The Full Price
by Matt Harvey
As a polite octogenarian couple slowly polished off their meal, Richard Price, the Bronx-born author of Lush Life, was on stage riffing about his tough-guy grandfather clocking a woman with a baseball bat in 1915.The curse-laden, motor-mouthed monologue was the money shot of the Joe Pub’s premiere of the Happy Ending Reading Series. Idling then revving Lenny Bruce–style, the lit star shrugged his shoulders like a gun-toting movie gangster and rapped, “He was like one of those psycho violent White Heat guys, you know?” Price had his grandfather running from Murder Inc. on the Lower East Side and winding smack dab into the hands of tattoo happy anti-Semitic sailors in Algeria.
Price warmed up for the punch line, “So, my grandfather says to the ship doctor…” Then he breathed in the ghost of his ancestor and spat, “‘I’d rather die of gangrene then go home to my muddah with a cross on my arm.’“ Somewhere, Jimmy Cagney was smiling.
Afterward, Amanda Stern, emcee of the event, held court in the basement of Marion’s on the Bowery. Matt Caws, the shaggy mopped front man of Nada Surf, was buzzing energetically after a solo turn following Price’s performance. The Manhattan-born 40-something laughingly copped to ignorance of the present New York music scene. “I’ve had enough nightlife for ten lifetimes,” he said. The man of the hour—Price—walked by with a container of sushi in a white plastic bag. He sat next to his daughter Gen, a 22year-old Tisch student with movie-star good looks. After bristling a little at the thought of an interview, he relented and said, “I can eat and talk at the same time.” He didn’t have much to say about the obviously indelible mark the old films, which he had referenced on stage, left on him. His voice rising in volume, he said, “They were fucking movies! I always knew that.”When his white wine was brought over to the table he quipped to Gen, “You get that, and I’ll get your tuition.”
Through a mouthful of raw fish he announced his daughter had appeared on the last season of The Wire. Price swallowed his food and intoned seriously, “She played a crack head.” I tried to nod seriously. Wait, huh? His tough-guy mug didn’t budge as he let me have the one-two. “I always wanted to see my daughter grow up to become a crack whore.”