This week’s spotlight shines on author, Angelo Falanga.
1. Tell us a little about yourself
By Labor Day 1995 I had been living in Brooklyn, New York for three months with my maternal grandmother, helping as she recovered from open heart surgery. Celebrating the holiday, a block party had been organized by too few of the neighbors to bother getting a permit to close off the street. I was cooking chicken using a barbecue grill wheeled up onto the concrete in front of my grandmother’s stoop when a neighbor sat down in a beach chair set up behind me. That neighbor was Frank A. Stokes. What began with a one hour conversation once the chicken was cooked would become fifteen years of work and friendship with the late composer and bandleader. Stokesified! is my memoir of the experience, based on more than 20 hours of interviews I recorded beginning in 2001. I studied Political Science at California State University, Long Beach. I left college for a job on the NBC game show, Time Machine, while studying comedy writing with Get Smart writer Dee Caruso at UCLA. I worked from 1985 to 1992 for the late lighting designer Wally Russell as a personal assistant and in the stage management of the Los Angeles Opera while Mr. Russell served as the company’s Technical Director. (See The Wally Russell Foundation and The Wally Award, bestowed for excellence in lighting design) I lived and worked in Germany from 1992 to 1994, traveling throughout the continent during these years. For Mr. Stokes, I assisted in the home studio where three albums were produced and with the booking then staging of live performances while managing Mr. Stokes’ web presence, also serving as a photographer and videographer. I live and work in Las Vegas, Nevada.
2. Where can we find you on the internet?
To purchase my e-book Stokesified! or download the first 5% free:
To purchase my e-book Stokesified! for your Apple devices:
3. Why did you choose the genre you write in and how would you describe your writing style?
My book is a memoir not a biography because the man I wrote about did not live to see it completed. Frank A. Stokes went into his fatal heart attack while sitting next to me on a December morning in 2010. My book about his life and career was supposed to end with the release of the album Mr. Stokes left less than half completed and the shows he was preparing to perform in the summer that neither he nor his wife would live to see, as she would pass away from cancer in the spring of 2011. One of the musicians I interviewed, a Native American drummer who had known Mr. Stokes for decades and also recorded for Pink Floyd on The Wall also passed away, having gone into his fatal heart attack onstage behind his drums. I never expected to inject as many of my own observations into the work as I had to out of necessity. The book is based on 24 hours of interviews with Mr. Stokes and others that I painstakingly transcribed. Early on I realized that what Mr. Stokes and the people around him were saying was far more important than what I had to say. One of my friends who saw the work before it was released said that I was functioning more like a court reporter than an author. As for my writing style, I’ve always been a speed reader, and the fast flow of words through my head definitely effects the way I write. Grammar classes were always a nightmare to be endured and forgotten. Grammarians didn’t like the way I tend to write in long flowing sentences.
4. Tell us about your latest book
Frank A. Stokes was a brilliant composer and so much more. It took years of me working for him before I dared ask if I could write about him. On the afternoon of Friday, June 15, 2001 as Frank was preparing in his Brooklyn, New York apartment to play a three hour, three set gig of his original music in SoHo, downtown Manhattan, I finally asked. Frank A. Stokes was Navajo, with his paternal grandfather having been born in Wyoming in 1876 then removed to the east coast to go to an Indian school at age 11. Frank’s grandfather lived long enough to teach him the ways of his people, having been a race car driver and a black faced vaudeville dancer. Frank had a paternal uncle who ran Brooklyn’s RKO Theater, so, from as soon as he could stand the theater became in effect his babysitter. Frank would be backstage among the musicians and see the original Rock N’ Roll shows of Alan Freed and Murray The K. His childhood was like a dream until his parents, who never married, separated. Frank went into foster care and emerged to find his mother had married a violent alcoholic. This is why I waited so long to seek Mr. Stokes’ trust in telling the story. His is the most vicious tale of child abuse I have ever personally know of. Mr. Stokes’ would be quick to point out others had it far worse than him. Mr. Stokes spoke for the book with amazing candor. He would grow up to play the electric bass and found himself in the heart of the 1970’s New York City underground scene centered around CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City. Even as he was breathing fire and playing the heaviest music in the city with later to be famous punk acts opening for him, Frank A. Stokes wanted to create jazz. By the time I met him in 1995 he was taking the first steps to assemble the world class group of players that would feel like an extended family, saxophone player Dave Morgan, who worked with Ornette Coleman and for years on the Tony Awards, drummer Dan Walsh, a Berklee graduate of remarkable talent who is the best possible drummer for something as demanding as what Mr. Stokes envisioned, Mac Gollehon, perhaps the world’s most recorded trumpeter, having played with everyone from Hector Lavoe to Mick Jagger and David Bowie. With Mac Gollehon, Dan Walsh and Dave Morgan Mr. Stokes would also play in a side project that appeared at Carnegie Hall with Gil-Scott Heron and Dizzy Gillespie’s drummer, the New School professor Charli Persip, whom I also interviewed for the book. Things were going well, then, as Frank was minutes away from recording in his home studio the keyboard part to carry the recording of his daughter’s favorite of his song, the World Trade Center was attacked. Mr. Stokes would have the debris of the World Trade Center rain down upon his home. The neighborhood where he made his living was devastated. His response was to expand his musical family by bringing in the Native American musicians, singers and dancers that would be with him to the end of his life. Frank A. Stokes had a term he coined, Stokesified, to describe how any sound he heard he made his own. When I asked Mr. Stokes what he thought the subtitle would be, he said, “Standing On Mother Earth, Sliding On A Bass String.”
5. If you could live in any world from a book or movie which would it be and why?
With all I’ve seen in show business since I was introduced to Bill Cosby at age 13 backstage at the Las Vegas Hilton and I knew I had to get into the game, it’s felt like I live in an alternate universe. I’m very grateful for the experiences I’ve had. If there’s one entertainment universe that’s been a constant in my life, I’ve been a Trekker since age 3. My father took me to the first ever Star Trek Convention at the Americana Hotel in Manhattan. The ideas of life having value and dedication making justice possible were instilled within me by The Great Bird Of The Galaxy. I would also have loved to have been a 1969 New York Met.
6. What was your favorite book growing up?
Growing up in Brooklyn and on Staten Island until our family moved to California when I was 11 you’d see the water, you’d smell the ocean. I had thoughts of being a sailor, so I’d read military histories and sea stories like Alastair McLean wrote. In my early teens I found The Razor’s Edge. The bulk of my reading was newspapers and magazines, but by high school I found Gravity’s Rainbow, On The Road and Naked Lunch. These are my three favorite novels.
7. The infamous question – What advice would you give to aspiring and new authors out there?
People make way too big a deal out of the mechanics and the ritual of writing. It’s true that my speed reading and command of the language gives me an advantage, but, they’re all the same words, we all know them. What makes a good writer is the ability to achieve the suspension of disbelief. This can be done simply by talking into a tape recorder and getting readers used to the flow of your voice. This can be done also by realizing there is an artistry that goes along with writing, an ability to slip details in that make people feel as if the experience is real. People who don’t have much experience writing tend to under-write, to not set scenes firmly enough, and then it can get like a chain reaction car crash as the underwritten scenes make stilted dialogue stand out like a sore thumb. Another piece of advice that may seem odd comes from my speed reading. I tend to take a longer view and watch the patterns in the writing. To me, Thomas Pynchon and Gabriel Garcia Marquez are the ultimate masters of writing that flows and is well constructed. Beginners tend to have a pattern of stops and starts, as if only being able to see two sentences ahead as they’re going along.
8. What are your preferred method to use while writing and environment?
All I need is a computer and Charlie Parker. I’ve tried writing by hand and it didn’t work. It wasn’t fast enough and since I’m also my own editor the way I make substitutions isn’t practical on the pad. I wouldn’t recommend going as far as I do editing myself to people starting out, but, I had some great teachers from the worlds of journalism and advertising, again, another advantage I’m grateful for. When I write I need to have the background noise eliminated. I can’t have lyrics being sung, as the point of eliminating the background noise is to not hear things people are saying as I concentrate, so, I have a 10 CD set of Charlie Parker I use most often. I can also use the 4 CD Re-issue of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, or the 4 CD set of John Coltrane like at the Village Vanguard.
9. What are your favorite games?
Again, this question goes back to working with Frank A. Stokes. When Frank was fourteen a drunk driving friend of his mother’s first husband snt the car Frank was riding in the front seat of into the back of a truck and sent him through a windshield. To keep what remained of his vision, Frank was using video games from when he first got his computer in 1997. Frank loved the game MechWarrior3 and I played it online with him as well. One of the people we played this game with was lost on September 11, 2001 as a passenger on Flight 93. As the debris was falling on us in Brooklyn, our friend was lost in Pennsylvania. You’ll beat me at chess and there aren’t any other games I play. I escape into books and films like Akira Kurozawa’s Dreams.
10. What can we look forward to from you in the future?
I have two novels underway, one inspired by being around the days of 1980’s computer programming and the other a piece of sci-fi about the problems and culture of an alternate world. I hope to have them both done by the end of 2014, but I’m not exactly a deadlines kind of guy…
Thanks again Angelo for answering my questions!