An Interview with Larry “Ratso” Sloman

Larry “Ratso” Sloman is an enormous counterculture figure from the 60s who has somehow found a way to keep on keeping on well into the 21st century.  He was dubbed “Ratso” by folksinger Joan Baez because she thought he looked like the Dustin Hoffman character in Midnight Cowboy and the cute name stuck. He has written many books on pop culture, with subjects including Howard Stern, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Mike Tyson, Harry Houdini, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. His oral history of Abbie Hoffman, Steal This Dream, is a classic take on the clown prince of counterculture. He has been the editor-in-chief of High Times. He was executive editor at the late great National Lampoon. In 2019 he put out his first album, Stubborn Heart, notable for his teaming up with Nick Cave and for its female cover of Dylan’s “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” He’s got a memoir coming out this year.  The following intertextual experience was completed in the wee hours of February 28, 2022.

What the fuck is a female voice doing on your cover of “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” off your new album, Stubborn Heart? (BTW, I liked your duet with Nick Cave, “Our Lady of Light.” Inspiration?)

Five female voices actually.  In order: Magali Charron, Eddy Front, the esteemed Arabic singer/songwriter Yasmine Hamdan, Leonard Cohen’s co-writer and backup singer Sharon Robinson, and the great Ruby Friedman, who I’ve dubbed “the Jewish Janis Joplin.”  Look, like Leonard Cohen, I know that I was born with the gift of a golden voice but I figured that hearing me for eleven minutes straight might get a bit tedious so, in the spirit of inclusivity of the 2020’s, I figured it was time for the Sad-Eyed Ladies to be given a voice. I think they kill it!

As for “Our Lady of Light” the inspiration for that song was a certain Corsican femme fatale who lived a few blocks from me in Soho.  She inspired a few songs actually, another one that starts out “I’m a one-man rescue squad, a bodyguard and a protector, but I think I lost myself trying to resurrect her.”  The relationship petered out, so to speak, a short time after writing that.

Steal This Dream was an excellent oral history account of Abbie Hoffman’s life and of the counterculture in general. It’s so rich and entertaining. In terms of obstacles and mission, how do you see some of the differences between today’s counterculture and the days of Abbie?

What counterculture?  Point me in that direction.  All I see is dark eyes doing Tic-Toc videos.

Presumably, you saw the Sorkin embarrassment Chicago 7? Any thoughts on what he got right? What wrong? And why it matters either way? I would love to have seen how you approached it. What might have you have done?

I think that it was obvious that Sorkin was a Hayden guy from the get-go.  He admitted that he didn’t really get Abbie going into the project.  But Abbie was far and away the most brilliant of those guys and his ability to subvert the media was nonpareil. It’s no coincidence that Sasha Baron Cohen played him because, in some ways, Sasha has picked up Abbie’s mantle with his Borat character. I can see Abbie leading a “Throw the Jew Down the Well” singalong. I don’t want to disparage Sorkin for doing his version of the trial because it’s all good that the generation of today sees that it’s possible to speak truth to power, as they say, and come out of the right side of history.  

One thing about the Chicago 7 trial was that Abbie had posited that “thought was on trial.” That seems so prescient now.

It was!  I’m sure that Zelensky’s “thoughts” will be prosecuted also if Putin manages to put him on a show trial before he sends him to Siberia.  Hopefully, that won’t happen and another Jew won’t be thrown down the well.

On a related matter, any insights you’d like to share about Assange and/or Ed Snowden?

Sure. Fuck Assange and Greenwald too, while we’re at it. Two Putin puppets that are complicit in bringing us the biggest subversion of democracy in American history. Thank God Trump was such a buffoon and a moron that he’s reduced to scamming senior citizens who don’t realize that by checking the box “I Like the Donald” on their response to his fundraising that they’ve inadvertently signed up to have lots of cash deducted from their credit cards every month until their house gets re-possessed. Can we trade Snowden for those two?

As an old geyser that grew up in the 60s, I am constantly astounded at the degree of technological development we’ve undergone, going from the black and white Hank Williams years to the cusp of the Quantum. In one lifetime. But there seems to be no parallel equivalent in culture. No Moore’s law for civilization. We might even be going backwards. What are your thoughts?

To paraphrase the great Jewish philosopher Kinky Friedman, “Technology can buy you the finest dog, but only love can make him wag his tail.”

Recently, you mentioned you were working on a number of TV projects. Any details you can reveal?


Okay, I can divulge a little.  Two of my current TV projects involve Kinky.

I can’t wait to read your memoir. Got a tentative title? Will it be a kind of shared oral project with you as the subject? That could be funny.

Actually a writer in L.A. is writing an oral biography of me.  He’s been at it for years.  My own memoir is going to be called “Meetings with Remarkable Men and Women,” a title that I cribbed and then updated from the mystic George Ivanovich Gurdjieff. It will recount my dealings with some of the most famous men and women in music and the arts that I’ve encountered, along with some lesser known kooks.

I miss National Lampoon. It was like Charlie Hebdo for the Yanks. But even better. Some really funny pointed stuff. And, as they say now about how comedy has become the only way of getting “straight” news, given the MSM’s distractions, NL was always a leader that way. Funny. But rat own. Have we become incapable of such levity and satirical resistance?

Well if Charlie Hebdo’s brave men and women can get slaughtered for writing satire in a country like France that values freedom of speech do you really think we in America have any chance of writing biting humor without “triggering” and “micro-aggressing” every poor aggrieved college student? We are raising a generation of pussies.  Oops.  I’m cancelled. Right now, in heaven, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and George Carlin are rolling over in their clouds, screaming “Shit”, “Piss”, “Fuck”, “Cunt”, “Cocksucker”, “Motherfucker” and “Tits”.

We had the Oathkeepers, QAnon, and the Proud Boys, who sang a Disney anthem about an adult who dresses like a kid and yearns for mummy’s approval, and were led by an FBI informant. Zany enough, but how would the Yippies have done it?

I thought about January 6th but if anything the Yippies would have had a celebration of life to commemorate the end of the reign of the Orange Baboon.  Maybe dress up as interns and try to sneak into the proceeding, handing out LSD spiked water bottles to the Congresspeople who were ratifying the electoral college count. Don’t forget the Yippies all collaborated on an instant paperback promoting the candidacy of McGovern. Comparing the Yippies to the Proud Boys of the Oathkeepers is an affront to the memory of what Yippie! was all about.

John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia.  He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.