The rat-a-tat-tat of the keys of the Underwood Model S typewriter syncopate against the rumble, thunder and roar of traffic on the busy street of the city of night outside. It is Los Angeles, in the front window of Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions on Hollywood Boulevard. Performance artist Tim Youd is in the process of performing his “100 Novels Project” in an appropriate setting for a John Rechy novel.
It is the City of Night happening live all around him and the novel he is finishing tonight is Rechy’s shocking, graphic, sweat and semen novel of the same title: “City of Night.” This piece of the exhibit/ performance is called “Tim Youd: Overnight at LACE” and is taking place during the hours of 11 to 2 am.
LACE explains, “The ‘100 Novels Project’ is an extended and idiosyncratic literary pilgrimage. Youd journeys across the world retyping entire novels in locations germane to each story. In these charged locations, he uses the original make of model of the typewriter employed by the book’s author.”
He retypes each novel on a single piece of paper backed up by another piece to absorb the ink. These papers are saved and as negative and positive images are framed as a diptych, representing the book as two pages, greatly imploding the book’s dimensions, one of the things the artist is exploring.
The LACE interpretation continues, “The sound of Youd’s typing [is amplified] and played onto Hollywood Boulevard, a street that figures significantly into Rechy’s novel about the life of a male hustler.” The author became so attached to the rented machine that instead of turning it back in when he finished the novel, he bought it paying $40. Accompanying the performance at LACE is a large-scale reproduction of the typewriter created by Tim Youd.
While Youd has retyped many books at locations important to the books (i.e. Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn: Brooklyn, N.Y. May 2013; Charles Bukowski’s Factotum: Terminal Annex Post Office, Los Angeles July 2013), the performance went one better here on Hollywood Boulevard. In an interview published in the L.A. Times of July 6, 2016 between Youd and Carolina A. Miranda, Youd explained that he was actually presented with Rechy’s original typewriter by the author himself.
Rechy and his partner came to opening night. Youd explains, “I met him about a year or so earlier through Sarah Russin. He and his partner welcomed us, and they pulled out the typewriter that John used to type ‘City of Night.’ He had it all nice and bagged up. It’s been very important to him. He gave me his blessing.” Youd continued, “It’s the first time I’ve typed with the author around. There aren’t too many typewriter authors left. So to have him come and celebrate it with me, it was pretty special.”
While I was there, Youd finished typing the book. No confetti, balloons or cheers went up; just a sense of accomplishment filled the front room with many of the curious busily coming and going. His next book will be Rechy’s Numbers, which he will be performing daily at the Fern Dell Drive entrance to Griffith Park. It is another L.A. location important to the novel.
I remember reading “City of Night” in my naïve youth and it had a remarkable affect on me both because of its raw style, and because I realized how much of the world I knew nothing about although I thought I was quite "worldly." Now here I am on Hollywood Boulevard, and the passing crowd seems so expected in looks and attitudes. I love literature, was an English major in college, and Youd’s list of 100 novels is a combination of old friends, books I need to go back and reread. Then there are the ones I never read. At this end of my life, I am sure returning to the read ones would be an entirely new and even more satisfying experience than before. Then going on to the others will be a great literary adventure. This is all because of Tim Youd's 100 novel performance.