The Originals Series: Catherine Lacey & Sasha Frere-Jones

lacey FSGoriginalsseries Have I told you how much I loved Catherine Lacey’s Nobody Is Ever Missing?  Because I did, immensely.  And we all know I love FSG’s Originals Series.  And I also, also love The New Yorker.  So, on yet another well-timed evening (weather-wise), all of these things came together out at Interstate in Brooklyn.  There was also bourbon and Bud.  And rocks on the ground, surrounding pieces of art that it was unclear whether or not we were supposed to step on… Anyway.  Revelers were greeted both by the rock-art – and by rock.  The crafty looking guy at the laptop over there, kicking out some jams?  Oh, that’s just Sasha Frere-Jones.  Maybe the best writer of music-related writing working today.  I also realized that I’d never actually seen a photo of the man before.  He defied all my expectations in an awesome way. Booze procured, I will admit to you (dear readers) that I did that thing that you do whenever you show up solo to a party where EVERYONE ELSE COMES IN GROUPS and I did some phone-jitsu.  Instagram, Twitter, the New York Times app… but then, an unexpected friend arrived!  So unexpected that homegirl even asked a question and got a book and a shotglass.  (That shotglass now adorns The Public Theater’s small shrine to Elaine Stritch, ps.)  But I’m getting ahead of myself. Sasha and Catherine, as it turns out, have a bit of a conversational history – see here – and so we were faced with what is (…I think) a first: a duo who aren’t meeting to gab for the first time.  Would they expect us to have read that interview?  Would they be talking sort of… above an intro level conversation (intro to the book, not “intro” as in “previous conversations have all been superficial”)? But really, those fears were unfounded – because they’re two smart, articulate people.  There was, admittedly, a lot of high-minded discussion happening – but the audience loved it.  Discussion of whether or not the book is a feminist book (CL isn’t sure that it is, because Elyria is such a passive character), then discussion of whether that passiveness (in literature or in life) can be a conscious choice took things to a place of craft that these parties rarely get to go.  This was an intelligent reader asking tough questions of an intelligent author – and that’s not to say, again, that that hasn’t happened before (it has!) but this one felt different somehow.  Even to the point of Sasha asking Isaac to move the speaker in front of him – in order to reduce feedback, saying “you’re your own roadie now” – had this sense of “man, we’re doing some serious shit right now and it’s gonna be super cool.”  That was the overriding feeling of the conversation: that this was cool, man. As I mentioned earlier, my friend & co-worker Sarah G. made a splash in her gold shoes and asked that sort of tricky question of “what’s the question you hate getting asked” – and it actually provoked some of the most interesting discussion.  Catherine said it’s the “were you clinically depressed” question – because it really irks her (and, judging by the murmurs of assent in the audience, lots of us) that people automatically assume that fiction is just meant for dealing with your own shit.  Sasha brought up the frustration, musically, of what he called the “happy/sad axis” – that idea that songs, the best songs, make you feel indescribable things or combinations of things, that this insistence on “oh, I want to write a happy song or a sad song” feels like such a cop-out.  It was a strong note to go out on – but, you see, the evening wasn’t done.  Within moments, stacked atop a hidden case of Budweiser, the laptop was back and SFJ was spinning an utterly fascinating DJ set. I say fascinating because the conversations that continued after (Sarah and I had a very cathartic work-related vent/idea session) were still, always, being drawn back to the music.  It wasn’t terribly danceable, but that was okay – the rocks on the ground and all – but it definitely had moods.  There was a sense of a long, course-based meal created by a chef who you know is super-talented but who is still trying to surprise you.  He could rest on his laurels, this man, but he does not: he continues to push forward.  And he knows how to work a crowd: around 9:45, just as the booze ran out and the energy started to ebb, he dropped an aggressive industrial beat that (without making it TOO obvious) encouraged people to start thinking about heading out.  And the crowd, as one, said “oh.. yeah, good call” and wandered off into the lovely Brooklyn evening.

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