For the 1992 American Booksellers Association (ABA) in Anaheim, Kathi Kamen Goldmark, a San Francisco rock musician who still held a day job--escorting out of town authors to readings and other events--had an idea. What if she could pull together a group of the well-known authors she'd met and transform them into a rock group for some entertainment, with proceeds benefitting a literacy campaign? By the time she finished, she had Ridley Pearson on bass, Dave Barry and Stephen King on guitar, Barbara Kingsolver on keyboards, the Remainderettes--Amy Tan, journalist Tad Bartimus and Goldmark, and the Critics Chorus--variously consisting of Roy Blount, Jr., Dave Marsh, and Greil Marcus. Michael Dorris, Robert Fulghum and Matt Groening were in the mix, too. Legendary rocker Al Kooper tried to direct them. Someone encouraged Don Henley to review them (thumbs down, way down) and the show was caught on video, which led to a hullabaloo with a music publisher. It took a lot out of the very busy schedules of people who were not, with exception of part of really musicians. So what did these mostly 35 - 50-something writers do once it was over?
They decided to go on a benefit tour from Boston to Miami, just like a real rock band, on a bus, the next spring. "Mid-Life Confidential" is a collection of the participants' individual accounts of what really happened. The effect of reading this book is like walking into a loud messy party after everyone else got there. At first references to things that happened in Anaheim don't exactly make sense, but through the aggregation of accounts, the cloud of confusion lifts on, for instance, what the publisher's issue was and how Dave Barry, um, handled it, as well as what Don Henley wrote (thumbs way down). All of these hugely successful writers talk about growing up as the uncool kid for whom this should never have been in the cards and how it was a transformative experience as they bumble through their version of the rock and roll life. There are many laugh out loud passages. There are also some poignant moments--Dorris's son is accidentally killed. Marsh's beloved stepdaughter dies after a valiant struggle against cancer. Bartimus is diagnosed with Lupus and her mother is in the intensive care unit. Kingsolver's first marriage went, as she says, from the ER to the autopsy table. These people were not acquainted when they came together; by the end of the tour they were a healing support group.
It is high fun seeing some of our nation's most successful writers in their mid-life infancy, not to mention the origins of a band that's still playing. This is something of a timepiece: everyone communicates by the latest technology of 1992, the fax machine. No one huddles with a cell phone, no one taps on a laptop. Part "The Commitments," part "This is Spinal Tap" and a dash of "The Breakfast Club," it's about finally getting to hang out with the cool kids on the bus.