By Hope Katz Gibbs
Truly Amazing Women Who Are Changing the World
“There’s no such thing as having too much fun,” insists author, singer, and entrepreneur Kathi Kamen Goldmark — the woman who in 1991 founded the infamous writer rock band, the Rock Bottom Remainders. “Fun is good for you. So get out there and start playing.”
That philosophy of life, in fact, is what motivated the then book publicist to pull together some of the authors that she was schlepping around San Francisco when they’d come to town to do a book tour.
“I was known as the media escort who had the best music selection in her car,” says Kathi, who is actually a musician in her own right. “When I was a kid, I wanted to be a combination of Joan Baez and Judy Collins — at the same time. Sadly those jobs were taken by the time I got around to applying.”
She did, however, get a good taste of life as a rock star when, after graduating from Antioch College, she moved to Los Angeles with her boyfriend, Jimmy Hodder. It was 1972 and he had just gotten a gig to be the original drummer for the rock band Steely Dan. “It was a fabulous adventure being the girlfriend of a rocker,” Kathi recalls.
So when Dave Barry, Barbara Kingsolver, Ridley Pearson, Amy Tan, and other notable writers told her they not only had a secret fantasy of being a rock star, but also were relatively decent musicians themselves — it got her thinking.
“I realized that I had a lineup of band members simply from the folks I was driving around,” she recalls. “So one day I asked Dave and Barbara and Amy and a few others if they’d consider doing a rock show to raise money for charity. They said yes. When Stephen King came onboard, things really took off.”
Leader of the Band
The band chose a self-mocking name, The Rock Bottom Remainders — based on the publishing term used to describe the unsold remainder of the publisher’s stock of copies, sold at a reduced price. “We didn’t want anyone to think we were going to take ourselves too seriously.”
The approach worked because word started spreading in the writer community about Kathi’s plot. One day author Robert Fulghum called to announce he had found an anonymous donor to come up with $10,000 to make the show happen.
Another friend connected her with Bob Daitz, the tour manager for Van Halen. He took Kathi to the National Association of Music Merchandisers trade show in Los Angeles, and trotted from booth to booth telling the manufacturers what she was up to and asking them to donate equipment.
“We got guitars, speakers, smoke machines — it was amazing,” she admits. “The only thing missing was the big bus to take us to the event.”
That came soon after Kathi recruited rock legend and author Al Kooper to be the musical director for the first show. At the 1992 American Booksellers Association convention in Anaheim, California, the Rock Bottom Remainders made their debut. A pinnacle for the band came in 1995 when they were invited to play at the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“We’re so bad, but put on such a fun show, it seemed we were on to something,” says Kathi, now 61, who points to Bruce Springsteen’s comment about the Remainders: “Your band’s not too bad. It’s not too good either. Don’t let it get any better, otherwise you’ll just be another lousy band.”
Band members couldn’t agree more. And although they come together for a week each year, who participates depends on what’s happening in their lives and writing careers.
Over time, the band lineup has included writers Dave Barry, Stephen King, Amy Tan, Kathi Kamen Goldmark, Sam Barry, Ridley Pearson, Scott Turow, Joel Selvin, James McBride, Mitch Albom, Roy Blount Jr., Barbara Kingsolver, Robert Fulghum, Matt Groening, Tad Bartimus, Greg Iles, Michael Dorris, Dave Marsh, and Greil Marcus, as well as ringers Josh Kelly on drums, and Erasmo Paolo on saxophone. Maya Angelou, one of the first authors Kathi invited, has “honorary” member status.
The Wordstock Tour
In addition to having a blast on stage, the band has raised nearly $2 million for charity — a number that’s likely to increase this April when the Remainders begin their Wordstock Tour presented by the Pearson Foundation and We Give Books benefiting the children and schools of Haiti.
East Coast fans caught a glimpse of the band during its 2010 Wordstock Tour in Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston last April 20-24.
Like many dynamic women, Kathi has had many careers. She is a former teacher with a Master of Arts degree in Drama and Education who has worked as a family-planning educator (producing The Rock Project, a national radio campaign in which music stars recorded public service announcements urging teenagers to “think about having a child before you make a baby”).
One of the greatest joys of her life, she proudly admits, was becoming an author.
“After 17 years as a media escort, it’s such a thrill to be a published author myself,” notes the co-author of “Mid-Life Confidential” (Viking/Signet, 1994), which is by and about the Rock Bottom Remainders; “The Great Rock & Roll Joke Book” (St. Martin’s Press, 1997) with Dave Marsh; and the novel “And My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You” (Chronicle Books, 2002).
She has contributed essays and endorsements to several other books, and is proud to have a speaking role as herself in Olivia Goldsmith’s novel, “The Bestseller.”
This spring, she’s also launching her latest book, “Write That Book Already!: The Tough Love You Need to Get Published Now,” co-written by her new husband Sam Barry (yes, Dave Barry’s brother — read more about that below).
A primer on how to get a book published in today’s changing marketplace, it provides a blueprint for transforming an idea into a manuscript, finding an agent, working with an editor, and then marketing your book. Plus, there is insight from Stephen King, Amy Tan, and more.
The book is getting rave reviews by authors and critics.
“[This book] is the most informative, interesting, useful, and fun book about the business, art, and craft of book writing since … well, since ever,” says John Lescroart, author of “Treasure Hunt.” “It’s terrific writing, business, and human advice by some terrific, experienced, funny, smart writers. You’ll come away motivated and prepared to write that book.”
“[This] is the perfect companion to writer’s angst, brimming with wise advice for all scribes, including myself,” says Amy Tan, author of “Saving Fish From Drowning .“
“I learned more from this wise, witty primer of publishing than from 15 years in the business,” says Jacqueline Mitchard, author of “The Deep End of the Ocean.” “With everything you need to know — and some things you don’t want to — in one place, this is the only pen-to-shelf guide you’ll ever need.”
On marrying Dave Barry’s brother
Kathi says she’s proud to report that she and Sam are still married, despite the fact that they wrote and finished a book during their first year of marriage.
How she came to meet Sam, the author of the humor-inspiration book “How to Play the Harmonica: and Other Life Lessons,” (Gibbs Smith Publisher, 2009), is another great story, she says.
“He was a Presbyterian minister who lived for years in Omaha — a funny and musical minister, of course — and when he moved to California a few years ago, his brother Dave suggested he give me a call,” Kathi explains. “When I learned Sam played keyboard and harmonica, I recruited him for my band, Los Train Wreck, which plays monthly at El Rio on Mission Street in San Francisco.”
The rest is history.
At their wedding in June 2009, Dave Barry and the whole Barry clan was there, of course. Amy Tan was a bridesmaid, and she and her husband hosted Kathi and Sam on the first leg of their honeymoon in Paris.
Kathi says the Rock Bottom Remainders weren’t the official band for the evening — Los Train Wreck had that honor. “But the Remainders all took turns jumping up on the stage and playing a song or two. We had a blast.”
Join in on Kathi’s fun
Learn more about Kathi and Sam at their website: www.kathiandsam.net.