Monday, May 19, 2008

Guns, with Occasional Reading: Dispatches from James Frey at the Whisky

Half way through James Frey's sound check (how many reading events have a sound check?), I was starting to get worried. What if nobody showed? What if, when Josh Kilmer-Purcell took the stage, the crowd was just us booksellers and the sizable security crew that Frey and the Whisky had on hand? The band had just finished their impossibly loud warm-up when Brian from Book Soup ducked outside. He returned with a positive report. "There's a shitload of people out there."

Indeed there were. Many of them were there to see the metal band Black Tide, but there were in fact, a ton of people at the event. Josh Kilmer-Purcell kicked things off by showing a video of a dramatic reading of a lost episode of Dynasty that he'd written in his youth. The actors were MySpace friends of his, each of them videotaping their portion of the scene from their home/office. After that, Kilmer-Purcell read from his new novel Candy Everybody Wants. The metal fans were a bit restless, but responded to the reading pretty well.

After his reading, the crowd excitement began to build. Kilmer-Purcell hung out in a booth near that back while folks waited patiently for him to sign his book. Then the house lights went down, the stage lights came on, and Black Tide took the stage. The kids up front by the stage went nuts as the band started to play. Black Tide's lead singer looks like he's about fourteen (I learned from Brian that he was actually fifteen), and their drummer works out a lot. A lot. Dude has serious abs. Their music sounded to me like Metalica, and later in the set, they played a Metalica cover. Black Tide played for about a half an hour. They opened their set by demanding that the Whisky move the tables set up near the stage, a demand that wasn't met (with dire consequences later in the evening). The kids danced like crazy, throwing fear into the hearts of some of the bookish crowd who'd come for Frey. It was fun to watch. From the back of the club. By the books.

At the end of the set, the stage lights went down, cloaking the club in darkness. Black Tide went into a thumping, churning rhythm, building the tension in anticipation of the main event. James Frey took the stage wearing a t-shirt, khakis, black rim glasses and an LA Dodgers hat (I wonder if he wore a Yankee hat at the event in New York?). He sat down on a stool and immediately launched into his reading. "Larry is a hater. A mean ass hater..." As he read, Black Tide played along, throwing in guitar riffs and drum fills to accent the words. Frey read in his droning monotone, at times swallowed whole by the booming bass and tom-tom of the Black Tide rhythm section. He read a part Bright Shiny Morning about Larry, a gun dealer who hates everybody, and a woman who buys a gun to get revenge on the man who raped her. The sinister chapter of the book was a perfect match for the menacing music and Terry Richardson's stark photos of skinheads and gang-bangers projected behind Frey and the band.

At the end of his reading, Black Tide played for about thirty seconds, bringing the whole thing to close in a cascade of sound. Frey stood on the stage and took questions, some of which were about the book, some not. "This was my favorite book to write." "My favorite band is Black Tide." "My wife is a New Yorker. She wanted to live there. If it were up to me, we'd live here." Someone asked why California is so f*cked up? "Because dumb motherf***ers like you live here." After reassuring the crowd that Black Tide would play again, Frey made his way to a booth to do his signing. Immediately, he was mobbed by folks who wanted to meet him, to shake his hand, to get their book signed. Despite what seemed like a mob of people, Frey took time to meet everyone, sign their books, take pictures, shake hands.

Frey mobbed by autograph-seekers.

After the Whisky moved the tables and warned the crowd against moshing, Black Tide began their second set. Within minutes, two security guys from the Whisky dragged someone out of the club for crashing into a table. A brawl erupted outside the club, not twenty feet from where Frey was still signing. That was a first for me, a brawl at a book signing. But it was that kind of event.

Katie and I selling books. Somebody had to.

James Frey with the folks from Vroman's and Book Soup. This photo might've been taken by Frey's terrifying bodyguard. I'm not totally sure. The rest of the photos were taken by Charles, from Book Soup. Charles rocks.

Thanks to everybody who showed up to what was the most interesting book event I've been to in a while.

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