On Wednesday, November 18 I was back at Largo at the Coronet for actor Rainn Wilson’s book tour of his memoir “The Bassoon King.” Old 97’s front man Rhett Miller took the part of interviewer or perhaps, discussion instigator. While not exactly a concert, there was enough crossover interest in music and a few songs played, so that I decided it was worth while to write a post about the event.
The discussion began with Rainn explaining his association with the bassoon, which he referred to as his “nerd crucifix,” and how he got started playing the instrument as a teenager. There was some talk about playing D&D, Rainn’s early childhood in Nicaragua, and the title of the book. He read a funny excerpt from the book on how he imagined the discussion went between his parents when they were deciding on his name when he was born.
A through-line in the book is Rainn’s relationship to the Bahá’í Faith. Rhett mentioned he felt like Rainn was always searching and questioning and enjoying the quest for deeper purpose (particularly through his work with SoulPancake), which led them into a discussion of music and its influences on both of them as teenagers. Rhett specifically mentioned how he found a lot of “meaning in the music” he was listening to at the time and that R.E.M.’s album “Life’s Rich Pagaent” was particularly important to him as a young teen. Both Rainn and Rhett were also big fans of Elvis Costello and so we had the first musical moment of the night, when the pair performed Costello’s “Mystery Dance” together.
Rainn talked for a bit about his wife Holiday Reinhard and told a brief story about their wedding in Washington state near Mount St. Helens. He then welcomed her to the stage where she had the audience pick between her poems and a short story with a cliffhanger that she would then read. The audience chose the cliffhanger, so she told part of a story, “Bitten,” that she is writing for future publication. It was centered around Holiday attending a children’s birthday party that was hosted by Paris Hilton at the height of the media’s obsession with her.
Rhett and Rainn returned to the stage and talked some more about their early musical experiences, including a teen band named, Insanity Circus. Next, Rhett treated us to a cover of “Suffragette City.” I was so excited about this as I have been listening to David Bowie lately, and had just listened to Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which includes that song, the previous day. Can Old 97’s please put that on an album?
Rainn then talked a bit about acting and shared the timeline of his journey to become an actor. This included the story of how he learned to make an important change in his acting style, from large broadcasting gestures to listening to other actors and reacting. He also talked about taking risks, being vulnerable, and showing flaws.
The bassoon finally was brought out at the end of the discussion. Rainn prefaced his playing by telling the audience that he hadn’t played the bassoon for years up until about a week ago. Then, Rainn did a nice job of playing the theme from The Office on the bassoon.
The floor was opened up for Q&A and one of the first questions sparked off the singing of part of another Elvis Costello tune and Rainn’s story of having met Elvis Costello not too long ago. There was a question about how Rainn knew Rhett and it was revealed that Rainn had been an Old 97’s fan. The two ended up communicating via Twitter and eventually meeting at an Old 97’s show. There was another question regarding Rainn’s involvement with the Josh Ritter performance in which paper airplanes were sent sailing across the audience (which continued as Josh played “Good Man” at his show). Another audience member complimented Rainn on his role in Six Feet Under and Rainn talked about how he came to play the role. The final question asked was about what Rainn missed about The Office. He answered “the people” and how the cast was really like a family. That night there was a birthday party being held for Oscar Nuñez that most of the cast was attending.
Rhett closed the discussion by playing one more song. He performed the Old 97’s/Bob Dylan co-write, “Champagne, Illinois.” He spoke briefly about the background to the song, how he penned new lyrics to the tune of Bob Dylan’s song “Desolation Row,” and ten years later, Old 97’s got the permission to record Rhett’s version of the song. I’ve borrowed one of the lines from this song for the post’s title, which I thought was particularly appropriate for a discussion of a memoir.
Everyone who attended the event was given a copy of Rainn’s new book and Rainn stuck around just long enough to quickly sign the books. Perhaps he was headed off to Oscar’s party afterward. Though he was hastily autographing most books, he was kind enough to take an extra few seconds to dedicate the book I handed him, which I had endorsed to a bassoon-playing friend of mine.