I suppose it's a clichÃ© for an author to blog about their book tour in this space.
But I'm going to embrace that clichÃ©.
I just returned today from a book tour of New York, England, Scotland, and Ireland.
I remember, before I'd written any books, going on the road with rock bands for Rolling Stone. It always surprised me that they had the opportunity to see so many different cities and countries, yet nonetheless rarely ? and for some, never ? left their hotel except to go to the actual concert.
And I thought, "If I was in a band, I'd make sure I did something interesting in each city."
After being on tour, I understand why bands don't interact with the city: They're too drained and exhausted to do so.
But, despite a schedule that sometimes went from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., I remembered my promise to myself and made sure I did something interesting everywhere I went.
And though I was exhausted ? cat-napping in planes, trains, cars, and sofas between interviews ? I stayed true to my pledge.
So, for today's blog, before I endeavor to name the fiction books that influenced me most for tomorrow's final entry, I'm going to record the experience I had in each city so I can remember it:
NEW YORK: I canceled an interview so I could see the musical Spring Awakening. I'm not a musical-theater type of person ? I didn't even like Rent, perhaps because I was living in the East Village when I saw it ? but Spring Awakening was fantastic on every level. Besides the music (by Duncan Sheik), what was most interesting was that it was based on a play written in the 1890s. We often like to think that our era is so permissive, radical, and decadent, and everything before the '60s was austere, except for maybe the '20s. But two centuries ago, Frank Wedekind, one of the precursors of Dada, wrote a piece that broke nearly every taboo on stage ? showing nudity, homosexuality, masturbation, premarital teenage sex, incest, child abuse, suicide, and more. I remember visiting the tombs of the nobles in Luxor, Egypt, and seeing paintings of women dying their hair and men playing sports, and getting a similar feeling: best summarized by quoting an even older source, "There is nothing new under the sun."
LONDON: I had exactly three hours of free time in London, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. And rather than sleeping, I ran out to shop for music and try a dumpling restaurant that had been recommended. Since acid house in the late '80s, the British dance music scene has been funny to watch. At first, every year, some innovator came along and created a new genre of dance music. Gradually, that window of time between new genres decreased. Now, sometimes it seems that the new genres are changing faster than the actual innovations. So in the progression that has gone from jungle to drum-and-bass to two-step to garage to grime (and don't even get me started on grindie), the 2007 favorite is dubstep. So I went dubstep shopping, picking up the classic compilation Warrior Dubz; a collection of Skull Disco singles; and, most impressive, the new Burial CD Untrue. Afterward, I went to Yauatcha for dumplings and noodles with a guy who claims he won the U.K. version of The Apprentice. (Note: Just looked him up on Google ? turns out he did.)
DUBLIN: The strangest thing about Ireland is that every time I go there, people always want to take me out and show me the town. But they always end up taking me to some velvet-rope lounge with bottle tables and women dressed like Paris Hilton, and expect me to be impressed. But I can see this every night in L.A. Having just read Ulysses, all I could think about was the line about how a good puzzle would be to cross Dublin without passing a pub. So, this time, when they kept insisting on taking me to places like Crystal, I said, "Take me somewhere with beer, piss, vomit, and blood on the floor." The producers of the talk show I was on that night, along with a friend from the band the Thrills, took me to Sheehan's, which only had beer on the floor, but at least it was a pub.
This is when something strange happened: As I was standing there, two women walked in and planted themselves in front of me, as if I should know them. Then one said, "Remember the magic fountain." Suddenly, I remembered meeting them seven years ago one afternoon in New York, sitting under the fountain in Central Park. One of them was a psychic and spiritual consultant to Michael Flatley (of Riverdance). And evidently they'd seen me on TV, then used their psychic powers to find me in Dublin. Maybe they can solve Joyce's puzzle...
EDINBURGH: This is one of my favorite cities in the U.K. And fortunately, I had a couple hours in the morning to go on a tour of the city's underground streets, walled in beneath the City Chambers. It was particularly appropriate because the night before, I'd read the chapter from Otto Friedrich's book The End Of The World on the Black Death, and much of the tour was about the devastation the plague unleashed on the city. Afterward, I went to Camera Obscura, one of the coolest museums I've ever been to.
GLASGOW: I'm running out of time, since I just landed and the column is due now. So going to speed this up. In Glasgow, brought a bunch of people from the book signing out for a Scottish meal, and convinced them to play the game Mafia with me. In Dublin, I'd met the members of a Glasgow band called Sons and Daughters (listen to their song "Rama Lama"!), who recommended going to Nice and Sleazy when I visited their town. So I managed to avoid being dragged somewhere VIP, and enjoyed the dirt and sleaze of Glasgow. When the bar closed, I talked some locals into giving me a driving tour of the city before I left at 7 a.m. the next day.
CAMBRIDGE: For my final night, I had to speak at Cambridge. Usually they bring in speakers like Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, and the Dalai Lama. But this year, they said, they wanted to diversify their offerings, so they were kicking off the season with, I guess, a guy who writes the filth I do. I think they were expecting to shock students, but in the end, they gave me the compliment of saying it was "erudite." Afterward, had some people who attended take me to the Eagle pub, where Watson and Crick invented DNA. Evidently, they were drunk and seeing double when they happened across the double helix. Unfortunately, the only discovery I made was not to eat fries slathered in mayonnaise while drunk. And perhaps also to start traveling like the hotel-bound rock bands, because sight-seeing while on tour is not only exhausting, it's also detrimental to interviews, readings, intelligibility, and sanity.