Johnny Temple ’84
Not by the Book
Genre-busting alumnus Johnny Temple ’84 has found success as both a musician and a prominent independent literary publisher. One the one hand, he is the bassist for the band Fake Names, a transatlantic collaboration that dropped its self-titled debut album to positive international reviews in May 2020. At the same time, he is the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Brooklyn-based independent publishing company Akashic Books, whose relevance in the literary world has grown in light of our current national anti-racist reckoning.
While it is not unusual for GDS alumni to bridge multiple fields in their personal and professional lives, Johnny’s story is particularly compelling for the way he defies tradition.
Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World
In his literary life, Johnny’s Akashic Books began leading a recalibration of publishing practices in 1997. The goal was to cultivate content from a broader demographic of authors and illustrators and reach a more diverse readership. The company website bears the somewhat tongue-in-cheek tagline “Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World” that is based on Johnny’s premise that the publishing industry has, to a great extent, targeted a white demographic of book buyers.
“The publishing business is not even particularly trying to sell books to huge swathes of the population,” Johnny explained. “There are ethnic groups that are just ignored. People in the business should spend less time talking about how no one reads anymore and more time trying to build readership and develop readers. [At Akashic], we're trying to publish books in a way that appeals to lots of different people—and across the socioeconomic spectrum, too.”
As stated on the company website, Akashic is “dedicated to publishing urban literary fiction and political nonfiction by authors who are either ignored by the mainstream or who have no interest in working within the ever-consolidating ranks of the major corporate publishers.”
Mirroring his efforts at Akashic, Johnny is also the proud cofounder of the Brooklyn Book Festival, New York City’s largest. Book festivals, Johnny explained, demystify books and make them more accessible for more groups of people. “Book festivals are a good vehicle for reverse gentrifying the literary world as well, because when you go to a really big, well-organized book festival, you’ll find books for just about everybody.”
Johnny, who attended GDS from kindergarten through 10th grade—"I fell two years short of being a lifer!"—locates the roots of his creative and critical thinking in the teachers at the school. “I feel that there was a great emphasis on humanity among the teachers at GDS, and I happen to like this idea, [for example], of calling teachers by their first names,” Johnny said. “Unlike a lot of schools, GDS wasn't focusing on obedience to authority. And I think that, combined with an education that focuses on critical thinking without being beholden or subservient to authority figures, has the makings of a good, progressive, powerful education.”
Among his beloved GDS teachers, Johnny speaks particularly fondly of former Lower/Middle School Arts Department Chair Jackie Marlin,* who was also the mother of his best friend at GDS, Jacob Marlin ’84. “Jackie Marlin really conveyed a love of music and a love of art,” he remembered. “She placed art on an equal playing field with commerce. That's a hugely valid, valuable lesson. I think that [respect] was reflected in the attitudes of the teachers.”
The four-member supergroup Fake Names features three former GDS students—each with a storied history in the punk rock world—and their album straddles catchy pop, garage indie, and old school punk. Brian Baker (far left; GDS 1st–6th and 9th–11th) of the band Bad Religion previously played with GDS alum Lyle Preslar ’81 in Minor Threat. The band also includes former classmates Johnny (second from right) and Michael Hampton ’83 (far right; S.O.A., Embrace, One Last Wish) as well as Swedish rockstar Dennis Lyxzen of Refused (second from left).
“Fake Names is a blast!” Brian said. “I must admit we spend a disproportionate amount of time at rehearsals talking about high school instead of working, but when you have a band this grasshopper-heavy what can you expect? It’s been really great reconnecting with friends from so long ago and creating new music. Playing in the band feels a bit like time travel!”
“As a whole, this album is a work of maturity and precision,” wrote music critic Emmaline Jeansonne of entertainment magazine mxdwn.com. “It runs with a nearly soundtrack-like essence, and viewers can easily imagine Fake Names playing on the car radio in ’80s classics like Pretty in Pink or The Breakfast Club. However, nothing about this album is cheesy.” The critic went on to note Johnny’s powerful bass lines and the album’s lingering “angsty but sincere” punk sentiment.
We have a great new children’s picture book series based around the lyrics of famous songs like ‘Respect,’ which was written by Otis Redding and most famously performed by Aretha Franklin,” Johnny said. “We've licensed the lyrics of the songs, hired an illustrator, and turned them into children's books. I have two kids, and I know parents want to turn kids on to the music that they love. This is a great way for parents and grandparents to start exposing kids to great music without having them rebel against it.
*Jackie Marlin also served as president of the Board of Trustees, assistant principal of the Middle School, chair of the Lower/Middle School Arts Department, a member of the admissions team, and leader of the Lower School Martin Luther King Jr. Assembly’s “We Shall Overcome” community sing for decades.