Jim Kohn – Author Interview

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

Sex, Drugs & Raga-Roll: is a fictional memoir that tells the actual story of the explosion of Indian classical music in California in the Sixties. This cultural infusion that continues today was inspired by the teaching of one of the greatest musicians of modern times, Ali Akbar Khan. The memoir captures the early days of his College of Music that was a magnet for other famous musicians, such as Ravi Shankar and the Grateful Dead. Intertwined is the fictional tale of Joey Levin and his muses as he becomes the right hand dude of Khansahib and as Joey tries to find his way through the transcendence of the music and the sensual entanglements of his relationships.

Tell us something about yourself.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, I started writing and playing music as a teenager. I have a M.A. in English from the University of Southern California and have had poetry and songs published, and composed musical theater and opera, performed on both coasts. I moved to the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina, seven years ago with my artist/musician wife, Karen Bell, where we both perform and make art.

What inspired you to write this book?

I heard Indian music for the first time forty-five years ago and was transformed. By the next year, 1966, I was in Berkeley, beginning a seven-year journey into the arcane and wondrous realms of sound and accepting the overwhelming task of directing a new college of music for one of the greatest musicians of modern times, Ali Akbar Khansahib. This story wanted to be told!

How did you choose the title?

Sex, Drugs & Raga-Roll is a pun, of course, on the motto of the Sixties, Sex, Drugs & Rock-and-Roll. In the midst of all the madness of the Sixties in the San Francisco Bay Area, we students found ourselves in an exotic oasis of transformational music.

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

Conventional publishers and agents are suffering and have little interest in newly published writers. They mostly look at self-help, romance, etc., but don’t like to take chances. I thought about the new interest in memoirs and trying a campaign again but then I discovered the new world of ebooks, POD, and taking charge myself. This same applies to music.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

I was inspired by literature in high school and began writing poetry. Those attempts and early stories weren’t very good but the key is to keep doing it, keep practicing, as I’ve done with music, until it begins to click, to sing, to fly.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I often write late at night. I wrote the first draft of Sex, Drugs and Raga-Roll on a laptop, often sitting up late in bed. Putting poems and lyrics to music is a different process, playing a guitar or keyboard.

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

Since the current book involves both historical events and people and fictional characters, I’ve used the real names of well-known characters and celebrities. The fictional characters? I think they just arrived in my imagination with names, like real people.

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

Not only is the editing process essential but I came to love it, whether doing my own rereading and editing or incorporating the edits of first readers and a professional editor.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

Very eclectic: everything from science fiction (Neal Stephenson, for example) to anthologies of American lit, Buddhist thinking, etc.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

I’m currently finishing up editing transcripts of interviews I did with Ali Akbar Khan in 1967-1968 which I will e-publish. I’m also working on recording songs that are included as lyrics in SD&RR. Then maybe something set in the Fifties about hipster musicians in an Air Force band or…? Many other ideas and notes and outlines.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

You’re in charge! Write all you can, seek real criticism, don’t get into the publishing gloom game since you can get your work out yourself.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

People who like good yarns, well-told tales, and not just modern “cool” stuff.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

Here are my book and author pages — they will be updated with an additional Facebook fan page soon and whatever else I upload:
Sex, Drugs & Raga-Roll
Author page: