Rhapsody in Black is the newest book from author and musician John Kruth. He has previously written biographies of singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt and Jazz Legend Roland Kirk. He recently took a few minutes to talk about the process of writing with me.
Eric Banister: Do you use any specific method to organize your research?
John Kruth: I’m obsessive. I read everything – even the stupid stuff, ‘cause you never know. I listen to everything – greatest hits, out takes, bootlegs, whatever I can get my hands on. As I live in a small New York apartment I don’t have a lot of space for old clippings, photos etc. I wish I had a big blackboard to draw out the timeline and write notes on. I’ve written all three books on a laptop on double bed, with my old pug Louie snoring right beside me.
EB: How has being a musician yourself shaped how you approach your book subjects?
JK: Being a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (mandolin, guitar, banjo, sitar, harmonica and flute) who has recorded nine albums and toured off and on for last twenty-seven years, performing in clubs, concert halls and festivals in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Russia, Morocco and India has given me a unique perspective when it comes to writing about the music of others. With Townes Van Zandt, I played some of the same venues, opening shows for some of his friends. I could understand the dilemmas he faced in dealing with record companies, as well as the challenges and loneliness of the road.
EB: What do you find to be the hardest part of the writing process?
JK: It can be rather alienating. You spend a lot of time alone, which isn’t so bad sometimes. Whole days can fly by. But physically, the long hours can really wear you down, and I’m not so great at pacing myself. If I’m on a mad jag, I’ll go 10, 12 hours straight until I just burn out. Yoga and long walks help.
EB: Are there any tools of the trade you would recommend?
JK: Get a pug. They like to nap a lot and will loyally hang with you all day and night while you work. They also offer excellent comic relief.