My Heart Is An Idiot

My Heart Is An Idiot is a “romantic documentary” that follows Davy Rothbart around as he looks for love. This is an excellent name for a movie and I’m bummed I miss the screening in Boston.

Along the way, Davy seeks advice on his tortured love life from people he meets (Zooey Deschanel, Ira Glass, Newt Gingrich, Davy’s mom, and others), and attempts to follow that advice, with comic and surprising results.

My Heart Is An Idiot

Davy Rothbart & Found Magazine at Precinct 5/10/2009 – Somerville, MA

Found Magazine events are a perfect illustration of our culture’s short attention span and collective varied interests. Equal parts art show, poetry reading, concert, and stand up comedy routine, The Denim and Diamonds Tour has something for everyone. On the road promoting the release of his new book, Davy Rothbart, and his brother Peter, gamely overcame a less than ideal performance space at Precinct to entertain a packed house of around 150 people.

For the uninitiated, Found Magazine, is a zine started by Davy and some friends several years ago to document interesting items found ‘blowing down the street’. Over the years, Found has put out 6 issues and a couple books, to boot. Found is a collective art project in the vein of PostSecret, and relies on submissions from people all over the world. The latest book, Requiem for a Paper Bag: Celebrities and Civilians Tell Stories of the Best Lost, Tossed, and Found Items from Around the World is a collection of stories of things found by actors, authors, musicians, etc, and came out last week. While most book tours feature afternoon signing/reading events in big city bookstores, each of the Found books has been promoted with a tour schedule closer to that of a band. The Denim and Diamonds tour is going to hit 57 cities in 62 days. Take that, Grisham.

I had been curious how the night would start, and then it just did with Davy introducing himself and reading a series of found items relating to love and relationships. This intro in honor of a close friend in attendance who had just gotten engaged. Found love notes are a good medium for the sincere Rothbart, whose heart is worn clearly on his sleeve (even if he tries to hide it by wearing a sleeveless throwback George Gervin basketball jersey). Favorite lines from this part include, “I don’t want any other girl to remember my number. Not even Iesha” and “PS I want to build a life together.”

After a stack of Davy’s “favorite notes” (a common refrain used to describe each stack), he introduced his brother, Peter, to play a couple songs inspired by found items. The last, a cover version of a found demo tape called ‘The Booty Don’t Stop’, had the crowd signing along by the first chorus. Peter’s bare-bone singing style fits the feeling of the show and compliments well Davy’s earnest effusiveness. I would have liked to see more than the 3 songs he played.

Davy then came back to read a story from his book by filmmaker Jim Carrol about an unlucky soldier who, after spending 20 years in the most uncomfortable and disgusting conditions imaginable, was freed from his bondage by an afternoon colonic. More found items followed this, along with an uncensored reading of a story, an edited version of which had appeared on This American Life. Favorites from this section were, “Help us bring the darkness” and, “It’s not kinky, it’s gross.”

For the most part, my experience with Found has been seeing the items online or looking at the books or magazines, so I enjoyed hearing them read, and almost acted, by Davy. It’s fascinating how words on a found note can grab you, even without any contextual details. Hearing them read out loud heightens that experience. The sappy missives of lovesick teenagers are moving, the mundane to-do lists of strangers are hilarious.

I did an interview with Davy in advance of the show where he explained his approach:

“…When you read these notes, you find yourself tearing up or laughing out loud. I think ultimately when I’m reading them during and an event it’s the same kind of thing. I try to be really present with that item, that note, and the person that wrote it.”

This presence with the notes and compassion for the writers touches the audience and makes Davy an engaging performer. You could have left last night without making a connection to one of the found items, but if you did, you’re probably missing a soul.

Precinct’s small elbow shaped show room was made smaller by a dozen patrons who had dragged bar stools into the front of the stage (and 3 who were oddly sitting on the stage) taking up twice as much room as someone standing, but the crowd remained rapt for the entire hour and fifteen minute performance and left happy. A Found Event would be better enjoyed in a theater setting, but it’s not clear Davy and Peter want to leave the dank club rooms behind.

Davy Rothbart & Found Magazine at Precinct 5/10/2009 – Somerville, MA

Interview with Davy Rothbart from Found Magazine (3 of 3)

Here’s Part 3 of my interview with Davy Rothbart from Found Magazine. In Part 1 Davy talks about the cover of his new book, being on the road, and what happens at a normal Found show. In Part 2 we cover how Davy gets into performance mode, passion, Rise Against, and his new book, Requiem for a Paper Bag. Today, we FINALLY get to the Isiah Thomas part of the interview. These are the hard hitting questions you people are looking for. The Boston area Found show is Saturday, May 9 in Union Square, Somerville at Precinct. If you find something and want to send it to Davy, check out Foundmagazine.com.

You were saying just a second ago how the glimpse you get is incomplete and I feel like wondering about the rest of the story would just kill me over and over, but it sounds like you maybe have used your imagination to counter that.

I think it is intriguing, endlessly fascinating to take whatever clues are there and try to piece the clues together. We’re all surrounded by strangers everyday, walking down the street, sitting on the bus. When you look at these notes, it gives you these clues into what the lives of the people we share with – it gives you a little glimpse into their life. I like watching people and kind of in the same way you wonder ‘what’s that guy sitting alone at the bar, what’s he thinking about’ and it’s the same thing when you read these notes. You’re sense of wonder is titillated. You wonder, ‘what is the story here’.

You lover your job, I can tell. Is there anything you don’t like about what you’re doing?

I think one thing I struggle with, I have a lot of different interests and I struggle with figuring out which – I don’t know if this is the right answer to the question you asked – you know I love writing and I haven’t done that much writing the last few years because Found has been so wonderful. I plan on writing a book of personal essays this coming year and I’m excited to give more time to writing. I also like film making. So sometimes I feel like I’m stealing time from one project and putting it into another and I wonder which thing I should be working on.

That’s an answer.

Here’s another answer for you, too. I like making art. Whatever, writing, or film stuff, or radio, or Found, putting the magazine together, I consider art. There are some aspects of Found Magazine that are more like a small business, you know? I do love talking to all the bookstores that stock Found, stores will call me on my cell phone, the relationships you create with the people that work at these indie record stores or book stores that call me, ‘Hey man, I need 5 more issues of #5.” You know, I like getting those calls. But then there’s some parts of it that are less fun. But I’ve have some friends that have helped transition some of the less fun stuff off of me in the last year or two, so that’s been cool.

I don’t want to take up your entire day, but I do have one last question and I hope it doesn’t end the interview on a sour note. Isiah Thomas and the Knick’s. Does that debacle change the way you feel about him, or do you look past that and only think about the short-short era Zeke?

It’s been… It’s been tough. I always played point guard, I always loved point guards, Isiah Thomas was my hero growing up. The career he’s had since he retired from the court has been one sort of colossal blunder after another. The CBA, he tanked this poor fledgling basketball league. He just bought and tanked it. As a Piston’s fan I didn’t really mind him decimating the Knick’s organization. But I also felt bad that he’s the object of so much scorn. There’s now talk of him going to the Clippers which would just be, I don’t know, bad. I still like him, I still love the guy. There’s this moment in ‘Hoop Dreams’, it’s one of my favorite movies, where the young Arthur Agee and William Gates, they’re 9th graders and they get to meet Isiah Thomas for the first time. And he’s so sweet with them. To me, I’ll always remember him as the guy with dazzling charm and kindness and not as the maybe, poor businessman and [under his breath] sexual harasser.

But my other favorite players have done well, like Jalen Rose has done a lot better after his basketball career. And some of my other favorite point guards are doing well.

And CWebb’s doing well on TNT.

Yeah! CWebb’s a great guy, awesome to see how he’s doing. It’s weird though. It’s strange thinking about when people make these career transitions. Everything they’ve done… I’m about the age, I’m 33, so I’m about the age a lot of NBA players are when they retire. They’ve been incredibly successful and they’ve put everything they had into one thing their whole life, so how weird would it be to suddenly be gone from it and leave it behind. I love stories like The Wrestler, that was a fucking awesome movie. That struggle people have, ‘When are you too old to do something?’ A lot of touring musicians that question arises, too.

When do you stop and what do you do then?

Exactly. I think that is a really interesting question to explore. I’m writing something about a story that takes place in 1987 and I thought of that White Lion song ‘Wait’ because I wanted to use it in this screenplay I’m writing. So I decided to look it up and it turns out the singer for White Lion he has resurrected White Lion and some people, they can’t ever give it up. He’s almost like The Wrestler, he’s playing these county fairs in Des Moines, Iowa. And in fact, his bandmate sued him because he didn’t want him out there, so now they have to call it ‘Mike Tramp’s White Lion’ or something, he can’t even use the name White Lion. And yet there’s something beautiful about people still trying to do what it is they love to do. But sometimes you feel like it’s the only world they know and they don’t know what to do with themselves after that. And maybe that’s what Isiah has struggled with.

It sounds like you’ll be OK because you have several different projects so you won’t get burned out.

I like to think I’ll be able to transition, but it is strange sometimes being home, you get used to a different kind of lifestyle on the road. It’s changed me. I’m sure it will be a transition regardless, but I think it will be a good transition. I look forward to having time. One day when I hang up the Found road show, when I’m in my 60s or 70s, I look forward to having time to try to make movies, or writing, or playing ball. I still hve my college eligibility, I can still play ball.

[Laughter] That’s true, and you could ruin a basketball league or two.

Hopefully. Yes. I do think if I went to some tiny-ass liberal arts college for grad school maybe could I make their varsity team. Like Reed or something. [Laughter]

I’ve heard you can’t go left, but that probably wouldn’t matter in Division III.

I’m thinking if you can rain threes like I can’t, but hope to one day then I could make the team. ‘Put me in coach.’

[Laughter]There’s a Scott Bakula movie about that, right?

Yes. There’s got to be. [Laughter]

Interview with Davy Rothbart from Found Magazine (3 of 3)

Interview with Davy Rothbart from Found Magazine (2 of 3)

Welcome to Part 2 of my interview with Davy Rothbart from Found Magazine. In the first part, Davy talks about the cover of his new book, being on the road, and what happens at a normal Found show. Today, Davy talks about how he gets into performance mode, passion, Rise Against, and his new book, Requiem for a Paper Bag. The Boston area Found show is Saturday, May 9 in Union Square, Somerville at Precinct.

You were talking about how you get a little bit rambunctious and try to read the notes with the energy with which they were written. Some actors and athletes and musicians try to figure out a way to get into a zone when they’re performing and I’m wondering do you have a ‘Davy Rothbart Found Magazine Mode’ or can you just go from sitting shotgun to jumping up on stage and doing your thing?

Well…I gotta give props to the wonderdrug, alcohol. It’s not like it’s a different person or anything. I mean, on the road all those years with musicians, I’m sure you saw that transformation and how different people pulled it off. I like to think I could be that energetic without it, but I think that, you know, you probably slept like three hours the night before and you probably slept on the side of the road and then you drove seven hours, so you need something almost just to bring you to life. I don’t know, I love alcohol and fortunately I’ve always had a pretty good relationship with it. I can drink it every night for two months on the road and come off the road and not need to hit the bottle. But I love Maker’s Mark whiskey, I like a couple beers to sip along side of it. My friend Andrew, he’s come on the road with us a couple times. [Laughing] We were doing these shows with Frank Warren from PostSecret, another community art project along the lines of Found. And Frank was like, ‘Let me see what all your pre-show rituals are,’ before the first show we did together. Andy was like, ‘Alright, Davy’ and I kind of stood there like, imagine a robot that was turned off, you know, limp limp, and my head was bent down. He took the Maker’s Mark bottle and poured it down a hatch in my back. And as he plugged it in, like you would fill a lawnmower with gasoline, I kind of came to life. [Garbled energized robot talking about Found Magazine].

Anyway, to me, besides alcohol, it’s also the content of the notes. To me, their pretty breathtaking. And profound and hilarious. I do find if I can just inhabit the emotion of the note. I might have read the same note the day before, but if I just actually think about what the person is saying and what they were probably feeling when they wrote that note and I just read it with that emotion then I find that’s bringing it to life in a really energetic way that’s real to people because it’s true. So I think you don’t really need alcohol, ultimately. Even just reading the Found stuff that gets mailed in everyday when you read these notes, you find yourself tearing up or laughing out loud. Getting to connect and touch somebody so closely, another human, and sort of be inside their mind and their heart. I think ultimately when I’m reading them during and an event it’s the same kind of thing. I try to be really present with that item, that note, and the person that wrote it.

So basically what I’m getting from this is that as long as you have one note and a full-length mirror into which you can scream naked you’ll be all set?

Yeah, exactly, that’s pretty much the way I rock it. [Laughter]
Continue reading “Interview with Davy Rothbart from Found Magazine (2 of 3)”

Interview with Davy Rothbart from Found Magazine (2 of 3)

Interview with Davy Rothbart from Found Magazine (Part 1 of 3)

Davy Rothbart and the hi_res_found_logo Magazine crew have a new book calleddavy_peter_ballin Requiem for a Paper Bag: Celebrities and Civilians Tell Stories of the Best Lost, Tossed, and Found Items from Around the World coming out on May 5. To celebrate that, Davy and his brother Peter have set out on a tour of the nation (The Boston area stop will be Saturday, May 9 in Union Square, Somerville at Precinct).

To celebrate THAT, I had a conversation with Davy, about, among other things, touring, getting into character, getting old, and, well, Isiah Thomas. The interview ran a little long so I split it up into 3 parts. Here’s Part 2, and Part 3 is coming tomorrow.

Jumping right into it…

requiem_anthology_coverI saw the cover, it’s a little bit different than your other ones, huh?

Yeah, yeah, definitely. This guy Michael Wartella. He’s an artist in Brooklyn. I’d seen some of his stuff in the Village Voice, some of his street scenes. It seemed awesome if we could get him. I didn’t know if he’d be able to pull it off as brilliantly as he ended up doing. But I thought it would be awesome to have a street scene having the authors in the book finding whatever it is they talk about in their story.

Did you have an idea for the cover before you found the artist?

No. I think I just saw his work and I wanted to do something different than some of the other covers. I don’t know. It just occurred to me that we could have the authors of the book out on the street finding shit. I’m looking at it now. It’s so fucking good. I’m really happy with it. I hope the inside’s good, too. I like the pieces, I think it’s a solid book. You know, when we’re out on tour, we end up sleeping in the van a lot of nights. There’s two beds. One is the backseat folding down and the other is the stacks of boxes and magazines. You literally end up sleeping on the books, that’s your bed. So it helps if you like the book and like the cover.

Sweet dreams, right?

Exactly.

I was a tour manager for six years, so we ended up sleeping on the floor of the van a lot of times.

Yeah, it’s not bad, right?

I mean, a couch is better.

Hold on, my brother’s calling in. Let me just tell him I’ll call him right back.

Sure.

Did you guys tour mostly in the US? Did you have a good time?

Yeah, I haven’t done it in a couple years and now I feel like I’m at a place where I hated it when I was doing it, but I wish I could do it again.

God… I know that feeling all too well, that push and pull. Because it is so grueling and difficult and it can be frustrating and just exhausting. And yet the grass is greener. Being home and comfortable is so appealing. And then there’s the call of the road again. I often am like ‘Alright this is the last big tour for a long time.’ This has been the longest lay off. We haven’t done a US tour in a year and a half, two years. But then it’s hard not to get that itch again, right?

Definitely. I guess my suggestion to you would be don’t ever quit.

Really? That’s cool to hear that. I think there’s something else which is to not do it quite as often.

The bigger you get, the more comfortably you can do it, right? So maybe in a couple years you guys will be in a tour bus and you’ll forget all about this conversation.

Haha. Yeah, maybe, the ceiling for literary tours is… well, that’s not true. David Sedaris is an aquaintance of mine and he lives pretty well on the road.

Is this the biggest tour you’ve done?

Actually, this might be the second biggest or third biggest. In 2004 when the first Found book came out, we realized there were finds from every state so we thought it was only fair to take the show on the road. That tour was 136 cities over 8 months in all 50 states, so that thing was a beast. It was a lot of fun. I just love the unpredictability, you know? Of every night not really knowing what’s going to happen, where you’ll end up sleeping that night. As you said, sofas are better than the floor of the van. But maybe you’ll end up, some dude has a grandmother who has a mansion 20 miles outside, oh, Albuquerque.

We stayed there.

Or maybe you end up sleeping on hammocks in Florida in the jungle. Yeah, I do love it. That was the biggest tour, this is the second biggest tour. Other than the 50 state tour. This is 56 cities, it keeps growing, we keep adding little cities here and there. So I think it’s 56 cities in 62 days.

Right, so this is cake compared to the first one.

Well… yeah. I’d say, that one went on and on, but it was pretty magical to go to all 50 states. There was 3 states I hadn’t been to before that tour, Hawaii, Alaska, and North Dakota. So it was awesome to visit those places. It was a good trip. This is only the hits.

Big cities, huh?

The thing that I kind of love, even on this tour, we’ve sprinkled a few cities… I always like going to cities we’ve never been to before. And some of them are cities I’ve never visited or even driven through, like Knoxville, TN, I’m excited about that one. What else do we have? Little Rock, Arkansas. Wichita, Kansas. I like visiting some of those places. I love some of the shows that only have 20 people in some small ass town, but on the other hand it’s nice to know most nights we’ll have pretty good shows this trip because it’s only the hits.

What’s a normal Found show like. Or is there a normal?

In terms of what happens at a Found show? It’s basically about an hour long, sort of rowdy reading and music show. I get up there with a big stack of my favorite notes and letter that people have found and sent into us over the years – or maybe it’s an hour and a quarter – so I have these found notes and I read them out loud, but I end up getting a little bit carried away. I read them with the energy and emotion they were written with. I get a little rambunctious. My brother Peter has written songs based on some of the found notes. And his songs are really pretty and some of them are fucking hilarious. He’s got this one song, in my mind, it’s the highlight of the show. At least it’s my favorite moment of the show when he plays this song. Someone one had found this cassette tape in a town called Ypsilanti, Michigan. It’s these kids, they had written these homemade booty rap anthems. So Peter wrote a cover of one of these songs. I mean the songs are pretty horrible, but Peter wrote a cover of one of the songs called, “The Booty Don’t Stop.” And it’s fucking brilliant. It’s amazing.

I’m looking forward to that one.

It’s a beautiful thing.

(The Found Tour hits Boston on May 9th at Precinct in Union Square. Requiem for a Paper Bag comes out on May 5. Come back tomorrow for the 2nd part of this 3 part interview.)

Interview with Davy Rothbart from Found Magazine (Part 1 of 3)