Local color

Bill Flanagan’s TV eye shines in New Bedlam
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  August 28, 2007
STARTING YOUNG: Flanagan decided to be
a writer at the age of 12.

Bill Flanagan certainly had a lot of himself and Rhode Island to bring to his second novel, New Bedlam, which was released last month by Penguin Press.

As executive editor of Musician magazine in the 1980s, Flanagan chatted at length with Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Joni Mitchell, Joan Armatrading, and the like, which resulted in Written In My Soul, a collection of interviews with rock songwriters. He later traveled the globe for two years for U2: At the End of the World. So he had plenty to put into his 2000 novel A&R, about a cheerfully diabolical recording label, and he has plenty of street cred left over for his CBS News Sunday Morning music commentary. Flanagan didn’t have to pad his resume to become executive producer of Crossroads on Country Music Television. Specializing in music programming, he is also an executive vice-president of MTV Networks.
Presently living in Greenwich Village with his wife and three children, the 52-year-old Flanagan grew up in Apponaug, which he takes pains to differentiate from generic Warwick. After graduation from Brown in 1977, he wrote for numerous local and national publications, from a junk food column through political pieces and movie reviews to stories for Marvel Comics. Until 1984, when he moved to New York, he contributed to the NewPaper, the precursor of the Providence Phoenix.
Flanagan says that he’s a pretty casual TV viewer, although he did watch a lot of Bonanza episodes with his 12-year-old son to research his latest novel.

"It’s a family affair: New Bedlam offers a different kind of reality TV." By Bill Rodriguez.
Was journalism a backup plan? Did you start out with novelist ambitions?
Well, I certainly started out with novelist ambitions, but I didn’t make too much of a distinction. From the time I was about 12, I figured I’d be a writer. Really because that just seems the easiest job that was available, from what a 12-year-old could tell.

It was your mother tongue.
That’s right. I already speak English and I know how to write. Playing a piano takes a lot more work.
It was what I did best in school. I remember thinking, “Well, I know I’m better than most 12-year-olds, so all I have to do is stay level and by the time I’m 30 —” In a way, that really, really ignorant idea paid off. If I’d known any better I might have been discouraged.

Who and what in Rhode Island were you satirizing specifically rather than generically? 
I wasn’t specifically a satirizing Rhode Island. (Pause) I don’t know — maybe I was. But I didn’t think of it that way.
My editor said, “You tell such funny stories about Providence, about these guys, and all these characters, why don’t you make that your setting?” That was a light bulb going off. I said, “Oh, that makes perfect sense. Because now the world he goes into will be as familiar to me as the world he comes out of, so I can really work both sides of the street here.”

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