Editor’s Note: Jesús Ángel Garcia, author of “badbadbad,” is blogging his book tour. This is the second installment.
SKYLIGHT BOOKS (Los Angeles, CA)
Big upside to the SoCal summer is how even during the gray haze of “June gloom” many women strip down to sashay the streets in short shorts, short skirts, tanktops, bare midriff blouses, strapless dresses. In L.A., it’s often with the high heels too, leather straps snaking toward sweet sculpted calves. Bondage outerwear never goes out of style, not in the City of Fallen Angels. It’s sad, though, when the beautiful people nosedive on the pavement. That’s what I was thinking while unloading my gear outside Skylight Books where a mad homeless woman lay in the awning’s shade, tickling pretend piano keys on her blistered brown arm. If she couldn’t make her Hollywood dreams come true, what made me think I could?
In truth, I expected nothing from L.A. In fact, I expect nothing from this whole tour. I only plan to truck from town to town, do what I do, see what I see, and let what happens happen. It’s better that way: zero disappointment when you’re not attached to outcomes. More fun as well when you’re wide open to however your work is received.
It was satisfying, then, and surprising (especially in L.A.) to see horrified looks from the audience as the “Self Destruction” portion of the five-part badbadbad documentary film played out: smart ladies confessing how they always go with the same emotionally unavailable men, wild women regretting threesomes and orgies, cute girls giggling about banging heroin. Mirrors are sometimes hard to look at straight on, and yet it’s exhilarating to throw yourself off a bridge, until the bungee snaps.
Lots of writers and filmmakers at Skylight: Ben Loory, Grace Krilanovich, Antonia Crane, Seth Fischer, Patrick O’Neil, James Greer, Scott Kecken, Joy Lusco Kecken. Loory’s got a debut book of stories coming out in a minute. Krilanovich was a bit unsettled upon just hearing the audiobook release of her novel The Orange Eats Creeps. She said the reader sounds like Reese Witherspoon. Kecken was bound for a poker tournament in Vegas. There’s little money in indie filmmaking.
The audience was “intimate,” so I considered a more reserved performance, but the Skylight staff encouraged me to play for the arena. So I did my Reverend opener, maneuvering among the bookcases, shouting through a bullhorn to “You Have to Get Naked to Be Clothed in the Lord,” a bent blues tune off the badbadbad soundtrack, while classic burlesque dancers (Bettie Page, Blaze Starr, Tempest Storm) bounced on the video screen. I read the opening scene from the novel, rolled that self-destruction clip and ended with a singalong: “In Love with the Reverend’s Wife.” Folks seemed to enjoy the multimedia (and the Jim Beam shots). No one fell asleep.
I signed some books. The store graciously purchased a few. People said what I was doing was different. A friend said I should read more. O’Neil said the turnout was due to L.A. jadedness. Before the show, a young couple walking past Skylight’s sandwich board filled with author names said, “This book store is cool, but I don’t know any of these writers.” I told them I did. They were on their way to dinner. “Good for you,” the woman said.
I heard L.A. Times blog critic Carolyn Kellogg, who didn’t attend the gig, was trying to hide from me at the afterparty. She had blown off multiple emails pitching her to review my book or preview the event. I guess she doesn’t know badbadbad is all about loving-kindness. I mean, how could she when she won’t read my work? I wanted to hunt her down, but I got busy with martinis and conversation with Subversia author D.R. Haney about multigenerational culture gaps, the wide-ranging personalities on The Nervous Breakdown and how rock is dead.
JOSHUA TREE: Gram Parsons’ resting place
After countless consecutive 14-hour workdays prepping for the tour, I was reeling from adrenalin overload and sleep deprivation, so I trekked to Joshua Tree for grounding. Note to self: the directionally challenged should never hike into the desert at dusk. I got down off the boulders just before darkness fell, but my car was nowhere to be found, or rather, I was ill-equipped to find it on my own. For nearly an hour, I stumbled along the cryptic campsite paths, evading the bikers who threatened a beatdown for getting too close to their truck, until a group of L.A. college kids rescued me with a flashlight and common sense. One guy said I looked like Steven Spielberg with my trucker’s cap on. I sent him a download of the badbadbad film to thank him for saving my sorry ass.
THE FILM BAR: Phoenix, AZ
First impressions of Phoenix: prisons, flags, Jesus Lives!, strip malls, blazing sun in corporate partnership with world-class cancer treatment centers. The Film Bar, a recently launched cultural oasis in the conservative wasteland that is Arizona, was funky-chill with its world-beat playlist, massive microbrew bar, Moroccan decor and old-school theater. I couldn’t have dreamed up a more welcoming space for the badbadbad documentary’s premier. Twenty percent of the audience fled before the first half was over. I can only guess from political differences, or information overload, or both. Having now seen the movie in its entirety on a massive screen, it seems to me something like a guerrilla-art combo of “Capitalism: A Love Story,” “Super Size Me” and “28 Days Later.” I’m OK with that.
Poet and Pima College instructor Melissa Buckheit runs the Edge series at Casa Libre, a one-of-a-kind community hub—non-profit writing center, performance space, apartment complex—in the heart of Tucson’s hipster/hippie district. In the neighborhood, there’s an organic food co-op, a couple of smoke shops, tattoo joints, music venues and a queer-friendly vibe that matches San Francisco’s Castro. Founded eight years ago by Kristen Nelson, Casa Libre aims to educate and entertain with its progressive arts programs that run the gamut from literary readings and lectures to dance performances and an exhibit of memorial kites to honor the victims of transgender violence. The struggle for GLBTQ equality and justice is clearly the most significant civil rights battleground in the U.S. today. That it’s happening in force in Arizona was an eye-opener.
Casa Libre’s reading room was filled to capacity with an enthusiastic all-ages crowd. Poet and memoirist Taylor Johnson opened the event with some powerful narrative non-fiction on domestic violence, most telling in its depiction of silent rage. Per the advice from L.A., I presented a couple of lit pieces along with the “eIntimacy” film, which led to animated discussions after the gig. The memorable moment of the night was the audience singing “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” (Handel-style) during “Peace, Love & Understanding at First Church of the Church Before Church.” It was easy to see how preachers get high from moving congregations with their words. I strongly recommend call-and-response at readings if you want to get up-close with those bookish freaks in the seats. Me? That’s why I’m out here doing this thing. I’m also open to hugs and kisses.
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Playlist highlights from the lonesome highway: The Devil Makes Three, Amelie soundtrack, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, the new PJ Harvey and this:
Next up: Austin & New Orleans
—Jesús Ángel García is on the road with badbadbad, sponsored by Umami Burger and Ben Loory martinis. Have you seen the Google tour map? http://badbadbad.net