Since Levi's been reading Richard Hell and Johnny Temple's letting us all in on his punk indie publishing philosophy over at The Book Standard, it seems like a good time to let you know about another important punk literary event, the opening of CBGBs: A Place that Matters, a collection of statements and photographs of and by musicians. The collection will be on exhibit today through Wednesday, September 14, 2005 at Urban Center Gallery, 457 Madison Avenue at 51st St in NYC. The opening coincides with a reception and book signing for CBGB and OMFUG: Thirty Years from the Home of Underground Rock.
So on Saturday I went to the Printer's Row Bookfair, presented by the Chicago Tribune, Target, and Jewel, among others.
To start off, it was really hot. With Printers Row, the Old Town Art Fair, Blues Fest and the Red Sox in town to play the Cubs, it was a good weekend in Chicago to go out and mingle with sweaty people eating greasy food.
We woke up late-ish on Saturday morning. On the train we saw a couple Red Sox fans. One of them was wearing a David Ortiz jersey with 'Papi' on the back. That's not as bad as having 'Ortiz', but still; does anybody else find it weird, bordering on unacceptable, for men over the age of 30 to wear a jersey with a player's name on the back? It's one thing for a 16-year-old to look up to somebody, but for a 40-something to wear an 'Garciaparra' jersey or something; I mean, in high school we gave our football jerseys to our girlfriends. I guess it's the frequent homophobia of the many hardcore sports fans that makes it funny to me that so many wear a shirt advertising their favorite player wouldn't be able to order their own jerseys from NFL.com because their last names are on a 1,000+ potentially offensive words that are banned list, but that's another, non-bookfair related story.
I was planning on arriving in time to arrive in time to see, on firecracker's recommendation, Li-Young Lee read at 1 pm. We got there about 12:50 pm. However, Mr. Lee's reading was at an offsite location, and I didn't feel like arriving at the book fair just to leave and walk somewhere else. I did see several people wearing Li-Young Lee authentic game-worn Starter jerseys, however.
I was mostly there to browse the used books anyway. I was somewhat interested in seeing Paul Theroux read from his new novel at 4 pm, but by the time the hour had neared, I was wildly unenthusiastic about standing in a packed tent listening to a guy read from a book. I may have mentioned this already, but it was an exceptionally warm and humid day.
The fair is oriented around a stretch of Dearborn Street, starting just south of the Harold Washington Library and stretching two blocks to old Dearborn Station. (If I remember to take in the film tomorrow, there might be some mildly uninteresting photos of the event in a few days), This once was the mecca of Chicago's meager publishing industry. Now it's just some nice old buildings being converted into loft space as part of Chicago's South Loop gentrification.
There were about 150 used and new booksellers there. The bigger ones had their own tents, the smaller would go foursies on a tent, each occupying a side. The big chains had big tents across the intersection from each other.
I was somewhat disappointed in the selection available. I overheard one seller telling a woman that he really only brought the stuff that didn't sell online, and I imagine that was a common practice among the rest. So there was a lot of milling around tables, bumping into people and then swapping places. Considering the heat and the crowd, everyone was really polite.
Stephen King, mysteries and sci-fi dominated the tables along with old best-sellers. Lots of Penguin Classics. It was interesting browsing the small press tables to see what the universities and indies were producing, but I'm also not about to drop $20+ on an unknown author.
That's about all there is to say about the event. There's not much to talk about when you're just walking about looking at used books. I saw Nick Hornby signing books. He looked British and seemed very happy to be meeting with his fans. With a little planning, there were some reading and/or panels that I might have been interested and seeing. But I'm not huge on watching people read or talk about books.
I'm not sure why writers are also required to perform. It's not as if actors are required to write their own lines. And it bothers me that a book's success can depend on the ability to self-promote as much or more than on the writing, which I guess is the point (self-promoting) of these whole events.
Anyways, that's it.
If you're in the Chicago area (and you know who you are) or you're planning to make the trip, we'd love to hear your report on this event.
DeAf Jam: spoken word meets ASL (American Sign Language) poetry
When: May 28, 2005, 8:00pm
Where: Bowery Poetry Club, NYC
Admission: Adult $10, *Students FREE*
Join us for DeAf Jam, sponsored by City Lore and Urban Word, directed by Judy Lieff, where spoken word meets ASL poetry! The event features some of the most acclaimed Deaf poets in the United States - the Flying Words Project with Peter Cook and Kenny Lerner, and Ayisha Knight, whose poetry and signing was recently featured on HBO. DeAf Jam brings these ASL masters together with the Urban Word NYC slam poets, the 2005 National Champions!
DeAf Jam highlights the remarkable poetry and storytelling of the community of the Deaf, as they perform their poems in American Sign Language (ASL). In this dramatic visual language, body language, rhythm and movement create a visual equivalent to oral poetry.
DeAf Jam also showcases the students of Lexington School for the Deaf, JS47 (The American Sign Language and English School), and Murray Bergtraum High School. DeAf Jam (a play on HBO's Def Jam) features a Hearing/Deaf duet by Aneta Brodsky and Tahani Salah; a special presentation by Hinda Kasher, involving members of her Deaf family; and poets Danny Biland, Aneta Brodsky, Mandy Gonzalez, Robert Haughton, Hinda Kasher, Aron Moses, Kenneth Montanez, Wanda Nivol & Tremaine Parkinson.
The evening closes with an open dialogue between performers and audience, moderated by Dirksen Bauman, Associate Professor of the Department of ASL and Deaf Studies at Gallaudet University.
Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, NYSCA and NEA, DeAf Jam -- a cultural initiative and documentary film project --highlights the beauty and expressiveness of American Sign Language by giving deaf teenagers a chance to express themselves in ASL poetry, while opening the lines of communication between the worlds of the hearing and the deaf.
While we were thrilled to have the opportunity to share our writing and thoughts on literature with the small crowd, Levi and I also got the chance to meet up with three familiar LitKicks faces: Wireman, firsty and pelerine. Wireman performed a few of his most recent "action poems" and firsty read a selection from the Action Poetry anthology. Also joining us was John Lawson of Raw Dog Screaming Press, whose prose offered a unique interpretation of the bookmark theme by exploring our relationship with novels, their characters -- and what happens when we allow them to slip from their pages for a moment. Despite the varying opinions on poetry readings, I find it's always fascinating to watch writers reading their own work when so many different voices and genres are represented. If nothing else, it allows writers to connect with not only an audience, but with other writers as well -- when writing can often be an isolating endeavor.
Focusing on the theme of bookmarks in preparation for the reading and being surrounded by the artistic display of bookmarks during the event, I began to think about what stories a bookmark might tell about itself. I thought of the variety of bookmarks you can find: the rack of bookmarks near the checkout at Barnes & Noble, promotional bookmarks found at tradeshows and literary festivals, more ornate bookmarks fashioned out of leather, metal and beads ... the collection of bookmarks that seems to catch the eye of a child at the school book fair. During the reading, I offered up my own literary confession of sorts with a show and tell of my most frequently-used impromptu bookmarks: ticket stubs, convenience store receipts, photos, playing cards -- even a fortune cookie fortune complete with lucky numbers. The other writers prompted me to also think about the physical act of picking up a book, putting it down -- and then coming back to it all over again. I thought quite a bit on how literature and poetry is, in a way, a bookmark of its own -- marking a certain place, moment or emotion so that we can always come back to it, replay it, review it or just know that it's there when we're ready.
I'd like to pick your brain about bookmarks and poetry readings and everything in between. Are you a bookmarker, a page folder or a page memorizer? Can you tell a lot about a reader by the way they mark their place in a book? Additionally, do you attend or participate in poetry readings? Do you enjoy them? Or not so much? Either way -- I want to thank everyone who attended and participated in our latest outing, especially those who read and Elyse of Gallery Neptune.
Check out our pictures from the event and follow the links for more eyewitness accounts...
Gallery Neptune Artist/Owner, Elyse Harrison
Caryn warms up the crowd and introduces the first act...
Andrew Lundwall then shares some great poetry against a surreal playground backdrop.
Jamelah recounts a childhood memory and entrances the audience with her cool intensity.
Elyse & Levi concentrating on poetry
John Lawson tells a clever tale of a literary mystery that spans all genres, ages and intersections.
firecracker looks on
WIREMAN, blasts out "Kid Stuff"
Levi shares his childhood literary secret... as well as a few moving poems.
The Audience, Amazed.
Star Jewel Smith and The Giving Tree
Doreen prepares to connect us with words.
Michael Boettcher shares a clever villanelle and reads a few of his pieces from "The Furnace"
Lightning Rod... lost in a literary fantasy.
Andrew & Star
Taking a break
Doreen, Wireman & Lenny
L-Rod offers a home remedy
Doreen & Lightning Rod perform their collaborative piece, "You Make"
A Happy Crowd
Jamelah acts out the children's book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Vorst Coming out from behind the camera One last glimpse of Gallery Neptune See more pictures here
Read more about the evening here and here.
Jamelah acts out the children's book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Vorst
Coming out from behind the camera
One last glimpse of Gallery Neptune
See more pictures here
We rehearsed at the house of Doreen Peri and Clay "Lightning Rod" January, in Sterling, VA. Beautiful house. Spacious. Splendid art and photos on the walls, much of it the work of doreen herself. Amps, books, couches, plants, wide windows & windchimes, and plenty of electrical outlets to plug in our gear. Food. Doreen had cooked chili! I was in Heaven.
Kevin Pierce, an airplane pilot who currently performs in an aerial show, did a run-through of his "Jungle Buck" routine. This guy should be in Hollywood. He goes on stage as the shy, mild-mannered Massengil Ticklepink, but then a "possessed" pith helmet follows him around on stage, so he dons the pith helmet and it transforms him into Jungle Buck. He's funny.
Clay played his song, "Talking To Noah About the Flood" on his electric keyboard so I could figure out a bass-line to go with it. I love the way he sings that song. He's got a jazz-blues style that can't be beat. I was really happy to be a part of that. While we rehearsed, Ronnie (Yabyum) showed up! It was great to see him. Ronnie just epitomizes to me what 'beat' is about. He travels a lot and I believe he keeps his eyes open. He reads his poetry loud, with genuine feeling, and doesn't tend to participate in anything "staged." He also loaded and unloaded my amplifier for me. It's a heavy son-of-a-bitch and I don't like lifting it, but Ronnie swung that thing like pack of roofing shingles, like he knew what he was doing.
Then Levi and Caryn arrived. It really was good to see them because they are such cool people and you just want to perform around them for some reason. At least, I do.
We loaded ourselves into cars and made our way from Lightning Rod Headquarters to the Warehouse Theater in Washington, D.C.
Cabaradio was the brainchild of Doreen Peri and Clay (Lightning Rod) January. It featured the LitKicks Action Poets with musical and dramatic interludes by the Renegade Theater Company, directed by the very capable Laurie Gilkenson. Ms. Gilkenson was on Broadway as a child in the original Sound of Music (she played Marta) and in The Music Man. She also took piano lessons from the great Marvin Hamlisch. Not only that, but Mr. Hamlisch was sometimes her baby sitter when she was a child!
Lightning Rod was the host, complete with a desk and chairs for his guests, in the style of David Letterman or Conan O'Brien. Sharing the stage with LRod was his lovely sidekick Doreen, who served in the role of hostess, introducing the acts..."Who's on next, Doreen?" He appointed me (Bill Ectric) to fill the role of the Paul Shaffer Band. "Let's say hello to our good friend, Bill Ectric..." The band consisted of me, on bass guitar, over at the side of the stage. As Lightning Rod read his "Top Ten List" of "Why People Hate Poetry" I tried to approximate the old "rim shot" with some bass flourishes.
Now, how can I describe the wonderful voice with which Doreen delivered her spoken word piece, "Deathrap"? It's a perfect pitch blend of knowing sexuality and natural innocence, like Cher in the 60's when she was a hip, intelligent counter-culture icon. Accompanied by tough, compelling bongo jazz and wailing guitar riffs, "Deathrap" brought to my mind words like "hip", "cool", "noir", and "downtown." She also performed her poem "Duct Tape & Plastic", which she describes as being "about the little panic stores the government is going to be setting up at intersections and the color coded fear tactics... (or something like that)." And on top of all this, Doreen was dazzling in her micro-mini skirt!
The Momentum dancers were impressive. Exhilarating moves and colorful individual costumes gave each dancer their own identity while they moved in perfect harmony in styles ranging from jazz to hip hop. To quote from a Washington Post review, "The Momentum Dance Theatre has style as well as substance, with a zany sensibility." I couldn't have said it better.
Caryn is a trip. She is an amazing poet and performer. When she took the stage in that sparkling miniskirt, her pixie cuteness did not prepare anyone for her spoken word piece, "Down at the Motherfuckin' Bourgeoisie" which she delivered fearlessly and with great cheer, sometimes almost scatting the words rap-style. I was honored to be asked to accompany Caryn on my bass guitar as she recited her poem. Soon after the piece began, a woman was seen quickly removing her children from the audience, no doubt shocked by the rawness of the thing. The kiddies passed in front of me as I sat cross-legged on the side of the stage, playing my bass. I tried to give a sympathetic smile to show I understood the lady's decision to exit, but I'm afraid under the stage lights and my concentration on the fret board, I succeeded only in giving a twisted leer which further traumatized and terrorized the innocents as they fled. It's alright, though, kids will hear things sooner or later and words are only words. Not far away from our event there in Washington D.C. words are spoken which literally set wars in motion. Hopefully, by the time these children are old enough for the military, there won't be any wars and free speech will have contributed to that outcome.
Levi Asher, the founder of Literary Kicks, was introduced as the next guest. Levi first answered Lightning Rod's interview questions about the website, then gave a gripping rendition of his spoken word piece, "This Poem Is About Me." Next, Levi played acoustic guitar and sang. He started with John Lennon's song about the horrors of drug addiction withdrawal, "Cold Turkey" and segued into "I'm Losing You."
There was the highly polished singing duo, Jeff Obermiller and Gilly Conklin. Jeff sang the Rodgers and Hart classic, "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" (a song that has recently been covered by Rod Stewart and Cher) and together, Jeff and Gilly sang, "You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby."
Ironically, the enthusiasm which Yabyum (Ronnie) instills in those around him may have obscured the very message he was trying to express in his spoken word piece. Levi and I made a last minute decision to back up Yabyum's poem with some punk rock. Between my chunking guitar chords and Levi's thumping bass, another reviewer (Professor Gloom) wrote, "I would like to hear the rant read without music so I could actually hear the words." Sorry, Ronnie. I've heard it without music and it's a powerful thing. Next time we'll give you the space you need to throw down.
The grand finale was Levi Asher conducting the Litkicks Action Poetry Orchestra. We had been hearing about this idea of Levi's for some time before the rehearsal and we knew it would be something weird. It was. Levi had a group of us sitting in chairs, each with a different piece of writing, which we read out loud as he directed the flow by the motions of his hands, like a music conductor. One person started to read at Levi's signal, then he brought us each into the mix, one by one, the various disparate words bouncing off each other to create a symphonic buzz of syllables, sounds, rhythms. Levi continued to direct with his arms & hands: read slowly -- quietly -- now whisper -- a little faster now -- a little bit louder now -- even louder -- and on to the ending crescendo. Levi looked at us as if to say. "We pulled it off! We did it!"
The official Cabaradio show was followed by open mike and festivities in bar up front. I'm happy to say that no one seemed offended by my song, "Let's Cook the Dog." I had a blast. I'd like to thank jota for doing the press release and I will end with some quotes from other people who were there:
"Well done, but might stand a bit of polish with out diminishing the charm. Truly an honor to attend." - Professor Gloom.
"We got a lot of compliments from strangers, and that says a lot." - Levi Asher
"Very talented bunch, I must say!" - Laurie Gilkenson.
Lightning Rod (Clay January)
Yabyum, Caryn, Levi
Caryn, Yabyum, Bill Ectric, Levi, Lightning Rod
Levi tries out my Peavy electric guitar
Lightning Rod, Levi, and Doreen Peri
The Cabaradio Band (Bill Ectric)
Doreen, doin' the Deathrap!
The Momentum Dance Company, led by Roberta Rothstein
Levi Asher (brooklyn)
Ronnie's rant backed by Bill on guitar, Levi on bass
Bill Ectric, cooking the dog
Kevin Pierce as Dr. Otto von Wheezenkoff in the Flying Circus
On hand to give her firsthand account of the bust that led to that conviction was Carolyn "Mountain Girl" Garcia. Other readers and performers included Kesey's longtime friend and co-conspirator Ken Babbs, along with his wife Eileen and their daughter Lizzie; Spit in the Ocean editor Ed McClanahan, author of The Natural Man, Famous People I Have Known, and other famous books; Jail Journal editor David Stanford, formerly of Viking Press, known for his work on Jack Kerouac's Collected Letters and Some of the Dharma; Kesey's son, Zane, proprietor of Key-Z Productions; inveterate clown and do-gooder Wavy Gravy; tour documentor Freddy "AreWeReally" Hahne; graphic artist John Lackey; computer whiz Pat "Chef Juke" Mackey; and longtime Prankster, Neal Cassady's backup driver, George Walker.
The event took place in the roomy Sebastopol Community Center. The psychedelic bus, Further II, was parked just outside, open for tours and inspections. With most of this crew on board, Walker had driven the bus down from Oregon for a series of California performances. The evening was built around a series of six skits, or sketches -- in Through the Looking Glass-fashion they had by now become "skitches" -- that Ken Babbs wrote for the book tour. In each skitch Walker played the part of a reporter asking questions of Kesey. The other performers -- Babbs, Mackey, Stanford, Hahne, and Zane Kesey -- fronted by a variety of Kesey masks, would then answer the questions. A number of musical instruments were also played, sometimes on key. Songs were sung, jokes and stories told, and portions of each book read. It was all rather fast-paced and informal, educational and fun -- a literary entertainment, a gathering of old friends and making of new ones. After the final skitch and a sing-along of "Goodnight Irene" there was ample time for conversation and book purchases and signings.
Kesey's flesh envelope is now interred on his Oregon farm, but his friends and colleagues provide evidence that his spirit is still vibrant. As Wavy Gravy put it in his "Haiku for Kesey":
They say Kesey's dead-
but never trust a prankster
even under ground
For the complete SpitFurther Tour diary and lots of photos check intrepidtrips.com or skypilotclub.com.
Live performance at
The Rudyard Kipling,
November 1, 2003
Over the Halloween/All Saints weekend I was in Louisville, Kentucky to participate in a poetry and music event, Insomniacathon 2003. On the night of All Saints Day, I was in the audience for a wonderful performance by David Amram, a 73-year-old musician and composer who is recognized by many as a living treasure of American and world music.
After some preliminary comments, the always enthusiastic Mr. Amram -- described by one colleague as "indefatigable bringer of good cheer" -- opened his set with the Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn classic, "Take the A Train". Accompanied by Louisville musicians Tom Jolly on cornet and Quentin Sharpenstein on tuba, Amram at first played piano and then switched to a pennywhistle. He then played two pennywhistles at once and somehow managed to hum or vocalize at the same time, a rather remarkable feat of musicianship and breath control.
For his second number, Amram played an impromptu "Theme and Variations on Amazing Grace". For this piece he primarily played a larger or Irish pennywhistle. The sound was quite lovely. Again he demonstrated his breath control by playing and humming at the same time.
The third number, the first to be primarily vocal, was Amram's musical version of a Bob Kaufman poem, "No More Jazz in Alcatraz". As a vocal stylist, Amram takes a lot from jazz greats such as Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Maybe the best comparison is Chet Baker -- like him, Amram can really blow, and can also sing with soul. His voice is a strong baritone with just a hint of an earthy rasp. His sound is a solid projection and his pitch is always right on. His phrasing and his enthusiasm gave this song an intimacy and contagious joy. After singing through a few verses, Amram then conducted a call and response sing-along in which most audience members joined enthusiastically. "No more jazz in Alcatraz!" "NO MORE JAZZ IN ALCATRAZ!" " No more trombone for Al Capone!" " NO MORE TROMBONE FOR AL CAPONE!" Et cetera. On this number, Amram also played piano and was accompanied by Andy Cook and Jean Anne Kizer, who provided percussion on African drums called doumbeks.
At the conclusion of this song, Amram pulled out a tambourine and demonstrated the difference between the way that instrument is usually used in American rock music, and the way it is used in Egypt, as a lead instrument played on the shoulder. He then reclaimed his doumbek from Ms. Kizer and demonstrated an African talking drum technique, using his own voice to echo the "voice" of the doumbek. With this lead-in, Amram launched into an "Egyptian Appalachian Percussion Jam" during which he directed different segments of the audience into different rhythmic accompaniments, and played a wind instrument called a shanai, which he said was "the grandfather of the oboe."
Song number five was a Native American lady's choice round dance for which Amram played a wooden Native American flute, a wind instrument not unlike the Irish pennywhistle, but more ornately carved, with an open animal mouth at the end. He also chanted the phrase, "Ah-be-ay-oh," giving it a high-pitched shamanistic sound that reminded me of Hawaiian legend Gabby Pahinui.
The next two numbers demonstrated collaboration and interplay of spoken voice and music: Jack Kerouac's "Children of the American Bop Night", read slowly and soulfully by New Jersey poet Frank Messina to Amram's piano improvisations; and the final part of Kerouac's On the Road, read by Kentucky poet Ron Whitehead, also with Amram on piano.
The set closed with Amram's performance of "Pull My Daisy", a song he co-wrote with Kerouac for the 1959 Robert Frank film of the same name. He opened by rhythmically snapping his fingers and launched into a spontaneous rap about the song and the moment and how great it was to be in Louisville on this night with this crowd. Talk about taking chances on stage! Amram's performance was a continuous demonstration of spontaneity and wit. At one point during this song one of his pennywhistles fell off the piano and he immediately wove that event into the song lyrics. It's a sort of nonsense song with lots of room for improvisation: "Pull my daisy, tip my cup, all doors are open/ Hop my heart for coconuts, all my eggs are broken." Taking off from these original lyrics by Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady, Amram made up others as he went along, at times scatting, at other times talking and commenting.
Amram left the stage after a standing ovation, leaving almost everyone in the room feeling encouraged and energized. His performance was not only a lesson in world music but an affirmation of joy and creativity. Part of the magic was that he erased the barrier between audience and performer. The feel was like hanging out with your favorite uncle in his living room. Anyone who has a chance to encounter David Amram and hear him play should jump at the opportunity.