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Around Christmastime in 2003, I was working at a second-hand bookstore in Fort Worth. As anyone who has worked in a bookstore (or anyone who haunts old bookstores regularly) would know, I discovered a lot of great (and mountains of not-so-great) stuff whilst plying away the hours among the shelves stocked full of other people’s old books. One of my favorite discoveries was an odd little volume called
The book sported a gaudily-designed dust jacket in a mock ‘60s-surf-movie style, just an awful design to my way of thinking. But, along the bottom of the cover was a scroll-like device listing people I was very familiar with: Dave Barry, Roy Blount, Jr., Robert Fulghum, Matt Groening, Al Kooper, Stephen King, Amy Tan, Barbara Kingsolver, Greil Marcus, Ridley Pearson, and so on. Most of these folks were authors; a couple were musicians. Authors, musicians, and a title that seemed to suggest a music tour? What the heck was this book about? And what in the world is a “rock-bottom remainder?”
A rock-bottom remainder, in the parlance of our times, means essentially a book that didn’t sell as well as the publisher intended, and thus the “remainder” of the copies are sold to a distributor at a dramatically-reduced cost. After reading a bit in the book, I learned that the name here referred to a rock band composed of famous authors and a few “real” musicians. The group mockingly referred to themselves as The Rock-Bottom Remainders, since their music ability would surely land them in the proverbial cut-out bin should they attempt to make the hobby a livelihood.
The group was best summed up by Dave Barry, humor writer and Remainders guitarist, when he wrote that, “We play music as well as Metallica writes novels.”
The impetus for the Remainders came from a suggestion by author, publishing consultant, and MUSICIAN Kathi Kamen Goldmark. In the process of organizing author events, conventions, and the like, she noticed that several high-profile authors shared something in common: they were music fans and some were even closet musicians (or at least knew how to hold a guitar and strum it some). So, on a whim, she recommended that some of these high-toned wordsmiths form a band and put on a performance for charity at the next American Booksellers Association convention in Anaheim in 1992.
Several authors took the bait, and the rest is history. The group performed occasionally for just over twenty years, with every cent of their ticket sales going to various charities and scholarships. They played the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, and gave their last performance on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson in August of last year.
The list of writers who performed as Remainders over the years reads like a New York TimesBestseller List: Carl Hiassen, Amy Tan, Ridley Pearson, Dave Barry, Matt Groening, Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, Robert Fulghum, Mitch Albom, Greg Iles, and Scott Turow.
The remainders also peppered in “real” musicians over the years. Ringers have included Al Kooper (keyboard player for Bob Dylan, etc.), Leslie Gore (“It’s My Party”), Roger McGuinn (guitarist for The Byrds), Warren Zevon, and even Bruce Springsteen.
The Remainders played their last show in June of last year. Chances are that it really was their last show, since their inspiration for the formation of the group, Kathi Kamen Goldmark passed away a month before. One of the main reasons cited for the band’s dissolution, according to Dave Barry, is “because it just isn’t going to be the same without Kathi.”
So, I never got to see the band, and I never will. This saddens me as a fan of most of the authors, but perhaps doesn’t really sadden me as a fan of well-played music. Still, I would have cherished the opportunity to catch a guitar pick flicked into the crowd by Stephen King or Dave Barry after a particularly vigorous rhythm guitar performance. Or I would have liked to see Ridley Pearson shred a bass (apparently he is a pretty fine player, to which several YouTube videos testify).
But, I WILL get to read further about the band’s exploits, it seems. While hunting for Christmas presents online this year, I came across a listing for an interactive e-book called Hard Listening: The Greatest Rock Band Ever (of Authors) Tells All. The publisher describes the book as “a voyeuristic view into the private lives of your favorite authors, combining essays, fiction, musings, candid email exchanges and conversations, compromising photographs, audio and video clips, and interactive quizzes…See Stephen King, Scott Turow, Amy Tan, Dave and Sam Barry, Roy Blount Jr., Mitch Albom, James McBride, Ridley Pearson, Matt Groening, Greg Iles, and rock legend Roger McGuinn at their most unguarded.”
Now, as a rare book dealer, it pains me somewhat that this book is only available as an e-book, but I’ll take it, anyway. I’ll always be interested in the exploits of my favorite author-infused rock band. Although the midnight hour has passed for seeing them live, the Remainders will always survive on the Internet. So, if I’m ever in the mood for a sufficiently-played cover of Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Suzie Q”, with Stephen King on lead vocals, I can watch it here.
Rock on, Remainders!