Page 2 of 6
McClanahan opened by singing, a few warbled, garbled bars of the "Tennessee Waltz" in between incantations and anecdotes, his eyes closed as though in communion. Then he launched into a rhythmic and panted reading of "Jenny Sugar" from his Stories V!
—it was sort of hurried, the way the child narrator himself might read it—in which a boy's classmate dies, and he's glad to get the time off from schoolwork as his peers and teachers mourn. The story ends with the boy's mother promising she won't let anything bad happen to him, and the narrator calls her a fucking liar, but last night McClanahan asked us to pretend he was our mother, and he promised us the same thing before calling himself the fucking liar. Then he pulled out a digital recorder. "This is my multimedia presentation, as always," he said. It played the "Tennessee Waltz," and he pulled up members of the audience to dance with him, including a man. "Let me lead," McClanahan told him.
Then he wandered the room. "Pretend we will always love each other," he said, part of a sermon about death both comforting and terrifying. "That's the present. Enjoy it while it lasts." He brought himself close to tears; imagine the rest of us. The crowd was captivated, awed, deathly silent. No one even snapped pictures with their phone.
Later, he told me humbly that maybe he hadn't done a good job. But as he'd already said, he's a fucking liar.