The Argotist Online
An Overview of ROCKPILE
thought that ROCKPILE was quite an amazing project, program, vision, and rare in
the field, and therefore expected it to be more celebrated. Celebrated because
it spoke more of opportunity, expansion and cultural and arts exchange than
mostly everything going around for a long time. And while it was a successful
program I do feel it was under appreciated. More people get hot thinking about
the next AWP.
often do two poets like Meltzer, Terri Carrion and me get a 40,000.00 dollar
grant to tour the US to perform with groups like The Dirty Dozen Brass Band or
musicians like Burnett Thompson, Johnny Lee Schell or Marty Ehrlich?
And what about all those seminars we set up with a wide cast of
characters to talk about Art and Activism? I must be crazy but it sounds to me
that the whole ROCKPILE thing was ground breaking as an overall program. And
maybe people know that but are challenged by it. Or maybe they just don't give a
shit. Maybe it was too rock and roll. Too ecstatic? Too sixties? Too eclectic?
Too jazzy? I don't know. I know one thing and that is that the only academic
institutions that backed it were RIT, CUNY, University of Missouri, and Columbia
College. I contacted many others and put out the word but seemed like the
Universities didn’t get it or didn’t want to get into it.
Louis had the strongest turn out. Of course, Michael Castro had the magic in
getting the community out. And St. Louis was the most diverse culturally and
integrated artistically. And the least academic. There are some great minds
there in St. Louis. We had a really large audience there for two nights in a
row. And they want us to come back and we want to go back.
overall assessment of ROCKPILE is that it was a success because everyone who
came to the show dug it entirely. And we loved, loved, loved, doing it. I mean
the audience raved. You could see it in their eyes, they were blown away. I
don't mean to hype and inflate ROCKPILE but it was obvious how turned on the
audience was. We heard comments in DC like, "You make us feel like we are a
part of something bigger." In New Orleans people got up from their seats
and danced while we were reading because the whole vibe was ecstatic and moving.
Can you imagine, dancing at a poetry reading? Many people said they felt we had
found a new way of performing poetry and music that was fresh and innovative. I
don’t know if that was true but we heard it an awful lot.
worked with a brass band in New Orleans, a free jazz player in New York, an
alternative rock band in SF, so ROCKPILE was cross-genre. Maybe that was new? Or
was it how we collaborated? That musicians and poets listened to each other!
don't come off to people as some "poetry & jazz" caricature of
beatniks in a coffee shop. That's not our approach. (I am more rock, for sure).
It may have something to do with our general approach to collaboration, that the
poet is an instrument, part of the music, and music is not a backtrack or
landscape for the poem/poet. It involves a lot of listening to the musicians,
and the musicians listening to the poets, so that we are actually interacting
with each other. Collaborating. The performance is in the moment. It involves
singing the poem when it gets to that, if it gets to that. Literally singing the
lines when the music goes there, to that place, when the feeling is right. When
you hear the music inside of you, and the line can only go that way, you sing!
it is hard to characterize our work as to why it is different because we are too
busy doing it.
had about 150 people two nights in a row in St. Louis, about 100 in New York, 85
in Albuquerque, and 100 in LA. These cities were pretty good turn out. New
Orleans was light, about 30 people. Some say it was the location and day of the
week. DC was very light too, at about 40 people, and that was a mind bendingly
sublime show with Burnett Thompson and Joseph Cunliffe and The New Columbia Band
at the Busboys and Poets which is a great space. We had this great Portuguese
vocalist and Burnett Thompson's band was impeccable and spirited. People
wouldn't leave the room after the show. You know you can tell a lot about how a
show went by the amount of talking that goes on after an event, people were
buzzing electric! They didn’t want to leave the performance space. I can't
explain the low turn out in DC. Believe me we did a lot of outreach.
we would do a seminar, a social gathering and a performance in each town we went
to try to meet people and make ROCKPILE a community event. This was only
partially successful, in my mind. We did a seminar at Columbia College a couple
days before the show. Ultimately, the Chicago event had about 50 people which
was a bit disappointing. And there seemed to be like 50 guest readers (just
kidding) in Chicago and we had some pretty well known local guest performers so
I was surprised by the turnout. But I hear the Chicago crowd is fragmented
community-wise, and therefore hard to reach. Larry Sawyer did a wonderful job,
though, getting things together at the Hideout and so the people that did show
up all had a blast.
know, I just think I have an inflated view of what ROCKPILE is. I feel we should
have had about 100 people turnout everywhere. But we didn’t. We really didn't
get any press, mainly calendar listings. And I sent out press releases
everywhere! It is a difficult project to describe in promotion.
supplemental funding from different venues was mostly nil. We got almost no
financial support from universities. Therefore, if we didn't have the main
Creative Work Fund Grant (a miracle in itself) we wouldn’t have been able to
do ROCKPILE at all. If we were in the academic world we would have been
sponsored in each city by a college and probably made money. The professors
would have black-mailed their students with extra credit for attendance and
filled the auditorium.
ROCKPILE isn’t a commodity. I don't think of this program as product. It is
about art and that is a great, great thing. I fully see the installation,
happening, the experimental, cultural value of what we have done. And you can't
imagine how fun it was, blissful to perform with awesome accomplished musicians.
We are jonesing to go back out. Seriously, performing with those musicians! The
Dirty Dozen, Burnett Thompson, Marty Ehrlich, the LA musicians, all legends
themselves (who have played with Bonnie Raitt, Taj Majal, Rolling Stones, Ella
Fitgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, etc). And
all those great friends we made and spent time with in each town. Unforgettable.
And then what a blessing to spend two months on the road with David and Terri.
I am a celebratory kind of guy. I just wanted people to come out and join us and
celebrate themselves. We had guest readers in each town and mixed it up so it
wasn't about the glorification of Meltzer and Rothenberg and Carrion. It was
about community. I wanted the audience to see that poetry is ecstatic, and
participatory, something celebrated not dreaded.
thing I know for sure is that now that we are back David and Terri want to do
more. I am speaking with people in St. Louis, New Orleans, New York and Chicago
and we have new ideas for programs and ideas on how to re-mix the program to
make it clearer what we are all about. ROCKPILE is scheduled in 2011 for
Amsterdam. Paris, Berlin and London are in progress. We’re headed to Rochester
and Buffalo in September. We had a great time there during the tour and made
lots of friends. And we’re working on a few gigs with The Rabbles, a great Bay
Area experimental rock band this summer. Jason
Braun from St. Louis is working on a program for the fall with hip-hop and
spoken word poets in a gathering of voices.
know we have another big fragmented community here in the USA, which includes
performance, hip hop, and spoken word poetries. They are very inbred, cliquish,
and not much for mixing it up. I am sure they have fought hard for their
“money”, their place in the “scene” and audience. And I am sure they
have built in defences, because they have been ostracized by the academy and
other "real poets". But personally, I tend to think art and culture
and celebration, not politics, fame and power. St. Louis got it entirely right,
as far as I’m concerned. It was a total mix of academicians, black, Hispanic,
hip-hoppers, spoken word, beat poets, anarchists, cross generational,
cross-cultural, and such. The audience was roaring, and people are still writing
me about how fabulous the show was.
where are the reviews of the ROCKPILE event? I am expecting one review in a very
prestigious national paper, The Forward.
that is it. Well, okay, no more. Thanks for letting me rant!
copyright© Michael Rothenberg
Rothenberg is a
poet, songwriter, and editor and publisher of Big
Bridge magazine. His poems have been published widely in small press
publications, including Berkeley Poetry Review, Exquisite Corpse, Milk,
Golden Handcuffs Review, Jacket, Prague Literary Review, Tricycle,
and Zen Monster. His poetry books include Man/Woman, a
collaboration with Joanne Kyger, The Paris Journals (Fish Drum Press), Monk
Daddy (Blue Press), Unhurried Vision (La Alameda/University of New
Mexico Press), and most recently CHOOSE, Selected Poems (Big
Bridge Press). He is also author of the novel Punk Rockwell (Tropical
Press). Michael Rothenberg has edited the selected works of Philip Whalen,
Joanne Kyger, David Meltzer and Ed Dorn (Penguin Books) and the Collected Poems
of Philip Whalen (Wesleyan University Press). His newest book of poems, My
Youth As A Train, will be published in Fall 2010 by Foothills Publishing.