Elliot Tiber’s first memoir, Taking Woodstock (Square One, 2007) was made into an acclaimed 2009 feature film by two-time Oscar winning director Ang Lee. Two years later came Tiber’s Palm Trees on the Hudson: A True Story of the Mob, Judy Garland, and Interior Decorating, a “prequel” of sorts to the first book. Now comes Tiber’s third memoir, After Woodstock: The True Story of a Belgian Movie, an Israeli Wedding, and a Manhattan Breakdown (Square One Publishers). Recently Mr. Tiber cleared some time to talk by phone, accompanied by his beloved Yorkshire terrier, “Woody Woodstock” (who only barked a few times during the call).
What was it that led you to write this new memoir—your third, in fact—After Woodstock?
Well, it was around late 2012, and the cost of living was such that I had to leave my Manhattan apartment and move down to Miami Beach, Florida. Far away from my sister, Renee, and with only a few newly made friends there at my new apartment complex, I found myself increasingly depressed, so I started to take anti-depressants. I felt so far away from myself. I tried to figure out what was bothering me, and then it hit me. In my first two books, I told the story of my life — but as both books end, I’m still only in my mid-thirties!
Here I was now, forty-three years later, at age 77, walking my little doggie six times a day in the dreadful Miami heat, trying to sneak glances at the shirtless big-muscled Cuban hard bodies working out near my apartment building, while also trying to avoid conversation with all these older women my age. It was terrible. They wore too much lipstick, too little clothing, and always talked too loud about the most trivial and gossipy things. I started to call them “the Miami Bitches,” and have tried to avoid them at all costs. They remind me too much of my monstrous mother who, if you know my work at all, made Joseph Stalin look like Mother Cabrini by comparison.
One day, feeling especially glum, I gave my New York publisher a call. We talked for at least an hour. I kept talking to him about the “What next?” in my life as a writer, and how I felt paralyzed. But he asked me about what was on mind those days, and I told him how I came to fall in love with a Belgian director who was nine years my junior, André Ernotte. How we met in New York City around 1971; how I came to live with him in Belgium for almost six years, during which we co-wrote a popular TV variety show that I named Sketch-Up (a pun on the word “ketchup”— which I seemed to put on everything I ate in Belgium . . . except the Godiva chocolates, of course).
How I wrote a bestselling novel, Rue Haute; how I was able in two days to get a U.S. publisher called Avon Paperbacks to pick up the English rights to the book; how we made a critically acclaimed film of Rue Haute (with André as director, while I did nearly all the set design and painted all the portraits that were supposed to have been painted by our main character, an expatriate American painter named David). How our movie became a semi-finalist for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars in the late ‘70s. My publisher was blown away by all the amazing stuff that had happened to me, much of it through sheer will on my part. Within a week, I was signed with Square One to write a new memoir called After Woodstock.
The only thing I hadn’t talked about yet, however, was how sad and lonely I often was during many of those last years I shared with André. By the early ‘80s, there was something going around New York City called “the gay cancer.” All of a sudden, dozens of friends and colleagues were getting sick and dying — sometimes within weeks. André and I, thankfully, never acquired AIDS — though if either of us stood a chance of catching it, I would say it was André (who had begun to have a variety of sexual encounters around that time). I found myself reflecting on moments in my life that were extremely painful — almost unbearable to write about now. In fact, I had to stop writing the book a few times just so I could get my mind together again, and build up enough strength to head back down the rabbit hole.
How long did it take you to write the new book?
Almost two and a half years. The story was more complex in many ways than my other books. My work was cut out for me in that I had to bring forth and breathe life into more than thirty years of my life — both with André, and without him. It was the hardest work I’ve done.
How did Ang Lee come to write the foreword for it?
When the publisher and I both felt the book was done and could be typeset, I reached out to Ang and asked if he would like to read the final draft. I heard back through his assistant that, though Ang was preparing work for a new film, he would very much like to see the book. So my publisher sent it out. About three weeks later, Ang emailed me to say how much he loved it. In fact, he then volunteered to write a foreword — which was what I had been dreaming he might do. He’s what Jewish people would call a mensch — a good and honorable man. I’m only annoyed that he’s straight, otherwise, I’d marry him and force him to get me and my doggie the hell out of Miami! [laughs]
If there’s something you want your readers, gay and/or straight, to get from After Woodstock, what would it be?
Well, first I would want them to be entertained. It’s in my nature to amuse people with my humor — and sometimes to abuse people for their lack of humor. I just turned eighty years young this past April, so I’m just happy I made it this far. Of all who have read and loved my books, I’m especially pleased when I receive emails or words of appreciation at my lectures from those who are younger—who will, I hope, take what they feel they need from me and my life’s stories. If I’ve opened them to laughter or to tears, then I feel like I’ve served a purpose in life.
Author Photo: Calvin Ki, [email protected]
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