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Jo Maeder remembers Mama in heartfelt and humorous memoir

by Mark Burger

Before we get started, allow yours truly to digress and to regress…. During my wayward youth growing up in New Jersey, I was a regular listener of 92.3 WXRK (K-Rock), primarily because I was a rabid devotee of Howard Stern’s morning show. But, as an offshoot, I tended to listen to the rest of the station the rest of the day, including the “Up and At ’Em With the Madame” show hosted by the “Rock ’n’ Roll Madame” better known as Jo Maeder. (I was so fervent a K-Rock listener that I even remember Maeder’s short-lived switch to the on-air nickname “Mojo Maeder.”) Some years later, I was invited to a party and introduced to Jo Maeder, but didn’t put the pieces together initially. I couldn’t help but think I’d met her somewhere before. The name was familiar. The voice was familiar. And then, on the drive home, it hit me: I’d been conversing with “the Rock ‘n’ Roll Madame” herself! Now, Jo Maeder has written a book — her first to be published in the United States — and it comes straight from the heart. When I

Married My Mother, published by Da Capo Press ($25 retail), chronicles the last years of her relationship with her mother and namesake, “Mama Jo,” who died in 2006 at the age of 84. Much to the surprise of her friends in New York — and even, to an extent, herself — Maeder relocated to Greensboro in 2003 when it became apparent that Mama Jo wasn’t able to care for herself any longer. Having spent the better part of 25 years as a successful disc jockey, professional voiceover artist and, perhaps most importantly, as a dyed-in-the-wool New York girl, this represented an entirely new chapter in Maeder’s life and a major culture shock. “I wasn’t sure I could write a book about this experience for fear I would upset my family and that it wouldn’t be interesting to outsiders,” explains Maeder in an exclusive interview with YES! Weekly. She had been approached by More magazine to write an essay about her experiences, but by this time Mama Jo was in hospice care and Maeder simply had other matters to attend to, including the reality of life without Mama Jo. “It was too overwhelming to boil down to 1,200 words,” she says. “I needed distance. I wrote another memoir that was light and fun, but it didn’t sell. In the summer of 2007, just over a year after Mama Jo passed away, I started on the proposal and sample chapters.” And, like her experiences living with and reconnecting with Mama Jo after so many years apart, there was a lot to draw from. Originally, the book included much more about the region’s history. “I was sorry to see [it] go but felt it wasn’t moving the story forward enough,” Maeder says. “I had to ask myself: ‘Does it relate to the core story?’” That core was the love story between mother and daughter, and in a society where intergenerational households are more commonplace than ever, How I Married My Mother speaks volumes about the relationship between parent and child, and how adverse circumstances can often strengthen that bond. Living with an ailing mother came with its share of hardships, duly recounted in the book, but it also had its humorous and human side, too. And in the end, it opened up an entirely new relationship between mother and daughter, and deepened their ties to family and friends. In 2006, a girlfriend and I were invited to what would be Mama Jo’s last birthday party, and what a pleasure it was to see her bask in the collective attention. That night belonged to Mama Jo and no one else. Maeder, who divides her time between Greensboro and New York, is on the promotional circuit and will be doing her next book signing on Thursday at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in the Friendly Center (3102 Northline Ave., Greensboro). Maeder will also be doing a book signing at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 19 at Shakespeare and Company Books/Le Select Café (210 N. Main St., Kernersville). After that, she’ll be doing signings throughout the summer across the state (Raleigh, Asheville, Pittsboro) and beyond (Greenwich, Conn.). Nancy Giles of “CBS News Sunday Morning” hailed the book as “hilarious, heartbreaking and real. [It] captures the twists and turns of parenting one’s parents and shows the new relationships that can develop as a result. This is a sweet and sensitive book.” Rebecca Johnson, the author of And Sometimes Why, a critically-acclaimed novel about a family dealing with grief, said: “Imagine Bridget Jones grown up, with a conscience. All in all, a delightful read, one sure to make you hug your mother.” The reader truly gets a sense of who Mama Jo was, who Jo Maeder is, and the ties that bind them. Take for example Mama Jo’s doll collection, which could (and nearly did) take up the entire house. Never a collector or a hoarder, Maeder was initially exasperated by Mama Jo’s lifetime penchant for collecting. A lot of odds and ends had to go when they moved in together, but most of the dolls remained — and continue to remain, to this day. Even now, Maeder still feels close to Mama Jo, and occasionally sees Mama Jo in herself. “Oh yes,” she says, “especially when I see how I can’t get rid of her doll collection! It’s getting harder, in general, to let go of ‘stuff.’” Mama Jo would be proud.

For more information about the book, tune in and turn on to Maeder’s official website: www.jomaeder.com.

To comment on this story, e-mail Mark Burger at marksburger@yahoo.com.

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