Hundreds of people turned out at the memorial for Scott Wannberg, one of the most distinctive voices of the Los Angeles poetry and bookselling scenes, on Saturday, September 17 at Beyond Baroque Literary Center in Venice, California. Wannberg, 58, died in Florence, Oregon on August 19 after being in failing health for some time.
“All one has to do is look at the number and variety of people who are here tonight to understand the impact Scott had on the literary community in Los Angeles,” said Doug Dutton, who was Wannberg’s boss at Dutton’s Brentwood Books for 23 years. Author and journalist Rip Rense added, “As a bookseller, Scott would size you up and recommend books he thought maybe you needed. The book doctor is in. It might sound overbearing, but while his was a potent presence, literally and figuratively, you always knew that Scott’s recommendations came from unbridled love of literature.”
Among those at the memorial were Wannberg fans Carolyn See, John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Dave Alvin, and dozens of L.A. poets who read tributes to Wannberg during an open mike session emceed by actor and poet S.A. Griffin. The literary participants at the event either read Wannberg’s poetry or their own works, accompanied by howls, Buddhist chants, sing-alongs, and stand-up comedy that reflected the profound love for Wannberg and his unique personality. He moved to Oregon following the closing of Dutton’s Books in 2008.
Wannberg’s poetry was published in numerous literary journals and in the collections strange movie full of death (2009) and the forthcoming tomorrow is another song (Sept. 30), both from Viggo Mortensen’s Perceval Press. Wannberg was also a member of the Carma Bums, a group of poets that performed throughout the west for several years.
The memorial began with a group dance to Randy Newman’s song, “It’s Money That Matters.” Newman was a regular customer at Dutton’s and considered Wannberg his friend and personal bookseller; he is referenced in the lyrics to the song. A portion of Wannberg’s ashes were scattered on the lawn and the pathway leading to the entrance of Beyond Baroque, the site of many of his readings.
“Scott had handselling prowess, which he would never call handselling, of course – it was just a natural thing to him,” said friend and former Dutton’s colleague Ed Conklin, now the buyer at Chaucer’s Books. “He would turn people on to things he was sure they would like. The selling was never really a part of it to Scott – just the hand.”