Monday, August 2, 2010

Thomas Pynchon: On Tour in the USA

By Steve Weddle

As Scott and Joelle mentioned this weekend, the DSD blog is now a year old, which means we oughta stop crapping our pants this year.  (It’s Monday, folks. You expected we’d start being classy on Mondays now?)

We plan to have our collection for you this month. It’s called TERMINAL DAMAGE, a series of eight, linked stories that touch each other. (Haha-hoho-heehee. Oh, and don’t get like that with me, now. Bryon’s story has a stripper, so don’t you go starting with me. Jay’s has a wrestler. I can’t remember whether those two stories collide, but I should probably go back and re-look.) Right now we’re negotiating a mountain of cash for the collection, with all proceeds to benefit The Human Fund

This last week of the DSD first-year has been batcrap crazy. Have you seen these Kindles? Seems you can now buy machines that allow to read books. Weird, huh? All this time I had all these books in my house and no way to read them. Now, for $189 I have a machine that allows me to read them.

Also, newspapers and magazines. What? You know all about this? I’m behind? Well, fine.
So I’m sitting out back of the bakery waiting for them to throw out the day-old bagels and I’m reading The New Yorker on my Kindle. (Hooray for birthday money.) I’m reading an article about this dandy of an entertainer called Brad Paisley. Nice looking fella. Sings all pretty the way the women in the suburbs like. And every time I make a joke about him, he’s probably made another ten million dollars. And not so much from his recordings. Sure, people download “[Insert some joke title here to see if anyone notices]” for a dollar online or buy his CDs in WalMart, but that isn’t where most of his money comes from. The dude makes serious bank by flying around the country, waking up at some coliseum and singing those same songs to tens of thousands of people who’ve paid hundreds of dollars to see him. To sing the song you listened to on the way to the concert. That you’ve already heard fifty times on the radio.

Let me try to explain. You fire up the 8-track and listen over and over again to “Cluster Pluck” (which I think is a play on the term “Cluster Fuck.” I have not heard the song, so I cannot in good conscience comment on the aptness of the title. I assume the word-play “Pluck” for “Fuck” is some sort of show of Paisley’s cleverness.) or “What a Friend We Have In Jesus” (a traditional song off the same album, undoubtedly as much a testament to Paisley’s Christianity as the “Cluster Fuck” song is to his cleverness).

Anyway, people pay money – much money – to hear Paisley perform LIVE the songs they’ve heard him perform on the album. Now, I’ve never knowingly heard any of his songs. I’m sort of loopy at the dentist’s where they do play the suburban country station, so it’s possible something from "Sleepin' on the Foldout" has seeped into my brain. I don’t have anything against Paisley and from The New Yorker article (which wasn’t written by Sasha Frere-Jones, so might well be trustworthy) he seemed like a nice young man.

I would not pay to see Brad Paisley perform because I’m not a fan of his work. Keep that in your head for a second. Now add in the idea that Paisley makes a ton of money from his concerts, as most big-name performers do. Their albums are meant to kick off their national tours, where they make the real money.

And they’re supposed to play the songs just as they sound on the albums. God forbid Dylan should plug in or Bruce Springsteen should go a cappella for “Thunder Road.”

With all the craziness in the book world, what would it take for authors to make bank on book tours? Brad Paisley makes money touring. Why can’t a best-selling author?

Can you imagine if BLOOD’S A ROVER was used to propel James Ellroy on his big national tour? Sure, twenty bucks for the book, but it’s two hundred to see him read from it. Would you pay for that? To see him perform the same chapters you’ve read? You know full well that the show will include Mr. Ellroy’s discussion about the size of his penis and insults aimed at Bill Clinton. As entertaining as a Brad Paisley concert? Would you have to have a light show included?

Why does Brad Paisley get serious buckage for performing while Charlie Huston doesn’t?
Heck, how many times have you heard about a writer you like having a hard time putting butts in chairs at the Barnes and Noble. And that’s probably about 30 seats to fill.

I guess David Sedaris can sell tickets to his readings. Who else? Can Laura Lippman or Michael Connelly?

Janet Evanovich just signed a four-book deal in which she was promised $50 million. Plus, she gets a million-dollar bonus for each home run she hits once she passes 30 in a season. And Eddie Van Halen has to come to her house and take out all the green M&Ms from her bowl. Could she get twenty-thousand people paying $200-per to hear her read?

I turn on CSPAN-2 and see historians at book festivals talking to half-empty (half-full, for you hippies) tents and wonder how many books they’re going to sell from that.

I paid good money to see Hank Williams, Jr. play. I’d pay more to see Hank3 play. I’ve paid for PIL, Deadeye Dick, Violent Femmes, Sonny Rollins, and many more. Heck, I even paid to see the Smithereens. Many, many other people did, too.

Why can’t Charlie Huston or JT Ellison make their livings by flying around the country giving readings to sold-out coliseums?

Who would you pay $200 to see read?


Nigel Bird said...

I've paid to see many a writer in my time. In bookstores events are often free, but a couple of pounds is not biggie to see major talent. Paid more at the festivals at Hay-On-Wye and Edinburgh, but even then not more than £10 ($15).
Most I ever paid for a gig was Tom Waits. That was $140 and I only shelled out because he was the last on my 'must see' list (plus he doesn't get to the UK often).
To pay $200 for a writer, they'd have to be dead. Chandler I'd go for, Brautigan, Hammett, Cain and so on. Might even do Zola, Checkov or Shakespeare so I could say I was there, tweet it and send out the photos. For the living and breathing, $200 - get off the grass.

Steve Weddle said...

$200 for Shakespeare? You drive a hard bargain.

OK, according to these folks -- -- tickets to see Brad Paisley this week are $78 before ticket-broker charges.

Jen Forbus said...

Well, I think one of the main differences is WHAT is happening. Brad's talent is singing. And taking it one step further, it's entertaining. Most author's talent is not reading, it's writing. Listening to some writers read their own work borders on painful - try an author-read audiobook. The vast majority of them never should have been recorded in the first place. And I'm not belittling their talents. Most of them will say the same thing. People who read those audiobooks are actors, not writers. And we DO pay to see those actors on stage.

Look at how many authors complain about having to be real people on social media...they say they're introverts, they like to be alone to write, they don't have time because they need to be writing, etc., etc., etc. How would that ever translate to entertaining a crowd?

I LOVE book events. I go to them regularly. I've paid to attend events and conventions. But when it all comes down to it, our society has repeatedly shown where their priorities are: in over-paid athletes, glamorized movie stars and musicians. And in all of those categories there are the gads and gads of unsungs...the ones with talent who will NEVER in their lifetimes be able to charge $78/ticket, $25 million/movie, or $6 million for a year of play.

And you actually should take the opportunity some time to listen to Brad Paisley's song "Alcohol"!

Fiona Johnson said...

I've gone along to hear a few authors read their work over the years and have usually found it quite a painful experience.

The one exception was Salmond Rushdie who had a lot of 'lie experiences' to talk about.

If authors are going to be successful 'on tour' then they probably need some kind of stand-up routine. They need to entertain if they are going to charge.

'An Evening With....' needs to have some structure and planning not jut some guy shuffling onstage and mumbling a few paragraphs of his book and not answering boring questions very well.

I did queue for 3 hours to get John Barrowman to sign a copy of his autobiography...that was worth it for the 3 seconds of his time we got!

Perhaps you should think of doing a 'Do Some Damage' tour..that I would pay for, especially if there was blood, weapons and fisticuffs.

Steve Weddle said...

Jen and Ms McDroll -- Yeah, maybe an "Event" in which a half-dozen authors read/perform. Kinda like a panel at one of those conferences, but interesting.

A DO SOME DAMAGE reading tour does sound interesting in a psychotic sort of way.

Ron Earl Phillips said...

That's some kind of course to veer off to to start the new year of DSD.

I'm poor, so I don't go to concerts. Last one I went was Matchbox 20 up in Morgantown a few years ago after spending a day in the sun watching the Mountaineers kick some Syracuse butt. Man that was a long day and night. I didn't book a room, what's a 2 hr drive at 12 am? About 3 hrs. Long day.

Anyway, there are only a few performers I'd pay big money for and most of them aren't performing anymore. $200 is a big chunk of change, and any plans I make is automatically doubled.

As to why authors don't get the same treatment? Music is universal. Music is easy to consume. Music can be appreciated by the LCD.

Do you think people who listen to Brad Paisley or Garth Brooks before him, have the time or the interest to read a book. A song is 3 minutes, a good album 40.

Sadly books are consumed by very few, and when they are mass consumed it's on poorly written novels about sparkly vampires in love.

It's a shame authors can't do book tours and make money. But things aren't wired that way.

But recently Neil Gaiman did a book reading in NY, not sure the ticket price, but there were people lined up and packing the book store.

Then again Neil is a rockstar.

Steve Weddle said...

REP: Seems we do have a handful of "rockstar" authors.

Neil Gaiman sure might be one. People seem to enjoy his funnybooks.

Maybe Evanovich, if she can garner $50m for four books, can pull in thousands of people at $50 a head?

Ellroy, I think, could probably do so, too.

Grisham? Patterson? Brown?

Ron Earl Phillips said...

Steve, and Neil doesn't really do funny books much anymore. But he's got a lot of geek cred for his contribution to comics. His novels (limited as they are) can be hot and cold. Apparently his last 2 children books were best sellers, almost a year on NYT list for The Graveyard Book which won a Newbury.

Somewhere along the way he went from writer to brand. I guess the same can be said for the list you've mentioned, they've been branded and marketed.

I should stop there, I'm sure this will turn into a tirade about James Patterson if I continue.

Steve Weddle said...

Only Gaiman I've read was NEVERWHERE.
And I've read the first three pages of some Patterson. Can't remember which one, but someone called THE PUPPETMASTER or THE EVIL ORCHESTRATOR or something like that spoke "in a metallic voice like he was made of metal." So whichever book that is, I read up until that point, which was about half-way through the third page. Apparently he's a well loved author so he must be doing something right.

Mike Dennis said...

Hearing people read from books, even the original authors, is not generally considered a form of premium entertainment. Authors are all too frequently uncomfortable in front of crowds, even thirty or forty in a bookstore. They often mumble and fidget, while musicians are right at home in front of thousands, and can easily play to the back row.

James Ellroy is the anomaly: the author who is a born entertainer, and it comes out not just in his personal appearances, but in his writing. His prose is musical, rhythmic, and this is reflected in his reading.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

I could sing and tap dance on my tour, but I don't think anyone would pay to see it....they might laugh, though.

Gotta admit that I've heard a lot of authors speak and a high percentage of them can't really command an audience. Funny, you would think that someone who is so compelling/funny/awesome on the written page would be that interesting in person. Most of the time I've found that it isn't the case. Sigh....

Eric Beetner said...

I'll echo Jen on this one. The event is the sell. An author event is just not a spectacle worthy of a ticket price. 99% of concerts aren't worth what they charge.
I sure as heck wouldn't pay that much for an author reading. It's reading. I can do that. I go see a band it's because I can't play that song the way they do. I can't recreate that experience myself, which I can do with reading.
Besides, in a way, I do pay for author readings all the time. just this weekend I went to see John Rector and I walked out with a $24.99 book. That might be like buying a t-shirt at the show but he made a little dough from my being there.

Kieran Shea said...

Steve: There are a bunch of dead poets I'd like to hear and see for $200. Was lucky enough to see and meet Ginsberg before he passed. Hmm. I know. BUKOWSKI.