Riding with Jesus Part X: a badbadbad tour blog
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To Read or Not To Read
To read or not to read is the existential drama of the 21st century author. Major publishers say book tours are like dumping a corpse in the East River. They’re a stinky, soggy enterprise, dead on arrival. You won’t sell nearly enough product to turn a profit, and multinational conglomerates need to feed the bottom line. They’ve got shareholder pockets to perfume. So literature in the megacorporate domain is rarely about bringing live nude words to the people. Natural selection forbids it. What does this mean for overworked, rarely-paid subterraneans like us? Read, dammit! Read out loud. It’s our responsibility as guerrilla artists. And make it fun. Or shut the fuck up.
There’s this notion floating around that so-called serious writing can’t be funny or bawdy or entertaining. Lies, I say. Damn lies!! Look at history. Look at Shakespeare, Chaucer, Greek mythology. Shakespeare was slaphappy to goof on the human condition when not thrilling audiences with sex, violence and political intrigue. Hollywood’s still copping his groove. Chaucer’s tales are ripe with vulgarity, and yet kids study them at the finest universities on the planet. The Greeks were renowned for edge-of-your-seat plot lines. I hear the Romans ripped all their shit, but I’d have to check Wikipedia to be sure.
Let’s talk Epic of Gilgamesh, Sappho, the Holy Bible!!! On second thought, let’s not.
1. Some books are written for adults. 2. Farley’s: bringing new hope to writers for more than forty years. 3. Feed your head.
Our Town, Pennsylvania
There’s this place called New Hope, about an hour north of Philly, where tourists flock on weekends to window-shop antiques. They promenade the tidy sidewalks in khaki shorts and polo shirts, splotched here and there with memories of wayward ice cream. There’s a well-stocked indie bookshop called Farley’s on the main drag where adventurous writers are welcome to perch outside and accost passersby. That’s just what we did.
I first met Nik Korpon a year ago when he invited me to perform at Last Rites, a monthly lit series he runs with Pat King in Baltimore. We got together again at AWP D.C. last winter. He set up the gig at Farley’s, one of the most writer-friendly bookstores I’ve yet encountered on this tour. The manager there asked us to sign a half-dozen volumes each, and he also bought outright (magic words: no consignment) the badbadbad multimedia — CD soundtracks and DVD documentary films — at a generous rate. Our experience with Farley’s couldn’t have been sweeter. Our reception from the New Hope strollers was something else altogether: comic absurdity that speaks to the emerging author’s place in mainstream America.
Picture this: Thousands of carefree Kohl’s-attired folks traipsing up and down the streets on a sunny Sunday afternoon as a Harley convention of bikers roars past. Mere dozens pause to peep our immaculately feng shuied table and listen to us read from our mount on folding chairs. A handful purchase books.
1. Mobile Americana. 2. Fancy merch table. 3. New Hope’s Sunday strollers.
Nik presented scenes from his new novella, Old Ghosts, and his debut novel, Stay God. His work leans into the dark — neo-noir the critics call it — with sometimes darkly comic undertones about sex, about self-destruction, about vampires and comic book heroes. Occasionally, street language creeps into his prose. A proud new father (“Yeah, I’m that guy now,” he says, pulling up baby pics on his iPhone), he was self-conscious dishing profanity within earshot of children who happened to roll up every time he’d get to the dirty parts. Some books are written for adults. My novel’s rated NC-17.
1. Nik Korpon reads Old Ghosts. 2. Jesus Angel Garcia terrorizes tourists. 3. Nik Korpon scares children.
I had a time with the bullhorn. It’s got a range of nearly three football fields. There’s not much more liberating than spewing bent First Church rhetoric at top volume in a wide-open public space. The teenagers and biker chicks understood. I encouraged safe sex: “Take a condom. They’re free.” Nik’s buddy Sean Ferguson drove down from New Jersey to check us out. He posted this review on the Velvet soon after.
Road Warriors for Life
Too ambitious to settle for a single performance in a day, we convoyed ten miles west to Doylestown for an evening event at Saxby’s Coffeeshop. Another writer friend of Nik’s, Don Lafferty, set us up on this literary showcase, though we’d soon find out none of us knew what we were getting into.
All the seats were filled for the second installment of a new open-mic series run by Lafferty’s pal, Lucas Mangum. We thought we were, like, going to be the featured readers or something, after a few short presentations by audience members. We were wrong.
1. & 2. Doylestown: a quintessential American ‘burb where writers read & read & read & read & read & read & read…
Every single person in the joint — save Mangum’s girlfriend and the barrista, who called Doylestown “quintessential Americana” — read something they’d written. They all read well. Amateurs and professionals alike had clearly rehearsed for this moment in the spotlight. It was an egalitarian scene: no hierarchy of published v. non-published writers, no constraints on material within an approximate five-minute time frame. It was a wonderfully supportive community, and the subject matter ranged from a silly audience-participation napkin poem (“whisper, ‘I want to fuck you’”) to sobering depictions of suffering (trauma, cancer, death). But the readings went on and on and on for well over two hours without a break. After the break? They continued…
There were so many participants, the gig relocated after the first thirty minutes from a basement room around a long oak table (first impression: what is this? a workshop?) to the coffeeshop proper, where readers competed on occasion with the vociferous grind of the bean crunchers. It was an open mic without a microphone. When we finally figured out what was going on, it seemed too late to bail. By the time we read (after raising our hands like in class and being called on by Prof. Mangum), we were barely awake. Our fellow scribes in the chairs were polite but dead. This was far from fun. We all should have shut the fuck up and gone home.
* * * * *
Playlist highlights: Bill Monroe, Ten, Ralph Stanley and “Heart Sutra”:
Next up: Punks, Zines & Drugs ’til Dawn: High Times in Pittsburgh
— Jesús Ángel García is an authorial construct of the transmedia novel badbadbad, sponsored, in part, by the Holy See and See’s Candies. Don’t miss this weekend’s blowout performances on Friday (in Indianapolis) with Big Car Collective, Saturday (in St. Louis) with the Noir Bar, and Sunday (in Kansas City) for “God Hates Authors,” a blasphemous literary venture that promises live audience tweeting on a big-screen TV (hashtag: #hateauthors). Tour dets on this here fancy map.