AN INTERVIEW WITH GRANT JARRETT
"The problem with the kind of traveling I did, and my state of mind at the time, was that I never really took much notice of where I was. I was obsessed with other things, and I was always right there to spoil the fun. Still, parts of Europe were stunningly beautiful, and when I stopped to look around, or allowed myself to experience something outside my narrow focus, I had moments of joy, and, on rare occasion, a fleeting sense of calm."
By Elizabeth P. Glixman
COPYRIGHT © 2004, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
3AM: The subtitle of “More Towels” is “A Farcical Memoir of Lechery and Despair”. Labeling your memoir a farce is an interesting choice of words.
GJ: In what’s left of my mind there’s a distinction between a farce and something that is farcical. I meant it more in the sense of being ludicrous or like a farce. And so much of what happened in the book, from the horrific experiences at the V.D. Clinics to the husbands with hot tempers and automatic weapons to the bar fights with hulking mobsters to the therapist from hell to the nightly torment at the resorts to all the sexual escapades with schoolgirls and lunatics and borderline schizophrenics, was ludicrous, or farcical. But there was another, more practical reason for that particular word choice: I thought perhaps calling the book farcical would be helpful if any of the poor souls I wrote such awful things about were considering suing me. “But your Honor, it says right on the cover that it’s a farce.”
3AM: I read names I hadn’t heard for years, like Soupy Sales, Tony Martin, Anna Maria Albergehtti, Morey Amsterdam, Pat Cooper, and The Inkspots. Life as an entertainer in that period traveling from one nightclub to the other was filled with colorful characters, many of whom had addictions.
GJ: I don’t know if addiction is substantially more common in the nightclub environment or among entertainers than it is in the real world of telemarketers, disgruntled postal workers and Congresspersons, but I certainly saw a lot of it. It came in many forms and was often coupled with depression, anger and desperation. I encountered many damaged souls. Maybe that world draws a particular personality, or perhaps those behaviors are simply so readily accepted as part of the lifestyle that people yield to temptations they might otherwise have fended off. I do believe that being an entertainer, particularly one who has had some success, can have a mutating influence on a person’s character. I think the insecure ego develops very quickly an insatiable thirst for more and more attention. Many of the entertainers with whom I played weren’t especially likeable, but I also met some wonderful people, people with whom I’m still close, in spite of the fact that I was insensitive enough to broadcast their quirks and flaws to my readers.
3AM: Besides the entertainers there were wonderful characters like Mandy, your social worker girlfriend, Jeannie and her military insanely jealous boyfriend whose head you described as “the size and shape of a large American station wagon, possibly an Oldsmobile,” and your mother, although you limited her appearance. Have you written about these people in any of your other work?
GJ: I have another finished memoir, “And Still Another Winter”, which covers the years following “More Towels.” So a couple of these people do reappear on a page or two. But most of the “creative” writing I do is fiction, and my fiction seldom touches on the specifics of my life. I occasionally use character traits from people I know, particularly my father, who is a frighteningly cold and distant man, but the characters in my fiction are really not based on people from my life.
3AM: You portray yourself in a brutally honest way, exposing your obsessions and self-interest. What made you reveal so much of yourself to the reader? You didn’t always come off as a likable guy.
GJ: In many ways I wasn’t a likeable guy, or a nice guy, though I mostly wanted to be. For reasons I’ve never understood people generally did like me. But I don’t think there would have been any point in writing the book if I’d wanted to hide the ugliest aspects of the truth. Telling part of the truth isn’t honesty. And honesty is a critical element, whether you’re writing a memoir or a work of fiction. I know it’s a different subject, but I think honesty in fiction might be even more important than in memoir. In any case, I think the book works, if it does work, because I am telling the truth, or my truth, about everything. Also, to the extent that I thought about it, I wanted the book to address an aspect of human nature that has fascinated me for as long as I can remember: People are not either good or evil; they are many different things and are capable of a broad and sometimes frightening range of behaviors. Perhaps not all of us act on our impulses, as I so often did, but I think most people have impulses they wouldn’t be proud to announce on national television. Like everyone else I know, I was and am a peculiar mix of elements, desires, compulsions, attitudes and passions. We all have the potential to go in any number of directions, some of them dangerous and destructive.
3AM: Have you read other memoirs? Were you influenced by how others told their stories?
GJ: I am a gluttonous fiction reader. In the past year I’ve read and enjoyed “The Clearing” by Tim Gautreaux, “The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen, “The Seal Wife” by Kathryn Harrison, “Drop City” by T.C. Boyle, “As I Lay Dying” by some guy named Faulkner, ‘Pastoralia” by George Saunders, “Middle Age” by Joyce Carol Oates, and several other wonderful books. I’ve also read a few overrated clunkers, which I won’t mention by title or author. But I don’t really have much interest in memoirs in general, except those few that touch on the craft of writing.
3AM: Did you keep journals during the period the memoir happened or did you remember the events very clearly?
GJ: It isn’t always viewed as an asset, but I have an excellent memory; I can recall, almost word for word, specific conversations. Although the title and the general concept came to me when I was in my twenties, there were no journals to study from those years, but what I found once I began this project was that the process of dredging up memories brought other memories to the surface. It was sort of like dredging a lake bottom for a body and finding old boots and car tires and Jimmy Hoffa and the Lindbergh baby.
3AM: There is a lot of wit in your writing. Besides admiring your wit, I felt uncomfortable when you switched your viewpoint to one of desperation and anger and potential violence. There was a dark side to your story that seeped through. You became a Salinger character or some other youth on the edge.
GJ: I choose to interpret your discomfort as a sign that I did my job relatively well. Again, I think that’s what makes the book work as something more than a series of humorous vignettes. About halfway through “More Towels” it becomes increasingly obvious that, in spite of the humor, there is something ugly and dangerous lurking in the shadows. And after that the long perilous descent begins, anger and violence stalk me, and I begin to lose my bearings. I tried to draw a real picture of someone heading for trouble, someone on the edge, because I think I was and I might easily have found more trouble than I could have handled. I might have fired my pistol at someone or forced a car full of teenagers off the road at eighty miles an hour or been shot by some angry husband or jealous girlfriend. I might have jumped out a window or, more likely, pushed someone else. I might have been poisoned permanently by my own anger and despair. I believe that the book’s humor makes some of this more potent, perhaps because of the uncomfortable contrast between what I am obviously feeling and what I’m saying, or how I’m saying it.
3AM: You traveled a lot in the story in both the US and Europe. Where did you enjoy visiting the most?
GJ: The problem with the kind of traveling I did, and my state of mind at the time, was that I never really took much notice of where I was. I was obsessed with other things, and I was always right there to spoil the fun. Still, parts of Europe were stunningly beautiful, and when I stopped to look around, or allowed myself to experience something outside my narrow focus, I had moments of joy, and, on rare occasion, a fleeting sense of calm.
3AM: The siblings of famous people sometimes use their names to get people to buy a book. You didn’t do this. Your brother Keith was not a big part of your memoir except in his absence and in your comment about him in the epilogue. Did you intentionally leave him out?
GJ: I think the book itself dictated what would go in and what would not. Having said that, I will tell you that I have very strong feelings about using my brother’s fame to promote myself, though this was more of an issue as a musician than it is as a writer. When I was playing I would always request that my brother’s name be omitted from any promotional material or the backs of albums I was on. Keith is exceptionally bright and talented, as are my other brothers, but this book wasn’t about them except to the extent that they played, and continue to play, a role in my life.
3AM: You offhandedly mentioned meeting your father at one of Keith’s concerts after not seeing him for twenty years. Are you in contact with him now?
GJ: It was such a peculiar thing to look up at the man who said he was my father and try to find some part of myself in his pale and pleated face. My father and I do communicate now, if that’s the proper word. He writes to me and asks me why I never write and tells me he’s “ready to go” whenever the good Lord wants to take him, and I call and tell him that I called him the previous month and he must have forgotten and that the good Lord may not be interested and that perhaps he should consider a warmer climate.
3AM: On page 240 you wrote, “ I know there are those of you who are thinking as you read this. ‘I’d give anything for a good book.’ But there are probably also a few of you who are thinking, ‘The son of a bitch is incapable of exercising any self-restraint at all.’” How do you see your sexual adventures now that you are older?
GJ: I feel a mixture of shame, pride and envy when I think of my younger self. And then I masturbate.
3AM: I liked the titles for the chapters in “More Towels.” "Arzairenymeninzeesroomtoonatuh?" is my favorite. Do you have a favorite chapter and or title?
GJ: Creating the chapter titles was a lot of fun for me, and I suppose I do feel better about some sections of the book than others, though my preferences probably change from day to day. The chapter where a hairpiece saves my life still makes me laugh, as does the one where the Marine Pilot finds me in his girlfriend’s trailer at 5:00 A.M., but I wouldn’t want to pick a favorite. That would be sort of like choosing a favorite ingrown hair. Or something. Other people don’t seem to have this problem, though. The two chapters readers have commented most on are “Dishonorable Discharge,” wherein I had that gruesome visit to the V.D. Clinic (my agent at that time said she wet herself reading that chapter aloud to her boss), and “A Real Live Mental Health Professional,” the chapter in which I spend my final therapy session with the frighteningly incompetent “doctor” describing to him other, less challenging occupations he might want to consider. What I’ve come to believe is that those who responded so positively to the first are sadists (or have serious bladder control issues), whereas the people who enjoyed the therapy chapter have probably had their own frustrating experiences with stupid or incompetent therapists. It seems I said what a lot of others have wanted to say. And I quote: “In short, Dick, you aren’t particularly bright and you haven’t got an objective bone in your brain.”
3AM: The words “In Between the Notes” in the title tell where the true story takes place. In between the music and the musician’s lifestyle is a story about loss of self, lust and gratification, the limits of talent, and hope. You were part of the generation that experimented with sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Do you see this memoir as culturally significant?
GJ: I hope the book does touch upon some of those themes, and that readers will feel how awkward my relationships with both parents were and how hopeless I sometimes felt, how desperately I wanted to be a great musician or to be loved or just to feel good for a little while. But I’m really not sure I’m in a position to say whether or not the book is culturally significant. My instincts tell me that my life, or one very similar, could easily have been lived at another time by someone from another background, but sometimes my instincts suck.
3AM: Do you think you are a better writer than musician?
GJ: God, I hope so. And yes, I actually do think so. I can usually read my writing without flinching, but I can’t listen to any of my recordings without gagging and rushing out of the room.
3AM: Have you found some peace as a writer and a person? Is there a stable love relationship in your life?
GJ: Maybe not peace, but a sense that I’m doing what I ought to be doing. And yes, I am married to a lovely and incredibly supportive young woman, and we have an absolutely beautiful fifteen-month-old baby boy. I am far more fortunate, in some ways, than I deserve to be.
3AM: What writing projects are you working on?
GJ: Well, I just recently completed the second in what I now believe will be a long series of unpublished novels, and I am always either working on a short story or on some humorous piece for which I hope to find an appreciative and generous home. I recently had an inquiry about the film rights for “More Towels,” but I don’t know yet how serious they are. I also do freelance projects as they come to me. Ultimately I want to get my fiction published and become extremely wealthy. But this is a grueling endeavor, and there are never any guarantees. So I just continue promoting my book and writing and submitting and contacting agents and harassing publishers and hoping. And perhaps that’s the greatest distinction between me and the character in the book. I have finally learned to hope, at least a little.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE
Grant Jarrett is the author of “More Towels, In Between the Notes”. “More Towels is a multi-layered memoir, a strange mix of the absurd and profound. “More Towels” takes the reader back to the sixties, seventies, and eighties as Mr. Jarrett, then a young drummer, makes his way across America playing in bands as fragile as his own identity.