And in the category of best author of a financial book who has also made a rap record with a sinister-looking cover photo of him wearing a trench coat, the winner is: Michael Robinson!
All right, so he was the only entry. So a PR woman for his publisher dreamed up the idea. So even Robinson concedes that "some people might think I just dropped in off the third ring of Saturn." Still, this former reporter for American Banker has managed to write a book called "Overdrawn," about the bailout of a California savings and loan, and cut an extended-play recording of the same name, released by Critical Mass Records of San Francisco.
In case you missed the historic synergy involved here, Robinson's spokeswoman, Surina Carter, has been carpet-bombing the country with a publicity kit: "You may already know of Michael's reputation as a hard-hitting reporter. His music has that same tough edge ... a groundbreaking mixture of rap and modern rock -- sort of like M.C. Hammer meets the Talking Heads."
Hey, he must be hot; he's already done Larry King. Radio stations around the country are playing "Overdrawn" (they oughta be -- Robinson sent freebies to 250 of them). USA Today has mentioned the record ("His voice thrums when it should hum," its critic huffed).
Just catch these outraged lyrics:
Turns out the best thing to own
is something called a savings and loan
Where you can live off the public trough
with all the politicians you bought off ...
Though the truth may be surreal
the government gave them a license to steal
They're saving a special place in hell
for the scoundrels of the S&Ls.
"Rock songs are just like American journalism, short and to the point," Robinson says tersely.
So how does the 34-year-old son of an Aviation Week writer, a kid who attended a Fairfax County high school during the Watergate era, transform himself into the rapping reporter from San Francisco?
"I didn't tell anybody about this for a long time," says Robinson, who started voice lessons three years ago. "By day I was a banking reporter and by night a songwriter and singer."
Those who know him are not surprised. "He's a live-on-the-edge type person all the way," says his former wife, Susan Barbieri, now the singles columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. "He's unique. There's nobody quite like Michael Robinson out there."
Music isn't Robinson's only obsession; he tried to break into television for a while and later got absorbed in competitive sailing on San Francisco Bay. "There were other tangents along the way," Barbieri says. "He would really cringe when I used that word, tangents. Whatever he does, he throws himself into completely. He's just a very driven person."
Lest anyone get the impression that Robinson has struck musical gold, it should be noted he is the first artist ever recorded by Critical Mass Records. In fact, Robinson and three other investors put up the money to start the label. Initial sales of the $5.95 cassette are limited to Washington and two other cities.
Robinson worked for the Kansas City Times, Detroit News and San Francisco Examiner before landing at American Banker, a weekly industry publication, and turning out a 300-page manuscript on the bailout of California's American Savings & Loan Association. The book has drawn decent reviews, although Robinson acknowledges that he took plenty of liberties with direct quotations. To use his words: "The reader should not assume that those quoted in reconstructed dialogue actually spoke with the author."
A detailed look at the barbarians at the gate of a Stockton, Calif., thrift probably wasn't going to rocket to the top of the bestseller lists. Perhaps that's why Lisa Berkowitz, publicity director for the publisher, E.P. Dutton, suggested he write a song to accompany the book.
Robinson was a tad reluctant at first. After all, he and his manager had recently shopped a demo tape around the industry and gotten no takers.
But Robinson says he was so ticked off about the S&L scandal that he couldn't sleep one night, "and bang, a song popped into my head." He completed it (and most of the five-song cassette) with help from veteran songwriter Randy Quiroz.
What if anyone dared suggest that the simultaneous release was, well, your basic publicity stunt?
"Up until the very end, I needed reassurance that we should put the record out because it might be a double negative," he says. "You could be seen as just some little novelty act. You're not taken seriously as a financial writer and you're not taken seriously as a songwriter."
Robinson says the record is not mainstream rock and is aimed more at the college market. "If I can get their feet moving, their minds will follow," he says.
As for the trench-coat photo, Robinson says it's perfectly in character: "I just didn't want to look like another guy with a black leather jacket and a big earring in my ear."
Even as he wails away at a corrupt banking system, Robinson is hardly making a capitalist killing. Robinson concedes he received a modest advance for the book, made some business mistakes and is not exactly thriving in the cash-flow department.
"The author of 'Overdrawn' is hurting a little bit," a friend says. "He's getting his 15 minutes of fame, but it's not paying his bills."