There is a certain irony in a best–selling author waging war against the digital machinations of e–commerce that have, in part, helped him achieve success.
But the Unchained Tour is about something far greater than book sales.
Fourteen years ago, author George Dawes Green started “The Moth,” an event dedicated to preserving the art of storytelling, and it has since grown into an international phenomenon with hundreds of branch organizations hosting gatherings as far away as Ireland and Australia. He’s hoping the new endeavor will have the same success.
“I think it’s the first global movement to come out of Southeast Georgia since the Girl Scouts,” says Green, who started The Moth on St. Simon’s island.
“There’s a lot of hubris involved when I say we’re out to save civilization, but it does make it a lot more fun.”
The Unchained Tour kicked off last week, and will make stops in 13 towns around the state of Georgia this month. The event features performances from a handful of Moth storytellers as well as musicians, jugglers and more. The tour stops in Savannah on Saturday night, Oct. 23, at the River Club.
“It’s an interesting approach to touring,” says Dan Kennedy, a wry–humored writer and Moth storyteller who Green recruited for the trip around Georgia. “State by state, take the country apart and hammer them with tales of low self–esteem and things not going right.”
Hosted at independent bookstores (Savannah and Statesboro are exceptions to that), the purpose of the tour is to re–invigorate the sense of community in towns and at bookstores – to pull people away from television and computer screens and bring them back out into the company of others – preventing what Green describes as people “sitting at home and watching rectangles.”
Although the series isn’t an officially sanctioned Moth event, at its essence, the Unchained Tour is searching to preserve many of the same treasures — community, storytelling and sharing — in a world under siege by the instant gratification and distraction of the internet.
“It’s a counter–revolution against this huge wave of electronic control of our lives,” Green explains. “That’s what this Unchained Tour is all about. It’s to go out and see how far along this counter movement is going.”
Judging by the response the tour has gotten so far, the literary rebels are vital and ready for action.
Three weeks ago, on a September afternoon that still felt more like summer than fall, dozens of volunteers gathered in the parking lot behind St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church to work on refurbishing the 40-year-old bus that will carry performers around the state and where several hardy volunteers will sleep while on the road.
Artists on portable scaffolding painted the sides of the bus with panels depicting great Georgian story tellers, from Conrad Aiken to Antwan “Big Boi” Patton. Volunteers worked on outfitting the buses interior with seats and couches, while others repaired the engine and various mechanical components in preparation for the journey.
Their numbers and dedication were impressive, but those present were only a small portion of the total assistance statewide (close to 200 by Green’s count) enlisted to support the cause of saving bookstores and re–building communities – not the structures, but the relationships.
“They don’t realize online social networking is not real community. It’s a huge trillion dollar scam,” Green says. “All these people are promising us that our lives will be better and it’s not. Life is better when you turn off the computer.”
In the same way that face-to-face conversation may be in decline thanks to instant messaging and status updates, the book is also in peril — its territory aggressively usurped by electronic readers like the Kindle and iPad.
“There’s this amazing aesthetic experience of sitting with a book that carries no interruptions within it. There’s no hypertext. There’s no advertising,” expounds Green.
“I just want to make sure there are enough of us left to keep the printed book alive, which I think is the soul of literature.”
No one is under the illusion that this tour will set off a chain reaction that undoes the internet’s place in modern society – far from it. This trip is about a consolidation of forces; a reminder to those who care that they aren’t alone, and that there is refuge to be found in independent bookstores.
“We’re not out to convert the non–choir. We’re out to do this to get the choir fired up,” says Green after being asked whether the group will only preach to believers. “We’re positing an alternative and we’re perfectly happy to keep it an alternative.”
Last week, on the morning the tour headed off to its inaugural event on St. Simon’s Island, the bus still needs a few finishing touches before hitting the road. Luggage is packed into compartments in the undercarriage, but the driver’s seat awaits a final bolt before it can be installed.
Now fully painted, the bus invokes ghosts of countercultures past, a more literary take on Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, their anti–digital variation of the hippie adage: Tune out, turn off, drop by.
A group has gathered in the parking lot, including a film crew, a handful of volunteers and several of the storytellers (who have finally gotten coffee). There is anticipation and curiosity – including a small prayer that the engine will start.
There is a schedule to keep – the group must not only make it to St. Simon’s in time to perform, there is also a ride on a shrimp boat planned.
It’s clear that besides telling stories, the group will make some new ones along the way. cs
The Unchained Tour
When: October 23, 8 p.m.
Where: The River Club, 3 MLK Jr. Blvd.
Cost: $15 (tickets available at the Book Lady, 6 E. Liberty St.)