All Tomorrow’s Partiesby Rob Spillman
Rob Spillman’s intimate, spirited memoir of his fierce pursuit of an artistic life as a young man and a lively portrait of Berlin in the midst of a cultural renaissance.
“Part survivor’s manual, part travelogue, part cultural history, it’s a story of an arts-mad, idealistic, brave young man struggling to make his way–and find a place in the world . . . Spillman unspools a story that will resonate with everyone who’s ever searched for home.” —Michael Hainey, author of After Visiting Friends
Rob Spillman, the award-winning, charismatic cofounding editor of the legendary Tin House magazine, has devoted his life to the rebellious pursuit of artistic authenticity. Born in Germany to two driven musicians, his childhood was spent among the West Berlin cognoscenti, in a city two hundred miles behind the Iron Curtain. There, the Berlin Wall stood as a stark reminder of the split between East and West, between suppressed dreams and freedom of expression.
After an unsettled youth moving between divorced parents in disparate cities, Spillman would eventually find his way into the literary world of New York City, only to abandon it to return to Berlin just months after the wall came down. Twenty-five and newly married, Spillman and his wife, the writer Elissa Schappell, moved to the anarchic streets of East Berlin in search of the bohemian lifestyle of their idols. But within Spillman’s constant striving–for beauty, for inspiration, and for identity–he soon discovered he was chasing the one thing that had always eluded him: a place, or person, to call home.
In his intimate, entertaining, and heartfelt memoir, All Tomorrow’s Parties, Spillman narrates a colorful, literary, and music-filled coming-of-age portrait of an artist’s life that is also a cultural exploration of a shifting Berlin.
“[A] lively debut. . . . Musically and culturally astute, this well-structured book is a delightful coming-of-age story couched within a travel narrative that deftly evokes one of the major historical moments of the 20th century. A richly detailed and always
engaging memoir on artistic discovery.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Convivial, page-turning . . . Spillman’s life is a good one to read.” —Washington Post
“With wry humor and wonder, Spillman beautifully captures the deadpan hedonism of the East Berliners and the city’s sense of infinite possibility, which, to his frustration, never quite imbues him with his own artistic compulsion. (One is reminded as much of Cyril Connolly’s anti-bildingsroman Enemies of Promise as Nick Hornby’s culture besotted High Fidelity.)” —New York Times Book Review
“A culturally saturated, Technicolor account of the author’s unusual upbringing and the intentional adventures of his young adulthood . . . It is a shrine filled with relics for the people and the art he loves. It quivers with the type of honesty it takes to admit your deepest, most damning secrets. But Spillman isn’t angling for sympathy. Instead he is bold and almost defiant. All Tomorrow’s Parties is a major achievement and a reflection of the epigraph for chapter 59, which is a Denis Johnson quote: ‘Write naked. Write from exile. Write in blood.’” —The Rumpus
“A captivating coming-of-age story and snapshot of a city in flux.” —Toronto Star METRO
“An artful and irreverent memoir . . . Spillman shares an unusual immigrant story–of a white boy born to American parents; an unusual German story–not of the Holocaust, but of the Cold War; and an unusual love story that takes driving (and running) across a continent to find its way back home. These pages are proof that Spillman has filled his father’s footsteps to live for art.” —Brooklyn Rail
“Spillman is happiest when he is betwixt and between—on the road, crossing borders, running long distances. This is a realm he knows intimately and documents beautifully in All Tomorrow’s Parties, a yearning, restless memoir about a lost boy looking for home.” —Los Angeles Review of Books
“Truly exceptional memoirs have to do something more than recount a good origin story: they have to test the author’s youthful understanding of the world, and break down that world, even as it’s being built upon the page. All Tomorrow’s Parties is such a memoir. Not only is it a super-fun, shatter-the-mirror joyride through Spillman’s eccentric upbringing, but it’s also replete with insightful double visions . . . [Spillman] manages to invoke both the dreamy, mythic version of life amid art and interesting scenery, and all the chaos and cracks and potential car crashes that threaten it . . . A thrill to read.” —Interview Magazine
“Compelling . . . [with] captivating journeys of self-discovery . . . [this] memoir says exactly the right things in the most engaging way.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“[A] meditation on place and placelessness, and the thrilling, dangerous, necessary place that both art and the artist occupy in the world.” —NPR.org
“Rob Spillman’s story of rarefied opera culture as a child, and East German nightlife an adult, is limpid and lively in its telling, and it covers fascinating ground. Spillman is endearing and frank in his various adventures in a way that kept reminding me of Griffin Dunne in the movie After Hours, except instead of winding up in Club Berlin, he finds himself in the real one.” —Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers
“A thrilling portrait of the artist as intrepid young adventure seeker.” —Vanity Fair
“Wondrous . . . every page [is] an ecstatic celebration of this thing called life in all of its weird and short glory.” —Vol. 1 Brooklyn
“Engrossing. . . . provides a fine and stark description of lives lived in the shadows of Glasnost, perestroika and the disintegration of the Soviet Union.” —Winnipeg Free Press
“Revealing and energetic . . . a captivating story of both personal awakening and cultural upheaval.” —Bookreporter
“As the editor of Tin House magazine, Rob Spillman has spent a good chunk of his adult life helping other writers tell their stories. Now, he is telling his. Finally. And what a story it is. Part survivor’s manual, part travelogue, part cultural history, it’s a story of an arts-mad, idealistic, brave young man struggling to make his way—and find a place in the world. Set in large part against the backdrop of Berlin in the raucous months after the wall was torn down and people struggled with re-unification, Spillman unspools a story that will resonate with everyone who’s ever searched for home.” —Michael Hainey, author of After Visiting Friends
“How anyone becomes who they are meant to be is an enduring mystery, yet Rob Spillman takes us along on the wild ride that led him to become the utterly compelling and generous presence he is today. It is a portrait of the artist as a young man, retracing the steps that led him to a deeper truth, which (of course) lay outside himself. Spillman brilliantly–thrillingly–captures the velocity and the changing sounds of youth as it simultaneously hurls away from, and toward, home. This memoir rivets me to the page.” —Nick Flynn, author of Another Bullshit Night In Suck City
“Rob Spillman’s memoir is built out of an extraordinary and extraordinarily powerful and significant paradox: Spillman wants only art; at every juncture he chooses only life; the book succeeds precisely because we love Spillman for what he decries in himself. An achingly beautiful and brilliantly structured book.” —David Shields, author of Reality Hunger: A Manifesto
“In this carefully wrought coming-of-age memoir, a young American writer searches for home in an unlikely place: East Berlin immediately after the fall of the wall. . . . His is a quest of roots and writerly authenticity–and his evocation of East Berlin’s days is exquisite and revealing.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Lifelong exposure to passionate artists may have fueled [Spillman’s] creativity, but an existential dread that he won’t find passion in his own life gnaws at him. . . . This is the story of formative years spent struggling to fully embrace life at the crossroads of history, art, home, and family.” —Booklist (starred review)
“If you’ve ever been young, in love, and desperate to live an authentic life, this book is for you: a ravishing memoir about a young man’s quest for art, meaning, and a place to call home.” —Anthony Doerr, author of All the Light We Cannot See
We zigzagged farther into the heart of Prenzlauer Berg, the old Bohemian section of East Berlin, along light and dark blocks, then down a narrow street which terminated in another city park, this one bigger and brighter, and instead of a heroic Teuton, a statue of the martyred German socialist artist K—the Kollwitz. A few blocks later we hit another park, across from which a dozen or so young men and women were standing in soft yellow light spilling out of an open doorway. Smoking and laughing, most holding beer bottles, these people were the first we’d seen since the soldiers.
“PTA meeting?” Elissa ventured.
“If they’re skinheads . . .” Hank said, but trailed off.
“They’re not skinheads!”
“I see hair,” Elissa said. “Definitely hair.”
“Anarchists?” Hank asked.
“Who cares? Let’s go,” I said. “Great. Let’s go get killed,” Elissa said. “After you.”
I nodded to the young men and women as we passed through the doorway, and they nodded back, each of us feigning indifference.
Inside, the large square room was filled with more young Easterners sprawled on mismatched furniture: tattered leather armchairs, a black and white Bauhaus-print love seat, a three-legged kitchen chair. Many of them wore altered military clothing, the hammer-and-compass cut out of the East German flag insignias, black and red anarchist A’s patches in their place; others had tied on swatches of pink cloth ribbon. Spaceman 3’s “Revolution,” coming from unseen speakers, set a fuzzy, feedbacky musical vibe that felt like a sonic handshake meant for me. Through the haze of pungent Eastern cigarette smoke, I saw beers sliding out of a slot in the back wall, a foot high and three feet wide, what might once have been a receptionist’s window, which was now the bar.