BY MIKE LEONARD
Freda Love Smith acknowledges that she began writing her first book with a concept not fully baked.
“It was going to be a document about teaching my son to cook,” she explains. “There’s a growing genre of food memoirs, and it seemed like it made sense.”
After reading the book-in-progress, an editor raised the question about the glaring absence of the author’s public life. That life includes leaving her hometown of Bloomington for Boston at age 18, starting a band that Beat poet Allen Ginsberg named the Blake Babies, and enjoying national indie-rock recognition as a drummer in that band and others, including two Bloomington-based groups, Antenna and The Mysteries of Life.
An editor also came up with a title that crystalized the book concept through a melding of red velvet cake and the name of the fabled punk-and-alternative rock progenitor, The Velvet Underground.
In Red Velvet Underground: A Rock Memoir, with Recipes (Agate Midway), Smith draws on experiences ranging from baking for Bloomington’s long-defunct Daily Bread bakery at age 16 and her tumultuous early years in Boston with Blake Babies bandmates Juliana Hatfield and John Strohm to moving back to Bloomington and marrying fellow musician Jake [Jacob] Smith.
In a recent interview, she laughed that she was well into adulthood before she realized she didn’t have to stick with her sometimes giggle-worthy surname Freda Boner and could simply go with Love, her middle name. “Yes, I was born in September 1967, at the end of the Summer of Love. And after being Boner most of my life, when I married Jake, Smith sounded pretty good,” she says.
Smith currently works as an undergraduate academic adviser and lecturer in the School of Communication at Northwestern University. Her husband earned his Ph.D. at Indiana University and is an associate professor in the same school. Son Jonah, inspiration for the original book project, is now 21 and lives on his own in Chicago. Freda and Jake live with their younger son, Henry, 16, in an apartment in the Elder Residential Community for first-year Northwestern students, serving as faculty-in-residence.
“I’m having my first dorm experience at age 48,” Smith says. “I’ve never done anything in the right order.”