Combining literary pretensions with rock music can be tricky. Sometimes you get Leonard Cohen and everybody’s happy—or at least content in their woe-tinged introspection. Other times, you get the Lizard King. But Chad Clark, leader of local rock band Beauty Pill and former proprietor of Silver Sonya recording studios, seems to know what he’s doing. At least, he’s aware of the aesthetic dangers at hand.

Tonight Clark—alongside musician Matt Byars and the staff of The Writer’s Center—will kick off Story/Stereo, a concert and reading series that pairs local rock bands with local writers and poets and, ultimately, forces the two to combine their efforts. “Hopefully not in a goofy way,” says Clark. “We’re aware of the perils.”

The  inspiration for the series came last year, after Clark suggested a creative play-date of sorts for his friends Deborah Ager, publisher of 32 Poems Magazine, and Michael Kentoff, who performs in the indie-rock group The Caribbean. “They got together and they got along really well,” says Clark. “So, they decided to put on a show.” It was that show—a combined concert and reading with a quick collaboration between the two artists that took place at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda—that laid the groundwork for Story/Stereo.

The center was happy enough with the event that it asked Clark if he might be interested in co-curating an entire series of similar performances. “My attitude initially was that it was [one] special night,” says Clark. “There was this very literary band in town [The Caribbean] and also Deborah Ager, who happened to be a great poet. But I realized it could work in a broader sense.”

Loose plans were made for eight events, taking place over the next several months, with Clark and Byars choosing the bands and The Writer’s Center staff selecting the literature. Tonight’s inaugural event will feature readings by poet Suszanne Frischkorn, author Neil Smith, and a set by spacey guitar-band The Roofwalkers. New performances will be scheduled and announced every month or so through the end of spring.

As music curator, Clark’s goal is to keep people guessing, if not flat out confused. “I wanted to have the first two bands be an exercise in contrast,” he says. “Roofwalkers music has the elements of Luna the Chills and all this stuff—the sweeping beautiful guitar draped kind of thing. Frankly, I [thought] that they would be a good intro to people who are coming from the lit side.”

The next band, the multi-media oriented Blue Brain, promises be a little more out-there.

There’s  an element of cultural life-support to Story/Stereo, too. As Clark sees it, the series is as an opportunity for two increasingly devalued art forms to band together. “I met James Baldwin when I was kid, my parents had dinner with him,” says Clark, with some awe. “I mean, he swung the culture around. Writers used to have the notion or ambition to actually have a major cultural impact.” That sense of influence has faded recently, though, he says. “Now Kanye steps on the stage and it preoccupies people for weeks on end. Meanwhile some writer might have just delivered a masterpiece that we’ll never read. Which must be frustrating when you’ve worked so hard.”

Of course, the same goes for musicians (Kanye excluded). “Writing and music are in delicate vulnerable places in culture,” says Clark. “I don’t’ see why we can’t mix it up and see what’s comes out of that.”

September 18, 2009
Readings from Suzanne Frischkorn (Lit Windowpane)
and Neil Smith (Bang Crunch)
Musical Performance by Roofwalkers

This is a free event.
Program Begins at 7:30 PM
The Writer’s Center is located on the Red Line
at 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD