Monday, June 28, 2010

One of my larger promotions was a tour I co-organized called Screaming from the Barrel (I did not choose the title), an evening of readings by Don Bajema, Exene Cervenka and Professor Griff. This was in February, 1994. A couple months earlier, Exene read at my club, the Malcolm Lowry Room. Because the MLR show went well, her agent approached me with a more ambitious proposal (he was the one who came up with the title).

I was offered what became the Vancouver and Victoria leg, which began in Bellingham, Washington, where co-promoter Jason Grant and I drove to in a Chrysler station wagon so we could escort the writers over the border. Because customs fees were the same for bands as they were for soloists, we decided it would be cheaper to treat the writers as a band. This is where the problems started.

While Exene remained a member of X, Professor Griff was no longer a member of Public Enemy, having faded from the group after comments he made in the Washington Times (comments he said were taken out of context – and for which he later apologized). Griff, who by then was working as a bounty hunter in Atlanta, did not take well to his induction into the “Screaming from the Barrel Band”, insisting that it was “critical” he not be “organized” that way, an issue he raised with customs officials.

How we got across the border, I‘ll never know. Suffice it to say, if this were today, we might still be there.

Because the Malcolm Lowry Room (cap. 99) was too small for our event, we booked the Starfish Room (cap. 300), formerly on Homer Street. In securing the date – February 14 -- we imagined a room full of lovers, which was the case (though not as full as we had hoped). As for love, it was all around, some of it on-stage -- but of the “tough love” variety.

Bajema kicked things off with a reading from his book, Boy in the Air, published by Henry Rollins’s 2.13.61 imprint. A wiry dude indisposed to small talk, Bajema, by virtue of his age and sensibility, was closer to what preceded San Francisco’s hippies than Exene’s post-Three Dog Night L.A. This came out in his reading. I cannot remember what he read, but I remember his tone. Picture an I-told-you-so prison guard reading a bedtime story to a third-time-unlucky pedophile.

Exene was next, and if she was angry, it was with her country’s foreign policy. But there were other works she read from, poems that spoke of her interest in gender relations, social class and depersonalizing technologies -- a theme taken up in her first book, Virtual Unreality (also with 2.13.61).

As for Griff, there was no book, per se, but some rhymes and informations he kept in a battered scribbler. Nothing near the content of the Washington Times quote, but just as pointed.

Of the three readers, Griff seemed the most uncomfortable. Not for lack of experience but what I took to be an uncertainty towards what he was doing in relation to Bajema and Exene -- the privilege that comes with whiteness.

I am tempted to tell the story of our second-stop, because there were some funny (and disturbing) things that happened on the way to Victoria (including Griff’s refusal to eat at a restaurant owned by a couple of the same faith he spoke of in the Washington Times). But because this remembrance came as a result of my previous post (X’s “Los Angeles"), I want to speak to the song’s content as it relates to Exene’s passage from L.A. to Sandpoint, Idaho, where she moved with her then-husband Viggo Mortensen.

Back in the 1980s a friend who grew up in Cranbrook, B.C. told me how the Aryan Nations had been building their headquarters across the line in Hayden Lake. When he heard that Exene had moved to Sandpoint (37 miles away), he was convinced that the “she” who “had to leave Los Angeles” was none other than the song’s co-author.

This was something that never came up during our leg of the tour, overshadowed as it was by Griff’s Washington Times quote and the controversy that dogged him. But it was, and remains, on my mind. Why have I waited so long? Was it my admiration for Exene Cervenka, artist, or was it something that preceded the previous post (Brecht’s departure from Nazi Germany)? That’s the best I can do – for now. What was once a question is suddenly a confession.

1 comment:

  1. Tikkun olam. Time doesn't matter.

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