hey alan rifkin…when i woke up this morning, you were on my mind
For the past few months I have been working it out inside my head on how best to profile Alan Rifkin. You see, he is a talented writer, a published author, a teacher, a husband, a father and a good soul who I befriended when we each worked at the LA Weekly about thirty years ago. And he has written a book that I know many of you at this site would enjoy reading. If you knew about it or could find it. It’s called Alt. Country, and I’ll get to it in a moment or two and tell you how.
There’s a few footholds where I can begin this story, but I’ll shoot for the short version. When Alan and I first met and became friendly, we worked in the same office, shared food and drink, played guitar together, talked about women and had some good conversations about politics and culture. Of the same generation, he was from the flats of Encino in the San Fernando Valley and I was from Philadelphia and new to the city. He was a good guide but when I left the newspaper, we drifted apart. In Los Angeles, it’s quite often how things work out. (Alan…should you be reading this, please note I’ve left out all references to that mud wrestling thing.)
For the next twenty-nine years I guess we each did what most adults do in regards to pursuing careers, developing relationships, losing relationships, falling in and out of love, acquiring things, having kids, fighting demons, making mistakes, setting things right and on and on. Being a public person…a writer…every now and then I could check into a small corner of Alan’s world by reading an article here or there in the LA Weekly, the LA Times, Premier, Buzz or Details, where he was a contributing editor. But we didn’t connect until either he or I found each other through the social networking medium last April.
It takes merely a few minutes to recap the lost decades, and I learned that Alan lived in Long Beach with his wife and children, was writing and teaching at Cal State, had published a book of short stories called Signal Hill with great reviews, and was currently working with Jerry Burgan on a new project. If you don’t recognize Jerry’s name, let me refresh your memory.
Along with Mike Stewart (his brother John was in the Kingston Trio), Beverly Bivens and Bob Jones, Jerry was a founding member of We Five, who had the huge hit “You Were On My Mind” which was originally done by Ian and Sylvia. There were other songs that made it on the radio, a half dozen albums, concerts, tours, appearances, accolades, thrills, crash, burn and revival. In other words, a band from the sixties with a story to be told. Enter Alan Rifkin.
Jerry and Alan have written a book and it’s been rejected by every publisher they’ve presented it to. There is no sex with animals, punch outs with John Lennon, band members running around without underwear, drug overdoses, blood, guts or gore. Just a story about a bunch of suburban kids in the sixties that had a band, did a song, topped the charts and went forward with their lives doing both the ordinary and extraordinary…but nothing that a publisher believes that they can sell these days.
Last June, Alan and Jerry invited me to join them and several other people from various walks of life, to help sort through some ideas on what to do next. And for a few hours we brainstormed, pulled apart and discussed the concept, the storyline, the sizzle and the hook. We talked about new media and tried to identify the audience. If nothing else, we hopefully gave them each some hope that there was a target consumer and a marketplace, be it different than they had first envisioned. When I checked in with Jerry about six weeks ago, he said it continues to be a work in progress.
But it’s Alan’s first novel that I wanted to share with you. It’s called Alt. Country and it’s a story of a city-dwelling country rocker that remains unpublished, Why? I’ll let Alan tell you: “All the news from publishing is bad, especially literary publishing. When you read articles where people are questioning whether Philip Roth is marketable, you probably can’t even start talking about whether you can publish a book by Alan Rifkin. The rejection letters would say the most, sort of stereotypically commercially exasperating things, like, ‘This is so just so fucking beautiful, there’s not a sentence out of place, I don’t think I can sell it.’ Or, ‘I think I finally put my finger on the reason I can’t say yes to this book, and it’s because, while we know how to sell love stories to women, we haven’t yet cracked the code on how to sell love stories to men.’
Not unlike a lot of musicians today who can’t make a buck with their recordings, Alan decided to give his book away. Free. Here….on the internet. That’s right…click here and read it for free.
“The best compromise I could find was to put it out there and let it find its own way. So, I let go of the result. As soon as I did that, that’s when all these other folks started coming along with new twists on what could make the experience even better.”
Somewhere around this time is when Alan met Jerry, and an idea to create a music soundtrack to Alt. Country came about. The plan was to take it to indie book and record stores and possibly the theater, and present the music along with a reading from the author. Jerry was joined by his wife Debbie and a cast of musicians including Stanley Wycoff, Dave Alvin, the late Chris Gaffney, and David Stadalnikas in helping to create the songs for the soundtrack.
Here is a video of what one of these performances looks like. (Alvin and Gaffney aren’t playing at this gig…so don’t strain your eyes.) It was done at Fingerprints, the indie record shop on Second Street in Belmont Shore, Long Beach. I’ll probably screw up the embed code so click here if the link is inoperable.
It’s so hard these days for creative people to earn a living. Hell, it’s hard for all of us. But there is something different these days…a convergence of star-studded technology and a failed economy that is leaving artists and musicians and writers almost dead in the water. It’s so easy to share and so hard to make a buck.
On September 1 2010 at 2:45 PM Pacific Daylight Time, Alan posted this note on his Facebook page: “The bank auctioned off our house today, after saying all our documents for loan modification were in order and that a postponement ought to be routine.”
After a flurry of “oh my god” and “we’re so sorry” comments, at 3:12 PM Alan posted this: Thank you all. Kris, in apocalyptic mode, thinks our old life needed to be destroyed, which could be true. We could never afford to take care of that house right. But many happy memories (at least I thought so), and very colorful walls. I’m getting to grieve everything at the same time now. Just pray for some ridiculously soft landing to come of all this that we don’t really deserve.
On September 18 Alan posted: “Ten years’ belongings for a family of seven hauled away in one day thanks to church friends who love better than I do.”
And on October 4, Alan put up three music videos on his Facebook page: “Isn’t It A Pity”, “Babylon Sister” and “Money”…the live version from the Beatles.
Should you end up reading Alt. County and if you enjoy it, there’s a button on Alan’s website that allows you to make a contribution.