Tell Chuck Berry the News
Last Tuesday night, on the pub date of my new book, I did an event at Magnetic Fields, a bar in Brooklyn. I first read a passage from Drama City, and then Steve Wynn and his band, the Miracle 3, joined me onstage and played behind me as I read from The Night Gardener. It was an experiment of sorts. We had not rehearsed it, nor did we plan it out (the third track of my promotional CD with Steve features my reading over his playing, but the vocal and music tracks were recorded long distance). The only clue Steve gave me was that he was going to do an “electric-era MIles thing,” which I took to mean a jazz-funk groove with Wynn taking the John McLaughlin role a la the Tribute to Jack Johnson record.
Anyway, we did it, and judging from the crowd reaction, it worked.
Next, the band (Wynn, guitar; Chris Brokaw, guitar; Linda Pitmon, drums; Dave DeCastro, bass; a new guy, keys) played their own set and amped up the crowd with songs like “Death Valley Days,” “Smash Myself to Bits,” “Cindy, It Was Always You,” (music, Wynn; lyrics, Pelecanos) and Dream Syndicate classics “Merrittville,” “Burn,” and “Days of Wine and Roses.” Later, Yo La Tango core members Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley joined the band onstage for a verison of The Flaming Groovies “Shake Some Action,” which had me up in the rafters.
It was a great night. If you ever have a chance to to see Steve Wynn’s band live, do so. They tear it up.
I have done similar events before, starting at Filthy McNasty’s in London, and later, a thing up in Boston with Dennis Lehane, where we read between sets by The Dropkick Murhpys and Joe Pernice. But I had never read with a band (once, in Manchester, England, England, I wandered into a club where John Harvey was reading as a jazz combo played behind him, so I am not the first. Leave it to hepcat Harvey to blaze the trail).
The publisher had set up a table up front where people could buy books. I think we sold about thirty copies. It’s true that I could have done “better” at a traditonal signing, but I considered this experience much more valuable. To be able to do this kind of thing is a perk for me. Also, I feel as if the people who were there are going to remember the event for far longer than they would if they had attended another reading/Q&A/signing. The marriage of forms (in this case, rock and crime writing) brought some people together who otherwise might never have met. Put it another way: Steve copped some new fans, and so did I. Plus, we all had fun.
I’m not suggesting that in-store appearances are wrong or ineffective in any way. But I would suggest that it’s all right to occasionally mix things up and think beyond the line of tradition when promoting your books. You hear all the time that “young people don’t read.” I think they do read, but they don’t come out, generally, for boring events. Take the event to their arena, and see what happens.