This article originally appeared in Colorado Music Buzz, September 2013.
by Tim Wenger
Davy Rothbart is a true hopeless romantic. True in the way that reading his stories seems to invoke a certain emotion in his reader; a burning desire for that mystical, adventurous love that we first learned about by watching Disney movies as kid, that feeling of emotional epic-ness; of unending adventure and discovery, and the passion of true romance that arise from his words. Not just in the stories about love and heartache, but all of the accounts in this book seemed to justify the reason why, no matter what I go through or how old I get, I still fill my ears with the sound of ’90s-wave punk bands singing about those same feelings.
This quote is but a brief abridge of the rousingly emotional descriptions Rothbart gives of his characters. “Shade was tough, tender, otherworldly, filled with a bewitching sadness. Her desolate beauty matched the New Mexico landscape, and I dreamed of visiting her town and looking for her there. I went back to the Michigan Theater the next night, my heart torqued and titillated, and then again the next night after that,” from “Shade” pg. 118.
From an in-depth synopsis of a friend locked up for what looks like a wrongful conviction, to traveling cross country to meet a girl he thinks he’s gotten to know very well by phone over a course of time, Rothbart’s stories are true heartfelt American anthems full of emotion. Well written and ambient, with a semantic hipness that keeps them modern and, without a better word to describe it, cool.
A couple of them, such as “How I Got These Boots” brought me in to the point that I was almost upset at their abrupt end, wanting to learn more about the character I had just gotten to know over the last few pages. But even these stories brought that vicious travel bug that has been biting my ass for years into plain view. Rothbart makes me want to jump in my Subaru and drive through the night, certain that I could find some kind of a crazy story filled with outlandish characters to put into a travel log of my own.
As a writer, I’ve found that for me the best reads are ones I can relate to. Needless to say, it has been quite a while since I’ve such enjoyed a book. Many of the stories I was able to put myself into (I can’t say I’ve flown across the country to have dinner at Applebee’s with a guy who pretended for months over the phone to be a girl, but ya know. . .). I read the book over the course of four occasions. After each one, late into the night, after I was finally able to pry my eyes away from the pages and put the book down on my coffee table, not heading directly to sleep but instead lying on the couch pondering my own relationships and encounters; often for a couple of hours.
I had the opportunity to catch Rothbart’s “Found Magazine” show when it came through Denver in November, and I almost didn’t go due to the fact that I was alone. I’m glad I did though, and not just because as a member of the press it didn’t cost me anything. The show was hilarious and put even more personality into the author I’m reviewing here. By the time I was a third of the way through the book, I was mentally kicking myself for not accepting Rothbart’s invite (even though it was directed at the entire crowd, not just me), to pull up a stool at the bar across the street after his show was over. I was adopted; maybe this guy is my long lost brother. Slim chances, but it’s a rare opportunity when I get to talk about my lifelong passion for writing with someone of his caliber. Instead, I headed home because, for lack of a better excuse, it was dumping snow outside and I’d already had a couple beers. Not a mistake I’ll make again.