Back in December I dragged le R to the main branch of the New York Public Library to see "a conversation" between Wells Tower and John Jeremiah Sullivan. Literary events such as these typically do not set me on fire, but Wells Tower and I go way back, to when I was fifteen and he was the guitarist for a punk rock band I absolutely fucking lionized. More recently I have become an avid fan of his non-fiction essays, a number of which revolve around his deeply contentious, intermittently violent relationship with his older brother. ("At least a decade had passed since we'd really laid hands on one another," Wells writes in one essay, "but at that instant an old madness got hold of me. I felt myself spirited back to a time when I knew no greater longing than to punch my brother squarely in the face." This is the sort of stuff I can really get behind.) His fiction is pretty killer also.
The audience at this event was not only disproportionately white and male, but also myopic, based on the number of black-framed glasses I could observe from my seat. I wondered how many of these dudes were named Jonathan, and how many were currently enrolled in Columbia’s MFA program. When the featured writers began their discussion about the art of the essay, I tried to reconcile Wells' slightly awkward, sweater-over-button-down demeanor with the raging punk I’d listened to in my youth ("If everybody's so creative, how come we all look the same?" he sang once). And while Wells and JJS had a conversation that night that was insightful and funny and I'm glad I was there etcetera, when they discussed things like their influences and other writers, not a single lady's name came up, or a single person of color. Afterwards le R asked me if it's possible Wells has read a book by a lady since the end of his formal education and after thinking for a minute I said, "Goon Squad. But only after it won the Pulitzer."
A couple of days later, I went to see two of my favorite bands, Titus Andronicus and the Hold Steady, perform in some Williamsburg warehouse as part of a holiday flea market (or something), the kind of place where people will gladly pay $35 for a t-shirt silkscreened with an iconic Brooklyn image (Kentile Floors, anyone?), $350 for a pink typewriter, or $7 for a ten-ounce cup of flat Brooklyn lager. The show took place in a cavernous back room, the acoustics of which were not designed with the enjoyment of live music in mind, but it did give the audience plenty of room to dance.
When you live in New York City and your two great loves are books and punk rock, it's inevitable that you will find yourself surrounded by white dudes with glasses whilst indulging these passions. I've seen the Hold Steady about twenty times in the last three years, and the scene is usually the same--me, my friend Gina, and a sea of guys. These are the only nights the line for the men's room snakes around the bar at the Music Hall of Williamsburg while the ladies have their choice of stalls. And while you might not think that I would feel more at home in a mosh pit filled with eighteen-year-old boys from New Jersey than I would surrounded by other writers, the truth is that's where I’m happiest, because there is a camaraderie that happens there that I've never, ever felt at a reading. I've fought, made out with, tripped over, helped up, high-fived and embraced the people I've encountered in the pit; I've grabbed the shoulders of a stranger and sang the bridge of "Your Little Hoodrat Friend" into his face and had the same thing done to me; I've walked out of shows on shaky legs, covered in other people's sweat, thinking That, that is what I want my book to feel like; rarely, if ever, have I left a reading so inspired.
Maybe it's because shows are about pure entertainment. Craig Finn, lead singer of the Hold Steady (a glasses-wearing white dude himself) starts every show by telling the crowd, "We're gonna have a good time tonight," and not once have I been disappointed. People are there to dance, to drink, to get pressed up against the stage and pump their fists and sing along; it's a catharsis I find myself needing as badly as any medication I've ever been prescribed. Unlike at many readings, the majority of the crowd is not, in fact, picturing themselves onstage instead of Craig; even I have been guilty of spacing out during literary events and imagining my own launch party or how much more interesting the panel would be if le R and I were up there in our respective resplendent outfits, perhaps having shared a little drinksy backstage before our names were called. Readings and writer's appearances are so overwhelmingly attended by other writers that the undercurrent of envy in the room is practically tangible. And watching a bunch of white dudes lining up to be the next Wells Tower is just another reminder of how little room there is in the world of literature for the ladies, the queers, the people of color--pretty much anybody who isn't a white guy wearing glasses and named Jonathan.
At that warehouse show, the guy standing next to me caught my eye after a few songs. He was singing along, as was I, but still he seemed surprised that I was able to recite all the lyrics along with Craig Finn.
"Wow," he said. "You know all the words."
"Yeah, I do," I replied. "I know all the words."
Cristina Moracho (@cherielecrivain) is a writer and my bestie and the author of the best book ever written about teenagers and bad decisions and sex and punk and finding yourself, which I have read something like fifteen times, and which you can read too in the fall of 2014 when Viking publishes it.