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Rothbart Running The Show

This American Life contributor and Found magazine impresario Davy Rothbart performs at Medaille on April 25


Davy Rothbart
Crack Cocaine Loshit
Shitting in newspapers and on
Shoe boxes Throwing food out the window
Smoking Low cigarettes
Taking Lemons off the trees
Taking Loquarts off trees
Eating them. Takeing
Putting Pee in the Ground
Garbage bins back here
Vocational Rehabilitation
Street Cleaning
Sweep Cleaning
Garbage Trucks (3) III
Mop the toilet bowl
Putting bleech on the floor
Mopping it
{address on San Pablo Avenue}
Insurance Man

—Written on a paper bag in Oakland

It’s amazing what you can find fluttering in the wind, sitting on top of a bar, or stuck to your car windshield. Davy Rothbart is a scruffy 27-year-old with a hint of mischief that he does not try to hide. One day while walking in Michigan, he came across a note pasted to his car window: “I hate you, I hate you, page me later…” It was addressed to someone else.

How peculiar, Rothbart thought, that someone could hold so much anger yet so much hope at the same time. This sparked Rothbart’s idea for Found magazine, a compilation of postcards, notes, and other anonymous blurbs that people wrote and somehow got into Rothbart’s hands. When he told a friend about the note on his windshield, more people came forward with napkins, Post-It notes, lost love letters, and, well you get the idea…and off to Kinko’s went the crew. They made a hundred copies to start, but with a little push from a Kinko’s employee, they ended up walking out of the store with 800 copies.

One night at a party, Rothbart managed to get rid of a hundred copies of his first issue at five bucks a pop. “Now what the hell was I suppose to do with the rest?” he said in a recent phone interview. For a few days they sat in a pile on a friend’s floor. Then one day Rothbart arrived to find hundreds of copies missing. He was pissed. “I thought he had thrown them out,” Rothbart said. Turns out people had been coming by non-stop to buy them, somtimes five copies at a time. “The neighbors actually called the cops,” Rothbart said. “There were so many cars coming and going, they thought we were selling drugs.”

Today Rothbart travels from state to state with his brother Peter looking for the best snippets he can find for his yearly issues of Found. They also put on shows that are a cross between a reading and a musical act. “I really get into it,” he said. “I like to put the emotion that I think the letters were written with and give that to the audience. My brother is a great guitar player, and he comes up with songs to the best letters we find and sings them to the audience while I read. Some are very serious, and some are quite silly.”

Take, for example, the letter at the beginning of this article, which seems to be some sort of strange to-do list that starts off with crack cocaine. “Not too long ago, my friend had a problem with crack so that one sort of hit home.”

Rothbart is also a reporter for the National Public Radio show This American Life. He has also just released a book of Found-like material called Requiem for a Paper Bag. His favorite thing to do is write short stories, and he has a collection of those as well, called The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas. The title came from a guy that Rothbart spotted standing on a surfboard propped between two trucks. “This is only a maybe,” he said, “but Steve Buscemi might be making a movie about it.” Rothbart is also said to be releasing a rap album later this year.

With all this fame, you would think Rothbart would be a pretty rich guy, but he is anything but. He lives modestly in a small apartment with a few friends. “I make enough money to eat and I’m doing what I love. That’s really all that counts.”

The Rothbarts perform at Medaille on April 25. Admission is free. Call 880-2174 for information.

brett miller

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