“I’ve always had a peculiar interest in swearing and cussing and their impact on society and literature,” says Alan Black. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill interview kick-off, but neither is Black. To call him a jack-of-all-trades would be too easy. That said, he is a writer, performer, promoter, Scotsman, and “saloon boss,” as he puts it. That saloon happens to be San Francisco’s Edinburgh Castle Pub, which Black has managed since 1993, while attracting a number of literary and performance events and putting the pub on the literary map.
“Everything that can possibly be done on a stage has been done at the Edinburgh Castle. Madness and horrors and all kinds of high art,” says Black. That madness has included everything from readings and spoken word performances by devoted local writers (such as Beth Lisick and Michelle Tea) to delicious drama (Edinburgh Castle produced the premiere American stage performance of Trainspotting back in 1996—before the film version came out).
“Irvine Welsh comes in every time he’s in town,” says Black of the author and great Scotsman. Black sits on the executive committee of Litquake, the city’s premiere annual literary festival. He also contributed to Public House, an anthology of fiction, poetry, and supplementary rants, in 2004.
But last February, Black had another idea and The Swearing Festival was born.
“I wanted to examine swearing by bringing it into an event forum. I wanted to provoke people and unleash their inner swearing desires.” Little did Black know that patrons would sell out the event by 6 p.m. and curl around the block to have a go.
“We were shocked, and really surprised by the desire people have to attend such a mad idea. There were moments when people were thoughtful, and moments when people felt insecure with what was going on, and that was another area we wanted to explore. It was the biggest night Edinburgh Castle has ever had.” In effect, that which culture deems shocking—swearing, nudity, insert your taboo of choice—are all, to varying degrees, rooted in our universal nature. As Black says, “We all swear.”
On Saturday, November 10th, it was back to “swear one.” The city had yet another opportunity to unleash and, in that peculiarly interesting way, bond. But beforehand, Black had a deadline to tackle. His first book, Kick the Balls—a nonfiction narrative on the view from the suburban soccer sidelines of his son’s perpetually defeated team—was due to the publisher (Hudson Street Press/Penguin Group USA).
“A few years ago I started coaching my son’s soccer team. He thought it would be fun, but it wasn’t really. They were the worst team in the history of soccer, they lost every game by scores that required ladders to reach,” Black explains of the book’s ironic inspiration. “I couldn’t get my mind around this idea that we were so bad and horrible yet parents insisted on having a positive attitude toward something that was, to me, in the face of reality, shite.” (It would be imprudent not to include at least one, no?) The subtext reveals a fish-out-of-water story concerning one parent’s effort to make sense of suburban propriety, and the multi-cultural clash of a team made up of American and immigrant players and middle class and affluent parents. “From that came the book idea. It’s my first time out, so it’s nerve-wracking,” Black says of Kick the Balls. “I’m hoping they’ll be happy enough.” –Jennifer Massoni, Editor, Red Room