Karlen, Neal 1959–
Karlen, Neal 1959–
(Neal Stuart Karlen)
Born June 25, 1959, in Minneapolis, MN; son of Markle and Charlotte Hope Karlen. Education: Brown University, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1982. Religion: Jewish.
Newsweek, New York, NY, staff writer and reporter, 1982-86; Rolling Stone, New York, staff writer, 1986-90; New York Times, New York, staff writer, 1990—. America Tonight and Off Tenth, Columbia Broadcasting System, New York, on-air essayist; British Broadcasting Corporation, documentary correspondent. University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communications, instructor of writing and magazine production, 1997-2005.
American Historical Society prize, Brown University, 1982; Minnesota State Arts Board grant for nonfiction writing, 1991.
The Emperor's New Clothes (libretto), produced in 1990.
(With Henny Youngman) Take My Life, Please, William Morrow (New York, NY), 1991.
Babes in Toyland: The Making and Selling of a Rock and Roll Band, Times Books (New York, NY), 1994.
(With Nanci Donnellan) The Babe in Boyland: The Fabulous Sports Babe, ReganBooks (New York, NY), 1996.
(With Jenny McCarthy) Jen-X: Jenny McCarthy's Open Book, ReganBooks (New York, NY), 1997.
Shanda: The Making and Breaking of a Self-Loathing Jew (memoir), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to anthologies, including The Complete Armchair Book of Baseball, Scribner, 1997, and Fishing with Fathers, Penguin, 2005. Contributor to periodicals, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Esquire, GQ, and Spy. Columnist for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine, 1990—.
With Babes in Toyland: The Making and Selling of a Rock and Roll Band, former Rolling Stone writer Neal Karlen looks at the rise of Babes in Toyland, one of the few successful all-female "grunge" rock bands. "Digging beneath the hardcore surface of this alternative scene," explained Rolling Stone writer Matt Damsker, "he unearths the fragile egos of musicians who sleep together in single hotel rooms, play on borrowed equipment and scrape together cash and emotional capital—against all odds of making it." "Karlen is sometimes more interested in his subjects' reputation than in their talent," declared a Kirkus Reviews critic, "so the content of their music gets scant attention." He also documents the struggle of their agent Tim Carr, who made a place for them at Warner Music—a major recording label—and then set out to make them famous quickly. By the time they joined the 1993 Lollapalooza tour, explained Karlen in a Mademoiselle article, the three members of Babes in Toyland—Kat Bjelland, Lori Barbero, and Maureen Herman—"hadn't even yet processed that Beavis and Butt-Head, the animated nitwits of MTV's top-rated show, had just screened their video and given the band their highest on-air recommendation: ‘They're cool! These girls rock!’"
However, some reviewers argued that Karlen's portrayal of the rise of the band Babes in Toyland at times appears to be the story of its fall as well. "Though Karlen is clearly a fan of the band," stated New York magazine reviewer Walter Kirn, "his account of the tedious, idiotic hoo-ha surrounding its rise to fame is depressing." Throughout the recording of their first album for Warner, Fontanelle, Damsker explained, "Babes in Toyland frittered away expensive studio time, weathering a brief breakup and near-constant emotional breakdowns." The band's original bassist, Michelle Leon, left the band after her boyfriend's death. Bjelland feuded with Courtney Love, a former friend and leader of the grunge band Hole, and she married (and later divorced) an Australian punk rocker named Stuart Spasm. "Karlen's hyperrhetoric sometimes intrudes," concluded the Kirkus Reviews critic, "but he isn't oblivious to the ironies in Warner's effort to sell the Babes without sacrificing their street credibility."
Slouching toward Fargo: A Two-Year Saga of Sinners and St. Paul Saints at the Bottom of the Bush Leagues with Bill Murray, Darryl Strawberry, Dakota Sadie, and Me is the result of an assignment for Rolling Stone, the purpose of which was to dig up dirt on the St. Paul Saints, and particularly on its owner, Bill Murray. But Karlen had difficulty writing negatively about the team, its management, and the players, who included Darryl Strawberry, tainted by drug and tax problems but who was signed and gave new life to the team. Other characters who receive warm praise are president and promotor Mike Veek and player J.D. Drew. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote: "Readers not acquainted with the independent leagues will appreciate the portrayal of life on baseball's back roads."
The word "shanda" in Yiddish means disgrace or shame, and in his memoir, Shanda: The Making and Breaking of a Self-Loathing Jew, Karlen writes of his participation in, rejection of, and reacceptance of his religion. Karlen was born to an Orthodox Jewish family and planned on becoming a rabbi, but his rejection included making fun of his Jewishness and telling Jewish jokes on stage. He reversed his attitude after meeting and studying with Hasidic rabbi Manis Friedman, who taught him the true meaning of his faith. A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that "the descriptions of their visits serve as a model for person-to-person transmission of a faith and culture."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Karlen, Neal, Shanda: The Making and Breaking of a Self-Loathing Jew, Simon & Schuster, 2004.
Entertainment Weekly, November 15, 1996, Kate Meyers, review of The Babe in Boyland: The Fabulous Sports Babe, p. 66.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1994, review of Babes in Toyland: The Making and Selling of a Rock and Roll Band, p. 686.
Library Journal, June 1, 1999, Paul M. Kaplan, review of Slouching toward Fargo: A Two-Year Saga of Sinners and St. Paul Saints at the Bottom of the Bush Leagues with Bill Murray, Darryl Strawberry, Dakota Sadie, and Me, p. 124; September 15, 2004, Stephen Joseph, review of Shanda: The Making and Breaking of a Self-Loathing Jew, p. 63.
Mademoiselle, October, 1993, interview, pp. 180-184, 221-222.
Newsweek, September 20, 2004, Marc Peyser, "A Bacon Sandwich Was Just the Beginning: A Fast Chat with Neal Karlen," p. 9.
New York, August 22, 1994, Walter Kirn, review of Babes in Toyland, p. 47.
Publishers Weekly, March 29, 1999, review of Slouching toward Fargo, p. 77; August 16, 2004, review of Shanda, p. 60.
Rolling Stone, October 6, 1994, Matt Damsker, review of Babes in Toyland, p. 37.
Jewish Daily Forward Online,http://www.forward.com/ (October 29, 2004), Lev Raphael, review of Shanda.
Neal Karlen Home Page,http://www.nealkarlen.com (December 27, 2006).