I waited in line for an hour in the rain to get free tickets to Jordan's Million Poems Show. Finally got in, pushed through the excited crowd, and nabbed a seat right next to Shanna. The crowd warmer, Jim Behrle, did some good preflight audience interviews, which he recorded, apparently, with a pack of Marlborough Lights.
I ran into Jordan just as the wardrobe person was getting his clip-on mic adhered to his tie. Jordan's talk show look/vibe is excellent: formal, friendly, a little nervous, slightly distanced but enthused and aiming to please. The suit says I care about my look, and the wrinkles say I don't care more than I should. He uses a Craig Kilborn-like posture on stage, but with none of the smugness. He's somewhere between Dick Cavett and Johnny Carson, leaning toward the Cavett side of the spectrum. The nervous part is in a good way -- he makes the audience and guests feel that they are important enough to get nervous over.
The opening monologue concerned the dangers of engaging in an interesting conversation with Ange Mlinko while trying to navigate in a car in upstate New York. Davis also touched on the surprising gaps in knowledge that can be found among the outlying population of Ithaca, NY as to where Ithaca actually is.
Jordan's house band, JJ Appleton, has a great theme song. If you even need to hear a catchy indie-pop talk show theme that addresses questions of what Jordan Davis dreams about, trust me, you're gonna want to get down there and check this out.
The first guest for the evening was Anselm Berrigan, a poet and Artistic Director of The Poetry Project. While Appleton played Elvis Costello's Less Than Zero, a winking reference to Berrigan's last book, Anselm hit the stage sporting a Macy's-looking button down striped shirt, cargo shorts and grey cross-trainers offset with black socks. The promoters over there at Edge Books are smart to get him out into the media early to start the buzz about his upcoming book, Some Notes on My Programming, which is gonna be big.
Anselm also read from an advance copy of The Ted Berrigan Collected Poems, which is slated for a November release from U. of California. The book is so large that many New Yorkers may have to knock down a wall to make room for it. I was concerned that it might throw Anselm off balance and into an unintended stage-dive. According to Anslem, there are hundreds of pages of work in this book that were never printed in any book. I figure if I can pre-order Halo 2, I can pre-order this.
I'm not usually one to complain, but there were some serious problems with Davis's musical guest, Leslie Mendelson. There is a tradition in singer/song writer performances done at poetry venues that one has to learn: 1) Sing out of tune and off-mic. 2) Have a weak sense of rhythm that feels like it's about to fizzle-out at any moment 3) Forget the song parts or lyrics and start over on at least one number, sheepishly apologizing. Mendelson simply ignored all of these time-honored traditions. She sang catchy 70s AM radio-like pop tunes in-tune and with a confident, appealing tone, crossing Carol King, Norah Jones and Randy Newman. If people just start throwing out the rules of our society like this, then anything goes, it would be total chaos. I guess if you want to break the rules of poetry-music, you could, but you first have to prove that you _know_ the rules. After a few years of paying your dues playing weak, wince-inducingly out of tune songs that just don’t work, then maybe you've earned the right to bend the rules _a little_ and perhaps sing in key. But to sing well in-key and to have the whole thing sound really good? This is just not how it’s done.