Longtime Jamaica Plain resident and rock musician Rick Berlin recently released a memoir titled, “The Paragraphs,” about his life in music. The Gazette conducted a question-and-answer session through email with Berlin about the book. For more information about Berlin, visit berlinrick.com. (The session has been edited.)
Q.: Tell me about the process of writing this book. I heard that the book started as a songwriting exercise. How did you decide that a book would be the best medium to publish your thoughts?
A.: Long story long, it crept up on me. A sneak attack when staring out my window at nothing. OK, I’ve been writing on and off for a long time. Since dear diary in the ‘60s. No ambition for any of it. A word exercise, a quick gun draw for later lyrics. Shoved slabs of it up on Facebook and on no-one-ever-goes-there websites. I began to hear from people I didn’t even know. They liked my word rainfall. Years later, my friend, Mindy Fried, a real author, sat me down at Ula Cafe and told me I needed to publish a book. Seriously? But I thought about it and like an ear mite her advice wriggled into my brain.
I called Nick Kent (graphic artist, painter, lover of books, designed three of my CDs, longtime friend). He was all in. We hit up Amazon Create Space as publisher. Nick worked up a design for the cover and, as they say in the biz, the ‘interior’. Amazon sent a test. Seeing my words in a solid book form knocked me out. Made it ‘real’. Nick suggested ways to market it, but promotion is something I totally suck at. Then I remembered Papercuts J.P. A tiny, tiny local indie book store on Green Street. They’d included one of my paragraphs in their first anthology. Kate Layte (founder and owner of Papercuts) had spoken ahead of Shamus Moynihan and myself at #TedXJP last fall. Her topic: ‘Reading Is Dangerous’. A fierce concept and a tough act to follow. Anyhow, these were smart people to talk to about the book even as a vanity project.
On a kitty trip to the #GreenStreetAnimalClinic I stopped in at Papercuts. Katie Eelman (director of media & events) was behind the desk. Told me that in the Anthology, my wee contribution, Sardines, was favorably singled out. I told her about the Amazon thing and asked her if she could recommend anyone in the biz who could market the book. She said she’d like to take a crack at it herself. Here she was, right in my hood, local always being my first pref. I left her with the ‘test’ run. Katie read it and said that she and Kate had been talking about launching their publishing venture soon, and that my book sped along the process. They wanted to publish it as their first book. My never-intended-to-amount-to-anything ‘paragraphs’ were growing chrysalis wings.
Nick slaved on edits and cover designs. Chose my long gone to NYC dear friend Jeila Farzaneh’s painting, the one that freaks people out in our living room, as cover. The book gathered training wheel momentum. Katie and Kate awesomely named their company: #CUTLASSPRESS – two nasty cutting edge women, right. So that’s how this went down. Berlin as Book. Regardless, I have the highest respect and regard for these two phenomenal women, the fire they feel for my writing and the kick ass courage they have to print the damn book and put it out there on my behalf.
Q.: What are some major themes in the book?
A.: The section titles spell it out. Boyhood. Emo/Sex. Not Kidding (unexpected occurrences). Animal Kingdom. Appearance. Family. Music. Booze/Drugs. Etc., etc.
Q.: How was it working with Cutlass Press as your publisher?
A.: Phenomenal. Katie, editor-in-chief at Cutlass, suggested slight alterations, and chose to re-order the sequence of chapters (which made sense), and did all this without distorting my ‘voice.’ Kate, the publisher, worked especially hard with Nick on getting the cover to work. Hours and hours. And their copy editor, John, who is also a bookseller at the store, combed out the interior for spelling and punctuation errors. A many-hour task. Their heartfelt belief in my writing (way stronger than my own) helped pull this off, and in a super short window of time
Q.: Where can readers pick up your book?
A.: Local readers can head to Papercuts J.P. (5 Green St. or online at cutlasspress.com/shop/theparagraphs) or Tres Gatos for signed copies. Readers outside of JP can find “The Paragraphs” at their local independent bookstore, or online at Barnes & Noble or Amazon.
Q.: Some notable artists have reviewed your book, including Amanda Palmer, Beth Harrington. What is your history with them?
A.: I’ve known Beth forever. She sang with my band, The Awful Truth. Such an incredible filmmaker, artist, and person. Amazingly, she was in town at the CUTLASS launch and my first reading and came to the store. Amanda had some of her earliest gigs with me at Jacques Cabaret, before she and Brian rocketed their band The Dresden Dolls into the stratosphere. And they covered one of my songs, I HATE EVERYTHING BUT YOU, at my CD release night at The Lizard Lounge.
Q.: In your experience, what is one of the biggest ways the social workings of Boston have changed?
A.: Tough question. I’ve lived all over Boston. Can’t accurately speak for other parts of the city, but I will say that JP truly feels like ‘home’. Still. Even after so much gentrification blood under the bridge.
Q.: What about the music scene in Boston?
A.: Harder to fill clubs with one (late) night a week airplay. Too few 18-plus shows. Clubs falling away even as new ones spring up in their place. The bands, the music, are still vital, relevant, and diverse. The JP Music Festival case in point.