Americans have no single governing persona, and that's as it should be: The Land of the Free has no room for a goose-stepping, nationalistic identity. We're mongrels. We believe in and are motivated by thousands of unique, different things, all sprouted from hundreds of intermingling and divergent cultures and subcultures. So when you try to define "Americana," as journalist Hampton Sides has in his new book, Americana: Dispatches From the New Frontier, you must travel across what Sides calls "an archipelago of tribes," floating down a Mississippi-like vein fed by innumerable tributaries. Sides does that and more in his collection, taking readers for an entertaining and sometimes visceral spin through several years' worth of profiles, first-person accounts, human adventures and fly-on-the-wall observations that touch down among Eden-like environments, Harley riders, Tupperware salesladies, 9/11 survivors and spelling-bee champs, and mine the larger-than-life personalities of such all-American figures as G. Gordon Liddy and skateboard mogul Tony Hawk.
Sides, who will introduce the book tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Tattered Cover Book Store in Cherry Creek, says he owes his initial fascination with America's tribes to his boyhood in Memphis, one of the nation's truest cultural melting pots and an epicenter of American music, where pop icon Elvis Presley himself lived and was laid to rest. As a teen, Sides watched Presley's faithful fans return year after year to Graceland and was drawn in by the fact that their fervor never died down. "It was such a marvelous freak show, and I found it fascinating," he recalls. "And I began to wonder, 'What is it about this country that bonds these kinds of tribes together? Where do they come from?" But his interest seems to go beyond fascination; there's a certain amount of attachment, too. He likes them. "These people are all for real; they're not kidding," he says of his diverse subjects. "It's true you can have fun with some of these groups, but I try not to be mean-spirited. They don't harm anybody."
And Sides, true to his word, returns the favor. Engendered by a crack facility for vivid, pictorial prose, he invites readers into each story with him. Read them, and you'll simultaneously become one with and stand back from the idiosyncratic crannies and backwaters that define American life.
The Tattered Cover is at 2955 East First Avenue; call 303-322-7727. -- Susan Froyd
Enchanted brings out verdant passions
Take a stroll through a summery midnight dream tonight as Rise Nightclub becomes Enchanted, a magical, mystical tour of fashion and fun, with a special musical guest. Amid fresh flora provided by Lehrer's, an 11 p.m. fashion show will feature charmed pixies sashaying in fantasy costumes from the Wizard's Chest, custom designs from Jennifer Avelon, luscious lingerie from Pampered Passions, and hair creations twisted together by Moxie salon. The catwalk will be choreographed to music by the Mercury Project, whose sophisticated sounds are flavored by hip-hop, jazz, rock and reggae. "I definitely think they are going to be the next big thing out of Denver," says Tao Rhea, who does marketing and promotions for the club. "I am so excited to expose the Mercury Project to a new audience." The club itself will be dressed in its best: Rhea promises hovering trees, swooping vines, waterfalls and an art show by Sean Orgeron to complete the fanciful illusion. "We'll turn the whole club into an enchanted forest," she says. "It's going to be just like a fairy tale."
Rise is at 1909 Blake Street. Doors to Enchanted open at 9 p.m., and admission is $5 to $10. Go to www.rise-nightclub.com or call 303-383-1909 for more information. And don't forget your Fairy Queen love dust. -- Kity Ironton
Eric Gangloff's art speaks to audiences -- but it also gets them speaking. Gangloff dissects language into shape and form, inviting viewers to become translators of what he calls "poster poems." "These pieces originated out of poetry," says Gangloff. "They have multiple meanings depending on how you read them or how they are arranged on the canvas."
The poster poems started as part of a public piece that Gangloff created when he was a student at Cornell University, in which he tacked up a new, anonymous work around the Cornell campus every Sunday night for ten weeks.
Poster Poems, an exhibit of Gangloff's collection, is currently on display at Breakdown Book Collective & Community Space, 1409 Ogden Street. Gangloff will host an opening reception beginning at 7 p.m. tonight; in addition, he'll perform as Ten Year Spring and Pleistocene, sharing the stage with fellow musicians Tyler Potts and Bonnie Weimer. The event is free, but donations to the alternative-arts-supporting Breakdown are always encouraged. "I think that art can be, and should be, a community experience," says Gangloff. "But it can also be fun and conversational, too."
Poster Poems hangs through May 30 at Breakdown; for more information, call 303-832-7952 or go to www.flattenedpenny.com/artworks/posterpoems. -- Kity Ironton
Ruby Ann knows what she knows
Ruby Ann Boxcar, the Martha Stewart of the trailer-trash set, knows anything and everything about fashion, beauty, interior design, haute cuisine and amour. You name it, she can tell you how to make it, bake it or fake it. And because she's not one to hide her God-given talents under a bushel basket, she's hittin' the road again with yet another in a series of her infamous cooking/self-help/bio-sociolithic tomes.
Ruby Ann first made a name for herself, bookwise, with the publication of the best-selling Ruby Ann's Down Home Trailer Park Cookbook, which she filled with recipes and gossipy tidbits about her neighbors back home at the High Chaparral Trailer Park in Pangburn, Arkansas. (She owns a second trailer "in the elite part of Commerce City.")
Her latest effort, Dear Ruby Ann: Down Home Advice About Lovin', Livin' and the Whole Shebang, may be short in the recipe department, but Ruby Ann still keeps readers up to date with all her homies, including her sister, Donna Sue, "a sexpot and professional drinker," as well as the folks down at the Big Balls Bowling Alley and the Holier Than Most Baptist Church.
Ruby Ann appears at the Tattered Cover Book Store, 2955 East First Avenue in Cherry Creek, at 1 p.m. today to sign copies of her new book. For info, call 303-322-7727 or visit Ruby Ann's website at www.rubylot18.homestead.com. -- Karen Bowers