Riding with Jesus Part XII: a badbadbad tour blog

Editor’s Note: Jesús Ángel Garcia, author of Badbadbad, is blogging his book tour. This is his twelfth installment.

Punks, Zines & Drugs: High Times in Pittsburgh

The DIY imperative of indie authors and publishers today is punk. Maybe it’s not the same punk proselytized by Maximum Rock ’n’ Roll and Factsheet Five in the Golden Age of Zine Culture, but the DNA of the featured artists in those pages back then is close enough to ours for comfort. Let’s say we’re spit-swapping cousins with a mutual desire to make and distribute creative work on our own terms. Let’s accept said work runs the gamut, from novels to albums to graffiti to comic books. Let’s acknowledge at least a few common obsessions: autonomy, solidarity, whimsicality, provocation. At its root, punk is about providing alternative ways and means (e.g., transmedia narrative, literary reading as literary theater, free art for the people). If you’ll grant all of the above is true, then give it up to Pittsburgh as Punk Refuge U.S.A. in the summer of 2011.

1. Belvedere’s Wall Art. 2. You are beautiful, and so are you, and you, and you…

Cyberpunk Apocalypse, a local writers’ coop with a publishing/performance mandate and a residency program, and Karen Lillis, Small Press Librarian and author (currently) of the serial memoir Bagging the Beats at Midnight: Confessions of an Indie Bookstore Clerk, set up a whirlwind badbadbad showcase at Belvedere’s Ultra Dive Bar, a spacious multipurpose venue in the Lawrenceville neighborhood. It felt like you could do whatever you wanted in this place, and that’s exactly what we did.

1. Zines and more zines at the Cyberpunk Apocalypse table at Belvedere’s (click through for hi-res).

Before the show, a couple dozen artists and art lovers milled about the tables covered with zines, chapbooks, comics and story collections, some of which were distributed free of charge, all of which seemed fearlessly, lovingly executed. The subject matter ranged from politics to erotica to simple silly fun. This is where I met resident artist, Max Wheeler, a writer and publisher who would close out his tenure a few weeks later with “Maximum Family Story Hour,” a reading focused on family that encouraged audience members to contribute their own storytelling. He lived and worked for a month at the Cyberpunk house. There are many kinds of families. The Cyberpunks seemed like an inclusive one, bound not by blood but a shared need for anything-goes art-making.

1. Karen the Small Press Librarian and unapologetic altrocker. 2. Cyberpunk Apocalypse family.

Karen Lillis hosted the gig, which started off with a riveting performance by Gunner. Costumed like a sort of fanciful woodland creature, she regaled us with a theatrical piece combining the singsong rhymes of Dr. Seuss with the darker couplets of Edward Gorey. She closed her show by dropping her clothes and baring her birthday best. This was sixties-style protopunk, à la “Hair,” my kind of mess-making.

1. Gunner as naked nature beasty. 2. Nate McDonough saves the world with canned goods.

GRIXLY publisher Nate McDonough followed Gunner with a kooky superhero comics presentation. He gave us all a copy of his work so we could look at the pictures as he read. The story ended with a Dada twist as our hero inexplicably chowed down a can of baked beans. McDonough did the same on stage. I was thinking: Brother!

1. Art Noose crushing on Tolkien. 2. Her Dragon Map of Pittsburgh.

Art Noose was up next. She’s a prolific producer of beautifully crafted letterpress zines and commemorative cards. See for yourself here. On a Tolkien jag, she gave us a fantastic portrait of Pittsburgh as City of Dragons, complete with an illustrated map. She toured us through various urban neighborhoods with miniature tales of dragon activity designed to lure gawky tourists to their just desserts (as tasty treats for the monsters).

Karen Lillis slayed us with a raucous reflection on Lawnchair Larry, a fleeting celebrity of the early ’80s who had fallen into obscurity. Her story was written for a forthcoming anthology devoted to this crazy guy and his crazy dreams of alternative flight. She doused her prose with some of the finest fleeting bands of the noisy postpunk/altrock era of the early to mid ’90s: L7, Unsane, Bosshog. Most of the kids in the audience knew none of these names. If you’re one of those kids, I urge you to click the links above. Ain’t no rock ’n’ roll like this no more. Not that there needs to be, but still.

By the time I got on stage, I was feeling like family. I read the first chapter of badbadbad and did my Reverend thing with the bullhorn. Karen Lillis dropped an email the other day that said she’d just run into an audience member who told her: “That show was like the best reading I’ve ever seen! I was sweating it was so good.” I thought it was a hot show too, but it’s nice to get corroboration.

Afterwards, the host dumped a pile of cash money in my lap. They had passed a bucket and the people gave generously. I also sold books, CDs and DVDs. It’s like that when you’re among kin. I had the pleasure of meeting the Dirty Poet, in town from New Jersey. I read from his must-read collection, “Emergency Room Wrestling,” on video for a previous post. We had planned to meet up later to raise a ruckus, but it didn’t happen. What did was something else.

1. __________ Inn living room. 2. __________ Inn balcony.

See those pics above? That’s where I stayed in Pittsburgh — free of charge — courtesy of Karen Lillis via the __________ Inn, whose management comped her a suite, which she in turn gifted to me. Why, I’ll never know. But I was grateful for the kindness and intended to share the love.

I invited the Belvedere’s crowd to an afterparty at this swank place, which was bigger and much fancier than my apartment in San Francisco. Two guys took me up on the offer, showing well after midnight with the promise of girls, booze and drugs. They delivered.

1. Text from a drug-wielding security dyke; name blacked out to protect the guilty. 2. Quality-testing badbadbad condoms.

Most memorable young lady of the night was the singer of Dikkplow, a death-metal band she said was a joke, as if there’s any other death metal. She stormed into the room with a chestful of ink, talking pterodactyl porn, which we at once pulled up on the laptop. I dare you to Google it. We quality-tested badbadbad condoms just to, you know, ensure they were legit. They are. We considered throwing the television out the window, but after careful deliberation decided against it; flat-screens don’t make the same satisfying sound on impact with the ground as those old box TVs.

A sad girl lamented being pimped out the weekend before by her sister, something about getting a train run on her. This little Asian tech entrepreneur fronted empathy, while her lesbian pal played security guard. Both wanted inside her panties. When sad girl started chatting with me, Asian boy and security dyke lamely showed their ass, as they say in Nashville (see second-to-last graph), mumbling how they wanted to punch me in the face. When I called them out — “I share my good fortune with you, and here you are talking shit all hostile-like?!” — they apologized, proffering Molly. “It’s straight from the chemist,” said security dyke. “MD without the MA.”

We didn’t sleep until after dawn. Two hours later, I was out the door and behind the wheel yet again, dreams of Punk Pittsburgh dancing in my head.

* * * * *

Playlist highlights: Dead Kennedys, Led Zeppelin, “Shake Your Groove Thing” and this:

Next up: Right Down the Street in the Midwest & Love Letter to Chicago.

— Jesús Ángel García is touring badbadbad, a transmedia novel, sponsored by Not So Quiet on the Western Front. Details on The Map.

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