An Interview with Author David Browne

Posted by: yetheart, October 4, 2017 7:11 pm
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Rolling Stone David Browne

We’re excited to welcome Rolling Stone contributing editor and author David Browne to Central Library in Jamaica on Saturday, October 7, where he will discuss his book So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead, and team up with rock guitarist Sean Richey to do live musical interludes of some Grateful Dead classics.

As a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, David has written cover stories on Bob Dylan, Adele, and the lives and deaths of Whitney Houston and Robin Williams. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, Spin, New York Magazine, and other outlets. In his past lives, he was a reporter and music critic at the New York Daily News and the music critic at Entertainment Weekly.

David is the author of four other books in addition to So Many Roads, including Dream Brother, a dual biography of the late musicians Jeff and Tim Buckley; Goodbye 20th Century, a biography of the pioneering alternative band Sonic Youth; and the musical/cultural history Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY and the Lost Story of 1970. He lives in Manhattan with his wife (who’s originally from Woodside) and daughter.

David was kind enough to answer some questions for us before his upcoming event at Central Library.

What role have libraries played in your life?
When I was growing up in New Jersey, in the towns of Hazlet and Clifton, the libraries there helped set me on my career path. In the '70s, the body of published work on rock & roll—histories, biographies, and so forth—was pretty small, but as I discovered, you could always find those books at libraries. In the Hazlet branch, for instance, I found Lillian Roxon's legendary Rock Encyclopedia, one of the first reference books on the subject. Another similar book had the first photo I ever saw of the Grateful Dead, before I'd even heard their music. Later, when I was studying journalism at NYU, I spent many, many hours at the Bobst Library on Washington Square South, scouring the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature for research. (That was print Google before Google, kids!) At libraries in the city and on Long Island, I've taken my daughter to reading rooms and helped her check out her own choices. Libraries have always been places of wonder for me.

Why did you decide to write a book about the Grateful Dead?
I was introduced to the music of the Dead when I was a teenager and never thought I'd actually be able to interview them—but that's just what happened, many years later, when I began writing for Rolling Stone in 2008 and was put on what we could call the "Dead Beat." Since then, in my role as a contributing editor at the magazine, I've interviewed all the surviving members for various articles. Eventually, I realized it was time for a new book on the band (the previous biography had been published back in 2002) and that there was much left to explore in their story. With my various contacts, I made my way even deeper into the Dead’s world—which, I should mention, included spending many days at the Dead archive in the library of UC Santa Cruz, which houses many of their papers and correspondence. 

What can our customers expect at your author event?
With the help of the amazing Sean Richey and his fellow musicians, I want to explore the legacy of the Dead in a way people may not expect. In one way or another, they paved the way for social media, electronic music raves, concert technology, and the Internet itself. Many people may simply think of the Dead as San Francisco hippies who played really long songs—which is true!—but their impact on the culture went way beyond that. So, with any luck, it will be fun and educational at the same time. We’ll also pay tribute, in a special way, to the one and only Tom Petty, gone too soon, who toured with Bob Dylan and the Dead in 1986.

Which period of music do you think is the most important one? And which period is your personal favorite?
Oh, boy, that's a tough question. I'm lucky in the sense that I was born just as the baby boom was ending and Generation X was beginning, so I grew up absorbing both "classic rock" (thank you, WNEW-FM and WPLJ-FM here in New York!) and the equally amazing music of the '80s and '90s (hence my books on Jeff Buckley and Sonic Youth). A part of me will always gravitate toward rock & roll of the '60s and '70s, since that was the first music to which I was exposed, but today's music can be fantastic too; for instance, I'm always impressed with Rihanna's dazzling string of singles.

During your career, you’ve interviewed and profiled several important musicians and bands. Do you have some favorite stories to share?
Hanging out with Lou Reed in the early '90s during his book tour (for his book of lyrics) and watching as people in a wedding party nearby asked him to join the wedding band (he didn't). Driving on Coldplay's tour bus and interviewing Chris Martin there in the wee hours of the morning. Spending several days with James Taylor at his home in the Berkshires, going through his entire career. I just spent a few days with Joan Baez at her home outside San Francisco for an article published a few months ago. Too many to recall! And that's not including the time I spent on a skatepark tour bus with Tony Hawk and his fellow skateboarders as they partook in "coffee bongs" and blasted Eminem records—they’re rock stars of a different sort.

What are some of your favorite books, and who are your favorite authors?
In high school and college, I was introduced to journalism, both old and new, and some of my favorite books stem from that period: Gay Talese's Fame and Obscurity, Joan Didion's The White Album and Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Woodward and Bernstein's All the President's Men and The Final Days, Woodward's Belushi bio Wired, and Richard Ben Cramer's What It Takes, about the 1988 presidential campaign. I also grew up on E.L. Doctorow (Ragtime, The Book of Daniel); in terms of modern fiction, I'm a huge fan of Colum McCann and marvel at the writing, structure, and inventiveness in Let the Great World Spin, Dancer, and his other works. As a child (and fan of sci-fi and horror), I tracked down books by Jules Verne (The Mysterious Island, Master of the World) and H.G. Wells (The Invisible Man, The First Men in the Moon). I love a good biography, especially on subjects I wouldn't ordinary follow (Mark Kriegel's Namath, for instance) and I have a thing for boxing books, for reasons I can't explain.