At the CELL Events meeting several months before this event, we looked at the proposal that City Lights had filled out. Woah… David Byrne, Dave Eggers, and Michael Chabon reading at the CELLspace! I had read Eggers and Chabon, and loved house managing these type of events (you know, the events that end by midnight and have sober, adoring fans that don’t destroy things or fight). So I instantly offered to work this event.
When the day rolled around, I showed up a bit early, thinking that this was going to be a great opportunity to hang out with some amazing artists and writers. I was correct in thinking this: City Lights was well equipped to handle this event and showed up early as well to get things set up. The line of fans started early too, possibly three hours before the doors opened. Because of the stars in the house, I had a great crew of CELLspace folks helping with the set up. Pod was on tech and I can’t recall who was on the video. Actually, I think everyone who was working at CELL showed up to help out. Deborah even showed up and helped with the set up (she’s always good with event aesthetics).
When Byrne, Eggers, and Chabon rolled in, they were the most laid back bunch. David Byrne had no ounce of pretension on him. I introduced him to Pod, who got to work intimately with Byrne’s laptop. He was here to do a PowerPoint presentation after all. The line kept growing outside. I kept checking on them, making them laugh, answering their questions. They were extremely happy to be there, so that they could see David Byrne in an intimate warehouse setting. Local celebrities started showing up prior to doors. Beth Lisick and Lawrence Ferlinghetti were there, probably a pile of other people I have forgotten. Lisick wrote a great account of the reading portion for the SF Chronicle:
David Byrne was wandering through the capacity crowd at CELLspace last Sunday trying to find the bathroom, looking like somebody’s cool dad who’d gotten a little lost. The cavernous performance space was the perfect spot for the hundreds of fans who showed up to check out the triple-threat lineup of lit star Dave Eggers, Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon and the visionary Byrne.
Eggers got things started with a few pieces he’d written under pseudonyms, immediately wrapping the crowd around his little finger, while Chabon read an excerpt from a story published in The New Yorker last April. (I was struck by the fact that when Chabon uttered the phrase “orange and purple velour” during his reading, no one made a sound, but the exact phrase, if uttered by Eggers, would have drawn a ripple of laughter from the room.)
But Byrne’s PowerPoint presentation about his new book, “The New Sins,” a written and photographic examination of religion, love, the afterlife and the human soul, was definitely the highlight. Funny, far out and gratifyingly profound. As he presented his ideas about virtues that are actually sins and why graphic designers have their own place in hell, I imagined a future with David Byrne as some sort of universal leader.
Lisick must have left after the readings, along with hundreds of other people, because she failed to write about the most amazing part of the night. As Byrne hung out with fans, some of whom gave him pieces of art, I stood at my usual by-the-bathrooms House Manager perch. Paradox Pollack, a caretaker living in 2048 Bryant, ran up to me from the main entrance. “I’m sorry! I can’t stop them!” he yelled at me in a pleading tone. “What are you talking about?” I asked.
Just then, from outside, a snare drum ratatatted loudly, echoing through the gallery. Then about 15 drums started, along with maybe a dozen horns. I looked at Paradox with surprise. “Extra Action Marching Band,” were the four words he told me, just when the motley crew entered the gallery space loud as hell. I turned around and considered running to Eggers and Byrne, apologizing for the anarchistic intrusion. Instead, I decided to let things run their course. Whenever Extra Action rolled into CELLspace, they did whatever the hell they wanted to do.
David Byrne loved the interruption from the fans. He’d been super nice to everyone who stood in line to meet him, but now he got up on the table where he was signing autographs and danced to the marching band. I walked over to stand with Pod and enjoy the moment. Paradox told us that Extra Action had gathered at 16th Mission BART and played all the way to Harrison Street. They then got quiet and walked to CELLspace so that they could make a surprise entrance. Paradox just happened to be on the sidewalk when they rolled up. So here they were, hurting our ears and making David Byrne laugh and dance.
Byrne liked them so much that he had Extra Action play with him at a concert in SF. He then took them on tour for a while. Eggers’ McSweeneys and City Lights had several more events at CELLspace around this time, mostly with authors that I’d read.
Once again, another amazing moment at the CELL.