This month's edition of the Riot Act Reading Series, the infamous conglomeration of punk rock, poetry, and shenanigans, will feature Mark Mallman. He will be reading from his tour diaries, which he's been keeping since 2003. This Sunday Mallman, who has driven back and forth between here and L.A at least 30 times, will be showing off his writing skills and giving an insider look at what it's like to be on the road. We chatted with Mallman about writing and his tour diaries.
It's a journal, written in the past tense about a present situation. It goes pretty far out. It's usually me trying to define the omnipotent darkness that is constantly chasing me through life.
And what's the style?
My tour diaries are prose, but I try to keep them fairly conversational and not be presumptuous about masquerading that I'm an educated, literary individual. You work with what you've got, right? I try to keep the pontificating or the worldly side of myself -- you know, that part in all of us that thinks that they know the answers to everything? I try to keep that guy out.
But you know people like the stories. They like to hear the stories that happened. I've been around America over 30 times; I can drive you to L.A. and back without a map or an iphone. So, there's a lot of them.
Do you write in a book or do you type?
I have a bunch of moleskin books that are really hard to read because I always write in pen. Each tour, I write every day on what happened and what was exciting and meeting a guy with one arm or maybe we slept on somebody's roof or something.
Can you talk about your background writing and performing poetry?
When I was a teen, my dad took me to some poetry readings in Milwaukee, and I just loved it. I loved the idea of words existing in and of themselves with musical overtones. I loved the street element of poetry. It's so blue collar. And even then, even though I was 14, I felt this affinity toward this real shit. This is the real shit, this is not like some article you read in the paper. This is the street, you know?
And so I went to MCAD, and within a couple of weeks I was like, 'You know, someone's gotta start a poetry reading.' So I started a poetry reading every other week. I would read and other people would read. And I did it on Friday night so if the kids weren't popular, or if they didn't have a party to go to, they'd go to a poetry reading.
After college I moved out to Seattle, and I was like, 'Holy Shit! These people are competing!' And it's pretty easy, all you do is like take a bunch of standup comedy and make it arty and then you read it. Or, you read about how depressed you are in a really funny way and then you win. So you know I was just out there doing the competitions that they had, and I did okay. It was before the New York thing hit, so there was no style to it. So it was cool, because it was a poetry competition.
When you were doing your series at MCAD, was that slam? Or was it a different form?
When I went to MCAD, I wasn't interested in partying or anything. I wanted to be creative, and I wanted to share creativity with other people, and I knew there were people who thought about writing and reading, and when you're a kid, you love poetry. You can be so deep without putting much effort into it. For college, writing and poetry and everything. It's the perfect time. It wasn't slamming or competing, it was just college kids. It was really healthy for me. And I abhorred the concept of drinking and partying at that point in my life. I thought it was beneath me because I was a world-class intellectual at 18.
How has poetry writing funneled into your music?
The thing where poetry breaks from music is when it's strong enough to exist without the music, when the poetry has its own fucking thing, it's own meter. Lyrics are a part of a thing, they're an ingredient interdependent upon the song. Like when you read a Talking Heads lyric, it's just kind of dumb. But then it makes perfect sense when the music kicks in. I don't know why that is. If you take a poem, and you try to make a song out of it, it can be really amazing. John Cale's "Words for the Dying" can be done in such a way because the music is already built into the words.
Sometimes music isn't just melody, but it's rhythm and form, arrangement. And I think about that too when writing dialogue. I don't know, this is something I'm exploring. It's not my job, it's not my work, its kind of where my passion is, since music is now my job.
IF YOU GO:
Riot Act Reading Series Evening will also feature Lowry Hills Liquor store's favorite cashier, filmmaker/comedian Beck DeRobertis, "informational speaker" Rana May, musician David Mercer, and hosts Paul D. Dickinson and Laura Brandenburg 7 p.m. Sunday in the Clown Lounge Turf Club 1601 University Ave., St. Paul.