I arrived right around 7:00pm and asked at the register where the reading would be. They gave me directions and I headed on my way. I was a little nervous. I had never met the man before.
I headed upstairs and entered a small room crowded with people and surrounded by books and history. "Intimate", I thought. I found my friends at the front of the room and headed over to say hi. There were no seats except one and when I asked about its availability, I was told "that's for Viggo." Next to it was a table with a pile of his book and CDs.
People continually filed into the already crowded room. At some point they pulled out these chairs that seemed to belong to a child's play dining room set. I eagerly took one and planted myself in front of my friends. A prime spot for the evening.
We were all excited and immediately started chatting away. I hadn't seen them in a while so we tried to catch up on what was going on in our lives. It was good to see them again. Marcia was funny because she was bubbling over with excitement and enthusiasm. She made the event fun and enjoyable.
Viggo made his entrance and had to excuse himself through the crowd to get to the front. He was carrying two books (one of them being "Recent Forgeries"), chewing gum and well, you can tell from the photos what he was wearing. He sat down in the "Viggo" chair and fumbled with his books. They had torn yellow stickies with handwritten numbers scattered throughout.
The City Lights dude (who looked a lot like Greg Proops) got up, made some brief announcements about upcoming events (the William Burroughs tribute with Jello Biafra sounded pretty cool) and then introduced Viggo.
Viggo got up and talked softly, explaining his filing system that he had created while eating Chinese food down the street. The key to this filing system was written down on a napkin.
He began reading selections from "Recent Forgeries", most being these short bursts of monotone words. He seemed nervous and shy. At one point he asked if everyone could here him. There were no's from the back of the room. He replied "Yeah, yeah, speak up! Just like the director always tells me." At certain points he would give us insights on what he was thinking or what the situation was at the time he wrote a piece. Or would explain photos and why he took them.
There was an outspoken person at the front of the room who would on occasion make remarks out loud. "Take off your shirt" was a memorable one, Viggo laughing at that. He stopped at one point and asked if there were any requests. The outspoken one asked for For Sandy Dennis (p.80) and Viggo seemed to like that request. He read the piece. He was then asked how he had met Sandy Dennis. He explained that she had played his mother in the film "The Indian Runner" which turned out to be her last film. She was suffering from intestinal cancer at the time. She agreed to do the film on the condition (the only way) that she could do all of her scenes in two days. At one point she wanted to go have a nice steak dinner. Viggo grimaced at that, thinking of her cancer. "Wouldn't you rather have wine or something?" he said to her. "Can't we have wine and a nice steak dinner?" was her reply. He shrugged, "Um , yeah, I guess so." Her name is repeated three times in a row in Acknowledgments (p.10).
At one point he read Independence (p.72), one of my favorites. The pace and tempo of his reading reminded me of Lou Reed's Dirty Boulevard. Pretty cool. Here are other pieces I remember him reading: Wading (p.17), Matinee (p.19), Clear (p.25), Cuttings (p.28), Second Opinion (p.32), Cursive (p.34), Lunch (p.39), and Meet (p.45).
After relating this story, he seemed much more relaxed. The poems also seemed to get better. He read some new work from the other book, pausing to figure out what he had written. He showed us pages that were filled with chaotic handwriting, to explaining why he was having a hard time. These new works were longer and filled with vivid imagery. I rather liked them. He also read a couple of the Spanish poems, after asking if anyone knew Spanish. There was no real reply, he shrugged and read them anyway. His Spanish was a startling contrast to his regular voice. It was strong and clear and filled with emphasis.
He ended the reading with Bedtime Story for Henry (p.95). He explained that he had created this story at the spur of the moment for his son's bedtime. Even after Henry had fallen asleep, he continued with the story, himself becoming sleepy. He forced himself to stay awake so he could go downstairs and write the story down. It was an excellent choice.
He asked if there were any questions and someone replied "Yes, will you sign my book?" He said yes and that person came forward. That seemed to signal the end, and people began filing out. Others came forward to ask questions or to have their books signed. A huddle developed around Viggo as he signed books and answered questions at the same time. He was very friendly and very personable.
Someone asked him about The Prophecy and how he prepared himself for that role. He explained that you really couldn't study for the role of the Devil, and instead played the role from the sense that he was an all-powerful being. There was no need for him to hop around and act extravagantly. He was all-powerful and he knew it, and this resulted in the character's cool confidence. He went on to explain how he came up with a line in the movie between him and the main character, Thomas Dagget. When he was little, he was told of a creature, Doctor Mortimer, who had these long sharp nails. He would be under the bed, scratching away, until one night he would get through and tear the child to shreds. (I shuddered at this point). There were those normal childhood fears where you jumped into bed from a distance, not wanting to be grabbed by anything under the bed. He then recited the line, dropping into character, "Remember Thomas, when you were afraid and thought I was under the bed. Well, I was!" (I can't remember this line exactly)
Viggo also explained how he came to get this role. A friend of his called him and asked if would mind taking on a role. "Sure, what is it?" he answered. "Um, well, it's the devil" was the response. He then asked when the shooting would start. "Um, tomorrow." He read the script on the plane and was startled to find the role was much bigger than he was lead to believe. He then remarked that much had been cut out in the final film.
Marcia has this to add (she stayed longer):
That's it. I had to leave and meet a good friend of mine for dinner (it turned out that he and his wife were waiting for me at the back of the room). Viggo was kind enough to sign a Recent Forgeries "To the Viggo Corner". I'll be giving this book away in some random manner. Please email me, with the subject of Recent Forgeries, if you are interested. I'll announce the winner at some point in the future.