Rage Against the Caffeine

Reverend Billy Preaches the Anticorporate Gospel to Starbucks

But gradually the juice he's extolling seems to possess him like the holy spirit. He's suddenly all aquiver, arms outstretched and flaying the air, legs wobbling like tofu. "Hallelujah! I looooove the coffee in Starbucks, children!" Reverend Billy is shouting now. And the smiles of the counter help begin to morph into expressions of panic as the sermon segues into charges that the shop's "earth-tone touchy-feeliness masks corporate ruthlessness." The reverend's devotees—in this instance, Jason Grote and Beth Sopko—hand around leaflets explaining how Starbucks is screwing the planet, the farmers, the baristas, and New York's neighborhoods, and the manager is dialing 911. "Amen, people," booms the reverend, as he heads for the door.

The Starbucks scene is a tougher gig than the Disney store, he says (despite his string of arrests at the latter). At Disney, he explains, "you've got these listless tourists doing that Stepford-wife drifting, and these comically paranoid salespeople," and it's all "very ethereal and symbolic." At Starbucks, though, "people have a willful alienation from the place," so it's hard to engage them. Yet "it's more direct, it has more traction. People live nearby and remember what used to be there."

Indeed, Reverend Billy is inviting anybody with a pre-Starbucks reverie to e-mail him a six-line sermon. He'll choose a bunch to perform with the writer present in the Starbucks of the writer's choice. Within a day of his e-mailed call for such texts, he has received 80 of them. One, from Brooklyn Heights, recalls the "best small Italian bakery in the charted universe, where a gooey pastry and coffee was still $1.50, and perfect Sunday hangover food. It was a short jog from the bounty of Damascus Bakery, a haven of wonderful Middle Eastern sweets and breads, both of which go better with strong coffee than any white-bread crap from Morebucks."

Reverend Billy: the Al Sharpton of the ultraironic yet politically committed Downtown set
photo: Pak Fung Wong
Reverend Billy: the Al Sharpton of the ultraironic yet politically committed Downtown set

Such prose makes the reverend rapturous. "People are describing their neighborhoods with such force," he says. "They're actively missing people and places." He pauses, as if to leave some space for a few amens. "It makes me think that something is possible."

To send your sermon, write to revbilly@revbilly.com

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