The Secret Life of Larry Sloman

Ratso with Nick Cave

Ratso with Nick Cave

Image Credit: Warren Ellis

In addition to being an author or co-author, you’re a lyricist, screenwriter, and journalist. Is there a specific style that you’re most attuned to/comfortable with? Are there works you have written but chose to, or had to, publish without credit or under a pseudonym?

It’s all words. Each genre presents its own challenges. But I have to say that the greatest thrill, even greater than seeing your book in the window of Barnes and Noble, is sitting at a music venue and hearing John Cale sing your lyrics. Writing, on the whole, isn’t easy. I can think of a million things I’d rather do. So when I do produce something, I’m certainly not going to publish it anonymously. I’m going to stand behind the work. Although, come to think of it, I have made some snarky comments on websites using a nom de computer.

Is there a writer or musician whose work was a turning point? Can you discuss your influences, and how those influences shaped your career?

Where do I start? Influences abound. Academically I was drawn to humanistic sociologists like Becker and Goffman. I always loved academics that got their hands dirty in the real world. So it was a natural step from there to journalism. Hunter Thompson, of course, was a great influence, as was Jimmy Breslin. I admired Charles Fort and John Keel as writers. But that being said, my world was turned upside down by musicians. I would probably be an accountant living in Westchester if it wasn’t for Bob Dylan and the Fugs. Leonard Cohen taught me a lot about discipline. Keith Reid, Bryan Ferry, Jake Jacobs and Kinky Friedman were major influences on my lyric writing. And Nick Cave never fails to inspire me.

I’d love to know more about your upcoming solo album. What prompted this terrific project? When will the record be released?

While John Cale and I were collaborating on songs, I started learning to put a few rudimentary chords together and started writing both the music and the lyrics to a few songs. But I filed them away and went back to writing my books. About five years ago, I started co-hosting an Internet radio show with the great New York magazine editor/writer Mark Jacobson. One night we had a guest who had written a book about Gram Parsons and he brought up a few musician friends to play some of Gram’s songs. They were Tim Bracy and Elizabeth Nelson. Tim was in a legendary indie group called the Mendoza Line. After the show Tim and Elizabeth came up to me and told me they were great fans of my Dylan book, On the Road with Bob Dylan. We started hanging out and eventually wrote some songs together.

That got my blood boiling again. About a year later, I met Vin Cacchione through a mutual friend. He’s a very talented singer songwriter who fronts two great groups, Soft Black and Caged Animals. By then I was revisiting my old songs and lyrics and was determined to finally do something with those songs I had written back when I was working with Cale. My idea was to emulate my old friend Kinky Friedman: get some famous friends to sing my songs and put out a tribute album to myself. Kinky’s done two of those. I approached Vin and asked him if I could come over to his place, Duct Tape Studios, which actually was the front room of his apartment in Bushwick, and do a demo. We did a version of “Dying on the Vine” and when we played it back,Vin said, “Why don’t you just sing on the whole album? I love your voice.” I really hadn’t even considered that. The only public singing I had ever done after I swept them off their feet at my bar mitzvah was to do a Dylan impression on a song “Knocking on WBAI’s Door” which was a send up of Dylan’s great song that was used to raise money for WBAI, a nonprofit Pacifica radio station in NYC, during their fundraising drive.

I still didn’t have the confidence to commit to singing throughout the album so I brought the one track to my friend Hal Willner, who’s a great record producer. We listened to it in his studio and I asked him, “So do you think I should make a whole album of my songs?” Hal thought for a second and said, “What are you waiting for?”

So Vin and I sat down and went to work. We recorded one of my old unrecorded songs, “Our Lady of Light” and asked my pal Nick Cave to do a duet with me on it. We recorded his part in L.A. while he was finishing up the soundtrack to Lawless. Vin assembled a great band of Brooklyn musicians including Andrew Hoepfner, Magali Charron, Pat Curry, Kyle Avallone and Jon “Catfish” DeLorme on pedal steel. Zachary Cole Smith from DIIV contributes some searing guitar on one cut, an homage to Wilhelm Reich called “Listen Little Man”. The great sax man Paul Shapiro plays on two cuts. The album consists of a few songs that Cale and I collaborated on, some new ones, two collaborations with Vin and a countryish song that Tim Bracy and I wrote. So all the material are originals except for one cover. For some insane reason I decided to cover “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” in all its eleven minute plus glory. Nick was impressed with such an “audacious” move, as he put it. We are still in the process of recording that one and I have some great female back-up singers lined up for that cut including Eddi Front, Imani Coppola, Sky Ferreira and, fingers crossed, Ronnie Spector. And the great Bad Seed, Warren Ellis, contributes some haunting fiddle and flute on that epic track. We’re going to finish up the album as soon as Caged Anals gets back from their European tour. So we’re looking at a late 2014 release. I’m aiming to be the oldest best new artist in Grammy history. Susan Boyle is my role model.

Lastly, David and I were watching a video clip of you at Leonard Cohen’s Plaque Dedication at the Chelsea Hotel. You were asked about Mr. Cohen’s many female admirers/devotees/worshipers/maniacs whom you deliciously called “schtuppies.” A fabulous word! We both just wanted to thank you for adding to –and enriching –our Yinglish vocabulary. We don’t have a question here. Just our gratitude.

As Kinky Friedman often says, “If we can reach one person [or in this case, two], we feel we’ve done our job.”

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David Safran is a writer, singer, musician, occasional essayist, jingle composer for advertising, and dissolute Chicagoan in well-tailored suits and giant cougar rings. Emma Morris is the managing editor of Jewrotica as well as an author, certified librarian, astrology maven, and volunteer at the Leather Archives & Museum. David and Emma are collaborators, partners in arguments, and ghostwriters of each other’s emails.