Age doesn’t stop Elliot Tiber from penning his memoirs, and now just about to turn 80, he just keeps writing and writing.
His new memoir, “After Woodstock,” covers his life after the famous Woodstock concert, from 1969 to 1999 and with an epilogue bringing readers up to the present day.
First some background for readers new to Tiber’s works.
A few years ago, Hollywood director Ang Lee made a movie about American hippies in the late 1960s, titled “Taking Woodstock,” about the famous Woodstock music festival in the summer of 1969. The movie was adapted from a book by the Tiber, a new voice among American memoirists.
The book, also titled “Taking Woodstock,” was about a young gay guy in his 20s who helped orchestrate the Woodstock concert in upstate New York on the summer weekend long ago. The new memoir is a sequel and recently made the gossip pages of the New York Post where columnist Cindy Adams ran an item on it.
In a recent email exchange, Rudy Shur, the publisher of the book and a veteran New York book man with a long career smack in the center of the Manhattan publishing world, told TeleRead some background about Tiber’s new memoir.
“Elliot remains a truly unique writer with a refreshingly funny mind,” Shur told me. “From the first day we spoke on the phone back nearly ten years ago in 2006, Elliot has always been an amusing source of humor and a born storyteller. After the thrill of seeing ‘Taking Woodstock’ turned into a film by Ang Lee, I found myself talking with Elliot on the phone again. He was talking about his years ‘before’ the Woodstock summer of 1969, and all of a sudden it occurred to me that there may be another book in him to write.”
Shur’s email contained a few surprises. “By 2011, we published Elliot’s ‘prequel’ memoir, ‘Palm Trees on the Hudson’. About a year later, after things quieted down a bit on his new book, I didn’t hear from Elliot for quite a while,” Shur said. “He was very depressed and wondered if he had really said all he needed to say to the world about who he was and the life he had led.”
Shur asked Tiber if he had ever thought of writing a memoir about his life ”after” Woodstock. Two years later, a new manuscript arrived and the publisher calls it ”the book that may be Elliot’s finest work to date.”
“It covers in amazingly-personal detail the world of the entertainment industry, together with a deeply personal and often beautiful love story between Elliot and the love of his life — the Belgian playwright and director André Ernotte,” Shur said.
The busy Hollywood director Ang Lee was kind enough to pen a 500-word foreword to the new book, and how it happened is an interesting story as well.
”When the new book was nearly done, Elliot simply reached out to Ang Lee personally and asked if he would like to read his new memoir prior to publication,” Anthony Pomes, the publisher’s marketing and publicity maven, said. “Our hope was that Ang Lee might offer a blurb for use on the book. Instead, the two-time Oscar winning director enthusiastically wrote a ‘Foreword’ to Elliot’s book.”
“Ang Lee also allowed us to feature in our book a photograph of him standing with Elliot around the time that his movie ‘Taking Woodstock’ was going into production,” Pomes said. ”So it turns out that, in addition to turning a key part of Elliot’s life into an acclaimed Hollywood motion picture, Ang Lee has also given a resounding endorsement of Elliot’s newest work from which we hope that readers — and fellow filmmakers — will take heed.”
Lee’s Foreword, in part, reads: “The movie ‘Taking Woodstock’, based on Elliot Tiber’s first book, came out of a chance encounter at 6 a.m. in a San Francisco television studio,” Ang Lee wrote in his introduction. “I had just finished promoting my film ‘Lust, Caution.’ On my way out [of the studio], I bumped into [the show’s] next guest, Elliot Tiber, then a very vigorous seventy-something, who cornered me and thrust a copy of his new book into my hands.” “I am rather shy, and Elliot is a nonstop talker, and an extremely funny one, so I had no choice but to mumble something polite and take the book on my way to the airport,” Lee wrote. “‘Taking Woodstock’ came at exactly the right moment [for me]. It was full of light, love, and laughs, a memoir about the last days of American innocence. And strangely enough, it also fit in with the movie I had just made: both were coming-of-age stories, a genre that I have continued to explore with ‘Life of Pi’ and my current film project [‘Billy Flynn’s Long Halftime Walk’].”
Since the movie ”Ice Storm” in 1995, the Taiwan-born director has made a number of forays in Americana. “Taking Woodstock” was scripted and directed as a comedy, and it did well at the box office, according to sources. It also put Elliot Tiber in the news, since his character got top billing in the film.
The first book’s narrative reflected a young Elliot in his 20s who was on the brink of financial ruin at the time but who was also in a position to help pull off one of our generation’s greatest rock concerts, publisher Shur told me. “I wanted to include some of the most important, yet overlooked, facts of the coming together of the concert, and Monte [Eliot’s co-writer], having also lived through the period, was able to do just that.”
The story in the first memoir recounted how Tiber, had to hide his sexual orientation from his conservative Jewish parents, and spoke about his participation in the Stonewall riot in New York, which helped fuel the gay-rights movement.
Asked what his life was like after Ang Lee’s movie was released in 2009, Tiber told this reporter in a recent email: ”It was like some kind of never-ending miracle. To watch at age 74 an early moment in your life turned into a super-big movie for all the world to see is both humbling and a little overwhelming. It makes you wonder if you have anything else left to give.”
But Tiber also found himself in the midst of a terrible depression later on, he said.
”It was shortly after I wrote [the second memoir] that I really began to experience depression,” he said. “As I’ve written about in my books, I have tried various forms of psychotherapy and have taken antidepressants. Nothing has ever worked, at least not in the long term.”
But an offer from Rudy Shur to publish Elliot’s memoir about his years ”after” Woodstock not only gave him his new book’s full title, “After Woodstock: The True Story of a Belgian Movie, an Israeli Wedding, and a Manhattan Breakdown,” but gave his life a renewed sense of purpose.
”In writing the new book, I had to revisit many memories from my life that have been painful — moments in my life, especially with the love of my life [the late Belgian playwright and director Andre Ernotte] that I hadn’t been able to think about for years,” he said. “But I also was able to re-experience the joys of writing a hit TV show, penning a bestselling novel, creating an award-winning motion picture, and staging a well-received off-Broadway play. In having to sift through all the years of my life again, I came to respect and to recognize all those parts of my life again — even, or especially, the things that were the hardest and that hurt me the most.”
The result, Tiber hopes, will be “a book that helps others figure out what their lives mean to them. This book is just me and my life, but maybe it will help people find the power of laughter — and love — in how they get through their own personal journeys in this world.”
Elliot Tiber turns 80 on April 15 — 80 years young, that is — and it seems reasonable to say that Elliot is ready again for yet another close-up.