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Tom Robbins At The Central Library

29 Apr

Spinning Around the Great Pumpkin of Possibility or Where’s my Paper and my Hash?
280robbins-784031Don’t try to get a straight answer out of Tom Robbins. The man who wrote novels like Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Still Life with Woodpecker and Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, modernist magic realist novels with psychotropic flights of mysticism, isn’t about to give it to you straight. But he will give a curving riff of satirical hilarity that circumscribes truth, a good reason why his talk at the Minneapolis Central Library was standing room only.

In a black suit and grey t-shirt, Robbins alternated between thin sunglasses and reading glasses and kept most of his statements to a practiced cynicism and a disarming stand-up schtick. He opened with a joke about being confused for Tim Robbins (“The only thing separating us is a couple million dollars. You were gonna say Susan Sarandon, but you don’t know that. Susan and I get around.”) and how no one in Hollywood can deal with his material because they can’t compare it to any other successful work. He also discussed pitches for TV shows, including “Fun Guy for the Straight Guy” where he would administer an “heroic dose of psychedelic mushrooms” to a suburban business man and let the cameras roll.

n289265Robbins was in town to promote his newest book, a children’s book at that. But Robbins hasn’t gone soft in his older age, the kid’s book in question is titled B for Beer. The excerpts Robbins read included a curious 5 year-old chugging beer, Uncle Moe “with a face like a sink full of yesterdays dishes and a mustache like a dead sparrow” and the appearance of a gossamer-winged, grasshopper-like beer fairy. It’s no wonder, as Robbins remarked dryly, that there weren’t too many kids in the audience. Reading aloud and doing the voices with Southern drawl inflected with a bohemian lilt and Camel-aged rasp, one would suspect that Robbins modeled Uncle Moe after himself, a wayward traveling philosopher giddy with thought and with a taste for beer, although Robbins said that he had always tried to “avoid the stain of autobiography” in his writing.

During the Q&A period, the most well received question from the audience of fans was a dry twist, “Have you ever considered writing fiction?” Robbins waxed semi-serious about the demise of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (where he worked back in the 60s). He called it a tragedy but mainly used it as a foil to tell stories about smoking blonde Lebanese hashish and showing up to work in a gorilla suit. He spoke of his love of Africa, how he feels most connected to the world a hundred miles from civilization, with “the lions coughing and the stars whirling around the giant pumpkin.” When someone earnestly asked what his favorite novel he had ever written was, Robbins retorted back, “Favorite novel I haven’t written yet? All of ‘em.”

That’s the possibility embodied in Robbin’s novels; that there are true things existing outside of conventional structures that can be realized if only we are open to them. Children, he said, he was happy to write for because like mystics and astrophysicists, they believe in the possibilities of alternate universes before some social institutions beat it out of them. That’s the driving passion for Robbins, and the fundamentally intangible human connection of his novels. Tap into the mystic power of the universe. And then get laid.

Listen to Tom Robbins’ interview on MPR’s “All Things Considered” program from Tuesday:

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