Category Archives: Writing

Dr. Evermor

2020 took many things from us. And many people. But Dr. Evermor is a hard one for me. 

He had an interesting niche and perfect timing. And he’s got a great story… 

Born Thomas Every, he was a scrap guy. A demolition man. People paid him to scrap stuff.  He would deconstruct things and that was his business. Come with a crane and a crew and some trucks… take a building down, haul it away to the dump. But he didn’t trash all of it…

The choicest pieces he put in a meadow behind his friends business: Deleny’s Surplus. The stuff just sat there for a few decades. Some old trucks, tons of steel and the scraped remains of the industrial revolution. Thomas Every scrapped power plants, beer vats, Victorian elevators, steam systems and railroad cars. And kept the beautiful parts and pieces from a time where form and function were both held to the same high standards of beauty. 

Then he started working for a guy named Alex Jordan. He was a billionaire in the 70’s. Who knows how much cocaine was involved. Alex was building a house. On a rock. Thomas helped him. For a few years. Alex stiffed him. Thomas lost everything. His house. His business. His wife left him and took the kids. Who knows. It was bad. He ended up living in a shipping container behind Deleny’s. In Wisconsin. In the winter. Alex’s House on the Rock became a huge hit, a tourist destination for thousands and thousands of people. Thomas became bitter and angry. And decided to kill himself. 

And he went about it in the most fascinating way… 

He became an avatar: Dr. Evermor. And he built a copper egg rocket to blast himself to the heavens. He built a viewing stand for the king and the queen to watch the event. He needed power to blast off, so he pointed 16 Tesla Coils at the egg, powered by Juice Bugs… there was a whole spiel, I can’t remember all the patter… it’s been a while… 

This “set” of his suicide took him like 8 years to build. He finished in the early 90’s. I found him in 1996 on tour with the circus. In a very odd way… you see, Doc has the Guinness Book for “world’s largest metal sculpture.” Someone brought a copy of the Guinness Book on the circus tour. While hanging around somewhere, I picked it up and was looking through it, wondering if Guinness Book just charges people to be in it (they do!). And I saw that entry: “Baraboo, Wisconsin: World’s Largest Metal Sculpture.” I figured it was a grain silo or some shit.

We found ourselves at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, ancestral home of the Ringling Brothers (actually the Rungling Brothers, but who cares). We got in free, so we did the tour. It was horrible. Cringy, full of themselves commercial for their circus. We couldn’t leave fast enough. But when we did, we were turned around: tornado. Cops said we had to drive back east, find shelter. We drove down Route 12 and something caught my eye on the side of the road. And it all clicked. He put a few sculptures on the side of the road, with no sign or explanation. I pulled over. “Where is the book!?” I read the passage again. Sure enough, Route 12, Saux City just outside of Baraboo. Drove up and down. Finally just pulled over and started walking into the woods. When it revealed itself to me, I straight-up-no-bullshit-100%-absolutely fell to my knees. 

He was sitting there. Leaning on his cane. Drinking lemonade. He asked me, without any greeting or whatever: “What did you do today?” 

He was impossible. Hard to work with. Spoke in riddles. Cranky. But he had more talent than could be managed. He was just a visionary. His skill in welding/fabrication was unparalleled. The bird band is made of lawn mower parts and shears for wood planes… His relationship to time was scary. He cared nothing for his health, any practical maintenance, current events, politics or your feelings. He was crazy. I loved him.

029-011

I’m going to spare you all the rest. His sculpture park became more celebrated than the House on the Rock, of course. His wife sort of came back to him, his children love him, he won awards and grants and took on students (hello!) and had all the bragging rights. It ended well. A life well lived. 

He died April 2020. He was 81 years old. 

He called me a few weeks before he died. I was driving my RV with the family going to or from a camping trip. He was yelling: “Chickenjohn, why don’t you do it? Answer me that?” I tell him it’s good to hear his voice, and I tell him that I miss him. “You’re just fuckin around with, just do it or don’t do it. I can smell that jerk-off indecision stuff from here. Ya hear me?” You could hear him. Anyone in the RV could hear him, he’s a yeller. “Yes sir.” I meekly reply. “I gotta go now so you take care. Power on.” And that was it. 

2020 took so many people dear to us. I could do a list but it feels bad to demote someone to a single position on a list instead of having their own woo woo. It’s like 12 people. People who were numbers in my phone. People who held positions that filled needs. People who were the experts of that field in my world. People in my shows. So many at once, it’s just brutal. Cancer, alcoholism, Covid, old age, suicide… combined with the shutdown, the science deniers and the election, it’s just too much.

The grief I feel every day can make my legs feel like lead. It’s just so sad, it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning… but like Doc says, you have to Power On. There can be no spring without winter. I’m looking forward to a post-Trump, post-Covid, post-decimated small business time. Weather that’s spring or summer or fall or whenever. If a man can take discarded scrap and turn it into a magical nirvana of wonder and whimsy and become a top folk art destination even though it was designed to be an execution stage, then there is still some mystical energy left in this world yet. The trick is to find something or someone that gives you power and dip your ladle into that well, and offer yourself munificent dispensations of its manna… 

Reflect, heal, be wisened and never forget…      chicken

Flickr Album Gallery Powered By: WP Frank

happy holidays from chicken

So I invested some money in a novelty game called The Tricky
Triangle. It was a thing you bought bulk for distribution. I was done with the moving company, living in NYC in my $200 van, and I got a windfall of money selling my phone number to a rival moving company. I sold a bunch of musical equipment and other stuff in preparation for my move to the West Coast. It was all the money I had, and I borrowed some: $8,500.

I got 10,000 Tricky Triangles. My plan was to get a vinyl sign made and sell them in malls or flea markets. They came 250 to a box. There were 40 boxes. So many, that with all my other stuff I had to sleep in the front seat of the van. 

 Chicken and Dannygirl hawkin’ triangles at the Bizarre of Bad Taste Cacophony Event in 1994.
Not a single person bought one. Again. 

Tricky Triangle Great Stocking Stuffer

You already know how this ends up. It seemed totally reasonable. Totally doable. For $8,500, I got 10,000 of the product I could easily sell for $3 to $6. At an average of $5 each, I would only need to sell 1,700 to make my investment back. If I could sell 50 to 100 per hour and there were 45 hours of holiday shopping for three weeks, I would sell out.

I ran the math over and over again. “What if I only sell 25 an hour?” Well, then I only make like half my investment back this year, and can try again next year. See, that’s the appeal. To break into a market to see what is what. I needed to make a living and I was very interested in stuff that was winter or Christmas-based, so I could be free in the summer for circus or other stuff… 

I thought that if it got tough, I could go door to door. People did that back then. Go door to door in December selling stocking stuffers. People do that, right? I worked the numbers. Thinking of places that would be good to “set up” at. What kind of place would generate what kind of sales. I went over it again and again. I said to myself: “They are gonna stuff those stockings with something, right?”

Right? 

You already know how this ends up. The feeling of failure and self loathing when I put 15 of the boxes on the curb next to the garbage cans so I could sleep laying down. The dejection. The emasculating horror of 100% rejection. The bitter cold of winter. The bald tires on the van in the ice and snow. Actual hunger but too proud and stubborn to admit to anyone (at the time) that I hadn’t sold a single one. 


I thought for sure I was a natural for the flea market. For selling stuff. For 10 years I tried to sell things. On and off. I even had a junk store on 28th street in SF for a year: Shuck and Jive. Anyone ever go to that? Selling at the flea markets and doing sales requires you have certain ruthless traits. I possess not a drop of ruthless. 


It was a cataclysmic mistake. I let more and more boxes go over the years. I have one Tricky Triangle left. I’m gonna put it in Edsel’s stocking someday when he’s old enough to understand what it’s like to make an actual, tangible, shit just went sideways mistake. 


I can’t remember 1990. I was a high-functioning drug addict. I have phone message pads that my moving company office took, and I have the job logs. So I can actually look through and see where I was on a day to day. I can’t remember any of it. Addiction is weird like that. It seems so impossible that I would gamble the last of my money with no way out on a stocking stuffer. I was truly out of my fucking mind.


Here it is, The Tricky Triangle for sale on Ebay in England for the equivalent of  minimum wage in 1984 ($3.35). THIRTY YEARS LATER. 

May 20th, 1992 was the first day to not do heroin on purpose. Some days we were doing other drugs. But when I knew it was the heroin that was the problem, I was shocked to find out that I was addicted. Because we were snorters, we didn’t think we were junkies. It’s kind of amazing that I wrote the date down somewhere. That it followed from one calendar to another. So I have that information now. Miraculous.  

I’d like to think that it was the drugs that made me invest in the Tricky Triangle. I pepper any/all decisions I make with it’s spice: “the same mind that is making this choice also invested in the Tricky Triangle…” Ask my wife, she’ll tell you.* 

So this is your Christmas Spirit holiday spotlight. Do you have a Tricky Triangle? Of course you do! I wanted to share something about the true meaning of the magic of the holidays, which is what is most important is that we are all here. Together. Laughing at our inabilities and our limitations. I didn’t make any money with the Tricky Triangle, but I learned that I could live in a van, and because I could do that, I did the circus. I didn’t have a wildly successful moving business, but I got good at moving stuff and I use those skills every day. I can’t remember 1990 but I can totally remember 1991, and that was an awesome year… I played with GG in that year and toyed with the idea of monastic training to be a Buddhist cleric: at the same time! It’s all just a big mess.  

I hope your life is a mess too. This time of year is a great
opportunity to fuck everything up. If you are ending up with good stories, you’re doing it right. 

Chicken    

* Don’t actually ask my wife, thanks…

The Art of Doing It Yourself

This is a mini-doc from KQED about my book release party. I wrote a book that was designed to “save” the Chez Poulet (my old warehouse needed $200K to satisfy a loan)  from the predatory mortgage I signed on to (I had no choice). The 13 minute video is super well done, watch it!


So my dear friend Kate wanted to do an interview with me. For her podcast, or something. I said yes, of course. Happy to help. I thought she was going to talk to me about Bernie or Libertarian stuff, because it was September and the election was coming up. We started the interview, and she started asking questions about my books and about the magic of show and I have to admit: I was rusty! Years of toil and diapers and infrastructure, I haven’t spent much time on the intellectual side of town… I did the best I could.

But I finally asked her, what is it that she is looking for? Context! Turns out she is doing a podcast on toxic masculinity and since I’m a paradox (I’m a manly man welder/fabricator who can survive the apocalypse with 16” of twine but also a Buddist-adjacent pacifist prankster who is into elves), and wants to know how much macho bullshit was there in the punk scene in the 80’s. Now we have something I can help with… as I was explaining to her the ethos that we made up as we went along which spilled onto a world stage, she was perplexed. “What do you mean by that?” she said. “Do I know about this ethos you are talking about?” It’s funny that so much time has gone by that people don’t connect the DIY movement with punk. But they are one and the same…

When people on the outside look into our community, they see something we don’t: they see DIY. It’s just our normal. We eat roadkill, keep chickens, repair our cars, build our houses, defend ourselves in court, homeschool our kids and make our cars run on wood. We make our own booze, hats, shoes, clothes, jewelry and grow some kind bud. All this is normal to us. We are makers. Doers. We do it ourselves. DIY. Not all DIY is punk, but the entire punk movement was DIY. And put DIY on the map. The punks had their own venues, their own zines, their own labels and their own bookstores. The DIY movement and the punk movement are kind of inseparable. No matter what kind of music you like. As far as I’m concerned, if it’s not some corporate bubblegum crap: it’s punk rock. Moldy Peaches? Punk Rock. Johnny Cash? Punk Rock. Joey Bada$$? Punk Rock. Tom Lehrer? Punk Fucking Rock (look him up!). 

I explained to Kate that I was proud of the DIY thing. That it wasn’t just a phase. That we are here, still doing it ourselves. All of it. Any of it. As much of it as we can. The artist Swoon, myself and 40 others collaborated on the Swimming Cities project: DIY boats handmade from trash, a floating stage for a confusing show. The boats ended up in a museum show. And somehow this quote ended up on a plaque in that museum:

I admit it: getting published by a reputable publisher was attractive to me. That I could say that Simon and Schuster published my book would give me a certain “I made it” credit. Of course, I haven’t made it. I know I haven’t made it. But I admit that there was a gravity to that. That they would send me on a book tour, and I’d be part of their catalogue and my book would be in every bookstore in the country… that’s appealing. And that they would pay me. They give a big advance, right? $100,000 or something? 

Wrong-o. If you are a new writer you can’t get published by a big name publisher unless you have an agent. And if you send your stuff to an agent, guess what they say? “Well, there is some good stuff in here. You’re going to have to edit it for a wider appeal to get a deal. I can help you do that, but you’d have to pay me for consulting…” it’s a pay-to-play real estate scam. The real estate, in this case, is the space your book takes up in the bookstores and the catalog of the “legit” publisher. You pay the agent, hoping to get published but you never do. And if by some miracle you do, they only give tiny advances. Like $5,000. And you sign away basically everything. So like after you sell 10,000 copies of a book, the publisher breaks even, then you get $.30 cents a book. 35,000 books sold is a “best seller,” so you can make a whopping $7,500. Along with your $5,000 advance, you just made $12,500 for your life’s work IF it becomes a best seller. This is what happens when “they have the ball.”

I self-published my book. I made 2,500 copies. They cost like $8 each to print, incurring all costs (printing, proofreading, layout, design, photographers, slip cases, taxes, etc…). I had 72 artists do a hand-made slip case adorned with art (painted, metal fab, collage, etc…) that I sold, with a book, for $250 each.

Swoon made me 400 slip cases with art on them signed and numbered, sold those for $250 each.

I put a coupon in each book at the back, good for one Anything.

Sold those for $100.

Sold just the book with the coupon ripped out for $40. 

So it was $18,000 for the fancy covers, $35,000 for the Swoon ones, $45,000 for the $100 ones, $48,000 for the $40 ones… total: $140,000.

I still have like 50 of those books left, PayPal Chickenjohn@chickenjohn.com $40 if you want one.

That money floated the Chez from being a place where people lived, to a venue where people just made art and did shows. And until I got a better loan, that made sense. When I did get a better loan, the Chez had seven amazing years of thousands of shows from weddings to drawing nights to porn shoots, dinners, movie screenings and everything else. I sold the building in 2018 after the city denied me the permits I would need to operate legally (and get insurance). But without that book money I would have been forced to sell in 2011, at the bottom of the market. And we would have missed those seven years and over 1,800 shows… 

If you watch the video at the top of this post, you will see what the filmmakers saw when they looked in to where we are: they see the DIY. The title for the mini-doc wasn’t determined ahead of time. It was coined after they made the film. Because that’s what they see. That we do it all ourselves. It’s what Kate sees when she looks into our world. She sees the tools and the mess and how effective we are. The dark side is that usually when you deal with professional services, they lord over any information or skills they have. The DIY people are opposite of that. They are giving free workshops and making YouTube videos of how to hack your cars computer to get it to burn vegetable oil instead of diesel or how to make a composting toilet or winning the X prize. This is kinda important. Not getting caught in the “lording over the information” trap is imperative if you want to replicate and make other people into makers. It’s kind of an unspoken moral code of our secret club that isn’t a secret. Anymore.

So when you are doing something yourself, whatever it is, you aren’t alone. You are part of a group of persons who are shirking their duty as slaves of consumer culture. Free thinkers who subvert the dominant paradigm by doing things outside of commerce and solving problems using time and “gumption” instead of money. I say it is an art. Or at least an opportunity to weave art into all that we do… 

“Finally, if you’re as exasperated as I am by the parts problem and have some money to invest, you can take up the really fascinating hobby of machining your own parts. […] With the welding equipment you can build up worn surfaces with better than original metal and then machine it back to tolerance with carbide tools. […] If you can’t do the job directly you can always make something that will do it. The work of machining a part is very slow, and some parts, such as ball bearings, you’re never going to machine, but you’d be amazed at how you can modify parts designs so that you can make them with your equipment, and the work isn’t nearly a slow or frustrating as a wait for some smirking parts man to send away to the factory. And the work is gumption building, not gumption destroying. To run a cycle with parts in it you’ve made yourself gives you a special feeling you can’t possibly get from strictly store-bought parts.” 

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Bottlerockets

I made $29.43 a second doing fundraising, once. For three minutes, 40 seconds, I sang Come Sail Away, by Styx. Karaoke style. In a sailor suit. To raise money for junkboats to Europe.

People paid me because, if you didn’t already know, I have a beautiful singing voice! OK, that’s not true. They paid $10 each for bottlerockets that they shot at me while I sang the stupid song.

Some people paid over PayPal, because they couldn’t be there at the show. We promised to write their names on the rockets. Halfway through the show I threw the “proxy” rockets out into the crowd, because they were out. It’s just a guttural, stupid fundraising technique. And boy is it effective:

I’ve done dunk tanks. I’ve told little girls that they “Throw like a little girl” from the perch of a dunk tank (dad came and gently pushed the lever as his stern, judgmental stare threw me off the deck of a ship into the abyss of the sea…)

This is from the Odeon Bar opening benefit show at CELL space, where they had a strict “No Alcohol” policy. We did a great show. We sold tap beer all night. Towards the end of the night we uncovered the dunktank.

Chris Karney on this mike announced “You’ve been drinking non-alcoholic beer all night!” Watching all my ex-girlfriends line up waving $20 bills to soak my ass was pretty terrifying. People weren’t even throwing the ball, just running up and hitting the armature. Cigerette butts floating in it. Beer cans. Garbage. Man, that was fun.

I’ve suffered for my art. Sure. We’ve all suffered for my art! Suffering for money is a fundraising path I’m no stranger to. Here is what $100 donation from Tom Price looks like:

The night I did the bottlerocket stunt, Eileen almost left me. She didn’t get it. But now when Come Sail Away comes on the radio, a smile breaks out on her face. Which you can’t see because her head is in her hands… 

I have threatened to wash cars in a bikini to raise money for art. It hasn’t come to that. Yet. It might! 

Photos on Flickr

BottleRockets

Flickr Album Gallery Powered By: WP Frank

Chicken’s arts nonprofit, The San Francisco Institute of Possibility, is raising funds toward a $20k goal for 2020!

Here’s a few ways to support: 

Did you know I was in a New Wave band that played punk rock called Sissy?

Well, I have put the songs on Bandcamp for you to enjoy for free (or purchase, if you are so inclined). I wrote a little thing here to give you some context:

It was the 80’s. There was a lot of cocaine, sure. There was a lot of hairspray. Yes. Chuck had played in like hundreds of bands as a hired gun. He was way better than 100% of the other people he played with. He thought that would matter. But he wanted to play. And his definition of success changed over time. I had been telling him for years that if we put something together and tour it for a few years something would happen. But if we waited for someone else’s something to happen, we would wait forever. I had been using his studio for years to record songs just for fun and put a demo together for a band I called Nerve. This would be 1989 or so. I made 20 tapes. A guy from Atlantic who repped three bands that owed me money for moving equipment for them promised to listen to it. He called me and said he wanted to meet the band. So me and Chuck went to meet him. He asked where the singer was, we were dumbfounded. He thought the singer was a girl. Told us to change the name of the band to Sissy. 

We were entrenched in the New York music scene. Chuck owned two studios. I owned a cartage (moving) company. A year went by. Then another. We worked like dogs. Pushing huge piles of money around, never being able to keep any of it. In 1992 I booked a summer tour with Letch Patrol. Halfway through the tour Chuck woke up one day and told me to cut his hair. This would mean that he would never again get hired by a metal band to play drums. And that was kinda that day that we knew that after that tour we would leave NYC. All totally unspoken. A scissor. A look. A resolve. 

We wrote songs instantly. As if picking up laundry. Or walking a dog. We never thought about the content or the skill required to implement the content. The weakest part of the band was my voice, but three female singers made it all work. We wrote me out of a few songs, even. But never recorded them. The content on Ridin’ The Old Wave is pieced together from demos, and some of it is re-recorded and it’s disappointing that it’s not better, but I feel lucky any of it is here, it was gone so fast. 

We packed up our things and sold our businesses in a relatively short time. A few months. Moved to San Francisco. I started booking the first Sissy tour. We found a rehearsal space and I would play there, alone, late into the night working on my singing. There would be another guy there playing drums until 2 or 3 in the morning. Boz. One night I walked around and found his studio and asked him to join Sissy, without ever meeting him or seeing what he looked like. Just talking to him through the door. “Hey! Are you in a band? I have a tape, open the door!” He couldn’t hear me. I would later find out that Boz is the kid brother of one of Chuck’s childhood friends. How is that possible? 

Chuck died of a drug overdose a few weeks after we settled in SF. I never really recovered from that. The pall that came that day never really went away. I never really played music again, although I tried. I have lost the ability to write songs, which is alarming. Weird thing, that. I still can’t believe he is gone. That it’s been 27 years. That he has been gone as long as he was alive. 

Flickr Album Gallery Powered By: WP Frank

I play these songs on acoustic guitars around fires on camping trips. Maybe you’ve heard one. King of the Highway is Alice’s favorite. Listen to that song and imagine driving a 26’ truck in the rain overnight. Stay awake! Fall asleep… hit the jersey barrier… refrain, chorus, end… True song!

Well, I hope you enjoy the music.

Photos/videos of Sissy can be found on my Flickr page.

Bandcamp Link


The Gong Show

All of our work in the game show field came to a stunning pinnacle with our version of the Gong Show. 18 acts competed for a grand prize: Two Burning Man tickets and the BM Kit: a handful of drugs, sunblock, a pair of shitty bongos and two gallons of water. 

The show had it all: Danger! Comedy! Abandon! And our very own Popsicle Twins, the act that got the Gong Show cancelled from NBC in 1978. Mark Pauline of Survival Research Laboratories built a giant pneumatic gong for the show, and acted as one of three judges, Lisa Leathertongue as the second judge, and Sebastian Melmouth as the third. 18 acts competed. Many were brutally gonged. The judges didn’t like David Jesse, the ukulele player, nor did they like Don Paul Swain, the knife thrower who put the love of his life against a wooden board and threw knives at her, hitting her in the chest three times. It was so sad to see all the air deflate from her chest, her mouth open in defiance, his love will need to be patched it seems. Those inflatable love dolls are expensive! 

The judges didn’t like the BMX bike troupe, who accidently smacked an audience member. They didn’t like the Popsicle Twins, who were just two 12-year-old girls eating popsicles. Slowly. Licking. The. Popsicles. Ok, they weren’t really 12 years old but it was the act that the censors ended the real Gong Show over, so we had to do it. This is 25 years ago, we would never do that now. Or would we? 

The judges did like Roller Rex, rollerskating over a ramp through an actual flaming hoop doing a flip into the crowd! They loved Mikl-Em and Seth trashing a hotel room. They adored the arial stylings of Sadie Masochista and the Harmon-arachies. It’s all in there!

Our Unknown Comic (Eric Solmanson) got drunk before the show so you can hardly understand his jokes. You’re not missing much. Our Gene Gene the Dancing Machine played by Godd Todd was a late edition to the show, the junk we throw at him from backstage is ACTUALLY just stuff that was around. ZERO preparation! Chaos Kitty sucking the mop has to be a historic moment in show business. 

Here is a list of the acts:

David Jessie Ukulele 

Capt. Catastrophe

Persephone

BMX bike troupe

Robert Burke the limbo king

Don Paul Swain knife thrower

Roller Rex

Popsicle Twins

Unknown Comic

Try This At Home

Unnamed Contortionist 

Harmonarahies

Sadie Masocista 

Gene Gene the Dancing Machine

Michael Pepe, monologist 

David Jessie, ukulele 

Chaos Kitties, Conjoined twin splodge act


You can watch the Gong Show video here:

30 minute edited version:


Here is the original 60 minute version, with the acts in their entirety:

Of course, this is just one of fifty game shows we did.

You can see some videos and photos here.

Some of the game shows were ones that you know, like Hollywood Squares:

Or Jeopardy:

But some of them were brand new ones that we wrote. Which isn’t easy!

Here is a photo from the show “Is It Art?”

Here Bill the friendly junkman gets a new look on “The Iron Barber”:

Here is one from my personal favorite: “What’s Up My Butt!”

I did game shows for like five years. Hal became the announcer, it was perfect. He is such a wealth of talent. Lera was the perfect scorekeeper, with her Stanford education, she was the most over-qualified person in any position for 500 miles in any direction. Here we are, ready to steward game shows and disperse valueless prizes:

We also simulcast the shows. In the photos and videos, you might see that the performance space is littered with TV’s. They all work. We would video the show as it was happening, and pump that signal (with no audio) to the TV’s. They were all set to black and white. It looked like this:

That’s why we wore all those tacky 70’s clothes. So when you looked at the TV, it looked like a re-run from a 70’s game show. It worked. The audience would watch the show either live, or on the TV’s. We would use a $25 broadcasting box we got at Radio Shack. It was only good for a couple hundred feet, and we would broadcast on UHF channel 13. This is how we did porneokie, but that my friend, is another story…

Flickr Album Gallery Powered By: WP Frank

The amazing Jarico Reese

I met Justin at an open mike night at the Nova Express in Los Angeles in 1994. He was 19. He lived in a one-room apartment with his mom. He told me, woozy drunk swaying back and forth, that he worked in a parking lot. That he spent his days drinking coffee and making sure that every car in the parking lot had a yellow sticker on the windshield, and that if someone parked there without the sticker he was supposed to call a number written down on a piece of tape on the wall by the phone in the little booth by the driveway entrance of the lot.

He worked there for two years and never called the number once. He wrote poems and stories in a notebook he carried with him everywhere he went. He dressed oddly, a mixture of cowboy and Goth. I told him I was throwing a circus, and if he wanted, to join. That I was going to go on a tour that would traverse the continent, and that he should come up with an act. He said he always wanted to be a magician. If you met him for five seconds, you would know why this is so funny. 

Justin is clumsy. Less now than when he was a kid, but not like with him body as much as with his mannerisms. He’s naturally funny, whimsical and authentic. He’s charming. But he bumbles. And he drinks. A lot. Which amplifies the charm, the bumble and the clumsy. To say it can be amusing would be downplaying it. The guy is a natural born clown. It’s perfect. How he met me was just by chance. But man, did that work. He was buying 100% of what I was selling. He chose the name Jarico Reese as his “Magician” name.

I gave him the moniker: “If it’s magic it’s a miracle!

Ladies and Gentlemen: Jarico Reese!”

His magic act with the circus started out getting an audience member to cut their own shoelace in half with a scissor, which he would then duct-tape back together. Wearing a glittery turban and a red cape, he would levitate a Styrofoam cup (by jamming his thumb through it) as the audience groaned. He was the only person who lasted in the circus through all the tours. Actually, Dammitina as well, but I digress…

035-031

He was always helpful, cheerful, positive. He was super young, but willing to learn stuff. When he came to me he didn’t know how to use a screwdriver. By the last tour we used his bus and he was a decent mechanic. His act got better too. At the end, it was the best act in the show. Besides the dog, of course.

He would come out on stage and start to explain what he was going to do, and the band would interrupt him with a musical TA DA! He would turn and yell at them, explaining off mike (but you could still hear) that they had to TA DA! after he produced the magic act. Not before. Magic, then TA DA! “Got it?” The band would agree. Then he would continue to describe the act to the crowd. And the band would interrupt him again, the drummer blaming the bass player, the bass player blaming the horns, everyone pointing at everyone else. He would yell at them, tell them to smoke more pot. Tell them to get over themselves. Ask them what restaurant they worked in, that kind of stuff. The band would either blame, apologize or look aloof.

He would finally, after like 12 excruciating minutes of this interrupting, do a “magic” trick. No Ta Da!, no nothing. The band totally silent. The drummer was gone, the bassist was reading a newspaper, the horns were playing cards, the keyboard player was trimming his nose hairs in a mirror. Jarico would storm off the stage. I, your host, would slowly meander back on stage confused, and then just introduce the next act. It was SUPER UNCOMFORTABLE. And absolutely funny. Just brutal. 

One night, after his act, Jarico was backstage punching a cement wall and verbally frustrated. He had been drinking. I asked him what was wrong. He told me that the band “Just pisses me off.” I asked him what he meant. He replied: “Every night, it’s the same thing. They just fucking interrupt me and they think they are such hot shit. Fuck!” I explain to him that this is the act. That’s what they are supposed to do, it’s funny. I remind him that he isn’t actually a magician, and that he can’t actually produce feats of magic. He replies: “Yea, I know. But it just pisses me off!” That’s some Method acting right there!!!

After the second tour, Jarico moved to SF. I got him a job at Ace Auto, and he became very dirty. He loved it. That year I invited the Hard Times Bike Club to join the circus. They only lasted two weeks, but they left all their bikes. Jarico took up the mantle, and bonded to the bikes. After the circus, I did the Odeon Bar and Jarico did the Cyclecide Bike Rodeo. He led his own troupe of misfit toys around the country, it was fantastic. 

Jarico also did some modeling. Totally! Here is a fashion shoot he did! Didn’t see that coming, did ya? 

Well time does go on. And Dammitina turned sweet 16 about ten years after the last circus tour. I decided to do a reunion show. I made the calls, booked the venue. We planned on doing a rehearsal at my house the night before, to go over the material and work some stuff out. I invited Jarico to come to the rehearsal of course. He came an hour late. Drunk.

“It’s time to practice my act!” he declared. We had already gone over it. The band knew what to do. But Jarico insisted he teach them how to do it. “OK OK OK. Here’s how it works…” he said to them, swaying back and forth with a cigarette between his lips staring intently at a styrofoam cup he was holding. “Here’s the beginning of my act, I come out on stage and” TA DA!! the band interrupts him, perfectly. “Hey, just stop playing for a minute, I’m trying to explain how the act works! Now. I come out on stage, then you guys” TA DA!! The band interrupts him again, he’s starting to get mad now. “Quit fucking around, man! You’re not listening to me, you gotta” TA DA!! The band keeps doing the act, perfectly. Amazing timing. But Jarico is too drunk to understand what is happening. And gets really, really mad… “Fuck this, I’m outta here! It’s the same shit! Ten years later, nothing has changed! Same fucking bullshit!” And storms out of the building. 

We laughed so hard we couldn’t breathe. It was the single funniest thing I witnessed in my entire life. It was perfect. Thank you for that, Justin. I will never forget that night. He made the show the next night, we didn’t talk about what happened, he just showed up, did the show. He was great. Dammit did her act, jumped through the hoop, bit the bubbles… she still had it! We all did. Timothey was the best looking temporarily tattooed man we ever had. Look at this hunk:

Chuckles danced with her rat friends. All was right in the world…

My favorite photo of me and Dammitina is from that night:

Bonus: The Email Invitation to the 10th Anniversary Reunion Show… 2007

Well, Jarico is doing alright. He has a son with his wife Linda and is thriving here in SF. Still the same jovial soul, always has a smile on his face.

Here is a Flickr album of photos of Jarico
and some of his artwork I have collected over the years.

If it’s magic it’s a miracle! 

Flickr Album Gallery Powered By: WP Frank

Wizard of Ass

I got pissed off at Larry, and built the ugliest thing on the playa:

Larry wanted me to do something to help him in his battle with the Bureau of Land Management, in regards to providing dumpsters for the people. But we argued, and I did this instead.

Here is the best photo Larry ever took:

This is 1998. Burning  Man hadn’t turned into a rite of passage for Canadians yet. Larry and I had very different ideas of what BM was, what it could be and why. To me, the “No Spectators” thing was a command. It was top-down thinking. Them telling you what to do. The opposite of “Do Whatever You Want.”

Do Whatever You Want easily turns into Anything Can Happen. “No Spectators” is someone pushing you out on the dancefloor even though YOU HAVE SAID 20 TIMES YOU AREN’T IN THE MOOD FOR DANCING RIGHT NOW THANK YOU. 

Enjoy this video of the show I did called:

The Wizard of Ass

Video by Scott Beale

So as you can see, this turned into the Ask Dr. Hal Show. The premise was that the shadecloth that covered the scaffold would make it appear that the ass was floating in the night sky. People tripping balls at BM would see the ass and I would ask them to come and speak to the ass, to ask a question, perhaps. Well, what I didn’t count on was 2,000 people sitting in front of it waiting for ‘the show.’ So we lost that one aspect of it. But it worked as a ‘show’ as well. 

Come on, now. Can you see it?  Giant ass floating in space, you’re all hopped up on goofballs and the ass is talking to you? That’s pretty good, no? Talking to Hal is a trip just sitting with him at a table. I smoked a joint with him once, and he read the sports page to me from a newspaper and it was the funniest thing I ever heard. 

Last summer Hal and I did our 518th Ask Dr. Hal Show (23 years!) at the Wisteria Art and Music Festival. So something must be working… 


1998 was the year that we woke up Tuesday morning after the burn to three inches of water on the playa. 

Portable toilets overflowing. “Dome-ing,” as it were. I was still “the guy” back then, and was partially responsible for whatever went down there. I positioned my clean-up crew at the exits during the exodus, reporting to the revelers leaving that the sheriff is pulling over EVERY CAR. Best to leave your drugs with us. 

Well that was kind of a disaster. Garbage bags full of drugs. Unknown  baggies of who knows what. Weed forever. Pills. Works. Tar. It was a “go to jail forever” amount of drugs. We had enough mushrooms to fix an oil spill. Between the bounty of drugs and the rain (no one in, no one out) it was a perfect storm of bohemian slacker post-event bliss. I was elated by the screaming success of the Wizard of Ass. The video is short but we did the show for hours. It was impossibly grand.

Looking back, being trapped on the playa, all mudded in with a gaggle of freaks and dropouts on the heels of weeks of the hardest work anyone has ever done surrounded by the donations of the community was the freest I have ever felt. I mean, who’s got it better than us? NOBODY!!!!

Perez built a tower in our camp that year. It was so great to have a lookout and watch the sun set from the tower. 

The rain made clean up impossible. Everything was stuck. Had the rain come a day earlier, people would have died. No shit. The site would have been taken over by FEMA. Burning Man would have never happened again. It was a shitshow. Good times… 

Well, Hal and I sure do clean up nice. We both have fond memories of The Wizard of Ass. Larry said he watched the show, and “liked the juxtaposition of Hal’s above-the-collar and my below-the-belt.” 

chicken_hal_white_suit1

I miss Larry. The world is darker with him not in it. 

Enjoy the prose of this email invition for the last Circus Redickuless show from 2007. It’s a good read!!!

Circus Redickuless: Show and Review: 12 Galaxies
Saturday February 24th, 10:00  (2007)

In 1994 I wanted to do something that would impact culture to a degree that I couldn’t understand, using a tool that no one else was using. I couldn’t figger out how to do that, so I started a circus instead. I couldn’t have ever realized that the two would intersect in such a confluence; I ended up living my thesis of “Art for all purposes” using an interesting template…. “No content” as “the content.” I sold people on the idea of providing nothing in the form of a circus show as a way to embrace the most inspiring show we could do. We would have no talent, thereby giving access to anyone.

Then, I toured the show for five years. Actually, you could say I dragged the show around for five years… kicking and screaming and biting. If you could add up the calories spent in throwing a circus, it would likely rival a small war. In the end, I guess it worked. I am proud that I and those with me ‘tipped’ the circus idea and inspired the THOUSANDS of small, independent circuses that popped up here and there shortly after we toured. And longly. And they still are. That’s in the end. But in the beginning, it was just us. And boy, was it lonely. Lemme ‘splain: I call a club to book the circus. The conversation usually went like this:

CHICKEN:

        “Hello there, my name is Chicken John, I’m the director of a small, independent traveling circus that would like to play in your club. Do you have the night of April 23d available?”

GREASY CLUB OWNER:

        “A circus? What kind of music do you play?

CHICKEN:

         “Well, we’re not a band. We’re a circus. A full variety show.”

GREASY CLUB OWNER:
          “If you’re not a band, what kind of music do you play?”

On and on it went. You would say to people that you were a circus, and they would imagine clowns playing the guitar. No, just the clown. No guitar. A 25 person circus with 5 vehicles and 3 dogs. A full three hour show with lights and sound and acrobats and it’s all terrible. We put the OOOP in TROUPE, but we haven’t any talent. It’s the show of schmoes… blab la bla… I would try to explain that we couldn’t actually do anything but that it was actually better. Higher art. That was at first. I of course stopped doing that because no one wanted to book that. I ended up prostituting the idea that, indeed, clowns play the guitar. Clown girls doing strip teases. With, of course, giant boobs. Yes, we juggle. No one got it. Not even most of the people in the troupe. Unbowed, I continued. I thought that I would crack the code. Figger it out. Collect bling. I was young. 

I’m no longer young. But the idea of the circus was an odd Zeitgeist that I participated in.  A renaissance of art. There were a small handful of people who had a proclivity for the old ways… and in 1994, if you remember, it was all about particle board and the Pontiac Fiero. Interesting thing about particle board, like plywood isn’t made of particles… but I digress. The destination was marked, and we all ran screaming towards it. But like an oasis in the desert, the destination kept getting farther instead of further… and we ended up REPLACING instead of changing culture. Capice? It’s not bad, but it’s terribly interesting. It wasn’t a hobby, something that we did while holding down jobs and paying bills. We wandered from town to town trying to get people to come see a show that championed the amateur and the improvisation of a group of idiots with no talent. Without a dollar in our pockets. Seasons melted into years. Affecting culture and living your life as art blurred into survival. It became Quixotic. 

I guess I’m still doing the same thing. Kinda. All the people of the circus were affected by it, understand it and are still contributing in some way. A lot of years have gone by. All the circus people scattered to the four winds. A few of them are gonna come out and play Saturday night, at 12 Galaxies. Why Saturday the 24th of February?

Dammit the Amazing Wonderdog is turning 17 years old. This dog is better traveled then most people I know. She has had the most attention that a dog can possibly have. 25 people to throw the stick. Adoring fans. Her image on t-shirts, posters, coffee mugs and all of Hal Robins’ artwork for the circus. We named the production company after her. She was the only star of the circus. She had a theme song. She is now old. She had a little stroke thing, and is a little crooked. Listing, actually. I want Dammit to hear her song again. I want her to hear the roar of the crowd as she absolutely refuses to jump through the hoop. I want her to take home underage girls from Orinda after the show and tie them up and… oh wait, I do that not Dammit… I want her to do it again while she still can. And she can. Barely, but yes. She can. 

Have you never seen Dammit’s act? Or Jarico’s? Did you know that the Bike Rodeo, the Black Label bike club and the Hard Times guys and Burning Man’s DPW were, at one time, soldiers that saluted one flag? That flag, ladies and gentlemen… was the Circus Redickuless. 

An insult more then a concept, we took acts that generations of people honed to perfection and obliterated them with comedy and beer. With Jim Mason’s Vegomatic of the Apocalypse in the parking lot out back. A gang of angry drunk idiots on tall bikes and clowns that were molesting your girlfriend in the toilet. We were the island of misfit toys on tour. It was an experiment in freedom. In pre-9/11 America. I don’t think you could do that today. The touring part, not the performing part. You can see the performing part in everywhere. It tipped. ‘Other’ entertainments are now the norm. 

As with the Odeon. When I opened the Odeon (the project after the circus) I only booked things that couldn’t find a home elsewhere. By the end of the Odeon’s usefulness, I was competing with all other clubs in SF for ‘my’ acts. Problem solved, time to move on. I’m not saying we were the only ones breaking that horse… I’m just saying that we helped. We’ll have to wait until HBO does the made-for-TV-movie of Steven Raspa’s life before we find out who was REALLY responsible for the ideas that ‘broke’ fun fur and fedoras… and I am not going to be the first person to write a book about something that omits a person or two because I’m an asshole. There are books. And a lot more. 

There is a movie. Phil Glau made a 87 minute film (16mm). A tour chronicle. Tour de Farce. It won 17 film festivals. It’s hard to watch. You’re depressed when it’s done. He just put it out on DVD, with some “10 years later” footage at the end. Seeing Jarico a dozen years ago is magical. We were all children. Dannygirl, Michael Gump, Mark Miller… they will all be at the show. Also David Apocalypse, maybe Tall Who Is Paul, and if we’re lucky we may get author Brian Doherty (This is Burning Man) to do his famous “Human Human” act. Phil will be there with his new DVD. You won’t buy it, but you will feel comforted that you could Google it if ya really wanted to. It’s nice to have that kind of ‘access.’ 

The final nail in the coffin of the Circus was a 13 page spread in Spin magazine. I probably don’t have to tell you what happened after that… lets just say that we couldn’t live up to our own hype. As no one really can. Defined by a story, and no longer available to possibility, the honeymoon ended. No one could run away fast enough. 

We all likely wish we didn’t, now. 

Relevance? You want it to be relevant? You want a point to refer to, so you might understand what is so interesting about a circus with no talent that acted as a catch-all for idiots and savants with no social skills? “This is the only show of its kind!!! Do not settle for expensive imitations…” I’m not taking credit for the Daily Show here… ah fuck it. Yes I am. Incremental steps twards success. Fact is that if Scott Beale didn’t stop, drop and roll and figger out how to make a BBS board and wasn’t a fan of odd and unlikely variety arts, the new renaissance of art would have been a side dish served cold at raves and at warehouse parties that no one could find out about. Scott’s tactical advantage was not only was he presenting something new, but the device that he was using was new as well. And because he’s more interested in playing with tools than counting the money, me and you can freeze the clocks and converse here in cyberspace and huddle in our shelter safe from the machines. For now. 

The Circus Redickuless was a great thing. Come witness failure defeated, mutated into something that can be argued as a sucsess that may or may not be amusing to watch. 

Thrill!

            To the unyielding SPEEDMETAL TAPDANCE

Chill!

            The bone chilling spectacle of the GREAT SILLOUETTO, shadow puppeteer

Spill!

            Your drink, while whistling to Dylan our supple, milky REVERSE STRIPPER

Weep!

            Dr. Hal brings you the truth of the future with OUIGI RAIDO

Puke!

            Our VEGAN GEEK will bite the head off a lettuce

Gargle!

            As our JUGGLER astounds gravity

Blush!

            At our scantily clad TEMPORARALY TATTOOED MAN

Rock!

            To the sounds of the ODEON ALL STAR BAND

Hail!

            To the only star of the circus: DAMMIT THE WONDERDOG

Cringe!

            Ringmonster CHICKEN JOHN sticks stuff up his nose and pulls it out his butt

I sent this to my pal Jim Mason, to see if it was too gushy to send out. This is his response, and a good ending to my bla bla… I hope to see you at the show…

“chicken, you lying whore of black truth.  the circus was nothing like this.  there was no magic of youth and wide open fields of creative discover.  it was, in actuality, the most brutal, degrading, and generally smelly 3 weeks i’ve ever spent in my life.  easily.

nothing about it was redeeming or zeitgeist altering.  but somehow, through some typed incantations, you have proved yet again that withadequate verbal shamalama, the worst and most depressing of human degradations can be respun as high art and creative transcendence. refried bean cans scraped open on the sidewalk and all. if your mother only knew . . . go ahead send it out.

 Jim”