October 2007 Archives
The re-entry of my old motorcycling pal Sly Stone into public life continues. Over the summer, he played some festivals in Europe. Now, he’s booked his first New York City dates since the 1970s, two shows (at 8 and 10:30 p.m.) on December 7 at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill.
As uneven as his European shows were said to be (most of them at outdoor, multiple-act festivals), I have a good feeling about the engagements at B.B. King’s. It’s a smallish indoor venue, and when I saw Sly play at the similarly cozy theater at the Flamingo in Las Vegas last spring, he seemed to be in his element, in good voice and in good form. The “revue” format will continue, with Sly appearing for just part of the Family Stone’s show. But the promise is that he’ll put in 30 minutes per set, and the hope is that he’ll get comfortable enough onstage to stick around for longer.
It bothers me that a lot of people are rooting for him to be a train wreck, to live up to his infamy as one of music’s most erratic figures. This is a guy who, for whatever reasons, has decided to give it a go again when most people expected that the next time they’d be reading about him was in his obituary. He’s certainly not blameless for making a mess of his life over the last 30-odd years, but his return–like Brian Wilson’s, Roky Erickson’s or any other drug-addicted or mentally tormented musician’s–was bound to be a bumpy road. I sincerely hope things start to smooth out for Sly.
In the preface to The United States of Arugula, I allude to Cook’s Illustrated magazine as a “meticulousy researched, trend-averse anti-glossy that has thrived since its founding in 1980.” Reader Angela Miller of southeastern Pennsylvania wrote in to say that she’s certain that Cook’s Illustrated didn’t exist until 1993, since she has its debut issue from that year. Ms. Miller is right. Christopher Kimball, the bowtied editor of Cook’s Illustrated, did indeed introduce a magazine in 1980, but it was a predecessor to his current empire (which also includes Cook’s Country magazine and the America’s Test Kitchen show and books), and it was simply called Cook’s.
You might have seen obituaries for Peg Bracken, author of The I Hate to Cook Book. Peg would have made a good blogger: She was contrary and dyspeptic before it was widely fashionable, and there are passages in the aforementioned book that sound more like Gawker than 1960. Chapter 9 is entitled “Desserts, or People Are Too Fat Anyway,” while a passage about children’s birthday parties advises, “You are giving this party for the children, not for their mamas. That’s why you needn’t clean the house before they come, merely afterward. It also means you mustn’t let a mother in when she brings her little charge up to the door.”
Astonishingly, Birds Eye frozen foods took up Bracken as an official spokescrank. My vintage copy of The I Hate to Cook Book actually has the Birds Eye logo on it and this quote from Bracken on the back flap: “I may hate to cook, but thank goodness, Birds Eye likes to.” Would any food company today embrace a cookbook with the word “hate” in its title?
The I Hate to Cook Book succeeded ultimately as a well-timed stunt, a novelty book in the vein of Lisa Birnbach’s Official Preppy Handbook or Bruce Feirstein’s Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche, and it deserves to be appreciated as such. But hey, Margalit Fox of The New York Times, what’s with that subtle dig at the end of your Bracken obit?
Somewhat by mistake, I’ve ended up launching two food-related paperbacks in the space of four months. The paperback version of The United States of Arugula came out in July. Now comes the release of the latest in my Snob series of humor books, The Food Snob’s Dictionary. It will be in stores as of October 9. Here are some upcoming events related to this wretched circumstance:
October 10, New York Public Library, NYC, 7 p.m.
I will be on a panel called “Julia Child in America” with three smart, articulate people: Child biographer Laura Shapiro, longtime New York Times foodperson Molly O’Neill, and Blue Hill chef-activist Dan Barber.
October 13, Strand Bookstore, NYC, 3-4 p.m.
I am signing copies of The United States of Arugula as part of the Strand Literary & Arts Festival, which marks the ornery 12th Street bookseller’s 80th birthday. It’s an all-day event featuring lots of authors. This is just my one-hour slot. I’ll be sharing my signing table with Gina DePalma, the fearsomely gifted pastry chef at Babbo, whose cookbook Dolce Italiano is just out. By the way, be careful when Googling Gina–there is also, it turns out, an adult-entertainment star by the same name.
October 18, Gourmet Garage, NYC, 6-8 p.m.
My co-author Marion Rosenfeld and I will sign copies of The Food Snob’s Dictionary at the Greenwich Village location (117 Seventh Avenue South) of this lovely mini-chain of comestible emporiums. Andy Arons, Gourmet Garage’s owner, is a kind man and has cornered the market on food-humor parties–his last one at this location was for Amy Sedaris’s I Like You.
November 10, Miami Book Fair International, Miami, FL, 1:30 pm.
At this mega-bookchat event, I will be on yet another food-talk panel with Laura Shapiro and Molly O’Neill–my apologies to these two ladies–but this time the panel will be moderated by Marcel Escoffier, the actual great-grand-nephew of Auguste Escoffier (click on link and scroll down).
From 1992 to 1995 I worked as an editor at GQ magazine. Public perception to the contrary, most of the people on GQ’s editorial staff are not professional fashion people and have little if anything to do with the magazine’s fashion coverage. (That’s mostly handled by fashion director Jim Moore and his staff. Before Jim, the job belonged to Nonnie Moore [no relation], a delightful woman who once complimented me on a striped-tie and checked-shirt combo by saying approvingly, “You don’t want to be too matchie-matchie.”)
I was one of GQ’s non-fashion people–an articles editor, essentially–but I created a humorous little monthly feature called “GQ Regrets” in which I selected and wrote up some of the magazine’s “occasional lapses in judgment,” fashion-wise: the trends that dated poorly, the ill-considered photo shoots, the truly absurd garments that never stood a chance of catching on (like the “Jumpajama” pajama-jumpsuit hybrid promoted in a 1958 issue). The feature continued onward well after I left, and GQ, as part of its 50th Anniversary festivities, has posted an online slideshow of its “Regrets,” which you can access here.
But as easy as it was to make fun of stuff in old GQ’s, especially the issues from the anything-goes 1970s, I couldn’t help but admire some of the more progressive fashion photography from the latter half of that decade: stuff that jumped out for its clarity, sharpness, and forwardness. I soon realized that I was admiring the early work of Bruce Weber. And as I studied the masthead from those early-Weber years, to see who he was working with then, I realized that I’d never heard of most of these guys; they weren’t in the magazine game anymore. I soon found out why: These guys, the ones at the top of GQ’s late-’70s masthead, were early casualties of AIDS.
For October’s gala 50th Anniversary issue of GQ, I’ve written an article (not available online) that tells the story of these GQ-ers who are no longer around to speak for themselves. Bruce Weber was generous with his reminiscences, as were the surviving members of that staff, including Jim Moore, who was but a young intern when he started out there in 1980. The article, “It All Started Here,” is kind of the flip side of “GQ Regrets”–a belated recognition that the ’70s had much greatness to offer, and didn’t always warrant the snotty, facile treatment I gave them in my younger years.
Who says we don’t offer service journalism over at Vanity Fair?