Meet my pal, Gary Shapiro, proprietor of the best weekly radio program on books and authors that you've never heard—unless you happen to be up and about at 2 am, Sundays, which is when his excellent show, "From The Bookshelf," airs on KUSP. Happily for the rest of us, the digital age has finally spawned something useful—the podcast—by which anyone, at any time, can listen to Gary's archive of fascinating author interviews.
For years, "From the Bookshelf" was hosted by Santa Cruz's own, beloved Billie Harris at 8:30 Sunday evenings on KUSP (snuggled in between the venerable "Poetry Show" and Michael Lambert's smooth jazz). Billie's focus was on local authors reading from their works; it was my very great pleasure to be her guest on a few occasions, reading from my novel, or from selected Good Times columns. But when Billie left town to be closer to her grandchild a few years back, and Gary inherited the show, he decided to do something completely different.
Gary likes to talk to writers about their work, and he's put together an impressive (you might even say staggering) roster of interview subjects who have written a diverse range of books—novels, story collections, historical non-fiction, true crime, graphic novels, memoirs, biography, you name it. Since Gary loves music and movies, many of his guests have written showbiz biographies on everyone from Hedy Lamarr, Joan Crawford, and Busby Berkeley to The Monkees, The Beatles, Tom Waits, and Bozo the Clown. Some of his guests are celebrity authors in their own right (Cloris Leachman, Peter Bogdanovich, and—what a coup!—Cynthia Lennon). He's especially fond of musicians who have written memoirs: Rodney Crowell ("Chinaberry Sidewalks"), former Go-Go Belinda Carlisle ("Lips Unsealed"), and even Andy Williams ("Moon River and Me") —who breaks into song on the air.
As an interviewer, Gary is always prepared; not only has he read each author's book, he also knows their subject. Discussing the book "Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley," with author Jeffrey Spivak, Gary knows enough to compare Berkeley's dance extravaganzas Footlight Parade to Forty-Second Street, cite and describe his own favorite musical number (the irresistibly insane, "By A Waterfall," pictured here), after which he plays a snippet of the song on the air. Discussing the edgy story collection "Classics Mutilated" with editor (and former Santa Cruzan) Jeff Connor, Gary plays a song illustrating the mash-up philosophy in alt music that inspired the book's remix of "classics" (ie: public domain work like "Huckleberry Finn") with current "monster lit" sensibilities.
And in general, Gary just has a reliable sense of who will make an interesting interview. His conversation with veteran L. A. Times rock critic Robert Hilburn is not to be missed; discussing his memoir, "Corn Flakes With John Lennon," Hilburn waxes profound on everything from the fine art of interviewing Bob Dylan, to the reasons that only musicians who write their own material ever seem to stand the test of time. ("The songwriter has the best chance of a continuing dialogue with the listener," Hilburn opines.)
Topics of books under discussion range from the Peanuts comic strip to the JFK assassination; from Harry Houdini, Alexander Graham Bell, and the Great Depression, to Mary Lincoln, Bobby Fischer, and the history of Alcatraz Island. And that's just the tip of the literary iceberg. But don't take my word for it. Log on to "From the Bookshelf," tune in, and hang out.