Baldwin Does Warhol at Lapham’s Quarterly Launch Party

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1. LQ Assistant Editor Aidan Flax-Clark and LQ intern Olivia Rosane. 2. The stage at Joe’s Pub.

Contrary to my perception of the place when I heard the name, Joe’s Pub isn’t really that pub-like. Having passed the ticket-takers at the gated entrance, I was ushered up to Joe’s press section, which is actually a long and very nice bar with a leather bumper for your elbows, I guess. The bar overlooks a lower section of banquettes and tables slowly filling up with evening dresses and business suits. Seated there, next to a gentleman decked out in a Mad Men-style bowtie, vest and cap, I felt quite intellectual enough to witness the Winter 2011 launch party of Lapham’s Quarterly, which is actually just beginning its third year in print, but looks like it has been around since the dawn of Plato’s Academy.

The whole event was suitably posh for an issue devoted entirely to the concept of celebrity. An eclectic collection of writers from throughout time, Lapham’s Quarterly Volume IV includes thoughts by everyone from Truman Capote to Giorgio Vasari to Thomas Aquinas on the nature of fame and the hazards thereof. Fortunately, we had Alec Baldwin and Philip Seymour Hoffman on hand to interpret the words of these past heroes, but more on that later. From my bar perch I did feel like a spectator to celebrity, but the Lapham’s staff was right up there with me: LQ intern Olivia Rosane scurried while Assistant Editor Aidan Flax-Clark attempted to field questions. They all looked a little harried, but I’m sure the bar helped: I caught more than a few putting drinks on the Lapham’s tab.

1. LQ Editor Lewis Lapham and LQ Online Editor Michelle Legro. 2. Kira Don, LQ’s Executive Editor.

LQ Executive Editor Kira Don bemoaned the lack of proper martini glasses to Angela Gibson, an academic editor at the MLA and a longtime patron of Joe’s. Turns out she had gotten her martini special from bartender Eddy, a friend of ten years, and had no glass issues. See? Even editors have problems. As Don buzzed around the room, LQ Editor and founder Lewis Lapham made a statelier steamship track through the crowd and kindly stopped to welcome me, flagged down by LQ Online Editor Michelle Legro. After a few more words with Angela (turns out MLA stands for Modern Language Association), the reading kicked off with an introductory conversation between Lewis Lapham and Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director of the Public Theater.

1. Actor Alec Baldwin doing Andy Warhol. 2. Mandy Patinkin and Linda Emond reading from Truman Capote’s “A Beautiful Child”.

Suffice it to say that there were digressions on the path from celebrity to the flatness of internet-driven cultural production that had my toe tapping. For a succinct retelling, I suggest reading LQ Celebrity’s introduction. We were then treated to a romantic duet between a dragged-out Taylor Mac and Mandy Patinkin drawn from Steven Sondheim’s Assassins that was hot but scary. Alec Baldwin then took the stage for meditations on ambition and fame first from John Adams. Baldwin makes for an august founding father but still managed to turn the young Adams’ outsized thirst for success into a hilarious deadpan that mocked its own seriousness. The Andy Warhol impression was even better, though. Kicked off by an incident in which someone attempted to buy Warhol’s “aura”, Baldwin’s nasally artist/starfucker bemoans his own lack of total celebrity and those who “open their mouth, and the aura vanishes.” The celebrity-on-celebrity irony was awesome.

1.The bar at Joe’s Pub, featuring Eddy the bartender at the end. 2. Novelist Beth Raymer.

Who better to offer a wry commentary on celebrity than Truman Capote on Marilyn Monroe? In a dialogue ripped from a real life incident at the funeral of Constance Collier, Mandy Patinkin read Capote as Linda Emond played the airhead starlet with a penchant for swearing. Patinkin was killingly dry. Philip Seymour Hoffman took stage for a story that was basically about being embarrassed about a fart. Only this wasn’t your elementary school, it was 12th century Yemen as per Scheherazade. Celebrity can come with infamy as easily as with fame. Our performances drew to an end with actor Michael Stuhlbarg and Linda Emond reading a dramatic scene from Sunset Boulevard in which our washed-up actress heroine, obsessed with her own fading celebrity, kills lover/unsuccessful screenwriter Joe in a fit of jealousy. But it doesn’t matter- stars are forever, blameless, immortal.

A final thank you from Oskar Eustis and a shouted thank you from the audience to Lewis himself ended the night, and the room was filled with the sound of congratulatory pats on the back and air kisses. I was pinned against the bar by bodies and waves of perfume, left to survive only on complimentary wasabi peas. Fortunately I had a companion in my struggles, novelist and LQ contributor Beth Raymer, author of Lay the Favorite. We waited and chatted at the bar until the crowds emptied out and we could escape. Walking past the knot of LQ editors at the door, I heard the after party was just down the street, but my own celebrity felt thin enough as it was.

–Kyle Chayka is a staff writer for contemporary art blog Hyperallergic.com, but thinks literature is pretty awesome too.

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