Slingshots, Anyone? : Anarchy in the V.I.P.

“One Eyed Jacks? On Lundi Gras?!” those I’d let in on my scheme exclaimed. “You won’t get in!” My plan—showing up outside the venue with a bundle of literature expecting to get in for free—did seem a bit shaky. But then again, the insistence of naysayers was something I hardly paid much heed to—in the short list of things to which I actually paid anything. And honestly, could Andrew WK play a show in the rotten core of New Orleans, in the midst of Mardi Gras—the cancer itself— without me trying to gatecrash it?!

Earlier that day my rockabilly band The Straight Shooters opened for Ghost Mice at none other than the Iron Rail Book Collective, the establishment to which I have sacrificed my soul and must wander restless many a night on the store’s punk rock graveyard shift. I’d stressed about playing to such a large number of people, yet considering the Plan-It-X duo was on the bill, the turnout of kids didn’t rank as high as expected. Not as many, at least, by the precedent Kimya Dawson set here a year ago: a mound of bodies piled in every crevice of the ARK, holding hands and swooning to sweet acoustic songs in the spring twilight. During our set I spoke about my experience at the Krewe of Eris parade the night before. A hundred-plus costumed guttersnipes had taken to the street on Press and led their annual un-permitted parade all the way through the Bywater (stopping for an interim, of course, at the local bar) and into the Quarter. Tate, Renee and I followed the throngs of freaks and bike- cart floats for what seemed like miles all the way to Jackson Square, where NOPD finally greeted and redirected us. After they’d herded us off Decatur, the police, as usual, grew violent and began attacking individuals. Although a few of our numbers went so far as to challenge the legions of the State, with one brave soul pummeling a squad car windshield with a skateboard and another standing in front of an advancing cop car in the street, the cops were met with little resistance. I shared with the audience at the show the next evening my disappointment at the squandered opportunity of not taking our disorderly celebration a step further and challenging our oppressors, choosing instead to dissolve into the decadence of Mardi Gras. What’s going to make these New Orleans derelicts finally fight back? Should we, as the imbecilic straightedge kids tell us, “bring back prohibition?” Institute harsh vagrancy laws for busking on street corners? Ban the tall bikes? Gentrify the squats? Let me state here I am all for these extreme measures—anything to bring about the long-awaited ethnic cleansing of the Crust population of New Orleans… I mean, make the city more “politically active.”

Around nine that evening, long after Ghost Mice ceased their serenading and the punx pedaled into another weary night of carousing at The John, I loaded my basket with books from the Rail and set out across the treacherous reaches chartered the night before at Eris— through the dense multitude of drunken pedestrians and motorists along Decatur. This is not the easiest of tasks, I assure you: riding my rickety bike equates in effort to just walking all the way to my destination but simply takes less time. It’s just plain dangerous, too! The day of the Ghost Mice show my brakes had gone out on Canal Street and, like Sandra Bullock in her ’90s hit film Speed, I’d had to swerve perilously through human roadblocks all the way down Rampart without halting! Lucky for me One Eyed Jacks wasn’t all that far, so if my plot was foiled it wouldn’t be too great a hassle. After all, there was no way I was paying. Nope. No way. Twenty dollars? I could see at least twelve punk bands for that much!

Arriving at the club, I straightened up my distro and made sure my real important clipboard was perched in clear sight right on top. Seriously, never underestimate the persuasive power of a clipboard! The line for the show wound all the way to Bourbon Street, and multiple doormen stood vigilant over the patrons. Getting in would be tough. Timing would need to be just right and I would need to exude just the right amount of professionalism to offset the reality: of one ten-year-old boy walking off the raging streets on Lundi Gras into a bar show without paying the cover! I perked myself up, circumvented the line and bustled toward the entrance. The large man stamping hands seemed like a force not to be reckoned with, and as I sauntered on past him—my memory becomes hazy at this point—he looked down warily from his perch at me with my meager crate. And smiled. “Welcome back,” he said. What’s going on?!

Maybe I’d totally misjudged this 18+ club, maybe One Eyed Jacks was on our side! For not only did I get into this exclusive concert event no questions asked, but once inside security even went so far as to accommodate me with a table and chair in my own corner! See if you get that with a purchased ticket! “If you need some more light, we can rig something up,” the helpful bouncer told me as I spread out my wares on the table in the corner. Golly. After so many nights fighting my way into House of Blues, finally I was getting the respect I deserved from the New Orleans bar scene! All for the sake of propagating my anarchist propaganda! This sort of arrangement was one I could surely get behind. Yes, a little more light on the left side, please. Right there. I’ll go ahead and take a spritzer while you’re at it…

Once situated, a disgruntled drunk soon approached my VIP table: not often an ideal interaction, but in this context welcome nonetheless. “The Iron Rail?” he slurred. “That’s that building with all the fuckin’ rats runnin’ around?!”

Uhhh…? If by “rats” you mean human street urchins…

“Yeah,” he assured himself. “This is all that left-wing bullshit, huh?” We talked about the politics of the info shop and, in the end, he accepted a flyer and agreed to stop in sometime. Iron Rail—Salesmyn for the Rev’!

Another character strolled up not too much later. He looked intently at the books on the table. Usually I try to cater my selection to the specific show. If hipster-weenies like Japanther are playing, for example, I might bring some Plan-It-X records, Found magazines, art books, generous amounts of cocaine, etc. Metal shows usually warrant some fanzines, black metal selections whose names I can’t read or pronounce, maybe an obscure collection of rocks. A ska show: some coloring books, a few simple crossword puzzles and any shiny objects. Gotta reel ‘em in, you know? The gentleman in front of me was struggling to show me something on his forearm. He went to great lengths tugging at his sleeve before realizing he needed to remove his jacket. He set down his beer on the table (a constant pet peeve of mine), pulled off the jacket and yanked the sleeve of his undershirt up to his elbow in order to display his armband with a circled “A” on it! “Wow, cool!” I said.

“I’m all about anarchy!” he told me. Well, duh! I could totally tell, comrade, that you too wished to overthrow the patriarchal capitalist machine as soon as I saw your Anarchy(R) sweatband! “I wanna buy some books but I don’t know if I have enough money. Let me see how much I have after I get some drinks!” Typical. Even tabling for a radical bookstore I must occasionally compromise some of my ideals. As anarchists intrinsically opposed to the notion of “selling things,” we too are forced into this arrangement, cornered into a cycle of marketing “revolutionary ideas” through consumer products. So, in this situation my volunteer standby would be, “Well, you could pick up our ‘Brew Yer Own Beer’ zine, only one dollar!” Or I could just forgo “customer” relations and deliver my succinct, derisive response: Stop drinking, you mindless slave!

Well, the moment I’d waited all night for finally arrived: Andrew WK took the stage! He stormed out in his dirty white shirt/pants combo, with keyboard and full entourage. “This is my wife, Cherie!” he yelled, motioning to a lady in sweatpants rocking out next to him. The boozed up spectators went wild. My friend Emily, who in the ensuing chaos I didn’t realize was in attendance, told me later that she left the show distraught because a group of heybrah frat boys had punched and kicked her continuously throughout the set. Way to go, New Orleans!

But like a ruler observing my minions from afar, I stood oblivious to the pain and suffering. From my high stool, I was Caesar and the showgoers my gladiators. I’m not usually one to stand at the back—being a little guy, I do prefer to go up front. But standing on my stool I was for the first time ever the tallest one in the room, and I soaked it all in. It was sort of like I was reviving the famous Stoop Night— except now I could make fun of the idiots from inside the club! Who’s the puppet master of New Orleans now, Funck?! That’s right— it’s me! Out with the old, in with the new. Just like another yearly order of Slingshot organizers. Eventually, when Andrew WK played the only two songs I knew, I was taken back to a simpler time in the suburbs of Chalmette, where— before I’d discovered DIY punk— my childhood friends and I shot home videos of ourselves setting off firecrackers in the palms of our hands and busting fluorescent light bulbs over each others’ heads! Nothing like a trip down memory lane…

Andrew WK did not, it’s true, incite the masses to rise up and overthrow our masters, or lead an unauthorized march à la Zack de la Rocha from the venue to police headquarters. But just as with Krewe or Eris, I sensed the real potential of full-on insurrection tangible in the air—like the smoke choking me at every show at Saturn Bar. Or like the owner of Saturn Bar stopping the set and cursing out the crustlords at all of Matt Russel’s shows. And as I watched the showgoers neutralize their potential with alcohol and misdirect their rage on one other, I cultivated a silent hope that maybe, just maybe, we could subvert this and all events, switch our roles from spectators to active participants and, above all, party hard… TO THE STREETS!

(In addition, Quintron & Miss Pussycat headlined this show. I watched one song but decided to split early so I could head back to the shop, re-shelve books, and make it home before 3am. I feel inclined, because this is sort of a show column, to plug the one this combo will be playing at the scummy Nowe Miasto warehouse on June 5th with Cave, C-Section 8, and house band Fisher Cat. It should start at 6pm and end before 10pm, so come early!)