Last night at Joe’s Pub, Richard Price threatened to drop his pants and reveal a tattoo on his ass that read “My Heart Belongs to Satan’s Slaves,” thus fulfilling the requirement of Amanda Stern’s five-year-old Happy Ending reading-and-music series that every author take a risk onstage. He was kidding, of course.
“It’ll be less about the risk,” Stern said later, talking about her move from the dark, vaguely S&M-y Happy Ending Bar in deepest Chinatown to the Public Theater venue, with its two-drink minimum and three nearby Starbucks. Yesterday’s inaugural event featured Price, reading outtakes from Lush Life in a mélange of New Yawk voices, and Matthew Caws of Nada Surf. Both are a half-step up from Happy Ending’s usual headliners (let’s say they run from Rick Moody on down). Price was up for it partly because of the venue (he used to read here in the eighties) and partly thanks to a “fallow period” between book tours.
Joe’s Pub’s audience was several years older and three times bigger. Even the traditional sing-along seemed toned down and aged up (the Faces’ “Ooh La La,” for example). Price’s actual risk was telling a mesmerizing story without notes about his grandfather, “Dopey Bennie,” joining a Jewish Lower East Side gang, but it was hardly stage-diving into the audience or getting a haircut from a blind guy (among other antics at the old bar).
“It’s a different crowd,” said Stern, chirpily neurotic as ever, conceding that some of her Happy Ending regulars wouldn’t be paying $15 dollars for the same experience north of Houston. The series had outgrown the space, as had Stern, she said, and luckily the bookers at Joe’s Pub were fans (she’s booked for five monthly readings thus far). Next month Stern returns to the old format of three writers and a band, none of them as famous as Price. Whatever happens, the impresario the Times Magazine called one of the city’s “New Bohemians” in 2006 acknowledged that it just won’t be the same. “The energy that I created in that old space, the atmosphere and the experimentation and the collaborations, that’s over.”