Tuesday, October 04, 2005

More New Orleans Memories

I said last time that I would share some more New Orleans memories. Speak, memory:

(Incidentally, pretty good with the Nabokov quote, huh? Ah, what working in a bookstore for years will do for you. To you? The jury's still out on that one, I guess, or am I the jury? I the Jury, Mickey Spillane, you get it? Okay, sorry, this is getting out of hand, back to New Orleans)

In the summer of 1986, my dad and an associate were planning on opening a bookstore in Shreveport. As part of the research, my dad planned on attending the annual convention of the American Booksellers Association, which was in New Orleans that summer. As my birthday present (my birthday being in July), I was invited to come along.
Incidentally, Dad had attended the previous year's convention in San Francisco, picking me up a signed copy of Best of the Realist, a paperback compilation of articles, interviews and cartoons from the seminal journal of politics, culture and satire from 1955 to 1975. Paul Krassner was the editor, and to his signature was later added those of Abbie Hoffman and Ed Sanders, two of the other vital cultural revolutionaries of the postwar era (Sanders was a founding member of the Fugs and has published numerous volumes of poetry, prose and nonfiction). That book, now tattered from years of study, is undoubtedly the most important book in my own intellectual development. The list of artists who I was either introduced to in the pages of the Realist or had my appreciation of deepened, would have to include Woody Allen, Joseph Heller, Ken Kesey, Dick Gregory, Norman Mailer, Alan Watts, Robert Anton Wilson, and, of course, Krassner himself, who I had the honor of interviewing for publication in Portland. It was very gratifying to be able to tell a hero something of the influence he had, even if he did inscribe my book to Michael Palmer.
But I digress, don't I? The most vivid memory I have of the convention itself was getting a copy of Interview of the Vampire signed by Anne Rice for a girl I had a huge crush on in high school. What I don't remember is if George Seldes was there, which is a crying shame. Seldes was a legendary muckraking journalist who lived to age of 104, writing for United Press and the Chicago tribune before tiring of the inevitable censorship and striking out on his own. In the 1940's he published In Fact, a weekly newsletter and the precursor to I.F. Stone's Weekly. Lenin and Mussolini were among those he interviewed, recognizing the danger of the latter when many Americans and Europeans (such as Ezra Pound), tired of the chaos of the Depression years, were infatuated with his strong man tactics.
Anyway, Seldes had a new book out in 1986 (he was 96 at the time!), and I came home with a copy of it, having no idea who he was. But I can't remember if he was there pushing it himself. I almost hope not, because my ignorance doesn't quite seem so appalling if he wasn't actually there for me to ignore.
But the real highlight of the trip was a nightime trip out to the Quarter, most likely my first. Dad and I were accompanied by a couple of other people whose connections are now unknown to me, but one of them was a very attractive young woman (though probably much older than my very young 18 years) who was captivating to talk to about books, a far cry from my peers. I have not the slightest idea what we talked about (Nabokov? Spillane?), but I'm sure it made a much bigger impression on me than on her.
We all went to Preservation Hall, my only time to this point, although I ache to go back in light of recent events. I remember being packed like the proverbial sardines (not an altogether unpleasant situation given the company) and hearing this music, so light and ethereal and yet so substantive and solid at the same time, completely unlike the music I ws infatuated with at the time (U2, the Police, Rush). It was so grounded in time and place, again despite its melodic lightness, and it carried with it a mature sense of possibility that carried over into my just-beginning young adulthood. George Seldes' motto was "Tell the truth and run." I'm outta here. Peace, y'all.


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