Conjure a picture of a famous writer of years past, and chances are that image would include a glass of inebriant--scotch, usually--close at the writer's hand. So what could be more natural than a book reading at a bar?
At the Parlour Club in West Hollywood on Sunday night, listeners perched on bar stools and sipped candy-colored martinis as local author Lisa Teasley read from her new collection of short stories, "Glow in the Dark."
With the help of three actors, Teasley evoked a hangover-tinged breakfast rife with cigarettes, cold eggs, profanity and gastric upheaval, along with the violent episode that ensued. All accompanied by the occasional clink of ice as the club's bartender mixed drinks.
Bottles of Stolichnaya and Absolut glowed white against a mirror, in dramatic contrast to the Parlour's relentlessly red color scheme. The 20 or so in the mixed crowd--some painfully hip in thrift store digs, some sporting prominent tattoos, others looking like they came straight from the beach--listened and responded as intently as any crowd at a Barnes & Noble reading. "It's nice to combine literary thought with alcohol and friends," said Deirdre Sexton, a junior high English teacher who sat surrounded by friends and empty beer glasses after the reading. The juxtaposition of alcohol, literature and good company is standard fare for the Unhappy Hour, as Sunday nights at the Parlour Club are billed.
"These aren't exactly happy, light writers. The material is heavy, intense.... Bars have happy hours. So it's a contradiction, being the contrarians we are," explained Lydia Lunch, a spoken-word performer and hostess of the Unhappy Hour.
Martinis in hand, the crowd may actually have been a tad happier than the average bookstore gathering. "It's a comfortable, salon-type atmosphere. Bookstores are too sterile, the lighting is too bright. This is free, and early in the evening. It's something comfortable to slink into," Lunch said.
For Teasley, having her written words acted out took her work to a different level. "It's thrilling to hear the words ... to hear someone else's interpretation is like another life for the story," she said.
Performers at the Parlour since the Unhappy Hour began in January have included Mary Woronov, cult actress, writer and member of Andy Warhol's Factory set; goth writer Clint Catalyst, performance artist Vaginal Davis and L.A. writer and punk musician Pleasant Gehman.
"I think it's a nice refuge from the typical Hollywood posturing. At other spoken-word events, people are more about getting noticed. Here, it's not about flash but substance. It's edgy--authentically edgy," said Thom Fowler, a writer and Unhappy Hour regular.
Lunch and Andrew Gould, manager of Parlour Club, are putting the shows on hold for the summer, when the late-evening sunshine beckons people outdoors, but will resume the Unhappy Hour in September.
"It's addictive. I look forward to Sunday nights. The hiatus is going to put me in withdrawal," said Fowler's friend, Rachel Walker, a costume designer who just moved to L.A. from Seattle.