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Hey buddy!

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Buddy Wakefield: A spoken-word artist who has toured with Ani Difranco.
The first time I watched Buddy Wakefield perform, the poet made me believe that beside him on stage stood, on one side, an albino orangutan blowing a bass-line in a whiskey jug, on the other, a pitch-black diva draped in a slow tornado, and behind him, Stephen Hawking’s Big Bang. And so his next instructions were cake:

 

Pretend yer just bein’ yerselves.

Pretend ya live for a living.

Pretend / Inside yer skin / You’ve got a friend / Who’s willing to give you

everything you ever wanted

In exchange for all you’ve ever been.

 

Death Dance Tour: Sage Francis,  Buck 65, Buddy Wakefield, Alias
Sat, Jun 9
Emo’s
603 Red River; Austin
512-477-3667
 

Somewhere in his journeys — his now mythic 28-month try-not-to-starve cross-country poetry-slam road trip or last year’s Ani Difranco tour — Wakefield became a living legend,  perhaps second only to Saul Williams in terms of slam-poetry name recognition (which is saying more than you might initially think).

On Saturday, June 9, Wakefield returns to Texas (he left it behind nine years ago for Seattle) to perform at Emo’s in Austin as part of lyricist Sage Francis’s Death Dance Tour, which will also include hip-hop artists Buck 65 and Alias. Wakefield spoke to the Current via cellphone from somewhere en route to Baltimore:

 

Someone who works on the slam in Seattle said that you’d really hammered it out and came into your own during that cross-country thing (in 2001-2003).  Can you take me back to that time period and give me an idea of what it was like?

Yeah, I can tell you what it was like. The only time I was happy was when I was on stage. The rest of the time I was eating and drinking and smoking and filling the holes because I was so desperate to do what I do. It wasn’t healthy. I was miserable out there. In nostalgia, it sounds wonderful and you know, living the dream and all that, but frankly I was miserable and I didn’t really come into my own until that tour ended and I started focusing on my health and walking my talk and taking it to the next level.

When did you get into spoken word?

When I found out about slam and realized I could do something that just focused on my lyrics, not have to play guitar or sing, because I do those both very mediocre and mediocrity is lame.

And when did you discover you were actually pretty good at it?

I don’t know that I discovered I was pretty good. I got a feeling, and there was a reaction I was getting from the feeling and you know, it’s like the first time you ever did acid with your friends, and you’re looking around and going, “Hey, I don’t know, I think it’s hitting me, do you feel something? I think I feel something.” But you know when you’re fucked up, you don’t have to do a survey about it. I guess it’s similar, that I just knew I had something. It’s what healed me and made me feel better, and coming from a severely dysfunctive family, I just wanted to be happy and that’s what was doing it for me. That’s how I knew. You just know things. Most people refuse to acknowledge what they know and I refuse to not acknowledge what I know.

And you’re getting by off poetry these days? That’s not an easy thing to do.

It’s not easy. And there’s no guarantees. It’s a grind. I mean even after this tour’s over I’ll still be going on and making my way. It’s not like this is going to make me rich. AAAAAOOOOO —

You’re getting quite known as far as poetry’s concerned. Is that a bit disconcerting at all?

...

Did I lose you?

Ok ... All right, I’m back.

Are you OK?

Yeah, Sage punched me in my face.

What?

No. I’m serious. He’s a bully. He’s not the focus of attention, so he punches me in the face.

Are you guys at a stop or something?

We were at a stop because Buck has a porn addiction, and he had to go in and grab a zine.

Are you still doing slam poetry these days, or is it pretty much just your own performance bit?

Pretty much my own thing,  but I am going to go with Seattle to Austin `for the Slam Championship` this year. I do slam, but I don’t do slam poetry. I know it sounds kind of banal.

What do you mean?

There’s just no such thing as slam poetry. There’s slam and there’s poetry, and there’s people who do both. I’m not trying to knock it. I think it’s a great gimmick. I don’t know if you check out Brave New Voices or Urban Word, but it’s provided a helluva creative outlet for high school and college kids also.

We’ve got the Puro Slam in San Antonio.

Yeah, you do. I’m going to bite my tongue now.

No, no please, because I swear, every time I go to one of their slams-

It sucks.

-they talk about how everyone in the country is scared of them.

It’s a souped-up sense of self-importance. Nobody’s scared of them, they’re just annoyed. What they do is invite people over to their house and let their family throw shit on them. It’d be like if I invited you over right now and made you feel like you were going to have a good time and be welcome, and I just let my family attack.

Or let Sage Francis punch me in the face?

Yeah. Because of the beef that was started the first time I was there, the last time I came through they tried to be more respectful but yeah. I mean it was all right. Shaggy and Phil were nice enough. It’s not a place I respect or enjoy or want to ever go back to or ever waste my time at again. There’s pretty much been a truce where they’ve asked me to stop talking shit, but that’s the honest reaction on the slam. 


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