Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Music Before the Words: a playlist for GRIT AND ROSES.

When I came across Grit and Roses, I couldn't stop drifting from one story to the next, and then before I knew it, I was finished, and I realized that Eugene’s book deserved a wider audience.

Here were stories that transcended the basic framework of a journeyman musician, & explored larger human issues: desire, aimlessness, regret, hope, determination, and more. And it wasn’t just the stories themselves; it was how they were told. Eugene has a certain cadence, a swagger in his prose that suits a musician’s experiences.

When I finally sat down with Eugene to discuss publishing his book, I learned the remarkable origin of this collection:

Grit and Roses would never have been written if I hadn't had a chance conversation with a neighbor. I was down in the garage of the building I manage, scrubbing oil stains out of parking stalls on a frigid spring morning. My neighbor approached and asked me how I was doing. I told her my life was one bad day after another. She asked me if I had ever considered writing, that sometimes it could be therapeutic. She said that she was a retired English teacher and would help me if I wanted to learn. I'd never thought about writing, wasn't interested in it, but I was desperate for mental stimulation, so I decided to give it a try.
Both of us were surprised that I had a hidden talent. 
With her sharp mind guiding me, four years later, at the age of sixty, I had written three dozen fictional pieces using my life experiences as a template.”

Almost all the stories discuss music-- a memory of a song, or a tune played on tour. During further talks with Eugene, I learned about his deep and broad musical inspirations and knowledge, and wanted to see if we could create a playlist that would give readers a sense of the scope of Grit and Roses.

  • Ravel's "Bolero"
  • Miles Davis, "Nefertiti"
  • Chet Baker, "My Funny Valentine"
  • Sam Rivers, "Suite For Molde, Part One"
  • Ruggero Leoncavallo "Vesti la guibba" from the opera Pagliacci
  • Waylon Jennings, "Good Hearted Woman"
  • Ella Fitzgerald "Someone To Watch Over Me"
  • Frank Sinatra, "New York, New York"
  • Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, "Salt Peanuts"
  • Antonio Sanchez, "Strut, Part I" and "Doors and Distance" from the Birdman soundtrack
  • Keith Jarrett, "Meaning of the Blues - I"
  • Bob Seger, "Old Time Rock and Roll"
  • Willie Nelson, "Whiskey River"
  • Bill Evans Trio "Gloria's Step (Take 2)"
  • Tony Bennett, "San Francisco"

Eugene M. Babb Reads at Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, on JULY 29th at 7p.m.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Third Place Press publishes GRIT and ROSES: Stories by Eugene M. Babb. (excerpt)

Third Place Press is proud to publish Eugene M. Babb's collection of short stories Grit and Roses

Babb's stories are framed around the life, and upheavals, of a touring musician's life. They aren't just about music, or the situations and personalities encountered by a life on the road--these stories push through to embrace the larger human issues: desire, aimlessness, regret, hope, determination, and more.

Babb's writing also has a unique cadence, and a spareness that elicits comparison to Raymond Carver. To show you want we mean, Third Place Press presents one of the stories, to entice readers to further explore the collection.

Grit and Roses is available from your local bookstore, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers.

("Drudge" is © 2015 Eugene. M. Babb)


Another band disintegrated. Unemployed again. I had to find a job immediately or lose my apartment. I saw an ad in the neighborhood paper, looking for housekeepers at a small motel. Forty bucks a week less than playing music, but it was steady work and close to home. I applied and got the job.

It was a three story building one block off the main drag in the University District. Sixties ash-gray stucco, burnt out bulbs in the sign, hamburger joint across the street, a crumbling bodega next door. Twenty apartments for rent by the day or month. Inside, water damaged lime walls, aquamarine carpet begging for help. The smells of fabric softener, full diapers and corn bread. Mac and Ellie Johnson were the managers.

Mac was a Native Alaskan, favored snap-button Western shirts and cracked cowboy boots. He was fast-food heavy with a girly mouth. His wife was a petite Alabama saltine with dentures the color of puddle mud. She dressed exactly like Mac … everyday.

The shift was eight a.m. to five p.m. Monday through Friday. Two hours then a break, two hours then lunch, two hours another break, two hours until quitting time. I dragged my butt out of bed at six in the morning and walked a mile to work. An average day was cleaning ten apartments, each having multiple beds, a kitchen and bathroom. Laundry was done on site in a huge, clanking commercial washer. The dryer blew fuses constantly. Mountains of sheets and towels. Wash, dry, fold, then into the storage closets on each floor. Up and down three flights of stairs. The hallways were sweltering in summer, frigid in winter.

It was Bedlam. Deadbeats, stoned college kids, hookers way past their expiration dates. A suicide. Police sweeps looking for illegal gambling parties and cars broken into in the garage. There were holes punched in walls, angry husbands looking for unfaithful wives. 

On a good day tips totaled fifty cents. I stole bathroom tissue, soap, cigarettes and change from the cash register. Sometimes food and liquor were left in the rooms. Many shifts I gratefully ate and drank the leftovers. And considered jumping off the roof. Twenty-six years old and a college graduate, scrubbing toilets and doing laundry. The depression and guilt were bone-crunching.

Early on a damp fall morning, Ellie told me to take fresh towels to Room 305. I knocked and a raspy male voice said to enter. The guy was a few years older than me. He had a diamond stud in his left ear, wiry brown hair with a full beard, a red plaid shirt tucked into thrift store jeans. A hip lumberjack. I noticed a guitar case leaning against a chair. His head bobbed to music coming through tiny earphones. Taking a shot in the dark, I told him if he ever needed a good drummer to look me up. The earphones came off. He introduced himself as Gary Melcher and said he needed a drummer right away. Lunch hour, I sprinted home and brought back a demo tape from my last group. Gary listened to the tape. Grinning, he said I passed the audition. He showed me a signed contract for a permanent gig at a ritzy hotel. Cocktail jazz five nights a week. I jumped on the offer. Goodbye, toilets!

The lounge was elegant. Dark mahogany paneling contrasted with lighter colored wood tables. Cushy wrap around booths. Candles in crystal holders infused the room with an intimate ambiance. A glass panel took up the whole west side of the space, revealing a panoramic view of the harbor. No cigarette smog, no television over the bar. Coltrane’s horn whispered from invisible speakers. The stage was roomy, the PA system precise. Classy-sexy waitresses served drinks with thousand-watt smiles. An absolutely perfect place for performing.

We were fired after the second week. Evidently the corporation that owned the hotel thought they could increase their profits by changing to country and western music. If we wanted to pursue a breach of contract suit we had to contact their lawyer in Manhattan. Knowing we didn’t have the resources to fight a mammoth conglomerate, the band dissolved. Gary went home to California. I swallowed my pride and made a phone call.

Hello, toilets.