Saturday, July 7, 2012

Rock Bottom Remainders at ALA 2012 (6-23-12)

"It's Past Our Bedtime Tour" -Anaheim, CA
Post #203
On June 23rd, 2012, at the ALA (American Library Association) Annual Convention, history was made as a unique band gave their final performance together. The band was called The Rock Bottom Remainders. Their legacy: the greatest rock band ever comprised of best-selling authors. (Perhaps it's more accurate to call them the greatest writers ever to form a rock band?) You heard me right: award-winning, best-selling, chart-topping novelists, writers, authors who at one point in the early 90's were drawn together and asked if they would play in a rock band together. The idea was proposed by publishing consultant/author Kathi Kamen Goldmark, and embraced with enthusiasm by the various writers whom thence became a part-time rock band. They have played together over the years, raising money for charity. Tonight was no exception, benefiting the ProQuest Scholarship, though this night was to be their final performance together.

The evening began to unfold as hundreds of librarians and convention-goers proceeded to the top floor of the convention center. We gathered in the main ballroom, where the stage was set to capture a farewell performance unlike any other in the history of Rock n' Roll music. I count myself as VERY lucky to have been among this crowd, another of a long list of benefits of being married to a wonderful librarian. My legs may have been tired from hours of walking the convention floor and gathering books, but I still chose the standing-room-only portion of the floor for this one-of-a-kind concert. Dozens of other librarians were packing the open space right up to the front of the stage. Whatever stereotypes you may have in your mind about librarians, forget 'em. This crowd was buzzing with energy, and you could feel the anticipation building up by the second. This crowd knew the significance of the rock show that was about to unfold.

The first band member/author to come onto the stage was Roy Blount, Jr. He then introduced the rest of the band, one by one. Over a dozen well-known authors and 2 professional musicians (Josh Kelly on drums and Erasmo Paolo on saxophone) filled the stage and prepared to rock the joint. In no particular order, the authors in the band were (to the best of my recollection) as follows: Stephen King, Mitch Albom, Greg Iles, Ridley Pearson, Dave Barry, Sam Barry, James McBride, Amy Tan, Matt Groening, Mary Karr, and Scott Turow. Other guest singers and musicians included Janine Sabino, Kathleen Enright, and Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductee and original member of The Byrds- Roger McGuinn. (There may have been a couple other Remainders or Remainderettes whose names I can't recall, and if so, I apologize. By all means feel free to notify me of any other names I should mention. This blog is not beyond the power of revision ;-) )
Josh Kelly clicked his drum sticks in the air to set the tempo, and the next thing we knew the House was A-Rockin' (literally and figuratively, as they opened with Stevie Ray Vaughan's '89 classic, 'The House Is Rockin'). The crowd got into it immediately, jumping up and down in time with the music. The opening song was an all-out jam. Everybody on-stage was singing the lyrics and/or playing their instruments and giving their all. Next they hit us with an appropriate, literary-themed song- 'Paperback Writer' by The Beatles. Again this song was vocals-by-committee, as various authors took turns singing the verses, while numerous background singers filled in all of The Beatles' catchy, 4-part harmonies right on cue.
The Rock Bottom Remainders carried on with their set, giving us a healthy dose of rock n' roll classics from the 50's and 60's. They had a great sense of showmanship as well. Every member of the band had a unique personality, and a charisma they brought to the stage. Many times they incorporated a skit to act out some of the lyrical themes. Scott Turow was introduced while wearing a hot-pink wig. Roy Blount Jr. was sporting a Blues Brothers-esque black hat and shades. Stephen King was wearing a Boston Red Sox t-shirt ('Of course!' I thought to myself.), but a closed look revealed it to be a Gilead Gunslingers shirt, in the style of the Red Sox logo. Also, where the baseball team's logo has a pair of red socks, in their place were two revolvers (with sandalwood grips I'm willing to bet). Matt Groening periodically put on rubber Halloween masks of various Simpson's characters. But perhaps the most flamboyant stage presence was owned by Amy Tan.

Amy was The Rock Bottom Remainders' answer for Lady Gaga. She wore a blond wig, leopard-print blouse, tight leather pants, leather boots, and a pair of shades. She had been limited to background and harmony vocals for the first several songs, but when her turn came for lead vocals, she took her stage presence to a whole new level. She went back-stage for a second, and then returned with a leather whip and tight leopard print pants. Then the descending bass-line of a familiar song began to play... Next thing we knew, Amy Tan was playing the roll of a dominatrix while she sang lead vocals on the Nancy Sinatra hit 'These Boots Are Made for Walkin''. This was far from what one might expect from the author of The Joy Luck Club, but it just goes to show there is often more to a writer than meets the eye! My favorite part was when she turned to the crowd and said, "You've heard of '50 Shades of Grey'? This is 100 shades of TAN!", and then proceeded to whip the back-sides of all the guys in the band.

A few songs later the concert shifted gears again, as Roger McGuinn of The Byrds came onto the stage and joined the band for a portion of the show. They played several classic Byrds hits back-to-back, and it almost felt like we were at a real Byrds concert for a while. Eventually Roger did step back from the spotlight and the revolving door for lead vocalist resumed. He left the stage for quite a while, but would return later in the evening, helping out on rhythm or lead guitar as needed.
Another highlight of the evening was when Mitch Albom got out from behind his keyboard to play the role of front man. What's more is that he chose to do so in a memorable fashion. He had gone back stage and returned after a wardrobe change. He reemerged as 'The King'. That's right, he did his best Elvis Presley impersonation, complete with the Elvis wig and sunglasses! They played a couple Elvis tunes, 'Teddy Bear' and 'Jailhouse Rock'. Mitch hammed it up for all he was worth, and the crowd loved it. His wife, Janine Sabino, one of the Remainderettes, even joined him for a couple duets.
Scott Turow took the lead vocals on the Del Shannon hit 'Runaway'. On this performance Turow proved to be perhaps the best singer among this group of writers, hitting the high notes with surprising accuracy. This was followed by a 'comic relief' segment of the show, as Greg Iles played his original song 'I'm a Big Best-Seller, Baby'- a classic blues song with a tongue-in-cheek criticism of some fads and trends in the industry. The '50 Shades of Gray vs 100 shades of Tan' joke was reiterated here. After that, Amy Tan again took the lead on the song 'Leader of the Pack'. Her husband, Lou DeMattei, even came onto the stage, dressed like a biker, to play the role opposite Tan as 'The Leader of the Pack'. Dave Barry followed this up with his original, humorous song 'Proofreading Woman', which again featured many jokes and witty lyrics about the publishing industry.

The band was really having a great fun-loving time upon the stage, giving this final performance their best effort. They were living it up to the fullest. However the mood was about to turn to a more serious subject...

I previously mentioned that the whole idea for the Rock Bottom Remainders came from Kathi Kamen Goldmark. She was a participating member of the band as well. However, Kathi died of breast cancer on May 24, 2012, a mere month before this performance. It was a devastating blow to everyone in the band. It was a more significant tragedy for Sam Barry, her husband, and Dave Barry, her brother-in-law. Kathi herself was really looking forward to this show. She wanted it to happen. To honor her, and pay tribute to her and her vision, The Remainders pulled together and saw this event through to the end.

At this point of the show, Dave explained this situation to the audience. He got choked up toward the end of his speech, and we in the audience could see the tears welling up in his eyes. I thought back to some close friends and family members of my own who have had breast cancer recently. Some have beaten the disease, and others lost their battle with it. I tried to imagine what it must be like to perform live music in front of an audience, so close on the heels of a personal tragedy so close to the heart. I couldn't do it. I can't imagine how Sam and Dave managed to pull it off. I looked up at both of them and felt an intense mix of respect, sympathy, and admiration for them both. The entire show was dedicated to her memory. They even brought out Kathi's guitar and propped it up on the front of the stage, so a part of her was up there with them.
Roger McGuinn stepped to the mic, and they proceeded to play 'Turn! Turn! Turn!', a song whose lyrics speak for themselves. They played a couple other songs that were more serious and a bit somber at times. You could feel the emotion throughout the room as writers, librarians, readers, musicians, fans and friends all turned their minds towards a truly wonderful and inspiring woman with the remarkable vision to pull this band together. Sam Barry and Dave Barry put so much heart into their playing on harmonica and guitar, respectively, that they would fit in perfectly with another Sam and Dave of more musical significance. This was a performance of a lifetime. A crowning achievement, and a fitting farewell to a most unique collection of talent.

To remember the kind of humor that Kathi had, Kathy Enright performed a song that they had written together, 'Older Than Him (The Slut Song)'. This was a truly funny, slow-tempo, country-rock number about an older woman in a bar lusting over an attractive younger man. It roused plenty of laughter from the audience, and you could feel the mood lightening once again.

Then, to really get things back on track, Stephen King led the way on vocals for the up-beat 'Bird's the Word'. It was a surreal experience to look up at the master of horror, the writer of some of my favorite books, stuttering out the lyrics, "Papa-oom-mow-mow, oom mow mow..." A little out of context maybe, but it put smiles back on everyone's faces. After that song they took a bow and strolled off the stage...

...But true to form, just like real rock stars, they came back out for an encore a few minutes later. They gave us 3 more songs to rock out to: 'Wild Thing', 'Louie, Louie', and 'GLORIA'. I'll never forget how full of energy the room was. The crowd was possessed with a hybrid of Rock N' Roll Pneumonia and Boogie-Woogie-Blues. The floor was vibrating with the rhythm of several hundred librarians hopping up and down to the music. I let loose myself and did a bit of headbanging (go figure, huh?)

When the final song came to a close, they gave the audience a final farewell. Guitar picks, drum sticks, frisbees and kazoos were tossed into the crowd. Then it was time. It was, after all, 'Past Their Bedtime'. The Rock Bottom Remainders walked off the stage for the last time. 'Just a cover band?' you may ask. Not like this. Never before. And perhaps never again... Writers; sharing a love of music, sharing in friendship among themselves, sharing a love for reading, all in the name of Rock and Roll.

On behalf of the attendees of ALA 2012, we thank you all!

The Band:
Mitch Albom-Keyboards/Vocals
Dave Barry-Lead Guitar/Vocals
Sam Barry-Harmonica/Vocals
Roy Blount, Jr.-MC/Backing Vocals
Lou DeMattei-'Leader of the Pack'
Kathleen Enright-Vocals
Matt Groening-Cowbell/Backing Vocals
Greg Iles-Lead Guitar/Vocals
Mary Karr-Backing Vocals
Josh Kelly-Drums/Vocals
Stephen King-Rhythm Guitar/Vocals
James McBride-Sax/Vocals
Roger McGuinn-Guitar/Vocals
Erasmo Paolo-Sax/Vocals
Ridley Pearson-Bass/Vocals
Janine Sabino-Tambourine/Vocals
Amy Tan-Whip/Vocals
Scott Turow-Vocals

The Setlist (Lead vocalist indicated where appropriate):
(You'll find a couple of the songs below are linked to youtube videos that have been uploaded since the show. These will give you a glimpse of this historic performance. The event sponsors did have cameras filming the show, so perhaps there will be an official DVD coming soon...?  We can hope!)
-The House is Rockin'
-Paperback Writer
-634-5789 (Janine Sabino)
-Midnight Hour
-Believer (Albom/Sabino)
-Hey Baby (I Wanna Know If You'll Be My Girl) (Turow)
-Suzie Q (King)
-Mr. Tambourine Man (McGuinn)
-I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better (McGuinn)
-My Back Pages (McGuinn)
-You Ain't Going Nowhere (Pearson/McGuinn)
-Rock This Town (Paolo)
-Nobody's Fault But Mine (S. Barry)
-(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear (Albom-as Elvis)
-Jailhouse Rock (Albom-as Elvis)
-Da Doo Ron Ron (Sabino)
-Runaway (Turow)
-I'm a Big Best-Seller, Baby (Iles)
-Leader of the Pack (Tan)
-Proofreading Woman (D. Barry)
-Muskrat Sally (Kelly)
-Turn! Turn! Turn! (McGuinn)
-May The Road Rise (McGuinn)
-Older Than Him (The Slut Song) (Kathi and Kathy's song-Kathleen Enright)
-Keep Me In Your Heart (Pearson)
-Bird's the Word (Sufrin' Bird) (King)
-Wild Thing (Turow)
-Louie, Louie
-Gloria (D. Barry)

Recommended Reading:
Dave Barry-Dave Barry Turns 50, Peter and the Starcatchers (w/ Ridley Pearson)
Matt Groening-The Huge Book of Hell
James McBride-The Color of Water
Ridley Pearson-The Art of Deception, Peter and the Starcatchers (w/ Dave Barry)

I collected many photos throughout the show, and there were too many good ones to post them all within the review above. So here's a special treat: a slide-show of all the extra pics! Check out all the different shots of The Rock Bottom Remainders!


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