When I met Frank Fried in 1992 he had just lost all his worldly possessions in a fire. There was a huge record collection, pictures, letters, all the stuff you can imagine ending up with after a few decades in show business, all gone. He needed an assistant to help him put some of it back together. I was a young reporter recently gone freelance and looking for something good to do. Much of Frank’s rambling seemed to speak directly to me. We were both Chicago-born, had an unseemly love for the pop folk music of the 1950s and 60s, and had been radicalized at Midwestern colleges, albeit 30 years apart.
We started by just talking through his memories. I transcribed the tapes and tried to organize them into a more or less coherent narrative. We had long talks with some of his old cronies and comrades and relations, and we went through press clippings and other accounts. After a while we thought we had the makings of a useful memoir. The publishers didn’t agree, but I never stopped thinking about it. For years after we stopped trying to sell it, I kept meeting Frank for lunch every few weeks and hashing over this or that detail. There’s not much I like as much as a good story.
The pages we’d written sat in Frank’s closet, going to waste, until it dawned on me that you don’t really need publishers any more, do you? We started using our occasional lunch dates to go back over Frank’s manuscript, looking for the parts that would work as standalone stories. There were a lot of them. I threw together a WordPress site and started organizing the pieces again, this time not worrying so much about a linear narrative. We’ve posted the stories that have come to mind as we kick things around, and we’ll keep doing it until we run out, which will take a while.