While some authors demurely read the words as they appeared in their books, authors David Rakoff and Steve Almond performed. Before each author took the stage, there was a buzz-band atmosphere. While the excitement preceding Almond’s act was aided by his pairing with Throwing Muses leader Kristen Hirsch, the cult of Rakoff was in full effect (to be clear, at Wordstock, anything more than silent wandering counts as nervous anticipation).
Upon being introduced, Almond, a t-shirt and leather jacketed aging punk rocker and former Boston University lit prof, walked onto the stage as though he was at a cocktail party. He began reading a short story from his book, Rock & Roll Will Save Your Life, titled “Reluctant Exegesis: All Out of Love,” the story of young lust sent awry by the cheesy Air Supply classic. As Almond read, the song was supposed to be cued from offstage. This did not happen, and as Almond repeated the lines that would cue the song, still nothing happened, so he ad-libbed until “I’m lying alone with my head on the phone/thinking of you till it hurts” finally emanated from the PA speakers. Like a pro, Almond didn’t miss a beat.
A short time later, David Rakoff emerged on the main stage, a tiny, ominous figure whose eyes shone from dark, menacing depressions under the brow of a clean-shaven, pale dome. Behind him stood the big, blue digitized expanse of the Wordstock banner, causing him to look like some James Bond villain addressing his minions.
Rakoff began by explaining how the book’s theme, “defensive pessimism,” was not so pessimistic after all. He then began to orate. “We were so happy. It was miserable,” he began, and flipped through the pages of his newest work, Half Empty, with the exaggerated urgency of an operatic star. Tension built and was released from the first lines of the book, and on through, until Rakoff reached the end of the weekend’s most energetic and entertaining performance.
Five things you missed.
1. You’ve never heard a more touching story about Metallica’s “Fade To Black.”
2. Steve Almond claims to have a “pet-like relationship with pot.”
3. David Rakoff’s defensive pessimism took form when he walked outside to use the pay phone (things were bad already) and looked up to see the first plane hit the World Trade Center.
4. Rakoff compares writing to “pulling teeth…from your dick.”
5. The word “sprightly” was uttered by David Rakoff twice in five minutes.