Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Big Secret Revealed and What I Learned At The Makeout Room

Okay, all the hints and teasing that I've done over the past while? I can now tell you what it's all about. There's a new group blog in town and it's the first blog entirely dedicated to paleontological reconstruction. Not that there haven't been blogs involving the subject, but this is gonna be something different and spectacular.

So go on -- take a look at Art Evolved. It's got dinosaurs, for pete's sake. Everyone likes to look at pictures of dinosaurs!

So yesterday I did something completely out of character. I went to a reading in San Francisco. It was called LitPunk and it happened at the Makeout Room. The actual reading was a hell of a lot of fun. Some people whose work I really admire showed up and I wasn't expecting them at all, and everyone put on a real show.

Now I'm half an inch away from being a shut-in. But in this case I'd been strongly encouraged to go by John Shirley, a writer whose work I have long admired. I mentioned this in a post from a few days ago. And since I'd had such a good time at the reading in which he participated on Tuesday (when I got home from that I was in a better mood than I'd been in for weeks) I wasn't at all reluctant to make an appearance.

But the actual experience was a mixed bag for me. To start off with, when I walked in they were playing the Joey Ramone version of It's A Wonderful World. I've told you the Ramones are my favorite band right? I recently watched the Ramones documentary End Of The Century and the combination of Joey's sincere delivery and my consciousness of his sad history started the evening off with shot of bittersweet melancholy. What can I say -- I'm a big old sentimental slob.

John was in a very different state than he'd been in at Moe's. Rather than the somewhat retiring, almost shy persona he'd displayed in Berkeley, here he was high-energy, high-dominance, and obviously having a blast. Cool!

I wandered around looking for one of the readers, this guy named M.L. Heath, who'd sent me an email about the show. I wanted to give him a copy of Swill, and while asking after him, I found two of the other readers and gave them copies. I found out later that they were Charles Gatewood and Johnny Strike of Crime. I handed Charles fuckin' Gatewood a magazine with my photographs on the cover... Oh well.

I enjoyed the hell out of the performances; honestly, I haven't been exposed to enough of this kind of thing to have any critical stance. I just stood back and enjoyed.

First off the bat was the above-mentioned Mr. Heath, whose poetry was personal, sexual, and intense. His high-pressure delivery set the tone for the evening -- from the moment he started speaking all attention was fixed on the stage.

There was Rain Graves, who Shirley described as a cross between Lovecraft and Bukowski. Let's just say she didn't disappoint -- there was much cringeworthy nervous laughter.

Gatewood recited a somewhat self-satisfied piece of quasi-pornographic memoir that made me feel a bit better about my own creeping geezerhood. Blag Dahlia of the Dwarves did a cute schtick about groupies, dropping his manuscript at his feet one page at a time in fine punk style.

A woman named Charlie Jane Anders (who I was later informed might not have matching x chromosomes) did a pair of fucking hilarious bits, with a 'end of the web' recitation that pretty much said it all.

Rudy Rucker showed up, much to my surprise, and did a reading of his letters from Burroughs to Ginsburg from his e-zine Flurb. His dry and droll delivery was note-perfect and made me oddly conscious of the continuity of a certain level of subculture, how beat and punk are just drum fills in an ongoing cultural rhythm that's been playing since the first bitter hipster chimps stepped out of the fire circle to exchange knowing sneers.

Unfortunately as he exited the stage and passed by me I shoved a copy of Swill at him in what I immediately thought was a rude and peremptory fashion. I was afraid I wouldn't get another chance to pass it on to him. Of course he's the one at the show I least wanted to offend... Oh, well. Hopefully it wasn't as bad as I thought it was. (I'd send him an apologetic email if I knew for sure I'd offended -- but I'd look like a bit of an ass if I apologized without having transgressed. Social anxiety is a bitch. I wish I'd been raised right, you know?)

Shirley's performance was of the story he gave us for Swill and I've got to say that as much as I enjoyed reading it, it really is meant to be heard live. Caricatured voices and physical comedy made this into a cartoon on stage. It was great.

And he did a plug for Swill, which was nifty. Later, he came up to me and said, "You could probably get Blag Dahlia and Johnny Strike to contribute to Swill."

"Hey, everyone's free to submit," I said.

He gave me a look of disgust. "No, you go ask them." Which for some reason gave me a warm feeling.

Later, I was able to nail Blag Dahlia but wasn't able to get through the crowd to access Johnny Strike. Hey, Johnny -- if you want, submit something to Swill! When Rob's taking submissions again, that is.

And Johnny Strike finished things up with a couple of pieces accompanied by low-key guitar and sound effects, one a slice-of-life freakshow set in a methadone clinic, the other a surreal slab of dizzying incomprehensibility.

But the individual who seemed to get the best reaction from the crowd was a golden retriever who was making the rounds. He or she had the friendly impersonal demeanor of an airline attendant who still likes people and needs to get her job done. It was kinda cute to see all the hipsters reaching out to give the dog a quick stroke as it passed, everyone trying to coax it into giving them a little personal time.

Before I left, I scored a free book from John, passed out copies of Swill to all the readers except Charlie Jane Anders who'd left early, and had my copies of City Come A Walkin' and New Noir signed. I didn't get to buy any of the other folk's works -- the crowds were too fierce for me.

So given the quality of what was on stage and the pleasant interactions I had, why did I leave in a bit of an odd and distraught mood?

I just felt out of place. Because of my back I have to shift from sitting to standing pretty frequently and there was a crowd and it seemed kinda awkward and obtrusive. When I set up I thought I was in the back; by twenty minutes or so into the evening I found myself in the front. I was surrounded by well-dressed attractive young people while facing some of my cultural heroes. I started getting that exiled alien feeling, that "I'll never be one of the cool kids" feeling.

And the overstimulating environment didn't help. I was wearing my bifocals and between that and the shifting lights from a disco ball overhead I was having mild hallucinations by the end of the evening which made me feel feverdream crazy, and all the conversations around me made me feel like I wanted to just wither. I don't have a knack for shutting that stuff out, which goes along with being crazy.

None of this was anyone's doing -- aside from the elusive individual who ran a finger down my left butt cheek as if testing the texture (by the time I recovered from the shock, they'd pulled back their hand), no one was shitty to me and a number of folks were distinctly friendly. (Hey, Michael! Hey, John!)

So when I headed home I gave this some thought.

(Enough thought to get on the wrong fucking BART train... I swear, the last while I've been making one dumbass move like that after another. Last Thursday I wound up walking in circles looking for the writer's group meeting for forty fucking minutes before wandering by my own house accidentally. I am more or less Rain Man with a few more verbal skills these days.)

I do have some areas of arrested development in my personality, and it's all to the good for me to push at them. I didn't get a chance to be a kid or a teenager and now I'm not getting a chance to be an adult -- but by recognizing and working through these moments of tension, by allowing myself to go ahead and be an awkward teen or a frightened child, I may wind up getting past that. Not getting over -- I think that whole concept is just a way of justifying having a low-grade memory -- getting past.

It struck me that I want to do some kind of reading or performance myself. My pal Allison does some of that and I'm realizing that I'm a wee bit jealous. Being in front of an audience is a little nervous but nowhere near as distressing as being in a crowd. I like one on one interactions, and performance is exactly that -- you've reduced things to Self and Other and they have to take what you give 'em...

I also paid attention to the difference in John's demeanor between the two times I saw him. When you're in your element you're different than when you're not, and it struck me that real confidence is the ability to create your proper place inside yourself so you can carry it around with you, so that when it's appropriate you can withdraw without feeling diminished. Ponder ponder.

Now this is the place where I'd usually say, "They should never let me out of the house." But I reached another conclusion this time...

I need to get out more often. And maybe I need to think about dressing like a grownup -- but that's another post.


Allison Landa said...

This post put many familiar things together -- I think I told you about back in the day when my MFA bud Joseph and I had a reading at the Make-Out Room and Shirley joined us.

Performance can really add to your artistic arsenal. It's also a lot of fun on its own. The Marsh does Monday Night Marsh, which is an open call for people to get up and do their thing onstage. I've gotten a lot of good experience out of that, as well as from open mics and other storytelling series. Happy to talk to you about it if'n you like.

Sean Craven said...

Please, let's do.

robp said...

I'm all for readings/performance etc, especially if it's East Bay. I love the idea of pushing Swill, my time is just real tight. I was also briefly creeped out by the Allison photo with Adam as I saw it as one face (small pic, many drinks).

I think we should bring the fuckers across the bridge. Without making things exclusively Swill but emphasizing that attitude, I want this world on my terms. There must be enough places in the East Bay needing extra attendance, if we can provide it we're an easy sell and I save gas money.

For your own needs go for it, I'm behind ya and might even show up, but we could put some stuff together closer to home and it would be easier on us hosts.

And whatever you do, don't listen to Allison.