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Interviews

What Are You Reading? Ratso Edition

When I was younger I knew Larry “Ratso” Sloman through a school friend. A few months ago we were both caught in a crowd near a protest on 7th Avenue and I hit the author, editor to the stars and National Lampoon alum up for an interview.

Larry "Ratso" Sloman with his Library Cards.

On the Road with Bob Dylan Cover.You've collaborated with a lot of people on books ranging from uncovering a plot to kill Houdini to the lives of musicians, comedians and most recently Mike Tyson. Do you have a favorite?

They're all my children. Sentimentally, I still love my first book, On the Road with Bob Dylan, that documented the 1975 Rolling Thunder Tour. Dylan gave me a blurb for the cover that said that the book was "the War and Peace of Rock 'n Roll"!

Your Houdini book ended up uncovering a possible cult plot and resulted in the Houdini's family applying to exhume his body. Did that ever happen?

Houdini

Regrettably no. We tracked down the last surviving members of Houdini's bloodline, relatives of his brother Dash, and one of them was eager to help out and even participated in a press conference with America's top forensic scientists who were willing to work pro bono on the exhumation but at the last minute, his sisters objected to being thrust into the limelight and put pressure on him to withdraw so we couldn't get the legal standing to exhume the body.

You were the Executive Editor for National Lampoon for six years. How did that come about, and was there a great moment that stands out above the rest (that is printable in a library publication, that is)?

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead coverHa. I was recruited into the Lampoon family by my good friend Michael Simmons, whose dad owned the Lampoon. They were going through changes and I had had experience as top editor at High Times Magazine. I had spent some years trying to minimize the drug coverage there and make it more of a counter-cultural magazine, so it was a welcome change. We had a nice five year run, lots of fun as you might imagine.

One of the highlights actually occurred recently when I was part of a panel at the NYPL to coincide with the publication of Rick Meyerowitz's National Lampoon retrospective, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead. There was an editor to represent each era of the Lampoon, and by the time I went on, I felt that the event was a bit too staid by Lampoon standards so I talked about how proud I was to have recruited the great Gilbert Gottfried to write for the magazine and I read from a compendium he did for us of his favorite dirty jokes. Half the audience was plotzing, the other half turned whiter than their usual skin tone. I thought that Paul Holdengräber, our NYPL host, would strangle me. But we actually bonded after that and are close today. I'm glad he still has his job.

Steal This Dream

Did you use The New York Public Library in your research?

I'm currently writing a second book with Mike Tyson about his mentor and surrogate father, the great boxing trainer Cus D'Amato. The library has been invaluable in my research. Everyone up there on 42nd Street is incredibly cordial and helpful. They even offered me a room to write the book in, which I may take them up on if my wife decides I'm getting on her nerves more than usual.

Ecce homo

What are your favorite three books?

Other than my own books? That's impossible to answer. There are so many. But among my favorites are Ecce Homo by Nietzsche, anything by the Marquis de Sade, and Man is Not Alone by Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Kinky Friedman

What are you reading now?

I've got a stack of books piled up by my night table. Among them are The Force of Reason by the late, great Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, The Complete Books of Charles Fort (a guy who spent most of his life in libraries!), The Wisdom of the Zohar, Vol 1 by Tishby, The Other Paris by Luc Sante, The Western Canon by Harold Bloom, and Glittering Images by my favorite academician Camille Paglia. If I'm not in a mood for heavy reading then I just pick up one of my pal Kinky Friedman's hilarious detective novels. (Full disclosure—I'm Ratso, Kinky's Dr. Watson, in the series.)

Bonus: Check out Paul Holdengraber's interview with Mike Tyson at the New York Public Library!


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