Fat Man on the Left: Four Decades in the Underground
Why might a reader pick up this anecdotal memoir of an unusual life? Rolfe’s uncle is Yehudi Menuhin; both belong to the Schneersohn family from which leaders of the Lubavitcher movement are drawn. Rolfe has written for several dozen major publications (and been blacklisted out of several dozen more, thanks to his politics). He wrote two books on “Literary L.A.,” where he grew up, and has met, interviewed, and/or interacted with dozens of writers, politicians, actors, rock stars, and other notables over the past several decades. In this volume’s 16 essays, he discusses Menuhin, Frank Zappa, the Communist Party, literary L.A., anti-Semitism, health care, animal welfare, the founder of the Emmy awards, the birds he and his ex-wife (a member of Zappa’s entourage) have cared for as pets, Israel and Zionism, and California, “home” for much of his life.
From Blether Book Review Site
The author has spent the last forty years as a traveling newpaperman in California, writing for everybody from the Los Angeles Free Press to the San Francisco Chronicle. This group of essays explores his travels and the people he has met along the way.
In the post-war era, San Francisco may have been the center of bohemian living, but Los Angeles had quite a thriving bohemian community of its own. His leftist political leanings got him blacklisted by the California Newspaper Association. Rolfe was the only member of the Menuhin family (the virtuoso violinist Yehudi Menuhin was an uncle) to actually work for a living; his politics also got him cut out of the family will. He explores the joys, and heartbreaks, of owning six cockatiels. His parents divorced when his mother wanted to live in London and continue her music career; Rolfe’s father, a worker’s compensation attorney, didn’t want her to tour, even some of the time. He talks about an emergency trip to Los Angeles Community Hospital. It’s a rather old teaching hospital that may not be state-of-the-art in all things, but, Rolfe found it to be full of conscientious doctors and nurses (not something that every hospital can boast), and it survived the 1994 Northridge earthquake, when many other newer buildings collapsed.
I really enjoyed this book. It isn’t just a heartfelt autobiography in essay form, or a history of modern California as seen from the underside of society; it’s more than that. This one is well worth reading.
(Original paper edition, California Classics Books, 1998)