Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"As Chanukah Passes Me By"

To watch on YouTube, click the image above. To watch via Vimeo, click below.

© 2002, 2011 Josh Alan Friedman

Video by Wyatt Doyle & Josh Alan Friedman, with artwork by Drew Friedman. Visit DrewFriedman.net

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"Thanksgiving at McDonald's in Times Square"

To watch on YouTube, click the image above. To watch via Vimeo, click below.

Josh Alan's first 45.

To purchase your digital copy of the original "Thanksgiving at McDonald's in Times Square" single, click here.

© 1988, 2011 Josh Alan Friedman

Video by Wyatt Doyle & Josh Alan Friedman, with artwork by Drew Friedman. Visit DrewFriedman.net

Josh plays "Thanksgiving" live here.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Jack Stevenson is a writer and film-festival curator in Denmark. His bird's-eye view into the odyssey of Al Goldstein and Screw comes from a uniquely European perspective--where America's madness can be sanely analysed and enjoyed. I recommend this book to the Queen of England.

"New history and fresh insight into that counter-cultural battering ram once known as Al Goldstein. Stevenson's work has resulted in something rarely seen: an important book. (Full disclosure: I don't come off too bad, either.)"
--Josh Alan Friedman (Tales of Times Square)

Order your copy of
Beneath Contempt from Amazon here.

Monday, October 31, 2011

WANTED! More Readers Like...

From the editor's desk:

He made it to Barney Miller's station house on seven occasions (playing seven different characters), Kojak twice and The Streets of San Francisco three times. A television mainstay, he's guested on series from Benson to Twin Peaks to Beverly Hills, 90210. He acted for the incomparable Robert Downey, Sr. in No More Excuses, Pound and Greaser's Palace. He's memorable in Bugsy, The Star Chamber and Weekend at Bernie's. But the role he's probably best known for is his unforgettable comic turn as Ernie, the jumpy Teutonic mortician, in Return of the Living Dead.

Just in time for Halloween, the great Don Calfa does the cover!

Send your good wishes to Mr. Calfa on Facebook here.

Black Cracker is available NOW; signed copies are available here.

photo © 2011 Wyatt Doyle

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Bela Lugosi" from THE WORST!

From THE WORST! Josh Alan's original musical based on the life of Ed Wood.

THE WORST! is available on CD and digital download from CD Baby. Click here to purchase.

© 1994, 2011 Josh Alan Friedman

Video by Wyatt Doyle, with artwork by Drew Friedman (from WARTS AND ALL by Drew Friedman and Josh Alan Friedman). Visit DrewFriedman.net

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Kiss My Big Black Ass: Jerry Leiber’s Life in Spades

Atlantic Records co-founder Jerry Wexler and songwriter Jerry Leiber both related this anecdote:

Leiber never went out to see live music—not even his own groups like the Coasters, Drifters or Elvis. But in June 1971, Wexler coaxed him to attend closing night of the Fillmore East. The moment The Allman Brothers, an Atlantic/Capricorn group, broke big. Leiber was claustrophobic and couldn’t stand crowds. Furthermore, he told Wexler, “These guys are your band, they’re bad-ass musicians—but I don’t know who they are, and I don’t give a fiddler’s fuck about them or the Fillmore.”

Wex said, “There are people around the world who idolize you. You don’t go out to music, you don’t fuckin’ know. I told Duane Allman I’d bring you up to the dressing room and he said, ‘You’re full of shit. Jerry Leiber’s been dead for years.’ I want to prove that my word’s good.”

So they go to the Fillmore, where flowers are arranged on reserved seats for the two Jerrys.

“I sat in the audience,” said Leiber, “and it started to fucking rain on the inside of the theater. I panicked and told Wex to get me the fuck out of here, but it was too crowded to leave. He said somebody set off the sprinkler system but there’s no fire. I said I don’t give a fuck, get me out of this goddamn auditorium. We went to the exit which was barred shut, bolted from the outside because kids were trying to break in.”

Wex turns to Leiber, who’s soaked, and says, “Hey, man, do this for me. Just this once. Come visit Duane.”

“I’m about to have a heart attack,” remembered Leiber, “there could be a fire, the doors are barred. And he’s worried what Duane Allman thinks, to show I’m alive to impress him. Wexler collects people like big-game hunters collect heads.”

So Wexler maneuvers them into the dressing room. Duane Allman is shirtless, pale and skinny, whacked out of his skull while stringing his Les Paul. (He would be killed in a motorcycle wreck a few months after this night.)

Wexler says, “Duane, didn’t I promise you? Well, here he is. Jerry Leiber.”

Allman stares up hazily at this wet, anxiety-ridden figure.

“You’re fulla shit. Jerry Leiber’s been dead for four years.”

“I’m not kidding you, this is the man,” says Wexler. “Tell him who you are, Jer.”

“I wanted to say I’m Max Schmeling, leave, and destroy the moment for Wexler forever,” Leiber remembered. “I could see it meant so much to Wex, so I complied. ‘He’s telling the truth. I’m Jerry Leiber and I didn’t die four years ago.’ But whatever I said was gonna be pointless.”

The most potent songwriter and producer of the rock ’n’ roll era was such an iconic, remote figure, that 24-year-old Allman thought it was some con. As if Jerry was a myth, couldn’t possibly exist. Leiber bolted out of there, more resolute than ever to avoid live concerts.

Well, forty years later, as of last week, Jerry Leiber is now finally not alive. My father brought him home and introduced me in 1965, when I was nine years old and clueless. Some guy who’d written Elvis’ songs before my time, which meant nothing to me. But he also wrote something called “Kansas City,” that just appeared on Beatles ’65. That fact got my attention in a big way. It was straight-out rock ’n’ roll, different than regular Beatle songs, the odd music they’d apparently grown up on.

The sheer magnitude of what Leiber & Stoller accomplished is mind-boggling—they fathered rock ’n’ roll, they put the dominant AABA song structure in popular music, and were the first to be called “record producer.” They began as R&B songwriters, and I wonder whether they ever listed their mission statement on tax returns: Making Black Folks Laugh.

I never let cosmic distractions, as listed above, get in the way of friendships. Especially when preparing cornbread and ribs in the kitchen with Jerry Leiber, like an old Jewish grandma. As with any great figure, you’re also dealing with a mere human being. He had a preference for writer friends over music people. He grew up in a Baltimore slum speaking Yiddish, but learned meter from Rudyard Kipling and Edgar Allan Poe (also from Baltimore). He devoured Proust as a child. Privately, he kept revising the lyrics from songs he wrote long ago, always reaching for what he considered to be the perfection of Irving Berlin.

The “playlets”—those 50 two-and-a-half minute radio plays that Leiber & Stoller did with their alter-ego vaudevillian do-wop group, The Coasters—were the most lyric-driven canon of songs ever written. Leiber & Stoller’s range was magnificent, from early ditch blues to late Sinatra. “The Girls I Never Kissed” would have been a smash, had Sinatra’s voice only behaved during two attempted recording sessions.

Jerry Leiber bequeathed me the only unreleased song from the Leiber & Stoller catalog of the 1950s, “Strike A Match.” The song takes place in a dimly lit Negro bar where, after dancing and before the first kiss, the guy tentatively asks the girl to: Strike a match/Let me see/Yo’ face/Yo’ face.” They’d written it for Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy. Then it got lost in a closet for 45 years. Leiber thought the three greatest male blues voices were Memphis Slim, Muddy and Howlin’ Wolf.

“I can’t sing like that,” I said. And didn’t want to affect a Black voice. Different physiology.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s attitude.”

“Strike A Match” came out, if such could be said, in 2001. A few years later Leiber agreed to produce a solo album of me doing his purest blues songs. He hadn’t really been in the studio in a few decades. Not since the ’70s when he and Mike Stoller last produced Peggy Lee, Elkie Brooks, Procol Harum, a T-Bone Walker tribute album, and Stealers Wheel, including the single “Stuck in the Middle with You.” After that, they even refused the Rolling Stones.

So why, you might ask, would Leiber take interest in a bum such as I? Well, many entities that Leiber & Stoller bestowed their magic upon were cherry-picked from out of nowhere. That’s how those groups became famous.

“I wrote for people I loved,” he once told me. “The rest got my leftovers.” So maybe I was getting his leftovers. And I knew I was born too late. Come back 30 years ago, and he’d put you on the charts. He could do it with anybody.

He also produced the construction of his early 20th century Greene & Greene-style house like a record, in Venice Beach, California. He put me up there for a manically enchanting week. We rehearsed some and even attempted to write new songs. Off the clock, bullshitting, Jerry’s wit was sharp as ever. He still maintained a childlike playfulness in his genius with language and could pull lines out of the sky like lightening.

But when play turned to work, it turned mundane. He immediately excised all lines about gynecology from a song of mine. And the song was about a gynecologist.

“But Jer, that’s the best stuff.”

“Whaddya crazy, you can’t say that shit.” Well, I figured, maybe he knows what he’s talking about.

The first session was booked at Nightbird, his son Jed’s recording studio under the Sunset Marquis Hotel, near the Leiber & Stoller offices. On the way to the studio, Jerry got a call from the studio manager who wanted his credit card number. Jerry had originally financed the whole joint, and here his son was going to charge him by the hour. He went ballistic over the phone—and thus our production was, predictably, cancelled. There was no way Jerry Leiber was going back to the studio, any more than Muhammad Ali was going back to the ring.

I spent a year under unpaid contract with him, to be billed equally as co-writer of his autobiography. It was to be called Kiss My Big Black Ass. The cover was to be a mule’s ass, its head turned around with the face, naturally, being that of Jerry. Leiber’s handlers were, of course, appalled, and pressed on for a sanitized Leiber & Stoller autobiography to be written with David Ritz, the official biographer of music pioneers. Ritz had about eight other books going that year. Stoller wanted a mannered, politically correct book that, in spirit, might be called, And Then We Wrote...

But Jerry always reached for the jugular. Even with his talented sons, who endured the most stinging Jewish-father tsuris since Abraham bound Issac to the altar (Look at you, you’re 50 years old and never had a Top 10 hit.).

I salvaged some of our material for the 77-page lead-off chapter of Tell the Truth Until They Bleed. Though he gave his permission, he ended up furious with several revelations. A few tidbits about money, and his tendency to become what he called “Grandma Hyde” (as in Dr. Jekyll) and go off the deep end, destroying one project and collaborator after another. But there remained an abundance of unpleasantness that I left out of my book forever, in deference to my enormous respect for both Leiber and Stoller and their legacy.

Leiber & Stoller’s Brill Building office had the highest level of staff songwriters in history. Inspired by Jerry and Mike, they worked 9-to-5 in little piano cubicles. The smaller the cubicle, the bigger the hit. Songwriting was a highly specialized craft and art in Leiber’s heyday. Most groups did not write their own material. That was left to experts. If you take a cold look at what happened in the wake of Dylan and the Beatles—suddenly everyone in the world was a songwriter, and groups wrote their own songs. There was a burst of collective genius in those times. But songwriting basically changed from a professional’s domain to a free-for-all where amateurs took over the ship. To this day. If you don’t see any disparity in that, compare your songs to the full-time professionals of Leiber & Stoller’s stable—Goffin & King, Barry and Greenwich, Pomus & Shuman, Mann and Weil, early Burt Bacharach, Neil Diamond. There’s a difference, right? Songwriting was a business.

Jerry Leiber occupied his own hipster universe: “I have no sense of long distance and time and ancient history. It’s like we cut our songs last night.” He was a walkin’, talkin’ street-wise sharpie, the embodiment of his own songs. He was reckless, but a great connoisseur of clothes, art and ghetto cuisine. Turned on by intellectually pretentious women, several notches down from pretty. He felt double-crossed by everybody, and double-crossed them back.

But I believe Jerry Leiber was wittier, greater and more important than Irving Berlin. I love and miss the bastard. I imagine the mythical Jerry in his final hours, like the character of his song “D.W. Washburn,” a gentleman who won’t get up from the gutter with his bottle of wine. Who toasts his saviors, but says No Thanks, “I believe I got it made.”

© 2011 Josh Alan Friedman

Monday, August 29, 2011

"Famous & Poor" LIVE in Dallas

Josh Alan performs "Famous & Poor" live at the Sons of Hermann Hall in Dallas, TX. August, 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

"Down Home Girl" Live at Alias Books East

To watch on YouTube, click the image. For Vimeo, see below.

Featuring Jerry Leiber's original, suppressed lyrics. Live From Alias Books East, Los Angeles, June 2011.

© 2011 Josh Alan, Wyatt Doyle

Editor's note: In an unhappy coincidence, we've learned of Jerry Leiber's passing today. May he rest in peace.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Wanted! More Readers Like...

From the mailbag:

Josh -
For the record, not so famous guys are among your readers too. (Your book cover ended up as a Kilroy Was Here look, but it still works.)
- Michael

Self-described "not-so-famous" Texas-based novelist/actor Michael Zagst is author of M.H. Meets President Harding, The Sanity Matinee, The Greening of Thurmond Leaner, The End of the World, Blood Flow and The Wonderful World of Color. Several have recently become available in electronic format.

Black Cracker is available NOW; signed copies are available here.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

"Rollin' / Just as I Was" (w/ Rev. Raymond Branch)

To view on YouTube, click the above image. To watch via Vimeo, see below.

Rev. Branch merges "Rollin'" and "Just as I Was" while Josh Alan taps out percussion on the body of his Martin. Live from the Heavenly Rainbow Baptist Church, June 2011

Visit Rev. Branch here.

© 2011 Rev. Raymond Branch, Josh Alan, Wyatt Doyle

Friday, August 5, 2011

Josh Alan LIVE w/Kinky Friedman TOMORROW!

Josh Alan plays live with Kinky Friedman for KNON's 28th Anniversary Celebration in Dallas, TOMORROW, August 6th! Music starts at 8 p.m., or sign on for "Dinner With the Friedmans" and sup in the company of the Black Cracker himself (and the Kinkster) at 6 p.m.

Details & tickets at KNON's website here.

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Monday, August 1, 2011

End of an Error: The Farewell Column for SCREW

It’s been 25 years since I wrote my farewell column for Screw’s “Naked City” listings. This back section of the paper contained some 200 capsule reviews of New York City’s peep shows, porn theaters and sex establishments (virtually all defunct now). Each week opened with a report from the streets, interview from a burlesque dressing room, or editorial.

Reprinted from
Screw, June 23, 1986


This week marks the 225th Naked City column I’ve written under my own byline. It is also the last.

When I first inherited this wild beast of a job, in Issue #678, March 1, 1982, I was then Senior Editor of Screw. I’d been editing “Tony Esperanto’s” Naked City as part of my weekly function. Esperanto was the pen name of another Screw editor who’d done Naked City for five years. I never wanted to take over these listings, but it seemed inevitable. Custom had it, since the inception of Screw, that whoever handled Naked City would use an Italian pseudonym. That way, some mobster couldn’t threaten whoever gave his massage parlor a bad review, or might figure it was written by some Guido you don’t fuck with. For years, Naked City carried the byline “Rocco.”

I was never one to believe in pseudonyms, and thus remember a few sleepless nights after I took over this column. Several dives objected to their lowered ratings, and protested through odd and varied means of communication. One obvious tactic a proprietor might take upon a lowered cock rating in Screw was to mail me an onslaught of letters. Every letter purported to be a regular reader of Screw who was outraged that his favorite club had been lowered in the ratings. Each of the 30 letters would have the same town post office mark, or be written in identical style, thereby exposing the owner’s obvious ploy. Fake letters became quite easy to differentiate from authentic ones.

This column has taught me how to write like no other training ground—simply because I had to make a deadline every week, for four-and-a-half years. It was often an edgy, nervous type of writing, because you were reviewing the kind of joints that maybe the owners didn’t want anyone nosing around or drawing attention to. The stripper profiles were most fun, particularly Hyapatia Lee, Candy Samples, Kelly Everts, even last week’s backstage romp with Sue Nero. My “Sex in Brooklyn” series and “Sex in Queens” series, as well as anything to do with the Harmony/Melody Burlesk, stand out as peculiarities that only Al Goldstein’s World’s Greatest Newspaper would cover. “The Consumer’s Guide to Erotic Entertainment,” a lame subtitle I inherited under the Naked City logo, was the world’s first Ralph Nader-type watchdog listing for the consumer pecker. These establishments exist, so why the hell not have a protective customer guide for them?

If I saw a horse vomit in Times Square, spent Thanksgiving at McDonald’s, Christmas in the drunk tank, or imagined I saw the lights go on at the All-Live, Whirly-Girly Revue on 46th St., first time since ’62—I could write about it, then see my nightmare produced in smeary newsprint the next week in this column, off my chest and onto yours. Even if only two people might read it. But if any of my loyal readership feels a tinge of regret over my departure, let me refer you to my new book, out in a week: Tales of Times Square, published in hardcover by Delacorte Press. It contains the meat of every secret I’ve learned from Naked City, and my 10-year association with Screw. It is like this very column, although “respectably” packaged so that thousands (hopefully millions) can read about Times Square throughout the world.

As for the work I’ve done herein, protecting you, the unlaid, masturbating Screw reader—laying my cock on the line so that yours may be safe—I’ll give myself a 3 1/2 rating. The sex biz is really on the skids. But I drink a toast to all the joints and dives listed here, ’cause they’re more humane than what’s gonna replace ’em.

Farewell, suckers.

artwork by Drew Friedman. Visit his blog.
text and photos © 1986, 2011 Josh Alan Friedman

Monday, July 25, 2011

"What'd I Say"

Josh Alan rips up "What'd I Say," live at The Kessler, Dallas, TX
From "Black Saturday," March 20, 2010

Monday, July 18, 2011

"Tush" Live at Alias Books East

To watch on YouTube, click the image. For Vimeo, see below.

Live From Alias Books East, Los Angeles, June 2011.

© 2011 Josh Alan, Wyatt Doyle

Monday, July 11, 2011

Wanted! More Readers Like

From the editor's desk:

Pantheon comedian, actor, director and scenarist Buck Henry does the cover.

Review Mr. Henry's truly impressive career on IMBD here.

Click here to read a fine 2010 interview with Mr. Henry from
Vice magazine's online archives.

Black Cracker is available NOW; signed copies are available here.

photo © 2011 Wyatt Doyle

Monday, July 4, 2011

"So Soon" w/Rev. Raymond Branch

To watch on YouTube, click the image. For Vimeo, see below.

Reunited a year later in the pews of the Heavenly Rainbow Baptist Church, Rev. Branch and Josh Alan improvise a new arrangement of one of Rev. Branch's standards, "So Soon." June 2011.

Visit Rev. Branch online at www.RevBranch.com. You can see a Rev. Branch solo performance of "So Soon" here.

© 2011 Rev. Raymond Branch, Josh Alan, Wyatt Doyle

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Josh Alan LIVE w/Kinky Friedman, August 6

Josh Alan plays live with Kinky Friedman for KNON's 28th Anniversary Celebration in Dallas, August 6th! Music starts at 8 p.m., or sign on for "Dinner With the Friedmans" and sup in the company of the Black Cracker himself (and the Kinkster) at 6 p.m.

Details & tickets at KNON's website here.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

"Black Mountain Rag" Live at Sideshow Books

To watch on YouTube, click the image. For Vimeo, see below.

Live From Sideshow Books, Los Angeles, June 2011.

© 2011 Josh Alan, Wyatt Doyle

Monday, June 13, 2011

"Deep Heaven" (with Rev. Raymond Branch)

To watch on YouTube, click the image. For Vimeo, see below.

Reverend Raymond Branch and Josh Alan reunited! Together again in the pews of the Heavenly Rainbow Baptist Church, they improvise an acoustic gospel mashup on the spot, blending Doc Watson’s “Deep River Blues” with “I Wonder What They’re Doing in Heaven Today?” June 2011.

© 2011 Rev. Raymond Branch, Josh Alan, Wyatt Doyle

Rev. Branch's RAINBOW GOSPEL HOUR can be heard every Sunday morning at 3:00 am on KTYM, AM 1460 (streaming live via http://www.ktym.com/Sunday.htm )

Visit Rev. Branch here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Josh Alan Friedman LIVE at Sideshow Books, Los Angeles!

TONIGHT! JOSH ALAN FRIEDMAN returns to Los Angeles for a second and final evening of music and quality lit at Sideshow Books in West L.A. He'll be reading and signing his latest book, BLACK CRACKER, and playing a set of his famous atomic acoustic blues. Join us and paint the weekend BLACK!

Sideshow Books
11323 Idaho Ave
Los Angeles 90025
(310) 428-4631
Friday June 10, 8 pm

About Sideshow Books:

Used and Rare Books, Magazines, Original Art, with focus on Pulp Fiction, Crime, Art, Photography, Cinema, Music, Beat, Underground, Surfing, Esoterica, Erotica and Collectible Children's Books.

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Josh Alan Friedman LIVE at Alias Books East, Los Angeles!

Writer/musician JOSH ALAN FRIEDMAN returns to Los Angeles for an evening of music and quality lit at Alias Books East in Atwater Village TONIGHT. He'll be reading and signing his latest book, BLACK CRACKER, and playing a set of his famous atomic acoustic blues. Join us and paint the weekend BLACK!

Alias Books East
3163 Glendale Boulevard
Los Angeles 90039
(323) 661-9000
Thursday June 10, 8 pm

About Alias Books East:

Alias Books East is an open shop located in the heart of Atwater Village at 3163 Glendale Blvd. We carry a wide variety of subjects with an emphasis on literature, film and the arts. We're always looking to buy books, collections, and whole libraries. For more information feel free to email us at aliasbookseast@gmail.com or call (323) 661-9000 during business hours. The store is open 7 days a week from 10am until 10pm.

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Friday, June 3, 2011

Josh Alan Comes to Los Angeles!

Writer/musician JOSH ALAN FRIEDMAN returns to Los Angeles for two evenings ONLY of music and quality lit! Thursday, June 9 at 8pm he'll be at Alias Books East in Atwater Village, and Friday, June 10 at 8pm he'll be at Sideshow Books in West L.A. He'll be reading and signing his latest book, BLACK CRACKER, and playing a set of his famous atomic acoustic blues. Join us for both evenings and paint the weekend BLACK!

For details and driving directions to Alias Books East, click here.

For details and driving directions to Sideshow Books, click here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World

Theater Review Dept.: The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World

Note to WFMU listeners and our crowd: I saw the second night preview of The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World, an off-Broadway musical at Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater, on 42nd Street. It’s a total winner. Bringing my 11-year-old daughter, I was confronted by the task of explaining why American Idol is musically and spiritually poisonous, but The Shaggs' badness is beautiful. For instance, on their 1969 LP, the drums are so neatly out of sync that you nearly have to be a musician to appreciate it. (And thus, unlike Idol, The Shaggs cult is among the musically literate.)

photo credit: Joan Marcus

Philosophy has been workshopped for nine years, with earlier productions in Chicago and L.A. These days, musicals and their creators must be workshopped to death before they get a sliver of a chance for a mainstream breakthrough. This New York launch runs through June.

The Shaggs were the Ed Wood of girl groups, a band so innocently, sincerely “bad” that they inadvertently founded the category of outsider music. In the age of over-categorization, look in the “Other” bin. Defined by Irwin Chusid of WFMU, the outsider premise suggests that some cassette recording you might have surreptitiously made of your grandpa singing in the shower could become tomorrow’s Number One hit record.

Philosophy’s plot is driven by the Shaggs’ nutjob of a dad, Austin Wiggin, played by an all-too-convincing Peter Friedman (no relation). He was their unrelenting Ed Wood-like visionary. In the late sixties, he forced his three small-town New Hampshire daughters into a band that he envisioned would become his ticket out of a banal working-class hell. Well, their father was somewhat right. Only it’s slowly happening in the decades after he dropped dead of a heart attack in 1975.

The show makes ethereal use of the ascending “Twist & Shout” modulating harmonies to imply something otherworldly and spectacular was in the air. The anti-Beatles. In this case, the recording of an album that could vie for “worst” of all time. But of course, like Ed Wood films, it is not the worst, but rather something unique, singular and inspiring. Philosophy of the World, the album, was re-released in 1980 after being discovered by the band N.R.B.Q. Some descriptions over the years: “original, fearless art”; “a Dada masterpiece”; “mind-bendingly horrible” and “sufficient to disprove the philosophical structure of the modern world.”

It’s said the sisters were barely allowed to listen to any music growing up. So in fact, it is as if these teenage girls had to re-invent music. Then practice it for years, so that it took on its own untutored, yet highly structured teenage-girl style. You can’t fashion a musical using the actual Shaggs songs themselves, so the writers created a wholly original musical around their subject, quoting fragments of Shaggs material within the score. I counted two beautiful ballads, by Gunner Madsen and Joy Gregory. Ethereal performances by the girls, as Dot, Betty and Helen Wiggin.

Philosphy of the World is a splendid take on The Shaggs' odyssey. I hope the show forges eastward on 42nd Street.

(Playing through June 2011 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St. in NY.)

© 2011 Josh Alan Friedman

Monday, May 9, 2011

I'm Workin': Josh Alan on the Road

Boswell Book Company of Milwaukee welcomes Josh Alan and Black Cracker.

photo © 2011 Barbie Brennan Nelson

Monday, May 2, 2011

I'm Workin': Josh Alan on the Road

Josh Alan heats up the ABP Benefit, Denton, TX.

photo © 2011 Adam Wood

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Josh Alan Live in Texas, Saturday April 9!

Josh Alan plays live in Texas on Saturday, April 9 at Dan's SilverLeaf in Denton. Headlining the ABP Benefit Ball for Aaron Bennett Presley, Josh's set is scheduled for 5:30 pm.

Also on the bill: Foolish 2, Save the Humans for Later, NEEKS, KaiN the EverymaN. Catering by Big Fatty's. Silent auction and proceeds to help defray cancer survivor ABP's extensive medical bills.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

On Nelson Algren

Talk given at the 22nd Annual Nelson Algren Birthday Party at the St. Paul Cultural Center in Chicago, March 26, 2011.

Nelson Algren. Author of The Man With the Golden Arm, A Walk on the Wild Side, Somebody in Boots, The Neon Wilderness, The Last Carousel and Chicago: City on the Make

Sometimes I feel alone when I derive inspiration from Nelson Algren. I feel grateful, even relieved to have learned about this event. Nelson Algren has been my literary hero since I was a teenager. I love that there’s an Algren “hotline” phone number.

In July 1964—I was 8 years old—my father announced, in stentorian voice, to me and my two brothers: “Boys—a Great Writer is coming to stay with us.” So I wondered what a Great Writer would look like, how he might talk and dress, and how old you had to be to become such a person. It seemed like a statue was coming, some figure upon a horse.

It was Nelson Algren, of course, who my father, 34 at the time, looked upon no differently than he would have Hemingway or Fitzgerald. But my dad was friends with Algren, who’d written a couple of very good reviews of his first two books.

So one day, Nelson Algren arrived by boat to the summer house we rented in Fair Harbor on Fire Island, a thin slip of beach between Great South Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. For reference, this was the summer that A Hard Day’s Night opened; it was also known as the Long Hot Summer of 1964 in the civil rights movement.

Algren was a salty middle-aged gent who carried a suitcase in one hand and an electric typewriter case in the other. Electric typewriters were new, and every morning throughout the next week, he was up at the crack of dawn, crackling at the keys of this futuristic typewriter. So he seemed like a guy at the cutting edge of technology. Little did I know. My father, a generation younger, had an old Corona.

Algren went apeshit over our elderly nanny, Mrs. Sullivan (the “Mrs. O’Leary” character in my new book, Black Cracker). She would break into a put-on Irish brogue to his delight. For years afterward, whenever Algren called my father and Mrs. Sullivan answered the phone, he’d chat with Mrs. Sullivan for an hour. Mario Puzo also spent a lot of time chatting up Mrs. Sullivan when she answered the phone. She was delighted that great writers were so taken with her blue-collar charm, and kept their personally inscribed books by her bedside.

Mrs. Sullivan (who tortured me for the first ten years, then became a grand old lady).

Another other thing I recall from that week with Nelson in the house: He advised us that the pot handles be turned inward on the stove, rather than sticking out where they could be knocked over. Simple wisdom from Nelson Algren, but something my family hadn’t considered. He drank a little. My parents were crazy about him, but I think he spent more quality time gabbing with Mrs. Sullivan.

Algren greatly approved of a few younger writers, like Terry Southern and my Dad, Bruce Jay Friedman. In print, he said he admired Bruce Jay because he “didn’t know what he was doing” and he was “dangerous.” Calling a writer dangerous is the ultimate compliment, at least in my family. He wanted Bruce Jay to adapt Never Come Morning for the stage, and this was before my dad had ever written a play.

In the 1960s, all kinds of anti-establishment, dangerous ideas took hold in the culture, and millions of people listened and jumped aboard. Not like now. Now, there is no underground, no anti-establishment, or if there is, nobody knows about it. America is a corporatocracy, a corporate-dominated culture, with MBA degrees, corporate architecture, corporate entertainment, and millions of unquestioning kids in lockstep.

And that is why Nelson Algren remains so precious. He is not just a writer, but a Guardian Literary Angel, a Symbol, a counterweight to the corporatocracy. In his last years, he emphasized this, and I quote: “Big Business Kills.” Well, maybe we need standardization and assembly lines to build automobiles, but the sphere of this domination seems so powerful and out-of-whack, it throws off the balance of life. “Big Business Kills.” Those words echo in every bank bailout, every Enron and Bernie Madoff scandal that rapes a million people, every soulless concrete and glass skyscraper that uglifies the skylines of American cities.

Unlike in the past few centuries, serious writers—unless they are writers of computer games—are relegated to the bottom of the culture. Novelists are among the few citizens who actually have something to say. But they can’t even command the audience of real estate developers—who are really destroyers, not developers. CEOs are today’s rock stars.

Since the year that Algren died, 1981, we have become an Ayn Rand country, not a Nelson Algren nation. Imagine how different things might be if Ronald Reagan’s favorite writer had been Nelson Algren—instead of Ayn Rand.

Toward the end of Nelson’s life, he told my dad that “no one is interested in me.” Irwin Shaw told my dad the same thing. I myself didn’t have enough clout, when Algren was still alive, to get a magazine that would allow me to interview him.

Instead, it took me at least eight years to write a book called Tales of Times Square. Eight years is the amount of time Algren said it took him to write a book. I later read one of Nelson’s last interviews in the 1970s, where he said if he were young now, he would be writing about and living in Times Square. In fact, several chapters of his last book, The Devil’s Stocking, took place there. So with 50,000 writers living in New York, and me being the only one who bothered to write about Times Square, I felt like I had received a posthumous endorsement from Nelson Algren—my hero.

He also wrote a piece in which he was the victim of a “dry hustle” scam in a Times Square bar. I imagined him walking around Times Square like Don Quixote. This wizened street wizard. But he was hit with a $30 bar tab—which is like $75 today—after he okayed a drink for the B-girl on the adjacent barstool. Refusing to pay, Algren called their bluff. The 250-pound bouncer told him, “Pops, you come around here again, I’m going to get another old man to whip your ass.”

And now, I’ll play a song of mine called “Thanksgiving at McDonald’s in Times Square,” in his honor.

To watch on YouTube instead, click here.

© 2011 Josh Alan Friedman

To purchase your digital copy of the original "Thanksgiving at McDonald's in Times Square" single, click here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

BLACK CRACKER in the Midwest!

Josh Alan Friedman is bringing BLACK CRACKER to the Midwest in a big way, making four appearances in Illinois and Wisconsin this month. (Click on city names in for full details of each event, including maps and driving directions.)

Friday, March 25 he'll kick things off in Evanston, at Bookman's Alley. (7 pm; free admission)

Saturday, March 26 it's on to Chicago where he'll speak at the 22nd Annual Nelson Algren Birthday Party at the Wicker Park Arts Center. (Admission: $10 at the door, $7 for seniors and students with ID)

Monday, March 28 he'll be in Milwaukee for an evening at Boswell Book Company. (7 pm; free admission)

Tuesday, March 29 it's back to Chicago, where he says farewell with a bang at Quimby's Bookstore. (7 pm; free admission)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Josh Alan Friedman to honor Nelson Algren in Chicago March 26

The Nelson Algren Committee has invited Josh Alan Friedman to speak at their annual Nelson Algren Birthday Party on Saturday, March 26. The event will be held at the Wicker Park Arts Center, 2215 W. North Avenue in Chicago's Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood.

Festivities begin at 8 pm. Admission is $10 at the door, $7 for seniors and students with ID. Drink tickets are available to those wishing to toast Algren; complimentary snacks and door prize drawings add to the fun.

Full event details (and more on Algren) can be found on the Committee's website, here.

Algren's 1967 mugshot

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

BLACK Tuesday in Chicago March 29!

Tuesday, March 29 is Black Tuesday in Chicago as Josh Alan Friedman brings Black Cracker to Quimby's Bookstore! Join us for an evening of Quality Lit and atomic acoustic guitar starting at 7 pm.

Quimby's Bookstore is located at 1854 West North Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622

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Black Cracker is available NOW; signed copies are available here.

Monday, March 7, 2011

BLACK Monday in Milwaukee March 28!

Monday, March 28 is Black Monday in Milwaukee as Josh Alan Friedman brings Black Cracker to Boswell Book Company! Join us for an evening of Quality Lit and atomic acoustic guitar starting at 7 pm.

Boswell Book Company is located at 2559 N. Downer Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53211

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Black Cracker is available NOW; signed copies are available here.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

BLACK Friday in Evanston March 25!

Friday, March 25 is Black Friday in Evanston as Josh Alan Friedman brings Black Cracker to Bookman's Alley! Join us for an evening of Quality Lit and atomic acoustic guitar starting at 7 pm.

Bookman's Alley is located at 1712 Sherman Ave., Evanston, IL 60201-3775

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Black Cracker is available NOW; signed copies are available here.

Monday, February 28, 2011

WANTED! More Readers Like...

From the editor's desk:

He's the unscrupulous realtor in Poltergeist, Sheldon the network exec on Larry Sanders, Uneeda Medical Supply's "Frank" in Return of the Living Dead (and graverobber "Ed" in Part II). And for those on the East Coast, the face and voice of Pathmark stores for decades. More? How about Broadway, television, Wall Street, Mulholland Dr. and Frankenstein Meets the Spacemonster! Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. James Karen does the cover!

Black Cracker is available NOW; signed copies are available here.

photo © 2011 Wyatt Doyle

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Len Lesser, 1922–2011

From the editor's desk:

Received the sad news that the wonderfully prolific actor Len Lesser has passed away at the age of 88. Len graciously lent us his unforgettable face, and we're grateful to him.

Rest in peace, Len.

An overview of Mr. Lesser's credits from a truly remarkable career in film and television can be found here.

photo © 2010 Wyatt Doyle

Monday, February 7, 2011

WANTED! More Readers Like...

From the editor's desk:

Billy the CRACKER: The great Clu Gulager (The Tall Man, The Virginian (TV), The Last Picture Show, Return of the Living Dead) does the cover.

Read David Del Valle's extensive interview with Clu for Psychotronic here.

Black Cracker is available NOW; signed copies are available here.

photo © 2011 Wyatt Doyle

Monday, January 31, 2011


Black Cracker gets a book trailer.

Video by Wyatt Doyle
Music: "Shoe Shine Boy" by Josh Alan, from the album Famous & Poor; buy the CD here.

© 1991, 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Monday, January 17, 2011

Up, You Mighty Race!

A Special Martin Luther King Day Message from the makers of Black Cracker

I look to Black people to save America. They have collectively carried and suffered the burdens of this country more than any other group. America would not have risen without their forced labor for 280 years. King Cotton would not have built the South. America would be inconceivable, a drastically different entity, had their forced immigration not taken place. From the momentous moral conflicts of race, to the creation of jazz, blues, the pinnacles of sports achievement, the literature of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Huckleberry Finn to Iceberg Slim, from pancakes to peanut butter—America is a Negro nation.

And now, our future rests on Black America, as they continue to come into their own as never before. Put some rhythm into molecular biology and I suspect you will kick cancer’s ass. Put some soul into theoretical physics, and you might end up with a time machine, as envisioned by Dr. Ronald L. Mallett. Elect more Black district attorneys, and you might begin to reverse horrible injustices of false imprisonment—as championed by our own D.A. in Dallas, Craig “Do the Right Thing” Watkins.

When I see a Black businessman or lawyer, I expect him to be of higher ethics than a white one. This may be a ludicrous conceit, an upside down version of Jim Crow. Yet when I see a Black sushi chef, cardiologist or airline pilot, I assume he better be great.

Unfair? A new twist on reverse racism? Perhaps. We may have arrived on separate ships, but we’re all in the same boat now. However, in the same way Jackie Robinson demonstrated a new way to run bases, and Hendrix summoned lightning into guitars, I expect new levels of Black genius to emerge. President Obama is just the beginning.

More Black Presidents will follow, but this is just symbolic. This is not Nigeria, Ivory Coast or Liberia—this here is America. Everything hit them harder, en masse—the Depression, the Viet Nam War, floods, famine. The civil rights movement was followed by decades of self-inflicted pain and blame-gaming. Been there, done that. Now is the time for 30-million strong to flourish. The Great Black Hope is upon us like never before. They may have once shined the white man’s shoes, raised his chillun and picked up his garbage. Now it is up to them to figure out how to clean up the white man’s nuclear waste, oil spills and the even more toxic abuses of Capitalism. White people can’t do it. God won’t do it. It’s up to Black America. They will be our ironic saviors. I look to Black people to save America.

© 2011 Josh Alan Friedman

Monday, January 10, 2011


Josh Alan brings Black Cracker to Chicago this March! For complete details and updates, watch this space...