BEER MONEY: THE BACKSTORY
For several years I’d been at work on a novel with an artist protagonist whose family had lost their wealth. It was a true work of fiction, not a thinly veiled memoir, and the story wasn’t quite coming together. When my father died in 2009 (soon after he’d received the news that the Stroh Brewery Company would cease to pay quarterly dividends), I realized the ending to the real story I wanted to write—the memoir about my coming of age as an artist in my family—had finally presented itself. And because my father had appointed me as the executor of his estate, I spent a tremendous amount of time sorting through and selling off his extensive collections of guns, guitars, and cameras, to name just a few. Each object in my father’s house evoked a maelstrom of memories, scenarios, and complex family dynamics, and the idea for the book was born of these reflections. The book required a good deal of research and trips back to Detroit to pore over the family archives, as well as interviews with family members. I dug into old journals, researched the beer industry on the Internet, and spent a tremendous amount of time alone not only writing the book but also delving into memories that were sometimes very painful. Revealing certain family truths, such as my brother Charlie’s drug addiction and subsequent incarceration, or facts about the business itself, had always been taboo in my family, so the writing of the book over the course of four years was a way to come to terms with the past and allow the truth to breathe out in the open air. It was also a way to begin to see my childhood and coming of age as an artist in my family not as a collection of disconnected experiences, but as an individual path as idiosyncratic and unpredictable as any other person’s path. We cannot always choose our circumstances, but we can chose how we live in the world, and I chose to write about my life and the lives of the people who have been most important to me.