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Monday, June 25, 2012

Authors Are Rockstars! Or, the Last Chapter of The Rock Bottom Remainders


El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles, 6/22/2012
After 20 years of once-a-year togetherness, the Rock Bottom Remainders have called it a career, and played their last two shows this past weekend. The finale was a private performance for attendees at the American Library Association annual conference in Anaheim on Saturday night, but they played for a full house at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles the night before.

Rock Bottom Remainders autographed guitar
You might know the Remainders better through their literary efforts than their musical ones. Although their membership has shifted a bit over two decades, their final lineup included original members Dave Barry, Roy Blount, Jr., Matt Groening, Stephen King, Ridley Pearson, and Amy Tan, joined by Mitch Albom, Greg Iles, Mary Karr, and Scott Turow. Skewed toward vocals and guitars, they got additional musical support from Sam Barry (harmonica), Josh Kelly (drums), Erasmo Paolo (saxophone), and Janine Sabino (vocals).

The Rock Bottom Remainders final show, 6/22/12

The group was originally brought together by Bay Area musician/part-time literary escort Kathi Kamen Goldmark for a one-off performance at an American Booksellers Association meeting in 1992. Goldmark died of cancer last month, and her passing spurred the group to mount their final two-show tour.

Tall Paul and I saw the Remainders play at the LA Times Festival of Books in 2006. They were never the most musically-adept bunch--Bruce Springsteen described them as "almost as good as a lousy garage band," and their repertoire was mostly familiar boomer-era covers mixed with some clever originals. But they clearly had a great time playing them serviceably well, which made it just as much fun for the audience. When we read about the plans for their final show, we knew we wanted to be there--and we were, right up in front!

The Hollywood Reporter described the El Rey show as "somewhat ridiculous but very fun," and I think they nailed it. An excellent time was had by all, onstage and off. From their review, here's a sampling from the set list:

"The House Is Rockin'" (show opener)
"Paperback Writer"
"These Boots are Made for Walkin'" (featuring Amy Tan on lead vocal whip-wielding)

Rock Bottom Remainders: King, McGuinn, Iles, Pearson

With musical guest Roger McGuinn on some Byrds covers:
"Mr. Tambourine Man"
"I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better"
"My Back Pages"
"You Ain't Goin' Nowhere"

Featuring Mitch Albom, Elvis impersonator:
"(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear"
"Jailhouse Rock"

Rock Bottom Remainers: Amy Tan, Mitch AlbomRock Bottom Remainders: Scott Turow, wearing a tattoo sleeve

"I'm a Big Best Seller" (an original blues by Greg Iles)
"Proof Reading Woman" (original by Dave Barry)


Rock Bottom Remainders original musical moment: Stephen King, Greg Iles


Near the end of the show, the full band dedicated their rendition of Warren Zevon's "Keep Me in Your Heart" to departed Remainders Goldmark, Frank McCourt, and frequent musical guest Zevon himself. But not wanting to end things on a down note, they roared back with Stephen King taking the lead on "Surfin' Bird" and closed with Scott Turow (in multicolored clown wig) and Roy Blount Jr. on "Wild Thing." But every rock show needs an encore, and the Remainders, in the fine tradition of lousy garage bands, made the garage-band classic "Gloria" theirs.

Rock Bottom Remainders: Mary Karr, Stephen King, Amy Tan, and Kathi Goldmark's guitar

Rock Bottom Remainders: Scott Turow, Matt Groening, Stephen King

The Rock Bottom Remainders were author rockstars in a very unconventional way, and they'll be missed. But at least we'll still have their books.

Tall Paul got two songs on video with his iPhone. Here's one of them:

The Rock Bottom Remainders with Roger McGuinn, "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere"

(More photos from the show are on Facebook.)