If former Madisonian Nathan Rabin were reviewing his own book, he'd give it a mixed review. "I hate uplifting stories," he says.
Rabin is head writer for the A.V. Club, the entertainment section of The Onion. Besides reviewing and interviewing Hollywood royalty, he's just published a book with Scribner, The Big Rewind: A Memoir Brought to You by Pop Culture. He'll discuss it at Borders Books West on Wednesday, July 15.
Roger Ebert calls Rabin's memoir "a page-turning soap opera." Former Onion writer Rich Dahm, co-executive producer of The Colbert Report, calls it "heartbreaking and hilarious."
The book discusses Rabin's encounters with celebrities such as Topher Grace, Billy Bob Thornton and Barack Obama. He also writes about his long battle with depression.
"I was taken, screaming, to a mental hospital when I was 14 years old," he says, pausing to add the obligatory cliché: "But I can look back and laugh about it now!"
Rabin is very much aware of pop culture clichés, which is why he hates uplifting stories. The Big Rewind is peppered with parody, and each chapter adopts a thematic entertainment-industry signpost. There are also foster homes, a divided family, sex, sadomasochism and lots of drugs.
Rabin was raised in the Milwaukee area and Chicago. He lived in a Madison housing cooperative, graduated from the University of Wisconsin, worked at Four Star Video Heaven (he was fired) and had a false start at The Onion (he was fired). But he returned to the parody newspaper, then located in what he calls "State Street's popcorn district." Today the paper's comedy staff is in Manhattan, while the A.V. Club is in Chicago.
Rabin joins a long line of troubled humorists including James Thurber, Dorothy Parker and Mark Twain, who refused to let his autobiography be published in his lifetime because he felt that a living author could not be truthful. Rabin has tried to be truthful.
"I'm don't know whether I'm going to be praised or damned for being very, very honest," he says. "It's a fairly profane, fairly adult book, and there are a few chapters I'm urging people in my family not to read, including a relationship that I had with a polyamorist that 'shockingly' did not go well."
Besides sorting out his emotions, Rabin says there was another impetus for honesty.
"One of the goals is to get things out there preemptively," he says. "If somebody ever writes a muckraking exposé of me, they will not have a lot of material."