Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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A Village Voice, a Bloomsday and a Bit of Music

June 17, 2012
bradspurgeon

village voice bookshop

village voice bookshop

Hugely mixed emotions yesterday night as I had a couple of literary evenings mixed with music to attend. The first was not mixed with music, in fact, but was the most bittersweet. That was a visit to The Village Voice Bookshop, for a party to “celebrate” the closure of this Paris institution of the last 30 years. The store is closing as it can no longer survive as an independent bookshop in our Internet and ebook world. The second event was a celebration of Bloomsday, at the Swan Bar, where I was invited to play music and to listen to readings of James Joyce prose and other Irish things.

The Village Voice was one of my first Paris hangouts, and I went there in the second year of its existence, starting in 1983. I had seen many readings there, met many people, and got to know Odile Hellier, the woman who started the shop and has run it all these years. She is a fascinating woman who loves American literature, and decided to open a store with the true feel of the American literary expat bookshop in Paris – I guess she is a mixture of both Sylvia Beach AND Adrienne Monnier, who ran their stores only a few blocks away a few decades ago….

When I arrived for the closing celebration, I found that not even my personal invitation to the thing would save me from the impossibility of getting through the doors, so full was the two-floor shop of admirers and book lovers. In fact, they were bursting out into the street. All I could manage to do was glimpse inside and see Odile reading something from the staircase to the throngs below. I made a video of this, to give an idea.

I went off and ate a wonderful pizza dinner at a nearby pizzeria, where I also devoured the London Review of Books that I had bought in Montreal last week. Then I returned, sweating from that hot and spicy pizza, and found that I could now penetrate into the Village Voice. There I found the place now had enough room available for a visitor to wander around, and meet old friends. I started by saying hello to Odile outside the shop, where she was talking with someone and no doubt getting some fresh air after her various readings.

Inside, I found some old friends, including Jim Haynes, the American Paris expat supreme, whom, I recalled, I had met for the first time at the Village Voice in the back room cafe it used to have, in 1984, while I was reading Jim’s very own autobiography, “Thanks For Coming.” Jim and I kept contact over the years, I have been to his famous Sunday dinners at his atelier in the 15th arrondissement, and our lives have criss-crossed occasionally.

I also saw David Applefield, whom I had met at Shakespeare and Company in 1983 in the writer’s room, but whom I had probably seen more often in those early days at the Village Voice. David, at the time I met him, was working on the first Paris issue of his literary review called “Frank,” which would go on to have many more issues and a long life in Paris. Last night he passed on to me a book he has just published, right off the press, in a new imprint, and which was written by another Paris literary alumnus, John Strand.

Strand had started another Paris literary review in the early 1980s, called Exile, or Paris Exile, can’t remember quite. But I do remember him celebrating one of the issues at some kind of evening at the Village Voice in the early 1980s. Strand has gone on to become a multiple prize-winning playwright based in Washington D.C., and his novel is called, “Commieland.” I’m looking forward to reading it, and seeing where Applefield’s imprint, called, Kiwai Media, goes.

Unfortunately, I could stay long at the Village Voice as I had agreed so sing Irish songs at the Bloomsday evening at the Swan Bar, a newer American-culture hangout in Paris. In a brisk walk from the rue Princesse to Montparnasse, I managed to digest that pepperoni pizza and all the desert items – macarons – that I ate at the Village Voice. I arrived to find Sheldon Forrest hard at work accompanying a singer, and the Swan Bar was just brimming full of people.

This bode well, and as I waited to perform my first song, it occurred to me that I had a nice little story to tell about James Joyce, and I could connect it to the build up of my song. It was a story about how the journalist and novelist Eugene Jolas had spoken to Joyce one day and asked him what he accomplished that day, and Joyce responded that he had worked all day and managed to complete a sentence. “Only one sentence??!!!” “Well, yes,” said Joyce. “I knew what the seven words were, but I could not figure out what order I wanted to put them in.” I then told the audience that I had several songs, but did not know what order to sing them in. The one that went down the best, and which I did sing the best, was “Only Our Rivers Run Free,” by Mickey MacConnell.

There were lots of other musicians, lots of readers, and the evening was in general a bigger success – I felt – than last year’s such celebration at the Swan Bar.

I returned home, had a good sleep, got up today and finally, finally, after nearly four years finished the book I have been working on about my first year of musical adventures around the world. I also came up with a new, final, working title: “OUT OF A JAM: An Around-the-World Story of Healing and Rebirth through Music” In the end, I must say, that it felt appropriate to complete the book on such a literary weekend….

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