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Bill McIlwain's book: Dancing Naked With The Rolling Stones

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Frank_Ridgeway, May 29, 2007.

  1. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    The complete title is: "Dancing Naked With The Rolling Stones/a life in news and a goodbye to booze." I arrived home three hours ago to find it waiting in the mail, and I am now more than halfway through this extraordinary 221-page memoir. The bandana-wearing, 81-year-old former editor of Newsday, among other places, has delivered perhaps the best newspaper book ever written and undoubtedly the most enjoyable of the hundreds I've read. With the spare, crisp writing style of a much younger man he intersperses hilarious newspaper anecdotes with profound insights into rebuilding a life nearly destroyed by substance abuse. If you love newspapers -- or used to and want to remember why -- get this book. It's brand-new and it's awesome.

    I thought about putting this on the books thread, but I was hoping that here it might draw out some anecdotes from people who have worked with him. I had the good fortune to speak at length with him twice, in 1991 and 2003, and I ordered this book with high hopes, but this is well beyond my expectations. The subject matter means it probably won't land on best-seller lists, but it is one that should be pointed out to those in our business.
  2. I agree with everything Frank said (except the new book, because I haven't read it yet. But now I have to run out and find it). Bill is an extraordinary writer, and I was fortunate to have him unofficially act as my writing coach when I worked at a paper in North Carolina. He's been just about everywhere for a little bit of time and done a little bit of everything along the way, and his stories blow your mind away, and are often so good it's hard to believe they're true.

    Since you were looking for anecdotes, I have two: First, we were doing our high school football preview a few years ago and were focusing on the meaning of tradition. We focused on Bill's high school, so I asked him if he'd mind writing something short about what he remembered about playing high school football. He came back with a 30-inch coming-of-age story that looked back on what those experiences meant from an 81-year-old's perspective. It was so brilliant that I insisted on shoehorning every inch into an already crammed section. And he gave it to me for free. But that's typical of Bill: He likes to stay involved in the business, generously contribute any way he can, and never asks for anything in return.

    Another time, I was having lunch with him a couple years ago when I brought up Tom Wolfe's story from the early days of NASCAR, "Last American Hero." When I finished he casually started in: "Funny story about that article ..." then proceeds to tell me about a lunch meeting he had in Winston-Salem with the editor of Esquire, during which he told the guy a story about Junior Johnson, the moonshine runners and the backwoods races they were holding, etc., etc. The editor goes back to his office, tells Wolfe the story he heard, and the next thing you know Wolfe is producing one of the greatest pieces of sportswriting ever done.

    As I said, it's a story that seems too good to believe. Maybe Wolfe would have a completely different view of that story's genesis. But it wouldn't surprise me if it was true, because that's the kind of guy Bill is, and why his memoirs are so good: At many times in his life he's brushed shoulders with the incredible and the improbable and has a mind that can recall the sharpest details. He has another book, "A Farewell to Alcohol," that's also very good. I haven't read this book yet, but I'll definitely check it out now.
  3. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    Wife was on a business trip, so I finished the book. It's a little disappointing that his solution to alcoholism is smoking pot every day (even at age 81), but still, a great book about journalism and life.

  4. Gold

    Gold Active Member

    You mean it's not?! 8)
  5. chazp

    chazp Active Member

    Please, please tell me the title is a play on words and there's no nude photos of Keith Richards in the book! That would be brutal!
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