Planners of this year’s BookExpo knew going in that there would be an undercurrent of frustration and despair. Evidently hoping to lighten things up, they broke with the usual tradition of having a rock star of politics deliver a staid keynote address (Tim Russert, Alan Greenspan, Tom Friedman) and went straight for the rock stars (well, one rock star and one colorful sideman). Which is why, as the audience of booksellers and publishers waited through a half-hour delay, they tapped their loafers to music from Aerosmith and Bruce Springsteen.
Chuck Klosterman had the honor of interviewing both the opening act — E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons and Don Reo, the co-writer of his memoir, Big Man — as well as the headliner, Steven Tyler, who has a forthcoming memoir. Perhaps encouraged by the black leather couches, Klosterman did his best Charlie Rose impression. “The rock stars in the book act, to a degree, almost like caricatures of the information we have of them,” he observed. At another point he asked, “Who does Bruce Springsteen see himself as?” “The boss,” Clemens said. “The boss of who?” asked Klosterman. “Of the band, of the working classes, of all of us?” Clemens gamely gave away one tidbit — Robert De Niro once revealed that his “You talking to me?” speech in Taxi Driver was based on something the Boss said at a concert. After reading a draft of Big Man, Bruce reportedly told Clemens, “This is the best thing I’ve ever read.” Based on the free sample we skimmed, we’re guessing this is an exaggeration. Clemens made up for it by playing his solo from “Jungle Land” — the crafting of which took sixteen straight hours in the studio.
Tyler — likely the cause of the keynote’s delay — came on next, dragging along best friend and producer Mark Hudson, late of the Hudson Brothers (but not the one who’s Kate Hudson’s dad). Hudson’s appearance was confusing, not least because he was dressed cap to shoes in bright purple, including a dyed beard that he said resulted from “oral sex with a bag of Skittles.” Hudson and Tyler played an intriguing game of association. Topics included raccoon hunting, African cranes, harmonic fifths, growing up in the Bronx with big lips, and the possibility that if you make a wish while having an orgasm, it might come true. At times, Klosterman had to interject. “Will this be in the book — tonality?” he asked incredulously. “Pieces of it,” said Tyler. “Having children is tonality, isn’t it?” “I don’t know, I don’t have kids and I’m tone deaf,” said Klosterman. Tyler ended the exchange: “I think when you live your life with your eyes open, the normal everyday thing becomes so much more.” You can forgive Klosterman’s confusion, in part because Tyler’s memoir is not yet available — and, as a matter of fact, not even fully written. “Seriously?” asked Klosterman. “It’s a process, it’s still not finished,” said Tyler. “When is it coming out?” asked Klosterman. “I can’t say for sure.” And they say publishing is doomed.