Hull Literature Festival 2001 8th - 18th November
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The Wrecking Ball Fringe Festival
Dan Fante (USA)
With music by Matthew Hogg
Sailmakers Arms, High Street
Friday 26 October

'Literary criticism is generally bunk. Nonsense. Usually based on self-serving post-intellectual bullshit! - Dan Fante (interview with Dan Fante

Whoa! Might as well go home now, then!

Dan Fante is a straight-talking guy, as tough on himself as he is on reviewers. The image of the aloof, cool, hard-living author culled from websites, interviews and novels turns out to be off the mark. Fante in the flesh is a friendly, approachable, unassuming figure. The newish-looking nose stud is at odds with the blazer and brogues (not sure they were brogues, but I like the alliteration).

Fante's reading adds immeasurably to his prose and poetry. His hard American voice and blunt delivery complement his punchy style of writing. The names of streets, towns and cities which smatter his prose recall images of American life constructed from movies, poetry and books of the Kerouac era. Dan Fante read from his novels Chump Change (1998) and Mooch (2000) and from his new book of collected poems 1983-2000, A Gin-Pissing, Raw Meat, Dual Carburettor V-8 Son-of-a-Bitch from Los Angeles, just been published by Wrecking Ball Press.

Fante sets up his scenes, building detail upon detail, then taking off on a trajectory which is at once hilarious and surreal. On a mad, drink-fuelled shopping spree with his wife's credit card, Bruno Dante, the anti-hero of Chump Change, 'wheeled round and made a beeline for the cookie section, a little out of control from the effects of fortified wine and giddy at my own dialogue. I swept two more shelves full of Ring Dings, Twinkies and cup-cakes into my baskets. Each one weighed thirty to forty pounds minimum. I had to drag them the last ten feet to the counter.'

The poems produce vivid images, detached perspectives on himself and his experience:
'I'm like a dented 1985 Ford
with a busted radiator,
a cracked windshield,
and 3 bald tires
speeding down the autobahn'

Fante has lived his books. There is nothing pretentious or 'self-serving' in them. They crack with keenly-observed dialogue and neat observations but resonate to the depths of human experience. I left with three of Dan Fante's books at the end of the evening. Looks like it's going to be an expensive job.

Musician Matt Hogg is a polished performer whose voice is at its rasping best at top volume in the lower registers. He performed two acoustic sets either side of Dan Fante's readings. His songs touched on love, addiction and war. Although one or two of the sentiments expressed were less than fresh, the chord changes and word patterns of Roads (end of first set) were engaging and unusual: "The thing with roads is you can go. It's a thing with roads." Whilst Dan Fante's repeated expletives are entirely relevant to the style and substance of his writing, however, the use of the 'c' word at the end of 'Roads' seemed strangely out of place. Jayne, sitting next to me, suggested I might have imagined it and the line was probably about country roads.

There was a fine section of writing in the middle of the first set which, unfortunately, I was not quick enough to note down. The words tumbled out, building sound and rhythm patterns which added an impressive substance to the song. A number about a relationship between an old man and a young girl was less original and just a touch self-righteous. Hey, Matthew, it will happen sooner than you know! The last song of all showed Matt Hogg at his best. Humour is his thing and his asides during his sets showed he can handle an audience and put together a confident and stylish performance.

JG. (extract from 'Mooch')

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