And many of the Brooklyn places I wrote about are long gone—like N.E. Tell's bakery on Church Avenue. Was I spelling it correctly? Were there periods after the "N" and "E"? Was there a space between the two letters? Was there an apostrophe before the "s"?

 

The New York City Municipal Archives recently digitized their tax-photo collection, which they describe as follows:

 

Between 1939 and 1941, the Works Progress Administration, in conjunction with the New York City Department of Taxation, organized teams of photographers to shoot pictures of every building in the five boroughs of New York City.

 

I found the answers to my spelling questions there—and it was a eureka moment of genuine excitement. Then I enlarged the photo, which you can do on the site, and saw the apostrophe "s" on the side of the truck. I felt as if I'd discovered a time machine.

 

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Naziland in 3-D

This computer-generated image of my forthcoming book, Bobby in Naziland: A Tale of Flatbush, creates the illusion that the book exists, in three dimensions. It does not... yet. But this is what it will look like when it's published later this year, publication date soon to be announced.

 

 

A recent tweet from Headpress notes that Bobby in Naziland "touches on topics as wide ranging as the trial of Adolf Eichnmann, goyim, Jews, money, sex, class, racism, the Rosenbergs, the space race, UFOs, Eva Perón, President Kennedy, the Three Stooges, the New York Yankees, literature, language, and memory itself."

 

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Remembering Francine

Francine du Plessix Gray, shot by Irving Penn, on the cover of Vanity Fair, November 1983.

It was a long time ago, and the memories are starting to fade, but when I heard last week that Francine du Plessix Gray had died, at the age of 88, it reminded me, once again, of the best piece of writing advice I ever got. It's advice that I've adhered to since that autumn afternoon in 1975, in her office in the English department, at the City College of New York, when she showed me a spiral-bound notebook, the latest volume of the journal she'd been keeping since the summer of 1951, and said, "Keep a journal; write in it every day."

 

It was, she explained, how a writer finds his (or her) voice—by making writing as natural as breathing.

 

There were other bits of useful advice that Francine—we called her "Francine," not "Professor Gray"—shared with her students, advice of the sort you wouldn't normally get in a CCNY writing workshop. Like (and I forget her exact words, but the message was clear): Edit your own work when you're stoned on marijuana. You'll have no tolerance for bullshit and unnecessary verbiage.

 

Francine arrived at CCNY for the Spring 1975 semester, slated to teach one graduate and one undergraduate nonfiction writing workshop (what would now be called "creative nonfiction"). I met her my first day back at school—I'd gotten my BA in creative writing and then taken off a few months to travel. Now I was about to embark on a course of study in the graduate literature program after having been rejected from the creative writing program, which, at the time, I saw as the key to my future. I was 21 years old and crushed. The writing program at City College, in those magical days of free tuition, was a promised land where, for little more than the cost of books, one could study under the tutelage of Kurt Vonnegut, William Burroughs, and Joseph Heller, the department chairman, who had personally rejected me.

 

I thought studying literature might be a constructive way to kill time while I figured out what to do with my life.

 

I was wandering through the English department—a quonset hut on South Campus—attempting to put together a not-too-demanding schedule of classes, when a woman, fashion-model tall with blonde hair and wearing a Viva magazine T-shirt, asked me, with the slightest hint of what I took for an indeterminate European accent, if I knew where the administration building was.

 

"New here?" I inquired after giving her directions. I thought she might be a night-school student.

 

Yes, she replied, she'd just been hired to teach a creative writing workshop.

 

She asked me other questions about the college, and in the course of our conversation, I told her that I used to edit one of the student newspapers and that I'd been rejected from the creative writing program.

 

What happened next still seems miraculous. Francine asked me to bring her some of my stories that had been published in the newspaper. I brought her a half-dozen samples of my work, and when I returned to her office later that afternoon, she looked up from my articles, spread out on her desk, and declared, "This is gonzo!"

 

She invited me to take her graduate writing workshop and asked if I'd be her graduate assistant.

 

I was in!

 

Because Francine never talked about it in any detail, all I knew about her history was what I read in the short excerpts about her European childhood—governesses, a Russian mother, Paris—that she showed the class from the autobiographical novel she was writing at the time, Lovers and Tyrants. Had I heard that her stepfather, Alexander Liberman, was the editorial director of Condé Nast, it would have meant nothing to me. I'm not sure I knew that Condé Nast was a magazine-publishing company.

 

But what was really important to me about Francine was that she taught creative writing in a way that none of my other teachers had. Where Heller, for example, said that there was only one way to write a story—well-plotted with a beginning, middle, climax, and end… no deviations and no sci-fi, supernatural, or detective stories—Francine believed the best way to write was in fragments. Don't think about plot or form. Just get something good down on paper. Trust your unconscious and eventually the fragments will congeal into a coherent whole.

 

Rather than stories, she assigned fragments. Start from the inside and work your way out: first describe an emotional experience, then a small space, then a person, then a larger space, and keep going until you finally work your way up to describing a historical event.

 

This made sense to me and I flourished.

 

Once a week, after she taught her undergraduate class, we'd sit together in her little office in the English Hut, as it was called, critiquing stories, with me, on occasion, alerting her to an unexpected gem.

 

It went on like this for two terms, during which she guided me though my first attempt to get a full-length book off the ground, reading and editing my rough drafts. After I'd badly missed the mark on one of her assignments, she made a prediction: "You're going to write darkly humorous books and travel around the world."

 

And our bond became stronger because we were both plagued by a stutter that came and went depending on how stressed we were. Writing was a way to express ourselves fluently.

 

Francine left City College in 1976, returning to Connecticut and a life of writing books (At Home with the Marquis de Sade, World Without End, October Blood, and Them, among others) and magazine articles, including covering the trial of Gestapo chief Klaus Barbi for Vanity Fair, which won a National Magazine Award for best reporting.

 

I somehow muddled through my final term of grad school without her.

 

Over the years, we'd exchange an occasional postcard, but by the mid-1980s we'd fallen out of touch. I now wonder if she was aware that her prediction had come to pass.

 

Yes, Francine, there have been a handful of "darkly humorous" books and there has been much travel to distant lands to talk about them. And I often think of you when I write in my notebook—which I still do every day.

 

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Coverboy

The cover photo on my new book, Bobby in Naziland: A Tale of Flatbush, to be published in the coming months by Headpress, was taken by my mother, in my grandmother's house, in 1956, with a Brownie Hawkeye camera.

 

"Smile naturally!" my mother demanded as she snapped the picture. Her direction made me so nervous, I couldn't smile at all. I could only stare into the camera in a state of deer-in-the-headlights shock.

 

The photo sits atop the piano in my house. And though I've been living with it for more than 60 years, it never occurred to me it could be a book cover. In fact, I couldn't think of any single image that would capture the essence of Bobby in Naziland.

 

"What about this?" my wife asked, showing me the photo.

 

It was perfect, I realized: the expression, the position of my hands, the saddle shoes, high-waisted pants, and 50s-style shirt.

 

Headpress thought so, too, and added the frame, wallpaper, and map of Flatbush.

 

"Good work," I told my mother. "Did you know you were shooting a book cover that day?"

 

She thought that was funny. I thought it was funny that my unsmiling four-year-old self had become a coverboy.

 

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Mundo Babel: El Día que murió John Lennon/Babel World: The Day John Lennon Died

En mi entrevista con Juan Pablo Silvestre, presentador de Mundo Babel, transmitido por Radio 3 de España, el 8 de diciembre de 2018, en el 38 aniversario del asesinato de John Lennon, yo comento la última edición en español de mi libro Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon. Entre los tópicos, que exploré con detalle en el curso de nuestra conversación, están: el proceso de edición y transcripción de los diarios de flujo de conciencia, que Lennon mantuvo desde enero de 1975 hasta el día que murió; mi relación con el asistente personal de Lennon, Fred Seaman, quien me dio los diarios; y el estado mental del asesino de Lennon, Mark David Chapman.

 

Silvestre empieza el programa con un corte extendido de "Walking on Thin Ice", la canción de Yoko Ono que Lennon estaba grabando con ella la noche del 8 de diciembre, e ilustra nuestro diálogo con canciones de Lennon con los Beatles y de su carrera como solista, incluyendo "Imagine", "Happiness Is a Warm Gun", "A Day in the Life" y "(Just Like) Starting Over".

 

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Babel World: The Day John Lennon Died

 

In my interview with Juan Pablo Silvestre, host of Mundo Babel, broadcast on Radio 3 Spain, on December 8, 2018, the 38th anniversary of John Lennon's murder, I discussed the latest Spanish edition of my book Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon. Among the topics I explored in detail in the course of our conversation are: the process of editing and transcribing the stream-of-consciousness diaries Lennon kept from January 1975 until the day he died; my relationship with Lennon's personal assistant Fred Seaman, who gave me the diaries; and the state of mind of Lennon's killer, Mark David Chapman.

 

Silvestre begins the show with an extended cut of "Walking on Thin Ice," Yoko Ono's song that Lennon was recording with her on the night of December 8, and he illustrates our dialogue with songs from Lennon's Beatles and solo career, including "Imagine," "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," "A Day in the Life," and "(Just Like) Starting Over."

 

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Gracias Madrid/Thank You, Madrid

El grupo en el restaurante Strawberry Fields después de mi presentación en el Café Comercial, en Madrid. El traductor Diego Harris está en el extremo izquierdo; Mary Lyn Maiscott, Robert Rosen y María Martín son el quinto, el sexto y el séptimo desde la izquierda. (Si a alguien más le gustara ser identificado, por favor déjemelo saber)./The crowd at Strawberry Fields restaurant after my presentation at Café Comercial, in Madrid. Translator Diego Harris is at the far left; Mary Lyn Maiscott, Robert Rosen, and María Martín are fifth, sixth, and seventh from left. (If anybody else would like to be identified, please let me know.)

 

"Esta es una de las noches más memorables de mi carrera", le dije al grupo reunido en Strawberry Fields, un local de hamburguesas cuadra abajo desde el Café Comercial, en Madrid. Era el 3 de noviembre y recién habíamos venido del café, donde por las últimas dos horas yo había estado respondiendo preguntas, sobre la nueva edición en español de mi libro Nowhere Man. Y ese céntrico restaurante beatle era el lugar ideal, para celebrar mi primera presentación en España. El video "Hey Jude" de los Beatles estaba rodando en la pantalla detrás de nosotros, y mi esposa, Mary Lyn Maiscott, señaló que su viejo amigo Joel Soroka estaba tocando la pandereta, en esa cápsula de tiempo de 50 años. María Martín, quien colabora con Jordi Melgosa en la revista beatle El Submarí Groc y quien organizó el evento, pareció encantada con esta pequeña noticia.

La energía había sido eléctrica durante toda la noche. Me sorprendía y apocaba que tantas personas hubieran venido de toda España, para asistir al evento. Su amor por los Beatles era incondicional; estaban ansiosos de cualquier información nueva, y deseosos de oír lo que yo tuviera que decir sobre mis experiencias, de muchos años atrás, mientras editaba los diarios de John Lennon. Sus preguntas fueron desafiantes, fue como una conferencia de prensa. Yo lamento que no pude ofrecer mejores respuestas, a la ráfaga de preguntas sobre la ama de llaves española de John Lennon, Rosaura López Lorenzo, sobre quien conocí mucho después que Nowhere Man fuera publicado. Cuando se trataba de los empleados, Lennon sólo escribía sobre esos que lo enojaban y, al parecer, Rosaura se las agenció para quedarse en su lado bueno.

La audiencia llenó el café con una clase de emoción, que no se parece a ninguna cosa que yo haya visto en Estados Unidos en décadas. Estos fanáticos de los Beatles españoles eran personas no cínicas, que no pudieron obtener suficiente de los Cuatro Fabulosos cuando ellos existían como grupo, o que habían nacido demasiado tarde y los habían extrañado por completo.

Como mi traductor, Diego Harris, quien nació en 1977, me había dicho antes: “Yo estoy feliz de haber estado vivo al mismo tiempo que John Lennon.”

Hacia el final de la presentación, yo expliqué cómo mi experiencia me había habilitado para escribir Nowhere Man, y leí un extracto de mi nuevo libro, Bobby en Nazilandia (que será publicado el próximo año, por Headpress), describiendo cómo compré mi primer álbum grabado, Meet the Beatles, por tres dólares, en una tienda de cinco y diez centavos el 10 de febrero de 1964, el día después que la banda apareció por primera vez en el programa de Ed Sullivan. Fue, dije, “la primera vez en mi vida, que yo poseyera una música que pudiera llamar mía propia”. Y por el medio siglo siguiente, he continuado prestando una atención cercana.

Esa noche mágica en Madrid, marcó asimismo el 18 aniversario de la publicación de un libro, que por 18 años nadie había publicado. Yo dudo que pudiera haber habido una mejor manera de celebrarlo, que con mis nuevos amigos en el Café Comercial y en la fiesta posterior en Strawberry Fields. Me sentí como un embajador de Nutopia, un representante terrenal del señor Lennon, haciendo lo que pudiera para comunicar su vibra, en un tiempo cuando parece que nosotros podemos necesitarla más que nunca.

Así que yo quiero expresar mi más profunda gratitud, a todos quienes hicieron posible el evento y vinieron al Café Comercial, especialmente a María; a Diego, por sus extraordinarias traducciones al vuelo; a Arturo Gonzalez, editor de 10, Mathew Street, por su cobertura a lo largo de los años, y por el gran tour por Madrid que él y su esposa Almudena nos dieron a Mary Lyn y a mí; y a René Portas, quien tradujo no sólo Nowhere Man, sino asimismo la declaración de apertura que yo leí en el café, así como éste y muchos otros posts del blog.

¡Gracias a todos!

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Thank You, Madrid


“This is one of the most memorable nights of my career,” I told the crowd gathered at Strawberry Fields, a hamburger joint down the block from Café Comercial, in Madrid. It was November 3, and we’d just come from the café, where for the past two hours I’d been answering questions about the new Spanish edition of my book Nowhere Man. And this Beatles-centric restaurant was the ideal place to celebrate my first presentation in Spain. The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” video was playing on the screen behind us, and my wife, Mary Lyn Maiscott, pointed out that her old friend Joel Soroka was playing the tambourine in this 50-year-old time capsule. María Martín, who collaborates with Jordi Melgosa on the Beatles magazine El Submarí Groc and who organized the event, seemed delighted with this unexpected bit of news.

The energy had been electric throughout the night. I was amazed and humbled that so many people had come from all over Spain to attend the event. Their love of the Beatles was unconditional; they were hungry for any new information and eager to hear what I had to say about my experiences, so many years ago, editing John Lennon’s diaries. Their questions were challenging—it was like a press conference. I’m sorry that I couldn’t provide better answers to the flurry of questions about John Lennon’s Spanish housekeeper, Rosaura López Lorenzo, whom I learned about long after Nowhere Man was published. When it came to employees, Lennon only wrote about the ones who pissed him off and, apparently, Rosaura managed to stay on his good side.

The audience filled the café with the kind of emotion that’s unlike anything I’ve seen in America in decades. These Spanish Beatle fanáticos were uncynical people who couldn’t get enough of the Fab Four when they existed as a group, or were born too late and had missed them entirely.

As my translator, Diego Harris, who was born in 1977, had told me earlier, “I’m happy to have been alive at the same time as John Lennon.”

Toward the end of the presentation, I explained how my background had enabled me to write Nowhere Man, and I read an excerpt from my new book, Bobby in Naziland (to be published next year, by Headpress), describing how I bought my first record album, Meet the Beatles, for three dollars, in a five-and-dime store on February 10, 1964, the day after the band first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was, I said, “the first time in my life I possessed music I could call my own.” And for the next half century, I’ve continued to pay close attention.

This magical night in Madrid also marked the 18th anniversary of the publication of a book that, for 18 years, nobody would publish. I doubt there could have been a better way to celebrate than with my new friends in Café Comercial and at the after-party in Strawberry Fields. I felt like the Nutopian ambassador, an earthly representative of Señor Lennon, doing what I could to communicate his vibe at a time when it seems as if we need it more than ever.

So I want to express my deepest gratitude to everybody who made the event possible and who came to Café Comercial—especially María; Diego, for his extraordinary on-the-fly translations; Arturo Gonzalez, editor of 10, Mathew Street, for his coverage over the years and for the grand tour of Madrid he and his wife Almudena gave Mary Lyn and me; and René Portas, who translated not only Nowhere Man, but also the opening statement I read at the café as well as this and many other blog posts.

¡Gracias a todos!

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Vote, Just Vote...

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Una tarde con Robert Rosen en Madrid

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Encuentro Con El Autor

Sábado 3 de noviembre, a las 18.00 pm en el Café Comercial de Madrid—1a planta (Glorieta de Bilbao 7)

Apertura 17:30 pm

Entrada Gratuita

Robert Rosen, autor del best-seller Nowhere Man sobre los diarios secretos de John Lennon, ofrecerá una charla acerca de su libro el Sábado 3 noviembre, a las 18.00 pm en el Café Comercial de Madrid, en lo que será la primera visita del autor neoyorkino a nuestro país.

En mayo de 1981, los diarios de John Lennon, que cubrían los años 1975-1980, llegaron de forma inesperada a manos de Rosen con la misión de ser transcritos para una biografía.

Más información: eventorobertrosen@gmail.com.

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Finally...

Church Avenue near East 17th Street in Flatbush, in the early 1960s: the main drag of Bobby in Naziland.

 

I received word recently that Headpress, the publisher of my previous book, Beaver Street, will publish Bobby in Naziland sometime next year--as nonfiction.

There will be a lot more news to come. For now, here’s a synopsis:

From the final days of the Brooklyn Dodgers, in the mid-1950s, to the arrival of the Beatles, in 1964, Bobby in Naziland takes you on an unsentimental journey through one Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood. Though only a 20-minute and 15-cent subway ride from the gleaming towers of Manhattan across the East River, Flatbush—or Flapbush, as native Flatbushians called it—was a provincial, working-class place, frozen in time, where concentration camp survivors and army vets who’d fought the Nazis lived side by side and World War II lingered like a mass hallucination (along with the ghost of the Dodgers). It was a place hell-bent on vengeance, seething with hatred, and suffering from an epidemic of what was not yet called post-traumatic stress disorder.

Voice-driven and darkly comic, this slice of autobiography focuses on the interplay of the personal and historical, and is narrated by “Bobby,” an adult who channels thoughts and emotions from his childhood: “I was 97 days old when a one-footed Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, Edward Teller, the real Dr. Strangelove, more commonly known as ‘the father of the H-bomb,’ introduced Planet Earth to this brand-new way to exterminate the human race.”

Grappling to understand and come to terms with the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation and the historical weight of the Holocaust, the young Bobby obsessively draws mushroom clouds and broods about Nazi atrocities as he watches his family and neighbors celebrate the capture, trial, and execution of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Along the way, he provides a child’s-eye view of the mid-20th-century American experience, often as it plays out in his father’s candy store. Among the subjects he explores are goyim, Jews, money, sex, class, racism, the Rosenbergs, the space race, UFOs, Eva Perón, President Kennedy, the Three Stooges, the New York Yankees, literature, language, and memory itself.

The story moves towards a climactic moment of self-discovery through self-mutilation, a misguided act brought about by emotional abuse, the physical violence so prevalent in the neighborhood, and the latent yet inescapable pain of the Holocaust survivors and World War II vets who surround Bobby.

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Shelter, Drugs, and Blowjobs

“Don’t publish it,” my editor, who also happens to be my wife, said to me after reading the previous draft of this review. “It sounds mean-spirited. It makes you look bad.”

I told her that I’d written the review in the same spirit—mean—as Gene Gregorits showed in Bigger Than Life at the Edge of the City. “It’s a vile book,” I said. “Totally fucked up. But it’s somehow compelling in its nauseating way. I read every word.”

“Why do you want to make some guy in prison mad at you?”

“He’s not going to get mad. He’s going to love the review. He’s always bitching about how critics never read his books. He’ll be thrilled to get a reaction. That’s the whole point of the book... to get a reaction.”

“But nobody knows who Gregorits is. They’re going to think you’re the one who’s fucked up.”

If you don’t know who Gene Gregorits is, a bit of background is in order. Gregorits is an anti-commercial, quasi-avant-garde writer who, despite holding mainstream publishing in contempt, longs for commercial success. In a scene in Bigger, which Gregorits calls a novel but is actually nonfiction (or close to it), he tells one of his patrons, “I don’t have the backing of a major publisher and the fucking audience I want.”

Due to his inability to find a publisher, Gregorits formed a company, Monastrell, to bring out his own books, and he has gone to extreme lengths to draw attention to those books. Once, he had somebody videotape him as he cut off part of his ear and ate it. In the course of this self-destructive crusade, Gregorits has made himself a martyr to bland commercialism.

A few years ago, after he had sex with an underage girl, the state of Florida sentenced him to 15 years in what amounts to a slave-labor camp. He’s lucky they didn’t lobotomize him.

Bigger was written in that slave-labor camp.

I’ve never met Gregorits. I know him through social media and his books. We have a few mutual acquaintances.

In the interest of salvaging what I can from the previous mean-spirited draft, I present below, as objectively as I can, a number of critical points about Bigger:

· In his typical self-defeating manner, Gregorits insults his readers, calling them “power-tripped, pussy-whipped pretty boys.”

· He describes Bigger as “post cultural” and “meta cultural.” These are meaningless terms, presumably intended to obscure the fact that he’s writing about real people and using their real names.

· I contacted one of the main “characters,” the patron who bankrolled his previous book, to see if she’d care to comment on her portrayal in this one. Gregorits describes her by name as “fat, homely, and talentless,” and “disheveled, obese, bucktoothed.” “No comment,” is what she had to say, and who can blame her? These descriptions, chosen at random among a multitude of similar phrases, should serve as a warning to anybody else who might consider giving Gregorits money, shelter, food, drugs, and/or blowjobs.

· Gregorits makes it clear just how treacherous he is. One character tells him, “Half of New York is still screaming for your blood.” Another says, “You screwed over everybody south of 14th Street.”

· Bigger is an often well-written and at times poetic catalogue of Gregorits’s hatreds. It’s almost as if he can’t write about something unless he hates it, and he hates everything, with the exceptions of good wine and beer, cats, a couple of punk bands, and the rare human being—like a sharply dressed “gentleman” who’s dying of cancer and “a super-hip mid-30s Jewess.” (Gregorits is obviously aware that Jewess is a loaded word—a Nazi word—that says nothing about the character and everything about his need for gratuitous provocation.)

· Bigger is a meandering, Henry Miller–Hunter Thompson-esque account of the life of Gene Gregorits, a homeless, filthy, foul-smelling crack junkie with rotting toenails—who might be HIV-positive but doesn’t seem to care—surviving on the Florida Gulf Coast. After a hurricane and an episode of sloshing around in raw sewage, he moves to the New York–New Jersey area at Christmastime 2012, and, staying with his patron, “equal parts Tammy Faye Bakker, Holly Woodlawn, and Gena Rowlands,” he switches to booze and coke, is interviewed by Vice.com—the interview reproduced word-for-word as a chapter, just in case anybody mistakes the book for fiction—and then gives a reading at a bar on the Lower East Side.

· Prison can be a good thing for a serious writer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Gregorits is already working on a book about his life of slave labor in Florida’s Apalachee Correctional Institute. He might remind himself, as he sits in his cell, scribbling with a ballpoint, what death row and a last-second reprieve while standing before a firing squad did for Dostoevsky—and his career.

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John, el último día de Lennon


Este es el musical chileno inspirado por Nowhere Man. Puede leer sobre ello aquí.

This is the Chilean musical inspired by Nowhere Man. You can read about it here.

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Cold Case II: Police Seek Information on Gay Man's 1991 Murder

In Beaver Street and on this blog, I've written about the 1991 murder of Bill Bottiggi, a former co-worker at Swank Publications. Three years ago I said that the suspect was in custody and "his DNA matched the DNA found on clothing he'd left at the scene of the murder." This proved not to be true and the suspect was released.

But the cold case squad continued to do their work, and the other day the headline, “Police Seek Information on Gay Man’s 1991 Murder,” appeared in Gay City News. The story is about the life and death of Bottiggi. You can read it here.

The police are asking anybody with information about the crime to call 800-577-TIPS. There’s a $2,500 reward if that information leads to the suspect’s arrest and conviction.

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It Takes a President

In 1998, at the height of Clinton impeachment mania, I, as editor of Sex Acts magazine, commissioned a cartoonist to illustrate “choice” parts of the Starr Report, independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s record of his run-amok investigation of a White House enmeshed in scandal—financial, political, and sexual. The report, now best remembered for its explicit descriptions of the multiple erotic encounters between a 49-year-old sitting president and his 22-year-old intern Monica Lewinsky, was published unexpurgated in The New York Times, marking the first time the Gray Lady had allowed “fuck” and “blowjob” to stain her pages.

One Sex Acts cartoon illustrates a tryst that, according to the Starr Report, took place in the White House study on December 31, 1995. It shows Bill Clinton, pants around his knees, displaying a curving erection of porn-star proportions that appears to be Viagra-enhanced—though Viagra wouldn’t be available to the general public for three more years. It’s an image that encapsulates much of what The Naughty Nineties: The Triumph of the American Libido (Twelve), by Vanity Fair editor David Friend, is about.

That’s presumably why the words “Naughty Nineties,” as they appear on the cover of this 632-page epic, are shaped like a curving, fully engorged, seven-and-three-eighths-inch phallus—though the effect is subliminal. I’d been reading the book for a month before I noticed it. I now assume that phallus is meant to represent Clinton’s penis, which is really a stand-in for every Boomer phallus that ever grew erect in the nineties.

If Bill Clinton and his penis are the star of this leave-no-stone-unturned analysis of the decade in which libidinous Baby Boomers took over America, Viagra is the co-star, and the complex, dramatic, and at times touching tale of how it was discovered, tested, named, and marketed, and then became one of the best-selling prescription pharmaceuticals ever—thus bringing erections and their dysfunction into our living rooms—may be the most fascinating part of The Naughty Nineties. (See “The Hardener’s Tale” and “Homo Erectus.”)

Hillary Clinton, weaponized gossip, and the Internet are among the major supporting players, with the latter two bearing responsibility for the “tabloidification” of an era in which “we learn not only that Prince Charles is having an affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, but are treated to a recording of Charles stating that he wants to be her tampon.”

It’s also a decade in which expansive silicone breasts and the $10-to-14-billion-a-year pornography industry emerged from the shadows to penetrate every segment of mainstream media and society.

My book Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography is among the multitude of texts that Friend, whom I work with at Vanity Fair, consulted in the course of his research, and The Naughty Nineties elaborates on some of the material I touched on. In discussing Lyndon Johnson’s porn-investigation commission, for example, I describe the president as “a corrupt Texas Democrat with a big dong,” before moving on to Richard Nixon’s war on porn. But how is it known that Johnson had a big dick? Friend explains: “He was known to flabbergast acquaintances by whipping out his Texas longhorn of a pecker.”

This kind of breezy, vernacular-laced prose makes The Naughty Nineties an entertaining alternative to the slew of turgidly written textbooks dominating undergraduate reading lists for any number of history, sociology, political science, gender studies, and communications courses, such as U.C.L.A.’s “Pornography and Evolution.”

The scene in “Chez Fleiss” of Friend’s journey through the Mojave Desert to visit “Hollywood Madam” Heidi Fleiss contains another good example: “To get here, I have driven an hour along the parched perimeter of Death Valley without spying a human soul. And then, like some portent out of Castaneda, I see a vision. A titty bar.”

Yet Friend’s intent is never less than serious, and his research sets a scholarly standard for comprehensiveness, no matter how raw the subject matter. In “Botox, Booties, and Bods,” he explores rap culture’s fetishization of the female buttocks, cataloguing, in three jam-packed paragraphs, Lil’ Kim and Missy Elliot’s “crooning about the merits of a fuller moon”; Experience Unlimited’s “Da Butt,” a.k.a. “(Doin’) the Butt”; 2 Live Crew’s “Face Down, Ass Up”; Q-Tip and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Appelbum”; Snoop Dog and Dr. Dre’s coining the word “bootylicious”; Wreckx-N-Effect’s “Rump Shaker”; DJ Jubilee’s inventing the term “twerk”; Juvenile’s “Back That Azz/Thang Up”; Mos Def’s “Ms. Fat Booty”; and Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”

Ubiquitous and fulsome footnotes, which could comprise a volume unto themselves, enrich this meticulous detail. (The mother of all footnotes, on pages 467–68—perhaps the longest annotation I’ve personally encountered—analyzes why the institution of marriage is “on the rocks.”)

Friend is at home, as well, with the erotic. In “The Glory of O” he brings to life a masturbation workshop: “Ken, ever stroking, tells the audience, ‘Her clit just grabbed on to my finger.’ Her legs shake and flutter. ‘The clitoris is a spinning top,’ he says, ‘now spinning by itself.’”

In retrospect, it’s easy to see how the nineties set the stage for the ascent of Donald Trump and a presidency in which politics, pornography, gossip, and reality TV are so intertwined as to be indistinguishable. And Friend, rising to the occasion, ends with “The Trumpen Show.” But is Trump the terrible tyrant of a passing moment—the Tawdry, Tempestuous Teens, when the Times turns to titan of adult cinema Ron Jeremy for insight on POTUS paramour Stormy Daniels, the biggest XXX superstar since Deep Throat’s Linda Lovelace? (It takes a president.) Or has he brought us to the edge of an Enervating Endtimes, leaving us longing for the days when the most horrific thing you’d read in your daily newspaper was Ken Starr’s depiction of Oval Office anilingus?

We’ll just have to wait for the return of the Roaring Twenties for an answer. They’ll be upon us soon enough.

—Robert Rosen

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Mi entrevista con El Submarí Groc/My Interview With The Yellow Submarine

En mayo de 1981 el asistente personal de John Lennon, Fred Seaman, me dio los diarios que Lennon había estado escribiendo, entre enero de 1975 y el 8 de diciembre de 1980, el día en que fue asesinado. Esos diarios, explicó Seaman, eran la clave del proyecto, que Lennon le había pedido llevara a cabo en evento de su muerte. Seaman iba a escribir la historia verdadera de los últimos años de Lennon, y quería que yo lo ayudara a hacerlo.

Yo acepté ese encargo sabiendo, que podría ejecutarlo en un espíritu que fuera verdadero para John. La historia de los diarios es la historia que cuento en Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon.

Desde ese día de 37 años atrás en que Seaman me dio los diarios, mucho se ha escrito sobre lo que hice con éstos. Pero una simple verdad se ha perdido en las resmas de la cobertura de los medios: yo traté esos diarios con amor y respeto, y los usé para crear un retrato de John Lennon como un ser humano tri-dimensional.

En la entrevista de María Martín a mí, en el último número de la revista beatleriana española El Submarí Groc, y en el video de abajo, en inglés con subtítulos en español, ella pone en claro esa simple verdad, diciendo en el titular que “Robert Rosen… nos acerca la belleza de un John Lennon humano.”

Ha sido como un arribo tras largo tiempo.

Para pedir una copia de El Submarí Groc, escribe a elsubmarigroc@hotmail.com.

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My Interview With The Yellow Submarine


In May 1981, John Lennon's personal assistant Fred Seaman gave me the diaries that Lennon had been writing in between January 1975 and December 8, 1980, the day he was murdered. These journals, Seaman explained, were the key to the project Lennon had asked him to carry out in the event of his death. Seaman was to write the true story of Lennon's final years and he wanted me to help him do it.

I accepted this assignment knowing that I could execute it in a spirit that was true to John. The story of the diaries is the story I tell in Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon.

Since the day 37 years ago that Seaman gave me the diaries, much has been written about what I did with them. But a simple truth has gotten lost in the reams of media coverage: I treated those diaries with love and respect, and used them to create a portrait of John Lennon as a three-dimensional human being.

In María Martín’s interview with me in the latest issue of the Spanish Beatles magazine El Submarí Groc (The Yellow Submarine)—and in the above video, in English with Spanish subtitles—she makes that simple truth clear, saying in the headline that “Robert Rosen… brings us the beauty of a human John Lennon” (“nos acerca la belleza de un John Lennon humano”).

It’s been a long time coming.

To order a copy of El Submarí Groc, write to elsubmarigroc@hotmail.com.

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Yes, I Read My Reviews

On a site called "Vintage Erotica Forums" (VEF), somebody asked, "What book(s) are you reading currently?" A correspondent, "Pinkpapercut," posted the review, below, which I've lightly edited for clarity. The two books preceding Beaver Street in the forum are The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, by Edgar Allan Poe and The First Socialist Schism, Bakunin vs Marx in the International Working Man's Association, by Wolfgang Eckhardt. Silas Marner, by George Elliott, follows.

Back in the 1990s I regularly used to read Headpress, the self-described "Journal of Sex, Religion and Death," which was published in my home city, Manchester.

Headpress [journal and Headpress books] moved online and to London well over a decade ago, and I lost track of them and the man who was the engine behind Headpress, David Kerekes.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to check out whether they are still around. They are, and they’re still publishing material that fits best under the heading of Sex, Religion and Death, and one of their books, Robert Rosen’s Beaver Street, caught my particular interest.

I don’t want to spoil the book by giving Rosen’s story away so I’ll just say that after being cheated by a well-known person as an aspiring writer in early 80s New York, just to keep some money coming in, Rosen applied for a job with a publisher through a classified ad and ended up working for and eventually editing porn magazines for the publisher of some well-known skin mags.

The book is promoted on its cover as “a history of modern pornography,” which it isn’t. But what it is is a fascinating tour around the personalities of the U.S. porn scene in the 80s and 90s; an insight into the practices of the publishers and video makers and the contempt in which very many of them held their customers; the influence of porn publishing on mainstream publishing including forgotten connections between porn and the origins of Marvel Comics; and the story of the decline of the porn magazines in the face of the rise of the Web.

Given that every member of VEF is here because they have an interest in some aspect of porn or—amongst the VEF VIPs—have worked in porn, there’s something in Beaver Street to interest every one of us.

Beaver Street isn’t a deep or deeply analytical book but it is an easy, informative and entertaining read from a porn insider.

Very much recommended.

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Tan alto como yo nunca he estado/As High As I've Ever Been

Cuando el programa de tv español Cuarto Milenio, el mes pasado, transmitió un episodio titulado "Los diarios secretos de John Lennon", envió Nowhere Man, en Amazon España, disparado tan alto como nunca ha estado en cualquier Amazon.

Más de 1,1 millón de personas vieron el programa, cual estuvo inspirado en la recuperación de los diarios de Lennon robados, en Berlín, en noviembre de 2017. Como se muestra en el clip anterior, el presentador Iker Jiménez discutió con detalle el contenido de Nowhere Man, así como la dramática historia de cómo yo llegué a la posesión de los diarios de Lennon.

Tú puedes ver el episodio completo aquí. El segmento de Lennon empieza a los 16 minutos y dura una hora. Las partes que discuten Nowhere Man empiezan a los 23 y los 43 minutos.

Amaiur Elizari, autor de Los 9 de John Lennon, estuvo entre los invitados presentados en el programa.

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As High As I’ve Ever Been


When the Spanish TV show Cuarto Milenio, last month, broadcast an episode titled “Los diarios secretos de John Lennon” (“The Secret Diaries of John Lennon”), it sent Nowhere Man, on Amazon Spain, rocketing as high as it’s ever been on any Amazon.

More than 1.1 million people watched the show, which was inspired by the recovery of Lennon’s stolen diaries, in Berlin, in November 2017. As shown in the above clip, host Iker Jiménez discussed in detail Nowhere Man’s contents as well as the dramatic story of how I came into possession of Lennon’s diaries.

You can watch the complete episode here. The Lennon segment begins at 16 minutes and runs for an hour. The parts that discuss Nowhere Man begin at 23 minutes and 43 minutes.

Amaiur Elizari, author of Los 9 de John Lennon, was among the guests featured on the show.

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Mi hechizo latinoamericano/My Latin American Mojo

América latina, para mí, es un universo alternativo, donde todo en lo que yo he estado trabajando, por los últimos 40 años, ha llegado a suceder en un lenguaje, que apenas puedo entender.

Cuando yo fui a la ciudad de México, en 2003, poco después que Random House Mondadori (desde entonces re-nombrada Penguin Random House), publicara por primera vez Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon, y cuando retorné a México en 2005, y luego fui a Chile, los medios de esos países reaccionaron a mi visita, como si yo fuera el autor de Harry Potter. Mi rostro fue desplegado en toda la tv, los periódicos y las revistas en una extensión tan desconcertante, que la gente me reconocía en la calle, y así confirmé la verdad esencial de la antigua cita de Woody Allen: “El ochenta por ciento del éxito está apareciendo”. Y eso es especialmente cierto, si tú estás apareciendo en un lugar a 5,000 millas de distancia.

¿Pero seguiría mi hechizo latinoamericano funcionando, en 2017, para una edición española ampliada y re-traducida de Nowhere Man? La respuesta, estoy feliz de reportar, fue un resonante “sí”, y yo incluso no tuve que salir de mi casa para poner las cosas en marcha. Empezó en el cumpleaños de Lennon, el 9 de octubre —el día que la nueva edición fue publicada—, cuando el periódico chileno La Tercera divulgó un extracto de Nowhere Man, y lo continuó al día siguiente con una entrevista.

Un mes más tarde, un artículo sobre el libro en el semanario mexicano Proceso, de Roberto Ponce, basado en parte en una entrevista publicada en el sitio argentino Espectador, envió Nowhere Man a la cima de las listas en Amazon de México.

Entonces las cosas se pusieron surrealistas. Las noticias anunciaron por todo el mundo, el 21 de noviembre, que los diarios robados de John Lennon —los diarios que yo transcribí en 1981, y que habían servido como un mapa de ruta para Nowhere Man—, habían sido recuperados en una casa de subastas en Berlín. Yo no sabía que el chofer de Yoko Ono había, supuestamente, robado los diarios. (Él afirma que no los robó). Pensaba que los diarios habían sido devueltos a Ono en 1982. Aún más sorprendente fue que los medios españoles y latinoamericanos, estaban citando extensamente de Nowhere Man, dándome la clase de publicidad que el dinero no puede comprar.

Yo arribé a Buenos Aires para el lanzamiento oficial el 27 de noviembre. ¿Por qué Buenos Aires? Déjenme contar las razones: mi traductor René Portas y mi agente argentina, Beatriz Norma Iacoviello, viven allí. Argentina es un país que adora tanto a los Beatles como la literatura. (El apartamento de Beatriz y René está a la vuelta de la esquina, de donde Jorge Luis Borges vivió alguna vez.) Yo nací 12 horas después que Eva Perón muriera, y siempre he sentido una conexión con ella y la ciudad. Y como un bono extra añadido, mi amigo Avi Avner estaba en la ciudad, actuando como consultante principal de la Mossad, para la película Operación Final, sobre la captura de Adolf Eichmann en Buenos Aires, cual es asimismo un tema en mi libro aún no publicado, Bobby en Nazilandia.

Lo más destacado de los medios sobre mi estadía en la capital argentina, incluye una entrevista en vivo en el programa de Martín Aragón, Eternamente Beatles, con Octavio Cavalli sirviendo como mi traductor; una entrevista con Luis Kramer para su programa, Cinefilia; y una extensa entrevista grabada en video con Vanesa Preli de Radio Zonica, que aún no está al aire.

Había más por venir cuando retorné a Nueva York: un extracto del libro en Proceso, un artículo sobre eso en Cultura Colectiva y un episodio titulado “El misterio de John Lennon”, escuchado más de 72,000 veces, en el programa de radio de internet del periodista español Iker Jiménez, Universo Iker.

Porque yo trabajo para Vanity Fair en Nueva York, mi trozo de prensa favorito fue una pieza humorísticamente salaz, titulada “Los oscuros secretos sexuales de John Lennon”, de Alejandro Mancilla, que apareció en Vanity Fair de México. Inspirado por una crítica de Rodrigo Fresan, publicada en Página 12 en el 2000, el artículo es, más o menos, un estudio de las escenas de sexo en Nowhere Man. Su toque más surrealista es ver mi nombre en negrita, al lado de algunos como Louis C.K. y Miley Cyrus.

¡Yeah, baby, yo aún tengo mi hechizo!

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My Latin American Mojo


Latin America, to me, is an alternate universe where everything I’ve been working for, for the past 40 years, has come to pass in a language I can barely understand.

When I went to Mexico City, in 2003, soon after Random House Mondadori (since renamed Penguin Random House) first published Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon, and when I returned to Mexico, in 2005, and then went on to Chile, the media in those countries reacted to my visit if I were the author of Harry Potter. My face was splashed all over TV, newspapers, and magazines to the disorienting extent that people recognized me in the street, thus confirming the essential truth of the old Woody Allen quote, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” And it’s especially true if you’re showing up in a place 5,000 miles away.

But would my Latin American Mojo still be working, in 2017, for a retranslated and expanded Spanish edition of Nowhere Man? The answer, I’m happy to report, was a resounding Yes, and I didn’t even have to leave my house to get things going. It began on Lennon’s birthday, October 9—the day the new edition was published—when the Chilean newspaper La Tercera ran an excerpt from Nowhere Man and followed it up the next day with an interview.

A month later, an article about the book in the Mexican newsweekly Proceso, by Roberto Ponce, based in part on an interview published on the Argentine site Espectador, sent Nowhere Man to the top of the charts on Amazon Mexico.

Then things got surreal. News broke all over the world, on November 21, that John Lennon’s stolen diaries—the diaries that I’d transcribed in 1981, and had served as roadmap for Nowhere Man—were recovered in an auction house in Berlin. I didn’t know that Yoko Ono’s chauffeur had allegedly stolen the diaries. (He claims he didn’t steal them.) I thought the diaries had been returned to Ono in 1982. Even more shocking was that Spanish and Latin American media were quoting extensively from Nowhere Man, giving me the kind of publicity that money can’t buy.

I arrived in Buenos Aires for the official launch on November 27. Why Buenos Aires? Let me count the reasons: My translator René Portas and my Argentine agent, Beatriz Norma Iacoviello, live there. Agentina is a country that worships both the Beatles and literature. (René and Beatriz’s apartment is around the corner from where Jorge Luis Borges once lived.) I was born 12 hours after Eva Peron died, and have always felt a connection to her and the city. And as an extra added bonus, my friend Avi Avner was in town, acting as chief Mossad consultant for the film Operation Finale, about Adolf Eichmann’s capture in Buenos Aires, which is also a theme in my still unpublished book, Bobby in Naziland.

The media highlights of my stay in the Argentine capital include a live interview on Martín Aragón’s show, Eternamente Beatles (Beatles Forever), with Octavio Cavalli serving as my translator; an interview with Luis Kramer for his show, Cinefilia (think Terry Gross and NPR); and an extensive videotaped interview with Vanesa Preli of Radio Zonica that has yet to air.

There was more to come when I returned to New York: an excerpt of the book in Proceso, an article about it in Cultura Colectiva, and an episode titled “El misterio de John Lennon” (“The Mystery of John Lennon”), listened to more than 72,000 times, on Spanish journalist Iker Jiménez’s Internet radio show, Universo Iker.

Because I work for Vanity Fair in New York, my favorite bit of press was a humorously salacious piece, titled “Los oscuros secretos sexuales de John Lennon” (“The Dark Sexual Secrets of John Lennon”), by Alejandro Mancilla, that ran in Vanity Fair Mexico. Inspired by a critique by Rodrigo Fresan, published in Pagina 12, in 2000, the article is, more or less, a survey of the sex scenes in Nowhere Man. Its most surreal touch is seeing my name in boldface alongside the likes of Louis C.K. and Miley Cyrus.

Yeah, baby, I've still got my mojo!

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Yes, I know…

…today is the 37th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder. I’m going to commemorate it with a moment of silence.

Sí, lo sé…


... hoy es el 37º aniversario del asesinato de John Lennon. Voy a conmemorarlo con un momento de silencio. Read More 

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Al aire en Buenos Aires/On the Air in Buenos Aires

Ayer regresé a Nueva York después de una semana en Buenos Aires, donde, bajo la hábil orientación de mi traductor René Portas y mi agente argentina Beatriz Iacoviello, lancé la nueva edición en lengua española de Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon.

En el transcurso de esa semana, que fue precedida por la recuperación de los diarios robados de Lennon en Berlín, yo fui entrevistado en vivo en la radio por Martín Aragón, presentador de Eternamente Beatles. (¡Gracias, Octavio Cavalli, por hacer que eso sucediera!) Otras entrevistas, que serán transmitidas en fechas futuras, fueron conducidas por Luis Kramer, presentador del programa de radio de larga duración Cinefilia, y Vanesa Preli de Radio Zonica.

Mi entrevista con Rolando Gallego de El Espectador Avezado está posteada aquí.

Acaso el momento más alentador de mi estadía en Buenos Aires, fue cuando vi Nowhere Man a la venta en un kiosco de la Avenida Santa Fe, junto a Esmeralda. El libro pronto se agotó, pero estoy seguro de que volverá a ser surtido en cualquier instante.

Mientras tanto, Nowhere Man está disponible en línea dondequiera que se vendan libros, incluyendo Mercado Libre en Argentina.

De una forma u otra, todo esto es realmente asombroso.

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On the Air in Buenos Aires


Yesterday I returned to New York after a week in Buenos Aires, where, under the skillful guidance of my translator Rene Portas and my Argentinean agent, Beatriz Norma Iacoviello, I launched the new Spanish-language edition of Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon.

Over the course of that week, which was preceded by the recovery of Lennon’s stolen diaries in Berlin, I was interviewed live on the radio by Martín Aragón, host of Beatles Forever. (Thank you, Octavio Cavalli, for making that happen!) Other interviews, which will be broadcast at future dates, were conducted by Luis Kramer, host of the long-running radio show Cinefilia, and Vanesa Preli of Radio Zonica.

My interview with Rolando Gallego of El Espectador Avezado is posted here.

Perhaps the most encouraging moment of my Buenos Aires sojourn was when I saw Nowhere Man on sale at a kiosk on Avenida Santa Fe near Esmeralda. The book soon sold out, but I’m assured that it will be back in stock any minute.

In the meantime, Nowhere Man is available online everywhere books are sold, including at Mercado Libre in Argentina.

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Robert Rosen lee del Preludio de "Nowhere Man"


Me estoy preparando para mi viaje a Buenos Aires para lanzar la nueva edición en español de "Nowhere Man: los últimos días de John Lennon".
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Empieza a difundir la noticia/Start Spreading the News

El lunes 27 de noviembre yo arribaré a Buenos Aires, Argentina, para el lanzamiento de la nueva edición en rústica en lengua española, de mi biografía de John Lennon Nowhere Man, cual fue anunciada oficialmente hoy, en el 77 cumpleaños de Lennon.

¿Por qué viajar 5,310 millas para presentar un libro, que Random House Mondadori (ahora Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial), publicó originalmente en 2003? Porque Nowhere Man no se ha impreso por años, y yo no puedo pensar un lugar mejor que Buenos Aires para celebrar su regreso. Lennon es amado en Buenos Aires, una ciudad donde los aniversarios de su nacimiento, el 9 de octubre, y muerte, el 8 de diciembre, son siempre conmemorados, y donde hay incluso un Museo de los Beatles.

Es asimismo una ciudad impregnada de mitos literarios y políticos, y aunque yo nunca he estado allí, siempre me he sentido conectado a ella, porque Eva Perón murió 12 horas antes de que yo naciera, el 27 de julio de 1952. Su muerte estaba en la primera página de todos los periódicos de Nueva York ese día. Y mi madre, quien idolatraba a “la dama de la esperanza”, siempre estaba hablando de Evita como si fuera una amiga personal.

Pero no se equivoquen: el objetivo primordial de este viaje es empezar a difundir la noticia, de que una edición re-traducida en español de Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon, se vuelve a imprimir después de una prolongada ausencia. Con un precio de $ 12.60 dólares, el libro está ahora disponible en Amazon España, Amazon México, Amazon USA, Barnes & Noble, y directamente en CreateSpace. (La edición e-book, por un tiempo limitado, se vende con descuento en $ 9.00 dólares, y la edición de Kindle Matchbook, como siempre, tiene un precio de 99 centavos si tú ya compraste el libro en rústica).

Mientras esté en Buenos Aires, yo estaré firmando libros en una serie de eventos, está atento a los detalles.

Así, sí, yo estoy deseando mucho conocer a mis lectores, los medios argentinos y a mi traductor René Portas. Yo asimismo espero mejorar mi muy limitado español, y quizás incluso aprender a bailar un poco de tango. Y sí, mi esposa, la cantante y compositora Mary Lyn Maiscott (a quien Nowhere Man está dedicado), se unirá a mí, y mientras esté en la ciudad, podría ser persuadida de tomar una guitarra, y cantar una o dos canciones de los Beatles.

Podría suceder.

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Start Spreading the News


On Monday, November 27, I will arrive in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the launch of the new Spanish-language paperback edition of my John Lennon biography, Nowhere Man, which was officially released today, Lennon’s 77th birthday.

Why travel 5,310 miles to present a book that Random House Mondadori (now Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial) originally published in 2003? Because Nowhere Man has been out of print for years, and I can’t think of a better place than Buenos Aires to celebrate its return. Lennon is beloved in Buenos Aires, a city where the anniversaries of his birth, on October 9, and death, on December 8, are always commemorated, and where there’s even a Beatles Museum.

It’s also a city steeped in literary and political myth, and though I’ve never been there, I’ve always felt connected to it—because Eva Peron died 12 hours before I was born, on July 27, 1952. Her death was on the front page of all the New York newspapers that day. And my mother, who idolized “la dama de la esperanza,” was always talking about Evita as if she were a personal friend.

But make no mistake: the primary objective of this journey is to start spreading the news that a retranslated Spanish edition of Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon is back in print after an extended absence. Priced at $12.60 U.S., the book is now available from Amazon Spain, Amazon Mexico, Amazon U.S., Barnes & Noble, and directly from CreateSpace. (The e-book edition has, for a limited time, been discounted to $9.00 U.S., and the Kindle Matchbook edition is, as always, priced at 99 cents if you’ve already bought the paperback.)

While in Buenos Aires I’ll be signing books at a number of events—stay tuned for details.

So, yes, I’m very much looking forward to meeting my readers, the Argentine media, and my translator, René Portas. I’m also hoping to improve my very limited Spanish and perhaps even learn to dance a little Tango. And yes, my wife, the singer-songwriter Mary Lyn Maiscott (to whom Nowhere Man is dedicated), will be joining me, and while in town she might be persuaded to pick up a guitar and sing a Beatles song or two.

Could happen.

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(Justo como) empezar de nuevo otra vez/(Just Like) Starting Over Again

Una nueva edición impresa en lengua española de Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon, se está abriendo paso lentamente hacia las plataformas de venta de libros por todo el mundo.

Aunque la fecha oficial de publicación es el 9 de octubre, el cumpleaños de Lennon, Nowhere Man ya está a la venta en Amazon España, Amazon US y Barnes & Noble. Amazon México lanzará la edición impresa el 9 de octubre. Búscala ahí, vinculada a la edición Kindle.

Las copias de reseña están ahora disponibles y el aviso de publicación ha empezado a difundirse. El sitio de los Beatles, 10, Mathew Street, con sede en Madrid, ha posteado un artículo sobre el libro y mi próximo viaje a Buenos Aires para el lanzamiento. Ese viaje debe tener lugar a finales de noviembre-principios de diciembre. Tan pronto como los detalles se finalicen, yo voy, por supuesto, a postear sobre eso aquí.

La nueva edición, re-traducida por René Portas, quien hizo la traducción original para Random House Mondadori (ahora Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial), presenta una foto de cubierta del difunto Jack Mitchell, quien retrató a Lennon y Yoko Ono el 2 de noviembre de 1980 , un mes antes de que un fan trastornado asesinara al ex Beatle frente al Dakota.

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(Just Like) Starting Over Again


A new Spanish-language print edition of Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon is slowly making its way onto book-selling platforms throughout the world.

Though the official publication date is October 9, Lennon’s birthday, Nowhere Man is already for sale on Amazon Spain, Amazon US, and Barnes & Noble. Amazon Mexico will release the print edition on October 9. Look for it here, linked to the Kindle edition.

Review copies are now available and word of publication has begun to spread. The Beatles site, 10, Mathew Street, based in Madrid, has posted an article about the book and my upcoming trip to Buenos Aires for the launch. This journey should take place in late November–early December. As soon as the details are finalized, I will, of course, post about it here.

The new edition, re-translated by René Portas, who did the original translation for Random House Mondadori (now Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial), features a cover photo by the late Jack Mitchell, who shot Lennon and Yoko Ono on November 2, 1980, one month before a deranged fan murdered the ex-Beatle in front of the Dakota.

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Paparazzo of Porn

Back in the 1980s, John Mozzer was porn star Alan Adrian. He was also a photographer, a paparazzo of porn whose archive is now online. He recently sent me this photo of Bill Bottigi and "Izzy Singer," both of whom are major "characters" in Beaver Street. (I enclose Izzy Singer in quotes because at the time Beaver Street was published, he didn't want his real name, Neil Wexler, used in the book.)

Mozzer took the photo on April 15, 1987, at the downtown New York club Heartbreak, at a launch party for 2029, a German photography magazine published by Leslie Barany and Diane Brandis.

In Beaver Street, I describe Singer/Wexler as “the ingenious creative force behind Swank’s sleaziest stroke book,” For Adults Only, and a man who “possessed an unrivaled knowledge of the fair-market value of everything having to do with commercial sex.” Today he remains one of the last working writers in porn. You can check out his Website here.

Also in the book, I detail the controversial story of Bill Bottigi’s murder, 25 years ago.

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Legal Marijuana and Tobacco Industry Paranoia: A 1979 Time-Capsule of Investigative Journalism

A tin of marijuana cigarettes from the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina.

I wrote the article and sidebar below, about the tobacco industry's efforts to gear up for the legalization of marijuana, on spec for The Nation, in 1979. Since I couldn’t definitively prove that the tobacco industry was gearing up for marijuana legalization, The Nation passed.

A few weeks ago, I read the story for the first time in 38 years and found another flaw: I’d buried the lead. I should have begun with the Philip Morris corporation’s legal action against a small Long Island drug-paraphernalia manufacturer. But who knows if even that would have made a difference?

This time capsule of amateur investigative journalism has never been published. I’m publishing it now, exactly as I wrote it then.


Armies of journalists have invested a great deal of time during the past 15 years attempting to unravel a web of marijuana rumor and misinformation so complex it defies clarification. They’ve met with little success. Chasing bizarre leads into every segment of government and industry, occasionally managing to dispose of some of the more ludicrous rumors, they’ve created a paranoiac atmosphere where new rumors—as absurd and tantalizing as the ones they’ve put to rest—breed like bacteria in a petri dish.

The most widespread, persistent rumors concern the tobacco industry’s plans to gear up for the inevitable legalization of pot. It’s not true, for example, as Time magazine reported on January 11, 1971 that “One of the very biggest cigarette makers is experimenting with pot cigarettes in Puerto Rico.” Nor is it true, as James Ridgeway reported in the April 1971 Ramparts, “Justice Department officials asked Philip Morris to design and make a marijuana cigarette for test purposes.” It’s entirely believable, but probably not true either, as Jack Anderson said in his syndicated column of July 22, 1976, “Tobacco companies have set aside choice southern land for future marijuana harvests, competent sources say.”

No solid evidence has ever been documented linking the tobacco industry to marijuana. Yet, they remain terrified of even the vaguest associations, and vehemently deny everything. Stories like the ones printed in Time and Ramparts have provoked the industry to treat the press with contempt and hostility, an attitude that invariably spawns more rumors.

The trail of every rumor linking the tobacco industry to marijuana always leads to the same place: the Research Triangle in the pine woods near Durham, North Carolina. An industrial park conceived 20 years ago, its purpose was to stop the “brain drain” of PhDs from North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina, and Duke University to greener, out-of-state pastures. The Research Triangle Institute (RTI) is one of the many corporations located within the park. Its research ranges from the “study of catastrophic illness addressing spinal injury” to “data analysis and survey procedures for measuring pupil’s English language proficiency” to clinical studies of marijuana, which have been going on since 1969, funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) to the tune of $220,000 per year. It has a reputation of being one of the top research laboratories in the world. Perhaps it is only a coincidence that this is where the government has chosen to set up its joint-rolling factory—in the heart of tobacco country.

The government has chosen to set up its joint-rolling factory in the heart of tobacco country.



Commonly known as Durham’s third cigarette maker (along with American Tobacco and Liggett & Meyers), it’s no secret what’s being manufactured in RTI. Rumors of potential rips offs, hijacked marijuana shipments, kidnapped employees and links to tobacco companies abound.

“Security is a delicate area,” said Dr. Monroe Wall, President of Chemistry and Life Science. “You don’t want the Mafia to come down here and raid the area.”

“Our attitude isn’t one for paranoia, but we have reason to be apprehensive sometimes,” added C.X. Larrabee, Public Relations Director, referring to the rumors.

Three years ago, RTI acquired from one of the local tobacco companies an old cigarette rolling machine and a retired employee familiar with the “Rube Goldberg–like” instrument who helped convert it for the production of marijuana cigarettes. Originally, Dr. Wall said that they appealed directly to the tobacco companies for assistance in setting up the operation, but “paranoid” about any associations with marijuana, they refused. It took several months to get the machine operational.

Now, also under NIDA contract, Columbian, Mexican and Jamaican dope is shipped in 60 kilo barrels and crates marked “First Class Registered Mail” to RTI from the government pot farm at the University of Mississippi at Oxford. There, under the auspices of project director Dr. Carlton Turner (who denied rumors that tobacco companies frequently request information on growing marijuana), about 1,000 kilograms of 50 to 100 varieties of the most potent pot on the planet—some five times stronger than anything you can cop on the street—are growing on 5½ acres or rich, Mississippi topsoil.

The Research Triangle Institute rolls about 100,000 joints per year.



RTI rolls a ton of marijuana per year, about 100,000 joints, and processes some into liquid and pills, which are mostly used for glaucoma research. It’s a five-man operation and two people are needed to run the machine which, churns out 1,000 perfectly rolled 9-gram joints per minute. The size of non-filter cigarettes, stamped at one end with a thin red line and an “M” for marijuana, the carefully monitored THC content (the major psychotropic agent) ranges from 1% to 2.5%. (Average street dope, according to NIDA is .8% THC content.)

“If we sold the 2.5% THC marijuana on the street for $75 an ounce,” Richard Hawks, a chemist in NIDA’s research division commented, “people would be getting a bargain.”

Rolling goes on four or five times a year. Joints are packed 350 to a container the size of a coffee can. Some is stockpiled in a bank vault. The rest is distributed at no expense to researchers in the United States and Europe—provided they’re licensed and involved in legitimate research programs—and to a government pharmacy in Washington DC where Bob Randall, a 28-year-old glaucoma victim, the first and once the only legal pot smoker in the country, fills his prescription for 70 joints per week, which he receives in brown prescription jars with “child-proof” caps.

RTI officials stressed that their research is “legitimate,” “there’s nothing to hide,” and there are no links with the tobacco industry. Yet, they did everything possible to hide two simple, perhaps even trivial facts: Who supplied the rolling machine and who supplies the rolling paper. In tracking down this information, it becomes clear why a cloud of rumor hangs over RTI. Why should it take one month and more than 100 phone calls to ascertain information which in the end seems meaningless? The search for the information, not the information itself, indicates somebody is working very hard to cover up links between RTI and the tobacco industry.

As it turned out, the rolling machine came from the American Tobacco Company via Gonzalez International of Baltimore, a used machinery firm that specializes in tobacco machinery. The rolling paper is supplied by Ecusta Inc., a division of Olin Inc.—hardly astounding information.

Originally, officials at American claimed they knew nothing about one of their cigarette rolling machines being used to roll joints at RTI. Though, after being told his company was identified as the source of the machine, Cleveland Kern, the manufacturing director, recalled the entire transaction and remembered that RTI even asked to borrow one of their employees to set up the machine. But a superior in the corporate hierarchy quickly contradicted him. “We disposed of the machine to Gonzalez,” Robert Stinnette, assistant to the chairman of the board, claimed. “What they did with it after that is their business.” He was not able to explain how Mr. Kern knew the machine was being used at RTI.

The case with Ecusta was more complex. “They are doing a favor for the government and for science,” Dr. Wall explained. “The amount of paper they supply us with is negligible. They make no money off it. They don’t want their name associated with marijuana. If it is, we’re afraid they’ll withdraw the supply. Because of what the paper is used for, it was difficult to find a supply.”

Ecusta, located in Pisgah Forest, North Carolina, the largest of three rolling paper manufacturers in the country, wasn’t difficult to find. A secretary answered the telephone. She thought I was a potential customer referred to them by RTI, whom she recognized as a customer. Then she realized I was a reporter and transferred me to the marketing director who claimed he “wasn’t aware RTI was an account of ours.” Later, though, he confirmed it.

If the amount of paper they supply to RTI is “negligible,” why did a secretary immediately recognize the name? Perhaps the amount isn’t negligible. One of the many rumors flying about suggests RTI manufactures 500,000 joints per year, not 100,000.

RTI felt confident if Ecusta was publicly identified as the source of their rolling paper, the company wouldn’t hesitate to cut off their supply and legitimate marijuana research would be “seriously damaged.”

An Ecusta spokesman said they wouldn’t cut off the supply under any circumstances, but quickly added, “We don’t pander to the marijuana trade,” implying his concern for rumors that they did pander to the marijuana trade. Ecusta supplies paper to US Tobacco, the makers of Zig-Zag, a perennial joint rolling classic.

A lot of people believe a rumor fueled by ex–California Governor Ronald Reagan, who said, in 1972, that 14 tobacco companies have already registered trademarks like Acapulco Gold and Panama Red for use on marijuana products after legalization. Mr. Reagan was apparently unaware it’s impossible to register a trademark for a non-existent, or worse yet, illegal product.

It is true, though, that the General Cigar and Tobacco Company has registered the trademark “Tijuana Smalls” for their commercially successful little cigar. It’s been suggested that this trademark is being used only temporarily. Once marijuana is legalized, General Cigar can switch the trademark from cigars to pot. Though possible it’s unlikely. Switching names is a terrible business practice that only leads to consumer confusion. Imagine the shock of a loyal Tijuana Smalls smoker whose favorite little cigar suddenly appears on the market with a 2% THC content and has him hallucinating long before his fifth puff.

The latest breaking marijuana rumor, though, is the most believable to come along in years. It’s public record that Philip Morris Inc., an international conglomerate with revenues of $6 billion per year, has blocked a trademark application for “The Lid,” by Brasshead Inc., a small Long Island paraphernalia manufacturing company. Philip Morris claims it interferes with its product, Lido cigarettes.

You’ve probably never heard of Lido mentholated cigarettes. Philip Morris originally registered the name in 1957. Test marketing of the product began in 1969, in Venezuela, Costa Rica, and the United States, and still continues today. Though Philip Morris marketing executives prefer the term “diminishing results,” Lido has been a commercial disaster. Twelve hundred packs were sold in the United States in 1978. In Venezuela, sales between 1974 and 1977 dropped from 36.5 million packs to 9.9 million. Clearly, Lido cigarettes are going nowhere fast. Yet, test marketing continues, and in 1975 the trademark was renewed for another 20 years.

Brasshead Inc. of West Babylon, Long Island, a tiny member of the $350 million a year drug paraphernalia industry, was formed in 1970 by Mike Michaels, its 30-year-old president. Michaels, in 1975, came up with a relatively innocuous product called “The Lid,” classic street slang for an ounce of pot. In a zip-lock plastic bag, he packages a small, wooden hash pipe, extra screens, a roach clip, and rolling papers. It retails for $1.99. When he tried to register the trademark “Lid,” Philip Morris formally objected, in part because it said that Lid so resembled Lido that it was deceptive, would cause the consumer to confuse the two products, and would lead to the belief that Philip Morris manufactured both products.

“We’re not interested in marijuana because we can’t make enough money on it,” a Philip Morris spokesman said. “People can’t smoke 20–30 joints a day.”



How anybody can confuse a kit for getting stoned with a pack of mentholated cigarettes known mostly in Venezuela and Costa Rica may very well be one of the more intriguing questions of the day. Philip Morris doesn’t have a particularly good answer. “We’re not interested in marijuana because we can’t make enough money on it,” a spokesman said. “People can’t smoke 20–30 joints a day.” It’s a straightforward trademark case, they claimed, and as always, they’re ever-vigilant in protecting trademarks because they don’t want to see the laws eroded.

Michaels finds the case absurd. “Why should Philip Morris bother us on a trademark they’ve more or less abandoned here?” he wondered. “Maybe they’re trying to save the name in case marijuana is legalized. To me the name isn’t even important. I can call it ‘Bib’ and still sell the same amount. It’s a matter of principle.”

A number of patent lawyers agree the case is “peculiar.” Nobody has ever heard of one quite like it, in which a major conglomerate, protecting a trademark for a doomed product, contests a distantly related trademark by a much smaller company.

It seems entirely possible that when marijuana is legalized, Philip Morris could simply drop the “o” from Lido and call a marijuana product “Lid.” If Lido cigarettes should suddenly vanish from the marketplace, unlike Tijuana Smalls, you can be sure nobody will miss them, not even Philip Morris. A phone call to its Park Avenue headquarters revealed only one person who ever heard of the product. It took several days to locate him.

There’s one provocative rumor that will probably never die no matter what’s proven or disproven: Tobacco companies stand to make the fortune of the century when marijuana is legalized. Pot, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is a $48 billion a year business, the third largest in the country, behind only General Motors and Exxon, which are tied for first at $53 billion. Naturally, like good businessmen, tobacco moguls are gearing up on all fronts—production, advertising, marketing, and agricultural. When legalization hits, they’ll be ready to roll joints within the hour.

Tobacco companies have already made one of the fortunes of the century. In the process of promoting lung cancer, emphysema, and heart disease, they’ve also drawn intense criticism from such people as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Joseph Califano, a vigilant anti-smoking campaigner. Companies insist that the last thing they want is more government heat from marijuana, which some studies show is more harmful to the lungs than tobacco because it’s inhaled more deeply and remains in the lungs longer.

“We don’t need marijuana,” tobacco companies say, claiming they’re so rich and diversified, if cigarettes were outlawed tomorrow, they wouldn’t go out of business. Philip Morris, for instance, not only makes Marlboro, Benson and Hedges, Merit, Parliament, Virginia Slims, and Multifilter, but also Miller Beer, Lowenbrau, and 7Up.

Rumor naturally lurks behind the DEA’s claim that pot is a $48-billion industry. The enforcement of marijuana laws, the DEA’s principle obsession, is as much a business as selling marijuana itself. It keeps men working. They claim $48 billion in order to wangle a bigger budget from Congress. Without grass, the agency would be forced to exclusively pursue more dangerous drug criminals, like heroin and cocaine smugglers, who are more difficult to collar because their contraband is trafficked in much smaller quantities.

More realistic estimates from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORMAL) and Penthouse magazine peg marijuana sales somewhere between $4 and $12 billion, which at least holds a respectable position on the Fortune Top 100.

For the time being, at least, it’s possible that tobacco companies really aren’t gearing up for marijuana. Legalization, according to NORMAL—who already has brought about decriminalization in 11 states—is at least 7–15 years off. Before legalization can occur, international treaty obligations, which call for the prosecution of drug criminals, must first be repealed, and then, legalization would still be two years off. The tobacco companies know there’s no reason to stand poised with a finger on the joint-rolling button. If a crash program were invoked, it’s estimated that they could be rolling marijuana cigarettes in six to nine months.

Getting High in the White House

Only God knows how many reporters have been looking for drugs in the White House since Jimmy Carter took office. With a son who was thrown out of the Navy for toking up on board ship, a Rolling Stone endorsement by notorious gonzo journalist Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, who promptly told High Times about snorting cocaine with the White House staff and press corps, and the sudden departure of Drug Advisor Dr. Peter Bourne for writing bogus Quaalude prescriptions for a White House secretary and snorting cocaine with NORMAL Director Keith Stroup, the paranoia there is intense. Just call up the press office and ask about pot. It doesn’t matter what the question is. As soon as they hear “marijuana,” the answer is, “No drugs are used inside the White House and anybody found doing so will be fired.

Former speechwriter for the Secretary of the Air Force, Bob Rosen, a New York based freelance writer, recently completed a book on the Pentagon, Ground Zero Paranoia.

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Journey Through the Past

All three parts of "The Provocateur," my series on artist and filmmaker Robert Attanasio, are now posted on Erotic Review.

In the 1970s, I worked with Attanasio on Observation Post, the radical student newspaper at the City College of New York. We published a lot of controversial material, much of it having to do with pornography and religion. Working on OP changed the course of our lives, but we drifted apart after graduation and eventually lost touch. I hadn’t heard from Attanasio in 30 years. Then, in February 2015, he contacted me and we reunited. By November he was dead—from cancer.

“The Provocateur,” adapted from a book I’m working on about the moment in the 1970s when the student left gave way to punk, is a retrospective of my relationship with Attanasio, and a journey through his art and film.

Click here to read Part I, Part II, and now Part III.

Attanasio appears at the beginning of this episode of The Madness of Art.

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Los últimos días de John Lennon

Yo he estado trabajando en una nueva edición impresa, de Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon en lengua española, programada para salir a la venta el 9 de octubre de 2017, en el 77 cumpleaños de Lennon.

René Portas, quien tradujo la edición original en lengua española, publicada por Random House Mondadori en 2003, ha hecho una traducción actualizada y mejorada, que incluye cinco capítulos extra.

Aquí está la foto de una primera prueba. La nueva foto de portada fue tomada por el difunto Jack Mitchell, en noviembre de 1980, poco antes de que Lennon fuera asesinado.

Si tú no puedes esperar hasta octubre para leer la nueva edición impresa, una edición e-book está ahora disponible en iTunes, Kindle y todas las otras tiendas que venden e-books.

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***


I've been working on a new print edition of the Spanish-language Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon, scheduled to go on sale October 9, 2017, Lennon's 77th birthday.

René Portas, who translated the original Spanish-language edition, published by Random House Mondadori, in 2003, has done an updated and improved translation, which includes five bonus chapters.

Here’s a photo of an early proof. The new cover photo was taken by the late Jack Mitchell, in November 1980, shortly before Lennon was murdered.

If you can’t wait until October to read the new print edition, an e-book edition is available now from iTunes, Kindle, and all other stores that sell e-book.

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Birth of a Book

The way things are in publishing these days, it's as difficult for me to sell a magazine article as it is to sell a book. So I usually don't bother writing articles because even if I do sell one, it'll be around for a month at best. My books, however, tend to endure. Nowhere Man remains in print 17 years after publication.

Ironically, both my books began as failed magazine articles. In 1982, Rolling Stone and Playboy turned down an early version of what became Nowhere Man--because I couldn't prove to their satisfaction that what I'd written was true. I started writing Beaver Street in 1995 on assignment from The Nation. It was supposed to be an article about the economics of pornography. They rejected it for not being “political enough.”

But sometimes the stars line up and something I write finds its way into a magazine. This month, the first part of a three-part series called “The Provocateur” has been published on a British site, Erotic Review. The series is an excerpt from a book about the 1970s that I’ve been working on, and it’s the story of my old friend Robert Attanasio, an artist and filmmaker who died in 2015.

It was Attanasio’s death that helped me find a focus for the book and made me realize what its central theme should be—the moment when the student left gave way to Punk.

Part I comes with multiple trigger warnings and a big NSFW. Stay tuned for parts II and III.

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The Front Page

Observation Post, December 20, 1978.

As I contine to immerse myself in the 1970s, reconstructing that time for a book I've been writing, I'm continually reminded of how much I forgot.

Fortunately, I have an archive of Observation Post, a student newspaper at the City College of New York. I joined OP in 1971, as a sophomore; became editor in chief as a senior; remained a contributor as a grad student; and in 1978 and '79, while living with the then editor in chief, I acted as surrogate editor.

OP was a radical, political, pornographic embodiment of First Amendment freedom of expression, underwritten by City College, and produced by both students and former students turned professionals. Its readership extended beyond the campus. By the end of its 32-year run, OP had become a record of the staff and contributors’ emotional turmoil, and nowhere is this more apparent than in a Christmas issue, dated December 20, 1978.

The memory-jogging front-page reminded me how far out of our fucking minds we were.

“OP Editor dies of drugs after being forced to resign” was fake news. The editor in question, the one I was living with, did not die. (As far as I know, she’s still alive.) But in December 1978, her life had descended into a state of chaos and despair. The coup de grâce came when the school forced her to give up her beloved editorship because she wasn’t registered as a student. To share her feelings with the administration (and the world), she died a metaphorical death in the pages of OP.

My book focuses on the moment in history when the student left gave way to punk, and it was in this issue of OP that punk won. The fake-news death of the editor foreshadowed both the real heroin-overdose death of Sid Vicious, of the Sex Pistols, little more than a month later, and the symbolic punk-suicide of OP itself the following year.

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Upon Looking Into an Old OP

For the past few years I've been immersing myself in the 1970s, trying to reconstruct what it was like to live and go to school in New York City at that chaotic time, as the student left was giving way to punk. Lately (in an effort to think about something other than Trump), I've been re-reading old newspapers that were published at City College, like The Campus, The Paper, and Observation Post (OP), which I edited.

In 1975, when I was in grad school, the Pentagon invited me to be a speechwriter for Air Force secretary John McLucas. Despite strong anti-war and anti-military sentiments, I accepted the offer. It was a paid writing gig, an “internship,” the Pentagon called it—the Air Force hoped that upon completing my degree, I’d make the military my career. Gerald Ford was president, the Vietnam War had just ended, and I was an ambitious, rebellious 22-year-old, hungry for experience.

Upon returning to City College for the fall semester, I sat down with three OP editors—Herb Fox, Mark Lipitz, and Fred Seaman—to discuss my stint at the Pentagon. They published their interview with me in the November 5, 1975, issue. Reading it now, more than 40 years later, my unguarded anger and the way I shot off my mouth startles me. I’d apparently not yet developed a filter and did not fully understand the effect my words might have on a wider audience, especially my former Pentagon coworkers. The interview, however, does serve as a window into my unruly consciousness and the mindset of the military in the immediate aftermath of having lost a war for the first time since 1812.

Here are some excerpts from the interview, with the names of my former coworkers redacted.

OP: What was your first day at the Pentagon like?

Bob Rosen: I couldn’t sleep the night before. I didn’t know what I was getting into. In the morning I had to wait at the main information desk with about 20 other interns. After an hour, some Air Force people took us to be “processed in,” which was filling out tax forms, taking loyalty oaths, and having your arms checked for needle marks. Then I went up to the speechwriting office and met the people I was going to be working with. I was terrified. It was the first time I ever came in contact with the military. There were three lieutenant colonels and a captain. Lieutenant Colonel A_____, the chief, asked me to come into his office and said: “Well, Bob, you’ve got to hang loose. This is a very loose place.”

OP: What did he mean by that?

Rosen: He meant speechwriting was a very frustrating job. It takes about ten days to write a speech. It’s a very long process, involving a lot of research and interviewing. You spend entire days talking to people on the phone, running around the Pentagon tracking down “experts,” going through microfilm files, and reading up on relevant material. Then you write a rough draft and finally hand in a polished speech. But McLucas is a callous pig. He looks at a lot of speeches and says: “I don't like this. Do it over!” Then you’d have to do the whole fucking thing over. When he actually gives a speech, he usually reads the first paragraph, throws the rest away, and spins off on his own. It killed everyone in office. It wouldn’t have bothered me if he was a good impromptu speaker, but he was terrible at it. He’d go off on all kinds of boring tangents that put people to sleep. He did it to gratify his ego, to prove to himself he was more witty and more articulate than his speechwriters. He treated us like garbage. A couple of times he said things that got him in trouble. For instance, during a speech to a group of scientists in San Francisco he started to ad-lib and called the Vietnam War a “debacle.” That made banner headlines in the San Francisco Chronicle. It got people in the Pentagon really pissed at him.

OP: You said that at first you tried to be as “truthful” as possible [when writing a speech]. What do you mean by that?

Rosen: Okay. Let me use my first major speech as an example. McLucas had to speak to a group of ROTC cadets who were graduating from college this year and expected to join the Air Force right away. Now these cadets had entered college during the Vietnam War, when the ROTC program was going full force. However, since the end of the war, the size of the Air Force has been reduced by about 30 percent, and there’s going to be no room for these cadets. McLucas had to explain to them they had to wait up to two years before they could join the Air Force, and he had to come up with something to tell them to do during these two years. So I wrote a speech suggesting these cadets should run off and become hippies, and then when the time came they would be able to go into the Air Force with a completely new perspective on life.

OP: I suppose they killed the speech right away.

Rosen: No, they didn’t kill it that fast, which surprised me. Each speech, before it gets to the Secretary, has to go through a chain of about 15 experts. My supervisor, Lieutenant Colonel A_____, actually liked it, so I figured that there really was a chance it might get through. It passed three people before someone realized I was subtly suggesting these cadets go off and become hippies. I got an angry memo from the Pentagon Commandant of ROTC saying: “I don’t think the Secretary of the Air Force should suggest our future pilots become hippies.”

Another weird thing happened to me with that speech. After I had finished writing it, I typed a separate paragraph they wanted to include, mentioning there had been a 69 percent increase of women in the Air Force since 1969. I showed the paragraph to one of the officers there, Lieutenant Colonel B_____, and he said: “You can't use this 69 percent.”

“Why not?” I asked. “I triple-checked it. There’s a 69 percent increase.”

“Well, you see,” he said, “you’re going to be speaking to a group of ROTC cadets and they’re all males. Here you are talking about women. You just can’t use 69 percent when you’re talking about women to an all-male group. Some of their minds might not be in the right place. You have to change that.”

I thought he was joking and started to laugh. When I looked around I saw nobody else was laughing. It wasn’t a joke. I had to change the 69 percent to something else.

OP: Are there many religious people at the Pentagon?

Rosen: That’s another incredibly weird aspect of the Pentagon—the way people there are into religion. This one speechwriter, Captain G_____, tried to convert me to Christianity. He was a Charismatic Christian. He’d tell me how he talks to Jesus every night when he drives home in his car. There’s something very frightening about an officer in a high government position telling you how he talks to Jesus every day. He also gave me religious books to read that painted horrible fire and brimstone visions of hell. These passages would always be followed by a paragraph that said, “But, if you accept Christ you don’t have to go there.”

He told me I was in the Pentagon because God wanted me there.

“Why would God possibly want me in the Pentagon?” I asked, and he said: “Well, when the Messiah comes maybe He’ll want you to be His speechwriter. He has you here to learn about speechwriting and to learn about Him.”

OP: Tell us about your trip to Florida.

Rosen: I’d written a speech for a graduation exercise at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, and I got to fly down there with McLucas, his military aide, and Lieutenant Colonel A_____. [In Florida, A_____ and I shared a hotel room. It] was the first time I’d ever roomed with a lieutenant colonel.

He liked to talk to me about my politics and drugs. A_____ had been in the military for 19 years and he only came into contact with other people in the military. I’d say, “I take drugs and opposed the war.” He’d say, “Gee, I never met anybody who admitted he took drugs. I don’t know people who opposed the war.”

I told him there were a lot of people like me. He had only seen them on TV and read about them in the newspaper, and now he’s suddenly rooming with one. He used to ask me a lot of questions whose answers seemed obvious, like: “How come you didn’t like the war?” I’d give him a pretty standard answer about the United States having no right to destroy a country halfway around the world for its own selfish interests. Then I’d ask: “How come you did like the war?” He’d tell me he’s a patriot and the Communists were the aggressors, the usual story. He’d keep on saying we didn't bomb civilian targets. It was the most “surgical” bombing job in the history of the Air Force. He’d use expressions like, “We didn’t want to destroy the whole country, we just wanted to twist the Communists’ arms till they saw things our way.”

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