In a memoir, the locally bred comic recalls his time with Jerry Garcia, Dan Aykroyd and Al Franken.
Tom Davis insists that he is not a celebrity. But some of his best friends are.
So the Twin Cities-bred comedian -- one of the original writers on "Saturday Night Live" and Al Franken's stage partner for 20 years -- decided to write a memoir, "Thirty-Nine Years of Short-Term Memory Loss."
Dan Aykroyd, his best friend, shows up plenty, as do Jerry Garcia, Timothy Leary, Keith Richards, John Belushi, Mick Jagger, Chris Farley -- you get the idea.
While the book makes it sound as if Davis could rival Hunter S. Thompson for consumption of alcohol and chemicals, his free-wheeling remembrances of adventures in comedy, rock 'n' roll and popular culture are a fun flashback to the Thompson era from a more Woodstockian point of view.
A good portion of the book takes place in the Twin Cities, where Davis met Franken at Blake High School and performed regularly at Dudley Riggs' Brave New Workshop.
Davis, 56, will be back home Thursday to promote his book. He expects many friends, including ex-roommate Pat Hayes of the Lamont Cranston Band (who's in the book, too), to show up at Lyndale United Church of Christ. The comic promises conversation, film clips and maybe music. He's not certain if Franken will make it, but his former partner did write the foreword to the book.
Davis, who lives alone in the woods in upstate New York, chatted by phone recently.
Q Why write this book now?
A The phone stopped ringing for about 10 years. A couple people suggested: Why don't you write a book? Everybody's life is a story and I've certainly had an interesting life. ... The challenge is to tell my story skillfully enough so that it becomes bigger than myself.
Q What were you doing then?
A I was retired. I like spoiling animals, and I do have a real talent at that.
Q You write about seeing Jimi Hendrix at the Minneapolis Armory changing your life. If you hadn't seen that concert during high school, what do you think would have happened to you?
A I might have died in Vietnam -- of an overdose. I do see it as a paradigm shift. I was conscious of it as it was happening to me. It was like: "Omigod! How does he make those sounds? What is going on?" It was like being born again.
Q What rules did you and Al Franken establish to avoid embarrassing his political life in the book?
A No rules at all. He's been nothing but supportive from the very beginning. I used his e-mails in the book [Franken tries to help Davis remember incidents] so it brings it right up to date between me and Al. You can still hear our friendship. Twenty years as a comedy team was a long time, and then we had a falling out in, like, 1990, and we didn't see each other very much for about 10 years. But, as I say, I love him like I do my own brother, whom I also don't see very often.
Q What's the best story that you left out of the book?
A I'll have to call you back on that one.
Actually, Davis later e-mailed the answer: It was about the time Jerry Garcia hired him and Franken to emcee a Grateful Dead concert broadcast live to movie theaters around the country on Halloween 1980:
We taped a wonderful opening where Al and I, in tuxedos, invite the viewers to come backstage to "hang out with the Grateful Dead" because of our precious "access-all-areas" laminate passes. As the camera follows us, we help ourselves to food from a buffet table where legendary roadie Ramrod tells us, "Hey -- that's just for the band!" And Al points to his pass and says, "Oh, yeah? Well -- we're with the band!" We proceeded to wreak havoc and piss off everybody, culminating with Al putting down his greasy BBQ ribs to pick up and then drop Jerry Garcia's guitar.
We had other features to fill the breaks between sets. ... Al did a running feature asking for money for "Jerry's Kids," offering a prize for the most generous contributor -- Jerry's missing finger, which Jerry himself displayed using his other hand and a hole-in-the-bottom cotton-lined box. Over the course of the evening, the finger disappeared and crawled around in the background of boring mock interviews.
At the party after the show, Al got his mother on the phone. Al's parents had watched the show from a theater in St. Paul. "How was I, Mom? Really? 'Brilliant'? Good."
Al turned to Jerry Garcia: "Mom says you were good, too."
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719