The first time I call Buddy Wakefield, I get his voicemail. "This is Buddy," says the familiar, melodic baritone I've heard deliver devastating poems that twist from hilarious to downright tragic.
A week earlier, I had received a to-the-point email in a response to an interview request: "Just call," it read, in its entirety. And, after finally reaching him by phone and chatting, I now understand why.
Wakefield runs a truly DIY operation. The publicity email on his website isn't quite real, but a maneuver to look more professional. The 39-year-old spoken word poet and Mr. Clean look-alike does all of his booking, scheduling and interviews himself, and with the help of Kaylen Krebsbach, his trusty volunteer tour manager.
The second time I try to "just call" Mr. Wakefield, I reach her.
"This is Buddy's tour manager, Kaylen," she answers, and continues. "We're in the van right now...let me see when Buddy could call you...we're living day-to-day. Wait, hang on..."
Sounding rushed, but energetic, Wakefield comes on the line.
"I'm at a red light right now, driving," he rattles off at hyper speed. "We're going to stop to get some food in the next 30 minutes. I'll call you back then."
And sure enough, half-an-hour later, from a pit stop in Venice, Calif., the zealous vagabond poet just calls me. He will be performing there later that night, and only has a few minutes. Before heading to tonight's venue, he has to get in a meal, a jog and a power nap. It will be his 20th show in April, and second show that day. Since January, he's been on the road non-stop.
But the four-month mark is underwhelming for Wakefield. He's been on the road most of the last 13 years after quitting his job at a biomedical firm and trading all of his worldly possessions for life on the road and a new career as a slam poet.
"Last time I counted, I had performed at about 2,000 venues," explained Wakefield. "I'll do this for the rest of my life. This is what I do, and it's my job."
Wakefield is a high-profile figure in troubadour poetics. He has won the title of Individual World Poetry Slam Champion twice (2004, 2005) and has been runner up as many times. He's written three books of poems, and released three albums, two on spoken work artist and rapper Sage Francis' record label and 2009's Live at the Typer Cannon Grand on Ani DiFranco's record label.
Wakefield's compositions are poignant and gut busting, and often go from one camp to the other in one perfectly crafted transition. His delivery—fluid and stressed, with the whites of his eyes bulging from his buzzed head—is aggressive. His words echo off every wall and every ceiling of every coffeehouse, dive bar and auditorium he graces.
Wakefield puts on an honest and powerful, heart-on-stage, spoken-word performance, addressing life, death, insecurity, struggle and the core of what makes us human.
"I come from a pretty dark place," says Wakefield. "Writing is a way for me to process that and it turns out—three world championships later and all mater of other arbitrary titles—it's working for some people to leave a little writing on the wall. To climb out of the bottom of the barrel and find their way into the light. If I can make that less of a daunting task, then I want to do that. I've been writing my ideal self all these years."
And Wakefield's ideal self isn't rushed or strained for monetary benefit or exception. He says he doesn't mind waiting years between releases of new material to insure the quality of his work—a when it's right, it's right philosophy.
"Anytime you've ever been viscerally laughing or found yourself crippled over from laugher, or been a child laughing in church when you weren't supposed to...when you were laughing your balls off, there wasn't a time when you stopped, looked around and did a survey and said, is 'this funny to you?'" says Wakefield. "It's the same thing with writing. When it's done, you know it's done. No reason to go to a workshop and hear, 'Oh my God, that was really good. I liked the way you toyed with this word and this metaphor.' That's just whacking off in front of everybody. You know when it's good, and the audience knows when it's good."
Sat., May 10
Volcanic Theatre Pub, 70 SW Century Dr.