Born-again Bob inspired Ratso to look deeper into his Judaism

FOR the majority of his near 70-years, Larry Sloman has been the man behind other people’s words.

Be it in some of his iconic books to authoring lyrics for such musical luminaries as John Cale and close friend Kinky Friedman.

But he’s now stepped out from behind his writing desk to finally put his own voice to his words with his debut album Stubborn Heart.

The origins of the album go back to Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975, which spawned the critically-acclaimed On The Road with Bob Dylan book.

Martin Scorsese is currently putting together a documentary on the tour, which Queens-born Larry was only too happy to tell me that he will be featuring in “prominently”.

With his unmistakable rasping voice, he said: “That tour inspired me to write songs, although I knew nothing about music.

“My overprotective Jewish mother nipped my musical career in the bud.

“When I was younger, I wanted to get a saxophone, but I was also seeing a periodontist to correct my bite.

“My parents asked the guy if I would be OK to get a saxophone and he said ‘no, it’ll f*** his bite up even more!’.

“But I was still a writer and I could write lyrics.”

It was on the Dylan tour that Larry fell out with Rolling Stones magazine. They kept questioning why the tour was taking place in massive arenas, with bigger costs.

In typical Larry Sloman-style, he replied to them: “What is this? Forbes Magazine? You’re asking me these irrelevant questions about a huge cultural event?”

During the famous tour, Larry wrote a song about an area of Boston known as the Combat Zone.

Larry — who has a BA in sociology and a Masters degree in deviance and criminology — had been sent by the company filming the tour to Boston to scout out strip clubs and strippers for a shoot.

While there, he ended up in an area full of strippers and prostitutes, which spawned the inspiration for The Combat Zone.

He continued: “I was on a train going from Boston to Montreal with Bob and I showed him the lyrics.

“He read them and told me they were good — that’s all I needed to hear, affirmation from my hero.

“When the tour was over, I started writing more lyrics.

“I met Rick Derringer’s wife, who invited me over to meet Rick, who suggested we should write a few songs together — well, we wrote a bunch of songs.

“And through Kinky, I met John Cale. The same thing happened and we just started writing together.

“He would send me tapes of music which I would lyricise.”

Through this collaboration, and Cale having spare time while working with another artist in the studio, Cale presented Larry with a tape of his songs, which became the 1985 album Artificial Intelligence.

It included one of Cale’s signature songs, Dying on the Vine.

Skip forward to 2013. Larry had his own podcast — which he calls an “internet radio thing”.

He recalled: “I’d given up the idea of being a lyricist and had gone back to writing books.

“One night, in this bar where the podcast was recorded, we had two young musicians from Brooklyn on.

“They came to me after the show and said ‘Ratso, we didn’t know you were the co-host. We grew up on your Dylan book’.”

This led to Larry hanging out around the indie music scene in Brooklyn, which he called an “interesting sociological experiment”.

He said: “I’d go to all of these DIY clubs, where I’d walk up enormous stairs to a loft on the second floor — I’d be on the guest list, but the security looked at me and assumed I was a parent of one of the groups.

“I dug the energy of it.”

Larry’s newest inspiration came by way of the New York group Caged Animals.

He offered them his lyrics and music to songs Our Lady of Light and Stubborn Heart.

“For some reason, I loved the songs, but never gave them to John,” he said.

“They were on my shelf for years and years, but I knew that somehow something would happen with these songs.

“I still, at this point, didn’t think that I would be the vehicle for these songs, as I didn’t consider myself a singer.

“We did a demo for Our Lady of Light, and I was going to send it to someone, but the producer told me that I should be singing my own songs as I had a unique voice.”

He gave the demo to another producer Hal Willner — who has worked with icons such as Lou Reed and Marianne Faithfull.

As soon as he listened to them, he looked at Larry and asked him what he was waiting for. It was the impetus Larry needed to finally get the songs out there.

The version of Our Lady of Light on Stubborn Heart is a duet with Israel-loving rock star Nick Cave.

But this isn’t the first time Larry has been known to sing.

During his barmitzvah, he decided to channel his inner Elvis, much to the delight of shul-goers.

He recalled: “One of my heroes growing up was Elvis Presley.

“My parents would bring our neighbours or friends round and they would open the door to find me in my underwear with a broomstick singing Love Me Tender in front of the TV.

“When I recited my haftorah, I naturally turned it into an Elvis impersonation. The whole congregation loved it — the men were weeping!

“They even asked me afterwards if I wanted to study to be a cantor.

“That was the end of my formal Jewish experience, but I remain a secular Jew.”

Larry does openly identify as Jewish. This has led to two incidents of antisemitism.

The first was while on the subway going home from Hebrew school.

A young Larry had forgotten to remove his yarmulke after class and, aged just 12, as he was a few blocks away from his home, he was approached by “two rough Irish kids”.

He recalled: “They saw me with my yarmulke on and grabbed me.

“They took me into an alleyway between two buildings and literally lined me up against a tree and started throwing rocks at me — it was a very traumatic experience.

“The second incident happened while I was with my fellow Jewish writer and musician Kinky Friedman at the Lone Star Cafe, New York, where he had a residency.

“Nobody wore a suit and tie and Kinky shoes, but there was this guy wearing just that, heckling Kinky — he was drunk.

“I had a briefcase with me as I was editing National Lampoon magazine at the time.

“I went to defend Kinky, but this guy turned around, called me a dirty Jew and spat on me.

“Well, I took my case and knocked him over . . . there was a table behind him which he flew over — it made it much more dramatic.

“Security, who knew us very well, came over and asked me what they should do with him!”

Needless to say, Larry demanded that this guy was thrown out.

Larry now describes his Judaism as “spiritual”, having gone through a period of reading different theologies and ways to process the world.

In 1979, Bob Dylan became a born-again Christian — this period lasted three years.

Because of that, Larry started looking deeper into Judaism.

He said: “Bob and I had a number of talks about it, which led to me reading more into historical Jesus from academic accounts.

“One of the saddest things was that Jesus was one of the most misunderstood figures who was basically a Jewish rebel.

“He had no intention of starting another religion.

“I then started reading more about Jewish mysticism by some of the most beautiful kabbalistic writers — that was the most fulfilling reading of all, and I’ve just bought a new 20-volume edition of the Zohar.

“It’s more of an inner kind of feeling for me.”

I ask Larry if he is looking at retiring any time soon.

His response encapsulates the enigmatic writer’s take on life.

He said: “Retire? No. I don’t even know what that means — I’ve been retired my entire life as I’ve always enjoyed what I do.

“I’m blessed that I’m still able to do something I really enjoy.”

Larry may be familiar to fans of Friedman’s mystery novels. He appears in all the books as the sidekick to Friedman’s detective persona.

He also collaborated with Jewish shock-jock Howard Stern on his two best-selling books, Private Parts and Miss America.

He penned Reefer Madness: The History of Marijuana in America, Thin Ice, an account of a season with ice hockey team New York Rangers and Steal This Dream, about political activist Abbie Hoffman.

Larry worked with magic historian William Kalush on The Secret Life of Houdini, which claimed legendary magician Harry Houdini was a spy.

He also helped Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis write his autobiography Scar Tissue.

And he worked with former Kiss drummer Pete Criss on Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of Kiss and with Jewish illusionist David Blaine on Mysterious Stranger

Larry collaborated with boxing legend Mike Tyson on his autobiography, Undisputed Truth.

He set up production company Shallow Entertainment Inc with Emmy Award-winning director/ producer Jeff Lieberman.

Larry wrote an early draft of the Private Parts film, and he also wrote, with George Barkin, the comedy Sexual Studies.

He has also appeared in a number of films, including Primary Motive and Satan’s Little Helper.


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