As of all his fans know, any public appearance by Viggo Mortensen is a special treat. His latest poetry reading and booksigning on Sept 1st at the Midnight Special Bookstore in Santa Monica was no exception. Viggo's fans have been spoiled lately, with no less than 8 events in the past six months, on both U.S. coasts, not to mention New Zealand. In a way, the September 1st event was the culmination, a wonderful last "high note", a great gift to his fans before taking off to Morocco for the 4-month shoot of his next picture "Hidalgo".
The event was perfectly manned by the friendly and humorous staff of the Midnight Special bookstore (a landmark in Santa Monica, the store will unfortunately have to vacate its 3rd Street Promenade location and move to another space early next year). People started arriving as early as noon for the 8pm reading. Thankfully, everyone was given a number in the order of their arrival, therefore being spared the bittersweet ordeal of an 8-hour long wait in line. Ground rules were also firmly established: there would be no audio or video taping, and no photographs allowed during the poetry reading. However, pictures would be allowed during the booksigning section of the evening.
A line began to form around 5pm, and two hours later when the bookstore' staff started letting people in, a crowd of over 100 people was spreading along 3rd Street Promenade. Space is limited in the store, and only 76 seats were available; after that it was standing room only. The numerous fans who did not make it to the poetry reading for lack of space did not lose everything in the gamble as they ended up first in line for the booksigning.
At 8pm, after yet another reminder of the ground rules by the bookstore' staff (with an emphasis on "Viggo will only sign his books"), Viggo stepped up to the microphone under a huge round of applause and in typical Viggo fashion, immediately dismissed all ground rules by saying "I'll sign ANYTHING" - a statement which generated much cheer from the crowd.
Dressed casually in black jeans and a matching t-shirt with the emblem of the American Indian Movement, barefoot, carrying a big stack of books and holding a bottle of Argentinean beer (a much appreciated gift from fans J), Viggo started saying that he knew people were there very early, and he was flattered and really appreciated it, and he thanked us all for our patience. For the next thirty minutes, he read poems and quotes, not just from his own work but also from a variety of other writers and historic figures, including Noam Chomsky, various New Zealand poets, Native American chiefs, and Thomas Jefferson... Quite an eclectic range.
From his two books "Recent Forgeries" and "Coincidence of Memory", he read the following pieces (not in that order): Chaco, Clear, Hillside, Home, Apart, Matinee, Fossils, Hallowe'en, Communion, Frist Light, and Oceans. Ringers familiar with Viggo's work as a poet will not be surprised to learn that he delivered his poems in his trademark soft-spoken, modest and occasionally self-deprecating fashion, either introducing them with a small story or a joke, or dedicating them to individuals or groups of people.
Upon reading "Chaco", one of his Spanish language poems, he thanked the fans who had sent him the beer, and punctuated the end of the poem by raising his bottle to the crowd and saying "Salud!". He dedicated "Fossils" to the people of Afghanistan "all of them", and after he was done reading the piece, he joked "George Bush Jr. has this one on his bedside table"... "Matinee" was dedicated to Joseph Campbell "one of the greatest filmmakers" (people familiar with J. Campbell's work on myth and the hero's journey will catch this reference).
For several of his poems (most specifically "Home") he commented laughingly that none of his work was at all personal "this has absolutely got nothing to do with me..." Viggo also "premiered" a couple of new pieces, still works in progress at this stage. One of them is entitled "Privacy"; a topic that re-emerged when he read a poem by one of the NZ artists, upon which he added after a brief pause "here's that word again". Maybe a silent reminder that privacy is something he highly values and is rightfully entitled to.
Towards the end, he read two of my favorite poems, both from "Coincidence Of Memory". The first one is entitled "First Light" and is a hauntingly beautiful and moving piece about his son Henry. The second one has no real title and can be referred to as "Oceans" - a true gem. Throughout the evening Viggo appeared relaxed and seemed to be having a good time. The crowd in attendance reacted accordingly, smiling or laughing with him, always listening intently, spellbound. Upon the end of the reading the audience erupted in cheers and applause, and the words "thank you" echoed through the overpacked room. Viggo was then led to the front of the bookstore, where the booksigning was to take place.
So started another session of line waiting for the fans; everywhere people discussed the reading, exchanging thoughts and impressions about the poems, the work, the artist. Eventually our group got back inside the store. Viggo was seated at a low table between ranges of book displays and could barely be seen. We had been warned that picture taking with Viggo would not be possible. But the word "no" is probably not part of Viggo's vocabulary J -at least towards his fans- : throughout the signing he gracefully posed for pictures with every single person who asked. By the time we got our books signed and pictures taken, we were stunned to realize that it was almost 11pm! Time flies when you are in Viggo's presence, and in the company of such excellent and admirable fellow fans J
Every single one of Viggo's public appearances that I have had the privilege to attend has always been an immensely pleasurable and rewarding experience. I think we all come out of this in a state of bliss, with the sense of having been part of something very special. When we stopped by the bookstore at 1am on our way back to our cars, we were stunned to discover that Viggo was still there, signing for the last group of people. By then he had been signing for five hours! Such generosity and dedication is a rare gift, and we should all feel blessed that Viggo has crossed our paths (or maybe we've crossed his?).
One of Xoanon's posts about Viggo had the tag line "the utter coolness of cool". Yes, Viggo is all that and so much more. A true artist in the purest sense of the word. A being of light, a beautiful soul. Viggo, the barefoot prince.
For any Ringers who are only familiar with Viggo's filmwork, and who may be curious to discover the other facets of his multiple talents, his books are available through Perceval Press at http://www.percevalpress.com/. If you're located in the LA area, the Midnight Special Bookstore in Santa Monica is the only store to carry the books.