Regarding the signing of books…

Broad Street Books, Branchville, NJ

My good friend Sue-Ni from Broad Street Books in Branchville, New Jersey, asked: “How long did it take you gents to sign all of the books?”  I was going to answer her directly, but I decided maybe this is something more people would like to hear about.

After the Kickstarter campaign for the book ended, I still had quite a few people asking if they could still order the signed copy of the book. I “left the window open” for an additional 2 weeks to allow people to order.  After that period of time, I looked at how many pre-orders I had, added an additional quantity to account for damages, shipping issues, promo copies, etc., and came up with a number of 3500 signed/numbered copies. I also wanted a small number of additional unsigned books printed, and decided 500 was a good number, bringing the print run to 4000 copies of the book. Because of how the printing process works, the machines spin up and start printing, and when they start getting close to the number they need to print, they start to spin down the machine. The press is still printing pages, but slowing down. I think altogether the final number of books printed ended up being 5000: 3500 signed, 1500 unsigned.

The big logistical issue, in my mind anyway, was how do we get Black Francis (Massachusetts), myself (Long Island), and the designer Aaron Tanner (Indiana) in a space to sign 3500 physical books?  The answer did not readily present itself, so we had to approach it differently. The answer ended up being a bit… strange.

After talking to my rep with the printer, we decided to order a large quantity of book paper. The heavy endsheet stuff. These are produced in massive flats of paper, the size of a NYC apartment, which have to be cut down to size.  We ordered a quantity, enough to cover what we needed, had them cut to size, and freight shipped to me on a pallet. When I went to pick up the shipment, it barely fit in the truck.  These cut pages were then removed from the flat box on the pallet and put into smaller boxes for transport and storage.  These smaller boxes were not small though, and they were not light. Each box held about 1250 long endsheets, and easily weighed 75-80 pounds.

The thought was signing 3500+ pages would be easier than signing 3500 4-pound books, so we would sign these endsheets, ship them off to the printer, and they would be bound into the books.  With that decided, we just had to get the three of us together to sign.

That didn’t happen.

It was September 2013, and the Pixies were on tour doing small club shows, which was very exciting. Kim Deal had officially left the band, and Kim Shattuck from the Muffs was the new bassist for the band. They were doing a series of shows in New York City, so they would be in one place for a few days, and we thought this could be our opportunity. Aaron would fly out from Indiana, and I would drive and get a room. When I booked the room, it sounded like it was pretty spacious; an apartment-like space, with two beds, a kitchen with a dining space, and a large foyer. The reality of it was that it was a shared space, three bedrooms, all booked separately, and the bathroom, foyer, kitchen, and dining space were all shared.  My two bed room was an 8×8 square with two narrow twin beds, with one foot of space between them.

When Aaron got to the space, we didn’t even have space to work in the same room. The boxes of endsheets to sign were sitting in the foyer, and he started signing in the kitchen, while I signed in the bedroom.  It wasn’t ideal in any way, but it was getting done!

We signed for hours, he and I. Charles AKA Black Francis was involved with a lot of press and interviews, so we would not get to sign with him, but the plan was to have a courier take the 4 boxes to the hotel where Charles was staying, and he would sign there. After 4 hours of signing endsheets, Aaron and I had to stop and get ready to go to the Pixies show.

We went to the show at the Bowery Ballroom and it was great. I brought my camera gear, thinking I would take some live shots for volume 2 of the book, but it was a ridiculously tight space, wall-to-wall people crammed in. I stood next to David Cross near the side of the stage, which was cool, but not a real great location for taking photos. After the show we hung out with the band and talked to Charles about signing pages, and he said he would try to get to it. After the show Aaron went back to his hotel room and I went back to mine. It was my birthday, and I had a cold slice of pizza.

Charles never got to sign anything in New York City. Aaron signed about one quarter of the total number of books. He never got to sign any more, so if you have a book with his signature, that is pretty rare! I drove to the hotel that Charles was staying at and picked up all the boxes of endsheets and went home.

The Pixies tour came to an end, and we still needed to get things signed. It was now December, and Charles invited me up to Massachusetts for a few days to crank out some signatures. I drove up and checked into my hotel, and we met up for drinks. We talked for a bit and called it a night. We would meet for coffee and breakfast and then get started signing at his office space.

The next morning we went to a coffee shop and had breakfast. About 10 minutes after we sat down, he sets his coffee down, nods over to the counter and stands up. “It’s Kim Gordon.”

Kim Gordon. From Sonic Youth. She looked like a real estate agent, but it was Kim Gordon!

Kim sees Charles and comes over and gives him a kiss and Charles introduces us. I tell her I am a big fan, because I really am. We talked for a few minutes and it felt a bit surreal. I am having coffee with Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth, and Black Francis from the Pixies. Who am I? Why am I here? Sometimes life is pretty cool.

And then I had this moment… I was going to stir some shit up on the internet.  Kim Deal had left the Pixies, and her replacement, Kim Shattuck, had been dismissed from the band after just a few months of touring. Sonic Youth was pretty much over, as Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon had split up. The Pixies needed a bassist, and here was a bassist that needed a band.

I wanted to take a picture of the two of them. If this was a show somewhere, I would totally have done that. But we were being social, drinking coffee, talking about the weather and touring. But I needed to take this photograph. The world needed to see this photo, Black Francis and Kim Gordon. Come on, another Pixies bassist named Kim! I wanted Pitchfork and Stereogum to pick up on this and start the rumors flying. I would get that photo credit. It felt like the great rock and roll swindle. The Third Kim.

I did not take the photograph. But in my mind, I am a legend.

After Kim left, Charles and I packed up and went to his office space, which is in an enormous renovated industrial building that had that Soviet Russia factory vibe, but now housed apartments, a hot yoga studio, restaurants, a post office, the DMV, and a daycare facility.

After months of planning, Black Francis started signing pages. He regarded each page, noting the location where we needed to sign, planning the placement of his mark, pen on paper. With the page signed, he carefully moved the endsheet to the side and took the next page, starting the process over.

Fast forward ten hours. We did this thousands of times.

We finally called it and went to the pub located right in the building. We ate and drank vodka. It felt appropriate. It is possible we drank too much, but we were determined to get some more signing done. Back in his office, we took on a faster pace. We blasted Elliot Smith and signed away. Page after page, his pen took on a life and speed of its own, and Charles was barely holding on. I had to stop signing and manage the endsheets, taking piles of pages away, setting up blank endsheets for him to sign.  “It’s too much, Sean. It’s too much!,” he said to me, but his pace did not falter.  With the music and the increasing pace of his signing and talking, it felt like a wild Willy Wonka moment. Finally after about two hours, I called it. We were done for the night.

The next day we met up and did it all over again.

Once the last pages were signed, we both just sat for a minute and relaxed. I took out the big binder of book material I had compiled, and we took a few moments to look through it. He loved seeing all the photos of the Pixies and Throwing Muses on tour together, especially the shots of him and Kristin Hersh together.

We had lunch and said goodbye, he asked if I got everything I needed, or if we would need to book some more time. I told him we were totally fine, mission accomplished!  Every page that needed to be signed had been. He drove home, and so did I.

Soon after I got back home I had all the books numbered. We did that at my sister’s house, with my mother and my two sisters and I numbering each page. A few days later I shipped all of the boxes of endsheets off to the printer.

Book #1, which would have been my copy, was destroyed as they were setting up the press to start printing. I have copy #2.

When I envisioned how this process would go, I pictured Charles, Aaron and I in a room, signing bound hardcover books, with gloves on, and a variety of pens to choose from. It would be lighthearted and a casual environment we worked in. That did not happen. I am just  glad everything got signed.

And that Charles still takes my phone calls!