"I've been thinking a lot about Adrienne Rich," began the legendary queer author Dorothy Allison. The crowd was hushed, the silence nurturing reverence. "I've been thinking about the stories we all share." Allison's Southern cadence rolled off her tongue as she opined, "Leave something behind." And Allison definitely left something behind on Sunday -- tales involving sex, porcelain, childbirth, and (maybe) orgasm.
But before we get there, we should tell you Allison was the final reader at Sunday's Sister Spit event at the San Francisco Public Library. And if you don't know (yet), Sister Spit is a vanload of chanteuses and luminaries, queer legends and performance artists, who travel the country in a sort of literary roadshow every April. Sunday's edition inaugurated the 2012 tour with a special SF appearance by Ali Liebegott and Hilary Goldberg's short film adaptation of a chapter from Michelle Tea's Valencia.
The vivacious Tea, host extraordinaire and founder of Sister Spit, welcomed the crowd with two announcements. The first (which we already knew) was that her book Valencia is being made into a film with each chapter adapted by a different director and cast. The second was that Sister Spit is getting its own imprint with City Lights Publishers. Tea is indeed a busy, busy lady (did anyone catch her hosting Balderdash the other week at Intersection for the Arts?), and now she's on the road with her traveling cabaret, moving between Southern California, Arizona, and back up to Oakland on Sunday, April 8, for a different show with Beth Lisick and Annie Danger.
Imagine what riding along in that van would be like! Will Erin Markey serenade the group with glam ballads from her one-woman musical The Dardy Family Home Movies by Stephen Sondheim by Erin Markey? Will she belt with the same ferocity as she did on Sunday? Hers was the musical reinvented, as she sang the part of Kelly Dardy, a bratty 20-something Skyping with her mother, Molly. Markey's sultry voice opened up operatic before tapering quickly into maniacal hushes, as she demanded, exasperated, to "go full screen" in her video chat. Partly satirical and autobiographical, Markey's songs electrified the audience with enough exuberance to make Sondheim proud.
With just enough space to allow you to catch your breath between readers, Tea brought on stage ruffian Cassie J. Sneider, to wax poetic about her love for rock. She told the story of how the radio saved her on a family road trip to Six Flags, screaming, "I am an unstoppable hurricane of rock and roll!" and channeling those days of impetuous adolescence. She expressed an affinity for Twisted Sister's Dee Snider, finding kinship in their last names and New Jersey roots. Upon a drive through Six Flags Safari Park, Sneider and her family find themselves under attack by a pack of angry monkeys, whose resemblance to New Jersey residents rang uncanny to Sneider: with their teased hair standing on end as they grasped desperately for the family car's antennae, rabidly like groupies furiously pawing for hand jobs backstage at a Bon Jovi concert.
Sister Spit would be nothing without its boisterous group of rabble rousers, without the colorful details of exploits of all sexual varieties. Ex-Gravy Train!!!! member Brontez Purnell announced he was late to the reading because he did too much blow the night before and then launched into a reading from Johnny, Would You Love Me If My Dick Were Bigger?, a novella bursting with societal taboos, blow-by-blowjob, before finishing with that universal love story: to just want someone to love you back, no matter the dick size. Slam poet and Mr. Trans pageant winner Kit Yan offered another kind of love story, honoring his younger brother, Edwin, crediting him with being so much smarter. "Edwin, he gets it."
Each performer supported one another's fireworks, but it was Dorothy Allison who got the crowd to stand up in ovation. When Tea introduced Allison, she mentioned how strange it would be to ask one of her idols to sleep in a bath tub or next to a ferret cage, as previous sisters had done in the past. Allison responded in her warm Southern murmur: "I've slept in bathtubs before. ... I fucked in one, too. I preferred the latter. Porcelain can be so sexy."
Concerned about the female body, she read a poem that could have easily been about orgasm as it was about childbirth. "Rivers in other states leave their banks... when she laughs, mountains break." She ended with the thing that came between the two bodies: "afterbirth." Her voice low and pulsing as she said it: "afterbirth." And then, as if startled out of a dream, she turned to Michelle Tea, referencing Tea's earlier reading about trying to conceive, and said: "And this bitch wants to get pregnant?! We have some talking to do."
Oh, to be a fly on a wall of that van! What brassy stories will come from the next month on the road?