Rock Bottom Remainders, the Literary All-Star Band With Stephen King, Scott Turow, Amy Tan and Dave Barry, Plays Its Last Show
Illustration by David Horsey
The Rock Bottom Remainders -- that all-star band made
up of the country's most beloved, best-selling literary luminaries,
including Dave Barry, Amy Tan, Scott Turow, Mitch Albom, Matt Groening
and even, yes, Stephen King -- wouldn't exist but for Kathi Kamen
The noted "author schlepper" (officially, a consultant
and author escort for publishing houses) put the group together to blow
some minds at the American Booksellers Association conference in Anaheim
in 1992. And for its 20 years of existence -- and the $2 million it
raised for charity -- the group was bound together by Goldmark's love of
life. Turow even referred to her as "an engine of joy."
of joyful whimsy extended to Goldmark's final moments. Just before she
passed away on May 24, 2012, after a battle with cancer, she let out
"Rosebud," a la Citizen Kane, as her final word, to the teary-eyed chuckles of those present.
As a tribute to Goldmark, the band will make a final public performance at the El Rey (and a private, final
performance at its American Booksellers Association birthplace in
Anaheim) before heading up to her memorial service in San Francisco.
caught up with various Remainders via phone, email and carrier pigeon
last week to talk about how these non-hack writers got together as a
hack band, kind of made it as a hack band and now are disbanding. And,
of course, Goldmark.
The lineup has changed here and there, but
there are some consistencies. Barry plays co-lead guitar, along with
whoever the resident ringer happens to be (past ringers include Warren
Zevon), with King on rhythm guitar, Tan on keys, Ridley Pearson on bass
and professional musicians and non-authors Josh Kelly and Erasmo Paolo
handling the drums and the sax, respectively.
Remainders are a hodgepodge called the Remainderettes. Tan explains: "In
the tradition of the '60s girl groups, like the Ronettes, Kathi named
the harmonizing back-up female singers 'The Remainderettes.' We never
learned to harmonize, but we did turn 60, and we allowed Scott Turow to
be a Remainderette without a sex-change operation."
explains. "I once told Kathi, 'Every American author of our generation
bears a psychic wound because they aren't in the Rock Bottom
Remainders.' Kathi said, 'Oh, Scott, I didn't know you played an
instrument.' I said, 'I don't, but I'm wounded anyway.' And then I found
myself in the band. Now I am literally in the band as a sight gag. I
wear wigs; I dance around."
Lending the band a bit of rock-star
credibility is former Byrds frontman and current resident ringer Roger
McGuinn, who has accompanied the Remainders on tour for the past 12
years. He got into the group through his friendship with former
Remainder Carl Hiaasen. McGuinn says, "Dave [Barry] always downplays
them, goes on about how terrible they are. And I don't want to betray
him, but Dave and Ridley are pretty good. Stephen King has a real heart
for rock & roll, but he's still working on his F chord."
this all Hall and no Oates time -- the Remainders' "go for broke" moment
to see if they can make it as solo artists? "If I 'go for broke' as a
solo artist," Tan quips, "I would go broke."
Barry says, "Funny you should bring that up, since both Hall and
Oates begged to be part of this show. But no, we're not planning on
solo careers, except for Roy Blount Jr., who wants to try to be a male
underwear model. Or female. He is not picky, as long as he can wear
underwear, which is a new concept for him, as he is Southern."
craziest (printable) thing that ever happened? Once, on a cab ride to a
show in Austin, the driver offered Remainders manager Ted Habte-Gabr a
Harley for the band to use in its signature rendition of the
Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack." After some wrangling with the venue's
staff, and with the promise that the bike would not be turned on, they
got it in there. Of course, they bucked the staff and revved it on cue
anyway, basically freaking out everyone, including a good portion of the
band. "I had to go outside and get yelled at by the venue staff,"
Habte-Gabr says. "Take one for the band."
They were not always an
easy group to wrangle. Habte-Gabr says, "You try sending an email with a
typo in it to a group of 12 authors. Two days later, the original
intent of the email is out the window and it has turned into complete
But a young Van Halen they ain't. "Because of our advanced
age, we're currently scheduling the late-night hotel brawls for 6
p.m.," Barry says. "Also, we're paying surrogates to brawl for us."
the band's 20-year run, the Remainders promise there are no plans for a
rock & roll future after the final show: no Rock Bottom Wilburys,
no Rock Bottom Starship, no Remainders Remainders. "If that happens, or
threatens to happen," Barry says, "I hope the federal authorities will
Even though they're planning an update, The Remainders' published 1994 tour diary, Mid-Life Confidential,
is an actual rock-bottom remainder now; a wiseacre like Kathi Kamen
Goldmark would likely love the irony. If nothing else, she'll definitely
have the best seat in the house to watch her literary rock & roll
offspring make one final giant, boisterous ass out of itself.
The Rock Bottom Remainders play their final public show June 22 at 7:30 p.m. at the El Rey Theatre; theelrey.com.
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