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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Groovy Guy of the Month: Robert Rodi

This month's Groovy Guy is author Robert Rodi, who began entertaining us with his groovy gay novels in 1992 when his first book, Fag Hag, was published. This was followed by Closet Case, What They Did to Princess Paragon, Drag Queen, Kept Boy and Bitch Goddess, which have all gone out of print over the years. So now Robert has decided to release brand new editions of his six iconic gay novels under the umbrella title, "Robert Rodi Essentials", and his current Kickstarter campaign will allow him to do this (click here to help fund this project). He is also planning to write a new seventh volume called Essentially Postmillennial, which will reveal what the characters from his early novels are up to in 2014.

Robert's other creative credits include two non-fiction books, a series of novels inspired by the films of Alfred Hitchcock (The Sugarman Bootlegs, Baby), several original comic book series (Codename: Knockout, The Crossovers) as well as some Marvel titles (Elektra, Rogue, Astonishing Thor), and a self-proclaimed "guerilla lit-crit" blog on Jane Austen called Bitch In a Bonnet. He was a founding member of the Chicago-based performance art troupe, The Pansy Kings, and he currently fronts the fusion rock band, 7th Kind, as well as his own jazz trio. And on the third Tuesday of every month, Robert hosts a jazz singers' jam at Lizard's Liquid Lounge in Chicago.

I am delighted to have the fabulous Mr. Rodi here on the Dish to answer a few questions about his life, his books and, of course, pop culture.

Did you always want to be a writer?
Always. In fact, “wanted to” isn’t even the issue. I always was a writer - from the time I could hold a pencil. Up until she died, my mom had boxes of “books” I wrote when I was a kid - on ruled sheets of paper, stapled together. I did dozens of them. I can only hope she burned them before she went into hospice care. The idea of them floating around some second-hand shop is seizure-inducing.

What inspired you to write your first novel, Fag Hag?
When Jeffrey (my partner) and I met, each of us had a good female friend who just did…not…want…to let go. To the point at which - in my case, at least - it got ever so slightly terrifying. And trying to understand this woman’s thinking - or rather, her mindset, because I’m not sure thinking played a big role in her behavior - led me to construct this character, and then to build a novel around her. A lot of women have since told me they identify with her, which is very validating. I presume they mean the way she felt, not the way she broke several state and federal laws.

Which character from your early novels are you most curious to revisit in your new book, Essentially Postmillennial?
I’m probably most curious to see where Donald Sweet, a.k.a. Kitten Kaboodle, is today. As the hero/heroine of Drag Queen, he relied on his youth and beauty; in midlife, I imagine him heavier, jowlier, more evidently masculine - so how does a proud drag queen compensate for that? I’m guessing he gave up the Kitten identity, out of a kind of wistful respect for it. So his new story will presumably involve something that compels him to resume it. Triumphantly, of course.

Since you've written for comic books and created your own series, I will assume that you're a fan. What have been a few of your favorite comic books over the years? And did you ever collect them?
I had a huge collection at one time; almost all gone now. That’s an easy choice to make, as a city-dwelling gay guy. Sure, those comics represented a lot of years of active emotional involvement for me - but the need for closet space trumped that in about a nanosecond. Also, the great goddess eBay was very kind to me when the time came to say goodbye.

Of the few comics I’ve kept, most are written by Alan Moore. You probably know their names - Watchmen, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta - because they’ve all been made into films. Really, really, excruciatingly shitty films. Seriously, you have to read the outstanding originals to see just how monumentally fecal those films are. It’s no wonder Moore is almost pathological on the subject of Hollywood.

Aside from Moore’s body of work, probably my favorite comic is Love and Rockets by the Hernandez Brothers - especially Jaime Hernandez’s contribution, Locas, which follows two Latina girls from the SoCal punk scene in 1982 over the succeeding decades. Unlike most comics, the Locas characters age in real time, so you see the punk movement end, the girls (who are sometimes best friends, sometimes lovers) drift apart, come back together, bust apart again, come back together, etc. The latest chapter, just collected in one volume entitled The Love Bunglers, finds them in middle age and more or less resolves their relationship, and its emotional wallop just knocks you flat on your ass. Plus, there’s the art, which is like Betty and Veronica by way of R. Crumb.

What inspired you to create The Sound of Music, Man, a jazz and Beat-poetry retelling of this musical (featuring the Robert Rodi Trio)? And do you have plans for any other musical-inspired shows?
I was listening to John Coltrane’s version of “My Favorite Things”, which is just so lethally hip - I mean, it would cause Carrie Underwood internal bleeding - and I started thinking about the other tunes in that show, and what you could do to them to get them to swing. It was an interesting challenge, and pretty soon I was deep into it. I figured “Do Re Me” could be a samba…“Edelweiss” could be in 5/4 instead of waltz time…“Climb Ev’ry Mountain” would make a great gospel shuffle…and then I had the idea of doing them all, in the exact order they appear in the show.

Some patter to link them seemed in order - you know, to tell the story - and I hit on the idea of doing it in the style of Beat poetry. So I started writing. “Alps, baby! The Austrian Alps, to add exactitude to altitude. Not your missable Swiss, or your eyesore Italian, but the awe-inspiring Austrian, where every crag’s incredible, and each crevasse you trespass finds the scenery all greenery!” …And I was basically off to the races.

I did the show a few times and it got a very gratifying reception; I’ll probably revive it sooner or later. I also did My Fair Lady, Man. So now people keep suggesting additions to the roster. Someone said West Side Story, but no; West Side Story is already kind of hip. The point is to take shows that are the opposite of hip, strip them to their underwear, and get them high on loco weed. The Music Man comes to mind. But The Music Man, Man is maybe too weird a title.

If you could go back and give your 19-year-old self a wise piece of advice, what would it be?
I don’t know…start Rogaine early?

Seriously, almost everything good that’s happened to me has been the result of mistakes I made earlier - sometimes years earlier - so I definitely wouldn’t go back and tell my young, curly-haired self not to make those very mistakes. Maybe my advice would be, “Don’t worry so much about fucking up.” Yeah, that would be it.

But knowing me, I wouldn’t listen.

What are your five favorite TV shows of all time?
During the first ten minutes of the first episode of Mad Men, I turned to Jeffrey and said, “It’s like they set out to do a series just for me.” That show has woven itself into my own personal mythology. Maybe because I was in advertising for twenty-three years, or because I’m the same generation as the kids on the show. Or both. Anyway, I’m obsessive about it. The Monday morning after every episode, I clear my schedule and just immerse myself in all the online commentary.

Beyond that…my favorite geekfest is Doctor Who, and I’m looking forward to Peter Capaldi’s run; it’ll be nice to see a Doctor who’s actually my age (not that the earlier lads weren’t adorable).

I don’t really care much for the middle-age-lady comedies most gay men seem to obsess about, with the notable - hell, the epic - exception of Absolutely Fabulous, of which I can quote every goddamn line. I guess I just basically prefer British comedies; Fawlty Towers and the original Ricky Gervais version of The Office are right up there.

And I love Ken Burns’s documentaries; I recently watched The National Parks and was so ravished I could barely speak for several days afterward. Though my favorite of his would have to be Jazz, for obvious reasons.

What are five of your favorite films?
I like grown-up movies, where people talk to each other - preferably with great speed and even greater intensity. I like Robert Altman. I like Woody Allen. I like Whit Stillman, who’s sort of the WASP Woody Allen - his Damsels in Distress is my favorite film of the past five years.

Still, as with TV, I’m not totally on board with the usual gay faves. People ask, “Don’t you like All About Eve?” Well, yeah, it’s okay. A tad mannered. By which I mean, a lot mannered. If I’m going to choose a Joe Mankiewicz movie, I’ll take Julius Caesar. Now that’s some talkin’! Granted, JC is my favorite Shakespeare play, and Antony’s funeral oration is one of the great roof-raising speeches in all of theater; but even so, Marlon Brando fucking slam-dunks it. And also - not entirely irrelevantly - Brando in a toga? Woof.

Whereas most of the so-called “gay classics”…I just don’t get them. In Charles Busch’s wonderful novel, Whores of Lost Atlantis, there’s a passage where he makes fun of boring, middlebrow straight people whose favorite movies are The Lion in Winter and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Well, those happen to be two of my all-time faves. And yeah, I did some serious blushing when I read that. But there’s not much I can do about it. I mean, I cannot abide Joan Crawford. For me, watching Joan Crawford is like being mugged by someone wearing too much perfume.

And yet…there’s Rosalind Russell. In any role, in any movie - you start rolling a Roz, I’ll sit down and watch. Hell, I’ll set my phone to airplane mode. I will go off the grid for Roz. So yeah, maybe it’s not so weird that I date boys.

If you were asked to choose the Sexiest Man Alive (besides your partner), whom would you select?
Sam Elliot locked in my vote with Lifeguard in 1976, and he’s never lost it since. I would hit that silver fox today. And so hard it would register on the Richter scale. The older he gets, the hotter he gets. He’s basically the male Helen Mirren.

If you could have anyone in the world - living or dead - be a guest at your dinner party, what three people would you invite?
Winston Churchill, Noël Coward, Dorothy Parker.

And that would be the last dinner party I’d ever throw because what would be the goddamn point.

What's next for Robert Rodi?
I’ve published a few novels inspired by Alfred Hitchcock — you know, comedies with actual bloodshed in them. Or, as I say in my P.R. materials, “murder, mayhem, and mordant wit.” The Sugarman Bootlegs is about a YouTube prank that goes insanely, lethally wrong. Baby is about a fussy old queen who becomes convinced his newborn nephew isn’t human. That kind of thing. So I’ll be doing a third, Vamoose, about a writer who hires a fan as an assistant, and the guy’s so creepy and obsequious that having him around starts to tear the writer’s life apart. But his presence isn’t nearly as destructive as his absence - when, in the middle of a road trip, he just…disappears. No trace. And everybody’s like, “Good riddance.” But the writer can’t let it go. It’s a psychological thriller…creeping paranoia, with a body count.

Basically, the "Robert Rodi Essentials" represent the period of my career when I ended my novels with everyone happy and in love. Now I’m in the phase where they’re lucky if they make it out alive. Probably that says something about the state of our culture before and after eight years of Bush-Cheney. But I leave that to future scholars. Anyway, buy the books. Can I end on a plug like that? Or is it too mercenary? I’ll end on some advice instead: Eat a lot less meat. And adopt a rescue dog.

Thank you, Robert, for being such a groovy guy!

To learn more about Mr. Rodi, visit his website at You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


MrVaritek said...

Cool interview!! Never heard of these books! Just bought and downloaded into my nook app Fag Hag, Closest Case, and The Sugarman Bootlegs!

Marc Harshbarger said...

Hey, Mr. Varitek, glad you liked the interview - and I hope you enjoy the books!

MovieJunkie said...

Mr.Varitek, You're in for a treat. Fag Hag is a hoot! I remember reading most of his books a long time ago. They are quite entertaining!!