Being There, with Rob Spillman

Rob Spillman

The first in a series of posts devoted to the comings and goings of our co-founder and editor, Rob Spillman, whose literary dance card knows no ends.

“But what do you do?” someone asked me when I told her I was the editor of Tin House. Besides reading and soliciting manuscripts, I try to be a decent literary citizen by sitting on the boards of CLMP, The Brooklyn Book Festival, the radio station WFMU, 826NYC, and on the Membership Committee of PEN. In addition to literary events, I tend to find inspiration from live music and theatre. I’m not sure exactly what will come from the experiences recounted below, if anything, but I wasn’t worried about that at the time; all I worried about was being open and simply being there.

October 18: 6.30pm Terese Svaboda book party at the Century Club, thrown by the fabulous freelance publicist Lauren Cerand, for Svoboda’s new novel Bohemian Girl. A quick dip into this party as it is scheduled for the same time as a National Book Critics Circle panel I am on. Luckily the moderator of the panel, Jane Ciabattari, is also at the party.

7:00pm- NBCC panel on the comic novel, with the NBCC’s Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing winner Parul Sehgal and the novelist Beth Gutcheon, at the Center For Fiction. Sehgal and Gutcheon favored the more punitive, British flavor of humor, namely THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE by Muriel Spark from Sehgal, and anything Wodehouse by Gutcheon, while I championed the more lovable loser journeys where one can’t but help but root for the protagonist, from DON QUIXOTE to CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES and THE HITCHHIKERS GUIDE TO THE GALAXY.

October 19: 7:00pm– Jeff Eugenides book party at the Standard. The posh party in the rooftop bar of the very LA swanky Standard Hotel was a throwback to the late 80s and early 90s when publishers threw lavish affairs. In the lobby I ran into Jonathan Franzen, who was lost trying to find the elevators, so I guided him to the back. I met Eugenides in the late 80s when my wife was working at the Paris Review and they accepted the first chapter of THE VIRGIN SUICIDES. There were a lot of faces from those years, including Jhumpa Lahiri, Susan Choi and her husband, the editor of the Dining Out section of the New York Times Pete Wells, Liesl Schillinger (Wells, Schillinger, and I were fact-checkers together at the New Yorker), along with Zadie Smith and a host of prominent editors and agents. For at least one evening, it felt like all was well with corporate literary publishing.

9:00pm- Arctic Monkeys at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, with my sixteen-year-old daughter. A secret, fans-only show. Yes, I am on their mailing list—why do you ask? Two years ago, my daughter’s band, Care Bears on Fire, played at Lollapalooza, and she met the members of the Arctic Monkeys in the talent tent. If she ever runs off, it will be with Alex Turner, the lead singer. Seeing them at the small venue, it was easy to see why. Turner is ridiculously charismatic, strutting about and sweeping back his pompadour like he is Chet Perkins. The rest of the band looks like the Sheffield blokes they are—you could mistake them for soccer hooligans if they weren’t producing such driving, clever pop.

October 24- CLMP Spelling Bee, at the Standard. The annual fundraiser for the Council of Literary Magazine and Small Presses. Hosted by board member Ira Silverberg, the super-agent at Sterling Lord Literistic, who is leaving to become the Head of Literature for the NEA. Silverberg was the first person I went to for advice when we started Tin House, and also literally took my hand to lead me through Frankfurt the fist time I went there. Defending co-champions Nancy Franklin and Francine Prose were back, along with challengers Jonathan Burnham, James Frey, Julia Glass, Ben Greenman, Patricia Marx , Bernice McFadden, Bob Morris, David Rakoff, Elissa Schappell, Helen Simonson, Lynne Tillman, Simon Winchester, and Meg Wolitzer.

Officiating was the very natty and appropriately nerdy Jesse Sheidlower (Editor-at-Large, OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY), who earned the enmity of the crowd for dropping “antecedence” in the first round, eliminating Rakoff, Schappell, and, shockingly, defending champion Prose, who all assumed the word was “antecedents”. Nancy Franklin asked for a definition—“the state of being antecedent”. It came down to Franklin, Burnham, and former champ Greenman, who wisely asked for derivation and definition on every word, including “kibbutznik”, despite snickers from the smartypants crowd. Greenman won when he correctly spelled “pyrosis” (heartburn, that is).

October 27: 7:00pm- Reading and party for Elissa Schappell’s BLUEPRINTS FOR BUILDING BETTER GIRLS at the home of curator Joan Inciardi and her husband Craig Inciardi, head of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I feel bad, but my priorities were elsewhere and I ducked out before the reading.

10:00pm- Boris at Irving Plaza. Japanese noise at its finest. Imagine Black Sabbath mixed with My Bloody Valentine, via Japan. The iridescent pink drum set floated above the back of the stage like moon jellyfish, occasionally consumed by clouds of dry ice illuminated with dark purple lights. Up front was a doubleneck bass and the unassuming, diminutive female lead guitarist. The sonic assault was like mental floss.

October 29: 3:00pm- Class visit at the New School. I was always enjoy talking to students, demystifying literary publishing as best I can. It is heartening to see that there seems to be an endless amount of willing and able deluded souls ready to face the slings and arrows of an outrageous occupation.

8:00pm– Justin Vivien Bond and The Tiger Lillies at St. Anne’s Warehouse. Bond, who made her name as part of the meta-drag cabaret act Kiki & Herb, opened the evening with an earnestly camp version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon”, gave a shout-out to the Occupy Wall Street movement with a happy little number about Marat from “Les Miserables” threw in a cover of Patti Smith’s “Pissing in the River” and managed to work in a few naughty pages from her teenage coming of age memoir Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels. The Tiger Lillies then came out and collaborated with Bond on “Sinderella” a brief song cycle descending from Sinderalla’s mother’s death to being sold into prostitution by her stepmother, meeting prince charming only to have him die of cancer, then she commits suicide. Welcome to the world of the Tiger Lillies. They describe themselves as “the criminal castrati and his accordion driven anarchic Brechtian street opera trio.” Uncompromisingly grim songs about prostitution and despair, accompanied by Theremin and saw, sung in a low, guttural growl are interrupted by heart-breaking renditions of standards like “Autumn Wind” sung in high castrati style by Martyn Jacques, who is in horrific Carney clown makeup, wielding his accordion like a demonic bellows. I haven’t been this uncomfortable in a theatre in a long time. And I mean that in a good way.

Rob Spillman