Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Binnie Klein talks about TEN DAYS IN NEWARK, her deeply personal, deeply political, podcast memoir set in 1967 hippie days.

Hey, hey, hey! Sixties culture has enduring impact and what better way to celebratethat  than to go back in time and remember? TEN DAYS IN NEWARK AUDIO MEMOIR by Binnie Klein is a haunting remembrance, and an absolutely wonderful and award-winning (Connecticut Press Club) six-episode audio memoir produced by Binnie Klein and Scott Shapleigh, which can be heard in a variety of ways:


Binnie can be contacted:

 Binnie’s a psychotherapist in private practice in New Haven, a Lecturer in Dept of Psychiatry at Yale University, host of music and interview radio show, “A Miniature World,” on 1st and 3rd Thursdays of each month on wpkn.org.  She’s the author of Blows to the Head: How Boxing Changed My Mind (SUNY Press, 2010) (profiled here on the blog!)

Here's just some of the raves:

“Strong and nostalgic, but not at all sentimental. Wonderful voice, evocative guitar”-- Daniel Menaker (My Mistake)

“Binnie’s political and personal memoir of Newark in 1967 is an absorbing example of investigatory and explanatory journalism. Those who wish to learn about those times from actual participants, will find this podcast both educational and touching”—music journalist Peter Gambaccini (Springsteen)

“You had me from the first few minutes of episode one. I found myself with you as you peeled back the layers of memories, and bravely forged ahead to revisit events of your young life”—Radio Producer and former Voice of NPR Frank Tavares

“A great audio memoir, this goes right to the core of those first high school friends we made -- how lost and how wild some become and how they may grow apart but are always with us.”—Louise Wareham Leonard (Fifty-Two Men)

I love Binnie and I'm thrilled to host her here. 


 I always ask, why now?

When you ask “why now?” I can’t help but think that in some ways I didn’t have a choice about the timing of this audio memoir. A letter arrived from my first boyfriend with news that jostled my dearly held denial about the realities of aging and loss, freshly immersing me in memories of first love, first heartbreak, and the haunting I’d been experiencing all my life – about him, about the sixties, about the impact of a place (Newark, New Jersey), the political cyclone of the era, and the rapid metabolizing of traumatic and ecstatic moments many of us endured.

The familiar look of his handwriting, the poetry in his prose, and the sad news in the letter threw me into a whirlwind of memories about my teen-age years. Odd coincidences occurred.  As I describe in Episode 1, I had just accidentally come upon a batch of old black and white photos from that time, the day before the letter arrived. I felt compelled to contact other peers to tell them the news, and each email or conversation led to fresh re-workings of narratives I had comfortably carried. Each contact challenged my vague, dissociated chronology. Each contact made me remember more, and with the memories came grieving I’d never fully done. But it wasn’t all grim. There was much laughter in the re-connecting, and even in-person visits.

What was it like going back into the past? What surprised you?

I didn’t expect to feel quite so confused and troubled by this delving into the past. I’d been a cocky teenage girl who was good at appearing “cool,” obsessed with boys, bound for trouble, carried by the sexual revolution and the company of hippies and activists, running wild without much supervision. During the reconstruction and note-taking I started, my husband and collaborator Scott Shapleigh said “This is a podcast.” There was so much mystery and discovery; he felt it was a detective story, with individual episodes, and amazingly, he was not threatened by the subject matter and that we’d be seeking out my first love. I was very comfortable with storytelling in an audio form, having produced essays and interviews, some on my radio show, “A Miniature World” on WPKN-FM. I began to keep a journal of the sequence of events, knowing that eventually I’d be talking to or maybe even seeing my first boyfriend; there was an inevitability to that. What surprised me? How well people remembered me. How much I’d repressed. There’s a funny little detail that didn’t make it into the podcast. In all the photos I look rather dour and gloomy. I’m never smiling. At first I thought it was about constantly trying to look cool and/or sexy, but then I remembered something. That was only part of it; I was trying to conceal an odd, slightly misshapen lower front tooth that made me very self-conscious. Years later I had it fixed.

What was your research like?

I was very lucky to have such an archive of photos to reference (they can be viewed on my Instagram page). I think of one where I am sitting in high grass in a backyard in Newark. Seeing the chain link fence and a shabby garage reminded me of how plainly we lived—most families in the Weequahic section in four room apartments in two family houses.
What I thought were wildflowers in one photo taken in Weequahic Park were really weeds, upon closer inspection. The tenderness in the photographs of me and Louis was especially moving; my fingers moving across his face, my long brown hair hanging down, his beloved cowboy hat tossed on the ground nearby, and our friend Gary, cross-legged, always with us, rolling a cigarette. Yes, very particular just to me and my little crowd, but I think many of us have a “Ten Days in Newark” that haunts them. I’ve even considered producing podcasts for others who have such periods or episodes. Who would you contact? What would you want to know? Would you have the courage to go back? 

Do you miss the girl you used to be?

The plucked guitar arpeggios of Scarborough Fair --I love that girl--the soft saliva sounds--I miss that girl--songs like the world is opening up--that girl was full of potential--are you going to--was said to her; you're the one, the real thing--her collection of short leather boots, her squirming body underneath the boys, their cologne, their mottled skin, parsley, sage, rosemary and...her potential..I miss that girl --two heads lean in and barely touch--I don't miss her brittleness but I miss her openness--this is from my notes for “Ten Days in Newark”

What was it like writing this? How difficult was it?

I wasn’t just keeping notes. Many nights I’d lie in bed attempting to will myself back in time, to try and remember new details, to swim again in the feelings of excitement or sadness. Could I recall Louis’ hands? His kiss? Why was I so devastated by our normal developmental passages – his going off to college and finding other girls? I had also saved our letters! Re-reading them made me cringe. I seemed a shallow, manipulative girl, enjoying political groups like SDS for the social activities they brought, fascinated by the boys who played guitar and knew all the chords. I bought my first guitar. But the letters also told other stories, of trouble at home, of Louis saying we’d marry but he’d “be a revolutionary.” And then of course, the letters became less and less frequent. Some arrived on torn pieces of paper.

And then it seemed my little posse had dispersed to join Weatherman, a radical political group. The podcast allowed me to finally understand why they went, and what their experiences were like.

What's obsessing you now and why?

What’s obsessing me now? When I’m not in the throes of trauma from the political madness I am, gulp, writing songs! This is brand-new for me, and wonderfully exciting. Right now I’m working with a fantastic collaborator who knows and teaches music. We hope to have some pieces up on YouTube soon. The first song, “My Last Bad Boy,” comes out of “Ten Days in Newark.” Because a book, a podcast, a tune may be written, but are the thoughts and feelings behind them ever truly finished? I am also writing “Tiny Tales from the Bin”—100-150 words in mini-memoirs. I post them on Facebook.

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

Ask me whether I’m glad I did this project. And I’ll tell you: yes and no. Mary Karr, in her excellent book Art of Memoir cautions that if you are going to delve really deeply into the past and there are landmines waiting, be careful. Don’t do it if you’re going to have a breakdown, she says. “Ten Days in Newark” brought very powerful and difficult feelings into my everyday life for several years. I was yes, obsessed, like a novelist maybe, with a story I kept trying to tell in the best way I could. I’m very glad I re-connected with some old friends. We still like each other. But first love and first heartbreak? “Be afraid..be very afraid…” You don’t know what you’re going to find. You don’t know how much grieving remains. I didn’t know how old I’d wind up feeling, finally giving up that 16 year old girl with all her potential. It helps that I’m extremely proud of this effort. I think it’s unique; with recorded phone calls, original music, and spoken prose. I continue to be deeply moved and gratified when a generous listener conveys a comment. When they love it or relate to it, I get chills.

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