Well, finally I am getting to writing about this performance! For the last week I had to focus on doing an in-depth interview for an online art magazine.
During the eighties I did a performance series at the University of California Berkeley for over three years. Sometimes we had a roomful of people. Sometimes as few as one! And sometimes I just had a cast who thought one another were the REAL audience [besides the janitors who kept sweeping outside of the room so they could peek in]. My favorite performances were when few people came, but when they came willing to play.
Last week’s performance was like that. It has been years since so few came. And right away the older couple who found themselves in the wrong reality [when a guy started undressing Linda, Erika and I] left… Well, actually the CIA agent left before they did after I blew his cover! Who were left were Marc the depressed artist and Eric the musician who came to audition to play at the performances. Both came to play! When I asked Marc to create a sculpture using Linda, Erika and I, he didn’t stare dumbly at me like most people do when I ask them to do similar things. He just went to work and stretched the form into a parade to the great music of Eric. And he was willing to play drums with Eric even though he didn’t think he could play drums! Mmmmmm, did Marc blow his cover as a depressed artist?
A very satisfying performance indeed!
We arrived at the space early which was a good thing because we couldn't get in since they had changed the lock on the door! We started unloading all the stuff onto the sidewalk and soon we had the new combination and we were in! Soon the space was transformed from all white walls to cozy, colorful and warm.
We were all set up when Frank and Linda started talking to Marc the first guy to arrive who came on his bicycle. He found out about the performance from the East Bay Express when he was looking for something free to go to. He was a transient who had been traveling for the last two years in Russia, Bulgaria, France and Spain. He said it was challenging because he didn't speak any of the languages. He found host families on the internet and did farm labor. He started traveling because he was depressed and needed an escape. Now he was back living in his apartment in Berkeley and he was still depressed. He was in the process of applying for medical for depression but so far had been denied because he wasn't a pregnant woman or over 65. Frank said that he had been applying for Medicare but had to prove that he had cerebral palsy before age 21 even though he was born with it. He was born on a military base and the military had no such records and Frank having his doctor write a letter stating that Frank was born with cerebral palsy wasn't enough. Marc said that he was also a painter and had gone to the Art Institute of SF but dropped out due to some family issues and got a job watching over a computer at Stanford at night. Linda said that Frank paints too and pointed out Frank's paintings on the wall, "Falling in Love," and "Let's Twist Again." Frank and Linda talked about how Frank went to the Art Institute in the 80's and nobody would talk to them. That is when they found out that what they had been doing was performance art. Frank had gotten his revenge at the end when a guest artist came to the art institute who was really interested in Frank. She brought all her famous artist friends up to Berkeley to see Frank and put him on the cover of her magazine "High Performance". Even the teachers at the Art Institute couldn't get on the cover of her magazine.
There was an older couple that came in and sat on the sidelines and shortly after that a musician came in who started setting up his equipment. Frank asked the older couple if they needed chairs and they did so they moved up closer and another guy who had come in brought a chair and sat next to them. Frank asked the woman how she found out about the performance and she said that she saw a flyer up on a pole near Out of the Closet thrift store. She was drawn to come but couldn't say why. The guy that was with her came because the woman said that it would be fun. Frank asked the woman what she does and she said nothing that she wanted to talk about except that she wanted to become fluent in Spanish. She was taking lessons and said it was very hard to learn a new language as an adult. Frank said "See," to Marc, "you aren't the only one." The guy she was with was a carpenter.
The guy who was sitting next to them found the performance on Frank's web site. He had seen Frank perform years ago at Kimos when Frank was performing with his band. Frank asked him what that performance was like and he said it was cacophonous. Frank said that for some reason he often gets booked at punk clubs even though he doesn't particularly like punk music. At Kimos he was the holiday band for over a year playing on all the holidays like St. Patrick's Day and Valentine's Day. It had all started in the 70's when Frank became the opening act at Mabuhay Gardens. They opened for bands such as The Dead Kennedy's, Black Flag, and The Mutants. Frank Zappa saw the show and really loved it. Frank's group of 30 people who were doing the show split up and many of them were attached to being in a "real band." They didn't see what Frank Zappa saw, how great and subversive what they were doing was. The musician guy had his equipment set up by then and asked Frank if he had any requests. Did Frank want a punk song? Frank said quiet music. A little while later the music got louder and Frank said not too loud we have depressed people here.
Frank asked Marc if he would make a sculpture using Frank, Linda and Erika and he could take our clothes off if he wanted to. He said yes and wanted Frank wheeled to the center of the mats. He took Frank's shirt off and dressed him in pearl necklaces and some fabric on his head. He had Linda stand next to Frank, unbuttoned her shirt and had her place her hands on Frank and Erika's heads. He had Erika kneel down and put some pearls between Frank and Erika's hands. He unbuttoned Erika's shirt and then took it off. He added colorful boas around Erika and Linda and then had them all parade around the room Frank making sounds. Marc pushed Frank's wheelchair. As soon as the clothes were being unbuttoned the older couple got up and left but not before they had made a donation!
Frank asked the guy who had seen him perform at Kimos what he did and at first he said he couldn't say and then he said research. When Frank asked him what kind of research he said he couldn't talk about it. Frank said is it top secret? The guy said yes. CIA? No it wasn't that. Frank said is it ICE the agency for immigration. No the guy said it wasn't that. Frank said is it ICE 9? It turned out that this was from a Kirk Vonnegut novel about a pill that was designed to freeze mud. Now you have lost me he said. Frank asked him if the research he did was good for humanity. The guy said that some people think it is. Frank asked him if he thought it was good for humanity and he said no. Frank said so your boss, and his boss, and her boss think it is important and the guy said yes.
Frank asked Marc what kinds of paintings he painted, what was the subject. He said that he paints right out of the jar. It is colors in motion with other colors mixing in motion with other colors merging and dissolving into each other. Marc said that he never sold any of his paintings. Frank said that he has sold a few but doesn't like selling his paintings. Linda said that we love having Frank's paintings up at home on the walls. At this point the guy who had seen Frank at Kimos quickly got up and ran out. Frank said the CIA called and everyone laughed Frank asked how it was so far. Linda said who are you asking and Frank said the crowd. Everyone laughed because it was only Marc and the musician and us left. Marc said that it reminded him of psychodrama. Frank asked him what psychodrama was for our TV listeners. Marc asked if this was going out live? It wasn't going out live but would be played on Frank's BTV show. Marc said that in psychodrama people act out pieces of their lives and things come up that scare them, things that they are trying to hide and people want to run away just like what has happened tonight a mass exodus. Linda said it was usual to have a mass exodus but usually we start out with more people before the exodus happens.
Frank asked Marc if he would read a poem. Marc sat up with Frank and he had him read "Locked In Locked Out" with the musician playing behind him and Frank vocalizing. When Marc was finished reading the poem Frank said a good poem for when you are depressed. Frank asked Marc if he would drum with the musician and Marc said that he liked to drum but he was a bad drummer. Frank said that he liked bad and so Marc took up the roto toms and began playing. Frank Linda and Erika moved over in front of Mikee's backdrop and undressed and began dancing. They danced deep, soft, erotically, sexy, explicit to the pulse of Marc and Erik's music.
At the end of the dance, Frank said "great drumming Marc," He asked Marc what he thought of the evening and he said that he was glad he was not normal. Frank said yes. Frank asked Marc if he was still depressed and he said that he was distracted. Frank said good, you can't be depressed when you are distracted. At some point Marc had said that he didn't expect to be happy. The musician turned out to be a guy named Erik who had seen Frank perform at Burnt Ramen. He had gotten on the mailing list and responded to Linda's email that musicians were needed. He had followed all the emails about Frank's stay in the hospital and his recovery. He said that he was really glad that he had come that it was a soft and heart felt night, very intimate, well he said it's always intimate. Marc said that he would like to show Frank his paintings but there were a lot of steps up to his apartment. Frank said to come back again and Marc said that he could bring some of his drawings next time. Marc could also check out Frank's paintings on his website. Frank said that he is working on an interview for Kotori Magazine a magazine that created a community of underground culture art and politics. One of the questions that he is working on is about what is the difference between performance art and getting attention. Frank's answer is what is bad about getting attention as if performance art is above that or different in some way. He recently had an article about him in a Russian fashion magazine Hooligan. Frank a master as usual created an amazing two hour performance with the small crowd that showed up and us!
It was a good thing we were early! A few technical difficulties getting into the space, and we were hustling to get set up! But we were all ready to go before 8pm, and the first folks to arrive, about a half hour early, were an older couple, who sat behind the scenes on the risers … Frank invited them to come in, but they remained there as Frank started talking with another man who had come in, Mark. He had seen the listing in the East Bay Express … when Frank asked him what he does, he said that he had just returned to the area after being a “transient” in Europe for 2 years … He talked about how the main challenge was not speaking the languages! He said he worked on farms and traveled through Russia, Bulgaria, France, Spain … As Frank talked more with him, we found out that he is a painter, but dropped out of art school. When Frank asked him about it, he said it was a long story … it had to do with family stuff … he had a scholarship to go to the SF Art Institute, but ended up working in Menlo Park, “babysitting” a computer every night at a Stanford research center … He said now he was trying to get disability for his depression. As Frank talked with him more, it came out that the impetus for the trip was his depression, to make a change, to try something different … but he was still depressed. He said he didn’t expect to ever be happy. Frank talked about how he is trying now to qualify for Medicare, and having to prove that he was disabled since birth, and there being no records to prove it, even though he was born on a military base! Mark said he was also born on a military base.
When Mark’s painting came up, Frank said he is a painter too, and Linda pointed out the banners of “Falling In Love” and “Let’s Twist Again”. Frank and Linda also told Mark about Frank’s time at the Art Institute, about a decade after he would have been there, in the early eighties, how no one would talk to Frank, and how it was as if he wasn’t there ... and about the “revenge”, when a visiting professor, and editor of a very popular “performance art” magazine High Performance, really saw what Frank was doing, and put him on the cover of the magazine! At the time, Frank and Linda did not really know there was a term for what Frank had been doing, called “performance art”! Frank had just been doing stuff for almost 20 years at that point!
Meanwhile, a musician had arrived and was setting up all his gear. Eric, it turned out, had seen and possibly played with Frank at Burnt Ramen, and had emailed Linda, had been on the mailing list for a long time, and was answering Frank’s call for musicians to play at the series! He played guitar with numerous pedals and effects throughout the rest of the night, and it was really great! Later he said he was a little self conscious, but had a good time. Frank told him he was great, and to come back! He said he would.
At some point toward the beginning, Frank invited the couple, and another guy who had arrived, to come into the main space, and bring chairs if they needed to sit in a chair, as opposed to on the floor … They came and sat in folding chairs on the edge of the rug … Frank started talking with the woman of the couple … how had she heard about the performance? She had actually seen a flier in the rain on University Ave., near Out of the Closet thrift store. Frank asked her what drew her to the performance, and she said she really didn’t know. Frank asked her what she does, and she said, “Nothing I want to talk about” … and then after a pause said, “Well, I will talk about this … I’m learning Spanish and would like to become fluent in it, but it is not easy, especially when you’re learning as an adult.” Frank turned to Mark and said, “See!” It wasn’t just him who had trouble with languages!
Frank then turned to the husband, and asked him what he does? He said he is a carpenter. And how did he find out about the performance? From her … And what attracted him to it? Well, she said it would be fun. Frank asked, “So what do you think so far?” He said, “Its fun!”
When Eric was first starting up playing, he asked if Frank had any requests. Punk? Frank said just to play not too loud. At one point, as he was tuning up, there were some loud bursts, and Frank turned to him and said, “Hey! We have depressed people here!”
Frank also talked with the other guy who had come in and sat on the folding chairs next to the couple. He had seen Frank at Kimo’s some years ago, and had looked on the website to find out about this performance. Frank had him describe the Kimo’s performance, which was Frank singing with a bunch of musicians. He said it was “cacophonous”, and obviously had really liked it. Frank explained how he had been the “holiday band” at Kimo’s, playing on St. Patrick’s Day, Mother’s Day, etc.. Frank said it was a “punk” place. Funny, Frank said, “I don’t really like ‘punk’,” but he said that was where he always ended up playing! Like at the Mabuhay Gardens, where he opened for the likes of Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, The Mutants, etc.! Frank Zappa had seen Frank at the punk mecca, the Mabuhay, doing the early show, The Outrageous Beauty Revue, and had said he liked it! But the group of about 30 who were all in community with Frank, living together and doing this show as just one of the things they all did together, didn’t get how subversive it was, how amazing it was, couldn’t appreciate what it meant to have someone like Zappa saying that. They wanted to be in a “real band”, etc. And this is what eventually ended up breaking them all up.
At this point, we think Frank turned to Mark and asked him if he would create a sculpture using Frank, Linda and Erika as his material? Frank said he could undress them if he wanted for his sculpture. Mark said yes, and had Frank pushed out into the middle of the room. Linda was between Frank and Erika. He had Linda put her left hand on Frank’s head, and her right hand on Erika’s head. He unbuttoned Erika’s shirt and let it fall open, and did the same with Linda’s shirt. He had Linda and Mikee take Frank’s shirt off, and put boas around Erika and Linda, weaving them together with Betty’s pearls which started on Frank, and wove through Linda and Erika, and a skirt on Frank’s head like a sheik’s headdress. It was great! He posed the three of them, and then had them move around the room as the sculpture, he said “a parade”, pushing Frank’s chair, several times in a circle, and then pulled Frank back into his spot, the end!
But as soon as Linda and Erika had started getting unbuttoned by Mark for the sculpture, the couple ran out of there! So now, it was just Mark and the guy from Kimo’s. Fun sculpture!
Frank turned to the Kimo’s guy and asked him what he does? He said he couldn’t say … and then said that he can say he does “research”. Hmmm! Frank asked, “Top secret?” Yes … “CIA?” He said no … “ICE-9?” Frank asked … The Kimo’s guy seemed a little uncomfortable to be on the spot, but also was enjoying this back and forth, and it seemed like he was trying to say something about what he does without revealing too much … he thought Frank was saying “ICE”, Immigration and Customs Enforcement … but Frank went on to say something about freezing mud! Later we found out that Frank was referring to a Kurt Vonnegut novel where there is a scientist who invents "ICE-9" for the military because they are looking for something that will make it easier for them to get through the mud! He invents a little pill that freezes the mud, but it ends up freezing the whole earth when they use it!
Frank asked him if his “research” benefited humanity. He wavered … He said that some might say that it did benefit humanity, and they might have a point … Frank asked, “Your boss?” He said, exactly. And his boss? And her boss? Right, he said. But in the end, he said he himself didn’t think that it benefitted humanity.
And at this point, we think Frank turned to Mark … we think he was asking him what he thought so far? And it was only a few moments before the Kimo’s guy ran out of there, literally! Later, Mikee said that the Kimo’s guy was looking at his phone, and then just bolted up and left! Frank said, “CIA.” We all laughed.
Mark said that it reminded him of the late 60’s psychodrama theater. Frank asked him what that was? He asked Frank, “You don’t know…?” Frank said, not for him but for the TV audience. Because now Mark was the only other “audience”. “Are we live?” Mark asked. Frank and Linda explained that it was for Frank’s show on Berkeley public access. And how Frank used to be on every night of the week, all night! Now it is 4 times per week.
Mark had described the folks leaving as an exodus! Linda said that people always leave, but usually we start with more people. Mark described the psychodrama as people role-playing, to act out parts of their life, and things come up that they don’t want to look at, want to hide, so they want to run, and sometimes they do. Like tonight!
Now Frank asked Mark if he would read one of his poems? “Locked In/Locked Out”. Mark said something about having a hard time hearing with the music … Eric turned down a little … and he also said he would have to stumble through it, not having read it before … but he was willing. It was a great reading, with the music behind it and Frank vocalizing along with Mark. After the poem, Frank said it was a good poem if you are depressed!
Now Frank asked if Mark would play music with Eric? Mark said that he didn’t really play anything, but he always liked drumming … but he is a bad drummer. Frank said he likes “bad”. And said that we have the roto tom drums right there, with sticks … Mark said, oh no, he would play with his hands. Mark brought them over to where he had been sitting next to Frank, and got set up. Frank and Linda and Erika got undressed and started an erotic dance in front of the big backdrop while Mark and Eric played … The music and Mark’s drumming were wonderful and the dance was beautiful, erotic, sexy, explicit. Corey said later that Frank made the most of the performance! What might have looked to some that it was a performance that would not amount to much, given the number of people who came, and what percentage of them left within the first hour … Frank was a master!
Right after the dance, Frank turned to Mark and said, “Hey, I thought you said you didn’t know how to play drums!” Frank said the music was great!
Throughout the performance, Frank would turn to Mark and say something in the context of “depressed” … At one point, he asked if Mark still felt depressed, and Mark replied no, that he was distracted from it by what had been going on. This might have been right when the Kimo’s guy left. Frank said that was great, if he was distracted then he couldn’t be depressed.
After the dance, Frank asked how was the performance thus far? Linda asked who Frank was asking? Frank said he was asking “the crowd”! Meaning, Mark! We all laughed. Mark’s reply was that he was glad that he was not “normal”. Frank said, “Exactly.” This might be where Frank brought up his interview questions from Kotori magazine which he is working on … Linda described Kotori magazine … Frank pointed out that it is “mainstream”, but they wanted to do a feature on him! And Linda paraphrased the description of the magazine, which is great: “Where the future of music, art and politics collide to define a new and necessary progressive culture. KOTORI is devoted to keeping readers informed about socially conscious artists in the increasingly collaborative fields of rock, hip-hop and electronica. KOTORI is dedicated to providing its readers with insight into an emerging culture defined by progress towards a globally cooperative and environmentally sound way of life. KOTORI is a different kind of magazine for a different kind of generation.”
Linda said that one of the questions was, “What is the difference between performance art and just trying to get attention?” Linda described how Frank, as usual, does not just answer the questions, but goes deeper. For example with this question Frank asked, why the “just” in “just trying to get attention”. What was wrong with trying to get attention? As if there were something more glamorous about “performance art” vs. trying to get attention. And what are you trying to get attention for? Frank was putting it all on an even playing field.
At some point, Frank also asked Mark about his paintings, what were they like? Mark described them as motion colliding with motion, patterns merging into other patterns, and then dissolving … something like that … it was a great description for something that was probably hard to describe without seeing. After the performance had “ended”, Mark said that he would like to show Frank some of his paintings, but his staircase up to his place was long and narrow, it would be hard for Frank to get up there, and the paintings were too large to bring … but in the end he said he would bring some of his drawings next time to a performance. Great! He had also said something about not having been able to sell his paintings. Frank said that he has sold some, but he doesn’t like to sell them. Linda said they liked having them around, having them up in the house. Mark gave Frank a hug after the performance. It felt like the whole experience had meant a lot to him.
Frank also asked Eric what he thought of the performance, and he said that he didn’t really know what to expect, and was self conscious about his playing at first … he said it was very mellow, and heart warming, and intimate. He said something about Frank’s performances not always being that mellow, but always intimate.
The end …
Afterward, Mark talked a little more with Frank and Linda, and with Eric … he hugged Frank, and they talked about his paintings, and his coming back … Frank said to check out his paintings online … Mark didn’t have a computer, but he could see them at the library where he goes to check his email. And Eric came up after he had loaded out all his stuff, and talked briefly with Frank and Linda about his other musical projects and how he had enjoyed playing with Frank, and how he would definitely come back and play again.
We broke down the set, had popcorn and talked about the performance … later Mikee confirmed that it was spring break, and that may have been one of the reasons for the small crowd. But on the other hand, as Linda said, most often it’s a case of “je ne sais pas”!
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