Going the Distance 

A musician turns to the page, and Burke's turns to you.

Alot of people write songs," Wired once wrote of singer-songwriter Doug Hoekstra. "Hoekstra writes five-minute worlds." In Bothering the Coffee Drinkers (Canopic Publishing), Hoekstra's prose debut, he also writes short stories and autobiographical essays.

If this musician/writer's name sounds familiar, it's because the Chicago native turned Nashvillian has been playing Memphis for years, most recently with blues guitarist William Lee Ellis at the Center for Southern Folklore. But Hoekstra's also done his share of bookstore gigs. You know the type -- a musician making music and browsing customers making like nothing's happening except for the handful paying that musician any mind.

Hoekstra says that set-up can be "brutal." But it can be inspirational too. His story of a singer-songwriter doing his thing inside one such store (a story that lends its title to this entire collection) is a fine example. A worst-case scenario, however: the saxophonist in "Kudzu," stuck inside of Natchez and selling the vine to gullible tourists, before he too hits the road, his career back on track but his marriage in question.

For a songwriter influenced by Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, the move to storytelling on the page isn't surprising. Even so, the process has taken some getting used to.

"The peripheral topics may be the same -- music, touring," Hoekstra says. "But prose is a different realm. There isn't the immediate feedback from audiences to see how something's working. There isn't the collaborating with others in the studio. It's me and the page -- concentrated time spent in solitary pursuit. Compared to the musical 'snapshots' I write, it's the difference between a guy who runs a 50-yard dash and one who runs long-distance."

The novel Hoekstra's currently working on may be his longest distance yet, but his upcoming signing (and reading and performance) at Burke's will have him again inside a bookstore, an independent store that could use your help.

Burke's is the city's oldest bookstore, but it's an endangered species. Time-honored it may be, but it runs on numbers, and the numbers aren't good -- nationally, fewer book sales in general, with greater sales going to cost-cutting chains or online megasites.

In a letter last week to customers, owners Corey and Cheryl Mesler got to the point: Burke's is in financial trouble and needs cash now in the form of donations. It's not an unprecedented move for an independent bookstore, the owners explained, and Corey says the response has already been "generous" and "heartening."

When Doug Hoekstra plays Burke's on May 5th, pay him some mind but hand the store $14.95. That's the cost per copy of Bothering the Coffee Drinkers. Burke's will get the sale, Hoekstra will get a cut, and you who bellyache about corporate America and the demise of independents ... you'll be putting money where your mouth is.

Doug Hoekstra Booksigning

Burke's Book Store

Friday, May 5th, 5-7 p.m.

Reading and performance at 6 p.m.

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