Just got back from listening to Reg E. Gaines preview his theater piece The Last Celebrity. He’s really good. I feel like I got a free pass for the $55 seats. Thank you San Diego Public Library! I was telling Librarian Bob that I hadn’t done a real featured poetry reading since SDSU’s “Avant Garde Festival.” I told him a little about how crazy the show was, but I didn’t realize, until just now, that it was in 2005. I haven’t done a real performance in 8 years. That’s crazy. I had told myself when I was still in my 30s that I was going to take a ten year hiatus, because who wants to see 40 year olds yammer on about their shit… but I thought I was joking… that’s one of my problems… I don’t even believe myself half the time because everything is a joke.
Reg E. Gaines is the kind of sincere, forthright, earnest poet who when he says something, you believe it. He could sell you anything, precisely because he’s not selling anything. He’s real. And the real thing. I would need photographic evidence.
The truth about why I stopped performing is difficult. My creative philosophy: read more than you write; write more than you share, has been in force. Been reading a lot, and after writing a 500-page book about books, I’ve struggled to get all my novels in print. The Cadillac Tramps and House of the Unwed Mother are in hand, so I’ve decided to try to read from them, even though it scares the shit out of me. But the real truth is that public performance is a horse I fell off. A rabid-wild-ass bucking horse that dragged me across the cobblestones. It’s like riding a bike, once you fall off, you never forget.
After putting so much energy into the Avant Garde Fest I felt like I had nothing left. I was spent, exhausted. The show killed a part of me. It nearly killed some of the poor people in the audience, and they loved it.
A minor epiphany put me on the road back to public life, curtesy of Slavoj Zizek who described the Marx Brothers in Freudian terms: Groucho, the ego, Chico, the superego and Harpo the unspeaking ID with its prurient energy. Honk honk. And I thought Yes, that was our SDSU show. It took me 8 years to process it. Cecil Hayduke, the inimitable ego, as the Imminent Jeopardy game show host, ostensibly suit and tie man in charge. Michael Klam, whose motto before a reading is “Let’s Teach”, quoting Ghandi and the bible, the moral agent of the super-ego, and Jimmy Jazz as Poetry the Klown, silent, in charge of bodily fluids and total fucking chaos.
I wrote about it first in the wee hours of 2005, and its taken 8 years for all the gaffs, flubs, tech failures etc to boil out and leave the show standing as one of the greatest performances ever seen on the SDSU campus. Fuck The Ramones in 77. This was:
“beer, blood and piss: reading poetry with the anarchist think tank”
Woke with a heavy head. Body sore; aches like break rocks in the sun. Angela’s face isn’t bruised, a fine thin cut along her nose, didn’t scar. Show started before the show started. Poetry the Klown mugging for a photo with a couple of coeds out on the campus of SDSU holding a sign “Poetry Reading this Way?” The nice SDSU professor is saying a few words of introduction when Ted Washington, all 6’5″ greased and totally naked, taps him on the should and says SIT THE FUCK DOWN. Ted is huge, naked and greased like a wild animal. On cue, ‘Anarchy in the UK’ blares out of the PA and two maniacs, Cecil R. Hayduke & a guy in a klown suit run from the back of the classroom (the show got moved from a theatre to a classroom, so we hatched a plot to destroy the idea of the classroom) and spray paint FREE on one wall and ART on another.
Our plan was to do everything that is never done in a college classroom. They paid us $700, in advance, which we spent on beer and wine and passed out to the audience, who were drunk and unruly before the show started. We had a scantily clad cigarette girl passing out condoms and beers, lollipops, squirt guns and a can of octopus from the 99¢ store. Someone threw a firecracker they brought from home. It was on.
Ah the beautiful insurrection. The potlatch.
I still have nightmares of warning firing off in my head. Cecil Trebek slamming a beer on the floor in frustration, a yell from the mob “Don’t get mad, read poetry!” The leitmotif of glass breaking. I chased Contestant #3, a big beautiful SDSU blonde up the aisle with a chainsaw. The candy girl’s white fishnet stockings. Someone aimed a line from my poem back at me “You look like the kind of drunk who drinks discarded well drinks.” Whose Tecate is this in my hand? How many have I had? While torturing detainee.. er Contestant #2 I smeared menstrual blood on my face and asked to look in her backpack. Is this your copy of Catcher in the Rye? I spiked it into a trashcan whipped out my cock and pissed on it. It was the longest 10 beer piss I ever took. It would not stop flowing… the urine kept going and going… I could hear laughter. You usually dont want to hear laughter when your dick is out.
Contestant #1 said his name was Bean. His punishment was what the CIA calls Extraordinary Rendition, what the Dating Game used to call a trip to Egypt. We duct-taped him inside a cardboard box for the duration of the show. He escaped using a Zippo lighter to burn his way out. Late in the show, while I was supposed to be reading poetry, Zurie, who’d been blowing out sax riffs from the seats got into the box with Kandi… Klam read from the bible and told everyone to stop eating animals before their eyes turned to meat crumbles. I can still hear Angela, bleeding… adrenaline racing…“You are not sorry. You don’t come over here and cop attitude on me after you hit me with a beer can. You didn’t mean to do it, but you did. You did it.” Angela asks everyone to own her behavior. “I feel like an asshole,” Kandi said. They hugged and cried together like they had shared some tragic life event.
By the end of the show it was becoming very difficult to listen to poetry. Who wants to think about poetry when a sexy couple is inside a box making poetry on stage. Imaginations were not the only thing running wild. Other people jumped up and stuck cameras into the box flashing for an upskirt. Damn perverts didn’t send me any pictures. Then Angela stormed the stage and started ripping the box apart. This is epic because Angela is very shy and would never perform on stage. She hates all forms of confrontation. She didn’t want me to spray paint the walls or piss in front of an audience. She wasn’t even going to come to the show and her stomach turned for days with worry. She said after, “I knew how hard you worked on this show… and no one was paying attention to you.”
I stage dived onto the box and Kandi came up swinging—POW!- socked Angela right in the nose with the full beer can. And blood flowed like wine. I left the stage at that point, laying on top of Angela backstage, holding her, wiping the tears and blood (I forgot I was wearing the wireless mic) and she says, so stoic, “Go and finish the show!” “No I want to stay here with you.” She yelled “Go!” which you could hear echo over the PA and I staggered back on stage to read a poem, drunk with rage, “You look like the kind of boy a priest would fondle…” Pointing fingers. Growling, totally crazed and out of body experience. “What are you doing at a poetry reading, there’s a war on?” We invited them to this reading which was, kind of War Redux. We wanted to illuminate war for what it is, but I was thinking about the party, the lack of sacrifice, I mean there’s a war on, where is the belt-tightening, the call to conserve. Orwell seems so prescient. We’ve always been at war. And I thought about every president from Roosevelt to Bush II bombing some impoverished enemy.
The best thing about this “poetry reading” was that everyone who was there left, alive, with a totally different story. Cecil Hayduke’s memory will reflect his vision, Michael Klam will have seen a hundred things I missed. And, most important, each member of the audience will remember this show. The creation of a situation at SDSU was ugly, small, flawed, yet somehow epic and sublime.