Meanwhile from the LBC…Cheap Drinks, Surf Rock, Literary Contests and Sexual Tension at The…
I descended the damp, steel basement steps of Harvelle’s in Long Beach, California and was given a blue poker chip by a dark haired woman in a red velvet dress. Her eyes were full of burning embers and her cigarette tray was full of poetry. The house band started playing “Fate” by Dr. Dog, and it was at that moment that I knew I was going to have a holy & a heartfelt Sunday night. As I walked though the dark club filled with artists and other cool, well-dressed, sarcastic people, I realized I was feeling almost frightened about the amount of sheer talent I was going to be exposed to in one evening. Many of the performers were writers that I could listen to for days and days, and with their powers combined they could have very well summoned a spirit wolf, or perhaps Captain Planet.
1. The tender bar at Harvelle’s, which served up five dollar Moscow Mules, a sneaky combination of vodka and ginger beer that the crowd didn’t shy away from. 2. Derrick Brown (left) and Jeremy Radin (right) building the trust and intimacy that co-hosting requires.
I took an open seat, one of the few available, in front of the speaker on stage left. I could feel the bass blowing across my blue suit and vibrating through my notebook. Then poet, musician, president of Write Bloody Publishing, and co-host of The Lightbulb Mouth Radio Hour, Derrick Brown, grabbed the mic and, to my post-rock satisfaction, sang a gutsy rendition of “Punks in the Beerlight” by the Silver Jews. He promised the crowd that he would love them to the max, and was then joined by co-host, poet, actor, and platinum Jew, Jeremy Radin, and celebrated poet/feminist superhero Mindy Nettifee. Together in a rich, saucy harmony, they sang The Lightbulb Mouth theme song (“If you’re feeling awful- chicken and waffles, and some Warren G- LONG BEACH!”) and the second episode of the triumphant return of Lightbulb Mouth was underway.
1. When recent Portlandia guest star Amber Tamblyn took the mic, she immediately chastised the show’s producers for, “Send(ing) the actress a mannequin head that looks like the artist…You think blue eye shadow isn’t incredibly sacred to me?” 2. Dressed as “The world’s sexiest mortician,” poet Daniel McGinn wrote about an inflatable bath pillow, and wanted whoever won the contest, and thus all the objects, to know: “I have been using it.” He went on to call bath pillows gateway drugs to “Bath oils, scented candles, romance novels…maybe a woman to join me in the tub and explain this bath pillow thing.” 3. Def Poet, featured actor in Rachel Getting Married, and author of the forthcoming The Undisputed Greatest Writer of All Time, Beau Sia, was sent a cheap home drug test. “The murder weapon is not the most important clue.” he claimed. “We will never find Carmen Sandiego.”
From February to August of 2010, LBM was a weekly cultural landmark. Its variety-show-feel, sincere approach, and wide range of literary talent revitalized the Long Beach art scene, putting a friendly, strange, and decidedly badass spin on literary entertainment. Its past guests have included fiction writer Aimee Bender, and poet and stand-up comedian Rick Lupert. Click here to watch a video of Brown interviewing actor, comedian, and writer David Cross.
1. Literary events often suffer from a lack of fog machines. This is not one of those events. 2. Where would you cast your blue chip? 3. LBM poetry girl Codi Madison Preuss presiding over the Write Bloody sales table during intermission. There was a killer five dollar sale on slightly irregular books, and all of the profits went towards homeless, prison, and youth reading organizations.
Though the format of LBM has changed a bit since 2010, the show is still opened with their ‘In the News’ segment, a piano accompanied overview of local and national events. In a song Brown & Radin performed for retiring Long Beach Fire Chief Alan Patalano, they declared, “There’s a dream inside of us that burns like gonorrhea, and only some people can put it out.” They then went over a list of political terms that, if you googled, could take you to a porn site, including the terms, “Reverse mortgage, hanging chad, and dangling chad.”
Another thing separating LBM from run of the mill, ‘chairs & podium’ literary events is its dedication to bringing in genuinely skilled indie music acts, like Emily Wells, Matt Costa, and, on this night, Ray Barbee and the Mattson Two. They sounded something like the missing link between Vampire Weekend and Dick Dale, and, when the drummer soloed, he led us by our heartbeats into the bubbling surf. When Brown interviewed guitarist and ex-pro-skater Barbee after his set, he asked what he thought was a better idea for a t-shirt: a kangaroo on a toilet saying “Bidet Mate,” or an empty gravy boat saying “A dingo ate my gravy?” Barbee, wisely, chose the former.
1. Voting begins! 2. Ray Barbee (right) and the Mattson Two. If you’re wondering where the other Mattson is, he’s playing drums, but I couldn’t fit him into the frame from where I was sitting. The good thing is, the Mattsons are twins.
By this time, the road had been hot buttered and paved clear for the evening’s main event~ the found object face-off. The producers of Lightlbulb Mouth have scoured the many thrift and 99 Cent stores of Long Beach, and have discovered some of the weirdest, and most criminally un-loved, items imaginable. Each contestant is mailed their object two weeks before the show, and they have to write an original piece based on it. If the audience chooses them via poker chip voting, they get fifty big ones, ten minutes of featured time, all of the evening’s treasured objects, and the chance to return the following month to defend their title.
First up was February’s winner, Caitlin Parrish, who is one of the hosts of the LA incantation of The Encyclopedia Show. She’s someone who can reveal the big picture in pretty much anything, a natural talent that knows the impact of a well-rounded story. She was mailed a spy gear walkie-talkie set, advertized for ages six and up, and told the crowd about how she tried to talk to ghosts: “Ghosts? Hello, ghosts? I’ll tell you a secret if you tell me one, too.”
1. Radin & Brown announcing the winners of the found object contest- Constantine and, with only one and a half more votes (yes, someone actually bit a chip in half), Mindy Nettifee. Mindy’s the one in the headlock in the back of the photo.
Second was Brendan Constantine, a man so charismatic and inspirational that my mom reads him, and has used his work as part of her English lessons, which is something not even I can claim. He’s the author of Birthday Girl with Possum and the recently released Calamity Joe, and he was mailed a green, dollar store flyswatter with a huge, purple, decorative flower covering one whole side of it. Addressing the manufactures of the flyswatter, he lamented, “I’m sure you meant well. I’m sure your heart was in the right place, but…you and I have failed.”
As Radin introduced actress and writer Amber Tamblyn, calling her a Brooklyn resident via Venice Beach, and “Carol Burnett without the jokes,” an ominous voice from the back of the club shouted out, “You’re not ready Long Beach!” When she hit the stage, she held up her object, a disembodied, brunette mannequin head, like a trophy, and then let it crash to the ground. It reminded me of the head WWF wrestler Al Snow used to carry around, the one that led to his action figure getting taken off the shelves of Wal-Marts nationwide. Somewhere in the process, Tamblyn began confessing her feelings for Battlestar Galactica, for “An Englishman drinking the last cup of Earl Grey in the world…slowly, carefully.”
Next up was legend of the Orange County poetry scene and author of 1000 Black Umbrellas, Daniel McGinn. McGinn is one of the kindest people I have ever met, and he casts waves of acceptance and forgiveness everywhere he goes. He was mailed an inflatable bath pillow that looked like a puffy, white shell, and though his research couldn’t produce a single pillow marketed with a man on the cover of the box, he suggested that all the men in the crowd consider getting one. “Where can you go when you got no time or money?” he asked. “Who can you turn to besides your bath pillow?”
1. Mindy Nettifee is one of the most beloved performance poets of her generation, and has been a part of the South Bay poetry scene since she was fourteen years old. She is made of quotes. “The best parts of ourselves are hidden in the bomb shelters of each other’s eyes.” “Our hearts are just broken fisted clocks.” “Trust will flood you like a baptism, like a monsoon of yes’s. We will re-invent osmosis.”
The fifth contestant was poet Beau Sia, a performer that blew me away when I first saw him on Def Poetry Jam as a teenager. His raw delivery conjures vast pools of frantic thought, and though he was mailed a simple home drug test, it inspired the line, “Being is a word between words.” It’s a line that has lingered with me like a thorn in my side ever since. He ended by asking the ultimate question, “Did I write this poem while stoned?” — a question I don’t think he ever answered directly.
The final contestant was LBM alumni Mindy Nettifee, author of Sleepyhead Assassins and Rise of the Trust Fall. “I don’t give a fuck about competition,” she proclaimed, and said her piece was, “For all my hope I’m scared to hope.” After appraising the object she was mailed, a set of fake black mustaches, she concluded that, “Trying to look like a woman is much more complicated than trying to look like a man.” She recalled a scene from her thirteenth birthday, which fell on the same day as the Long Beach Pride parade. As she watched the parade from her apartment balcony, the floats suddenly stalled. That’s when, “the tallest, most outrageous Cher reached through the crowd, grabbed (her) hand and said, ‘Honey, you’re so pretty you make me want to turn the page.” She said she felt “anointed by a High Priest of I Don’t Give A Damn, I Look Fucking Amazing In This.”
After the voting intermission, Ray Barbee & the Mattson Two played another set of hard surf jazz. They played with a rolling rattle and clang, like empty beer bottles clinking together on the curves of the coastal route to Funkytown. Nettifee was then named the night’s winner, but due to the narrowness of her victory, it was decided (to the crowd’s approval) that Constantine should also be allowed to read. In a poem titled “Geek Love” that he dedicated to a girl named Jane, he declared, “If I had your action figure, I’d put your whole head in my mouth…I’d make you beat up all my other action figures; I’d give you their secrets, their weapons & armor, while they watched.”
Nettifee took the stage in a roar of applause and began her featured reading with a poem she wrote on the plane ride over, a piece dedicated to Amelia Earhart. “Amelia saw her first plane at ten in Iowa,” she said. “I found my first geode in Iowa. After that, I thought you could slice into anything hard and find the jewelry inside it.” In another piece, she professed that “It’s the hardest thing in the world to be loved & be loved again- it’s like tanning on the surface of the sun.” She went on to call joy an “involuntary muscle.”
For those of you that want to give that crapshoot a run for its money, The Lightbulb Mouth Radio Hour will going on indefinitely at Harvelle’s in Long Beach the last Sunday of every month.
–David Ohlsen, an LA native, is a thoughtless product of UC Riverside’s Creative Writing program and is a regular contributor to Electric Dish.