Saturday morning, I got an e-mail from a rock critic friend who’d been to Friday night’s show. He said he liked my literary shtick, but that I had to get rid of the songs immediately, because they suck and I can’t sing. Well, I see your point, pal. But the songs are getting better, I swear. And Friday night’s show was so much fun that I want to take it on the road. Allow me to narrate.
I got to the bookstore at about quarter to 8. In case, when I say “bookstore,” you all are imagining something like the Tattered Cover, let me dispel that image. The Escapist is owned by two young women, Elana Koff and Julianne Sherrod. Their storefront has three shelves of books, mostly fetish-related. They also sell vintage clothing and put on art shows. Recently they started a dating and sartorial-advice business for nerdy guys who want to meet fabulous women like them. For $175, you can get a complete makeover, tips on how to score, and a fabulous dinner. When I walked into the store to unload our van, Elana said to me, “Is that what you’re WEARING tonight?”
I was annoyed. But the sweater was pretty dumpy. So I took it off.
By 8 p.m., there were about 30 people in the store.
“Holy shit,” I said to Ben. “I don’t know anyone here!”
By 8:15, the crowd had topped 50, still mostly strangers, and I started the show. Ben read first, from his novel TV, TV, which he says he’ll publish it as soon as it’s finished, which he now says will be in March. He used to say August, but I guess he’s getting excited. His reading was good, except that he forgot to print out the final page of the second excerpt. Dude. That is so punk rock.
There were more than 100 people by the time Jim Roll played a short set from his excellent folk-rock album Inhabiting the Ball. I think Jim’s appearance was a great relief to some of the old-school Austinites who’d come to the event only to be confronted with a firewall of hipster propaganda. Jim’s songs are beautiful, sincere, and adult. Ben said to me, “How the hell did you convince THAT guy to be in your band?” It’s a good question that only Jim can answer.
The next reader was Claire Zulkey, from Chicago. Claire is 23 and mostly writes humor for her own Web site. She gave her reading and was very funny, and Ben, who “discovers” previously unknown Internet writers, will put out some kind of collection of her work later this year. Then I read from my new book of political satire Beneath the Axis of Evil, and that went fine, too.
But this wasn’t just a reading. This was Bookhouse Rock. After a short break, the Yuppie Pricks took the stage. Ty, the lead singer, wore a white leisure suit and uncomfortable-looking sandals. He sang into a microphone attached to a tennis racket. The Yuppie Pricks cannot be done justice in this space, but onstage they play a bunch of obnoxious rich preppies that ridicule the modest, shabbily dressed slackers who come see them play. Ty’s singing voice owes more than a little to Jello Biafra. My favorite song of theirs begins: “COKE PARTY COKE PARTY COKE PARTY COKE PARTY!”
I got so excited that I smashed an empty bottle of Wild Turkey on the floor. Elana quickly brought me a broom.
“That was a great punk rock thing you did,” she said. “Now clean it up.”
Soon enough, The Neal Pollack Invasion played. There were about 40 people left in the crowd by this point. Our opening song was good. Then I realized I’d forgotten to write out set lists for everyone. So I had to bark out the songs just before we played them, which confused Daniel especially, because he’d been drinking a lot of malt liquor. Our second song wasn’t so good. The set kind of crawled until we hit “Jenny in the Car,” our Springsteen parody, and then the energy picked up a bit.
I produced a copy of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and began reading aloud. Two paragraphs in, I began to yawn. I tore the book jacket. Then I tore the cover. I began tearing the pages in large bunches.
Tossing the book into the crowd, I told them to finish destroying it. A young woman got the book when it was halfway destroyed. She refused to let anyone else touch it, and said, “I don’t think you should tear up books.”
Elana handed me a copy of Infinite Jest.
“I’ve always wanted to destroy this one,” she said.
So I did. And then we performed a rock version of my poem “I Wipe My Ass on Your Novel.”Soon, as the band wailed behind me, I was laying on a beer-soaked floor among hundreds of discarded pages of Franzen and Foster Wallace.
Rock ’n’ roll!
Afterward, we all went over to Ben’s house. Daniel and his friends sat in Ben’s hot tub and drank malt liquor. When they were done, the adults got their turn. I went in naked. Yes, my aching joints needed naked hot tub. Then Ben drove me and Dakota and Dakota’s girlfriend, Josie, home. Claire came along for the ride. I live around the corner from a 24-hour place called Mrs. Johnson’s Doughnuts. These days, Mrs. Johnson is a middle-aged Pakistani, and I’m one of his more frequent 2 a.m. customers. We ordered a dozen doughnuts, but he gave us something like 20. We pulled into my driveway and ate doughnuts and laughed for what seemed like hours.
And then it was over.