Literary readings are usually about as rousing as a two-hour wait at the DMV. Maybe it's the stick-up-the-butt, tea-party ambience; maybe it's the fact that most writers can't credibly translate their prose into the spoken word. Whatever the reason, the whole idea of sitting on a folding chair, sipping fruit punch and nodding gravely while some would-be Rod McKuen blows dust out of his pie hole is enough to make most decent people pray desperately for an Uzi -- or at least some bricks and a trowel.
When Jason Flores-Williams reads his work at the Lion's Lair this Sunday, though, don't expect any punch. Some punches, maybe, and a lot of cheap beer and whiskey, but nothing resembling the staid atmosphere of a conventional literary event. The 34-year-old New York-based author will be in town reading from his second novel, The Last Stand of Mr. America, released in 2002 by Scotland's modest yet acclaimed Canongate publishing house. It's the story of an upwardly mobile PR executive named Sam who seeks sadistic escape from his void-like existence in the arms (and other body parts) of Lady California, a shadowy denizen of San Francisco's transsexual underworld. Oozing images of decadence and depravity while trawling the sludgy depths of the human id, the book is a gut-punch of sexual obsession and feverish intensity that owes as much to Henry Miller as it does to Henry Rollins. Such extremes, Flores-Williams contends, are equally manifest in his live appearances.
"I'm known for giving really high-energy, powerful performances," he says. "It's real explicit, straightforward and hard-core. I don't put any value in art unless it's really saying something directly. I have a lot of questions and anger about the system and the world that we live in, and it comes out through my readings. I like to be involved in my own personal revolution for a night. I like to go off."
Describing his on-stage persona as "Jack Kerouac meets Iggy Pop," Flores-Williams will add an unusual element to his explosive, confrontational live act: drummer Sam Francis. The writer hopes that the percussive accompaniment will pound his words of malaise and unrest even deeper into the consciousness of his audience. "The music really adds a powerful dimension," he says. "I just like to vibe out to it. When I was 26 and started doing readings, it just turned into this huge orgiastic experience -- literally and figuratively.
"I like to party," he adds. "I like to be around intense, wild people -- people who have revolution in their hearts. The queer scene is really welcome. I like anyone who comes out and questions society."
Questioning society has been high on Flores-Williams's agenda lately. Besides a stint as the editor of Prison Life, a magazine advocating the rights of the incarcerated, he's contributed many articles on the anti-war movement to leftist journals and periodicals over the past few months. "The war in Iraq is disgusting," he asserts. "It represents all that's wrong right now with the power structure in America." Accordingly, he's currently working on an issue-length feature for the July issue of High Timestitled "The Activist's Guide to the Republican National Convention," a blueprint for protesting the GOP rally this summer.
"I never feel more alive than when I'm at a massive political rally," he says. "And when I do readings, that's what it feels like, only on a smaller scale. For one night, you step out and foment. Change happens in all different kinds of ways: in the privacy of someone reading a book, and in people coming together through public expression. When you are an intelligent person living in America, you've got a lot to work out. And that's what happens at my readings. It's a communion, kind of like a mini-Burning Man."
Not exactly Oprah's Book Club -- or a wannabe highbrow recital of The Da Vinci Code. Thank God.