From New Orleans: )
(An interview With Andy J. Forest
By Julie Smith
French Quarter neighbor, Andy J. Forest, is such an extraordinary
individual I had to base a character on him. Like Andy, Tony
Tino in my new book, LOUISIANA
HOTSHOT, also plays blues harmonica and also left home
to wander the earth at an early age. But the real Andy falls
in the category of if-you-wrote-it-no-one would-believe-it.
When I first met him he was not only a blues musician, but
also a published novelist, good poet, and former star of Italian
films. About a year later, he mentioned he'd started painting.
He sheepishly took one of his watercolors down to the corner
gallery and told them it was a friend's work--imagine his
surprise when they flipped over it. Today, he's a successful
artist too. Now, I don't write about people like that. Tony
Tino's pretty accomplished, but, like I said, he had to be
believable. Over to Andy:
Andy, you play music, paint, act--it's ridiculous. Do you
Oh, yeah, I was in a dance company once for about three years,
but I rarely wear a tu-tu. I got started because it was free--my
girl friend was a dancer and they needed guys for the pas
de deux class.
JS: What have some
of your other careers been?
Picking pineapples, working salmon boats, construction, gardening
many degrees do you have?
180. When I wake up in the morning, I'm usually 180.
I quit school in the ninth grade. This kid in my class said
I'd go through life with people saying I only had a ninth
grade education. He was killed in prison a few years later.
How many languages do you speak?
Two and a half. English and Italian, and half-French. Oh,
and one-fourth Spanish.
are you reading these days?
A DISTANT MIRROR: THE CALAMITOUS FOURTEENTH CENTURY by Barbara
What's that book on the table?
A DISTANT MIRROR's too big for my back pocket, so I carry
these mini-books of short stories when I'm on my bike. This
one's THE ATHEIST'S MASS by Balzac.
When did you leave home?
I ran away at twelve, but I came back after two weeks. I left
for good when I was 16, but I always came back to visit.
My character Tony Tino did that too--only I didn't make it
twelve, because nobody'd believe it. What did you think of
I've always wanted a big nose. Thanks for giving me one.
You're welcome. But he's not really you, of course.
Well, I know what you mean.. In my book, LETTER
FROM HELL, the character's a harp player, so everyone
thinks it's me, but it isn't. What I did was, I invented a
character I'd like to play in a film.
Tell about your book.
My idea was a three-part trilogy based on Dante's DIVINE COMEDY.
The first one, LETTER
FROM HELL, is a retelling of THE INFERNO. The idea is,
a blues band goes to hell. I wrote the songs for the CD
based on the book at the same time.
Pretty good for a kid who quit school in the ninth grade.
How does one become an auto-didact?
You have to have a passion for reading. I learned that from
my parents. All our walls were covered in books.
Hmmm. I just realized I have an expert here. what's your personal
vision of hell?
Read the book.
JS: Okay . I love
the CD too-- it might be set in hell, but to me it's great
New Orleans music. Where can people get either or both?
Amazon has both things. Or go to my Web site. If you're in
New Orleans, Faulkner House Books has the book, and the Louisiana
Music Factory at Decatur and Iberville, across from the House
of Blues, has the best selection of local music.
You're a pretty erudite guy. Who's your favorite author?
Charlie Parker and Monk. When I paint, I listen to Monk.
Oh, jazz. I wasn't expecting that. Why do you play blues--are
you secretly miserable?
(laughing) That was just the first music I played--it wasn't
really a choice.
Why the harmonica?
It's easy to carry.
Play any other instruments?
Clarinet, violin, sax, guitar, bass, and frattoir. But harmonica's
best for hitchhiking. Or a fishing trip.
Like a lot of New Orleans musicians, you're very popular in
Europe. In fact, it seems like you spend about half your time
there. What's the biggest cultural difference you see?
We have a multi-culture and every culture in Europe is a mono-culture.
What's the best thing about Europe?
The view. Also, people in clubs really listen.
What's the best thing about the U.S.?
We're a convenience-oriented society. It frees up the day.
Okay, let's tell the folks what to do in New Orleans. What's
your favorite cheap place to eat?
Harbor's at Franklin and Dauphine. It's a bar and soul food
place in the Marigny, but they only serve breakfast and lunch.
Where should people go to listen to music?
Any place but Bourbon Street. For jazz, Snug Harbor; for blues,
Mama's; Donna's for brass bands; the Columns for quiet music.
If you could only do one thing on a trip to New Orleans, what
would it be?
Go hear music someplace where they serve food--do two things
at once. Mama's Blues, maybe.
Great. Where can people buy your paintings?
Beal's on Royal--1034 Royal. They're also available at some
House of blues retail shops.
And we covered your book and CDs. One last thing--tell about
the next one.
My fourteenth, CD, Sunday Rhumba,will be out in September.
Sunday Rhumba? Isn't that the name of a poem you posted on
It's kind of a talking blues. I put a lot of my poems on the
album, including that one you liked about Hurricane Georges--remember,
you said it should be a song? The album's got a lot of percussion
on it--it isn't just straight blues. I wanted to do something
a little different. Also, all the solos are harmonica. Anders
Osborne, the producer, wanted people to recognize that it's
my album at any given time.
I suppose you painted the cover art.
Uh-huh. It's a self-portrait.
Good idea. You're pretty cute. And eligible too.
I don't know if I'm eligible. I'm never here. Or there.
Well, there's a blues lyric if I ever heard one. Can't we
end this on an upbeat note?
Sure. I just sold French rights to my book to Gallimard for
the Serie Noir and I'm having the first show of my paintings
at a Paris gallery next March to coincide with its release.
Also, I'm working on a new book, "The Divine Humidity."
for one thing. Did y'all like my entertaining neighbor? Well,
don't just stand there--step right up and get your red-hot
from Hell: www.andyjforest.com
. And while you're at it, check out the book he's in--amazon.com.
And I mean order it--do you think these fine interviews