Category Archives: Books

First-time novelist Jessica Tom finds the way to Hollywood’s heart is through its stomach, too

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Novelist Jessica Tom on the cover of the Life & Style section of the March 10, 2016, issue of The Journal News

Jessica Tom, a Brooklyn-based writer and foodie who grew up in the Hudson Valley town of Pleasantville, is a skilled writer, but her provocatively titled debut novel, “Food Whore,” has benefited from a large dose of good luck, too.

It took the Yale-trained writer five years of hard works to get her first novel published. But the luck kicked in even before the book came out. She was lucky to get a bonus that most novelists — first-timers and veterans alike —  can only dream of: Hollywood’s DreamWorks studio bought an option on her New York City-centric tale of food and intrigue.

I had a chance to chat with Tom about growing up in Westchester County and the process of writing “Food Whore,” in an interview published Thursday in The Journal News.

GO HERE to read the full interview on lohud.com.

 

Ron Fierstein, longtime music manager, returns to his roots with new book about Polaroid-Kodak lawsuit

Ron Fierstein’s new book takes is about Edwin Land, one of the founders of Polaroid Corp. Land and Polaroid launched an epic battle against eventual rival Kodak. “It’s a fantastic story almost of operatic dimension,” Fierstein says. “They went from being mentor-protégé to arch-enemies over 60 years.” (Photo: Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News)

I knew Ron Fierstein’s name from his successful career managing singer-songwriters such as Suzanne Vega, Shawn Colvin, and Mary Chapin Carpenter. And it occurred to me that he might be related to a Broadway macher.

What I didn’t know was that Fierstein, who moved to Chappaqua from Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood two decades ago, had a successful career as a patent lawyer before he helped Vega navigate to her early success.

He’s quit the music business and spent the last several years writing a book about the historic case he worked on while an associate at Fish & Neave in New York City: Polaroid vs. Kodak.

Fierstein took some time the other day to meet me in his Bedfore Hills office and talk about his life, his multiple careers, and the new book: “A Triumph of Genius: Edwin Land, Polaroid, and the Kodak Patent War.”

The book is a remarkably detailed account of a Land, a fascinating and brilliant man, and the souring of the relationship between his company, Polariod, and Eastman Kodak, its longtime “mentor” and friendly competitor.

Tap or click here now to read the full interview at lohud.com.

Stew’s stoked about James Baldwin

Stew in the Harlem Stage theater, where his "Notes of a Native Song" premieres in June. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Stew in the Harlem Stage theater on March 11. His new show “Notes of a Native Song” premieres there in June. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

‘Passing Strange’ creator to challenge and honor author in Harlem Stage commission

Stew rarely takes the predictable route — at least in public.

So when the pop-song writer and founder of The Negro Problem took the floor at Harlem Stage on Wednesday night for “Behind the Curtain: Stew,” a talk about his upcoming show in the beautiful Gatehouse theater, I had few expectations.

Would he talk? Would he offer a cynical take on “Notes of a Native Song,” the piece he’s creating as part of the Year of James Baldwin, which celebrates the 90th anniversary of his birth? Would he read from the show in progress? Would he perform some of the songs?

He did a little of most of those thing — with remarkable engagement and not a touch of cynicism.

The Gatehouse, a Romanesque Revival former water pumping station that's home to Harlem Stage. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

The Gatehouse, a Romanesque Revival former water pumping station that’s home to Harlem Stage. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Maybe the venue — in Harlem, in front of a crowd that seemed earnest and engaged, exhibiting little of the hipster affect often on display at the downtown and Brooklyn venues where Stew more often appears — had something to do with it.

But it was more than that.

“When artists talk, they, for the most part, lie,” Stew said at the outset of the evening.

I’m in no position to judge his truthfulness, but his presentation came across as warm, personable, and, honest, without a trace of pose or ennui. Stew appeared deeply engaged with his subject — his reaction to Baldwin, and Baldwin’s  relationship with mentor and impediment Richard Wright.

If the artist was lying, it was a beautiful lie.

Stew held forth with only his guitar to accompany him as he opened the program with his laugh-inducing song “Black Men Ski.” While it wasn’t clear that he intends to include that song in the June show, it set the tone for the fun to follow.

He performed four other songs and fragments that apparently are part of the show, at least as it stands at this point in its development. Based on lyrical fragments, I’ll dub the three fleshed-out numbers “Brave, Suffering, Beautiful,” “Me, and You, and Jimmy,” and “Don’t Pray for the Boy Preacher” (with music, he said, by his longtime collaborator Heidi Rodewald). The fourth, of which he sang just a fragment — with some help from the audience with a spaghetti Western backing vocalization — cast Baldwin and Wright as gunslingers at High Noon in “Paris town.”

Given Stew’s position as a Tony-winning writer of rock musicals and other musical plays, such as “Passing Strange,”  you might expect “Notes of a Native Song” will be another of those, given that it will have its premiere in a respected theater.

But, based on Stew’s description, that’s not the case. He said it’ll feature “some musicians” performing the songs with scripted rants between them, because he’s comfortable with the structure of a concert.

And don’t expect the “Ken Burns, PBS James Baldwin” in this show, either. Stew promises the unexpurgated Baldwin — a detail he underscored with his unrestrained language throughout the evening — including a declaration of love for speaking all of the names that used to label African Americans over the years.

Stew seems as engaged and exited by this project as anything I’ve seen him do in years. So by that measure, it’s a safe bet that “Notes of a Native Song” will be a gem.

Get your tickets now, because it’s a short run in a small theater (just 200 seats) and it will sell out quickly.

“Notes of a Native Song” will receive six performances (fours shows at 7:30 p.m., plus two 2 p.m. matinees) from Jun 3-7, at Harlem Stage, 150 Convent Avenue, Manhattan. Tickets for the show, featuring cabaret-style seating, are $55 and available by tapping or clicking here. Call 212-281-9240 or tap or click here for more information Harlem Stage and its offerings.

John Cohen: ‘I’m drowning in my past’

John Cohen  (Photo: Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News)

John Cohen (Photo: Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News)

I got the chance recently to spend an hour or so talking to John Cohen, one of the legendary figures of the musical and artistic scene of Greenwich Village in the 1960s, for The Journal News/lohud.com.

Cohen, the founder of the New Lost City Ramblers is still making music — now with a trio of much younger musical traditionalists in the Down Hill Strugglers — promoting his documentary films, working creating a cultural center in his hometown of Putnam Valley, New York, and preparing to start painting again.

The 82-year-old says he has explored so many ways of expressing his creativity over the years that “I’m drowning in my past.”

Check out the full interview online at lohud.com by tapping or clicking here. Or pick up a copy of the Tuesday, March 10, edition of The Journal News.

Dave Van Ronk gets his long overdue time in the spotlight

Terri Thal and Dave Van Ronk at their home at 190 Waverly Place in Greenwich Village, in August 1963 (Photo by Ann Charters, courtesy Terri Thal)

Terri Thal and Dave Van Ronk at their home at 190 Waverly Place in Greenwich Village, in August 1963 (Photo by Ann Charters, courtesy Terri Thal)

Moviemakers Joel and Ethan Coen have gone to great lengths to let us know that their new movie, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” is not about Greenwich Village folksinger Dave Van Ronk.

The movie, which has been making the rounds of film festivals throughout the year and started playing in major cities a couple of weeks ago, opens nationwide  this Friday.

LEARN MORE about the real Dave Van Ronk

Terri Thal (© Martus Granirer 2013)

Terri Thal (© Martus Granirer 2013)



Check out the interview with Terri Thal I wrote for The Journal News.  Thal, a Rockland County woman who was married to him during the period covered in the film, and don’t miss her first-person account for the Village Voice.  And read Van Ronk’s memoir, “The Mayor of MacDougal Street.”





Yes, Llewyn Davis, as played wonderfully by actor and talented singer Oscar Isaac, affects a Van Ronk look of sorts with his facial hair. And yes, many people, me included, took to calling the flick in early days the “Dave Van Ronk movie.” (That probably was before it had gotten a formal title.) Continue reading

Jay Farrar still can’t say Jeff Tweedy’s name

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The cover of Jay Farrar’s memoir, Falling Cars and Junkyard Dogs

 

Uncle Tupelo co-founder Jay Farrar‘s easy-reading memoir, Falling Cars and Junkyard Dogs, came out in March, but it landed rather quietly — at least in my world.

It was only a few days ago that I really became aware of the collection of vignettes by the ultra-serious Farrar. Some of the reviews have been unkind, but that didn’t stop me from buying it and devouring it in a matter of a few hours.

Farrar made great music in Uncle Tupelo, and has continued on a reverential path since the band’s acrimonious 1994 breakup. But that’s not the subject of this collection of short passages from just about every part of his life but the Uncle Tupelo part.

Continue reading

Colman Domingo puts ‘Soul’ back into the Vineyard Theatre (updated with discount code to see ‘Wild With Happy’ for just $25)

Colman Domingo

Tickets on sale now for this one-time event

If you haven’t seen Colman Domingo‘s wonderful “A Boy and His Soul,” which was such a treat at the Vineyard Theatre a few years back, you’ll get another chance to check it out in January.

Tickets are on sale now for a one-night-only reading of Colman’s one-man (but multi-character) show.

You probably know him from “Passing Strange,” on Broadway or at the Public Theater. And maybe even from “The Scottsboro Boys” at the Vineyard or, briefly, on Broadway.

And I certainly hope you’re seeing the play he wrote and stars in at the Public Theater through Nov. 18, “Wild With Happy.”

UPDATE: See “Wild With Happy for just $25. Use the code STORM by calling (212) 967-7555 (daily noon-8pm), or visiting the Public Theater Box Office at 425 Lafayette Street (Sun & Mon 1-6pm; Tue-Sat 1-7:30pm) or by clicking here.

“A Boy and His Soul” tells a slice of Colman’s life story using his record collection (yes, remember records?) to lead the audience through. It will help bring “Wild” into sharper focus.

Colman’s a major talent, brimming with life, love and emotion.

James Earl Jones told Colman that “Wild” was “miraculous.” I couldn’t agree more. And “A Boy and His Soul” is just as miraculous. If you loved “Wild,” then “Boy” will flesh out Colman’s story for you. Yes, it’s theater. Yes, it’s fiction. But the underpinnings of both shows are first-rate, true-blue Colman.

“A Boy and His Soul,” a reading and pre-show toast. 7 p.m., Monday, Jan. 7, 2013. Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15th Street (Union Square East/Irving Place) in Manhattan. Call (212) 353-0303 or click here for tickets. $75.