He drank with Leonard Cohen, ribbed Bob Dylan and Joan Baez gave him his nickname. Now, 68 years into an extraordinary life, the writer is releasing his first album – with a little help from Nick Cave
Late on a Sunday morning in February, in the 2nd Avenue Deli in Manhattan, it is hard not to notice Larry “Ratso” Sloman. There’s the unkempt hair, the wild beard, the fact that, in his garishly patterned suit, he doesn’t blend in with the brunchers. And there is the fact that, in this crowded eating spot, he is not only being interviewed but also being filmed for a documentary. Not that the deli’s staff seem to mind: as well as our sandwiches, we also get a stream of complementaries, finishing with a huge piece of chocolate babka and chocolate egg creams for each of us.
Over the ensuing two hours – in a more or less unbroken monologue – Ratso will range over how he got his first writing assignment for Rolling Stone by being present when the crowd at the 1970 Summerfest in Milwaukee erupted when a drugged-out Sly Stone came on stage 90 minutes late and left after moments (“they started tearing down the fences, setting fire to things”); how to deal with Bob Dylan (“I’d kid with him: ‘Ah, you’re just a midwest Jew; you’re not like a New York Jew”); about going to Leonard Cohen’s house (“There’s Leonard, with four or five ladies. He’s singing, he’s playing Jew’s harp, there are 10 empty bottles of wine on the table”); about getting Mike Tyson to read Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo (“He goes: ‘Why did you send me that book? Did you think I was a superman?’ And I said: ‘No, man, I thought you were just a guy that could get some solace from it’”).
But the monologue’s real subject is how Ratso – a journalist, author and ghostwriter for Howard Stern, Tyson, Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Peter Criss of Kiss – comes to be releasing his first album at the age of 68. Stubborn Heart is a distinctly Cohenesque collection of lugubrious love songs, with eight Sloman originals and a cover of Dylan’s epic Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands. Nick Cave duets on Our Lady of Light, and it is testament to the album’s quality that it doesn’t feel as if he is slumming it.