PM: So this was a project fraught with unusual difficulties, I imagine.
JK: Unbelievable. First of all, I had to sue the first publisher. That was incredible. I've never gone to court before in my life. And I had to sue my first publisher to get the rights to the book back.
PM: Why? What happened?
JK: Well, it's kind of a long story, and I don't know if it really fits for the interview, but I'll tell you about it. They only had the rights to the Rahsaan Roland Kirk book in English and in France but not the French language, but in France. So all English-speaking countries and France, but not in French. And then the guy went ahead and published--sold the book to a Japanese publisher. And it came out in Japan. It was written up in the Tokyo paper. It was selling for $50 a copy, and I didn't know about it until a friend from Japan alerted me to the fact that, "Congratulations. I just saw the book out in Japanese, it looks beautiful." I was like, "Can you send me a copy of it?"
PM: Oh, it was in Japanese?
JK: Yeah. We're not talking about just sending a bunch of books over to Japan. No, it was sold to a publisher and translated--a very hip publisher, by the way, that also puts out William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. So I was really--on one level, Frank, I was thrilled. On the other level I had just been ripped off.
PM: Oh yeah, I gots to get paid.
JK: Exactly. So I went to my publisher, and I told him, "Look, I know what's going on. I got this copy of this book in Japanese." And he was like, "I have no idea what you're talking about." And I said, "Just cut it out, and I will give you the 15 or 18 percent that I would pay an agent, and you'll give me the advance and the money that's due me." And he said, "Forget it. I didn't make enough money on this book in the States, so I had to do something to make some money with it." I said, "Yeah, but you don't have the rights to it."
Almost two years later, after he hemmed and hawed and postponed, it was over in court in like five minutes. The judge just took a look at the contract and said, "What is it that you don't understand about the contract that you drew up with your client?" And it was over. And now on June 1st I get the rights to the Rahsaan book back.
So what does this have to do with Townes? Well, I was supposed to sign a deal with that publisher, but there was this little like red light going on in my head, and I had no idea why. "Don't sign that contract." I just kept hearing myself tell myself, "Don't sign the contract." And he says to me, "Okay, look, I'll settle with you with the Rahsaan book as soon as you sign the contract with the Townes book." I'm like, "What is this, a dope deal? Am I a dope?"
PM: Right. [laughs]
JK: "Don't be ridiculous. Straighten that out, and then I'll consider signing the contract with you." And so, in the meantime, it was over. Da Capo took a look at it. Ben Schafer, who is a really cool guy and has been putting out a great series of books there, went for it, and I was thrilled. And I'm hoping they're going to do my next book. So that's the back story--that's just one of the little stories about this.
PM: Yeah, one of the difficulties it was fraught with.
JK: Yeah. I started the book right before--the summer before the towers came down. And I live about 20 blocks from the World Trade Center, and here I am collecting these stories about Townes. Some of them are hysterically funny, and some of it is the most depressing stuff I've ever had a front-row seat to in my life. And the next thing I know the towers are coming down. So my mindset in going into this was just incredible.
JK: Yeah, really bleak. Here I am listening to, like, "The Hole," [laughs] or "Kathleen," or "Our Mother the Mountain"--or you just pick 'em. And my own spirit is not of that nature. As Jerry Jeff Walker says in the book, he subscribes to Zorba the Greek, that you got to dance through the pain. And I'm of that ilk, I'm of that orientation.
JK: And so here I am feeling this psychic anger of Townes, with all this pain and misery that he's going through that I'm ingesting, and that in the outer world is pure misery. I live on Bleecker Street, and all the cars are covered with dust. And people are walking around looking for their loved ones.
These were just the first difficulties, before I stepped into the pool of sharks, as I say in the intro.
JK: Most of those sharks, I love them, too. It's just a box of broken cookies.
PM: [laughs] continue