T-Model Knows Better: an advice column by life coach/musician T-Model Ford (Arthur, September, 2003)

From Arthur No. 6 (September, 2003)…


T-MODEL KNOWS BETTER

T-Model Ford says a lot. He says he’s 79 years old. He says he’s “the Boss of the Blues! TheTaildragger! From Greenvillllllllle….Mississippi!“ He says he doesn’t need his cane anymore. And he says he can help us. So, every two months, Arthur’s humble editor calls T-Model and asks him some pressing questions. T-Model gives his answers over the phone, then we at Arthur HQ transcribe the conversation, with some help from Bruce Watson at Fat Possum Records, T-Model’s record label. And bip-bap-boom, there it is. If you have any questions for T-Model, and we suspect that you do, email them to editorial@arthurmag.com

Dear T-Model: I’m a father. We’ve got a four-year-old and we’re having discipline problems. My wife wants to get a paddle, to spank the child with, but I’ve always been against that. Lately though this little tyke has been cruisin’ for a bruisin’ is how I see it. What should we do? — A Paddle With Her Name On It, Fontana, CA.

Well, if you trying to raise it right, get you a little cane switch. Don’t spank him. Don’t slap him. Get you a little cane switch and hit him on his little booty back there. Sting him. Don’t get the blood out of him, don’t whip him, just STING him enough til he’s started to crying then tell him that hurts. ‘You hurt?’ Then you pet him and talk to him. Try to teach him, Don’t do that no more, it’s wrong. And you can make a good child out of him. Cuz if you don’t, if he get too far then he gon’ wanna talk back, wanna slap you in the face. You ain’t gonna go for that! So start while you got him young, and let…Get a little cane switch and sting him on his little booty til he starts to cryin’. Talk to him. DON’T slap him or spank him! The doctor will tell you that! Don’t spank him, and don’t slap him. I don’t like it! I don’t like seeing anybody spanking a little child, or slap a little child. Cuz it injures them some kind of way. When you get your little cane switch, if you’re gon’ do anything, sting him on his little booty. It’ll come to him, when he’s doin’ it… You don’t have to do it regularly. But when you do it, let him know you mean business. He’ll come to be a fine little baby boy, or girl, every one. I got Stud here, I raised Stud from the time his mama brought him here, and he’s really fine. I don’t have a bit of trouble out of him. He’s a smart little boy. But the little girl? She’s stubborn. She won’t mind me, but she’ll mind them when they get a switch to whoop her! Like Stud, I don’t have no trouble. I tell him don’t do something, he don’t do it. With the little girl, I tell her, she’s getting mad and poutin’ and keep doin’ it. I’m trying to get me a switch for her. But I don’t whoop neither one of ‘em, but I try to teach ‘em the right way. And that’s the way you do yours. Don’t holler at ‘em and scold at her, or ever what it is, girl or boy, just talk nice to ‘em and TEACH ‘em. 

ARTHUR: Do you think kids are disciplined enough in society today?

The drunk people, you know how they get. They gonna go the other way anyway, regardless of how you do. You got to let ‘em know that you don’t mess with drunk heads or stud pieces. You wanna live right, honest to your wife, wife live honest to you, you gonna live and you got a child, you’ve got the child, try to live together to raise the child ‘til he get up where he can sort of provide for his own self. Stayin’ together. Don’t let someone ‘he say and she say and they say and this and them,’ don’t let em come tellin’ you nothin’! If a man come try to tell you somethin’ ‘bout your wife, just say, ‘Look. How you can tell so much about my wife, and I’m watchin’, I don’t see nothin’! You must be watchin’ my wife more than I is!’ And your wife do the same thing. Woman coming to tell her, tell her ‘Why you tellin’ me so much about my husband? I be seeing him, I don’t see him doin’ it? She must be watching your husband more than the wife is!’ So, don’t let nobody come tellin’ you what your wife done, nobody tell you what your husband done! You ain’t gonna live happy. It gets in your head, and mind… You think if she walk out the door, it’s something she’s doin’ wrong. Or something HE doin’ wrong. So don’t let nobody come tellin’ you about your family. ’Fore you married ‘em, they didn’t tell you, did they? Alright, then.

What about teenagers, coming home late, taking stuff, getting into trouble at school…? 

Well it’s the causin’ of how the mama and the daddy teach them. They get out there with the wrong, lettin’ ’em run with the wrong bunch. This girl come here, and your girl a teenager, she want her to follow her, go over to somebody else’s house. They talkin’ all kind of mess to her and tellin‘ her. The same way it is about a boy. The boy gonna run away to rub up on it, you gonna have a problem out of it. Girl gonna run with them outlaw girls, you gonna have a problem out of ‘em. Ain’t one thing you do, you teach ‘em, talk to ‘em, you tell ‘em what you don’t want and you’re not gonna have it. And MEAN that. Yeah, maybe every now and then you can let her go out with them nice boy or girl, but let ’em know, “I’m still the boss.” That’s at where you live. “You gon’ stay here? You gonna dance by my rules.” Daughter or son. “I’m the one takin’ care of you. You think you can gather up, you can take for yourself, get you a room, and see how long you stay away from Daddy and Mama.” 

They’ll come running back, won’t they.

That’s right! That’s RIGHT. 

I think this is some wise advice, T-Model.

I know it is. 

Documentary filmmaker Sam Green on the saga of the Weather Underground, by Matt Luem (Arthur, 2003)

Notes From the Underground

They were ‘60s student radicals who wanted to take down The Man by “bringing the Vietnam War home.” Documentary filmmaker Sam Green on the saga of the Weather Underground.

by Matt Luem

Originally published in Arthur No. 6 (Sept. 2003)


History has a way of distinguishing acts of political courage from acts of political suicide. The Weather Underground, a new documentary by Sam Green and Bill Siegel, is a grave demonstration of the fine line between the two: it is at once a brilliant history of an American outlaw group, and a meditation on the consequences of political action.

The Weathermen, as they were commonly known, were a splinter group of the Students for Democratic Society, a politically radical student organization focused on opposing the American war in Vietnam. Weaving together the most gripping—and violent—images of the ‘60s with a series of intimate present-day testimonials from former Weathermen, The Weather Underground takes us to the doorsteps of Americans willing to trade their families, security and precious youth to take down The Man.

The following interview was conducted by email with Sam Green on the eve of the film’s theatrical roll-out.

ARTHUR: What led you to this story?

Sam Green: I read something about the group as a teenager. I’m 36 years old and I grew up in the ‘80s. The ‘80s was a pretty bleak time, especially in East Lansing, Michigan, where I grew up. The story of the Weather Underground somehow resonated with me, in part it was a kind of adolescent fascination with the violence and the outlaw mystique of the group. At the same time, there are a lot of serious issues there too. I always did feel on some level that radical change was, and is, needed in this country.

About five years ago, I found a report by the US Senate on the group during the mid -‘70s. In this book there were a few pages with mug shots of all the Weather Underground people. They were very powerful photos, and everyone’s expressions were intense–very defiant and tough, yet at the same time, you could see a little trace of these middle-class white kids. I was floored by these images.

What’s more, as I was looking through the photos, I realized that I knew one of these people! It was a guy who lived in Oakland who was a friend of a friend. I called him up and asked, “Were you in the Weather Underground?” He said, “You found out about my secret past.” There’s really very little info on the group, anything that has been written portrays them as crazy lunatics who ruined the ‘60s. When I started going over to his house and talking to him about the story, the version that he told me was much different, more nuanced and morally ambiguous than the popular version.

So I hooked up with my old friend Bill Siegel, who lives in Chicago, and we started work on the film about five years ago.

Continue reading

THE SECOND ACT OF THE WYLDE RATTTZ by Don Fleming (Arthur, 2004)

Where art-rock thou Wylde Ratttz?

by Don Fleming

Art direction by W. T. Nelson

Originally published in Arthur No. 6 (Sept. 2003) as part of our Stooges “One More Cool Time” feature package


Yes three ttt’s, just like the big ROCK that JC died on. And Wylde like “I wish I was an Oscar Meyer” The saga began when I was “approached” to provide “Stooge-esque” tracks for a big Hollywood flick. Fresh off the Dark Carnival I sez, “Howse about Ron fuckin’ Asheton with an assorted bunch of alt-geezer heavy hitters to round it out?” Ratttz Patrol: Thurston Moore, Mike Watt, Steve Shelley, Mark Arm, Sabir Mateen and Sean Ono Lennon. We did our Stooges tracks for the flick (many thanks to Randell Poster) “and it was good.” Then of course some genius at the “label” decides they want put out the entire session. It was thusly christened “Ratttz Ass.” And then it sat. And there it sits. Lonely and tired.

So in response to being suppressed by “the man,” I gather the Instant Mayhem production team-vibeologist Jim Dunbar and engine man Bil Emmons, aka the “American Rock Dudes,” and decide to bring the Ratttz back in for a second round. And this time we slammed originals, took a few space jams and scrambled a couple of choice Pretty Things. Now we have a real record. This one is called “Wylde Ratttz” and it’s a gas. Rip-roarin’ rock anthems penned mostly by Ron with some Niagara and Arm words. Thurst sings a couple and Watt contributes his own smokin’ pipe tune. Ron even sings one!!! Ecstatic Peace has it on the slow train to China schedule, but we’re a bunch of lazy bastards anyway so it’ll come out when it comes out. Floggin’ a few WR mp3s at the site for now. And meantime Watt and J Mascis (who was hangin’ at the Ratttz sessions) go out and play a buncho Stooges sets and then break out the Asheton bros for a few choice international “dates”, so ARD—that’s American Rock Dudes—start swingin’ that like we planned it all along and call it “Wylde Ratttz Jr”, and the next thing ya know Iggy, Ron, Rock Action, and Watt are swappin’ sweat. Ratttz Power!!

https://wylderatttz.bandcamp.com/album/wylde-ratttz

www.wylderatttz.com

www.instantmayhem.com

THE TWO STOOGES: RON AND SCOTT ASHETON on their past, present and future (Arthur, 2003)

THE TWO STOOGES

RON & SCOTT ASHETON on their past, present and future.

by Jay Babcock

Photo by Peter G. Whitfield, art direction by W. T. Nelson

Originally published in Arthur No. 6 (Sept. 2003)


Following the second (and final) split of the Stooges in 1974, Ron and Scott “Rock Action” Asheton’s next joint effort was to form New Order, who released a single eponymous LP that gained little critical or commercial notice. Scott did some work with ex-MC5 Fred “Sonic” Smith’s band, Sonic Rendezvous, while Ron went on to work briefly with the second, post-Mike Kelley/Jim Shaw version of Destroy All Monsters, a sort-of Detroit supergroup, before forming The New Race with Stooges acolytes Deniz Tek and Rob Younger of the Australian power rock group Radio Birdman. The New Race released a single quasi-live album, in 1981, and then was no more. In the ‘90s, between taking roles in his beloved low-budge horror films (his filmography includes  Hellmaster [‘92], Legion of the Night [‘95], Mosquito [‘95] and, of course, Frostbiter: Wrath of the Wendigo [‘96]), Ron recorded with a group called the Empty Set, and performed and recorded with singer/Destroy All Monsters alum Niagara in a new group called Dark Carnival. 

Ron’s participation in the Wylde Ratttz sessions in ‘98 [see sidebar] eventually led to an invitation by J Mascis & the Fog to play songs live dates with his band, then featuring ex-minuteman Mike Watt on bass. Watt, who had been playing the Stooges songs for years (see “From a minuteman to a Stooge”) was the singer on the Stooges songs the band performed each night for the numbers when the group wasn’t being joined by guest vocalists, which was often. These shows attracted enough heat for Sonic Youth, curators of the 2002 All Tomorrow’s Parties, to ask Asheton, Mascis and Watt to do an all-Stooges set at the UCLA festival, with secret guest vocalists.

At this point, Scott “Rock Action” Asheton was coaxed back into the spotlight. Working on a piece for the LAWeekly to coincide with that ATP show, I caught up with Scotty down in Florida to ask him what he‘d been up to. “I’ve been playing with various musicians and bands, did some touring, did some recording with Capt. Sensible from the Damned and Sonny Vincent,” he said. “But I’ve got a daughter now, and mostly I’m just busy being a dad.”

Although Scotty had kept in contact with Iggy, his dreams of some sort of reunion of the Stooges hadn’t come to pass. “I used to call up his management and kinda bug ‘em about if there’s a chance we could get together, him and myself and my brother and do an album. He used to tell me ‘Well he’s not opposed to the idea but he’s just really busy.’ I think the people would like it, I think it would be cool if me, my brother and Iggy do some things… You know, there’s a lot of good memories and a lot of bad memories. It’s too bad that the band had to fall apart when we did, but it was due to things that were out of our control. Me and James [Williamson, the band’s second guitarist] and Iggy were having some problems, and as a result the band fell apart. I always felt bad for my brother because he kinda got the raw end of the deal. It really wasn’t his fault that things went the way they did.”

Although he was aware that the Stooges’ records had continued to win the band fans three decades after their initial release, Scotty had obviously long lost interest in contemporary rock. As I read off the names of the people he’d soon be performing with, he said, “To tell you the truth, I don’t know anything about ‘em. I was asking other people, and they were saying Well [J Mascis] is from Dinosaur Jr. And I’m going Well, sorry again, then. Never heard of them. But if Ron likes them, they gotta be good.”

They were good—it was a lineup of singers that included Watt, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, Eddie Vedder and Queens of the Stone Age’s Joshua Homme—but, in the end, none of them, of course, was Iggy. (By the same token, as good as his solo work has been, Iggy has never had a band that approached the utterly primordial, shamanic genius that was the Stooges, either.)

After several months of tantalizing rumors, in February 2003 the Ashetons reunited with Iggy Pop to record some new Stooges songs for Iggy’s new solo album. The sessions, produced by Iggy at a studio near his Miami home, yielded four songs and a tentative  interest in performing live as the Stooges again. I caught up with Ron—Scotty remained elusive—to find out how this all went down. The following Q & A is culled from two phone conversations with Ron—one took place just prior to the 2002 ATP show, and the other, less than a week before this issue of Arthur went to press in late July. — Jay Babcock


Arthur: So, how did this happen?

RON ASHETON: Well, Iggy called up and he goes, ‘Well hey, what’s happening?’ We did small talk for about 20 minutes and then he goes, ‘Well the reason I called was I was wondering if you’d be innerested in a project. You can say yes, or you can say no, and I don’t care, I understand. And if you say yes, you can call me back in two weeks and tell me to go fuck myself.’ [laughs] But I said right away, Yes, sounds cool to me.

I went down to Florida. My brother, who lives there part of the year, was already there. Jim—most people know him by Iggy but we call him Jim, usually—came to the hotel and he goes, Well I know a fun place to eat. So we went. I was a little nervous, I hadn’t seen him up close, shake-hand close, since 1980. He’s a guy that was one of my best friends, that I haven’t really talked to, or seen, in many years—and I’m there to work, to do music! Whoa. So I go, [mock melodramatic voice] ‘God, please make it good.’ So we talked and had dinner. The next day we went to his house and we visited for about an hour and a half and then we went to the studio. And it was easy. From then on, it’s like there was no time in between… It was great. I think I appreciate it and enjoy it more now. I like the things we talk about. And I’m proud of what he’s done. 

You guys weren’t just in a band—you all lived together in the old days. That stuff doesn’t really go away, does it?

We started out with our first band house, our little summer sublet, and then we moved on to a farmhouse and then another farmhouse and then out in L.A. Not to mention all the thousands of shows on the road through the years. So we’ve got a lot of time between us. 

How were the new songs written?

I had some things and I got pieces and I started workin’ on stuff. So we talked as the time was approaching to go to Miami, I had a talk with him and he goes, You know, you can bring stuff down, or you can bring pieces, or you can bring down nothing at all. So I decided to bring nothing. [laughs] But the night before I left, I’m going, Well I gotta have an icebreaker. So I came up with that thing for “Skull Ring.” And we jammed on that. That got turned into a tune. And then I said, “Well Jim, why don’t you stay at home and give me about four or five hours before you come to the studio tomorrow, and let me see what I can come up with.” Before I went to bed that night at the hotel, I’m lyin’ in bed and I got a riff stuck in my head. I started out on that the next day and it just came quickly—I wrote “Little Electric Chair” in 15 minutes. I did three things. One of ‘em didn’t make it to the record cuz we didn’t have time. So I wrote ‘em, brought my brother in, taught him the song, recorded it and then I laid a bass track on it. One hour later, I brought him back in. He goes, “Ready already? You just taught me the other one!” And I go, “Yeah well I got this other one.” And we just did that. It just was flowing out of me, cuz I was excited about doing it and I liked that studio. I felt real comfortable there. I knew that it was important, and I knew that we didn’t have a lot of time. But luckily it just worked out. The stuff just flowed right out. Then Iggy came and he goes, Yeah this is cool.  

You use the same little riff on the bridge for ‘Loser’ as there is at the beginning of ‘Dead Rock Star’…

Iggy had that basic piece, and I kinda toughened it up, played into that more. I used that descending riff on ‘Dead Rock Star’ just to show him it was good. I gave him a lot of options to choose from. And he wound up going, Well I like both of ‘em. I go, Just do it man. It’s great how they cut it up. He was a little hesitant to play ’Dead Rock Star’ for us. He goes, Well I got this idea for this song but I don’t know… I go, [mock impatience] Just play it for me! And I go, No man it’s cool. I really like that. He didn’t know what he thought about it. Then he started liking it. I go, No it fits it, I really like that, cuz you got different things on our stuff. You got Stooge voice, and…you’ve got your crooning and even on the other Stooges songs, the voices are a little different. And I get a kick out of the album—[mock DJ voice] ‘It’s Iggy playing with Green Day. It’s Iggy with Sum 41.’ On the record [as a whole] he does all kinds of stuff. It’s cool. 

On a couple of the songs you do a sort of prelude riff before the ‘proper‘ riff comes in, like you did on ‘1968’ and ‘Loose’

Yeah, we talked about this also. He goes, People are gonna expect it to be kinda like the Stooges. Cuz I’d sent him a bunch of stuff I did with the Wylde Ratttz and that was not very Stooge-y. He liked the stuff, but he was also a little worried that I might be too good. [laughs] Which, you know, in all my other songwriting with other bands they’re always going, ‘It’s a great song but you wouldn’t think that was a Stooges song.’ Well you know, I got a little better! And I’m having fun experimenting and it’s boring [to play simple stuff] as I learn more. So [getting more technically proficient] has kinda been a blessing and a curse for me. And Iggy was concerned and I also was concerned, that I needed to think primitive for this. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it was, just to go back into that feeling. 

What was really amazing for me was playing at Coachella, because I was figuring, I’m a little a bit better player so maybe I’ll rip off a couple slicky riffs or something for leads, but when I started doin’ it [at rehearsal], uh oh I’m kinda stuck all of a sudden. But once I was up there onstage and doing it, it was like I switched back to primitive mode. I just started playing simpler and a lot of those old riffs came back to me. I’m going ,Well goddamn I rehearsed this, but just being up there, it made some kind of magic that brought it all back to that kind of primitive stuff.

Has it been strange, the three of you doing Stooges again and Dave Alexander not being there with you?

No… because I’d been doin’ it a bunch with others. But Dave was there with me in spirit, because…I thought about that a lot, and I talked to my brother about it. He goes, Well Dave’s right here with me now, man. That’s how we all felt, and that’s why my brother gave Mike Watt the Dave Alexander t-shirt to wear, and Watt was so into it he wore it every day at practice too. We thought about Dave. When I took breaks I would say, You know thanks to you, Dave. You were part of this, and…you should be proud. Cuz I’m so proud that you were a part of it. He was a very inneresting bass player. Watt goes ‘Man just listen to him, he was a tripped out bass player, that thing he does on TV Eye that just kinda rubber bands around your thing, that’s brilliant.’ We always miss him—I think about him every day, I always have. There isn’t a day go by that I don’t think about him a bunch. I’ve had many other bands, so I didn’t miss him in that sense. But I wish he coulda been here.

I think listeners and the audience have always thought of Iggy as being fearless and spontaneous, but you’re talking about him being uncertain about songs…

Well, for me, I like that edge for playing. I like to know that everyone knows the song, and there is a format: you got your basic song. But I enjoy what might happen within the tune. With Jim what’s amazing is he is—and we talked about this—he’s really worked hard on his stage show. He’s perfected it. He’s a better showman. He doesn’t beat the hell out of himself like he used to. If something came into his head, bam, he’d do it. But now he paces himself better. I mean, if you coulda seen some of the shows way back when, it was like, man, the guy just went out and played a whole game of football in an hour. He’d always be battered up. He always hurt himself, almost all the time. Mostly at the beginning by accident: hitting the mike stand, take a tumble, do a swan dive off the stage and people got hip to it, here he comes, they thought it was funny, the parting of the crowd sea, and I’d go, Uh oh shit, they all moved! To see him just swan dive into a bunch of folding chairs and a fuckin’ floor. 

At the time, did that recklessness seem stupid to you? As in, if he hurts himself, how are we gonna do the show tomorrow?

I knew he would never really hurt himself. I’m surprised he didn’t break any bones. But he got cuts and bruises and stitches. I would have so much fun watching him—even at Coachella I was going, Oh shit, I gotta get my head back in the ball game, I’m watching Iggy. I got this smile on my face and I’m just watching him. [laughs] I never smiled in the Stooges! That’s part of my THING. I’m just supposed to stand there, no smile on my face. Which I always did, it was kind of a natural thing for me back then. That was my schtick, kind of: I was holding down the fort. But it was fun just to have enough muscle memory with the tunes at Coachella where I could kinda step out of myself for a couple seconds and see what’s goin’ on. I had a good time. [laughs] I was going, Man he’s sure knocking himself around. I’m going, Uh oh he’s not gonna really go into the crowd. And there he goes. I go, Goddamn dude. For all the things, the battering he’s taken onstage, and all the abuse he’s done to himself, he’s fared very well. 

It was an extraordinary performance. A lot of us were losing it—I don’t think anyone really ever expected to get to see the Stooges again. Could you tell from onstage how astounded the audience was?

You know what, I never thought it would happen either. I’d thought Jim was pretty happy with his solo career. He’s very proud of it, and he should be. He likes being…Iggy Pop. But, this will help him also. And yeah, I could tell, I could see the faces. You know [people are in shock] when mouths are open and eyes are wide and they’re really just trying to drink it all in. It was very cool. At first I was nervous, until we started the first song and then I was fine. 

And what a trip to have Steve Mackey there for “Funhouse” and “L.A. Blues”!

Yeah! He goes, ‘It’s my same horn.’ I go, ‘No way, you didn’t throw it in the San Francsico Bay or something by now‘?!? Talk about somebody who hasn’t changed! He’s the same gregarious talkative guy. It was so much fun to see him. I had played with him with J Mascis in San Francisco. That was fun. 

How did you got together with all those guys?

The Wylde Ratttz thing. Don Fleming invited Mascis along for the second set of Velvet Goldmine sessions. We were sitting around, Steve Shelley, Thurston Moore, Mike Watt and Mark Arm and Don Fleming the producer goes, Well let’s just jam every Stooges song that we know. And I’m going, Oh god, I don’t want to teach those songs to those guys. But they’re going, Oh no man, we know em all! So we just jammed. I didn’t have to teach them anything. Watt and J Mascis, they know the songs inside and out. Thurston and Watt said that’s how they learned to play guitar: playing along to Stooges songs. They’re really good songs to learn guitar on, because you can tell that you’re making progress. Watt’s such an eccentric perfectionist. [In mock outrage] What! You don’t even know your own song?! And I’d go, Mike I haven’t played in 10 years. It was ‘1970.’ I knew all the other ones. And then one time we were doing ‘Loose’ and then J just didn’t play, and he stood there with this look on his face, and he goes, You forgot the whole beginning. You haven’t been playing that beginning part! And I went, Oh that’s right, I completely forgot about that E chord intro. And so I go, Well you do it! So he played it, and I knew what time to do the riff, I just came in. So those guys remember stuff… It was fun playing with J because I was always telling everyone, [mock pretentious voice] Well yes, you know the Stooges songs, they lend themselves to sorta like free-form jazz. And J goes okay and he would just take it wherever he thought was fun to take it. That was very cool. But Watt was always saying, Gee you know I love J but it’d sure be neat just to play the songs with you sometime too. So it wound up that Mike got his wish.

If anyone in the Stooges story has anything to be bitter about, it would have to be you. I mean, those guys sold your guitar for drugs!

Yeah, that was in New York. I told this roadie, I’ll take the guitars. And this roadie was like, No I’ll grab that guitar, I’ll take it back to the hotel. I knew something was up. I found out later that what happened is it went right to Harlem, right into the hands of a black guy that was gonna get em heroin. And the black guy said I’ll be right back, lemme take the guitar and he went right up the stairs and right out the back door. No heroin—and no guitar. They didn’t even score! [laughs] They got ripped! And I didn’t find out til later. They did the same old bullshit, my brother wouldn’t even fess up. The roadie goes, Oh yeah, I put it down at the gig, man, and turned my back, and it’s gone, I looked everywhere. Even though I didn’t know that’s what had happened, I was going, This is bullshit, this has never happened before. But I did right, I fired him right then and there. 

I didn’t go along with the heroin bullshit. It was really hard to see the guys you hung out with, and try to build a dream with, just going down the tubes, man. To wake up everyday and see possessions missing. Wait a minute, where’s the electric piano? 6-7-800-dollar electric piano went to get 40 dollars’ worth of heroin. Bullshit like that. 

How did you stay straight amidst all that stuff?

It wasn’t easy. Probably what really helped me, when they really got badly into heroin, for a good period I had my first live-in girlfriend. And pretty much, they didn’t like that. ‘Hey you’re not one of the dudes anymore, man!’ We had an apartment in the Stooge house. It was a big house that the original owners had turned into separate apartments, and we had our own apartment. And those guys, we didn’t even see them. I just hung out with her. Then Bill Cheatham [who played piano and bass with the Stooges at different point], he got into doing some heroin for a while, but he realized it was bullshit. So he really did just cold turkey. He locked himself in his room for a week, and I would take him orange juice or whatever he wanted—chocolate milk!—and he did, he just kicked. So I had him to hang with now too. Even he stayed away because it was so bad.

After Dave Alexander was fired—Iggy had fired him, I knew there was no point in arguing—James came in and played [second] guitar. James and Iggy somehow hit it off, they formed that junkie relationship. Even though things were already really in bad shape, once James came aboard, it was the total swan song. I mean, it was some of the worst times of my life, just to see everything you had done fall apart, only because of drugs. It was fun when we were smoking marijuana and hash, and we had our little acid phase, for me that was about as far as it went, then…BA-BA-BA-BOOM… Our road manager, who had been clean for those couple of years, he got back into it, and he drug those guys in, and that was like… Oh man, it was a terrible ending. ‘Cause it didn’t have to end, but the drugs killed it. 

Later, for Raw Power, Iggy asked you and Scott back. Only now you were the bassist and James Williamson was the guitarist. And Iggy and James were writing the songs on their own…

Iggy said he couldn’t find a bass player or a drummer—‘we’ve auditioned a hundred people, we can’t find anybody’—and how would we like to play. I said, Well you know, cool. I had a good time playing bass then because I started out playing bass in my high school rock band, so it was fun at least to go in and do it. I enjoyed it playing it myself, just [in pretentious voice] to show the world that I can play some bass guitar. 

But you won’t play these songs now.

I enjoy some of those songs, but I never played ‘em on guitar. I don’t want to learn to play ‘em. What little input I did have, you know, writing little pieces or helping a song develop, they didn’t even give me credit. I came up with just little things here and there—nothing major—but still, my feeling is, I’m not gonna play something that I didn’t write or wasn’t given any credit for. But my problem with those times was that it wasn’t a band. Iggy was signed with MainMan, it was his record deal, his management deal, and basically, in reality, we were just signed as backup people. We didn’t even see him that much a lot of times when we weren’t working. He’d already had established his whole little group of friends and cronies that were into his kind of shit. The three of us—Williamson, my brother, myself—did tend to stay together a bit more. 

MainMan finally wound up dumping Iggy, and we got new management and a booking agent, but they had it so we were constantly playing! Every day, just about, on the road. And when we did come back, it was just for a week or two before we’d go back out on the road for months again. It was like some bizarre Twilight Zone: you can never get out of being in the band, your stage clothes are so dirty you don’t really have time to wash them that often, and just living out of a suitcase, it was maddening. It was like Goddamn, this isn’t fun at all, this is like some sort of weird hell—a bad dream I can’t wake up from. 

Do you ever talk with James Williamson? What’s he up to now?

He works with Sony, something to do with computers. He travels a lot, he goes to Europe and Japan all the time. He’s visited a couple times, to see me and my brother and our sister. It was cool. We had such great times when the Stooges were doing well and the only drugs anyone took was smoking marijuana, basically. There was LOTS of good times.

What happens with the Stooges after you do those September shows in Europe?

We probably won’t play again cuz Jim is interested in not going out too much now… Going with the material we have now would be fun but Jim’s gotta promote his record, he’s got a whole agenda of stuff he’s gotta do, and he’s excited about doing a Stooges record.  I’ve gotta come up with a lot of stuff. One of my quirks, which I’ve done well with, is when I get a deadline is when I really start cranking. But that’s just too nerve-wracking to have to come up with a whole lot… I can come up with like 10 or 12 things, but not 30. You need that much cuz you’re gonna throw half of it away. So, basically for me, after September I’ll just be writing tunes. I’ll have enough time to do it so I don’t get all jammed up. I’m hoping next year we’ll go and do some stuff. 

Now, what does all this mean for your horror film career?

My buddy Gary Jones who did The Mosquito picture, eh’s partnered up with Gunnar Hanson, who was Leatherface. They’ve written a screenplay, he’s got his little company together, Gary, and we’re gonna do an independent film called The Last Horror Picture Show. It’ll be starring Gunnar Hansen, Robert Englund, who was Freddy Krueger, and Kane Hodder who was Jason. They’re gonna play evil guys, but not those particular characters. So it’s kind of an inneresting premise, it’s a horror picture WITHIN a horror picture. I’m excited about it, it’s a good story. So we’re trying to raise dough now. The producers of the film asked if the Stooges might do the theme song, and also I will do other bits of music in the film, so besides my small acting part I’ll be doing some music.

What would your character be?

I would once again be what I always play: a goofy, wacky something-or-other. It’s a small principal part, because pretty much the focus of the movie is on the three main bad guys, and then the younger people that all get offed. [laughs] In this one, I’m the loser musician…who [in mock sentimental voice] turns out to be a hero in the end. 

BRIDE OF THE MOTOR CITY MADMAN: James Parker reviews Shemane Nugent’s memoir (Arthur, 2003)

BRIDE OF THE MOTOR CITY MADMAN

by James Parker

Originally published in Arthur No. 6 (Sept. 2003)


Reviewed:

Married To A Rock Star

by Shemane Nugent

197 pages

The Lyons Press

$19.95/$32.95 Canada

As something of a haunted carnivore myself, hearing the groan of the abattoir every time I bite into a burger, I’ve always respected Ted Nugent for killing his own meat. No flinching from reality there, no insulation from the dripping fact; every day he eyeballs his naked lunch. Then there’s his music, his killer dinosaur rock, with the big bones and the tiny gem-like brain, ancestor of nothing, an influence on nobody, awesomely stranded in time. And then—for which I most esteem him—there’s his MOUTH, his stupendous verbal barrage. Between songs, the freaky preacher-babble; on air and on the page, comic rant-power. Here he is in 1977, telling High Times why he doesn’t use effects pedals: ‘When the fuzztone first came out, I fucked around with that. When the wah-wah came out, I fucked around with that. I fucked around with flangers and phasers. But my ears are the man in charge, and I just like a powerful guitar sound through an amp.’ Undeniable—the champing rhythm, the build, the final resolving chord. Heavy metal speech!

The Nuge has always hunted, always barked about guns and freedom: this strain of Amerimania has always been part of him, like the militaristic guitar-drum tattoo–POM-POM-POM-POMMM!–that suddenly rears up, tumescent with martial pride, from the psycho-murk of ‘Stranglehold.’ In his middle age the arteries have hardened and instinct, as it tends to, has become ideology: he’s officially gone Republican. His seat on the board of the NRA, his campaigning with the Ted Nugent United Sportsmen of America—banging out articles for Razor and The Wall Street Journal, gnawing at the mike in his radio studio—the Nuge-ian agenda advances in step with this country’s ruling party. But he’s still the NUGE, punk. Metal fans have always ‘got’ him better than anyone else: his sly bombast is part of the metal vocabulary, and ears sophisticatedly attuned to monstrous overstatement will have no problem with Nuge-isms like ‘whack’em and stack’em’, ‘rape o’the hills,’ ‘I am the most intense human being who ever lived’ etc. Voters, on the other hand—and one day soon it will come down to voters—are, like the innocent fawns of the forest, easily startled. Act too loud and they’ll prance away in terror, never to return. So the Nuge, now going mainstream, coming in from the grizzly Right with his message of clean living, fresh meat, family values and guns for all, has been toning it down. Hence, we must believe, the publication of Married To A Rock Star, this book by Mrs Shemane Nugent, his ‘veteran rock wife’ of 14 years. Graciously blurbed by all the Right people—Charlton Heston reaffirms that ‘Ted is one of the good guys,’ Sean Hannity of media duo Hannity and Colmes promises the reader ‘a renewed sense of the morality and faith that underlie the important institution of marriage—Married… is soft-focus, vaseline-on-the-lens Nuge: something for the lady electorate.

It’s not a great book. It is, unforgivably, a boring book.

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Interview With an Old Stooge: Kristine McKenna talks with IGGY POP about everything (Arthur, 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 6 (Sept. 2003), with photography by Peter G. Whitfield, on the occasion of the Stooges’ reunion as a live force.

If you’ve never read Iggy Pop’s 1982 autobiography, I Need More, do yourself a favor and go out and buy it. It’s a totally inspiring book. Talk about triumph of the will! There he was, Jim Osterberg, a slightly built, asthmatic only child growing up in a shabby mobile home in a sleepy Midwestern town during the ‘50s. The chances of his metamorphosing into a rock avatar who would channel the id of an entire generation were not good. But Jim came in with an extra hit of the life force, and that’s exactly what he did.

Perhaps I should backtrack for a moment and recap the story so far. James Newell Osterberg was born on April 21, 1947, in Muskegon, Michigan. His father, Newell Sr., was an English teacher, and his family lived in a trailer park in Ypsilanti Michigan. When he was 15 he formed his first band, the Iguanas, which is how he wound up with the stage name Iggy. He was playing drums at the time, and after three years of practice and local gigs, the Iguanas recorded a single; the year was 1965, and the song was Mona, backed with I Don’t Know Why. A short time later he joined the Prime Movers Blues Band, an experience that prompted him to head for Chicago to serve some kind of apprenticeship with real blues guys. Eight months later he’d come to the conclusion he was barking up the wrong tree, so he returned to Ann Arbor and formed the Psychedelic Stooges with Ron and Scott Asheton. They played their first gig on Halloween in 1967. 

It was then that Iggy began redefining the parameters of rock’n’ roll with a show unlike anything that had been seen before. Synthesizing elements of shamanic ritual, blues, Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty, psychedelia, and  performance art, Iggy invented a frightening and transformational form of musical theater that soared into the stratosphere. A crucial ingredient in his show was his extraordinary body — a perfectly constructed skeleton with an overlay of muscle in a wrapping of taut skin — which he deployed to maximum effect. He was also hilarious. All of Iggy’s work has been inflected with a bracing current of self-deprecating humor that makes him very easy to love. Describing himself in the early days of his career in I Need More, he says ‘got gotta’ understand that I was still like Topcat, the cartoon character. I was very lazy and happiest dozing in a garbage can.’ Who can’t relate to that?

The Stooges were extreme and definitely weren’t for everyone, but incredibly enough, they were signed to Elektra Records just a year after they debuted. The next five years were a tornado of wild gigs, drugs and escalating conflict, and at the end of 1973 Iggy quit the band. His downward spiral gathered momentum, and in 1975 he suffered a breakdown that resulted in several weeks of hospitalization. His longtime fan David Bowie helped him relocate to Berlin, got him back on his feet, and produced his first two solos albums, The Idiot, and Lust for Life.

It was shortly after that, in 1979, that I interviewed Iggy for the first time. We met in his tiny room at the now defunct Tropicana Motel, and to tell the truth, I was afraid of him — his reputation at that point was rather formidable. He surprised me, though. He came across as a somewhat reserved, well-spoken man who’d clearly thought long and hard about the world and his place in it. 

At the end of our meeting, he said ‘if I have any goal it’s to be an unchanging beacon in this world full of health foods and good vibes. I wish not to change.’ Twenty-four years later it seems safe to say he’s achieved that goal, and with his recent reunion with the Stooges he comes full circle. His new album, Skull Ring, includes four new songs written and recorded with his childhood pals from Michigan, along with six new songs by Iggy and his band of the past twelve years, the Trolls. Green Day, Peaches, and Sum 41 also turn up on the album, which was recorded in Miami where Iggy’s lived since 1999. (He moved there from New York following his divorce from his companion of 16 years, Suchi Asano Osterberg.) Miami seems to suit him; he seemed strong, focused and in excellent spirits when we spoke in late July. — Kristine McKenna

What is the source of your strength?

Whatever strength I have is probably the result of the fact that I made some good emotional investments at an early age. I went for a certain kind of music and maintained the naïve belief that I could do something wonderful in music, and that that would help me move towards what is wonderful in life. I looked like I was nuts at the time, and those beliefs caused me a lot of grief for a while, but it paid off for me big time. 

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"This Is the Way the World Ends (Or, Don’t Say I Didn’t Try Dystopia)" by Paul Cullum (Arthur No. 6/Sept 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 6 (Sept. 2003)

This Is the Way the World Ends (Or, Don’t Say I Didn’t Try Dystopia)
A “Camera Obscura” column by Paul Cullum

CAMERA OBSCURA is a regular column examining the world and its lesser trafficked tributaries, recesses and psychic fallout through the filters of film, video and DVD.

DVDs/videos discussed in this column:
o The Dead Zone (1983)—directed by David Cronenberg, written by Jeffrey Boam; based on the novel by Stephen King (Paramount Home Video)
o Starship Troopers (1997)—directed by Paul Verhoeven, written by Ed Neumeier; based on the novel by Robert Heinlein (Columbia/TriStar Home Video, Special Edition)
o The Handmaid’s Tale (1990)—directed by Volker Schlondorff, written by Harold Pinter; based on the novel by Margaret Atwood (MGM/UA Home Video)
o Death and the Maiden (1994)—directed by Roman Polanski, written by Rafael Yglesias; based on the play by Ariel Dorfman (New Line Home Video)
o The Designated Mourner (1997)—directed by David Hare, written by Wallace Shawn; based on his play (Image Entertainment)
o The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (2002)—directed by Kim Bartley & Donnacha O’Briain (Power Pictures; VHS available for $29.99, please specify NTSC or PAL)
o Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death (2003)—directed by Jamie Doran (Atlantic Celtic Films; VHS available for £19.99/approx. $32.00 from http://www.acftv.net, please specify NTSC or PAL)

* * *

“I only want to say this once: If America insists on flirting with a fascist future, I shall give them one.” —Paul Verhoeven (director of Starship Troopers)

“By the time they came for me because of my liberal views, it was too late—there was no one left to speak up.”

That’s Pastor Neimoller, German Christian cleric, famously lamenting the blind eye he turned toward Communists, Jews and union leaders during their respective Nazi roundups. Words like “Nazi” and “fascist” are loaded ones these days—packed with C-4 and strung with tripwires, to dissuade the hapless malcontent from trampling across them too casually. But a mere 36 months in the life of the republic has turned us into a nation of screenwriters, imagining more and more implausible reversals of expectations in our long march to the third-act twist: stage-managed coronations, Wall Street intifadas, Zionist cabals, prophylactic invasions, the treason of superpatriots. The one thing it teaches you, living here in the heart of Hollywood (as if such a thing exists), is speculative reality: All things are true until they’re not. Best to follow these branches out to their logical ends, lest we be caught unawares.

And so, in curious times such as these, I do what I’ve always done: Turn to the movies. Here are five moments from five films—bleak dystopian visions of an American future, courtesy of a Canadian, a Dutchman, a German, a Pole and a Brit—which these days I find playing over and over in my head. Plus two new documentaries which might explain why. We often find our convictions in popular film, and probably the courage to live by them. If the artists of the age see fit to issue such auguries—field jeremiads from the antennae of the race—then we ignore them at our peril.

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VENUS AND MARS: Ian Svenonius talks astrology

ARTHUR ASTROLOGY: VENUS AND MARS
By Ian Svenonius

first published in Arthur No. 6 (Sept. 2003)

Predestination: a concept older than free will and borne out by recent scientific elucidations on historical dialectics, genetics and chemical psychology. Each of us is caught in a tangled labyrinth of circumstance and cosmic programming, acting out our grotesque fate in an awful, ignorant manner.

The restless contractions of the astral bodies affect us in a profound way; each offhand movement of a planet can have enormous repercussions for humanity and our various client species, via magnetic fields, space dust and thoughtless lunar alignment. The moon can likewise be an irresponsible entity, tumbling through the sky carelessly, without regard to the tidal waves it may or may not cause. A correlation could be drawn to our own unthinking rearrangement of ant life or microscopic organism culture. This column is a transmission then, not only to the Arthur readers (who have star signs), but to the stars as well, an attempt to get them to understand that even their nonchalant actions have repercussions…

Dear VIRGO,
Your sign has been seen by you as a prison cell, a life sentence, an inhabited hell on earth. At birth (or was it conception?) you mourned your fate, sensing destiny’s cruel joke on you. A quick survey confirmed that indeed, you were superior to everyone; you had no peers. You attempt to help the sheep with their painful inadequacy. Still, the burden of being an almost-alien talent/beauty/intellect is poignant, and typically leads to self-induced disfigurement (Michael Jackson) and/or willful mental retardation (Gene Simmons, Bruce Springsteen, Chrissie Hynde) so as to mollify the resentment of the flock.

As the perfect VIRGO, the key to overcoming this self-destructive pitch toward mediocrity is to ponder the twin bromides: “nobody’s perfect” and “practice makes perfect.” Though paradoxical, each venerable maxim is as correct as the other one (a=b). Seen as a simple arithmetic, one concludes from the computation of the two truisms “practice makes perfect” ( x2 = p) and “nobody’s perfect” (n=p) that x squared=n (practice makes nobody) meaning that 2/n=x (nobody divided by 2 equals practice) so x or practice=yob or don, which denote an English commoner and an Italian man of stature respectively and which also = p and so even the commoner is shown to be amongst the perfect, a revolutionary sentiment and a stop order to your own disgusting habit of self-denigration.

Dear LIBRA,
You are the Judge, your bizarre paradox held in the balance of your symbolic scales. A self-righteous gourmet, a fist-shaking hedonist; like an anointed emir whose finger foods and harem are presumed god given, you should be a target of outrage—but somehow, through cosmic arrangement, you’re charming and delightful. Stunning even. And above reproach. Because cosmology appointed your vile hypocrisy, it stands as a beacon to the impossibility of a common standard for all mankind. Therefore, like your astrological brethren, Nietzsche, Bolan, Bardot and Coltrane, you are absolved of a frail and petty nature. Your pious sanctimony actually shines a light toward mutual acceptance and you are encouraged to “keep on keepin’ on.”

Dear SCORPIO,
You are magic when we are alone. The fluid extension of my own thoughts, our communication is as easy and lucid as a fevered dreamscape. But when others intrude, you become strange, distant, perverse and sometimes rude. I grow accustomed to meeting you only in your domain; you rule a dark grotto, the underworld, an interior place through which only two can travel. When circumstances become socialized and introduced into a casual commonality, you rebel, rend and destroy the self-satisfied banter of consensus. This disarming characteristic must now be utilized as a revolutionary weapon to awaken the culture from its fascist monologue. Inject your scorpion’s venom into the one-sided conversation and cause the pundits to wither!

Dear SAGITTARIUS,
You feel lost now; your man beast posture was feted in other eras but now has been deemed irrelevant by the moralistic arbiters who rule us. They have a new consumerist hedonism they are propagating and your animist and thoughtful rutting doesn’t fit their beer commercial scheme. Your philosophical meandering and polymorphous perversity have become marginalized as anti-social factors, leaving you to roam the shrinking forest with the displaced fauna. Don’t run into the road with the other critters though; you’ll end up roadkill like fellow centaurs Jim and Jimi and so many badgers and possums, driven to death by technocratic despotism. Stay in the woods now (remember M-26-7 in the Maestra or the VC; waiting is half the battle).

Dear CAPRICORN,
You have built a wonderful kingdom and yet you are not sated. It is your noble will to attain the highest perch, but when you get there, to the top of grand old Everest, you find it crowded with snowboarders and school groups. You must reconfigure your aims, this banal race is unedifying and already lost. It will lead you to the conclusion: “While you will never be the first to climb Mt. Everest, you could still be the first to explode it with a nuclear device.”

Dear AQUARIUS,
Your revolutionary fervor has always been mediated by an underlying conservatism which makes you popular at dinner parties. The balance is important, so as to ensure proper digestion. It’s time now to reverse the equation and underpin tradition with insurrection; the tradition of violent destruction a la red terror and Robespierre. This splendid flip-flop is what has rewarded Aquarians through history with the mantle of memorability…which is the bedrock of tradition after all.

Dear PISCES,
It’s true the world is against you. Despite your amusing crankiness they want to wipe you out. It’s a stone age urge, to destroy what they can’t conceive of. Like a Confucian on Madison Avenue, you are despised. Tonight should be spent sharpening sticks and covering them in urine.

Dear ARIES,
You are the eternal Warrior. You come from the land of ice and snow…where the hot winds blow. Your life has been tattooed by controversy because of a propensity to spring to arms and vengeance when others would mediate or passively burn. Reared in chainmail diapers, hacking with a rusty sword, the stars allotted you not a home, but a trench, encrusted with barbed wire. Even in victory, you were often feared and shunned. But now you are vindicated, because the sheet is torn off and the world is revealed to be in a constant state of violent struggle; classes, nations, races, genders perverted by the money god and wrapped in a state of vicious tumult. Your particular, unequaled passion is needed now like important Aries’ in the past (V. I. Lenin). You are not the problem, but the solution. You must rise to be… Overlord.

Dear TAURUS,
It’s difficult to be held up to such esteem. The namesake for your archetype; respected, feared and therefore slaughtered by a matador for the amusement of a crowd… A sense of this exploitive, patronizing theatre is what fuels your famous rage at the most mundane circumstance. But a rearrangement of perspective invites your mind to India where the Bull is revered and even sacred, an untouchable agent of harmony. An occasional trip to the sub continent via meditation will keep you balanced as you walk through the “china shop” of life.

Dear GEMINI,
You’ve always identified with the loser. It is the Gemini’s “twin” nature to see through the eyes of the hapless and ennobled sufferer (a la Morrissey and Ray Davies). This has graced you with a sympathetic manner which grants you access to the inner sanctums of the most exclusive backyards and basements. Yet, at a certain point, it’s no longer enough to commiserate with victimization. To identify with the loser predestines loss and you can no longer afford to lose. Losing means Camp X-ray or worse and eventual mass extinction for everything worthwhile. Read Mao’s VI. IMPERIALISM AND ALL REACTIONARIES ARE PAPER TIGERS for “winning” inspiration.

Dear CANCER,
Your sidestepping style is the template for all future endeavors. With our linear mode of thinking discredited by the impending armageddon, we see that lateral movement is really the “way to go.” You must proselytize the fine points of this crustacean manner to those laboring in the illusory “race.”

Dear LEO,
Your mane is looking bedraggled of late as you see your “jungle kingdom” under new governance. Due to the deficit, the International Monetary Fund have been established as interim rulers and they’ve decided a rearrangement of the economy is in order. The jungle will have to be clear-cut so as to establish a “special zone” without labor laws for the textile industry. You can either stay and work on Tommy Hilfiger tank tops for nine cents a day or flee into the hills with your AK-47. I know you’ll make the right choice.


Ian Svenonius: facebook

WHEN GOOD PRANKSTERS GO CHRISTIAN: Christopher Noxon on the L.A. Cacophony Society (Arthur, 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 6 (Sept. 2003)

When Good Pranksters Go Christian
For years, the L.A. Cacophony Society was a haven for creative misfits with a sense of humor. Then tragedy struck, and everything changed.

By Christopher Noxon
Photography by Jack Gould

A new product appears on the shelves of a Los Angeles toy store. It’s a stuffed white teddy bear, sweet and fluffy and unremarkable but for one thing: It’s filled with concrete. The bear’s name, the label announces, is “Cement Cuddler.” A warning is attached: “Unfortunate child, do not mistake me for a living thing, nor seek in me the warmth denied you by your parents. For beneath my plush surface lies a hardness as impervious and unforgiving as this world’s own indifference to your mortal struggle.” Baffled clerks quickly remove the item.

A bus traveling through the Mission District of San Francisco pulls to a stop and picks up a man in a purple wig, pancake makeup and a polka dot jumpsuit. He takes a seat and flips open a newspaper. At the next stop, a woman wearing a rubber nose and carrying a toy poodle pays her fare and plops down with a sigh. Another clown climbs aboard at the next stop, and the one after that, the bus gradually filling up with men and women in full clown costumes, each apparently unaware of the others.

A knot of spectators gathers at the 22-mile mark of the Los Angeles Marathon. Others along the route flash thumbs-up signs and offer hoots of encouragement, but this group has other things in mind. As the weary athletes pass, they offer malt liquor, lap dances, donuts, pork rinds, and lit cigarettes, which they call “sport smokes.” One holds a sign: just give up.
Such are the works of the Cacophony Society, a loose group of art pranksters and satirists based in San Francisco and active in Los Angeles, Brooklyn and 20 other cities in the U.S. and Canada. Members don’t join for God or profit or art or politics. They join for what they call “the pursuit of experiences beyond the mainstream,” which translates as elaborate pranks and public spectacles that, just for a moment, tear the fabric of everyday life.

The Los Angeles chapter is among the most active of Cacophony’s “lodges,” organizing more than 500 public stunts and nonsensical spectacles since 1991. You might have spotted them outside the Academy Awards, picketing for more onscreen male nudity. A week later, the same group hosted a “yard sale from hell” in which customers pawed through bottles of expired prescription drugs and mud sculptures. A few years ago the Cacophonists filled four charter buses with 200 drunken revelers dressed in Santa costumes and made a stop at a holiday display sponsored by the Church of Scientology. After heckling the costumed elves, juggling the prop presents and yanking Scientologist Santa’s beard, the red-suited mob retreated to the bus and peeled away.

In certain counter-culture circles, Cacophonists are modern day Masons, mixing social activism with acts of goofy public exhibitionism. Los Angeles membership hovers around 200, with a core “strike force” of 40 including a Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer, a guy who removes dead animals from under houses, and a number of semi-employed artists, punks, eBay merchants, and dot-com casualties. Among these assorted malcontents, Cacophony has fostered something approaching contentment. “When I was growing up, I was always called immature or crazy or strange,” says Michael Perrick, a Web site designer who performs as a party clown called Fucko. “I was told I’d never have a normal life. Then I met these people who, when I said, ‘I want to run down the street naked and covered in mud,’ they wouldn’t bat an eye. Someone would grab a camera and say ‘Let’s go.'”

The group also attracts weekend eccentrics who use Cacophony as a way to safely dip their toes in the underground while remaining on solid footing in their everyday lives. What’s unusual is that no one appears to dwell on–or even make–distinctions between the full-time freaks and the recreational ones, says TV writer Michael Perry, who has fallen in and out of Cacophony between stints on Law & Order, NYPD Blue and The Practice. “I have no idea what most people in Cacophony do for jobs, and they know nothing of what I do for a job, and that’s kind of great,” Perry says. “L.A. can be so craven and horrible, and here there’s none of the corporate cultural element that blinds you to the actual possibilities of life.” (Perry helped organize a “JFK assassins reunion,” in which participants came costumed as their favorite suspect – for one night a dingy downtown bar was overrun by mob bosses, CIA agents, Cuban revolutionaries, and a communist bear. The evening ended with the messy detonation of a papier-mache JFK head.)

* * *

I first encountered Cacophony six years ago when I took some out-of-town friends to a Halloween haunted house in the flats of East Hollywood. Our friends were visiting from Sonoma, where they collect vintage wine and grow organic vegetables. Stepping inside, we were greeted by a man wrapped in cellophane fondling a length of sausage between his legs. Nearby was a fellow in a blood-drenched butcher’s smock and a plastic baby mask. On the walls were pages torn from fat-fetish porn magazines. Exiting the room required passing through a curtain of beef tongues. By the time it was over, we’d been flashed by a woman in a Mother Teresa costume, offered pieces of Spam sushi, and witnessed a guy in surgical blues remove with a vacuum cleaner the viscera of a man lying on a gurney.

Back on the sidewalk, my friend the earth mother looked up from her blood-splattered blouse and smiled brightly. “That sure was more interesting than the Getty Center.”

Over the next few years I stopped by several more Cacophony events, including a screening of hygiene movies and the bonfire of a member’s personal belongings on a beach below the runway of Los Angeles International Airport. Some of the events seemed anti-consumerist, others purely obnoxious. Cacophonists walked the finest of lines, of constantly being in on the joke but playing as if they weren’t. When I first started talking to Cacophonists I found I didn’t know when they were being serious. A few months later, I realized that most of the time, they don’t know when they’re being serious.

Then about two years ago, the simmer of insincerity boiled over. Over the course of a few weeks, the group was consumed by an escalating series of in-jokes, put-ons, half-truths, and one shocking tragedy. Members who had become so adept at mocking the mainstream found their attention turned on themselves, as they traded threats of lawsuits, rumors of resurrections, and then, suddenly, grief over the mysterious and utterly unfunny death of one of their own.

What had seemed funny for so long was suddenly very sad.

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