The kind of motivational speaker you prayed to materialize in your high school auditorium, Irvine Welsh wanders the tiny stage of Carrboro's Dirty South Improv (DSI) before a hormonal house of mostly 20-somethings who appear to be tweaking—not on crystal or heroin, but on the Skittles and Snickers provided at the snack bar.
Welsh's physiognomy is equal parts Scots football hooligan and inscrutable urban vicar, and in a dark blue jersey and posh jeans he wouldn't be out of place head-butting his way through Snatch or Layer Cake. The prototypical "hard man," his motivational agenda tonight might be titled "Hedonism vs. Responsibility."
He reads from his latest novel, The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs, and shares off-color (hilarious) anecdotes from the life of the author who rocketed to fame with the book and film of Trainspotting. The loveable muppets from DSI use scraps of info from the storytelling to concoct a blitzkrieg of adolescent (hilarious) shorts. Picture a middle-aged-bear-slash-capering-monkey act and you've got this hybrid. When Welsh placidly reads a passage about "boy stuff" discovered in a goody-goody but onanistic character's underpants, the actors counter with a meditation on just what "girl stuff" is (answer: "rainbows," naturally). A passage about the novel's other main character's shagging of a leprous, obese soothsayer threatened to turns some audience members inside out like sea cucumbers. The evening ends in a re-enactment of the Pied Piper's reading with four floundering lads standing in for the fat lady. All in the name of fun and you just might learn something before it's done.
Irvine Welsh, 49, reared in Leith, the Bronx of Edinborough, Scotland, calls hating somebody a "responsibility," and this emotional quicksand is the core of Bedroom Secrets. "Duality," he slurs (and repeats when I ask politely) in a dialect he says we all ken (understand) due to Groundskeeper Willie and Shrek. Sipping on a vodka and tonic at Chapel Hill's Fuse, he looks at me with mild interest through the eyes of Dennis Hopper (idling in first gear) as he expounds on the Dorian Gray-inspired theme of two young men who hate each other irrationally only to find that they are nearly the same dude. Once on a double-bill reading with Chuck Palahniuk, author of the similarly themed Fight Club, Welsh found that both authors could relate to Matthew McConaughey's ode to never-ending high school glory from Dazed and Confused: "I keep getting older and they all stay the same age." Both novelists are still promoted and revered for their juvenilia, but unlike Anthony Burgess' loathing for his iconic A Clockwork Orange, Welsh is thankful for Trainspotting's place as an ultra-violent, drug-culture milestone as well as a bloody good read.
When I ask him if he sees duality in himself (the former skag addict vs. the prolific, married author who divides his time between the posh towns of Dublin and Miami), he doesn't bite. Welsh doesn't miss the drugs or the all-night ragers. "You get too old for all that. You've done it all." As I leave him at Carrboro's Milltown in the care of the Welshketeers of DSI, the one-time trainspotter doesn't look too old for all that. It's nice to be off-leash now and again.