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The Weekly Blague

"I Loved Paul Like a Brother"

This is the final installment of a transcript, edited for clarity, of the questions asked at my Nowhere Man event at Subterranean Books in St. Louis. Transcription courtesy of Laurel Zito.


What did John write in his diary that was most revealing about his relationship with Paul McCartney that was not publicly known?


One of the main parts of Nowhere Man is my description of John Lennon's relationship with Paul McCartney based on my memory of his journals. John didn't see much of Paul, but he thought about him virtually every day. He was angry at Paul because Paul wanted a Beatles reunion and John wanted no part of that. He felt that reuniting the Beatles was going backward, and he wanted to move forward. The Beatles were his childhood, his adolescence, his 20s. He was a 40-year-old man with a family. He wanted to leave the past behind. And Paul was just a constant reminder of that past: "Let's reunite the Beatles! Let's reunite the Beatles!" John made it absolutely clear that he didn't want to do that. He said he loved Paul like a brother but he couldn't stand being around him.


While John was in seclusion, doing nothing, not recording music, not writing music, Paul was out there recording song after song, hit after hit, and John was extremely jealous. He felt that the only way he could get Paul's attention was if Yoko did something like sell a cow for a quarter-million dollars, and that would make the papers. And Yoko sold a cow for a quarter-million dollars, which at the time was a record-setting price for a cow. There was a big story about it in the papers, and John wrote in his journal that it was a great victory over the McCartneys.


In early 1980, Paul was getting ready to go on tour with Wings. He stopped by New York on his way to Japan and called John at the Dakota. He said he had some good weed and, you know, would you like me to come by and we'll smoke some weed together. And John said no. Then he found out that in Japan Paul was planning to stay in the Presidential Suite at the Okura Hotel, in Tokyo. John and Yoko considered that their private suite and he was outraged and repulsed that Paul and his wife, Linda, would be staying there. He told Yoko that we can't let this happen, that she's got to stop McCartney from going on tour and staying in our suite and "ruining our hotel karma."


"Yoko did it!!! Paul busted in Japan!!!"


He wrote in his journals about how Yoko practices magic. They both were into all this occult stuff: magic, tarot, numerology, you name it. They had a full-time tarot-card reader, Charlie Swan—his real name was John Green. Yoko and Swan went to Colombia, in South America, where Swan hooked her up with a powerful bruja, a witch. And she paid the witch $60,000 to teach her how to cast magic spells. And Yoko told John that she was going to use her magic to stop McCartney from staying in their hotel suite. And what happened was—you might remember this—in 1980, when Paul arrived in Japan, he was stopped at customs smuggling marijuana. He was arrested; he spent 10 days in jail; and the tour was ruined. And when John found out about this, it was the happiest moment of 1980 for him up to that point. Because his life was just kind of adrift, and he was doing nothing. Even his journals were really fragmented. He just wasn't writing coherently. But when Paul was busted he wrote, "Yoko did it!!! Paul busted in Japan!!!" And then he quotes the thing from Monopoly: "Go to jail, go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200." He was thrilled.


John also thought he had a psychic connection with Paul. Anytime Paul was in town he said he heard McCartney's music in his head. And then finally, in Bermuda, in the summer of 1980, John started writing music again, serious music, for the first time in five years. And, yeah, he was really struggling to get back in gear and to connect with his muse and write something inspired. What really got John going was that McCartney had just released an album called McCartney II. And one of the songs on there is "Coming Up." The whole song is addressed directly to John, and McCartney's calling for a Beatles reunion. One of the lyrics in "Coming Up" is "I know that we can get together/Stick around and see." John would play "Coming Up" over and over again. It inspired him and he started writing a song that was really a response to "Coming Up." That song was "I Don't Wanna Face It." It has autobiographical lyrics like "You want to save humanity/But it's people that you just can't stand" and "You're looking for oblivion/With one eye on the Hall of Fame." Even though Paul wasn't there, John was collaborating with him by listening to "Coming Up" and responding to it. Some of John's best writing was when he was collaborating with Paul. Which is not to say his solo songs were bad, but his best work was with the Beatles.


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"Double Fantasy" Brought Them Together


Below is a transcript, edited for clarity, of another question asked at my Nowhere Man event at Subterranean Books in St. Louis. Transcription courtesy of Laurel Zito.


How was John's relationship with Yoko in those last days?


Most of the time John was keeping the diaries he was in seclusion and there wasn't much going on. When John and Yoko's son, Sean, was born, in 1975, he was going to drop out of the music business, which he hated, and he was going to devote five years to bringing up Sean. That had been the plan. It's not that he didn't do that. He did it to some degree, but he had a staff of servants and nannies to do the heavy lifting when it came to bringing up a child.


John had mostly retreated to his room and he smoked a lot of dope and he wrote in his journals and he dreamed a lot. The journals were kind of a stream of consciousness for five years. I mean he would record everything—what he ate, when he went to the bathroom. You just got like a real granular sense of what this man's life was like, and, yeah, he spent time with Sean, obviously. But he was very much into his solitude and smoking his weed and writing in his journals.


John and Yoko had five apartments in the Dakota. They had an office on the first floor; their apartment was on this the seventh floor. John was spending most of his time by himself in the apartment, and Yoko was downstairs in the office doing business. So, yeah, you got the sense that they really didn't see each other that much. He would complain in his journals that he wanted to spend more time with Yoko. He missed her and loved her and needed her.


Then towards the end, when they finally decided that he was going to come out of seclusion and he was going to release his first album in five years, that's when John and Yoko started working together and that was a big change. At that point he pretty much stopped writing in his journals. He'd recorded the Double Fantasy demo tape in Bermuda, and then he came back to New York and they started working on the album. They had to find a record company and they signed with David Geffen.


For the first time in five years John was writing music and rehearsing and going into the studio and recording. And Yoko was doing the same thing. Double Fantasy, the final album—probably a lot of you have heard it—was a song of John's followed by a song of Yoko's followed by a song of John's all the way through. And working on Double Fantasy brought them together unlike anything that had happened in the previous years when he wasn't working and doing whatever he was doing to pass the time watching the wheels as the song said.


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The Origins of Nowhere Man

Below is a transcript, edited for clarity, of a question asked at my event at Subterranean Books in St. Louis. Transcription courtesy of Laurel Zito.


Do you feel that the burglary of your apartment was done by somebody who wanted John Lennon's diaries back or do you think it was just an ordinary burglary?


I know who did it: My old college friend Fred Seaman, John's assistant, the guy who hired me to write the book that 18 years later would become Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon. He had the key to my apartment. He was staying there when I was out of town and he had three weeks to go through everything and take what he wanted. John's diaries were the key to the project.


John and Fred were in Bermuda in the summer of 1980. John was putting together the demo tape for his Double Fantasy album. Fred said that John had a premonition of his death, and John told him that if anything should happen him he wanted Fred to write the true story of his life based on whatever material he needed. This is what Fred told me and I accepted it as face value. Years later I learned that Fred had decided at a certain point he was going to sell the diaries as an art object and he didn't need me for that. He was going to make a lot more money that way.


After the burglary I put together a book proposal based on what happened and what I remembered from the diaries. I was going around trying to get a book deal. I went to Playboy because they had that big interview with John and Yoko. I went to Rolling Stone and I met with Jan Wenner, the editor. I told him the story and he believed me but he said he couldn't publish it and that he wanted to save my karma. He told me I needed go to Yoko Ono and tell her the story. So I went to Yoko Ono and she put me on the payroll for six months.


The whole time that I was transcribing John's diaries, and long before that, beginning in 1977, I'd been keeping my own diaries. Everything that had happened since the day John and Yoko hired Fred was in there. Fred's first day on the job, in February 1979, he came to me and said, "Someday we have to write a book about John Lennon." And I said okay. I didn't know when this was going to happen, and for the two years, between when Fred was hired and John was murdered, he was in touch with me at least once a week, and he'd tell me everything that was going on with John and Yoko and their son Sean—how they were traveling to Bermuda or their homes on Long Island and in Palm Beach. For two years I was taking notes in my own diaries, and this is what Ono wanted to see. She told me that she didn't know that John was keeping diaries. I didn't think that was true. In fact I'm sure it wasn't. On some pages in John's diaries, like when he was contemplating having an affair, Yoko had scrawled something like, "Over my dead body." So she obviously knew the diaries existed. She told me that John's diaries were sacred and I shouldn't have read them. That's when she asked if she could read my diaries. I said, "All right, that's only fair. I read John's diaries you can read my diaries."


I brought over 16 volumes of my diaries, about a half-million words. This covered everything from the day Fred was hired until he was fired. We'd sit around her kitchen table, she'd read my diaries and ask me questions about them. She wanted to piece together what Fred was doing this whole time, and my diaries were like an hour-by-hour account. As far as she was concerned Fred did not have the right to take John's diaries. She had him arrested and she got John's diaries back.


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A Night in St. Louis


Zito's transcript of the first question and my answer, edited for clarity, is below. Photo © Mary Lyn Maiscott.


You said that John's diaries were taken away from you. Did you have enough material at that time to write Nowhere Man or did you eventually get the diaries back? What happened?


I was sent out of town. While I was gone my apartment was ransacked. Everything I'd been working on for like a year was taken from me. I was in a state of shock. I couldn't believe that's how the thing ended. I didn't know what to do. Two weeks passed and I started waking up in the morning and realized that passages from the diary were running through my head. I had passages memorized. A lot of the stuff John had written was just so vivid. I started writing down what I remembered, and the more I remembered the more I remembered. This went on for some time and eventually I had large portions of the diaries re-created. I turned that into a book proposal. That's when I started trying to publish the book. This was late 1982, early 1983, and I was met with a lot of rejection for the reasons I was talking about before—you can't prove that this is true; there's going to be lawsuits. When I finally got the deal 18 years later there were no lawsuits and the more time went on the more people realized that what I'd written was true. More information about John's life had begun coming out, and now, 23 years later, pretty much everything I said has been confirmed in one way or another. There was a copyright infringement trial in 2002 and I was subpoenaed to testify by Yoko Ono's lawyers. A lot of what I wrote in the book I eventually told under oath. That's what happened.


A short video clip of my reading from the "Money" chapter of Nowhere Man. Video © Laurel Zito.


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John Lennon's Tell-All Memoir

I was thrilled to return to Subterranean Books, in St. Louis, for my first live event in four years. There's a complete audio recording of the reading and Q&A that followed, which I'll make available in weeks to come. In the meantime, here's a transcript of my opening remarks.


Hi everyone. Thank you all for coming. I know many of you were here in 2019 for my previous book, Bobby in Naziland, which was re-released as A Brooklyn Memoir. Nowhere Man is a very different book, and there's a new edition with 45 pages of supplementary material, a new introduction, and innumerable corrections, additions, and revisions.


I was supposed to do this three years ago. Unfortunately a pandemic got in the way. This is my first book event since the pandemic started, and I timed it to coincide with what would have been John Lennon's 83rd birthday on October 9.


Perhaps some of you have already read Nowhere Man, possibly when it was originally published more than 23 years ago. A lot's happened since then. Tonight I'm going to talk about how I wrote Nowhere Man and some of what's happened since 2000. Then I'm going to read three short passages to give you a sense of the book's flavor. I should warn you that one passage has some strong language, which is pretty much unavoidable when writing about Lennon. After I finish reading I'll throw it open to questions.


I began writing Nowhere Man more than 41 years ago, in early 1982. It took me 18 years to find a publisher. Everybody I sent the manuscript to was afraid to publish it. They were worried about lawsuits. They were worried that there wasn't enough interest in John Lennon. They were worried that I couldn't provide documented proof that what I'd written was true. I didn't work nonstop on the book for 18 years, but I never gave up on it because I knew it was a story that needed to be told. So I had 18 years to refine the book and get it right.


Then, a small indie publisher, Soft Skull Press, made an offer for Nowhere Man and published it in the summer of 2000. They were very good at promotion and after 18 years of rejection I had an international bestseller in multiple languages.


So what made the book so dangerous and controversial that nobody would touch it for all those years? Nowhere Man exists because five months after Lennon was murdered, his personal assistant Fred Seaman, an old college friend, gave me the diaries Lennon had been keeping for the last six years of his life and asked me to turn it into a book—it's what John had told him to do, he said.


In the new introduction I describe this as the old literary trope: an "ordinary man" in an "extraordinary situation." Did I take at face value what Seaman told me? Yes. Was this naïve? Obviously. Did I recognize the moment as a life-changing occasion? No, I saw it as a job. Of course I wanted to turn Lennon's diaries into a book. I was a writer looking for a story, and the story of the Beatles was the story of my generation.


But what exactly was in those diaries that made them such an extraordinary document? Well, they struck me as a rough draft of the tell-all memoir John never had a chance to complete. He put everything in there: the gossip, the fear, the rage, the insanity, the insecurity, the inspiration, the love, and the hate… all the emotions and contradictions that made Lennon who he was. And I had to turn this disjointed mass of raw material into a coherent narrative. Which I started doing. But before I could finish—and this is the story behind the book, which I detail in a chapter called "John Lennon's Diaries"—everything I was working on was taken from me.


All of this raises a question that I've been asked repeatedly for the past 23 years: What right did I have to reveal the personal information in a man's private diaries? In other words did I have a right to tell this story?


All I can say is that John Lennon was a historical figure, the information in his diaries was of historical value, and an extraordinary circumstance allowed me to be a conduit of that information. Had I chosen to not publish Nowhere Man, this story would not have been told in my lifetime, if ever. So I made a decision: I chose to put the story out there.


If you're uncomfortable with that (and I know some people are), there are plenty of authorized Lennon biographies. You don't have to read my book. But if you choose to read it, I will say that I've done my best to give you the truth as I know it.


The three selections I'm going to read are from a section called "Dakota 1980." They take place towards the end of John's five-year hiatus, before he returned to the studio to record his final album, Double Fantasy.


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Subterranean Preview


Wednesday, October 4, at 6 p.m., I'll be doing my first live event in almost four years, since the beginning of the pandemic. If you're in the St. Louis area, please join me at Subterranean Books. I'll be reading from and answering questions about the new and expanded edition of Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon.


The book has endured for 23 years and achieved cult-classic status because it takes you on a journey through Lennon's consciousness. Read Nowhere Man and you'll feel what it was like to be John. I was able to write such a biography because five months after Lennon was murdered, his personal assistant gave me the diaries Lennon had been keeping for the last six years of his life and asked me to turn it into a book—it's what John had told him to do, he said.


The diaries struck me as a rough draft of the tell-all memoir that Lennon never had a chance to complete—which raises a question I've been asked repeatedly: What right did I have to reveal the personal information in a man's private diaries? In other words, did I have a right to tell this story?


I'll discuss this at the event. Of course you should feel free to ask me about anything else.


I'm also going to read three short excerpts from chapters in the "Dakota 1980" section of the book: "Being Rich," "That Magic Feeling," and "Money." They all take place towards the end of John's five-year hiatus, before he returned to the studio to record his final album, Double Fantasy


If you're unfamiliar with me or my work, please listen to my recent appearance on the Something About the Beatles podcast. This will give you a sense of what the Subterranean event will be like.


I look forward to meeting you in St. Louis. To paraphrase the Beatles, been away so long I hardly know the place anymore.


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Start Spreading the News


I'm doing my first public event in nearly four years, since just before the onset of the pandemic, at Subterranean Books, in St. Louis. I'm going to read from and answer questions about a new and expanded edition of Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon. If you're in the area, please mark your calendars: Wednesday, October 4, at 6 p.m. It's an early celebration of Lennon's 83rd birthday, which takes place October 9.


Originally published 23 years ago, Nowhere Man has been translated into many languages and has become an enduring cult classic that takes you on a journey through Lennon's consciousness. You can read about the book on the Subterranean site, or just come to the store, at 6271 Delmar, in the Loop, University City, for an intimate perspective on the life and death of an ex-Beatle.


With a little help from my St. Louis friends and family maybe we can reprise the outstanding turnout at my last Subterranean event, in October 2019, for my just-published memoir Bobby in Naziland (since retitled A Brooklyn Memoir). It put the book on the St. Louis Post Dispatch bestseller list.


Stay tuned for future postings about Nowhere Man and my Subterranean reappearance. In the meantime start spreading the news. I hope you can meet me in St. Louie.


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The Final Frontier


You can now buy the new edition of Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon at any brick-and-mortar bookstore. That's the final frontier of its distribution: The paperback and e-book are available everywhere books are sold, online or off.


Of course, it's always good to support your local indie bookstore, and indiebound.org will direct you to one in your neighborhood.


My personal favorite indie is Subterranean Books, in St. Louis. One of the last live events I did, back in October 2019, before the onset of the pandemic, was a reading from Bobby in Naziland (since re-released as A Brooklyn Memoir) at Subterranean. The enthusiastic crowd bought enough books to put Bobby in Naziland on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch bestseller list, and the staff was so happy with the way the evening went, they invited me to come back.


I was going to return in October 2020 to read from Nowhere Man on what would have been Lennon's 80th birthday. But this thing called Covid forced me to cancel. Now, here it is December 2022—on the eve of a sad day filled with reminders of what happened to John 42 years ago—and I've still not returned to St. Louis.


I'm going to make a New Year's resolution: In 2023, I will again do live events. And assuming they still want me back, one of those events will be a celebration of John Lennon and the new edition of Nowhere Man at Subterranean Books.


To all my friends and family in St. Louis and environs, I will see you there. Details to be announced in 2023.


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Talkin’ St. Louie Covid Blues


A window briefly opened in May and June. It seemed as if the pandemic were ending and life as we knew it might return. For the first time in more than a year, I walked Manhattan streets without a mask. I flew to Florida and visited my mother. I visited friends in their apartments. I went to a party and conversed maskless with maskless (and fully vaccinated) strangers. And I rescheduled an event at Subterranean Books, in St. Louis, which had been cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic.


The original event was to be a celebration of John Lennon's 80th birthday. I was going to read from and discuss my Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, and the Beatles section of my most recent book, Bobby in Naziland (which Headpress is going to re-release next year with a new title, A Brooklyn Memoir). The new event, a celebration of the end of the pandemic and Lennon's 81st birthday, was scheduled to take place October 7.


But almost as soon as the arrangements were made, the pandemic began going in the wrong direction. Suddenly the news was full of breakthrough infections in vaccinated people, highly contagious Delta variants, millions of people who refused to be vaccinated, Covid wards filled to capacity, and too many people dying.


Could I really go forward with a live indoor event even if everybody was required to wear a mask? Would more than a handful of people show up? Was I willing to risk my health to sell books?


People I spoke with in New York were unanimous: Don't do it. I called people in St. Louis and asked them what they thought. Some told me they'd been avoiding indoor events and would be hesitant to come. Two people said they'd probably come. And a former bookstore owner told me it would be "foolhardy" to go through with it.


I've been doing book events for more than 21 years and have never cancelled. St. Louis, where I've done five well-attended events, has been amazingly supportive of my work, no venue more so than Subterranean Books. It was with great sadness that I cancelled the event.


The St. Louis Post-Dispatch had this to say about the return of live book events in the city.


So, now I've got the "Talking St. Louie Covid Blues" again. But someday the pandemic will end and I shall return.


My latest book, Bobby in Naziland (to be re-released in 2022 as A Brooklyn Memoir), is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.


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Bobby (and I) in St. Louis


Guest Post by Mary Lyn Maiscott

My husband, Robert Rosen, and I were supposed to be in St. Louis this month. We'd gone in October last year so that Bob could do a reading from his memoir, Bobby in Naziland: A Tale of Flatbush, at Subterranean Books, an indie store on a popular strip called the Loop, near Washington University. Bob had a great turnout, including relatives and friends of ours—I grew up in the area, and my two siblings, Cecilia and John, and my nephew Sean live in the city.


After the event, the bookstore manager told Bob they'd love for him to come back, and so a date was set—October 9, 2020, John Lennon's 80th birthday; Bob was going to read from his 2000 cult classic, Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon. With that settled, a group of us walked across Delmar Boulevard to celebrate at a Thai restaurant and, later, the club Blueberry Hill (famous for the numerous performances in its Duck Room by favorite son Chuck Berry).


Of course, the October 2020 Lennon reading evaporated in the wake of the coronavirus. But the event that transpired last year remains a wonderful memory, and Bob and I are both grateful to Subterranean and all of those who came out that night—a spirited Q&A followed the reading—as well as those who attended another reading, at the spacious, art-filled home of Bob's childhood friend Ernie Abramson, who had, coincidentally, moved to St. Louis long ago to study dentistry. 


Soon after we got back to New York, we found out that Bobby in Naziland had made a bestseller list in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch! And now Subterranean has set a date for next spring for the Nowhere Man event. 


In the meantime, Bob is working on a book about the 1970s, and I have a single coming out inspired by feelings of missing people, especially my family, during this time: "I Can't Touch You (Supermoon)." It's a true quarantine production, and I'll be writing more about it before its release November 20!


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Next Stop, Philadelphia… But First, a Word About St. Louis


If you're into Brooklyn, candy stores, and literature, the place to be Sunday, October 27, at 10 AM, is Temple Sinai in Dresher, Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia suburb. In celebration of Bobby in Naziland and my father's candy store, which plays a big part in the memoir, the temple book club is building a candy store on site. They will be serving egg creams and I will be reading from and signing copies of the book. The event is free and all are welcome. To attend, please RSVP by October 22 to Tobey Grand, tgrand10290@gmail.com.


With any luck, the event will go as well as last Wednesday's reading at Subterranean Books, in St. Louis, where, for an enthusiastic SRO crowd, I read from two chapters of Bobby in Naziland, "The Goyim and the Jews" and "Something Different Happened." Though the book, in many ways, is the best published representation of what you might call my "natural voice," parts of it are not easy to read out loud in front of people, though I didn't realize this until I started preparing for the reading.


Primarily, it has to do with the subject matter and the way it's presented—the thoughts and emotions of a meshuggener child filtered through an adult consciousness. The book's narrator, in describing his childhood experiences, reverts back to that childhood.


As I explained at Subterranean, some of the passages I'd first considered reading were just too raw. I wouldn't have been comfortable reading them in front of an audience. For example, I thought I might read from chapter two, "Naziland," part of which describes the mutilated Auschwitz survivors I saw in the locker room at a Brooklyn beach club a friend had taken me to when I was 10 years old. But it was too painful, I decided. Another part I chose not to read was a graphic depiction of racism—it was too wrenching and emotional.


Instead, I read (or should I say "gossiped"?) about my Brooklyn neighbors from six decades ago, and I read granular descriptions of the Flatbush streets—what they looked like, sounded like, felt like, and smelled like. I also read a scene that took place February 10, 1964, 79 days after the Kennedy assassination and the day after the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show—the moment when the 1960s began for me. The Q&A that followed was lively and served as another reminder that the themes I explored in Bobby in Naziland are universal.


Earlier that week in St. Louis, at a private gathering, I read "The Flatbush Diet," which I described as one of the "lighter and more Jewish chapters." The party was thrown by an old friend from Flatbush, whom I'd lost touch with in 1972, soon after he'd transferred to an out-of-town college. I mostly remembered Ernest Abramson from our super-competitive pickup football games. In the ensuing years, he'd become a prosperous dentist who lived in a beautiful, art-filled home in the St. Louis suburbs.


It was mind-blowing when he contacted me. He happened to see the book on Amazon, and noticed my name, but thought that there were thousands of Robert Rosens (which there are). Then he saw my picture and realized it was me. He read Bobby in Naziland and it blew his mind. "It was like reading my biography," he said.


The party he and his wife, Ellen, threw was fantastic—a gathering of the local Jewish community, and a feast of many of the foods I wrote about, including chopped liver and numerous sweets that my father used to sell in his candy store.


The dialogue that followed the reading was exactly the kind of provocative conversation I'd hoped the book would spark—a discussion of the newly inflamed bigotry throughout the world and the fact that the generation that experienced the Holocaust and fought in World War II is dying out and that their stories must never be forgotten.


These events made me feel that Bobby in Naziland is a book that's bringing people together. I hope this will continue in Philadelphia and beyond.


Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.



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Meet Me in St. Louis


The first official event of the Bobby in Naziland reading tour, 2019-20, will take place at Subterranean Books, in St. Louis, on Wednesday, October 16, at 7 PM. I'll be reading from chapter one, "The Goyim and the Jews," which sets the scene for the book and gives the reader a sense of what it was like to be in Flatbush in the 1950s and 60s, when a significant portion of the population of this provincial Brooklyn neighborhood was comprised of Holocaust survivors and World War II vets who'd fought the Nazis.


I'll then be taking questions, and one question I expect (because many people have already asked me) is: Why that title?


It's a good question, and I can tell you this: I lived with that title for years, and it stuck—because it's an accurate title; it's what the book's about. Because of who my neighbors were, Flatbush was a place where the war lingered like a mass hallucination. Ghosts of the Nazis were everywhere.


As you may have guessed, the title is also a reference to Alice in Wonderland. As you may not have guessed, the subtitle, A Tale of Flatbush, is a reference to the subtitle of Melville's Bartleby the Scrivner: A Story of Wall Street.


If there's still time after the questions, for my encore I'll read part of the Beatles section, from chapter 18, "Something Different Happened."


I'm very much looking forward to returning to St. Louis, which I make a point of doing when I have a new book out. When I was there in 2012, after the publication of Beaver Street, I did three events, in Shameless Grounds, Left Bank Books, and the late, lamented Apop.


Wednesday, at Subterranean, I hope to see some familiar faces.



I'll be reading and signing Bobby in Naziland at Temple Sinai, in Dresher, PA, Sunday, October 27, 10 AM. To attend, please RSVP by Oct. 22 to Tobey Grand, tgrand10290@gmail.com. The event is free, all are welcome, and, I'm told, there will be a candy store and egg creams. Seriously.


Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you should buy it if you can.


I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my recently launched Instagram.

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Happy Anniversary, St. Louis!

Poster for Beaver Street event at Apop records, in St. Louis.

Though I'm usually proficient at celebrating anniversaries on this blog, one of them slipped by me last week. One year ago, I began the Beaver Street U.S. promotional campaign with three raucous events in St. Louis: at Shameless Grounds coffee house on April 3, at Left Bank Books on April 4, and at Apop records on April 7.

It wasn't until afterwards that I found out that more books were sold that week in St. Louis than in any other city since then--despite the fact that Beaver Street was unavailable on Amazon at the time. The reason this happened is because the events were well publicized and the good people of St. Louis responded enthusiastically.

Kendra Holliday did an amazing job of promoting the Shameless Grounds reading on her Website, and with Sex+ St. Louis, as well as doing a very provocative interview. Left Bank Books managed to have the event featured as a pick of the week in the Riverfront Times. And the Apop reading, which wasn’t even scheduled, came about spontaneously when I walked into the store and introduced myself to the owner, Tiffany Minx. I told her about Beaver Street, she bought a bunch of copies that I had with me, and she then set up an event for the following day. Such things, I said to Tiffany, do not happen in New York.

So, happy anniversary, St. Louis. I miss you. Yes, I’ve always enjoyed visiting my wife’s family there, but the week of March 31-April 7, 2012, changed my entire concept of your fair city.

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We Were Talking About Shameless Grounds

Last night, over a couple of shots of bourbon with former D-Cup art director Sonja Wager, who’s a "character" in Beaver Street; my brother, Jerry, who’s also my attorney; and his wife, Cindy, the subject of my St. Louis sojourn came up, and I started talking about the reading at Shameless Grounds.

“What’s Shameless Grounds?” my brother asked.

“It’s a sex-positive coffeehouse,” I said.

“What’s a sex-positive coffeehouse?”

“Uh, you know,” I said, realizing I couldn’t quite explain it, “they’re positive about sex.”

“What do you mean ‘they’re positive about sex’?”

“I guess it means anything goes, everything’s okay—you know… gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, asexual, straight… whatever you’re into. Everybody’s welcome.”

“They have a place like that in St. Louis?” said Cindy, who grew up in St. Louis.

“Surprised me, too,” I said. “A couple of days before the reading, we went there to check it out. It’s a really nice coffeehouse in an old factory building in an offbeat neighborhood. Spacious, comfortable, art on the walls, friendly staff, good coffee and food… and a free library filled with nothing but books and magazines about sex. There were two lesbians sitting at a table, knitting. And that seemed typical of the vibe—warm, mellow.”

“Really?” said Sonja.

“Yeah, it was a great place to read. Very enthusiastic crowd… and inquisitive, too. And very mixed—gay people, some people who worked in the porn industry, men, women, black, white… it was cool.”

For the record, Sex-Positive St. Louis, co-founded by Kendra Holliday, who organized the Shameless Grounds reading, describes itself as “a safe environment for sexuality questions or concerns, no matter your gender, race, age or orientation.” And that’s a good thing, no matter what city you’re in.

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Life on the Mississippi

Since I returned from St. Louis a couple of days ago, I've been corresponding with some of my new friends there, including Tiffany Minx, co-owner of Apop Records, where I read from the "dirty chapter" of Beaver Street last week. In one of my e-mails, I mentioned that I missed St. Louis. Minx was skeptical. She didn't believe that it was possible for a New Yorker to feel such an emotion.

I explained to her that what I missed was sitting in the front yard of my sister-in-law Cecilia’s house in Benton Park, with a cup of coffee in the morning, and looking out at the birds and crazy artwork—Buddhas, tile-covered totem poles, and soaring archways fashioned from volcanic stone—with which Cecilia’s partner, Jim, had transformed the yard into a trippy wonderland.

My description inspired Minx to jot down some of her own St. Louis impressions, including, “the semi-southern gothic feel that seems especially notable in the spring and summer; the feral weed trees and vines, cockeyed wooden patios, dressed down inhabitants, and rust or paint peel on homes and cars. It is, in the end, a river town.”

Ladies and gentlemen, what we have here is an entrepreneur with the soul of a poet.

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A Brief History of Performance Anxiety

In 1971, in my sophomore year of college, when much to my parents' dismay I switched majors from architecture to creative writing, the idea of promoting my work with public performances was completely foreign to everything I saw myself doing as a writer. I hated getting up in front of people and talking. The idea of going on radio or TV was terrifying. I wanted to be a writer because I was good at sitting in a room and writing. And I believed that if I wrote good books then people would buy them, and that's all there was to it.

Forty-one years later, I spend most of my time in sitting a room, writing. And though I still believe that if I write good books people will buy them, I now know that marketing and promotion are far more important than the quality of the book itself. A well-promoted piece of dreck will outsell a great book, if not every time, then certainly most of the time. The trick, I realized, is to write the kind of books that people really want to read, and then emerge from my isolation cell and find a way to sell, sell, sell.

Thirteen years into the game, I’m hardly a novice. It was relatively easy to promote my first book, Nowhere Man, a “controversial” bio about John Lennon that became a bestseller in five countries. When it came out in the booming economy of 2000, people had lots of disposable income to spend on books. And, of course, everybody wanted to talk to me about Lennon. In the first year alone, I did about 150 interviews, spending entire days talking on the radio, doing one show after another, from before dawn until well into the night.

The live radio interview became my medium of choice. When the chemistry’s right, and the interviewer has actually read the book and knows how to put me at ease—The Louie Free Show, which I’ve done about two dozen times, comes to mind—my performance feels like free-form jazz; it can go anywhere.

In the dozen years since Nowhere Man was published, it simply wasn’t necessary to do a lot of readings. But in 2012, with the economy in shambles and the book business in chaos, every book is a tough sell unless your name’s Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. I know that if I want people to read Beaver Street, then I’m going to have to hand-sell it myself, event-by-event, blog-by-blog, reader-by-reader. Which is, of course, why I went to St. Louis.

Unlike, say, New York, St. Louis was immediately receptive, offering me three very different venues—Left Bank Books, Shameless Grounds, and Apop Records—where I could focus on Beaver Street’s literary and pornographic qualities. The media, too, was supportive. The Riverfront Times, for example, chose my Left Bank reading as a pick of the week, along with Fiddler on the Roof.

It was strange to do three live performances in a week. The nervousness-bordering-on-fear before each event was the worst of it. But I have to accept the fact that I need to do this kind of thing as much as possible. Yes, I’m learning as I go, and I know there’s room for improvement. But I also know I’ve written a book that’s well worth reading, and I thank the city of St. Louis for allowing me to bring it to the attention of a wider audience.

Now, it’s on to L.A.

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Sacred Grounds

Never in my life have I gotten up in front of a group of people, mostly strangers, but also family and friends, and read to them a passage from a book about how, 25 years ago, as an "experiment in participatory journalism," I committed an obscene and exhibitionistic act with a model I'd never met, as one of my co-workers kneeled before me taking pictures, and another one, ostensibly acting as chaperon, just sat there watching with her eyes bugging out.

But that’s what I did last week, in St. Louis, at the Shameless Grounds coffee house, at the first American Beaver Street event. And the funny thing was, not only did it not feel strange and awkward, but, unlike the experience I was describing in “The Accidental Porn Star,” it felt perfectly natural. As soon as I got the first laugh, I knew it was going to be okay; I knew that I’d somehow matched the perfect passage with the ideal audience. And as one member of that audience, Magnum Chlenow, wrote on the Shameless Grounds site, “The excerpts read by the author were both hilarious and educational. My fiancée and I eagerly bought a copy of the book.”

In fact, when it was over, and people came up to my table to hand over some very hard-earned money for a signed copy of Beaver Street, I felt touched. Which may be why I keep saying “Sacred Grounds” when I mean to say “Shameless Grounds.”

It was an auspicious beginning.

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My Midwestern Odyssey

I've just returned to New York from ten days in St. Louis, where I launched Beaver Street in America. I did three readings in six days--more readings than I've done in the past five years. Thus begins the latest phase of a process that began in March 2011, when I went to London to launch the UK edition of the book. And if Beaver Street is anything like Nowhere Man, then these events are going to continue for the next dozen years or so, if not forever. I've got about a month to recover before the next scheduled reading, at Book Soup in L.A.

Sometimes I find it difficult to write when I can’t lock myself in a room, which is one reason I didn’t blog in St. Louis. But I do plan to sort out my thoughts, photos, and videos, over the next few days, and further explore my Midwestern odyssey.

But for now let me say that the atmosphere at each of the three readings was distinctly different. At the Shameless Grounds event, hosted by Sex Positive St. Louis co-founder Kendra Holliday, I read from what I’ve been calling “the filthy chapter.” “The Accidental Porn Star” is about my experiment in participatory journalism: posing for an X-rated photo shoot to gain insight into the mind of a porn stud. The Shameless crowd was enthusiastic, they laughed at all the right parts, and they were full of excellent questions about everything from the legal ramifications of the book to the Traci Lords affair. I’ve never had more fun at a reading.

The well-publicized event at Left Bank Books was more formal and restrained. It was also the first time I’d ever read in a bookstore, rather than at a bar or a publication party. Sarah, who introduced me and is, ironically, the children’s book buyer for Left Bank, told me something I’m beginning to hear quite a bit about Beaver Street—that the book’s depth, and my analysis of the political situation surrounding pornography, surprised her. It wasn’t what she was expecting.

In my presentation, I focused on Beaver Street’s literary heritage, reading from the prologue about my exposure to the “controversial” sex books that my father sold in his candy store many decades ago. Again the crowd was appreciative, and again there were a lot of good questions, many about the fact that the porn industry, like the music industry, is no longer a financially viable business for most people.

Apop Records, on Cherokee Street, is a book/record/clothing store that’s a short walk from where I was staying at my sister-in-law’s house. In the window, among various posters, are photos of the corpses of JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald laid out on autopsy tables. This is a good indication of just how edgy Apop is; it’s rare to find a store like this, even in New York. Their selection of books and magazines can best be described as eclectic and counter cultural—volumes about the Black Panthers mingle with books about porn and the zines of Robin Bougie, publisher of Cinema Sewer.

I walked in one afternoon, and introduced myself to Tiffany Minx, who’s the co-owner along with Dustin Newman. Beaver Street was on the shelf that same day, and a reading was organized for Saturday night. I took the opportunity to reprise my Shameless Grounds performance. Because if you can’t read the dirty parts in a place like Apop, with a woman like Tiffany Minx in the audience, then what’s the point in reading at all?

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One For The Road

I'm leaving for St. Louis tomorrow for the Beaver Street launch events at Left Bank Books and Shameless Grounds coffeehouse. I doubt I'm going to have time to blog every day, but I did want to do one more post before I plunge into the chaos of the road.

Byron Nilsson is a writer whom I met online in the mid-1990s when I was searching for someone to write a column for D-Cup magazine about the “pornocopia” of free X-rated material that had suddenly become available in cyberspace. Byron, a skilled journalist, an erudite pervert, and a computer expert, was perfect. So, I hired him, and he became one of my most reliable and frequent contributors, staying with me till the end.

To celebrate the US release of Beaver Street yesterday, Byron posted a piece on his blog that’s a combination review, memoir, and cultural/historical/political critique. To his credit, he does not shy away from commenting on the fact that Tea Party congressman Scott Garrett has been accepting campaign contributions from my former boss, Porn King Louis Perretta.

In the essay, “Protecting Us from the Evil of Protecting Us from Evil,” Byron describes Beaver Street as an “entertaining... well written... hands-on, first-person romp through the business of smut in the last part of the 20th century.” He also credits me with knowing how to “make words dance,” and with “grinding out some of the most amusing girl copy” he’s ever seen.

You can read the entire essay here. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing all you guys in St. Louie.

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Holliday in St. Louis

Matt Holliday, of the world champion Cardinals, is not the only Holliday in St. Louis, and in certain circles he's not even the most famous. Kendra Holliday, Sex Positive St. Louis Co-Founder, editor of The Beautiful Kind (TBK), and Hustler model, is giving the left fielder a run for the money, at least in the sexual underground, and up to a couple of months ago I didn't know that St. Louis had one--even though I've been a regular visitor to the city for over 20 years.

Kendra Holliday, who’s recently posted a series of rather provocative “birthday suit” pictures, is the reason I’m coming to St. Louis to launch Beaver Street next week. When we did our three-part Beaver Street interview for TBK—part three is now reposted on the Sex Positive St. Louis homepage—I knew that I’d found a kindred spirit, a woman who I like to describe as the Annie Sprinkle of the Midwest.

A launch event, April 3, at Shameless Grounds, hosted by Kendra, and focusing on Beaver Street’s pornographic aspects, was a natural. And when the legendary independent bookstore Left Bank Books invited me to do a reading the following night, in which I’ll explore the book’s literary qualities, there was no way I could stay away from the “twenty-seventh city,” as Jonathan Franzen calls it. (Twenty-seven is my lucky number.)

So, St. Louis, here I come. And I’d like to personally invite Matt Holiday to expand his horizons and come to both Beaver Street events. In St. Louis, the Hollidays should stick together, especially on Beaver Street day.

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The Beaver Has Landed (in St. Louis)

Saint Louis Photos
Saint Louis photo courtesy of TripAdvisor.

As I write this, cartons of the US trade paperback edition of Beaver Street are headed for various warehouses and bookstores across America. The official pub date is March 28, and that should more or less conform to reality. At least one carton has already landed in St. Louis, where I'll be doing two launch events, at Shameless Grounds coffeehouse, on April 3, and Left Bank Books, on April 4. I've not yet seen the US edition of my book, but I have been rehearsing the passages I plan to read. It's under control

Also, as you may have noticed, I’ve been blogging a lot lately—because I’ve had a number of things I’ve wanted to say, and because it’s now the law of the publishing world that authors who have a book coming out must blog, tweet, and post on Facebook as much as possible—preferably every hour. They tell me this helps sell books, and maybe it does.

I will try to keep you up to date with one blog post, etc. every weekday. But I also plan to give myself weekends off for good behavior. I have other books to write, you see, like Bobby in Naziland, which I’ve been working on for some time, and I have only so much creative energy. We can talk about it when I get to St. Louis, where I’m very much looking forward to seeing you, whoever you are.

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Why St. Louis?

"You live in New York," people in St. Louis have pointed out. "Why do you want to come here to launch your book?"

The short answer: I'll go anywhere in the world where people have expressed an interest in my work. I've traveled to Mexico City and Valparaiso, Chile, where I didn’t even speak the language, to present my John Lennon biography, Nowhere Man. Those journeys proved to be two of the most rewarding experiences of my professional life. And I'm going to St. Louis because the city is offering me a unique opportunity to present both the pornographic and the literary sides of Beaver Street.

I made the decision months ago, after The Beautiful Kind editor, Kendra Holliday, interviewed me for her website. Kendra, who described my book as “a surreal, perverted mindfuck,” strikes me as the Annie Sprinkle of the Midwest—a creative, literate woman with the courage to put the darkest realms of her sexuality on public display both on her website and, recently, in Hustler magazine. The event she organized at the Shameless Grounds coffeehouse, on April 3, is the perfect venue to discuss some of the darker, X-rated aspects of Beaver Street, mainly a chapter I wouldn’t dare read publicly anyplace else. In “The Accidental Porn Star” I describe in graphic detail what it was like posing for a porn shoot, and the high social price I paid to conduct this “experiment in participatory journalism.”

Then, Left Bank Books, the foremost independent bookstore in St. Louis, invited me to do an event there on April 4. What better place to discuss the literary aspects of Beaver Street, a book that I describe as an investigative memoir? At Left Bank, I’ll read from the prologue and discuss a literary journey that began in my father’s candy store, in Brooklyn, where he sold numerous controversial books, like Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller, and Last Exit to Brooklyn, by Hubert Selby, that had made it to his “special rack” only after enduring protracted censorship battles.

So, my literary journey is now taking me to the turf of such people as Mark Twain and Jonathan Franzen. Boy, am I looking forward to the trip.

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A Shameless Reading

I've gone to enough readings at bookstores, cafes, and bars to say with authority that reading from one's book is not an easy thing to do well. For the most part, no matter how good the book is and no matter how famous the author is, most books, especially "literary" books, are not written to be read out loud to an audience. They're written to be read to yourself, preferably in solitude. Yet, virtually all authors are expected to give readings, and I'm no exception. I've shown up in my share of rowdy bars to read to a dozen heckling drunks from Nowhere Man, a book that I've often said was meant to be read under the covers, with a flashlight. I’ve also read well-rehearsed Nowhere Man passages over the radio and heard that people driving in cars had pulled over to the side of the road so they could listen without distraction.

Last night I began thinking about what, exactly, I’m going to read at Shameless Grounds, the “sex positive” St. Louis coffeehouse where, on Tuesday, April 3, at 7 pm, Kendra Holliday and I will be launching Beaver Street upon America. And I decided to read from a chapter that I would not consider reading out loud in any place other than Shameless Grounds. “The Accidental Porn Star” is about shame and pornography, and like all of Beaver Street, it’s written in a conversational tone that makes it ideal for a public reading.

So, I’m going to nurse and rehearse the passage I’ve selected, and when I show up at Shameless Grounds, I’ll be ready to read. Hope you guys are ready to listen. In the meantime, you can check out Beaver Street at the Shameless Grounds library.

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Meet Me in St. Louis

My wife's family is from St. Louis, so I've spent a bit of time there in the past 20 years, enduring some brutally cold winters and scathingly hot summers. But I like the city, especially Soulard and Benton Park. I like the Mississippi River and the Gateway Arch. I like the Cardinals--the team and the bird. I've even considered living in St. Louis on those days when New York felt like too much. Well, in April, I'm going back for two big Beaver Street events.

The first one, hosted by Kendra Holliday, editor of The Beautiful Kind, takes place on Tuesday, April 3, at 7 pm, at Shameless Grounds, a “sex positive” coffee shop, where you can already find Beaver Street in their extensive lending library. There’ll be an informal talk, a Q&A, and I’ll be reading from Beaver Street.

Twenty-four hours later, on Wednesday, April 4, at 7 pm, I’ll be reading, signing, and answering questions at St. Louis’s foremost independent bookstore, Left Bank Books, where such luminaries as Salman Rushdie, David Sedaris, and Jimmy Carter have gone before me.

So, if you’re in the area, please drop by to one or both events. I always want to meet the people who’ve read my books. As for my in-laws, I expect you all to be there, no excuses. And bring all your crazy friends.

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