Thomas Frank at Book Passages (12 July 2018)
Thomas Frank was at Book Passages last night. He’s on a tour for his new book Rendezvous With Oblivion: Reports From a Sinking Ship. He was his charming self. I think that he is on the outside what I am on the inside: totally despairing but laughing about it because it’s all so absurd. I don’t just mean the politics — I mean everything. Life is a joke, and I am the punchline. You either laugh or cry.
I dragged Will with me. He didn’t know Thomas Frank. I should have prepared him. While Will laughed a fair amount during the talk, he left about halfway through. I figured he went to the bathroom. We had been drinking a lot of caffeine. And indeed, he did do that. But he noticed that Book Passages sold beer so he got one.
We were separated for the rest of the event. I only saw him back in his seat when I was in line to get my book signed. (More on that in a minute.) But afterward, he was so depressed. I felt bad.
Thomas Frank Said Something New
But there was almost nothing in the speech that was really new. The only thing that surprised me is that he said he liked Democratic politicians more than the liberal commentariat and (gag) political consultants. He noted that someone he used to hate, Cory Booker, sees where things are going and is now really good. And where things are going is real (leftist) populism, not this fake rightwing stuff Republicans use to get elected so they can give tax breaks to billionaires and rip apart unions.
Listening to that, I thought he’d been reading my mind because that’s exactly what I’ve been thinking and Booker is my favorite example. And I know what conservatives and liberal “purists” will say, “He’s just saying those things to get elected!” (Yes, Booker wants to be President.) I heard the same thing about Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton.
And so what?! They are Democrats! By and large, they will govern the way they campaigned. Compare this to Trump: campaigns on building the wall and how the working class is getting screwed. He gets into office and there is no wall. But there is a great big tax cut for fat cats; he’s made healthcare go up in price; he’s started a trade war that is going to hurt the working people who voted for him.
But he did stick by his racism. I’ve got to give him that!
So I stood in line to get my book signed. He’s really great. He’s cheerful and nice to people who stand in front of him and pontificate about things they probably learned from him.
But it gave me time to think of something to say to him. At first, I was going to say, “Could you write, ‘To Frank from Tom,’ so I can use it later to prove that we used to be friends and ask to borrow a couple of bucks.” That seemed a bit too oblique, even for someone as sharp as Thomas Frank. Also, it was a little too much Tom Waits:
Thomas Frank: Hüsker Dü Fan
During the talk, he mentioned hanging out with some of his friends under a freeway overpass drinking and listening to Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade while seeing the McMansions being built. And he asked if anyone remembered Hüsker Dü. There was a scattering of acknowledgment. I, of course, was vaguely offended. What else is new? I’m an arrogant bastard. So I figured I’d talk to him a little bit about punk. It would probably be refreshing after the constant political talk that would make Mary Poppins’ suicidal.
So I told him Hüsker Dü was great — especially Zen Arcade. Then I asked him if he was into Minutemen and he was slightly less excited by them but he said he three of their albums. Maybe he’s just really good at this kind of stuff, but giving me an exact number of books made me think he was telling the truth. And why not? For one thing, we are both the same age with relatively similar backgrounds. Minutemen were one of the most political punk bands around — outside Dead Kennedys and Gang of Four, which were much more (probably too) explicit.
Without my asking, he did give me a good signature. I don’t doubt he always uses it when he runs into people named Frank or Thomas. “To Frank from Frank. Thomas Frank.” He has a much better signature than Bruce Campbell — not that I’m complaining about having both of Bruce’s autobiographies signed, thanks to Elizabeth.
Thomas Frank’s Talk
I made an audio recording of the talk. I hate those jittery YouTube videos. The video is mostly useless and the sound is terrible. The sound is pretty terrible here too, but if you turn it up, you can make it all out. I missed the first minute or so, so I faded in. He starts by making a comment about what the Trump Presidential Library will be like. (It’s an interesting thought given that the Nixon Library was filled with flat-out lies to decades.) But the rest of it is a reasonable recording of the event.
It probably would have been even more interesting to record the book signing. But alas.
The book, which I bought more to support independent booksellers than anything, is just a collection of previously published essays — at least half of which I’ve read. But I think I’ve read The Wrecking Crew twice, so I’ll probably read this too.