Riding with Jesus Part IX: a badbadbad tour blog
Photo credit: Sue Miller
Lit Touring’s Just Life
Most everyone I’ve met on the road thinks this two-month tour is something special. You drive thousands of miles, perform with world-class artists, experience the American Dream through the eyes of family, friends and strangers, and bring The Book to The People. The numbers are inarguably greater than usual. In the past few weeks I’ve logged more miles, more readings, more social events, and more book talk, press, and sales than in many months prior. But that’s just numbers. In truth, there’s nothing special here. Lit touring is no different from mundane life. You’re confronted with an ever-shifting succession of highs, lows, and inbetweens. You either roll with it or roll over and play dead.
BBQ in Cambridge
1. Timothy Gager loving Lit Pub
Timothy Gager runs his Dire Reading Series at the Out of the Blue Art Gallery like a neighborhood porch party. Starting with a classic red-white-and-blue BBQ (dogs and burgers), the monthly lit showcase usually includes an open mic, featured readers, and the occasional musical guest. I was invited to perform a set of tunes from the badbadbad soundtrack and to close the show with something from the novel. Here’s a live video
of “In Love with the Reverend’s Wife.” Apparently at this point in the tour I was “formulating some ideas about the universe and God.” Road-worn and weary, one tends to get delusional about Big Things. I’m more clear-sighted now, that is to say, less certain.
1 & 2. A welcoming all-ages audience.
Though I was asked to play an hour of original music, I had planned 45 minutes, so I took my time, easing into the program to give the art house’s capacity crowd a chance to digest before dishing out the raucousness. I opened with a few six-string instrumentals and finger-style folk tunes, nothing too crazy: a pretty song, a love song, a killing song. About halfway through the set, just as I was picking up the tempo, Gager leaned in and said, “One more, alright.” This threw me. Flashback to a past life and a suburban restaurant gig (solo, cover tunes) where the bartender forced me to unplug early: “Love your guitar playing, but the singing… we’ll still pay you for the full night.” Most cash for the least work I ever made as a musician. In Cambridge, there was no remuneration. No open mic this night either, so no time constraint. I’d been up there for less than a half-hour. Tour Canon #3: Never argue with the host on stage or off. Miscommunication, clearly. No need to assign intent. Deep breath. One last song. Thank you, goodnight! Applause. A beer. Budweiser.
So you get what you get, take what you can, and give all you’ve got. There is nothing else. Bend or die. A Reed once said this to a Tree.
“Well, little one,” said a Tree to a Reed, growing at its foot. “Why do you not plant your feet deeply in the ground and raise your head boldly in the air as I do?”
“I am content with my lot,” said the Reed. “I may not be so grand, but I can do downward dog like Wai Lana for days. I’m strong. I feel fine.”
“Strong?!” scoffed the Tree. “Who shall pluck me up by the roots or bow my head to the ground? Fine, pshaw…”
The Tree soon had to repent of its boasting, for a hurricane arose, which tore it up from its roots and cast it a useless log on the ground, while the Reed, bending to the force of the wind, soon stood upright again when the storm had passed. Indeed, the Reed was feeling fine.
After a brief intermission as the Dire crew rearranged the seats for a proper literary sitdown, Gager stepped up to read from an in-progress novel about a therapist’s hour-to-hour thought processes. Such a setup is readymade for comic exploitation and Gager sounded like he was up for the challenge. Veteran poet Lisa C. Taylor presented tuned-in pieces from new and old collections. In a nod to a religious fanatic in the “Fear” film (I must have talked about), she dedicated “What Slugs Have to Teach Us” to yours truly. It was a sweet gesture and an expansive analogue. You can see her in action here. Jolly Jacque Fleury, “The Haitian Firefly,” was up next. This gig was some sort of homecoming for him and he was casual about it, talking more than he read: debating whether or not to wear his hat, giving love to his mom in the back row, providing lengthy introductions to each of his poems and non-fiction shorts. I felt like I was eavesdropping on a family picnic. Here’s a glimpse for yourself.
1. Cambridge on badbadbad condoms: “We only use goodgoodgood prophylactics.”
Beyond the performing, high times of the night came from messing with Gager’s son about sexual morality (he said, “I don’t even know what that means,” and I said, “Most adults don’t either”), messing with the Dire audience members, none of whom would touch the complimentary badbadbad condoms (“What does this say about Cambridge folks?”), hanging with my New England mafioso cousins (they’re the tall drunk ones in the back), and meeting Tim Horvath (who recently announced his second book, Understories, will come out on Bellevue Literary Press, publisher of Paul Harding’s Tinkers, last year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction).
So that’s how we rolled in Cambridge. Thank you, goodnight.
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Playlist highlights: Toys in the Attic, Nick Drake, Dancing with the Gods, and “Dead Like Us”:
Next up: To Read or Not To in Small Town, Pennsylvania.
— Jesús Ángel García is bringing badbadbad to the streets and sewers of the United States of America. His death-rattling, life-affirming, genre-defying tour is sponsored by Jameson and Ibuprofen. Don’t miss this weekend’s blowout performances in Indy (on Friday) with the Big Car Collective, St. Louis (on Saturday) with the Noir Bar folks, and Kansas City (on Sunday) for the “God Hates Authors” showcase with Brandon Tietz and Caleb J. Ross. Complete details here. Love notes are welcome here.