The band, the bodyguards: the James Frey show
There were no Hells Angels at the Whisky a Go-Go on Thursday night, although a ripple of curiosity was circulating among the people waiting in line along Sunset Boulevard.
Would James Frey, whose newest offering is "Bright Shiny Morning," a novel set in Los Angeles, have the kind of bad karma on the West Coast the Rolling Stones had at Altamont when they used the motorcycle gang for security at the Bay Area speedway in 1969, which resulted in the death of one man and the symbolic death knell of the '60s?
Not at all.
Good behavior prevailed, discounting a little mosh pit action that briefly tore into a pair of tables near the stage. Frey’s self-proclaimed "Rock-and-Roll Book Tour" attracted not only the usual crowd of well-read graduates, but also a heady throng of about 100 high school kids who’d come just to see a popular band playing for free.
And what a band it was. Black Tide was its name, and the combined age of its four members couldn’t be more than 70. They played double bass-pedaled, flying V headbanger paeans. Their fans pumped their fists and shook their heads and managed to displace a handful of worried adults, most of them wearing glasses and clutching books.
How does one follow a set like that? With a book reading?
Frey took the stage with two bodyguards, entering down the stage-left stairs past a sign that read, "If you stage dive you go home." He wore a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball cap, a gray T-shirt and khaki slacks. In the thick of fog machine smoke, under the mechanized lights, he sat down on a stool and spoke into the microphone.
Then Frey asked whether anyone in the audience had a copy "I can borrow?"
He read breathlessly from a borrowed book while the band settled into a low, menacing rhythm. Behind them, images by celebrity and fashion photographer Terry Richardson flashed on a screen: tattooed women holding pistols, beds of golden ammunition, profanity-laden signage, headshots of young toughs whose business it was, no doubt, to be simply that.
Frey read about "a man who hates everything and everybody," about "Rickie, who hasn’t had a job in four years." About "the ways and means of obtaining semiautomatic and full automatic machine guns."
There was a panorama of character names and quick details of the blink-and-you'll miss them variety:
"He held a gun to her head and made her drive to the hills in Malibu."
"She didn’t tell her parents or her co-workers, and she stayed at home and cried in bed for two weeks."
When Frey finished -- after about 10 minutes -- he took rapid-fire questions, in the manner of someone who’s figured the attention span of his audience to be momentary.
Q: "What was your favorite book to write?"
A: "This one."
Q: "Who’s your favorite band?"
A: "Black Tide."
Q: "Why do you live in New York?"
A: "My wife. If it were up to me, we’d live here."
Perhaps the best question was from a gangly Latino in a Motley Crue T-shirt: "Who are you?"
It was certainly rhetorical, and the author did not answer.
Frey then began signing autographs. Tucked into a booth, a bodyguard beside him, Frey looked serious and workmanlike. He should have been. After all, he had a limited amount of time. A long line of adults waited to collect his autograph, but up front the kids were getting restless. Black Tide was coming back to play a second set.
(Photos of James Frey at the Whisky by George Ducker)