VOTM: What's the most unusual experience you've had at a reading?
JOSEPH MATTSON: The first ones that come to mind are a 3-way tie:Jerry Stahl telling a room of 50 people that I was looking to buy some speed.
rich, philanthropic, but disheveled drunkard wandering into the gig
asking where he can park his elephant. Twenty minutes later he bought
20 copies of my book.
I did a reading at this notorious dive bar
with Six Organs of Admittance backing me up. The patrons heckled the
hell out of the two opening readers, or they just talked loudly through
the whole thing. We brought knives: I had a machete, and the two Six
Organs guys had a hunting knife and a dagger (they were playing their
guitars with them). We three--already a little boozy--proceeded to
drink an entire fifth of Jim Beam--just us three--blades in hand. Of
the 75 people in the audience, nobody heckled us or interrupted. Nobody was
cut. We ended the reading with a Bob Seger cover--"Fire Lake."
Come heckle Joseph Mattson at the Mountain Bar on Sunday, November 8 at 8pm.
VOTM: What's the most unusual experience you've ever had at a reading?
Marie Mutsuki Mockett: I think the Elliot Bay bookstore in Seattle, Washington, is located nearby a homeless shelter. Or at least, homeless men and women like to come to readings there. A few weeks ago, while sharing a section of Picking Bones from Ash out loud, I noticed a man with long silver hair and a very fat and tattered backpack in the audience seated next to a rocking woman with a cup of coffee in her hand. You do not see many homeless people like this in New York; the East Coast homeless are a different breed. But the rocking woman and the backpack man I recognized. One of my summer jobs as a teenager was on Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey, California, where a substantial population of Viet Nam veterans lived peacefully just under the wharf. Most were men, but there was the occasional woman. The glamorous Sicilian proprietor of the delicatessen where I worked had a nice arrangement with them; she received their mail, cashed their checks and gave them coffee. They made sure we never had any problems.
When the reading was over, I asked for questions. Family and friends had come prepared. And so, apparently had backpack man. He said: "As you were reading, I was thinking about Van Gogh and how he went to Japan and how he was seeking a kind of truth . . . a wholeness in his art. You can see it, right? The colors. And . . . I'm asking for a lot here . . . " he strained. He wanted me to help him. I could feel how much he wanted me to help him. I wondered if maybe some LSD had gotten in the way of his past and current probing, in answers that might have come had he not indulged. He went on for a bit. What is it about Van Gogh and crazy people? There was a time I was wearing a brightly colored 80s sweater, and working as a bank teller, and a man came up to me to cash a check and repeatedly told me, "Those are the colors of Van Gogh's inspiration, man. Those are the colors of Van Gogh." This does not happen in New York, where crazy people seem more violent, and don't have checks to cash but instead, are prone to asking for money.
Eventually, backpack man stopped talking. And I thought about the smart professors I had in college who had a knack of turning non-questions into questions that sounded intelligent. So I didn't point out that, no, Van Gogh never went to Japan, and that it was Gaugin who went to Tahiti, which only some people consider to be Asia. But I talked about the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and how Van Gogh learned to paint relatively late, and how, seeing his worked arranged chronologically in the museum, you can really understand how a light was switched on--the early pieces are so dark, so northern European and the later pieces, in France, so bright. And then, because I was thinking about myself, and how hard it is for any artist to sell her work, I asked that we all consider how difficult it must have been for Van Gogh to be furiously painting, with only his brother Theo believing in him, and how sad it is that Vincent never learned of his own success. How many people really care about art? I think I even have a Van Gogh reference in my book. After the Q&A ended, rocking woman fled the building. Backpack man gave me this napkin. It is a response to my reading and presentation. I do not understand it, but I take it out every now and then to try and see if it too has some kind of hidden message, or if it is also striving for wholeness. I'll be bringing it to LA, but in the meantime, look at the photo and give it some thought. I am, in general, an open-minded person. I'll be curious to learn if any of you have an interpretation.
Come see Marie read from her debut novel on Sunday, November 8 at 8pm.