We at RADAR Productions can’t get it together to film everything we do but thank god it’s 2011 and everyone has a phone/videorecorder/canopener/sweatervest.
Hello, Readers! And by that I mean readers of books, real books, the kind made with paper. I know you utilize many other vehicles for text, like this here computer or your kindle or your phones or whatev, but I am presuming that if you’re reading this blog you probably have some sort of romantic – if not practical – attachment to books. I like books for a billion reasons – I like the intimacy of holding one close to my body, I like the tactile sensation of turning pages, I like purchasing clever little bookmarks (a sort of book-accessory), I like fonts, I like cover art, I like the intense history of the book and feeling like part of that tradition – that’s the romance of it. I like when a book has a musty, bookish smell, it smells like history. As a writer I like books cause – as pointed out to me by wise Dave Eggers – it gives writers something to sign! OMG, that hadn’t occurred to me – in a robotic future when all books are downloaded onto Kindles, how do I sign my ‘books’? And where, if bookstores kicked the bucket, do I go to read from my books? And listen to other people read from theirs? Books are the center of an ecosystems financial, cultural and emotional. Bookstores serve so many purposes – they’re respites of calm intelligence, sometimes even beauty; a place to cruise for smart people; places that employ nerds; places that provide free, smart entertainment in the form of literary readings.
In Ann Arbor Sister Spit performed in a black box theater, the Sh/Aut Bar, which is part of a cluster of queer businesses ringed around a courtyard that I’ve come to call The Homoplex. It’s run by two excellent gays, Keith and Martin (see Keith above), and one of the businesses is Common Language, the last queer bookstore standing in Michigan. More than any other indie bookstore, the queer and feminist ones are dropping like flies, and I have mixed feelings about this – many of them aren’t serving a literary community, and so they’re going to tank. But with queer writers burdened by the various phobias that keep readers from pulling their books off the shelves, the distribution woes of their small presses and the brutal purchase-and-return policies of the chain bookstores, queer bookstores are often some of the few places where you can find books by writers you want to read. Common Language in Ann Arbor is the first place I laid eyes on Leah Lakshmi-Piepezna Samarsina’s Consensual Genocide, and it’s where I learned that Barbara Hammer had written a memoir – and that Feminist Press had published it.
After our show in Ann Arbor we invited the audience across the courtyard to go book shopping with Sister Spit! Everyone bought something. I was psyched to see former Spit-er Rhiannon Argo’s The Creamsickle on the shelves! I grabbed a copy of one of Rhiannon’s most beloved novels, Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood, which I have managed to never, ever read. I’m excited! So far I’ve only read Jeanette Winterson’s forward, which reminded me how much I love her and reminded me also that I want to re-read The Passion now that I’ve been to Venice (and also now that I’m sober and not Reading Under the Influence, thereby missing a lot of everything). Beth Pickens actually bought Jeanette Winters’ Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which is so super good. Ali Liebegott decided to investigate Patricia Highsmith and bought The Talented Mister Ripley, and Blake Nelson bought this book about how famous male philosophers all had batshit crazy love lives.
Boswell Book Company is a great and spacious bookstore in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where Sister Spit performed even though it was the owner, Daniel’s, fiftieth birthday! He is such a lover of literature and caretaker of literary types that he just couldn’t allow a bunch of writers to rumble through town with nowhere to read their work! After the show we all went shopping. Bookseller Stacey recommended Sin in the Second City about the famous Everleigh sisters who both ran brothels in in Chicago back in the day, thus coining the phrase ‘to get laid’ (formerly, ‘to get Everleighed’). It looks awesome, but I am so burnt out on any and all sex work lit I decided to take the advice of the many people who told me I must read the YA series The Hunger Games and grab the first installment. I’ve been bullied into reading YA fantasy series, with varying results. Would it be an annoyance, like Harry Potter, or utterly life-changing, like His Dark Materials?
For sure His Dark Materials! Hunger Games is, in the slang parlance of the high school students Myriam Gurba teach, vicious! I am so deeply hooked on the awesome girl hunter-gatherer with the great name, Katniss, and am excited to watch as she kills a tragic group of poor kids forced by a horrible, classist nation to murder one another for everyone’s entertainment. I love stories where incredibly dark societies dole out horrid fates by lottery. So chilling! My heart and stomach have knotted together a bunch and no one has even died yet. Myriam Gurba walked out with a copy of Virginie Despentes’ King King Theory, which Blake Nelson was reading earlier in the van and ooing and aahing over it a whole bunch.
It is impossible to find a photo of Orca Books in Olympia where it’s not raining. I’m just saying. Anyway – I love Orca! While I was shopping, the two booksellers, a man and a woman, were trading the latest gossip about the counter-demonstrations awesome locals have been mobilizing against the krazy kristians harassing the Planned Parenthood. The fun-loving feminists have countered with tamborines, guitar amps, amazing signs and the sort of playful enthusiasm one sees at block parties. Way to go, Oly!
I’ve been waiting for A Visit From the Goon Squad to come out in paperback, and was so excited to see it sitting on a table at Orca! I’d just finished an advance reader’s copy of Jennifer Natalya Fink;s 13 Fugues, and was wondering what sort of powerful female literature would be able to follow that spooky, sweaty little book, and Jennifer Egan is perfect! Because, Jennifer Egan is perfect. I grabbed her book Look at Me while on The Sex Workers’ Art Show Tour years ago – sidebar/tangent: I LOVE being on tour because back at home it’s really hard to justify buying books, what with my five bookshelves of unread books taunting and mocking me all day But on tour, on tour one must buy books, to occupy one’s mind during seven-hour drives, to show one’s tourmates what cultured taste in literature one has, and to lend one’s support to these precious independent bookstores! Anyway, Look at Me is so meta and brilliant that it leaves you in total awe of Jennifer Fink’s mind and makes me feels angry inside that she isn’t as massively famous and lauded and read and awarded as all the many Jonathans that rule our country’s literary world. And I’m using Jonathan as a metaphor here. Wait, am I? I don’t know, it’s like one in the morning here in Wisconsin, where I’m typing this. What I mean is, you don’t have to be a Jonathan to be a Jonathan. You can be a Ben or a Michael or a David, and many other names as well. But you can’t be a Jennifer. Cursed world of men ruling everything! Anyway, her book The Keep is a creepy masterpiece as well, and Welcome to the Goon Squad is so fun to read, as you discover it’s structure as you go, and the way she reveals the characters’ destinies, casually and unexpectedly dropped into the prose like little landmines, it’s unexpectedly heartbreaking and made me feel sad about the passage of time and life, but it was a smart, okay sadness, like yeah. I also bought a nautical postcard.
At Carmichael’s Bookstore in Louisville, Kentucky I wondered, What can I get that will extend the excellent high I’m on after reading Welcome to the Goon Squad? I felt committed to picking up another lady writer, it’s just what I wanted to keep grooving on. Alas, it was really hard to find something! Annoyingly hard! I mean yes there was a lot of, not chick-lit per se but, like, whatever the chick lit readers read after they’ve stopped dating and settle down and have a couple kids. Not to knock it, man – pick your poison, I’m glad everyone is reading. I almost bought a cool-looking book by an Irish guy about everyone being drunk in Dublin, but it wasn’t the right moment. I passed a stack of the wonderful Lynne Tillman’s new book, published by the brand new Red Lemonade press, the new publishing project of Soft Skull’s (RIP) Richard Nash, but a copy is getting sent to me, yes! Then I saw a book that had caught my eye – wait, am I BORING YOU GUYS TO FUCKING DEATH RIGHT NOW OR WHAT? This blog seems long. Anyway, I found a bitchin selection – The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich, who I am setting out to be besties with right after I get off this endless tour! It’s a burst of energized gloom, a stream-of-altered-consciousness about a teenaged girl who is sort of running with or getting dragged along by a gang of crusty train-hopping meth heads who may be vampires. Lots of bad things are happening on every page but it’s blurred like a nightmare or a hallucination but the narrator’s voice cuts jagged through it, some heart of hers all gnarled under bad, bad times and she’s looking for a girl she lost who is maybe dead or a ghost or maybe is with her the whole time, or imagined – ? Who cares! It’s like a David Lynch movie, you just climb onto the ride and try not to think too much. Super good. I also grabbed the British fashion magazine Lula, which Beth Pickens, who is currently reading it in the bed next to mine, has declared ‘The nest magazine in the world.’ She also observed that ‘If you live in London it’s like you’re living in Absolutely Fabulous.’ I also bought a New Yorker with a 12-page essay by Jonathan Franzen about how he got so bored by his awesome life that he was feeling suicidal and had to take off to some Robinson Crusoe-type island and scatter David Foster Wallace’s ashes. Which had me vacillating between pure rage and also a boredom strong enough to bring on, yes, thoughts of self-annihilation. Anyway, tonight is Sister Spit’s final show in Chicago, where we will finally roll Myriam Gurba on stage inside her enormous suitcase! I’ve been dying to do this for weeks! Good night.
Ever since tour hit the east coast it has been a whirlwind! I’ve taken copious notes in the van, interviewed people about their reading materials, and snapped a billion pictures, but have had no time to post! I’m stealing a minute as folks climb ladders and drill holes into the ceiling to hang a screen for our show at Rachel’s Cafe in Bloomington, Indiana – one of our best shows last year and I’m so excited to be here again. It’s done nothing but rain rain rain rain rain everywhere we’ve gone nationwide (Canada, too!), but when we pulled into Virginia a few days ago we were greated by sweet, Southern sun. And to go with it we stopped at a Waffle House for some sweet Southern tea to wash it all down with.
Queers in Louisville know how to PARTY! Meaning, they rent a karaoke machine, make a fruit punch and put out a bowl of potato chips! Yeah! Let me tell you all right now that Louisville is like the Portland of the South but better cause it isn’t killing your heart with rain and clouds all day long. The rent is cheap, the old buildings are beautiful and have porches, there are lovely dogwood trees all over the place and the Ohio river is middy and mighty and fills the town with strong water vibrations! If you need to move someplace, move there.
We almost stayed the night in a strange dormitory that was formerly a clinic. Luckily Tour Manager Beth Pickens went to her Magic Computer and found us dirt cheap rooms at a joint on the river that had glass elevators and chandeliers and shit like that!
Our show at Bard College was at this space called The Smog which is an old mechanic station for students to fix their VW Bugs in the 60s when it was fashionable to have a Bug and to fix them yourself. Now it is a sort of bombed-out garage with heavy graffiti that hosts shows and skateboarding and whippit-huffing.
I’m so serious! Why else would there just be an empty whipped cream can tossed on the ground amidst beer bottles and cigarette butts? This is what I missed by not going to college – better literary contacts and safe, rural places to huff nitrous. Damn it.
Kirk found the whipped cream can while scouring the forest looking for bits of the earth to make an altar with! That’s nice.
Yony Leyser’s camera is always on, even when you think it’s not! And if the camera isn’t on the voice recorder is – always! What will happen when the documentary comes out and everyone sees what horrible people we are?!?!
This dog Stella lives in an antique store in Northhampton, Massachusetts. Not only is she dripping with pearls, she’s got a fabulous pedicure.
I’m so jealous! I need a pedicure bad, Marys! Okay I think our show is starting! Come see us tomorrow (Wednesday) in Ann Arbor!
Earthlings, I blog from the sky, aboard a Virgin America flight bound for JFK, surrounded by my Sister Spit comrades. This is sort of the first time Sister Spit has ever flown on a plane – I say sort of because the terrible yet exciting Sister Spit EuroTrash tour of 2009 did survive a flight aboard EasyJet, the Greyhound Bus of the European skies. There is a reason why the flights cost a dollar. I would rather stow away on a tugboat then fly that nightmare again. And speaking of nightmares – we just experienced the WORST TURBULANCE OF OUR LIVES aboard this craft! I am not being dramatic. Tour Manager Beth Pickens clutched my hand on one side and Ali Liebegott’s on the other and hyperventilated madly as the plane rumbled and dipped and rumble-dipped and shook and shook and dipped once more. With the hand that was not being crushed by Pickens’ powerful grip I typed out a farewell email because it suddenly seemed deeply possible and tragically perfect that we would all go down together like Pasty Cline and Buddy Holly, or the entire Polish government. Amos Mac gchatted me, ‘Turbulance, Mary!’ MariNaomi did breathing exercises and shuffled her iPod because she was afraid of dying to an Eric Clapton song. Myriam Gurba was chanting please god please god please please please please please in her head. Ali whimpered and Kirk Read cackled a rueful, perhaps ironic cackle. Blake Nelson looked around to see if, in their fright, anyone had abandoned a New Yorker he might read. Anyway, things have so calmed down that the black coffee I ordered an hour ago has arrived, delivered by a bubbly and apologetic stewardess who seemed totally unfazed by our near-death experience. So I will return to our regularly scheduled blog post – what we talk about when we talk about things in the van. As follows:
Adopting cats from shelters.
Drinking during 90s Sister Spit tours.
Kirk Read’s High School lunches. Why it’s not cool to work for free. A boy Myriam Gurba went to High School with who had such a deep dip in his sternum he would eat Captain Crunch from it. Vestigial tails. What you would do if you had one year left to live.
Stalkers. Outhouse urban legends. Noteworthy Sister Spit bar fights. What we will eat when we get to Whole Foods. Analyzing the rhetoric of the Bargain Food Mart signage in Watsonville, California.
Oh no guess what? Now I’m at our hotel and I have realized I left my notebook on the PLANE! I no longer have the complete record of what was discussed in the van! To make up for it I leave you with these exclusive, as yet unpublished photos from my digital camera:
Red Bull + pop corn = tour dinner
Big in Arcata
Souvenir shopping in Redwood country – rabbit pelt, burl postcard, cedar bookmark.
Are we having fun? Does a Radical Faerie pee in the woods?
Or a haberdashery.
There’s something very satisfying about setting up wares and helping the people find the items they want or didn’t even know they wanted. My dad was a car salesman for many years and I inherited his sales gene. I was a top-selling Brownie of the dreaded addictive Girl Scout cookies. Family lore reports that I walked around my father’s Dodge dealership with my broken left arm in a giant cast, sidled up to a poor schlep at his sales desk, plunked the cast down mournfully and asked if they wanted to order some cookies. I remember receiving a large, glittery iron-on patch for my success.
So it makes sense that my favorite moment at each Sister Spit show is arranging the merch table and staffing it all night for excited art-loving audiences. It’s SO FUN to explain Ali Liebegott’s The IHOP Papers, talk about Blake Nelson’s work in Sassy magazine, leaf through Amos Mac’s Original Plumbing issues with a fan, help someone choose which of Michelle Tea’s volumes to purchase, ring up sales of MariNaomi’s popular Kiss & Tell graphic novel, sling Kirk Read’s memoir How I Learned to Snap and answer obsessive fans’ question “Who was that teacher from Long Beach? She was incredible.”
That’s Myriam Gurba, I answer. Isn’t she terrifing?
And then they buy everything she wrote, on the spot.
I’m not going to go on a tear about Steve Jobs AGAIN but let’s just say it’s been several weeks and I STILL do not have a goddamn iPad 2 because every Apple store across the country sells about three a day and those machines go to jerky lurkers who immediately sell the thing on ebay for 150% it’s price. GRR. But we do have on this tour an iTouch which allows me to run credit cards using a little thing called The Square. This means a LOT more merchandise gets sold meaning artists make more of a living. So excellent! Sister Spit’s leaped into the digital age!
Okay, Pacific Northwest. We’re off to explore more of your beautiful cities and delight in your gastronomic cultures.
Olympia, see you in a few short hours!! Riot Burl!
Okay first, Pasadena City College is sort of beautiful. The campus is like totally art deco, but a little modern too, and it totally works and makes you feel glamorous. While sipping a coffee outside before the Queer Alliance meeting a young man walked by in an ascot and fedora and what not, and I was like, Nice outfit! and he solemnly stopped and thanked me with a sincere tip of his hat. I love this school! A bunch of Sister Spit performers crashed the Queer Alliance meeting and talked about being writers. Ali Liebegott wrote an amazing reading list on the dry erase board, with books by Denis Johnson, James Baldwin, Anne Carson, Mei Ng and more. She’ll be posting it here sometime.
After leaving Pasadena City College we stopped for some froyo and drove to our next stop, Long Beach, where we were spending the night on the Queen Mary, a perfectly preserved 1936 steamer ship! The folks running the boat really hype the possibility of it being haunted, with ghost tours and all that, but I did pick up anything ghostly on my midnight stroll of the giant vessel, just lots of beauteous wooden paneling and olde tyme-y fixtures and art deco elevators. Sister Spit tours are very riches to rags to riches to rags regarding accommodations. Even though we spent the night in retro nautical luxury just a few nights ago, today we are in a sketchballs motel by the Santa Cruz boardwalk with suspicious carpeting and depressing ambiance. Let’s flash back to when times were better:
Good evening, we’re sleeping on a magnificent ship.
I felt classier walking across a floor that looked like this.
Mary, I can’t believe we stayed on the Queen Mary! Mary!
Okay there’s a lot more beauty to show you but I gots to go! I’m on tour!
I once followed Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians up and down the coast of California I was so obsessed. When I met Edie Brickell I passed out in a parking lot, face down. This is a tamer anecdote of devotion.
I first met Lizzie at our show in LA at the Echo. I’d gone next door to get a bite to eat and when I came back, our tour manager, Beth Pickens said, “A fan just came by and said she almost came to the show tonight dressed as Faggot Dinosaur.” (See earlier posts to understand Faggot Dinosaur reference.)
Wow, I thought. That’s devotion.
Well, last night Lizzie and her friend Ari came to our show at USC! So great to see repeat fans, especially when they’re as great and cute as Lizzie and Ari.
Oh my god I had no idea that Sister Spit was staying directly across the street from The Palms, Los Angeles’ oldest lez bar! After carrying merch through the USC campus in the midst of an apocalyptic downpour and gorging on the free pizza our host Emily Hella-Tyrannosaurus provided, we needed to blow off little steam! Sister Spit has Mandatory Fun scheduled into our routines because if something fun doesn’t happen about every four days or so people get all weird and tense brimming with ennui without even realizing it.
This was our bartender, Patti Smith! For realz. Both Patti and Smith are not the rarest of names so certainly there must be oodles of women named Patti Smith out there. When MariNaomi asked Patti what her favorite drink to make was, she replied, “Thirteen Days in a Crack House! It has eight different liquors in it and you can’t taste any of it. It just tastes like peach.” Mari demurred and ordered a Manhattan. The rest of us got Shirley Temples.
The bar was pretty much totally empty and the DJ was playing Madness and Tiffany and Madonna against a backdrop of amazing old videos from Nitzer Eb and T. Rex and The Stooges. So a sort of cognitive dissonance ruled the dance floor, where I wanted to be dancing to what I was looking at but instead I was dancing to the Human League. It was still fun, tho.
Kirk Read lipsynchs into an air microphone
By night Rita works the door at The Palms, but by day she teaches writing to to kids! Her class is called ‘No Spelling, No Grammar, No Punctuation’. I love that class! Says Rita, ‘You got to teach them to get to what’s in here (touches her noggin) and here (touches her heart). Their English teacher can teach them the other stuff.” Love her!
Amos Mac and Ali Liebegott chill out on a lovely striped couch at Rock Paper Scissors in Oakland, before our show Friday night! You see the glares you get when you interrupt a Sister Spit performer’s pre-show texting-and-coffee-downtime? Amos brought in the van a book called The Queen’s Vernacular, which explains the origin, place and date of olde gaye slang! We were excited to learn the provenance of the all-purpose ‘Mary’. And then I realized that it will be really fun to call Amos Mac Old Mary Mac for the rest of our time together.
Kirk Read bought that shirt in Florida, where it was being sold un-ironically. Just as he is eating his chicken fingers. He means it.
Kirk Read told MariNaomi she’s five drinks away from a mullet. But then it was recognized that Mari’s covetable, avant-garde hairdo is sort of a mullet in reverse. And look what else her hair’s got:
Feathers! Mari has feather extensions! That shit is just like woven or melded or whatever right into her head! So pretty.
Blake Nelson kicks back in the RPS zine library / magic elvin nook with a copy of Cometbus.
And then we went to Los Angeles, where we had the biggest amazingest Sister Spit show in two decades of Sister Spit tours! It was so big and hectic I took no photos, except:
Okay so one of our special LA guests was Amber Benson, who played Tara the Witch who made out with Willow the witch on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, thereby providing the tvland with its first Lesbian Witch Kiss! People were psyched. Elisa Shea (above), who made our awesome opening slide show, brought her DVD for Amber to sign. And when Amber asked MariNaomi to sign a copy of her new book Kiss & Tell, Mari accidentally signed ‘To Tara’. Oops! Such is the price of being an icon.
And with this, I’m out.
Last night’s Sister Spit show at The Echo in Echo Park, Los Angeles was amazing. Maybe an overused word on RADAR’s blog but it’s true. The crowd, it was noted by filmmaker Yony Leyser, was attractive and fashionable. They were also such amazing fans and readers. Many a stylish queer-looking person scanned the Sister Spit mini-mall and murmured I have this book and this book and this book and OH I love this book. It was so magical to see so many fantastic people who love art and writers and queer culture.
After the show, Michelle and I were talking to a few of these stylish queers and one, a recent transplant to LA, mentioned she lived on the West Side and how LA is so big and sprawling it can be difficult to find Your People.
I used to have all these assumptions about LA, I blurted out in a caffeinated mania, but the last few times I’ve been down here I’m amazed at all the interesting people and places and project.
Not exactly quotable but worth noting. Here are a few places in LA that captured my attention and won my steely heart.
NEW HIGH (M)ART This Los Feliz store is no secret having been featured in like a million fashion magazines and deservedly so. Featuring couture mountain femme (a phrase coined by my friend Mary Nicki Green) looks that you can’t afford but don’t even mind the class divide, this store helped me understand that when we’re shopping well, it’s because our choices have been CAREFULLY CURATED by thoughtful and visionary artists.
UMAMI BURGER Not a secret either. Look, we live in the digital age. Besides Banksy‘s true identity, there are no more secrets. I spend a lot of time watching Food Network shows while on the treadmill at my gym. In fact, I can credit many celebrity chefs with my successful completion of a 10k last June. Anyway, umami is of course the 5th taste, that wonderful savory taste you notice fish sauce, cured meats, cheeses transmitted via glutamic acid. And this affordable food adventure, an actual umami burger with crafted umami ketchup acquaints you with this vital taste.
STORIES A co-owner of Stories is also the event booker at The Echo which is how we wound up bringing the artists by this adorable bookstore and cafe down the street on W Sunset. As soon as we walked in, Michelle said, “Oh, I love this place already.” It’s a labor of love to run a bookstore during this economy and particular publishing collapse and BRAVA to the owners who keep this place going.
Three new favorite people are the guest performers we had with us: performance artist and filmmaker ZACHARY DRUCKER who collaborated with Amos Mac on the first issue of Mac’s new upcoming periodical Translady Fanzine and fans (including me) were crying listening to Drucker’s response to Mac’s request to carve out a photographic connection between transmen and transwomen. BEAUTIFUL. And RAQUEL GUTIERREZ broke everyone’s heart by not bringing merchandise to sell and her fans wanted to BUY HER WORK after hearing her stunning and hilarious short stories. She later described to me the cheeseburger pizza she was about to eat as FEMME-PHOBIC. I never met a pizza I didn’t want, Raquel! And wonderful writer/filmmaker/tvstar AMBER BENSON shared her work and queers in the audience were giddy and working HARD to contain their fan energy around her.
Here’s the thing, we’re leaving in 3 hours for Sacramento and then heading back to the Bay for our San Francisco show but we’ll BE BACK to southern California on Tuesday because next week we get to meet queers at Pasadena City College, USC and a terrific space in Long Beach called Viento y Agua. We’ll see you on tour!!