Last year, in the midst of a pandemic and after a decades-long interlude since a previous book, veteran Milwaukee rocker Rob McCuen penned "Shut Up and Listen: Me vs. Me, Confessions of a Bipolar Rock and Roller" – published in paperback by 18% Gray Publishing.
I called the book a hard-edged, raucous reading. A memoir, the episodic sections channel the grit of Charles Bukowski and the heart of Jim Carroll.
Now, fast on the heels, he’s got another title from 18% Gray called “Tales from the Crypt of an American Working Class Hero” that offers a mix of lyrics and prose. It’s subtitled, “More Confessions of a Bipolar Rock and Roller.”
We asked McCuen about publishing a book (and now two) during a pandemic and about his musical activities these days ...
OnMilwaukee: How was your previous book received?
Rob McCuen: So far, it's been slow. Seems people are just on shut down. Methinks now is a good time to be reading. I have gotten strong feedback from friends, however. I am so blessed to have crossed paths with (publisher) Paul Hoffman out of Columbus, Indiana. On a handshake deal, my books make money.
Did the pandemic affect your ability to get out there and promote it like you’d have hoped?
Absolutely. I wanna tour this sucker in my high school buddy's single-engine death trap airplane.
Is this one all new lyrics and prose or is it stuff from the archive?
Some are brand new and some have been collecting dust for 30 years. I must say, if you wanna sell books, I suggest you be in Liquid Pink (one of McCuen's former bands). Boy could we fill dance floors with beautiful women and we moved serious merchandise. I sold out the second edition of (my first book) “Square Dancing in A Round House” in less than a year.
Sounds like the next book will be completely different. What can you tell us about it?
I aspire to write the lost great American novel. I won't spoil it but it's about an old dear friend of mine who hitchhiked to California to make a high-profile celebrity. He never had a shot at this woman but that didn't slow him down one iota. When the story stops in "Tales" he had just gotten picked up by a serial killer and they dropped way too much acid. I will finish this story if it kills me, and it just might at that.
Are you still making music these days or is writing your main focus at the moment?
My main focus of concentration is on making music right now. I'm a bit bitter that the book hasn't kicked up more dust for now, so the writing has taken a big time back seat to my first solo record, recorded with Bobby Friedman, Dan Mullen and surprise guest stars from as far away as Malaysia, in the case of "Raving” Davey Nelson of (Milwaukee band) Red Ball Jets fame.
It occurred to me recently that I asked Bob and Danny from Carolinas to play on it because I still wanna prove to them that they made a huge mistake kicking me out of their f*cking band. Carolinas may well have been the best band I've ever been in, and I've played on 26 records now.
Rob McCuen's “High Flying Ego Trip,” due April Fools Day, is three-quarters finished and I took head-on the British and American pop songbook. I mean, who has the balls to record "Rain" and "September Gurls" and "Dancing Barefoot" by Patti Smith Group, and three sterling originals, one of which is called "I'm Gonna Take Ya to The Bull Fights Baybee Uh Huh."
I will also be making my recording debut on guitar on a song I wrote a long time ago called "The World is So Full of Clowns.” The record is my debut as a producer and now Friedman and I are producing some 22-year-old whiz kid in Prague, who sounds like Oasis. It's the next phase of my career.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.