“If your agent’s Binky, then you’re doing O.K.,” said Gerard Jones, a 60-year-old Ashland, Ore., writer. He was referring, of course, to International Creative Management literary agent Amanda (Binky) Urban, who does not represent Mr. Jones, but nonetheless tops his subjective and cranky index to the publishing industry, Everyonewhosanyone.com, which has New York’s literary types bedeviled and amused.
Mr. Jones’ directory, which he launched two weeks ago with the help of his Web-designer sister, lists 1,247 agents and editors in the United States, Canada and Britain, along with their e-mail addresses. The names are published “in order of relative significance” by company and then by individual. On the site, Mr. Jones invites anyone who “feels he or she or his or her company is more important or less important” to let him know, though he “may or may not change it.”
Mr. Jones’ agent list has ICM on top, with Ms. Urban at No. 1, Esther Newberg at No. 2, Sloan Harris at No. 3. William Morris clocks in as the second-ranked agency, with Suzanne Gluck in the No. 11 seat. Curtis Brown, Sterling Lord Literistic and Janklow & Nesbit Associates round out the top five agencies. At the very bottom of the list is Dietmar Scherf of Scherf Inc. in Las Vegas. Mr. Jones’ own agent, Laura Strachan, with whom he signed in January 2002, is nestled comfortably in the top half of the list, despite having an Annapolis, Md., mailing address.
On the list of editors and publishers, Joerg Pfuhl, former executive Phyllis Grann, Ann Godoff and Sonny Mehta top the list at Random House. Penguin Putnam is the next house, followed mysteriously by DAW Books, and then Simon & Schuster. Dorrie O’Brien at Write Way Publishing in Aurora, Colo., is the last publisher listed.
In addition to the rankings, Mr. Jones has published any letters he’s received from these publishing-industry denizens as he tried to sell his as-yet-unpublished novel, Astral Weekend , formerly titled Oprah Wimsfree and the Mayonnaise Man . In some cases, he has also published his snarky responses to their responses.
“I think everyone [in the industry] is sort of talking about it amongst themselves,” said Claudia Cross, an agent at Sterling Lord, whose correspondence with Mr. Jones from her time at William Morris is posted. “They’re saying, ‘Don’t respond; don’t encourage him.’”
ICM agent Mitch Douglas apparently set off Mr. Jones when he declined to represent one of the author’s submissions because, according to the agent’s letter, “The choppy sentences and fragments drive me nuts.”
“Call me Ishmael. Jesus wept. Mistah Kurtz-he dead,” reads Mr. Jones’ posted response to Mr. Douglas. “I have no doubt that incalculable numbers of people have been and continue to be locked away in institutions for the incurably insane as a result of having been subjected to choppy sentences and fragments …. Don’t worry about responding. I thrive on snippy notes and silent rejection. G.”
By phone, Mr. Jones told The Transom that he began the Web site to identify the media power structures that were keeping him from getting his own work published. “Those power structures are, like, systemic,” he said. “I’m sticking all this stuff up there to give a little bit of an inside look at the gobbed-up-ness of it all.”
The correspondence on the site is not dated, but according to Mr. Jones, has been collected over the two years he spent trying to sell his two works-in-progress to a wide cross section of agents and editors. In a letter to Janklow & Nesbit partner Lynn Nesbit six months ago, Mr. Jones wrote: “I got recommended to you by Gordon Lish in 1963. You … wanted to see new stuff when I had some. It’s been awhile,” he continued, but now he had something to show her.
According to a plot summary posted on Everyonewhosanyone.com, Astral Weekend is about an Illinois math teacher and “The Mayonnaise Man,” who later reveals himself to be Abraham Lincoln. “[They] have dinner, talk, have sex, conceive a child, fall in love, go to the Woodfield Mall outside Chicago and are joined by Abraham’s mother, Oprah Winfrey.” Ms. Winfrey’s character is smuggled into a nuclear-power plant and killed by F.B.I. agents before the plot is revealed to have been “an elaborate fantasy.”
Mr. Jones’ other book, Ginny Good , (formerly titled Dead Ginny ), is a memoir about the (apparently substantial) amount of time he spent in Haight-Ashbury during the 60′s with a woman he claims was the original hippie.
HarperCollins Publishers editor Daniel Menaker passed on Astral Weekend with a long note remarking on the “absolutely wonderful” stuff throughout the manuscript. Mr. Menaker’s concern was the “episodicness which forces the book to rely on its generally riffflike [ sic ] nature.”
Mr. Jones’ didn’t take it well: “Dear Dan: I got your note. The only parts I understood were the parts about how wonderful it was. You lost me when you had to resort to combining jazz ostinatos with subatomic particle theory in order to explain why you’re not going to publish the son of a bitch. Gary Fisketjon dissed my ass too, but with considerably less effusiveness.”
Other recipients of Mr. Jones’ inquiries have been considerably less enthusiastic. Simon & Schuster editor Mitchell Ivers wrote: “My two cents: get an agent.” Then, “Who are you? You must be a virus. I’m deleting your first email. Identify yourself or to hell with your spam.”
For those interested in the complete picture, Mr. Ivers’ e-mail and the entire correspondence is published on Everyonewhoanyone.com.
Also not amused is Andrew Zack, who runs the Zack Company Inc. Mr. Jones said by phone that Mr. Zack was the only person to effectively prevent him from using his information, and called Mr. Zack “a twerpy little agent who believes he has some kind of rights to his own address and phone number.”
Mr. Zack responded, “I think Mr. Jones’ quotes speak for themselves,” adding that “Mr. Jones never requested permission to include me in his Web site. When I discovered that he had, I requested that he remove information that he had published, including e-mail correspondence and my direct e-mail address, which he only did after numerous complaints …. I do not believe Mr. Jones is providing a service to authors or anyone else in the publishing industry, and there are much better resources out there in the marketplace.”
Mr. Jones just doesn’t get why his stuff hasn’t found a home while other books sit on best-seller racks in Barnes & Noble. “I’ve read a lot of books that totally barfed me through the roof in terms of any kind of craft or art or sensibility or truth,” he said.
Sprewell’s Rim Job
The $250,000 fine that Latrell Sprewell has been ordered to pay the Knicks may be the largest in the team’s history, but even with his suspension, he shouldn’t break a sweat coming up with the dough. You see, Mr. Sprewell’s wheel rims are hot, hot, hot.
Around the time of his last suspension-that would be the 1997-98 season, when he reportedly lost $6.4 million in salary for choking Golden State Warrior coach P.J. Carlesimo-Mr. Sprewell opened Sprewell Racing, a high-performance auto-accessories store in San Gabriel, Calif., that “displays over a million dollars in showroom inventory,” according to its Web site.
And one of those products, Davin Wheels-tire rims tricked up with a rotating attachment that continues spinning after the car comes to a stop-have been coveted by the hip-hop and private-school crowds ever since Mr. Sprewell appeared on MTV’s Cribs driving an E-class Mercedes Benz outfitted with the snazzy accessories.
But these are no Razor scooters. A set of the rims-which are known more commonly as “Sprewells” or “Spinners” -sells for as much as $20,000.
“They just really freak people out,” said John Jarasa, managing editor of Dub , a magazine that focuses on auto parts. “The effect that it gives off is incredible. The people beside you are ready to just go through the intersection-they think you’re still rolling!”
Mr. Sprewell-who owns 10 luxury cars, including a Lamborghini Diablo-did not invent the Davins, but was the first celebrity to publicize them via his Mercedes and, later, his company.
But the list of Sprewells owners is eminently boldfaceable. It includes rappers Coolio, Big Tymers, Wyclef Jean, Lil’ Wayne and Phat Joe, who have featured the rims in their car-centric music videos.
The rims are just as popular among sports stars and Hollywood actors and actresses, and they also appeared in the movie The Fast and the Furious .
“Shaq had a set of them on his S-class Mercedes. Plus, kids love them,” said Mr. Jarasa.
Yep. In New York City private schools, the rims are all the rage. “Everyone wants them,” said a senior from Riverdale. “But even if I could afford them, I’d only have them for like 10 seconds. They’d get stolen if you left your car out on the street. You couldn’t even go get an ice cream or anything.”
While most kids with rim fixations settle for a more reasonably priced imitation, called Spin-Tek, that sell for $2,000 a set, Sprewells are still jumping off the racks. “The demand here is high, so we get top dollar,” said a Sprewell Racing salesperson.
The Real Soprano
Franco Zeffirelli sounded confused.
The Transom had heard that Mr. Zeffirelli, the director of The Taming of the Shrew and Endless Love , was coming to New York to serve as the grand marshal of the Columbus Day parade. And so we called him up in Italy to see if he had seen the recent episode of HBO’s The Sopranos that had grappled with the thorny issue of whether Columbus was a cultural hero or a villain.
But say the word “soprano” to Mr. Zeffirelli-who has produced hundreds of operas, including La Bohème at La Scala and Turandot at the Met-and he sees Frederica von Stade, not James Gandolfini.
“What has Columbus got to do with these sopranos?” Mr. Zeffirelli wanted to know . “Is there something about singers?”
The confusion was cleared up, and Mr. Zeffirelli explained that he wasn’t familiar with David Chase’s series. “No, we haven’t seen it,” Mr. Zeffirelli said. “Actually, we have been fed up of being painted as the ethnic group of Mafia. For years, we’re banqueting on the Sicilian Mafia.”
Mr. Zeffirelli was more interested in talking about another soprano: his late friend Maria Callas, the “high priestess” of opera, as he called her. On Thursday, Oct. 10, the director will attend a $250-a-ticket benefit screening of his latest film, Callas Forever , at the Ziegfeld Theater. Proceeds from the event, which is being hosted by the Columbus Citizens Foundation, will go to the Zeffirelli Scholarship Fund for the Arts.
Though Callas, who died in 1977, lived a tabloid-worthy life (replete with a tortured love affair with Aristotle Onassis-”a terrible personality, because he destroyed everything around him,” Mr. Zeffirelli said), the director “didn’t want to do a V.I.P. scandal movie.” Instead, he explained, “I really wanted to tell the people who love music how difficult it is for a genius to be a genius. What it costs … to achieve that absolute perfection. And how difficult it is to keep that perfection.”
Forever Callas , which has yet to find an American distributor, is a hypothetical look at the last four months of the opera singer’s life. A rock-band promoter-Jeremy Irons-convinces the past-her-prime singer, played by Fanny Ardant, to make a series of videos that re-create her most memorable opera performances using past recordings of her voice.
“It works very well, but not for Maria Callas, who says, ‘This is a fraud,’” Mr. Zeffirelli said. But, he added, in reality, the diva’s devotion to such impeccable standards came with a hefty price. “If you live for perfection, when perfection disappears, you have nothing else to do but die,” he said. “She went at the age of 54, very young. She didn’t accept the decline, the Sunset Boulevard -she did not accept it.
Despite his advanced age, Mr. Zeffirelli isn’t ready for his walk down the Cinecitta equivalent of that boulevard anytime soon. Though he said his sense of balance has been seriously impaired by antibiotics he took two years ago to combat a surgery-related infection, Mr. Zeffirelli managed to complete the movie and work on four opera projects. And before he retires, Mr. Zeffirelli said, he’d like to direct a film that “has been with me all my life … the famous visit that Francis of Assisi made to Jerusalem that stopped the Crusades and established a contact to the Muslim world.
“The waters are not still around me,” Mr. Zeffirelli said. “It’s tumultuous. Storms and storms.”
Nick Tosches, the writer known for his unflinching yet redemptive biographies of renegade subjects Jerry Lee Lewis, Sonny Liston and Dean Martin, stood up for another controversial figure at a reading of his new novel, In the Hand of Dante , at the Housing Works bookstore in Soho on Oct. 4
“I want to dedicate this evening to the poet laureate of New Jersey,” the 53-year-old Mr. Tosches told the crowd defiantly. He was referring to his friend and fellow Newark native, Amiri Baraka, who is currently under heavy fire for the perceived anti-Semitism of his 9/11 poem, “Somebody Blew Up America.”
Prior to the reading, punk priestess Patti Smith had performed an acoustic version of “Jumping Jack Flash” in his honor, and Mr. Tosches looked the part. He wore a gray pinstripe suit, two-tone shoes and a splendidly gaudy, gold-chain-patterned, black-collared silk shirt. He slipped on a pair of wire-frame reading glasses.
Mr. Tosches first read a chapter focusing on the 14th-century Italian poet Dante Alighieri, who heads a cast of characters that includes a modern-day panty-wearing hit man and one Nick Tosches, a writer, murderer and-in his own half-amused, half-disgusted phrase-”an AOL Time Warner product.” Mr. Tosches’ publisher, Little, Brown & Company, is part of that mob.
Then the author paused to survey the audience, which included silver-haired director Jim Jarmusch. “How rough do we want to get here?” he asked, taking a sip of red wine. He started in on one of the book’s contemporary sections, in which the destruction of the World Trade Center (“those big ugly twin towers”) is both a plot point and the launching pad for a merciless denunciation of monotheism. “Fuck the Semite triad,” Mr. Tosches read. “Fuck all the sons of Shem.”
The subject of 9/11 was still on the audience’s mind during the Q&A session that followed. A man at the back of the room asked Mr. Tosches how he could support Mr. Baraka, given the latter’s apparent adherence to the theory that 4,000 Israeli workers were tipped off about the attack and told to stay away from the World Trade Center that day. Mr. Tosches countered that it was a poet’s duty to provoke. “I’ve seen doilies that look more scary than most of the poems I read,” he said. “I’m talking about the cheap paper kind of doilies,” he added. He compared Mr. Baraka favorably to Maya Angelou, who he said was “not even a good calypso singer, never mind a poet.”
On Oct. 7, Mayor Michael Bloomberg stood behind an inverted inflatable lobster with microphones protruding from its tail and quoted Marcel Proust.
“Only through art can we get outside ourselves,” he said, though with little more than his head and his red tie visible above the red crustacean, Mr. Bloomberg seemed to be merging molecularly with the lobster.
Hizzoner had come to celebrate the seventh installment of the National Arts Awards, a gala dinner held by the Americans for the Arts organization at Cipriani 42nd Street to honor the likes of philanthropist David Rockefeller, artist Cindy Sherman, embattled arts patron Alberto Vilar and actress Natalie Portman. The cavernous insides of Cipriani had been filled with gold-painted chairs, pink tablecloths and two creations by artist Jeff Koons-a trademark naïf backdrop depicting a manic playground and the lobster, which served as the podium for the night.
Mr. Koons told The Transom that his lobster was an homage to Salvador Dalí’s lobster telephone, since he had visited the Spanish master in New York when he was 15 and had been inspired to believe that “someday, he could maybe make art, too.”
“I really wanted to have something fun,” the artist said, a grin on his boyish face. “So that when people would get their awards, it would be a little more memorable.”
Mr. Koons sat at the table of honor, where the evening’s iron-willed co-chair, Veronica Hearst, presided, flanked by media mogul Barry Diller and New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. Other guests nearby included philanthropists Ronald Lauder, Agnes Gund and Kitty Carlisle Hart, artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Whitney Museum of American Art director Maxwell Anderson, former Talk editor Tina Brown, and patrons-in-the-making Emilia Fanjul and Serena Boardman.
During cocktails, a jazz orchestra played while Ms. Portman exchanged phone numbers with Sopranos daughter Jamie-Lynn Sigler. Former Lincoln Center chair Beverly Sills made her entrance in a dramatic black dress and joked with photographers that they could only use pictures in which she looked 18. And Mr. Diller, chatting with Mr. Sulzberger, said that he’d come because it was “easier” to “say no to Saddam Hussein” than to Ms. Hearst.
Later, Mr. Diller said he was joking. “I adore Veronica Hearst,” he said.
The only moment of unintended comedy came during the awards ceremony, when avant-garde theater director Robert Wilson took the stage to introduce Mr. Vilar, who has recently made headlines for defaulting on substantial pledges-some millions of dollars-to the Metropolitan Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Maazel/Vilar Conductors’ Competition and the Washington Opera. A short film featuring Mr. Vilar played before he took the stage to accept his award.
“I like to say, ‘You don’t have to be a millionaire to write a check,’” Mr. Vilar said in the film, prompting snickers in the audience.
– Elisabeth Franck
The Transom Also Hears …
… Lizzie Watch II: Despite her imminent incarceration in the Suffolk County Jail, Lizzie Grubman was still keeping up with the latest trends, heading toward Intermix at 10:01 p.m. on Oct. 7. She was dressed in a form-fitting denim skirt and a long-sleeved blouse with a burgundy print.
… That Peter Kiernan II, the chief executive of the financial-consulting company Kiernan Ventures, outbid actor Michael Douglas for a table for 10 at Rao’s at a live auction at the Marriott Marquis on Sept. 25 to benefit the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation. Mr. Kiernan, who’s on the board of Mr. Reeve’s foundation, paid $13,000 for the dinner package.