Portrait of the artist as a dirty man

Jimmy’s letters to Nora
By NINA MACLAUGHLIN  |  November 20, 2006

Robby Roadsteamer
“This is so fucking tame compared to what’s coming,” says My Life in Heavy Metal author Steve Almond after reading a bit from his R-rated short stories on the stage at Great Scott last Tuesday night. True enough: what came next were readings of James Joyce’s dirty letters to his wife Nora — scandalous, obscene, raunchy missives on frigging, farting, fellatio.

After Almond’s intro and a set by the Juliet Kilo (David Levin, sinister like Tom Waits, by-the-hearth like Iron and Wine), Hallelujah the Hills frontman Ryan Walsh began the reading of the letters. And when he read, mouth so close to the mic, “my hands clutching the round cushions of your bum and my tongue licking ravenously up your rank red cunt,” and “my sweet-eyed blackguard schoolgirl, be my whore, my mistress . . . my dark-blue rain-drenched flower,” you could feel the collective lust of the room rise.

Certainly, Sir frontman Michael Brodeur dedicated his portion of the letters to his grandmother (great choice!: she introduced him to Galway) and read in a charming, lecherous leprechaun brogue. His “Fuck up, love! Fuck up!” did nothing to diminish the collective lust. But the tenor of the letters did get dirtier. Because who but Robby Roadsteamer could make Joyce’s lines sound as if they were being rasped at a monster-truck rally. “Why’d I get the poo one?” he asked the crowd. “They’re all poo ones,” someone yelled back.

Truth Serum’s Aliza Shapiro was joined on stage by Naomi Bennett, who pantomimed the action — including a blow job complete with a packing pud (a sort of stretchable dildo) — and provided a boisterous farting soundtrack.

Ryan Walsh took the stage again, this time to play some music that included the “Salon.com Song Search” winner “Hallelujah the Hills.” Chris Braiotta read with chunks of raw potato in his jowls, courtesy of a high-heeled and over-enthused volunteer from the crowd. Gretchen Gavett’s beatnik adaptation — bongo beat courtesy of Rachel Berman, both members of Anderson Comedy Troupe — was perfectly timed and overdone in exactly the right way. The Steamer appeared for a second time, pulling Tia Carioli (sister of Phoenix Web editor Carly) up on stage to help him read the right lines.

Hands and Knees, with the shy-grinned Carina Kelly and the high-cheekboned Joe O’Brien, closed the show. “We all wore our dirtiest underwear,” O’Brien said. “I hope you appreciate that.” And from their song “Doctor” came the lyric “I need you more than shoes,” one of the loveliest lines of the night.

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