Subject: Belated Sacto Devival Report -- Pop Truwe SPEAKS

Date: Fri, 17 Apr 1998 06:44:56 -0700

From: truwe@swelling-itching-mind.net

Organization: René and Georgette Magritte (with their Dog) after the War

Newsgroups: alt.slack.devo, alt.slack

  

My daughter Anna has been exhorting me to write up my assessment of the

recent Sacramento Devival festivities for the newsgroup.

 

First off, let me point out that I was only there as observer and

parent; though I find myself some sort of member of the Church of

SubGenius through Anna's largesse last Christmas, I don't know much

about the pipe guy and what you people do or don't believe.

 

It's my vague understanding that fifteen or so years ago someone slapped

together some delusions, pasted up some clip art and ran a few ads--and

the thing took. I'm told that this coming Fourth of July flying saucers

will be arriving and will either take away or not take away (I'm a

little hazy on this point as well) those of us who do or don't believe

whatever it is we're supposed to or supposed to not believe. Whatever

the outcome I'm apparently safe, though, because Anna was fond enough of

me to ransom my soul for Christmas.

 

So, at any rate, indulgent parent that I am, we loaded up the nuclear

family in the Family Truckster and set off for the Sacramento Devival to

see what it's all about.

 

And now, with the experience behind me, I'm afraid I'm still as in the

dark as before. I wish I could say the event was an unqualified

success, but it was probably my ranting about it that led to Anna's

encouraging me to write. And I was indeed initially quite willing to

review the event and critically tear it to shreds--until I read the Rev.

Jetrock's official report. It's taken me until now to decide to write

my version because I was just so utterly charmed by the good reverend's

eager, sweet attempt to put the best face on it that I just didn't have

the heart to write what really happened.

 

So maybe I did learn something about the church of the pipe guy: You're

all just a bunch of nice kids trying your darnedest to be

outrageous--shouting that you're angry monkeys and perturbed wombats in

capital letters, when all you really want is attention and acceptance.

 

At any rate, here's what actually transpired at the Sacramento Devival.

First, though, I suppose I should point out that I've presided over and

participated in more than my share of entertainment disasters. I've

done some producing, I've done some solo performing; I've stood both on

and behind the stage and heard the catcalls and silence and the sound of

departing footsteps.

 

But I've learned. I've honed my act so the catcalls and silence fall

pretty much where I want them to, and people don't walk out on me

anymore. They run. If the Family Truckster makes it to New York this

summer, maybe you'll see what I mean.

 

So we arrived in Sacramento, found the dump and seated ourselves in the

front row. And I mean "dump" in the most positive sense. Sure, the

tiny, ancient theater was held together with gaffer's tape and by layers

of grime and decaying paint--but my first, admiring words to Anna were

"We need a theater."

 

At the extreme left of the stage was a disheveled guy in a T-shirt, with

a felt hat that was three sizes too small perched on top of his head as

he fiddled with a PC, amp and speaker. It wasn't until after he was

done fiddling that we knew for sure that he was Krystal Marimba Lounge,

and that the fiddling had been the performance. The "music" was

computer-generated, but sounded (I'm trying to be generous here) as if

it had been generated by an autistic kid with a Casio keyboard under his

right hand and a Speak 'n Spell under his left.

 

Then the angry monkey took the stage in a three-piece suit, and did a

very creditable job of spouting whatever it was he spouted at us.

Really. He was well-groomed and personable and coherent and

spontaneous. I do wish, though, he'd told us that this was going to be

the high point of the onstage entertainment, and that henceforth we'd

have to entertain ourselves.

 

God Hates Computers--three young men from Portland--then set up their

equipment in the narrow space between our knees and the stage, and

proceeded to overmodulate a pretty conventional rock 'n roll set, though

they apparently were under the impression they'd discovered something

new. I was actually impressed with their musicianship, but wished

they'd made a tiny effort to let us in on the act: It was quite a new

experience to hear someone introduce a song ("This is a song about" such

and such), and then not be able to understand or even lip-read a single

word of the song, even though I was three and a half feet from the

singer. These kids nowadays and their rocking roll....

 

It didn't take long for God Hates Computers to decide that they hated us

(the audience), and they made no secret of it. Apparently we weren't

responding correctly: They wanted the fifty or so people scattered in

the hall at the time to be alternately dancing (or at least standing)

and wildly cheering. Maybe when they're older they'll learn that a

performance is too fragile an organism to ever blame its miscarriage on

the audience. They were fighting a bad sound mix, a small house,

audience expectation and bad setup (they should have performed on the

stage), not a bad audience--and they didn't even know it.

 

After this the audience wanted to like the Humboldt County Resistance

League--we did, we really did. They set up on the stage and told us

that they wouldn't perform until the audience came forward and filled

the pit. So we obediently moved forward, our expectations high. The

League consisted of a guy on lead guitar and a guy who plugged an AM

radio into a feedback loop at top volume. The guitar guy would tune his

guitar, the feedback guy would fiddle with plugs and switches, and they

would look at each other and shrug their shoulders and shake their

heads, occasionally consulting by screaming into each others' ears. It

wasn't until the feedback guy started then screaming at individuals in

the pit to lean their heads into the amp (Dave Barry and I are not

making this up), that the audience realized that this was the

performance.

 

As people started to drift away from the stage, it occurred to me that a

good way to end all this would be to start applauding. We gave them an

ovation, and the Humboldt County Resistance League went away.

 

Rev. CrazyCurt must have been the aging hippie with the Army helmet and

the rant about Mr. Bob. He wasn't as smooth as the angry monkey, but I

enjoyed his performance. Now that's entertainment: Whether it turns out

well or not, it takes admirable balls to stand solo in front of audience

and force them to take some interest in watching you rub your two brain

cells together. I'd been tiring of people hiding onstage behind their

hyperthyroid Walkmans and then screaming at us for not appreciating

them. I couldn't have known then that I was going to get tireder.

 

I think Captured by Robots set up next, and I was again encouraged. A

guy began to set up enigmatic devices onstage--one made of an automatic

zither with a head, arms and legs, another a robotized drum set. This

could be interesting. But then he plopped an enormous stuffed K-mart

monkey on top of a box and plugged it in as well. Uh-oh. Turned out

that the guy setting up was also the guy who'd been captured by the

robots, as became clear when he strapped a keyboard device to his chest

and an Army surplus gas mask to his face: It was a one-man-band act.

 

Which could have been fine. I'm game. I have nothing against one-man

bands; I've heard some pretty good ones. BUT--his music was pedestrian

(literally) at best. Consider this: He performed standing, and the

drums were operated by switches under his heels, instead of his toes, so

he could play at a tempo no faster than he could do toe lifts and at a

level of complexity limited by his chubby body. Left foot CRASH, right

foot THUD. CRASH CRASH THUD. CRASH CRASH THUD. Ho ho hum.

 

So the guy howled through his gas mask as he hopped slowly on his drum

switches while playing chords on his keyboard and noodling (when he

remembered) on the zither by touching terminals on his chest device.

Which could have been fine; I can tolerate and even find something to

appreciate in uninspired music. But between numbers he had to go and

make the robots speak--the flaw in this plan being that it was the same

uninspired guy who was putting the words in their mouths. After every

number he would say something unintelligible to a robot, and the robots'

response (without exaggeration) would invariably be "SHUT UP! Gibberish,

gibberish, gibberish." Then one of the other robots would take offense

at the first robot's witty gibe, and say, "SHUT UP! Gibberish,

gibberish, gibberish."

 

Which again could have been fine. I could have sat there and laughed at

the guy and let him think that I was laughing with his act. But the

audience! The audience was eating this up as if it were the Second

Coming. They were actually laughing at the robots' responses: What

cleverness! Who could have imagined it! Talking robots!

 

And the kids who had turned up their noses at God Hates Computers were

eating up his "music"--crowding adoringly at the stage, waving their

cute little audacious Satanist hand signs at the performer and slam

dancing in the pit. Pardon me, but I couldn't watch. I had to leave. I

retired to the Family Truckster in the parking lot and made myself some

cocoa. Which could have been when I missed Noisegate. (At this point

we're about six hours into the Devival, and my recollections are

starting to run into each other.)

 

The "mighty SubGenius" who between acts gingerly took the mike and

"whipped the crowd into a frenzy" was actually the most sweetly

endearing moment of the entire day's festivities. He was a fortyish

red-haired shy guy who made a valiant attempt to speak but was hampered

by the fact that, through some oversight perhaps, Mr. Lounge had been

left in control of the P.A. system. Filtered through Krystal's PC,

anything said through the mike was repeated back at the performer a

half-second later, augmented with random bleeps and bloops and Speak 'n

Spell noises. Arty, I guess, but enough to scramble the brain of anyone

not adept at tuning such distractions out. So the mighty SubGenius would

build up a head of steam, rant for exactly a sentence and a half--and

then he'd hear his own voice coming back at him and he'd freeze like a

deer in the headlights for two to five minutes. This went on, over and

over again, for at least fifteen minutes. I am not exaggerating. It

could have been twenty or thirty, my sense of the passage of time at

this stage of the Devival being hopelessly compromised, but I'm still

trying to be generous here.

 

I was trying to encourage him (he was standing right in front of us)

with encouraging shouts of "Testify, brother!" and "Then what happened?"

and such, but I couldn't penetrate the distractions, which were soon

increased as he started to bore the Bob Weirdos. They began to play with

their foam- and duct tape-covered stick weapons directly in front of the

poor guy, who eventually went away.

 

I think next was Mistress Chantah's "fetish performance." Mrs. Chantah

was a meaty lady poured into an abbreviated leather outfit. The outfit's

overstressed seams lent the only element of suspense to the act, which

consisted of her loosely tying a 35-year-old nearly naked accountant to

an "X" of two-by-fours and in slow motion clipping wooden clothespins on

his flesh. I'm still not making this up. Oh, I forgot: Before the "act"

she "purified" the sacrificial altar by lighting candles and burning

sage. At any rate, as the audience began to buzz with the realization

that the accountant was having a better time than we were--that this was

not a performance but an exercise in voyeurism--it's my self-serving

recollection that I precipitated the firestorm of heckling and catcalls

with the innocent question I asked of Mrs. Chantah: "Um, Miss, will

there be a question-and-answer period after you're done?"

 

In retrospect, I think Mrs. Chantah made one major error in preparation

that encouraged the heckling that intensified until she finally went

away. She should have had some enormous amps overmodulating something,

anything, at us: Painful levels of sound were pretty effective at

keeping the audience in a stupor during the other acts of the afternoon

and evening.

 

During the interminable wall-of-sound acts one of the ways I kept myself

amused was by scanning the audience and running little beauty pageants

in my mind, deciding for myself which fellow auditor should correspond

with which Internet personality. I'd decided that I was going to award

the identity of Iceknife to the pastiest, roundest and shiftiest

SubGenius present, but there were just too many candidates to narrow it

down.

 

If you're still reading--and shame on you if you aren't--you'll probably

guess that I hated the Bob Weirdos as well. But nothing could be further

from the truth; in fact, we're thinking of becoming the first Bob

Weirdoheads, decorating the Family Truckster, and following them when

they go on tour.

 

The twelve or so Weirdos then set up on stage--lead guitar, bass guitar,

drum set, and an assortment of plastic buckets, paint cans, file

cabinets and other miscellaneous debris and detritus. At this point I

found within myself reserves of optimism I didn't know I had, once again

thinking, "This could be interesting. Or at least rhythmic." I thought

they were going to drum and dance at us like the Blue Man Group or Stomp

or something. In that expectation, at least, I was going to be

disappointed.

 

Apparently the three musicians had never played together and weren't

about to start now. It could be that they'd never played before at all.

(No, that's unkind. The drummer did make a valiant effort at tying the

entire sonic mishmash together.) But each particular Weirdo was much too

intent on destroying or setting fire to his particular container or

piece of furniture to show any interest in doing so rhythmically in

concert with the other Weirdos. Happily, what their performance lacked

in rhythm it more than made up in chaos and energy and enthusiasm.

 

As the objects of their energies evolved into smaller and smaller bits

they turned upon each other for victims, and returned to playing in the

pit with their duct-taped battle axes and pugil sticks. Anna, still

sitting in the front row, retrieved an errant weapon and was poised on

the edge of her seat, wanting desperately to enter the fray but not sure

of which Weirdo to ask for permission. So I gave her a shove, and she

lay waste about her as the wife and I sat there literally open-mouthed

at the entire over-the-top display of adolescent destructive glee--not

something you see every day.

 

Mr. Jetrock returned to the stage, in mufti this time (it pays to

increase your word power), to help set up for Uberkunst. Uberkunst was a

lot like the Bob Weirdos act, if you substitute discarded computers and

household appliances for the plastic buckets and if you substitute

Skilsaws with Kutzall blades for the twelve insane testosterone- and

adrenaline-crazed kids. No one here can quite recall exactly what

musical instruments were represented onstage, but there seems to be a

general consensus that there were some.

 

The angry monkey and his girlfriend then set about destroying the

appliances with the electric saws, sending huge, gorgeous plumes of

sparks into the air of the darkened theater. The two seemed to be

hampered, though, by either inadequate available amperage or by

extension cords that were either too long or of too-small gauge, so they

had considerable trouble actually destroying anything. Bob Weirdos to

the rescue! As Uberkunst in frustration pushed objects off the stage

into the pit, the Weirdos would set upon them and reduce them to atoms

with whatever was at hand--by throwing them to the floor, by jumping on

them, by using computers and printers as hammers and mortars.

 

It was this activity that gave the evening its one note of genuine

danger and suspense: One Weirdo repeatedly employed a printer as a

wrecking ball, swinging it by its cord over his head to demolish a

microwave oven on the floor. It was morbidly fascinating, like watching

a multi-car pileup: When the cord finally gave way, which of us was

going to be hit? Would there be deaths, or merely multiple maimings? But

God bless the Japanese, who apparently foresaw such a use for one of

their printers, and designed a cord attachment robust enough for this

aftermarket application.

 

It wasn't until we were on the way home that the wife remarked how

disappointed she was that she hadn't seen any "severed dicks," as

promised in the Devival publicity. When I reminded her, she did remember

seeing Uberkunst's liquid-filled pipes with red LEDs on their ends that

the angry monkey and his girlfriend took turns bracing between their

legs and hacking at with their recalcitrant Skilsaws. Those were them,

dear.

 

I'd assumed that head launching would be the high point of the act,

involving a solemn church ceremony: a few appropriate words and a moment

of silence, followed by disembodied heads majestically sailing over the

audience, trailing sinews and veins through the air, depositing a veil

of gore on the believers below. But the sacred launching in Sacramento

was done almost as an afterthought in the midst of the other chaos, and

for my last disappointment of the evening (and, once again, let me point

out that I've constructed more than my share of devices that didn't do

what I'd intended them to), the Uberkunst Engineering Department hadn't

quite had time to correct some design flaws in the catapult, so the

machine tended to launch its heads into the floor directly in front of

it.

 

It was then our turn to go away, so we did--not much sadder or wiser,

but certainly eight hours older. It was sort of like a very long, very

loud study hall, or like sitting through The Postman twice--with the

exception that, come July 4, Kevin Costner doesn't have much influence

over whether or not I do or don't get a seat or a set of shackles on

that flying saucer. Whichever one it is, that is.

 

Your friend,

 

Ben

--

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