Quakes, crashes and words
It was about 11 p.m. when I walked with my wife from San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre toward our car that was parked at the nearby library. I looked to my right, up a street that led to the mouth of the Tenderloin. There were four cops standing around with their arms folded, cars flashing blue and red behind them. In front of them was an SUV in the middle of the street, perfectly upside down. There were no drivers in it. There wasn’t even a mess to speak of. Just an upside-down SUV in the middle of the street.
I thought to myself, “Why doesn’t this kind of badass shit happen in Sacramento?” Or maybe I said it aloud. I can’t remember.
Either way, it was a stupid question, because that kind of badass shit does happen all the time in Sacramento. But when cars flip over here, it seems more cliché—blood has to spatter everywhere and tons of people have to die. We don’t have surrealist crashes like they do in San Francisco.
Maybe I’ve just been a little down on Sacramento lately. I mean, that night, I sat in the middle of the Herbst Theatre—a large but personal auditorium (one of those places with red seats, huge, ornate paintings and gold trim)—while Tom Waits, Patti Smith, Jach Hirschman, Ishmael Reed and a bunch of other musicians and authors offered their tribute to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the owner of City Lights Books, publisher and defender of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” and the unofficial king of San Francisco.
The event was part of Litquake, a weeklong literary festival (ending on October 9) that is now in its 11th year. Litquake gives authors and literature lovers a chance to read, listen to readings and participate in the city’s fascination with language. Sacramento even made its presence known: the Capitol City Young Writers read and discussed their work as part of the Teen Crawl, SN&R contributor Sasha Abramsky participated in PoliPointPress’ Politics Done Left pub crawl, and SN&R film critic Jonathan Kiefer read from his book, Cold Around the Heart, forthcoming from City Lights Books.
But that night at the Herbst Theater, as Patti Smith sang the first few bars of “Coney Island Baby” and then broke into a rendition of “Wing” with Lenny Kaye, I thought, “It doesn’t get much better than this.”
When Tom Waits howled out a throaty rendition of Ferlinghetti’s “A Coney Island of the Mind,” a feeling of rich creativity and hefty importance blanketed the room. You could almost hear individual heartbeats when the applause stopped.
So, I thought, “Does Sacramento appreciate literature like this?”
And the answer is yes, of course we do.
No, we don’t have surrealist car crashes, like fancy-ass San Francisco. We don’t even have gaudy war memorial theaters. However, we do have a love of words that’s inherent to our city, from José Montoya’s Royal Chicano Air Force to the Flatmancrooked publishing company. We have literature. Maybe there just needs to be an all-inclusive festival to celebrate the city’s talent.
What do you say?