Poet Mira Gonzalez opened the night, followed by Melissa Broder, Saba Moeel, a.k.a. Cult Days (she is also Vazquez’s wife), and Ayesha Siddiqi, who orated (note-free) on POTUS Bush, burning bridges, moments of silence, and saying no, quoting an unnamed Indian poet and George Eliot: “There is no private life which has not been determined by a wider public life,” she said.
Then KOOL read, starting with the first chapter of OK, which ends—synchronistically—with its narrator-protagonist, “KOOL MAN,” a.k.a. “MUHAMMAD X,” and his new bride, “Shirazi,” a.k.a., “KHADIJA X,” checking into The Standard hotel and conceiving a child.
After the reading, Vazquez, Moeel, and their young child spent the night in the hotel. The next morning, I met with Vazquez in the lobby-side restaurant to talk about his book and related work (he’s also a rapper, astrologer, and an artist). Most of that conversation was published by the Los Angeles Review of Books. The rest is published here, gently chopped and screwed to cohere.
FIONA ALISON DUNCAN: Thanks for doing this. Last night really set the standard, so to speak, for what I want to do with the series. I’ve worked in bookstores for years, and while events in that context can get to that electric whatever, it’s rare. Most readings are…staid. So thanks again. You drove in from Baja last night, right? That’s where you live? What’s it like?
KOOL A.D.: Baja’s tight. It’s like the most Mexican parts of California that you might have found yourself in. Super mellow. We’re right by the beach. Been there about a year. There are a lot of natural things. Pretty good taco stands here and there. It’s still pretty country-rough, dirt roads, you know. And there are little pioneer problems that you run into — the water pump, stuff like that...
Where did you grow up?
San Francisco and Alameda mostly — Oakland and Berkeley. The Bay area.
Do you go back there often?
Yeah. More now that I have this kid.
I want a baby so bad it’s disgusting.
[Laughs] Ah man, all it takes is…
I know I know. [Laughs] Low key: this whole series is really just designed to find a person who will seed me.
I’m sure there’s plenty man.
They gotta be responsible though.
Well that changes the whole thing. But organizing book readings, I’m sure you can—
Find a responsible one?
So, the mysterious woman, the wife and mother character in OK I was disappointed she wasn’t more present.
That’s kinda her [Saba Moeel’s] brand. She likes to be a purveyor, silently producing. I was holding back a little, being polite. All the characters in OK are a little caricaturish because I find it interesting to play with the bigger ideas.
Woman is often occult. Like Mama Matrix Most Mysterious.
I think a lot of male writers know better than to try and write a woman cause they know they’ll get it wrong. Actually—I really was just talking about myself — can't speak for all male writers. I'd amend “know better than to” with “am afraid to.” [Laughs]
Maybe we’re almost always talking about ourselves…my questions included. I was just reflecting on this. Like, how can I be less “myself” while interviewing? I fear putting words in people’s mouths, projecting, etc. Maybe we can talk about that, if it’s interesting to you—the responsibility of using language.
I agree—whatever we talk about we’re mostly talking about ourselves, so the more we can remember that and treat that idea with honesty, the less likely we are to abuse the power of language probably.
You quote a ton of musicians, writers, movies, and TV in OK It’s almost like a syllabus. Like if someone was a real fan and wanted to lurk your world —
[Laughs] The raps are pretty referential, the literature, too. The nature of art these days is super referential—the postmodern condition and all that stuff.