The Steve Machine novel was launched in Toronto at the Rivoli on October 23, 2008 as part of Pages Books This is Not a Reading Series. As the title makes clear, these launches refuse traditional author readings in favour of a gamut of other entertainments: panels, movies, singalongs, performances. The following is the text of the performance devised for that evening. Musical accompaniment was provided by the inestimable Marilyn Lerner, and Jack Fuller performed an inspired magical feat.
The Last Book Performance
This is one of those movies where the credits come before the action, before the title, the entitlement. It’s the only moment in the movie where you can see the background which appears in a soft focused haze as if you hadn’t decided just yet to step on over to the other side and feel again that most delicious of pleasures the pleasure of becoming a picture.
Yes, we’re still here at the threshold Should I? Shouldn’t I? and is it just a coincidence but it’s at this moment of hesitation that the credits always appear, the names of strangers and familiars offering you company. Calling you, hoping for you.
Names like Marc Glassman who has built a bookstore out of kindness, and Chris Reid who works so hard week after week to ensure the most temporary and promiscuous of marriages, that between author and reader, and Evan Munday whose unflappable neck tied charms make it all look so easy.
1. The Future
So I don’t know if you noticed, on the way over here, maybe it was just me, maybe it was just a trick of the light, but as I was locking up my bike just outside on the ring I had the strangest feeling and I looked up and I saw this mother coming out of the HMV with her two no-necked children with faces that were covered in some kind of candy coated fruit thing and I saw right away that this mother had the same feeling I was feeling, and these kids had the same feeling their mother was feeling, and I looked around me and it was as if all the cars and all the streetcars and bikes and pedestrians were just ghosts, phantoms, passing in and out of each other, because it was already tomorrow, somehow we’d hit one of those time bumps, speed bumps you could say, we just hit a speed bump and sped right up until it was already tomorrow.
A friend of mine said that nothing important ever happened to him before eight in the evening, and I wondered if that was some kind of general rule that kids will learn about in science class one day, or whether that was more of an individual thing.
So here we are, in the future. How does it feel so far? Is that alright? Is everybody feeling manageable, fluid. Just have a look around, and I think one of the first things you’ll notice is hey, hey, things don’t seem so different, right? Not at first, no, the future doesn’t seem so different, at first. But it’s the little things, I’ve been asked to um, give this brief orientation, so that when you all go back outside and rejoin the happiness of the life you’ve left behind it’s going to be ok, and I just want to reassure you, that no matter what anyone tells you, no matter what the rumours say, or those scare mongers on Fox, you’re going to be alright. I’m sorry we had to bring you out here on a slightly dodgy premise a book launch, but you know how bad panic in the streets smells right? Worse than a day trader without stop orders, and I know I know you’re probably wondering but why me, why have I been singled out, my neighbours, my friends didn’t say anything. I haven’t even seen a notice about it on facebook, but if you look, closely, at things, familiar things that you have around you all the time, you’ll start to notice that there are little differences, like small traffic signs guiding you, guiding us all, into the future.
One of the first things you’re going to notice in the future is that we’ve solved this problem about names. You know there’s that sharp dressing guy who keeps crawling up out of the foxhole he’s been digging in his front lawn because he’s got fall out shelter nostalgia and because he’s been eating all that canned food his face has turned into something that looks more like a throw cushion and his name is just sitting there on the tip of your tongue and it’s not budging, it’s just not coming around. But wait, wait. This is the future, and in the future, everybody’s name, I mean everybody’s name, the prime minister’s name, the baby that hasn’t been born, male, female, you name it, everybody’s name is Steve. Hi Steve. That’s why Mr. Fall Out Shelter is going to turn to you and say, Hi Steve. You see how much easier that is? You see how that makes introductions not only necessary but inevitable. It might take you a little while to get used to steve. Steve. Steve. But I can assure you, before too long you’re going to be Steving up, Steving in, Steving out. It’s going to be good. Take it from me. Take it from, from Steve.
In the future there’s going to be music, and it might be something like, it might sound something like this. (musical interlude)
Yes, in the future, you’re going to be listening to a lot of music by Steve, and it’s going to be good. There’s a funny thing that’s going to happen and I don’t mind telling you about it. It’s pretty exciting if you want to know the truth. You might find yourself walking around the block on your lunch break, or um riding home from work or going to the market and looking for something fresh and home grown and all of a sudden hey, there’s a tune, yeah there’s a little tune in the back of your mind that seems to be playing along all by itself. And the more you listen to it you realize it’s not just a little tune it’s next week’s big multi-platinum studio knockdown number one with a silver bullet tune, damn that’s catchy. And it’s coming from your daydream.
Now I’m telling you this because you might be looking around for a radio or a boom box or a passing car hey hey, where’s all that, fine tangle of notes coming from, is that your heart monitor picking up some underground Namibian choral thing, is that opening window giving me the news, yeah it could be confusing at first because you might be the only swimmer in the pool, you might home alone or ten kliks into the forest by now and those aren’t mosquitos making four part harmonies and hitting all those low notes, mmm those are good. Here in the future, that fine music just seems to be following you around.
So I just wanted to cue you up so you’re not going to have to be worrying about it when it happens, because it’s going to happen. You’re going to start singing a tune in the shower or whistling a little something to yourself and it’s going be a hit, a mega hit, a megafive star killer song after song and if you start breathing that out loud people will start crying and throwing themselves down on the sidewalk in front of you worshipping your every note because they know that you, yes you Steve, can feel all that pain and difficulty and anger, the whole ugly truth we turn away from every time we, every time we, every time we (snap) look into the mirror, and see it there, and don’t see it there, the dark thing we can’t help dragging around with us everywhere we go, the new car, the hobby, the failed relationships, the argument you can’t stop enjoying, the fast computer, the porn collection, the bad job, the artmaking, the books, yeah we’ve got it all covered up with kids and fast food and faster thoughts and easy recipes and hard knocks.
But Steve, Steve, hold up a minute. This is the future baby, and here in the future we’ve found a way to turn all those hard feelings, all those difficult moments why did she say that to me? yeah you’re going to start noticing that all those difficult moments are busy turning, turning, turning, into music. And the music sounds like this.
But Steve I know what you’re wondering. I know what you must be thinking about now. What about love? Now that I’m. Not that you’re. And he’s become. And she’s become Now that we’re all Steves, I mean Steve-like, Steve ful. Steved,
What does the future have to say about love?
What’s it going to be like the first time you ever say those words, pressing words, when you look into his face, when you look into her face, and see the way the light lifts every worried line away, and leaves only the long crease which rolls and deepens when you laugh together, and how very much you’d like to see that right now, see that laugh line on that face deepen until it was large enough, until you were large enough, until the both of you were large enough, and beautiful enough, and kind enough, to go live there, in the shade of that happy, carefree, what-me-worry laugh out loud line on that face, a line you’re not afraid of making familiar, of getting to know the universe of that line, and exploring it every part, and having that fine good feeling grow up in you until you’re singing with it, the two of you, the two of you Steves become one Steve now, just for this moment, and knowing this moment would be enough to carry you over the other places when the line seems faraway or so faint you can hardly make it out at all, through the shame you’ve carried around your whole life like a best friend, you reach out to touch it, and it’s your line now, the line you can’t help following, the line of your Steve-ness, your new Steve ability.
Steve? Do you mind if I call you.. Steve? Here in the future, Steve, things are just like they used to be. You can feel the gravity of the past alright, the irresistible lure of multinational capital breathing through your sneakers and telephone and portable entertainment systems, so ok ok, the big picture it looks a little fucked, it looks majorly fucked if you really want to know and I know you’re surprised to hear that word, yeah we still say that in the future, we still use the f word, we just don’t use it as often, and never in a personal way, like between two people, you would never say anymore, um would you like to fuck for instance, no no that’s all left behind, the only way we use the word fuck here in the future is to describe your relationship to a corporation.
Because the jeans you’re wearing used to be made around the corner but that got outsourced so that some Philippino dad can work for less than minimum wage and all that cheap cotton can get flown back and forth until what you’re really wearing is an oil slick with holes in it where the legs fit. Fuck.
Because you need a new computer after computer after computer and they’re building a special landfill with your name on it and when you’re past your last breath they’ll sprinkle your ashes between the mother boards and the flat screens and the touch pads you wanted so bad until you couldn’t want anything anymore. Tell me, Steve, if they offered you a choice, between having a little apple logo inked on the side of your cheek, or never using a computer again, which would you choose?
But hey, Steve, you don’t mind if I call you Steve, do you? Hey, that’s the big picture, and in the future, it’s all about, the small changes, the small things that make it possible to go on and take another step. Yes, here in the future you’re going to start noticing, hey, maybe you’ve started noticing already, that there’s a bit of a gleam in the eyes of those around you. You want to check that out maybe, you want to sneak a look right now over at your neighbour and see ok, alright, it’s there, sure enough. And the good news is that you’ve got it too, yes you, Steve, it’s up inside you too, and you want to know what it’s all about right, this good new thing you’re carrying around like a, like a colostomy bag of happiness. Well I might as well come right out and tell you now: it’s magic. I don’t mean some kind of storybook, fairy tale hocus pocus thing, I’m talking about magic, you know the art of appearance and disappearance. Changes in scale. Uncanny feats of the human mind. Now I think if you look deep into your hearts you’d be able to tell me the name of that one special beautiful person in your life who gives you that quality. Every time you see them you think: how is it possible that so much, go on, go ahead, say the word, magic, how could so much magic live inside a single person. For me, ever since his birth fifteen short years ago, the magic has come from my nephew Steve. C’mon up Steve.
You’ve probably noticed by now, the blue light. We used to call him Steve Blue, because wherever he went, he took the blue light right along with him. You do see that don’t you, sometimes it helps if you squint just a little and don’t look at him directly, just try holding him in the corner of your eye and then you can see the faint blue light that clings to him. What the blue light ensures, is that even though he’s going to be doing some numbers, or maybe just one number, you’re going to see it in a very personal way, Steve. No one is going to see him, the way you see him. Oh sure, he’s standing in front of a whole crowd right now, that’s what it looks like, but the blue light makes certain that every word he says, every gesture he enacts, is made only with you in mind. Ladies and gentlemen, Steve Jack Fuller.
5. The Last Book
But what about the last book? Here in the future the book, the book as we used to know it, doesn’t really obtain anymore, and even the books by the real authors, I mean the great authors of the past like um Steve Murdoch, and Steve Reisman and Steve Borders, they aren’t really around either. So it’s one of those good news – bad news scenarios. Here in the future books, like all information, can simply be downloaded straight into the body. Books now appear in long dreams of scrolling text, in a beautiful light, and the words of those books, they seem so familiar, it’s as if you’ve written them yourself, and in a way you have. And if you wonder why that is Steve? It’s simply because you’re magic, you’ll all magic inside.
Of course there are still some who long for the feel of the thing, the hold it in your hands good time old fashioned bookness of a book, and for those who believe that words need to be touched, I don’t want you to worry because the future has a place for everyone. In the future there’s going to be enough to go around. All the big presses, well they’ve gone bankrupt a long time ago, along with all those ugly department stores for books, that’s all over. But there’s still one press left in Toronto, it’s called Coach House Books, though the way the people at Coach House use that word books’ is a bit like the way people used to use words like terrorist, or credit default swaps, these words can mean many different kinds of things. But for Coach House it means I hope this isn’t giving away the secret, the secret of their endurance, you know some companies, it’s very rare of course, but there’s some companies that actually have a bit of, have a bit of magic in them, too, and this is one of those rare instances, because they have Steve Evan Munday making sure the right people know all about it, and Steve Nathan Baker who spent so long wearing a T-shirt with a large question mark on it he seems to have the answer for everything, and Steve Christina Palassio who is like a big top impresario for numbers, she puts all those numbers through their paces, and of course Steve Alana Wilcox who has mastered the art of what Stan Brakhage called closed-eye vision’ and so is able to work even at night in her sleep. Her wise counsels make everything better.
But what about the last book? Yes, there still are people who long for a book, for the feel of a book and I’d like to show you some pictures now of the last person still making books here in the future. Can we roll the videotape please?
Yes, here he is. It’s Steve, of course, Steve Bevington, and he’s hard at work on a machine though we couldn’t show you too much of it. I have a special camera which allows me to videotape the future, it’s the damndest thing when I bought it I tried to test it out in the store you know and I rolled a bit of tape and it was blank and I thought, well, even though it’s called Future Shop, there’s no future here, but when I took it out to Coach House it started picking up pictures right away. So here is Steve working on a machine which will um tattoo a book directly onto the skin of the reader. Yes, that’s right, I said tattoo. It’s an ancient art, the oldest art of engraving, applied to the oldest surface, the book of the body.
So I think you’re just about ready now to head out into the future, even though you might be thinking to yourself that the future’s not what it used to be. As you’ve probably guessed by now this whole event is really about you. You’ve come here looking for the last book, the final word, the author maybe. But the truth is, the last book belongs to you. It’s yours, it’s written on your skin, it’s written in the magic on your face. The terrible wonderful truth of it all is just this: the future belongs to you. So I just, I just want to, I just want to say, thank you for that, Steve. Thank you very much.