Charles Marx

You almost have to wonder how it is that Charles Mudede continues to exist. Or, how it is that a city so gawky and generic can continue to sustain him, a theorist of imposing Dickensian imagination and staunch Marxist conviction who talks so aerobically and at such length that you often can't prevent yourself from being thrown under the train of his mind.

The truth, for people in the local literary game, is that he sustains us, or helps to. His new project (among unnumbered publishing and lecturing projects) is the beautifully conceived and bizarrely executed Salon Mudede, at which he brings his mind and his Marxism to bear on a panel of locals at the Capitol Hill Arts Center. (Whatever else can be said of Salon Mudede, it's giving an arts venue of indeterminate purpose the status of being a place where interesting things happen.) Two Tuesdays ago the panelists were novelist Rebecca Brown, EMP's Ann Powers, a filmmaker whose name I didn't catch, and Seattle City Council President Peter Steinbrueck.

The basic format is a facilitated discussion, but Salon Mudede is a salon in more than just the Gertrude Stein sense. It's also a salon in the hair-and-body-treatment sense, which explains why, as the filmmaker was talking into a microphone about arts funding and the limits it imposes on the creative self, or some such, huge locks of his hair were falling from his head. (It also explains why Steinbrueck spent most of the evening with his face obscured by a massage chair. "Peter?" Mudede said, turning to Steinbrueck for comment, and someone announced, "I think Peter may have fallen asleep.")

The week's theme was "Labor and Capital," which offered a clean analogy to artists and arts funding and which gave Rebecca Brown the opportunity to point out (as she often does, and rightly so) that she's never received public funding and that fiction writing pays shit. When she held up her most recent books and announced how much her advances were--$2,000 and $1,000, respectively--Ann Powers, who's also a rock critic, said, "Thank god I'm not a fiction writer."

Thank god, too, that Mudede isn't a fiction writer, because writing fiction softens people, and the job of a moderator is not to feel for his panelists. While there was enough talk of the so-called plight of creative people to inspire at least one audience member to leave early (whispering as he went, "Fuck artists"), Mudede, though sauced, knew when to shut people up (which became necessary whenever the filmmaker spoke). Mudede takes a hard economic line on artistic matters, and was most excited by Powers' anecdote about a musician friend who was playing at a wedding where he kept getting hit on by the guests but wasn't allowed near the food. "You're the sexiest and most alluring person in society," Powers said, "and you don't get to eat." Mudede said, "That's a perfect story."

Salon Mudede takes place at CHAC (1621 12th Ave, 568-0728) Tuesday nights at 8 pm. Guests at the final salon, on Dec 16, will include Jonathan Raban, Matthew Stadler, Emily White, and, uh, me.