Geoff Larson of the Bushwick Book Club Seattle
Geoff Larson of the Bushwick Book Club Seattle

Continuing their tradition of honoring disparate gems of literature, The Bushwick Book Club took on Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States January 18th at the Fremont Abbey. It joins the ranks of Fahrenheit 451, High Fidelity, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and many other books that have been interpreted via song and story and joke by a choice collector’s set of Seattle’s artists.

Bushwick combines a true silliness and true sincerity in their pursuit; It’s all wonderfully geeky. This time they had the creative-types in a vaulted church-like space. The audience sat in folding chairs arranged in squared rows. The show was intrinsically patriotic, but not in a flag waving way. It was grown up. There was insight. Tongues approached cheeks occasionally, but not often.

The night began with the singing of the National Anthem by Tom Parker and Wes Weddell. We all stood and faced a huge flag hanging on the wall of the Abbey. Some of us put our hands on our hearts and sang along. Others looked around. Some stood in silence. Not being a sports fan of any great measure, It’s been since grade school since I’ve participated in such a thing. It all came back, the feeling of being small and America being huge. It set the tone perfectly for the night.

You get the feeling that being invited to perform at a Bushwick show is one of those quintessential Seattle artistic experiences. The small stage shared a collected talent that was as varied as formidable. You had Lindy West and Ahamefule Oluo doing a bit about if Andrew Jackson had an advice column, Del Rey with her rich electric guitar tones doing a song about tyranny and colonial economics. There was a good amount of artistic license, but the genuine love of literature by these performers was quite clear.

There was a lot of humor, some gravitas. It was a good balance. Emmett Montgomery was reading letters throughout the show. My favorite was from his hobo grandfather, who would take punches for food in bars after riding the rails. When Montgomery read of blood mixing with gravy, and that making the meal more delicious — it was visceral. There were a few gasps in the audience. I thought it honored the book well.

Closing out the first act, Debbie Miller boiled down the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of the book (which deal with socialism, World War I and the anti-war movement) into a beautiful and strange song about an early Twentieth century school teacher who dares to drink milkshakes at suspicious hours at the drugstore in wanton violation of the school board rules of conduct. For me it was one of the highlights of the show, and exemplified the night. It was funny takes on complex ideas, strange left turns, lots of conspiratorial whimsey that never trespassed into being precious. They did it right.

When it was all said and done, Mike Votava did a superbly over-the-top rendition of Neil Diamond’s ‘America’. It was exactly what was called-for, and ended this celebration of a difficult, dense, and very serious book, done by some of Seattle’s coolest bookworms.

Look for lots of upcoming shows, including, but not limited to February 27th at the Richard Hugo House, where they will be doing Ellen Forney’s Lust, followed by Sandman (!!!!) on March 2nd at the Crocodile in partnership with Emerald City Comicon. Ambition and creativity rarely are channeled this awesomely.

Culture Review: the Bushwick Book Club Does Howard Zinn